Jay Buchanan (Rival Sons)

Rival Sons

My introduction to Rival Sons came via Classic Rock’s 2011 ‘Ones to Watch’ covermount CD and magazine feature, and the subsequent six track Rival Sons ‘Prime Cuts’ release. Initially, I was intrigued as much by the references to vegetarianism, Buddhism and meditation as I was by the music – these are not things that usually come up when people talk about LA rock bands! I picked up the Pressure and Time album in the week of its release (in June 2011), and caught them live at the High Voltage Festival, where, in addition to playing their advertised slot, they headlined the Metal Hammer stage at short notice when flight problems prevented Electric Wizard from turning up.

Rival Sons - Head Down coverIt was clear that Rival Sons had something special, and the release of the Head Down album in 2012 fulfilled all the early potential and more. Put simply it was my favourite release of the year, in a year that delivered some corkers. If you’re not dancing around your bedroom naked after three tracks I’ll eat my proverbial hat (you can leave yours on).

It is true that their music draws respectfully on the past, referencing the great rock bands of the 70s and incorporating eastern, folky, psychedelic and even Motown influences. But it also strides confidently and purposefully into the future. Rival Sons play fresh, exciting, meaningful rock ‘n’ roll – just as God, or maybe the Buddha, intended.

Live, as on record, Rival Sons display a kind of timeless rock ‘n’ roll charm. It’s as easy to imagine them playing huge festivals in the late 1960s as it is to think that they might be headlining huge festivals in the 2020s!  Singer Jay Buchanan has all the swagger and charisma you need in a front man and has the rock god look and moves off pat. Yet as he told journalist Grant Moon recently (Classic Rock, Issue 179) “I didn’t get into this for blowjobs”.

Rival Sons line-up

Rival Sons L-R: Michael Miley, Jay Buchanan, Scott Holiday and Robin Everhart

Fascinating chap, Jay Buchanan! We were delighted, therefore, when he agreed to take the Words and Music Q&A.

Hello Jay, can you tell us what rock music means to you, and what you want from it?
I’m not sure I know how to answer that one. What does it mean to me? I don’t know that it means anything to me at all. It’s there just like any other tangible thing. The term ‘rock music’ is so broad in scope that it covers both shit noise and heartbreaking honesty, but usually the former. What do I want from Rock music? I want it to clean up its act and give Roll a call.

How is your music most often labelled? And do you think labels are helpful or limiting?
I think most often our music is labelled as ‘blues rock’ which seems strange; just call it rock’n’roll. Labels are a fact of life, they’re helpful at the grocery but if you’re the item being sold it can be restrictive. If you don’t like the label you’re given then you’ve got to work hard enough to prove another label is more fitting.

How do you view what you do as an artist?
I try not to view it, really. It seems like you always feel better until you walk past a mirror and become self aware. I’m just thankful to have a life that is and will always be tethered to music.

Is there a particular song, lyric or performance of which you’re particularly proud?
Nothing comes to mind right now. When I’m old and grey I’ll probably look back and have a more romantic perspective.

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
As a kid, there was always so much music going on in our house that it becomes hard to pinpoint. My mother and grandmothers singing to me, gospel music in church. There was a Levi’s commercial on the television when I was super young that had Bo Diddley doing ‘Who do you Love?’ while a bunch of perfect looking white kids in white shirts and 501s stood around trying to look cool but I never forgot the way that song made me feel. Bob Dylan hooked me pretty damn early too.

Tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
L. Shankar recorded a version of the Carnatic Raga Aberi with Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakram and it levels me every time. Because of this special 10 string double violin Shankar had designed, he was allowed the voice of double bass, cello, viola and violin and it absolutely knocks me out with how vocal and emotive his fingers are. Sitting and listening to this piece feels like reading a book Alex Grey would have painted. It’s all growth, experience and decay. I met Shankar once when I was a kid and he was the picture of kindness. I later discovered that he holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Physics and a Doctorate in Ethnomusicology. This is easily in my top three records.

An artist who has stayed with you over time?
Hermann Hesse, Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Charles Bukowski and on and on…

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan?
I had a fake ID as a teenager and I got into a Morphine show in San Diego. They were and are one of my favourite bands of all time and I had a very illegal beer with Mark Sandman. We talked about all kinds of things but that is one of the only people I’ve ever felt starstruck around. A man with his own unique sound and way of writing, I was enamoured. He was very cool. He died of a heart attack on stage in Rome a year later. A number of years later I had the opportunity to tour with Dana Colley and Billy Conway who played sax and drums in the band and I felt the same way meeting and playing with them.

