Mitch Weissman (2013)
Background vocalist/original "Beatlemania" cast member recalls his contributions to Gene Simmons' 1978 solo album and his work with Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons on albums such as "Animalize" and "Crazy Nights," plus a potpourri of KISS stories and tangents.
David Snowden (2013)
Longtime KISS fan and former head of the Vinnie Vincent Invasion fan club talks "All Systems Go" and various KISS-related topics
John Storyk (2013)
Renowned studio designer recalls his work on Ace Frehley's Ace in the Hole Studios in Wilton, CT
Mark Opitz (2013)
Producer details his work on "KISS Symphony: Alive IV"
Bruce Foster (2012)
Grammy-nominated musician discusses working with KISS and playing piano on "Nothin' To Lose"
David Wolfert (2012)
Grammy- and Emmy-nominated producer recalls working with Peter Criss on his first post-KISS solo album, 1980's "Out Of Control"
Bob Ezrin (2012)
Legendary producer details "Destroyer: Resurrected" and the making of the album
Lydia Criss (2012)
Author discusses the second printing of "Sealed With A KISS" and various Peter Criss- and KISS-related topics
Ron Nevison (2012)
A celebration of the 25th anniversary of "Crazy Nights" featuring an in-depth discussion with renowned producer/engineer
Jean Beauvoir (2010)
Songwriter/recording artist recalls collaborations with KISS on "Animalize," "Asylum" and more
Kenny Kerner (2010)
Recalling KISS' early days with the co-producer of "KISS" and "Hotter Than Hell"
Eric Singer (2010)
Exclusive interview with KISS' current drummer regarding a variety of topics
Ace Frehley (2009)
KISS' original Spaceman details his first studio album in 20 years, "Anomaly"
Bruce Kulick (2009)
Non-makeup-era axeman discusses KISS tenure and latest album, "BK3"
Mike Japp (2005)
A discussion with KISS collaborator on the "Killers" and "Creatures Of The Night" albums
Dick Wagner (2004)
KISS' favorite "ghost" guitarist discusses his guitar playing on "Destroyer" and "Revenge"
Jesse Damon (2003)
Former member of Silent Rage on his collaborations with Gene Simmons
Stan Penridge (2000)
Peter Criss' right-hand man talks Chelsea, Lips and working with the Catman
Bruce Kulick (1999)
Guitarist talks Union project with John Corabi, Eric Carr and ESP
Sean Delaney (1998)
A brief encounter with the "fifth" member of KISS
Bob Ezrin (1998)
Former KOL webmaster Michael Brandvold grills the legendary producer regarding his work with KISS
Non-KISS Band Members
Derrek Hawkins (2011)
KISS fan and former rhythm guitarist in Ace Frehley's band recalls his stint with the Spaceman on tour and recording "Anomaly"
Art Lindauer (2011)
Guitarist/vocalist discusses working with a pre-KISS Eric Carr in the cover band trio Flasher.
Adam Mitchell (2010)
Songwriter/collaborator recalls working with KISS, Vinnie Vincent and writing songs on "Killers," "Creatures Of The Night," "Crazy Nights," and more.
Bobby Rock (2010)
Powerhouse drummer recalls his wild ride with the Vinnie Vincent Invasion.
Rich Circell (2008)
Lead singer discusses working with Ace Frehley in pre-KISS band Honey.
Mike McLaughlin (2006)
Guitarist on his personal musical path and work with Peter Criss, Criss' "One For All" album, and much more
John Henderson (2004)
Musician shares his memories of collaborating with a young Paul Caravellos (Eric Carr) and his memories of Carr's pre-KISS bands
Neal Teeman (2003)
Uncle Joe drummer discusses working with Paul Stanley in pre-KISS band formed in 1966 and assistant engineering "Alive!"
Victor Cohen (2002)
Rhythm guitarist/keyboard player discusses working with Eric Carr in the Cellarmen
David Bartky (2002)
Bassist recalls his musical beginnings and collaborating with Eric Carr in the Cellarmen
Phil Naro (2002)
First lead vocalist of Criss recalls work with Peter Criss and ex-KISS guitarist Mark St. John
Jason Ebs (2002)
Final lead vocalist of Criss discusses his musical background and working with Peter Criss just before KISS' reunion in 1996
Robert "Bob" Pryor (2001)
Guitarist discusses his musical influences and working with Eric Carr in the Cellarmen
Ron Leejack (2000)
Wicked Lester guitarist recalls collaborating with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley prior to KISS
Ross Berg (2012)
A detailed conversation with the author of "Gene Simmons: A Rock 'N Roll Journey In The Shadow Of The Holocaust."
Paul Grein (2012)
Yahoo Chart Watch blogger and certified chart expert provides a current breakdown and analysis of KISS' Nielsen SoundScan totals.
