The following piece began as an attempt to briefly document my musical career and, although that has been accomplished, it then evolved into a running commentary on some of the sordid aspects of my life in music. If anything, I have always had a tendency to understate so as to appear to have a normally functioning ego with just a smattering of vanity. I hope it provides you with an entertaining read.
My career has it's beginnings in my sixteenth year, when I picked up the electric guitar and found something hockey, drugs and girls could not provide. Solace, a challenge and immediate gratification all wrapped up in the sexy form of a limitless instrument played by millions, mastered by few. I still can't resist the urge to pluck away at this triumph of human ingenuity, oblivious to the teeming pool of life whirling around me.
By the time I'd graduated High School, I'd played in dances, proms, clubs and parties all over the Southern Tier of Western New York. My band had survived homemade flash pots that torched carefully placed crepe paper and unsuspecting bass players, amps that blurted out more interference than guitar sounds, drummers that fell over mid-song, "fans" that responded to announcements of a ten minute break with "Make it twenty!" and all manner of onstage mayhem. In short, I had begun the journey that would ultimately lead me to watch Spinal Tap some years later with horror, pain, sympathy and the full knowledge that it was supposed to be funny.
After finishing two years of a Drama scholarship at the local college, I was recruited to play in a touring band with my hometown hero, Steve Buvoltz. To this day I owe a great deal to his tutelage and he remains one of my favorite guitarists. We dressed in pancake makeup, white fright wigs and platforms (actually, I wore glitter Chuck Taylors) and played a great mix of ZZ Top, Cheap Trick and even one of my all time obscure faves, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Of course, we played yawns like "Miss you" and "Coming Up" too, and I'm still brutally scarred by the experience. The downside was coming home broke and sick with pneumonia. The upside was that I gained years of invaluable road experience and musical confidence in a relatively short time. But I also came away with an intangible which has been instrumental in virtually every performance I've been involved with since: behind that make up (thanks Alice!) and wig, I was able to easily and comfortably perform far outside of the usual boundaries any more "exposed" entertainer might have. Any inhibitions I had were squelched into oblivion because I could have been, and was, everyone but the shy and quiet Mick Sweda up there. I was Bowie seducing his guitar, I was Alice freaking the crowd out and I was Marc Bolan, pouting and preening for full effect in a roughneck southern roadhouse. But when we finished our show, I could strip the make up off and wander around unnoticed by anyone in the audience. I was already a distanced loner who projected musician/mime/anythingiwanted without the normal reservations and nervousness associated with performance. It's a very "freeing" experience that more and more contemporary artists are finding works well for them today. Those nasty days of traveling in a barely running school bus, eating tuna out of a can on a good day and playing to all those myriad fans were some of the most enjoyable of my life. Little did I know how many more times I was to relive nearly all of those very situations.
After beating the club life to death on the east coast, I landed in California where I started all over again, struggling for years to find any acceptable footing in the music world. I saw familiar bands from back east arrive in LA to make their mark, only to slink home without a taste of anything but the sourness of defeat. I stuck with it and did a ton of cover gigs, bouncing between original bands and session work before I was approached by "seminal rock legend" Carmine Appice about joining his fledgling rock outfit, King Kobra. I had been on the verge of moving back east and playing in yet another depressing cover band when he asked me to audition, so it seemed the Gods of Rock were smiling upon me. Cool name, good drummer, record deal, tour...I'm in.
