INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
Robert Fleischman is an American artist/singer, songwriter, producer, and renowned painter. He is best known for his collaboration with Journey, Vinnie Vincent Invasion, Channel, and The Sky. Fleischman has also released several solo albums. He has written music for TV and commercials such as “That 70’s Show” and “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Fleischman has done a lot of things in his long career, and in this interview, we tried to go through all of it. The past, present, and future of Robert Fleischman.
Note: I met Robert at the Kiss Expo in Atlanta in January 2018. We agreed there to do an interview, and we started doing it there. However, we decided to continue the Skype discussion in a few months because we only had limited time in use. Most of this interview was made in April 2018, so some parts are a bit outdated.
THE EARLY DAYS
Let’s start this interview from the very early days of your career. The first band you ever had was called Staggerwing. Would you tell us something more about that band, the first steps of your musician career?
Robert Fleischman: Staggerwing was pretty much just a garage band in the early stages of my career. We were just musicians from Torrance, California, the South Bay Area in California, by the beach because we all grew up by the Hermosa, Redondo Beach, Manhattan, and Long Beach. So, we were all beach kids that played rock and roll. Actually, many musicians came out of there, like Bobby Blotzer, the drummer from Ratt. Then there was a band called Ambrosia. Who else? Bob James, who was the lead singer for Montrose for a while, and many others. So it was only an early period in my career where we were just playing clubs, like the Fox and Long Beach theatre, a big movie theatre that was turned into a rock n’ roll venue. I started writing songs there, playing hard rock, and it was a great time of just woodshedding, learning, and experimenting with music. It was a developing time, living in Torrance.
Were you singing already then?
Robert Fleischman: Yeah, yeah. I was singing already at that time.
When you first started to sing, who were your biggest influences?
Robert Fleischman: When I was a kid, I got a little tiny tape recorder, one that went reel to reel. It was very small, like the size of a small shoebox, and it had a tiny little microphone. I used to go to my parent’s record player and put on Beatles’ records. Then I would record them and listen to them or Rolling Stones or whatever in my bedroom, and I would sing along with it. Eventually, I would go into the living room, turn on the stereo, sing along with the Beatles and turn on the tape recorder. Then I would listen back to see if I blended in. So that’s how I sort of heard myself on tape for the first time. I got used to hearing myself on tape and blending in, and I used to do that all the time. Then I had a friend who was a keyboard player, and he was going to jam with this band up in Palos Verdes, which is an area near the ocean. I went to this jam, and he was jamming along with these guys, and there was a microphone there, and I just started singing. That was the first time I started singing pretty much, but probably the second time I ever sang with a band, and it just kind of grew from there.
So, singing was always a pretty natural thing for you?
Robert Fleischman: Yeah, because it was a situation where I had heard myself since the age of 13. That was when I did this and listened to myself on tape. It wasn’t like…you know, how people leave a phone message and say, “Hi. You’ve reached so and so; please leave a name, number, and your message. I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.” Then you do the message, and then you listen to it, and you go, “God! That’s what I sound like?” It was kind of like that. Like, “Oh, that’s what I sound like.” So, it just kind of developed in that way.
Besides being a successful musician, you’re also known as a painter, and you’ve had several art exhibitions. When did you start to do painting and stuff like that?
Robert Fleischman: I started painting and doing collages when I was 13 years old. What inspired my collage work was the actual album cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band.” I have been doing art ever since that, but music has always been at the forefront with me for many years. My art has always been in the background, but I’ve always continued and always done it. I never stopped. I have a large body of art; I could fill up quite a few rooms. Someday I’ll have a retrospective art show and show everything I’ve ever done. Probably when I’m dead, somebody else will do it.
Somebody will get the money then “Laughs.”
Robert Fleischman: I’m worth more dead than alive, I think? “Laughs”
THE NEXT STEPS
Let’s go back to your musician career and the time after Staggerwing. What was the next step?
Robert Fleischman: From then, when I went to Palos Verde and played with that band, they didn’t like the keyboard player, but they liked me. So, I ended up singing with a trio, which consisted of a guitar player, a drummer, and a bass player. We would just make hard rock music and do Zeppelin songs and stuff like that, and it just kind of developed from there. Then eventually, I met a manager who was part of The Doors management. I told him I sang, and he gave me some studio time at Paramount recording studios. There I worked with the engineer…Kerry, I think his name was, and I can’t remember the last name. But he was the engineer for Frank Zappa. So, I went into the studio with Kerry, and it was a great experience. So, then it was like the first demo tape I ever made.
