Vision Films has partnered with Fathom Events to bring a riveting new rock documentary, Hired Gun: Out of the Shadows Into the Spotlight, to select U.S. movie theaters this summer, with an exclusive one-night theatrical event set for June 29.
The feature-length doc, which has been screened to critic and audience acclaim at SXSW Festival, Glastonbury Festival and Calgary International Film Festival, introduces fans to several unsung heroes of the music industry. These artists have played with legends such as Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica, Alice Cooper and many more.
Guitarist Phil X (Bon Jovi, the Drills) is just one of the artists featured in the documentary. I recently spoke with him about Hired Gun, his role in Bon Jovi, the Drills, his gear and more.
How did you get involved with Hired Gun?
[Producer] Jason Hook and I go back to our teens outside of Toronto, Canada. He moved to LA a few years before I did, and we later started putting a band together and making music. We went on to different things and ended up in the “side guy” realm of life. When he was presented the opportunity to make a documentary, he had the idea of getting all the people together he knew who were hired guns. So it was a no-brainer for him to call me up and say, “Hey man, you just toured with Bon Jovi. You want to be in there?” [laughs].
Was having a career in music something you always aspired to do?
For me, there was no choice. I feel that if you’re truly passionate about making music, you can’t do anything else. You’re always making music because it’s in your heart. Everyone has a dream of being in a successful band, but for some reason, my bands always happened on a small scale. The hired-gun thing started in the studio and by meeting people and then playing guitar on their records. Two years later, around 1999, I was asked to come in and play on Tommy Lee’s solo record, Methods of Mayhem. It started snowballing after that.
How did you wind up getting the gig with Bon Jovi?
It happened very quickly. I was doing my session thing at Henson Studios, and John Shanks had a studio there. John co-wrote and produced a lot of the recent Bon Jovi records, and I’d run into him a lot either having lunch or walking down the hallway. What changed the game was one day he came up to me and told me he couldn’t stop watching my YouTube videos.
We hit it off, and a few weeks later he called me up and told me about a gig he had. He told me about a band that was having some issues with their guitar player and that I might be the guy to get called in to do some shows when he can’t. I said, “Ok, who are we talking about?” and he said, “Bon Jovi. Do you want to do it?”
So they gave me the material to learn the two-and-a-half-hour hour show and told me I’d be in the reserve tank. That meant I might get a call or I might not. Then it happened: April 14, 2011. They told me to go to New York and rehearse with the band. I was on hold again, and then “on hold” became “Let’s go! We’re playing New Orleans in a few days and there will probably be 50,000 people there.” That was it!
Read the rest of my
Interview with Phil X by Clicking Here!
The first concert I ever attended was a Scorpions show in 1984. I remember this event because, at the time, I was excited about checking out the openers, a young, up-and-coming band called Bon Jovi.
Little did I know I’d also be bearing witness to what would become one of rock’s biggest juggernauts.
Tour photographer David Bergman has spent the last three and a half years working as Bon Jovi’s official tour photographer. With carte blanche access, Bergman has been able to travel the world with the band and document their activities—as well as their shows—with his camera.
Bergman has combined a collection of his photographs into one masterful coffee table book that’s appropriately titled Work. The book, an over-sized, 5-pound, 210-page hardcover tome, offers a behind-the-scenes look at one of the world’s top touring bands.
In addition to being an in-demand touring and sports photographer, Bergman also runs tourphotographer.com, which lets fans go online and buy high-quality image prints shot at the shows they’ve attended.
I recently spoke with Bergman to find out more about Work and his time spent on tour with Bon Jovi.
GUITAR WORLD: How did this book project come about?
Since the beginning of 2011, I’ve photographed every single Bon Jovi live show, which is quite a lot when you think about it. Last year alone, they did 102 shows on six continents. After every show, I would do an edit and narrow it down to the best of the best from each performance.
Over time, I started to develop this massive archive, somewhere in the range of 800,000 images, many of which no one had ever seen. So I brought it to the band. The idea of doing a book was something we had been talking about for quite a while. They’ve done book projects over the years but nothing quite like this. By the end of this last tour, we decided the time was finally right and started putting it together.
You can read the rest of my
Interview with David Bergman by Clicking Here!
