INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
Jimmy Waldo is an American keyboard player, songwriter, and producer. He has recorded and performed with several bands, including New England, Alcatrazz, Blackthorne, and Quiet Riot. Currently, Waldo is a member of the former Alcatrazz vocalist Graham Bonnet’s band. The band toured across Europe in May, and in Tampere Finland, I had a chance to sit down with Jimmy. This time we decided to skip the usual Alcatrazz talk and discuss other subjects, including his current stint with the Bonnet band, the story of Blackthorne, the state of New England, and Jimmy’s colorful past with the former KISS guitarist Vinnie Vincent, who recently returned to the public eye after a 20-year absence.
BACK IN THE GROOVE
It’s was like a year and a half ago when you joined Graham Bonnet band. How does it feel to be back playing shows and traveling around the world with the band?
Jimmy Waldo: I’ve really enjoyed it, and it’s nice being back with Graham. I missed working with him, and it’s just fun being in a band. I’ve always been a band guy. I don’t like touring as a sideman, like a lot of guys would want to take any gig. I feel more comfortable being in a band situation where I’m involved in the band. Graham and I have always gotten along and have always had fun together. And the new guys in the band are great. It feels like a real band situation. So, I love it.
How did the reconnection between you and Graham happen?
Jimmy Waldo: Graham’s manager called me. He discussed putting out some reissues of some music that I had done with Bob Kulick and Graham in a band called Blackthorne. Bob and I were talking about Blackthorne, and that was working out. Then he asked, would I like to play keyboards on Graham’s new record. They weren’t done yet, they were in the middle of writing, and stuff and I said, sure. Then I thought, I should go to see Graham. I hadn’t seen Graham in a long time. I went over to Graham’s place, and we hung out. It was great seeing him again, and we had some laughs. I started playing, and then I got involved in the writing, and I ended up playing on the whole record. It happened very naturally.
At that time, you also did a couple of “Alcatrazz re-union” shows, including you, Gary Shea, and Graham, right?
Jimmy Waldo: Yeah. We had just done some New England shows so, we brought Gary Shea in and did some Alcatrazz stuff. We did some shows in Texas, and then we went to Japan. We did about a 45 minutes show in Japan, along with the Graham Bonnet band show.
THE NEW GRAHAM BONNET BAND ALBUM
The next Graham Bonnet Band album, MEANWHILE IN THE GARAGE, is coming out soon. Is it a kind of continuation where the previous one, THE BOOK, left off?
Jimmy Waldo: It’s a little heavier and more progressive. A little bit more aggressive musically. It’s just a natural progression. Graham writes about personal experiences and observations of real-world events.
You had some last-minute changes in the band line-up during the recordings. So, who is playing the guitar parts on the album?
Jimmy Waldo: Joey Tafolla was playing the guitar on the record, but our new guitarist Kurt James also played on the record. He came in at the last minute and did play some guitars. So, they both played on the album.
BOB KULICK AND BLACKTHORNE
Let’s briefly talk about the shared history of you and Bob Kulick. When did you meet each other for the first time?
Jimmy Waldo: I met Bob in 1978 in New York. When Kiss first introduced Eric Carr to the public, they played the Beacon Theater in New York. Bob was there, and we met. We had a lot of things in common musically, and we just sort of said, “It would be cool to work together.” I liked Bob, and I loved his guitar playing and writing. We lost touch for a bit, and then when I moved to L.A, I was back in touch with him. He was living in L.A. I went over to see him. He was only about 10 minutes from where I lived. We just cut right to the chase, “Hey. Let’s put something together. Let’s do a band.” I thought Graham would be a perfect singer, and Bob loved Graham’s voice so, that’s a no-brainer. I got in touch with Graham, and it came together pretty quickly. We thought Frankie Banali and Chuck Wright would be great additions to the band since we all had worked with them before, and that was it.
And then Blackthorne was born?
Jimmy Waldo: Yes.