Which year did this happen?
Robert Fleischman: It was around 1971, about that time. The manager really liked my stuff, and he would always try to attach me to different bands and try out with different groups. At one point, I was friends with Gary Wright of Spooky Tooth. He was in Spooky Tooth, and he was a friend with the guitar player from Foreigner, Mick Jones. Gary actually recommended me for Foreigner, and I spoke to Mick Jones a few times, and I was going to go to New York and play with them. But Lou Gramm lived right around the corner from Mick Jones. It was more comfortable for him to work and have somebody there in New York right around the corner than having me flying in from Los Angeles and all that stuff. So there was a situation where I could have been in Foreigner, and then at one time when Peter Gabriel left the Genesis, I was considered to go to England and play with them and see what was going to happen. At that time, they were working on A TRICK OF THE TAIL album with the band.
I talked to the management, and one night they called me up and said that Phil Collins decided to go in the studio and lay down some vocals. They’ve decided to use Phil because it was all just a cohesive unit. I missed that gig, but it was great to be asked to perform and play with different bands. I was also offered a position with Kansas at one time, and then I was offered a position with Asia. One time I was asked to play with Y&T. I’ve had many offers and stuff like that, but I prefer making my own music because it’s just more personal for me. A lot of times, I’m kind of put in the situation, and it’s not a good match. It’s just not the right style or whatever, but I’m flattered to be asked to participate.
THE JOURNEY STORY
We can’t do this interview without discussing your brief but important time with Journey. So, how did you end up in that band?
Robert Fleischman: I was living in Redondo Beach, California, when I got a phone call from a booking agency in Chicago, they told me they had three bands that needed a lead singer, and would I be interested in coming out to play and choose a band I would like to be in, so I went to Chicago to check out the bands and choose one. I stayed with them for about a year until one day, and I received a phone call from a concert promoter from Colorado named Barry Fey. Apparently, a mutual friend played him a tape of me. He asked me if I would be interested in doing a showcase for CBS Records during our conversation. I said yes and flew to Colorado, and I had a little over a week to put together a band and find all the musicians, plus writing as many songs as I could till the showcase. The day of the showcase started snowing, and CBS executives from New York and Los Angeles couldn’t make it. I did the showcase a week later; I had a meeting with all the CBS executives in Los Angeles.
The CBS execs told me they had this band called Journey, and they were thinking about putting a lead singer with them, either that or they were going to drop the group. At that time, Journey was a band that played 11 to 15 minutes songs, and they were a kind of jazz-rock fusion band. They asked if I would be interested in writing and being the lead vocalist for the band. I knew nothing about them, but my brother knew who they were and said they were great musicians. So, I agreed to go up to San Francisco to meet the band. The thing was, Journey was still on the road, and somewhere between the time I was supposed to go to San Francisco, I met George Lynch. George Lynch and I started playing, and for about a week or so, we were rehearsing and stuff, and it was great. Then I got the call to go to San Francisco, and I told George I had to leave. I went to San Francisco and was picked up by their manager Herbie Herbert, who took me to S.I.R. rehearsal studios where the band was. I was introduced to everyone, and we started playing and writing songs. I toured with them for around six to seven months. I introduced them to Roy Thomas Baker, who did the INFINITY album. Then that was it. After I left the band, I left the band, and I did a solo album with Arista Records, the PERFECT STRANGER album.
THE SOLO ALBUM
You had many interesting players on PERFECT STRANGER: Will Lee, Jimmy Crespo, Andy Newmark, Stanley Sheldon, Neal Schon, everybody. What kind of process was the album creation for you?
Robert Fleischman: The process was just me coming in with the songs and showing everybody the songs.
So, you had everything written and arranged already?
Robert Fleischman: Pretty much, yeah.
PERFECT STRANGER did not get the attention and success it deserved. Why did the album not become a big success?
Robert Fleischman: At that point, it was a really bad time in America because we had president Jimmy Carter and we had a gas rationing crisis, and the oil was not happening. Many record companies were not pushing their new acts; they were pushing everything to their flagship acts, the ones that were making all the money. They concentrated on acts that were guaranteed to make a certain amount of money, and then they were only pressing albums for those people because vinyl is made of oil. The oil shortage really affected the record industry also because of the lack of vinyl. I kind of got caught in that.