Here’s a quick Bon Jovi Jeopardy question for you:
“This song, from the group’s first album, is the only song on any Bon Jovi record that was not at least co-written by a member of the band.”
Answer: What is “She Don’t Know Me“?
It was the June 16th, 1984 and my brother and I had braved the Summer heat to drive to the Allentown Fairgrounds and see the Scorpions. They were out supporting their hugely successful album, “Love at First Sting” and we couldn’t wait to see them.
The only thing that stood between two teenaged metal heads and nirvana was having to listen to the opening act: some new band with a bunch of guys out of New Jersey who called themselves “Bon Jovi“.
As luck would have it, I had actually heard of these guys before and had even bought their debut album. They were mostly known for their song “Runaway”, which at the time was getting quite a bit of airplay. But that wasn’t the song that really appealed to me.
As a 15 year-old boy there was only one song on that record that I could immediately relate to. It was the third song: “She Don’t Know Me”. I can’t even begin to tell you the countless times those lyrics came into my head during my adolescence. In certain situations, where the female persuasion was involved I always found myself thinking: “If only she would look my way”…. but “She Don’t Know Me”…
To this day, whenever I think of Bon Jovi the very first thing I think about is the summer night when I first heard “She Don’t Know Me” performed live. The song still gives me chills when I listen to it today.
“She Don’t Know Me” is a song written by Mark Avsec that appears on Bon Jovi’s debut record and to this day is the only song from any Bon Jovi record that doesn’t have at least a co-write by a member of the band. But the story of how the song appeared on that first record is no where near as interesting as the songwriter is himself. For Mark Avsec’s story goes a lot deeper than just a Bon Jovi song.
Mark’s life as a musician, songwriter and producer includes stints with the bands Breathless and Wild Cherry (“Play That Funky Music”). The latter of which gave him the opportunity to perform on stage at the Grammy Awards.
He’s also had a long relationship with Donnie Iris as a member of the Cruisers where the two of them together would write the hit song “Ah! Leah!” and subsequently lose everything gained from the song’s success by defending themselves in a frivolous lawsuit. The outcome of which led Mark himself to become an attorney to make sure that what he went through never happens to himself or anyone else again.
In this interview with Mark we’ll talk about how he came up with what I believe is one of the best and most underrated Bon Jovi songs ever. We’ll also discuss the Ah! Leah! lawsuit and his reason for becoming an attorney as well as what the future holds for himself and his long time friend Donnie Iris.
Mark Avsec (MA): I was on the road with Donnie during our tour for the first album and I was supposed to go back into the studio with La Flavour (who later became the band Fair Warning) for an album. I was going to write the songs for and produce the album.
So I wrote this on the road in a hotel room.
I generally write music first, and that’s what I did for this song. I don’t know if the lyric is anything to write home about, but it’s a basic story of when you really have fallen for someone and that person does not know you exist. I felt that in my life. I think probably everyone has
gJg: How did the song wind up on the first Bon Jovi album?
MA: “Luck” is a factor in all of our lives and in any business. But I think “luck” plays a bigger role in the music industry or in the arts in general. How many super-talented people are out there that we have never heard of? A lot! Somewhere there is someone who could be as impactful as Bruce Springsteen but the stars have not aligned for that person.
However, I also believe that you have to put yourself in a position to get lucky. That requires dedication, study, hard work. I wasted a lot of hours in recording studios working on “spec” on albums and songs that never saw the light of day. That certainly seemed to be the case for this Fair Warning album that “She Don’t Know Me” was on. It came out on an MCA label and immediately died.
What happened though, was that record executive Lennie Petze heard the song and loved it and got the song to Jon’s brother, Tony Bongiovi – with a strong suggestion that Bon Jovi should record the song for the first album. This is what was told to me – I have never independently validated this story but it makes sense.
Ironically, Bon Jovi “opened” for Donnie Iris and the Cruisers for several dates – so we got to know the guys in the band a bit. I’m a little introverted until I get to know people so I was not out there trying to meet Jon (Donnie got more friendly with Tico).
I’m not sure how crazy the band was about the song – It’s never shown up on any compilations or anything.
gJg: What was it like when you met Bon Jovi? Did you picture what they would turn into today?
