Alcatrazz bassist Gary Shea of Alcatrazz talks to LRI about New England, Vinnie Vincent and of course…. Yngwie

Alcatrazz bassist Gary Shea of Alcatrazz talks to LRI about New England, Vinnie Vincent and of course…. Yngwie
December 30, 2011 | By | Reply More

Gary Shea is a knockout bass player and one of the easiest guys on the planet to talk to.  He’s probably one of the easiest to work with as well  and has had the distinction of working with some of the biggest “big name” musicians on the planet.   Some were supremely  professional and straightforward, such as Steve Vai and Paul Stanley and others, like Vinnie Vincent and Yngwie J. Malmsteen, are remembered  as being supremely talented but difficul;t to work with.   Gary Shea has headlined major venues in Alcatrazz and gotten top 40 chart action with  his band New England but is a musician’s musician and is more than content to live in Michigan and play music he loves just because he loves it.  If you’re up his way go check out one of his gigs and stick around after the show to have a quick chat with Gary.  If you like music as much as he does you might be in for a long night and some amazing stories.  We talked with Gary for quite a while about his career and probably barely scratched the surface.  Read on….

Legendary Rock Interviews:  Thanks for talking to us Gary.  Your musical history is pretty amazing, I know you went to Berklee like Frank from Angel and I was wondering what your early history was like prior to the band NEW ENGLAND?

Gary Shea:  Yes, I played in quite a few bands that were mostly regional bands around Connecticut before winding up at Berklee.  When I got to Boston I ended up playing in a rhythm section with Barry Brandt who did wind up joining ANGEL.  I introduced Barry to Frank (Dimino, Angel vocalist) actually and Mickie Jones (original ANGEL bassist, R.I.P.) was really pissed that I snagged Barry for my band.  Mickie and I ended up being the best of friends of course but it was pretty funny at the time ( laughs).   I ended up going to London because I decided I want to play in English bands and hooked up with Michael Corby who ended up forming The Babys with John Waite.  Along the way in London I ended up forming a band with Peter French (Cactus) and Herman Rarebell (Scorpions) and we did some recording but problems arose because Herman and I both had immigration issues in England.  Herman went back to Germany and joined the Scorpions and I went back to Boston where I ended up hooking up with the guys who would eventually end up forming NEW ENGLAND  (laughs).   Okay, I can take a breath now.  (laughs).

LRI:  Yeah (laughs), I knew there was quite a bit of back story before New England even got going.  It seemed to people on the outside to be something of an overnight success with the Top 40 hit ( “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya”) and PAUL STANLEY producing the album but 
but it truly wasn’t.

GS:  It was an amazing time for all of us, we worked SO hard prior to that.  When I met those guys we had played together for some time with a slightly different lineup and gigged like crazy.  Then we broke up, got back together and just rehearsed and worked on songs for like two years while we all worked odd jobs.  The material we worked up was pretty good and we were in position to choose from several different record labels, we went with Infinity/MCA and management companies, we ended up going with KISS’s manager BILL AUCOIN.  That first album we were able to pretty much choose anywhere on earth to record it and we chose Los Angeles and did the vocals back in NYC at Electric Ladyland and then finally to Trident Studios in London to mix it.  It came out and we toured with KISS and AC/DC and basically had a BLAST.

LRI:  Did Paul Stanley ever treat you guys any differently on tour for better or worse as a result of  him having worked on the album?