You had a big label, Arista, you did tours with bands like Van Halen and Boston, and the type of music you did was prevalent then. You had all the keys in your hands, but the big break never happened. It must have been a frustrating situation for you?
Robert Fleischman: Yeah, yeah. It was an interesting time. I was playing places, and my records weren’t even in the stores where I was playing. But it’s just something that was happening at that time in the United States, and a lot of people got affected by that.
So, it was at least partly because of the record company politics and decisions made by then?
Robert Fleischman: Yeah, yeah. That and the fact that nobody is going to invest in something unless they’re going to get a return. To gamble on a new band and everything and put out a bunch of vinyl; it’s too much of a risk. They want to go with the low-risk / sure thing, and I understand that. That’s the perfect business.
Have you ever thought that things would have been different if you had had a chance to put a sticker on the LP cover, saying “PERFECT STRANGER featuring former Journey singer Robert Fleischman,” if you know what I mean? “Laughs”
Robert Fleischman: Yeah. A lot of that was my fault, too, because the publicist and everyone wanted me to be in TigerBeat and all these teen magazines and all that stuff, which I refused to do. After all, I didn’t want to be some teen idol kind of thing. I saw myself as a little bit more introverted and more interesting than some teen idols. I was going to be interviewed by TigerBeat, and I was there at the office, and they gave me a piece of paper saying, “What color do you like? What kind of girls do you like? What do you do on your first date?” Stuff like that. I’m going like, “Holy shit! I don’t want to do this.” I just kind of got up and walked out of the office, and left.
I can’t blame you for that “Laughs.”
Robert Fleischman: Right, but in hindsight, I wish I had done it. I think it was a stupid move. I should have done it, but I didn’t.
Who played in your solo band at the time?
Robert Fleischman: Frankie Banali was the drummer of my band. Yeah. It was like pretty much his first big gig. So, Frankie and I go back a long time. Who else? A guy named Steve Sykes was a guitar player, and he’s now a recording engineer and producer. The rest of the people, they’ve all gone by the wayside. I don’t know where they are or if they’ve continued their music career in any fashion.
THE CHANNEL STORY
After PERFECT STRANGER, you joined the band Channel.
Robert Fleischman: Yeah.
You had a great line-up and a big deal with Epic, but the band didn’t last. What went wrong with that project?
Robert Fleischman: Too much money being spent. We got the deal from an A&R guy in Los Angeles, and then the band’s guitar player got involved with this manager guy who was based out of England. So the whole band went to England to record, and we shouldn’t have done that. We should have stayed in L. A and did the record there and saved a lot of money. A lot of money was blown; they spent so much money that we practically didn’t even have any money to mix the record. It eventually got mixed by a guy who I did not want. His previous project was Frank Sinatra, and he’d also worked with Steely Dan. It was not working. I hate that album because of the way it was mixed. I just hate it. I don’t like that album at all.
The re-mastered version of the album came out a few years ago. Was it any better than the original one?
Robert Fleischman: Yeah. It came out on Rock Candy Records. They kind of re-mastered it a bit, but it still doesn’t sound right to me. The drums are just way out, too upfront, and the guitars are all buried. They’re not heavy sounding. They’re kind of wimpy. It wasn’t what I wanted, and I wasn’t involved in the remix either. Had I been involved in the mixing, it would have been a lot different record and a lot heavier, but it wasn’t.
Gary Ferguson played drums in Channel. Are you still in touch with him?
Robert Fleischman: Gary Ferguson, yeah. He’s just unbelievable. I’ve known Gary for many, many years. He’s from the same area I am. He’s a great guy. He played with Gary Moore and Hughes/Thrall and with many others. He played with all the “heavy” guys, but he also played with Ray Charles. I like that.
At that time, did you seriously think about relocating to the U.K. permanently? Because at the time, London was a kind of the center of the music world?
Robert Fleischman: When I was there, it was the very beginning of the whole punk movement pretty much and King’s Road and all that. I would have loved to live there, but I had my house in L.A. I had my wife in L.A., so it wasn’t conducive to doing that.
ATLANTA KISS EXPO AND MEETING WITH VINNIE VINCENT
You were recently a special guest at the Atlanta KISS Expo, and there you reunited with your former bandmate Vinnie Vincent. Were you surprised at how he looked and how he was as a person?
