Category: A Conversation With

Granny 4 Barrel’s Terry LeRoi discusses new video, ‘She Likes Guns’, Working with Stormy Daniels

Granny 4 Barrel & Stormy Daniels

Known as the matriarch of metal for her neo-Victorian shock rock, Granny 4 Barrel and her band of outlaw renegades represent the rebellious spirit of rock and roll and nonconformity. But when the time came to shoot a video for the band’s latest single, “She Likes Guns”, front man Terry LeRoi (Granny) decided to go one step further by enlisting the help of veteran adult entertainer and director, Stormy Daniels.

The acquisition of Daniels and her creative vision as director takes the groove-laden track, which already features tasty elements of metal, rock and an infectious hybrid of country/bluegrass, to an entirely new level. Together, LeRoi and Daniels have forged metal heaviness into a video of double-entendre sexiness and raw power.

I recently spoke with Terry LeRoi about the new Granny 4 Barrel video, “She Likes Guns”, working with Daniels, songwriting and much more in this new interview.

To those who may not be familiar, how would you describe the music of Granny 4 Barrel?

It’s a musical hybrid. I’ve always loved straight-up metal and when I was growing up my favorite bands were [Judas] Priest, [Iron] Maiden and [Black] Sabbath. But with this band, we started experimenting with bluegrass and classical violin sounds. We now have the best elements of guitar along with the additional sound of a violin. It’s fun playing around with an amalgam. We don’t lose any of the heaviness and it adds more elements to the sound.

Where do you draw inspiration for songwriting?

It can come from anything. It could be a lyrical idea, like a cool title for a song, or it could start out with just a riff. It’s never one particular way and it’s always evolving.

Can you give me the origin of the new single/video, “She Likes Guns”?

That one is an example of writing a song from a title. Originally, the title was “I Like Guns”, because I do [laughs]. But I didn’t like the way it sounded, so I started playing around with pronouns. Then I said wait a second. This is a shock-rock band, and this song sounds way cooler if “she” likes guns. It could be sexy, heavy and have double meaning. I went into the studio with producer, Jeff Tomei (Jerry Cantrell, Matchbox Twenty) who works out of Jesse James Dupree’s studio. Jeff and I, along with two other writers, Johnny Blade and Roman Glick, sat down with my chorus and started playing around with a groove. We found the tempo and I finished up the lyrics.

How did Stormy Daniels get involved in directing the video for “She Likes Guns”?

Once we had a “female perspective/women taking down bad guys” song, I started thinking about what we could do for a video. Jesse is friends with Stormy and suggested her. He told me she directs rock videos, so I called her up. She thought the song was cool and the two of us worked on the treatment for a few weeks and then did the video.

What was it like working with her on the video?

Whenever I work with professionals I always like to see how they handle a big crew and deal with people. It can be challenging when you’re trying to be creative and be the boss and get your artist’s vision across, but she handled it very well. She had everyone’s respect and was making things happen. I was very impressed. 

What are Granny 4 Barrel’s tour plans like for the rest of the summer?

There’s going to be another run of dates in September when we’ll be working the next single. We have a new record that hasn’t been released yet but another single ready to go.

What can you tell me about the next single?

The next single is a song called “Nitro Sexy”. It’s powerful, fast and people love it when we’ve been playing it live. It’s got the best elements of metal and shredding. There’s some screaming high notes and my fiddle player is the featured lead player on it. Stormy and I have already started talking about shooting the video for it in early October.

You mentioned a new Granny 4 Barrel album. What can fans expect from it?

You can expect that hybrid sound along with a diversity of song topics. But make no mistake, you’re going to get that underlying heaviness. It’s classic metal mixed with the wackiness of Granny. Right now, I’m Terry, but when Granny takes over I have to start thinking, “Ok, what would a f#cked up, old woman write about?” [laughs]. What I will say is that Granny thought it would be a great idea to remake a Judas Priest song off British Steel for the new album.

