Birthday Reflections at 49

October 5th, 2018. My 49th birthday.

I look at those words on the computer screen, with the cursor synchronously blinking, and find it hard to believe it’s even possible. I can’t help but think about my father who, when he was this age, had only two years left to live.

Seriously, wasn’t it just yesterday that I was the youthful teen driving my beat-up, 1973 Toyota to the Palmer mall on Friday nights after school? Pouring every last cent of my lawn mowing allowance into video game cabinets at the arcade while drinking gallons of Orange Julius and wishing I could muster up the courage to go talk to the cute girl who stood with her friends in the Listening Booth record store?

I’ve grown accustomed to listening to the creaks and cracks of getting out of bed every morning, and the inevitable gray or missing hairs I see whenever I look into the mirror. Reading glasses have become the norm for me now, and summers are often spent resisting the urge to tell young children to get off my lawn.

But these past twelve months have really been something special. I finally realized my lifelong dream of writing a novel, and after six years of interviewing and writing articles for a half-dozen websites, I was invited to write for Guitar World magazine. What’s more, I submitted my first article, which should appear in the January 2019 issue, three days before my 49th birthday.

And now, the countdown is officially on. In 365 days I will officially be a half-century old. As I look to that milestone with both fear and uncertainty, I find myself going back to that 12-year-old me, and the day I received my very first student ID at school. On the back of the plastic, laminated card were the words, “Year of Graduation – 1987.”  A year that seemed a lifetime away, just like the year 2000 did… 18+ years ago.

This song always makes me stop in my tracks whenever I hear it. Does it do the same for you?

There’s an odd sense of immortality you have when you’re young that makes you believe time will always stand still, and that you’ll never be as old as your parents. But then you take a nap and wake up in that role.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years of my 40’s it’s that it’s no longer about the years left in your life. It’s about the life left in your years.

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Interview: Gin Blossoms’ Robin Wilson discusses the band’s new album, ‘Mixed Reality’

Photo: Shervin Lainez

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than twenty-five years since Gin Blossoms’ monstrous breakthrough album, New Miserable Experience. A record which was a much-needed alternative to the flavor of the week pablum and grunge scene and featured the hits “Hey Jealousy,” “Until I Fall Away,” “Found Out About You,” and “Allison Road.” Perhaps nothing captures that same spirited sentiment better in 2018 than the band’s brand new album, Mixed Reality.

Produced by the legendary Don Dixon, Mixed Reality features the jangle influence Dixon made famous on early albums by REM and The Smithereens. At the same time, vocalist Robin Wilson’s lyrics and delivery on tracks like “Break,” and “Face The Dark” are infectiously reminiscent of the band’s early days but also show a deeper level of musical maturity. A testament to a band who, even after a quarter of a century, still has a lot left to say.

AXS recently spoke with Robin Wilson about the new Gin Blossoms album, Mixed Reality, memorable moments, touring and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: It’s been eight years since the band’s last album, No Chocolate Cake. What inspired Mixed Reality?

Robin Wilson: Motivation. It had been too long and we were anxious to record again and do something to propel our career. Mixed Reality is a companion to New Miserable Experience and an album I feel we would’ve wanted to make in 1990.

AXS What was it like having Don Dixon produce Mixed Reality?

RW: It was very exciting. Don Dixon [and Mitch Easter] recorded the first two REM records. Those were at the core of our influences as a band. I remember when we went into the songwriting, I felt very connected to my twenty-year-old self when I was listening to REM, The Smithereens and those records that inspired us.

AXS: What’s your songwriting process like? 

RW: Generally, I keep a notebook of lyric ideas and when I come up with a melody, I’ll look through my list to see what leans into it. For a few of the songs on this album, I sat down with the guitar and wrote the melody and lyrics at the same time. A good example of that is the song, “Break.” I had that verse and chorus of that song within about ten minutes. It took a few weeks to add the bridge and refine it a little, but once I felt like I was onto something I became confident in the material.

AXS: What can you tell me about the track, “Face The Dark?”

RW: I had originally written that song thinking it was going to be about the end of my marriage. But once I had it pretty well wrapped up, it felt more like it was either about, to, or from Doug Hopkins, our original guitar player. Having already been thinking of REM and the records Don and Mitch had made, it was really easy to think about Doug too and some of my memories of him.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Robin Wilson by Clicking Here!

Interview: Guitar legend Marty Friedman discusses his new double-live album, ‘One Bad M.F. LIVE!!’

Guitarist Marty Friedman’s monstrous double-live album, One Bad M.F. LIVE!!, is a tip of the hat to the live albums Friedman listened to while growing up. Everything about the album, from the arranging and pacing of the songs to the audience participation and in the moment ad libs, is decidedly old school.