Larry Harris (2009)
Former Casablanca executive dishes on his must-read book, "And Party Every Day: The Inside Story Of Casablanca Records."
Todd Schorr (2004)
Artist discusses designing the album cover for Peter Criss' first post-KISS solo effort, 1980's "Out Of Control."
Charles Frehley (2001)
Brother of Ace Frehley discusses his sibling and his own musical career.
Upon his departure from Kiss in 1984, Vinnie Vincent took some much-needed time off. Partly to process the roller-caster ride he had just been on with the hottest band in the land, and partly to plot his next move. "I took the time out just to think and to be sure. And to plan a new course," said Vincent in 1986. "I was looking for the ultimate band. I was looking for everything that I couldn't find in KISS."
The Rock Behind The Invasion
By Tim McPhate
In late 1984 while KISS were moving on with "Animalize," Vincent moved on too, working around the clock writing and recording material and crystalizing the foundation for his new project. The "ultimate" cast was assembled. Vincent hooked up with the multitalented Dana Strum, who would not only play bass but also a key role as co-producer, arranger and engineer. Journey alumnus Robert Fleischman, who co-wrote "Wheel In The Sky" and possessed an unprecedented vocal range, was brought in as lead vocalist in early 1985. To complete his vision, Vincent knew he needed a killer player on drums. Enter the unknown Bobby Rock, who during his audition dazzled the trio with a combination of intricate rhythms, solid grooves and dazzling chops.
With Vincent penning an impressive batch of songs befitting of the band's collective talent (or as Rock describes them, "off the fucking hook") and a deal inked with Chrysalis Records, the Vinnie Vincent Invasion was born into a promising future. But things would slowly begin to unravel after the release of the Invasion's self-titled album in 1986. Due to an issue with Vincent's then-manager George Sewitt, Fleischman left the group and Mark Slaughter was brought in as the group's new lead vocalist. The Invasion then hit the road as the support act on tours for Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper.
A second album, "All Systems Go," was recorded with Slaughter and released in May 1988. With songs such as the moody "Love Kills," the Zeppelin-tinged "Ashes To Ashes," the dynamic "That Time Of Year," the raunchy "Dirty Rhythm," and the dangerous "Breakout" -- all rounded out by Vincent's sophisticated yet unpredictable guitar stylings and the explosive rhythm section combo of Strum/Rock -- the future again looked promising. A tour followed.
But all the while, inner turmoil was reaching a breaking point and just three months later the band played its final concert on Aug. 26, 1988, in Anaheim, Calif. After just three years, Vincent's vision vanished. Why? As Rock points out, there are likely four complicated sides to the story: "The WHOLE truth of the matter probably lies somewhere in the summation of ALL of our perspectives."
As for Vincent's take given the added benefit of hindsight, with him dropping out of the public eye for virtually the entire past decade, it's difficult to speculate. And so the enigma that is Vinnie Vincent continues, leaving fans to wonder if he'll ever be heard from again. But, according to Rock, there is no confusion surrounding the man's talents. "He was truly a fucking monster of a guitarist," he says, and when asked about his songwriting ability, Rock describes Vincent as "very gifted."
KissFAQ sat down with Bobby Rock to talk Vinnie Vincent and rekindle the embers of the Invasion in an attempt to uncover one-fourth of the "whole truth."
KissFAQ: Bobby, thank you for taking the time to speak with KissFAQ.com. It's hard to believe it's been nearly a quarter century since the launch of the Vinnie Vincent Invasion. Right off the bat, let's start with your Vinnie Vincent Invasion beginnings -- when and how did you initially hear about the gig?
Bobby Rock: I was touring throughout the South and Midwest in a club band called Diamond Romeo, and heard that another band on the circuit -- Sweet Savage -- was being produced by Dana Strum, who was working with Vinnie. Somehow, I heard that the drummer chair was open, and it was actually Joey C. Jones, the singer of Sweet Savage, who turned me on to Strum's phone number.
KF: There is a documented story that you called Dana Strum from Texas and said, "I'm your guy, the killer you've been looking for," and that you proceeded to drive all the way from Texas to Los Angeles to audition and knew the gig was going to be yours. True tale?
BR: Pretty much, except that it took about six weeks from that first conversation I had with Strum until the auditions were actually set up. But yeah, I left Strum a pretty bold and brash message on his answering machine about how perfect I was for the gig, and how I would blow away anyone else they brought in, etc. Of course, I found out later that he and Vinnie joked about it, saying something about how it would be funny to have "that kid drive all the way out from Texas for an audition that he surely won't pass." But I had a feeling about that gig. In fact, I remember filling my van up with gas somewhere in Arizona, en route to the audition, and some stranger -- who obviously assumed I was a musician by my appearance -- asked who I played for. I said, "Vinnie Vincent." And this was about two days before I even met the guy!