Your strangest encounter with a fan as an artist?
One time a woman brought me a voodoo doll of her ex because she said she was ready to let it go and that I was the one to release her. I wouldn’t even touch it. Dark stuff, no thanks.

What makes a rock gig special?
What makes a gig special? It starts with how keyed in we (the band) are to each other. If we have a clear line of telepathy then everything is going to lift. After that, it’s about the energy coming from the mass of people in front of us and how we can use it to together transcend the normal.

Your most notable gig as an artist?
I would probably pick Traverse City Opera House in Michigan. Solo acoustic, February 13, 2010.

Your most memorable gig as a fan?
I saw Andrew Bird a few years back at Cafe Largo in Los Angeles. He’s a singer/songwriter/violinist and he is out of control. Just a man with a violin, his voice, and what I’d guess is a Roland RC-20 phrase sampler pedal. Andrew is so emotive and such a great lyricist, it was terrifying.

I like something you said in Classic Rock magazine recently: “Hero worship and accolades are dangerous for the psyche.” That very much chimes with one of the themes of Words and Music. How do you deal with those dangers?
Don’t take yourself very seriously and do your best to treat everyone with kindness even when you don’t think they deserve it. That’s it.

So, what do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
I don’t believe in rock stars.

Dylan or Morrison?
Dylan by a landslide. Even though he was very unique, I can’t see Morrison’s ability past the Doors. They did both put out really bad poetry books even though they were great songwriters. Funny how great talents don’t always translate through different mediums but you’ve got to respect the ambition.

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Neither. I see people out on the road trying to live up to the washed-out hedonistic rocker image and it saddens me. Damaged bodies, family wreckage and death of spirit line the roadside out here and it’s a drag to see. Personally, I have no interest in living out someone’s unrequited fantasies. You want to get high? No problem, just never let your heart take second place to your vices. I’m here to make music, that’s it.

Rock music – the spawn of the devil or a force for good?
I don’t believe in the devil.

Rock music – music for all or a tribal affair?
What? I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Everything is for everyone, it all depends on appetite and availability.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
Rock’n’roll is far from dead. The old era of rock’n’roll has definitely passed but the genre endures as I think it always will.

And finally, what are you up to at the moment?
At the moment we’re touring through Canada and fortunately the dates are selling out but damn it is COLD. With the recent release of Head Down, we’ll be touring through the end of the year with maybe a short break in there to make the next record. We have a European tour that starts in late March and brings us through the UK in the middle of April. I look forward to watching the band grow into itself more and more each time we hit the road.

CHEERS, JAY!

Catch Rival Sons on their UK tour this April

Rival Sons - UK tour dates Spring 2013

Rival Sons official site

About Words and Music

GET THE BOOK

Back to Words and Music Q&A Series index

Uli Jon Roth at The Patriot!

Uli Jon Roth at the Patriot - Poster

“Where’s your review of Uli Jon Roth at The Patriot?” my friend Richard asked me. It was the first gig we’d been to together for about 25 years. When I told him I wasn’t planning to do one, he looked a bit disappointed.

When I started this site it was partly to make other rock fans aware of my book, Words and Music, and partly to develop the themes of the book through a series of blogs, reflections and interviews. It wasn’t my intention to publish reviews of gigs and new releases – plenty of other sites and magazines already do that, and do it very well – unless in some way they illustrated or extended the themes of the book.

Words and Music is about the value of rock music and the (often understated) importance it can have in people’s lives. Although it has some anecdotal sections, it is not a book about rock star or rock fan decadence. (Again, if that’s the kind of thing you want, there are plenty of other books and websites already out there for you.) At the end of the day, for most rock fans, it’s the music that matters.

So, Uli Jon Roth at The Patriot? Well, on the night my mind was entirely focused on seeing one of my favourite guitarists, an indisputable guitar great, in relatively intimate surroundings and in good company. I went along without either notebook or camera. But, actually, the more I thought about it, Richard was right. There was much here of relevance to Words and Music. And it does deserve to be reported. So let’s start with the venue itself.

The Patriot, Crumlin
The Patriot, CrumlinThe Patriot has established itself as a signficant rock venue, attracting international, national and local bands, as well as rock fans from across the UK. It’s owned and run by a national motorcycle club whose membership consists entirely of ex and serving members of the armed forces. It’s what those of us who’ve been around for a while often like to call a ‘proper’ rock venue – friendly, earthy, non-corporate and choc-full of fascinating rock memorabilia.

