Johnny Rod is a wild man. On or off the stage, he is the SAME guy. High energy, great attitude and great musical talent have landed him in some pretty good company over the years. He of course got on the map with King Kobra, a buzzsaw of metal crossed with a pop/aor approach. He then found his way into one of metal’s baddest bands W.A.S.P. who saw all that energy and talent when Kobra was opening for them. We had a very nice and revealing chat with Johnny about his past in both bands and his involvement with the new re-charged King Kobra. Read on!!!
Q: You have been in so many bands, of course most notably W.A.S.P. And King Kobra, both big L.A. bands….I didn’t know you were from the midwest. How often have you played shows in the area???
A: Oh, hell yeah John, I’m from St. Louis!!! I’ve played Rockford, Chicago, Carbondale, Bloomington, you name it…..To be honest I can’t remember every show I’ve played or what bands played Rockford area but I know I have (laughs)….Way before any of the later bands I played all those midwestern towns on the bar circuit with my band AXE….We’re talking late seventies man….long time ago….I liked playing those bar shows too man. You know, the thing about me John, I still love getting up and playing with local bands or bar bands whatever you wanna call it, it’s fun no matter what. I do the SAME thing whether I’m on stage in front of ten people or on a bigger stage in front of 20,000.
Q: Speaking of that do you remember playing some of those old shows up this way at Alpine Valley?
A: Shit yeah….Wow…I remember the Iron Maiden show, it was the first time I ever met Bruce Dickinson backstage…it was a cool moment. Of course, Udo….I loved those Accept guys (launches into a pretty damn impressive “Balls To the Wall” vocal impression……laughs)…you know John, growing old is inevitable but growing up is an option (laughs….hysterically….
Q: True…any other advice?
A: Every bar should have a sign on the wall that says “If you’re drinking to forget please pay in advance”
Q: The King Kobra guys had a reputation as being a better live band than on record…was that accurate?
A: Oh yeah, definitely that’s the thing about that band….we were definitely better captured and more into the live shows than anything….me personally, I’ve been playing live since I was eleven years old….and as much fun as it is creating in the studio and stuff there’s nothing like getting up onstage and actually doing it live in front of people. That band in particular it was more fun to actually get up there and get peoples reactions in front of those crowds…we played with some cool bands and good crowds, KISS, Maiden….we opened for W.A.S.P., that’s another story (laughs). You know I have to say the King Kobra band, we were very underrated…I don’t know what happened with the albums but those guys, all of them, were some incredibly talented musicians and a lot of that came across heavier and better live. Those guys were a very tight band and then you had my bass solo….psycho, crazy guy fucking a Fender Precision on stage…(laughs). A 1976 Fender is a very comfortable thing…I had a 1973 but I smashed it when we were kicking off the KISS tour in Green Bay, 1986. I was a dumbass back then and made a dumbass move and smashed my favorite guitar on the Asylum tour, god, I wish I hadn’t done that. Other than that I loved that tour it was a great combination. Now that we’re on the same record label as Whitesnake I wanna do that tour!!!! Whitesnake with King Kobra…..Attack of the Venomous Snakes or we could call it the “Suck My Snake” tour…
Q: You guys are actually able to say you have two movie stars in your band now since Carmine was in Black Roses and new singer Paul Shortino was in friggin Spinal Tap…..
A: Really? Oh….yeah…..he was!!! I actually just watched that the other day. Lick My Love Pump has to be one of the best titles ever. Yeah, Paul had that spot playing Duke Fame!!!!
He was on screen with Howard Hessman playing the other band’s manager…(laughs)…..I caught Spinal Tap the other day on Netflix and was laughing my ass off you know, cause it’s an old favorite…Every tour bus I have ever been on has a copy of that movie…
Q: So you don’t recall Black Roses? Carmine Appice was in it….Horror movie. Maybe it’s better you don’t recall it. King Kobra with Mark/Marcie Free was all over the soundtrack also, they were actually the band that performed the songs the fictional “Black Roses” band played. Had you left the band at that point?
A: No, I’ve never seen that one man….Carmine was IN it?? (laughs). I’ll have to check that out…I did the first two albums with King Kobra and then we did some tours for the second album, Thrill of a Lifetime. We did the tour with W.A.S.P and Ted Nugent and that’s how I ended up being in W.A.S.P.
