INTERVIEW AND PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJALA
Joe Stump is an American guitarist and songwriter, best known from his ultra-fast neoclassical playing style, which Yngwie Malmsteen initially developed. Stump has released several solo albums and played in many bands including HolyHell, Reign of Terror and Trash Broadway. Earlier this year, Stump joined the legendary hard rock band Alcatrazz. A group led by former Rainbow/MSG vocalist Graham Bonnet was officially re-activated in January 2019, and the “reunion” tour began from Finland in mid-March. I sat down with the new Alcatrazz guitarist in Helsinki. And here’s what Joe had to tell about his new job, solo career, other projects, as well as the early influences of his career, including Malmsteen and Ritchie Blackmore.
JOINING THE BAND
First of all, welcome to Finland.
Thank you. It’s great to be here.
You have been here before, with HolyHell, but this time presents you as the new guitar player for Graham Bonnet and Alcatrazz. The show today in Helsinki was your second performance with the band.
Second show ever with Graham. Well, he’s a legend, so it’s great to play with him. It’s truly an honor.
So, the first obvious question goes, how did you get the job, and when were you asked to join the band?
Well, Giles, Graham’s manager e-mailed me back– I think it was sometime in January when I was on vacation? And he said, “Hey. We’re relaunching Alcatrazz, and we’re interested in having you play guitar.” And, I mean, anybody familiar with my work knows it’s no secret that I play like a combination of Yngwie and Ritchie Blackmore. Very much so. And of course, I love Gary Moore and Michael Schenker and really, Uli Jon Roth. So, even though I’m from New York and the States, I play like I’m from Europe. And that’s what they needed. And of course, you’re talking about “Assault Attack” and the Alcatrazz records with Yngwie. And “Down to Earth.” So those are records I wore out when I was younger. So, I knew three-quarters of the stuff already. So, for me it was– I mean, I’m very lucky that I make a nice living doing what I love. So, I wouldn’t play in just anything unless I love the music. So, it worked out great.
So, you were contacted first time regarding joining the band in the middle of January. It’s not that long time ago, and now you’re already on tour with the band. It’s impressive I would say?
Oh, yeah. Well, I was contacted in the middle of January. And then I got together once with the guys. They didn’t really audition me because they knew my reputation and all that nonsense. And I sent them a couple of videos of me playing a bunch of the Yngwie-era Alcatrazz solos. And they knew I was legit and stuff, so we came down. It was just kind of a formality to meet everybody and talk to everybody. And immediately they were, “Okay. Great. This is going to work out great.” And then I went back to Los Angeles, I think, two times for two or three days of rehearsal each time. So, I’ve only rehearsed with these guys maybe a total of five or six days. And so, I mean, already this was the second show, and already we’re starting to kill it. Do you know what I mean? So, we’re not fucking around.
I mean, I’m familiar with the tracks. And back home in the States on the east coast, I have a Purple tribute band and a Rainbow tribute band. And, of course, doing my solo thing and all that nonsense. And Joe Stump’s Tower of Babel which is also kind of Rainbow-ish, Yngwie-ish. So, it’s all in my wheelhouse, what I do. So, it’s great. And, of course, I mean, how can you complain? Graham’s played with Michael Schenker. He’s played with Ritchie. He played with Yngwie. He played with my buddy Walter Giardino from Rata Blanca in South America. All of my favorite players. To add me to the list, I’m happy.
How can you say no to him? “Laughs”
Yeah. Exactly. I was, “Okay.” I would have driven to his house [laughter].
So, it was an easy choice to accept the offer.
Yeah. It was an easy choice. And I knew it was going to work out good. And I knew I would enjoy it because I wouldn’t do anything I don’t have to. I don’t have to play for anybody. I do very well myself with my solo stuff. My job on the faculty at Berklee College of Music, and all my books and records, and all that nonsense. So, I would never just do something to play with somebody just for the cash if I didn’t love the music because I’m very fortunate that I’ve never done anything where I don’t enjoy it.
Now when you are playing the Alcatrazz songs live, don’t you feel pressure to perform that stuff because there are so many people overseeing your playing, you know what I mean?
