INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJALA
Bernie Torme new live pictures by Marko Syrjälä, archive pictures by www.bernietormeofficial.com
Bernie Tormé is an Irish guitarist, singer, songwriter, and recording studio owner. He is best known for his work with Gillan and his short stint with Ozzy Osbourne, Atomic Rooster, and Desperado, a band led by former Twisted Sister singer Dee Snider. Tormé has released several solo albums and led the groups: Bernie Torme band, Electric Gypsies, Torme, and GMT. He has appeared on albums by Mammoth, Rene Berg, and Ginger, among others. Currently, Tormé is working on another solo album, entitled SHADOWLAND. I met a very friendly Bernie at the Sweden Rock Festival in June. What was really interesting is that only a couple of days before this interview, Torme published a statement saying that the upcoming tour would be his last one. Of course, we discussed the meaning of the statement and almost everything that relates to a man’s long and colorful career. Read and learn!
THE END OF AN ERA
It was just announced that you would be heading out on tour for the final time in the U.K. later on this year. What are the reasons behind that decision?
Bernie Torme: I’m 66, going on 67, right? So, I’ve been touring the UK since 1975. The basic way I figured that is that if anybody in the UK really wanted to see me, they’d have seen me by now [laughter]. It’s also the UK touring scene. As it has in every country, it’s changed a lot. It’s quite hard to put together a decent club tour. I mean, you just can’t. It takes months. Every place is booked up a year in advance with tribute bands. It’s just that I’ve had enough of it, really, that’s it! [laughter]. I mean, if it was just playing, if I had the kind of situation that I was presented with, “Here are five dates. Are you going to play them?” I’d say, “Yes.” But that’s not how it is. It’s basically chasing up my agent, chasing up shows. I love, love playing. I love the audience. All the people are great. But the actual organizational end of it and strain is a nightmare; I know I’ve had enough. So, I’m happy to play, but not UK club tours. Just no way.
But you are not entirely retiring?
Bernie Torme: No, no, no. I don’t think I’ll be able to in my head. I mean, perhaps I am retiring. I mean, but if so, it isn’t by choice! Maybe I don’t get any offers. You never know, but yeah. I intend to carry on playing. Just, probably, not as often. And I would definitely intend to carry on recording because I love recording.
Making records is always great, lots of fun, but it’s tough to make any money nowadays.
Bernie Torme: Oh, it is. Yeah, yeah. It’s impossible. But, to be honest, I’ve always been a guy who wrote and recorded, and I haven’t had a great amount of interest in how much I kind of make out of it. It’s just this thing I do. So, it isn’t as if I had a plan to have a hit because I may have had plans to have a hit back in 1970, but fuck me, man, now? I don’t know! [laughter].
The whole music industry has changed a lot. One of the most significant changes is that record companies are now working entirely different way compared to the old days.
Bernie Torme: Absolutely. Yeah. Because there was a time that they actually kind of put out the single or album, and promoted them and built something up. Iron Maiden being a prime example with EMI. That no longer happens. Perhaps it happens in the US. It does not happen in Europe.
The companies don’t want to work with bands in the long run anymore.
Bernie Torme: No. No. I’d agree. I’d agree. It’s all changed. Back in the ’80s and the ’70s, the record companies invested in the bands.
Nowadays, you have to beg to get in. And if you do get in, you still have to pay for everything by yourself.
Bernie Torme: Absolutely. And you end up, basically, having to pay to play and promote their piece of plastic. I’m not interested in that. I don’t need to be. I mean, the industry is just shit now. It’s just shit. But, at the same time, I don’t want to sound like an old guy going, “Oh, the good old days. And it was great in the past.” Because if you do that, especially if you live in England, it kind of becomes like a Brexit attitude. Wasn’t it great when we all drove Morris Minors and had coal mines to work down [laughter]? It wasn’t ever great. It was just easier in the music industry because, I suppose, in the past, there was a music industry in the UK. It’s not there any longer unless you are Ed Sheeran. And that probably won’t last either.
THE EARLY DAYS
You are initially from Dublin, and you started your career in the early 70ís. How was it to be a musician and try to make a living in Ireland at the time?
