INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJALA
LIVE AND OFFSTAGE PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJALA AND TARU SAARINEN
Originally from the legendary punk band the Plasmatics, Jean Beauvoir is a multi-platinum solo artist who wrote and performed the hit song “Feel the Heat,” the lead song for Sylvester Stallone’s highly successful “Cobra” film. He has produced and co-wrote numerous hit songs/albums for the Ramones and worked successfully with Little Steven, Debbie Harry, John Waite, Glenn Hughes, ‘N Sync, Nona Hendrix, Lionel Richie, Doro, and many others. Jean is a well-known KISS collaborator, co-writing well-known KISS singles: “Who Wants to Be Lonely,” “Thrills in the Night,” and “Uh! All Night” with Paul Stanley. Jean and Paul wrote several songs for Beauvoir’s bands Crown of Thorns and Voodoo X as well. Beauvoir also played bass on selected songs on the KISS “Animalize” and “Asylum” albums.
KISS Army Finland organized its annual KISS Convention last March in Helsinki, and Jean was invited as the special guest. He did a Q&A session, a meet & greet with the fans and a special live performance with the house band. In addition to the KISS Convention, Beauvoir did a song-writing session with Finnish monster band Lordi and young talent Jessica Wolff. Read and learn!
A WEEK IN FINLAND
Well, you’ve spent a week in Helsinki. What do you think about Finland, and what have you done here during the week?
It’s been a really fun week. I have to say that one thing I really enjoyed here is the people’s outlook; it’s really interesting. I never really thought that people would be as positive as they are here in Finland. I met some great people here, and they have a real positive outlook on things. It was a breath of fresh air. I arrived on Friday and did this KISS Expo on Saturday with Marko, which was fantastic. It turned out to be a great evening. A lot of KISS fans came to this KISS Expo or KISS Convention, I believe they had a great time, and they enjoyed it. They got to see some interesting artists, get some KISS memorabilia, buy some merchandising and drink and do whatever they wanted to do. And I believe it was a real success. It looks like everybody left very happy. Also, I decided to extend my trip a little bit to do some work with some people here, and one of them is the band called Lordi, which I admire very much. It must have been a crazy thing to win the Eurovision song contest. It’s something that I think is very historic for Finland and for everywhere. For a rock band, first of all, the way they look, I love the image, but that they put this together and they were able to pull off this kind of coup. So, it was a great thing. I worked with them for a couple of days, and that was a lot of fun. We did some songwriting with Tomi (Mr.Lordi) and Jussi (Amen), and I think hopefully there’ll be some great stuff in there. I also spent a couple of days working with Jessica Wolff; we came up with a couple of songs as well. I got to see a little bit of the town today. I went out for a minute, went and had a little lunch over by the beautiful sea. And yeah, hopefully, I’ll be back here in Finland in not too long.
WORKING WITH LORDI
Of course, our readers and other people would like to know how you got in touch with the Lordi guys and how you ended up in Finland? I mean, Helsinki is far away from your home.
“Laughs” That’s right. It’s true. I’m coming from Florida. The Expo came through, and Marko, the president of the KISS Army Finland, reached out to me on Facebook and asked if I’d be interested in getting involved. Ironically, I’d just done a KISS Expo in New Jersey, and this is the first time I was exposed to this, even though I’ve been involved with the KISS camp for many years. Somehow recently, there have been requests for me to get involved in this kind of thing. Also, the songs that I wrote for KISS, “Who Wants to Be Lonely,” “Thrills in the Night,” “Uh! All Night”, have been for some reason getting more attention now, almost as like a resurgence, these songs showing up a lot more. So yeah, the connection is even stronger now, and then the KISS Army has just grown. So that’s how I got in touch with Marko and came here for this.
With Lordi, we’ve been speaking, believe it or not, for probably– it could be as much as four years. And it was a friend of ours—Darren from Australia who is a huge KISS fan; he happened to know Jussi and Tomi from Lordi. So, he had made the suggestion, and he connected us years ago. We’ve emailed back and forth. Somehow, since I wasn’t coming to Finland, nothing really came together. With this trip, as soon as I knew I was coming to Finland, I immediately got in touch with them and said, “Listen, guys, I’ll be in town. Would you like to– let’s take this opportunity to try to do some work together?”