Well, you got to remember when I’m playing with my solo thing, there are many guitar players in the audience. And I did a tour in China back in October. So, you’re in a club, and you have a sea of guitar players in front of you, and each one of them has a phone on you. Here, you have metal fans, some guitar players, some metal fans. But in my line of work, I’m used to people having me under the microscope and watching me play all the time. So, I’m used to that. It comes with my… that’s what I do for a living. I play all that fast, technical stuff and people watch it. If you do that, you got to make sure you’re on it. I say, it only counts if you hit all the notes.
LEARNING ALCATRAZZ YNGWIE MALMSTEEN
Let’s go back to the year 1983. How well did you know Alcatrazz when the band released “No Parole from Rock n Roll,” featuring a young Yngwie Malmsteen on guitar?
I remember like it was yesterday. Because I knew about Yngwie back in– Guitar Player magazine in the States used to have a spotlight column they called, where they would have unknown talent, and there would be a little mini-article. Years later I was in one in Guitar Player called Hometown Heroes. It was the same kind of thing. It was not a Guitar Player; it was Guitar World. In the States. Some of the big guitar magazines, Guitar Player, Guitar World, would have this thing where they had discovering guitar players that were up and coming and under the radar. So, I read about Yngwie, and he loved all the same stuff I loved. He loved Bach. He loved Al Di Meola. He loved Ritchie Blackmore. He loved the Scorpions-era early Uli Jon Roth stuff. He loved Schenker. So I was, “This Swedish guy with the hard to pronounce name sounds like he’s right up my alley. He would be a favorite of mine.” And I remember there was a very small article on him when he was in Alcatrazz and Steeler in Guitar Player magazine. And I read about it. And then I bought the Alcatrazz record on vinyl. And then I started learning many of the tunes and many of the solos. And so, it’s funny. I would just practice them every now and then from time to time because they’re some of my favorite Yngwie solos. For me, not that Yngwie doesn’t play great now, he kills it. I mean, I’ve seen him every tour, tons of shows since the first– I never saw Alcatrazz or Steeler, but I saw him solo from the first record onto the very last one. Any time he comes around, I know him a bit, and I know Kenny, his tech, so I make a point of going to see him. And, of course, he still brings it and plays great now. But for me, the Steeler record, the Alcatrazz record, the studio record, the live records, and the first three Yngwie records, to me, when it comes to fast guitar and shred guitar, to me, that’s the benchmark. Nothing beats it. So, to play all this shit, for me, I wouldn’t say it’s easy because you want to play it legitimately. And you want to own it and play it. But, I mean, of course, it’s no problem for me because some of the Alcatrazz -era stuff is a little early in there. Of course, it’s Yngwie, but there’s also some Uli Jon Roth. There’s some Blackmore. He was, maybe, showing his influences on it a bit more than later on. So, for me, I knew a good amount of the licks when I first saw them play them when the record came out.
After Yngwie left Alcatrazz, another great guitarist joined the band. And he happened to be your old schoolmate from Berkley?
Oh, Steve Vai. Yeah. But we don’t play any of the Steve stuff. You know what I mean? And Steve is a great player. I could never play like Steve. Steve is on his own planet. He’s just a tremendous musician and a ridiculous player. I mean, he’s insane and so much himself that– you know what I mean? If they said, “Hey, Joe. We want you to play in Alcatrazz, but we’re going to do the entire “Disturbing the Peace” record,” I would be like, “Sorry. I’m not your guy!! [laughter]. You should get somebody that’s really familiar with Steve’s vibe and Steve’s touch and the way Steve approaches things melodically and technically.” I’m much more European. Steve’s almost like his own thing because he’s—even though he’s from the States, means he’s from New York, I mean, he kind of plays like he’s from a different planet. Because you have American guitar players that tend to play more in the post Van Halen vibe or post John Petrucci vibe. You know what I mean? Not dark, sounding minor tonalities like major scales. Those type of things. And then, you have the– to me; I’m the only real, legit, European style guitar player from the States.
I thought that there was one guy who had a bit similar style to yours and was the same influences as you, and he is a guy called Stuart Smith.
Oh, Stuart. Yeah. Well, Stuart kind of plays more old-school Ritchie. Stuart’s not a big technique guy. He doesn’t throw down Yngwie with the shredding and all that nonsense. But he’s a Blackmore disciple like I am. Do you know what I mean? So, Stuart plays in that– more of the older school Ritchie vibe.
