Mama Sarzo not only knew how to raise good kids but also really good communicators. These guys can give an interview as good as they can play a guitar or better. I was always a big fan of Robert Sarzo’s band Hurricane ever since popping “Take What You Want” into the old WALKMAN and cranking it into my preteen eardrums. When Kelly Hanson got the Foreigner gig I became much more interested in that band but still wished for Hurricane to get into the classic rock circuit and make a new album. Turns out we can enjoy both now as Hurricane has a great new lineup, some new shows and a new album on the way. We talked with Robert about the band, his time with Ozzy, his film work and much more. Read on…..(thanks to Richard Galbraith, Rudy and Robert Sarzo for the photos)
Q: What’s goin on Robert? We hear there’s a new reformed Hurricane and you guys are workin on a new album and all kinds of other things.
A: Lots of stuff going on all at the same time including Hurricane. We are being honored in a red carpet event at the Rainbow Bar and Grill and they are hanging up one of my guitars signed by the band. It’s a really, really nice guitar actually, like a four thousand dollar guitar and that’s going on October 14 leading up to our gig October 19th at the Whisky a GoGo. I have been thinking about reforming Hurricane for a while now and reconnected with Tony Cavaso through FACEBOOK actually (laughs). He’s living here and I’m here and we both get asked quite a bit by fans and contacted by fans about the band, their old records and cassettes are worn out and they wanna get the remastered stuff or they never got to hear the songs live, things like that. Tony and I met and talked about it and it’s taken off from there. Kelly of course has a commitment to sing in Foreigner and Jay also has commitments and shows with his band so we found a couple of GREAT musicians. Andrew Freeman, our singer, was in Lynch Mob, played guitar in the Offspring and has a lot of things going on. Great singer, great guy. Our drummer, Mike Hanson got in contact with me and we’ve known each other for a long time, his band used to rehearse at the same place my band did. I had been picked up by Capitol after Hurricane to do a solo project called SARZO and he happened to rehearse at the same place we did. He is a fantastic drummer and has worked with George Lynch and Steve Vai and all these great players. So, our drummer and singer already knew each other because of the George Lynch connection and we just all got together and decided to jam and see where it went. We were all really into it since that day and have been together ever since, played shows and now we are recording out new album. Its been a long time but we’re having a blast and people seem to really enjoy it which is what we wanted.
Q: For those who haven’t seen the clips on the internet how much different does it sound than the Hurricane they remember?
A: I’m not sure it sounds that different really, the thing about Hurricane is when I first wanted to form the band I always wanted to have it be a heavy thing, I really liked a lot of the old classic stuff like Black Sabbath and a lot of that raw 70s sound. Our singer Kelly really had an amazing and clean voice that really didn’t fit that mold so we kind of became a different band due to the sound of his voice. Now, with Andrew we’re back to that kind of heavier tone and intent and it’s working out great, it still sounds like Hurricane but a little more of that metal tone. The new album we’re making sounds amazing, we’ve got some of it completed and wanna get back out there playing shows beyond just these ones here in L.A. I’m producing it at my studio which is what I do and it’s really fun.
Q; Going back a ways here…the story was that Kevin Dubrow introduced you and Tony Cavaso to each other since both of your brothers were in Quiet Riot. How long had you been playing before Hurricane?