MA: When Bon Jovi opened for us (Donnie Iris and the Cruisers) it was clear something was happening. Jon had all of the rock star moves and he was a great looking guy – the chicks loved him from the start.
gJg:The song was originally recorded by Fair Warning (Also covered by Grass Roots and Sonny Gervaci). Were you concerned at all about overkill of the song?
MA: No. Very few people knew the song until Bon Jovi recorded it.
gJg: Your song is the only one that appears on any Bon Jovi album that does not have a Bon Jovi co-write connection. Do you think this may be the reason why it’s not performed live any longer?
MA: Yes, maybe. Like I said, I’m not sure what Bon Jovi’s perspective on the song is – it really does not show up on any of the “Greatest Hits” compilations or anything, at least not yet.
Writing “Ah! Leah” and Studying Law
gJg: I read where you decided to become a lawyer because you were sued frivolously for the song “Ah! Leah!” What was that whole lawsuit about?
Well, I never heard the song. I knew how I wrote Ah! Leah! – I knew where I was when I wrote it. And I certainly never heard the guy’s song.
I blame the contingency-fee lawyers who took the case, trying to take a shot.
Except the onus fell on me and Donnie – two lower-middle class guys who were simply trying to support their families with music.
The plaintiff, we learned during the trial, apparently went out to LA pitching the song to some MCA promo guy who promptly discarded the tape after a meeting. So the lawyers concocted this story where somehow the tape made the way to us to copy. We eventually heard the song during the trial I think – the songs were nothing the same and there were many, many titles registered with ASCAP/BMI called “Here We Go Again” or whatever.
It was suggested I pay the guy settlement money. I would not give him a nickel. The trial went to a jury trial – the whole nine yards. And we won. But Donnie and I lost everything the song made and more because we had to pay our lawyers.
I can now say – and it has taken me a long time to get there – that the lawsuit was the best thing that happened to me. Because I love copyright law – and I love my life now, being an intellectual property attorney, teaching at law schools and speaking – and also still writing music and playing.
gJg: So the outcome of the case made you decide to put the rock and roll dream on hold in favor of studying law?
MA: I became very interested in copyright law. That lawsuit made me think – “Geez, I did nothing wrong and I can be sued like that? Without any basis? I better learn how to defend myself.” And I began to think about the legal system and if there were mechanisms that could be put in place to dissuade meritless, frivolous lawsuits.
Since that lawsuit was decided, we had the Supreme Court in the United States decide the Fogerty lawsuit – ruling that defendants who prevailed in copyright infringement lawsuits – should be entitled to attorneys’ fees recompense from the losing party. The copyright statute already provided that the prevailing party could recover attorneys’ fees from the losing party. But before Fogerty, the statute was not applied in an even-handed manner to prevailing defendants and prevailing plaintiffs. So the Fogerty case was a step in the right direction.
The corporate receipt doctrine is also disfavored now – so that amateur songwriters who send tapes to record companies that nobody wants to hear will have a harder time arguing that so-and-so-big-star stole my song because I sent it in to Universal Records and, you know, this big star now is signed to the label and has a big hit song with the word “love” in it and an A minor chord.
But I still think some lawyers who bring these cases (the so-called substantial similarity cases) – bring them too easily hoping for quick settlement.
gJg: How has that lawsuit and eventual outcome influenced the way you litigate cases?
MA: I don’t have a stomach for baseless cases. No lawyer should. I don’t bring them. And if I’m defending – I will work as hard as I can for my client to get the right result. I have had many successes and I cannot discuss them.
gJg: In 2010, “Angel Love (Come For Me),” a song you co-wrote was included on Carlos Santana’s Supernatural (Legacy Edition) album. How did this come about?
MA: We’re back to “luck” again, aren’t we? And putting yourself in a position to get lucky. When I wrote that song I had a recording studio in my house. And I worked hard and spent hours writing and recording. And in retrospect – from an economic perspective – I wasted a lot of time because the lion’s share of that stuff never saw the light of day.
But I had a friend, Alan Greene, who I played with in Breathless – and Alan was a great, great blues guitarist – still is. And a wonderful guy. And so we were writing some blues-based songs for possibly an Alan Greene solo project. And Alan and I wrote the first iteration of “Angel Love” – but it was not called Angel Love. I think it was called “Too Much About Love” or something like that. And it had way more of an Allman Brothers vibe to it. The music was the same as what became the music for Angel Love, but it was even more bluesy and jam-based. I liked the music a lot.