Bernie Torme: I actually started in the late ’60s, really in ’69. It was just semi-pro, though, then. At that time, I was in a band called Wormwood (it was originally a three-piece and later became a four-piece, adding keyboards). Dublin was a very small music scene, and it didn’t extend much outside of the city. There had been a better scene in Belfast, but there wasn’t much interaction between the two. Then, there was a lot of Republican / Loyalist violence, people being killed, and the British Army. So, both Dublin and Belfast pretty much existed in their own separate musical bubbles. Dublin had bombings and people killed too, but not as many as Belfast or the North generally, and obviously had no British Army on the streets. So, to get back to your question, we would play no more often than once every few weeks, once a month maybe, but practice like crazy all the time. Bands like Skid Row or later Horselips were much bigger than us, they may have made a living, but generally, to make a living, you had to join a Showband. I never did that though I was offered a job in ’73 or ’74 just before moving to London. I didn’t take the job. I talked to Eric Bell of Thin Lizzy at length about his days in Showbands prior to Lizzy, and I think the repetitious nature of playing ‘the hits’ night after night was pretty soul-destroying. And it was even worse in the Country and Irish showbands who were the biggest draws of all. I like the country, but I didn’t like that!
In 1974 you moved to London and joined the band Scrapyard. Then you also met your future music partner John McCoy. Tell us something about those times?
Bernie Torme: I formed Scrapyard; I didn’t join it. I formed it because every band I tried to join in London said ‘You’re too fucking loud for us’! We auditioned for bass players after our original guy left, and the stand-in wouldn’t join permanently. So one of the people we auditioned was John, probably in ’75 or maybe in ’76?. We are still friends, but we don’t see each other much. After joining Scrapyard, McCoy tried to change the band’s name to ‘The John McCoy Band,’ and when I wouldn’t agree, he engineered to get me out of the band and replaced me with Paul Samson! Typical John. My explanation is that he plays bass, and having only four strings to occupy your brain leaves an extra two strings worth of brain space for deviousness!
Now when you mentioned John, I was wondering if GMT is still active? I am talking about the band you had with him and Robin Guy.
Bernie Torme: Ah. GMT, not, because GMT kind of stopped because John became ill. And it became incredibly hard because he had to have various operations. He was in a hospital and out of hospital repeatedly. And Robin was kind of always tied up in lots of other projects. So, it just became impossible. I mean, having said that, John’s okay health-wise now. But Robin is ill. So, it just hasn’t happened again. And I don’t think it’s ever going to. It’s just one of those projects that had its time. And that time has passed, really. It was enjoyable, but it was basically a bunch of old cunts who argue all the time. It was always like that “Laughs.” I did a lot of the heavy carrying too, and I didn’t get much help. I would not want to do that now.
BERNIE TORME BAND AND JOINING GILLAN
In 1976 you formed the Bernie Torme band. The punk scene was rising, and London was the capital of the punk revolution. Your band did some grand tours supporting bands like Gen-X and Boomtown Rats. What are your best and worst memories from that era, and is there something you still miss?
Bernie Torme: It was a brilliant time, loads of gigs, loads of tours, endless travelling from one end of the UK to the other, audiences too which I hadn’t seen too much of until that point! The energy was great, I really miss that, and it was a great chaotic mad little band with the great Phil Spalding on bass and Mark Harrison on drums. Crazy experience. Good fun. I suppose the best memory was being signed to a ‘proper’ record company at the end of 1977, Don Arden’s Jet Records, which had big artists like Roy Wood and Wizzard, ELO and Jeff Lynne, and later Ozzy. The worst moments and they happened regularly in ’77 and ’78 were getting inundated in gob (being spat at by the audiences) on the Rats, Bethnal, and Gen X tours. It was supposed to show that punks liked you. I fucking hated it.
In 1979 you were asked to join Gillan. You played on four highly successful albums and toured around the world but decided to leave the group in 1981. If I’ve learned right, it was because of the disagreements with the money things?
Bernie Torme: McCoy has gone on publicly about the money at length for a very long time, so that’s more his thing than mine. For me, money was undoubtedly a symptom, but my decision to leave first was not strictly about money: it was about fairness and transparency. Gillan was never a band in the sense of all of us being equal. That simply was not possible because Ian had been in Purple, was a huge star, had been and probably still was a millionaire at that point. I had no problem with Ian being above the rest of us. Ian financed the band and paid our wages. However small they were, Ian carried the can, and it was his band. But those wages were obviously far lower than musicians normally would work for without some sort of future profit share which we were promised. When it became clear to me that certain band members, and I’ll mention no names, but I don’t mean Ian, we’re getting more than others, and that there appeared to be no accounts at all, it became obvious that the promised ‘profit share’ was mythical. OK, I could have lived even with that, too, if everyone, not including Ian, was in the same boat. But we were not. I had no interest in remaining in a band where one member, and again I don’t mean Ian, was getting more than the others. I’ve seen a few interviews where Ian has said about how the tours were financial disasters and how he lost money in the past few years. Maybe that’s true. I had no input into that. Colin originally had organized stuff, but he was rowed out of it at the beginning of the Universe tour when everything started to become less transparent and more opaque. All I can say is that anyone who didn’t make a LOT of money out of those tours would have been a complete moron. If I had run them, we’d have all come out of it, millionaires! It was not hard. We packed them in. So, what went on was either unbelievably stupid and incompetent or, on the other hand, completely dishonest. You obviously don’t have to pay profit shares if there are no profits, so it probably wasn’t accidental. Having no accounts helps too. For me, it was best to walk away. It was a pity for the fans, and it was a great live band, and I still feel sad about it all, but there was no point in carrying on under those circumstances.
