BLUE OYSTER CULT : Classics – without the cowbell!

outsiderrock

‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ was Blue Oyster Cult’s first and biggest hit in 1976, after 3 albums. The song became etched in American pop culture in 2000 when a skit was made of it on Saturday Night Live with Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken; having fun with the recording of the cowbell [which in turn inspired the song “More Cowbell” by Blue Coupe!]. BOC fans know the band was one of the best from the US in the ‘70s, originally signed by Columbia in hopes to be a response to the heavy bands on Warner Bros at the time – mainly Black Sabbath, but BOC were never simply a heavy ‘metal’ band, loads of variety, rockers, ballads, with 5 guys that all wrote and could sing lead. They had their own themes and stories in the songs and albums [see my interview with Albert Bouchard], a cool symbol [an idea taken on…

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Joe Bouchard – Playin’ History : Interview

Founding Blue Oyster Cult member Joe Bouchard has a brand new solo album out. Playin Time is Joe’s fifth album, and his best since his debut in 2009. Check out the album, and order it at his website > http://www.joeboouchard.com

In this interview Joe talks about Playin Time, as well as updates on his shows with brother Albert , and their band Blue Coupe!

jbs 1

Playin History comes just over a year after The Power of Music. How do you manage to get so much quality rock recorded and put out over the last 10 years, and still maintain a number of live performances?

Lots of strong coffee…we brew the high test all day. Actually I retired from my private teaching business in May 2016. I was teaching about 4 days a week. It was an easy job, no classrooms, just private guitar lessons mainly. I wasn’t getting any younger so when I retired from my “part time job”, it opened up lots of time for songwriting and recording. I felt good about what I was creating and the proof is in the album. My songwriting skills have sharpened over the years. I’m much more critical with my songs than I used to be.
That being said, I didn’t record too many extra songs. There are some good riffs, and jamming tracks, but they fell by the wayside pretty quick, and the songs I chose for Playin’ History are the most consistent, creative and balanced recordings I’ve ever done.

Oh yeah, I know…”You’re just saying that…just look at those early Blue Öyster Cult songs you wrote!” To be honest from my perspective most of those songs were lucky accidents. I think the only song I thought was really well crafted from the early days was Light Years of Love. That song is way less popular than Astronomy, Hot Rails and Morning Final and maybe one or two more. You never know what the public will latch onto.

The last album dealt with ‘music’ subjects in lyrics and titles. Was this one geared towards ‘history’ subjects? and would you say they’re sorta ‘loose’ concept albums or themed albums?

Very loose concepts certainly. I really start out just trying to write one good song. Walk with the Devil was the first song I wrote for Power of Music. Once I got that first good song, the others just followed after it.

With Playin’ History, Renaissance Man set the pace for the songs to follow. Almost all of the music was written in 2016 and early 2017. One track called Now What is This came from a rough demo from the late 80s that I wrote on synthesizers. Everything else is relatively brand new.

bouchard playin history

Renaissance Man is a great opener, and a tribute to Sandy Pearlman? Can you elaborate on how this one came about and how much of an impact Sandy made on you and your writing, playing, career ?

Yeah, Renaissance is a classic. Sandy was a brilliant genius who invented the concept of Blue Öyster Cult, gave us our name, convinced this wide range of fairly intelligent personalities that we needed to go in that direction, that is hard rock and proto-metal. As a manager he kept us moving forward when we could have easily slipped of the rails on the way to our heights of popularity. If he had a flaw it seemed he lacked the drive to keep us on top when we got there. But overall if it weren’t for Sandy Blue Öyster Cult would never have existed.

Sandy came up with the lyrics to Astronomy, my most popular song, and gave me the title for Hot Rails to Hell. He was a pretty smart fellow. He stopped managing the band after I left in 1986 and worked as a college professor in Montreal. He passed away from a brain aneurism at the age of 72.

In reference to other tracks you wrote, how much are based on your own experiences and places you’ve been?

All of it comes from personal experiences is some respect. Some more than others.

Tracks that stand out for me include – Night Owl Nocturne, Diamonds in Blue, and Now What Is This – can you give me some insight in to those.

Night Owl is really personal. I am an insomniac and I do most of my writing and recording in the late night hours. I live out in the woods of Connecticut and the neighbors are not anywhere close. The only company I have in the warm spring evenings are owls in the woods. They would hoot and do their owl things while I was working on this song.

Diamonds in Blue came from an idea about space travel. I love studying what NASA, telescopes and other space exploration things are doing. I got an email from a connection in NYC that a movie company needed a song about asteroids. I had two days to put it together from scratch. It’s just three simple chords but I love the feeling I get from it.

Now What is This is about Bob Dylan and specifically the tour that Patti Smith was the opening act for him. I think it was back in the 80s. They would do a duet every night and the crowd would go nuts, get hysterical really…it’s about that style of hero worship.

 

Who are the 52 Agents of Fortune?

The 52 Agents of Fortune are simply a deck of playing cards. One of our producers Murray Krugman played poker and he referred to a deck of cards as the “52 agents of fortune”. We were finishing the 5th Blue Öyster Cult album for Columbia and we didn’t have a name. I wanted something with a really positive vibe to it so I suggested we name the album Agents of Fortune. It worked out tremendously well and became our biggest seller.

There was a group called The Title Trackers from about 3-4 years ago that posted “made-up” songs around the theme of lost “title tracks”. Checking into the Morrison Hotel was one of their songs. It was pretty funny but somewhat silly.

I took that idea and said 52 Agents of Fortune could be one of those lost title tracks. My song is really nothing like those undernourished attempts at parody. This song is the story of my “incredible luck” with my music career. The Hammond organ intro could be Deep Purple or Vanilla Fudge. It works for my story and was real fun to record.

You have 2 John Elwood Cook songs on this album. The Written History Of Misery is classic . Can you tell me a bit about how this evolved from the song John gave you and the production it became on the final album?

John writes in a Johnny Cash style. But often that’s not where I’m going with my recordings. I love his songs tremendously. Bad Decisions started as a demo in a like a slow Zeppelin-like blues. It was pretty bad, but I still loved the song. When I decided to speed up the song, add some funky blues guitar, add an eerie background vocal part, the song started to really work for me. The crowning touch was when I added a Banjolin, a hybrid mandolin with a banjo head. It was lying around the house for decades and needed new strings. It’s over 100 years old and was played in some old time dixieland band. Once I restrung it, it sounded amazing. I added it through the whole song and I love the way it came out.

The Written History of Misery is a classic as you say. It was written as a companion to one of John Cook’s artworks. John likes to think about what life was like years ago, and expound on those quirky personalities. His artwork has quotes from somebody’s tombstone and other artifacts. It’s a strange piece and a strange song for sure. Musically it just needed a good riff. I got a new Fender Esquire reproduction that sounds amazing. I wrote the riff for the song on that new guitar. But the song is all John and I’m glad you like it.

You play everything on this album!? Does that kinda speed up the process and make things easier or would you ever like adding in some guest players?

I like playing all the parts and I can work fairly fast and get the exact results I need. But I miss the give and take with other musicians. I wanted to hire musicians for this project but many were on tour and not available during my time frame. Maybe on my next solo album I’ll get a real band together and see what happens. I worry about losing my control of the production. Doing all myself keeps things tight and I can’t blame anybody but myself if it doesn’t work.

jbs w albert

You’ve been out doing song & story shows with Albert[!?] How many of these have you done and may there be a recording from these shows or a collaboration album in the future?

Yes, Albert and I do a show called Bouchard Bros: Songs & Stories. It’s great! We have video projections for all the songs and it is fun to do deep tracks from Blue Öyster Cult and our solo albums. We play acoustic versions of the songs in really nice theaters and the response is amazing.