Two short years, two albums and a wealth of experiences later, the band had left any remaining creative juices on the road and I found myself in a familiar position: shall I get out when my gut tells me to or stick and make it work, in spite of any personal misgivings. It didn't take much deliberating with the confusion and disarray that was King Kobra in 1987. I had long before then lost any interest in contributing to an unapologetically inequitable situation, especially since the easy going singer had been replaced by a personality I would never appreciate. In spite of that, I made an effort to recruit him into a new project and was met with stubborn resistance, owing to the fact that he still had delusions of a career with KK. I immediately split the band and was prepared to move out on my own musically when all three of my King Kobra mates magically saw the light. We left Carmine to his new solo career and decided to start writing and rehearsing edgier, more energetic material, soon getting into a daily routine of finding a way, in spite of a distinct lack of cash, to make it to rehearsal one more time. It was a very short honeymoon and, in less than a month, the second guitarist's personal issues turned the band into a four piece gang. After a cartoonish and embarrassing drummer demonstrated his overwhelming fear of success at our first major showcase for a huge label, he was miraculously replaced by an excellent mix of youth and energy. Instantly, we sounded like a new band, one we called BulletBoys. Even more incredibly, it took just one particularly fateful call to an old business associate and we were fully engaged in showcasing and gigging with full complements of suits standing at rapt attention. Some of them liked us, some didn't and a few loved us. After showcasing for one especially vacuous ego case, we were subjected to an arrogant and unconvincing monologue on the many merits of a new band this gift to the A&R world had signed, a band that would send the rock world into a frenzy and render us small time. As I'm sure you could have guessed, his dull and cliched group barely managed to tour behind the dud that became their career while we went on to much greater heights. The humbled suit? He's long since been banished to A&R oblivion. Unimpressed, we continued to write and showcase and run up the gas card while our new manager hustled up label after label to see us. He finally set up a week straight of private showcases on our nasty, gang riddled turf, an accomplishment we relished since we'd been introduced to far too many of these sometimes fragile and frightened industry cling-on's. After the last showcase and a prediction based on my naive, youthful interest in the label, Warner Bro's. signed us to a three record deal. We soon became super producer Ted Templeman's baby and, after coming down from the biggest and best high of my life, began pre-production for our debut album.
We started recording in spring 1988 and in two painfully long months finished the grueling process. I understand such a word applies more accurately to running a jackhammer all day, but our "choice" (I had been horrified by his neutering of Aerosmith's record) of a producer was a double edged sword in every sense. We were working with a superstar who hadn't had a hit in years, but lived like he was at the height of his decadent heyday. It was a miracle to get in a full week of recording and it was a blessing to get two drum tracks a week. I had great plans for my first full participation in a major production and it ended up nothing like I'd hoped it would be. In fact, at our over-crowded listening party, I was nothing less than horrified. The record sounded sparse and simple, the opposite of my thick, crunchy yet creamy intentions with regard to guitars and vocal sounds. It was there in glaring clarity, dings and all. And it was done. Finished. I'd have to live with it, win, lose or draw. I felt cheated and abandoned by the previously magnanimous Gods of Rock and so slumped home depressed, bitter and inconsolable. I shrugged off the disappointment as my burgeoning neurosis and focused on redeeming myself in the live arena. We moved into rehearsal and readied ourselves to jump on the road and become the kick ass live act I knew we could be. There was just one problem: the label wanted to hold the cd till the end of the year and we were expected to lay low and wait, as if we stood a steak in a pit bull's jaws chance of staying together without gigging. Even then we all knew that we were living in a house full of explosives with a daft and careless chain smoker and it was only a matter of time till the whole thing went up in flaming fashion. Fortunately, we convinced the label that we needed to work and out on the road we went, somehow opening for two of my favorite artists, Mick Ronson and Ian Hunter. From a business standpoint, you could say it was a poor call. We'd be playing to virtually none of our demographic (whoever that was) and we were being paid just enough to ensure that we'd lose a lot of money. And though our brands of music were like milk and grapefruit juice, I was in heaven. We played our loud, in your face brand of hard