Author Archives: James Wood

‘1000hp’: Guitarist Tony Rombola Talks New Godsmack Album and Side Project

Godsmack (Photo: Michael Chapman)

Godsmack (Photo: Michael Chapman)

Multi-platinum hard rock heroes Godsmack are revving their engines for their highly anticipated sixth studio album, 1000hp The album, which is set for an August 5 release, is the follow-up to 2010’s The Oracle, which debuted at Number 1 on Billboard’s Top 200.

Co-produced by Sully Erna along with Dave Fortman (Slipknot, Evanescence), 1000hp returns the band to their Boston-based roots. Even the album’s title track pays homage to the band’s journey from playing tiny clubs to packed arenas worldwide.

With a new-found thrashed-up “punk” energy, 1000hp is really about going back to basics. It’s old-school Godsmack, but with a new kind of twist.

Coinciding with the release of 1000hp,  Godsmack will also headline this year’s Rockstar Energy Drink UPROAR Festival, which kicks off August 14. Godsmack is Sully Erna (vocals), Tony Rombola (guitar), Robbie Merrill (bass) and Shannon Larkin (drums).

I recently spoke with Rombola about 1000hp, touring and his blues-based side project, the Blue Cross Band.

GUITAR WORLD: How would you describe the sound of 1000hp?

We wanted it to be straight forward and simple. I think that was the theme. There are elements of punk in some of the grooves that Sully brought in, and even in the selection of some of the riffs that I had as well. A lot of it is simpler, with some different feels.

What’s the songwriting process for a Godsmack album?

For me, it all starts with riffs Shannon and I put together and arrange into a demo. We’ll bring in a bunch of the material and Sully will go through it to get vibe for the record. He has great vision. He also brought in riffs for the songs “Something Different” and “Life Is Good”. Sully’s the one who picks the direction for the album and works on the lyrics. I’m more focused on the music. For me, it’s all about the guitar.

Read the rest of my
gw_logoWith Tony Rombola by Clicking Here!


Tom Bailey Talks Retro Futura, Thompson Twins and The 80’s

Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey

Fans of 80’s new wave music may find it hard to believe that it’s been twenty-seven years since the Thompson Twins performed their final show in August of 1987.

In the years since, lead singer, keyboardist, guitarist and songwriter Tom Bailey has kept himself busy with several other successful musical projects, with no real inclination of ever revisiting his former band’s catalog again.

But all of that is about to change.

This August, Bailey (along with synth pioneer Howard Jones) will co-headline the Retro Futura Tour. A jam-packed show that will also feature sets from Ultravox’s Midge Ure, China Crisis and Katrina (ex-Katrina And The Waves). In addition to it being an amazing evening of live music, fans will also witness an historic event, as this tour marks the first time Bailey will be performing Thompson Twins hits live in nearly three decades.

The Thompson Twins (whose classic line-up consisted of Bailey, Alannah Currie and Joe Leeway) had huge hits on both sides of the Atlantic in the mid-eighties; with songs like “Hold Me Now”, “Doctor Doctor” and “Lay Your Hands on Me” providing the soundtrack to many people’s lives. In 1985, the band even performed at Live Aid at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia to a crowd of over 90,000 and an estimated global TV audience of 1.9 billion across 150 nations.

For the Retro Futura Tour, Bailey will be joined on stage by a backing band consisting of Amanda Kramer, Angie Pollock and Emily Dolan Davies. I had the pleasure of speaking with him about the Retro Futura Tour, his current projects as well as some of his best Thompson Twins memories.

How did you become involved in this year’s Retro Futura Tour?

My musical pursuits have taken me elsewhere for a long time and it’s actually been twenty-seven years since I’ve sung a Thompson Twins song. I guess I was getting used to the fact that it was just never going to happen. But then a few things changed that. Towards the end of last year, I was doing some work with a Mexican artist named Aleks Syntek. I remember we were writing a song together and Aleks encouraged me to sing on it. After not singing a pop song in all of this time, I decided to step over the boundary and take a risk with it. To my pleasure and surprise, I really enjoyed it.

It was also around the same time that Howard Jones [who had already been out on this tour last year] said that he’d like to do it again this year with me, but I still wasn’t totally convinced. To look at it honestly, I really needed to re-engage with the music. So I decided to re-record some of the songs to give me the opportunity to sing on them again. It felt so good that I knew the answer was going to be yes!

What can fans expect from your show?

Everything that I’ll be singing will be from that era of big, successful Thompson Twins. Originally, I had thought about going out and doing different interpretations of these well-known songs. Although it would be interesting, it would also be undermining because what the fans really want is an enormous whiff of nostalgia. At the same time though, that gives me the permission to do a few of the songs in a new way.


Your band is made up of female musicians. Can you speak a little bit about that?

I take that as a positive sign of the times. Back in the eighties, we always tried to seek out a balance for the band in terms of male and female and it was very difficult. This time, it was very easy to find that the greatest players were women. It’s a completely different dynamic. The other thing about it is that we all come from several different generations of musicians. I’m 60 now and our drummer, Emily Dolan Davies wasn’t even born when these songs were written [laughs].

