Stryper Celebrates 30 Years of ‘To Hell With The Devil’ With Music, Memories in Stone Pony Performance

thwtdFirst, a little bit of perspective.

It was my senior year of high school in March of 1987 when rumors surfaced that Christian rockers, Stryper were coming to town. The band, which had already been generating a healthy buzz in both the Christian and secular/MTV worlds with the songs “Calling On You,” “Free,” “Honestly” and the title-track from their ‘To Hell With The Devil’ album, was out on tour supporting the release and would soon be rolling into The State Theatre in Easton, Pennsylvania.

My hometown.

Easton is a small town that borders the western end of New Jersey and lies somewhere in between the metropolitan cities of New York and Philadelphia. With a population of 26,000, the highlight of a night in Easton in 1987 consisted of listening to the freight trains rumble through the downtown or hanging out at the local McDonald’s on South Third Street.

Needless to say, when word got out that Stryper was coming to town it was a pretty big deal. And for a seventeen-year-old punk who had his own visions of rock stardom, it was also a dream come true. I had already worn out my cassette copy of THWTD learning it at guitar lesson, and now I had the chance of seeing the band perform it at a place within walking distance from my home. I immediately scrounged up every last dollar of lawn mowing money and the loose change from the sofa cushions and camped out in front of the venue. My reward? A single, front-row ticket to the show!

Stryper - Easton, PA 1987
Stryper – Easton, PA 1987

I remember the band’s performance that night was amazing. Stryper– Michael Sweet, Robert Sweet, Oz Fox and Tim Gaines—wore their classic yellow and black uniforms, threw bibles into the audience and sang songs about positivity with soaring vocals and an infectious dual guitar attack. That show and tour remain one of the biggest highlights of my teenage years.

Fast-forward thirty years. I am now a middle-aged man, but still a punk-kid at heart. Dreams of rock stardom have been replaced by coffee, deadlines and a word processor. I may be a little thick in the middle now and my hairline may have receded, but my love of guitar and all things metal is still overflowing. So much so that last night I drove two hours outside the safe confines of Easton to catch Stryper performing the 30th anniversary of ‘To Hell With The Devil’ at The Stone Pony in Asbury, NJ.

Photo courtesy: Dale Wilson
Stryper – Asbury, NJ 2016. Photo courtesy: Dale Wilson

Oh sure, I’ve heard the band perform many of the songs from ‘To Hell With The Devil’ over the years –including most recently last April at the famous Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles, but never in a celebration-style format of the entire album being performed in its entirety from front to back by those same original members, and I was not disappointed.

From the opening sounds of The Abyss (which kicks off ‘To Hell With Devil’) to the title-track, “Calling On You,” “Free” and “Honestly”, it was a time capsule of youth and music. Some of my other favorites from the album included “Holding On,” “More Than A Man” and the always emotional, “All of Me”.

As if seeing the band perform their biggest album in its entirely wasn’t enough, Stryper also went into an additional set of songs from their 33-year musical arsenal. Tracks like “Yahweh,” “God,” “Soldiers Under Command” and “Caught In the Middle” were fist pumping and magical, while the band’s infectious versions of Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” and KISS’ “Shout it Out Loud” were met with equally enthusiastic response.

The band ended their two-hour performance with the dual encore of “Reach Out” and “Makes Me Wanna Sing”, both from their ‘Soldiers Under Command’ album and capping off a celebration that included a little bit of everything.

In fact, about the only thing missing from Stryper’s Stone Pony set was their monster hit, “Always There For You” from their 1988 album, ‘In God We Trust’. But after experiencing the band many times over these last thirty years –both from small towns to the big cities–I can honestly say that it made no difference.

For me, Stryper will always be there.

Stryper Set List (Asbury Park, NJ)

Abyss (To Hell With The Devil)
To Hell With the Devil
Calling on You
Free
Honestly
The Way
Sing Along Song
Holding On
Rocking The World
All Of Me
More Than A Man
Battle Hymn of the Republic (pre-recorded)
Yahweh
In God We Trust
Heaven and Hell 
(Black Sabbath cover)
Shout It Out Loud 
(KISS cover)
God
Revelation
Caught in the Middle
Surrender
Soldiers Under Command

Encore:
Reach Out
Makes Me Wanna Sing

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Adventures in Hollywood Part One

LosAngelesIt’s 4:00 am and I am sitting in a hotel room somewhere in the heart of Hollywood, California. It’s a small room with an even smaller bathroom next to it. One with no more than a stand-up sink and shower with the barest of essentials.

