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Wally Stocker

Posted June, 2014

WallyStockerBWIf you were a teen in the seventies or early eighties, music from The Babys most definitely occupied significant real estate on the soundtrack from those days.  The band unleashed five albums between 1977-1980 (The Babys, Broken Heart, Head First, Union Jacks and On the Edge) and toured with huge acts such as Alice Cooper, Journey, and Cheap Trick, building a loyal following based on their spectacular songs and explosive live performances.

The band broke up in December, 1980, but their music still lives on through regular air play and CD sales to still-loyal fans. Now, after a three-decade absence, The Babys have reformed with original lead guitarist Wally Stocker and drummer Tony Brock to release a new album, I’ll Have Some of That, which is available now on iTunes (read the Boomerocity review of it here). With a sound that is both familiar as well as new, Babys fans are going to be thrilled with what they hear and are going to want to hear more.

I recently had the privilege of chatting with founding member of (and guitarist for) The Babys, Wally Stocker. He called me from his home in southern California and was very excited to talk about the new album (he and I, both, refer to new CDs as albums and records. Gotta love it!). Right off the bat, we discussed what the pre-release buzz was like for the album.

“A lot of people like the new record and like the fact that we’re back and like the new lineup. We’re excited, too. We’re pumped and ready to go! We released a single recently –‘I See You There’ - which is really the second single we released because we had ‘Not Ready To Say Good-bye’ late last year but this is kind of the official from the new album, if you like, and so far it’s been tremendous. Great feedback. A lot of people like the song. Just all around good things are happening right now.”

If you don’t count the anthology, demo and live albums that were released after the band broke up, this album is the first album – especially of new material – in almost thirty-five years.  I asked Stocker how has making this record been different from both the first and last Babys albums.

“Wow! That’s a good question! It was just as enjoyable. Less frantic, I would say. As the years went on with those earlier albums, we went through some line-up changes and a different approach, somewhat in the songwriting once Jonathan (Cain) came in. I wanted to get back to basics with this album. Obviously, we wanted to make sure that we captured the sound that we’re known for. That was high on the priority list as far as not losing the sound that people identify us with. You know, the big drums, guitars but lots of melody – mixing it up a bit between lighter songs and moving on to more rock type tunes.

“But we had a lot of fun making this one – probably the most fun I’ve ever had making a record in a long time. There was no tension there. I got to record with Tony (Brock) again, who did a wonderful job producing this record at his Silver Stream Studios. We’ve got two new members on board. They’ve been really inspiring. John Bisaha showed us what he could do. He’s really a first class singer. It took us a while to find him but out of the dozens of people we auditioned but I think we made the right choice with John Bisaha.

“And, of course, with Joey Sykes in the mix, as well, I get to bounce guitar ideas with him. This all made it exciting and a pleasure to actually go in and cut songs. Some of them we had for a while – just some musical ideas, if you like – but it took the whole band to really to put all the pieces in place. I’m very pleased with the result with this new record.”

When asked what has been the best improvements in recording and did The Babys utilize those improvements, Wally’s answer revealed an approach that other great artists such as Joe Walsh, Boston and Rick Derringer used in recent recordings.
“As far as improvements in recording, everything’s gone digital now with ProTools. We decided to try and recapture some of the sound that we had back then. We actually moved in an analog twenty-four track mixing board into Tony’s studio so that we could get that warmth of the analog sound that we used to get, you know? Although he’s all set up with ProTools, we tried to stay away from that with this record so that we could get more of a natural sound on instruments. Tony was looking for that analog sound from his drums and we managed to capture that. Rather than going too high tech, we wanted to take it back to the way it was and get that warmth out of an analog recording.
 
“Of course, the music business has changed so much since we made ‘On The Edge’ and those five albums. It’s a whole different thing now. Record companies aren’t the way they used to be. In fact, we have our own record label with this album simply because that’s the way to go now with the lack of record stores and CD outlets. People are either downloading an entire album or a favorite song. That’s the way things have shaped up through the years. I, alone, can’t change the way it’s going. I just have to try and fit in somehow.”

Continuing on the subject, Stocker added, “Yeah, it’s all too easy now with ProTools. You can record a part and just cut and paste and put it in there and, if there’s a wrong note here or there, you can just go into the computer and fix it. That’s all well and good but there’s nothing better than the band standing there in the studio and just going for it and just playing as a band – cutting a track together. And, if somebody messes up, well, you start it again as opposed to, ‘We’ll fix that later on the computer. Don’t worry about it.’ You kind of lose the vibe a little bit.”
“I’ll Have Some Of That!” is an outstanding album with every cut a favorite of mine.  I asked Wally if he were to point to just one song from the disc to use as a calling card to entice people to buy the album, which song would it be.

“Wow! Well, there’s quite a mixture of songs on there. Hopefully, they all incorporate our sound and playing styles. I don’t know. If I could pick one favorite, I do like the title cut, ‘I’ll Have Some Of That’. That’s kind of exciting to listen to and a little bit different for us but still stands within that boundary of The Babys. I love the new single, ‘I See You There’. I also love, ‘After Midnight’. It’s the fourth track on the album. If I were to describe the feel of that, it’s kind of bluesy, mysterious. I like that song a lot. Tony and I have  had that track for a while. We dusted off the cassette, gave it a listen and we cut it with this record.”

Wally continues, “But, then there’s, “Grass Is Greener”, which I really enjoy. I don’t know that I could pick one favorite. Those are examples of a few that I get off on. Then you have tracks like, ‘All I Wanna Do’, which is kind of a softer, ballad type of thing – kind of an R&B - sort of soul love song. We tried to mix it up and, hopefully, there’s enough there for everybody’s taste, you know?”

When I mentioned that I thought there was also a bit of a Black Crowes sound to the album in addition to the classic Babys sound, the Babys guitarist said, “We were going for more of a vibe or a feel on the songs rather than technically getting it perfect. I know my favorite artists when I was young and growing up – The Who, the Stones and even the Beatles – you would hear mistakes all over their records. It’s the feel and the vibe of the song that you really look at and listening to. That’s how we tried to record this record – ‘Just get it to feel right. Let’s not worry about the technical side of things’. Like you said, just down and dirty. The Black Crowes are like that. They’re a very loose band but they capture that vibe and that feel in their songs. Just like the Stones and just like the Faces used to be. A little untidy but you can forgive them for that because they had such great songs.”