I contacted David Down, Entertainment Officer at The Patriot, who told me how the venue has progressed from being a pub putting on local covers bands 11 years ago, to the serious music venue it is today with its ability to attract renowned artists of the calibre of, well, Uli Jon Roth!

Indeed, The Patriot’s owners have put considerable effort into undertaking the kind of renovations that have enabled them to host the likes of LA Guns, Blaze Bayley, Skinny Molly, Wrathchild, Tygers of Pan Tang, and Donnie Vie (Enuff Znuff), alongside Welsh bands like Hangfire and Lethargy. (Note to interested punters: Love/Hate will be playing The Patriot on 1 April 2013.) The venue continues to put on unsigned bands, as well as top-quality covers bands like Letz Zep, High On Maiden and Hell’s Bells.

It’s an impressive, even heartwarming, story of dedication to the cause; a commitment to sharing and spreading “the joy of rock”  (to quote an old friend I bumped into that night) that goes well beyond the call of duty.

And so to Uli …
Beyond the Astral Skies album coverWithout question, Uli Jon Roth is, and always has been, a fascinating character. Check out his website for info on his approach to life, music and art, or to read about Electric Sun, his invention of the Sky Guitar, the Sky Orchestra, the Sky Academy and the influence on, and importance to, Uli of the work of Monika Dannemann.

He is still perhaps best known for his stint as lead guitarist with the Scorpions, a period that culminated in the incredible live album Tokyo Tapes, an album which left the Scorps poised to take on the world. But Uli was off, before its release in fact, embarking on a varied and intriguing solo career that has often blended rock guitar, classical music and Uil’s own philosophical approach in unique and imaginative ways.

It must have taken considerable personal conviction, and some guts, to step out of the limelight with the Scorpions, particularly at that point in their career, and into an uncertain future. Having said that, his presence in the band always struck me as bit incongruous. Not so much musically, but it’s a bit odd is it not, that a man with Uli’s spiritual and philosophical leanings appears on albums with controversial covers and questionnable, almost unsavoury, titles such as ‘Virgin Killer’ and ‘Taken By Force’. Not that his old Scorps chums lacked a sensitive or thoughtful side, and not that they weren’t a great rock band, but, you know, when Uli was striving for transcendence, the post-Roth Scorps were still catching a thrill on streets they called ‘The Zoo’.

And so to the gig …
I’ve got to say that we weren’t sure what to expect. A one man and his guitar acoustic show? Uli, a cellist and a violinist? A set of highly technical instrumental guitar wizardry? Electric Sun revisited? We got in the mood by giving Beyond the Astral Skies a spin in the car on the way up, leaving Richard’s teenage daughter and her friends bewildered at Uli’s … er … eclecticism, if I can put it like that. (Actually, I really love that album. If I had to choose material from my record collection to show someone what can be achieved with an electric guitar, one of the albums I’d certainly play them would be Beyond the Astral Skies.)

The last thing we expected from the gig was what, in fact, we got – a full on rock set consisting predominantly of Roth-era Scorps track: ‘We’ll Burn The Sky’, ‘In Trance’, ‘Sails of Charon’, ‘Dark Lady’, ‘Pictured Life’, ‘I’ve Got to Be Free’, ‘Catch Your Train’, ‘Fly to the Rainbow’, ‘Life’s Like a River’. The old classics just kept coming and coming to the surprise and delight of a small but enthusiastic audience. Chuck in a bit of blues, and a bit of Hendrix (or, to be more precise, a bit of Roth-does-Hendrix-doing-Dylan) and what more could you possibly want on a Friday night! And what a great guitartist … mindbogglingly good. It was worth going just to see the looks of amazement on people’s faces – truly jawdropping stuff!

Uli Jon Roth at The Patriot

Uli Jon Roth and band live at The Patriot. Photo courtesy of http://www.billibeecreative.co.uk

As you will have surmised from the foregoing paragraph and photo, Uli played with a full band, more than amply supported on this occasion by a line-up featuring Owen Davidson (bass, vocals), Steve Owen (keyboards), Richard Kirk (drums) and ‘wunderkind’ Ali Clinton (guitar). Regarding Ali Clinton, all I’ll say here is keep an eye out for this young buck – his time is surely approaching – and remember where you read that first!

Through it all I was left with the impression of a man, a musician, a performer of uncompromising musical and spiritual integrity for whom creativity, artistic expression and personal growth matter more than the trappings of commercial success and the more decadent side of the rock and roll lifestyle.