Robert Fleischman: When I saw him at the Expo, it didn’t even surprise me because I’ve seen that before; I’d seen that in Vinnie many, many, many years ago. It was no big surprise or shock. I didn’t see anything else except Vinnie. He would come over to my house back in the day, and he’d end up in the bathroom with my wife trying to put all this makeup on, her showing him how to put lipstick on and stuff like that. My wife at the time, Sylvia, gave him a crash course on makeup “Laughs.”
The Atlanta Expo was an ultimate event for the fans on many levels, but how would you sum up the whole experience from your perspective?
Robert Fleischman: My experience there was great, really great. It was very emotional. You know, we all hadn’t seen Vinnie in many, many years, and I hadn’t seen him for over 30 something years. During those thirty years and all the things you heard on the news and all that stuff, you know you’ve heard it all, but then to see him. It was just great to see him because, despite all the things that happened to him, I’ve always been in his corner rooting for him, whatever he’s done. I told him that I hated seeing him shoot himself in the foot all the time with bad decisions and handing his career over to a bunch of jerks who just ran his life into the ground; he’s partly to blame for that. His talent is so big that all that stuff kind of gets eclipsed by it. I’ve always had great respect for him and a lot of love for him, and it was just great to see him. I was just so happy that he was OK. And I think that day when he was there talking about his whole life and when he picked up the guitar and started singing it was like…it was very melancholy. It was very kind of sad, and it was very somber. Let’s say it that way and be polite.
You surprisingly joined Vinnie on stage at the end of his set and performed “Back on the Streets” with him. It was the first time the two of you performed on stage together. Was this something that was secretly planned, or was it just something that just happened?
Robert Fleischman: Well, I mean, if I had not gone up there, I think everybody would have gone home and basically slit their wrists. I don’t know what prompted it, but the whole atmosphere changed once I went up there. He was just so happy, and I was just so happy to make him happy. I was so honored to be up there and just change the channel on it all to bring some light to the end of the tunnel there. It was just a great experience, and it was emotional for me. I could hardly even sing because I was so choked up at all. It was like singing with somebody you thought was dead, you know, and suddenly, it was like a dream that turned into reality. It was so emotional and so bizarre, but it was great. It was a loving moment, a lot of people were so emotionally hit by it all, and many people out there were crying. Even people that saw the videos on YouTube, they’re feeling the emotions. I got tears in my eyes. You know, it was one of those things that don’t happen all the time.
When you first heard about this Expo and Vinnie’s participating and asked you as a guest, what was your reaction?
Robert Fleischman: I really wanted to do it. I was a bit hesitant, but I wanted to do it because it was a chance to see Vinnie after so many years. I had heard all the rumors, just like everybody else: all the different accusations, everything. When I saw him on the first convention day, it was like seeing a long-lost brother, despite our history and the things that took place between us. It was just good to have that out of sight and just focus on the moment, and the moment was just very emotional and magical. I was just so happy to see that he was doing well.
Obviously, Vinnie and the present people working with him have a lot of plans for Vinnie, and it seems that they want you to be part of that too. Do you want to work with Vinnie in the future?
Robert Fleischman: Yeah, they would like to get Vinnie back in the limelight again. They asked me if I’d be interested in going to the Nashville Expo and doing some songs with Vinnie, and I said yes if it’s another kind of acoustic kind of thing, I’m all up for it. But am I doing an electric thing? It would just take too much time and practice to get to that point, but I know many people would love to see that. I think people would be forgiving if we just went up there and did a couple of acoustic songs. Everybody’s a lot older now, and they would appreciate that, and maybe eventually, something will happen. After the show in Atlanta, Vinnie got sick. He was sick for like three and a half weeks. I spoke to him last week for a very short time, and we’re going to talk more next week, and we’re going to hash out some ideas and see what he’s got in mind and see if I’d like to go along with it or not.
THE EARLY DAYS WITH VINNIE
Let’s go back to the early days when you first met with Vinnie Vincent. How did the two of you connect?
Robert Fleischman: I met Vinnie through Adam Mitchell, who was a songwriter who wrote with KISS. I guess he wrote with Paul Stanley, mainly. Adam Mitchel told Vinnie about me because Vinnie asked him about available singers in Los Angeles and Hollywood. I gave Adam my number, and Vinnie called me up, and he came to my house. I opened the door, and he was standing there with a little T-shirt on and some tennis shoes and some jeans, with a cassette in his hand. He came in, we had some tea, and then we sat in my living room. I popped the cassette in and jacked up the volume, and I heard “Boys Are Gonna Rock,” “Substitute,” and “Shoot U Full of Love.” I heard it, and being a songwriter, in the sense that I’m very particular about songs, I just thought what he did was like the edgiest and melodic and amazing guitar playing. So here is this guy; he’s like Eddie Van Halen. Plus, he can write songs like Lennon–McCartney, kind of anything. You got to understand that Vinnie can play anything. He can play country, classical, flamingo; he can play anything. He is just a virtuoso. So, having somebody like that in a team is great because it inspires me, and it inspires him. So, it’s a good exchange of energy going back and forth, like a good tennis match. So, it was great. Later on, we recorded and stuff, and then he called me up and said he got an offer to go with KISS.