On the subject of a tour to promote the record, Wally replied, “Yes, we are. We don’t have anything solid right now. That’s all being worked on and arranged right now. We’re just looking forward to getting this record out. In the meantime, this is the time for the people who work for us to do their stuff and start getting things arranged. I’m hoping that we can get some festivals under our belt before the summer’s over. If it were down to me, I’d love to get out on a decent tour with somebody and get back to the way we used to do things where we had a chance of going out and open up for a bigger act and bigger venues. Then, when that tour was over, we’d go off and do smaller venues and form our own tour around that. That would be ideal for us right now.

“We did a handful of shows late last year just to re-introduce the band and get our feet wet. The response was overwhelming. Itbabysgroupphotoreduced was so humbling to see all the fans singing along to every lyric and just having a good time. It really sort of hit home at that point that we haven’t been forgotten and that our fans are so loyal after all this time. They still came back in droves and enjoyed every minute of it. I think that’s what inspired us even more – to make sure that we’re organized as a band.

“We’re enjoying it because and you project that off the stage. Of course if your fans see you enjoying it, they enjoy it even more as opposed to being up there and going through the motions of playing the old songs. There’s much more than that. That’s why we decided before we go out and do the circuit again that we really wanted to get something new out there in the way of a new record to promote rather than going out and doing the old catalog. Plus, with a new record to promote, hopefully, we can find ourselves on a decent tour and get to play to a lot of people each night as opposed to playing in smaller places and trying to promote it that way.

“So, yeah, nothing in stone, yet, but certainly in the next two to three weeks I think we’re going to have some sort of idea of what the next step is.”
Prior to my call with Wally Stocker, I solicited question suggestions from you, the fans. A fan who lives in Breckenridge, Colorado, and is from Chicago asked if Wally remembered opening for Molly Hatchet in Chicago at the Rosemont Horizon around 1979 where everyone attending was given a 45rpm record of “Every Time I Think of You”.

“You know, I DO remember that show. I think we had to leave the stage early. Not only was Molly Hatchet there, we were sandwiched in between Molly Hatchet and .38 Special. That really wasn’t the right sort of crowd for us. I’m not sure who opened the show. I know we were in the middle. Maybe Molly Hatchet opened the show and then it was it was us and then it was .38 Special. I really don’t remember but I do remember that, after about four songs, we literally had to leave the stage. I mean, they just didn’t want to know about us. It was such a bad ‘fill in’ – mashed in between Molly Hatchet and .38 Special and here we are giving out 45’s and there I am, ducking Jack Daniels bottles being thrown at me. If it wasn’t nailed down, they would throw it at us. I think after about four songs, I was ankle deep in debris. We looked at each other and said, ‘Maybe we should get off the stage now before somebody gets hurt’.

“Yeah, if that was the show, then I do remember that. Fortunately, that’s the only time that really happened to me. It was a strange bill with .38 Special and Molly Hatchet with The Babys stuck in the middle of it.”

Another reader wanted to know how many guitars Stocker owns and is there one he considers to be the “holy grail”.

“I have a small collection now. Through the years, I’ve had anywhere from twenty-five to thirty guitars – all either Gibson’s or Fender’s, mainly Gibson’s. My favorite has always been the Les Paul. I’ve had that since the very beginning. But I’ve had Strat’s and Telecasters and 335’s. I’ve never really gone past that as far as other guitars. In some cases, guitar companies will offer me their guitars but I really didn’t want to endorse them because my heart was really with Gibson, you know? I knew that I could get the sound I wanted from a Les Paul so I just stuck with that.

“As far as a holy grail, well, Gibson did release limited Paul Kossoff Les Paul model I would love to get my hands on one those but, I like I said, it was a limited run and I think only collectors own those now. But right now I’ve got a nice Gary Moore Les Paul and I’m enjoying that. But, yeah, I usually stick to the Fender’s and Gibson’s. Like I said, my collection isn’t as large as it used to be for various reasons. It’s starting to build up again now and, hopefully, there’s more to come but, yeah, I would say that my favorite is the Gibson Les Paul.”

Another reader asked, “Thinking back, what would you do differently in and with the Babys back in the seventies?”

“Oh, wow! I don’t know. Obviously, we had our ups and downs through the years. I’m sure most bands do. At the time you think you’re doing the right thing, giving a hundred percent. I don’t know what I would’ve changed. Some days were better than others. What was keeping us going, I think, was just the music itself and the enjoyment of being a band and pursuing onward.

“Sometimes, you get left in the hands of the record company and management and sometimes you can get led astray. Maybe things like that may have happened to us along the way but you try to pull out of the nosedive and keep it level and do as much as you can do, personally. Sometimes, you’re not really in the position to change things around you because, being a group, it’s not like you’re an individual solo artist where you can say, ‘No, I don’t want to do that’ or, ‘I’m not doing that’. It has to be a group decision or a management decision or a record company decision. Sometimes you feel like you’re under the thumb of the record company. If you don’t stay in line with them, there’s always this fear of them saying, ‘Well, you know, if you’re not going to do it our way then you can be on your way’ kind of thing.

“So, I don’t know that I would’ve done differently. Every day was a learning experience. Of course, nowadays, the experiences from being younger carryover to where we are now. I know there are certain things that we wouldn’t do again but, at the time, I was really in no position to really change anything like that.”
After our call ended, I thought back over the hour long conversation and my perceptions of this legendary guitarist. Wally Stocker struck me as a man who still gets it: It’s all about the music and the fans who buy it and still has an experienced but enthusiasm about both.

Visit thebabysofficial.com to keep up with the latest with The Babys and when they’ll be appearing in your town.

Paul Ludenia (2014)

Posted June, 2014

paulludenia2014Photo by DE AngleAs I write for Boomerocity, it’s not an unusual occurrence to receive unsolicited CDs in the mail for me to review. Since I only write positive reviews, if I don’t like what I hear in those CDs, I just won’t write about them. I figure there’s enough negativity in the world that I don’t need to add to it.

Since that time, we’ve become good friends. He’s even been a tremendous help in the new look of the Boomerocity website through his business, Imagine Images. I also take every chance I get to plug his appearances in the Phoenix area, hopefully making friends and readers aware of the amazing talent he possess.Paul lives, eats and breathes music. He started his music career in Minnesota because, by his own admission, to attract girls. When I called him up for this interview, I asked him how that worked out for him.

