Author Archives: James Wood

Damon Johnson Talks New Black Star Riders Album, ‘Heavy Fire’

Damon Johnson & Scott Gorham

While continuing to pay homage to their Thin Lizzy legacy, Black Star Riders’ third album, Heavy Fire, also represents a major turning point for the band.

From the immediate riffs of “When the Night Comes In” to the dirty bass groove of “Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed” and the familiar, trademark dual guitars of Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson on “Testify Or Say Goodbye,” Heavy Fire takes the band out of the past and further cements Black Star Riders as one of the world’s premiere rock acts.

Black Star Riders are Ricky Warwick (vocals/guitar), Scott Gorham (guitars), Damon Johnson (guitars) and Robert Crane (bass).

I recently caught up with Johnson and asked him about Heavy Fire, his gear and more.

How would you describe Heavy Fire in terms of its sound and how it relates to some of the band’s previous work?

I would describe Heavy Fire as the album where we feel we’ve musically made a statement. It’s the final chapter in our trying to find a way to stand on our own. We’ll always be grateful and respectful to our past history—certainly Scott’s history—and without a doubt, the Thin Lizzy fan base and the support they’ve given us to even try something like this.

We’ve been touring, writing and recording over the course of the last four years and this was our opportunity to show we’ve made real progress. We’ve been energized and rejuvenated as a band at how great this album turned out. It’s very special to us.

What led to the transition from Thin Lizzy to Black Star Riders?

Ricky had joined Thin Lizzy in 2010 and I joined in 2011. Over the course of the dates we did together right after I joined, it was the first time Scott had brought up the subject of possibly making some new music and maybe even recording. For Ricky and me as fans, it was a dream come true to even consider having our contributions on a Thin Lizzy album, but we all quickly realized that to give the music a chance and for people to evaluate it on an even scale, it would be impossible to call it Thin Lizzy.

There were multiple guitar players and periods of music the band captured and recorded and went out and played live over the years, but everyone knows the common thread in that band besides Brian Downey was Phil Lynott. So the idea that anyone would give thought to recording new music without Phil in the band seemed ridiculous. That’s when we said let’s not bail out on the idea of recording but instead call it something else.

It’s been very gratifying to get the feedback from fans, the media and even fellow musicians that respect that we would step away from an established name and record it under a different one, and that’s really what Heavy Fire represents to us. This is the one that pushed us up to the next level to where we can see ourselves as Black Star Riders.

How does the writing process work for Black Star Riders?

It comes from a multitude of things. Generally, it starts with a musical idea that’s quickly followed by a vocal melody. Sometimes Ricky will come to me with his guitar and will sing what might be a verse or chorus and we’ll throw it back and forth. Other times, Scott or I will have a riff and bring it to Ricky who will then look in his lyric notebook and, 19 out of 20 times, he’ll already have a cool lyric to go with it.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Damon Johnson by Clicking Here!

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Foreigner at 40: Mick Jones Talks New Compilation Album, Gear and Autobiography

Photo by: Bill Bernstein

Following the success of their self-titled 1977 debut album, Foreigner went on to record some of rock’s most enduring anthems, including “Hot Blooded,” “Juke Box Hero” and “Urgent,” not to mention the Number 1 hit, “I Want to Know What Love Is.”

Since then, they’ve become one of the best-selling bands of all time, with 10 multi-platinum albums and worldwide sales exceeding 75 million.

On May 19, Foreigner will celebrate their 40th anniversary with a new career-spanning compilation, 40, which features 40 hits from 40 years. The band also will embark on an extensive U.S. tour with Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience.

These days, Foreigner is Mick Jones (lead guitar), Kelly Hansen (lead vocals), Jeff Pilson (bass), Tom Gimbel (rhythm guitar/flute/saxophone), Michael Bluestein (keyboards), Bruce Watson (lead guitar) and Chris Frazier (drums).

I recently spoke with Jones about the band’s 40th-anniversary plans, his upcoming autobiography, gear and more.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Foreigner. When you look back now—with so much perspective—what thoughts come to mind?

It’s a real gift and has basically been two-thirds of my life. It’s been a passion for me and I’ve stuck with it through thick or thin. I’m very grateful for having the opportunity to have an experience like this and to be doing something that I really love. It’s outlasted any expectations.

What does the band have planned to celebrate the occasion?

It’s the 40th anniversary, so we have the Foreigner 40 album that’s coming May 19. We’ve also got my book coming out, which is my first autobiography where you’ll find out a bit more about me. Then we’ve got a huge American tour where we’re bringing along Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience. We have a couple of the guys coming out to play with the band, including Rick Wills and Dennis Elliot. There’s also plans for Lou Gramm to come out and do a few shows. We hope to make it a celebration.

Kelly Hansen has been with the band on lead vocals for more than a decade. What’s it like having him with the band?
Kelly was the reason I felt confident to go ahead with this in the first place. Obviously, those were big shoes to fill, but Kelly is a go-getting front man and performer who carries the songs incredibly well and gives 150 percent every night. But that’s really the thing about the whole band—everyone is totally dedicated to what we’re doing. It’s a rare thing to find something where everyone is on the same page. There’s good feeling all around.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Mick Jones by Clicking Here!

The Alarm’s Mike Peters Discusses His Inspiring New Documentary, ‘Man in the Camo Jacket’

The story behind Mike Peters’ inspiring new documentary, Man in the Camo Jacket, actually begins with the music of the Alarm.

Peters’ will to live also comes through his charity, the Love Hope Strength Foundation, which raises funds and awareness for cancer centers around the world through music-related events and promotions. To date, LHS has added more than 129,000 music fans to the bone marrow registry, helping to find more than 2,400 potential lifesaving matches.

Man in the Camo Jacket will have its U.S. premiere in Los Angeles on April 22 and in New York on April 29. This will be followed by the Alarm’s run of live dates as part of the Vans Warped Tour.

I recently spoke to Peters about Man in the Camo Jacket, the Alarm’s upcoming tour, new music and more.

What inspired Man in the Camo Jacket?

