Posted March 2020
The ‘80’s and ‘90’s. Though normally, the music of those eras would mostly fall outside the Boomerocity wheelhouse of coverage, there are several exceptions. While I could name many, I’d likely forget some so I won’t. Who I will name for this piece is the supergroup, Badlands.
Badlands was an incredible band in the early ’90s that was made up of former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist, Jake E. Lee; vocalist Ray Gillen; drummer Eric Singer (yes, THAT Eric Singer), who was later replaced by Jeff Martin; and bassist, Greg Chaisson. While together, they released three albums (their 1989 self-titled LP; Voodoo Highway in 1991, and Dusk after the band had broken up) and still have a loyal fan base all these years after the band split.
While there’s no real chance of a Badlands reunion, the legendary bassist, Greg Chaisson, has put together a great band to reconnect with fans. The band is called Kings of Dust and they’re releasing their self-titled debut CD and let me tell you, it’s smoking hot with each cut from it worth the entire price of the album.
Yeah, it’s that good.
Because of our mutual adoptive roots in Phoenix, Arizona, I connected with Greg several years ago. We have mutual friends from our high school years and I grew up well aware of his pre-Badlands band, Surgical Steel, that was a Phoenix favorite. As Chaisson was putting the Kings of Dust disc together with his bandmates, I begged him to promise me an interview when the disc dropped. A man of his word, Greg and I chatted about the album when I called him at his Phoenix home.
I started by asking Chaisson to give Boomerocity readers a peek into his pre-Badlands background.
“I moved here (Phoenix) in 1969. I moved here for the beginning of my junior year of high school. I lived here until ’82. I moved to L.A. and I was there from 85 to 95 – just strictly for the music business. And then we moved back here. I didn't want to tour anymore. My son was a couple of years old and I wanted to be there to raise him as opposed to - I had a lot of friends that were in bands that toured and they didn't get to raise their kids. They were always gone. I didn't want to do that.”
I’d asked Greg if he knew good Boomerocity friend, Andy Timmons, from Danger Danger who was a happening band around that time.
“Yeah. Yeah. I mean, we're all from that same generation when I was in Badlands. You know, I was in L.A. at that point and not a hundred percent sure they were an L.A. band. But you know, a lot of the bands from that generation of music - that early to late ‘80s, even early 90s - they all kind of met each other on the road or they all met each other at a band bar. If we happened to play in the town that they were in, they would show up and that sort of thing. So, yeah, I know a lot of those guys, I guess, peripherally, you know.
“The bands that were for sure in L.A., we all actually knew each other. But unless you are actually kind of on the scene, it would be kind of hard to know who everyone was. But at least you were familiar with their work and familiar with some of their personal stuff. So, it's all good.”
I hit Chaisson with a trifecta of questions about what made him decide to put the band together; how long they’ve been playing; and what is behind the band’s name.
“Well, the start of the band was around eight years ago with the singer that's in Kings, Michael Beck, he owns the studio. He was always recording other bands and he wanted to basically do something that he got to sing on. He knew a drummer who knew a guitar player who knew me. So, the four of us got together and we wrote a few songs and did a little recording. Then, over the course of about a year or so, the drummer and the guitar player left for their own reasons and that whole thing was dormant for a couple of months. Then Michael Beck called me and said, 'You know, I really liked the songs. Why don't we get another drummer and guitar player and we'll keep going with it?' So, we did. We found the guitar player, Ryan McKay, who played on the record - the Kings of Dust record. We went through a few drummers. And, then, around 2014, I was offered to join Jake E. Lee's Red Dragon Cartel, who is the guitar player in Badlands and Ozzy, as well. So, with that, the King's thing kind of went on hiatus while I did that.
Then, in 2015, I was diagnosed with cancer. So, the whole thing went on hold while I went through that. I had Stage 4 cancer. I went through all the cancer treatment and all the side effects of the cancer treatment.
“Lo and behold, it's 2019 and, you know, that this whole time Michael Beck has been saying, ‘Let's finish this! Let's keep going!’ I just didn't have the energy or the interest to do it. You know, after dealing with that cancer crap. Finally, after some time last year, I said, 'You know what, I'm ready. Let's finish this.'
“So, we all got together, finished writing the record, and recorded it. The official release is the 13th of March, but we've been putting it out on our own and it's been relatively, modestly successful. I mean, we're selling it our own. We sold almost a thousand copies in less than a month and that's hard CD copies because we have not made it download available at all, which we probably won't for a while.”
Greg then shares who makes up Kings of Dust and the story behind the name.
“The band is Michael Beck on vocals, Ryan McKay on guitar, and Jimmy Taft, he's on drums. And these guys are all from other places, but they all moved here in the last 10 or 20 years. So, collectively, we are Kings of Dust and they're all excellent musicians. They are great, great songwriters and great guys to be around.
