INTERVIEW AND LIVE PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
Bobby Rock is a Los Angeles-based rock/metal drummer. The man first came into awareness with the Vinnie Vincent Invasion, which featured, as its name suggests, former KISS guitarist Vinnie Vincent, bassist Dana Strum, and vocalist Robert Fleischman. Mark Slaughter soon replaced Robert, and the band released two albums before disbanding in 1988. Later on, Rock worked on several projects, including The Skull, Nitro, and Hardline. He’s also been working many years with the band Nelson and released solo albums, including OUT OF BODY (1996), several instructional DVDs, books, and has become a recognized health and fitness specialist, with certifications in exercise, nutrition, and meditation. In recent years Rock has also played with the metal band Carnival of Souls, Gary Hoey, and Graham Bonnet’s Alcatrazz. In addition to all this, Bobby joined the legendary Lita Ford band last January. The band did a mini-tour in Sweden in late July 2013. At the Skogsrojet festival, I was fortunate enough to get the chance to sit down with Bobby and discuss the current Lita Ford thing, his past with Vinnie Vincent, and other exciting topics. Read on!
LITA FORD TALK
It’s great to see you after all these years. I know that you’ve been to Europe several times with Nelson, right?
But now you’re here with Lita Ford. How did this collaboration get started?
They just – the regular guy (Scott Coogan) that had been playing with them, and suddenly there was a scheduling conflict, so they just called me out of the blue. The show was less than one week away, and they wanted to know if I was available. I said sure. We got together rehearsed a couple of times. I did the show, that was it. And then after that, I just stayed on board, you know?
So how familiar you were with Lita Ford’s music before you got this gig?
I had heard some of her stuff through the years, but there was a whole show to learn quickly. But I’ve been doing that my whole life, you know?
Have you never played with her until now?
I don’t recall ever having played a show with her through the years.
You have worked with many different bands and personalities in the past, but what is it like to work with Lita?
She’s cool. We got no problem. She knows what she likes; she is good at expressing what she wants and certain things. But there is not much to talk about; I understand the feeling she likes that arena rock feels hitting hard and heavy.
Are you talking about the 80’s stuff?
Well, I mean, that’s probably the 70s–80s is when that feeling was really cultivated, you know? Even back when Zeppelin, but I call it the arena rock feel. And it’s pretty timeless. And modern drummers they play, it’s a different feel. It’s a different kind of thing. So I think what I do, what I specialize in is – of course, I studied all different kinds of drumming – but to be able to do that kind of feel or whatever is a special thing.
There’s a Lita Ford live album coming out soon, titled THE BITCH IS BACK, and I heard that Lita has plans to start working on a new studio album as well.
Yeah. It’s a great band. I think the chemistry is great. I would love to record, it’s sort of, I mean, they have the live record already in the can but, I mean, it recorded was before I got there it was like last fall, and it was because it was something that was kind of tied into her current deal. It was recorded after the fall tour or something. I don’t know all of the details, but I think it was recorded in the fall because I got there in January and so timing, I would have loved to been on it and played on it, but that was already something that was kind of underway before I even got on board. You know, but now we are talking about going to the studio in the fall to do a new record. You know, so that should be cool.
Yeah, it seems that playing with Lita Ford will be a long-term gig for you?
I do, yeah. We’re having a great time. It’s a great band, and the chemistry is killer. I love working with Lita. It was just one of those things. It just kind of fell in my lap, and the timing worked out good. We’re having a great time; you know we have been working a lot, doing many shows. So it’s cool.
VINNIE VINCENT TALK
Maybe we can talk next about one particular band you played in the ’80s. I think you know who are we talking about here?
Exactly (laughs), but that was in the ’90s. So, if we start right from the beginning and how you end up working with Vinnie Vincent? I know there was some kind of audition, and you were chosen to be the man – right?
That’s right. Yeah.
Do you remember who other drummers participated in the audition?
I don’t, and I heard after the fact that there were a bunch of different guys, but I don’t know if it was true or not. I just had my time slot. I showed up, did it? And they pretty much hired me right then and there, you know. It was just the perfect timing. I think I was just what they were looking for, what Vinnie was looking for. And that was my first real major gig, so it was the perfect timing.
How much did you know about Vinnie and his past career with KISS etc.?
To some degree, like everybody else, I knew that he had done the “Creatures of the Night” tour, and then, of course, I knew LICK IT UP and all that. So I just knew him basically from that, from the videos from those things. But that was it. I didn’t know a whole lot about his playing. When I knew I was going to audition, I went and listened and played closer attention to see what he did stylistically and all that, but I didn’t know a lot about his history then.
I think he must have been a very demanding guy to work with?