 

Whats the status of Blue Coupe? Any plans for a new album or bigger tour [up this way]?

Blue Coupe is doing well, but Dennis has commitments to Alice this fall. He’s in the UK with Alice right now. Whether he plays with Alice in 2018 remains to be seen. We plan to record a new studio album as soon as he’s free. Dennis is part of Albert’s Christmas album that he produced last year. There will be an expanded version of the album this holiday that features various musicians and friends.

There’s plenty of great live stuff on youtube, particularly of Blue Coupe — Wonder if we could ever see a live album from the band!?

A live album would be nice but it is hard since it is expensive and there’s so much available online for free. The next thing we do will be a new studio album. The song Fireball that Dennis wrote for Alice Cooper’s latest album is doing great and I hope that Blue Coupe will add that song to their set.

What else do you have on the go? Are you playing tracks from Playin History live?

We play Bad Decisions with Albert and it’s great. I played Renaissance Man, Diamonds in Blue, 52 Agents of Fortune and Mountain House at open mics. I will probably play more of those songs. It depends on the demand. The album is just getting out to the fans. Many people have expressed interest in the songs. It’s hard to fit them into a set list since I have to play so many from the Blue Öyster Cult catalog.

Might you consider doing a full band tour [or shows] that mainly focus on this album and some of your previous solo material?

I’d love to have a band like Brian Wilson. He has nine musicians on stage that play exact recreations of all his famous songs. It’s stunning and I’ve seen him over 15 times. Maybe someday it will happen.

KJJ, Nov 2017

 

 

 

Joe Lynn Turner Speaks : 1999

This is an interview I did with JLT from 1999, upon the release of the Rainbow remastered CDs. Joe was a lot of fun to talk to, informative, talkative, and entertaining. A great singer, who was the 3rd singer Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – from 1981 til 84 when Blackmore broke up the band to return to Deep Purple.  In recent years JLT has seen the release of such band projects as Rated X [2014] and Sunstorm [2016], as well as a few excellent live sets – one of his solo band from Boston 1985 [titled Street Of Dreams], and another of Rainbow , from Boston 1981. Joe has kept in the rock news as well the last few years in regards to Blackmore’s return to rock, and his Not choosing Joe to front his new version of the band.

 

 

Pre Fandango days – local bands? any recordings?
We did all home studio stuff, recordings. I mean, we’d gone into studios and
stuff but it was all on a local level. The one band that i would say took notoriety was
a band called “Ezra”. It was a very heavy band, we did Deep Purple covers and
originals like them. I played guitar at this point, and i also did singing. We did like
Highway Star, Rat-Bat Blues, – you name it. We also did stuff by like Flash, Children
of The Universe, and Yes, and all that kind of stuff, so it was a heck of a lot of stuff
for me to cut as a guitar player. My chops were a whole lot better in those days. This
Ezra thing, we did quite well on a local level, which sort of prompted us to go a little
further. I got kinda stuck in a Hard-Rock…got fed up with all that; meaning – as a
musician you really want to expand and i love all kinds of music, so when the
opportunity came around to start this band “Fandango” I was more than ready
because at that point the Eagles were big and things like that , Poco, Marshall
Tucker, so it was kind of a 5 part harmony – double guitar – Allman Brothers type of
thing, and we played locally and (again) became very successful locally – filling up
the clubs, high schools and what have you. There was a big following in the Tri-State
area – New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, and Pennsylvania too. And from
there we recognized by some A & R guys and got signed to RCA Records.

You Guys Did a lot of different types of stuff…

Very eclectic type of stuff!

You did 4 albums!?

We did 4 albums, we had pockets in the US where we were being played a lot
on the radio stations and actually could fill some clubs and things like that. So we
had pockets where we were successful, not to any measure where we went to any
super-notoriety or anything. We had a lot of great writers, and everybody at this
point was very hungry and young, so we weren’t very aware of what shouldn’t be
done and what should, and there was a lot of arguing, and a lot of hammering about
you know – you want your own voice to be heard. And eventually that became the
demise of the band, aside from the fact that we got robbed on tour! We were on tour
with Wet Willie, Allman Brothers, and Marshall Tucker — this big shed-fest, and we
were playing the Chicago Fest as a matter of fact — the Beach Boys, Billy Joel –
whole bunch of people were out there at this concert, and that night when we got to
the hotel – of course the band all went out and the roadies were playing cards and
the truck was parked up against the wall, the roater was taken out for safety
precautions, and it was pissin’ down rain. To make a long story short, these guys
knew exactly what to do, these thieves, and they stole our truck. So about 80
Thousand dollars worth of equipment was gone; it went right into Canada! And then
from Canada alot of the stuff – road cases, guitars, clothes, everything – ended up in
like Japan, Germany — it all got air-lifted some place else and sent out.

Was that the nail in the coffin?
Yeah, it really was. But we tried to recover from that. RCA was very helpful,
they gave us like 30 or 40 Grand to try and get back on our feet, and we were kind of
emotionally wiped out because me and the other guitar player Rickey Blakemore –
we had like wicker covered Marshall cabinets, our own home racks and things, so
we were left to foot petals and strange guitars, and strange drum sets …

A lot of personal stuff!?
Yeah, a lot of personal stuff, the stuff in the road cases. The wind got knocked
out of us, and it was very hard to recover. In a nut-shell that’s what I’d have to say.
But we went out after and tried to do the tour, and we tried to make that last
“Cadillac” record, but at that point there was sort of a venom inside the band as well
because the 2 main writers were screaming for writing, me and the bass player who
also wrote good songs – we wanted to write; so now everybody’s taking a chance
and doing some writing and the albums became even more eclectic — which meant
they were all over the place. It was a very talented band, group of guys, good strong
song writing, but there was not one identity of the band. The band’s identity was that
whole eclecticity, you know ‘who are they? you can’t put your finger on it’

Did anyone in either of those bands (Ezra or Fandango) go on to anything else of
bigger success?
No, not really. They all made aspirational attempts, but nobody really cracked it
except me and I think that brought on a lot of resentment, and I mean – I’m friends
with them today but I don’t see them. And Rick died, Rick was in a car crash. In fact
my daughter’s named after his fiancée who died with him. It was a real Romeo &
Juliet story. He was up at the Renaissance there in New York state and some guy on
medication, 80 years old, lost control, fell asleep – whatever and jumped over the
divider and his car happened to be in the way, and it took them both out.

What year was that?
I’d say it was about ’83. Oh, you asked me if anyone had gone on further – he
actually played with Kim Larson in Gasoline Alley in Copenhagen, Denmark. Kim
Larson had a really big following in Scandinavia and Europe at the time, he was kind
of a David Johanson – looking character. The whole project was called “Gasoline
Alley” and I know Rickey had been touring with them, so he did at least get a taste of
what it might be like to do something on record.

Were some of the songs on your solo album not credited to him?
Because we had written them then, I mean “The Game of Rock n Roll” for
example – that was such an old song, and I still think it’s a timeless song. Regardless
of whether you like this version or not, the whole lyrical tongue and cheek
campiness of rock stars, ya know – “you got a manager, and a shiny car, a heavy
weight lawyer, and a bodyguard…………..” and all this kind of stuff, and it was kind of
cool. We had written a bunch of stuff, but that one was certainly perfect for “Hurry
Up And Wait” because Hurry Up And Wait has kind of got a tongue and cheek
attitude about the whole thing anyway. I mean it’s got some really great stuff on it,
commercial rock, but it just seems to fit, and it was a good tribute to do that.