Before joining KISS, he briefly played with the band Warrior.
Robert Fleischman: Yeah. I don’t know if it was Warrior or New England or whatever it was. But I tell you, Vinnie called me up one time and said, “Come on down to SIR Studios in Los Angeles,” and there was the whole band in there. So, I played with them one night, and it was really weird because Vinnie was out of tune all the time. So, I was driving home after that, and I’m like…it was kind of hard to get going because he just was out of tune all the time “Laughs.” But all I knew was that I was asked to come and jam with them, so I did. I remember playing with them once, and that was about it. Then in later years, I met Hirsh Gartner, the drummer.
The Warrior sessions were recently released on CD, and I do have it. It’s great fun and interesting to listen to the early versions of songs like “Boyz Are Gonna Rock,” which later on ended up on the first Invasion album.
Robert Fleischman: I didn’t know that? So, all the stuff that I sing on, it was already done with Vinnie singing them? That’s fine. But you know what? I told Vinnie, “You know what? You sing really well. Why don’t you just do it all yourself?” I told him he should do that. He goes, “No, I want a lead singer.” I’ll go, “But you sound so good on this. It’s like tailor-made for you.” He insisted, “No. I want a lead singer. I want you to sing them. Come on, let’s go to the studio. Let’s put it down.” I think he should have done the Invasion album by himself.
THE INVASION BEGINS
Vinnie officially joined KISS at the end of 1982, but that didn’t last long, and in 1984, he formed the band Vinnie Vincent Invasion. How was the band put together?
Robert Fleischman: Before KISS, we were doing demos and stuff like that, and we were in a studio with Andy Johns engineering. We had this body of work, and then he went to do KISS, and then he got out of KISS, and then we took that body of work and got a deal. Then we eventually re-arranged some things, and we went in to do the actual album for Chrysalis records.
Did Vinnie do auditions to find the right guys in the band?
Robert Fleischman: I never auditioned, and I think that Dana was kind of there already. He wasn’t my favorite person in the world, but I’ll tell you the truth. I went to see somebody playing. Vince Neil was playing, and Dana now plays with Vince Neil. So, a friend of mine who knows Dana told him that I was there, and so Dana goes, “Oh! I want to see Robert.” So, I went to see him, and at first, I was really reluctant. I saw him, and I talked to him. Now we have kids and everything, and I felt like he was a different person. The kids can change a demon into a flower. So, I kind of gathered all that, and I said, “Okay, fine, everything is fine.” So, it was good to see somebody go through an actual change and see the difference.
How about Bobby Rock?
Robert Fleischman: I loved Bobby. I still see Bobby every time he comes into town with Lita Ford. In the past couple of years, I’ve seen him like four or five times. I see him a lot. He texted me last night, and we talked. I think he’s the nicest guy in the whole world. I remember when Vinnie and I and Dana were around, we were auditioning drummers, and here comes Bobby. Bobby had driven from like Arizona or something, and he’d almost run out of gas, and he’d just kind of like floated into the driveway. He comes in, opens up his van, and he just starts setting up his drums. He’s like, “I’m just testing them out and everything.” I’m just going, “Vinnie, this is the guy,” and he’s going, “Okay.” So, Bobby is playing. He’s ambidextrous, like going all over the place, and Vinnie is going, “Let me hear you do this, let me hear you do that.” He’s like going through the menu. I said, “Vinnie, don’t put him through this anymore. He’s the guy”. So, he was the guy.
RECORDING THE ALBUM
There’s a persistent rumor that some parts of the INVASION album recordings are sped up in the studio. What do you think about that?
Robert Fleischman: They’re not. That’s all real. The rumor, I hope it is dead now. Nothing was sped up; I was there the whole recording process.
However, the material wasn’t easy to play but was it difficult to sing? It’s ultra-high stuff most of the time!
Robert Fleischman: Those songs at that time? No.