Did you always know that music would be your calling?

Music is first and foremost in my life and doing Granny is so much fun. You’ve got all these crazy characters on stage: The Maestro on fiddle; The Butcher on guitar and The Judge on drums. Then you’ve got Granny, who’s this Normal Bates mom come to life. It’s good fun and kicks you in the ass at the same time.

What excites you the most about this next phase of your career?

I love all parts of being an entertainer and keep that at the forefront of my mind. It’s one thing to be a musician (and I certainly enjoy it), but entertaining and performing is what it’s all about. There’s a real energy the band puts out and receives back from people. But whether its songwriting, performing, touring or creating a video, I enjoy every facet of it.

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Interview: Singer-Songwriter Emily Kinney discusses her beautiful new album, ‘Oh, Jonathan’

Photo by Chad Kamenshine

Emily Kinney’s introspective new album, Oh, Jonathan is a bit of a departure from the singer-songwriter’s previous work. It’s a collection of cinematically inspired songs about love, relationships and metaphor.

Produced by friend and collaborator, Ben Greenspan, Kinney’s album is a poetic and visceral stamp of the artist’s thought process and life. Songs like the infectious “Boy Band Hero” draw from the idea of high school daydream, while deeper tracks like “Jonathan,” “Mortal” and “Soda Glass” are as much autobiographical as they are hook-laden. The use of synth elements is also widely prevalent on Oh, Jonathan. Giving the album a mature, cohesive quality.

Widely known for her stint as Beth Greene on AMC’s “The Walking Dead” (where her music and singing were often featured), Kinney has successfully balanced the role of both musician and actor. And with Oh Jonathan, she’s also succeeded in creating an atmospheric and relatable album. Whether it’s that special place in your heart for unrequited love or the feeling of never being exactly sure of what it is you want. Kinney’s music fills that space. Your imagination will fill in the gaps.

AXS recently spoke with Kinney about Oh, Jonathan and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: How would you describe Oh, Jonathan in terms of its sound and how it relates to some of your previous work?

Emily Kinney: When I was approaching this project, I wanted to see a little more of an atmospheric and sonic landscape. I wanted it to have a little more air and space. It led me to using more synths and less guitars. I also started experimenting with different producers and eventually found Ben Greenspan. He influenced a lot of the different instrumentation on this album.

AXS: Has your approach to songwriting changed much over the years?

EK: I still write the same way. It usually starts with something I want to say and then figuring out a way to say it in a phrase or little poem. All of these songs relate and chronicle the on and off relationships I’ve had. The other thing I usually do is just play around on the guitar. “Popsicles” is a song where I came up with a simple guitar riff and wrote the poem over that riff. “Mermaid” is that way too. I found a riff and laid the words out over it.

AXS: What inspired the song, “Boy Band Hero”?

EK: I was in a relationship that had ended and came up with the idea of feeling like a lot of it was all made up in my head. I thought about another song on the album, “Jonathan,” where I’m drawing him, tracing his face and making him into someone he might not be. Now that I was so far removed from this relationship, it felt like it was all just a daydream and I had imagined in all. That line, “just a daydream” kept going on in my head. I thought back to high school and when my imagination would just run away with itself. The whole idea of being in class and imagining things is how it all began.

AXS: What can you tell me about the song, “Mortal”?

EK: “Mortal” is one of my favorites. That song reflects on a time when everything was so magical. It was inspired by an evening when there was an eclipse and the moon turned pink and red. I remember we went up on the roof on a building downtown. We had pizza and just sat and watched. All of these songs describe real moments.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Emily Kinney by Clicking Here!

Interview: The Dead Daisies’ Deen Castronovo Discusses New Project with Johnny Gioeli – ‘Set The World On Fire’

Gioeli – Castronovo

Deen Castronovo and Johnny Gioeli first joined forces on Hardline’s 1992 debut album, Double Eclipse. Since then, Gioeli has continued to lead Hardline while Castronovo (who had previously been in the super-group, Bad English), went on to perform with such artists as Ozzy and Revolution Saints as well as completing a seventeen-year stint with classic rock legend, Journey. He’s currently the drummer for another hard rock supergroup – The Dead Daisies.