The genesis of the film happened when I was approached by Russ Kendall from Kaleidoscope Pictures. He had been commissioned to make a series of programs for a film called A Song That Changed My Life. Russ and his crew came to Wales to film my portion. While he was there, I told him the story about our work with the charity and the bone marrow drive and he became enthralled with the whole Love, Strength, Hope story. That’s when he said, “Mike, this is more than a TV show. This has to become a film.”

He started the drive with the other producers [James Chippendale, Stash Slionski and Alex Coletti] and put the story together. The film is the coming together of a lot of people who had faith in the band and me as an individual and stood behind me through my cancer struggles, and also about the people who got on board and volunteered to give their love, hope, strength back to the world.

What’s the story behind the camouflage jacket?

When I was first diagnosed in 1995, I was due to have a bone marrow transplant. But I told the doctors I had an American tour in a few days and couldn’t cancel it. A friend of mine gave me a book about self-healing to read on the way over, and there was a chapter about a girl who had a brain tumor and created a Pac-Man game in her mind to eat it.

She wound up going into spontaneous remission and cured herself through the power of her mind. It really connected with me and made me realize I needed a defense mechanism of my own. I thought that if I was going to war with the cancer, I was going to buy an army jacket and wouldn’t take it off until I was cured.

One of the interesting parts of your musical journey was when one of your early bands, Seventeen, dissolved. It was the day you were told by the band’s manager that you’d never amount to anything musically.

That was the bottom and a terrible day, because it was also the day John Lennon died. But I saw something in myself that day. Up to that point, all I was trying to do through the band was get a record deal. I realized it shouldn’t just be about that. I thought we’ve got to put our ideals across and give something tangible to our audience through our music. Something where they can say, “Wow! Those guys mean it. Let’s apply that to our lives as well.”

I remember walking away from that moment with no anger or bitterness and later telling him, “You’re wrong. I’ll prove you wrong.” It was a wakeup call and a turning point that shocked me into real action instead of just going for a ride.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Mike Peters by Clicking Here!

PROClassicTV: Stephen Rodgers Discusses New Streaming Service

For more than forty years, the Peter Rodgers Organization has been a top name in film and TV distribution, and with the recent launch of PROClassicTV.com they’ve now given fans access to the classic television shows they love from the comfort of their own home.

Fans can now purchase individual episodes or get a monthly, unlimited membership that allows them to watch complete seasons of iconic series like “The Rifleman,” “I Spy,” “My Favorite Martian” and “The Saint” as well as the cartoon classic “Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse”, the truck driving drama “Movin’ On” and the campy “Celebrity Bowling.” Every episode is uncut, commercial free and ready to take a new generation of TV fanatics and those who remember these shows fondly well into the 21st century.

I recently spoke with Stephen Rodgers, Chief Executive Officer of The Peter Rodgers Organization (PRO) about PROClassicTV.com and more in this exclusive new interview.

Can you give me a little background on the Peter Rodgers Organization?

My father [Peter Rodgers] was vice president of a company called National Telefilm Associates (NTA). They were the syndication arm for Republic Pictures and NBC. This was back in the day when studios like Republic had NTA and Columbia had Screen Gems. It was also a time when studios were being pressured a lot by theatrical companies. They shunned on selling features to television because back then, movie theaters thought they’d go out of business if films were available on TV. My father was there from 1957 until 1976 and left to go out on his own to start his own company, The Peter Rodgers Organization. That’s how the company started.

How did you become involved in the business?

I was working as an engineer for a heating and air conditioning company when my father passed away in 1988. So I’d go to work at my construction job and afterwards would go into his office for the estate. My father knew a lot of influential people in the business who welcomed me and took me under their wing. They encouraged me to stay in it and that’s what I ended up doing. I didn’t envision going into the business, but keeping this company going was (in a way) my way of making sure my dad was still around.

Where did the idea for PROClassicTV.com originate?

It was something that was created out of necessity after watching the decline of physical DVD’s and startup cable networks. Seeing those areas go dormant really pushed us into the online medium and PROClassicTV.  Rather than chase existing models and suffer the consequences of their learning experience, we realized the strength was in keeping all the content together as a library. It gave us the ability to get more attention. ProclassicTV.com gives consumers a way to transactionally watch content without commercials. It was also an opportunity for us to digitize our content and present it directly to consumers. In the past, we had always dealt with network and traditional syndication platforms on a company by company level, so this is new for us. But it allows us to see what kind of climate is out there and what the next moves will be for the future.

My Favorite Martian

What would you say is the most challenging part of your job?

It’s always a learning experience. We’ve seen the evolution of a lot of things over the years: the VHS tape came in and went out, then we had the cable channel boom of the 1990’s. Now we’re in this online medium which is ever changing. As things evolve, you’re always second guessing yourself and making sure that you’re doing things that will be of mutual benefit. Representing producers is a challenge because many of them are no longer around. It’s typically the estates and families that have a video asset they don’t know what to do with. It’s my job to make sure that we maximize the benefits for them them but at the same time, making sure the broadcasters are happy with the deal that they have. Then we have to hope that there’s some happiness left over for us. Those are the challenges. Making sure the crystal ball is working the best that it can.

How do you acquire content?

We really don’t acquire things. It finds us. The content comes from families, estates and agencies and even some international companies that don’t have distribution domestically. We represent shows that are branded and sell themselves. Shows like “I-Spy,” “My Favorite Martian” and “The Rifleman” are brands that have been cultivated over decades and don’t require any promotion. People recognize them and tune just by virtue of them being on the schedule. Wherever these shows go a few million dedicated fans and followers who grew up or enjoyed watching them will gravitate towards that channel or network. That’s the criteria – looking for shows that already have an established brand and ones that have universal recognition.

I’ve already asked you what’s the most challenging part of your job. What’s the most satisfying?

The thing that satisfies me the most is making a deal that works. Whether it’s a deal with a TV station in Bangor, Maine or a deal like the one we have with AMC and “The Rifleman”. Being able to get all the parts together to make the broadcaster or exhibitor happy, makes the producer/owner happy and then any happiness left over for us. Those are three things that factor into every transaction we do.

For a taste of PRO Classic TV Click Here 

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New James Hetfield Biography: An Interview with Author Mark Eglinton

Mark Eglinton’s So Let It Be Written: The Biography of Metallica’s James Hetfield is the first biography of a living member of Metallica.