Yeah, he was. Again, he had a very specific idea about what he wanted. It was sometimes challenging to deliver what he, you know, you would try a lot of different things. So, that’s what made it kind of difficult sometimes to figure out exactly what he wanted and deliver, you know.
RECORDING THE FIRST VINNIE VINCENT INVASION ALBUM
So how was the first Vinnie Vincent Invasion album recording session?
Well, you had Vinnie and Dana. So between the two of them, you know I’m a young kid, 22 years old—my first big record. So I would suggest certain things. I heard it, but I would let them. Basically, I would play, and they would say do this, don’t do that – do this, don’t do that. Sometimes Dana would have an idea of something of what to do, and Vinnie wouldn’t like, and so it was. I mean, there wasn’t a lot of yelling and screaming or anything like that, but it was – that the first record was the biggest recording nightmare of my career. I’ve never dealt with anything that crazy since. As far as redoing things changing the fills – let’s go back and do this again. What was happening is, Vinnie, I think, was looking for a very machine, almost like what Def Leppard did a couple of years later.
Yeah, but even like on PYROMANIA, it had – that was – PYROMANIA was like a couple of years old and that new sound “koosh gah, koosh gah.”
Kind of like a machine sound?
Machine, he wanted that kind of a sound, so I ended up trying to, and that’s where it kind of went overboard. I mean, I think I purposefully would try to deliver it. I mean, we did the record a few different ways. The long story short is we tried it one particular way with me, basically just kind of slamming through it. We said, well, let’s try to make it more “dit dit dit” more, and then we went into all these other different experiments and all these different things, and then we redid it and redid it a couple of different times.
How long did it take for the recording session?
Several months. Back and forth with it, and then eventually, they scrapped everything, and I went back in, and we did it as we did it the first time, all over again. So for me, that was traumatic because I’m a young kid, and I was thinking, “Aww… I’m fucking up here, and we have to keep re-doing,” and all that. But I’m glad I did that because everything I’ve done since then has never been as hard, so and I think it was – I don’t think Vinnie was trying to be difficult. I think he had a certain– like he was trying to get the machine sound in his head, so the way they were doing it, you know it was just a… It probably wasn’t the right way to record it, based on my experience. They probably should have just got the drum machines in there and just used machines because even if I played perfectly, it’s still going to sound like a drummer, you know? So it was rough.
You do not seem to have had too much artistic freedom during the recording…
Yeah, he wanted more than that kind of thing because back then, that is what was all going on, and you see, Vinnie listened to other types of music, not just hard rock. He would listen to a lot of [stuff]. Back then, he would listen to Michael Jackson or that style. So he was listening to those kinds of records where it was all programmed shit. And now we were trying to get that sound into what we were doing. This is ok, but it’s just a different approach, so we were using a traditional approach that Dana wanted to use where you have the drummer set up in this huge live room and all that, but we were trying to get a more “modern” machine sound, and it just didn’t… so that was Vinnie wanting something but maybe going about it a difficult way.
So how do you like the album now afterward?
Well… The irony, the funny thing is – is that those drums sounded fucking great. When we were just listening to them back, they really sounded great, man. But then only the thing is, I think the guitar guy, the album got so guitar-heavy with all the multiple track guitars “loud, loud, loud” that the drums just wind up getting buried, so.
Yeah, the drums, they’re too much hidden behind the guitars, etc., on that album.
They are hidden. So, it’s kind of like why did we spend three months doing it almost didn’t matter. I don’t think that the real, the best that those drums wound up on the record there and I think even still the way I play, there just there’s a lot about the way the record was made that was not the best way let’s just put it that way. I love the songs still. I mean, I still listen to that record sometimes. I love Vinnie’s playing; I think he is a killer player, you know? But the drum parts and the sounds all that on the record was not what it could have been.
Is there any truth behind that rumor that the album was “fastened” afterward in the studio?
No, no, no, from what I saw now, I wasn’t there for all the things, but from what I saw him do, they did the punching, you know, like how you are recording and then he makes a mistake, so they go back and then punch in. So the solos, I don’t believe, were full complete takes, whatever, but he really played that way, man, and even you see him live, they were replications of what he would do in the studio, but I didn’t know them to speed anything up because you know how could you do.
So then it’s just another stupid rumor around?
Yeah, because when you speed something up, then the pitch changes, so he would have, you know how would you do it? You would have to play it at a lower key and but then when you speed up, the note like I don’t even know how you would like that you know, I mean and if they did make any changes to the tape for tempo, let’s make this a little bit faster, it’s going to be-it’s not going to really affect.
Do you remember that Swedish singer Goran Edman was supposed to get the band’s vocalist spot at first?
You’ve heard of him?
Yeah, of course.