How did you, being from the States, New Jersey — hook up with Ritchie
Blackmore?
Interesting story. Fandango was over, I was living down in the West Village of
New York City with a lot of the other bohemians, and living very poorly of course,
with a couple of roommates and sleeping on a mattress of the floor – that kind of
thing. I was playing guitar and singing still, I would do anything – sing, play –
whatever you wanted me to do! So I would go to a lot of auditions, and I realized that
I wasn’t getting the gigs because every time I’d be in the back line playing rhythm
guitar, or even lead guitar, or singing background – I kinda had a charisma I guess,
and I would out-shine these artists that these A & R guys were trying to promote, so
I was never getting the gigs. So I was like, “what the hell is it with this? I can’t get a
gig!” So I was getting pretty down hearted and pissed-off, rightfully so. I said to
myself 2 weeks previous to Ritchie’s phone-call that “I’ve really got to be my own
man; the only way I’m going to do this is to take the ball of wax in my own hands,
and be my own lead singer, or guitar player, writer, – whatever.” Never mind this
trying to join a situation or get higher or whatever! So, I get a phone-call one day
towards the evening. I’d just come in from another disgusting day of walking around
New York trying to find work and hook up things. This guy named Barry Ambrosio is
on the phone and introduces himself, and I Don’t him, but he says “I know you from
Fandango” and he started asking me 1001 questions, and I said “what do you work
for the IRS or something? Like what’s up with you?” And he said “No, I’m actually
sitting next to Ritchie Blackmore, I’m a friend of his and HE would like to speak to
you.” So, I was like slack-jawed, and went well “put him on!” And he comes on and
says “Hello mate….” and I said “Hello mate yourself, I’m a big fan of yours”, and he
says “well I’m a big fan of yours!”, and I said “Really”. And he says “I’ve listened to
all your Fandango records”, I said “Great, thanks”. And he says “We’re looking for a
new lead singer for Rainbow, are you familiar with Rainbow?” And I said “Well, I got
the first album that Dio did, and I like that”. But there was so many other bands that hit the wall at that time, bigger bands, that my tastes not changed, but Rainbow kind
of got buried with their first album. I was familiar with some of the other stuff, but i
wasn’t learning it off by heart or anything. So he says “we’d like you to come out and
try and have a singing'”. And I says “well where and when do i got to be…..” and he
says “Today!” and I’m like “Now? I don’t have a car, so I’ll have to take the train” And
he said he was out on Long Island, and the train service runs out to Long Island,
New York. So I figured out a schedule and called him back at the studio he was at –
which happened to be Kingdom Sound. I got the next train out there, got out there,
they picked me up at the station, brought me in straight to the microphone. I was
nursing a cold at the time, I had a head cold, and I didn’t care; I had to push through
this and my voice teacher at the time always taught me to sing above a cold. So I
started doing backgrounds and stuff to tracks like “Surrender” and what not. And
then I noticed they were wiping off Graham Bonnet’s tracks, and I was like “what’s
up with this?” And I’d started to do a few leads, and they said can you improvise?
And they’d play a track and said “just mumble something over this, sing some
bluesy hard rock over this” And then Ritchie came out with a couple of Heinekins in
his hand and said “you got the gig if you want it”. So I kinda figured since I was
working out here for the last 6 hours you know , and they were doing a lot of talking
back and forth behind the glass and I was standing out there like a goldfish in a bowl
worrying what’s going on.
Who was making the decision?
It was Roger Glover, he, the manager, Ritchie’s ex-wife Amy.
So he comes out with the Heinekins, he clinks me one, and we decide right there
that I’m in the band. They didn’t even let me go home they got a hotel room for me
and put me in a hotel that night. I called my girlfriend and said “look I won’t be
coming home, looks like I got a big gig, I’m freaking out, I’m excited, and they’re
keeping me in the hotel, here’s the number…..” And I started right in the studio the
next morning on the “Difficult To Cure” tracks. And the rest is really history, that’s
how it all started!
When you joined the band, the band had done a lot of heavier stuff prior to………..
Yeah they were a bit more..I’d like to call it “dungeons and dragons”.
Starting with the “Down To Earth” album and the albums that you were on…….
The Down To Earth album was a bit more commercial. They had the Russ
Ballard thing going on..
How did you feel about those (Russ Ballard) tunes?
I love them! I think Russ Ballard happens to be a great great writer! And I won’t
even get into, by disparaging him by saying that “I Surrender” – the way it came out –
I had an influence in that, but he would absolutely not accept any re-writes or
polishing. He said “you can do what you want to it – but I’m keeping my publishing!”
So Ritchie looked at me and I looked at him and said “f**k it – we’ll just do it!” I mean
I needed a break, i was in no position to argue. But I had re-written certain things and melodies, but overall – it’s his song! Somewhere there’s a demo of him singing
it, and you get the idea – “oh yeah, it’s much better now!” ha ha. Anyway, I loved the
Russ Ballard stuff, I thought he was a great writer with Argent and all that, I had no
problem with him. But it was that Rainbow was actually making a concerted attempt
and a concentrated effort to try and get this commerciality – not blatant
commerciality, but a melodic hard-rock form. I was at the right place at the right time
because that’s my instincts; my instincts are hard-rock and melodic. I’m not a
screamer, that’s just distasteful. I’m a Paul Rodgers fan, Glenn Hughes fan – I love
singing, when people can emote and really sell a lyric in a story, so I guess that’s
where the perfect marriage was coming from, and we just tried to follow suit.

And the last few albums there was even more keyboards……..
Yeah, there you go! With David Rosenthal, Ritchie wanted a bit more color to it.
He gave everybody a piece to stretch out with like synthesizer solos, the B-3 solos
and what-have-you. The band sort of went through a metamorphosis, and obviously
commerciality wasn’t bad because we were doing very well. I know we pissed off a
lot of the hard core dungeons and dragons fans because we weren’t writing about
castles and monsters and medieval kings and all that stuff, but we were doing a lot
of super-natural spiritual stuff. We were doing a lot of stuff that borderline on
séances and the other side of this life.
Now when you guys wrote together – you, Roger, and Ritchie, – did you do the
lyrics mainly??
What Ritchie would do is he would grab say Bob Rondinelli on drums with his
Taurus blue pedals, and they would go into the rehearsal place for a couple of hours
and just jam on all kinds of riffs; and then Ritchie would hand me this 2 hour tape
(ha ha ha) and go “alright – write some songs!”. And nothing would be necessarily
cohesive, in fact I can remember “Street Of Dreams” – which was a later song of
course, but they were all like that; I remember putting 3 or 4 different pieces together
and showing him how these 3 pieces of music went together and how they make up
the song because he’d write all the pieces but they would all be in different formats
and arrangements.
You guys went through a few personnel changes as far as keyboard players and
drummers. Was Cozy Powell ever in the band with you?
JLT: Cozy got out of the band just as I got in the band, and that’s when Rondinelli
came in. I did know Cozy very well, he came over to my house in New Jersey after I
got married, and we had dinner and we were talking about being in Blue Murder and
a whole bunch of other things, and of course John Sykes wouldn’t hear of it because
I’d gone out with his girlfriend earlier and it was becoming very incestuous. But he
(Cozy) was a fine fine man, and I think my quote when asked was ‘we lost a prince in
the industry’. Because Cozy, not only was a world-class drummer, but he was also a
fine guy, and you don’t find many of those; you find usually egotistical assholes!

Highlights as far as Rainbow goes – favorite tracks? shows?