Are you still able to sing that way nowadays?
Robert Fleischman: Now? Can you run as fast as you could when you were 15 years old? Some of the stuff I probably could still do. Yeah. But the ultra-high stuff. I don’t know? I haven’t tried in years.
With Invasion, everything went to the extreme: the look, the solos, the vocals. Vinnie was playing as fast as possible, and you were singing some ultra-high stuff. How did you like all that crazy stuff, including the band’s look?
Robert Fleischman: I didn’t like it. I told Vinnie, “You should just go there and play with just jeans and a T-shirt and be a guy. Just be that guy, like Jeff Beck or whatever”. But he liked to dress up, and that’s why the band looked as it did.
At this stage, you had known Vinnie for a very long time already. You mentioned how Vinnie wanted to dress up. Was he now a different person compared to when you first met him in the early ’80s?
Robert Fleischman: Not really. You know, it was always there. I know Vinnie very well. As I said before, he used to come to my house, and he would talk to my wife about makeup, and she would bring him into the bathroom and be like, “Here, try this makeup.” Then he’d come out looking like a Kabuki.
So, it was always there, but no one gave it any attention, although he wasn’t hiding it at all. I remember when I interviewed Rob Halford, and he said that he was always doing his thing with Priest, but nobody cared until he said certain things in public, some twenty years later.
Robert Fleischman: When I was still with Journey, we did a show with Judas Priest and Reo Speedwagon. That was the first time I saw Rob Halford. Yeah. It was the first time I saw a band in full-on leather gear, and I’m thinking, “This band looks like Santa Monica Boulevard.” You know, Santa Monica Boulevard is for people who don’t know where they belong”Laughs.” But you’ve got to understand; back at that time, it wasn’t registered as much as it does now. Sexuality has been so politicized and so socialized and everything. It’s always been there, but now that you have the Internet, you’ve got all these other venues where people are easily manipulated into thinking certain ways.
At that time, if you were too “different” in a heavy metal band, it would have been career suicide.
Robert: Yeah, yeah, because it was all about headbanging, beer, girls, and drugs back then.
THE END OF THE STORY
The INVASION album was finished, but then you left the band. Why didn’t it last?
Robert Fleischman: It didn’t last because of the management. I didn’t care for the manager. I didn’t think he was the right guy for the situation, and I didn’t want to be associated with him. I just saw this train wreck of a guy, and I knew that if they got on that train, that train was going to crash. Eventually, Chrysalis kind of got fed up with him and told him to take a hike. I don’t know what happened after him; I don’t know who managed the band or had anything to do with it. George Sewitt was the first guy. He’s the guy I didn’t care for. He’s the guy that came to me with a big thick book, as the management agreement with him. I told him that I would take it to a lawyer and have it looked at. He goes, “No, you don’t have to do that, just sign it now.” I said, “I’m not going to sign that now. You got to be kidding me”. “No, you’ve got to sign that.” He got all irate, like having a panic attack. Then I found out that he had told Chrysalis that he had the whole band signed to him, and I wasn’t. They found out and told him to take a hike. As I said, my allegiance was with Vinnie, no matter what, but I was not in his (George Sewitt’s) camp.
What was Vinnie’s reaction when you told him that you were leaving the band?
Robert Fleischman: Vinnie didn’t care. He and I and were okay with the situation. Vinnie was in his own world, but I’m a big boy.
You were out of the band, but a couple of months later, the video “Boys Are Gonna Rock” was released, introducing the new Invasion vocalist Mark Slaughter. Mark “sang” in the video, but in fact, they used your vocal track. Mark only pretended to sing on it. What did you think about the video?
Robert Fleischman: The video was a carnivore. I had all kinds of people calling me up, telling me that the Vinnie Vincent Invasion was going to be on television. They go; it’s on right now. So, I’m ready to go on, put on the TV, and sit there and hear that intro. There is the intro, and now I see this guy up there. All of a sudden, my voice is coming out of his mouth. I’m just going, “Wow, what a lot of nerve.” What nerve to do something like that and to think that it was okay to do something like that. I’m telling you, that was the first Milli Vanilli, before the whole Milli Vanilli thing, that was the first one.
Do you think so?
Robert: Oh yeah. It was really blatant. Yeah, absolutely.
Whose idea was it to use your vocal track in the video without your permission?