It was, I have to say, both a joy and a privilege to be at this gig – one of rock music’s most creative talents, a man who’s played to thousands, ‘stepping down’ to play to maybe a hundred, maybe fewer. We stood about ten feet from the stage in awe. It truly was ‘The Night the Master Came’. And in nurturing and promoting young talent in the form of guitarist Ali Clinton, Uli is helping to perpetuate all that’s best about the great rock tradition of which he has been an integral, if sometimes under-appreciated, part.

I find it reassuring that it’s still possible to find such single-mindedness and artistic integrity. Just as it’s reassuring that small groups of music fans will commit themselves to maintaining venues and putting on events that help keep rock music alive and kicking at the grassroots. Thank you to all concerned, and all power to your collective elbow!

Some of the bands playing The Patriot in the early part of 2013

About Words and Music

Uli Jon Roth’s official site: www.ulijonroth.com

The Patriot website: www.patriot-inn.co.uk

Billibee Creative: www.billibeecreative.co.uk

Bernie Tormé (Gillan, Tormé, Ozzy, GMT)

Bernie Torme

Bernie Tormé is an Electric Gypsy, a rock ‘n’ roll pirate and a “psychedelic blues shredmeister” of the highest order. In its ‘100 Wildest Guitar Heroes’ feature (March 2007), Classic Rock Magazine referred to his “cosmic tones and glam punk squiggles”, and likened his appearance at times to that of a “dandified Dracula”. He plays guitar like a man who’s controlling and harnessing chaos, with passion, soul and joyful abandon.

Like many other fans of the NWOBHM generation, my first taste of Bernie Tormé came via his work with Gillan. Quite possibly there has never been a more colourful, engaging, and madcap rock band. Over a run of three studio albums (Mr. Universe, Glory Road and Future Shock) and numerous singles, including the stunning ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’, Tormé’s playing, and particularly his interplay with keys man Colin Towns, was integral to the development of Gillan’s unique sound.

Beyond Gillan, Tormé has fronted his own band, and played with the likes of Dee Snider (Twisted Sister), Clive Burr (Iron Maiden) and Phil Lewis (Girl, L.A. Guns). He is also, famously, the guitarist who first stepped in to help Ozzy out after the tragic death of Randy Rhoads. He is currently plying his trade in GMT, with drummer Robin Guy and former Gillan colleague bassist John McCoy: still colourful, still engaging and still a bit madcap!

So Bernie, what does rock music mean to you?
The blues had a baby and they called it rock ‘n’ roll …the daddy was country and had a nasty accident and drowned in whiskey somewhere down the holler. It wasn’t called ‘rock’ when I was young in this neck of the woods, it was ‘rock ‘n’ roll’, and later in the sixties, ‘pop’. I loved it, meant everything to me, music and words you could express anything in – sadness, anger, joy, love, frustration, subtlety, anything, and you could dance to it too. Lyrics are a big part of it for me. I never really got much into that modern guitar electro whizzo jazz-metal instrumental thing. But ‘rock’ is just a name too, it’s all just music. Sound and music is what I love. It’s the thing that keeps me sane … and drives me insane.

Bernie TormeWho was the first artist to make an impression on you?
Elvis Presley, followed very quickly by Chuck Berry.

An album, band or song that means a lot to you?
A song and can I have two? Bob Dylan’s ‘Chimes of Freedom’ from Another Side of Bob Dylan … and ‘Strawberry Fields’ – what a track! I’m happy to dream on to either or both of those.

An artist or album that has stayed with you over time?
I change from time to time, but Hendrix Are You Experienced always stays. The whole album was so shocking, grindingly ugly and beautiful at the same time. I bought it the day it was released in ’67 as an eager young schoolboy blues purist Clapton fan, having saved up my pocket money pennies. I took it home and … completely hated it! It took me quite a few days to appreciate it. It remains an unmatched template, though many have tried. I think the Pistols and Sabbath came closest in sheer pretty ugly. I was interested to find out that Are You Experienced was mostly recorded in De Lane Lea Studios in London, which Ian Gillan bought in the ’70s and renamed Kingsway Recorders and where we recorded all the Gillan albums. I did not know that at the time. Wish I’d got half as good a guitar sound! Another obsession is Exile on Main Street.