In your opinion, what made the 80′s so great?

It was a change in the sound of the music – and that was partly because of technology. It was a time when we were beginning to use keyboards and synthesizers to make entire records rather than just use them as a flavor. Then of course, there was the effect of MTV. An entire channel dedicated to music videos. There was nothing like it before and it changed everything.

The Thompson Twins performed at Live Aid in 1985. What was that experience like for you personally?

It was the most enormous thing. Especially when you’re told that you’re walking out on stage in front of 90,000 people but then realize that number is really small compared to the number of people who were actually watching it live around the world on TV. Joining together music with what it means to be alive in pursuit of a good cause really felt like the crowning glory for our generation of musicians. It was the most magnificent day.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Thompson Twins’ “Into The Gap”. What are some of your best memories about making that album?

It was a very endurable process. By that point, we had become more confident and mature in our songwriting and arranging. We weren’t quite so “pure synth” with that album. We were using other instruments like guitar and piano and the vocal arrangements started becoming more complex. It was great fun. The other thing was that we had already finished the first single before we had even completed the rest of the album. So we had the excitement of watching the song “Hold Me Now” go up the charts while we were finishing up the rest of the record.

Can you tell me the origin of the song “Hold Me Now”?

I can’t remember exactly, although I know it was probably very real in the sense that perhaps Alannah and I had some kind of argument and reconciled. Then we decided to write a song about the process of getting back together again. Although it’s not something that actually occurred, it’s a song about how good and sentimental it feels to realize that the argument has passed and how great it is to be back in love.

What other projects are you currently working on?

I’ve been very busy with several projects. I’ve got a dub electronic band called International Observer, a north Indian classical group called The Holiwater Band and a teaching science through art astronomy project called The Bailey-Salgado Project, which I do with an astronomer in Chicago. We make films and music about the night sky and the universe. It’s a fun, educational thing we treat as art.

Are there any other moments in your career that stands out as most memorable?

There are lots of big gigs but I think more about the times where you feel the giddy sensation of “taking off”. The moment when you go from hoping that you’re doing something well to not believing how well it’s going to do. Those are the moments that you never forget, because they only happen once. It’s a crazy roller coaster ride that’s almost feels otherworldly. I treasure those moments.

Do you ever foresee a Thompson Twins reunion?

I can’t see that it’s likely. Joe and Alannah are both happy that I’m doing this tour, but are not interested in pursuing it themselves. When Thompson Twins split up, they both moved on into other areas of activity almost immediately; whereas I haven’t done anything else but music since. For them, it would be an enormous responsibility to become a musician again.

What excites you the most about the Retro Futura Tour?

It’s not about just going through the motion of what you were doing thirty years ago. I wouldn’t be interested in doing that. For me, it’s a completely vital experience. It’s profoundly emotional to sing these songs again and it brings back all sorts of memories. I’m looking forward to seeing familiar faces from people who were there the first time around as well as some people who weren’t. I’m so lucky to be able to do this.

Retro Futura Tour 2014:


21 New York, NY Best Buy Theater
22 Philadelphia, PA Keswick Theater
23 Brookhaven, NY Pennysaver Amphitheater
24 Boston, MA Wilbur Theatre
25 Cleveland, OH Performance Arts Center/The Cleveland Masonic Auditorium
26 Toronto, ON Koolhaus
27 Chicago, IL Ravinia
29 Los Angeles, CA The Greek Theater
30 Saratoga, CA Mountain Winery
31 Sacramento, CA Thunder Valley Casino


3 Tempe, AZ Marquee Theatre
4 San Diego, CA Humphrey’s
5 Las Vegas, NV Mandalay Bay
6 Sandy, UT Sandy Amphitheater

Firehouse Guitarist Bill Leverty Releases New Song, ‘The Heart Heals the Soul’

Bill Leverty (Photo by: Sherry Boylan)

Bill Leverty (Photo by: Sherry Boylan)

Known for his role as lead guitarist/harmony vocalist in the multi-platinum selling, international recording group FireHouse, Bill Leverty has also been prolific as solo artist as well. Releasing four solo albums and multiple side projects – which includes the critically acclaimed “Flood The Engine”

Leverty’s new single, “The Heart Heals The Soul” continues the trend of infectious songwriting by showcasing his tasty guitar work and vocal prowess. The result is a tastefully blended blues-rock track combination that mixes nicely with Leverty’s own unique sound and vocal style.

Stylistically, Leverty is a genre bending, eclectic artist. “I love all kinds of music, and I believe that my audience does as well” he says. “I don’t want to be pigeon-holed or limited in any one style. I’ve got to write and record what I feel in order to be real to my fans. I write everything from rock to country, funk to bluegrass. If a song feels good to me, I’ll put in out in hopes that my supporters will spread the word.”

Check out the video for ‘The Heart Heals The Soul’ below…

With the handling of lead vocals, guitars, keyboards, engineering and production on his solo projects, it’s no surprise that Bill Leverty continues to prove he’s the complete artist.