I didn’t know at the time but when we were doing the tour Blackie had been watching me because they were getting ready to make a change having Blackie take over on guitar and Randy Piper leave. So they needed a bass player and I came to find out that Blackie was watching me in King Kobra on that tour with that in mind. So after the tour finished they called me up at home…..King Kobra was in the process of getting dropped by Capitol Records at that time and to be honest John, the timing was just perfect for me to join W.A.S.P. It was kind of a messed up situation with us on that second King Kobra album in so much as we were at the end of our Capitol deal and there was a lot of outside pressure on us to become something we weren’t. It was not coming from any of us in the band and I think we were all sort of surprised at how things were turning out so night and day from what we intended. The way that album turned out was nothing like the way we envisioned it and it really didn’t help. It should have turned out to be as heavy and everything as the first album, that’s how it was written and recorded but when it came down to actual production and mixing it was a COMPLETE departure from everything that we had done as a band up to that point.
Q: So after that fiasco you found yourself “Inside the Electric Circus”?
A: (laughs). Yeah….actually I joined the band while that record was being made. After they contacted me on the phone, I went down to the studio and met with them prior to joining the band. Blackie was in the control room playing back some of what they were working on as far as tracks and shit. The first thing he asked me was “Hey, do you know this song?” and he plays “I Don’t Need No Doctor” and I’m like laughing hysterically, like “Do I know it???? ….I’ve been playing it forever….it’s from like 1970 Blackie…” you know, cause it’s an old Humble Pie song. So he hands me the bass and I start playing it. That ended up being the take they used on the album (laughs).
Q: It’s been said that you play on both the best W.A.S.P. Album, “Headless Children” and the worst, “Inside the Electric Circus”….or is that just Blackie’s opinion??
A: Yeah, I don’t think everyone universally agrees on that….that may be Blackie’s opinion and to be honest, like I said I joined while they were making that album so I’m not on every bit of it. I’m not sure why he feels that way. I also played on the Live in the Raw album (which is a LOT of people’s favorite) and enjoyed that one. The Headless Children album was really good to me though because for that album and that moment it was truly a collaboration. That album, Steve Riley had just left to join L.A. Guns after he did the Live W.A.S.P. Album. My memories of “Headless Children” are great because it was a true group effort and not just one guy calling the shots. That album was me, Chris Holmes and Blackie holed up in a garage working on those songs. It wasn’t Blackie saying “You play this….you play that….” it was a true band effort and to me that’s what makes those songs so great. Then you add Frankie Banali to this mix and it was just mindblowing….I mean to this day, when I think of how lucky I am to be a part of those rythym sections with two of the best drummers ever in Carmine Appice and Frankie Banali, I’m truly thankful, I’m a lucky guy. I’m beyond lucky, I’m blessed.
Q: Some people thought that he wanted to kind of tone down the crazy antics of the live show in W.A.S.P. At the time you joined, Blackie was in the middle of being the PMRC’s whipping boy. Did you think there was any conscious effort to change or tone it down?
A: Helllllllll no……not at that time John. At that time the setlist highlight was still “Fuck Like A Beast-Animal” and rightfully so…..It was and still is the truest example of a LIVE song, the epitome of a song that comes over perfect live, in front of a rabid crowd. I don’t think we bowed to the PMRC at that time AT ALL, we thought “To hell with those people”.
Q: You’re sort of coming around to my problem with the band now though. I think that at this point he really runs the risk of alienating and pissing off old fans by refusing to play that song for religious or whatever reasons. And for the record still playing pro-alcohol abuse songs like “Blind in Texas” and other songs like “On Your Knees” that could hardly be considered worthy of Christian values….I won’t go see that band live as long as I know they’re not playing “Fuck like a Beast”
A: You know what man….it’s weird I really don’t know what his trip is with that. When I came back to the band to play on the “Crimson Idol” tour it was like that…..that was the atmosphere. It wasn’t like that before when we did shows in support of the other albums and suddenly we didn’t play those songs. I had to talk to a lot of pissed off fans who’d ask why we weren’t playing them and you know….they were honestly pissed off and I just told them “Hey…I wanna play them as much as you wanna hear them…It’s kinda like, he’s the boss and for whatever reason he refuses to play them”. You know, to this day I have no idea, he never said one word to me as far as a reason or whatever, never gave any religious explanation or anything like that….they just dropped that stuff from the set. Then after I left the band again I just sorta stopped following it all but I’ve heard that’s still how it is. I listened to a few of the albums they’ve put out but didn’t really dig the sound or the musicianship or whatever so I kinda stopped following them. I’ll tell you what though, back when I was in the band….I had a HELLUVA time in W.A.S.P. (laughs).