KF: Can you tell us what you remember about your Invasion audition? According to a 1987 interview, Vinnie said you played for an hour and a half, and after your performance declared, "You are the one." Is this how things transpired and do you recall what you played?
BR: That's a fact. It was supposed to be a quick screening audition where Vinnie, Dana and Robert would just hear a bunch of guys come in and play for five or 10 minutes, by themselves. They didn't even have their guitars around or anything. So I start playing and doing different shit, and they just really got engaged with the process. It soon turned into a mini-drum clinic of sorts, with me demonstrating a lot of the crazy Latin-style, four-way independence stuff I do, and a lot of the heavy drum solo, chopsy stuff, as well as the obligatory rock grooves and double-bass madness. They loved it, and even tried to stump me with different requests and variations of what I would play.
But man, it was just one of those destined occasions in life where I could do no wrong. They basically hired me on the spot, even though there were a couple more guys waiting outside the rehearsal room for their shot. I remember Robert saying, "Unless some guy walks in here with three arms, you've got the gig!" I'll never forget that day.
KF: What were your first impressions of Vinnie? And what were your first impressions of the songs you heard?
BR: Vinnie was super cool... very friendly and laid back. But I didn't hear ANY music until a few days later, once Strum hooked me up with a cassette. I heard the original demos of "Boyz Are Gonna Rock," "Shoot U Full of Love" and "No Substitute," and, of course, I freaked. I thought those tracks were off the fucking hook.
KF: What are your favorite songs off the debut album?
BR: Well, besides those first three, I would say "I Wanna Be Your Victim," "Do You Wanna Make Love" and "Twisted" are all sentimental favorites, although I don't believe there's a bad one in the bunch.
KF: Ten songs ended up on the debut album. Was that the total number of songs recorded, or were there some ideas leftover or incomplete?
BR: As far as I remember, that was it, although I'm guessing Vinnie probably had a backlog of tunes that he picked these 10 from before I came along.
KF: The drum sound on the debut Invasion album is certainly bombastic. We've heard about the lengths Vinnie went to with his guitars; was there special attention given to the drums? How was your setup approached?
BR: Special attention to recording the drums? You might say that! We did the record at Baby-O Studios in Hollywood, which was on the second floor of this historic old building. On the first floor was a gutted old theater, which had been closed off to the public for some time. There was a big stage in there and, in fact, it was the same place where Van Halen filmed their "Jump" video. But it looked like not one person had set foot in there since. Nonetheless, as you might imagine, it sounded incredible down there...big, open, roomy...the kind of place where every drummer dreams of recording.
So we had the drums set up on the stage, then Dana and the engineer, Mikey Davis, arranged to have various baffles and a bunch of different mics strategically placed all over the theater, in addition to all the close mics, of course. All the cables were then fed up into the control room, and a second set of mic feeds was sent to yet another studio in the place, where my live drums were blasted through a fairly loud PA system...which was also being recorded. So we had close mics, killer room mics around the theater, AND this live concert PA vibe -- all hitting tape. And when you blended these three things together, along with all the latest, greatest outboard gear of the time, it sounded like the end of the fucking world, let me tell you.
The logistics for me recording were a bitch, though. There was a small "cat-walk" set up for my monkey ass to crawl back and forth between the theater down below and the main studio above. They also had a video camera on me so they could see what I was doing. It was a bizarre way to record tracks, as you might imagine. It was very isolating, because I had no idea what they were thinking up there between takes, since I couldn't see anything, and I obviously couldn't hear anything until they hit the talkback. Plus, it would get chilly as a motherfucker down there at night, which is when we did most of our recording.
The original drum tracks, as we recorded them, sounded insane, especially with all that room ambience. But here's the sad irony: After all we went through, something was lost in the drum sound somewhere along the way. I don't know if it had to do with all of the competing frequencies or overall master levels of all those rhythm guitar tracks, or how the record was ultimately mixed, or what. But if you think they sounded good on the record, you should've heard what was coming back at us during basic tracking. It was unprecedented.
KF: Of course, Robert Fleischman is the lead vocalist on the debut album. He ended up departing due to problems with Vinnie's then-manager George Sewitt. In an interview you were quoted as saying Robert "was really cut from a different cloth then the rest of us." In hindsight, do you think Robert was the wrong guy for the job?
BR: What I meant by that was Robert was never into the heavy glam/makeup thing. I believe he perceived it as being very faddish and unnecessary for our band, given that we were all "real-deal" musicians who could really play. In retrospect -- if that's really how he felt -- he was probably right! But at the time, it just seemed like such the thing to do, given what was going on in L.A. with bands like Poison and Motley Crue.
