mass-newbirth-cover.jpgOne of my ‘hobbies’, nowadays, whenever time permits, (and sadly, that is not often enough) is to pore over the pages of an old rock magazine from the early to mid-1980s, and re discover albums or bands that I’d either long forgotten, or those whom I missed the first time around. I often flick through an old rock mag at the day’s end. Not sure what that says about me, whether I prefer the year 1986 to 2016 maybe ? Certainly in terms of music, yes. The beauty of YouTube is that you can now search for the 2nd div. bands and check ‘em out. Back in 84 or 85, in Australia, there was NO WAY you could have picked up these albums if they didn’t make it here as an import, or you had to order it via mail order from the States, without having heard it.  30 years ago, you’d read about the band, and that was largely where it ended. So this week, I’ve had my head in old issue of FACES magazine from 1985, and I’ve been re discovering a band from Boston, Massachusetts called MASS. Locally that name may have worked. But internationally ?  Maybe they figured that if it worked for Boston, taking the state name was a sure fire winner as well.  MASS also has a religious connotation as well, and I’m sure that these guys were a Christian rock band as well, so maybe that was a connect they were also pitching for. Either way, as a moniker, MASS was a name that was only ever gonna work Stateside, and if they were a Christian rock band, not being as overt as naming yourself Holy Soldier or Whitecross was a wise move if as a band you were aiming for mainstream low calorie AOR success. So today, I’ve plugged in and am listening to the band’s 1985 debut album called ‘New Birth’, which was a major label debut on RCA Records. Overall, ‘New Birth’ is a strong effort. Sound wise it is characteristic of mid 80s metal. The guitar work is first rate, lots of licks, melodies aplenty, catchy hooks, and a strong, memorable vocalist. Not dissimilar in a number  of ways to say, Dokken. But the difference is, Dokken had great songs, MAS have good songs. ‘Too Far Gone’ is a good solid opener, yet not entirely original, and the singer’s squeal makes me cringe. The solo is way over zealous, which is not called for.  There’s too much going on here, too much overplaying. If they were attempting an anthemic opener, it falls a long way short. The second tune though, ‘Crying Alone’ is  kick ass. Sounds a lot like Stryper, both in terms of music and the harmonies. This is first class melodic AOR with a punch. Incidentally, Michael Sweet would go on to produce MASS’ fourth album in 1988. Great tune.  ‘Time’ is more keyboard heavy but still has a nice riff and is lifted by a great vocal and a memorable chorus. That is heading towards early Journey territory and is melodic, catchy and radio friendly.  Another good one.  ‘Back To Me’ is catchy, good time rock n roll resplendent with a nice breakdown ala Night Ranger. That’s fine with me. Lots of hooks and radio friendly.  This is one of the standout tunes on the album for me and would have been a way better album opener.’ Do You Love Me’ is up next, and no, it not a cover of the Fowley/Stanley classic,  but a sweet and catchy power ballad, before the term became common place a couple of years later. It again, has a great middle eight, and lots of catchy harmonies. Sing a long too. Real tuneful and should have been a bigger hit than what it was. It did go #1 on one of the local Boston radio stations and hit Billboard’s charts and the video for the tune was in rotation on MTV.  The title tune ‘New Birth’ is up next and it’s a more strypermass1.jpguptempo rocker. Good tune though with a high vocal crescendo. ‘Left Behind’ Doesn’t really work for me. Its riff heavy, yet doesn’t really go anywhere, lacking hook and melody. ‘Look For The Edge’ picks up some of the slack, and is more a frantic rocker with a neat break down. ‘Day Without You’ is the second ballad, and it’s indeed likeable. This should have been way up the front of the album.  When they actually forsake the cacophony of guitars and slow down and concentrate on melody, hook, harmonies and singing – they can produce gold like this tune and are on par with your Giuffrias, Night Rangers etc.  The album closes with ‘Watch Her Walk’ , more mid 80’s non-descript metal. It’s good, but lacks originality. Too many squealing guitars, squealing vocals and lacking the hook. Overall, there’s a lot to like about MASS’s ‘New Birth’. There’s certainly more winners than losers, but top to bottom, there’s too much inconsistency. Overall, in 2016, I’d give the album a 7 out of 10, and its worthy of your attention.  History showed that the band was dropped from RCA and was picked up by Enigma in 1987. Their Enigma released album, ‘Take You Home’ apparently sold tens of thousands in the United States as well as England, Japan, and other countries around the world, yet it didn’t make them a household name, which is a shame cos they certainly had all the ingredients to be bigger than what history showed they did. Michael Sweet produced their 1988 album ‘Voices in the Night’. The band reunited in the early 2000s and continued throughout that decade. They continue to this day. Check em out here.   

CLAUDINE-LOVE IS BLUE frontThere are certain female singers from the 1960s whom I dig. I have always been a Nancy Sinatra fan, and even though I have sold off 90% of my once 2000+ record collection, I still have every one of her LPs. Ann Margaret is another, as is  Australia’s own Judy Stone. Yet of late, I’ve been reacquainting myself with the often maligned, French singer Claudine Longet. Now I say maligned because there were clearly two parts to her life; Claudine the singer – and then also Claudine, Mrs Andy Williams and the Claudine accused of murdering her then lover, Olympic skier Spider Sabich in 1976. Yet 40 years after she disappeared into self-imposed obscurity, it’s the songs that still sound great. I once read somewhere that she was considered to be a poor man’s Francois Hardy, yet I think that’s somewhat harsh.  Her appeal was fairly obvious. She was an attractive brunette who sung in a cute French accent (which no doubt appealed to male record buyers). Yes, she was sexy, much like other singers/actresses s from the 60s (Ann Margaret, Marlo Thomas, Tina Louise, Angie Dickinson etc), but not in the ridiculously overt way that today’s crop of so called ‘singers’ vaunt themselves. True, she does sing in a breathy style, its accent heavy, and she has an occasional lisp that is evident when she sings R’s and they become W’s (ie: ‘regret’ becomes wegwet, and ‘try’ becomes twy) but let’s not overstate it, it’s not Porky Pig like.  Her most famous tune is ‘Love Is Blue’ (“L’amour Est Blue)and this tear jerker still sounds great. In fact, if you want a good reference point, you could do worse than starting with her ‘Love Is Blue’ album from 1968. Like her other earlier albums, it was released on Henry Mancini’s A&M Records, Mancini himself being a fan. As a whole, ‘Love Is Blue’ still sounds great today, and top to bottom appeals in an easy listening kind of way. A hark back to a simpler, less complicated, less aggressive world. Without getting political, listening to Longet sing sends me back to a France of the mid to late 60s that was free of the Islamic scourge that choke it today. What happened to the France that was once the pulse of Europe and a  leader in popular culture ? From films and music to fashion and food. What happened to the France of  ‘Un Homme Et Une Femme’, Emmanuelle Riva, the aforementioned Francois Hardy, Bardot, Sylvie Vartan, Francoise Dorleac or her sister Catherine Deneuve? De Gaulle would turn in his grave to see what has happened to the France he and his generation rid the Nazi occupation of. If you are in Australia, go watch ‘They’re A Weird Mob’ to see a glimpse of how Australia looked in the early 60s. Go watch ‘Paris Blues’ with Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Sidney Poitier and Diahann Carroll to get a brief insight of France in the same period (or even ‘Breathless’ from 1960 with Jean Seberg). Anyway, I digress, and I think I made my point.  So back to the album. The title track “L’amour Est Blue is resplendent in strings, and is sung in French. I love her accent.  Although a little syrupy, the whispering , ‘When I Look In Your Eyes’ is another good un. Again, it’s the vocal that gets it through. At times haunting, girlish. The dreamy ‘Snow’, (a Randy Newman tune), with its plaintive piano accompaniment is appealing, as is ‘Holiday’, (penned by Robin and Barry Gibb),  and the bossanova groove of ‘Who Needs You’.  The music is performed by legendary André Popp (and his orchestra), not dissimilar to Paul Mauriat.  ‘Walk In The Park’ is another upbeat, cheery song with an uncomplicated lure. ‘Happy Talk’ is all upbeat, with squeezebox’s and children’s vocals. A simple charm.  On other albums she covers tunes by the Beatles and Stones and these often come under unwarranted criticism. They are still appealing, and again, to call them easy listening is way off the mark. As is commonly known, the Stones recorded a song about her  ‘Claudine’, that was pulled from ‘Some Girls’ prior to its release, for fear of litigation. Claudine released several albums in the 1960s, and their success was no doubt due to the profile she developed as being Mrs Andy Williams, whom she was married to for 10 years. She would often appear on his TV show, and as far as movies go, I guess she is best known for her role playing Michele Monet  in ‘The Party’, opposite Peter Sellers. This post serves to introduce you to Claudine the chanteuse, and the enriching listening experience I feel when I listen to her records. Details of her personal life, friendship with Bobby Kennedy, murder trial  etc., are all available on the net for you to read if you so desire. Instead, I encourage you to disassociate yourself from that side of her story, buy ‘Love Is Blue’ and enjoy the beautiful music of Claudine.