Twenty-five years later, Deen and John have finally reunited for an impressive Gioeli-Castronovo debut album. The aptly titled, Set The World On Fire.

The strength of the new album stems not only from the melodic, hook-laden songwriting but also from Gioeli’s raw vocal talent and Castronovo’s double-shot combination of driving rhythm and his own high octane vocals. Whether it’s autobiographical songs like “Through” and “Who I Am” or surprises, like the duo’s cover of Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now”, Set The World On Fire is a nod to the past and a look to the future for two of music’s finest artists.

AXS recently spoke with Deen Catronovo about Set The World On Fire; The Dead Daisies; his career and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: How did this project with Johnny, Set The World On Fire, come about?

Deen Castronovo: It actually started with Serafino Perugino, the president of Frontiers Records. He called me up one day and said, “You know, Dean. If you could collaborate with any singer, who would it be?” I told him it would have to be Johnny [Gioeli], hands down. I’ve always loved Johnny’s voice and he’s one of the most talented singer/songwriters and frontmen I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. Johnny and I hadn’t worked together in nineteen years, and he and I together is pure pandemonium. When we first got together it was a blast telling stories about our time together in Hardline and when we were opening for Van Halen. It was like we’d never left. Johnny’s voice hasn’t changed a bit. It sounds just as good, if not better than when we were both in Hardline.

AXS: The album has a cool, melodic rock vibe. Can you speak a little to the songwriting? 

DC: Alessandro Del Vecchio does much of the songwriting. He loves melodic rock. It’s his forte and he knows just what to write. He and I have this telepathic connection. He knows what I want and I know what he’s looking for.

AXS: Is there a song on the album that has special meaning to you?

DC: The first song I really loved was “Who I Am”. It describes a little about where I was in my life three years ago. Through it all, Johnny never left my side. As a friend, he’s had my back and stuck with me. So, that song is really special.

AXS: The song, “Through” also seems very autobiographical.

DC: That one was a Johnny and Allesandro song. It’s another one that talks about Johnny and I and the things we’ve gone through. If you watch the video, there are pictures of us when we were in Hardline.

You can read the rest of my
Interview with Deen Castronovo by Clicking Here!

Interview: Eddie Trunk Discusses New AXS-TV Series, ‘Trunk Fest’

Photo: Stewart Volland/AXS TV

He’s known as the go-to authority for his hard rock and heavy metal expertise, but now radio and television personality Eddie Trunk is hitting the road. Taking viewers on a behind the scenes journey to experience the sights, sounds, stunts and culinary cuisine at some of the country’s legendary music festivals with his brand new AXS-TV series, “Trunk Fest”.

As one of the genres leading proponents as well as an encyclopedia of rock music [Trunk’s famous “Stump The Trunk” segment was a fan favorite on “That Metal Show”], “Trunk Fest” takes Eddie out of his comfort zone and has him doing things he never would do. Whether it’s getting schooled in the ways of motorcycle stunts with daredevil Doug Danger at Sturgis Motorcycle Rally at Buffalo Chip or making jambalaya at the New Orleans Voodoo Fest + Art Experience, “Trunk Fest”  is more than just music. It’s an overall experience.

In addition to interviewing such diverse artists as George Thorogood, Taylor Hawkins [Foo Fighters] and Tom Morello and Chuck D [Prophets of Rage], the series also gives viewers an inside look into what really makes the festivals tick.

Future episodes of “Trunk Fest” include excursions to Kentucky’s Larger Than Life Festival; a jaunt to the California coast for the eclectic KAABOO festival, and a trip to scenic New York for Mountain Jam.