There is no food in this hotel room to speak of and the only drinking water is what comes from the bathroom spigot. An option even the most renegade of Hollywood notables would want to reconsider. It’s a private and cramped space to spend the next few days but one that will do very nicely.

After all, it is only me.

For the better part of the last hour I’ve been seated at a round table next to the door listening to the sounds of an empty, portable refrigerator hum its docile tones while outside, the beeping from a garbage truck with its transmission in reverse welcomes in a new LA morning.

I’ve spent most of the last twenty-four hours either in the air, on a bus in highly congested LA traffic (what they say about it is true) or walking many miles as a junkie East Coast tourist just taking it all in. In between checking emails, sending texts, running to baggage carousels and Flyaway buses as well as finding time to eat, the day was a complete whirlwind.

During this trip I will finally meet a few of the people I’ve been conversing with online for the past several years. Amazing people I’ve interviewed and written about several times during that span, but ones who’s own existence is known to me only through emails and telephone conversation. It’s going to be exciting and surreal at the same time.

Of course, somewhere along the way I’m also going to find time to write, which is another one of the main reasons I’m here. This trip is a nice retreat to catch up on some articles I’ve been meaning to get to while at the same time getting into the real meat of a few new stories! I am looking forward to sitting in a Hollywood coffee shop and letting others hear the sound of my laptop keys clicking away while I busily write down my thoughts and emotions.

And right now there are certainly a lot of them!

 

Reflections of 2014

gojimmygoWell, here we are. The end of another very productive year of writing and creativity.

One thing I’ll always remember about 2014 is that it was definitely a year of transition and change.

From a blog standpoint, 2014 was also surreal. Go Jimmy Go had more than 29,000 visitors from 139 different countries this year. Many of them from countries I never knew existed before. It boggles my mind thinking that people from such far off, distant lands managed to stumble across my articles – even if it might have been by accident.

You may have noticed that the frequency of my regular rants have gone down this year. The reason for that is because I’ve been focusing most of my efforts on GuitarWorld.com and aXs.com articles. If you like, you can click on the links I’ve highlighted to see what I’ve been up to!

One of the surreal interviews I did this year was with “GRL” – an all-girl group put together by Pussycat Dolls founder, Robin Antin. The five member outfit released two insanely hooky songs and videos this year; one of which featured rapper and celebrity music awards host,  Pitbull.

I was asked to do a last-minute phone interview with all five of the girls at one time. No small task considering that they only gave me fifteen minutes to talk, but we somehow managed to make it work. We talked about their music and tour plans as well as what they like most about the creative process. Although the conversations were brief and kind of all over the place, I really got the sense that these girls were on the brink of something really special. Jetting to exotic locations; hanging with celebrities; recording songs and filming music videos. Man, they were living the life!

Then a month or so later – shortly after my article was posted, it was revealed that one of the members of GRL; singer Simone Battle, had committed suicide. Initial reports suggested that she had been severely depressed over money-related issues and decided to take her own life.

Tragic.

On a similar, yet no less tragic personal note, I also lost one of my best friends in 2014. Nathan Brown and I had been compadres ever since we roamed the halls of Easton High School in the mid 1980’s. Dreaming about (and often forming) short-lived bands that we thought would take over the world.

Sadly, none of them did.

JimmyBut that never stopped Nathan and I from having late night conversations about our musical goals at a local diner. Actively discussing everything we intended to do once we “made it” – usually over coffee and cheese french-fries. Nathan was the best man at my wedding in 1995 and someone who always knew how to make you laugh. In short, he was one of a kind.

As life would have it, the two of us started to lose touch with each other towards the end of the 90’s. Although we eventually reconnected at a Thin Lizzy concert three years ago, we never really hung out again or talked like we used to. It was always a case of “maybe someday”. Yeah, there would always be a someday — right?

Unbeknownst to me, Nathan died suddenly on August 9th, 2014. And even though we hadn’t really seen each other in nearly 15 years, the loss is still real and raw and has really put things into perspective. No longer am I just the shy, teenaged kid in high school with endless possibilities. Back in the 80’s, the year 2000 seemed like an eternity away. Now, the 80’s feel that way.

Which reminds me of a picture I saw the other day. One that really hits home about 2015. See if it does the same for you.

YearEnd

The fact is, there’s a time limit to this thing called life and our job is to make the most of it!