Well Madison Square Garden of course because it’s my hometown! Bodkin of
course – because it’s Budokan! And then we played even larger stadiums where
there was 80 thousand people – ‘Summerfests’ and things like that! But as far as the
more memorable shows – my first show we played in Kolmar, France, and it was a
warm-up gig. It was an outdoor gig, a shed with a roof, and it was my first gig, and i
was scared shit. During Long Live Rock N Roll Ritchie and the guys gave me a piece
where I got out to the audience and started them clapping and singing and all this,
and of course they be French speaking they were trying to do the best they could,
and to make a long story short, I started getting bits of food thrown at me and I was
getting really irritated during this Long Live Rock n Roll part and I got really pissed
off with the lights and all I didn’t know where it was coming from, and I said “ah –
F**k off!” and as I threw the mic down I looked and the spotlight had just caught
somebody in the pit and there was Ritchie Blackmore and the rest of the band – they
had the food trays from backstage Hospitality and they were throwing baloney at me
and pretzels and chips – and it was them! Ha ha ha ha. So I felt like a complete idiot
(ha ha). And this was my first introduction to like “you better learn to take a joke!” In
other words you can’t take your self too seriously! And that’s something that I think
is probably the greatest thing that Blackmore has ever taught me. Whether or not he
subscribes to it anymore – I’m not too sure, because sometimes I find he pretends to
take himself seriously to intimidate people, but I know better – that “it’s all a laugh” –
as he used to put it. But those are the moments that i remember vividly because they
were major embarrassing or learning moments, and they were cornerstones of what
I’ve learnt and became today.

Favorite Rainbow songs??
They’re like my children, it’s very difficult to love one more than another. ……
There’s some special ones like Stone Cold, Drinking With The Devil, Street Of
Dreams, Can’t Let You Go, Jealous Lover…
there’s so many that were so cool and so good, we really had a run of luck, and
when I say luck I mean we do get lucky when the chemistry’s really happening, and
our chemistry was really high for a couple of years, and we wrote some really
impactful stuff. But otherwise it’s really tough, because each one of these songs is
sort of like a biography, or it reminds me of a place in my life – where I was at the
time, and if anybody wants my biography when I’m gone just listen to my records,
and it’s all about what I’ve lived through, and it’s all based on truth.

Now the band broke up when the Deep Purple thing was ………
Yeah that was………

Were you a little bitter or what?No, I’ll tell you what I’m bitter about. The manager actually put me and Ritchie
against each other on a trip back from Japan once. He came to me and said “Oh we
want to put back together Deep Purple and everyone’s into it and everyone wants to
do this, and you now have a lucrative solo deal with Elektra Records and you’re
going to do really good and blah blah blah…and then we can always put Rainbow
back together.” OK, this is the manager’s words in a nutshell. And I’m like “Man, no problem. You mean Ritchie really wants to do it?” – “Yeah” – OK then what the hell
am I going to say, because without Ritchie – there’s no Rainbow! So I said “yeah, and
I do have my contract with Elektra and I’m excited about doing a solo deal, and also I
feel very important by helping one of my favorite bands in the world – Deep Purple,
get back together!” I felt very instrumental, and I sort of had a smile on my face. Well
what happened was he went over to Ritchie and said “Joe just wants to do a solo
deal, he so full of ego now.” And Ritchie was really disappointed because he wanted
to keep Rainbow together, and I never knew that until last January. I found out
through a mutual friend of ours. And I’ve said this in the press and I want him to
know that we were duped, in a word ‘duped!’ And he (the manager) played both
sides against the middle for monetary gains, and there we were. So I was bitter
about what the manager did.

Any hard feelings a few years ago when Ritchie put the band back together
without you?
Not at all! In fact those guys were playing with me first – they were my band. I
can document that, they were in the Joe Lynn Turner All-Star band playing around.
We played for a couple of years before Ritchie picked them up, and of course he did
the right thing. They came to me out of respect and said “hey would it be OK if we
joined Rainbow?”, and I said “first of all I’m not your father! and I don’t own you, but
I really appreciate you guys coming to me with this kind of respect, but go for it – be
blessed my child, but BE warned! All that glitter ain’t gold, he’s a tough cookie
sometimes, so just wear your helmets!” And sure enough they came back later on
and told me some absolute horror stories! Ha ha ha ha. So, I had no problem at all. I
was pretty much flattered that he would steel my band, ha ha. But I wanted those
guys to get notoriety as well.
So there was no plan for you to get into Rainbow?
No, I don’t think he even considered me because he wanted all new blood.
That’s one of the famous Vampire-Blackmore things — he needs new blood to
generate. After the fiasco we had been through with Purple and everything. He and I
were the only 2 that still stood fast, and he wanted me in that band. He took a 2
million dollar deal from BMG to get Gillan back in the band, because there was no
way he wanted Gillan back in the band. This is obviously another story……. What
happened was I got pushed out. The only bitterness I have about that — and I’ve seen
all the guys several times, I’ve seen them 2 nights at the Hard Rock & House Of
Blues, hung with them back stage, hugged, and all that crap. I harbor no ill feelings,
but everybody knows where the body’s buried, everybody knows what they did – and
if they can live with that — fine! I’m a big enough man to forgive — not forget, but to
forgive! And I really felt I got back-stabbed!
How did you feel about the album you did “Slaves & Masters”??
Slaves & Masters was a great product. We got crap out of it; it was “Deep
Rainbow”, and all this kind of shit! What the hell do you expect ? — we got 3 people
from Rainbow and 4 people from Purple, so now what? You got me singing lead, so
the color and face of the band’s going to sound like Rainbow, but I’ll tell you this,
and little did I know that that was one of Ritchie’s favorite albums, I read it in articles,and he’s told me, and then I read it in print and I know anything he says in print he wants out there! So he said that was actually one of this favorite records. And to
make a long story short, we got a lot of shit from the Deep Purple Fan Club, Simon
Robinson and all these guys. Here’s what I want to say, and I’ve been saying it, so
the last laugh is mine — Look at them now! They sound like the Gillan Band meets
the Dixie Dregs! It doesn’t sound like Deep F**kin’ Purple!! We had at least – with
“Wicked Ways” and a bunch of different songs, we sounded like Purple! We had the
Purplesque attitude, but we also had some Rainbow styles because how far can you
take these musicians out of their environment? We are what we are! So it’s got to
sound like that, but it still sounds – to me, closer to the truth of Deep Purple rather
than what’s been coming out lately! It sounds like some avant-garde — I don’t know
what the hell that is!! And I think it (Slaves & Masters) was a far better album,
although people would argue, than “The Battle Rages On”. I didn’t like that album.

jlt dp

Did you do the demos for The Battle Rages On?
Yes – in a word! And I just heard that they are on some bootleg, I believe you
can get it from Lost Horizons, Chris McLaughlin – this guy in Japan, and I know him,
and I’m going to e-mail and call his ass and ask “what the f**k is goin on with this?” –
because I want those!