Mazz-XT-Back-inner-RGBIn a previous post we conducted an interview with Scott Ginn that comprehensively chronicled Scott’s entire rock n roll history. It’s an interview that drew a lot of attention and rightly so, because Scott was a guy who made an immense contribution to the Australian hard rock scene, particularly during the 1980s, and his story deserves to be told. From his time fronting The Breakers, to Boss, and onto Rags ‘n’ Riches – Scott was a multi-talented musician who wore many hats –including songwriter, musician, vocalist, producer and engineer, and if you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to scroll down and check out that interview. After more than 20 years in the musical wilderness, Scott has a new solo project called MAZZ-XT, who have released a killer debut album called ‘At The Brink Of Eternity’. In this interview, Scott gives us a track by track commentary on the new album. Read on! (Scott interviewed by Cowboy Col, July 2016. All images (c) S. Ginn)

RB: Scott, today we are putting the spotlight on the MAZZ- XT album  called  ‘At The Brink Of Eternity’ – an album that features 10 new tunes, and for many readers it will be the first time that they have heard about the album, what can you tell readers about the MAZZ-XT project and how you put it all together. MAZZ- XT – Mass extinction–  What prompted you to begin writing again?  

SG: When I stopped playing live in the mid 90’s I pretty much stopped doing music in every sense. I stopped writing and I mostly stopped playing guitar or any instrument for that matter. I got heavily involved with  building custom video games for the Tomb Raider community, and I think that  became the substitute for music as a creative outlet. Part of that creative process was to add music for the games, either as ambiences or dramatic interludes for cutscenes or battle scenes. I bought a digital workstation and adapted to that very easily as it was like having my old analogue studio all packed up in a piece of software. I got curious about whether I could  produce a good sounding rock song with the software and started noodling around with ideas to learn how some of the software worked. The first thing I recorded was the main riff of the opening track “Spellbound”. Once I had that down and could hear that I was going to be able to achieve what was in my mind, the ideas just started flowing and I had the basic structures down for four of the songs pretty quickly after that. I then set about developing those four ideas and writing  an album’s worth of material. Those first four songs were “Spellbound”, “Lightning strikes again”, “Let’s have a party”, and “When ancients ruled the world”. Because I was writing as I was recording, I didn’t have a ‘big picture’ vision of what the album was going to be. I just let creative ideas come out and let them take me wherever they felt like they were supposed to go. As it turned out, the vibe and sound of the songs led me back to the music of the band’s that had most inspired me when I was first getting into music – Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Bad Company and Black Sabbath. So the album does  have a classic rock feel but definitely  with a modern production values.

RB:  Your press release states that “Mazz-XT music is hard rock. It’s heavy riffing guitars and catchy vocals laid over a bed of thumpin’ bass and drums. Now I agree with that in part, certainly on some tracks (like ‘That’s the way we rock’, and ‘Too hot honey’), but I think the album goes way deeper than that, certainly thematically and lyrically where you are singing about darker themes, everything from life experiences to apocalyptic themes –  ”The new songs are influenced by music from the past but have a modern edge.” I think that statement really sums up the album as whole quite nicely.

Page1-RGBSG: You’re right Col, that tag probably understates the depth of the music on the album.  I probably pitched it that way in the bio for simplicity of communicating that it’s a hard rock album. You can go  to information overload if you try to explain  in too much detail what your music is about. In the first instance, because this is a new ‘band/artist’ the main thing for me is to get in touch with the  fans that I think will like Mazz-XT’s music. So hopefully it’s a good surprise for  listeners to discover that there are more layers to the music, giving the album a bit of light and shade.

RB: Growth as a songwriter, do you think the songs reflect you and your place in the world, and issues that are important to you ?

SG: It’s absolutely an honest reflection of the last few years of my life.  In the 80’s, as we all know,  lyrically  a lot of hard rock was all “Sex, booze, drugs and rock ‘n roll’. Writing  lyrics in that style was fun  at the time, but I think I’ve added a bit more meaningful meat to the subject matter  in this new material.  There’s still the up-vibe party songs, but there’s a mixture of other lyrics, based on personal experiences, or people close to me. But even with the darker lyrics I’ve kept a positive spin or a positive message in what I’m writing about. And that’s very much what I’m about – recognizing we all have flaws but there is always  hope for change or positive reinforcement.

RB: The first song on the album – ‘Spellbound’, a tune that has a really nice breakdown on the chorus, what can you tell us about that tune.

SG: As I mentioned, ‘Spellbound’ is the song that is responsible for me recording this album. For me, it marks the start of my rock rebirth.  But although it was the first song recorded, it was the last one finished.  There were two reasons for that. One, that I had in my head how the chorus should sound , but I  took ages to get the sum of the parts just right. There’s quite a lot going on in those choruses, and  I experimented a lot with mixes and vocal phrases before I  got the final melody with the overlapping chorus lines, and the cleaner guitar sound to make room for the other instrumentation. The second thing was that when I finished it, it all sounded fine, but seemed to be too straight in its arrangement. The middle-eight lift before the solo, got added in right at the end. And I’m really glad I did add it because it really adds a lift to the song. ‘Spellbound’ is about  the evils of alcoholism – it is a disease and it sucks people in, and becomes a false god that they worship when in reality it is the enemy within that destroys people. The positive message is that for people affected by this disease, they have to trust their true friends who are there to help them make changes to regain their real lives.

RB:  Now the next tune, Lightning Strikes Again – Good solid riff, throughout. There’s a lot musically going on in this tune behind that riff, and again nice chorus.

SG: Yeah, I really like the riff and the groove of this song. Unashamedly, my Zeppelin influences  showing through on this one. The jangly guitars in the verses add a really different dimension to the song.  ‘Lightning strikes again’ is  about the black dog – depression. I’ve used the imagery of a  storm, being struck by lightning as an analogy for the way depression can strike out of the blue and how it takes a person to the darkest place in their soul. I lost a dear friend  to depression so the song has a deep  personal meaning to me, and I’m sure there are a lot of people that can relate to this in a similar way.

RB:  Now you play all the instruments on the album. You wrote all the songs, you produced and engineered it as well, you are still very much a one man army!

SG: Yeah  I’m definitely back in one man army mode. I remember a funny comment  in a review years ago for my ‘One Man Army’ album,  where the reviewer stated “ either this guy is very talented or he just wants to avoid confrontation with  other band members”. I’m not sure whether it’s either of those options,  it’s just  the way that works for me to write and create songs.  I  hear the full production in my head, and tend to use the recording process to develop the ideas. For me, the studio is as much an instrument of creation as is a guitar or keyboard.

RB:  ‘Let’s have a party’ is the next tune. This treads more traditional hard rock territory, good time rock n roll, catchy hooks, sing a long chorus. Lot to like about this one.

SG: Thanks Col. Yeah this is definitely more traditional territory for me. This was the second  ‘rough idea’ that I recorded. It was a very simple A to D  progression, and it sat for quite a while  in demo mode, and I thought it might not make the cut for the album because I wasn’t coming up with any melodies for it. It wasn’t until I wrote the chorus hook that it came to life and then the other lyrics just fell in place.  For mine, it ended up being the most instantly appealing song on the album.

bandcamp-artist-imageRB:  What is interesting to me is that although the album does contain many straight ahead rock tunes, much of the other material has a complexity to it, that has not been evident in any of your previous work. Lyrically the themes are a bit darker than just writing about birds, booze and parties –  almost a concept album in many ways.

SG: I’ve always tried to twist things a bit, so even with straight ahead rockers there’s stuff in there that has little tricks and twists in it. It probably seems like there’s an extra level of complexity if you compare this album to ‘One Man Army’, but what’s missing from the picture is the unreleased Rags N Riches material which there are a number of songs that have complex arrangements. Fans will get a chance to hear this missing link in the musical chain very soon with the forthcoming release of Rags n Riches  – “Shipwrecked out in the street” album. So I think it is a natural progression on the Mazz-XT album. But even with the more complex stuff, my mantra has always been “ The Riff is King”, and I think I’ve stayed true to that. Lyrically, yes there are a couple of tracks that fit the concept album tag.

RB:  One of my favourite tunes on the album ‘That’s The Way We Rock’ –  this could be a hit single Scott, great 4/4 rock tune, foot to the floor. What’s the story behind this one ?

SG: Yeah “That’s the way we rock” it speaks for itself. It’s a rockin’ song with a fist-pumping chorus, and it’s a recognition of all the years of dedication that we all put in as muso’s to our art. It’s about the rush of playing live, and serving up no holds barred rock n roll, just giving your all and leaving nothing in the tank. Personally, it’s an acknowledgment of the great years I had playing rock music and all the great people I played with, the bands, the gigs, the friends made and the good time we had. Moving forward, it’s a dedication to the past.

RB:  Track 5, ‘When Ancients Ruled The World’ . Now this is a deeper theme, and musically (with strings even), it ebbs and flows quite nicely with a great guitar solo, this could almost be in a movie soundtrack. Explain this one to us. It’s about past civilizations?

SG: ‘When Ancients Ruled The World’ ties in with the Mazz-XT/ At the Brink of Eternity apocalyptic theme. It’s very much inspired by my video game building  which feature exploration in ancient empires particularly places like ancient Egypt and the Khmer temples of Cambodia. You have to wonder how these incredible ancient civilizations fell away like they did. I hope that emotionally this song takes the listener to those places. It’s based around a hypnotic pad keyboard progression and there’s a bunch of strings going on throughout. It took a while to develop this song. I had the main verse theme very early on, but it took a long time before the heavy chorus parts all fell into place. It breaks down in the middle to an extended guitar solo with Egyptian sounding licks that gradually builds to its climax. The song provides a nice moment to breathe and lay back a bit before the return to heavier tracks. People have likened it to shades of Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and I think many people would kill to write their own “Kashmir”. I’m not suggesting it reaches the giddy heights of such a legendary song, but if folks hear it in that same vein, then I’m stoked with that.