Dylan or Morrison?
Funny that, my kids have the Doors’ Waiting for the Sun and Dylan’s Highway 61 in the car as standard listening at the moment. Presuming you mean Jim as opposed to Van, I would have to say Dylan. That first bunch of albums from Bob Dylan’s first to John Wesley Harding are just incomparable. They changed the world. Without Dylan no Beatles epics, no Hendrix, no Pistols,  no ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, no ‘Subterranean  Homesick Blues’ no ‘One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)’. I just love him. And ‘Gates of Eden’, ‘Times They Are A Changing’, ‘Tambourine Man’, ‘All I Want To Do’, ‘Just Like A Woman’, just so many spine-chilling moments. Even up to the latest ‘Duquesne Whistle’, love that too, when he opens his mouth it’s like dropping an electric sander on your bare arm.

Bobby has for me this ability to get the note, but make it sound as if he hasn’t, and, more important, hit the heart and the head. Appears simple, but is very, very difficult: often imitated, but never equalled. I love his voice; it’s real.

In these operatic and auto-tuned days of technical ability with sod all content, many people I know don’t like him, but then a lot of them think every singer should sound like Bruce Dickinson or the Mariah Carey template. Bruce is a mate so I shall make no further comment on that one … other than saying that one Bruce Dickinson is definitely enough! As is one Bob Dylan. One Mariah Carey was way too much for me; give me back Aretha anytime.

Jim Morrison was a bit more in the Pavarotti direction. Great voice.  I love the Doors, awesome stuff, but would they have done ‘The End’ or ‘Horse Latitudes’ or ‘Not To Touch The Earth’ without Dylan having broken the ground beforehand? I kind of think not. So for me it’s got to be Dylan. He ploughed the wilderness first, and planted the seeds.

Speaking of “Morrison” though, again for me two of the greatest albums ever are Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Moondance. Maybe they don’t beat Bobby –though the tracks ‘Astral Weeks’ and ‘Sweet Thing’ come close. Maybe I am biased because I’m Irish …

What do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
Personally not too much. I’m not much of a conversationalist, and I like to try to let people have their space, I like people giving me my space. I  don’t like to talk about what I did or do, my musical life or my music, I just like doing it, and I think a lot of people are like that. So I like to give them space. “What plectrums do you use”? Who cares! “What’s it like playing with Ozzy?”Actually much the same as playing with anyone else – I plugged in and hit the strings and the bum notes were probably the best bit, as usual. Satan did not materialise, Mr. Devil’s representative on earth’s head did not spin around, and he did not speak in any tongues stranger than a thick midlands accent.

Anyway, I don’t really understand this weird cultural celebrity thing that people have that rock stars are more interesting than plumbers or anyone else, for example. I’ve met some very entertaining plumbers in my time and most people have got to admit that having running water, central heating and a nice flushable comfortable place to have a shit, is much more important on a daily basis than being able to listen to the latest Metallica album.

What is any rock star going to tell you that is more interesting than a plumber? Mr. Plumber man might have just done the most mind-blowing bit of plumbing in the solar system, you know, the plumbing equivalent of ‘Strawberry Fields’ rolled into Beethoven’s Fifth. What are you going to say to this genius? “How much did it cost mate?” You are not going to say: “What was it really like when you slipped the pipe into the connector and whacked a lump of gunk on it?” Or “Man, were you on acid when you did that? Were you at one with the universe?”

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan?
Nodding at Keith Richards at a little pub in London and letting him get on with bopping up and down to the band, drinking his beer in peace and enjoying himself without me banging on endlessly and spitting on his neck about ‘It’s All Over Now’ or ‘Rip This Joint’ or ‘Hand Of Fate’ or something he can’t even remember. I felt justified!

Your strangest encounter with a fan as an artist?
Well some of Ozzy’s and Ian’s could/can be a bit weird and obsessive and judgmental in their different ways, but never anything really strange that I came across. When a few of my biggest fans used to dress as clones of me in the ’80s, that sort of bothered me – looking off the stage and seeing a few me’s in the audience was most weird. It made me feel as if I had to dress differently all the time just to be different.

What makes a rock gig special?
The audience, the music, the band and the link between them. But, if you are onstage, most of all, for ever and ever, the audience.