Well, I have another dear friend – Mason Ruffner. And I had pre-produced Mason’s Gypsy Blood album in my basement studio. Mason used to come over and we’d work on it. And then Dave Edmunds, the eventual producer of Gypsy Blood, even came to the United States and visited my studio. And my studio was one of the first purely virtual, MIDI studios. And so it was decided that I would bring the entire setup over to London – where we made Gypsy Blood for real.
I thought that record was very good – and Mason had a lot of promotion behind him from the record label, but the record did not achieve the success everyone had hoped for.
So, Mason was now thinking about another record – though he had not found his mojo for what he wanted to say yet. We remained close friends (still are) and he came back to my studio to screw around. He heard the song I did with Alan and asked if he could write his own lyrics to it. Alan did not care – and so I said “sure.”
And so the song became “Angel Love” and we recorded it with Mason but nobody heard it. Yet somehow it got to Carlos Santana.
A lot of guitarists – Jimmy Page and Carlos Santana among them – had respect for Mason. Bob Dylan even devotes two pages in his Chronicles book to Mason (Mason had played on “Oh Mercy” for Dylan and Daniel Lanois). I think it is because Mason comes from a very real “roots” tradition, growing up in Oklahoma and Texas – spending so much time on Bourbon Street in New Orleans and in Memphis honing his craft. He is very picky about his lyrics – he is very well-read and is a serious artist I think.
So somehow Carlos heard the song – I think it was on Mason’s album which was not widely released.
Soon after that Carlos began playing the song live – there is a clip on YouTube where Carlos is playing the song in Warsaw, Poland at a huge outdoor festival. This was the early nineties.
Well, we talk about “luck” again. Because Carlos was going to record the song – or did record the song (I am not sure which) for his Supernatural record. Now, if “Angel Love” had been on the original release that sold 25 million copies or so – those pennies really add up and Mason, Alan and I would have done very well.
Unfortunately, the song did not make the cut for the first release.
However, 10 years later – Carlos wanted to put it on the “Legacy” anniversary edition of Supernatural. And “Angel Love” was the first single.
Of course, the “Legacy” edition sold nowhere near the copies the first Supernatural album did. Still, it is a thrill for a legend like Carlos Santana to record your song.
Ironically, I toured with Carlos in Wild Cherry (when I was in the band that had the hit “Play That Funky Music”). Again, I never got to know him well. But his band was smoking – and we used to hang with them a bit and go see jazz groups after-hours with them.
gJg: What was it like to perform at the Grammy awards?
MA: It was surreal. I have a tape of the show. I don’t know if you remember the television show, Laugh-In? Because, though the show was state of the art at the time, the graphics and the production seem so amateurish now. But there I was – sitting behind Ringo and standing next to Barbra Streisand backstage.
We stayed at the Beverly Wilshire hotel and I was waiting for my limo to take me to the show – Andy Warhol was standing there waiting for his limo and so was George Benson, who finally achieved commercial success after years of paying his dues in small jazz bars. We also toured with George Benson a lot during those days.
As for the Grammy show, we played on the show. We were a one-hit wonder but it was a BIG hit and still is. I really had nothing to do with the success of that song. That was all Robert Parisi. I just showed up in the recording studio. I learned how to make records during that period of time. My relatives thought I was probably rolling in the dough but that was not true either.
MA: My friendship with Donnie is one of the joys of my life. In fact my friendships with all of the Cruisers are very meaningful to me.
We have a very respectful band. There is no back-biting. We have always been very positive with each other. I may take the lead as the prime mover – but we have some super-talented people. Donnie, of course. And he has really become a legend in Pittsburgh. Marty – one of the most talented and creative guitarists. Kevin Valentine – awesome drummer and a very talented engineer and producer. Paul Goll – who was not the original bass player – but has been with us so long. The perfect guy for us now. He sings well and plays very nice bass – and is a great person. Our great band extends to our longtime crew – and in particular, Jimmy Markovich, our longtime sound guy.