Leverty and the rest of Firehouse (which includes CJ Snare, Michael Foster and Allen McKenzie) are also showing no signs of slowing down. In addition to having recently performed a sold-out show in Leverty’s hometown of Richmond, Virginia, the band is in the midst of another successful tour run that will include stops at Penns Peak in Jim Thorpe, PA and this year’s Firefest in the U.K.

“The Heart Heals The Soul” is available on iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby or directly from Leverty via his website.

For more on Bill Leverty be sure to check out his official website at

‘Retro Futura’: Synth Pioneer Howard Jones Talks New Tour, The 80′s

Howard Jones (Photo:

Howard Jones 1985 (Photo:

Fans of 80’s new wave music, rejoice! This summer’s star-studded Retro Futura Tour promises to be one epic proportion! Kicking off this August, the co-headlining tour will feature synth pioneer Howard Jones and Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey as well as sets from Ultravox’s Midge Ure, China Crisis and Katrina (ex-Katrina And The Waves). In addition to it being an extraordinary evening of live music, Retro Futura 2014 will also mark the first time Bailey will perform Thompson Twins hits live in nearly three decades!

Howard Jones first burst upon the scene in 1983 with his inspired songwriting and engaging synthesizers. His first album, “Human’s Lib” reached #1 in the UK and featured the hits “New Song” and “What Is Love?” Jones would follow-up his debut with 1985’s “Dream Into Action”, an album which quickly became a platinum best-seller in the United States with smash hits like “Things Can Only Get Better” “Life In One Day” and “No One Is To Blame”. To date, Jones has sold more than eight million albums worldwide and continues to make new music and tour the world.

I had the chance to speak with Jones about the upcoming Retro Futura tour, his music as well as some of his best 80s memories.

How did the idea for this year’s tour with Tom Bailey begin?

Last year, we tried out the idea of doing the tour and did ten dates, mainly on the west coast. Everyone had such a great time that we started thinking about who we would like to do it with this year. That was when the idea of Thompson Twins came up. I’ve known Tom for a long time, so I called him up and told him that it would be a great time. I guess it was my job to go and “persuade” him to come out – and he agreed.

Howard Jones 2014 (Photo: Duncan McGlynn)

Howard Jones 2014 (Photo: Duncan McGlynn)

Having played these songs for so many years, what do you do to keep things fresh?

I’ve always been able to do these songs in different ways and have also been evolving my set up. Our set does change and I also try to throw in some new things as well.

You’ve often mentioned that music from the 80’s faces a continuous struggle. Can you elaborate more on that?

Eighties music has had a bad rap for so long and as a result, it’s formed its own sub-culture. We now have huge festivals here in the UK every summer. I’m not sure if it’s the same in America, but we’re trying to change that!

What makes the music from that era so timeless and special?

I think that Eighties music really combined the arts and fashion more. Back then, everyone was thinking in a more visual way – especially with videos. It brought about a change in culture that wasn’t really so “rock n roll” as much as music in the 60’s and 70’s had been. That’s why it’s unique and why people who grew up during that era are very loyal to it.

Let’s discuss a few of your 80’s moments. In 1985, you performed at Live Aid. What was that experience like?

It was an amazing experience and a lot of money really did save people’s lives. I was obviously very nervous, because there were 100,000 people in Wembley and a billion people watching it on TV. I also performed solo at the piano, which was something people weren’t really used to hearing me do.

I came out and sat there and played the song “Hide and Seek” which is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. I remember when I got to the chorus, everyone joined in and supported me and started singing at the top of their voices. It was a profound experience and something that I’ll never forget. It was probably the most important event in my life during the eighties.

Can you tell me where you came up with the inspiration for the song “No One Is To Blame”?

I was doing some radio promotion with a record company guy in San Francisco. I remember he said to me “So, Howard? What do you think of all of the amazing women we have here in San Francisco?” I said “Yeah, they’re fantastic! But I’m really happily married to my wife Jan. We’ve been together ever since we were young, so I’m good in that area.” That’s when he said “Well, you can look at the menu but you don’t have to EAT!”…. That was it! That was the spark! I guess I should really thank him for it! [laughs].

Can you tell me a little about your musical upbringing?

Music has been in my blood ever since I was two years old. I started playing piano at the age of seven; was in bands at fourteen and got signed when I was twenty-eight. It’s really been music all the way. But even if I didn’t have music, I’d still be happy with who I am. If you were to take it all away I’d still feel good about life.

What other projects are you working on?

I’ve got a new project that I performed last November called ‘Engage’. It’s written as a live piece that integrates contemporary dance, ballet and cinematic soundscapes. It’s everything that I love, along with some philosophical themes. It’s a big project I’m in the final mixes of that will be out next year.

We spoke about your performance at Live Aid but are there any other moments from that era that stand out to you?

There were actually two. I remember one of them was doing the Grammy awards. I’ve never won a Grammy, but I was in something that was just as good. I was in a band with Stevie Wonder, Thomas Dolby and Herbie Hancock that performed together at the show. It was such a great moment. The other thing was getting to play Madison Square Garden, which was something that I had always dreamed of doing as a teenager. I got to do my own show there and it was absolutely amazing.

You took a lot of heat back in the 80’s for being a keyboard and synth pioneer. What are your thoughts on that now?