I recently spoke with Eddie Trunk about “Trunk Fest” and more in this exclusive new interview.

How did this new series, “Trunk Fest” come about?

Eddie Trunk: I had done some things with AXS over the last few years. Most recently, I hosted a documentary film series called “Reel To Real”. They came up with the idea of covering music festivals and wanted to know if I’d be interested in hosting. The executive producer, Evan Haiman, is an old friend and the two of us got together over lunch and talked. It was a no brainer and now here we are. What’s cool for me is that the show takes me a little bit out of my wheelhouse. It’s still music related and talking to artists, but it’s also about traveling and the festival experience. It’s taken me to some really cool places and taught me some things along the way as well.

What was the filming process like?

ET: Most of the shows we’ve done have been two day shoots. Normally, I’d come in and shoot all my segments [the interviews, the stand up] over the course of a day and the crew would usually stay on an extra day to shoot B-roll footage. Then it’s all edited up. It’s a great crew and they do a great job. We were in some amazing places shooting outdoors and the show looks incredible.

What was your favorite part about doing the series?

ET: I’ve interviewed artists my entire career in radio and TV and love it, but my favorite part about this series is that it’s not just doing interviews. It’s taking me out of my comfort zone; putting me in different situations and discovering things I normally wouldn’t discover. Like being on a motorcycle; firing guns; being to cities I haven’t been to in a long time and experiencing foods I’d never tried before. For me, it’s about the exploration. We have more festivals in America now than we’ve ever had and it’s cool to get out and explore what’s happening. The experience is the buzz word for this show.

Click here for a preview of the premiere episode of “Trunk Fest”.

You mentioned learning some things while filming this series. What were some of the revelations?

ET: One of the things I was surprised about was an episode we shot in New Orleans for Jazz Fest. It has of all the music genres (pop, hip-hop, rock, classic rock) but the least amount of jazz [laughs]. That was eye-opening. There was another huge festival in San Diego I’d never heard of called KAABOO, which was also really interesting. Then there were moments with Chad Smith from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Taylor Hawkins from Foo Fighters and Tom Morello, who’s a good friend. The whole experience has been phenomenal.

Did you always know you wanted to have a career in entertainment?

ET: The number one thing for me from the time I was in high school was how can I take the music I love and share it with other people? Over the last thirty-five years, I’ve done radio and TV; worked in a record store; did freelance journalism; worked for a record company; managed artists, and have written two books. But it’s never been about trying to promote me or becoming famous. It was always about promoting the bands and helping to push them.

You’ve always had a strong opinion when it comes to The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Has that opinion changed with the recent induction of bands like Deep Purple, KISS and Bon Jovi?

ET: It actually has. I’ve been a vocal opponent of the Hall of Fame but have to give credit where credit is due. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but seeing Alice Cooper, Rush, Bon Jovi and Deep Purple be in there is a positive movement. About four years ago, they [The Rock Hall] made me a voter, and that’s another good sign. Even though I beat the hell of them, instead of holding it against me, they brought me in and let me have a voice.

Are there any other projects you’re currently working on?

ET: Right now, my focus is on getting word out about “Trunk Fest”. Ever since “That Metal Show” ended, I’ve been busy doing radio. I do six live shows a week on Sirius/XM; one daily on a channel called Volume that airs every day from 2-4 p.m. ET and replays at 9-11 p.m. ET. Outside of that, I’m doing a lot of hosting and appearing at festivals. I also just recently got confirmed to go on tour with Deep Purple in November and host their shows in Mexico. After all these years to know artists and have these opportunities is amazing. I’m really lucky.

What excites you the most about the new series, “Trunk Fest”?

ET: A lot of people know me for being a music junkie, but this show has me doing things I normally wouldn’t do. The show is very real and honest. I also don’t go into a situation knowing all the background. I’m learning right along with the audience as we go. The other thing is that any festival I would normally go to would be more hard rock-based, but I went to one in Mexico for Zac Brown and others that focused more on EDM and pop. Even though that music might not be my favorite stuff it’s been really educational and I’ve learned a lot. I think the audience will as well.