“As far as the name, the original name was a joke name, which was called The Prehistoric Steamroller, which we were just kinda goofing around with it. And then we were going to be called Deep Black Led because everyone said we kind of sounded a little bit like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath or Zeppelin. And then we realized a name like that was kind of confining. And, so, I came up with the name Kings of Dust and it really means kings of nothing but kings of everything at the same time. There's no real mystical meaning behind it or anything like that. I just like the way it sounded. And, lo and behold, no one else had used it. And, so, that's how we became Kings of Dust.”
Greg was kind enough to send me an advance copy of Kings of Dust and I love the whole disc. I was curious, however, which song he would point to as a calling card for the entire album.
“Well, to me, one of the compliments we've got on the record, so far, is that none of it sounds the same. There's 13 songs on the record, which most people put 10. But we couldn't decide which one to leave off, so we decided to put them all on there. The first single is 'Like An Ocean'. And that - it's a really good song. It's got a good groove. It maintains the groove throughout the whole thing. It's got a good - an interesting message. So, you know, I would say that's a good place to start. And if you like that song, you'll probably like the rest of the record.
“The record is very ‘70s influenced. I know bands that are doing the ‘70s sort of vibe are really popular right now and there's a number of younger guys out there doing it. And that's I think that's great. For us - and especially for me - I mean, that's the generation I grew up being a musician in. I started being a musician in 1971. And, so, the influences that are on the Kings of Dust record are pretty authentic because I come to it from first-generation as opposed to the third or fourth generation. Not that there's anything wrong with where you come from, where you get it from, which is, for me, writing these kinds of things is really second nature to me. My influences are all from the ‘70s.
“You mentioned Badlands. This record doesn't sound like Badlands, but what it does do that's similar to Badlands is the influences that Jake E. Lee wrote - the way that he wrote was very ‘70s influenced and he's from that generation as well. So, because of my affiliation with him and also coming from the ‘70s, it's very ‘70s oriented. Those are my influences. The songs aren't short. We don't have any three-minute hit songs. The other songs are all at least four minutes long. There's a lot of moving parts in the songs. It's not just your standard verse, chorus, first chorus and solo and a chorus out. There's none of that on there. I use a lot of parts because I find that interesting.
“That would be the other thing that would be relatable to Badlands: Jake wrote with a lot of moving parts. We had a lot of moving parts in those songs. And that's what made it interesting to us. So, that would be the closest relationship to those two. Other than the fact that I was actually in the band. But is it us intentionally trying to sound like anybody? It's just us sounding like everybody that we do like and that we were influenced by.”
Since Chaisson’s recording career spans four decades, I asked him what some of the significant changes are he’s seen that have been for the better and for the worse in the recording process.
“Back when I first started recording and then everything I recorded, which was just kind of local stuff. What we recorded at real studios like Chaton and Pantheon - that was analog two-inch tape . . . and a real board and all that kind of stuff; with racks and effects and it was all tube oriented. And, so, you were going to get that real warm analog sound that you got in the ‘70s. Badland was recorded at real studios with tape and was done in the real way.
“As time, technology and time moved, the whole ProTools thing and all that made it easier to, for lack of a better word, fix things in the mix. Where back when I was recording in the ‘70s and ‘80s and even early ‘90s, you couldn't fix a drum track in the take. If something screwed up - for example, if the bass screwed up and you wanted to fix it, you wanted the drums to play to the bass, because the bass screwed up and it sounded cool. You had to do the track over or you had to find a break somewhere, cut or splice the tape, tape it back together and then go from there. Or if the drummer screwed up a part, you couldn't fix this part. You had to basically rerecord it. So ProTools made it possible to move things in and out. And that's a good thing and a bad thing because, when I was first recording, you had to know your stuff. You had to be able to come in and lay down the track and you had to be able to nail it from the get-go.
“Now, you can just kind of put it together however you want, especially vocally because of all the pitch shifting and all that. If someone's flat. You can just fix it in ProTools. If the guitar solo is a little off, it's all fixed. The guitar in the ProTools, it's all convenient. I prefer the way it was done back in the day because it was a more honest way of doing it, in my opinion, and you had to actually know your game.
“I will say this about Kings of Dust: the advantage of ProTools now as you have a lot of guys - they call it guys that have studios to call guys that have ProTools rigs, 'equipment in their living room'. So, if some guy with a living room studio and a computer and, basically, he fakes the drums, there's nothing wrong with that. That just makes it more fun for everybody. The way that Kings of Dust is recorded, Michael Beck owns the studio - Sound Vision Studios in Tempe (Arizona). It's an actual building. It actually has a real studio in it. It is a ProTools studio but he also has a lot of analog sort of things in there. And, so, the Kings of Dust record is recorded with modern technology but it has a very analog sound and feel. Everything is recorded in one take. There's no splicing together. If anything, there's no pitch shifting. There's no fixing. If we didn't get it right, we re-did it. I wanted it to have that 70s, 80s sort of vibe to it. There's no sample drums. There's no nothing. It's all done for real. The real bass recorded with a real 8 by 10 cabinet; loud as hell; yadda, yadda, yadda. The mix of the record is very ‘70s. It's very spread out.