Did you write anything on that?
Yes. When I heard The Battle Rages On, I heard diluted tracks of what we were
writing. We had some very strong material because at that point Ritchie was very
concerned. We brought in Jim Peterik of Survivor, and he was writing with us, and
we had some really cool stuff! We had this one called “Lost In The Machine” — which
was f**kin’ heavy. We had another called “The Stroke of Midnight”, another called
“Little Miss Promiscuous”. We were just ripping it up with social statements, and all
that kind of stuff. And we were sort of becoming like an angst band, but with a
commercial attitude, and a lot of great music! But the other guys were just …you
know – “Oh – the 25th Year reunion, we can’t survive without Ian Gillan.” And then
when BMG came in and slid in the 2 million bucks to Ritchie to give him a solo deal
just to get Gillan back in, he said “sure!” And i can’t blame a guy for that kind of
dough going over his head! So the cruelest thing, and what I am pissed off about is
the fact that they said I couldn’t sing! Now that’s a lie, because I could sing, I never
lost my voice. I read an article of Ritchie’s and he said “somebody had to be the goat
— somebody had to take the fall, and it was Joe. They sacrificed him. And he said
“those 3 guys really made it rough for him. God knows Joe had his own problems at
that time…..” because I was wrestling with my own inner-demons and I had a bit of a
drug habit – I’m not going to powder it at all, and I am completely back. But what I’m
trying to say is that they were giving me that psychological trauma. Here I am in one
of the most legendary bands in the world, and all I’m getting is shit from the inside! It
was pretty tough stuff. I needed a permanent couch attached to my back, I needed a
psychiatrist or something, because I couldn’t deal with the betrayal and the back-
stabbing and the nice to your face and then kick you in the ass. And I couldn’t
believe these guys. Ritchie was not a part of that — it was the other 3.

Do you still have a friendly bond with Ritchie?

Oh yeah. We don’t call each other all the time, but every once in a while we’ll
call and say “let’s go out to dinner”, and we never do. But some of our good mutual
friends are always passing along “hellos” from him and Candy. Everybody’s so busy
that we never do get together, but I’d like to make a point of it possibly at the end of
the summer or fall to just get together with him and say “hey – for old times sake
let’s have a few beers!”. And I would (to answer a question you didn’t ask!) …I’d love
do a Rainbow reunion because # 1 – I think the fans deserve it! and #2 – I think we
can really create some great music together again — if Ritchie is of the mind that he
really wants to do another hard-rock album. Right now, I happen to know that Ritchie
has always been a minstrel man; he’s always been a medieval – renaissance type of
guy. He told me he was born out of time, and he’s always felt these other lives, and
so on and so forth. So this does not surprise me – what he’s doing. And everybody’s
like “what the hell’s he doin? Has he lost his mind?”, but actually he’s found his
mind and he’s found his soul. He loves this kind of stuff. There was a German band
that he would take a tape of on tour with him, and play it for me all the time, and I he
would go follow them around like a groupie when we were off tour; and he would go
to these castles. Now he’s doing the same thing with his “Blackmore’s Night” thing.
So he’s happy, and the rest of yous can piss-off if you don’t like it!

You worked with Yngwie Malmsteen. Tell me, did Bob Daisley play on
“Odyssey”??
Originally it was supposed to be me, Bob Daisley, Eric Singer on drums,
Yngwie, and Jens Johanssen on keyboards. We had meetings, we had rehearsals,
the shit was sounding great, and then Yngwie freaked out and couldn’t take the egos
or whatever — couldn’t take Bob being of notoriety, me being of notoriety, because
what Jim Lewis at Polgram was trying to do (who’s still his manager by the way) was
bring us up to “super-star” status. It all looked good on paper, but Yngwie,
psychologically and emotionally couldn’t handle it – in my opinion (not only my
opinion – but everybody else’s opinion!), and he really just flubbed it, and then he
got in that terrible accident, and the whole bottom just dropped out. Because I was
with Bob and Eric for a couple of months, trying to put things together, and yes Bob
did eventually end up playing on a couple of tracks, but it was nothing that it was
supposed to have started out to have been. He got Anders Johanssen back and
went back to what Yngwie felt was comfortable. But regardless of any of that, the
Odyssey record still happens to be – in my opinion , one of the best works he’s ever
done. And I think people have testimonials to that. So I say it still stands the test of
time, and it was a sparkling light in his career, and I think he’s been trying to chase
that ever since really. But none of the records come up to snuff like that.

In latter years you’ve done a lot of ‘tribute’ stuff, you’ve got a new solo thing
out…..
Yeah I did some tributes for a while. It was fun to do Cream, ‘Purple — he
Friends from New York Purple – which was really outrageous, left-field stuff with
TMC Stevens! Did an AC/DC tribute – that was fun, and I love doing different stuff
because it’s always a challenge. Then I got serious again and started to do some
solo records and some “undercover” stuff – which i really loved doing.

And the Mother’s Army stuff!?

Ohh – this last one I love! I love them all, but i think the band’s got a real sound
and real style. And with this “Fire On the Moon” – I think we’ve really captured
something.
The only thing is a lot of the stuff you do now is Japan-only releases!?
Yes. A lot of it’s import , you’re right! And certain things in Europe like USG has
released “Planet Earth” and things like that. But oddly enough (I’ve got to tell you)
we’re doing 10 out of 10s as far as the reviews in Europe; they’re were going “best
hard-rock album of the year” …”Incredible lyrically”….”the music has got this and
that….” , and JVC in Japan dropped us! So right now we are label-less. We wrote 6
more songs, we turned them in , 6 which we love – the same style as Fire On The
Moon, if not better, so we know it had nothing to do with that. The whole thing in
Japan is just upside-down and ass-backwards right now with their economy and all.
So we’re kind of grateful that we got dropped by JVC, because they weren’t treating
us right, they never really promoted the records, never took any time out for us, or
anything like that. And I really think this band could be a mainstream, really
something to wrecked with if somebody got a hold of it with the right publicity.

What are you doing currently??
My next major project is to go with Nikolo Kotsev of Brazon Abbott. I just had
dinner with Glenn Hughes here in New York 2 weeks ago, who’d finished his tracks,
and we are doing a 2 CD set of a rock-opera about Nostradamus! It’s major – it’s
f**king brilliant! I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag, but i believe Doogie White’s
on it, and there’s going to be a cast of very notable people – women as well, and this
is an opera – a rock opera on Nostradamus right in time for the millennium, with his
whole life. It’s been one hell of a project for me to write on. I’ve heard the Glenn
tracks and he sang great, it’s just coming out phenomenal! So that is what I do at the
end of July. I also do a small festival over there in Mannheim – where Nicko lives,
we’re going to do a small outdoor festival – one night. And then I also did a Heaven &
Earth project with Stuart Smith, the guitarist, and now it looks like there’s a couple of
sheds up there in British Columbia, and he’s got Paul Rodger’s manager Chris
Crawford helping him out, so they’re threatening there’s a slight tour coming down
in August, a couple of festivals, and some clubs all the way down to LA, but I’ve yet
to see this materialize. And concurrently I’m starting a web business for musicians,
which is going to be a complete full sight to help aspiring and professional
musicians, but mostly the undiscovered talent that’s out there. We are going to be
like an MP3 sight, but in the meantime we’re going to try and help the musicians.
We’re going to have data banks for legal advice – because musicians end up on the
wrong side of contracts all the time! We’re going to help some kid with some advice,
where to go, what to do – whatever he needs!? Classifieds, employment rosters. It’s
a full range site “musiciansask.com”, and we’re right now in meetings to try and 5 to
7 $million to try and fund this thing, because there’s no site out there like this that
actually helps the musician. What we’re talking about is having a home-page for the
band, a bio, picture, a couple of MP3 downloads, you know – trying to get the band’s
exposure, single artists – whatever. Put people in touch with people internationally,
you know if you’ve got the music and they’ve got the lyrics. We’re going to have
bulletin boards. And this was all thought of by a group of musicians with notable
credibility who really want to help musicians because we’re the most kicked around artists in the world, you know they take our money, they steal our songs…One of our
slogans is “it’s our music – let’s take it back!” We’re sick of the A & R f**king people,
the big 3, and the big goofball record companies signing all these like Rickey Martin
and shoving these little Spice Girl shit down our throats, we’re sick of all the angst
and 4-chord wonders out there, that sea of talentless people — we really want to see
some music come back. And I think this thing is going to fly.