rock and, once we'd barrelled over the unsuspecting audience, Ian and Mick strutted out and grooved for the middle aged fans who had been too kind to treat us to anything worse than mild disinterest. Sadly, it was only a short time after the tour that Mick Ronson died, leaving me with the profound privilege of having seen him ply his super tasty trade. And wearing eye shadow and glitter till the end. Cheers Mick!! We released a single called "Smooth Up" but it had failed to spark any interest and it was looking as though we needed to release the next single, a proven top 40 hit that I had done a demo of as a lark and given to Ted for a laugh. That it ended up on our cd at all was a minor shock to me and was the first in a procession of positive events that bolstered a musical connection between Ted and me that I would always appreciate. It was at this time that we pulled a coup and "Smooth Up" was re-released with an accompanying video supplied to MTV. We were told that the record would get a much better shot this time and that it might have a chance to develop some legs in the future. At this point, we had moved on to some headlining shows and, though they were sparsely populated, they allowed us to get some much needed seasoning. After all, we could count the number of shows we'd done prior to our first tour on one hand. It was at this time that we headed up to Wisconsin to open our first arena shows for Cheap Trick, my all time favorite band and one I had always dreamed of seeing. The shows were a blast, though I might cringe to hear them now and, with the stars still in our eyes, we were reduced to headlining two area clubs to pay for the gas to get home. I'll never forget the sensation of heading to the stage from another in a long line of dingy dressing rooms, expecting to see the usual fifty people waiting with patient disinterest, and instead taking in a packed house full of sweating, rocking and screaming fans waiting for us to hit. It was a moment for film that I could never recreate with the best movie makers on earth, a true turning point in my life. I didn't know it at the time, but MTV was kicking in harder and faster than any touring we could ever hope to do!
Thus began a jubilant year that took us around the USA four times, into Canada and Mexico, to Iceland, England and Germany, off to Japan and back. It was everything I'd dreamed of and more, an excellent way to re-start a career. We were stars on the rock circuit and were treated with the according benevolence and accommodation. But in the real work-a-day world, we were viewed with a fair amount of distrust and disgust, most of which was fully deserved. At times, we were nothing less than a loud, boorish gang when traveling. After awhile, the sense of privilege was easy to get used to and hard to put down with beginnings as humble as ours. I'll never forget an embarrassing scene in an airport where one of our more flamboyant members was pointed out by a young, stand up southern gentleman as a "real piece of art". It was humiliating and totally deflating to be associated with such buffoonery. Countless foul scenes such as that confirmed that I was just doing time in this "gang" and that I'd probably have to rehabilitate my image and sense of self once I split, quite apart from any musical baggage that came with starting a "cock rock" band. There were plenty of moments when I wasn't so sure we deserved even the positive attention we were getting and more often I loathed being a part of such a pack of beasts at all. I spent far too much of my time in damage control mode, going far out of my way to make sure I treated everyone as respectfully as I could to make up for what I clearly saw as unwarranted egos run amok. I'd always had major philosophical and ethical differences with my band in spite of what ever musical chemistry we had and, after that much time on the road, the critical fissures in the foundation were becoming apparent to all. Nonetheless, I strived to make myself a stronger entertainer and studied every headliner we toured with for elements of performance I could improve on. In many cases we ended up teaching the "seasoned pros" lessons in playing with raw, unbridled energy and we heard constantly about how we took our record to the next level with our shows. I worked ceaselessly with my great friend Dale on perfecting our offstage technical prowess, and turned our working relationship into the envy of every guitarist we saw. We drank, partied, fought, passed out, woke up too early, worked too late, lost relationships, found more and by the time it was over we were very ready for the tour to crash to an immediate halt. We could have continued working, as the demand was still high, but at that point we needed to collect our wits and get a new record together.
We'd released two singles and videos and got great mileage out of our debut album, selling eight hundred thousand units by tours end. But the road had kept me from learning in the studio and I was itching to get back to what I loved most about music: creating it. So, in the throes of a weary daze that took weeks to shed, I came back to LA and started my life where I'd left it over a year before.
