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Dead Daisies and Beyond: Chats With Dizzy Reed, The Verve Pipe's Brian Vander Ark, Jean-Luc Ponty and Uriah Heep's Mick Box

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A Conversation with Dizzy Reed

Mike Ragogna: Hey Dizzy, Guns N' Roses DVD Appetite For Democracy 3D Live at The Hard Rock Casino was recently released. Do you think this release is a good representation of what was going on during that period of Guns N' Roses?

Dizzy Reed: Oh, absolutely. The first residency and the last one we did were both great experiences. I think the band was firing on all cylinders. We were full throttle and I think the DVD caught it just great. It's almost the next best thing to being there.

MR: Was there anything that surprised you when you watched it?

DR: Not so much I guess, really just the fact that there were a couple of really good shots of me.

MR: [laughs] What about the performance? Did you feel particularly "on" that night?

DR: I thought so. I thought the whole band was definitely on that night, but I think we've gotten to the point where we're always on. Like I always say, if you have enough people in the band like we do, you're going to have a good night every night. There've been so many times where I've come off stage and I go, "I don't know, man, that was a horrible show," and someone will say, "Oh no, man, that was a great show!" and vice versa. We always have a good show.

MR: There are segments of Guns N' Roses history that really bring out different aspects of the band. What is it about the Use Your Illusion recordings that resonate with you?

DR: Just being a part of it. Up until that point, I'd just been a pretty big fan of the band. They were the biggest band in the world at that time. I had to pinch myself a few times, that's for sure. Objectively, looking back, the band was doing what it needed to do. To grow musically, to keep that dangerous element involved, even more mass-appealing, that machine kept growing. It was all included in what the band had already done, too. It was great for me to be able to join that and I'm glad that I was able to do it successfully. I think those two records really caught a moment in time, I think it really represented a shift in music, getting away from the hair metal and rock scene that was going on in Hollywood. Some of that had a staying power but a lot of it didn't, a lot of people were starting to see that as kind of silly, I think we put a little bit more importance back on the Sunset Strip, what it represented and what it was there to give the rest of the world in that period of time.

MR: Guns N' Roses is certainly not over yet, but what do you think their legacy is?

DR: I think it's just saying, "Never give up and never give in." That's how I see it, because we didn't.

MR: What led up to you becoming a part of Guns N' Roses?

DR: I think it was a natural progression. I was a big fan of the band but I was also friends with most of them. We met in a rehearsal studio while I was in a band called The Wild. Guns 'N' Roses moved in next to us. Since Axl is a piano player, we sort of hit it off. I remember sitting in my truck--when I still had a truck--it was his birthday and we were waiting until six in the morning so we could go to 7/11 and buy him a beer for his birthday since between two and six you can't buy in Texas. We had enough money for a tallboy, so I bought him a tallboy for his birthday. That's a sixteen-ounce beer, for those who don't know. He heard me playing the keyboards one morning, I think I woke him up because he was crashed out in our studio. I was playing the song "Bad Company" by Bad Company off the record Bad Company and that just really hit him at that point in time. He said that I was going to be the guy. They needed a keyboard player and that was going to be when Use Your Illusion came out. He had this whole plan in place. You hear things like that a lot, but he stuck to his word and here I am.

MR: Do you feel that Guns N' Roses launched you?

DR: They launched me into a whole world of almost oblivion, as well as rock 'n' roll. I wouldn't be sitting here if it wasn't for Guns 'N' Roses, no doubt in my mind. Who knows where I'd be?

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MR: And now you have an EP with The Dead Daisies, Face I Love. How did The Dead Daisies project come together?

DR: Well I was down in Australia with Guns 'N' Roses and we were touring with ZZ Top and Rose Tattoo which was great. In our off-nights I heard that Richard [Fortus] was going off and doing some shows with a band called The Dead Daisies. I asked him about it and he told me he was in the band. At the time it was Charley Drayton on drums, Marco Mendoza on bass and Jon Stevens was singing. Those are all guys I'd wanted to play with for a long time so I said, "hey, if you guys are ever looking for a keyboard player," and eventually they were so they called me and I said yes and it's been a blast ever since.

MR: What has your experience with The Dead Daisies been like so far?