I think that at one point, you guys both lived in the same area in New York?
No. Stuart lived on Long Island, but I wasn’t living there at the time. But Stuart went– Ritchie actually gave Stuart one of his Stratos. And I think it was the Strato from the “Stone Cold” video. I believe it was the “Stone Cold” video or the “Death Alley Driver” video. And then, later on, it got sold to another guy and then sold on eBay. And I ended up playing that guitar because Doc still– well, he used to be Blackmore’s tech was restoring it for somebody, and I was playing it.
So, it was all– it’s all a circular connection [laughter].
There was also the third album from Alcatrazz called “Dangerous Games.” Danny Johnson was the guitarist in the band at the time. What do you think about that album?
I never even heard it, sadly. So, I have no idea. I knew he was a more bluesy player and then went in a different direction. And not that I don’t think Steve is awesome. Steve is one of the best guitar players in the world. But after Yngwie left the band, that was the end of my Alcatrazz– that was the end of my interest in the band because I loved it– Alcatrazz was an extension of the European thing, the Rainbow thing and all that. And that’s not Steve’s thing. And that’s the music I love. Somebody could say, “Hey, Joe. You want a copy of Disturbing the Peace?” Not that I don’t think it’s awesome and Steve was amazing, and it’s a cool record, but I would be like, “No. I’m good.”
Somebody I interviewed in the past said to me that the early Alcatrazz was like Rainbow in steroids. Do you agree with that opinion?
Yeah, kind of. And my band, Joe Stump’s Tower of Babel is some sort of like that you know what I mean? Because a lot of people since I play fast and tech and of course I love Yngwie and stuff. But everybody always compares me to Yngwie, but I’m more a more “evil metal version” of Blackmore. If I had to describe my playing to somebody, yeah, do I love Yngwie? Yes. Do I play like Yngwie? I can. I mean, there’s only one Yngwie, so I’m not saying that like that. But I play like a more evil metal– if you made Ritchie Blackmore more insane and faster. And a bit more evil and more metal. That would be a good way to describe the way I play. You know? Yngwie’s got a lot of finesse, and I’m a bit more bulldozing and meaner like Blackmore and Gary Moore.
I think that because Yngwie’s coming from Scandinavia, it’s the reason what makes him different from those other great players.
Yeah, he’s Swedish. One time I played in Stockholm, and I played at a club called Club Anchor, and I was playing with Mats Leven. And I was playing with John Macaluso. And it was cool because Pontus from Hammerfall was in the audience. And we were just doing a thing where we’re playing a few Yngwie things, some Rainbow, some Purple, and some Hendrix. So, it was awesome playing– I’m playing Yngwie with Mats and Joe Macaluso that played with him in Stockholm. So, for me, it was just, “Okay. It doesn’t get much better than this.” Other than playing with– obviously, I’m now playing with Graham and playing all the Yngwie shit, so. So, for me, it’s great. I’m having a blast.
SOLO CAREER AND TOWER OF BABEL
There is Alcatrazz, and there is your solo career, but as you mentioned earlier, there’s also a band, Tower of Babel. Tell me something about that one?
I have a band I’m– I changed it to Joe Stump’s Tower of Babel because we threw out the singer. My old singer, Csaba Zvekan. The band and I got fed up with his bullshit and got rid of him. And we got a new singer, and we did some shows last summer. We did some festivals. And that Tower of Babel record “Lake of Fire, was like a great record. Some of the stuff sounded like Rainbow, Axel Rudi Pell, Voodoo Circle, early Rising Force. If you were a fan of any of that, that was the record. And then we had a falling out with the singer. We kicked him out. And so now we’re– that’s going to be something I’m going to do. But my new solo record’s coming out next week, “Symphonic Onslaught.” Do you know Lion Music from Finland? I’ve worked with them for a long time, and they put out my solo stuff. And if you love guitar, it’s a great record. And, also, I’m doing the new Alcatrazz record. And I’ll be doing another Joe Stump’s Tower of Babel record. So, I would play– and the Tower of Babel is… the Alcatrazz stuff is going to be more metal and kind of like, I wouldn’t say it’s going to be more like “No Parole from Rock and Roll,” it’s going to be heavier and meaner.