That said, sure, Robert was the right man for the job, just as Mark Slaughter was. They were just very different.
KF: There was reportedly a video for "No Substitute" in the works. Do you think a second video would have ultimately helped push sales of the album past gold?
BR: Yes, I personally do. It was a real disappointment when Chrysalis decided to pack it in after we did the Iron Maiden tour and start working on a new record. However, I didn't see what the label saw. Maybe they were already way in the red on this thing, or were experiencing a lot of resistance at radio and MTV, and who knows what else. But theoretically, yes, it seemed premature to pull the plug.
KF: Mark Slaughter was brought in to be the new vocalist. A studio version of "Shoot U Full Of Love" with Mark on vocals circulates in fan circles. How far did discussions, if any, go with replacing Robert's vocals for the album?
BR: As I recall, the album was a done deal, and any version of that tune with Mark on it was probably just as a demo for Vinnie and everyone else to hear what Mark sounded like. I believe it was Dana who was really pushing for Mark out of the gate. But I personally don't recall any talk about re-recording vocals.
KF: What do you recall about the Invasion's initial tours with Alice Cooper and Iron Maiden? And how would you describe the interaction between the band members on the road?
BR: What I remember most was Vinnie and me having pancakes for breakfast at the hotel restaurants most every morning! Seriously, all the band guys got along well. Slaughter and I roomed together, because we were the young guys and had no clout. And there was always a fair amount of chaos happening within the organization, it seemed. But again, things were largely okay between all of us. And both of these tours were run very professionally and with minimal amount of drama.
KF: What was your favorite song to perform live with the band?
BR: Uh... let's see. Can't say I had a fave. Maybe "Boyz" since that was our most well-known tune at the time and crowds would always react so strongly to it.
KF: As you just alluded to, the image for the Invasion on the debut album was outrageous and certainly emblematic of the times. The look was then paired back a bit for the second album. Looking back, do you think the outrageous look on the debut album hindered the band at all?
BR: Looking back... I think so, and here's why: On the one hand, we were never pop-metal enough to really justify THAT much of a Poison/glam vibe. On the other hand, because of all the glam shit, we probably alienated a lot of the heavier music fans -- and even some of the musician types -- who would've otherwise dug the band. Of course, the concept at the time was to appeal to both demographics. But ya know what? It's always easy to look in the rearview and know what you would've done differently. If the record would've sold 2 million copies, then we all would've been geniuses for combining both elements!
KF: Do you have a preference in terms of the Invasion vocalists? And, which album do you feel had the better material?
BR: Vocally, that's really apples and oranges. Robert had more seasoning and experience back then, so that gave his voice a more polished quality. Mark, on the other hand, also had bionic pipes, but had a more reckless, spontaneous vibe about his singing that was indicative of his being so young.
As for album one or two, material-wise...they're both pretty close. "All Systems Go" probably had more overall depth and dimension, but I'm inclined to lean toward the debut, just for sentimental reasons.
KF: I've read rumors in guitar magazines that Vinnie sped up his lead guitar parts by manipulating the tape speed in the studio. Any truth to that?
BR: Not that I ever saw. There might have been a couple tricks here and there to create certain effects. And like ANY record from that time, I know there were a lot of edits happening. But that was all part of the creative process that went on between Vinnie and Dana, who would usually be engineering when Vinnie tracked. But for anyone who saw him play in person, he really played like that! He used to do a weird thing with two of his other fingers on his right hand, almost like a finger-picking technique. It was really unique, and I believe that's part of what gave him the ability to do all of that crazy, over-the-top solo stuff. He was truly a fucking monster of a guitarist...seriously. If you listen to those records today, there's still no one out there playing like him.
KF: Amen to that. Even before "All Systems Go" was finished press releases had been issued concerning the change in focus from Vinnie to more of a band project, yet mentioning Mark taking a leading role. How and when was this communicated to you, and where did the push originate?
BR: It was never really communicated. But when I saw how prominently Mark was featured in that first edit of the "Love Kills" video, I knew the wheels were turning at the label.
KF: As the band started to work on material for the second album, what was your role and what do you recall of the mood?
BR: My role was strictly that of a drummer. Vinnie did all of the writing, so I didn't have much input until we all got together for pre-production. And even then, it was mainly regarding drum parts. The mood was a little strained, but hopeful, as I recall. At the time of the recording, I think all of us band guys were cool with each other, but there was always some weird shit going on with management and the label.
KF: That kind of segues into the inner controversy surrounding the band during "All Systems Go." You have been quoted as saying "the writing had been on the wall" following the recording of the album and that Mark was having his leaving-member option picked up by Chrysalis Records while the Invasion was still on the road in support of the album. Can you recapitulate what was going on with the band at this time?