We'd talked about writing for the new album and had begun putting some tracks together while we were on the road. In fact, we had a number of songs incorporated into our sets toward the last half of the year and were happy with the response, although a captive audience is hardly a fair place to judge new material. But it was a frustrating experience writing in a newly democratic band environment. I'd put together many of the tracks and wrote most of the lyrics for the first album so when we got into the latest round of rehearsals and everyone felt they had an equal amount to contribute (even if the actual work was never done), the sessions quickly stalled. We had what we thought were some good songs and I'd hoped they'd be enough for a decent record but when we put them down for Ted, the response was deafening in it's silence. He liked a few of the songs but he was less than pleased with what he heard vocally. Our singer had ritually abused his voice on the road and we could clearly hear it on the tape. The sublime range, the strength, control and, ultimately, the unique qualities he once had were all gone. Having heard his voice night in and out, we couldn't be fully objective listeners because he rarely sang in rehearsals. He preferred to sit back and make comments on the tracks we created. But as we got further into the sessions, we could easily hear what Ted cringed at.
He felt we were a long way away from making a competitive record and thus began a head spinning nine month debacle of recording, leaving the studio, rescheduling time, canceling again and starting over ad nauseam. The singer's vocal cords were showing severe signs of deterioration and our record was in dire jeopardy of not getting finished at all. While our singer was off seeking voice therapy and the emotional support he wasn't getting from us, we were in limbo: recording with my vocals when we could, using and abusing drugs and booze and generally killing time. We were suddenly looking at an open ended release date, and Ted was far more likely to disappear for a week than to show up and listen to his "thoroughbred" sound like a braying "donkey". In fact, it was at this point that private discussions of finding a new singer began to take place, although they wouldn't be taken seriously until later on. Regardless, any exuberance I'd had for getting into the studio and working hard to redeem the disappointment I felt over our first record was dashed upon the rocks, bleeding, bruised and unconscious with no help in sight.
Since it took a veritable miracle to get in two or three good days of work per week, I decided to blow off some musical steam in the mountains of Lake Arrowhead on weekends, catching up with my beloved sister and playing with some of the most inspirational musicians I've ever had the pleasure of playing with. It was essential to get away from the trauma and drama that was my life in Hollywood and interact with people who enjoyed music for the sake of it. They danced, drank, fought and fucked like everyone else in the world and their simple agendas were obvious to anyone who met them. Phony got it's ass kicked and overblown egos could get killed in the cold, ex-con filled mountains of San Bernardino. We all know music soothes the savage beast and, in spite of our disparate interests, I've always gotten along well with "earthier" types because we have good music as a common love. It was no place for anyone in my band but it was definitely something I looked forward to the instant I walked into the studio every Monday. Even after being goaded into a fight myself (me: delivered about 25 punches, opponent: 0...thanks hockey!!) and having to record the hated "Talk to your Daughter" with a finger I busted against that idiot's head, the pain was well worth it.
After what can only be described as near catastrophe, the singer climbed out of his abyss and Ted finally relented, letting us put the finishing touches on Freakshow, our second album for Warner Brothers Records. He had refused my repeated requests to produce some of the vocal tracks in his absence, but allowed me to finish the guitars and overdubs on my own so that the weeks of down time wouldn't end up a total loss. After all the intensive (and expensive) therapy, the singer had produced little to nothing in the way of lyrics so, once again, it was left to me to conceptualize and complete most of the record's content. It was a portent of things to come that my finished lyrics were sometimes tossed about like food at a children's table, with other members of the band and Ted all vying to insert their snippets of ideas with very mixed results. After all this, Ted felt the record was sub par (hence the inclusion of two covers, only one of which I can stand) and I too, was well aware of it's shortcomings. But I also knew that every day it took to get the record out was another day there might not be a band to support it. So, with a huge sigh of relief that overcame any sense of trepidation, we released Freakshow.
We started the year optimistically enough by filling theaters and large clubs, but we knew that if our record was to have even a remote chance of success, we needed to get major radio and video exposure. However, at our insistence and out of sheer spite for the turn music was then taking, we released "THC Groove", an anti-single if ever there was one. We did an expensive video and paid for all the promotion we could afford. We did our best to set the record up for success by creating original art, expensive packaging and, hindsight being what it is, a poorly executed image tuning.