Trunk Fest premieres Sunday, July 1st at 9:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. PT on AXS-TV

Katie Daryl Discusses The New Summer Season of AXS-TV’s “The Top Ten Revealed”

Photo: James Michael Photography / AXS TV

The Summer of 2018 just got a whole lot hotter. That’s because AXS-TV’s popular music countdown series, “The Top Ten Revealed” is returning this July and kicks things off by featuring “Songs About Sex” on Sunday, July 1st at 9 p.m. ET. It will be followed by “Epic Songs Of `73” on Sunday, July 8th at 9 p.m. ET.

Executive producer and host Katie Daryl returns for the new season and is joined by a panel of musical icons and industry experts counting down some of music’s greatest songs as decided by viewers.

In the premiere episode, “Songs About Sex,” artists like Dee Snider, Lita Ford and Steven Adler join award-winning songwriter Allee Willis and KROQ DJ Nicole Alvarez to discuss hits from chart-toppers such as Def Leppard, Donna Summer, Madonna and Meat Loaf, among many others.

The following week, the show takes an in-depth look at “Epic Songs Of ’73” and is loaded with standout Southern, psychedelic and shock rock from the likes of Alice Cooper, The Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Notable guests on this episode include Eddie Money, Jack Russell (Jack Russell’s Great White), Clem Burke (Blondie) and renowned music expert, Matt Pinfield.

Upcoming summer episodes feature themes that include “One Hit Wonders,” “Sports Jams,” “Songs About Drinking,” “Rock Star Collaborations,” “Epic Songs of ‘78” and “High Note Hitters”.

‘The Top Ten Revealed” is a program that’s sure to fuel intense debate among music aficionados, but it’s also one that will bring back good memories and keep your toes tapping long after the music fades.

I recently spoke with Katie Daryl about the new summer episodes of “The Top Ten Revealed” and more in this exclusive new interview.

How has reaction been to “The Top Ten Revealed” since its inception?

Katie Daryl: The response has been fantastic. Sometimes when you do a list you have to worry that people will think you got it wrong, but that isn’t the case here. Everyone has been very supportive. And even if they didn’t agree with the list they couldn’t be angry because at the end of the day, they’re ten songs that are pretty rad to listen to.

What do you think makes the show so special?

KD: What I find epic is that we’re hitting on topics that take people down memory lane. Not only are we celebrating classic rock music, the genre and the bands, but we’re also taking people on a musical journey that brings them back to a place that instills emotion that a lot of us don’t have on a day to day basis.

Click here for a preview of the new season of “The Top Ten Revealed”.

What can fans expect from the new summer episodes of “The Top Ten Revealed”?

KD: All of the new episodes really speak to classic rock fans. Trust me, if you like rock and roll and classic rock, or if you’ve ever enjoyed a single song from AC/DC, you’re going to love every single one of these lists.

What’s the criteria for determining which themes are involved and which songs make the list?

KD: First and foremost, it starts with Mark Cuban at AXS-TV. He’ll ask me about the lists and the questions we plan to ask for each new round. I’ll put those in from of him and he’ll sign on or offer suggestions. Once we get the generalized list, I’ll go out and do research and come up with a top fifteen or twenty. It’s like cramming for a final in college. It’s not only reading articles, lists, comments and fan responses, but it’s also watching videos and footage that speak to these topics. Once that’s complete, we’ll put the questions out on social media. It then goes through old-fashioned tallying to see which songs rank and everything falls into place from there.

Do the guest artists and industry experts have any idea of the song rankings beforehand?

KD: They know some of the songs from the list but not necessarily all ten or their ranking. I’ll usually give them a few of the songs ahead of time so they’ll be prepared for what we’re going to talk about. I love to include artists like Lita Ford to provide color commentary and Matt Pinfield, who’s an encyclopedia of music.