Favorite singers?
Paul Rodgers, Glenn Hughes, and there’s a couple of unsung heroes I admire
like Kelly Keeling, then Paul Carrack. I love Robert Plant, and I’m just sort of bringing
up where my butt comes from. What nails me is a singer that can do that soulful
thing and basically still rock.

Any rare / unreleased Rainbow tracks you remember?
JLT: Just some demos, nothing for release.

You released 2 albums of cover songs — why??
Pony Canyon and I had an idea to do this. I like remakes, and some of these are
my favorite songs. The C.D.s were well received.

Did Ezra play any Uriah Heep songs? Did you consider any Heep songs for either
of your covers’ albums?
Ezra played the popular Heep songs of the day. Yeah, it might be a good idea to
cover some Heep songs.

Any memories of touring with YJM in Russia?
Plenty of them. Cold, Cold, Cold! We were there for 5 weeks. A lot of technical
difficulties. Great audience response! Made me appreciate home sweet home.

Who was the ‘King Of Dreams’?
Real smooth dancer refers to Ritchie, the rest is a parody of myself.

Have you heard all the Rainbow remasters yet?
Yes, they sound great. I’m so glad they re-did these. And on VH1 they’ve been
playing the shit out of us, because down here it’s “the bad boys of rock” all month
and they’ve been playing “Stone Cold” and things like that, so my phone’s been
wringing off the hook. It’s kind of funny to see it all come back for a week.
I would also like to mention that I got a great web-site joelynnturner.com, and it’s
brand new; we’ve revamped the whole site, and there’s all kinds of new features and
a lot of cool links, and e-mail so everybody can e-mail me there.

KJJ, July ’99

PHIL LANZON – If You Think I’m Crazy : Interview

Uriah Heep keyboard player and songwriter Phil Lanzon’s debut solo album is out – and it is highly recommended. Not much in the hard rock style of the classic band he’s in, but a vast array of pop, prog, folk, and rock – which all goes together for a great listen, with different players, singers, choirs, strings…

In this interview with Phil, he answers the questions about this exciting new album and it’s release. A busy fella, currently working on a new Heep album, and preparing for an upcoming tour of the US in the new year! Looking forward to seeing Phil & Heep, as well as getting my hands on the vinyl version of this release – which you can order and support the project at —

https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/phil-lanzon-if-you-think-im-crazy

*Also visit Phil’s website for music, art and videos

https://www.phillanzonwordsandmusic.com/

You’ve been a member of Uriah Heep and a large writing force in the band for 30 years. How did the solo album idea come about?

 As with most writers you tend to write all the time, and I had accumulated a lot of material that was not Heep related. There came a time when my backlog of songs was overloading and some had to give birth or my studio would explode!!
So, I utilised the period when Mick and Bernie were off doing rock meets
classic and began the recording process.

First off – the album art is quite stunning! How did this come about with artist Michael Cheval?
 Easy this year I was looking for an album cover and trawled through a thousand or so artworks from all different styles.
I then came across a couple of pictures I liked by Michael Cheval. I don’t know anyone from the art world as such so I sent a message to him with my phone contact not expecting to get an answer. That evening the phone rang and it was Michael.
By huge coincidence it turned out he is a huge Heep fan and wanted me to use the picture I had selected for my solo album.  His original featured a certain famous Beatle but he insisted he put my mug shot in his place. I eventually agreed.

http://chevalfineart.com/info/news/2017/0917

Were these songs All written specifically for this album, or were there any holdovers that perhaps – didn’t suit past Heep projects?
 Some where, some weren’t.

You sang lead on 2 tracks on the album. why only 2?
 I don’t consider myself a singer. In fact I don’t really like my voice but I thought I’d better chip in so to speak.

What can you tell me about some of the players, singers, choir, etc.. that you’ve used on this project? Laurence Cottle – the same guy that was on a Black Sabbath album, I presume!? Andy Martin and John Mitchell obviously play a big role on this album.
 Yes, Laurence did do a Sabbath album. Andy Makin and John Mitchell brought a wonderful flavour to the songs and to be fair I relied solely on my producer Simon and arranger Richard to help with bringing the players and singers together. I simply wanted to write the songs and give them the chance to interpret them. Craig is now with Steven Wilson

How different was the writing process, where as with with a Heep album you usually write with Mick [or collaborate in some way]?

 Very different. When you write Heep style there is a very narrow margin that we have to keep within because it’s Uriah Heep.

You’ve done this project without any ‘guest’ appearances from your Heep bandmates. any reason you chose not to use any name guests?
I had originally wanted Russ and Dave to get involved but after many conversations with Simon I decided to let him take the lead and organise the entire shebang from his point of view. This is not to say I wouldn’t use them on another future project as they are a great rhythm section.

A lot of your songs are story based. where do you draw ideas from, with reference to specific tracks?
 There is only one answer – life. It’s all there to be lifted out and written on the page. I write short stories and I’ve written a novel so it’s in the blood – can’t help it.

Can you give me any antidotes into a few of my personal favorites – I Knew I Was Dreaming, I Saw 2 Englands, Lovers Highway, Donna & Joe?
 I like them all!  Donna & Joe is about two 19th century smugglers. They were once lovers, went their separate ways but ended up in the same profession. The story tells how they were clearly blaming each other over some territorial dispute and end up threatening each other. The ending is left up to the listener.

Step Overture is a very heavy, progressive instrumental track, kinda reminds me of old Genesis [Watcher of the Skies]. What inspired that song, and were/ are you into more progressive styled bands [Genesis, ELP, Yes]?
 I grew up on that stuff yeah. Love the way it mixes into the pure rock
genre.

The Bells is probably the closest thing to the Heep sound and feel on this album. I can quite imagine it in the Heep set. what can you tell about how this track came about – in to a great heavy track[?]
It was just that – a heavy riff track I had for a long time but never actually played it to the guys. It’s about a guy who turns rain into gold – you can imagine the trouble that caused.

Aside from social media, is there any other promotional plans – possibly any live performances?
No live stuff. Too much else going on. I think I’ll carry on recording my songs over time. Maybe an e.p. next year.

You obviously like working with strings, choirs, orchestra… very different approaches to Uriah Heep’s work. Is there anything you’d like to do on your own in the future, perhaps outside of the traditional rock realm?
I’d like to get into some hard core comedy rock a la Zappa etc. Have a good old play on lyrics and stuff!

Can you give me a List of some of your current & past favorite recordings [not yours] to listen to?
Early Steven Wilson currently. From the past everything from Mozart to
Beatles to genesis and a million others. There is so much music out there it’s quite frightening, but hell – let’s have more…….

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0fSGJjNexQE8Rj7A4AXSdw

Interview KJJ, Nov 2017

 

 

Phil Lanzon solo and a few other new things….

PHIL LANZON : If You Think I’m Crazy
Phil has been the keyboard player and major songwriter in Uriah Heep for the past 30 years. Joining in 1986, after a brief period in Sweet. He’s a major reason why the band is still going today and releasing solid new albums over the past few decades. It is no wonder (but a nice surprise) that Lanzon has finally released his first solo album. If You Think I’m Crazy is indeed a very nice addition to any Heep fan’s collection.

lanzon art
First off – this cover art by Michael Cheval jumps right out at you. Pretty different, and very colorful. This album is pretty wide ranging in material; not so much Heep sounding, but definitely a fantastic collection of songs written for this project. There’s no Heep connections here as far as cast or crew, with Phil using guitarist John Mitchell, drummer Craig Blundell, (acoustic) guitar player James Graydon, pedal steel & banjo player Sarah Jory, bass player Laurence Cottle (who’s playing credits include The Alan Parsons Project and Black Sabbath), and orchestra arrangements & keys from Richard Cottle. There’s a few different singers here, backing singers, orchestra, choir… all makes for quite a grand production and cross section of songs.