How was it overall to work with Mr.Lordi in the studio? He’s known as a huge KISS fan, so that’s a common thing for you two. And it’s probably a positive thing when you’re working something together?
Well, I mean, that’s one thing that we had in common, which was really good. The fact that I guess that he was originally very involved, and I think one of the founders of the KISS Army here in Finland. So that’s one thing that we had in common. He was a fan of a lot of the things that I’ve written for KISS. From there, somehow, there was just good chemistry. As I said, it worked out with Jussi first. He was the one who made the connection, and then he introduced me to Tomi. So, I came down, met Jussi, and then they just brought me down to their place of work. Tomi and I, really, all three of us, really hit it off, and it’s was just like the ideas were just flowing, and it just happened very quickly for some reason.
Maybe there are similar backgrounds, but we’ve got a lot of things in common. I don’t know what it is? But you know, you never know when you go right with people, even though– I mean, I’ve been pretty fortunate that pretty much everyone I’ve written with, something has come out of it, or it’s ended up on the record or whatever. It’s always something– it’s an artistic process that you’re just trying. You never know. You can get in a room with somebody, and it could be a clash, and you don’t see eye to eye, or you say, “How about this thing?”, and they go, “Nah,” but it worked very well.
About the songs you work with Lordi, did you bring in some old demos/ideas of yours, or is everything fresh stuff that you now wrote together?
We did mostly fresh stuff. I did discuss a song that I had done with Paul Stanley that we wrote together some time ago that I thought might be something that could fit what they have in mind. We don’t know what will happen with it, but they like the song very much. It was almost like a “rock-ish,” “dance-ish” kind of song, towards a kind of– I don’t know. It’s a cool song. So, we’re going to see if they’re going to use it or not, but they like the song very much.
Mr. Lordi told me that the new album’s concept would be “decades,” and if I understood correctly, it means that there will be a lot of different styles on the album. I can easily guess which decade you are going to present on the album! [laughter].
Well, we played in a couple of things because we wrote a disco song [laughter], believe it or not. So that’s one thing, and then a little bit of ’80’s KISS and different things. That’s their concept, and we focused on good songs. From there, many things that make the songs fit into certain eras are also the production, how it’s approached, etc. Because songs approach with modern sounds could be ten years ahead, even though it’s the same kind of song. Everything’s up to them, to a certain point, to kind of see. And Tomi, he’s very meticulous about his work and how he does things, and he seems to be an interesting visionary, which I admired. So, I think he’ll be able to kind of put things together in his mind which way to go with things.
So, what is the next step in this process? When will you know which songs are going to be used on the album etc.?
Well, I mean, I think they’re on a pretty strict deadline. My plan is, I go back to America now, and I kind of– well, first of all, I’ll get all the materials that we did to him. So, we record everything, all the work tapes, everything you’re doing in the room, but there’s a lot of “blah blah” there too. You know what I mean [laughter]? I mean, it’s not just the songs. So, I plan to go back to the States, go back in my studio, and kind of streamline things a little bit, re-listen to everything, and then send everything over a little bit more finalized. Not that I’m finalized as far as recording, but finalized where it shows the structure of the song list so they can sit with it and decide what to do. I guess they’ll make demos from there and take it from there to have a better picture of what we did here. It’s a lot to remember when you’re going to come up with six different ideas in two days. It’s like, “What was that first idea again? Who remembers?”
But it’s good that it’s so easy to record everything these days, like on rehearsals. It’s not like it was in the very early days; “How did you play that riff?”. “I have no clue.” “Laughs” That’s it, exactly.
That’s right, “Laughs.”
There’s one more exciting thing about this collaboration. In the past, the band hasn’t used many outside writers. They have had some guests playing solos etc., but, in writing-wise, this kind of thing doesn’t happen too often.
Really? I think he mentioned he might have done a little song-writing; maybe it’s not common. So, I don’t know why they would change that system, because they’ve been having success so, it’s not like they need it.
Maybe they want to bring in some new and fresh ideas?