RB: ‘In This  Jungle’, starts off with a menacing riff, its actually a pretty riff heavy song, and the heaviest tune on the album. What’s the story here?  I think this tune actually has the best guitar solo on the album.  The tune has a double meaning – referring to vampires in the literal sense but it’s also a metaphorical reference to dishonest business people i.e. the bloodsuckers of the night.

Page8-RGB.jpgSG: Been listening to a lot of the early Black Sabbath albums of late. And to me the sound that they  had on those first three albums was the definitive original heavy metal sound. I was definitely trying to write something with that sort of sound and vibe.  I was struggling to get a handle on a lyric for this song, but I kept coming back to some sort of a vampire theme. I thought the conventional  vampire theme was a bit old hat, and it seemed to have a more modern meaning if I used the vampire references to describe shady music business people as bloodsuckers of the night. There are two guitar solos on this song. The one in the middle of the song was the first solo I recorded on any the songs. I wasn’t even sure if I could  cut the solo and I was being stingey and I recorded it on my old ‘76 Ibanez Explorer with  20 year old strings on it and missing the high E string. I suppose it’s one way to get a different tone….. The end solo is longer and there are some nice licks  in there.

RB: ‘I’m On The Inside’ is a tune I really like. This is a good rocker, catchy tune, nice riff, great vocal, singalong chorus. What is this one about ?

SG: ‘I’m On The Inside’ is  a Zeppelin-ish funk rocker based around a a simple guitar rhythm, and hooky grungey synth riff.  The catchy vocal melody makes this one work. The lyric is very much tonque-in-cheek, but is essentially about life in a long-term relationship, where things can go a bit pear-shaped, life can become  predictable, the spark can go out of a relationship, and little things get to you. The “I’m on the inside, you’re on the outside, lookin’ in “ chorus lyric is about putting up emotional walls and self-doubt.

RB: Now the title tune ‘ At The Brink of eternity’ . If ‘When Ancients Ruled The World’ could be in a film, then this could be the film’s theme. Looping riff, almost a companion tune to ‘When Ancients’ in many ways – but  lyrically, is this a commentary on the state of the planet ? 

SG: The main riff for this song actually started out as one of my game soundtrack songs. In it’s initial form it was only a one minute track. There was a lot of development of the song to take it to the 6-minute epic it ended up being. Lyrically, yes, this one ties in directly with the album title and cover art. ‘At the brink of eternity’ being  the imminent impact moment before a giant meteor smashes into earth. A very apocalyptic vision, but nonetheless a very real possibility being as it has happened before. I do wonder with the way some things are going in the world, that it might take an event like this to reboot  the world and start over again. I’m really happy with how this one turned out. It’s quite a busy arrangement  and posed the  biggest challenge to mix. I always loved the dual lead vocal harmonies that Coverdale and Hughes had during their period in Deep Purple, and I used that technique in the verse and more so in the chorus on this song. There’s a lot of lead guitar in this song, and I’m pretty pleased as these are some of the strongest lead breaks I’ve done.

RB: The tune ‘Devil In Disguise’ – great tune, likeable riff, whats this one about Scott ?

SG: Probably my favourite song on the album. It’s the sort of killer riff I’ve always wanted to write  but had never quite nailed before.  It’s a song that was written about the challenges of parenthood with troubled teenagers but it could have the same meaning for anyone that has someone in their life that is behaving badly and giving them grief in their life. Again, like with ‘Spellbound’, the message is a positive one – it’s  time to make a change but it has to come from within.

RB: And finally the last tune on the album, ‘Too Hot Honey’ . This treads familiar territory- melodic hard rock, that you have always excelled at.  Great solo! 

SG: Yeah I guess we come full circle with this one.  It’s a pretty straight  forward rock song with a hooky half-time chorus. This was the last song written for the album and is fittingly the final track. It came together very quickly. It’s the notion of a guy with a crush on a hot girl but he’s thinking he’s ‘punching  above his  weight’ and the girl is ‘too  hot’ for him to hook up with, so he’s playing it cool and stepping back a bit. It’s a simple guitar solo but has a great tone and  I think it suits the song well.

RB:  Let’s touch upon the production (because you’ve always been involved in the recording process). Is it much easier to be a producer nowadays compared to the 1980s?

SG: I’d say it is actually easier now. The quality of sound banks and instrument modules available now makes  it much easier and quicker to arrange songs and pull the sounds  I want.  Also, I think I’ve got a more mature approach to music these days, and find it easier to be more objectively critical of my own work. Most importantly, I’m just having fun with making music again. I’ve already started on recordings for a second Mazz-XT album and I’m looking forward to re-releasing the 30th Anniversary – Ginn “One Man Army” album on CD in the very near future. Maybe we’ll  have a chat about this and the new  Rags n Riches album some other sixty seconds.

RB: Thanks for your time Scott! Scott Ginn’s musical output is always first rate, and the ‘At The Brink Of Eternity’ album  is no exception. It is thoroughly recommended by us here at Rockbrat as one of THE Australian albums of the year. The album is available on both CD and digital format, from only $5. Buy it here. Head to the following links below and discover MAZZ-XT.

Bandcamp: https://mazz-xt.bandcamp.com/

CDBaby: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/mazzxt

Facebook: www.facebook.com/mazzxtmusic/

Soundcloud: soundcloud.com/mazz-xt

Twitter: twitter.com/MazzXTMusic

Mazz-XT Music Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSkvjigiH0ELdrOETPhGEpw

 

 

Scott - Boss 1

Freewheelin’… Scott with Boss

As fans of Australian hard rock in the 1980s, Scott Ginn was a guy who was always on our rock n roll radar.  From his time fronting The Breakers, to Boss, and onto Rags ‘n’ Riches – Scott was a multi-talented musician who wore many hats –including songwriter, guitar player, vocalist, producer and engineer. He released a way underappreciated solo album in 1986 called ‘One Man Army’, and had the cream of Sydney’s 1980s heavy rock bands record at his own studious, Montreux.  As a songwriter, he had the knack of being able to craft memorable and catchy hard rock with a penchant for melody, and as a front man, the flamboyance of David Lee Roth. After more than 20 years in the musical wilderness, Scott has a new band/solo project called MAZZ-XT, who have released their debut album ‘At The Brink Of Eternity’.  Read on as we chat to Scott and chronicle his entire rock n roll history – past present and future. (Scott interviewed by Cowboy Col, June 2016. All images (c) S. Ginn)

RB: Scott, welcome to the Rockbrat Blog!

SG: Thanks Colin, nice to be be back in the rock ‘n’ roll saddle.

RB: Let’s begin by looking at your formative years if we may. I know that BOSS had its origins in Adelaide with both Craig Csongrady and Laurie Marlow both hailing from there, and the band assembled in Sydney, were you from Sydney?  

SG: Born in England, and moved to Australia with my family  when I was 6 years old. I’ve been a Sydney boy all my life. I mostly grew up around the Lane Cove area.

RB: How old were you when you started getting into rock ‘n’ roll and who were your musical influences?

SG: I guess my first exposure to rock ‘n’ roll would have been around the age of 11. My folks had the Beatles ‘Hard Days Night’ album. I would have friends over and we’d mime with air guitars and cardboard boxes for drums acting out the tunes in our lounge room.

My early main influences came once I started buying LPs. My primary influences were Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath, with a bit of Grand Funk and Creedence Clearwater somewhere in the mix. My later influences were AC/DC, Van Halen, Aerosmith and Free/Bad Company.

Richard Wilde Band 2

Richard Wilde Band – Scott 3rd from left

RB: Were you from a musical family, and if so, were you encouraged to take lessons?

SG: I played the flute in primary school. My dad played classical piano, but I was never encouraged to take lessons. I was in my second year of high school and I secretly got myself an afternoon job at a musical warehouse in St Leonards packing instruments and saved enough money to buy my first guitar from there. I can’t remember what brand it was but it was a sunburst semi-acoustic electric. I surprised my folks and told them that I had saved this money for a guitar, and took them up there to make the purchase. The warehouse was having a sale, and we ended up walking out with the guitar, an electric organ for my dad, and a set of drums. We were living  in a unit at the time, so the drums lasted about two months before I gave them the flick to sell them so I could buy an amp and better guitar.

RB: What was the first record you ever bought?

SG: The first singles I had were bubblegum pop songs – The Monkees – Last Train to Clarkesville, The Ohio Express – Yummy Yummy Yummy. I still have those singles! The first real rock LP I bought was Rod Stewart’s  – Every Picture tells a story, followed closely by Deep Purple – Fireball.

RB: First concert you saw?

SG: The day when my world changed was 27th February 1972, when I saw  my first real concert – Led Zeppelin at the Sydney Showgrounds. That concert had a profound effect on me and left me in no doubt that I wanted to play in a rock band as a career. It was the first, and still remains the best concert I ever saw. I feel very privileged to have seen Zeppelin when they were at their performance best.

RB: What was your first band?