BR: Once the recording was done, things began to unravel a bit. We were searching for new management during the ultra-critical stages of a new record coming out...there was a lot of uncertainty -- real or imagined -- about Vinnie's role in his own band, and a lot of subtle divisiveness that began to set in early on. As I recall, though, the real line in the sand came about when the new manager guy began to set things up, financially and logistically, where the three of us -- Mark, Dana and I -- were more like sidemen than band members. So instead of having one cohesive unit where everyone -- band, management and label -- is on the same page, you had Vinnie and his manager (who would go on to do some pretty deceitful shit along the way) in one camp, the three of us (who probably didn't handle things so great) in another, and the label (with their own hidden agenda) in yet another. It was a clusterfuck of epic proportions.
But ya know -- not to get too philosophical on you -- I'm sure you've heard that old fable about the six blind men standing around an elephant. They are all asked to reach out and touch the elephant, then describe what they think the elephant "looks" like, based on what they "feel." The guy near the trunk says, "An elephant is long and curvy, like a snake." The guy near a leg says, "No, an elephant is tall and thick like a tree." The guy near the tusk says, "No, an elephant is smooth and sharp, like a spear." Then the guy near his side says, "You're all wrong. An elephant is just a huge mass, like a wall." And so forth. Of course, they are all correct to some degree, based on their limited perceptions. So the point I'm trying to make is that, each of us involved with the VVI trip probably has a perception of the experience that is only partially the whole truth...me included. The WHOLE truth of the matter probably lies somewhere in the summation of ALL of our perspectives. Good luck trying to piece that one together!
KF: Well, we've now got 25 percent of the equation! I want to read you a quote from Vinnie from the late '90s regarding the demise of the Invasion: "I thought I had constructed the ultimate rock ship and ended up in a political struggle with the record company and became the victim of a foolish financial decision to substitute rocket fuel with dishwater; thinking it would still fly. Ultimately the trip aborted." What is your reaction to reading this? Did Vinnie feel there was a mutiny against him in his own band? And with hindsight, would you have done anything differently?
BR: I'm not exactly sure what he meant by dishwater instead of rocket fuel...unless he's referring to his preference for Robert as a vocalist. But yeah, I'm sure he did feel like there was a mutiny against him. In hindsight, I'm not sure what could have been done differently. Vinnie was an extremely complex character... not exactly the kind of guy where it was always smart to be completely forthcoming about the truth (as I would later find out the hard way). I don't recall any "mutiny" kind of thing as being meant to be a mutiny. I think many people in the organization, as well as the media, saw Vinnie as somewhat of a liability to his own trip, so the three of us were trying to figure out how to "manage" the liability.
Looking back, however, I feel like Vinnie was probably less of a liability and more misunderstood, mishandled and mismanaged all the way around. It seemed like, on a certain level, he was being "imaged" as more of a super-glam, wild and crazy rock star kind of character, when he should've been handled more like a private Ritchie Blackmore kind of character, which is more what he was like.
I mean, someone like [Poison guitarist] C.C. DeVille really is that character you see...it's authentic to him. But Vinnie was actually a very private person and -- as everyone now knows -- a family man with a wife and two young daughters. He didn't drink or do drugs and had a nice, normal life in an L.A. suburb. He wasn't the kind of guy to go out trolling the Sunset Strip, banging different girls every night. (The rest of us, however, were a different story back then!) Of course, the public didn't have to know anything about his private life, but it could've at least been left to their imagination. I don't know how comfortable Vinnie was with all of that glam shit, but I don't think he was always represented authentically. Now whether this was Vinnie's undoing or just how he was steered, I couldn't tell you.
KF: At what point did you realize that the band was going to implode? Was there any possibility of salvaging the situation?
BR: Very early in the tour, we all knew it was over. Too much had been said and done at that point, plus -- as I mentioned -- Vinnie had an "ethically challenged" manager who had firmly wedged himself between the three of us and Vinnie. So, no -- I don't think anything could've salvaged it by then.
And I take responsibility for my role in propagating the madness. But I was young and stupid in a lot of ways... naive to think the total honesty approach was always the best path to take. One of the biggest lessons I learned back then was this: In business and personal matters, you oftentimes have to balance out exactly HOW transparent you want to be about an issue, based on the other person's capacity to deal with it. And in this case, things were so volatile that Vinnie probably wasn't in a place to "interpret" the full truth of what had been going on with true objectivity. Meanwhile, it wasn't fair to Mark and Dana that I put so much on the table to Vinnie when we were all in the middle of this delicate business/financial arrangement out on the road. It was a fucking mess.