As Ludenia’s musical skills improved, he and his bands opened for ever more popular artists and performing before ever larger crowds.“We had a bunch of great shows as far as out of town things go. For about eight years of my first twelve years in music I was pretty much on the road 200 to 250 days a year doing week long stays all over the upper Midwest – maybe to as far as Montana and as far down as Nebraska. That’s what we would do. We’d hit every town in a van and our production truck would follow us. We’d get there on a Sunday or Monday and then play Tuesday through Saturday.

“So, I remember little things like that but, of course, looking out at a sea of people was always a pretty amazing thing to be able to touch that many people at once. Always amazing!”

Paul paid his dues by playing in lots of different bands and in lots of different kinds of venues.  He ultimately took a detour in order to provide for his lovely bride and pursued entrepreneurship.  I asked Paul if he thought he was out of music for good when he made that decision.

“So, yes, I did stop music, planning not to play anymore. That was it. I was going to go down this graphics design path which I had already done for the band for years – all my bands. I made the logos and did all the things that graphic design was and I’m, like, ‘Oh! That’s a career! Okay!’ So I fell into that and it came so easy and financially fruitful that it was just an easy choice. I’m, like, ‘Okay. I’m done with that (music). We’re going to move on and do this (graphic design).

“I remember going to Best Buy every week to buy the latest CDs – as much as I could afford, I would buy.  I always dreamed of having a job like yours, Randy, where people would send me music and I would get to peruse it and enjoy it. I just want everything. I want to hear everything.

No that the small venue scene can be very inconsistent, I have observed that Paul is always booked on prime nights in very good venues in the Phoenix area and enjoys a loyal following. I asked him how that was working out for him.“I think that I can harken back to my quitting music and doing my business for ten years. I got to learn business – true business. Music can be a real hot mess as far as business goes. It can get kinda lawless out there. People sayin’ just whatever. Being in business, you’ve gotta put up or get out of the way. Just like with you and everyone else, people want their stuff done. It’s going to cost a certain amount. You’ve got to keep a good reputation. If you don’t, it’s going to spiral down and you’re not going to have a business and then what do you have?

“So, I started there and I thought, ‘Well, at least they can’t fire me because I’m being late or anything like that.’ Then, I just kept doing my thing. What I would do is listen to the people. When they told me this is the cover they want me to play or, ‘this is the original song I want you to play’, they go on my list of songs and that would be my song list for guests to choose from – like a human jukebox. I didn’t pick my list of now over two hundred songs – everything from rap to country to metal to rock – anything - they picked them. I think that’s a big thing.

“So, I’m kind of different that way, in that, I like all of the different genres. I like to play them all. I like to shock people when I play Michael Jackson right after playing Stone Temple Pilots. You’d be surprised how many people like that variety – that sort of, ‘Let’s celebrate music’ instead of, ‘Let’s celebrate seventies hard rock’ or something like that. It’s too small of an audience. That’s what I do. I let it all out there, let them decide the songs. I play for them and I tend to get a following because of it and I hope one of the reasons people come out to my shows, whether solo, duo, trios or full rock band, that we’re so positive, trying to be nice to each other and create an environment of no stress. We’re just entertaining, getting your mind off of the craziness out there. We don’t want to add to that. We want to take that away.”I asked Paul if he found that, when he goes from Phoenix area venues like Murphy’s Law or Sages, that he does have a following that he sees at all of the places he plays.

When I asked Paul just how well does music and his business, Imagine Images Design " width="240" height="120" allowtransparency="no">Studios, coexists for him, personally, he said, “I’m not sure there are many other avenues I could take to have that sort of double business. I’ve heard some guys do real estate sales because of the flex hours and that kind of thing.  But the one thing that I get that helps so much is everything I do in my business transposes over to my band and my music.

“That was the goal. I got those songs recorded and all it did was fuel me to want to do the next thing and keep writing. One thing led to another to where I am today. I still take lessons and try to get better. I’m never happy with the final output. I want better. How can I make it my best? I don’t even know if I’m going at it for people’s approval or just my own, to be honest, because I feel that I’m definitely my own worst critic.  But, then, this album has been interesting in that I’ve been able to – with “Karma Come”.

“So, with “Karma Come”, it’s been eye-opening as to how powerful music is and what you can actually do to get people behind a good cause. In this case, making folks aware, in hopes of reducing, Intimate Partner Violence.

“So, just to go from a guy who’s out of music – doesn’t play anymore and is just doing graphic design and to think how that has morphed to become what it is today. I just could’ve never imagined it. I really couldn’t. Even talking about it right now I’m like, ‘Wow!’ It blows me away!”

“It reminded of the first one in the sense that it is just me, for the most part. By now, I kinda ‘got it’. I’m less worried about how I manipulate the tools and more about the focus on the song and writing itself. It felt easier, this time, to be able to accomplish what I’m thinking. I think it has a lot to do with doing it myself. The second album, “Twenty Ten Again”, I spent three months with a guy – he was doing all the tracking. He had the computer and the software and knew how to use it. I gave him a bunch of money and we got about three months in and he stopped. I didn’t get any of the files. I didn’t get my money back. I had to start all over. I ended up doing that one by myself but it was the third time I had recorded that album. It was the worst experience but it’s led me to do things on my own. I don’t need that kind of help anymore and that’s pretty powerful!

In response to my question as to how long BOOM! took for him to record, he said, “I’m going to say about six months. You can listen to, ‘Life Got In The Way’, for an explanation about that because I could’ve definitely done it sooner but life gets in the way and I physically don’t have time to go into my studio and write/record sometimes. Again, it was easy. I had a bunch of songs to pull from and it was just a matter of picking which ones I wanted to finish up. But six months was about it.”

“Maggie is the lady’s name. She is a fifty year old, super kind-hearted lady and successful in business but she always struggled – as many do – with love. From what Maggie tells me, she just hasn’t had it true love before. When you’re out in the bars as much as I am, you see a lot of that and how people are so desperate for love. I’m very lucky that I’ve had that my whole life but I can imagine how tough it could be.