It’s amazing how much things have changed. Today, people have that stuff in their bedrooms and can even make records at home. I see it more as a badge of honor now, especially with the way music has evolved and developed and with the way people use technology and really see it for what it is. Back then, I didn’t want to be like the status quo. I wanted to do something that was different and unique. That’s why I was always drawn to technology, because it gives you the chance to do something new.

For more on Howard Jones:

Retro Futura Tour 2014:


21 New York, NY Best Buy Theater
22 Philadelphia, PA Keswick Theater
23 Brookhaven, NY Pennysaver Amphitheater
24 Boston, MA Wilbur Theatre
25 Cleveland, OH Performance Arts Center/The Cleveland Masonic Auditorium
26 Toronto, ON Koolhaus
27 Chicago, IL Ravinia
29 Los Angeles, CA The Greek Theater
30 Saratoga, CA Mountain Winery
31 Sacramento, CA Thunder Valley Casino


3 Tempe, AZ Marquee Theatre
4 San Diego, CA Humphrey’s
5 Las Vegas, NV Mandalay Bay
6 Sandy, UT Sandy Amphitheater

Guitar World: Asia’s John Wetton and Sam Coulson Talk New Album, ‘Gravitas’

Asia: Gravitas (2014)

Asia: Gravitas (2014)

Following Steve Howe’s departure from Asia in 2012, the band launched a massive search in hopes of finding a suitable replacement for the legendary guitarist.

Enter Sam Coulson, a young gun recommended by Paul Gilbert. And by “young,” we mean someone who wasn’t even born during Asia’s first wave of success in the Eighties.

Coulson’s arrival brings a youthful energy and new-found technical savvy to Asia, whose eponymous 1982 debut sold more than 7 million copies and included the hits “Heat of the Moment,” “Only Time Will Tell” and “Sole Survivor.”

Asia (l to r: Carl Palmer, John Wetton, Geoff Downes, Sam Coulson

Asia (l to r: Carl Palmer, John Wetton, Geoff Downes, Sam Coulson

Asia’s new album, Gravitas, features Coulson’s guitar work coupled with the vision of producer/songwriting partners John Wetton and Geoff Downes. The result is a new twist for the band that tastefully complements the classic Asia sound.

Asia — John Wetton (vocals, bass), Geoff Downes (keyboards), Carl Palmer (drums) and Sam Coulson (guitar) — are preparing a fall U.S tour to showcase the new album and introduce their new guitarist.

I recently spoke with Wetton and Coulson about Gravitas and more.

You can read the rest of my
gw_logoInterview with John Wetton & Sam Coulson
By Clicking Here!

Slam Dunk!: Gerald Albright Scores Big With Compelling New Album

Gerald Albright“Slam Dunk” is an apropos title. With a direct influence of James Brown as well as the Philly International and Motown sound, Gerald Albright’s infectious new album delivers the goods by taking us on a journey of musical discovery.

Co-produced by Chris “Big Dog” Davis, “Slam Dunk” continues Albright’s reign as one of the most compelling and consistent artists in jazz. In addition to showcasing his amazing sax prowess, Albright displays his skills as bassist and vocalist on “Slam Dunk”, with ebullient arrangements of classic covers as well as his own compositions.

Highlights on “Slam Dunk” include Albright’s take on songs by James Brown (“It’s a Man’s, Man’s Man’s World”) and Phil Collins (“True Colors”) as well as his own touching tribute to longtime friend George Duke (“The Duke”). If that’s not enough, Albright even brings in special guest vocalist Peabo Bryson for an impassioned performance on the track “Where Did We Go Wrong”.

“Slam Dunk” will be released on August 5th. I had the pleasure of speaking with Albright about his wonderful new album.

Where does the title “Slam Dunk” come from?

Well, it’s not a basketball term [laughs]. It’s a bit more cliché’. It’s about being at a good point in your life when everything is kind of clicking. The premise behind this whole project was to take some of the instruments that I’ve loved to play for many years and bring them to the forefront. The bass guitar, the flute solos, the little singing that I do – and of course, all of the saxophones. It’s a project where I really got to spread my wings, and “Slam Dunk” is a title that reflects that.

What was your criteria for choosing songs to cover for this album?

For me, the song has to feel good and have a wonderful melody that I can play on the saxophone. If it translates well to the sax then I’ll really feel the tune as opposed to trying to make a melody work from a particular song.

Let’s discuss a few tracks from Slam Dunk. “True Colors”

I used to perform “True Colors” back when I was on the road with Phil Collins. He did a wonderful arrangement of it. I had a featured soprano sax solo during his show and always looked forward to doing that song. I remember making a mental note at the time that if I ever had a chance to do my own rendition of it I would do it. We did it for this album.

Tell me a little about your James Brown influence and particularly on the song, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.

I’ve been channeling James Brown for years. In fact, on all of my contemporary projects you’ll hear hints of James somewhere within one or more of the songs. That’s because as early as age 8, I was literally listening to every recorded album of James Brown that my brother had playing in the household. It was what I was digesting on a daily basis. Of course, with James being so funky and then having Maceo Parker who was just as funky playing alto – that became my first influence on the alto saxophone. James plays a big part in my musical journey and I wanted to do “Man’s World” because it’s one of those tunes that you can slow down, dig into and really have a conversation with the horn. I think we were very successful..