It’s not fun to sit and write an entire album by yourself. I mean, I can see that their hands are full on this album. I mean, Tomi does so much stuff. He’s writing songs; he’s doing demos; he’s in the studio; he’s dealing with all the monster stuff, the costumes. That stuff is hard to do. Then you have to get into the business of the band, that’s a lot of things. Sometimes it’s better to – especially if you get along great with somebody – get a little help. To help you get your ideas across, so you can’t spend as much time working on this stuff yourself. I know it’s the same with me, sometimes I make my albums in my studio, and there are times that I would sit down and play all the instruments, sit in there by myself, and spend months alone; it gets boring. So, it’s nice to have other people balance things off; it just makes the whole process more fun.
WHAT’S GOING ON?
You have a new solo band in the United States, and you had already played a few gigs together last fall. But when can we hear a new Jean Beauvoir solo album or new music from Crown of Thorns or Voodoo X?
I released two albums this year. Basically, what’s been going on with my career? I kind of noticed that since I’ve had Crown of Thorns, I’ve had Voodoo X, solo records, sometimes people were not making the connection, and realizing it’s the same guy who did these different things. So, I was getting requests, “Can Crown of Thorns do a show? Can Voodoo X do a show? Can Jean Beauvoir do a show?” And I couldn’t put these at different projects because those were always projects to me anyways. And a lot of the Crown of Thorns stuff, most of the instruments, even the Voodoo X stuff. Do you know what I mean? The guys were involved a little bit, but not so much. So, I decided to release two of Jean Beauvoir’s “Rock Masterpieces Volumes” this year. “Volume 1” and “Volume 2”, where I combined some of the Crown of Thorns, some of the Voodoo X, some of the Jean Beauvoir so that people can see that this is all one thing.
And since people have been requesting other songs, songs from my bands and songs that I’ve written have become popular. So, let’s say the Ramones song, “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg,” was at the “School of Rock.” Other Ramones songs have had a certain amount of success so, and now I play them live. So, I’ve combined my setlist almost to be kind of a “greatest hits” kind of a show, where I combine my “Feel the Heat,” “Missing the Young Days,” songs from my solo record that did well. And that album did better than all my other bands, so I have those. I do a few songs from Crown of Thorns, I do a few songs from Voodoo X, some songs from KISS that I wrote, and now, I did not only play wonderful “Uh! All Night”, but now I had the chance to play with this great band, which was Marko’s band, and they played this KISS stuff wonderfully. So, now I’m able to do all my KISS songs in my set. Also, people have never heard “Shocker” live. They were really surprised about that when we first played it. So, I’m combining all of this and putting it all into the show. These are all different aspects of my career, and the one thing common is me.
There’s only one problem. The show will last like four hours! “Laughs” I know [laughter].
Well, if I tried to add all the material I have, between all the different albums and all the years, you’re right. It would be a four-hour show. So, since you’re only doing fourteen, fifteen songs, I have to pick the best of each thing, which is good for the fans because that makes it great — the most popular Crown of Thorns song, KISS Ramones songs, Voodoo X songs. So then really have a set of like with songs from my whole career. And when you have a lot of material, and the more you’re on the road, you can learn all the different material and pool depending on the audience. There are some places where people are a little bit more into hearing more Crown of Thorns. When I play in Germany, people would be like, “I need more Voodoo X. Voodoo X,” and they start calling out all these Voodoo X songs, and you might want to make the set a little bit more “Voodoo X heavier” for Germany, let’s say. And there are places so “Feel the Heat.” Feel the Heat”, they ask for pretty much everywhere, but it depends. Some territories are a little bit more specific to the stuff they want you to play.
Do you have any confirmed tour dates at the moment?
Well, we’re going to see. We’re working on it right now. We’re in discussions. Right now, there’s nothing booked. I’ve kind of put the year away a little bit for doing touring because I have a couple of projects, but we’ll see when the shows will happen.
THE STATE OF CROWN OF THORNS AND VOODOO X
How about Crown of Thorns and Voodoo X? Are those bands still alive in some form?