“I can’t even tell you now the pain that I felt immediately. I texted my wife, ‘Can you go on Facebook and make sure that I’m reading this right? Is this what really happened?’ Sure enough, it did! She (Maggie) came back with some broken bones and a bruised face and body but was thankful to be alive. She didn’t think that she was going to make it. He ran off and she came back to town with the kids right away and they were trying to find him. While that was going on, I wrote a song to him. That’s what the song is about. It was my feelings of ‘How could you do this? How could you be in love and do this?’ But also, ‘How could you shake my hand and then use that hand to beat her?’ I just wanted to take back all that love I had given him because he didn’t deserve it. Anyone who would do that is not worthy. This song is really about my feelings and about how I feel towards him. I think “Who cares about what I feel towards him?” because that’s not the point at all but that was my emotion coming out and is why I wrote the song. She tells me that she looks to this song for guidance and strength. I could’ve never imagined that that song would’ve affected anyone that way, much less my friend, Maggie.”

“I’m going to keep pressing and doing what I do. I like the old days when the bands would pump out an album about every year, if they can do it. I want to be that guy. I would also like to get a little more into helping others write. I’ve helped some others and it’s really gratifying. But I’m just going to keep pressing, doing what I do. I would like to make enough waves that maybe someday a label would come calling but, at the same time, be strong enough to say, ‘You know, I don’t know if I need you guys’. That might be the best route. It might not be the most fruitful but it might be. I don’t know.”

Mike Zito

Posted July, 2011

mikezito2Last summer, my daughter and I had a father/daughter date, going to see one of rock and blues icons from my youth, Johnny Winter.  As I wrote in my review of the show (here), the opening act blew my daughter and I away.  It was a three piece band that was fronted by its namesake, Mike Zito.

While seeing Johnny Winter perform will go down in my mind as one of the all time personal thrills of mine, I was struck and impressed by the power, presence and performance of Zito.  How would one describe it?  Hmmm.  I think that I would call it a fun, non-conceited swagger that can only come when one has a healthy assessment of their abilities and having a ton of fun demonstrating those abilities to the enjoyment of others.

As my daughter and I left the show, I swung by the product table that displayed Zito’s CD’s and such and picked up a business card shaped magnet that read, “Peace Love Zito” and his website, MikeZito.com.

That magnet lay on my little jewelry and phone collector thingy in my closet for since that time, serving as a reminder that I really must try to score an interview with this remarkable talent. In fact, it did so for dang near a year until this year, as I was studying the line-up of talent that was going to appear the Dallas International Guitar Festival back in April, I saw that blues’ Italian stallion was going to play there.

After the beam of light from Heaven went away and the angels finished singing from on high, signifying that it was time for me to pursue the interview, that’s exactly what I did. The result was a great visit after his performance that included sharing the stage with Ryan McGarvey and Anders Osborne.

I knew that Zito had an album that was lined up to be released so I asked him about it.

“It’s called Greyhound and I recorded it in Lafayette, Louisiana, at Dock Side Studio. Anders Osborne produced it. The guys that played today, Carl DuFrene (bass) and Bernie Blade (drums, and played with Dave Matthews and Friends) are also on it and it comes out on July 19th on Eclecto Groove Records.”

When I asked if the album was along the same vein as his previous CD, Pearl River, his eyes lit up as he excitedly described it to me.

“It’s a little more rock and roll. My first album was more what I like to do. The second album – I like to play blues, too, and it had other songs on it but we did a little more blues. So, I’ve been writing songs. I didn’t want to worry about making it a type of genre. I just wanted to record the songs. So, we did it when we went into the studio.  These guys (DuFrene and Blade) never played with me, never rehearsed with me. We just started jamming on something and then we pressed “record”.  That’s how we did it – the whole thing in two or three days. It’s got a real good, like, ‘hold on – don’t hold your breath’ feel. It’s got a ‘I hope it all works out’ kind of sound.”

The passion he exhibited about the project welled up even more when I asked if the vibe on the album was similar to the incredible performance that I had just witnessed just a few minutes prior.

“Yeah, the song I did today is called Hello Midnight and it’s on there. It’s definitely a little more rock and roll. It’s guitar, bass and drums – two guitars, bass and drums. It’s definitely bluesy – maybe some elements of Texas country in there with the songs. I like Texas country a lot! So, it’s got a little bit of that in it. And there’s definitely lead guitar and jammin’.”

The Dallas International Guitar Festival is a magnet for musicians of all levels. They come from all over the globe to attend the show, looking for their idea of the Holy Grail of guitars.  I asked Mike what his idea of a six stringed Holy Grail was and did he already own it.

“You know, that’s a good question. I don’t have any holy grails at this point. I used to. I used to always have in my mind, ‘Oh! There’s one out there that I gotta have!’ And I guarantee you, there are plenty of guitars here that I gotta have! But at some point you have to learn to be happy with what you’ve got. And I’ve had so many guitars over the years.  I’ve just sold them and traded them. I just thought that I had to have this one and had to have that one. And, really, you just need to play and practice a little more, you know? I’ve got, maybe, six or seven electric guitars. I’ve got more than enough. I play the same one all the time.”

As he points to his nearby guitar that he played on stage earlier, he adds, “That one there is made by Delaney Guitars in Atlanta.  It’s a handmade one. He (Mike Delaney) custom made it so I could tell him what I specifically wanted rather than getting my Fenders and having to soup them up or whatever. It just feels good. It’s easy. It’s great. I haven’t stopped playing it since I got it. It’s a gorgeous guitar! Every serious guitar player should try a Delaney guitar.  If they do, they’ll wind up ordering one, they’re that great.”

As we chatted, we both shared our admiration of Anders Osborne and Ryan McGarvey.  I asked Zito how long he knew these incredibly talented musicians.

“Anders I’ve know of and known who he was for long time. I met Anders maybe three or four years ago. We have the same manager. He used to manage them and then they got back together. Anders and I went on an acoustic tour called The Southern Troubadours. That’s when we got to be real close – got to be friends. Then he wrote a song for me that’s on the Pearl River CD called One Step At A Time – we recorded it together. And then we played shows together.  He’s really been getting into the electric guitar in the past year or two – really getting into it. So we talked about guitars and amps.  I got him with Category Five. Then he produced my new record. It was really fun because he’s really into electric guitars. He’s an amazing guitar player. Always has been. But he’s been focused on other things. Now he’s really enjoying the guitar. So, we recorded this album and, with him there, it has really big guitar sounds.