Thor-01

Hammer of the Gods – Scott with Thor

SG: My first band went through a number of phases, names and lineups but was essentially called Hedgehog. The first song we ever played together was Creedence Clearwater’s  ‘Proud Mary’. I played rhythm guitar and we shared lead vocal duties between all the band. We mostly played covers, but even back then we had started writing and playing original songs. We’d play parties, dances and local town hall gigs which were the best gigs to see local bands that we looked up to like Buffalo, Hush and Finch.

I then formed a band called Thor with John Hamilton (Jenny Morris Band) and his brother Rob. We were influenced by Sabbath and Buffalo.  We wrote some original material which I guess you’d classify as Stoner Rock.

RB: You first came to prominence as front man for the Breakers, a band put together by Jimmy Manzie of OL’ 55. How did you end up joining The Breakers? 

SG: I was singing in a band called Class who were well established on the pub rock circuit. I had joined them when (the late) Gary Conlan had left to join Feather. It was such a healthy live scene back then, we’d often play 6 nights a week, and do a double on a Saturday. I think I was pretty much head-hunted by the Breakers. I was approached and told about this new power pop band that ex-members of Ol’55 Jim and Spud were forming. There was already a record deal in the works with Seven Records (later Powderworks Records), and they were looking for a lead singer. I recorded some demos at Jim’s home studio, and was offered the gig. When I left Class to join the Breakers Gary rejoined Class for a while.

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Class

RB: Did The Breakers play any large supports and outside of Sydney?  Was there ever more Breakers material recorded other than the7” single, “When I’m on TV”?  

SG: The main one that comes to mind was a support at the Capitol Theatre to the B-52s. It was a weird one too because the original support act had cancelled  for some reason, and we literally got a day’s notice to do the gig as in  – Booking Agent: “the other band had to cancel, do you want to do the gig tonight?” Us:   Ahh yeah we sure do.” So no-one knew we were doing the show. When the lights went down and the announcer introduced the band, it was greeted with boo’s because they were expecting the other band. Our show started with our lead guitarist Jarryl Wirth going on stage and doing this full-on Angus Young-like guitar solo complete with writhing around on the ground. Jarryl went out by himself to this boo-ing audience and stuck it to them. We were peeking around the curtain thinking he was gonna get hammered by the audience, but he turned them around and the rest of the gig went down pretty well.

At the time, INXS were also just starting to play the pub circuit, and we did a few shows with them too.  The Breakers toured throughout NSW as well as Victoria and South Australia.

The BreakersOn the recording side, there was more than an album’s worth of material recorded as demos. Originally the planned first single was a song called ‘Night after Night’ – a brilliant Manzie pop song with a great chorus. It was never released. Then it was decided that ‘When I’m On TV’ would be the first single, and that’s the way it went with the B-side being ‘Lipstick and Leather’ which Jim did the Lead Vocal on. The second single was also recorded but never released – a song called ‘The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes’ which featured an amazing Bohemian Rhapsody-like middle-eight.

RB: The Breakers appeared on Countdown in 1980 and famously, also appeared performing ‘Lipstick and Leather’ in Puberty Blues’. What are your memories of those experiences? It must have been a blast to be performing on Countdown and potentially going into every living room in Australia. 

SG: Yeah, great memories! There were actually two songs that appear in the Puberty Blues movie  – ‘Lipstick and Leather ‘and ‘The Girl with Stars In Her Eyes’.  The scene clips are truncated so you don’t really get to hear the whole song unfortunately.  For the scenes that we were playing in, it was filmed at the Caringbah Inn – a great live venue back in the day. For our part, we just had to do what we do – like a normal live show, and that was set as the background to the main action of the actors being out at their local rock pub.

Countdown was indeed a blast. And that first one I was pretty young – so it was very exciting. I did it again with The Richard Wilde (aka Richard Wilkins) Band too.

The thing is it all happens so quickly that you hardly have time to take it all in and process. I only recently got hold of a video of the performance from the ABC and it was surreal seeing it back, as I had never seen it as a viewer, and the recollection of it had faded into distant memory. We also made a proper video for ‘When I’m On TV’. From what I can remember it was pretty cool with TVs being smashed with guitars. Sadly all trace of that video has vanished into the ether.

RB: So after The Breakers, I understand that you also toured with Cheetah in 1981 as a guitar player? Was that a tour of Australia, or was it internationally? (The band played Reading in 1982). Rock ‘n’ Roll Women still stacks up as a great hard rock album (which incidentally features another Australian great, drummer Ray Arnott).

SG: Before doing the Cheetah tour there was my original band Montreux – pure hard rock Montreux Mk2 Bio-a(there’s a bunch of recordings in existence of Montreux material too). But yep, this was a national tour to promote the ‘Rock N Roll Women’ album. I played guitar and did backing vocals. The Hammond girls are incredible singers and it was great to play in a band behind such strong vocalists. As you said, the songs on the ‘Rock N Roll Women’ album were great, and much fun to play. It was a great opportunity to work with some great musos. The band was myself and The Doc from my old band Montreux on guitars, Mark Evans on bass, John Lalor from Dallimore on drums and Martin Fisher from the Breakers on keyboards.

RB: Also around this period you worked as guitarist and musical arranger for Richard Wilde (aka Richard Wilkins) in 1982, is that correct? 

Richard Wilde Band

Richard Wilde & Scott

SG: I can’t remember exactly how it came about, but there was sort of a family unit that meant we were all moving in the same circles, because I was doing Montreux on and off, Richard was co-managing Boss, and I was occasionally doing front of house sound for Boss. Richard was preparing to launch his solo career, following on from his band Wilde and Reckless. So we got talking about music and I got hired to play guitar and do backing vocals and had a big role in selecting and arranging the material for the live shows. We even did a couple of Montreux numbers in the live set  (albeit somewhat ‘popped’ up). Richard released the single ‘Young Heroes’ and we performed that on Countdown. We launched the band with a national tour as the support act to Grace Jones, and then toured the band extensively through NSW in its own right.

RB: How did you come to join Boss, and what are your fondest memories of your time with the band?  Do any gigs or recordings you did with the band standout for you?

SG: Prior to Boss, I had formed my first real hard rock outfit – Montreux. Montreux went through several incarnations, but was a seriously kick-ass hard rock band with a lot of original material and influences mostly from AC/DC and UFO. So we were sort of in healthy competition to Boss. We were playing around the same pub circuit as the early lineups of Boss, so I got to know the lads, and when I had a period of Montreux being on hold, I  was sometimes doing front of house sound for Boss. As it turned out, we (my missus and I) were living in and caretaking an old terrace house in Paddington that had been converted into small flats. I got Kevin and Peter into a flat upstairs from us. So we were literally living on each others doorsteps. I think I had helped out with some backing vocals on a demo for Boss, and after that at some point I got asked if I wanted to play bass for the band. I wasn’t a bass player by trade, having always played guitar in bands, although I’d played bass on my own recordings, but I knew what they needed to suit the band’s style and knew I could do that. So it was a case of if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. And in hindsight, it was a good move, because Boss developed to another level in the period that followed. I suppose the song I’m personally proudest of is ‘Hard N Fast’ because it’s one that I largely wrote. Originally it was a straight upbeat  number, but when it got swung on its head in the recording studio and turned into a half-time slobber-knocker for the album it took on a new life and became one of the ballsiest songs with real shades of Zeppelin to it. The other song that stands out for me is ‘Behind the Bar’ which we used to open with at live shows. There was such a raw energy with that song. I recently resurrected some old live footage of the band and matched it up with the only studio recording of that song.

I wish I’d kept a diary, because we did a lot of gigs with Boss and the memory of a lot of them has faded. But the Bondi Astra, Selina’s Coogee Bay Hotel, Chevron at the Cross, Blacktown RSL gigs were always standouts.  The thing with Boss was that there was never a half-assed show. It was always pedal to the metal, turn it up loud and deliver with the force of a hurricane.

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Kick ass rock n roll – laying it down with BOSS

RB: 1984 and 1985 were stellar years for the band. You must have great memories of that time.  What was it like to support Iron Maiden nationally – Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, Canberra, Wollongong ?

Well these were undoubtedly the best of days for Boss. Not only did it lift the profile of the band, it put us out there as real contenders in the world of hard rock.  It put us on the big stage. It was actually pretty humbling to walk on stage as a support act to Maiden and have the punters pack the front of stage (usually reserved for the main act) and absolutely go off with the band.

RB: Any memories of the support slots with Leppard and Twisted Sister stand out?

SG: Absolutely! The Twisted Sister band members were really great down to earth guys, and were really supportive of us as a support act. There was a pretty funny scene in Melbourne, where I was outside the back of the venue with the TS bass player before the gig having a chin wag, and of course he didn’t have makeup on. A fan came up to us that must have known me from Boss and started having a chat, and they didn’t even know that the bloke that was with me was from Twisted Sister. Funny as… ain’t anonymity grand???

As much as the Maiden tour was a greater overall fulfillment for the band, I still rate the Def Leppard show at Selinas as the best show Boss ever did. Simply because it was just one of those moments in time. Leppard were on the rise and just breaking through big time. We were so excited to score the support. We were the second band on, with Leppard to follow us. Selinas was packed to the rafters with some 3000 punters. We were stoked just to be playing the gig, but as the lights went down and we were waiting backstage to go on,  a chant went up from the audience “Boss. Boss. Boss” and we’re completely blown out …. “Hey they’re calling for us”. Wow… We had come of age. Kick-ass gig and then the Leps delivered a classic hard rock show (pre all the fancy stuff) that rocked the house down. They were great guys to just chat about stuff backstage after the show.