In the book, which will hit shelves April 11 via Lesser Gods, Eglinton uses exclusive, firsthand interviews with artists and celebrities who have crossed paths with the guitarist, including other members of Metallica, Testament’s Chuck Billy (who wrote the book’s foreword), Charlie Benante (Anthrax), Jerry Cantrell (Alice In Chains) and Rex Brown (Pantera), to construct the definitive account of Hetfield—at least up to this point.

Before becoming one of metal’s biggest personalities, Hetfield overcame several barriers throughout his adolescence, including his parents’ divorce, his mother’s death and severe alcoholism. Eglinton’s book provides the ultimate insider’s look at the man who turned it all around and became a metal god.

I recently spoke to Eglinton about So Let It Be Written, and you can check out our interview below. For more about Eglinton, visit mark-eglinton.com.

What made you decide to write a biography about Hetfield?

I’ve been a fan of the band my whole life, and this idea probably goes back to when I met James for the first time in 1986. I met James and Cliff Burton when Metallica played in my hometown, Edinburgh, Scotland. This was the week before Cliff died, so in retrospect, it was a pretty significant meeting.

James struck me as someone who had a lot of thinking going on but maybe didn’t know how to express it. As time went on, it became an interesting idea to see how he had evolved. On a basic level, it also surprised me that no biography had ever been written about him. Those two things in combination made it a pretty easy decision.

What made the music of Metallica so special for you back then?

I was into a lot of the bands that were around at that time—1984 to ’86—but was looking for something a bit heavier. When I heard Metallica for the first time, it was like inventing the wheel. It was a sound that was so different, so new and so aggressive. It wasn’t radically different from heavy metal but it was being done in a way that no one had ever done before. They’ve always maintained that interest for me.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Mark Eglinton by Clicking Here!

The Teddy Bear With The Red Bow Tie

The Teddy Bear with a Red Bow Tie

By Jillian Wood

What follows is a 5,600 word short-story written by my 15-year-old daughter for her Creative Writing class. I thought it was pretty special. I hope you do too.

***

“What were you thinking of ordering, French toast?” Matthew Davis had asked his eighteen-year old daughter, Alexa, as he scanned over the menu and took a sip of his water. He knew it was her favorite to order as a child whenever they had come to the local diner for breakfast. Due to her seemingly tense mood, he believed she really needed this carb-filled dish with sugary coating, in which she’d probably complain later on how much she regretted eating her days worth of calories for breakfast.

Ever since Maddy Harlow had commented on her maroon, strapless dress (which took forever to find) saying it looked a bit snug in the stomach at homecoming in her sophomore year, Alexa had been avid about how many calories she consumed in a day, the percentage of carb-intake, and adding at least 30 minutes to an hour of cardio to her daily routine. Although in her father’s eyes, she was always stunningly beautiful.

“I’m not really hungry, I’ll stick with my coffee,” Alexa stated softly, looking down, and rimming the edge of the porcelain mug in a circular motion with her fingertips.

“You’re not starving yourself, right? Because then that would require me to send you to a shrink to talk about your feelings and what not,” Matthew had an edge of humor as he spoke, trying to slightly lighten her mood.

Alexa scoffed, and rolled her eyes with a slight smile, “No Dad, I’m not starving myself,” she shook her head slightly, and sighed, “But maybe a shrink would be nice right now.”

“What makes you say that?”

She could hear the genuine concern in her father’s voice, igniting a small feeling of comfort within her; it’s been a long time since she felt that with him.

“It’s stupid,” she mumbled.

The loud chatter of early breakfast goers muted her voice, creating a struggle for Matthew to hear. He hummed faintly and looked out the large window for a brief moment, studying the murky water that stretched out along the harbor of Cape Ann, Massachusetts.

For the middle of March, it was not surprising that the morning wasn’t very bright. There was more of a gloomy aura with light grey skies and dampness permeating the misty air…almost the perfect scene for a time as it. White sailboats with arrays of different colored flags dotted along the small waves. Some boats that were larger docked into the wooden posts, with miniscule buoys bobbing up and down in the surrounding water. There was a stretch of a steep hill that protruded out from the horizon of the harbor, with neighborhoods accompanied by old, wooden homes that would make one imagine it having a screened in porch and a swinging door for those summer nights near the water.

The Davis’ had lived together in a small, two story, rustic home. It was a picture-perfect cliché for being near the water, with its wrap around porch, large windows, and a hammock hanging from a large Maple tree in the front yard. On the inside, you would find a small kitchen attached to an even smaller dining area accompanied by plain, eggshell white walls, as it was throughout the rest of the house. Matthew thought the choice of white walls brought positivity and a brighter atmosphere, but Diane, Matthew’s wife, believed it was too bland. Yet, Diane always had something contradicting to say. With only being about 10 minutes from the harbor, the location of the house offered a great view of the water.

Matthew knew Alexa loved the beach, and with just moving into a new home, he offered to renovate the attic space for his then six-year old daughter to room in. Together, the two hung fairy lights, sheer curtains over the bed to replicate a canopy, and painted a small picture of flowers opposite to the window wall. Some of Alexa’s greatest memories were in that room, having Matthew read “Goodnight Moon” to her every night before bed and acquiring the chance to build forts with Sammy, her younger brother.

As Matthew reminisced on the times spent within the house, he realized that he probably had been dazing off for a while now, “I bet you it isn’t,” he argued, snapping back from his thoughts, and glancing at her.

Alexa pursed her lips, “You would probably think it’s stupid if I said it, it’s not important.” She sipped her coffee, pinched her mouth in distaste, and reached for another sugar packet. The taste of bitter coffee always made her slightly cringe on the inside.

A bell chimed as a family of four walked through the door, distracting Alexa from her expectant father. The mother wore an olive green parka jacket, a cream-colored scarf, and beige boots paired with high socks peeking over the knees. It was something Alexa’s mother would probably wear; Diane always loved the Earth tones. A small infant lay in the woman’s arms, tugging at her dirty blonde strands and sucking on a pacifier. Alexa’s eyes travelled to the father placing his hand on the lower back of his wife, with a young girl, more than half his height, reaching to hold onto his jean jacket. The young girl’s free hand held a teddy bear with a red bowtie around its stuffed neck, similar to the one Alexa had once owned as a child.