A: I was on the east coast before that. I played in so many bands. I played in bands with my brother, when he was on the east coast. I had just moved out to L.A. because Randy Rhoads had died in the plane crash and I was the first replacement guitarist to join OZZY. My brother talks about it in his book of course and it was just a horrible, sad time for everyone. It’s on my resume but it wasn’t a good time for anyone or a good time to remember….. it was just terribly sad. When I look at my brother’s book OFF THE RAILS it just takes me back there…it was hard to read some of it. I tried my very best to replicate everything exactly as Randy would have played it, that was really important to me. I didn’t wanna put a new spin on it, I just wanted to honor Randy. I loved my brother and wanted to be with him so it was a relief when Ozzy and Sharon offered to fly me down for the auditions. There were a lot of other players at the auditions but they picked me and I was in the band. We rehearsed, planned a tour and were ready to go out on the road. What we DIDN’T know of was a prior business deal that was made between Don Arden (Sharon Osbournes father) and another guitarist, Bernie Torme . So, just like that I was out of Ozzy which was pretty much due to politics. I went back to the east coast where I had been doing session work and stuff for Jimmy Iovine, sold my house and decided to move out to L.A. anyway. The Ozzy situation wasn’t under good terms anyway so I just kind of moved on and wanted to get back to forming the band I had envisioned, I kept thinking of the name Hurricane. When I got to L.A. and Kevin Dubrow introduced me to Tony Cavaso we knew that was what we wanted to do and we immediately started writing songs. That Hurricane concept was still stuck in my head probably because I’m from Florida (laughs) and the first song Tony and I wrote was that song called “Hurricane”. It just took off from there. We met Kelly Hansen through our drummer and thought he was a great singer, he was playing in a top-40 band and he just had this great sound that took us into this totally different melodic direction. We felt we needed something to make the sound a little heavier to balance that out especially after having the drummer for LOUDNESS sit in for our drummer at rehearsal one day. He was doing all this really heavy bass drum work and just blew us away and we knew we needed to find a heavy drummer. Jay (Schellen) was the last one to join.
Q: Since you and Rudy have played in all these situations together what would a Sarzo Brothers album sound like if you guys were to get in the studio and work on such a thing?
A: We have so many influences….I imagine all of that would come out….classic rock bands like Yes, Bowie, Zeppelin, stuff like Mahavishu Orchestra, Jazz, Fusion, Spanish music. It would be something and it wouldn’t take long for us to do it. We work very well together. We listened to so much stuff growing up and so much of that classic Latin flamenco and Spanish guitar and of course Hendrix but really EVERYTHING, I was and still am into classical guitar. We played in disco bands together back in the day, because if you were a working musician trying to pay bills that was what you did. We would play PACKED clubs until four in the morning, multiple sets. Even when we were in rock bands together we would always have a drummer and a percussionist together. All those congas and shakers just make it sound heavier. He did something with a percussionist who worked with Jimi Hendrix when he was doing Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp and he said to me “Robert, when we played it reminded me how we used to always do that, do you remember? We always had all that percussion going on”.
We have been playing a lot more together recently and I will tell you that it just works, we don’t really have to do anything, it’s not work, we just connect (laughs). We have that family communication and it extends musically, we just feel it. Whatever we do will have that crazy mix of influences but it will still be melodic and it will still be commercial.
Q: You have been very busy as a studio owner and engineer but you also write a lot of music for movies. How much different is it creating music for a film versus writing rock music?
A: It’s really not that much more challenging writing a piece for a movie scene, you just have to feel it. You don’t over think it, you don’t fight it, you just feel the script and feel the scene. In movies you end up writing a LOT of cue music which is like short 30 second interludes. Wayyy before Hurricane I was always a big session and studio player and the movie stuff always went along those lines. I go back to 1980 as far as working on music for movies but then I always wanted to be in a touring band so I would end up doing both. I enjoy it because I can work from my own studio and work with ProTools HD and Midi guitar. Sometimes keyboards. I do bowing on the guitar and cello or violin parts, with this technology it’s limitless. I can also go out and create live sounds and sync them with my computer. I like to create my own music rather than work from a template. I worked on a new movie coming out called Guns, Girls, Gambling starring Gary Oldman and Christian Slater, Hurricane will actually be on there as well we do an old Elvis song “Devil in Disguise”. That movie will be coming out sometime in 2012. I did the music for the movie “The Collector” which was a horror movie by the writer from the “SAW” series and I’m working on the sequel to that which is called “The Collection”. I am also producing some really cool bands. One is a group of kids actually called Daylight Echo. They’re all like 12, 14 years old and they are AMAZING, they play a great live show and we’re mixing their recording for iTunes right now. They’re all really talented and play different instruments and the singer Alexis does a lot of acting. Really great bunch of kids that remind me why I love producing so much. Another band I am working with is called Metalachi, they’re the worlds first Metal mariachi band. It’s original, authentic Mexican mariachi versions of metal classics. You have to hear it.