Robert: I don’t know if George was involved with that, but whoever was orchestrating the whole thing, putting the whole thing together. Obviously, they didn’t even think about asking my permission. It just came out. It’s like there was a moment before that stuff when Chrysalis was calling me up and wanted to do a deal with me, and the deal wasn’t good at all. So, if I had signed the deal, then I would have to have taken on debt. I said, “I’m not going to sign something, and now I’m going to be in debt.” I said, “If you’re going to sign me, sign me, give me a little bit of money.” They go, “If the band doesn’t do well, we’ll give you a deal.” What kind of philosophy is that? What kind of thing is that? I don’t want that. So, it never came to fruition. Then after that was the lip-syncing situation, and then I sued Chrysalis.
And you won that battle.
Robert: Yeah. I won, but, in the meantime, Chrysalis badmouthed me to every record company in Hollywood.
So, it must have been bad for your business at the time?
Robert: Yeah. Yeah, it was bad for business. Then it was like, “Oh, he’s too difficult.”
THE LATTER VINNIE VINCENT YEARS
How familiar are you with the stuff that Vinnie released in the ‘90s with your vocals?
Robert: When I did those things, I thought they were demos only.
When did you record those demos?
Robert: I don’t remember the year. But it was in the ’80s, in the late ’80s, I think. I don’t know what the date is on those things. I thought they were demos, and years later, I saw that he released it. I don’t know if it was GUITARS FROM HELL or something else, but I think that material has been repackaged and renamed all over. I don’t keep up with it at all. It was something I did and I just kind of walked away. He took those demos, and he re-released them, and I never knew about it. He never asked me.
Your current drummer Andre LaBelle also played on those demos?
Robert: Yeah. He did play. That’s how I met Andre.
If you listen to the stuff he released later on, like EUPHORIA or THE EP, it sounds that there’s a drum machine used on those albums. Even the album credit says it’s “V-Meister” on drums or something like that. So, do you know what happened to those original drum tracks?
Robert: I don’t know, but he played on it. Vinnie could have replaced him. I don’t know? I think he just paid him and whatever. “It’s there, so I’ll replace it and do this.” I really don’t know anything that happened in that part. I guess I did these songs, and I just don’t remember much more. The first album came out, ’86, and then he toured with the band and everything like that. Then later, after the whole thing was over and the Slaughter thing started, we did those recordings. You’ve got to understand, I did the songs, and then it was like all his work after that. I didn’t know what he did with them; I never was abreast of what he was doing. So, it was all just what was going on. I’m so far removed from that. People go, “You’re on this album.” Am I? I don’t know? ”laughs.”
WORLD IN YOUR EYES
In 2002, 23 years after PERFECT STRANGER, you released the second solo album, WORLD IN YOUR EYES.
Robert Fleischman: WORLD IN YOUR EYES, yeah. That was another album I didn’t like. I wouldn’t say I liked it because I was then involved with Frontiers Records, and I didn’t care for how they did business. I don’t care for the way they do business to this day. I’m not a big fan of theirs. I wrote songs, and then they kind of rejected them. They said, “I want songs to be more like Journey.” I’m going, “I don’t want to do Journey songs. I’m doing what I’m doing now. What’s coming out now is not Journey songs”. So, it was a big, big hassle between the two of us. Eventually, after I recorded everything, the project was kind of taken away from me. It was given to somebody to mix, and then they added background vocals and stuff like that. After a while, I just let go of it. I said, “Here, just do what you have to do and get it over with.”
When that album was released, I bought it, and it sounded like Journey to me. I also remember that the album was heavily marketed as an ex-Journey singer’s solo album. So, you didn’t like the way how the whole project was done?
Robert Fleischman: Yeah. I just felt like I was going five steps backward, and I didn’t like that. If they had said in the very beginning that that’s what they wanted, I would have probably said no. In the middle of that project, they’re telling me to do this. I think the best music, the stuff I really like, is the stuff that I’ve done with The Sky, and I like DREAMING IN TONGUES, which was a solo album of mine that I did that I really like. There is some good stuff on LOOK AT THE DREAM.
LIBERTY ’N JUSTICE AND OTHER WORKS
How did you end up doing the song “The Lord’s Prayer” with the Christian band Liberty N’ Justice?
Robert Fleischman: The Liberty N’ Justice guy. Is his name Justin?
Yes, his name is Justin Murr.