Once the family of four had followed the hostess to their seats, Alexa returned to the paper sugar packet, tearing it open with her slender fingers, and pouring it into the creamed coffee. Matthew continued to look at his daughter with a look of expectancy masking his unshaven face and raising his brows. The inspection made Alexa uncomfortable as she shifted in her seat, and subconsciously played with the seashell necklace around her neck; it was a comforting mechanism.

“Does he actually care?” she asked herself, “Guess we’ll find out…”

“I feel that I didn’t live my life to the fullest. Nothing spectacular or amazing happened. All I’ve done is gone cliff jumping at St. Mikes with a few friends, and I didn’t even jump off the highest edge…I was too scared. I haven’t gone to one single party, smoked weed, gotten drunk, had sex…” Taking a slight pause, she shook her head slightly, “Like how lame am I? I only ever cared about school, and working almost every day of the week at Joe’s by helping rude customers just to try and make some cash for college. Oh, and lets not forget about taking care of Sam every night when Mom wasn’t around, but now he’s goanna be 14 and thinks I’m a lame sister! He basically called me a “goody-goody” for not wanting to have a good time like all of the other screw-ups in my school!”

It seemed to Alexa like the whole diner had quieted down after she had ranted; only the sound of plates clattering and utensils following was heard back in the kitchen. Slightly out of breath from her hurried speech, she turned her head slightly to peer at the booth behind her, trying to reassure herself that they weren’t looking at her like some clown…in which she was right. All of a sudden, a deep and contagious laugh escaped her father, his palms coming down to slap a few times on the wooden table.

“A-Are you serious?” He stuttered between chuckles, his front crooked tooth coming into show, “Is that what you think life is about? Partying and having sex?”

Alexa flushed in embarrassment, “Well, no. I don’t know, it just seems like it sometimes.”

“Mm, okay. You sure are lame for wanting to succeed in your future and taking care of your younger brother. Maybe if you did coke, you would be cooler.”

As she sensed the sarcasm Matthew exhibited, she began to question whether she should have said anything in the first place. He might find it funny, but this was no joke to Alexa. With a small frown, she picked up the menu lying flat on the table to the right and scanned over it again. She had been ready to get her reoccurring order of French toast,
Where is the damn waitress?” Alexa questioned this to herself, peaking past her father to see if anyone was coming, but unfortunately saw no uniformed waitress coming her way.

“Listen,” Alexa’s hazel eyes snapped back to the voice of her father, settling back down into the burgundy, cushioned booth, “Just because you didn’t party, get drunk or high, and didn’t do the stupid shit most of the kids in your school probably do, doesn’t make you lame. In fact, it makes you smart and considerate.”

Alexa scoffed at this, and with a sigh escaping her father, he continued, “Seriously, Lexis. Life isn’t even about that anyways. You don’t need spectacular grand moments to be fulfilled. As long as you’re enjoying the times you have with the people you love, you should be happy.”

She took his words into consideration with great thought, and ran her fingers through the roots of her brunette waves; Alexa tended to do this while thinking, “Yea. I guess you’re right.”

“I know I’m right,” Matthew said confidently, “How about this…you tell me your greatest memory with your favorite people.”
“I don’t have many people in my life…you know that. All I have is Sammy and Claire. Me and mom…well…we don’t have great memories and she definitely isn’t one of my favorite people.” Alexa stated hesitantly and in consideration.

“Okay…and? What does that matter? Now, go on.”

“Well, alright,” Her front teeth clenched down to slightly bite the side of her lip, “I remember it was sunny outside, although we had been in the therapy facility, the day Sam was able to walk. You weren’t really there for much of his life, but damn, I wish you could’ve seen the smile and excitement on his face. We were all excited that day…even mom and especially Uncle Chris since he had been the main one, besides Sammy’s physical therapist, to help him into getting back on his feet.

Before that though, Mom was hopeless. The doctor said Sammy would need to see a specialist for his cerebral palsy, but she couldn’t afford it at the time. We had been struggling with money anyway because of the treatment for you, so I offered to try and start babysitting and walking dogs to earn some cash, but at the age of 11 that’s pretty tough I guess. Plus, Mom told me she didn’t want her 11-year-old daughter having to work and make money for the family yet…it was embarrassing in her eyes. By some chance, Mom earned a bonus at work a few months later and found a wallet with only cash inside on the side of the road… I always thought you might’ve had something to do with that day.

With gleaming eyes and a small, closed smile, Matthew interrupted, “Possibly.”

A short moment later and with a roll of the eyes, Alexa continued with her memory, “After that, everything was a quick blur. At the age of six, Sammy visited the specialist and began to attend physical therapy three times a week over the course of three years. He had to do a few home exercises as well, which I always helped him with, unlike Mom. There were some tough nights where he got frustrated with himself…being so young. I understand why. He pulled through thankfully, and the day came where his therapist informed us that he could try taking a few steps with his walkers. I remember how big his braced smile was, with his brown locks all messy because Uncle Chris mushed it together.

When Sammy began to lift himself out of the wheelchair, I recall going to his side to try and help him, but he pushed me away and informed me that he wanted to do all of it himself. I made sure to watch him carefully, almost going over again as he wobbled a bit while getting on his feet. Sammy looked at us with his big, bright eyes and yelled out, “Lexi! Mommy! Look at me!” I praised him while Mom just smiled, and in great anticipation, Sammy took his first step. After all that hard work, I was immensely proud of him and I made sure to show that by picking him up and giving the biggest hug I could muster.”

Alexa had a brief smile on her face as she recalled on the memory. Everything about her younger brother made her happy, she wished that she would never have to leave his side. The relationship had always been strong between the two, except the one time when Sammy called her a prude for not wanting to go to the biggest party of the year. She had been angry with him for a few days for protruding into her business, but eventually forgave him when he consistently apologized; it got annoying.

“I can only imagine how happy he was,” Matthew stated, drifting his words off slightly, and looking out the window again. She was slightly taken aback with his lack of words and was about to reach out to tug on his light wash, jean-jacket sleeve to pull his attention away from the quiet harbor outside, and back to her, when he began to speak again, “I miss him, you know? I wish there was a chance I could see him again and watch re-runs of Full House together.”