I spent so much time on Ah! Leluiah! – our Christmas album. I put my heart and soul into that. Honestly, I wept when it was done. I saw it as a legacy for Donnie and for me – and I hoped people would listen to that once a year after we pass. I know, morbid but that’s the way I approached it. I also thought Donnie really shined brightly on that album. That was an emotional record for us.
I am now writing some new songs. We want to go in the studio to record an album for a landmark event – a landmark birthday for Donnie.
I cannot talk about the album yet, except to say it is beginning to take form.
For more information on Donnie Iris and the Cruisers Click Here
Article first published as Bon Jovi, Donnie Iris and Copyright Law: A Conversation With Mark Avsec on Technorati.
A few weeks ago I was perusing iTunes looking for songs to buy on a gift card I received. I chose a few Foo Fighters songs from their most recent album (I didn’t really care for the previews I had heard of the whole thing) and the Bon Jovi anthem “It’s My Life”. I’m not even sure which record that track was on. My guess is it’s probably on several of them but I just wanted the song for when I do cardio at the gym so it didn’t really matter.
I mean, you can’t play Eye of The Tiger consecutively for thirty minutes straight while on the treadmill. Well, I suppose you can but I like to mix it up a bit.
Speaking of Bon Jovi, I read an article not too long ago from Jon Bon Jovi himself. He made the outrageous claim that Steve Jobs and iTunes had single-handedly ruined the music business. This coming from a guy whose band has made millions of dollars off of it. Including quite a bit of it from me over the years I might add and more than enough money for him to one day become part owner of a billion dollar NFL team. A guy who still continues to sell his music on iTunes and profit off of it. Just who is he trying to kid anyway?
But the more I thought about it and looked at the receipt for my downloaded songs the more I realized….he’s right. The entire “experience” of getting and listening to new music is gone.
Back in “the day” if you heard a cool song on the radio from a band you loved you had three choices…
One: Call the radio station 24/7 and beg them to play it.
Two: Try and find the 45″ single of it somewhere.
Three: Buy the album, which was always readily available.
In my case, the choice was easy. I would always buy the album because I LOVED the experience (ok, and also because I didn’t want to sound like a sissy calling the request line).
When you first heard the new “hit” from the band on the radio and the brouhaha that followed you knew the countdown to the new album was officially on. It was almost like Christmas was coming.
There was nothing quite like getting that new album (or CD) and taking it home for the first time. Especially if you’ve waited the habitual two years since your favorite group’s last record. A literal lifetime when you are growing up.
My ritual was this: I would get the album, lock myself in my bedroom, tear open the shrink-wrap and put new vinyl on the turntable. Always first song, first side (or first track on a CD – I’m not THAT OLD). I knew the “hit” was always about the third song in and I didn’t want to just skip to it. I wanted the build up.
As the first notes of the record started I knew ‘the boys were back’ and I’d begin to immerse myself in the liner notes. The smell of new ink would invade my senses and the troubles of the day would soon fade away.
Even though the guys in the band had absolutely no idea who I was (at best just a little dot in the 23rd row at their last concert) it felt like a reunion with old friends. Friends that had inspired me, comforted me and consoled me with their music.
“Boys, where have you been? What’s new?”
I’d read all about the musicians and where the album was recorded and who any “special guest” musicians that had played on the album were. The thank-you notes would always include references to God and family and as a musician myself I’d always think that maybe some day I’d have the opportunity to make these same decisions for my own album.
But most important of all, I read the lyrics.
I loved reading about the pain, heartache and reckless abandon the band felt when creating this record. I tried to relate what I was going through in my own life with what I read and listened to. By the time the “hit” started playing I was already in some distant utopia. (which coincidentally, was the name of the store in downtown Easton where I bought a lot of my records).
When the record was over it was almost like you had just gotten off an amusement park ride. Sure, some of the songs weren’t as good as I had hoped but there were always some gems on there. I liked to guess which song would be the next one released to radio and I’d start wondering just how long it would be before these guys came to town and I could go see them again. The whole thing was indeed an experience.