GS:  No it was always good vibes between Paul and us.  We opened up the DYNASTY tour with those guys and Paul and all of them were great.  I say that remembering though that we DID get kicked off the tour (laughs).  It was a situation that arose at the Montreal Forum actually….a few weeks before that we played a few nights with them at Madison Square Garden which, of course as a kid growing up on the east coast is just a dream, and the Garden shows went really well.  We got standing ovations and all that, it was just really, really cool because everyone knows that opening for KISS isn’t easy and people who open for KISS don’t always do so well.   When we got to Montreal it was even more amazing because what happened was we were getting a LOT of airplay in Canada and we contributed to them selling 6,000 more tickets in Montreal.  The show wasn’t sold out prior to that because KISS had kind of been out of the public eye in Canada and had just come off the solo albums and an extended absence.  We really weren’t aware of all that when we got on stage to the usual “Please welcome…..NEW ENGLAND…” and what happened was the whole place stood up screaming and yelling.  I looked 40 feet over on this MASSIVE stage KISS had and looked over at John (Fannon, NEW ENGLAND vocalist/guitarist) and just gave him this LOOK like “Woah!!!”.  It was easily one of the most amazing moments of my life and I will never forget it because we hadn’t even played the first NOTE yet.  We just came out and were standing there in awe watching people freak OUT!!!   Well, low and behold, Gene Simmons was down below in the orchestra pit with his famous little notebook taking notes and soon after we got the word that we weren’t on the KISS Tour anymore (Laughs).  It was like “Ok, well its kind of a backhanded compliment but we’ll take it”.  I mean, to tell you the truth GENE has always been good to us and always been straightforward and it wasn’t anything we took personally.  It was just business but the one thing that did suck for us was that we were supposed to play a gig a week or so later in Massachusetts and we had about a hundred disappointed hometown people on our guest list (Laughs).  We were looking forward to that one show and it just didn’t happen.

LRI:  At least you got to play some of the gigs.  I know you played another gig near your current hometown in Michigan at the absolutely MASSIVE Pontiac Silverdome.  Were our hometown boys Cheap Trick on that one?

GS:  Yes they were!  That show was amazing as well.  Every once in a while I drive by that place now and it’s just a big metal dump and noone’s using it which is kind of sad.  It was HUUUUUUGE as in like, 80,000 people huge.  The Detroit Lions moved out of there and moved downtown which just killed all hope of the Silverdome but it was a special place for a lot of shows and it was a great gig with KISS and Cheap Trick for sure.

LRI:  I Read a story on Google about the Silverdome and what it cost to build versus what you could buy it for now.  Talk about depreciation!  

GS:  Yeah, all these years later and they’re still trying to figure out what to do with it.  I drive by there though and think about that show (laughs).  It was a good time and we ended up hooking up on a tour the following year with the Cheap Trick guys, they were very good guys and it was a really fun tour we did together.

 LRI:  The second New England album, Explorer Suite, was a little bit more experimental than the debut album but some of your fans feel that it was their favorite of the three.  What were you thinking going into that second album?

GS:  We weren’t thinking at all (Laughs).  We were just playing our butts off, we were really focused on our playing and nothing else.  We had worked on those songs and worked and worked some more.  The song “Searchin” on that album was actually on our original 1978 demos leading up to the debut album.  We actually talked about having a DOUBLE ALBUM for our debut album because we had so much material but we decided not to do that.  The only other band that did that was Chicago at that point but it’s such a gamble so we figured why put all of our best songs on one album and decided to hold back and release that material as the second album so we did.  Which was a nice way to avoid the sophomore slump of not being able to come up with material the second time around (laughs).  The song itself “EXPLORER SUITE” was a little experimental musically we just thought it would be cool to try and have two different keyboard parts in addition to the guitar part and since the song was such an epic, long track we decided to name the album that.  One thing that was different of course was that we signed with Elektra who were totally different to deal with than the label we had signed with at Infinity.  The label collapsed and MCA made offers to only four of the bands at which time we decided to jump ship to Elektra.  Elektra had some great people working there of course but we kind of got lost in the corporate jungle there and didn’t really get good tour support, they probably didn’t pick the right single, just a lot of things added up to that album not performing as well.  A Lot of people don’t realize that when a band gets signed they are surrounded by a group of supportive people and usually everyone is in agreeance and everyone is onboard but then things generally start changing in the corporate structure.  People start leaving for other jobs and the next thing you know you are surrounded by a support team of people who often don’t know you or weren’t involved in bringing you to the label to begin with.   In order for a band to really get ahead you sort of need the whole company to be behind it and banging away behind the scenes and if you don’t have that you’re sort of in a hopeless situation.  In those days of course, there was no internet so you had to have people willing to do their job and spend their money making telephone calls and trips to promote you and all this.  They wanted EXPLORER SUITE To be the second coming of their “Bohemian Rhapsody”  hit they had with QUEEN’s single because it showcased our musicianship and all that but this was in the middle of the pop phase coming out which was the total antithesis of that, bands like Blondie and The Knack were what was selling so of course we were looked at as “DINOSAURS” (laughs).  On top of that the version of the song they released was edited for radio by some guy we didn’t even know and the edit just made no sense musically and was all over the place (laughs).  We were kind of hoping to use the song “Conversation” as the lead single so we were sort of disappointed from the get go and the relationship didn’t get any better with Elektra on the third album “WALKING WILD”.