“Ryan? I met Ryan a couple of years ago at the Mile High Blues Festival. He went out and played and I was really blown away. He’s an amazing guitar player!”

I shared my story with Mike as to how I came to be aware of him and asked him what it was like playing with such a huge blues legend like Johnny Winter.

“He’s one of my all time favorite. Period. We’re with the same agency so we started playing shows, opening for him. That was awesome. But, that night at the Granada was the first time he brought me out and let me play with him. That was a dream come true. Absolutely!  The last show we did together in December - astounding! He blew me away! He played stuff that I never heard him play live - since I’ve seen him.  He was wailing! He’s doing great!  He’s got a new album coming out. The guy from Gov’t. Mule, Warren Haynes, is producing it. It’s going to be a big record.”

I asked who else he has played with that he admires a lot.

“Well, I’ve played with Buddy Guy. I used to play at Buddy Guy’s club. That was really great. I’ve played with Joe Bonamassa. Of course, the guys in my camp, Tab Benoit, Anders Osborne. There’s been quite a few that I’ve been real excited to get to play with.”

And who’s on his “bucket list” to jam with?

“Well, I’d love to play with B.B. King or Eric Clapton. I’d love to play with those guys. Jeff Beck.”

Our conversation made its way around Zito’s near term and long term plans.  Again, he speaks with passion and determination.

“I’m really planning on touring to support the album. I’m really trying to cross over. I love the blues. I like to write songs. I really like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty – more American kind of rock and roll. It’s bluesy. I would love to get a song on the radio and go on tour with some of those guys. I love playing guitar. There’s so many guys who play guitar better than me. They’re all fantastic. I just know how to do what I do. But I like to sing and do my songs. I think that’s when I can step up is when I can do my own thing. So, I’m really pushing that. We’re doing all of the blues festivals and all of that. Today was really fun. After a while, I run out of ideas to play on the guitar. I’m better doing my songs. So, I hope that we can cross it over. I’m calling everybody I know to try and get them to help me – get on a tour and open for somebody. That’s what I’m putting all of my energy into because I think that it’s the best record I’ve ever made.”

“The five year plan is to make this record work!” He says with a laugh. “I really want to make it work. I mean, I love the blues world. We’ve been going to Europe and doing all of the blues fests and they love it. I would be more than happy to get to play blues, travel and take care of my family. So, if this album doesn’t quite do what I want it to do, I’ll just continue doing what I’m doing and have fun.”

As has often been the case over the years at the Dallas International Guitar Festival, you will often rub shoulders with artists from all genres.  For instance, last year, among the artists that I met wondering the aisles of booths looking at guitar gear were Journey’s Neal Schon and Bruce Kulick (formerly of Kiss).

This year is no exception as the “who’s who” of music wondering the aisles.  As Mike and I were talking, he stops immediately and hollers at Greg Martin from the Kentucky Headhunters.  He asks me if I can pardon him for a moment and he quickly walks over to Martin.  When he gets back returns, Mike said, “That’s Greg Martin from the Kentucky Headhunters!” I’ve found that, in those circles of greatness, egos are left at the door (if they’re even carried around) and an artist’s love of music, their craft and the appreciation of other talent is front and center.  Zito’s almost fanlike exuberance when seeing Martin was as real and sincere as any other Headhunter fan.

It is always refreshing to watch as one great talent is humble enough to recognize and honor other great talent and Mike repeatedly demonstrated that to me as we chatted with the encounter with Martin as a prime example.  Zito is a class act on many levels.

My pre-interview research on Mike revealed that, as a consequence of a continuous touring schedule that covered the nation, he ultimately found himself tangled in the hopeless web of alcohol and drugs.  It took none other than blues great, Walter Trout, having the love and compassion to care enough to have a chat with Zito about where his life was heading.  Trout had been down the same road and knew all too well what the outcome would be if Mike did make a change of heart and life.  He reminded Zito that, because of the musical gift he had been blessed with, he had a responsibility to perform his music honestly and to demonstrate and perfect his craft.

This loving intervention set Mike on the path of sobriety.  He met a lovely woman who became his wife. He credits her love and support in helping turn his life around for over seven years now.  I asked Zito about that experience and how it affects him today as far as how he approaches his career.

“You mean recovery wise? Sobriety?  Oh, man!  I mean, night and day because I don’t even think that I even approached it (the music and his career) before. I just had all of these aspirations or dreams that I thought would just magically appear because I was supposed to be so great – but I’m not!  I never tried. I just ran around in circles. And then I thought that I’d never get to play music again. I thought I’d never be able to do it. But, after about a year sober, I started playing again and I started realizing that, if I was in a good frame of mind and spiritually fit, I could do whatever I want!

“And, man! I started thinking, ‘OKAY!  I’m going to find a way to make this work!’ because I would play, get paid and bring the money home and I’m like, ‘Hold on. I think that I can do this!’ because I would give all the money away and not pay the band and owe money because of drugs.

“So I started working, playing gigs and making it a business – approaching it like, ‘This could be a business. I can really make this work.’ That’s what’s paid off. I mean, I might have some talent and I might be good at this or that – and I do continually try to get better and there are plenty of people who are just as good or even better. But, I show up on time. I do a good job. I’m nice enough. I do everything I can, you know?  Just like I would if I were to work at your Fortune 500 company. I’d start in the mail room. If I was in the right frame of mind and I wanted to do this, I would work my way all the way up!  They don’t always take the guy that’s the best. It’s the guy that works hard and does a good job.

“That’s what’s really been working for me. The music we play is not fancy or anything special about it. It’s just honest and straight forward. We work very hard at making sure that it sounds good. I tell you, man, that approach has got me sitting here with you, playing here today. I mean, it made things really move forward quickly.

“I learned that from a guy back home named Scott McGill. He’s a very famous guitar player. He lives in Beaumont and when I met him, I said, ‘Man, I’ve heard that you’re the best guitar player around.’ And he is! ‘He said, ‘Well, I don’t know if I am but I’m the best one that shows up.’  And I was like, ‘Huh? What?’  He said, ‘I’m the best one that shows up. There are better guys but they’re all on drugs but I’m the best one that shows up and does a good job.’ I was like, ‘Yeah! Alright!’  I think that there’s something that can be said about that. That’s why I’m drawn to the same kind of people. I love Bruce Sprinsteen and I love Stevie Ray Vaughn because when he got clean and sober, he really stuck to what he did. This is what I do! I keep doing it and try to get better at it. To me, I think that people can relate to that at whatever they do.’”