I hope that you’ve found my articles and interviews this year to be beneficial and had as much fun reading them as I had writing them. And I do hope that you’ll be along for the ride with me in 2015 because, as the saying goes – the best is yet to come!

Here’s wishing you all the best the New Year has to offer!

Birthday Reflections At 45

BirthdayCakeToday is October 5th, 2014: My 45th birthday.

Wait a minute. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was reminiscing about my life on my 44th birthday?

I swear, time is going by WAY too fast. I am now officially half-way to 90. A staggering accomplishment if I do say so myself.

I’m grateful every day for all of the blessings in my life: a loving family, friends, good health and being able to do something I really love to do – write.

I’m not sure if I’ll make it to be a nonagenarian but what I do know is that for each year that goes by time seems to be going at breakneck speed – and I don’t think I like it.

Case in point: my daughter turned thirteen this year. And although there have certainly been a few teen drama moments that have tried my patience, I still find myself always thinking that in five short years she will begin building a life on her own.

Slow down.

2014 has been a year of firsts for me. This year saw me achieve some monumental interviews. Pipe dreams for the kid who played guitar endlessly throughout high school in his upstairs bedroom. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Slash (Guns N’ Roses), Ted Nugent, Steve Vai and Don Felder (The Eagles) among many others.

I’ve also had the once in a lifetime opportunity of attending Jim Peterik’s book release event in New York City where I got to see him perform an intimate acoustic set for an audience of about thirty people. I sit here now with a smile on my face recalling how the music he made with the band Survivor got me through my own teenage drama in the 1980’s. When times were tough, I knew I could always find solace in songs like “I Can’t Hold Back,” “High On You,” “The Search is Over,” “Is This Love,” “Man Against The World” and “In Good Faith”.

Photo: Kat Gallaso
Photo: Kath Galasso

Jim’s music was so influential to me that at my high school graduation party my friend Nathan Brown and I set up an impromptu jam session. Out on my parent’s patio, Nathan and I set up his drum set and I plugged in my guitar. Then for the next two hours — to the delight chagrin of those in attendance, the two of us jammed along to the entire “Vital Signs” album while it spun on my mother’s worn out turntable.

For me to now sit in a small club and watch Jim Peterik do a few of those same songs in 2014 was nothing short of incredible.

Slow down.

As I think of that post graduation party I am suddenly reminded that 2014 was also a year of loss. Nathan Brown and I had been the best of friends when we roamed the halls of Easton High School. Dreaming about (and often forming) short-lived bands that at the time we thought would take over the world. I still remember all of those conversations we had late in the night talking about everything we were going to do once we “made it”. Nathan was the best man at my wedding in 1995 and someone who always knew how to make you laugh. In short, he was one of a kind.

I always thought that our bond of brotherhood would be inseparable, but life sometimes has a funny way of throwing a wrench into even the best of circumstances. Sadly, towards the end of the 1990’s and the start of the 21st century, the two of us lost touch. Although we would eventually reconnect at a concert three years ago, we never really hung out again like we used to. It was the usual case of “maybe someday”. Yep, there would always be a someday — right?

Ironically, on September 11th of this year, Nathan’s name popped into my head for some reason. Suddenly, “someday” was today! I decided to do a quick Google search on him to see if maybe he had a Facebook or something so that I might reach out to him. But when the first hit came back from the search engine, my heart just sank.

It was his obituary.

Nathan had passed away suddenly in his home on August 9th. He had already been gone for more than a month. His final service was already over and I am still devastated for not being there to at least say goodbye and pay my respects.

Please….Slow down.

As I begin to celebrate my 45th year on this bouncing ball my heart is heavy but I’m feeling optimistic. There’s a big world out there just waiting to be explored. Family and friends to love, books to read, articles (and books) to write, music to create and new dreams to find.

But my real wish on this October 5th is to have the strength to seize each day and then slow down. I still want to enjoy those big moments, but now I want to savor the small ones just as much. I’ve realized there’s only so much time we are given here in this life.

And I plan on making the most of it.

I Wanna Go Back

Me“I wanna go back and do it all over, but I can’t go back I know.”

“I Wanna Go Back” was a song written thirty years ago by Danny Chauncey, Monty Byrom and Ira Walker for their band, Billy Satellite. It was the band’s debut single and peaked at #78 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

But it wasn’t until two years later when Eddie Money covered the song on his 1986 platinum album “Can’t Hold Back” that a then seventeen-year old boy man finally stood up and took notice. For me, the song resonated about innocence lost and the longing for the impossible: a return to a much simpler, less complicated time.