DR: It's been really enjoyable. It's good to get back to your roots, as they say. I'm playing sort of classic-sounding rock 'n' roll with a really good band. Every night is very enjoyable. I feel like I get to do what I do best, play the electric piano and the Hammond, and I get to sing a little bit here and there, too. It's been really cool. And all the musicians who have been in and out of the band since I've been doing it are all top of the heap. It's really a pleasure to come out here and see these guys. We've been on a great tour, we did two weeks with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bad Company which was amazing. They couldn't have been cooler, the crowd couldn't have been more receptive, and now the same thing is happening with Def Leppard and Kiss, the guys have been great and the crouds have been wonderful and we've got another two and a half weeks of this. The EP's out now so we're playing those songs and hearing people singing along. We get to know that people are enjoying it.

MR: The list of influences that came into The Dead Daisies include INXS, Guns N' Roses, Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy, Ozzy Osbourne and even Billy Idol. Theoretically, that's not supposed to mix well.

DR: I think at the end of the day, great musicians will make it work. There's a mutual respect between all of us. Many combinations of us have played in bands before. Marco and Brian [Tichy] have worked together, Brian and I have played together, obviously Richard and I have played together, it all kind of works out. Those band all sound different, but I think we're all cut from the same cloth. We're not spring chickens but we grew up listening to the same stuff.

MR: I bet that included one of the EP's tracks, "Helter Skelter."

DR: That's a great song. We had been doing it live and we thought, "We're in the studio, we should lay it down," and it turned out great.

MR: That's had a lot of great recordings over the years, but your take on it definitely has a different energy than any other version I've heard before.

DR: Richard bought a new effects pedal for his guitar and I think he just wanted to try it out.

MR: Dizzy, what advice do you have for new artists?

DR: I'll say this until the day I die, you've got to go out and play in front of people. Especially these days, it's so easy to just get locked into a "project." It's always going to be hard to find the right people to play with, but when you do you need to go play in front of people. You need to have that feedback, you need to have that interaction. You'll know if what you're doing is good enough, or if what you're doing sucks. That's a mean way of saying it, but you need to be able to accept that. That's a lot easier to take than someone coming in and going, "Oh, I don't like that," because he wants to play a different guitar part. Go out and play in front of people, keep doing that and build up your representation and your fan base that way, then you can use social media to get people to come out and see you. The proof is in the pudding at the end of the day, as they say. That's my main advice. Practice, and when you're done practicing, practice a little more. If you're watching your favorite vampire TV show, practice while you're watching that. Think about practicing while you're eating. If you're going to school and it's not music school, practice when you get home and your homework's done. Just keep practicing and playing in front of people. That's the best advice I can give.

MR: Is that how you did it?

DR: More or less. I couldn't make records in my living room when I was a kid, I had to work and save up money to go in and record one song in the studio and hope that it turned out okay, but it usually never did. But I practiced, I still practice, and I feel the need and importance of playing in front of other people. And by the way, most of the time that's going to be a rewarding experience, but you also can't let that dictate what you do. Don't think that because your friends came to a show and were into it that the song's perfect. You've got to keep growing. Ask yourself, be objective and keep growing and keep getting better. Don't overanalyze, because you can go too far with that, too. Sometimes you have to stop and get a valued opinion of whether a song is ready to be performed or recorded and that can be from anybody. That can be your dad, that can be the dude down the street who plays basketball, or it could be your producer. Or talk to someone who knows, talk to another band who've had success. But yeah, that's pretty much how I did it, and I still practice a lot. I'd be practicing right now if I had a keyboard and we weren't talking.

MR: [laughs] Don't want to keep you but what does the future bring for both Dead Daisies and Dizzy Reed?

DR: The Dead Daisies are going to be out with KISS and Def Leppard right up until the end of August and then it's right into the ten-year anniversary celebration for Hookers 'N' Blow, we're playing at the Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood and September sixth in Las Vegas and then in October we're doing an east coast and possibly Canadian tour with Don Jamieson. It's going to be the rocking comedy tour, it'll be fantastic.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

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A Conversation with The Verve Pipe's Brian Vander Ark

Mike Ragogna: Brian, Overboard is The Verve Pipe's first album in thirteen years. Why did it take so long between albums and what has been everybody doing during that stretch?

Brian Vander Ark: We had tried on a number of occasions to get back into the studio, but we were just getting in each other's way, trying to recreate something that we had already released. It was tough for me to write and sing about teenage angst, like I had on much of our most successful album. Musically, it all felt good, but lyrically, it meant nothing to me. So we waited until the songs made sense. We put out a couple of kid's albums to satisfy our desire to create - and that worked very well for us.