“I don’t know why – even if it isn’t your best because maybe you’re tired and didn’t sleep or you don’t feel good – I don’t know why you wouldn’t do the best you can because I think that’s what people see. They see that there may be somebody better but who cares? Better is relevant. I think that’s what moves people because you’ve given them everything you’ve got. I honestly think that people can tell the crap from real and real always wins!”

It’s that realness that Mike talks about that I came away from our interview thinking about.  His love of his music and his craft, his wife and kids, and his love for life itself exudes from the very core of his being.  He’s obviously a man who knows that he’s been given not only a God-given talent but an incredible second chance to do what he was placed on this earth to do: write and play music.

You can check out more on Mike Zito at www.mikezito.com. There you can sign up for his free e-mail updates, link to his Facebook and Twitter profiles and, most importantly, load up on his incredible body of work – especially his upcoming CD, Greyhound!

Steve Lukather (2014)

Posted June, 2014

SteveLukather DarekKawka 1216.2 Photo by Darek KawkaThe sign of a great, vibrant classic rock band is when they continue to draw loyal crowds and crank out albums and DVDs.  One such band is Toto.  Still alive and well, the boys in the band recently released a live CD and concert DVD entitled, “Toto 35th Anniversary Tour: Live In Poland”. With a reported 35 million albums already sold, this double-barreled offering is sure to substantially add to those numbers.

When word went out that the anniversary set was going to come out, Boomerocity had the opportunity to interview the band’s guitarist and founding member, Steve Lukather. I last interviewed Luke in January of last year. Since that chat, he has toured heavily to support his solo album, “Transition”, toured with Ringo Starr and, of course, was neck deep in Toto’s 35th anniversary tour.

What does he do with all that spare time?

Anyway, I caught up with Luke by phone at his California home one recent morning. After chatting about his frenetic schedule over the past sixteen months, I asked him what he’s up to these days.

“Well, I’m pretty much doing exactly all of that – just more of the same. I begin with Ringo June 1st and I’m back in the studio finishing a new Toto album that will be out in March of next year.  Toto and Michael McDonald are going on the road in August and September.”

I asked Steve what the response to the set has been so far.

“It’s number one around the world – number two in the UK. We haven’t charted in the UK in thirty years!  Number one all over Europe and it’s just come out in the U.S. We’re getting the best reviews of our career and there was no hype to it. We’re all, like, shaking heads and going, ‘What the . . .?’ in a very positive way.

“We’re getting these numbers from our new manager and it’s like all of a sudden out of nowhere – a gift from God! For real! The thing is waling! When you see that we’re knocking Metallica, Bob Dylan and Springsteen off the charts – even that little Justin Beiber – we’re, like, ‘Where did this come from, man?’, because we didn’t do any pre-hype. As a matter of fact, we rather underplayed it. We were just going to see how it goes. 

“Everybody – Eagle Rock, our DVD company – everybody’s going, ‘You can’t buy this kind of response!”. The reviews are five star reviews – for us, collectively, the most hated band in rock music? We’re kind of all laughing. Henley was right. He told me in 1980, ‘If you hang in there long enough, they’ll change their minds.’ Eagles and Led Zeppelin, they survived – not to compare us to them or anything. I only mean in terms of longevity. We’re looking at almost 40 years”.

I commented to Luke that I was struck by how tight the band is during their jams on the DVD.  He said, “We wanted to leave some of the jam bits in. We showed the other side of what we really are. Obviously, the hits are in there for obvious reasons but we wanted to show a little bit more of what we’re really all about – at least the 2014 version, anyway, andTOTODarekKawka Photo by Darek Kawkawe were able to do that and to show that we have a large audience around the world. A lot of people in the U.S. think that we died in 1985 because we had a record company who didn’t release our record for ten years. We had management get us out of that deal but, to the fans, it’s almost like we’re starting over again and here we are in our thirty-eighth year since the first album was recorded and now all of a sudden we’re number one around the world. It’s crazy! I’m on my knees, looking up at the sky and going, ‘Thank you, Lord, for this blessing!’ And because we’re not a band who is on that summer circuit as the same eight bands who put themselves together and go on the road, we’re kind of fresh meat, you know?”

Lukather then adds, “We’re really aiming at the U.S.A. market again. With our new management and our new agents, our new DVD and the band being where it’s at right now, mentally and physically, I think we can do it. Now there’s this real, organic buzz! It couldn’t be better!”

Of all the places around the globe that Toto could choose to record a concert, I asked Steve what drove the decision to record live in Poland.

“Well, we were going to do it in France but we had already done it in France. Then we were going to do it in Amsterdam but we’d already done it in Amsterdam. So we said, ‘Let’s do it some place where the crowds are going to be wild but we haven’t recorded there yet’ We felt recording live in Poland was a fresh thing – Eastern European, you know? Also, the venues are friendly from a technical aspect. It all organically fell into place.”

When I asked Steve how the crowds in Poland are today compared to when Toto first toured there, he replied, “They keep getting bigger!  That’s the thing: now we’re getting second and third generation people and families coming to the shows. Now we sell four tickets instead of one.  We’re a classic rock band. I embrace that title. There’s not that many of us left. I know that’s a broad stroke – a broad term. We are what we are. We’re just in that era, you know what I mean? And we’re a lot more rock than people think we are. I think the DVD shows that side and certainly when you come see us live we show that side.

“But, we can play ballads. We can play funk. We can play fusion and world music. We can play it. We’re good musicians. People don’t show up to see what outfit I’m wearing. They want to hear good playing.”

When I asked Luke how is touring, in general, different for him now than in the beginning, he replied with a laugh, “Yeah, man, we travel well. We’re not twenty years old anymore. We spend our money on comfort rather than partying, you know what I mean?  And I’ve been spoiled when I go on the Ringo tours – it’s a whole ‘nother level. Private jets and all that stuff. I love that!”

Then, becoming humorously more reflective, he adds, “Our personalities are what they are and we accept each other for our personality flaws and we all have them, including me – especially me. I’m the loud mouth mother and it gets me in trouble all the time. I speak my mind. Now I’m an old guy. I’ve got the experience and if you ask my opinion, I’m going to give it whether they like it or not. There it is. I just laid it out for you.”