I thought one thing. You are now making a new Alcatrazz album, and you have said that you like the band most of the Yngwie era, so what kind of standards do you have for this new album? I mean, in your opinion, what kind of elements are needed to make the album sound like the classic Alcatrazz?
Yeah. You have to have some elements of that. And it doesn’t matter. Whenever I play, it’s no secret that I love Blackmore and Yngwie. I mean, it sounds like me when I play. But I’m kind of a more metallic version of those you guys, so it’s going to be like that. But I think on this record, they have some other guitar players contributing tracks. It’s almost a little who’s who of guys that have worked with Graham before. I think Steve might contribute a track. Or Chris Impellitteri might contribute a track. All awesome dudes and world-class players. And they have a couple of other tunes from some other players. So, I’m going to write a bunch of stuff for the record and play on the album, but it’s not going to be just me. But I don’t really care. You know, they kind of had this plan in place before they had me in the band. So, I’m not going to say, “Hey. I’m the only one playing on the fucking record.” You know what I mean? And I don’t really care. And I mean, I have a bunch of tunes written for the Tower of Babel record. And Graham wants to check them out and see if he likes them, cool. If not, I’m going to use it for the Tower of Babel record, the new one I had written almost the entire record. But I was going more in a hard rock direction, where the Alcatrazz record is going to be more of a metal record. I got one tune that’s evil and dark and slow, kind of like a more evil version of Queensryche. I got another fast, double bass tune that’s kind of like “Jet to Jet.” You know what I mean? So, there’ll be some tracks on that. Meaning if you like “On Parole,” there definitely will be some stuff like that. And, of course, there’ll be classical shit and all the arpeggios and baroque stuff. And Blackmore meets Yngwie meets Bach shit.
Of course! “Laughs”
Yeah. You got to have that in there.
THE CHANGES IN THE MUSIC SCENE
Do you have plans to make more music together with Mike Vescera, who was your musical partner for a long time?
Mike? No. I kind of lost touch with Mike. I mean, he’s a great dude and a great singer. And we were a good combination together. A lot of people liked us together. And a lot of people ask: “Hey. Are you and Mike going to do another record?” And I mean, Mike was busy doing– he did his solo thing, and then he did the thing with Chris Impellitteri, the Animetal thing. And he did well with that, so. And I know he does a lot of producing down in Nashville now. So, I haven’t spoken to him in a while. But, I mean, I’m certainly open to doing something with Mike. But, I mean, we’re both so busy.
I didn’t know that he also lives in Nashville? It seems that many U.S musicians are relocating there nowadays.
Oh, yeah. Well, Nashville is a hotbed of music. I mean, Wolf Hoffmann lives in Nashville. Yeah. I love Accept. I love Wolf’s playing. Well, I love Wolf’s playing because he sounds like a combination of Blackmore and Michael Schenker. I mean, Wolf’s awesome, but he’s not reinventing the wheel. Granted, he has his thing because he writes great riffs, and Accept is awesome. But you don’t have to be a genius to know that Wolf loves to listen to Schenker and Blackmore.
Of course, he does.
Yeah. But if you’re going to learn from them, you might as well learn from the best.
I remember that I read your interview from the year 1998 or something? However, you talked about the changes in the music culture. How nobody was respecting the great players or shredders anymore, and how the whole scene was slowly dying. Has anything changed since then?
I mean, yeah. Now it’s coming around. Because there’s a lot of younger players with more modern stuff doing great things with the guitar. And I am reinventing things. And I think people are embracing great playing again. And the other thing is that there’s always going to be a fanbase. And there’s always going to be a niche audience for people that love the guitar. I think it was. I forget maybe the billboard– they were talking about how most people don’t buy records anymore. Most people only buy singles when they purchase music. And the things that really still survive are like niche genres. And the guitar virtuoso thing is like a niche genre. You’re not going to make a gold record, but you’re going to have a steady fan base. And the other thing is, with the guitar thing, there’s the whole instructional thing that goes along with it. Books. DVDs. Masterclasses. Clinics. Tours where you are just playing with backing tracks. All that kind of stuff where you’re really– so I’m doing better than I ever have. I’m making more money than I ever have in my entire life. So, I love to do everything – you know what I mean? – But, of course, this is a lot of fun. And compared to my solo thing, it’s a lot less pressure for me. I don’t have to play a billion insane technical things for an hour and a half. I can play some rocking tunes and get up there and fuck around a little bit and rub my guitar on the monitor and shit [laughter].