“Because of You”.

That was a song I wrote with my co-producer, Chris “Big Dog” Davis. It was a song that I dedicated to my wife and one where I’m doing all of the background vocals. I get to channel George Duke and his falsetto on that one!

Speaking of George Duke, you pay tribute to him on the song “The Duke”.

I affectionately called him Poppa G. George was someone you could always approach and he would always give you time. He was a real special spirit in the music business that made you feel comfortable whenever you were around him. I had a chance to record and play live shows with George and he really influenced me in my music and as a person for many years. I deeply miss him and wanted to give him a tribute on the project. We did that song for Duke.

“Where Did We Go Wrong” – With Peabro Bryson.

I was doing the Berks Jazz Festival. Peabro was also there and I remember there was a point in the show where I was standing in the wings and was just amazed at how wonderful his voice is. He hasn’t lost a beat and I thought it would be great to have him on this new record. After the show, we were both back in the dressing room and I asked him if he’d be willing to do a song on the album and he said “Absolutely”. He did a wonderful job.

What was it like working with Chris “Big Dog” Davis?

‘Big Dog’ brought a new energy to this project that was really exciting. He’s one of those user-friendly types of producers who can really do any type of music. We pretty much co-wrote and produced the whole album together. I’m so happy with the way it came out.

Will you also be touring to support this album?

Yes! We’re talking about major touring at the end of the year and into 2015. We definitely have to tour on Slam Dunk. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You also have some more dates lined up with Summer Horns. What’s it like touring with Dave Koz, Mindi Abair and Richard Elliott?

It’s exciting to share the stage with Koz, Mindi and Richard. It’s a mutual admiration type of platform. We always have a lot of fun on stage together and I think people can really zone in on that.

Did you always know music would be your calling?

I did. Music was the only thing that ever really made me feel comfortable. I’ve always geared my energy towards some path of music. Whether it was being in the recording studio with other artists, out on the road or doing my own solo projects – music is home for me. I started out on piano when I was eight years old. I didn’t like it so my private teacher put me on saxophone and thank God that he did because that was the instrument that I was inclined to play.

What makes jazz such a great form of music?

It’s the timeless, American art form. You can put on a Nat King Cole or Miles Davis record and it would sound like it was recorded yesterday. There’s an allegiance and commitment to this music that’s unlike any other genre.

What advice would you give to someone starting out who has dreams of a career in music?

First and foremost, you really have to be fluent on the instrument. There are no shortcuts and that means you have to practice and put in the time. Music is also a relationship business, so you’ve got to go where the action is. Refine your instrument and then refine the business aspect to develop relationships with people who can help you enhance it. You can always learn something today that you didn’t know yesterday. It’s limitless what you can do.

For more on Gerald Albright check out his official website:


LA Sessions: 14-Year-Old Ray Goren Talks New EP and Working with Jimi Hendrix Producer Eddie Kramer

RayGoren2Fourteen-year-old guitarist Ray Goren describes LA Sessions, his new EP, as a unique mixture of everything from Jimi Hendrix to Stevie Wonder. Considering the fact that Hendrix’s producer, Eddie Kramer, worked on the EP, it’s hard to argue.

Goren’s guitar journey is slightly different from that of most players. He started out on keyboards, playing songs by Thelonious Monk, J.J. Johnson and Miles Davis as early as age 5.

But it wasn’t until a few years later while searching YouTube that he stumbled upon a video clip of B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy and Albert Collins performing together. That’s when the fuse was lit, and Goren has never looked back.

Kramer, who “discovered” Goren, has a resume that includes such giants as Led Zeppelin and Kiss. The legendary producer/engineer was so impressed with Goren that he produced LA Sessions himself and even enlisted some other musical heavyweights, including drummer Able Laboriel, Jr. (Paul McCartney) and bassist Paul Bushnell (Tim McGraw) to lend a hand.

Read the rest of my
gw_logoInterview with Ray Goren by Clicking Here!

Mindi Abair: The Power of Reinvention

MindiAbairI’ve been given a beautiful and meaningful gift. One that allows me to make a living as a solo artist. I mean, what could be better than that? I actually get to make records, tour with a band that I’ve hand chosen and play the music I write for audiences all over the world. I’ve been a goal-oriented person my whole life, and seven solo records and countless tours later, I’m still going strong!

But once I turned 40, things started to feel different for me. I started becoming confused and a bit foggy. I was disoriented just “marking time” as they say. Continuing on the same path that I had originally set for myself. It felt as if I had been exposed to a virus that was somehow making me question my place in life. All of the usual things that had inspired me up to this point were gradually fading away and I felt as if I had musically become a caricature of myself. I needed new inspiration, but wasn’t sure where to find it. I needed outside influence, but wasn’t sure how to go after that either. I was just too cozy and safe inside of my own private bubble.

I decided that now was the time to do a little soul searching. But, how does one go about reinventing themselves after living life as a very defined person? I knew that I had to follow my heart. If there was more out there for me, then I was going to go out and find it.