Q: It sounds like you’re very comfortable wearing several hats at once. Does that leave you any down time?
A: I love my work. I love playing, producing, studio, live. I have always been involved in several different things, some of it is the old “If you want something done, you gotta do it”. You can’t wait for someone to find things for you to do so you do have to wear a lot of hats. You have to be a businessman, you have to be a creator, a performer. It takes a lot of discipline, you have to meet budgets, be on time, it’s not just artistic.
Q: You and your brother are a total pleasure to talk to because you have both done all these amazing things and made all kinds of accomplishments but still seem very grounded and down to earth. Was that something that your parents instilled in you growing up?
A: Yeah, to treat people like they treat you. My dad was a journalist and we were around media but we knew music and entertainment is just another way of making a living. We knew that we should be grateful to be able to do something we love to do and just to be ourselves. We’re grateful to be in this country. We left communism at a very early age. My dad, as a journalist knew what was going to happen with Castro before it happened and got us out of there. We left EVERYTHING behind. We left the lights on at the house (laughs) we just took off and never looked back. That was really hard to leave family and all of your possessions and then come here and not know anyone or have any friends. We didn’t know the language. We moved around a lot, New Jersey, Miami, back, forth. What mattered was our little family, there was so much love in the family that it was all that mattered. Money didn’t matter, possessions didn’t matter, family did. As long as we were all striving for the same dream to get ahead and the same goals we were fine. Eventually Rudy and I moved up north together and both started really pursuing music together. Anyone who meets me knows I am what I am. I really don’t like people that act superficial or are phony and I try to hang with people who are real.
Q: All these years later and now with the new remasters released, how do you feel about the first Hurricane album, TAKE WHAT YOU WANT?
A: I think it’s great, especially the remeaster. It has the proper equalization to enjoy it on a stereo nowadays, a modern stereo. I really like the way it turned out with the nice low end. I have always loved that first album, great playing, great songs. We’re playing it live differently, some of the tempo is slowed down a little bit so it grooves a little differently but that album to me was everything we wanted. It feels good playing those early songs live. I’m really proud of Take What You want, it was self produced, self financed. We didn’t have a label yet and it was a situation where we had a lot to prove and we did it. Clubs didn’t want to hire us because we didn’t want to pay to play and we didn’t have an album out. Rather than pay to play we put our heart and soul into that album and then we had something for our following but also to show those clubs. We ended up getting distribution and radio play and it took off from there.
Q: So many bands work hard to get that first album and then struggle to get the second one off but if anything you guys were able to improve on Over the Edge, your second album. Was that a result of simply more songwriting or having great producers like Bob Ezrin (KISS, Alice Cooper) and Mike Clink (Guns and Roses)?
A: There are always new songs to write. Even to this day, I write constantly. In those days, we would go out on tour and we would bring out our tape machines in the hotel rooms. You know how a lot of people in bands have a day off or free time and go party or get drunk? We got drunk on songwriting (laughs). People would literally laugh at me because I would bring up all of my equipment and all of my machines and lock myself in a hotel room and write. I would be on tour and just write and write because that’s when you are really creative, that’s your TIME. There’s no time to waste. I was never really one of those guys who would go out all weekend and hit every strip bar and try to look cool and get wasted. I LOVE what I do and always have, a big part of what I do is writing music. Even if I’m away from home and that’s how a lot of the songs on that second record were written. It was the way the band operated too, it wasn’t just me. The whole band would write individually and had a LOT of discipline. We were the band in L.A. that never hung out. We rehearsed and locked ourselves into rehearsal seven days a week. When the weekend parties started we would KEEP rehearsing and never stop, we didn’t go barhopping and hang out because we were so absorbed with our work. When we went out on the road it was the same thing, instead of going out between gigs and partying we would play tennis or baseball to stay in shape (laughs). We were VERRRY different from a lot of the bands in our era I guess.