MR: What was the creative process like and did you find it changed after all these years?

BVA: Well, technology had made it worse for us to record over the years. Once you realize that you can move a kick drum or bass note by nudging it slightly backward or forward, that house of cards falls. So much time wasted, chasing the perfect tracks via Pro Tools.

MR: The title track is a bit dark and was co-written with Jeff Daniels. What's the story behind the song and the collaboration?

BVA: I had this idea about a girl swimming in Lake Superior - a very simple beautiful image of her, naked in the cold water. Flushing that idea out, I thought it would be more compelling if she was in Lake Superior, but dead. I wrote to Jeff, and told him the idea and he loved it. I knew that he was in love with Northern Michigan, and would set the scene for the story, which he did perfectly. He even wrote a short story about it, with characterizations, and back-stories; all of the things that you would expect from an actor.

MR: Can you discuss the song "Hit And Run"? Its lyrics are pretty intense yet it's set to a funky track.

BVA: The devil is in that track somewhere, I hope! It scared the shit out of me, writing and recording it. I was obsessed with finding the right lyric to convey that fear of evil - It started with an idea of the devil releasing all of the demons, and the last one out of hell needs to turn out the lights, because every demon is searching for me. I don't even believe in any of it, but it still creeps me out that no one is in hell, because they are all busy looking for my soul. That idea with a killer drum/bass/guitar track? It's nearly perfect for me as a songwriter, which NEVER happens.

MR: Which song on the album best reflects the current state of The Verve Pipe and why?

BVA: I think lyrically, "Carry On" best describes the state of the band. It's the most autobiographical, with little jabs at radio and the status of pop music today. Making millions, getting high, pandering to radio doesn't appeal to me anymore. Well...making millions on my terms would be cool and I still enjoy a good bourbon buzz...so...strike everything I said except pandering to radio...

MR: [laughs] The Verve Pipe's hit "The Freshmen" was one of the biggest hits of the nineties. Why do you think it resonated?

BVA: LUCK. I had the rest of the song written before I even tried putting the word 'freshmen' in. I was sitting in my little apartment and on the coffee table was the movie The Freshman with Brando and Matthew Broderick. And I threw it in there. Months later, I realized how perfect it was, because most of us have been freshmen whether in high school or college, and there will always be more. It struck a chord immediately at the live shows.

MR: Your film career not only includes contributing music to movies but you also appeared in Rock Star, and a few other flicks. What is it about acting that you enjoy most and in your opinion, have you been employing a kind of cinematic approach when creating your music?

BVA: Acting is an opportunity to be someone else for a bit. It's the same with the song writing. I'm always trying to get into the mind of a character in a song so I can write from their perspective. I've written so many songs about how I feel, I've gotten bored with that, and I'm sure fans have too. So now, having the opportunity to write someone else's story rejuvenates me - and hopefully enables a lifetime of songs.

MR: Do you miss the days of His Boy Elroy and what did you learn the most during that period?

BVA: HA! Damn you. I miss the optimism and bravado I suppose. Those early days, if the band played a song start to finish IN TUNE, you had reason to believe you were the greatest local band around. I started writing back then as well, in fact "The Freshmen" was written just a year after that band broke up. But every other song I wrote during those days is unlistenable now.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

BVA: Write all the time. And don't sign any record deals. Do it on your own, slowly and methodically picking up quality fans. That's how you perpetuate a life in music.

MR: Is this latest project a signal of something more permanent for The Verve Pipe?

BVA: Well, we will never go another 13 years between albums. My schedule for solo albums is 2 years. And now that we have new members in, we are going to get this band on THAT schedule.

MR: Still got the acting bug?

BVA: Like the flu, baby.

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A Conversation with Jean-Luc Ponty

Mike Ragogna: Jean-Luc, you are one of the most famous and most revered violinists in the world. You must hear and read that occasionally. What is your reaction to being thought of in that way?

Jean-Luc Ponty: The most rewarding is the respect I get from young and even very young generations of violinists, including a few stars in the classical music world whom I admire very much. It feels good to know that my crazy experiences did not go unnoticed and are still appreciated today. But then I have to prove I deserve this respect every time I play.

MR: You almost stuck with the saxophone. At least in the early years, did you veer have a little regret for switching to violin?

JLP: No regret at all. I played sax as long as jazz was only a hobby, but when I developed a passion for it I switched to violin on which I had much greater technical abilities, so I knew I could go much further creatively with violin.