Last year you released the long-awaited second Blackthorne album, DON’T KILL THE THRILL. The album is a collection of unreleased tracks and demos recorded after the first Blackthorne album, AFTERLIFE. Can you say something about that release?
Jimmy Waldo: I had a lot of DAT tapes of rough mixes, and I had taken really good care of them…I didn’t think anything would happen with those. But I keep pretty much everything. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s going to be used again or not. I just kind of archive it for my own. So, Bob called me, and then Giles called me about putting them out. I knew where the boxes were. I would open them up and start pulling out DAT tapes and play them and start to refresh my memory. Giles did all the hard work. I just put in the DAT tape, dumped it onto the computer, and sent him the files.
I was positively surprised when I heard the finished album. It sounded great, and a couple of songs are the best what the band ever released.
Jimmy Waldo: I do like it too. Some of the songs are really, really cool.
I think that both Blackthorne albums are great, but in the early ’90s, it wasn’t an easy time for hard rock bands. Trends started to change, and album sales went down fast. So, Blackthorne was never a goldmine for anybody?
Jimmy Waldo: Not at all. It didn’t do much at all. It didn’t do well in Japan. It didn’t do anything in the United States or Europe. We were surprised and thought we’d do a lot better than it did. We had hoped to tour, we’re all friends, and those guys are great players. Bruce Kulick was involved; it was a great bunch of people. I thought Chuck, myself, Frankie, Bob, and Graham would be a great band on the road. We all wanted to tour. It’s a shame; we never did get to do that.
Blackthorne had a fantastic line-up and strong material, so the reason why the band didn’t succeed, maybe it was just the wrong timing?
Jimmy Waldo: Yes, it was really bad timing. We only did what we did. At the time, we just did what we did naturally. Bob and I just wrote and played the way we play, and we didn’t think about the music business. I think that’s dangerous when you start trying to guess what’s going on and you think, “This band is big now, and this band is big.” Colosseum is big, so we got to be like Colosseum. You can’t do that. We wrote and played the way we felt, and that’s what came out, and unfortunately, bad timing. A lot of our friends in L. A. were saying the same thing. Yeah, we couldn’t do anything except try to sell records. It was terrible.
After Blackthorne, you had a band, Murderer’s Row with Bob, but it didn’t last long either. However, you two have remained friends still?
Jimmy Waldo: Yes. He started producing and got a studio with a partner. He began producing and did some great stuff. He and I would have kept doing things, but there were no record company supporters. At the time, you needed money. You do now as well, but back then, go to a studio and record a record. To get great musicians coming to work with you, you had to have money. You didn’t have to be rich and have a lot of money, but still, we hadn’t that money. There was no support whatsoever from the record company to do that. Bob and I remained friends, but we didn’t work together after that.
THE STATE OF THE MUSIC BUSINESS
That’s how the business was in the ’90s, but how is it now? Everybody says that albums are not selling anymore, but at least the Graham Bonnet band is still putting out new records. “Laughs.”
Jimmy Waldo: You have to make records now…
… to have a reason to tour?
Jimmy Waldo: Yes. It has flipped around. You make a record, and then that lets people know you’re alive, and then if you tour, they listen to the album. It makes people hear about it and want to come to the shows. Definitely, people don’t buy as many records as they used to. You can think, “Maybe this will make it. We’re going to make a $1,000,000 on this record!” But you’re not. It’s just an advertisement.
That’s precisely what many bands say nowadays. It doesn’t make any sense financially to create new albums, but you have to put out something to promote the next tour and make money from touring instead of the album sales?
Jimmy Waldo: That’s it. Steven Tyler, I heard him in an interview three or four years ago. He said Aerosmith would probably not do any more records because it will cost you much money; it’s too stressful. They don’t make any money on the records; they make money from touring. They only tour, and they have plenty of songs to play. It’s not like they needed to make more records to have more songs. That’s the same thing.