Of course in 1986, I had no experience in such matters and absolutely no desire to return to anywhere. Every day for me was new and exciting.

Here’s what a typical week for me was like in 1986:

It was the summer when I got my first real car. A 1973 Toyota Corona. A laughable clunker when I think about it now, but it was my Rolls Royce then.

Weekly guitar lesson: Shredding on everything from AC/DC to Zeppelin.

Dreams of being a rock star: Heck, it even says so on my yearbook picture!

High School: Which started out every morning with Concert Choir and also included Music Theory and Art in addition to the mandatory English and Math.

“I recall hanging out on Friday night”

Friday always…ALWAYS meant going to the mall and perusing through the latest album releases at the record store. I’ll admit, I was also one of those habitual bachelors who passed by the Orange Julius in hopes of seeing a gaggle of cute girls. Then using the last fifty cents of my lawn mowing money trying to obtain the high score on Centipede in the arcade and if I was lucky, one of those “out of reach” girls would be playing a game right next to me. {SIGH}

“Back then I thought that things were never gonna change”

So, thirty years after Billy Satellite originally released it, what was it that made me think of the song this morning? I suppose it was the culmination of everything that’s been going on in the world in recent days.

Here are just a few examples. Take your pick:

1. Terrorist attacks throughout the world.

2. Elected representatives voting their party rather than the people they’re supposed to represent without fear of repercussion.

3. The media’s never-ending quest to fear monger the weather and make the slightest storm out to be doomsday.

5. Neglected and abused animals, women, children and veterans.

But despite what your local newspaper, talk radio or favorite extreme Facebook group might say, the real problem with this world isn’t the fault of one particular country, political party or extended forecast.

Rather, the real problem is we, the people. We’re the ones who are to blame for the mess that we’re in. And nothing showcases this example better than The Walking Dead. Yes, that’s right. The zombie show.

In a post-apocalyptic world where it’s just humans and undead walking around, the humans can not seem to overcome their own desire for power and greed in order to survive. Instead of pulling together for a common purpose (like finding out what caused the apocalypse or better still, how to cure it), they’d rather build loyalties and fight skirmishes with both humans and zombies in order to pillage whatever they can and gain an advantage. The undead themselves are actually just pawns in their cruel game. Is it too far-fetched to believe that if this happened it real life, that’s the way we would react?

The answer to fixing our problems is so simple, so why can’t we do it? It all starts (and ends) with US.

People often wonder why I still have a fascination with 80’s music, Godzilla and breakfast cereal and I could ramble off a dozen examples of why I think it’s cool or how delicious a bowl of Lucky Charms is.

But perhaps the most accurate reason is because these things reminds me of a much simpler time. A time when I didn’t have to care.

At least, not as much as I do now.

Sure, I know now that things will never be the same but…..I wanna go back.

Sealed With a KISS

DressedToKillAs an early member of the KISS Army, all I can say is that I did my duty. So don’t blame me.

Ever since the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened its doors in the mid 80’s, I joined my fellow brethren in bitching and moaning for KISS to be inducted. And over the years, I’ve painfully watched as other artists and bands (many deserving, most not) walk through the Hall’s hallowed doors while Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were unjustly ignored.

Regardless of whether or not you like their music, there can be no denying that KISS deserves a place alongside The Beatles, Hendrix, U2 and (gasp!) ABBA.

In the 1970’s KISS was literally the biggest thing on the planet.

Consider this:

1. You NEVER, EVER saw them without make-up. It was big part of their schtick and one that they took very seriously.

2. They were SO huge that each member created their own solo album and released them all simultaneously.

3. Dolls were made in their likeness.

4. They were in movies, on television and in comic books.

5. Kids (like me) dressed up like them for Halloween.

I remember being a naive eight year old reading the TV guide when I noticed that one of the members of KISS was going to be in a movie that was coming on. Can you imagine my horror when I turned on channel 4 to discover that my hero was actually actress Jean Simmons in a black and white movie. I thought they had spelt Gene’s name wrong.

But that was the kind of impact KISS had. We read about them, listened to their music, bugged our parents to buy their merchandise. Most of all, we wanted to be them. When the “Dressed To Kill” album came out, I thought they were cool. When the “Alive” album came out, I wanted to be a rock star.

Late last year, it was revealed that the band would finally receive their long overdue induction into the Hall. Euphoria ran amok in the KISS Army, while tears of joy ran down the faces of the now middle-aged fans who had dreamt about seeing their beloved four original members reunite in make-up for one final soiree.