You have mentioned many times that Ritchie Blackmore was always one of your biggest influences and idols. So, I can’t hesitate to ask how do you like the current version of Rainbow?
Well, I mean, I’ve seen it three times. I saw the first two German shows, and I saw the show in Glasgow for the second time. Ronnie is great. He is spectacular. I mean, Ritchie knocked it out of the park when he got him. And of course, Jens is amazing. I mean, Jens, he’s one of the best. So that’s awesome. And it’s not like that the bass player and the drummer are not good musicians, but they just don’t interpret Ritchie’s music as hard rock musicians. So, it gives the band more of like this kind of top-40 Rainbow-cover thing. It makes it sound much lighter as opposed to – you know what I mean? – Rainbow. Ritchie’s a bit older. I think he’s 72 now. So, his hands are a little arthritic at times I would imagine. I heard him talking about that. But he still has moments of greatness. The first show, in Lorelei, he was a little stiff, I could tell, – you know what I mean? – When he was playing. He just didn’t seem like himself. And then the second show he seemed more– even went down on one knee. I’m much younger. And when I think of it now, I think I’m older than Ritchie is when he played with Doogie White on the “Stranger in Us All” tour. And Ritchie was kind of getting more sedate by then. So, I’m still throwing my guitar around as Blackmore did back in the day, “Laughs” so, I’m doing okay. But it was a little disappointing to see the band with the small amps and the whole thing, and I wanted him to have like the stacks and all that stuff. But I can understand that he’s 72, he can’t blast like he used to.
I know what you mean. Graham is about the same age, but he can still sing as he did in the good old days. He still sounds amazingly good!
Yeah. I mean, Graham fucking brings it, man. He’s not fucking around up there; you know what I mean? But Ritchie would have moments of greatness, especially in the more dynamic things like “Mistreated,” “Catch the Rainbow.” But he’ll bring it. You could see him play “Spotlight Kid” one night, and it’d be like, “Okay.” But then he plays another night, and it’s good. But still, it’s Blackmore. The current bass player, instead of driving it– when they had Glover and Rondinelli and shit, the current bass players playing is weak. It sounds like a fucking show tune; you know what I mean? You’re in love with the spotlight– you know what I mean? It’s just like, “Come on, man.” It’s just not the same. But there are moments of greatness that he has and shit. I have tickets for the Munich show in June, but Alcatraz is going to Japan, and we’re going to Australia for a couple of shows. So, I’m hoping to get back home so I can go back– I’m going to go over to– I’ve got tickets for the Munich show. So, Ritchie, I try not to miss him anytime. Except for the Blackmore’s Night thing, I’ve seen it a bunch, and it’s cool, but I don’t know if I’ll go much more.
Yeah, I was going to ask about Blackmore’s Night thing because I’m a huge Blackmore fan, and when the first album came out, I think it was kind of cool. He was doing something different from the old stuff, but I was kind of disappointed when he decided to continue the band that long instead of doing the rock thing anymore. I stopped buying the Blackmore’s Night albums after the first three.
Well, I liked it because he used to mix electric with acoustic and stuff and play electric more and play more. And then it became more about her singing and the tunes and less about him. Like “Fires at Midnight” and “the Voyage” record, I forget the name of it – you know what I mean? – There’s some great– he plays great on it. It sounds like fucking Ritchie Blackmore.
I saw Rainbow last year in Helsinki, and I think Blackmore sounded the best when he played acoustic guitar.
Yeah. I mean, when he plays the quieter, more dynamic stuff, that’s when he really shines. And he also grows his nails for the Blackmore’s Night thing, so he doesn’t play as much electric in them. But every once in a while, he fires up and lets you know that he’s the boss.
Alright, Joe. I think this was everything now. I can’t wait to hear the new Alcatrazz album and the other releases coming from you soon. Let’s talk more then.
Thank you, Marko.