Director: Fran Strine
Title: Hired Gun
Studio: Vision Films
Reviewed: March 2019
Reviewed by: JP
This month I’m going to look at two relatively new documentaries that focus on the Hard rock and Heavy Metal music industry. They are BAND VS. BRAND (2019) and HIRED GUN (2016). They work well together in back-to-back viewings and both are available on DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming services. Feel free to enjoy both reviews in this feature.
This film has been making the rounds for a few years and I finally decided to grab the DVD out of curiosity. The term hired gun refers to professional musicians who get paid to tour, and sometimes record with, recording artists. The creation of music does not exist in a vacuum and this movie tells just a few stories about the semi-nameless, semi-faceless artists behind the big names. I say ‘semi-nameless’ because, for many more dedicated music fans, the names featured in this film are actually very well known musicians. To the ‘average’ music fan, who maybe only knows the name of the headlining or marquee performer, the band behind the famous face are largely anonymous.
Jason Hook in conjunction with Fran Strine produced and directed this 96-minute documentary film. It is a standard DVD that comes with a fair number of bonus features including extended interviews with Steve Vai and Jason Newsted and a few other non-Metal people.
While I enjoyed the film, I felt, deep down there was not much substance. Essentially this is just interviews with a dozen or so studio/session guys. There is no real plot or extended narrative, it is just everyone telling their story about how great it is to be a hired musician when times are good, and how much it sucks to suddenly get fired or not have your contract renewed. The ex-drummer for Billy Joel says, (paraphrased) “You never really get fired, you just don’t get invited back for the next thing.’ Having been a music guy forever, none of this was particularly revealing or earth shattering.
To me, (and largely why I choose to review this film for Metal-Rules) are the interviews with the Hard Rock and Metal guys. These constitute about 75% of the interviews in the documentary, members of such bands as Alice Cooper, Bon Jovi, Kiss, Metallica, Ozzy, Vince Neil, the biggest bands and artists that can afford to hire musicians. There are a number of interesting interviews and even a couple of scenes with the various session musicians sort of jamming. Rudy Sarzo gives a sincere account of the death of Randy Rhoads and Phil X seems still to be awestruck to be playing with Bon Jovi.
What also struck me was how cutthroat the music business can be but also how many of these artists seemed shocked or upset when their services were no longer leader. Many of them really seemed to take it personally, but I suppose it would be hard not to. A lot of it comes down to money sadly.
HIRED GUN was extremely well done, big budget, well-crafted, looked great, sounded great with a good blend of interviews and information from across the ages. It looked way better than many rock docs I have seen. This is more of an entry-level look at behind the scenes, and the producers do a fine job at drawing back the magic curtain. The rest of Hard Rock and Metal content is what makes it of interest for readers of this site.