But later on, Tyler changed his mind and released a solo album, and so did Joe Perry. And there’s also been talk about new Aerosmith music. I think that the reason they want to release new music is that they’re creative persons?
Jimmy Waldo: They are creative persons, and I think they probably realized that. If you only keep playing the same old stuff and don’t make new records and new material. Then it starts getting stale. People go, “You want to go see Aerosmith? They haven’t made a record for three years.” They would think, what are they doing if they’re not doing anything. They’re just playing the same songs. It’s not as exciting. It’s funny; you could make a new record and play one song off the new album. But then people go, that’s a new record. That’s a new record.
But when they play that one new song, people will go to the bar. “Laughs”
Jimmy Waldo: That’s true too. Yes, absolutely. Because they don’t recognize the new stuff, they say, “We’ll wait till they play the hits.”
CONNECTING WITH KISS AND THE END OF NEW ENGLAND
Your old band, New England, released its debut album of the same name in 1978. Paul Stanley produced the record, and this was his first album as a producer. How did Paul end up working with you?
Jimmy Waldo: Yeah. We did the record in ’78 with Paul as a producer. Bill Aucoin, their manager, saw us and wanted to manage us. We signed a deal with Bill, and in the meantime, we had met Paul, and Bill suggested Paul as a producer. We really liked Paul. We got along really great, and Paul was really into it, and Paul’s roots are the same as ours. He comes from the same musical background as us. We thought this would be cool, and it was. Paul was in tune with us; he knew what was going on. Paul was very cool, and that we would play an arrangement of something, and we would want to change it. Say, “Okay. We have to change this.” Paul would go, “I wouldn’t touch that. Don’t mess with that.” That sounds simple, but that was smart. Many producers would immediately want to tear things apart and make it theirs like that’s my standpoint. Paul was like, “You guys sound great like this, don’t change that.” That worked out really well. We had a lot of fun with Paul.
In 1979 New England was a support band for KISS on the US tour.
Jimmy Waldo: Yes. The Dynasty Tour. That was fantastic.
I’ve seen a lot of footage from that tour, and it looks incredible. At the time, Kiss had a lot of problems, especially with Peter Criss, so it was a really interesting tour on all levels?
Jimmy Waldo: They had some major Peter Criss problems, yeah. It was pretty sad. Peter was in bad shape; sometimes, he passed out in our dressing room. It was a strange time, but the band was really good, and they were killing it live. The show was good, and it was fun for us, because of the crowd, you can’t get a better crowd than that. A Kiss crowd is really good because they’re a full span of musical taste. I remember going on stage. I think Atlanta, Omni, was the first gig with them. I walked on stage to 20,000 people or whatever it was. Then I saw mothers with Kiss makeup on, holding their child, who was maybe 12 or 14, with Kiss makeup singing their song and singing some of our songs, which blew my mind. People were holding up posters with our faces on them, and that was a real high point that blew my mind for sure.
New England had a strong start with the help of Kiss and Bill Aucoin. But things didn’t go as planned because in 1981, vocalist John Fannon left the band, and soon the band split up. What went wrong?
Jimmy Waldo: John Fannon left after we did three albums. The record company wasn’t doing anything for us. We basically didn’t have a record company. Bill Aucoin, we loved Bill, but it just wasn’t working anymore. I don’t know what was going on with him, but things were bad. Bill, unfortunately, was having too much fun, which hurt us. New England was in a down period, and John wanted to do a solo record and do other things, so he left to do that. The three of us decided to continue, and the first person I called was Gene Simmons. Because I know Gene knows everybody. He’s got a little black book, which I’ve seen. I called Gene, and I said, “Gene, we need a guitar player.” I didn’t even get to finish saying guitar player, and Gene goes, “I’ve got the guy. I’ve got the exact guy. Call this guy. His name is Vinnie Cusano. Call this guy.” It was like five minutes, and I was on the phone with Vinnie, and it was a done deal. He sent us cassettes, and those days, we had mail as cassettes, and we learned five or six of his songs. With no guitar, just bass drums and keyboards. We had a Marshall amp set up. Then Vinnie came to Boston. We picked up Vinnie at the airport with his guitar, and then we drove straight to rehearsal, where New England had rehearsed for years. We walked in, Vinnie plugged in the Marshall. We kind of loved the songs we played, it was like we’d always been together, and it sounded killer.