“If you listen to music these days, most of the mixes, everything - you've got one hundred percent of sonic space. Fifty percent on either side of the middle. Most people record is right near the middle. And that's where all the instruments are placed. The way that Kings of Dust is mixed, it's widened out quite a bit. Very early Van Halen with the guitar way on one side, again, the guitar away on the other side with the bass somewhere off to the side of the drums. So, it almost sounds like the way something would sound live. That was very important to me - that we were able to do that way. Again, nothing against people that do the ProTools thing. I just wanted to make it more, again, authentic. I guess authentic and real, would, I guess, be the two words.”
Did the band record in the same room/at the same time?
“It's live, together in the studio. All the drums and bass tracks are recorded at the same time. Most of the rhythm guitars are recorded at the same time. And then whatever they wanted to add to the rhythm guitars later was added later, which is how we also did it in the ‘70s and ‘80s. And then there's no fixes on the tape. We didn't use the advantage of Pro Tools to fix things. I didn't want to do it that way. I don't think the rest of guys did either. We wanted it to be what you hear is what you hear; what you see is what you get. And you know, consequently, there's certain little mistakes that are on there that no one else will hear but I hear 'em. And to be honest, I kind of went in and had that stuff fixed ProTools style - edited like what you're talking about. But I didn't do that because I wanted the realism of the recording session to be maintained. When I was in Badlands, if there was a mistake or whatever that no one would hear but the rest of the guys in the band, we left it on there because that was real life. That's the way our influences did it in the ‘70s and in the ‘60s. And, so, we wanted to remain faithful to that, which we did, especially on the second Badlands record and the third one. So, we wanted to maintain that same professionalism, consistency, whatever, while we were doing Kings of Dust. So, the guitar solos are all added on afterward because for any other reason, that's just the way that's always been done, too.
“Now, there is a song on the record called '’A Little Bit of Insanity’. That song is recorded live. I wanted one live track on there. It's just three instruments. There's no rhythm guitar. It's just the guitar. It's basically like one long guitar solo outro thing and it's kind of a nod to - if you look at the song, it says, ‘For JEL’, which is Jake E. Lee. Jake's my best friend so I dedicated it to him and we tried to kind of catch a little Badlands magic there - a little vibe - by doing one live track on there that is about four minutes long and it's got a lot of stuff going on in it, but it's an honest, live track. It came out really good. When you get a chance, you'll get to listen to it. I think it's right after 'Wolves'. And it's an interesting little track.
As for touring to support the new Kings of Dust release, Greg said:
“Well, we're working on that right now. We have a promoter that we're talking to in Texas that I think they're trying to put together a week and a half or so - ten days’ worth of shows through Texas and Oklahoma, and you can spend a couple of months in Texas. It's so big and there's so towns and they love rock so much. So, we're trying to see whether that works. We've been offered other dates - festivals and stuff - later in the year so we are talking about it. I mean, none of us really want to get on a tour bus. I have the store I have to run so I can't be gone for three or four months and everyone else has businesses as well, and lives. So, I doubt that we're going to get on our tour bus. But we are going to do some shows. I know we'll eventually go play in L.A. and Vegas and Tucson and San Diego. Those kinds of places are within reach pretty easily. Michael Beck is from Nebraska so he has a following in some of those states. I know we'll go do something there. And then there's talk about us going to Japan. Apparently, because of my résumé, I'm relatively popular over there because of Badlands and other things that I've done - my relationship with Jake and stuff - my affiliation. I would love to go to Japan again and there's even talk about doing a couple of festivals overseas.
“So, yes, we are going to play. That's the long answer. We're just trying to make sure that it makes sense for us to do it. And it's not even whether it makes money, it's just whether we can put it together, sell some CDs; sell a T-shirt or something and see what happens. So, yeah, it's all on the table. It's all on the table.”
Wrapping up our chat, I asked Greg how he would like to be remembered and what he hoped his legacy will be when everything with him is said and done.
“Well, I mean, what I'd like to be remembered as a decent human being who was always honest with people; a person that gave 150 percent at everything that he did. I'd like to be remembered as an excellent father and husband and I tried to try to maintain that. I have a background in coaching, so hopefully, people that I coached will remember me fondly as someone that helped them get to wherever it is they wanted to go. And as a musician, I would like to be remembered as one of the guys. I didn't become a musician to become famous or become rich. Probably I should have aimed higher. I don't know. I wanted the respect of my peers. So as long as people thought I was a decent songwriter and a decent bass player, I'm pretty good with it. I believe in God. I'm very active in that part of my life, as is my family. And so, you know, hopefully, God gives me a break on some of the things that I wish I hadn't of done or that I did wrong and allows me at a spot up there. I hope people never forget that I was a good person.”
You can keep up with Greg Chaisson and the rest of the good guys in Kings of Dust by following them here on their Facebook page. While you’re there, be sure and order their self-titled debut CD.