Songs here are largely story based, which leaves some interesting tales. All these songs are enjoyable, but favorites would have to include “I Saw Two Englands”, an acoustic ballad that picks up, and has a catchy chorus, and the pedal steel guitar gives it a bit of country feel. nice vocal from Phil. “Lover’s Highway”, sung by Andy Makin is a pretty cool swinging prog-pop cut; a bit of a 70s feel, great performance with John Mitchell’s guitar sound, and the mid tune drum break that leads into the chorus choir. “Donna & Joe” is my favorite track here, sweet keyboard and string intro leading a tale of revenge – love the chorus. “The Bells” is about the closest to a Heep rock tune here, as I can easily imagine the band doing this one.

The 10 track disc ends with Phil singing the ballad “The Forest”, which is an epic finale to this album. Lots to listen to hear, and I’m sure favorites will change. Looking forward to the vinyl release of this. A great and most welcome release! Here’s hoping next time there’s a gap in Heep albums – Phil Lanzon will fill it with another fine record.

http://www.phillanzon.com

http://www.chevalfineart.com

And ….
Though recently I’ve had the above Phil Lanzon disc and latest Styx album stuck in my car stereo (where I can peacefully listen and max volume), I’ve gotten a number of new things that I’m getting into. Having recently moved, I’ve had to reorganize my LPs and discs, and set up a new room for stuff. But I got the new Heaven & Earth LP, featuring (guitarist) Stuart Smith, (singer) Joe Retta, and (drummer) Kenny Aronoff.

http://www.heavenandearthband.com

The band’s previous album “Dig” was a huge step forward for the band, classic hard rock – one of my favorite albums of the past 5 years. The band has made a few more changes, but Smith (band founder) has kept Joe Retta for “Hard To Kill”, and on a first few listens this album sounds great! A bit harder than the previous album, minus the ballads. Love the title track, which kicks ass right at the start of this album, as well as the video single “The Game Has Changed” – pretty different and a bit o funk.

Looking forward to getting more time with this. I wish someone would book these guys up this way (Southern Ontario).

…….I also got Joe Bouchard‘s new disc “Playin History”. Another solid release from founding & former member of Blue Oyster Cult, and the most productive. Joe has released a pile of solo albums that BOC fans will easily enjoy.

His latest album I’ve been taking for a drive as of late, and tracks like “Renaissance Man”, “52 Agents of Fortune”, “Night Owl Nocturne”, and ballad “Diamonds In Blue” will please fans. Ironic that this guy is at his most prolific over the past decade, filling the void left by the current band that don’t record new material.

http://www.joebouchard.com

Brother Albert Bouchard also has a new album out titled “Surrealist”…. I did get the new Alice Cooper a few months back, and though I think is a far better listen than the previous “Welcome 2 My Nightmare “, and it boasts a stellar guest list – the best track for me on “Paranormal” is “Genuine American Girl”, with the original band. A classic AC track, but a damn shame there isn’t a full album from these guys! Opportunity missed, IMO….

Looking forward to putting on the Brown Sabbath album I got. Its from 2014, but if you’re not familiar – this soul band plays Sabbath covers, and they sound amazing – look them up! http://www.brownoutmusic.com

anyway, that’s all lately… looking forward to the new Europe, new Magnum, new Saxon – before year’s end, as well as numerous live albums from Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple.

KJJ, Oct. ’17

STYX – Now & Then

The Mission : Possibly THE Best Styx Album !?

styx now

Styx was one of my earliest favorite bands. The first album i ever purchased was Paradise Theatre, in the summer of 1981, while at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto (yes they had record outlets set up there).
I loved that album at the time – Best Of Times, Snowblind, Rockin The Paradise… neat gatefold and cool etching on one side of the LP. Back at our local Sam The Record Man i picked up almost everything else prior to, save for the first 4 albums – I got ‘The Best Of’ – to cover that era. From those 70s albums – Equinox, The Grand Illusion, and Pieces of Eight (on picture disc) were and still are my favorite Styx albums. Throw in Crystal Ball and Cornerstone and it was quite a period for the band. Kilroy Was Here came out in a huge deal of promotion with the film (which I believe was played at their concerts on that tour!?). That album had a few memorable songs, but in retrospect pretty disappointing for me (I will have to put it on later). I thought the story / concept and packaging was pretty cool though. The subsequent double live album was anti climactic (picked that up on display at Sears!); sounding a bit tired (I think the band’s reunion live set Return To Paradise is far superior), and not to mention that studio track released as a single – “Music Time”, just ridiculous pop stuff – no wonder they split sooner after!
From 1984 to ’88 Tommy Shaw and Dennis DeYoung each released 3 studio albums, while James Young released 2 (one with Jan Hammer). I really liked Desert Moon at the time, but lost interest in the next 2, while Shaw’s Girls With Guns is an absolute classic 80s album, and the 2 that followed were pretty decent as well. I had JYs album City Slicker, but never got in to it. From this point i moved on to other things, I missed subsequent solo albums from Shaw, Young, and (intentionally) DeYoung’s albums of Broadway hits.
When Styx resumed in 1990, Shaw was gone (joining ‘super-group’ Damn Yankees, followed by a few albums with Night Ranger’s Jack Blades). In his place was Glen Burtnik, a solo artist also on A&M Records. Burtnik was a multi instrumentalist, singer and writer, and seemed a good fit for the band. However, when Edge Of The Century came out I just never got it. It was a bit too mainstream pop and featured another DeYoung ballad as the big hit. I didnt get the actual album on CD til years later, and see I missed very little. On record Burtnik was good, and contributed to half the songs, and in particular the hit “Love Is The Ritual” and the title track. But I can’t stand the production / sound of this album, and every other track is a ballad! JY is barely on this thing. Sad. And as much as I think Dennis DeYoung was the key figure during the band’s classic era from 75-81, I think he’d sorta lost the plot at this stage. Although “Show Me The Way” was a hit at the time, I think that this and/or perhaps some of the other ballads would’ve been better suited to a solo album.


When the classic Styx resumed in the late ’90s they released a great live album with 3 new songs, most notably “Dear John” – written for John Panozzo (who passed away in ’96). Todd Sucherman filled in on drums here and remains a member of the band today. Bummer this ain’t on vinyl! The band’s subsequent studio album was highly anticipated ( I thought it would be great, at least), but it was a bit disappointing. Tommy Shaw was the major writer on this one, and put in the most memorable songs – “I Will Be Your Witness”, “Everything Is Cool”, and the title track. James Young contributed to 5 tracks, “Heavy Water” being the album’s rockiest tune. DeYoung contributed just 5 songs, 3 of which are ballads! what is disappointing about this album is that it seems to be less of a band effort – too many ballads, too little collaborations, too much filler. With DeYoung’s contributions sounding like he was recording an entirely different album than a Styx album. DeYoung developed health issues at the time and the band took the opportunity to carry on without him. Despite the timing, it was the best thing for everyone involved, I’d say. Don’t get me wrong – I am a fan of DeYoung’s work; he is an amazing writer, singer and keyboard player, I just don’t think his direction suited the band anymore.