Then, after all the effort and money, the single fell flat on it's face with a resounding splat. We fielded complaints about the title, subject matter, vocal pitch (with good reason) and it's compatibility with the current radio atmosphere. We fought like hyenas to get some legs under the record but to no avail. We'd gambled and lost in our efforts to keep some element of nastiness and fun in rock music. It was a lesson in humility and failure that we were entirely unaccustomed to.
We ended up on tour with a now infamous (and still incredibly dull) band who seemed to be hell bent on avoiding any charges of having personalities. We were rambunctious and energetic both onstage and off, having fun in spite of our dying record. They, on the other hand, were a collection of dinosaurs, even by the standards of the day, and seemed like a morgue on wheels. I'd heard talk of a management imposed sobriety and the challenges it must have posed for them, but that has never been reason to be utterly morose and perform in a nearly catatonic state. I was amazed that a "rock" band could be so sedate, musically and emotionally. I was nearly reduced to uncontrollable sobbing the one time I dared linger after our show and watch them and after that, stayed far, far away.
We also showed up on a shed tour with Poison that summer and, though the coming musical ice age was palpable, we managed to have a decent time of it. I began to isolate myself more and more from my band and tried to concentrate on writing for the album I knew we'd soon be recording. Poison was in the throes of imminent self-destruction as well and it was only because of ringside seats to their descent into ruin that I occasionally felt good about my band.
Playing onstage was the best hour of the day by far and the remaining twenty-three were one big stomach knot. I loved our crew and related to them far better than the guys in my band so I was grateful everyday for them. I loved being on the road too but the circumstances just weren't conducive to having a very good time. It's hard to imagine not having an absolute riot out there, I know. But when virtually every day is filled with hostility, bitterness, rage and stupidity, the best you can do is to be reminded that home is a long way away. In one case, the other three guys in my band flew home from one tour's end while I chose to stay on the bus and ride cross country with the boys in the crew, just to enjoy the trip for a change.
We spent a large part of that year headlining theaters and finally got a small fire started with our second single, "Hang on St. Christopher". The track had a sweet and sinister feel that I enjoyed and I actually liked the video for a change too. It didn't do much to extend our record's life but it gave us some critical attention. The problem being, of course, that that and a buck and a half will get you a decent cup of joe and not a thing more! In the dying days of Freakshow, as if our record were kicking and screaming to avoid the budget bin, we were coerced into producing a video for a song that makes me rue the day I heard it, "Talk to your daughter". It was such a waste of time and money that I don't even own a copy of the preposterous wreck. To see it now would invoke memories better left dead, but suffice it to say that it was a shot Warner Bros., or any reasonable label, probably wouldn't have taken at that point. It was only because we had Ted in our corner that we could do such a thing and, ridiculous result aside, it was a noble effort, even if it was a vanity project for Ted and his many whims. We also filmed a home video in an effort to keep the record going but we packed it in soon after that and settled in for what would prove to be our biggest test yet.
By this time I had completely removed myself from any personal relationships with the band, or what had passed for them. I originally came into the situation with shoulders free of any chips, any antagonism toward anyone, few personal demons that demanded their wages in self-abuse and no issues whatsoever that caused me to have constant problems dealing with other humans. In other words, I just couldn't relate to all the neurosis and stunted maturity surrounding me. As a result, the more contact I had with people outside of the tight, little vacuum we'd created, the more I came to resent my fellow band mates. People, I found, could be genuinely kind and sincere, intelligent and coherent, funny and appreciative as opposed to the vitriolic and insecure propensities I'd watched spew forth for years.
Because I was looked to as the source of what little stability we possessed, I was never subjected to abuse personally and always had the ability to subdue and, in many cases, even squelch the neurosis that contributed to the rampant high volatility. But with my increased absence, things spiraled out of control fast and often and it was a cold, hard fact that I'd be the one to repair the fallout. Even record company executives, MTV execs, promotional people and, worst of all, the fans themselves, weren't immune to tirades and insults. As a result, I had long since passed the point of recognizing any camaraderie with my band mates and by the time we started writing for our third record, I was battling desperately to avoid falling into a deep depression.