The current Iron Maiden guitarist Janick Gers replaced you in the Gillan band. Did you know him before that, and how did he end up in the group?
Bernie Torme: Yes, I knew Janick pretty well, a nice guy. He had been in a band called White Spirit, who had supported Gillan. They had also recorded at Ian’s studio, Kingsway, initially with Colin producing, I think, but maybe later with John? I liked the band and Gillan, all of us, tried to help them out. Far as I recall, later on, they were having record company problems, their record company wanted what they thought of as a ‘hit single’ type track, or they were going to drop them. We suggested ‘New Orleans’, but White Spirit turned it down, so we recorded it ourselves! I think he was asked to join because he was a nice guy and he was available and knew the band. I know he was Ian’s top choice rather than anyone else’s.
MORE ABOUT GILLAN
Outside of business and the band, how did you get along with Ian Gillan?
Bernie Torme: Great. I can’t say I ever really got to know him much. He always had this indefinable shield around him that kind of kept you from making contact, but a lovely guy, amusing, and great to be in a band with. He never talked down to the band or interfered in how anyone wanted to play or record stuff. Very hands-off in terms of all that. Really good, he respected the band as musicians and let the band do its thing. That made us pretty different from the other groups at that time, and it was very individualistic because of the personalities of the people in Gillan. More like a bunch of diverse renegades than your standard rock band at that time. Did you stay in touch with Ian after you had left the group? Bernie Torme: Yes, briefly, but not for a while. I saw him, the late ’80s or early 90’s I think? We went out for a few drinks, had a laugh. Around then, he also asked me to write with him, I went to his house, and he came to mine; it all went nowhere, though, which was kind of typical of my relationship with Ian. He was trying to do stuff with Leslie West at that point too. Maybe even Jeff Beck? Ian had one of his guitars lying around at his place; who knows, maybe he nicked it! He also asked me to play on an album around then, but that never happened either. There always seemed to be a disconnect between what he said he wanted to do with Ian and me and what he actually did do. You needed to be “a mind reader” or have an interpreter, and me, I’m just a guitar player! I also had some weird message later about doing a US tour with him, but I was moving house at the time. I don’t even know if the tour ever happened or if it did who did it. I didn’t want to do it in any case. From bitter experience, the description would bear no relation to what it actually was.
If you think about your time spent with the Gillan band, how would you describe that era in your career?
Bernie Torme: It’s always hard being in a band where you have a very famous bandleader, and everyone else just being just one of the guys in the band. That was true in Gillan because, basically, Ian was able to do what he wanted to in terms of how it was run. In Ian’s case, he never really had a great amount of involvement or even interest in the music. So, musical interference with the band wasn’t a problem. Writing was. There were events that Colin would be tearing his hair out, saying, “What are those fucking lyrics? Why did he do that?” “And he’s messed up the melody because he can’t be bothered,” big star, its par for the course, if you know what I mean? And apart from all that, I definitely had this grey eminence that was always being measured up against what I did. That was from Ian’s fans, who, much as I love them, at the time were like a fucking cult! But also from the press and also Ian. Ian saw the spirit of Ritchie, who he seemed a bit obsessed with in any guitarist who was also a performer. With Ian, it was ‘fight or flight’ as soon as I had an opinion that he didn’t agree with, Ritchie was possessing me. I didn’t see that at the time. Of course, I was just me and really wasn’t channelling anyone, most of all Ritchie. But that’s the story of my life. Ozzy saw me channelling Hendrix! But at the point I was in Gillan, it was like Ritchie Blackmore. Which is all I kind of heard from fans & the press was, “Richie does this.” And, “Richie does that better.” I’m saying, “Well, fuck him. He does. Yeah, he definitely does Ritchie better. But I do me better.” You can’t match up to other people, and you shouldn’t even try. Be yourself.