I remember the guy. I remember that because when and I don’t know why cause I was still living in Houston in Texas so I would just hear things like after our record was done, then that’s when he started looking, and I know that Vinnie really liked him, and he was close, but I don’t know what happened.
There’s a kind of bootleg recording around where he sings songs of the first album…
I remember hearing some demos that he did, a couple of songs. I knew that Vinnie had him – I guess Vinnie had him record something or whatever, so yeah, but then they just – something didn’t work out. I never really knew what happened.
ALL SYSTEMS GO AND THE END OF VINNIE VINCENT INVASION
With the next album, ALL SYSTEMS GO, it was a whole different story.
In your opinion, was it a better album than the first one?
It was better, yeah. On the first record, we were guitar recorded first to a drum machine, because “cha chuh chuh” and then bass and then I came in, so that’s why whenever I came in. I think they were trying to – that’s part of the problem, they were trying to make my drums sound like the machine. I can play right on top of it and sound perfect, but then they were part of the problem, and then the next record Dana and I recorded first. I think we had a scratch. Vinnie played scratch guitar. But we had a chance to play together, and it was more of like a live sound. We did the whole thing in three days or what, three or four days tops. Done. So it was a lot more traditional, and I think Vinnie probably figured, learned a lot from the first record, so it was a lot better, yeah.
Then you even had some success with “Love Kills” on that movie, the Elm Street thing.
That’s right, yeah.
In 1988 you did a tour with Alice Cooper. When I interviewed Dana a few years ago, he said that it was just one nightmare to do the tour because of issues within the band. How was the tour for you?
Well… I mean, Alice Cooper was one of my boyhood favorites, you know. He was one of the reasons that I started playing got into music. So to be able to play the show every night before Alice… Man – It was great. I mean, they sounded great, man, yeah. So I don’t know what Dana did mean, but maybe it was because we had the opening slot, and I know that Vinnie had only to play so long perhaps he was trying to do the solos, and Dana was always trying to control and get that and some of those issues you know? It was the Vinnie Vincent Invasion thing. It was like the biggest… would you call it, dysfunctional family. Do you know what I mean? Because you had or were all living in LA and the manager is in New York. George Sewitt, you know. So he had his thing that he was trying to do with the record and all that. You’ve got Vinnie, who thinks it’s his band and is supposed to be the leader, but then you’ve got Dana, who is a very strong personality, and he’s always he’s more outwardly the leader. He was making deals and doing all these kinds of things, so you got like three different voices. You know what I mean, and then Mark and I were the two young guys just whatever going along with whatever so it was the whole, as I look back on it now, the whole infrastructure, the whole how it was run and all that was pretty whacky.
So for you, what was the final nail in the coffin to quit working with Vinnie?
Well, there was a lot of drama and weird stuff that happened just before the second tour. The All Systems Go -tour. And it got so uncomfortable and so weird, and the camp got so divided that somewhere along the way, we knew this was it. We were just kind of finishing the tour. You know we had all these shows booked, so we all kind of knew this was it, let’s just get through this tour, and that was fucking rough. Because like, we’re in a bus and Vinnie kind of had his own thing where he was totally separated. He would go to the hotel by himself. He wouldn’t go to soundcheck. It would just be me, Mark, and Dana at soundcheck. And sometimes we wouldn’t even see him until like fifteen. We would hear him warming up; then, like ten-fifteen minutes before the show, he would come out. “Hey, what’s up, Vinnie.” You know it’s cordial. “Hey, what’s up?” Not yelling and screaming. We would play the show – after the show, we would all want to hang around, and you know, hang out with the ladies and all that. And then Vinnie would get the bus boom right back to the hotel, so either we had to go with him, or we had to get another way back or whatever, so it was strained that way, you know. And it is hard to say what one thing it was. I think there were many misunderstandings. There were a lot of different things that happened. I think he probably felt like we were all may be against him, which wasn’t the case. I think we had concerns about things that had happened before. You know we just, a lot of and then you start hearing things second hand.
Maybe Dana and Mark had… maybe they already had their vision about Slaughter at the time?
Bobby Rock: Well, that came about during that tour. You know, during that tour, what happened was Mark got his option picked up. Whenever you sign, whenever you know it’s Vinnie Vincent’s label, we had to sign these leaving member options. That says if we leave the band, Chrystal is going to offer us a record deal. So they picked up because he’s the singer, they picked up Mark’s option. He and Dana were going to do another. After this tour is over, we’ll do another record, so of course, you know the story. They asked me to do it, and I said, well, I was so divided by everything it was just such a cluster fuck that I just said, “Let’s wait, at the end of the tour” I took a few days off. And I just felt like I needed to find some distance from everybody, Mark and Dana and Vinnie, just for my own head. I wanted to do my first drum book and video, and I just felt like I needed to step away. And of course, you know I’ve gone back since then, and I’ve played with Slaughter. I still play with Mark regularly in that Scrap Metal project.