The band chose Canadian singer/writer/keyboard player Lawrence Gowan to replace DeYoung. Gowan had a number of hits in the ’80s, particularly in Canada – “Criminal Mind”, “Strange Animal”, “Moonlight Desires”… Gowan is an energetic performer and though there is a group of DeYoung faithfull fans who would disagree – his voice and playing suits the classic Styx era tunes just perfectly.
In 2002 with Gowan in the band, as well as Glen Burtnik back as bass player (Chuck Panozzo being ill and tho still a member, his role is limited) Styx released Cyclorama. By then I’d lost a good bit of interest in the band, but was curious. Cyclorama was a nice surprise. A far better Styx album than any since Paradise Theatre. The band had contributions from everyone, 4 of whom sang lead, and it sounded like a band again – and everyone seemed to enjoy making this album (Almost all tracks are co credited to the entire band). Shaw contributed favorites “Waiting For Our Time” and “Yes I Can”, while James Young sang on (and presumably was lead writer) on “These Are The Times” and “Captain America” – 2 of the best tracks he’s ever done. Gowan’s “Fields Of The Brave” and “More Love For The Money” and Burtnik’s “Killing The Thing That You Love” – all classy stuff.


The band toured and Burtnik eventually left the band, with Ricky Phillips (ex Babies) joining on bass (and Chuck Panozzo coming out on tours for a few songs and appearances). Sadly, (in my opinion) the band missed the opportunity to follow up Cyclorama sooner than later, opting to stay out on tour for years, while releasing a number of live albums, a covers album, and an album of classic Styx tracks re-recorded. I did pick up and liked the latter album titled “Regeneration” (2011), and the live DVD of the band performing The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight albums in their entirety. But over nearly 14 years of nothing really new – it is easy to grow cynical and lose interest [again].
It was Dennis DeYoung’s live album of a couple years back that got me pulling my Styx albums out again. I thought it was an amazing set, and this guy still sounds so good after all these years! His voice, his keyboard playing – and his band which includes 2 guitarists that resemble Styx’s guitarists from a distance, and one who can sound remarkably like Tommy Shaw performing Shaw’s songs — this was what Styx sounded like to me – But during a certain period. I did pick up DeYoung’s “100 Years From Now” in all this, and thought it was pretty decent; definitely rockier than his previous stuff. I would love to hear DeYoung make a new studio album of classic Styx sounding material though.


Having wished for a new DeYoung album sounding like classic Styx would be ideal, but it seems the band has beat him to it with “The Mission”. A new album, recorded quietly, with no mention of it until it was ready.
After 14 years, what could the band have to offer? After one solid album in 2003 and a few duds before that, how great could it be!? Well, if the band set out to go back and make it sound like a classic Styx album (Equinox, Grand Illusion), as I’ve heard Tommy Shaw say [check out those youtube interviews!], they succeeded IMO.
Originally conceived by Tommy Shaw and producer Will Evankovich, The Mission is more than one could’ve expected, with the lyrics revolving around a futuristic trip to Mars, and the band pulling off an authentic 70s sound and feel throughout this album. This is not just another Styx album of rock, pop, and ballads – it is the Best Styx album since Pieces Of Eight! Certainly a return to the progressive period before that. I have had this album since shortly after it came out, and have not tired of it, there is just so much to hear and follow track to track.

styx mission
When Gowan’s keyboards kick in during the “Overture” i am instantly reminded of classics like “Light Up” and “The Grand Illusion”, as if this piece could work right up to either one of those tunes. But it is the lead off upbeat track “Gone Gone Gone”, sung by Gowan – it’s short and to the point, which is to catch your attention and kick things off with the line “Light it up – let’s get this show on the road!”. Already sounds like a great show opener! Classic concept and packaging – gatefold LP, with story, cast of characters, lyrics…

The Mission is not simply something you can pick a few favorites out and skip right to them (though i do have a few favorite pieces), but more so – lyrically and musically, it is something that really is worth listening straight through.

Each song is connected in the story and musically, with no fadeouts or big drum endings, but there’s a real musical flow from track to track, and a few shorter pieces that segue and connect. Gowan’s use of older equipment – moogs, synths, etc… give this such a cool 70s vibe, with not only shades of mid 70s Styx, but a bit of Pink Floyd at times – see “Locomotive”, which also features a guitar break very reminiscent of David Gilmour. a number of classic tracks here, from more mainstream catchy pop-rock like “Hundred Million Miles From Home” and “Radio Silence”, to “The Greater Good” – which starts as a ballad and picks up with Gowan and Shaw exchanging lines (as per the story), and on to the epic progressive piece “Red Storm”.

This album really is more of a progressive album than anything the band’s ever done. James Young only has one lead vocal here, on the somewhat slower funk track “Trouble At The Big Show”. I would say the only thing this album misses is that one JY rocker that usually stands out. That’s not to say this album is soft; musically it’s heavy and pretty upbeat throughout. I don’t just hear traces of 70s Styx, but other progressive influences. This is a Styx album that is in a class of it’s own.

 

Styx Favorites From The Wooden Nickel Days

In writing this I went back and revisited the entire Styx catalogue. I planned on adding a favorite track list, but really got attached to listening to those first 4 albums on Wooden Nickel Records. Plenty of classic forgotten stuff on these albums (as the band would sign to A&M for Equinox in ’75 and take off). The LPs were reissued with new (and cheaper looking) in 1980, but you can get all this early Styx stuff on the 2CD release – The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings.  Here’s hoping the band makes more recordings in the future and perhaps revisits the heaviness of the early days.

styx early

Father O.S.A.
From Styx II. One of the best and heaviest Dennis DeYoung tracks. Big organ presence, a cool hook, and classic guitar solos trading off following his vocal.
A Day
From Styx II. A lenghty moody epic piece penned and sang by founding member John Curulewski. Such a different sound for this band. Curulewski could write some great stuff. Although his replacement added a new commercial appeal and is responsible for the band’s latest masterpiece, Curulewski was a great contributor in the early days. RIP


Evil Eyes
A dramatic power ballad from DeYoung, on Man Of Miracles. Classic track; great production. cool atmospheric bass and guitar break.
The Serpent Is Rising
The title track to the band’s 3rd album. I’ve read DeYoung didnt like this album; not sure why, there’s some real gems here. This one penned and sang by Curulewski (co-penned by Chuck Lafrana…anyone?). Love the riff and synth that comes in. a slower paced, but heavy song, great band vocals on the chorus. Pretty dark track for this band.
Young Man
Another JY track, and a very different one, from Serpent. Starts out soft, but builds up in to a heavy track. Love the vocal interplay with JY swapping off lines with the rest of the band, which all leads in to a lengthy organ solo and then a change in movement and dramatic finale.


Witch Wolf
The opener to The Serpent Is Rising. Another cool James Young rocker. Love the guitars on this one, as well as the organ sweeps, and the band’s blended vocals on the chorus; gives this a bit of Heep feel in places.
Best Thing
Not much original material on the band’s debut album (love their cover of George Clinton’s “After You Leave Me”!). This track co-penned by James Young and Dennis DeYoung, who also share the vocals is a stand out here though; lots of changes from acoustics to heavy guitar and organ. The band’s first single and chart placing.
Southern Woman
Another great JY rocker. From Man Of Miracles. Killer guitar intro that makes me think of southern rock bands like Skynyrd, but when the organ and harmonies kick in, I’m (again) thinking of Heep. Gotta wonder how much (if) the heavy British bands had an influence on Styx in the early days. Love the guitar break, followed up by a big organ solo.

 

You Need Love
The opener to Styx II. Penned by DeYoung, but given to JY to sing. Its a fast paced rocker with a number of guitar breaks. Reminds me a bit of later classic “Light Up” (from Equinox).
Christopher, Mr Christopher
Dennis DeYoung classic from Man Of Miracles. This song has it all, and is a bit of a step forward in the band’s sound to come on the next few albums.

Would like to hear your favorites from this era, as well as picks from The Mission!
KJJ, Oct. 2017