Bernie Torme on stageYour most notable gig as an artist?
Really the bad ones are the most memorable: Gillan, Nuremburg festival 1980 was the worst ever, unforgettable. We had just done Reading the night before, special guests to one of my heroes, Rory Gallagher. Great gig, very late night, far, far too much alcohol and all the usual bad habits. So we got to bed about 4am and with our usual genius management on the case we had to catch a small private plane to Nuremburg at 6am. We all made the plane. Just. Ian looked like death. The plane was a small propeller job, no toilet, 4 hour flight to Nuremberg, you had to drink bottles of beer to be able to piss in the bottles, not much fun …

The gig was about an hour and a half drive at the other end. We were opening, so we got there about a half hour before our stage time. All our gear was in England, so we had hired gear to be there, and the truck with the hired gear was waiting at the back of the stage. A half hour before stage time the truck was opened … and all the gear was completely wrong.

Instead of two Marshall 200 major bass amps as promised, McCoy had a clapped out Fender Bassman. Colin had a Yamaha organ and a Hammond Lesley on a multicore as an amp, absolutely no way at all to connect the two without major cable surgery, and no chance to do that without tools in 20 minutes. I, at least, had an amp and two cabs.

We had just had the Glory Road album go straight in the UK charts at number 2, so backstage we were surrounded by photographers and people trying to interview us, knowing we have no gear to play with, and feeling very, very fragile … it’s a bad situation. The only answer to any question any of us can think of is to grunt.

We get to going onstage in no time at all, opening with ‘Unchain Your Brain’. McCoy hits the first note on the bass and the Fender Bassman blows up. He is a bit pee-d off and is never someone to go quietly, so he picks the amp and cab and drops it off the front of the stage, and then proceeds to chuck his fender precision straight up in the air where it tangles with the lighting truss, hangs there, and then comes down neck first and splits in half. It was like slow motion.

At this the PA crew decide we are very naughty anarchists and actually not real musicians at all, so they turn up the monitors so all we can hear onstage is this deafening scream of feedback. This really gets to Ian, who has a BAD, BAD hangover. Ian turns around and swings his mic a la Roger Daltrey and then chucks it at the monitor man at the side of the stage. He misses, and hits the only keyboard Colin has managed to get working, his ARP, which goes flying and dies.

Song 2: ‘Sleeping On The Job’. The feedback gets worse. McCoy starts chucking the monitors off the front of the stage to make it stop … unfortunately on top of some photographers who thought it was all part of the act. By now Ian and I are also chucking monitors into the audience, side fills next …

Song 3: ‘Mr. Universe’. Well, we get through that one with guitar, drums, vocals and no monitors, but that’s as far as we got. As I leave the stage I look at the mixing desk about 100 yards away in the middle of the audience and I can see another of my heroes, Ted Nugent (who was headlining), stood there with a look of complete disbelief and incomprehension on his face. I’ll never forget that one. We got a lot of press in Germany out of it, but it wasn’t all that good.

Your most memorable gig as a fan?
Stones at Wembley in ’82 and Skid Row (Dublin variety: Gary Moore, Brush Shiels, Noel Bridgeman) at the Mansion House in Dawson Street in Dublin in ’68 or ’69, can’t remember exactly when.

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Boring cliché. It’s just a marketing phrase. Why not ‘sex and drugs and banking’? They probably had more of the sex anyway (money, money, money) and undoubtedly more of the drugs. The only part that ever mattered to me anyway was the rock ‘n’ roll. The other two just come and go if that’s what you are into. No big deal and about as interesting as the office party.

Bernie Torme and GMTRock music – the spawn of the devil or a force for good?
All music is good. Better than most other things anyway.

Rock music – music for all or a tribal affair?
Music is for everyone.

How do you view what you do as an artist?
No view at all. Just hope to be able to keep doing it.

How is your music most often labelled? And do you think labels are helpful or limiting?
Usually labelled ‘rock’, sometimes ‘heavy rock’, sometimes ‘hard rock’. All ok. Hey, I just play guitar and shout a bit. That’s my identity. I hate labels anyway. I don’t think they help. It just provides people with a safety blanket; they then don’t ever have to hear anything new or different. Personally, I like hearing different.

Is there a particular piece of music, or album or performance for which you would most like to be remembered?
No, I would not know. I just hope the people who knew me remember me kindly.

Bernie Torme Turn Out the Lights album coverWhat would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
It is possibly true, and that makes me sad, and I truly hope not. But everything changes. You have to accept that. There are some good young bands doing good things around but it’s very difficult to be new and different and successful these days. There is hardly an industry anymore.

It’s difficult to set the world on fire when it has just stopped burning and all the fuel is gone. It’s tough for young bands.

When I started out it was very difficult to hear anything. You heard very little pop music, you copied it from memory and it often became something completely different, through incompetence, inability, and downright ignorance. Now everyone seems to learn the same things to the nth degree. They study it at college, and it all has this terrible sameness – it all has to be 100% RIGHT. The resident gurus tell them that’s what’s important. Played properly in tune. Click tracked. The same as.