RB: You were also managing Boss is that right? Doing bookings etc? Taking care of some of the business side of things?

I wouldn’t say I was managing the band. It’s true we were self-managed at that stage, but the duties were shared between Craig and myself. Craig would look after the business negotiations with record companies etc, we’d both look after the bookings side of things, and my role was mostly a tour manager role, looking after all the crew, supports, PA’s and lights.

RB: The ‘Step On It’ album is arguably the best heavy rock album to come out of Australia in the 1980s, (forgetting Mortal Sin for a moment) – certainly in the first half of that decade anyway.  So many great tunes – Kick Ass Rock n roll, Dancing Queen, That Woman, Cry Cry – and my favourite tune ‘Strange games’ – I mean, as good as any heavy rock album internationally. When the album was recorded and in the can, did the band consider that musically you had a very strong product that would push the band to the next level?

SG: There are two answers to this question.

  1. On a musical level – yes we were pleased with what we had created. And the thing with heavy rock bands in Australia (particularly at that time) was that we didn’t even see our songs as something for a local market – our competition was the world market and especially what was starting to happen in the States. So we were certainly aiming to produce something world-class.
  2. On a production level – no we were not happy with the final product.

It’s great to get such positive feedback as yours about the album, which means that not everyone hears what we hear. For the band, we were not happy with the final mix. For me, it will remain one of the unanswered mysteries of the world of what it could have or should have sounded like, perhaps had it been in the hands of an experienced rock engineer like a Kevin Shirley or a producer like Mutt Lange.

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One Man Army – 1986

RB:  For many of us who were heavy rock fans in the mid 80s, we thought bands like BOSS and Heaven in particular were both world class, and should have gone on to bigger things internationally.  Yet there was almost like an inferiority complex kind of mentality back then, people assumed that if something came from America it had to be better than the Australian product. Do you agree with that?

SG: I guess it depends on which ‘people’ you are talking about.  I don’t think there was inferiority coming from the bands themselves nor as you’ve said from fans. Perhaps the prevalence of the Aussie fighting spirit is more apt. Aussie bands tended to fight much harder for their success. The pub circuit allowed bands to harden their live performance. Certainly Oz metal bands looked to the States and the UK for where the bar was being set, and would strive to be as good as if not better than what was going on there. The problem for Aussie bands was that here we were in a smaller niche market down under, and where it was really happening for this sort of music was in overseas markets especially in LA. The Australian record industry was simply not geared for the world hard rock market except to be a distribution outpost for the already established brands from overseas. So in that sense,  again not inferiority, but it was simply easier (read lazier) for  record companies to flog the established artists than actually develop local hard rock artists. Alberts was probably the only label that understood harder-edged rock music.

RB: With that in mind, retrospectively, was there a Sydney (or Australian even) heavy rock band that you thought should have made it but didn’t? For me growing up in that period, the obvious ones were Boss and not withstanding Heaven’s limited success in the States, I think bands like Tough Luxury, Surrender, Bengal Tigers, Assassin, Lightning Rock etc all had the goods. Thoughts?

SG: I would say that had any of these bands been based in LA in the mid ‘80s rather than locally, they would have stood a much greater chance of bigger success than what they achieved here. Simply because that is where it was all happening at the time – therefore a bigger market and a scene and industry that understood the style of music. Heaven proved that ‘being there rather than here’ has its advantages.

Other Aussie bands that should have made it bigger than they did – Dallimore – great songs, great guitarist and singer, great band; The Poor – could have been as big as Airbourne in the right time and place; and my good mates Bronx/ Big Deal – great band, great songs, great guys. As for Boss, – when the ‘Step on it’ album secured a world-wide release, there should have been record company support to get the band touring in any number of those markets. A missed opportunity.

RB: Heavy rock and metal were very much on the fringe in Australia and almost underground. (Pre 1986 and Bon Jovi’s ‘Slippery When Wet’ which opened the floodgates to commercial hard rock on a grand scale), so was the mission statement for BOSS always pitching internationally ‘cos the metal market in Australia at that time was so limited?

SG: I suppose I’ve pre-empted this question in my previous answer. Easy to look back in hindsight, but the thing that attracted me to Boss was that it was born out of the classic local Oz Hard Rock  sound – AC/DC, Rose Tattoo, The Angels.  But the music we were listening to and striving to compete with was the overseas bands – the likes of Def Leppard, Van Halen, Ratt, Dokken, Aerosmith, Motley Crue etc.  And we knew that the metal market in Australia was a small but dedicated underground scene. So yes, clearly for Boss it was the aim to break internationally to a broader market. The subsequent success of Corporate Rock (ugly term for commercially successful) with bands like Bon Jovi, Foreigner, and even the Mutt Lange produced Def Leppard, and then the big  power ballads of Aerosmith and Whitesnake really lifted the profile and mainstream acceptability of hard rock. I guess some of that influence shows through in a song like ‘Cry, Cry’.

RB: Were their plans for Boss outside of Australia. I used to have a Japanese pressing of ‘Step On It’. The band would have gone down great in Japan.

SG: With a worldwide release for ‘Step on it’ the band should have been jetting off to promote these markets with live shows and tours. I would have loved to tour  in Japan. But we never got that financial support from the record company. Maybe if we’d secured a powerful management deal the story might have been different.

One Man Army Band Bio-sm RB: So why did you leave Boss, and what was your next project post Boss. Was it putting together your solo album ‘One Man Army’?

SG: For me this is the only sour note in what was otherwise a great journey with Boss. I was told my services were no longer required and was never really given a satisfactory reason for that decision.  But life moves on, and you live and learn from these experiences.

Actually the next project after Boss was a progressive rock outfit called Future Force which I joined as lead singer. It was a really tight band with all the material written by Ace (sorry can’t remember his last name) – a great guitarist. We did quite a few shows around Sydney (including supports to Midnight Oil and Rose Tattoo). The songs were pretty technical and were very challenging vocally, so it really upped my game in terms of lead vocals.

The upside of the bad experiences that we’d had in Boss with the recording process in a big recording studio, really drove me to exploring production and engineering techniques and growing my home studio into something that could produce high quality hard rock recordings from a smaller studio. That frustration manifested as the  ‘One Man Army’ album.

RB: There are some super melodic and catchy hard rock tunes on the One Man Army LP, stuff like ‘Torment in Tehran, Watching The Lines Go Down’ etc. The album was released on your own label, how well did the album do? Did you have distribution for it?

With the ‘One Man Army’  album I did this literally as a one man army in every sense. It was a solo album that I performed everything on it (bar the percussion overdubs done by Slim McDermott), I produced and engineered the album, I oversaw the manufacture of the pressings, and I distributed the records to local record stores myself or sold the record at gigs – a total independent. The net result  was that I produced a record that I am very proud of and that sounds the way I think it should sound and competed in production quality with anything that was going at the time.  Commercially,  well when you do it this way it’s a small niche market, so all those loyal fans who still have a copy  – hang on to them because they are quite collectable now. A few years ago I cleared out my garage and threw away the last 50 copies thinking  no-one plays vinyl anymore and are not interested in this music any more. That was dumb of me. I’ve had a number of requests recently asking if there are any copies still around.

RB: I remember picking up ‘One Man Army’ when it came out and was floored by the calibre of so many great, melodic, hard rock tunes. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this long out of print album is soon to get a get a re-release to commemorate its 30th anniversary?

SG: Yep, that’s right – 1986 to 2016. Bloody hell 30 years ago! So since ‘One Man Army’ was never released on CD I thought I’d re-release it in this format to mark the Anniversary. I’ve remastered it and added a couple of bonus tracks of unreleased material from the same period. There’s all new artwork for the cover but it also contains scans of the original cover. Production will happen shortly and it should be out in the second half of 2016.

RB: Again, a timeline question. Was there a cross over period between the One Man Army period and when you put together Rags N Riches?

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Rags n Riches – version 1

SG: Rags basically grew out of the touring band I’d put together to promote the ‘One Man Army’ album. Whilst the One Man Army Tour was predominantly about  playing my material from the album, we eventually started to write new songs as a band and I felt that what we would do from there on would be better represented as a band, rather than me as a solo artist with hired players. The first lineup of Rags N Riches was Phil Bowley – guitar, John Dovico – bass, Jimmy Yannieh – drums and myself – lead vocals. Later Kristian Hodgson joined the band on keyboards, and Jason McDonald replaced Jimmy on drums. Glen Farina joined as lead guitarist when Phil left to join the Candy Harlots.

RB: What can you tell folks about ‘Rags N Riches’? From my memory, I recall the band playing great, original hard rock tunes with were very melodic, almost Van Halenesque. Is that the direction you were going for?