THE OZZY TOUR
The legendary Ozzy tour happened in 1982, and, as you said, it must have been a challenging situation for you?
Bernie Torme: It was impossible. It was completely impossible. I didn’t even try to be anyone other than me. I couldn’t try to be Randy. To me, that would have been an insult to both Randy and me. I think it’s awful that that is still a point of conversation. I couldn’t have been Randy, and quite honestly, Randy couldn’t have been me. He was a giant, and I totally respect him and love what he did. I’m sure he would have respected me too. I was just there, to be honest, to help Ozzy carry on. And I did that. Because here’s a point, and I really didn’t appreciate it at the time: I was aware everybody else in the band wanted it to stop. But then you had everybody else in the band and crew having a life and being paid. And you had a crew of, I don’t know, about 40 people who were just about to be dropped into the outer darkness because it was all promises off. And most of those guys had kind of kids and wives and mortgages and everything else. So, they just had to get anyone in to help the tour carry on and not disintegrate and have 40 or whatever families possibly lose their houses. I also didn’t appreciate that Ozzy, too, did not want to carry on under any circumstances. It must have been a fucking nightmare. It must have been for all of the band. I can’t clearly remember if I played anything nice on stage, anything that was special, and to be honest if I did, there probably wasn’t too much of that, but if I did, everyone in the band would kind of look at me. And you could almost see on their faces, “That was nice. But oh shit, it ain’t Randy.” And I mean, it must’ve been so fucking hard for them. I come off stage, Ozzy’d be in tears, half the crew would be in tears. It was just hell. I wasn’t enjoying it.
Do you think that he should have kept a long break instead of pushing forward at that time?
Bernie Torme: Yeah, but he wasn’t able to. I mean, the tour rolls on, the band, management, the crew had to have that continue. And it was that tour that broke him as a big artist in the US again. If he had stopped, it was over. He had to carry on.
I once spoke with Brad Gillis about the same subject, and he told the same kind of stories of that tour. It was a really tough time for him as well.
Bernie Torme: Yeah. I mean, he was out there hiding on the crew coach, and it was basically because they thought I was about to crack! I was! It was just like, fuck me, man. I’ve never done a less enjoyable tour in my life. I actually kind of have nightmares about it; still, it was just hell. It was just hell.
How many shows you actually did with Ozzy then?
Bernie Torme: I have tried to blank it out, Marko, all of the way along. I cannot fucking hold it in my head! I mean, I cry if I think about it. It was eight or nine, maybe, I think? But it was spread over probably 20 days because Ozzy kept on cracking up and cancelling shows. So, it was just you would be told you were playing in, say, Binghamton tomorrow. And you’d wake up in the morning, and it would be cancelled. It was just rough. And all that time, I was staying in the room that had been booked for Randy. Randy Rhoads. I was always booked as Randy Rhoads. His hotel name was Roy Rogers, so fans wouldn’t bother him. And every time I’d sign in, I’d sign in as Roy Rogers, like Randy did. You couldn’t think about it, why him? Why not me? And it was just so tragic. I cannot fucking think about it.
The only positive thing is that it’s all past now.
Bernie Torme: Yeah. But it’s one of those watershed moments in your life that you never get past. I mean, for me, if I have to think of a point in my life that really everything changed how I thought about being a ‘rock star,’ it was that point. Because look at Randy. He died. Fucking hell. At the time, I thought they should have just stopped out of respect. But in retrospect, I can see they couldn’t. Stopping was not going to bring Randy back and would have ruined a lot of people’s lives, including Ozzy’s. I didn’t appreciate the change in the industry either; rolling on was essential. The industry had changed. When Hendrix died in ’70. The tour stopped. When Randy died in ’82, it rolled on. It was an entirely different story.
ELECTRIC GYPSIES AND THE TORME BAND
After the Ozzy thing was over, you returned to the UK and started a new band called the Electric Gypsies. How was the group put together?
Bernie Torme: Initially, the Gypsies was intended to be a two-guitar band, Bob ‘Derwood’ Andrews and me, with Mark Laff on drums and Everton on bass. Derwood and Laff were both from Gen X, Everton from Bethnal. It didn’t really work. Derwood and Laff had a load of other things going on too, which I think eventually turned into a project called Empire which was really great. I had supported Generation X and Bethnal in ’78 and early ’79, so it was really me stealing people from the headline bands I had toured with as support before I joined Gillan! So, following the Ozzy thing Everton and I auditioned a few drummers and found Frank Noon from Stampede, and the Gypsies became a three-piece. I was a lot more confident about carrying off a three-piece guitar-wise, having done the Ozzy stint. Ozzy’s stuff was far more guitar orientated than Gillan had ever been. Gillan had been very much based on the Purple template, where the organ was as much of a lead instrument as the guitar. I liked the more guitar-centered approach Ozzy’s band had.