There was a stutter of silence between the two, both beginning to let their minds drift. Alexa studied her father; she hadn’t seen him in a while. He looked as he did when she was slightly younger, definitely better than the last time she saw him, with his chestnut mop of hair, brown eyes, and thin lips. Slight aging under his eyes could be spotted, with a few stray lines beneath a cluster of masked freckles. More color in his skin and liveliness in his eyes could be spotted, if looking hard enough. She felt at ease with the man in front of her, knowing that the time did him well. Alexa wondered if time would do the same for her.

“Should I continue?” She asked, breaking the silence and taking yet another sip of her coffee.

“Yea, sorry. I didn’t mean to daze off like that…I was thinking of Sammy,” Matthew stated, with his face filled of sorrow and nostalgia, “But continue, tell me about Claire.”

With Claire in mind, Alexa’s best friend, she began to speak about her greatest memory with the girl, “It had to be almost the middle of July when Claire and I almost killed a bunny in the middle of the road. We had fallen asleep in her room watching Netflix and completely missed my curfew, which meant when I actually did get home, Mom would probably throw a fit and lock me in the house for two months. I think it was almost midnight when Claire and I tried to speed back to the house, her driving. We were bickering with one another, our voices overpowering the music playing on the radio in her mom’s old Volkswagen.

While I was blaming her for missing my curfew, she was blaming me because I didn’t set an alarm in case we had fallen asleep. It all happened so quickly, but as Claire looked over at me to yell once again, I spotted a bunny in the middle of the double, yellow lines, with the car heading straight for it. I screamed at her to hit the brakes, but it was too late. When Claire comprehended what happened after the small thud under the car, she instantly slowed to a stop and hopped out of the car quickly. I followed her of course, and there she was, walking towards where the bunny had been. We had both been looking down at the limp little guy; standing in the middle of the road, when all of a sudden it twitched its leg! I was shocked it wasn’t dead, but I remember feeling extremely relieved due to the fact that there was a chance it would be okay. Its little chest was rising up and down fast, probably scared out of its mine, and struggled to get up. Claire asked me what we should do about it, so I offered to take the bunny home for Sammy to help nurse it back to health. She agreed with me, but then, all of sudden, Claire busted out laughing, which eventually turned into sobbing.

Unfortunately, whenever she starts crying, I start too…we were emotional wrecks looking at the bunny. I was trying to console her, through my own tears, because she wouldn’t stop saying how terrible of a person she was for almost killing a bunny. When we both calmed down, I went back to the car and looked for some type of cloth or shirt to wrap its body in. Claire watched over me as I wrapped the bunny in an old scarf that I found behind the passenger seat, and bring it into my arms. Surprisingly, the bunny didn’t freak out or try to escape, but just let me take it to the car. Let me just say, Claire visited that bunny everyday after that night, and made sure Sammy was taking good care of it. After officially naming the bunny Roady, in honor of where the little guy was almost killed, we bought a cage for it to sleep in Sammy’s room. Roady ended up living two years with us, but all he did was sit in a cage so…”

Matthew watched his daughter as she explained the story, using her signature Italian hand gestures and great facial expressions; she sure knew how to tell a story. Even though he had been gone for the past seven years, he still had the chance to watch her grow and become a young woman. Alexa had changed her hair a bit, going from her original dark brown to a nice auburn. She stuck a piece of metal in her nose, which his parental instincts didn’t agree with of course, but it wasn’t too noticeable. It was true that she definitely had dropped a couple pounds, admiring her already petite figure, but it was good that she lost it in a relatively healthy way. The woman in front of him was no longer his little girl.

As her words trailed off to the ending of the story, Matthew took the moment to interrupt, “So almost killing a bunny is the greatest memory with your best friend?”

Alexa laughed at his question; the story did sound pretty morbid when she thought about it, “No! It wasn’t about almost killing a bunny; it was about the situation in general. The whole night was a classic Claire and Alexa moment. We tend to bicker over the smallest things, and will always end with one of us apologizing or the both of us laughing it off. It was my greatest memory because it was a night that truly showed our entire friendship, and the Claire that I grew to become my best friend.”

“You guys seem to love each other a lot,” Matthew stated, resting the top of his chin on the palm of his hand.

“Yea…we do. She’s the only person who’s stuck by me all these years and vise versa. I wonder if she’ll be okay when I’m gone…” She trailed off, feeling a bit disturbed by the thought. Claire didn’t have many people in her life, just as Alexa didn’t either; the two were each other’s best of friends. Alexa would miss the Netflix marathons they made sure to do once a month and the long drives they took along the coast of Cape Ann beach, jamming out to 80’s classics and drinking the normal, vanilla frosty that they would pick up from Wendy’s.

“She’ll be okay. Time heals all wounds,” He gave the questioning girl in front of him a warm smile, trying his best to reassure her.
“You’re right. As time went on after you passed away, it became easier to deal with the sadness,” Alexa said softly, coming to terms with how content she began to feel about everything. “Claire would be okay,” she reminded herself, “and Sammy too.” With all the talking about her father, Alexa was brought to another memory, “Do you want to know my favorite memory with you?”

Matthew shifted in his seat, straightened his back, folded his hands together, and smiled at her, “Go on.”

“It’s a bit random, but my 11th birthday, you took me down to the beach even though you weren’t feeling up to it. At the time, I might have been in denial that the cancer was soon going to get to you, but subconsciously I think I knew. I remember I really wanted to spend the day at the beach for my birthday, and I had continuously begged you. Mom wasn’t in the house…like usual. Uncle Chris had taken Sammy to his therapy appointment, so you were the only one there to take me. Now that I look back, you were probably really annoyed that I had pestered so much. Because you were too drained to drive, you insisted that we take the bus.

Matthew took a sharp inhale and snickered, “The bus ride is a whole memory itself.”

A look of confusion crossed the once again, interrupted girl, as she tried to recall what he meant. She let out a small hmph, while in thought and instantly began to laugh once realization crossed her mind, “Oh, yea! The woman that decided to argue with you about her seat. You were trying,” struggling to find air as she laughed, “so hard not to curse her out in front of me.”
“Trust me, it wouldn’t have been good to do that in front of my 11-year-old daughter,” He stated, laughing along with her, “But, continue.”