Q: I’d love to know what Blackie thinks of Chris and some of the other old W.A.S.P. Guys getting together to form the band, Where Angels Suffer, or W.A.S. Can you blame Chris for wanting to get together with some of those guys and play those songs with a singer who basically sounds like a young Blackie?
A: Do I blame him? Hellll No…..I wish he would’ve asked me to do it, I could have been in that too….I was just talking to Stet (Holland, drummer), like dude, you shouldve let me know….that’s a great name, Where Angels Suffer. Great band….more power to him….I love Chris and those guys…Why shouldn’t he play those songs? People need to relax and enjoy shit you know? It’s a great idea and it’s only rock and roll you know, it’s not brain surgery. Chris gets it. I don’t know what everyone else’s problem is or anything but I know fans would love a W.A.S.P. Reunion regardless of what anyone is doing right now. I know the fans would love it…..people need to let go of their old problems or whatever man, I mean come on. We’re all getting old, can’t we just get over it all and have some fun, make the fans happy and make some money to make a living in the process? It seems so sad that people can’t just chill and have fun. I’m all about fun. That’s all you have in this life you know? To hell with all the old bitterness and grudges and anger….have fun. That’s all the fans want. Fans can tell the difference.
Q: One of the other persistant rumors about Blackie band nowadays is that they don’t sing live or there’s tape involved….between that and cancelling shows that rubs a fan the wrong way to hear. You guys are all talented enough to be above that at this point you know?
A: I have no idea what’s going on with that band nowadays but back in the day people used to ask me if I really played all those notes on stage cause of the way I moved around constantly on stage….and I’d be like “hell yeah I played every note !!!” I just am a really busy guy…I move around a lot…. and not only that but I sang as much as Blackie did. The reason being is that his style you know, is real rough…it’s hard to sing like that 4 or 5 nights a week 4 or 5 months out of the year. So if you go back and watch old tapes, you’ll see and hear it….I’ll sing a line, he’ll sing a line you know….it kind of evolved that way where I sang quite a bit during our live shows and a lot of people really never knew it. We would trade off because I can sing that way and we’re so high energy people never really noticed but it’s true. (after hearing Johnny’s Udo impression there is no doubt in my mind he is telling the truth).
Q: Now that you are full blown in the middle of the KING KOBRA reunion you’ll have more of a chance to sing like a bird. That was one of the things that people remember about KK along with the blond hair, there were a TON of 4 or 5 part vocal harmonies. Is that kind of multitasking fun again?
A: Yes. We sound better than ever too now with Paul Shortino (ex Rough Cutt/ Quiet Riot) on vocals. You know, I don’t know if Mark or Marcie as he’s going by now…was approached or what but he’s not a part of this new King Kobra. Paul and all of us sing and it sounds huge. That was always a big part of our sound and Mark/Marcie has a great voice, was a big part of that no doubt but so is Paul. I really don’t know what to say about Mark, but let me tell you though he is one killer singer and talent but we’re having a great time and sound amazing with Paul
Q: The stuff I have heard from the new King Kobra is better than anything Carmine has ever put out under that name. How do you think it ranks?
A: I think it’s as good as the first album, Ready to Strike….I’ll say that. Dave, (David Michael Phillips, King Kobra guitarist) said to me “Johnny, THIS should have been the second King Kobra album”. He and Mick (Sweda, KK guitarist, ex-Bulletboy) play their asses off. All the reviews coming in are great. People are really responding to the fact that we aren’t reinventing the wheel. It’s totally that old, classic sound rather than trying to update or change it, it really is like the next logical step after “Ready to Strike” just DECADES LATER!!!! (laughs). We’re not trying to go out there and modernize or “Hey, look at how evolved we are now. It’s just “Hey, we’re King Kobra, we’re here to rock”. The other thing is that it is US…..just with another awesome singer. It’s the exact same four dudes from the orignal King Kobra. A lot of these bands that are out touring or making albums are fine and all but it’s like 1 guy or maybe 2 guys from the original band. This is the old Kobra band with another classic metal singer in Shortino. I think that’s why some of those bands don’t sound quite the same or are lacking something because the people making the music, recording the tracks are totally different. That’s not the case with this reunion. It is King Kobra, when you hear Carmine on drums and Mick and David on the twin guitars with me it all comes full circle. For me being a bass player to work with Carmine Appice again you know, it’s effortless. It is the best. Mick and Dave just kill on the guitars and it’s just…..we clicked together and 25 years later we still do. It’s a new lease on life for an underrated band that never really got their due.