In 1986 you formed another band, Torme. Musically, the band was more raw, aggressive, punky, and straightforward compared to your previous work. Maybe it was something that you wanted to do at the time?
Bernie Torme: It was a great live band, but I never was quite convinced that the records matched up to the band’s performance live. Like most bands for me in those days, the change came out of having a few songs I wanted to do. I just wanted to be a guitarist again and let someone else sing and be the focus. I hated the fact that the band was called Torme. That was down to this guy who was running the label and who was also my publisher at the time. He thought, ‘Oh, Van Halen is big. Let’s call it Torme.’ Shit idea. I always felt it made me appear really egotistical, and I always thought it created unnecessary tension in the band.
The band’s original vocalist was Phil Lewis, who had already got some fame with the band Girl. How was it to work with a young Phil Lewis?
Bernie Torme: Actually, he wasn’t the original vocalist; that was a guy called Kevin or Kef. We did a couple of gigs with Kef, but it didn’t settle or work out. Then he decided he was unavailable to do a booked gig. We had other shows coming up, and we had no singer. Phil had hassled me quite a few times earlier on when he wanted to join the Gypsies. At the time, I kept on telling him, ‘No, the Gypsies are a three-piece, and I want to keep it like that. So, when the Torme original singer guy was sacked for being unreliable, and I was looking for a singer to save my ass on the gigs that were booked, I thought of Phil. I went around his flat and begged. He played very hard to get, partly justifiable revenge maybe, but mainly because he had his own band, The New Torpedoes, at that point in time. They were a really good band, and we’re getting quite a bit of attention, so he wasn’t all that interested. He agreed to help out but wouldn’t agree to join till about six months later! Phil was fucking great, just a killer frontman; I loved him. It was a huge amount of fun for me playing with him, and I enjoyed every minute of being on stage with him. He was a true one-off original, absolutely perfect for that band. It was a fun time, great gigs. We kind of eventually ran out of steam, though, because we were on a ridiculous label that didn’t make any effort to invest in us. They were only interested in getting as much profit out of us short-term as possible. So, Phil got offered the LA Guns thing and bailed out of the band, followed by Ian Whitewood to Sham 69 and finally Chris Heilmann to Shark Island. I was very bitter at the time. I felt more than a bit screwed! But I think in retrospect, Phil made the totally right choice; going to LA was where it was all happening at that time. I didn’t see that. I was in my comfort zone in London, you know, big fish, small pond stuff. But the center of gravity of the music industry had moved to LA. Phil was right; I was wrong, I’m delighted he did so well with the LA Guns, and I think it’s great him Tracii are both back with the band, great band.
After a long break, Torme was back in 1993 with a new line-up. How do you like the album DEMOLITION BALL now? Gary Owen was a great vocalist, but, at least for me, the album sounded entirely different compared to the first two records?
Bernie Torme: It did. It was a completely different band other than me after all, and seven years later on! I like how it sounds, Gary was great, but I think as an album, it’s far too long. It was the first album I had done for CD, and everyone said, ‘you can make it more than an hour long. I did. For me, that didn’t work, and I think we would have had a much punchier album at 40 to 45 minutes. It was also for me creatively the tail end of that ’80’s thing of doing demos and choosing what you recorded from the demos. We had incidentally never done that in Gillan, or for “Turn Out the Lights” or Electric Gypsies even. Demos took up too much time and money earlier on. But it’s a weird thing. I’ve often noticed that songs that sound great as demos often sound shit when you record them properly. And vice versa. So, there were tracks on DEMOLITION BALL that I was trying to match up to some horrible 4 or 8 track demo. The demo had excitement and magic, the 24 -track master maybe did not have that magic! You can’t catch or recycle magic. A lot of it is maybe psychological, but to me, it’s magic! So, there are definitely a few tracks I would have left off. So, these days I do the shittiest demos with an acoustic and sometimes a click for me to remind me of the song and for the band to learn the structure, and if any magic happens in the playing or recording, it has been captured forever! Once only! Much easier to build for the first time than to try to copy.
THE STORY OF DESPERADO
One really interesting band in your history is Desperado. You spent several years with the group, which, after all, never went anywhere. Before you joined the band, how well you knew Twisted Sister and Dee Snider?