MR: What is it about the instrument or your interaction with it that led you to push creative boundaries?

JLP: Violin was not my passion, music was, which is why I did not hesitate to have instruments of different colors and shapes, to add electronic effects, transform the sound into something totally different as the music I create is and has always been more important than the instrument.

MR: What's the story behind Elton John inviting you to play on his Honky Chateau album?

JLP: I think he had just discovered my playing on King Kong, one of my first American albums recorded in 1969. He was recording with his band near Paris in a castle ...."chateau" in French.....reason why the album was called Honky Chateau....I was living in Paris and he asked someone to find me and invited me to play on his album. I had heard he was a very talented pop singer and went mostly by curiosity, not knowing he was so famous and that this album would be so successful worldwide.

MR: How big an influence was Frank Zappa or John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra on how you approached music during and after your tenures with them? Did their styles or approaches "teach" you anything specific that changed how you looked at music or were you all just traveling the same path creatively?

JLP: I had started on a similar path when I formed a band with George Duke, but I was still shy as a composer because what I wrote did not really fit traditional jazz or rock. Frank and John were very bold at letting their inspiration lead their composing without boundaries, the result was revolutionary. Their music was not a direct influence on mine but their approach and strong leadership were a big encouragement at pursuing my own concept.

MR: You also are featured on Chick Corea's heartfelt, iconic album My Spanish Heart. When you listened back to your contributions and even the album as a whole, what were your thoughts?

JLP: This album reflects that period when the music world was very attentive to the most adventurous musicians like Chick, instead of the formatting that is so prevalent today. Young violinists I meet around the world consider the track I collaborated on as a classic. I am glad I toured with Chick and Return to Forever in 2011 and had a chance to do even better than on this album.

MR: You first became popular at a time when jazz embraced what would later be called "new age." As that was happening and you were being categorized with artists like Paul Winter and Paul Horn, what was your reaction to that?

JLP: You must be very young Mike....laughs....my career started way before that, Billboard wrote in 1969 that George Duke and me were doing a unique blend of rock and jazz, this was before critics invented the term "jazz-rock". New Age appeared around 20 years later, and instrumental music being sometimes hard to categorize ends up in new ones often by mistake. It doesn't matter, I have never been stuck in any category, some of them have already disappeared, not me.....laughs.

MR: Are there specific things--certain keys, scales or tactile approaches to the instrument--that, in your mind, reveal how Jean-Luc Ponty approaches his music?

JLP: Musicians very often mention my very melodic style as composer and also as improviser, and my special violin sound, so there must be a specific approach but I do it by instinct, I am not analytical and can't tell you specifically why and how I do it.

MR: Do you have a favorite solo album that you've recorded and what about it is so endearing?

JLP: I am like many other artists who answer that albums are like children, you have no favorite and love something in all of them. More than albums there are some tunes that remain among my favorites from most recent albums as well as from early ones.

MR: How did your affiliation with former Yes lead vocalist Jon Anderson come about and how did this new band together come about?

JLP: We crossed paths many years ago and exchanged compliments on each other's music and Jon even mentioned we should do a project together some day. We came in contact again recently and decided to put a band together, we have many musical affinities and also different musical experiences, which is an ideal combination to push each other into creating something new.

MR: Are there moments while creating and performing music with Jon where you are surprised at how things gel or are you learning something new from the experience?

JLP: I was very impressed when Jon spontaneously sang on a couple of my tunes. It worked so great, I could hardly believe it and only regretted we did not collaborate sooner, but.......better late than never.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

JLP: Follow your gut feelings more than advices

MR: What does the future hold for The Anderson Ponty Band?

JLP: We are writing new music and re-arranging some of Jon's classics and mine, we'll be rehearsing intensely very soon and doing our first show in Aspen in September, record a CD and DVD and plan a world tour for 2015.

Jon Anderson official website: https://www.jonanderson.com
Jean Luc Ponty official website: https://www.ponty.com

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A Conversation with Uriah Heep's Mick Box

Mike Ragogna: Mick, Uriah Heep has been making music for decades, your latest being the album Outsider. How does the band stay vibrant after all these years?

Mick Box: Simply because we have the same passion and energy for our music, that we have always had.

MR: How did Outsider come together creatively and in the studio and were there any new approaches taken in technology, songwriting, etc., with this album?