LRI:  Elektra is a GREAT label historically so that sucks.

GS:  Yeah, they didn’t really help that much but we did get out there and tour our asses off anyway we did a lot of shows with Molly Hatchet and the tour with Cheap Trick.  Elektra signed us the night after they signed THE CARS and they told us they wanted us because we were heavier, more like a QUEEN type band .  They told us we were the American version of QUEEN and we were like “Wow, that’s a really nice compliment” but then those people started disappearing like I said and that was the beginning of the end.  The idea of being on the label was great of course it was the home of the DOORS but then the president changed, the promotion staff changed and it all went south.  It happens to a LOT of bands.  Being on a label is kind of like having a house of cards where you basically have to have about 52 things all lined up for you in order to succeed.  It’s really a roll of the dice more than anything and if the new president comes in and doesn’t have a strong connection with you then he’s not going to go to bat for you or make a big deal about you to the powers that be.

LRI:  You guys went with Todd Rundgren producing the third album then?

GS:  Yeah, it was great making the album and a little closer to that heavy sound on the first album.  We actually went right from our tour for the second album to a rehearsal place he had where we wrote the album in about a week to TODD’s house in Woodstock, New York where we recorded it in five days.  Pretty amazingly quick work, everything was basically recorded live with no overdubs and was first or second take.  There was no spending two weeks on anything we just did it and it was done, all of it, the vocals, the solos, the songwriting, the lyrics and it’s one of my favorite albums (Laughs).  It was FUN.  We were really tight as a band at that point and Todd was not only a great producer but a great, GREAT guy.  Working with a musician made things a lot easier for us as far as knocking things out quickly, helping us with lyrics and guitars .  We were all big fans of his anyway so to work with him was just easy.  He’s done GRAND FUNK RAILROAD and UTOPIA and it was just a real fun time with a really nice guy.  The album didn’t perform as  it could’ve and we were let go by ELEKTRA to be free agents.  We started playing a lot of shows and were talking with Todd about doing something again for a fourth album but that was around the time when JOHN FANNON decided he wanted to quit the band and do his own thing.  When John left that was really what put the kabosh on the band more than any of those other things, we were more than content to keep going and we did in fact we talked to a number of guys from all over the globe  to come in and replace John in the band before settling on Vincent Cusano…..who later became Vinnie Vincent in KISS.

LRI:  WOW.  So that was effectively the end of NEW ENGLAND and the beginning of WARRIOR??  Forgive me, but I am absolutely fascinated with all things KISS and Vinnie Vincent.  (laughs).

GS:  Right.  We decided to go out to L.A. and work with Vinnie and basically start a whole new project with the guys from NEW ENGLAND but under a new name rather than trying to find someone else to replace John and sing those songs.  We decided to hell with it and let’s form a whole new band with Vinnie.