Bernie Torme: I knew them but only more from a UK perspective because they’d had two big hits in the UK, “I Am I’m Me” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” I saw them on TV, on The Tube, which was a big show in those days, and I knew people who saw them at the Marquee when they came across, and everybody said, “They were fantastic!”. So then I suppose in about 1986 or 87, I had a telephone call from Mark Puma, who was his manager, “Would I be interested in doing something with Dee Snider?” And I said, “Yeah, of course,” because I was out of a job at the time, so it was an important thing for me. I was thinking, “Yeah, Dee Snider. It’d be different.” And then Dee called up and kind of shouted down the phone at me for about two hours, “Hey, Bernie! How tall are you?” I just loved the guy.
How did he know you? I mean, how you two ended up working together?
Bernie Torme: It was an interesting story. I had done the guitar on an album that John McCoy had recorded, The Mammoth album.
Yeah, I remember the “big guys” (Laughter)
Bernie Torme: Yeah, I played the lead on that because I was told the fat blokes weren’t able to play a good lead. Actually, I think it was just politics, Kenny was a stupendous guitar player, but they had had a falling out. So, I was asked to do all of the lead, so I did that. John knew this guy (who was actually sadly killed in a motorbike accident afterward). I think his name was Mark. He was in a band called The Grip, And he had heard about the project with Dee, and he had sent a cassette demo tape of him playing on one side, and on the other side was The Mammoth album. He may have auditioned for Mammoth, too, not sure. So, Dee got the tape and said, “Nah, I don’t like him,” and he turned it over and said, “Who’s that?” And they tracked me down over that, yeah, yeah. I mean, it was a complete piece of luck because I don’t think Dee had ever heard anything I’d ever recorded.
But maybe he knew your name from the Ozzy tour?
Bernie Torme: Probably, yeah. But I mean, it was great, and I kind of went out. And I mean, we hit it off. I just loved him, and he liked me, and we had just a laugh because he’s a funny guy. He’d even laugh at my jokes sometimes [laughter]! It kind of happened on a good creative level too. It was great. I loved it. I mean, the thing I suppose I didn’t appreciate initially was that Dee had an awful lot of legal issues. He had a court case coming up about the last Twisted Sister tour, and he was being sued for a million by Bill Graham, yeah. That was just over the horizon. So, we had the band. Clive Burr and Marc Russell, who had actually been playing in the band I had in the UK at the time. So, Marc at the beginning was a bit iffy about it because he was only a kind of young guy. He was only around 19 or 20. And it seemed a bit too important and too big to him. But he came out, and we had blown in rehearsal, and it was just a great, great, great band. I mean, we had a deal with Atlantic, but that all went kind of wrong because of Dee’s chapter 11 bankruptcy, which was to avoid Bill Graham’s court case. So, we changed from Atlantic over to Elektra. Elektra paid masses. But to me, Elektra was the wrong label. I mean, they really kind of didn’t like us, and there were arguments going on all of the time. The A&R man who signed us left, so that was kind of, “What now?” And that was just at the point that we were completing the album. And then the guy who’s in charge of Elektra, who had said, “I love the project,” turned around and said, “I hate the project.” So, they basically, in the space of about two weeks, dropped it. And they then said that for Dee to get the rights, he had to pay everything back. They wouldn’t do a deal, I mean, no part payment return of the advance; they wanted the lot. And it was around a million. They really wanted to kill it, for whatever reason best known to themselves. So, it was impossible, and we spent, I mean, Dee spent about three months, maybe even more, trying to get a buyout, and everyone was saying, “Well, if Elektra doesn’t want to put it out, we’re not going to pay a million to have an album that they have turned down.” Grunge had started to happen, and this wasn’t grunge. So, it was just a fucking nightmare; I have to say.
As you said, grunge had already started to happen, so it was a terrible time for bands like Desperado?