THE BIRTH OF WARRIOR
Vinnie stepped in, and the band started to rehearse together. But the original plan was that he would be the new guitarist/lead vocalist for New England?
Jimmy Waldo: Yes. When I talked to him on the phone, he obviously wanted to be a solo artist. He wanted to be Vinnie. He didn’t really want to be the replacement in New England. I think he looked at us more like an instant band, and he liked the band. He thought, “Here is a good band.” That if it works live and it did, then there is an instant band for him. We all went to L.A, but Vinnie made it very clear that he would not be in New England, which was okay with us because we had auditioned some guys and listened to a lot of tapes. But nothing was happening. We didn’t like anything we were hearing. As far as a replacement for John, John had that vibe; we just didn’t feel that we were getting that. It didn’t look like we were going to get that.
One of the auditioned vocalists was Fergie Frederiksen?
Jimmy Waldo: Yeah. Fergie came down, and Fergie was great, but I still to this day think that Vinnie should have sung. Vinnie was an amazing singer. When we rehearsed, Vinnie acted totally normal. He acted like this guy who is ready to go on stage now. There was just a four-piece band; Vinnie was singing his ass off. I sang backup, Hirsch sang back up. We were there. We were ready to go, and Vinnie, for some reason, had this thing in his head. He wanted to hear that Fergie’s voice. That stupid high, crazy voice. So, he was obsessed with him.
I can guess that because he likes Fergie’s high voice that much, that was the reason why he, later on, picked Robert Fleischman in his band?
Jimmy Waldo: Exactly. Robert Fleischman. They all had to hit those ridiculously high notes. Vinnie was obsessed with the high note thing, and then he had Mark Slaughter, which was a natural progression. I saw that happen, and Vinnie wanted to be a guitar hero, not a lead singer.
Maybe he wanted to be like Jimmy Page, and Robert Fleischman was like his Robert Plant?
Jimmy Waldo: Exactly. That’s it. That really was it exactly.
VINNIE JOINS KISS
The Warrior project lasted only three months before Vinnie was asked to join Kiss. It must have been a difficult situation for you and other band members?
Jimmy Waldo: The band lasted a little bit more than that, but I wouldn’t know what to say about that. Vinnie, a super talented guy. When I first met him out, I was blown away by his talent. His songwriting, singing, guitar, talent. The guys in the band were great. Making music with him was pretty natural and pretty easy. Again, it just didn’t go anywhere. Then he joined Kiss. But he had been working with Kiss anyway. Then it was a sort of natural progression. I don’t blame him. You get a chance to join Kiss, you’re doing nothing, and then you’re doing Kiss. I don’t blame him; I would have done the same thing.
The band was over, but you stayed in touch with Vinnie and took care of some of his things when he was on the road with Kiss?
Jimmy Waldo: He had an apartment in Hollywood, and he had a cat. I was living out of the city about an hour away, and I needed to move into Hollywood. Vinnie said, just take care of my apartment and my cat. And you could live there for nothing. I took care of the apartment, and then Vinnie would call me every day from the road. He wanted to hear about the cat and other things. He was very concerned about his cat.
The tour lasted a long time, for months, so you lived a long time in his apartment?
Jimmy Waldo: Yeah, it was a long tour. I remember that. I went to see him when they came to L.A; I think they played Universal Amphitheatre or something. Vinnie and I hang out a lot there.
When Vinnie’s career with Kiss was over in 1984, did you ever talk about what happened?