I think that’s all bollox, It would be better off if it was wrong and different, and,therefore, maybe original. It’s not about perfection. The flaws and the difference are the perfection.

There is no right way, just do it any way you want, but do it the way you want, not the same as someone before – that’s pointless.

And finally, what are you up to at the moment?
Insulating my loft! I’m having a bit of a holiday at the moment … but in the course of which I just found the tapes of an album that I had almost completed before I moved house 10 or 12 years ago … got lost in transit. Some very cool stuff there, in various stages of unfinished, but I really have had a few fun days ploughing through it. I had forgotten almost all of it, and it was so nice to hear something from the past I had done that really made me think “Hey, that’s pretty good!” So that’s a must do before too long! Also been recording and producing tracks for my boys’ band, Jimi and Eric. Their band is called The Gang: http://www.thegangband.co.uk/. The first of those has just come out. It’s on You Tube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EHOdJqR_d9I#!
It’s good stuff; good rock ‘n’ roll.

Guy, McCoy and Torme

CHEERS BERNIE!

For more about Bernie please visit his website: http://www.bernietorme.co.uk/

For more on GMT visit: http://www.gmtrocks.com/

About Words and Music

GET THE BOOK

Back to Words and Music Q&A Series page

Jeff Strawman (Achilles Last Stand)

When it comes to fansites, there can be few as extensive, impressive and well-established as Jeff Strawman’s all-singing, all-dancing, all-things-Zeppelin website: Achilles Last Stand.

Achilles Last Stand is a truly fitting tribute to one of rock’s greatest bands, and provides an excellent information service, online forum, and more, for fans. Indeed, in drafting the Led Zep sections in Words and Music I often found myself popping over to check out the odd fact or reference.

Achilles Last Stand is an astonishing achievement, and the music of Led Zeppelin clearly means a lot to Jeff. So I tracked him down and was delighted when he agreed to ‘Ramble On’ for the Q&A Series.

So Jeff, how did your work on Achilles Last Stand come about?
The first incarnation of Achilles Last Stand was put online in early 1996. At that point, the World Wide Web was just a small child and finding information about Led Zeppelin was very limited, mostly coming from Usenet Newsgroups, Digital Graffiti, a mailing list (R.I.P.!) and various fanzines.  A lot of the information found at that time was just flat out incorrect. I’m sure that it originated from fans when the band was still active and just got twisted around as new people heard it or misheard it. So, I had decided to create the most accurate, most informative Led Zeppelin website.

It’s a very extensive site. It must be quite a commitment?
It truly is. There were and still are Led Zeppelin websites that focus on one aspect, like lyrics or photos or news. I felt like I wanted to have a website that had everything. The only thing that I don’t put any focus on is the live trading and bootlegs. There are a few websites out there that are very informative and if I were to add this onto ALS, it would be too similar to what’s out there. A lot of time had been spent collecting and researching information, then compiling it into a straight text formatting and then adding HTML coding to make it presentable for the website. I still mostly rely on a text editor to create individual pages. It may take longer, however I get exactly what I want to see. I have several update projects that I always am working on, trying to make everything look as perfect as I can. If the money was there, I could easily make a full-time job out of it. In addition to juggling life outside of Led Zeppelin, my actual hours spent currently are quite minimal.

Why Led Zeppelin? Is it possible to say what their music means to you?
I am a lifetime musician, having played piano and various instruments in school bands, as well as the bass guitar for nearly 20 years. The instrumental music in the songs of Led Zeppelin attracts me the most out of any other band that I have listened to. I really enjoy the unison of the bass and electric guitars in riffs like in ‘Heartbreaker’ or ‘Black Dog’ as well as the complexity of layering in their later work. Their music has a good groove. Some songs are heavy as hell and other songs float across the air with the grace and weight of a feather. Some bands are very typecast, meaning that they are really known for one style of music. You absolutely cannot say that about Led Zeppelin. I can’t imagine what it must have been like in October 1970 when Led Zeppelin III came out and people were expecting another song like ‘Whole Lotta Love’ with different lyrics & they were treated to ‘Gallows Pole’ and ‘That’s The Way’. Wow, that would have absolutely blown my mind. Can you say that about any other band?

Ever meet any of the band?
No, unfortunately not.