“I rest. I rest a lot. And I practice. I have hobbies and stuff I’m interested in reading about. I’m fascinated with antiquity. I love all that alien stuff. I’m like, “Hmmm, what’s out there?’ I just have fun with it all, you know? I like to exercise. Some nights I like to sit out by the pool and chill. I read voraciously and by the time you think about it, you’re off to the gig!”

The band has undergone some personnel changes that have been kind of hard to stay on top of so I asked Steve what the band line-up is looking like at the moment.

“The line-up for the band at this point is myself, David Paich, Steve Porcaro and Joseph Williams. Then we have Keith Carlock who has joined the band on drums. He played with Steely Dan, Clapton, John Mayer and Sting. He’s one of the baddest guys out there. When we asked him to join the band, he was already committed to do this last Steely Dan tour which coincides with our U.S. tour in August and September of this  year. He’s played on the whole album and he’s going to be back with us next year.

“And, then, we have Shannon Forrest playing drums, who is like the number one Nashville guy who was very close to getting the gig, himself. He’s an old friend, as well.  So, that’s going to work out for the summer. Next year? Keith comes back and we’ll see about everybody else – we’ll see who’s going to be playing bass. That’s pretty much where we’re at right now.”

“The sad news is that there’s no happy ending to this for anyone – whoever gets it. I think the awareness is how you get this and how you treat it and maybe slow it down. In time, maybe you don’t want it to slow down, you know? It’s really the worst prison confinement you can know – to be trapped in your own body. That’s really, truthfully, an awful way to go.

“I didn’t know people with ALS when I was a kid. It’s kinda prevalent (now), you know? Autism. My youngest son is autistic. But, you know what? He’s not that bad. There’s a lot of spectrums. He’s easy on the spectrum but there’s a few ticks, you know?

After discussing such a heavy subject, I shifted gears in my questioning by asking Steve some questions submitted by some of your readers.  The first question centered on a guitar Luke is seen playing on the Toto’s new concert DVD, “Toto 35th Anniversary: Live In Poland”. At a glance, the guitar looks like it has caricatures of the famous “Rat Pack” painted on it and one of you readers wanted to know what the story was on it. Before I could even finish my question, Luke started laughing that laugh of his.

Another question from Boomerocity readers asked what the wrist-band he wears onstage represents.

Another reader asked Luke: With the great catalog of Toto music, is there a favorite song or period in time when he felt like, "Yeah. This how I want it to be..."?

“You know, I think each era – it’s like looking at a scrapbook of your life. I mean, some of the stuff has held up well and some of it is like, ‘Ooo, that lyric is really bad’ or that production is really dated. But all of it warms my heart. It’s like looking at old pictures. ‘Oh, look at that silly outfit I was wearing. What was I thinking?’

“I think the music’s good. I think the band played well. I think there was some weirder stuff that we experimented with. But like any band with a long history, there’s always a few interesting ‘WTF’ moments. But, overall, I think I’m pretty proud of the work that we put out.”

TotoEndDarekKawka Photo by Darek KawkaUp and coming artist, Ned Evett, asked, "Through a time rift you bump into yourself at 17, demoing a Strat at Guitar Center. What advice do you give yourself?"

“Oh! Don’t ever do drugs! Not that I was ever a junkie or anything like that but there was a lot of wasted time and effort during that whole late seventies/early eighties period where everybody thought that they had to bury themselves into a pile of powder to get things done. That was a big lie.

“Also, it would be, like, ‘Don’t trust your accountant!’ I got burned really bad as a kid. You get new money. They see you coming – a teenager with all this bread and you’re just stupidly spending it. So, I would’ve said, ‘Watch the bread! Stay away from the powder!’ would have been my advice. Stay healthy!

“In the eighties, everybody got high on blow and did stupid things. As a teenager in the studios you’re going, ‘What’s that? I’m really tired. I need to get some coffee.’ And they said, ‘Go ahead, kid, it’s better than coffee and not addictive’ so I naively bought that for a while . . . we all did! I never got that deep in. Booze was my poison and I stopped many years ago along with smoking and any toxic shit.”

Bringing the subject even closer to home, Luke said, “My older children, they managed to avoid all the pitfalls of all that, thankfully. And my other kids, the jury’s out. God know what they’re going to have to deal with. There’s really awful stuff out there now. It’s really pretty scary. Because I don’t smoke or drink or take anything at all anymore, I will be able to say to my children, ‘Look, you really don’t need to do that, do you? Look around. It never ends well unless you get out of it.’”

As our time drew to a close, I asked Steve about the new Toto studio album he mentioned in passing earlier in our chat.

“That will be out in March, 2015 with a world tour to follow. We’re really excited about the record. It’s really good. We’re really diggin’ it! We’re not trying to be trendy. We’re trying to be the best us that we can be and it’s coming out really good, if I may say so myself. We haven’t made an album in ten years so we wanted to make it a good one.”

And a good one it will be, no doubt.

Simon Wright

Posted October, 2012

simonwrightOn May 16, 2010, the heavy metal world lost one of the most respected – if not iconic – vocalists/songwriters of its genre: Ronnie James Dio.  Since losing his valiant fight with stomach cancer, Dio have been honored and revered not only because of the tremendous musical legacy that has survived him but also due in large part to the tenacity with which his loving wife, Wendy, has guarded and promoted her late husband’s memory.

One such effort currently being managed by Mrs. Dio-Gimenez (Wendy re-married on September 9th of this year) is Dio Disciples – a tribute band formed to honor and perpetuate the memory and talents of the late metal icon.  The band is made of former Dio band mates,  Oni Logan and Tim "Ripper" Owens on vocals, Scott Warren on keyboards, Craig Goldy on guitar, bassist Bjorn Anglund, and Simon Wright on drums.

I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with Simon Wright by phone during the band’s Portland, Oregon, stop of their current tour.  As we settled into the interview, I asked Wright how the tour was going so far.

“So far, so good! The fans are seeming to enjoy it. We just started off. We played the Anaheim House of Blues two days ago. Last night we were in Seattle and San Luis Obispo before that. It’s going good. People seem to like it!”