Was there something you learned during filming about the songs or artists?

KD: Learning is actually one of my favorite things about the show. We incorporate not just reaction and comments, but we also like to make sure we take you back to that old school, water cooler conversation about rock and roll. Through the process, I’ve learned so much. One of my favorite facts came from the song “How Long” by the band, Ace. Everyone thinks it’s a cheating song and that some guy’s heart has been broken. It has, but not by a woman. It’s actually about a cheating band member! One of the guys in the band was moonlighting on the side with another band and everyone found out about it. They were all like, “How long, dude? How long?” [laughs].

Photo: Stewart Volland / AXS TV

 What can you tell me about your  background in entertainment?

 KD: I’ve always loved music and started out  as a radio DJ. I then did a year at MTV before  going back to radio in Dallas. That’s  where I  stumbled upon the world of Mark  Cuban,  who was launching a new TV network, HD  Net, and another local show. I tried out to be  his co-host and was hired to host a  basketball show with him. In talking on set,  Mark was telling me about this new music  network he had coming out and  asked me if  I had any ideas. It was a dream come true.  So, I spent the first six years of my career  interviewing rock stars like Ted  Nugent,  Tommy Lee and Maroon 5. I eventually  transitioned within the network and Mark Cuban’s companies.

What excites you the most about the new season of “The Top Ten Revealed”?

KD: I love all of the new guests we have. The first round had some fantastic names, and we still have Steven Adler, Lita Ford and Matt Pinfield. But our cast has now doubled in size and includes even more artists that have a great insight into these songs: Dee Snider, Jeff Pilson (Foreigner), Clem Burke (Blondie), Rikki Rockett (Poison) and Eddie Money. In fact, one of Eddie’s songs actually made our list of hits from 1978. To have Eddie Money talking about Eddie Money? I just geek out on that sort of thing! [laughs].

The new season of “The Top Ten Revealed” premieres Sunday, July 1 at 9 p.m. ET / 6 PT on AXS-TV.

‘Dinner With The Alchemist’: Jenna St. John Discusses New Supernatural Drama

In the early 1900’s, a wealthy alchemist, Jacques St. Germaine, [Dan Istrate], travels to New Orleans to seek help from the legendary voodoo priestess Marie Laveau [Dionne Audain]. When a spate of murders are uncovered, Jacques and the quarreling locals butt heads as they try to discover the identity of the killer.

Featuring a cast of characters pulled directly from actual police reports, “Dinner with the Alchemist” weaves historical fact and imaginative storytelling into a mysterious supernatural drama.

Written by Jenna St. John [who also appears in the role of Abigail] and directed by Kevin Good, “Dinner With The Alchemist” is part love story, part supernatural thriller and part historical documentary of life in early twentieth century New Orleans.

With its rich musical score, brilliant cinematography and a diverse and believable ensemble cast, the filmmakers have succeeded in delivering one of the best and most imaginative independent films of 2018.

“Dinner With The Alchemist” also stars Megan Graves, Tamara Johnson and Regen Wilson.

I recently spoke with Jenna St. John about “Dinner With The Alchemist” and more in this exclusive new interview.

Where did you draw the inspiration for “Dinner With The Alchemist”?

I had gone on vacation to New Orleans with my sister, and the two of us walked around the city and visited a lot of restaurants. They have plaques on buildings describing a lot of mysterious creatures and dark things that had happened there, and we came upon one story about Jacques St. Germaine that seemed too spooky to be true. So, we spent some time in the library going through microfiche to see if there were any news clippings that could prove or disprove it. We wound up finding a police report that verified some of the events. At that moment, we said this has to be a movie already. When we found out that wasn’t the case, I realized it was something I had to write. That’s how it all began.

What’s your writing process like?

For this film, I did a lot of research, and the first several drafts of the script were just me getting to know the characters. I don’t have a particular time and day that I write, but I have a personal rule to write at least one line a day. Sometimes, it may only be just that one line, but usually it will turn into a few pages.