The writing sessions were a particular drag, since most of them took place in my home, regrettably at no expense to the band. So when we finally moved out of my studio with material that I was firmly at odds with, I dealt with it by letting go of my care factor a little at a time. Some of the songs were pure drivel with their struggling vocals and weak lyrics, but I chose to go through the motions rather than fight a losing battle or quit mid-project.
I had written a song that was originally intended as a venture into writing for other artists, but with the dearth of passable material for this album, it quickly gained fans in Ted and other label higher ups. "Mine" was the ballad we had never done and was clearly the antithesis of a BulletBoys song, but the singer's strong R&B sensibilities shone through and the desperation to have a hit of any kind prevailed over any pretense of keeping it heavy for our hardcore fans. One didn't have to be an astrophysicist to realize that we were in full survival mode and if we didn't get a hit this time out it was over, though perhaps mercifully so.
I was flattered that the tune was to be made a priority but pissed that I hadn't changed our writing deal from a noble idea turned joke that gave everyone equal shares of all songs to one that reflected the true writer's contributions. While it's fact that the inequities might have killed the band before it began and called into question all input, it's also true that major success under the current agreement would have been a disaster for me, considering how much more work I put in to all of our records. At any rate, this one had all the hallmarks of a fully democratic system and was fatally flawed because of it.
We again started tracking in Ted's favorite haunt, a huge, expensive studio that had once been our haven but was now a fiscal horror happening before our eyes. Somehow we prevailed upon him to move our overdubbing sessions to studios that were slightly less pricey. It was a gesture we appreciated, in spite of the fact that we had already racked up enough debt to cancel out every record sale for the next thirty years.
The highlight of the recording process for me was a result of abject failure. Because of the singer's propensity to shirk his duties and not finish lyrics, we were sent on a sojourn to New Orleans to consort with our old friend Grant Morris, who had worked with us on some lyrics for the first record. It was our quest to find the inspiration to finish a few remaining songs amongst the humidity and benevolence of that storied, austere town. It was impossible not to be inspired and we came back with more than enough material to fill the blank spots in our stained and drooping canvas.
At some point very near the beginning, our producer once again lost interest in working on the album, in spite of the New Orleans influence he very much enjoyed. He, by default, delegated the production chores to me as I had produced the demos, doing most of the arranging and all of the recording and engineering. To my chagrin however, he was still reluctant to give me the task of producing the all important lead vocal tracks. At the same time, he wanted nothing to do with the singer, which made for a frustrating and infuriating conundrum.
He, to a lesser degree, wanted nothing to do with the other members as well and privately gave me (and our manager) instructions to keep them out of the studio while I worked. This was, of course, an untenable position to be in and you might well imagine the ensuing fallout. The drum and bass tracks had long since been completed and it seemed a simple matter of finishing well rehearsed guitars and vocals. However, the exclusion of the other members of the band had a maddening effect on them, creating an effect similar to spraying gas on a house fire.
Through all the angst and resistance, I worked steadily to complete the record to the best of my ability in the vain hope that a production credit would come my way, providing some small token of recognition for my years of unaccredited and unappreciated hard work. All this against a backdrop of venom, spite and distrust that was never to be repaired. As we reached the merciful completion of our third record, the dismal mood was punctuated by a "grudge" session during which our producer sought to assuage the ill will he fomented by adding what amounted to a pathetic series of background vocals to otherwise acceptable tracks.
It was a gut wrenching moment for me and the last in a series of care killers, the greatest of which was the introduction of a tune that was allegedly ripped from some local band the singer had once seen rehearse. It, none the less and against my fervent opposition, made the album and became an everlasting testament to the sour atmosphere surrounding the debacle from day one. Yet another disappointing effort even before the album saw the light of day.
We had a huge decision to make with regard to the release of the first single. "Mine" was the only chance we had to get a hit at radio but it was clearly not a BulletBoy song. The label was blunt: we could release anything we wanted but if the first song stumbled, we wouldn't get a second chance. This was it. Did we want to make a statement and release a heavier number to prove we hadn't gone soft, risking the whole record or did we want to give our only single a shot at making something out of nothing? It seemed a forgone conclusion and didn't take a lot of memory cells to recall the first single from our second record, which had been a poor choice. We decided to release the ballad "Mine" as our first single and make the opposite statement: we would take advantage of the unheard talents within the band and weren't going to be pigeon holed by anyone.