Recorded live this past April in Mexico City, Friedman’s new album showcases the guitar legend’s visceral prowess. Friedman’s band, which features Kiyoshi on bass, Jordan Ziff on guitar and Chargeeee on drums, is also in peak form. Performing tracks from the guitarist’s most recent studio album, Wall of Sound, as well as a selection of infectious fan favorites.

AXS recently spoke with Marty Freidman about his new double-live album, One Bad M.F. LIVE!! [which will be released on Oct. 19], touring, inspiration and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: What inspired you to make this new live album?

Marty Friedman: I’ve had a really good vibe with my band for the last few years and wanted to document what I was seeing on the road every night. I wanted it to be an old-school, double-live album because it reminded me of the way I felt listening to live albums as a kid and the whole experience that comes from a live performance as opposed to the studio. I don’t do a whole lot of “old school” stuff but thought it would be a cool chance to capture that feeling.

AXS: Are there any extra set of nerves going into recording a live album, knowing that there’s no going back?

MF: Not really. The only thing I was concerned about was if something were to go down with the mobile recording studio during the set. We only recorded one show, which was kind of a ballsy move. But we’d been on tour for a while and everything was working great. This is a good representation of what it’s like out there!

AXS: What’s your writing process like? 

MF: I’ll usually start off with a melody. Once you have a melody you feel is strong it’s open to many different interpretations. That’s one of the differences between live and studio. In the studio, I’m really anal about every little detail and getting things perfect. For a live album, all of that work is already done. Now, it becomes a matter of performing and enjoying it. The arrangements are a little different when you play live, especially with instrumental music, because you want to shorten some things and get straight to the point. It’s a different feeling.

AXS: Let’s discuss a few tracks from the new album, starting with “Whiteworm.” What can you tell me about it?

MF: That was written right after I got back from this really big event in Buenos Aires in 2015. I played with Astor Piazzolla’s grandson and his band doing all of Astor Piazzolla’s music. It’s a heavy responsibility to do anywhere, much less in Piazzolla’s hometown with an audience of people who grew up with his music. I worked hard to learn how to play that music in a manner where I could give it expression and play it my way without damaging the integrity of what it already is. It was such a great experience and it left me with a lot of residual knowledge. I started to have a bit more of a Latin way of thinking when it came to writing melodies and little hooks and phrases. When I got back to Tokyo to start writing for my Wall of Sound record, I was more at ease with things that were Latin in nature than ever before. That’s how that song came about.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Marty Friedman by Clicking Here.

Interview: Bassist Trevor Horn Discusses His Role in Dire Straits Legacy tour, career milestones

DSL (Dire Straits Legacy) is an experience and celebration of the Grammy-Award winning British rockers’ music. It’s an evolving contingent that features former members of Dire Straits – Alan Clark (piano/keyboards), Danny Cummings (percussion), Mel Collins (saxophone) and Phil Palmer (guitar/musical director). Other renowned musicians, including drummer Steve Ferrone (Tom Petty), bassist Trevor Horn (The Buggles, Yes), Marco Caviglia (vocals/guitar) and Primiano DiBiase (keyboards) have also joined in various stages to tour and record.

The contingent, which has already toured Europe and South America and released their first original album, 3 Chord Trick, late last year, is now embarked on a U.S. tour that will run through mid-October. The tour gives longtime fans the opportunity of hearing hits like “Sultans of Swing,” “Walk of Life,” “Romeo & Juliet,” and the quintessential MTV classic, “Money For Nothing,” performed live for the first time in decades.

AXS recently spoke with bassist Trevor Horn about the tour, his career and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: How did you become involved in the DSL project?

Trevor Horn: I became involved last year because one of the guitar players was someone I use a lot on my records. He told me the band was doing some gigs in Brazil and needed someone on the bass. It’s been an interesting experience and has made me have a lot more respect for Mark Knopfler as a writer.

AXS: What do you think makes the music of Dire Straits so special?

TH: I can tell you straight off. The lyrics are real and the playing is terrific. Just the way Mark Knopfler writes; he takes things a lot of people use and turns them on their head in a really good way. Obviously, his guitar playing is great too.

AXS: What’s next for the group after this run of U.S. shows?

TH: We’ll be off to do some shows in Bucharest and Italy. I’ll also be doing a show with my own band in November at the Royal Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Trevor Horn by Clicking Here!

Interview: REO Speedwagon guitarist Dave Amato talks touring, signature Les Paul guitar

It’s been another amazing year of touring for classic rock titans REO Speedwagon. The band, which includes Kevin Cronin (vocals, rhythm guitar), Dave Amato (guitars), Bruce Hall (bass), Neal Doughty (keyboards) and Bryan Hitt (drums) has recently completed a thirty-four city tour with Chicago that went along with nearly two dozen more shows with fellow legends Styx and Don Felder.