LRI:  That’s where I have to stop you.  To most people,  that sounds like either the most INSANE or the most BRILLIANT decision ever!!

GS:  (laughs) Yeah, I guess we get a B for BALLS for that one (laughs).  It’s easy to play it safe and just get a new singer and carry on business as usual but I guess we were more for the idea of not beating a dead horse or trying to tread new ground.  We tried carrying on and coming up with different variations of Hirsh and Jimmy’s songs or my songs and all of us singing before we finally arrived in L.A. with Vinnie to work on Warrior.  The whole thing with Vinnie happened really fast and we basically made a snap decision.  He had a GREAT demo that he had put together and it didn’t sound ANYTHING like our band with John.  It was much heavier and much more in the direction that we wanted to go at that point which John didn’t.  We heard Vinnie’s demo and just jumped on it.  We closed our door on Boston and made the trip out.

LRI:  I have copies of that material WARRIOR recorded and it is MUCH more in line with the Heavy Metal scene that was breaking wide open at that point.  

GS:  Yeah, it was really not just what was going on, which it was and we knew it but it was also much closer to the music we all personally LOVED and were into also.  The funny thing is that when WARRIOR was rehearsing in the studios there at SIR out on the strip we would ACTUALLY hear people snickering and smirking about this music we were making with Vinnie and saying things like “Oh my god, heavy metal is so DEAD” and all that and we just kind of laughed it off like “Ok, you scene guys know it all”.  There was another group rehearsing right next to us who were also heavy named MOTLEY CRUE.  They were just getting started and were a bunch of HIGH SCHOOL kids mostly but they were really good, and we could tell the tide in general was changing.  We just looked at people who told us hard rock was dead like “SCREW YOU GUYS….We’re not listening to a thing you’re saying about how DUMB and DINOSAUR hard rock is, that’s total bullshit.”  Bands like THE WHO, LED ZEPPELIN were the reason we got into music to begin with, we didn’t wanna cut our hair and play new wave just because some insiders thought it was a good idea.  Vinnie had a deal in place with our old friends in KISS and was co-writing songs for them on the side and we were also putting this band together with songs he was writing which were GREAT.  The trouble was the songs were so great that at one point Vinnie was asked to join KISS as a full time member to replace Ace so that effectively ended our months of hard work on WARRIOR.  He was offered the chance to be in KISS and go to Brazil so he really wouldn’t be able to commit to anything else and how on earth could he turn that down, so he went and the songs went with him.  The only remains were the demos that we recorded at the RECORD PLANT out in L.A. which incidentally was also where KISS was recording (laughs).  We were constantly reworking songs like “BOYZ GONNA ROCK ” and “I LOVE IT LOUD” at rehearsals at SIR and talking about “Well, should we sell them this song or keep it for the band” when at the end of the day KISS just ended up wanting  Vinnie in addition to the material so none of those decisions really mattered (Laughs).   Gene and Paul offered him a LOT of money to go do the tour of Soccer Stadiums in South America so it really was a pretty easy choice to make versus staying on with us and working on demos.

LRI:  You were already familiar with what a TOP 40 hit sounded like from your time in NEW ENGLAND but I would love to have been in your head to hear what you were thinking when you heard Vinnie’s material.  So much of that material ended up being massive KISS hits, what did you think when you heard it?

GS:  I LOVED it.  I Thought it was absolutely fantastic.  I thought it was SO good that I was willing to sacrifice everything I had in Boston and through everything in a suitcase to go to L.A. and form WARRIOR.   I worked on those songs all day long, every day, all of us were.  When he joined KISS it was like “Wow, now what do we do?”.  Jimmy Waldo (Keyboardist) and I stayed out in L.A. and ended up forming Alcatrazz and Hirsh (Gardner, drums) went back to pursue music in Boston.

LRI:  I cannot avoid the obvious question.  I asked  Hirsh but he didn’t really elaborate…..Vinnie is a fantastic writer and a maniac guitar player but what was it actually like to WORK with this enigma?