Naturally, I was curious how this round of touring is different from the previous round of Dio Disciple touring so I asked Simon for his perspective on it.

“Yeah, we took a little bit of time off in the middle there because certain members had previous commitments to do other things. Sometimes it’s difficult to get everybody together but we managed to pull everybody together for this leg of the tour.

“But, yeah, this leg is a little bit different because of the fact  that there’s a been a Dio release called The Very Beast Of Dio, Volume 2 and we’ve taken a couple of songs off of that release. It’s like a retrospect of the years from ’96 thru 2000 and takes in the albums Angry Machines, Master of the Moon, Magica, and Killing the Dragon. So, on this tour we decided to take some cuts off of that album and we’ve added those to the set as well as playing the classic songs of Ronnie’s like Heaven and Hell¸ We Rock¸ and Holy Diver. So that’s one difference.

“Also, we have a new singer – Oni Logan from Lynch Mob because our other singer had production commitments in England. I think he produced the last Saxon album. He told us earlier in the year that he was going to be doing that so we managed to pull everybody together. So, yeah, it’s going well so far. It seems to be going down quite well, really. Oni’s doing a really great job. So is Tim. Both knew Ronnie at one point or another. Again, it seems to be going well so far. The fans seem to like what they’re doing.”

All of this begs the question: How are the crowds reacting to Dio Disciples as compared to when you toured with Ronnie?

“Well, it’s kind of like a release for them. It’s kind of a release for us, as well. But we do see tears and stuff. Some people will get upset and then they’ll be rocking out to the next song. So, yeah, it’s kind of a release for them. It works great all the way around. We’re here to celebrate Ronnie. Obviously, we’re not here to replace him.”

Like others who worked with Ronnie, Simon has his own perspective of the late rocker so I asked him what do he thinks is behind the mystique and appeal behind the memory of Dio.

“Well, first and foremost, I think it’s his songs. They’re just timeless songs! Some of his songs recreated the whole outlook of the heavy metal scene. There were albums that he was on and went into bands and totally changed the outlook on heavy metal songs and how other people approached songs because they were so groundbreaking.

“But besides his voice and his great songwriting I think people who got to know him and got to meet him will attest that he was just a remarkable person. If you met him he really brought you in and made you feel special on any occasion. He had this way of doing that. I think that he’ll be remembered for that, too. Such a gentleman. He really loved his fans. I think that is one thing that will always be remembered about him is he was such a great guy.”

With such warm memories of Ronnie, I asked Simon what was the most misunderstood thing about Dio – if anything.

“I’m not sure. I’m not sure. I understand the question. I just don’t think there was anything, really, that could be misunderstood about him. He was the genuine article. Like I say, I’m sure everybody will attest to it. If you got to meet him he would be the same person. He was a pretty consistent kind of guy. He could be a tough boss but there always have to be a boss in charge of something, whether it is in construction or whatever. He really kept control of things. He had a really great vision of the road ahead. But he was the genuine article. He didn’t really veer from who he actually was. He was just a great guy.”

I asked Wright if he had a favorite story about Ronnie James Dio. The story he shared caught me completely off guard and animal lovers around the world will love what Simon shares about the metal man.

“Oh, I have lots!  There’s one that comes to mind and it’s a little weird. It’s not really music related. We were on tour in Russia. It was amazing because we were the first band there – well, we weren’t but they made us feel like that with the fan’s reactions and stuff. People were going crazy. We were flying and landed at an airport – I forget exactly where in Russia – but we were out there for about a month. We were surrounded – we all were – by press, TV and fans. We’re walking out of the airport and he (Dio) stopped and he went back to the bar and got these glasses of milk. We’re going, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ And he came back out and he’s giving the milk to these cats that were just disheveled. That’s just another side to him. He loved animals. It was just a great thing that he did. It didn’t seem like a really ‘cool’ thing to do at that time but he did it anyway. He was like, ‘Somebody feed these frickin’ cats!’ and he went out there and brought them milk! It was a beautiful thing.”

One can’t adequately talk of Ronnie James Dio without mentioning the deeply intense love that was shared between him and his lovely and devoted wife, Wendy.  I asked Simon if he has much interaction with her.

“I think we’ve become a lot closer because of what we all went through with Ronnie. She’s our manager, too, so we’re still a family. We all love Wendy. She does a fantastic job – especially with Ronnie’s cancer fund. We have a show coming up in Hollywood – not to sound like I’m plugging the hell out of anything but it’s quite an important show – at the Avalon on Halloween, which is a gala event. All of the proceeds go to Ronnie’s Stand Up And Shout Cancer Fund. So, yeah, we’re constantly in touch.”

Shifting the focus of our discussion more specifically to Wright and his career, I mentioned to him that I know that he’s played with some of the greatest metal talent on the planet.  I was curious if there anyone in any genre of music that he wants to work with whom he hasn’t already played.

“Oh, wow, there are so many. Jimmy Page comes to mind. Eddie Van Halen. Those guys are just unbelievable! If I ever got so lucky, yeah, that would be a nice thing to do! And I’m sure that I’m not the only one who wants to work with them! Ha! Ha! Those two come to mind but there are lots of brilliant musicians out there who I would love to work with.”

Aside from your work with Dio Disciples, what else is on your radar, work wise, in the next 12 months? Five years?

“Oh, I couldn’t look as far ahead as five years. I just couldn’t do that. Before we started this tour I recorded an album with this Italian band – friends of mine – which is pretty cool. It’s kind of back to three chord rock. That’s coming out next year. I may do a couple of shows with them over in Italy. But, at this moment, no, I’m really concentrating on Dio Disciples at the moment. But you never know. I keep my eyes and ears open for something going on.”

Simon has seen how people remember Ronnie and what his legacy is. I asked him how has that affected him as to how he hopes to be remembered and what his legacy will be.

“That’s a good question. You know what? I don’t even think about it. I just do this because I know I’ve got to do it. We all feel the same way in this band. It’s like we were all family with Ronnie. But I just hope that that some people will remember me. I learned a lot from Ronnie. I try to apply that to a lot of things that I do because it was a lot of good stuff. As far as being remembered, yeah, I hope I get remembered but I don’t really think about that very much. I just keep doing what I’m doing. It’s important to keep doing this, I think.”

Keep Up With The Latest on Dio Disciples at RonnieJamesDio.Com