"Mine" went to radio on a promotional cd of some assorted tracks from the new album to offset any thoughts that we were going all Muzak all the time, should that become a problem. We also scheduled the obligatory local shows at the Palace in Hollywood to celebrate the release of ZaZa, which hit the stores and did as well as could be expected in the first weeks. It was at one of these shows that the end came for me.
After all the recriminations and ill will, the atmosphere was even more tense than usual and, though I don't remember feeling particularly edgy, it was evident that things were nearing a head. We had been waiting onstage at sound check for the singer to arrive and check his monitors. After about forty-five minutes, he finally showed up and began his usual routine of demanding that he be louder, cabinets be moved on his behalf and generally crushing any good mood that may have existed. After enduring this, we started to get some levels and were ready to run a number down when, during a lull, he began a rambling monologue to the impatiently waiting opening act and anyone else watching about how certain bands sucked and music was generally awful and how he couldn't wait for our record to come out and kick ass all over everyone and on and on like a chainsaw at sunrise.
At that moment, it hit me: I didn't have to be embarrassed by this cretin anymore. My self respect was indeed alive and well and I had had enough. I didn't know what I was going to do, but freeing myself of the oppressive and irrational bitterness that surrounded me constantly would guide me from there. In that instant, the weight had lifted and I truly felt no anger, resentment or anything other than sadness that something we'd all worked so hard on (to varying degrees) had to end this way and so soon.
We finished the sound check and I summoned everyone, including our manager, to the dressing room. At this point I announced that I'd be fulfilling my obligations to promote the record and I'd do whatever it took to make it succeed, but I wouldn't be doing anymore records or tours after that. To my surprise, everyone was stunned. They all had incredulous looks about them and proceeded to dig for reasons. I told them that I didn't want to get into anything personal, it was just something I had to do for my emotional well being. All the nastiness and in-fighting was behind me and I just wanted out.
I was hoping it would be a simple process but I should have known better. The details get a little murky around this time because I was removing myself from the day to day functions of the business. What I do remember is that a plan was conceived (without my tacit approval) that had the three musicians in the band moving on with a new singer and starting anew with Warner Bro's. When this was somehow revealed to the singer, he immediately placed a call to one of his "friends" at the label informing him that he, the singer, was leaving the band. Of course, this is not what a label wants to hear when they're trying desperately to get your single played. "Mine" was meeting with mixed reactions and hadn't been added at enough major stations but a ground swell of support seemed to be taking hold. That was all over with that one ill-advised phone call. The button was pushed, the field reps were told to leave the single and our record was officially over in a heartbeat. There was an attempt at resuscitating it but it was too late and the label was all too happy to have one less hard sell on it's hands. We were done.
Off course, there was the small matter of tour obligations that had to be fulfilled while we were on the road with a dead record, a singer none of us could stand and no future as a band. I remember showing up at a pre-tour gig in West Hollywood with my hair cut off and walking into the dressing room without being recognized for what seemed like fifteen minutes. We were hardly talking at that point and we hadn't so much as done our first road date. It was going to be a long summer.
We hit a shed tour with someone I don't even remember and did a few headlining dates before we came home and called it a day. We did a few one offs in the Los Angeles area where the singer and bass player announced my departure and their plans to move on with a reformulated BulletBoys but it was clear that leaving it to die a relatively honorable death would have been a far better choice. We worked out a deal that gave me some gear and gave them the rights to the name and that was it.
I walked away from six plus years of torment, pride, disgust and some great memories into a future that was wide open. I had soured on hard rock because I was bored with where it had been and repulsed by where it was going. I imagined a sound that was more acoustic in nature, more ambient and harmonically rich and set out to find the players for my vision.