How would you describe the story of “Dinner With The Alchemist”?

For me, it’s a big ensemble piece where every character and arc has its own love story. That was the driving backbone and connective theme. It’s also a story about people in New Orleans from all different walks of life who are affected by these strange murders. We have the wealthy alchemist, two dock workers, police officers and prostitutes, and these events affect each of them in different ways. My character, Abigail, is one of the prostitutes that lets the others know there’s a real threat to them. Without her, there would be this false sense of security.

What was the filming process like?

It was a very tight schedule. We had a small budget, a huge cast and a bunch of locations.  Principal photography was sixteen days, but Kevin made the most of every moment. I don’t know anyone more capable of directing this piece other than him.

Photo by: Kevin Good

The musical score for “Dinner With The Alchemist” is so beautiful. What can you tell me about it?

We got really lucky when we got composer, John Piscitello. He gave an organic quality and life to the music. We had a tense soundtrack, with a lot of Phillip Glass and Clair De Lune that we used as inspiration. John worked really hard to get the perfect sound.

Did you always know that you wanted a career in entertainment? Was it something you always aspired to do?

I originally went to grad school to be a novelist. I had done some acting in the past and after I left school I started looking into producing, which naturally led to screenwriting. This is the place that feels most natural for me.

What’s the biggest difference between writing a novel as opposed to a screenplay?

The biggest difference between writing books and screenplays is that in books, so much of the dramatic action happens in the reader’s head. You can’t really do that when writing a screenplay. Structure is key.

Are there any other projects you’re currently working on right now?

I’m working on another teen-oriented feature right now that has supernatural elements to it. I also have a television pilot called “Sexpectations” that we’ve screened at a few film festivals. I plan on releasing it sometime next year.

What excites you the most about the release of “Dinner With The Alchemist” and this next phase of your career? What are you looking forward to most about the future?

I’m looking forward to finding more stories that interest me and figuring out better ways to tell them. I’m also looking forward to sharing this film with everyone. We had a small team of people working on this film who are all are super-talented. Showcasing everyone’s work is what I’m really excited about.

“Dinner With The Alchemist” will be released on Tuesday, February 13 on VOD, iTunes, Google Play and Amazon Prime.

Actor Ernest Thomas Discusses His Career And The 40th Anniversary of The Doobie Brothers Appearance on ‘What’s Happening!!’

It could’ve been when Ernest Thomas’s character, Raj, delivered the classic line, “Which Doobie you be?” Or maybe it was the argumentative exchange between Shirley and Al Dunbar at Rob’s Place. It might also have been Rerun’s hilariously failed attempt at bootlegging a Doobie Brothers concert. Whatever the case, there’s no question that the “What’s Happening!!” two-part, “Doobie or Not Doobie”, which first aired on January 28th, 1978, has remained one of the series’ most iconic episodes.

Much like The Doobies themselves, actor Ernest Thomas has remained as beloved and relevant as ever these last forty years. In addition to having starred in the successful spinoff series, “What’s Happening Now!!”, he’s also been featured in films like “Malcolm X” as well as the series “Everybody Hates Chris”. These days, Thomas is also an accomplished author as well as an in-demand mentor and public speaker.

I recently spoke with Thomas about the 40th anniversary of the famous “What’s Happening!!” episode with The Doobie Brothers, his career and more in this exclusive new interview.

It’s been more than forty years since “What’s Happening!!” first aired, and it remains one of the most beloved shows of all time. When you look back now with so much perspective, what thoughts come to mind?

I pinch myself and cry out to God in gratitude. Recently, I was on a military base doing a book signing, and the people there were telling me how much the DVDs had meant and given comfort to the solders in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m mystified and thankful that it continues to make people so happy.

How much of Ernest Thomas was in the character of Raj?