When did you meet or talked with Vinnie last time?
The last time I remember talking to him was in the early nineties. It was a phone call just checking in. I don’t remember much about the conversation. Obviously, I was in the middle of the Nelson stuff. I had probably already done the first tour, and I was about to do the second record with them, and that was it. You know, I’ve never seen anyone just fucking vanish.
How did you react when you see “the news” of Vinnie a few years ago?
Ahh… That was unbelievable. It was unbelievable; you mean what happened with dogs and stuff. Yeah, that blew my ass away, man. I had talked to his wife a couple of times because she was at the NAMM show, the big trade show in LA, with his guitars. So I met her there we talked and then I gave her my number. Hey, give it, you know, if Vinnie wants to talk, so we ended up having a conversation or two briefly after the show, friendly. And then I see this shit in the news, man. It just blew me away.
That was something that nobody was expecting, but in a way, it was still great to see his picture in the news.
I know. To see him after all these years, it’s like… strange “Laughs.”
THE SKULL AND BOB KULICK
After the Vinnie Vincent Invasion thing, you worked on another KISS-related project, The Skull with Bob Kulick.
That’s right, that was another record I did probably within that year, like six months after. Something like that.
So how was that project for you?
It was fun, and it was cool work with Bob Kulick. I didn’t really know if there would be any touring or what all would be involved with it, but I was doing just different records and different things, and it was just something that came up, and it was a fun project to do. I ended up doing Nelson brothers thing and their record, and I just kind of fell into that thing, but that was it, and of course, through the years, I’ve done some stuff with Bob.
The Skull album, NO BONES ABOUT IT, is great, I have to say.
I think so too. Dennis St James singing sounds great, and it’s a good band, it’s cool, you know.
But the band never got a real chance.
I know, it never really did, but you know he did that; he produced that KISS tribute album?
SPIN THE BOTTLE.
I played on it, right? I played on a song, and didn’t Gilby Clarke play on the song I played on?
You’re right. It was “Strutter” you played together on the album.
Ain’t that funny that he is playing right now while we are talking about it.
It is, you’re right. It’s a small world.
Yeah, definitely, definitely yeah.
OTHER THINGS IN LIFE
I also own a few of your solo albums, which are quite different from Lita Ford, Nelson, or Invasion material. I was just thinking about how you manage to keep those different playing styles separate from each other. I mean, maybe the way you play on your solo albums wouldn’t fit for Lita songs, for example?
It’s different. When I do my own stuff and my solo stuff, the focus is more technical it’s – my brain is in a different mode, you know? When I play this stuff, I kind of shift over, and it’s about the feel and the attitude and the energy, so it’s kind of like flick a switch. It’s all music, and the approach is very different. I couldn’t approach this like I approach my stuff or vice versa. It’s a different thing. To me, you go in and adjust according to what is appropriate for the music, you know? But I figured sometimes playing, well I do both, you know, like I will do this gig there’s a simplicity to it you go up there and just beat the shit out of the drums. I get a solo spot where I get to stretch out a little bit but and all that, but basically, it’s about the feel and the groove and what we’re conveying. And then when I do the other stuff, I put on that, get in that headspace, and do all the crazy stuff and the four-way coordination, and that’s what that’s about. So it’s, to me, I wouldn’t want to choose. I like doing both, you know?
That’s cool. One of my friends who saw you playing with Lita in Long Island not a long ago said that you blew up the place with your crazy drumming, especially during the solo! “Laughs.”
Oh, cool, cool, cool – good to hear. Yeah, during the solo, that’s where I pull out the bags of tricks. (Laughs)
You’re a musician, but you’re also a book author, health and fitness specialist, and more.
Which is your priority thing to do?
Well, you know I like, I’ve always had a fascination with the Renaissance time period. Leonardo Da Vinci and those guys, where they had multiple passions, so you know. First and foremost, I’m a drummer. Music is my life; that’s always been the main thread. But all these other things have been an offshoot of that. Years ago, even back in the Vinnie Vincent days, from all the touring and all that, I found that lifting weights and trying to eat good food to fuel your body made me perform better, which got me interested in health and fitness. And then writing about health and fitness got me interested in writing about other things, so everything is kind of growing off the thing before, kind of like, you know? So it’s hard to say. I guess my priority is always to keep on creating, keep ion trying to get better. And it just, there are different forms that it takes nowadays so.
We now have twenty-five minutes on tape, and I think this was cool. Anything else you want to say?
I think that is pretty much it, man. Yeah, I think we covered pretty much everything.
Thank you, Bobby.
Thank you, Marko.