GS:  It was almost impossible.  He was very, very difficult to work with.  He was THROWN out of KISS of  course famously after all of this and the reason why Hirsh probably doesn’t wanna even talk about it is because Vinnie did some really, really nasty things to Hirsh around that time after he was booted from KISS.  He did something which was not very nice which was he USED HIRSH to play drums on his new INVASION band’s demo out in BOSTON and then took it out to NEW YORK and just replaced all the drum tracks and got a record deal using the demo that HIRSH recorded.  HIRSH not only lost his tracks but he lost all opportunity to make money on the work he allowed VINNIE to do out at his place in Boston.  That was VINNIE VINCENT, that’s the kind of bandmember he was.  Later on when VINNIE VINCENT INVASION played Providence, Rhode Island and Hirsh had the cops lock up all their amplifiers and equipment.  After Hirsh put an order on him and sued him the marshalls came in and closed them down, they had to cancel the gig (laughs).  Jimmy and I were in Tokyo with Alcatrazz when that happened and were just happy we weren’t involved (laughs).

LRI:  So, it wasn’t like he was difficult to work with on the surface it was more his tendency to be shady and backstabbing?

GS:  No, he was difficult to work with right in front of your face (LAUGHS).  He was NEVER, EVER happy and would just go insane and constantly change his mind and second guess every single little detail about everything.  He was unable to let something go and move on to the next thing.  That’s what got him in trouble with KISS.  He would call the KISS offices thirty or forty times a day with demands and questions to the point of where they just said “Enough already, GEEZ, calm down man”.  He was unable to make a decision or even just settle down and just play guitar.  There was some STRANGE stuff going on there with that guy.  It was interesting to me because we grew up just a small distance apart from each other and had never met.  On one hand he’s a great guy, a lot of personality, a funny guy, a great guitar player, a great songwriter but he is just SO Hard to work with because he OVERTHINKS almost everything!  I mean he is an extremely talented guy, before we met him he had played with LAURA NYRO and the YOUNG RASCALS, Treasure, he had done a lot of really great, interesting things and wasn’t an unseasoned guy.  Having said that, something has to give when you’re getting kicked out of your own band that you started and the label signs THEM and retitles it Slaughter.  He is his own worst enemy.

LRI:  You came up with the name of your next band ALCATRAZZ  and moved on.  What was it like to be able to be able to land in what was essentially a SUPERGROUP after all of these little setbacks in NEW ENGLAND and WARRIOR?

GS:  It was a great feeling actually because whenever you do any of these things like NEW ENGLAND or whatever you always step away and go “WOW, that was great, we were able to do that and enjoy it” but you always wonder if it was just a one-off deal and you will never get another chance to do something again.  You basically prepare yourself to go back to the car wash and work a real job (Laughs).  It is nice that I was able to move on and find a group of guys to record and tour with and be able to make some more music that some people still enjoy.  That’s always nice to be able to go on to another project and find some success, not that we were as massive as some bands or as big as we even could’ve been but still it was nice to feel like “Okay, I’m at least somewhat right and this band is pretty good”.  We made a little dent in the history book with Alcatrazz and that’s all you can really ask for.

LRI:  You once again were cooking with gas and joined ANOTHER band with some difficult personality elements.

GS:  (laughs).  Any time you are working with really talented people there is a certain amount of tradeoff involved.  Alcatrazz involved many talented people like you said and sometimes with that you can either appreciate it and be humble about it, get lazy about it or abuse it and become arrogant about it.  Different members of Alcatrazz handled their talent in different ways (laughs).

LRI:  Some people have felt like Graham Bonnet should have been one of the most rich and famous vocalists of all time had things shook out differently during some of those years.  He certainly has all the talent in the world.