I came to the conclusion that on the off time from my band, I’d go out and do the things that made me happy. I felt the need to become a fan of music again and not just be immersed in playing it. I soon found myself going out to clubs to see bands that I really loved.

After a few months, it occurred to me that I was mostly seeing rock and blues bands. Hmm, OK… note to self. Maybe I was now just tapping into some happy childhood memories. After all, I did spend twelve years growing up hanging with the eight rock bands my dad had put out on the road. And in between those rock tours, I would watch unearthly amounts of MTV. Not exactly what you would consider the usual path to a career in Contemporary Jazz.

One of the shows I was frequenting was my friend, Waddy Watchel’s band. Waddy and I have played together off and on since 1995 – going back to when we both joined Adam Sandler’s band. Waddy’ s band has played The Joint in Hollywood for the past 15 years; with everyone from Keith Richards and Neil Young’s bass player Rick Rosas to Jack Tempchin sitting in.

It became total Rock ‘n’ Roll Zen for me. The loud guitars, the driving force of the drums and the sheer intent of the lead singer! It was a “spa day” for me, as I put it to Waddy. Somehow in the cacophony of rock ‘n’ roll, I had found peace and reveled in the sheer abandon of the music that was being played.

Of course, I couldn’t just watch. Playing was in my blood and those nights of being a fan eventually led to me sitting in with the band and becoming a regular fixture with the group. The music that we were playing really inspired me: Rolling Stones, Mott the Hoople, the Beatles! I was officially “moonlighting” from my chosen career as a Contemporary Jazz saxophonist – and I loved it!

It wasn’t long before I got a call from Don Was asking me if I’d like to play “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll” on American Idol with one of the contestants. I knew that I could use my newly found mojo to pull it off. And I did! Steven Tyler even called me out in front of millions on TV saying “Forget about you, who’s your sax player?”

I ended up spending two seasons on American Idol, eventually playing seven episodes with Phillip Phillips who won it all. What an honor!  And on my last day on the set, I received a call from Steven asking if I’d like to be the first saxophonist to join Aerosmith on tour since 1973!

Wow! Now I was REALLY moonlighting! I had decided to just do what made me happy and in the spirit of reinvention was now taking off and spending my summer vacation with Aerosmith!

The band was nice enough to let me keep my own dates that were already booked, so every now and then I would take off and join my own band and play. Interestingly, it was during my own band’s shows that I started feeling a change in the music. I began to notice that I was moving around and playing differently. I was even starting to dress differently. But it wasn’t as if someone else was coming out of my body. It was still me, only a better me! A stronger, more confident and more inspired me!

My next inspiration came to me quite organically. It was the day that I heard of Clarence Clemons passing. I had never met him, but he was a hero of mine as a performer and player. Saddened by his passing, I turned to Facebook as my vehicle for expressing my feelings. As fate would have it, a promoter saw my post and called almost immediately to ask if I’d be up for sitting in with Max Weinberg and paying tribute to Clarence with him. And truly, I could not have been more honored.

A few days later, I played with Max and it was an emotional night. I really tried to dig deep and pay appropriate tribute to this man that I so admired. I ended up joining Max on tour for the next few weeks, even getting to play with him and Bruce Springsteen at the Beacon Theater one lucky night.

Sinking my teeth into this incredible new mojo, I pushed myself into finding greater depths of expression. It was freeing and for the first time in many years I actually wanted to ‘practice’ saxophone. I sat for hours in my room, dusting off old Springsteen records and playing along – forming scales and new melodies in my head. I had found a new love affair with my saxophone and went through a true rebirth as a player. It was work, but I loved every second.

I realized that all of these experiences had helped redefine me. The thoughts that had been haunting me were gone and I was now on to another chapter in my life. One with new goals I was ready to reach for, and with even more abandon than my previous ones! I eagerly took the inspiration that was given me and ran with it — all the way back to my record label, Concord Records. I explained the last few years of my life to them and even played them some of the new music I was writing. I explained why this would make a breakthrough record for me as an artist. They were in, and I soon set out to make a career record for myself.

I was joined by people I never dreamed would play with me on one of my records: Gregg Allman, Joe Perry, Keb’ Mo’, Booker T. Jones, Max Weinberg, Waddy Wachtel and Trombone Shorty. I had played for them all in their world… moonlighting… and now, I understood for the first time how they fit into mine.

“Wild Heart” debuted at #1 on the Billboard Jazz and Contemporary Jazz charts.

I’m not sure how many times one has the power to redefine and/or reinvent oneself. I’ll have to wait and see but right now I’m reveling in my new skin. Change comes when you look for it. And even though I wasn’t sure of where it would lead, I just needed to free my mind and take the journey. I’m a new woman now. A stronger, more capable woman and someone who’s making music that moves me every single day.