SG: I think we coined the term ‘Rag n Roll’ to describe our music. Well we were right in the thick of the Hair Metal era and the thing with Rags music was that it was good time escape music. It was party music. We wanted our fans to escape the boredom of 9-5 and let their hair down and have a good time.  Musically, yep there was definitely the influence of Van Halen, and also  Aerosmith – especially the use of brass in the arrangements like what Aerosmith had started to do. Naturally we all have influences, but we were certainly trying to develop a uniqueness to the sound of Rags rather than follow the sound trend of what was going on at the time. I guess I’ve always tried to explore new boundaries rather than follow trends. Whether that’s been a plus or minus in terms of success I’m not sure, but I have always been an an advocate of making the music that comes out of you naturally, not  ‘cos it’s the latest trend to follow.

RB: Now of course Phil Bowley was the guitar player in the band, (who went onto the Candy Harlots – a band I saw many times, albeit almost exclusively the Mark Easton line up).  Did you know Phil him from his days in Shy Thunder on the Sydney circuit?      

SG: Yes I knew Phil from Shy Thunder and White Widow. So it was great timing  for both of us that he was looking for a new gig at the time when the ‘One Man Army’ album came out. We also struck up a really good relationship writing new material together. I felt like I had lost a brother when he left to join the Harlots, but I understood the move perhaps better than anybody because I’d been in a similar situation when I joined the Breakers, and the Harlots were on the rise and in a stronger position with their live following than Rags.

RB: Some of the Rags n Riches tunes I recall are ‘Dance Baby Dance’, Shipwrecked Out On The Street’, and ‘Money Can’t Change Your Mind’, and the band used to play a lot of material from your solo album. The band was certainly prolific on the Sydney live scene in the late 80s, did the band play outside of Sydney or do any bigger supports?

SG: We worked hard in the Sydney Pub Circuit, also the Newcastle area both headlining and  sometimes doing supports. We’d often hop on a bill with the tribute bands like Gold Zeppelin and Dynasty – the Kiss show, to grow the Rags following. At it’s highest point we headlined our own shows at Selina’s. The band had an alter-ego  – the 5150 Oz Van Halen Show – which was a full-blown tribute show, which helped to pay the bills and up the profile of the band.

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Rags n Riches – version 2

RB: I understand that Rags n Riches recorded material for an album called ‘Shipwrecked Out In The Street’, yet that was shelved and never saw the light of day. The good news is that after all these years the album will soon be released?    

SG: Yes that’s right! And this is an exciting prospect for me. The ‘Shipwrecked’ album is very much unfinished business for me. At the time, our manager was shopping for potential labels for the album. The material was all recorded at my Montreux studios and ready to go. We even had a record launch promo night (I found an old newspaper clipping promoting it). For the life of me, I have no idea why the thing was never released. Perhaps we should have just bitten the bullet and sunk some money into getting it pressed ourselves. Perhaps it also marked the point where I got disillusioned by the whole thing and walked away from the rock scene. Anyhow, that’s water under the bridge now, and the good news is that I’ve remastered all the Shipwrecked tracks and added a few more tracks to better balance the album and it will also be released as a limited edition CD during 2016. It’s sounding way powerful and is also pretty close to going to production. So I can’t wait for folks to finally hear these tracks. The material on this album is really representative of the ‘Rag ‘N Roll’ sound that we had developed. Phil and Glen’s lead guitar work is outstanding. JayDee’s bass is rock solid, Kris did some excellent keyboard/ brass lines and Jimmy’s drum work is thunderous. The only disappointment to me is that we never recorded anything with Jason McDonald on drums who joined the band after most of these recordings had been done and played a lot of live gigs with the band.  There’s a couple of tracks that I played rhythm guitar on, and vocally I guess this was when I was at the top of my game. We’ll see how this one goes, but there is another whole album of what I’d called the heavier stuff that the Rags recorded, which might see the light of day further down the track.

RB: I was living at Gladesville in the late 80s and saw Rags n Riches a bunch of times, particularly at the Gladesville Hotel. My main memory of the band live was that it was fun, good time melodic hard rock. That style of rock n roll was king – it was on TV, the radio, everywhere. I thought those days would last forever and like many others, never saw the tsunami-size change coming to the musical landscape in the early 90s that signified the end of those halcyon days of hard rock.

SG: I share exactly the same memories. Those gigs were one big party and we just happened to be the ones on the stage providing the ‘licence to party’. They were indeed the best of days. And yes, then came the trainwreck that was the mid 90s. And all the music got sooo serious and all the songs are about how bad life is and how depressing the world is. Well so it may be, we all have crap going on in our lives but when people go out they want to escape from their troubles, not hear about them. That’s why the 80s-90s era of rock/metal was so much escapist fun and Rags N Riches was definitely about having a good time.

RB: Did you have a favourite Sydney venue and why?

SG: Back in the early days, the Bondi Lifesaver was THE place to see bands.  It was so rock ‘n’ roll.

From a performer perspective there was quite a few.  Selinas, in either its larger or smaller venue format was always great. The one you mentioned – The Bayview Tavern at Gladesville always got a good turnout and had a great atmosphere.  The Seven Hills Inn was really the centre for the early years of the metal resurgence, so fond memories of that room, and later on The Kardomah in Kings Cross was wild with its late night slots.

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rag n roll – on the road. image C. Gray

RB: In the mid 80s you set up your own studio and label, Montreux Records. Your studio in particular became a bit of a focus for many Sydney hard rock / metal bands. Was this your intent to make it a centre for Sydney metal bands?

SG: It’s funny, because I had really got into recording when I was about 20 – I went halves on a TEAC 4-track reel to reel with a mate. Initially Montreux studios sort of just evolved out of me acquiring more home studio gear for my own recordings. But then I just started doing demos for other bands and it went on from there. My plan back then was that running a studio would be what I would do after I’d finished playing in bands. As it turned out, I ended up running it as a proper studio whilst I was still playing. For a while I had the studio installed at Party Pig Studios at Girraween,  and through the rehearsal studios there I got quite a bit of work recording the local hard rock and metal bands. It seemed to work well because I understood the music the bands were playing and knew the sort of sound they were after. I guess in that period it did become a bit of a centre for metal as the bands would come to my studio because they knew I would pull the sound they wanted.

RB: As I mentioned, your solo album came out on your own label Montreux Records, did the label release product by any other artists as well?  

SG: No, the Montreux label was only for release of my own stuff.

RB: Now I know you also did production and engineering work. You produced the Tough Luxury album ‘Streetwise’ (which I note has just been re issued on CD). Can you tell us about any of the other bands that you produced, engineered or worked with? Bronx? Roxx? Starlet?   

SG:  Yep, I  did the Tough Luxury LP ‘Streetwise’. The lads sent me copy of the reissue CD and it sounds really good. I did the cult classic metal album by Massive Appendage – ‘The Severed Erection’ album – that was quite a production extravaganza. I did some singles for their alter ego power pop band Kings Cross. Wayne Campbell’s  band Grungeon recorded an EP with me. And yes, quite a few of the rock bands of our era – Roxx, Bronx, Starlet, QVs, Assassin, Fetish to name a few recorded demos at Montreux Studios.

RB: Some readers may also remember you as front man for Van Halen tribute band 5150. A lot of fun! Did you also used to front a Zeppelin cover band?

SG: Ha… Yeah the 5150 Oz Van Halen Show – was a full production tribute show. A lot of fun?….. How about three times the fun in half the time!!! This show was the most fun I ever had playing live. Characterizing David Lee Roth was like being given a licence to be outrageous. The wilder it was the better people liked it. It was a great vehicle to supplement our work as Rags N Riches. Same band – different show.

Zeppelin are undeniably my all-time favourite band but no I never fronted a Zeppelin show. But  I’ve played quite a few of their numbers in bands over the years.

5150a

5150

RB: In the mid to late 80s you were playing and gigging regularly. In those days there was plenty of venues and plenty of gigs available. Nowadays, live music is a small percentage of the entertainment industry. I honestly don’t know ANY musicians who can make a living full time out of music anymore. They were halcyon days the mid to late 80s, do you look back fondly on those days and if you had your time over, is there anything you would have done differently?

SG: You’re 100% right, that era was the absolute heyday of gigging. The pressures of loud music restrictions for pubs near urban housing,  the shift in the type of venues  where younger kids go out to meet (e.g. Dance parties etc), the loss of real development shows for bands like Countdown, Sounds and MTV have all contributed to the changing face of what’s left of the live scene.  Back then if you were in a band, you were in that band and that’s it – nowadays musicians are playing in multiple different bands to make a decent living from live work. There are still some awesome bands out there playing live, but it seems to be much harder to motivate people to go out to see live bands and develop a new breed of young and dedicated followers like what existed in the ‘80s.

Anything I would have done differently……maybe I would have worn earplugs so that the hearing damage was minimised, and had I more financial resources at the time, I should have up and awayed to England with the One Man Army band when I was getting great feed back for the album.

RB: The early 90s saw the demise of the hard rock / heavy rock era, which put a lot of us in the musical wilderness. When did you decide that the writing was on the wall and it was time to do something else? You pursued a career in science is that correct?