GS:  He absolutely does have all the talent in the world and one of the greatest rock voices period but he was just lazy in Alcatrazz.  He let other people do everything for him when he would have been much better suited to do it himself.  He had a manager when he was in RAINBOW  that had way too much control and had ten houses that for all intents and purposes should have been GRAHAM”S houses.  He wasn’t on top of the business end of all of that and gave up too much control so that he could relax and watch TV or whatever when had he been paying attention it was clear that he should have had that control.  That was the case before Alcatrazz and it was the case during Alcatrazz unfortunately for Graham because WE ended up having a shady manager as well even though Jimmy and myself were really trying to pay attention.  People are going to rip you off and rob you blind, thats showbiz.

LRI:  I know Rik Fox has mentioned some pretty crazy things in regards to dealing with Yngwie when we interviewed him about  his earlier band STEELER so I take it you saw some equally insane antics from Mr. Yngwie J. Malmsteen when he came to join ALCATRAZZ?

GS: I know Rik and know what you’re talking about and trust me it didn’t get any EASIER with Yngwie in Alcatrazz.  He was fresh off the boat and just settling in with Steeler and his antics only got more UNBELIEVABLE in Alcatrazz.  I have stories that would make your hair stand on end.

LRI:  Rik wanted me to tell you that he was very grateful for your friendship and your help along the way in his career but one of the things I TOLD him was that I really do consider Yngwie to be the single greatest shredder in the modern history of music.  It sounds like he tried to fit in with different bands early on in his career but it was just impossible for him to tame his style to fit the context of a band.  Is that pretty accurate?

GS:  Well, that’s very nice of Rik to say and yes that was  pretty much the situation with YNG (laughs).  I mean, in some ways it’s too bad.  Yngwie’s not really a bad guy to be around, he’s really funny and he’s really good of course and serious about what he does but also a little thick headed.  He was young of course and didn’t understand things people were trying to tell him and unfortunately I think still to this day doesn’t understand things that people have tried to get through to him.  He of course went on to plenty of success but I think that one thing he missed out on with Steeler and Alcatrazz was the opportunity to really be in a BAND.  I think that had we been able to keep going and had we not had so much friction who knows what we could have done.  That first album was pretty spectacular but unfortunately at the same time, our manager was filling his head with all kinds of shit about how great he was and how he was the whole show and at the same time swindling money out of us and HIM and getting him a solo deal.  After Yngwie left the band he was royally ripped off by our former manager and lost a LOT of money which was too bad.

LRI:   I know for some reason or another Yngwie doesn’t really like the live album you guys did, LIVE SENTENCE. There was another, even better one that came out last year called Live ’83 but I’m not sure if he likes that one any better (laughs).

GS:  There are some problems with Live Sentence, first and foremost being that the guitars were CONSTANTLY out of tune (laughs).  We would constantly look over to the side of the stage and there would be no guitarist there.  We’d look behind the amps and there’s Yngwie  yelling at the roadies who have five guitars and not one in tune (laughs) it’s like “Comon guys, we’re only playing for an hour can we get ONE guitar that works? “(laughs).  It really was the fact that Yngwie was constantly taking the necks off of the guitars and changing things and not giving them time to adjust to be honest with you.  Guitars need a certain amount of time to adjust to changes like that and he just could not stop tinkering (laughs).  There was a lot of funny things like that but really to be totally honest with you it all just boiled down to the fact that Yngwie was so young.  He was like 19 or 20 and I was 30, Graham was 35, and it was just friction you know?  Graham had already had success with Rainbow and Michael Schenker Group and had even had a top 5 hit with The Marbles back in the sixties, he wasn’t used to playing second fiddle to anyone let alone Yngwie.

LRI:  It’s so well known that Yngwie worshipped Ritchie Blackmore, what did he think of Graham’s association with Rainbow?