Jimmy Waldo: I didn’t talk to him at that period. I spoke to him briefly, but he wanted to do a solo thing. He wanted to be Vinnie Vincent. Then he went off and worked some recordings with Hirsh Gardner, and eventually, I think that’s when his Vinnie Vincent Invasion thing came together. But I wasn’t involved in any of that. I’ll take that back. He came over to my house, and we did some demos. I wasn’t involved in the writing or the playing. He just needed someplace to record demos for the Vinnie Vincent thing. He came over, and I just recorded stuff for him.
Were you surprised that many of the songs from Vinnie Vincent’s first album were the same songs you recorded with Warrior just a couple of years ago?
Jimmy Waldo: As a songwriter, you only write so many songs a year. No matter how good you are, you recycle things. You use it for one thing, and if it doesn’t do anything, it doesn’t work. Then you have something else that will… Like Kiss. Some of the stuff we were doing with the Warrior went on to be Kiss songs. Some of it wasn’t reworked much at all because they were great songs, to begin with. Kiss didn’t have to do much. Vinnie was writing for a lot of people and submitting songs to labels, a lot of people. He wrote for TV shows. The guy was so prolific. You could ask Vinnie to sit down, give him his guitar and say, we need a song. Just kind of like this and that. He could write it on a piece of paper, and it would be great and be really good quality stuff. He was an incredibly talented guy.
When he recorded demos with Jeff Scott Soto, didn’t you work with Vinnie again in the late 1980s? I interviewed Soto last year, and then he discussed these sessions?
Jimmy Waldo: Possibly, yes. Vinnie and I hooked up later, but I can’t remember exactly the timing of things. I don’t remember. I was doing a lot of songwriting during that period, and I was working with a lot of different people. I had a studio in Hollywood. It’s hard to remember, with Jeff Scott Soto alone. We’re writing together, and I would hire him to sing on things. I used a lot of different guitar players. I don’t remember the last time I saw Vinnie.
Do you remember the time when the Invasion broke up in 1988?
Jimmy Waldo: Dana Strum, he kind of took over and got rid of Vinnie basically. I think it was what happened. It was terrible news for Vinnie. I think he was in bad shape. Yeah. Vinnie’s defense, he was probably going through some stuff. It was not good for him to be in the band at the time. He should have done his own thing and not with other people because Dana and Mark Slaughter are pretty strong people. They’re not only band members. They’re not guys that you tell them what to play, and they do it. I can see why it didn’t work.
Vinnie Vincent completely disappeared from the public in 1996. Have you ever been thinking, why did he do so?
Jimmy Waldo: I’ve thought about that. I don’t know. I can’t imagine why anybody with that kind of talent that was on the radar would want to disappear, but he did disappear. There was no reason for it. Vinnie could have just made more records, Vinnie Vincent records. I don’t know why he didn’t. I never understood that. Years would go by, and I think, “Wow! Where is Vinnie? Then I would check in a little bit, and people go, he doesn’t exist.
At one point, there were rumors that Vinnie was dead.
Jimmy Waldo: Yeah, exactly. What a shame? Gary and I would talk, and Gary would go, “Have you heard anything about Vinnie?” I haven’t heard anything about Vinnie. Hirsh, they didn’t get along. Hirsh goes, yeah. I don’t know anything about Vinnie. We’re all in different worlds, yet nobody heard about the guy in all those different worlds. I felt it was a shame because Vinnie could have been out there making records. Not that they would have been successful, necessarily. Who knows? But he could have been making music. He obviously didn’t make music. Whatever he was doing, he didn’t make any music.
THE WARRIOR CD
Jimmy Waldo: We had the songs we had recorded, and Gary Shea and I owned the recordings. I had made the recordings and owned the recordings, easy. It’s just good music, and I was proud of it, and I knew it would never come out. It made sense to put it out. It was crazy. It was around, and nobody ever heard it. What I thought, it was cool stuff.