Mindi Abair is one of the most dynamic performers on the music scene today. In addition to her acclaimed solo work, she was the featured saxophonist on the two seasons of American Idol, jammed with Paul Shaffer on the Late Show with David Letterman and joined rock legends Aerosmith for their 2012 summer tour. More recently, the powerhouse saxophonist/vocalist received a Grammy nomination in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category for Summer Horns, a #1 recording with her friends Dave Koz, Gerald Albright and Richard Elliot. Abair’s new album, “Wild Heart” includes guest and songwriting performances by Gregg Allman, Joe Perry, Booker T. Jones, Keb’ Mo’, Trombone Shorty, Max Weinberg, Waddy Wachtel and others. Find out more at

‘So U’: Neal Schön Talks Music, Journey and New Santana Project

SchonJourney guitarist Neal Schön gives credit for a lot of his improvisational skills to Cream’s 1968 album “Wheels of Fire”. Listening to that along with healthy doses of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and the Three Kings: BB, Albert and Freddie. Perhaps absorbing that combination of master musicianship is one of the reasons why Schön’s new album, “So U” is so insanely good.

For “So U”, Schön transforms ¾ of his former Soul Sirkus band (including bassist Marco Mendoza and longtime Journey drummer Deen Castronovo) into a late 60’s/ early 70’s psychedelic power trio. Infusing elements of funk, rock, fusion and jazz into a sound that’s very much reminiscent of Schön’s early recordings with Santana and Journey.

Schön is currently out on tour this summer with Journey, The Steve Miller Band and Tower Of Power. I spoke with him about “So U”, Journey and the new project that reunites him with his former bandmate, Carlos Santana.

What made you decide to record this new album?

I had finished up recording my last album [2012’s “The Calling”] at Fantasy Studios and was just having a blast. Since I had some extra time, I thought I’d give Deen and Marco a call to see if they would be available to come in with me. The three of us had worked together on a Soul Sirkus record with Jeff Scott Soto a long time ago. So I had already known Marco for years and obviously Deen has been with me in Journey for a long time.

You did some songwriting with Jack Blades for this album. What’s your relationship with him like?

Jack and I have also known each other for years. We go way back to the beginnings of Night Ranger when we played some dates with them after their first record came out. I like getting together with Jack because there’s always something good that comes out of it. Whenever I go up to his studio to write, I know that we’re going to come out with one or two really great ideas.

Let’s discuss a few tracks from So U:

What You Want

When I first started thinking about doing this project, I had already been up to Jack’s house and the two of us had been throwing around a few ideas. “What You Want” was one of the songs that popped out. That was one we had a basic map and arrangement for and knew what it was going to sound like.

Take A Ride

“Take A Ride” was something that I wrote musically way back when I was working with Paul Rodgers. I wrote it for Paul because it had this funky, bluesy, rock groove with a modern “Free” type of feel to it. Then Paul had to continue touring and I had to go out and tour and for some reason, the two of us lost contact about it. So I already had the song just sitting there in my head. Then I remembered when I saw Marco playing at The Baked Potato in LA with his Latin Fusion group. They basically do these amazing Latin/fusion versions of Stevie Wonder songs. I knew that he could sing his ass off and had this funky, bluesy voice and that’s when I said, “Marco can sing this!” So we laid it down, wrote the lyrics and it was done.


Exotica is very Latin/fusion. It’s sort of my “hats off” to Carlos Santana. I dedicated that one to him.

SoUWhat was the recording process like?

A lot of the instrumentals on the album actually started out with just a click track and me playing keyboards. I would put down the chords as I heard the song going without any arrangement at all. Then the guys would come in and play and it all came to life. It was nice to go into the studio with a blank canvas and have a lot of “brushes” and “paints” to throw at it.


What kind of “brushes” and “paints” did you use?

I have a lot of guitars but pretty much use the same thing for recording now. A Fractal Axe-FX double rack. That and a Bogner Shiva. It’s a little 2×12 bottom and a hand wired head that they made for me.

Will you be touring with Marco and Deen?

I would love to find the time to do it. Right now with Journey we’re doing so well. Although we’ve never gone away, it’s been an incredible rebirth. Especially with all of the young fans. We’re so fortunate to have this huge resurgence.

What can you tell me about your upcoming project with [Carlos] Santana?

We’ve recorded nine tracks so far and it sounds a lot like where we left off on Santana III. For this one, we went for some funkier grooves and a few other different things. We’re going to be going back in to do some more electric, up-tempo stuff as well. Four or five tunes like that. It’s very electric and organic.

What’s it like for you to be working with Carlos again?

It’s funny. I still remember the first meeting we were going to have about it. Carlos mainly lives in Las Vegas now and has a rehearsal studio there. Journey was playing in Vegas and I had a few days off, so I figured I’d just walk into his office and have a meeting to talk about it. I even brought along one of my new Paul Reed Smith NS-14 guitars as a gift to give to Carlos. I thought we were just going to sit down and talk but when I opened the door, everyone was in there playing. It sounded amazing and just like the old band. So instead of talking, I wound up plugging in the guitar I was going to give to Carlos and jammed with them all day. Then later I took Carlos aside and said “Hey, I thought we were going to have a meeting?” He just laughed and said “Dude, this IS the meeting!” [laughs].