Bernie Torme: Yeah, yeah. I mean, to be honest, I’ve always felt that there was an element of Dee and his manager Puma being slightly scared about the whole thing, about pissing in the pot. So, it actually took more time than it ought to have. I mean, Elektra spent, I mean, close on a year sorting out a producer. And everyone in the band (especially me) was saying, “Let’s just do a fucking album!” I mean, it is easy to get a producer, but they wouldn’t agree with anyone. So, it took far too long. If it had happened a year earlier, it’d have been out. It was Dee, Clive, me, and Marc. It’d have been a great, great live band. But that never happened. The other is that Lemmy turned around in the middle of it and offered us a special guest spot on the Motorhead European tour before we started recording. And we had a big argument about it. I wanted to do it. Clive wanted to do it. Dee really did not. And again, I kind of think it was because he was nervous about changing his persona and doing that on a Motörhead tour. And maybe fucking up. I can understand that. It’s not easy. I didn’t think he had to change his persona, but he thought he totally had to. So, he and Mark agreed no, Clive and I voted yes. Because I was like saying, “Look, man, even if it goes badly, you’re going to find out what the audience expects of the band, and we can change. I mean, everyone knows how to work around an audience, and maybe it will teach us a lot.” So, because it was Dee, and he had kind of two votes to everyone else’s one, which is fair enough, it was his project. It never happened. And I kind of think that that was huge; I mean, in retrospect, it was a big mistake, I think. If we had done it and it had gone badly, it would have taught us we were wasting our time. I don’t think it would have gone badly. If it had gone well, it would have given us a following, press, and real-world support, which we did not have any of when Elektra dumped on us. I mean that at the time, it wasn’t as if it was “I don’t agree with you, you’re wrong,” it was “I don’t agree with you, but it’s your choice, it’s your band.” At the end day, it was Dee’s project initially, and I was the one who kind of formed the band and helped write, but I was in no way co-equal. And he was paying for me, I wasn’t paying for him, so it was what it was, and I was a part of it, but in retrospect, I think, “Woah, we should have done that!”
Maybe Dee should have a look in the mirror because, in fact, all the projects he did outside Twisted Sister never succeeded?
Bernie Torme: That’s kind of true, but it’s not easy to make those choices. But you know yeah, I mean, I do think that there was an element of trying to get the last dollar and the last 10,000, and the last 100,000 and get more money than anyone else partly because we needed it but partly also because it was an ego thing because it was almost like trying to form a supergroup. And I mean, to be honest, I would have done if it had been pennies because it was just a great, great, great project. And, I mean, if he turned around now, to be honest, I would do it if he didn’t pay me at all, because I love him and that project was his child. He just is like the best frontman ever. He is born to be on stage. One other thing is that I had an argument with the management because even though it’s a great album and I’m awfully proud of it, I kind of thought the approach ought to have been more punky dirty, raw, high-energy. More Motorhead than Foreigner. To me, that raw energy thing was just as important, great tunes or not. I thought that would also better fit into how Dee was perceived. I kind of don’t think that the Desperado album suited Dee’s strengths as a frontman and persona all that much. I love the record, but I still don’t see how that would have worked live to Dee’s strengths. It would have been kind of like you took Jagger or Iggy Pop, and you tried to create a completely different brand of music and have them do it. I think some of it was maybe a bit safe and maybe tidy. Not all of it. So (and I love Dee), and it was his project, so I wasn’t going to kind of scream about it, I just said to the management, ‘Don’t you think Dee should do something a bit more punk, wild & dirty? ‘They said, “No fucking way. That isn’t the UK. Punk is never going to happen in America.” In 1988 or ’89, they said that to me: ‘Punk is never going to happen in America.’ A couple of years later, it did. Massively! Well, I’ve no pleasure in being wrong or in being right! It was a clusterfuck. They wanted it to be AOR. I didn’t think that was the way to go. But the album sounds great. Dee is a monster on it, but not my fave in terms of my guitar playing!
HANOI ROCKS AND RENE BERG
Because I’m from Finland, I need to ask something about Hanoi Rocks as well. How aware were you in the band, and did you know them personally?
Bernie Torme: Yes, I was very aware of Hanoi in the ’80s. I loved them. I spent a few drunken times with Nasty Suicide. He was a good guy and fun to play with. I also played with Sam Yaffa a few years back at Ginger Wildheart’s birthday gig. We bonded! I loved playing with him, a great player and a lovely guy.
In 1986, you and Nasty played briefly together in a band called Gang Bang band, and you even released one EP. Tell something about that one?
Bernie Torme: It wasn’t a band. It was a drunken jam at a place called Gossips in London. So, someone recorded that and put it out as an EP. I don’t know if anyone got asked. I definitely didn’t! I didn’t know it was even out until years afterward. That’s about all I remember of that Gang Bang band gig. The EP was a recording of that gig. Spike from the Queerboys/Quireboys was there too.
You also played on the former Hanoi Rocks bassist Rene Berg’s solo album THE LEATHER, THE LONELINESS AND YOUR DARK EYES, which was released in 1992. How you ended up on that album?