Q: As excited as you are you might be being even a tad humble cause I read all this crap and out of literally a dozen reviews I have not read one bad one. A lot of your 80s compadres put out albums and can’t get any credit at all…. It’s as if people are universally giving it a thumbs up you know?
A: I haven’t read them all but what I’ve read I have liked. It’s great, I’m glad people are appreciating it. The fans haven’t even gotten it yet as it’s not available for CD/download or whatever until May but people seem to dig it. It’s the same identity of the band. That’s intact. And Paul sounds huge, when he sings he’s got big balls (editor’s note….really hard not to say anything about Mark Free right here). I can say personally that I put everything into it and will when we play live. I do nothing differently from 25 years ago….I get up there and jam, regardless of venue, regardless of anything. I only know how to rock, I don’t think oh, there’s only 20 people out there. It goes the same for making a record John, you just kick ass and hope that everyone hears that….whether it’s 200,000 people buying it or 2,000. It’s all in the attitude, are you gonna fuckin rock or are you gonna suck? If you suck….THAT’s A PROBLEM!!!!!
Q: You’re going out live to support it soon?
A: Yeah, I’m in St.Louis with my sister who is sick right now but I’ll be going back to the west coast next week and I’m waiting on the dates and so I can get out there!!!! I imagine what we play is gonna depend on how much time we’re gonna be playing. If we can go out on a package tour which would rock then it will be a shorter set but if we’re headlining clubs and stuff than we can play whatever!! I imagine the set will be mostly the first album and the new stuff but we’ll see. It’s fun opening or headlining…we’ve done both as King Kobra….back in the day we played tons of support gigs but also Doro and Warlock opened for us and we headlined.
Q: You gotta watch saying Doro opened for you…..(laughs)….she was the object of many a metal kid’s fantasies…
A: Uh-oh!!!! (laughs),,,, no seriously they were great and are huge overseas. This was back in 86 and Doro was HOT in every way….That was a really fun tour, great band.
Q: So after this much time gone by how did the concept of resurrecting King Kobra come up anyway?
A: Well, it was brought up back in 2000. A lot of bands were reuniting back then and we were totally supposed to do something with Mark Free ( he was still Mark at that point). For whatever reason it never happened and all this time went by. I get a call out of the blue from Carmine cause we’ve always stayed in touch through the years…..”You know that King Kobra reunion you always wanted to do Johnny? Get ready, your wish has come true we’re doing it but we’re doing it with this singer, Paul Shortino and Mark’s not doin it” and I’m like “Ok….great…..I know who Paul is Carmine!!!”
Rough Cutt and King Kobra came up at the same time you know….
Q: You guys all left King Kobra and really went on to other things and had more success, you with WASP, Mick with Bulletboys, David with Lizzie Borden and Carmine with Blue Murder….However, with success often comes massive egos and LSD, Lead singer Disease…..Is it more like old pals regrouping with King Kobra???
A: YES….we just hung out a couple weeks ago and it felt like High School reunion. And Paul is great, he’s just one of us….just a bunch of old fucks hanging out, shooting the shit….the same old stories get tossed around and we just have a blast talking, playing doing everything with the business of this band. It’s all FUN. I haven’t seen David in almost 20 years man…..and we just picked right up where we left off….(laughs)….We might be a little stiff but if we had a show tonight it would rock !! All of our issues with past singers from past bands just go out the window….I don’t get it anyway like I said. I don’t know why some people can’t just get over it for their own sake and for the sake of their fans….life’s too short. I don’t hold on to any stupid grudges or bitterness and I don’t think anyone else should….it’s not cool and it’s not good for ya!!
Q: Last question….Your new label is a big label for all of these bands…like you said they are handling Whitesnake who recently outsold Britney Spears!!! They are an Italian label called Frontiers and you are Italian, as is Carmine as is Mick as is Paul….If you do end up getting a bad review is that reviewer gonna “sleep with the fishes”?
A: BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! You know my real last name eh??? My dad is from Sicily….Tumminello !!!!!! Yeah, we’re all in the gang baby and I know I’m not gonna sleep with the fishes (laughs) anytime soon……It’s gonna have to be Paul or Carmine, I ain’t going out like that. I’ll call Luca Brasi from the Godfather!!!