They are living their own life as records, but something that I decided to do… Let’s put it this way. Those bands were bands, but those were more like projects for me. Voodoo X was a project that I put together for my uncle and the Voodoo religion, believe it or not. It was paying homage because my family in Haiti comes from a Voodoo background, and my uncle’s a very well-known Voodoo priest. So, it’s like they ask for a gift to the spirits and shows Voodoo’s beauty to the world; that was what Voodoo X was. Voodoo X was a project that was put together. In the video shot in Haiti, we shot a real live Voodoo ceremony for the first time. All the dancers and everybody involved were a gift that I did for my uncle as this is my contribution to the Voodoo religion to show the beauty of the Voodoo religion. And so, the songs on there, everything was based around there. So, I played most of the instruments on that record, in reality. A band toured with the whole thing, but Jorn-Uwe Peterson, the keyboard player, played keyboards on the record. The guitar player, Tommy Lafferty, played some of the guitars on the album, but I played many of them. I had played the bass and drums on those records, so it’s just really a project, but I put another name on it. Crown of Thorns had different things. First, the original Crown of Thorns had Micky Free, Tony Thompson, those guys from the first record. But then, after that, I started making those records, and I was playing most of the instruments on those records, and I would bring Tommy in for certain solos. And I would switch. There was one record I would have Hawk Lopez play the whole record, the drummer. Another record I’d play. So, those were always projects.
Except for the first Crown of Thorns album.
Except for the first album. That’s right.
MORE ABOUT CROWN OF THORNS
How is your relationship with Mickey Free nowadays?
It’s good. When was the last time? It’s been a few months because we did an album together, Beauvoir/Free, because he kind of wanted to get back into Crown of Thorns, and I said, “Aaaah. I don’t want to…” because we had a breakup at one point. Just typical band stuff. And then, after that, we got back together. We found ourselves living in the same place in LA, and we said, “That’s ridiculous. Let’s get back together.” So, we started doing demos together, and then later, we ended up doing a Beauvoir/Free record called “American Trash.” I think it was a pretty good record, but we haven’t played together for a while. Micky’s been playing, but we share the same drummer. Hawk will play songs with me, and he plays a lot with Micky.
I like that “American Trash” album because it’s a little bit heavier stuff compared to your other records.
The Beauvoir/Free record? Thank you. It’s a little heavier. Every time you collaborate with a different person, you get just a little different vibe. When Micky and I write together, there is a special vibe. There’s something that we get when we write together. We just felt that we needed to try to capture that again on tape somehow.
Out of all the records you have done, I would say that the first Crown of Thorns is my favorite.
That’s your favorite.
Yeah. And that’s because that album sounds a lot like KISS to me, “Laughs.”
Aaah! Well, don’t forget that you had Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons both involved in that record. Paul produced a couple of tracks, and we wrote a couple of tracks together. There might be a little influence here and there, and it’s just how the band was set up and everything. I really liked that record. It was a great record, I thought.
It’s a little bit confusing that there are so many different versions of that album. There is a Swedish version, Japanese version, French version, UK version, etc., and on top of that, the album is released by different labels in each country. What’s the story behind that?
I made country-by-country deals because it was originally released… Interscope in America signed it. And then there were problems; grunge came into the whole thing and kind of killed rock and roll. So that was a problem, and the album wasn’t going to be released. But many countries had received advance tapes of the album already because Interscope was planning this big global release of this record. So, when it wasn’t going to come out on Interscope, these countries started calling me separately and saying, “You have to release this record. How about Japan?” And so, Alpha would sign it for Japan, Now and Then would sign it for England, and then Empire Records would sign it for Sweden. And then I’d sign them for– so I made deals with every country separately.
I’ve noticed that there are slightly different album covers on those different prints? So, from a KISS fan perspective, it means that you have to collect them all!! “Laughs”
Yeah. That’s good [laughter]. Hey, that’s true. I’m happy that the KISS fans feel obligated to grab anything that Paul Stanley or Gene had their hands in.
THE VINYL TALK
Do you own the rights for all Crown of Thorns albums?
Yes. I have all the rights. I own all the rights for the Crown of Thorns album. I own all the rights for all the records, Voodoo X, Crown of Thorns, Jean Beauvoir, all of them.