With a tireless work ethic and a career that’s spanned more than four decades with songs like “Roll With The Changes,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Ridin’ The Storm Out,” and “Back On The Road Again,” REO is the quintessential rock act.

The band is currently out on a run of sold-out, headlining shows across the U.S. to finish off the year. AXS recently caught up with guitarist Dave Amato to talk about REO’s tour, the second generation of his Signature Les Paul guitar and more in this exclusive interview.

AXS: REO Speedwagon continues to sell out shows across the country. Do you have an opinion on why fans can’t seem to get enough of the band after all this time?

Dave Amato: It’s the songs. The songs are what continue to live on. The parents who grew up with the music now have kids in their twenties who come to the shows and know all the words. People always come up to me and say, “It’s so fun to come to see you guys because you always look so happy when you’re up there”  [laughs]. The truth is that even after all of this time we still genuinely like each other. This year, we played twenty shows with Styx and Don Felder and then we did about thirty-four shows with Chicago. Even now that we’re back out on our own we’ve managed to keep up the intensity. It’s like family and we’re happy to be out there.

AXS: As a guitarist, is there a particular REO song that’s your favorite to perform?

DA: They’re all fun to play. I get to do all the signature solos but I also have the opportunity to stretch out a little bit on a song like “Back On The Road Again” where it’s a little more free form. But really, what’s not to like? I get to solo on every song [laughs].

AXS: Can you give me an update on your upcoming Signature Les Paul guitar?

DA: My original HD-TV model with a single coil pickup and Floyd Rose has been doing great. So I asked Gibson about making a few in other colors and they built me one in Sunburst  It was so beautiful that they asked about designing a second, two-pickup model guitar. We’re doing a few experiments now and the guitar should be ready to unveil at the NAMM show in January. Just like my original, it will be based on the Axcess model but with two pickups, a Floyd Rose, and a ’58 neck. It feels like a historic guitar but it’s a different kind of animal!

Read the rest of my
Interview with Dave Amato by Clicking Here!

Concert Review: REO Speedwagon Brings Memories, Hits to Sold Out Penn’s Peak Performance

(l to r): Bryan HItt, Kevin Cronin, Bruce Hall, Dave Amato

Friday, February 22nd, 1985. Musically speaking, it’s a day that’s cemented in my head, much like my wedding anniversary and the day my daughter was born. It’s one of those days where something magical happens, and for some reason known only to the musical gods, one that you remember forever. I’d recently turned fifteen, and my buddy Mike and I were eager to cash in our concert tickets at the local college gymnasium, Stabler Arena.

Acoustically, I’m sure a basketball court with a makeshift stage wasn’t the greatest of places to play, but for pimple-faced teens with little cash resources, it was a prime spot to catch a band in your hometown without having to fork over all of the lawn mowing money you made last summer just to get bus fare to the bigger cities like Philadelphia and New York.

February 22nd, 1985 was special because it was first time I ever saw REO Speedwagon, who were out in support of their recently released album, Wheels Are Turnin’. An album I had already worn out on my turntable. The first video from the album, “I Do’ Wanna Know” was already a hit on MTV, and a tasty ballad called “Can’t Fight This Feeling” was steadily making its way up the charts toward #1.

(l to r): Neal Doughty Bryan Hitt, Kevin Cronin

Since that fateful evening thirty-three years ago, I’ve seen REO Speedwagon more than thirty times. I’ve seen them perform at music festivals, in intimate theaters and as part of a two or three-band package at large arenas. I even traveled to Los Angeles last summer to catch them perform with Styx and Don Felder as part of their United We Rock tour. Yes, I’m one of those fans.

Although seeing them in a distant city is fun, it’s an even bigger treat whenever they come to my town, and last night it was at the beautiful Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe, PA.

On the calendar it was the final night of summer, and as I approached the box office I noticed a large sign prominently displayed in the window — “REO Speedwagon –  SOLD OUT”. That sign and what was to follow was a friendly reminder that just like fine wine the band, which consists of Kevin Cronin, Neal Doughty, Bruce Hall, Dave Amato and Bryan Hitt, has only gotten better with age.

Walking on stage to the drum intro of the classic “Don’t Let Him Go”, a song that’s been the band’s staple concert opener for decades, REO launched into a blistering set of songs spanning the group’s 45-year career. Songs like “Music Man,” and “Keep Pushin’” were driving and powerful reminders of the band’s early club days, while the aforementioned “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” was both symbolic and sentimental.

Songs from the band’s monster album Hi Infidelity were also featured prominently during their hour and twenty-minute set. In addition to “Don’t Let Him Go,” REO performed “Tough Guys,” “In Your Letter,” and “Take it On The Run.”