Gathering herself up from the funny moment, Alexa wiped her minimal tears and began again, “I instantly wanted to go into the water with you once we got there, but you told me it would be too rough on your body at the time. “These waves definitely aren’t Miami ones,” you said, although I had no idea what that meant at the time. Even though you hadn’t gone in with me, you let me go in by myself anyway. I made sure to scoop up a bunch of seashells while I was in the shallow area of the water, because you seemed unhappy and I wanted to cheer you up. You were sitting by the water watching me play, when I ran up from the water and plopped the seashells near your feet.

Each shell I had brought up you inspected carefully, and chose the smallest one. It was almost too small with a very clustered shape, that I thought it was ugly compared to the rest of them…then you informed me that’s what made it unique. In the moment, the shell was very insignificant, but you suggested that we poke a hole in the end of it and pull a string through it to turn it into a necklace. I learned a good lesson that day because of you; to not judge others by the first glance, but what essence lies behind them.”

Alexa twiddled with the necklace as she explained the memory of her father. Somehow, when she would glide her fingers over the small ridges and bumps of the bluish shell, it brought great comfort and soothed her. While she had found the necklace so important to her as a young girl to now a young woman, Matthew didn’t completely understand why she had held onto it so long, “What do you mean the essence that lies behind them?”

“Well, after you had passed away a few months later, that necklace we made reminded me of the last good moment we had shared. When I began to miss you, I would hold onto the shell, think back to that day, and remind myself that you were at peace; it helped me move on. Yea, it’s still not the prettiest shell, but what’s behind it is beautiful,” She explained, and looked at her father.

“I never knew you were so deep,” Matthew chuckled, “but I’m glad that it brought you comfort for when I couldn’t.”
“Yea, me too…” Trailing off, she looked down at her half-full cup of coffee again.

“What about your mother?” Matthew asked this hesitantly, he didn’t want to hit a touchy subject and bring her back to the tense mood.

“What about her?” Alexa said sharply.

“I’m assuming by that tone of voice missy, that you don’t have a great memory with her?”
“Maybe as a child, but I can’t remember any off the top of my head. You already know that when you were diagnosed, she changed.”

A disappointed sigh escaped his lips as he heard this, “Yes, I know. It’s sad isn’t it? She used to be so happy, and loved spending time with you and Sammy. We always used to come to this diner when you were a child…it was kind of a ritual every Sunday morning before church.”

“She’s the reason I’m dying and talking to you right now,” Alexa stated bluntly, not letting the mention of a good memory from her father budge the way she felt.

“Technically, you two were both argu-,”

“Diane was the one drinking and driving with me in the car,” Her harshness cut him off, and he instantly silenced. Tears began to brim in Alexa’s eyes, as she felt the sting in her nose begin to approach, “I would be alive right now if she hadn’t picked me up from Claire’s drunk.”

Alexa loved her mother and tried her hardest to forgive and forget, but the way she acted when Matthew was diagnosed and after his death, changed her view of the woman she once had a close relationship with. From the passing of her father, she had been the one to basically raise Sammy and put food on the table, with her own money, while Diane stayed at the local bar and reappear every few days to stay in her room, and then leave once again. Yes, there were some not so bad times with her mother, but the bad always outweighed the good when it came to Diane.

“The only way you’ll find complete peace is to forgive,” Matthew said kindly, sympathizing for the young girl he left many years ago.

“But I’ve forgiven her so many times. Why should I when this could possibly be the worst thing she’s done to me?” Desperate filled her voice…she wanted to forgive but she did not know how, “She should have known not to drive with me under the influence; what kind of mother does something so ignorant?”

Matthew slid from out of the burgundy booth and stood up, extending his hand outward, “Let me show you something.”
She looked up at him hesitantly, began to slide out of her side of the booth, and put her smaller, feminine hand into his extended one. When their hands molded together, Alexa instantly felt at ease to be in the smallest touch of her father. Matthew guided her towards another booth in the back, dodging a few coming people heading towards their seats, and passing the front door of the diner.

“What is he doing?” She began to question to herself.

He began to slow down in front of her and came to a stop in front of a small table in the back corner, with another large window on the wall. Once Alexa comprehended the sight in front of her, she tensed and let out a small audible gasp. There, sitting in front of the two standing, was the family of four that she saw walk in earlier enjoying their breakfast. But this was not any random family; it was Alexa’s.

Recognition became clear as she took notice of the young girl seen before, as herself at the age of six, eating a small plate of French toast, and holding onto the teddy bear with the red bowtie. One-year old Sammy sat in a high chair across from young Alexa, nibbling on dry cheerios. A slightly youthful Diane was sitting to the right of her, holding Matthew’s hand from across the table and sipping on her coffee. The young girl kept asking Diane for a sip of the coffee in her mother’s hand.

Seeing his persistent child, Matthew smiled, “You always loved coffee, even at the age of six.”

“Explains why I’m constantly choosing it over water,” Alexa said with a slight laugh.

“This was my greatest memory with you two. I think this morning was when the ritual of going every Sunday began. It was a couple years before I was diagnosed…your mom was still happy…we were still happy.

As she watched the young family interact, she began to remember everything about that morning. Six-year old Alexa had been complaining that morning because she wanted her mother to make French toast, but they didn’t have any of the right ingredients to make it. To make her daughter happy, Diane suggested they go to the diner and eat there for breakfast. She bought Alexa a plate of French toast, which the young girl complained about eating at first, but became convinced to because then she wouldn’t be able to try the coffee her mother was drinking.

Alexa watched her younger self finish the plate of French toast and turn to her mother, reaching for the coffee.

Diane quickly pushed her hand away, “Hey! We don’t grab, we ask and say please,” she reprimanded in a strict voice.
The six-year-old didn’t let that drop her mood, “Sorry, Mommy. Can I try coffee, please?”

Seeing the gigantic grin on her young daughters face, she passed it to the girl hesitantly, “It’s a little warm, remember to blow first.”

Listening to her mother’s words, Alexa blew slightly on the coffee, and carefully took a sip with her small fingers wrapped around the stained mug from the previously, multiple times it had been filled with coffee. As soon as it entered her mouth, the young girl’s face twisted up in distaste as it did earlier with older Alexa and the bitter coffee. She quickly spit it out and the whole family began to laugh at the child.