GS:  OH loved it.  He absolutely loved having that association.  Yngwie was a Ritchie Blackmore clone in those days, everything about him was Ritchie, Ritchie, Ritchie.  The clothes, the shoes, the jewelry (laughs).   I looked at him the first time, this kid,  and just cracked up because I had always loved Deep Purple and it was CLEAR that Yngwie did.  Of course, to his credit, he played that Ritchie stuff note for note perfect.

LRI:  You then hooked up with a slightly more down to earth personality in Steve Vai.  Do you think that association would have continued had he not gotten the call to join David Lee Roth when he left Van Halen?

GS:  Yeah, although we also had a situation brewing with our management who ran off to Europe with Yngwie to do his solo thing at that point but we were invigorated for sure by Steve Vai joining the band.  We thought it really added a unique sound to the band and made us sound TOTALLY original which it did.  Noone sounded or played like that, no one on the strip, no one period.  Then to have Eddie Kramer produce the sessions we were just very happy with the way things were going.  I mean, Eddie designed JIMI HENDRIX’S studio for god’s sake so to have him twisting the knobs was pretty special.  The sound of the band changed drastically.  Steve had a totally different style and tone than Yngwie and really changed the whole direction of the band.  We had a lot of fun with Steve, especially on our tour of Japan.  It’s a shame we weren’t able to do more touring but all this while there was this hurry up and wait thing going on with our label and management which just delayed EVERYTHING.

LRI:  Did all that waiting ultimately cost you Steve?

GS:  Yeah, I mean the band was just in this constant state of limbo, Graham and Steve didn’t exactly end up getting along and we were just always waiting.  Waiting to tour, waiting for the album……and nobody could blame him for taking the gig with David Lee Roth.  It was just funny that of all the guitar players in the world, KISS picked Vinnie and David picked Steve (laughs).

LRI:  Then things changed again?  You got Danny Johnson as a guitarist who came from Rod Stewart among others and made the last album Dangerous Games.

GS:  Yes.  We went with Wendy Dio and Niji Management which is where we hooked up with Danny who they knew through Vinnie Appice.  We flew Danny in from Shreveport, Louisiana and decided to try to again make a little different album and it was a little bluesier. It got to the point though where it was sort of watered down and we were fighting about what we should or shouldn’t sound like and we had Capitol records offering us songs from outside songwriters and people who had written successful material with HEART and others and Graham just flatly REFUSED the material which in turn pissed off the record label and we ended up being dropped by Capitol (laughs).

LRI:  Do you think that Graham was wrong in retrospect?

GS:  (laughs).  Yes, I think Graham was very, very wrong about the outside songwriter thing because it would have really helped us with our own material and the label and we weren’t talking about no-name johnny come lately songwriters, they were offering up the same people who had resurrected Heart’s career and breathed life into them which is sometimes important to a band’s longevity.  Heart didn’t write those songs but they sure did make a hell of a lot of money and extend their career because of them.  Look at Aerosmith, Cheap Trick got their one and only number one song in the same fashion.  It’s not all musical decisions, sometimes there are BUSINESS decisions to be made and we are talking about a band that had two gold albums but were not on the level of Aerosmith by any means.  Look at KISS, outside songwriters and collaborators galore.  When you’re an artist you always want your music to be the music that makes it but who’s to say that you can’t collaborate with other artists and make their music yours?  Someone else can play “Janie’s got a Gun” but it’s never going to sound the way Aerosmith made it sound.  The label wasn’t insisting that we use outside writers, they just wanted us to CONSIDER it.  They wanted us to all be on board and take it under consideration but Graham would not even entertain the thought.  He wanted the publishing and wanted the lyric writing and the money that comes with that but if the record makes NO MONEY AT ALL then what’s the point of thinking that way.  He just pissed off everyone at the label by not even considering the fact that someone else could write a hit and we could make it our own.  That pretty much spelled the end of Alcatrazz.

LRI:  Some of your most favorable fan experiences have come outside the country, especially in Europe or Japan.  Do you think the old cliché of music being the universal language is accurate?