At one point, Cronin took time out to pay homage to the band’s original guitarist, Gary Richrath, who passed away in 2015. Richrath left the band in 1989 but his memory lives on in the song “Son Of A Poor Man.” It was a song Richrath wrote about his life growing up and one which Cronin said summed it up perfectly.

“Time For Me To Fly”, another fan favorite and a song that I remember closed out the show in 1985, was featured midway into the set. It’s a classic rock staple that Cronin performs on an acoustic guitar with a unique tuning, and these days segues into Bruce Hall’s blistering bassline before the infectious “Back On The Road Again”. REO finished their main set with another round of classic rock heavy artillery – the thundering “Ridin’ The Storm Out”, complete with blaring sirens.

Bruce Hall and Dave Amato

After a short hiatus, the band returned for an encore, with Cronin sitting at the piano telling the sold out audience about how quickly lives can change if you choose a different path at the last minute. He then told the story of waking up one night back in 1980 with a song idea in his head. Instead of ignoring it and going back to sleep, Cronin got up and recorded the idea on his Walkman. The result would become the band’s first #1 song, “Keep On Loving You.”

The band then launched into one of their most recognizable songs, “Roll With The Changes,” which features Doughty’s iconic Hammond organ and guitarist Dave Amato’s fiery guitar prowess.

The one thing I’ve noticed during every REO Speedwagon show is that there’s always some sort of surprise, and this time was no different. Before leaving the stage for the final time the band performed an inspiring cover of Tom Petty’s “Listen to Her Heart”. Petty, another hero of mine and who, like Richrath, had recently passed away, reminded me of how far I’ve come in thirty-three years and just how fragile we all are.

As I strolled out of the venue and into the final hours of summer, the fog was as thick as pea soup. Time was still moving. Tomorrow, mother nature would officially begin her process of ushering in cool temperatures, crisp morning air and changing the leaves from green to bright red, orange and yellow.

It was then that something else occurred to me, and I found myself once again drifting back to that cold February night in 1985. It was something Cronin had said during tonight’s set to the die-hard fans who’ve been with the band from their earliest of days to tonight’s sold-out show at Penn’s Peak.

Rock and roll will keep us young forever.

REO Speedwagon Set List (Penn’s Peak – Jim Thorpe, PA)

Don’t Let Him Go
Music Man
In Your Letter
Keep Pushin’
Can’t Fight This Feeling
Tough Guys
Son of A Poor Man
Take It On the Run
Time For Me to Fly
Back On the Road Again
Ridin’ The Storm Out

Encore:

Keep On Loving You
Roll With The Changes
Listen To Her Heart (Tom Petty Cover)

Interview: Rachel Reinert discusses her infectious debut single, ‘Cool’

Photo by Angela Talley

When singer-songwriter Rachel Reinert joined Gloriana at the age of eighteen, she began a whirlwind journey that yielded the band three critically-acclaimed albums, extensive tours and working with artists like Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, Alan Jackson and Zac Brown Band. The group was even awarded the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Vocal Group as well as earning an American Music Award for Breakthrough Artist of the Year.

But Reinert had always envisioned herself as a solo artist, and in 2015 the sultry vocalist decided to fulfill her life’s ambition. She stepped away from the spotlight and began developing a sound that infuses her poetic voice with a California-country vibe.

The title of Reinert’s hook-laden debut single, “Cool,” is apropos. For not only does it introduce the beautiful songstress as a solo artist, but it also exposes her unique, groove-ridden combination of pop and country, with tasty elements of artists like The Eagles and The Stone Canyon Band.

AXS recently spoke with Rachel Reinert about “Cool,” her decision to leave Gloriana, and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: What was the driving force that made you decide to pursue a solo career?

Rachel Reinert: Time was the biggest factor. I had originally moved to Nashville from California when I was sixteen. I signed a publishing deal and had every intention of being a solo artist. I was on that path for a few years; doing a lot of writing and spinning my wheels. When I turned eighteen, I had the opportunity to be a part of Gloriana. It ended up being one of the most amazing experiences of my life for eight years. We had a great run, but after the third album, I thought in my heart of hearts that it was time to set out on a fresh start. So, I put my head down and started writing. I wanted my sound to be very California-country. Rooted in where I come from and the music I was raised on.

AXS: How did your new single, “Cool,” originate?

RR: I started writing with David Naish and Melissa Fuller. We developed this amazing rapport and friendship. Whenever I feel comfortable in a room with someone and can share my experiences and what’s on my mind, that’s when the best songs develop. That day, I went in and told them I wanted to write a song about my first love. So, we started diving into the story and how the relationship I was in went from first love to first heartbreak and being absolutely devastated. Then, over the span of almost fifteen years, the relationship developed into a true, genuine friendship. It’s an interesting dynamic about time and forgiveness and how all of those experiences make you into who you are and where you’re meant to be.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Rachel Reinert by Clicking Here!