I also took time to get away from music entirely and dove headfirst into my rebirth as a hockey enthusiast. I'd played a lot as a kid and hadn't so much as skated in fifteen years but I was bitten by the bug again and spent every free hour skating or thinking about playing. I didn't have the release of gigs to rely on as much so playing a sweaty game of hockey six nights a week was taking music's place in my quest for balance. I built on relationships with my mountain friends and played with them every chance I got while I started recording with various other friends and acquaintances in my home studio. I did some sessions for Ted and gigged on weekends while I put the word out that I was looking for players for an as yet unwritten project. I was in no hurry to define my new direction and just wrote what was in my head, at that time a diverse blend of rhythms and textures, most of which could never be traced back to either of my major label bands. I was very interested in creating soundscapes and experimenting in every direction and I didn't want to put a timeline on my creative pursuits.
At this point, my interest in getting sweaty and nasty was rekindled and I pulled together a group I called Brain Stem Babies. We were ensconced in a studio space and spent most of our time recording a wealth of material and some of it performing at a smattering of shows. It was the first time in nearly fifteen years that I'd taken on the role of singer/guitarist and was something I was forced to take on by default. I'd placed ads in various locations and magazines and spent a lot of time researching the multitude of singers who responded but I found people who were looking to move in a new musical direction far and few between. If I had to judge by the vast amount of people I heard, it was as if they were determined to hang on to every last vestige of the arena rock of the eighties. I have no delusions about my name carrying a certain predilection but I made it clear I wanted to move beyond the boundaries of my accomplishments and never did find anyone so inclined. But if you're still out there...
Brain Stem Babies eventually evolved into Lolligag with Jon Wnquist and Troy Patrick Farrell, a band I had a great deal of fun playing in. Jon and Troy are super talents and people who helped me to bring to life so many of my songs that I will always marvel at how much we got done in such condensed periods of time, free from creative constraints and limitations. Oh yeah, we drank a hell of a lot of beer too!
After working steadily for years, it seemed the time was right for me to slow down and enjoy the life I'd always dreamed of having. I'd always imagined reaching a certain stage of readiness and, without having seen it coming, I was there! I married, had my boy and, in what seemed an instant, became a husband, father, provider and a man whose priorities had rearranged before his eyes. It's amazing to me that I'd spent all those years knowing that I was missing something without being able to put a finger on what it was. Since I've become a father and husband, I haven't thought about what I was missing once.
After years of little to no contact, I was approached out of the blue by the members of BulletBoys to do a record that would revisit the live show that had evolved from our studio cd's. Having been disappointed with our records and at the same time being very fond of our shows, I accepted the offer and looked at it as a chance to put in to living testament our evolution.
We hadn't played together in seven years but the idea was acceptable, if small time by comparison to our original efforts, and it might serve to smooth out any disjointed karma I had remaining. Enough time had passed to heal some of those wounds. It turned out to be fun, if not exactly stunning and profitable, and the experience was surprisingly pleasant, due in no small part to my distance from anything other than playing guitar and singing. In other words, I had nothing to do with the mixing, mastering or anything else. I was a hired gun only. But it did lead to a reunion show with none other than the above mentioned band whose presence and songs bore me to the point of wretching and weeping simultaneously.
That was a success and more gigs followed. It didn't take long for old personality clashes to pop up and soon enough there were physical altercations in dressing rooms, shouting matches and insults to promoters and anyone else within earshot. The ugliness was just a part of doing business with them and I found myself, once again, wanting to bail out before the whole ship hit the rocks. I ended up doing more than a few dates, some of very spurious quality with less than adequate drummers, and even rehearsed some new material for a possible record. But eventually, the inevitable came to pass and I took leave of the whole scene again. I was treated respectfully and with a certain amount of reverence, considering my new position in life, but I felt fortunate not to get burned and the sooner I left, the better I felt. It was sad to see most of the same old, serious issues affecting them so many years later.
to be continued
news l discs l songs l images l biopsy l recordings l gear l interviews l bitterness and woe l contact l links