As far as the producers went….we did pre-production with Bob Ezrin. We went to his house, he came to the studio and we collaborated on some of the songs. Some we worked on and some were already ready. Nowadays as a producer I still take that approach with the artists I work with, pre-production is a great way to refine and make the songs better, its all about the songs. That’s the time to really hone in on the songs themselves not the sound or the mix. If you have a truly great song it will sound great on an acoustic guitar solo. We were a good band that already had a good idea of what we wanted to do and what we could bring to the table and then Bob and Mike Clink added their touches to it. The way we approached the cover of “I’m Eighteen” by Alice Cooper was us working with Bob of course. Our version is quite a bit different than the original and Bob definitely put his two cents in that one, there’s keyboards there and all kinds of different arrangement. That was a lot of fun.
Q: Some artists have said they found it difficult to work with Bob Ezrin and it must have been interesting to work with Mike Clink right as Appetite For Destruction was blowing up. That poor guy must have had his hands full working with Guns. How did you get along with them personally?
A: Great. I never thought it was hard working with Bob. He was a real pro who knew what he wanted to capture, he fit like a glove and sort of became like the fifth member of the band while we did that. I would go to his house and we’d drink Cuban Coffee and had a great time collaborating. Mike wasn’t a wild guy at all he was as disciplined as we were, he liked to show up early for work which was great. We all worked together, sometimes Bob would be working on vocals and Mike would be off at another studio working on guitars. Or sometimes it would be the other way around, I remember Bob having me use the Gallien -Krueger amp rig that David Gilmour used from Pink Floyd. I do remember that. I grew up listening to those guys. I was really happy with the guitar sound on the OVER THE EDGE album. When I do guitar work in my band or with other bands I like to remember that its not about the guitarist. It’s always about the song. I like guitar lines to be melodic enough to make the solos memorable.
Q: The third album SLAVE TO THE THRILL came out as hard rock was starting to lose steam and you were in a really ridiculous situation in which you were fired from your own band, the band YOU started. The only situation I can compare it to is when Kevin was fired by Quiet Riot. If I were you I wouldn’t even want to listen to it but some fans do like the album. How do you feel about it and do you ever play some of that material live?
A: We’ve thought about doing “Dance little Sister” it’s a good song. The album is well made, it’s well produced/ It doesn’t really sound like the other Hurricane albums to me, the guitar style is so much different. The guitarist played great but the band just sounds so much different to me…I did write the song 10,000 years. I admit that I don’t really listen to it a lot. I feel like the band could have went so much further and it was just a really tough thing for me and my family at that time. Sometimes people make decisions….I wasn’t happy with it. It put me and my family in a very tough situation and it was just difficult, that band was my life. I put every ounce of effort and energy into HURRICANE. It wasn’t a nice time.
Q: Does this new HURRICANE help you put a better feeling on the whole experience? Patching things up with Tony and allowing everyone a chance to make new music?
A: Yeah but it really came about because of what the fans have been telling us on Face book (laughs). Its nice to play those songs again and play them to our audience. That was a REALLY big part of my life. It definitely feels good to play live again. I’ve spent so many years producing and recording for films and artists at my studio and it’s nice to get out there and play live. Over the years I had offers to go out and tour with other people, other bands but I just didn’t wanna be a sideman or a hired gun. I want to create. I’ve always started my own bands and created them from the ground up, even back in Florida. TO be back up onstage with Tony playing these songs again is like being home again. We’re all smiles. The new guys are great and the band sounds awesome.