They say it’s often a mistake to meet your heroes. Presumably your experience with Led Zeppelin has been different?
That’s hard to say. Honestly, I think the members of Led Zeppelin are just ordinary people and that’s how they have mostly tried to be.

So, in your experience, what should you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
I have about a thousand different questions that I could possibly ask each of the remaining members of Led Zeppelin that would shed light on or correct misinformation that is currently floating out there.

Your first Zeppelin gig?
Unfortunately, I was 5 years old when Led Zeppelin decided that they could not continue, however my first Led Zeppelin live recording that I heard was from June 23, 1977, the famous Badgeholders show at the Forum in Inglewood, California. Being able to hear the various instruments clearly was something spectacular. A 30-minute version of ‘No Quarter’ was amazing. I wondered how a bunch of human beings could possibly continue to play for such a long time. Plus, the banter in between songs, the Plantations as it were, were so hilarious and unique, I believed that what I read in some of the unauthorized biographies were actually true, you know, the rock-and-roll excess, sex, drugs and rock and roll?

Your best Zeppelin-related gig (and why)?
I saw John Paul Jones on the second leg of his first solo Tour, on March 25, 2000 at Park West in Chicago, Illinois. Zooma had been out for seven months and although I was very familiar with all of the tracks, seeing it and hearing it in person was totally different. I was so utterly overwhelmed with the sound that was penetrating my core. It was general admission that night and so I spent most of the evening holding onto a set of stair railing. I had to hold on to something because the three performers on stage could have easily knocked me over.

Your top 3 Zeppelin albums?

  • Led Zeppelin II – it was the first LZ album I listened to. It opened my eyes.
  • Led Zeppelin – the first is always the best.
  • Physical Graffiti or Presence – it’s hard to choose between the two. Physical Graffiti has the light and shade, the heavy and the not-so heavy & everything in between, but Presence portrays a mature band, familiar with each other, wanting to branch out into the unknown and create melodic masterpieces.

Your top 3 non-Zep but Zep-related albums? (You know what I mean!)

  • Zooma – John Paul Jones. After listening to this album, you can truly tell who was the heart and soul of Led Zeppelin.
  • No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded – I really like the Arabic interpretations of the songs, plus the new material is a delight. The 2004 reissue includes remixed songs from the original, plus the inclusion of two songs that weren’t on the original.
  • Live Yardbirds: featuring Jimmy Page – the 1968 Yardbirds bootleg that Jimmy Page didn’t want released. Canned applause or not, it still is a well-recorded live concert from a band in all of their psychedelic splendour.

Some (not me, obviously) might say running a website or a fan club is an unhealthy obsession. What would you say to that?
Perhaps. It does require a fair amount of time to maintain and you do talk to some interesting and unique fans, even ones that had passed the classification of insane. Instead of calling it an unhealthy, I think that the proper way is to call it “a labour of love”.

Of everything you’ve done with Achilles Last Stand and Led Zeppelin, what are you most proud of?
Just putting the information out there. I enjoy getting emails and messages on Facebook and Twitter from fans of the website, telling how much they enjoy it.

Are you involved with any other bands or music in any other way?
I was active in cover bands for about 15 years, but I’ve slowed down in doing that as of late.

In your experience, is it the sex, drugs, scandals and occult mystique that attracts rock fans to Zeppelin or is it more about the music?
It depends on what type of person you are. Obviously, sex, drugs, scandals and occult mystique sells in this day and age, however you’re going to find some musicians and fans that may want to emulate their heroes or those that really dig the music or the words.

How do you view the role of fan sites and fan clubs in the current era? Do you think they have a future?
Official websites for bands may be limited as to what they can post from management, record companies or even by the band themselves. Fan sites and fan clubs often fill in the blanks and tell the whole truth. It’s a way to unite as a community of like-minded individuals. As long as there are fans of bands, you’ll have fan sites and fan clubs.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
Music trends are very cyclical. There are always points in time when one style of music rises up to a new generation, becomes popular and knocks the previous trend back down. In addition, various types of music mash up together to form something new. I think that we are currently at a point that rock music has morphed off into new hybrids. Elements of rock are still there, you just have to try and find it.

And finally, who do you listen to when you’re not listening to Led Zeppelin?
Honestly, I really like any type of music that has guitar, bass and drums. I’m quite a fan of classic rock, like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull , Iron Butterfly & Black Sabbath.

CHEERS JEFF!

Vist the Achilles Last Stand website: http://www.led-zeppelin.org/

About Words and Music

Get Words and Music

Back to the Words and Music Q&A Series page