Now, I couldn’t even tell you the last time I had the whole music experience. I too find myself falling into the same routine that everyone else does. Getting the quick-fix by downloading the one “hit” song. Quite frankly, I even believe most artists these days are perfectly happy with just getting the 99 cents for that one song and ignoring the “album”. But taking Jon’s advice, I decided to pass the digital quick fix and try the album experience again. I chose to buy a physical album from a favorite band whose records spent many months on my turn table growing up and one who coincidentally had just released a brand new album: Night Ranger’s “Somewhere in California”.
I sat there in my office, put the CD into the computer, fired up the media player and started playback on the first track. It was so easy to fall back into the groove, read the liner notes and get lost in thought. And although there were some really great songs on there I know that in today’s music business not a single track on this album will ever get airplay. But the experience of listening to an album from start to finish was as wonderful as I had remembered it to be.
So Mr. Bon Jovi was right in a way. I guess iTunes has changed the game. And sure, I’ll probably take the Night Ranger album and throw it on my mp3 player to take with me. Will I listen to it day and night? Probably not. But favorite songs aren’t meant to be just some digital file on an iPod.
They’re meant to stay with you for a lifetime.
Extra: Be sure to check out my other Night Ranger blog article here
I have to laugh when ever I look back at the journal I kept twenty-five years ago. The red spiral bound notebook now worn and tattered with age still feels like youth when I hold it and delve into its pages. It began its journey originally as a notebook for my music theory class before becoming the repository for my thoughts and dreams. Over the months of my final year in high-school it was covered with stickers that would indicate to anyone who dared view some of my real obsessions:
“Gibson”, “Explorer” and “Guitar” to stand for the electric guitar that I played and “5150” for the Van-Halen album I was listening to and wearing out at the time.
So many years have since passed and it’s amusing to once again read the adventures of the seventeen year old boy trying to find himself during his final year of public education.
This post, with entries written a quarter century ago, deals with me getting ready for the Easton Area High School Concert Choir Christmas show and facing the notion that my life may be falling apart.
I had just recently resigned my position as fry cook at the local McDonald’s and wanted to concentrate solely on my music. A stupid move in retrospect considering that in addition to resigning my burger flipping duties I also sacrificed my only source of income.
My mother had been renting an electric guitar for me to learn on for over a year (one I still have to this day) and I used to spend most of my free time practicing it up in my room after school. At the time, my only real social activity was limited to seeing the 80’s hair bands whenever they came to town to perform.
Looking back it’s also kind of sad to think about how serious I took the insignificant issues I was going through. But I suppose that when you are seventeen and have only the belief that rock superstardom awaits you every little bump in the road suddenly becomes a major event. But I am happy to report that at least these entries contain a happy ending as you’ll soon discover.
After reading me vent about my inner turmoil feel free to leave your own comments or, if you were there with me at the time, leave some of your own memories about those days.
12/17/86: Tonight is the choir christmas concert. Who knows, it might work out ok. As for practice: hardly any due to the fact that I have to find a ride to school because of the shitty headlights on my car. It starts at 6:45. I have to be there by then so I’ll leave around a quarter after six to have enough time.
It’s over. I mean I’ve lost all interest it’s so I don’t have the feeling anymore. The spark is gone. I don’t get inspiration anymore. All of my songs I try to write just don’t seem right. The words all come out wrong. You know, my career is dying….and part of me shall die with it.
It’s time I confess my problems. Last night, several things came into focus to really put me down for the count. They are as follows:
1. A very low-grade on my Mythology test.
2. Trouble with seeing Bon Jovi due to headlight failure and it being at night. The headlights worked perfectly the night before.
3. No money: Probably my biggest problem
4. No interest – It’s been falling for about a week
5. No guitar – though I possess it it’s not mine yet (it’s rented) and I feel I’m losing out somehow.
6. Aggravation – Peer pressure and the like but I’ve been dealing with that for years.
7. Finding a ride to and from the concert tonight.
8. Losing friends rapidly
If I gave it more thought there would be more than eight problems but these are the big ones. It’s over now….done.
12/18/86: Well, my life is still falling. I’ve never felt this way before. Lately I’ve been flipping out on everyone for no reason. Yesterday I discovered my car needs a register or some part to fix the headlights…good luck with that!
One good thing: Last night at the choir concert some girl got me confused with someone else she wanted to hug….but I obliged. Haha… It was funny though. I’m beginning to get myself together both psychologically and musically.
Soon I shall be back on top.