I think it was about ‘93-’94. We’d finished doing the 5150 show, and were struggling to get Rags to where I wanted it to be. It was kind of weird, because I just stopped. No farewell shows, I just said I’ve had enough. I think I’d put some sort of a vague timer on myself as well like reaching age 35,  and that was it.  Some bands can be like a bad marriage but Rags N Riches / 5150 was a really pro unit – it was a great team environment. I did feel like a professional sportsman knowing when the right time to retire is, and I did feel I wanted to stop on a good note and that was certainly true of what we’d achieved with this band. I didn’t want to end up playing in some broken down old hotel to a man and his dog, so I quit while I was ahead.  I kept the recording studio gear but soon after stopped writing new material as I had no purpose or motivation. I stopped going to gigs because I was sick of answering the question – “what are you doing now?” and the answer was “well nothing, I’ve quit music, end of story”. I’d also done courier work for a long time which was a great job because you were a sub-contractor and it allowed me to go away on tours and still have a job when I came back. But I got to the point where I started thinking  do I want to do this for another 20 years, and the answer was no. So I  walked from that too – I’d had enough. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I’d had an interest in insects as a kid, and my family encouraged me to do something with that. So I went to university as a mature age student and did a Science Degree graduating with Ist Class Honours specialising in Entomology (the study of insects). That got me a job at the Australian Museum in the Entomology department. I’m now in the museum’s DNA Lab where I look after the Frozen Tissue Collection which is used for the museum’s genetic research on all sorts of animals.

RB:  After several years away from the music industry, you released an album late last year under the moniker of MAZZ-XT, firstly, congratulations on its release! I for one am pleasantly surprised to hear new music from Scott Ginn. You have always had a great rock voice and it’s great to hear it again!  (Readers please note that we intend to do a track by track review and interview with Scott which will appear on The Australian Rock Show. So stay tuned for that). What is the origin behind the MAZZ-XT name?

SG:  Thanks Colin, and I’m glad to be back making music. It’s something that I didn’t think I would do again.

I was brainstorming band names for the project and I had written down a long list of ‘possibles’. But in the modern world with the advent of online presence, I’d start googling all these names that I’d thought of, and of course there was already a band called this or that. So that wasn’t working for me. One of the names was ‘Mass Extinction’ but that had been used as well.  I kind of liked this one because it had a double meaning to me – in reference to a literal mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs (my museum influence) and it also represented a tongue-in-cheek reference to the mass extinction event (the 90s music we talked about earlier) that wiped out the dinosaurs of rock music. So playing around with the spelling and abbreviating it I modified ‘Mass Extinction’ to ‘Mazz-XT’ (pronounced maz-exx-tee) which was a unique name that had not been used anywhere else.  From that came the title of the album and title track “At the brink of eternity” being the moment in time before the imminent impact of a giant meteor on the earth which causes a mass extinction event….. Or perhaps it’s the moment before there was a changing of the guard in the world of rock music???? Make of it what you will.

RB: The MAZZ-XT album, ‘At The Brink Of Eternity’ is a fantastic album of well crafted, hard rock tunes.  What can you tell us about the project, and your first new recorded material in over 20 years?

SG: After I stopped playing music, I got really interested in action video games – not so much playing them but building them. My sons play lots of games, and I was drawn into the process of how they were made. For the last 13 years I have been building and releasing custom level games in the Tomb Raider community under the nik  ‘EssGee’.  For these games I started getting interested in making the ambience and action scene music for the games. So I invested in some software to produce music for the games. These are small mood music interludes written and played on keyboard – some are short 10 second things, other are 1-2 minute pieces.  They started turning out pretty good, and I got curious as to whether I could record a decent rock song using this software. The first song I recorded was an early version of the opening album track “Spellbound”. I was so vibed with how it was sounding that it opened the creative floodgates and maybe what had been bottled up inside me for 20 years just came flowing out, so before long I had an album of songs.

std_12043RB: In reference to the ‘At The Brink Of Eternity’ album, I read somewhere where you stated. “The new songs are influenced by music from the past – but have a modern edge.” I agree with that wholeheartedly. The songs may have a foundation in 80’s hard rock, but much of the material has a progressive edge, and could almost be interpreted as a concept album. Such is the calibre of the songs, musically, thematically and lyrically.

SG: Wow!  I’m so glad that that does come through in the music. It was a very empowering experience just being able to write what I felt rather than feeling the need to write to a particular style because of what is the current trend. Lyrically some of it is a departure from the good times lyrics of Rags n Riches,  drawing from a bunch of more recent life experiences.  But even though there are some more serious subjects broached, I always try to stay positive in my outlook about things. I’m really pleased with how the album has turned out and I think it truly representative of what my music is about.

0005958260_10RB: Do you have plans to get out and gig again? Particularly in light of the reissue of ‘One Man Army’ and the soon to be released Rags N Riches album ‘Shipwrecked Out On The Streets’.  

SG: Good question, and this is where I get to write my own rules. I will never say never again (although I did in the 90’s – ha!). I would very much like to perform live again with this new material and the Rags and One Man Army stuff, but I won’t do it unless there is a demand there for it. Back in the day we would develop a live following first and then hopefully follow that up with release material. Nowadays for me, as essentially a recording artist, it’s the other way around – my passion is to write and record songs. I’ll continue to do that for as long as the ideas keep on coming. It’s something I love doing. If I build a following through my recordings, then backing that up with live performance is definitely on.  So if fans want live shows they will need to show their support through the recorded material first. Like we talked about earlier, the music scene has changed dramatically and musicians have got to come up with new ways to to get their music to the people that want to hear it. Crowd-funding is a good example of this. For me, I don’t need this, I can produce my own albums, I just need people to listen to it and show their support by buying an album or two. (Readers: Click here and show Scott your support by picking up his album – ED)

RB: Thanks very much for your time Scott. If readers want to check out the MAZZ-XT album, they can head to the links below.

SG: Cheers Colin, it’s been good fun recollecting some of these memories. Thanks for that. Scott outta here!

Bandcamp: https://mazz-xt.bandcamp.com/

CDBaby: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/mazzxt

Facebook: www.facebook.com/mazzxtmusic/

Soundcloud: soundcloud.com/mazz-xt

Twitter: twitter.com/MazzXTMusic

Mazz-XT Music Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSkvjigiH0ELdrOETPhGEpw

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Cherie Currie: The Queen of Noise hits Sydney (photo: D.Gray)

The California summer may never end, but tonight in downtown Sydney – it was a cold and chilly wind that greeted me when I arrived at Sydney University’s Manning Bar for a dose of Cherie Currie flavoured rock n roll.

I never in my wildest dreams, thought Cherie would jet downunder, yet here we are – half way through a run of gigs in both New Zealand and Australia. I for one, am appreciative. If you search this blog, you will correctly conclude I have been a Runaways disciple (and vocal supporter) for decades. In fact, 1977’s Waitin’ For The Night is forever etched in my top ten favourite records of all time. So again, having Cherie Currie announce a tour of Australia some months back was welcome news.

With no fanfare (or intro tape for that matter) – Currie and band crash the stage with a blistering take of ‘American Nights’. Kim Fowley wrote some mighty infectious songs throughout his life – and this is up there with the best of em, still sounding as potent as ever some forty years after he and former Hollywood Star Marc Anthony co-penned it.

The Velvet Underground classic ‘Rock n Roll’ figures in Runaway-history way back to when they were a trio – (Joan, Sandy and Micki Steele) and is aired next. Although considered sacrilegious by some to say anything negative about the Velvet Underground
– I will nevertheless take the risk and reiterate the long held belief of many – The Runaways’ recording of Rock n Roll from 1976 stomps all over the original – closely followed in my opinion by Mitch Ryder and Detroit’s interpretation from 1972. Ms Currie belts this out like it’s 1977 and the Sydney set are diggin’ it.

‘Rock n Roll Rosie’ – penned for the upcoming Suzi Quatro film is cool and catchy – and littered with lyrics expressing Currie’s admiration for one of Detroit’s finest. If you get ahold of Currie’s just-released ‘Midnight Music in London’ album – check out this one out closely as Quatro herself joins Cherie on stage for a guest stint. Two thumbs up from Mr Rockbrat.

The frenetic ‘Dear Mum’ is shadowed by a thumping ‘Is It Day Or Night’. I’ve always dug Fowley’s cryptic lyrics on this – ‘Porcupine kiss, novacaine lips’ – how the hell he came up with lines like that is beyond my comprehension. Most punters tonight seem familiar with the tune so I’m guessing the Runaways debut LP would be in their iTunes (modern talk for K-tel Record Selector)…

Y’know one of the best things to come out of the Runaways film – apart from turning kids onto the band – was that the youngsters got hipped to artists like Bowie and the great Nick Gilder. Tonight Cherie and band crank out a heavied-up take of Gilder’s ‘Roxy Roller’ and it’s a
night highlight. Man Nick Gilder had some tunes didn’t he !? Cherie’s rendition of ‘Roxy Roller’ smokes and her recorded version you can hear on her upcoming album due out in September.  Yes, finally – Blackheart Records will release the new Cherie Currie album (applause). About time.

I return from the bar just as Cherie cranks a bunch of my favourite Runaways tunes: “Heartbeat”, “Queens of Noise”, ‘California Paradise’ and a stunning “Midnight Music”. Currie’s voice is stonger than ever by the way – the proof is there for all to hear – especially in songs like the raging California Paradise. Currie knows how to work an audience so well, and I am beginning to think I shoulda got a ticket for another show as well. Darn it.