That’s a great question. In the original “Cooley High” [which “What’s Happening!!” is loosely based on], Preacher Jackson, who was played brilliantly by Glynn Turman, was a good kid, but was a little more street and mischievous. After my audition, I started thinking about how my grandmother, mother and pastor had crafted me and decided to go in to talk to the producers. I told them I didn’t see Roger as street at all. I told them I saw him as a person who loves everyone and was always trying to keep the peace. He was everyone’s best friend; every teacher’s favorite student and every woman’s ideal husband. Roger is every man. I remember they looked at me like I had just about lost my mind [laughs]. They thanked me for sharing but later wound up shaping Raj more like me. That’s why in the intro of the show, when you see me open the door and walk out with the big smile on my face, that really is me.

What do you think made the show so timeless and special?

I think it was because it was a show that people could easily identify with. That’s why it crossed all racial lines. Growing up, everyone has the heavy-set friend (Rerun); the shy, little Dwayne and the baby brother or sister who’s a little tattletale or snitch. Then you had Mama, who was going to spank you if you were bad. That was a real situation. The truth is, we had a divine chemistry. I remember when I first set eyes on Fred Berry, Haywood Nelson, Mabel King, Danielle Spencer and Shirley Hemphill, there was an instant familiarity. We all loved each other and it became more like a family.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the two-part episode with The Doobie Brothers. What was the inspiration behind it?

The director knew the band and saw that they were going through a transition with members. They really needed something to give them a hit. So, he came up with this crazy idea that they had gone to our school. Here you had these white, long-haired rockers coming back to the same teachers we had, and no one even questioned it. In fact, America ate it up.

Even today, when I talk to them, they’ll tell me how people always come up and ask them about “What’s Happening!!” It’s not about the music or even the next album. They want to know what the experience was like on the show [laughs]. I even remember seeing an interview with them where they said they think the band’s epitaph is going to read, “The Doobies Brothers. We’re what’s happening.” [laughs]. 

Just like The Doobie Brothers, you’re still as relevant as ever forty years later. What new projects are you’re working on?

I’ve recently written my autobiography, “From Raj to Riches: Overcoming Life Through Faith.” It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s a testimony that supernatural faith brings supernatural results. I want kids to know that I was bullied in grade school, and it didn’t help that I was into the church. At times, it felt like it would never end, but I was taught to have faith in God and to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The book also talks about my time working on the show and “Malcom X” as well as my relationships with people like Muhammad Ali and Dr. Maya Angelou. People have really responded well to it, and I thank God for what the book has done.

I also have a lot of other things brewing right now. I did a film called “Two Wolves” that will hopefully be coming out this year. There’s also a series called “The Chosen Ones” that’s a retelling of The Gospel of Christ, where I play a blind man who Jesus heals. I’m very excited about it.

You also recently did a short film, “Earworm” that was quite a departure for you. What can you tell me about it? 

Tara Price wrote and directed the film and did such a great job. She and I had met on another film and liked each other immediately. At first, I was hesitant about doing it, because I didn’t want to look feeble and like someone who couldn’t take care of myself. But that’s part of life, and Tara told me that it would be a challenge for me to not always play the hero or be the one that has all the answers. It was a long, twelve-hour day of filming, but I’m so happy for her and the producers. She lit a fire with it.

Of all the highlights of your career, what stands out to you as most memorable?

If I look back, “What’s Happening!!” was like Heaven on Earth because at one point, we were so huge that we were seen by fifty million people in America. Suddenly, everyone knows your name. Although I love the people and the nostalgia of the show, for me, the best time is right now. I love that there are new films of mine that people have yet to see, and I’m also excited about how well the book is doing. I love the past, whether it’s “What’s Happening!!” or being in “Malcolm X” with Denzel Washington, or meeting Muhammad Ali and having him take me under his wing, call me a friend and really say that he loved me like a brother. All of those things were out of body experiences, but I believe that right now is the best time. My greatest joy is making people happy.