KF: Controversy aside, that second album is stellar. Songs such as "That Time Of Year," "Burn," "Ashes To Ashes," "Love Kills," "Breakout," Ecstasy," and "Let Freedom Rock" make up a strong diverse group of songs. What are your favorite tracks off "All Systems Go"?
BR: The original uncut version of "Ashes To Ashes," "Naughty Naughty," "Burn," "Love Kills," and "That Time Of Year" are probably the standouts for me.
KF: What it is the story behind your featured drum solo on the "All Systems Go" CD release, "The Meltdown"?
BR: Back then it was customary to add extra bonus tracks to CDs, since they were relatively new to the marketplace. The solo was, I believe, Dana's idea for a quick and easy way to add a track. So he and our engineer Mikey put together some crazy-sounding sequences and effects on a drum machine, then had me come in and solo on top of it. My tech set up a bizarre percussion rig which consisted of roto toms, timbales, hi-hats, a mounted bass drum, and a few other things. And, I believe we had to set up in some weird storage locker space near the control room, since all the tracking rooms were taken that night. It was a last minute, off-the-cuff thing that we did not spend a lot of time on.
KF: How would you characterize Dana and Vinnie's relationship?
BR: Outwardly harmonious, but inwardly complicated. They seemed to have a very good working relationship, but there was a complex web of shit that was always going on behind the scenes. I think Vinnie was more authentic with Dana, and I think Dana felt like he had to "handle" Vinnie...to protect him from certain situations, and protect certain situations from Vinnie. To what extent any or all of that was necessary is largely unknown.
KF: Vinnie and Dana were the co-producers on the Invasion albums. How would you describe their roles as producers and did their approach differ between the two albums? And did Vinnie have the final say like a typical producer would?
BR: Well, let's see. Dana was definitely more hands-on in the role, as he dealt with most of the daily minutia of recording. And yes, Vinnie always seemed to have the final say...at least in terms of final approval on certain things. Dana was more practical, empathetic and diplomatic, which made him a better producer to work with. He also had a superhuman work ethic.
Vinnie had good instincts as a producer, but didn't usually have much sensitivity when it came to getting a good performance out of someone. If I did a decent pass of a song but it had a few glitches, his feedback would sometimes come across very condescending. This can really get inside your head when you're trying to record...especially as a young guy. In fairness to Vinnie, though, I don't think he ever meant to come across that way, or even realized how his feedback might have been taken. But that's kind of the point. As a producer, you have to convey direction to the musicians in a way that gets the best performances out of them. Telling someone you're recording they sound like an "amateur" is probably not the best thing to say right before you hit the record button!
The other issue was Dana wanted great drum tracks that sounded like they were played by a live drummer. This I was capable of offering. But Vinnie wanted more of that mechanical, machine-like Mutt Lange/"Pyromania" vibe, and was constantly in search of that sound...but with a live drummer, on a natural, acoustic kit. This meant that, for the initial phase of drum-tracking, hours, even days, were spent with me simply trying to emulate how a fucking machine would sound. They would even A/B my tracks to a drum machine reference -- panned left and right in the stereo monitors -- and make sure that every single note was perfect. And I mean every single note of a track. Pure lunacy.
BR: Of course, there's nothing wrong with that Mutt Lange concept. Those tracks sound epic. But it was just the wrong approach to take, based on how we were set up to record. Meanwhile, Dana was stuck in the middle. He thought this approach was ridiculous, like we all did, but he had to appease his co-producer. It was incredibly frustrating for all of us, Vinnie included. Ultimately, though, I was able to sound exactly like a machine. So much so, that when the suits at the label and our manager finally heard the basic tracks, they were all like, "Why in the hell did you guys decide to use a drum machine? This sounds like shit!"
Long story longer, I wound up doing drum tracks for the [first] record THREE TIMES. And in the end -- we wound up exactly where we started; with me, down in that dark theater, playing live tracks. It was a hell of an initiation to "major label recording." And I've never, ever, dealt with anything like that again throughout my entire career.
Needless to say, "All Systems Go" was a whole other story, all the way around. We all found a much easier groove with the process, and I believe Strum and I knocked out drums and bass in a few easy days.
KF: There is one reported demo outtake from the "All Systems Go" sessions, "I Wanna Love You." Do you have any recollections of this song and do you recall and any other leftover studio tracks from "All Systems Go"?
BR: Yes, I believe I remember that tune, and it seems like there might have been a few others. But basically, the tunes that Vinnie did full demos of at the time were the ones we recorded.
KF: Vinnie is known for a very unpredictable and eccentric lead guitar style, but one thing rarely discussed is his solid rhythm guitar work, riff-writing and sophisticated chord library. How would you sum up Vinnie's guitar playing style?