The impact David Bowie had on Cherie Currie is immense – life changing, and the couple of Bowie songs she performed in his honor tonight were heart felt and emotion charged. A visibly upset Cherie momentarily paused and spilled tears during a stunning rendition of Lady Grinning Soul. In many years of seeing live music, this is one moment I will treasure – nothing staged or pretentious, just warm and real. “Rebel Rebel” follows fast and man it’s good. Bowie would be smiling. So too Mick Ronson – whose contributions to much of
Bowie’s work must never be underestimated…(isn’t the integral piano part contained in Lady Grinning Soul played by Ronno?!)

Incidentally, if you view The Runaways movie – you’ll see Dakota Fanning performing Bowie’s Lady Grinning Soul at the school talent show and have food thrown at her… Cherie tonight re-corrects this with “actually I did 1984 and I won that fuckin’ show”. So there you go readers. For what it’s worth I reckon “1984” from Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album woulda been a better choice for Fanning to do…and it woulda kept the story straight.

“Believe” – lifted off the recent Reverie album is an album highlight and is aired tonight to welcoming ears. Maybe I’m all Kiss-ed out but I could do without the cover of Kiss’ Do You Love Me. Yep, thanks Sherlock, I am aware it’s another Fowley co-write, but as a life-long Kisser,  I could pass on this. Whoever does Cherie’s set-list, strike a line through the
Kiss cover and replace it with Russ Ballard’s Since You’ve Been Gone will ya !? Or how about the Roni Lee/Kim Fowley stomper ‘I Wanna Be Where The Boys Are’ ? ! Hell yeah !!!

The hour long set closes with a fiery “Cherry Bomb”. It’s become an anthem, and deservedly so.  It’s a memorable ending.

In closing let me state this: Cherie Currie is the real rock n roll deal. A trail blazer. If you know your facts – you’ll know her life has had many challenges, but Currie remains strong and is an inspiration to many. I have seen many great nights of live rock n roll, and tonight’s show by Cherie Currie is up there with the best of em.

Hear an interview conducted with Cherie on the eve of her Australian tour here

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The Wiz – Phil Emmanuel, Harmonie German Club, Canberra  22/4/16. Photo (c) C. Gray

Have you ever stopped and wondered just how many great guitarists Australia has produced over the years ? I’m not talking good – I’m talking great.  Great as in world class, as in the top 20 of the world. Players who possess a feel and original style all their own. A uniqueness that makes them just that – unique. This post is not intended to stoke debate about the names of who should make that list and who shouldn’t, that’s for another time. It does goes without saying though that you can’t mention ‘world class guitar player’ without adding the word Emmanuel. They are synonymous. When someone like Clapton sates that Tommy Emmanuel is the best guitarist he’s ever seen – it’s quite an endorsement.  I have seen both Tommy and Phil Emmanuel a bunch of times over the years, and whilst Tommy has gone on to have way more international success, there’s no denying that Phil Emmanuel is as good as, if not better, than Tommy, certainly as an electric guitar player.  The think about Phil Emmanuel is that he is so indifferent to ‘success’. Tommy chased it – Phil different. He is so unassuming, both in personality and guitar style, and they are both part of his makeup. He plays what he wants to play, on his own musical terms, and he always has.  He cracks jokes, has a great sense of humor – and yet, can shred better than most. Phil Emmanuel is known as Australia’s Greatest Electric Guitar Player and has a resume of amazing performances with musical legends that any musical enthusiast would envy. “Phil’s musical prowess is so astonishing that there are times when the man becomes the guitar and the guitar becomes the man. His passion is illuminating; his ability is breathtaking “While his brother Tommy plays it sweet; Phil plays it from the street” so says Glenn A Baker.  And that’s something obvious when you see him live. He plays with so much echo – it’s very much part of his sound. Phil himself has said, ” if it wasn’t for “Hank B. Marvin and The Shadows” I wouldn’t be the electric guitar player I am today. “When I first heard Hank play in 1959 I was fascinated and hooked by his sound and use of echo. To this day he is still my favourite guitarist”. Artists he has graced the stage alongside reads like a who’s who of the music biz. Artists such as John Jorgensen (Elton John, The Hellecasters), Will Ray, Bonnie Raitt, Duanne Eddy, James Burton, (Elvis Presley), Carlos Santana, the band “America”, The Ventures, Eric Clapton, and indeed, Hank B Marvin. Yet also throw in James Morrison, Don Burrows, Slim Dusty, Reg Lindsay, Lee Kernaghan, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Tammy Wynette, Dire Straits, The Shadows, Midnight Oil, Jimmy Barnes, Roy Buchanan, Don Walker, John Farnham and Ian Moss. From Goldrush to Terrafirma and Kakadu – his musical prowess and output run deep – so when the opportunity presents to see him live, for FREE, on a Friday night – you take it. The German Club in Canberra’s Narrabundah is steeped in Oz rock history – and its still a great venue to see a band. Tonight, the baby boomers are out in force, and there’s no sign of a vacant table or chair.  If they were expecting fast fingered acoustic  style – they picked the wrong Emmanuel. Tonight, the Wiz plugged in and, even though he was solo and playing to a backing track, he was LOUD and electric. So much so that many of the older set walked out with fingers firmly planted in ears.  As I said – Phil does what Phil wants. Here is a recording of Phil playing ‘Terrafirma’ on the night. Check out the video for Terrafirma on Youtube if you get a chance.  Take a listen for yourself to another, Australian guitar great.

 

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Gwyn Ashton – Better than all the rest. Live in Canberra 18/3/16 (photo: D. Gray)

Gwyn Ashton is a musician who is revered by his peers. He has hordes of appreciative fans (mainly scattered throughout Europe), and has had his fair share of accolades placed upon him over the years – bestowing his prowess and originality as a guitar player. Original ? You bet. Master craftsman of his instrument ? Indeed. Writer of memorable and quality songs? Absolutely. Yet it’s humility that is his most endearing character trait. Sadly, it’s a quality which is not found in musicians half as good as he is, who have a profile a lot bigger than his. Yet at the end of the day – none of that matters. The music is what matters- and the connect that it has with people. And make no mistake, the music of Gwyn Ashton has found its mark with thousands upon thousands of people – from Australian country towns to Russia, Poland, Eastern Europe and all point in between. We have been fortunate to have TWO tours of Australia by Gwyn in the past 12 months. What a treat. Man, the guy is so good. –and he continues, like a true rock soldier, to bring his music to the masses, day by day. It’s what he does. Yet he’s no hack. He’s beyond great. OK OK, before I continue, let me give you a few of the aforementioned accolades I was talking about – that way you won’t just think it’s me being my usual biased self. Gwyn plays electric guitar, slide guitar, acoustic guitar, and harmonica. He is a killer on the Strat, yet I’ve also seen him do some pretty amazing things on his resonator as well. In 76, Gwyn started his musical journey, playing bars and festivals across the country. He relocated from Adelaide to Sydney in 1983, formed his own trio with IMAG0045.JPGdrummers John Lalor (Heaven, The Beast, Swanee, Cheetah), Richard Harvey (Divinyls, Party Boys), John Watson (Australian Crawl, James Rayne, Daryl Braithwaite) and played stints with Swanee and Stevie Wright. In 1991 he moved to Melbourne, recorded his first two albums Feel The Heat (1993) and Beg, Borrow & Steel (1996). During that time he also played with Jim Keays, Mick Pealing and opened for Junior Wells, Rory Gallagher, Steve Morse and Albert Lee. In 1996 Ashton relocated to Europe, picking up supports with B.B. King, Johnny Winter, The Yardbirds, Mick Taylor, Peter Green and Status Quo on their 15-date British arena tour in 1999. (You still want more accolades?) He recorded the Fang It! Album with Rory Gallagher’s rhythm section Gerry McAvoy and Brendan O’Neill. He replaced ex Motörhead/Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson in Band Of Friends, a memorial to Rory Gallagher with Rory’s former sidemen Gerry, Brendan, Lou Martin, Mark Feltham and Ted McKenna. In 2001 French fans voted Ashton at number three position in Guitar Part magazine’s Guitarist Of The Year poll with Jeff Beck and Gary Moore at first and second positions. Did you read that ? If not, read it again. Over the years Ashton has played onstage with Mick Fleetwood, Hubert Sumlin, Marc Ford, Canned Heat and has opened for Rory Gallagher, Ray Charles, Robin Trower, Vanilla Fudge, Wishbone Ash, Van Morrison, Jeff Healey, Tony Joe White, Johnny Winter, Mick Taylor, Peter Green, John Hammond and Pat Travers. Robert Plant is a fan, and as is well known, Gwyn recorded an album with Plant’s guitar player, Robbie Blunt. To those in the know, none of these accolades are new. If anything, they are all merited for a guy of his standing and prowess. If he wasn’t any good folks – he wouldn’t be mixing with such distinguished musical peers. Yet for Gwyn, he just keep on at it, plugging in and playing his own imitable style of blues to anyone who cares to listen – and listen you should. At the end of the set – he packs his van, hits the road and onto another town. When he comes to your town – make the effort to go see one of the best their truly is. Forget whatever else it is you think is rock n roll – Gwyn Ashton is, in my humble opinion, without peer. A one percenter. And the best of the best. Head to gwynashton.com for dates and more info.

ARS55_large If you haven’t done so already, click here and listen to the interview my brother conducted with Gwyn in March 2016. They talk all about Gwyn’s career, touring, influence and all things in between.

Look out for Gwyn’s new album ‘Ragas, Jugs & Mojo Hands’, due soon. Can’t wait to see you next time Gwyn.