GS:  Yeah,  I do.  I think it’s the same for people everywhere and I think that people sometimes forget that in other countries and especially Japan, the kids learn English as a second language.  They might not speak it as fluently as we do but they do understand the lyrics and feel the music the same way.  The fans in Japan are GREAT fans and they remind me of how passionate I used to be as a kid memorizing every detail of every album jacket and know every single detail about your band or you individually.  When you meet them and they know EVERYTHING about you down to your mother’s maiden name its like “Woah!…..Unbelievable, that’s cool”.  They are just REALLY, REALLY good fans and it’s weird.  There are lots of bands that can’t get arrested here in the states but are tremendous stars over in Europe or Japan and it’s just hard to explain.  I still get the occasional letter or email from different places in the world about New England or Alcatrazz and the passion they speak with is just so loyal and mid boggling to me after all these years.  It’s pretty amazing when someone indicates that you somehow made an impression in their lives with your music.

LRI:  You’re still actively playing in your band Second Hand Smoke around Michigan and you’ve stayed friendly with Hirsh and Jimmy and John from New England and played the occasional reunion show for Steven Tyler’s benefit out on the east coast.  What do you make of John Fannon’s new solo acoustic sets, does that in some way open the door potentially for a full-fledged NEW ENGLAND reunion down the road?

GS:  I hope so (laughs).  I know none of us have closed the door on something like that happening and it’s nice that John has gotten the bug after all these years to get out there again and do his shows, that’s great.  I am having a great time playing still and appreciate the whole experience of playing any gig big or small as long as the music is reaching people and we’re all having fun.  We played that show for Steven’s benefit which is a yearly thing up in Boston and we rehearsed during the week because it was the first time we had played together as NEW ENGLAND in like 25 years.  It was really great,  John had not been onstage in all of that time and was fantastic.  His kids had grown up hearing stories about how their dad had played guitar and sang but had never actually seen their dad play AT ALL.  It was really special that they got to see people going crazy and see exactly what NEW ENGLAND was.  They had never met us and had no idea who we even were (laughs).   We got up there in front of all these big shots like J Geils and Aerosmith and all these people and the first song went down and we all just looked at each other surprised because it sounded so good.  The theater was going crazy and it just went really well and afterward we were all just really taken aback by how well it all went.  The following year we did it again and did different songs, we did EXPLORER SUITE the second time around and it went really well again.  For some reason or another John just doesn’t want to commit to doing NEW ENGLAND again and it’s just a case of what can you do???  You can lead someone to the water but you can’t MAKE them drink it (laughs).  I’m sure he has his reasons and that’s his choice not ours because the other three of us would gladly get back together and the fans in Europe and a number of places in the states here would be very receptive to it because the band is still a very good band.  We actually recorded new material too which I don’t think a lot of people know.  John had some songs and mailed them to us and we learned them and recorded four of them out in Massachusetts, it was the first time I had seen John in about 20 years.  So there you have it…there is actually NEW material from NEW ENGLAND that has yet to be heard, we recorded it a few years ago but we just can’t get John on board to want to do it.  It would be very interesting if somehow after all these years we could get around to finishing and releasing that FOURTH album.  Things happen with family members and life in general and things stop moving unfortunately but I can tell you there are three of us who would LOVE to work with John Fannon on another NEW ENGLAND album and a small tour.  Things weren’t always perfect between John and the band because when he split it put us all in a very precarious situation but that was a long time ago and I myself hold no animosity anymore because I would have never moved on and done Alcatrazz but there was something special about NEW ENGLAND and it would be nice for the fans to be able to see the band again or for those who never were able to see us.  So, fans out there….let John know, we want NEW ENGLAND, it’s time to bury the hatchet and celebrate the band again.  With protools and recording technology being what it is we could finish that album and send the tracks back and forth and have a finished album easier than ever before.  There’s no reason NOT to.

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