I ask this because there are no vinyl versions of any Crown of Thorns releases. Do you have plans to fix that in the future?
Well, you know there are discussions about it. So, I’m going to see what’s going to happen. I’ve got a couple of friends actually that are– well actually, Mikkey Dee and Magnus, who runs a club called Sticky Fingers in Gothenburg, are dear friends of mine, and they’ve started their own vinyl company. And it’s supposedly one of the most fantastic. Everybody is using them in Sweden. So, we’ve been discussing vinyl releases. So, I may do a vinyl. I probably will do a vinyl release of all the different records.
I think you have heard the rise of vinyl? What I mean is that, in some countries, LPs are now selling better than CDs.
Really? Wow. I didn’t realize it was that powerful. That’s amazing. Well, you know, vinyl was a great format. It’s something I really miss. I mean, growing up with vinyl, I loved the fact of getting those big records and the artwork that used to come with it and holding that disc. Just the whole concept of the turntable and stuff. Shit. Everything about it was exciting. It made getting a record exciting, I think. So, I’m happy about that.
Me too. One great thing about vinyl was when the bands added some extra stuff in the package. Posters, temporary tattoos, etc. I think that the vintage KISS and Alice Cooper vinyls are SO cool because of all that extra stuff.
That’s right. I think of the Voodoo X vinyl, which was an exciting vinyl. It was hard like a raised gold leaf on it, just things that we had a tattoo in there and all kinds of little presents and stuff. So, it was more exciting. Then I think that’s a big part of record buying instead of just downloading a file with the little cover that’s got nothing on it and one photo.
That’s right. A vinyl cover is a piece of art.
Yeah, that’s it, and it is a piece of art. I think it’s a great format. I’m happy that it’s coming back and making noise again.
THE EARLY DAYS
Let’s go next back to the early days of your career. You first started as a drummer, and later on, you switched to bass and guitar. When did you realize that you could write songs by yourself?
It took a while. I’ve been writing songs since I was a kid. I started writing songs ever since I was 12, 13 years old, because when you’re a kid, and you’re getting heartbroken, that was a way for me to express myself. I was writing songs. When I was very young, every time I’d have something in my mind, or a problem, or feelings, or hurt, or whatever, I’d always put it down in a song. So, it’s something that started very early for me. I did some writing in the Plasmatics, but I think that year when I got the first KISS release, that’s when I started to realize, I mean, when you first see your name on a record as a songwriter, it’s when you kind of say, “Oh, okay. I guess I’m a songwriter” [laughter]. It’s almost like you get the stamp of approval. That’s true, and I’m happy with how things developed.
I find it very interesting that Paul trusted you as a songwriter and wanted to write with you, although you had not released much yet at that point. You were definitely in the right place at the right time.
Okay. ANIMALIZE came out in 1984. So, at point by 1984, I had written over my career with the Plasmatics. Even though I didn’t have a solo deal yet, I had worked with Steven Van Zandt. I had done some songs, but I didn’t write with him. In 1984, it was kind of the beginning, so it was a little bit of a change of everything. But I mean, Paul had heard a lot of my own stuff. He had heard songs that I had written because I had already been making demos for my solo album [laughter]—It didn’t mean I was getting signed, but because I was trying to get a deal as a solo artist since 1978, ’79, that’s when it started. Then I joined the Plasmatics. So, I had written songs. I had a lot of songs that I played for him, different things that he heard from– but I just didn’t have a deal yet. Come to think of it, as we’re talking about it 1984 ANIMALIZE, that’s what opened the door, but not just for me, for a lot of people because even Desmond Child and Diane Warren, who turned out to be very big songwriters, we all started with KISS, come to think of it.
Desmond Child’s first big hit song was “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.”
There you go! We all started with KISS. Who would think that these people, who went on to pop songs and write this and that, but everything started with KISS?
KISS AND TELL
How is your KISS history? I mean, were you a fan when you were younger, and how much did they influence you as a musician?