What kind of feedback has the CD received from the fans?
Jimmy Waldo: It’s been really good so far. Everybody that’s heard it, they’ve been coming to the shows. I’ve signed a lot of them, and people say, “I love this. It’s so cool. I didn’t know this existed, these particular songs, these versions. You guys are playing on it?” and whatever. They knew about the band we had, but nobody knew what we had recorded. That was cool. It wasn’t just like putting out the same thing over and over.
THE ANKH WARRIOR RETURNS
In January, Vinnie Vincent did his first public appearance in over 20 years when he was a special guest on Atlanta’s KISS Expo. What was your first reaction when it was announced that Vinnie would return to the public?
Jimmy Waldo: I was happy for him because I thought that was going to feel good. I heard he was doing the Kiss convention in Atlanta, and I thought how cool it was that he’s back on the scene. Then I heard talk of him; he was going to play. He was going to tour and be Vinnie Vincent again. I was kind of excited about that. Then some fans that I knew had been at the convention heard Vinnie saying these horrible things about me, Gary, and Hirsch. I don’t know why Vinnie would say those things about me, and I didn’t appreciate it. I was disappointed to hear that he would say bad stuff about me. I wouldn’t say anything bad about him because I think he’s an incredibly talented guy. I was happy to see that he was back on the scene. So, I was bummed out.
So, what kind of things did he say about you and the other guys?
Jimmy Waldo: I just heard he said that we were losers and couldn’t play and stuff like that. I don’t know why somebody would say something like that. These Warrior tapes came out; Vinnie recorded those. That’s Vinnie on there. We didn’t put it out. I had the tapes, Gary and I. Gary Shea and I had the tapes, but nothing was embarrassing on those tapes. That was all good stuff. If anything, I thought that would help Vinnie. That would be a good thing, like keep Vinnie on the radar. I didn’t see anything bad about that at all. Then he somehow turned it into calling me a loser, and I can’t play and all the stuff, and it was just very frustrating.
If you would meet Vinnie personally now, what would you like to say to him?
Jimmy Waldo: I would say, “Why did you say those things?” We were friends. We worked together for a long time. Even after Warrior, I always supported the guy. I helped Vinnie, and I was always there for him. I would say to him: “Why did you say it?” Why would you say that at a Kiss convention?” There are a lot of common people who know us, New England, me. That really bummed me out. It was really sad to hear. It made me wonder, “What’s going through his head? What’s he doing with himself?? Usually, when people go dark about somebody else and start talking shit about other people, usually it’s because they’ve got something going on. They’re not happy, or they’re not… Maybe that’s what it is; maybe he’s not feeling happy about his career. I don’t know?
THE OTHER STUFF
You’re in the Graham Bonnet band, but do you currently have other active projects or bands?
Jimmy Waldo: We’re still doing New England; we like to play together. We try to play a couple of shows every year, and that’s about it.
Are you still doing production and recording stuff as well?
Jimmy Waldo: Yeah. I still produce, and I play the keyboard and stuff. Actually, there are a couple of artists that I produce generally. They’re not in major labels or anything like that; in particular, Michael Lacock has an amazing studio. I’ve done three albums for him. Engineered and produced those records and played on them, and then I had friends to play, and it’s a blast. It’s an amazing studio. He’s a talented singer-songwriter, Michael is a super talented guy. I’ve done that. I spent a lot of time doing that in the last probably six years. I’m also writing a little bit for films and TV. So, I’m just playing and writing songs with people. Like with my old friend Steven Rosen, we wrote the songs for Blackthorne. Steven and I have written together over the years, and we never stop. He and I have written a lot of stuff together.
It’s time to sum this up. Anything else you want to say, Jimmy?
Jimmy Waldo: I like where I’m at, and. I love playing with these guys, and this feels like home to me. I absolutely love touring. I like touring more than anything in the world. That’s it, “Laughs.”