MB: It was 95% written in the studio. Phil Lanzon our keyboard player and myself wrote all of the songs, so daily we presented ideas to the band and when they liked one, say a riff, a chord sequence, or a melody, we then put our heads together and wrote the song virtually on the spot. Phil and I are very quick writers, and we come to the table with many ideas musically and lyrically, so we basically finished off the song and rehearsed it with the band, and when the arrangement was to our liking, and to our producer Mike Paxman's liking, we pressed the record button and we had our backing track. We play live in the studio as this works best for us and you get the band all on one pulse, and you capture the feel and excitement. We did the lyrics and fine-tuned the melodies as we went along. Usually, when the rest of the band and the Producer finished for the day, Phil and I started on sets of lyrics and melodies.

MR: Would you say one of the secrets of Uriah Heep is your emotional vocal
approach paired with Phil Lanzon's aggressive playing?

MB: Phil is a very talented player and he can lay down aggressive keyboards but equally some very beautiful keyboards too. That fits into the musical template of the band's sound extremely well. The vocal will go with that too, and Bernie excelled himself on this new CD Outsider. He bought a personality to his singing on this one which is great, and he does it so well.

MR: Take us on a tour of Outsider, like what are your favorite songs and stories
about the album.

MB: Too early to say right now. I am a Gemini and what I pick today, there will be another one tomorrow. "One Minute" is what the Germans call an "ear worm." You hear it once and it never leaves you! It is getting a lot of airplay at the moment in Europe which is most encouraging.

MR: What does Uriah Heep mean to you and the other members after all these years and what do you think is its biggest contribution to rock? What's your favorite
Uriah Heep recording?

MB: Wow a triple whammy there! Uriah Heep is everything to us and we all give it 100% commitment. We tour in over 58 countries, and so we are constantly on the road which we all love. Our contribution has been immense, as we have inspired so many different genres as diverse as Iron Maiden, Queen, a-Ha, King Diamond, Blind Guardian, and many more. We have also had many first by being the first western rock band to play in Russia in December 1987. It was through our success that bands were allowed to follow in our footsteps, so you can say that we were true rock pioneers. We were also the first to play in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, before it split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, South Korea, East Berlin before the wall came down and many more. It is impossible to pick a favourite album, but a good marker in our career was Demons and Wizards, as this album put us on to the world stage.

MR: Is there anything about Uriah Heep's sound these days when contrasted with the early days that make you possibly want to revisit the band's older approach
either on the road or in studio?

MB: We have never changed our musical template. We just apply it to new songs. We have been pretty faithful to it all along, and as long as we have the Hammond Organ, my signature Wah Wah Guitar, 5 vocal harmonies, and a distinctive lead vocal, that is just about it.

MR: What is your proudest Uriah Heep moments?

MB: There are many, but to still be playing concerts in over 58 countries after 44 years is still a major achievement to be proud of. A lot of our songs have stood the test of time that people still like hearing in the live arena and I am proud of that. I was certainly proud to be the first western rock band to play in Russia. That was immense. Of course hearing your record on the radio for the first time, and getting silver, gold and platinum discs is right up there, but on a personal level I am most proud when someone tells me that they were inspired to pick up the guitar and learn it, after either seeing me in concert or hearing one of our albums.

MR: I don't mean to be indelicate but how did Trevor Bolder's passing affect you personally and also how did it affect the band?

MB: Big time! He was a big loss as a bass player, singer, songwriter and as a friend. We still constantly talk about him, and we miss his presence, but he wanted us to carry on, and by doing so we will keep his musical legacy going, which will inspire many bass players for years to come.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

MB: Believe in yourself and work hard at your craft. Try to be an individual and not one of the pack. I can best explain this by saying when the bands of the seventies came out they all had their own flavour and never two of them were the same. I never played guitar like Ritchie Blackmore--Deep Purple--and Ritchie didn't play like Jimmy Page--Led Zeppelin--and Jimmy did not play like Paul Kossoff--Free--and on and on. That went for the bass players, drummers, keyboard players and vocalists too. It was the sum of the parts that gave each band its musical flavor. Unfortunately today so many sound and look the same, you cannot really tell the difference.

MR: Where does Uriah Heep go from here?

MB: We are starting a world tour in support of our new CD Outsider, which is very exciting. As we travel the world doing this we will be collecting more ideas to go in and make another album. This is what we do, and this is what we love to do. A working band is a happy band, and if you come and see us, we will be smiling!