I was a huge KISS fan since I was a kid. I was living on Long Island, and I started to make music when I was very young. I was in a junior high school rock band, and I had all those KISS posters on my wall, and I had my grandmother coming in and saying, “Take that thing off your wall!” I was a huge fan because, at that time, KISS was bigger than life. The whole thing: the makeup, the show, the lifestyle, it was like, “This is where I want to be. I want to play rock and roll.” So that’s where it all started for me. I can’t remember the exact year, but I was pretty young when I went to my first KISS show. It was at Madison Square Garden. And from there, I went into my own thing and found myself playing in bands and all kinds of groups to start with. At the age of 14, I was the musical director for Gary U.S. Bonds, and I played with Chuck Berry and the others. Soon later, I got into the punk thing. I came to New York City and joined this punk band, and we started rehearsing, and we ended up opening up for the Plasmatics. They were just starting and, after doing an audition, I became the bass player in the Plasmatics.
Do you remember when you first got to know the KISS guys in person and became friends with Paul?
It was in 1983, Paul and I met in a club called Heartbreak. At the time, it was the place where just everyone hung out. He came over to me, and he said, ” I’m Paul Stanley from KISS. You’re Jean Beauvoir, and you’re playing with the Plasmatics?” I said, “That’s me” (laughs). We started talking and hanging out a little bit, and then he said, “We should just start to hang together.” So, we became friends, and we’d go to movies and restaurants, and stuff like that.
“Thrills in the Night” was the first song you and Paul wrote together. Did either of you have ideas for the song already, or was it something fresh you just created together in 1984?
We created it together. I can almost remember the session. Paul and I had just been hanging out. We were very good friends, and we both lived in New York, so we were hanging out in the clubs, everything like that. We didn’t talk about doing any writing, but we knew about each other’s businesses. We’d talk, we’d go to dinner, we’d talk about, “Oh, that happened today. This happened. I’m trying to get a deal. Blah blah blah.” So, we always were talking about stuff, but it just happened one day. We were in his apartment, and we always ordered this Chinese food [laughter], and we’d always eat wonton and sesame sauce. I can still remember one of these things we always got. That was his, and he introduced it to me. And then one day, we just pulled out these guitars and just started playing, and we just decided, “Let’s see if we can come up with something.” That’s where it began. “Thrills in the Night” was done there. So, I can remember going to the bathroom, and I would hear some melodies in my head, and I’d come out and say, “I got this, I got that.” Then he’d say, “Oh, how about we do this, we do that”? And we just organically started to write.
You did song-writing with KISS, but you also played bass on ANIMALIZE and later on ASYLUM. How did that come about, and what did Gene Simmons think about it?
I didn’t play all the bass tracks, but I played a few songs on that record. I played on “Get All You Can Take” and “Under the Gun,” I believe, and “Thrills in the Night.” It’s just that when we did the demos, we would do these little four-track demos. We had one of those little; we had this little Tascam recorder, right? And basically, we had this little Tascam recorder. We would just record the tracks right there, and that’s it. And I played the bass on those tracks. And when we were in the studio, Gene basically would come to me and say, “Listen, why don’t you play the bass on it because it sounds right. It’s got the right feeling and everything like that.” Gene was very matter-of-fact about it. If he felt it was something that was good enough for the record, and he liked it, then we would keep it. He could have played the bass on the records, but sometimes he just liked what I did. I think Gene liked to encourage other people to do things. So, he liked the feeling of my bass playing or this and that, and he just said, “Just do it” [laughter].
You were much involved in making “Animalize,” and you spent a lot of time in the studio at the time of recording. What kind of relationships did you have with the KISS members other than Paul?
They were all great. I knew them all because it was always a very casual kind of relationship. Since Paul and I were always hanging out together, I’d see them in all different things. So, when they did pre-production rehearsal, I was there because we had to get that all together before. Paul would always be like, “Hey Jean! I’m going to be over at SIR today rehearsing. What are you doing at 3:00, 4:00? I’m done at 5:00.” And I’d be like, “Oh, I’ve got to do that or go do that, but I’ll stop by at 4:30, and then we’ll go have dinner.” It was that kind of a relationship. Or we’re going to a party tonight. Bruce Kulick is going to be doing this or that, or whoever it might be, Mark St. John or whoever. So I would do that with them. It was very casual. I would go to the sessions when they would play. Sometimes, I would spend time in the studio when they were making the record if I was around. Yeah, I loved the guys. We all got along very well. It was like a little family. It was really comfortable.