But alas, then came the shit storm.

For some reason, whether it was monetary, too much trouble or (most likely) that they simply just continue to hate each other’s guts, the band has announced that they will not play in any line-up at their hall induction. Kind of ironic when you consider that it was Simmons and Stanley (the only two original members still with the band) who have bemoaned the Hall for decades for not accepting them.

Over the years, original members of the band have written tell all books and released ho-hum records. Their induction was the one thing fans wanted most and the only thing that would make KISS relevant again. It’s sad to think that these guys can’t put aside their differences for just one night.

After finally getting their long overdue reward, wouldn’t it have been cool for KISS to put on an induction performance the likes of which have never been seen before? Maybe do it and then announce your retirement during your acceptance speech and seal the band’s legacy with the ultimate rock moment? Sadly, we’ll never get a chance to see anything now.

Gene Simmons once declared that KISS is a band that’s unlike any other. In light of what the band has done to the legions of fans who finally got them into the Rock Hall of Fame, I’d say he got that right.

It’s A Miracle

WaterWineI was never one of those people who was really big into miracles but in light of this morning’s circumstances, I might have to reconsider.

Here in the northeast, we’ve just finished digging out of the latest winter storm. One that dropped another eight inches of snow on a tired area of the nation longing for spring relief. Anyone who says snow is beautiful has obviously spent more time riding a sleigh than standing behind a shovel, and I spent much of last evening doing the latter; digging and snow-blowing a manageable path to get my car out for work the next day.

As usual, I left my house at 5 am this morning. The drive in to work was just as it always is after a snow storm: a slippery mess. But I always try to be cautious when it comes to driving in snow/ice conditions. I even have one of those little indicator lights in my car that alerts me when the car is slipping around.

The route I take to work travels eighteen miles on a normally busy highway. I’ll admit I was a bit concerned about the road conditions there, but was pleasantly surprised on my arrival to discover that the surfaces were completely clear for the most part.

I was driving along in the slow lane at a moderately reduced 35 mph, behind cars doing a similar rate of speed. It wasn’t long before I came upon a car ahead of me that had its four-way flashers going indicating that the driver was in some sort of distress and going extra slow. I slowly moved over into the passing lane to get around him and in retrospect, that was probably my first mistake. For instead of moving back over to the slow lane after I had passed the car, I chose to continue driving in the passing lane a little longer, a lane which had suddenly started to slow down.

It was at that moment that some knucklehead in the slow lane decided to move over into the passing lane and cut me off. Now, this is a maneuver I’ve experienced countless times in the past and one that would require me to hit my brakes to slow down in order to avoid an accident. On a warm spring day this could easily have been achieved, but obviously not in the beginning of February and on the morning after a snow storm.

In my attempt to slow down, I encountered some black ice on the road and immediately knew that there was going to be no way to avoid a collision. Although I was able to reduce speed I still struck the back-end of his car doing about 25 mph. Loud enough to hear the dreaded “THUD!” and knowing that damage was going to be done.

As our cars separated, I noticed through my windshield that the back-end of his car had suffered no damage at all following the fender bender. I realized that even though he was negligent for cutting me off, I would ultimately hold responsibility for the accident because I had rear-ended his car. As if that weren’t enough, to add insult to injury, the damage was going to be limited to just my car.

We both slowly pulled off of the highway. All the while I was not only thinking about the safety of the driver, but also about the extensive damage that had been done to my car. I saw visions of police officers arriving at the scene and endless calls to claims adjusters in my future, not to mention the fact that I was also going to be late for work. I clicked on my hazard lights and slowly got out of the car.

That’s when something I still can’t explain happened.

I looked at the front end of my car and there was not a scratch. Huh?? After hitting his car at 25 mph and hearing the dreaded WHOMP, there was not even a mark. Not a scratch, dent, ding or split in the bumper. Both cars had zero damage. It was almost as if I had rear ended a pillow.

The other driver and I stood in the cold glare of our four-way flashers dumbfounded over what had just happened. As big semi trucks and snow plows trudged by us in the early morning hour, we both knew that what had experienced could not be explained.

We both shook hands and exchanged phone numbers in case something went wrong, but I don’t think it will. It certainly wasn’t a miracle in a sense of turning water into wine or having a life long disease suddenly being cured, but it does make you think.

Sometimes even in the throes of the worst winters, good things happen.