Bernie Torme: Well, I kind of knew Rene. I jammed with him at the Gossips Gang Bang Band thing. And he got, I don’t know, a deal. And the guy who was managing him was the Damned’s manager at the time. They asked if I’d play on it. And they paid me loads! So yeah, I played on it, but it was a bit weird; there were lots of arguments going on between Rat Scabies, Paul Gray from the Damned, and the engineer/producer guy. A lot of shouting and complaining, a bit of a shit studio, to be honest. My first son Jimi was born in the middle of those album sessions, and I had been in a hospital with a punctured lung just beforehand, so I wasn’t really that involved, and don’t remember much because I was still medicated, but it wasn’t a fun album to do, too many arguments. I was very sad when Rene died. I heard about it and went to his funeral, which was close to where I lived in Kent. I went to the funeral, and there was no one there from his musical past. There were his mother and some personal kind of friends. I think I was the only music person there, the only one from any of his bands. Very sad.
We started this interview with a question about your possible retirement and slowing things a bit down, but, as you said, there are plenty of things still going on. You have a new solo album, SHADOWLAND, coming out soon. Tell me something about the album. What can the fans expect from that one?
Bernie Torme: It will be a double album, so I have a lot of stuff to do on it. It’s early days; still, I started tracking the drums and bass, so it’s going great so far. I think we’ve got some good tracks to work on. I’m looking forward most to a jam track that pledgers can play on, so that’ll be something new, quite a few people have pledged for that, so I’m hoping it will be a wall of sound stuff, as heavy as fuck! So, the more people that pledge for that, the merrier!
So, the album is going to be released through the PledgeMusic campaign.
Bernie Torme: Yes, but it is not strictly released by PledgeMusic; it is financed by crowdfunding on PledgeMusic. The deal is that Pledgers get a download and/or a physical copy of the album if they pledged for it BEFORE it is released to the world. So, the actual Retrowrek release will be in early November before the UK tour. People who pledged for it will get it earlier than that.
I have noticed that there are a lot of artists releasing their stuff through PledgeMusic these days. It’s still a kind of new thing on the market, but it seems to work for you?
Bernie Torme: PledgeMusic works for me because I am lucky enough to have fans who are very into what I do and who are willing to pledge. I’m on my fourth pledge campaign now. It is hard work. You have to do a lot of communicating and be very proactive, but I know how it works now, and I could not find any record company to finance an album to anything near the same amount. And that’s apart from all the interference and opinions I would get, that would make life very difficult. I’m a lone wolf, and I like being that. It works for me. How long it works as a way to finance albums, I can’t say, but it works for me for right now. Being able to do new stuff is the most important thing for me.
Do you have any special guests on the album this time?
Bernie Torme: There are some people I am hoping to ask when I get a track or two nearing completion, but as yet, I haven’t asked anyone.
Retrowrek is your own record label. What is the brief history of the label and how you manage to do all distribution and promotional stuff by yourself?
Bernie Torme: Yes, it’s just a label name really solely for my own stuff. There is no A&R dept because I’d have to sack them on principle! I started it in the’90 ’s, had distribution and all of that back then, though not too much internationally. Now I just do it all through Amazon and Bandcamp. The drawback is that you don’t get any promotion, and also you have no backing in international territories, which has made it difficult for me to get outside of the UK for touring. But it works.
It’s the time of the very last question, and it’s a bit hypothetical one, but I’ll give it a try. You have a really colorful history, and you’ve played with a lot of great musicians. Why don’t you put together a kind of “super-group” with some of those guys? That would interesting project for the fans?
Bernie Torme: Yeah. I mean, I’m not saying that I wouldn’t do it, but it doesn’t appeal to me as an idea. I mean, to me, as a player and as a kind of artist, the thing that’s always appealed to me is a new record, new music, and playing that. I mean, as I go out and play, personally, now, I mean, almost– I don’t know. I suppose I have of these great old tracks. I mean, I haven’t been playing “Turn Out the Lights” since 1982, 1981, and “New Orleans” since 1980, “Trouble” since 1980, “No Easy Place” since 1980. And almost everything else is only ten years, five years old. A couple of tracks are new, but, to me, I enjoy the new tracks. And, again, that’s sort of another psychological reason that I kind of find UK club tours a bit of a– because it’s almost been your own tribute band, in all honesty. So, I suppose, if it was a different project, and it was different songs I haven’t played in a long time, it’d be more enjoyable. I mean, Dee Snider and Desperado stuff would be great because I haven’t played that since kind of 1988 or ’89.
That’s all for now, Bernie. Thanks for taking this time with me, and good luck with the SHADOWLAND album!
Bernie Torme: Thanks, Marko. My pleasure.