I could ask you a million questions about some of the Journey songs, but I’ll settle for the origins of just two:

Stone In Love

Back in the heyday I was living in California and had a few friends over at a house I had just moved into and we were having a party. I had a guitar set up in a bedroom that didn’t have any furniture in yet and I just started beating out the chords to the track. In those days I used to carry around one of those little Sony recorders and a bunch of cassettes to record ideas into. I’d either be humming into it or sometimes would play a riff. It was shortly after Jonathan Cain came into the band and I’d bring him all of the cassettes with riffs I made and he would help me sort out the ideas.

Any Way You Want It

That was another early one that I wrote with [Steve] Perry. At the time we wrote it we were on tour with Thin Lizzy. I think it was inspired by listening to Phil Lynott and the guys open up for us every night. We just started jamming to it at sound check one day and it just kind of came out. Just three chords and there you go. Sometimes the simple songs make for the best ones!

What other projects are you working on?

I have a follow-up to “The Calling” that’s already complete. It’s an 85 minute double-cd that I did with Steve Smith, Jan Hammer and Igor Len. I’ve been trying to stay ahead of the game and come with new records all the time. I have so much music in me.

It’s been three years since Journey’s last album [Eclipse]. Has the band given thought to working on another album?

We’ve been talking about doing something, possibly at the end of this tour. Sometimes when things are going so well it gives you that much more incentive to want to go in and do some new music. Or maybe revisit older music you wrote long ago which never really saw the light of day. There are some things we did back there; even when Steve Augeri was singing with the band, that I think are really great songs and ones we could easily redo and rearrange with Arnel [Pineda].

Of all the projects you’ve been involved with over the course of your career, is there one thing that stands out as a particular highlight?

Back when we did Santana III we had a song on it called “Everybody’s Everything”. I remember we had a Tower of Power horn section on it and I played lead and Carlos played bass and rhythm guitar. That ended up being a number one album for us and was something that I’ll never forget.

For more on Neal Schön visit:

Night Ranger Provides Music Therapy at New York City Show

NR -BBSOk, I’ll admit it. The last time I saw a full Night Ranger headlining set was back in 1985 when the band was touring on the success of its third album, “Seven Wishes”  — Does anyone else remember bassist/vocalist Jack Blades rising out of the genie lamp to begin the night’s festivities?

Although I’ve seen Night Ranger many more times over the years, its always been when they were teamed up on a bill with two or three other bands. And for as much as I will always love hearing their biggest hits, I lamented never having the opportunity to hear some of the earlier material that always appealed to me. Album cuts that never quite made it mainstream. But Night Ranger’s performance last night at BB King Blues Club in New York City was a trip through three decades of rock and for me personally, some much needed therapy.

Opening the set was the fitting “Touch of Madness” – a single from the band’s monster album “Midnight Madness”. Next, the band immediately took us thirty years into the future. Performing “St. Bartholomew” (from the band’s brand new album “High Road”) for the very first time live. Blades would go on to joke about “sneaking” that one into the set, but the fans enthusiastic response indicated they knew otherwise.

From there, Night Ranger took us on a whirlwind journey through time and quite a bit of their early catalog. Performing nearly half of the “Dawn Patrol”, “Midnight Madness” and “Seven Wishes” albums as well as tracks from Blade’s days with Damn Yankees.

The band also brought us forward into the new millennium with “Lay It On Me” from 2011’s “Somewhere in California” as well as the title cut of their current album, “High Road”.

There was no doubt that the band would also include their biggest hits in their New York City set and the songs “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me”, “Sister Christian” and “When You Close Your Eyes” were met with equal adulation.

Night Ranger (BB Kings New York City)

Night Ranger (BB Kings New York City)

Bassist/Vocalist Jack Blades is the quintessential showman. Whether he’s introducing a new song or asking the audience if they’d like to come out on the road with the band, Blades is in his comfort zone when he’s out front.

You’d be hard pressed to find a better drummer/vocalist combination in music than Kelly Keagy. Seeing him hit the high notes for “Sentimental Street” or “Sing Me Away” while continuing to keep an infectious beat is still mind boggling.

Keyboardist Eric Levy was absolutely brilliant in staying true to the band’s classic sound and has become a staple of Night Ranger.

Guitarists Brad Gillis and Joel Hoekstra (a New York City native) are a force to be reckoned with. The duo trade off guitar leads with ease and perfection. Gillis laying down the most flawless, tasty licks while Hoekstra literally felt right at home. Firing up the crowd with his own guitar prowess and the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. He was glad to be there, and so was I.

Night Ranger

I’ve been a Night Ranger fan since the band’s early days and can still recall the first time I heard “You Can Still (Rock In America) on my neighbor’s cassette recorder. For me, it was a game changing moment.

Much the same as last night’s show at BB King’s.

Night Ranger Set List (BB King Blues Club NYC)

Touch of Madness
St. Bartholomew (Live Debut)
Four in the Morning
Lay It On Me
Coming of Age (Damn Yankees cover)
Sentimental Street
Seven Wishes
Sing Me Away
High Road
Night Ranger
High Enough (Damn Yankees cover)
When You Close Your Eyes
Don’t Tell Me You Love Me


Sister Christian
(You Can Still) Rock in America



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