One year later, the band released ASYLUM, where you had an even more significant role, as both songs you wrote with Paul were chosen as singles of the album. What was the formula behind the album creation process, or was it pretty much the same as it was with ANIMALIZE?
It was the same idea, Paul and I were spending a lot of time together, we’re talking ’84, ’85’, ’86. So, at that point, my solo record, I believe, had just about come out, and that was a success. It was a hit at that point. We had good luck with the first album, so Paul asked me about the second album. At that point, I had done more writing, too. I think at that point; I had written a single for Nona Hendryx, which was successful too. I had done the Ramones. I had written three singles for the Ramones, and there were others too. I had a track record.
How much bass did you play on ASYLUM?
Not much. I mean, I played more bass on the first one, I believe. I played on ”Uh! All Night” and “Who Wants to Be Lonely” on the second album. I think that’s it, yeah, and I did some background vocals and stuff like that.
There is no fully detailed documentation about who did what on those albums; it’s sometimes confusing.
I know, except for Wikipedia and this and that. I wasn’t supposed to actually– when I say supposed; it’s not something that was– it was not like “I booked Jean to play bass on this record.” It wasn’t like that. It was more casual, “If you’re in there, you know the part, you have a good feel for it, just do it.” But I never expected to get credit or that anybody would ever know that I did that. It’s not until I started seeing it written in their books, in their things, and then written in Wikipedia, written in places where I said, “Oh, so somebody’s talking about this. Okay” [laughter].
However, a lot of things happened in one year.
That’s true. Around ’85, ’86, everything just flipped. It really did because it was a tough year before that because after I left the Plasmatics and could not get a record deal, it was impossible. And then I went with Little Steven for a while — and Steven was like ’83, ’84. So, after touring with him, right after that is when things started to pick up.
THE SESSION WORK AND ALBUM CREDITS
As you said, around 1986, you became a successful solo artist, and suddenly many people wanted to write songs with you or asked you to produce their albums. Like you said, “everything just flipped” then. It must have been amazing but also a very hectic time for you?
Oh, yeah. It got busy. Do you know what it is? I always stayed very busy. I always had these personal goals of a lot of things that I wanted to do, and I always wanted to try to break down as many barriers as I could. My goal is to be doing everything: I wanted to be a songwriter, I wanted to be a producer, and I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to have it all together. So, I tried to work it all three of those things simultaneously. So whenever I had the opportunity, I’d write songs with somebody.
Another thing that I never believed in is that I didn’t believe in people being pigeonholed in a certain place. I kind of felt like, I don’t want people to look at you like you can only do this because you’re black. You can only do this because you’re that. I want to do everything and prove to people that you can do different things. So, I would play guitar on a Cameo record [laughter]. I would play with Nona Hendryx from Labelle. It’s a whole different thing. Or I would write an ‘N Sync song or work with Lionel Richie, and then I’d work with KISS, and for me, that was almost, like I said, a personal challenge. It’s like to show that you can do these different things and that a great song is just a great song that can transcend to any one of these worlds. And I like the fact that I can look back later in your legacy and say, “Oh, you wrote one of the first singles for one of the biggest “boy bands” ever. Then you wrote the rock song, one of the biggest rock bands ever. Oh, you wrote a song of the biggest punk band ever.” And it’s interesting to look back at your legacy when you leave to your kids, and everything to say, maybe one day we’ll be recognized. Many times, even the Ramones weren’t recognized until after they passed away, and people realized they were a good band [laughter]. And so, and it’s something that I follow through with.