BR: He really was the complete player, with a huge vocabulary that extended through different styles -- all kinds of rock, funk, jazz, blues, classical, country chicken-pickin' stuff. He could play most anything.
KF: What can you tell us about Vinnie's approach to tracking his guitars? Were you in the studio when Vinnie recorded and can you share anything about him knocking out those shredding leads?
BR: Well, as I mentioned, it was all about him and Dana constructing the solos in the moment, since I don't recall Vinnie ever having anything worked out in advance. Vinnie would just start ripping, and Dana would record him. Ultimately, though, there wasn't really anything that they did in the recording process that Vinnie couldn't replicate live if he wanted to. It's just that this process they fell into was very creative and efficient as far as Vinnie being able to compose some killer solos.
That said, Dana played somewhat of a producer role to Vinnie as they tracked solos, since he offered excellent suggestions and direction along the way, and got great performances out of him. Dana was also an extraordinary engineer when it came to "punching in," which is kind of like doing live edits.
The other thing I remember was how insanely loud it was in the actual tracking room. There were at least a half-dozen different heads, all arranged on their sides in a semicircle, with an oscillating fan blowing on them to keep the tubes cool. Some of these amps, I believe, had been modified or customized, on some level. Then you had cables up the ass and an array of different cabinets all around the room, with mics placed everywhere -- up close to catch Vinnie's pick attack; from a distance to catch the room ambiance; etc. As you might imagine, the raw sound coming at us in the control room was just unbelievable. And to actually be in the room where the cabs were? Holy shit! I had to step in there one time to grab something while he was tracking, and you just couldn't believe how fucking loud it was. But it was absolutely jaw-dropping to hear how big and bad-ass it sounded. It was the ultimate arena rock guitar sound for the time...at least in its raw state.
KF: Vinnie is heralded by many of his fans as being a supremely gifted songwriter. Taking guitar playing out of the equation, how would you describe Vinnie as a songwriter?
BR: Very gifted. Ya know, they say that a great song can be played on just an acoustic guitar and still come across. If I'm not mistaken, I believe this is how Vinnie wrote a lot of his stuff...at least in the beginning stages. Don't quote me on that, definitively, because I don't know exactly how often he took this approach. But I do remember talking to him about that, and I always thought it was interesting how these heavy-ass arena rock anthems made their way into the world via an acoustic guitar. But again, it's a testament to his craftsmanship as a writer. And most of these tunes really do hold up in acoustic form.
KF: Was there a third video from "All Systems Go" ever planned? What would have been your choice for the third single/video?
BR: Good question. Well, first of all, I wouldn't have led off with "That Time Of Year." "Ashes To Ashes" was the first to go to radio, so I thought that was more representative of the band and the record for a first video. However, if you recall, that band Kingdom Come had JUST come out and beat us to the punch with their version of a Zeppelin-like novelty track [Ed: "Get It On" from Kingdom Come's 1988 self-titled debut], so radio wasn't really interested in another one so soon. This sent the marketing department at the label scrambling for a plan B...and made "Ashes To Ashes" nothing more than a token release to radio with very little record company firepower behind it. Other than that, I always thought that either "Dirty Rhythm" or "Naughty Naughty" would've made a great rock video.
One other thing to remember is that Chrysalis wasn't really a hard rock label when we were on board, so I often wonder how we would've done on another label. However, by the time Slaughter launched [in 1990], they really had it together.
KF: There didn't seem to be much of a proper tour for "All Systems Go." What was the original game plan for supporting the album? Were there any opening slots for other acts considered?
BR: One of the first tours discussed was a double-bill theater tour with Michael Schenker. And I think there were several other larger tours talked about. Ultimately, though, we wound up doing a headlining club tour with a few theaters thrown in.
KF: It was reported in "Kerrang!" that the opening act for the ASG tour, L.A. Guns, quit the tour on the grounds that they weren't being given soundchecks. What do you recall about that situation?
BR: Actually, I believe it had more to do with the fact that we weren't able to strike the drums after our soundcheck, so they had to set up all of their shit in front of us...which I knew must've sucked for them. Beyond that, I don't know what other issues might have come up. I was usually at a local gym in the afternoons, so I missed out on a lot of drama!
KF: Just three months following the release of "All Systems Go," the Invasion's final gig took place in Anaheim in August 1988? Do you remember how you were feeling following that gig?
BR: You would have to ask the two girls who I wound up sleeping between that night back at the hotel! Seriously, true escapism was in order after a fucked-up night like that. Uh...I think we were all just burnt out and more than a little numb. Plus, we had to separate our gear that night after the show...it was a fucking ugly scene. No yelling and screaming, but a lot of bad blood and heavy vibes. We were all done.
KF: When was the last time you spoke to Vinnie?
BR: I honestly don't remember. 1992, 1993?