“Oh honey!” Diane said laughing and reaching to wipe her face off, “I knew you wouldn’t like it yet.”

Looking at the past memory of the family made Alexa tear up slightly, as her heart swirled with nostalgia, “I remember it was too bitter, that’s why I spit it out.”

“I know you might’ve had complications with your mother, but she wasn’t always the way she is now. She was happy, but sometimes people take traumatic situations differently. Your mother didn’t have the seashell necklace like you did,” Matthew explained to her, and gripped her hand a little tighter.

With this entering her mind, Alexa began to feel less agitation towards her mother, but more forgiveness and understanding. The thought about how hard the death of a husband must be had never crossed her mind, and it wasn’t her place to judge due to the fact that she couldn’t relate. Yes, she felt a great loss towards her father, but Diane experienced something quite different than Alexa had. No longer did Alexa want to hold this grudge against her mother; she was ready to find peace.

Light began to flood through the windows, forcing the two to squint their eyes slightly to block the harsh rays, and bring their free hands to make a small shade over their eyes. As the light became less bold, Alexa peered out the window to the sky and became aware that it was no longer grey. The water was not dark and murky, but a strong blue with the reflection of the sun expanding along the small waves. Seagulls were flying around the harbor, some perched on the flags peak of the sailboats that were docked at the harbor, and squawking at the town’s people walking down below. It was a peaceful scene.

Everything around the father and daughter became silent, as Matthew guided Alexa towards the door of the diner. The two stood for a second, observing the surrounding area of the diner.

“Are you ready to go?” Matthew asked with patience, but with readiness laced in his tone of voice.

A small smile of content rose on her face and she answered to him, “Yes.”

With their hands intertwined, Matthew pushed the door open to the outside and continued to walk into the appending light. Before Alexa stepped out into the field of unknown, she took a quick glance back at her younger family with joy spread on their faces; enjoying each other’s company. Six-year old Alexa was coloring in a placemat from the diner, seeming to be focused intently, when she took notice to the older girl looking at her. A smile played on her lips, as she stood up on the chair to wave excitedly; the teddy bear with a red bow tie dangling from the young girl’s free hand. Alexa waved back, a final sense of ease overpowering, as she turned back to the front and stepped into the calm light with her father.

Richie Kotzen Discusses Gear and New Album, ‘Salting Earth’

Photo: Julia Lage

When working on Salting Earth, his 21st solo effort, triple-threat songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Richie Kotzen tossed convention on its ear by taking one step back in order to move two steps forward.

“It’s something I really needed to do in order to reset myself,” he says.

His “charge to recharge” was put into play following the success of the 2015–’16 tour behind the Winery Dogs’ sophomore effort, Hot Streak. And the guitarist’s reset manifesto wound up hitting all the right buttons; the proof is on display on Salting Earth.

I recently chatted with Kotzen about his writing process, gear and, of course, Salting Earth, which will be released April 14.

How would you describe Salting Earth in terms of its sound?

One of the things I love about this record is that the song selection really encompasses what I do as far as the pendulum swing. You have songs like “This is Life” and “My Rock,” which are centered more around the piano, but at the same time you have heavier things, like “Thunder” and “End of Earth.” Then you have songs like “I’ve Got You” and “Meds” that have a slinky, sexy kind of vibe. This new record of all-new material really shows me in the realm of what I do as far as being a recording artist.

What’s your song writing process like? 

I approach my writing in a way that’s not held by any boundaries. I don’t think about when or where I’m going to write or record. It just happens. If I have an idea for a song and I’m nowhere near a studio, I’ll document it on the recorder app of my iPhone. Then at some point, I’ll go back and listen to these ideas and record them. If I’m at home with an idea, then I’ll go straight to the studio and start working on it. What ends up happening is that over the course of the year I may end up with 10 to 20 songs and ideas recorded, and at that point I start looking at what material works well together and what songs I can picture myself playing live. Then I can compile a record.

Is there a particular way you approach writing lyrics for a song? 

Everything happens differently. It just depends on the situation. It’s interesting because there’s a song on the record, “Make It Easy,” that was sitting on my hard drive for a very long time. I knew it could be a cool song but I could never finish the lyrics. Somewhere along the line last year, I pulled it up again and as I was listening to it the lyrics just came to me. Sometimes the lyrics and melody can come simultaneously, like the song “I’ve Got You.” That was a song where the melody and lyrics came together all at once.

Other times you’ll have a song with just a riff. “End of Earth” is a good example of that. I originally went in and just sang the melody and made things up for that one. Then I went back and listened to what I had recorded and was able to take the sounds I created and turn them into words, lines and phrases. Then I could just fill in the blanks.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Richie Kotzen by Clicking Here!

Aimee Mann Talks New Album, ‘Mental Illness,’ and Working with Rush on “Time Stand Still”

Photo by: Sheryl Nields

After recording several albums with ‘Til Tuesday, Aimee Mann began a successful solo career that spawned a string of eclectic but seriously engaging albums, from 1993’s Whatever to 2012’s Charmer.

Mann also has lent her talents to several film soundtracks, most notably the score for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia; her song from that film, “Save Me,” landed her an Academy Award nomination in 2000. And then there’s The Both, her 2014 collaboration with guitarist Ted Leo, which received critical acclaim.

Her new album, Mental Illness, which is out today (March 31), once again showcases her incisive and wry melancholia in a nearly all-acoustic format, with a style inspired by some of Mann’s favorite folk-rock records from the Sixties and Seventies. With string arrangements by Mann’s longtime producer, Paul Bryan, the 11-song album also features contributions by Leo (backing vocals), Jonathan Coulton (guitar), Jay Bellerose (drums) and Jamie Edwards (piano).

I recently spoke to Mann about Mental Illness and her time working with Rush on “Time Stand Still” 30 years ago.

Mental Illness is a departure from Charmer and The Both. How did it come about?

Charmer was more of a pop and R&B record in a modern sense and was a little more produced and fleshed out, and my project with Ted [The Both] was fairly stripped down but was a real rock band. After that, I felt like it was time to write a bunch of real acoustic songs and make a record that’s really stripped down and melancholy without worrying about up-tempo songs and trying to offset my natural strength for wistful, downbeat songs.