Robert Fleischman: Yeah, he got a hold of me and said he was doing a religious album, and I said I had something that could fit in with his project. I had gone into the studio and recorded “The Lord’s Prayer.” I used my friend Howard Leese from Heart on it. He played guitar and mandolin on it. So, I gave him that, and they put it on that album, that compilation. I’m really proud of it. I really love that that I did that. It was music by me and words by God.
Well, how is your relationship with God?
Robert Fleischman: My relationship with God is godly “Laughs.”
You’re also known for scoring soundtracks and commercials for TV and film, notably “That ’70s Show” and the pilot episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants.” How did you end up doing that stuff?
Robert Fleischman: After the Channel thing, I came back to Los Angeles, and I just didn’t want to be involved with bands anymore. I had just had it with the politics and all the stupid stuff that happens all the time. I got a gig with Almo Irvin Publishing, which was part of A&M Records. Almo Irvin Publishing gave me a three-year contract to write songs. I had to write ten songs a year, and I got a nice big check from them every month, and I just did that for like three years.
I had a publishing company, and they were pushing my stuff, and I had a song submitted to Tina Turner and people like that. Then eventually, I did some commercials for Chevrolet and Honda. Then I got asked to make music for SpongeBob SquarePants. I did some of that, and then I didn’t have an agent at the time dealing with Nickelodeon. Nickelodeon had somebody working on SpongeBob before me, and he left. Then he decided that he wanted to come back into the scene. His agent just kind of worked the deal out with them, and I didn’t have an agent or anything like that. So, the agent basically said, “If you take him back, I have this other guy. These other two people that you want to work with, and I’ll throw them in the deal too”. So that’s what kind of happened. I did a lot of experimenting with the soundtrack, using bubble sounds that would make musical notes and stuff like that and slack guitar, which are these different tunings, Hawaiian slack guitar tunes. I did a bunch of stuff like that. I did a demo of it and a reel, and the guy that saw it kind of emulated some of the stuff I did and eventually put it in SpongeBob. So, it helps to have an agent sometimes.
JOURNEY INTRODUCTION AND RETURN TO STAGES
In January 2005, when Journey received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, you were one of the special guests, and you also performed with the band at House of Blues. How was it to reconnect with those guys after all those years?
Robert Fleischman: Right. After we got the star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the band played at the House of Blues. They did a show there. The journey had asked me if I’d come up and do “Wheel in the Sky” with them, and I did that. I went on stage, and it had been a long time since I had been on stage, and it was great to have such a great band behind you and be on the stage in the House of Blues and sing through that PA system and all the people there. It was just a great experience. I hadn’t done it in such a long time, and afterward, I just felt like, “God, I really want to do this again.” So out of that transpired “Wheel in the Sky.” After that, I wanted to do…I had put together the Sky.
Before this Journey thing, when was the last time you performed a show in front of people?
Robert Fleischman: There was a project that I was putting together, but it kind of fell apart. We had a band called ESP, and it was me, Tony Franklin, Gary Ferguson, and Jimmy Crespo. Then, later on, Jimmy had to leave, and then Rusty Anderson played, who was the guitar player for Paul McCartney. We played a couple of gigs in Hollywood.
When did those shows happen?
Robert Fleischman: Oh God! When was that? I don’t know. I think in the ’90s?
THE SKY AND THE NEXT SOLO ALBUM
One thing led to another, and after the Journey thing, you put together the Sky. How many albums have the band released so far?
Robert Fleischman: Only two. The Sky debut album is called THE SKY, and then the second album is called MAJESTIC, which is my favorite album.
What kind of goals do you have with The Sky?
Robert Fleischman: Right now, there is no goal for The Sky. Right now, I want to do another album, and it’s going to be like a bunch of people of many super bands. I’m going to do like three songs with different combinations of musicians. For instance, I have Tony Franklin playing bass, George Lynch playing guitar, Frankie Banali playing drums. Then another combination of Rusty Anderson, Deen Castronovo from Journey, and Chip Z’Nuff from Enuff Z’Nuff. It’s going to have many different combinations of musicians that I’ve known through the years and who have been friends of mine. We always say, “Hey, we should get together and record,” but we never have. I’m going to try to orchestrate it so that we can all get together and do that. I have about 30 songs already written, just waiting to do this. Yeah.
So the next Robert Fleischmann solo album is in the works. That’s brilliant news!
Robert Fleischman: Yeah, yeah. It’s going to be a solo album with a lot of different combinations of people playing.
Robert, that was it this time. Thanks for your time, and good luck with the solo album and other future projects!
Robert Fleischman: Thanks for doing the interview.