KF: As you know, Vinnie has been literally incommunicado for many years. Do you have any information on where he is and what he is up to these days in terms of music?
BR: No idea whatsoever. He vanished. I've never seen anything like this. I would actually love to talk to him sometime. And I would never tell another soul on this earth about our conversation if that's what he wished. I hope he's well, wherever he is.
KF: Word association. What are the first things that come to mind with the Invasion members?
Vinnie Vincent: Great musician and writer...
Dana Strum: Entrepreneur extraordinaire, professional, intelligent...
Robert Fleischman: Artist, creative spirit, incredible singer...
Mark Slaughter: Fun, fun, fun...pipes of steel. My brother.
Bobby Rock: Stupid-ass name!
KF: Bobby, given everything that transpired with the band, would you rank your tenure in the Invasion as a career high point or low point? And what are your fondest memories of your time in the band?
BR: It was actually BOTH a high point and a low point. Being that young, struggling on the club circuit, and then jumping aboard a rocket like that was something else. There was a tremendous buzz on the band, right out of the gate. Exciting times. At the same time, the entire VVI experience was among the most dysfunctional I have seen or heard about, to this day. So the bad times were rough but kind of unequaled throughout my career. For this reason, I'm glad to have experienced all of the bullshit first.
Fondest memories? Opening for my boyhood idol, Alice Cooper, at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, on Halloween night. And, playing with Iron Maiden at the same arena in Houston that I had seen them play as a spectator during their last tour, a couple years prior. A full-circle night...
KF: Moving into your career, you played with Nelson in the early '90s, and have since joined up with talented guitarists such as Michael Angelo Batio, Brett Garsed and Gary Hoey, and you released your own instrumental album, "Out Of Body," in 2000. Bring us up to speed on what you are up to now music-wise. Are you still actively recording and/or touring?
BR: Yes, of course. These days, it's been more about single shows here and there, and less about touring, but live playing is still a big part of my vibe. So there's usually a pretty good balance of live shows, something educational (like the Rock Boot Camps I've been involved with) and different kind of session work here and there.
I've also got into writing quite a bit these past 10 or 15 years and just recently finished my seventh book, which is called "Zentauria." It's written in a journal/travelogue format, and it's about spending 11 weeks with a secretive enlightened society on an island off the East coast of Africa, and all the various experiences, encounters and observations that went down. It's the heaviest shit I've ever written. With that, I will be recording my fourth solo record, which is kind of like a soundtrack for the book, and it will feature lots of drums and percussion with full orchestration. This project has been occupying a lot of time here lately!
KF: You also have conducted more than 800 clinics and workshops internationally and have an instructional DVD, "The Zen Of Drumming." Do you enjoy this type of educational work?
BR: Love it. I've always been into the art and science of drumming. So these various formats not only give me a chance to talk about and demonstrate a lot of the pure drumming concepts kind of stuff, but they also let me play a bunch of crazy, over-the-top solo and groove shit to an audience that really appreciates it.
KF: You are known for keeping an intense fitness regimen. You have been a vegan since the early '90s, and are an advocate of drug and alcohol-free living. You've also released a number of published articles on the subject of health and wellness. How has this lifestyle helped your career?
BR: Among many other things, my lifestyle has always afforded me unprecedented levels of health and energy, which means that I stay in top physical condition year-round and am able to work long hours in town or on the road without compromising my professionalism as a musician due to fatigue and burnout.
Plus, I can actually remember shit! This has always been something I never understood about those who choose to live in a fog of intoxication. I know people like to party and all, but fucking hell; the large-scale rock and roll touring lifestyle is a one-of-a-kind experience that very, very few musicians get to experience. So I've always liked the idea of remaining fully lucid and present for the duration of every tour I've ever done. The memory well runs very deep, let me tell you.
Also, my study of nutrition eventually led me to the practice of veganism. This has given me an invaluable perspective on the interconnectedness of all people, all animals and the planet we all share. I know you asked how the lifestyle affected my career, but this is probably worth mentioning because I have spent a tremendous amount of time -- these past four or five years in particular -- participating in a number of animal-related causes. And, of course, I've been living the lifestyle and writing on the subject for many years now.
In fact, one other project I should mention is a book I've been working on for years called "Muscles, Mangos And Meditation." It's a heavily researched work that details the ultimate mind/body fitness lifestyle through nutrition, exercise and the mind/body connection. There are tons of excerpts all over my site and blog. This one will come out some time after "Zentauria."
KF: You're quite the busy guy. Where can fans go to learn more about Bobby Rock?
BR: www.bobbyrock.com is the main hub. From there, you can check out a number of related sections and sites.
KF: On behalf of KissFAQ, thanks for your time Bobby.
BR: My pleasure.
March 25, 2010