What’s your songwriting process like?

I usually start by having some kind of melody idea or chord progression. If there’s something interesting that stands out, I’ll say to myself, “OK, what does this music sound like? What’s its emotional center and what kind of story would suit that center?” Then I’ll figure out where I intersect with that kind of narrative.

Let’s discuss a few tracks from Mental Illness, starting with “Goose Snow Cone.”

That was a song I started when I was on tour in Ireland. I remember it was very snowy outside and I was feeling kind of homesick. I was looking on Instagram and saw a picture of one of my “cat friends” whose name is Goose. She was looking up at the camera and she reminded me of a snow cone and I started writing about her. Then it started weaving, with feelings of a snowy day and feeling homesick and lonely. People asked me to change the “snow cone” part to something else, but I couldn’t think of anything I liked better [laughs]!

Read the rest of my
Interview with Aimee Mann by Clicking Here.

Night Ranger’s Jack Blades and Brad Gillis Talk New Album, ‘Don’t Let Up’

Photo by: Ash Newell

It’s been 35 years since Night Ranger released their guitar-driven debut, Dawn Patrol. The album ushered in the band’s hook-laden, twin-guitar sound—a sound heard on songs like “Don’t Tell Me You Love” and “(You Can Still) Rock in America.”

The band also helped define the Eighties with songs like “When You Close Your Eyes,” “Sentimental Street” and, of course, “Sister Christian.”

Today (March 24), the band released a new album, Don’t Let Up, and it’s an obvious next step for a crew that’s been rocking for more than three decades. Songs like “Somehow Someway” and “Nothing Left of Yesterday” conjure that blistering, dual-guitar attack—now featuring trade-offs by Brad Gillis and new guitarist Keri Kelli—while “Comfort Me” and “Truth” offer hope in uncertain times.

In the end, Don’t Let Up reflects exactly what Night Ranger continues to be: a kick-ass American rock band. Night Ranger is Jack Blades (lead vocals/bass), Kelly Keagy (lead vocals/drums), Brad Gillis (guitar), Eric Levy (keyboards) and Keri Kelli (guitar).

I recently spoke with Blades and Gillis about Don’t Let Up, gear and a lot more.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of Dawn Patrol. What goes through your mind when you look back to that era?

BLADES: A sea of emotions. It’s interesting to think that it’s been 35 years because sometimes it feels like 35 days. When you start out, you figure you’re going to be in a rock band for a while and then hope for the best. Who would have thought we’d be here now, 35 years later, talking about a new Night Ranger album? We’re one of the survivors.

GILLIS: What goes through my mind was how exciting the Eighties were and the Cinderella story of how I got the gig with Ozzy Osbourne and toured the world. Then taking everything I learned from that experience and carrying it into Night Ranger. I think about how Ozzy’s Speak of the Devil and our Dawn Patrol were released on the same week in October 1982 and then jumping right into a major Night Ranger tour. It was a great era, and to still be doing it 35 years later is pretty amazing.

What’s it like having guitarist Keri Kelli in the band?

BLADES: Kerri’s great and is a perfect addition. He brings in a unique groove and Stones-ish feel to the band. He’s the guy who pulls everything all together and fits in perfectly with Brad. They get along great, and he and Eric Levy are very in tune to the history of Night Ranger and the music we’ve created. They bring ideas and an attitude that’s really worked out well.

What was the writing process like for Don’t Let Up?

GILLIS: Basically, we started out by going to Kelly’s home in Nashville with the nucleus of the band [which consists of myself, Jack and Kelly] and wrote about six songs in a few days. Then we came back to my place and wrote a few more, and then flew to Jack’s to do a few more. Then we brought in Keri and Eric to put the icing on the cake and round out the record. We stuck with our format of big choruses and the dual-guitar assault with different styles of soloing.

BLADES: The process was laid out like we’ve always done: Let’s get in there and jam. That’s exactly what we did.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Jack Blades and Brad Gillis Here!

Andy Summers Discusses His New Album, ‘Triboluminescence’

Photo credit: Mo Summers

Andy Summers rose to fame in the late Seventies and early Eighties as the guitarist of the legendary, multi-million-selling rock band the Police.

Summers’ innovative guitar sound was a key element of the band’s strength and popularity, creating a new paradigm for guitarists that is still widely imitated today.

Summers’ new solo album, Triboluminescence (released today, March 24), is the natural followup to his last album, 2015’s highly acclaimed Metal Dog, which spotlighted the guitarist’s thrilling voyages into new sonic territory. New tracks, including “If Anything,” “Elephant Bird” and “Haunted Dolls,” are clearly the result of a lifetime’s worth of musical digestion and progress—not to mention a search for a distinct new voice.

I recently spoke with Summers about Triboluminescence and more in this new interview.

Triboluminescence feels like a natural followup to your last album, Metal Dog. What was the inspiration behind these projects? 

Metal Dog followed Circa Zero, which ultimately didn’t go where I wanted. When that band ended, I started work on music for a dance project that also didn’t come to full realization.

Afterwards, I found myself with all of these pieces of music, which I remodeled into what became Metal Dog. It really got me going in the studio again, and when Metal Dog came out, it went down really well. It got me up and running, and Triboluminescence is the followup to what I had established, which was something different than I had done before.

What was the writing process like?

For this kind of music, there weren’t any fully fleshed-out compositions. One of the guiding principles was to look for very fresh sonic qualities and sounds that came together in various ways. That was the starting point. I then took those ideas into my studio, which is like a giant paint box, and fiddled around with all sorts of guitars and effects. The usual process was to record 16 or 32 or 48 bars of it and then see if it gets me into the next move where I can develop it further. That’s where composition comes into play. You can establish a signature, but then you have to make a whole piece out of it.

What else can you tell me about the recording process?

This was a very free project for me in the sense that I was alone in the studio with only my engineer. I’ve found that at this point in life it’s something that I really enjoy and is very akin to being a painter. It’s just me and all of the colors, and I let my imagination go. I’m always looking to create something that’s intriguing sonically, along with some technical flash.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Andy Summers by Clicking Here

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