I’m doing it now. I even decided now to do more songwriting with people. Even in situations like this, I think Lordi is a historical band from Finland. I think it did something very special for the world, for Europe. So, to me, that’s a very good thing for my legacy, my personal legacy to add that to the Ramones and KISS and ‘N Sync, and this. I’m doing some stuff with Lita Ford that will hopefully work out. I think that she has the same background as me. She came from the Runaways, and I came from the Plasmatics. We get along really well. So, we’re working on something. I think that would be a great thing. She’s one of the first female artists to break from punk to rock to that scene. That’s also a wonderful thing. I worked with Debbie Harry. Debbie Harry’s like, she’s an original. I worked with Chrissie Hynde from the Pretenders. So, all of these people, to me, have had a historical footprint in the industry.
Actually, I just checked how many albums you’ve been credited to, and the results are impressive. There are close to 250 albums released with your name on them.
Yeah, it was a lot of records [laughter] — even John Waite. As a matter of fact, I was at Glenn Hughes’s album too. Glenn Hughes is a classic guy.
You have also worked with Doro Pesch. Tell me something about that collaboration?
Doro as well, that’s right. She was a guest on my album, and I’ve written, what, three songs with her. So, we’ve had a good relationship for many, many years. I mean that I think she’s great. She’s that one girl out of Germany who kind of transcended and went into the rest of the world. She has such a great work ethic. She’s just such a passionate artist. Do you know what I mean? Doro is great, and the funny thing is that Doro just inducted Lita Ford into the Heavy Metal Hall of Fame, and I didn’t even know they knew each other. I’m hanging with Lita, and we’re saying we’re going to do some work together, and everything like that, and she says, “I’ve known Doro for years. We’ve done this together.” And I also kind of thought that Doro is a kind of European version of Lita. Do you know what I mean? But yeah, they were collaborating. I think they might be doing something now for this record. But, interestingly, they have that relationship together. Doro recently moved to Florida, partially.
Really? I always thought that she would stay in New York forever?
I know, I know. This is a funny story. I was in Florida with her some years ago, and she had come there for some reason. I think she was on vacation with a Russian fan. That’s right, that’s what she was doing. We were on the beach of all places, and she told me, “I would never move to Florida. That’s the last place. I can’t take the sun. This is not my world at all.” And then, all of a sudden, I saw her at the Heavy Metal Hall of Fame this year, and we sit down, and she says, “Jean, I moved to Florida [laughter].” I said, “You told me you’d never move to Florida; you could never do it.” And she said, “I don’t know. It just changed. It’s like, “I was living in New York, and it was always cold, and this and that.” And she says, “I just couldn’t help myself.” She says, “Now, I’ve got an apartment by the water and everything.” I said, “I told you.”
Well, a lot of people I know from the music business in the New York area, a lot of them have moved out to Nashville, Las Vegas, or Florida?
That’s it, yeah. That’s right. For one thing, you get a lot more value for your money. New York is this strange place. You could live in little apartments and this and that. It’s just not enough space, but New York’s a beautiful city. I’m from New York, originally. I think a lot of people like Nashville, and people get amazing deals. People move to Nashville and…I went and saw a bass player…what was his name? It was just somebody I was doing a Dick Wagner tribute with, and this bass player lived in this big, beautiful house. This thing was 5,000 sq. ft. It had a whole two-floor, and then it had a whole basement where we rehearsed. He can do all of this, and he paid a couple hundred thousand dollars for the house. I was like, “Wow. That’s amazing.” In New York, you couldn’t get a studio apartment in Brooklyn for $200,000. There’s a big difference. People realize they can get a lot more, and so they move out.
And also, the whole rock scene in New York now, I mean, if you think Manhattan now, how many rock clubs are left anymore?
Now, that’s true. That’s true. Yeah, yeah. It’s changed a lot.
Even BB King is closed now, which is unfortunate…
I know. CBGB’s, BB King, everything. That’s right. Come to think of it. I remember when I moved to– when we moved, actually Paul and I moved out to L.A. around the same time. We were living in New York; as I said, we had similar lives in New York. We both had these sports cars in town. The worst place to have a sports car is in New York City. You couldn’t even think of doing that, but we did. Every time we went to park the car, you had some guy hanging on and telling you that he would watch it for you and wanted money from you. It just started to feel so ghetto. Even though New York changed and it became a lot better after that. In that period of time, it was a little bit grungy, and it was uncomfortable, and it was not safe until Giuliani came in and kind of cleaned things up. So, at that time, we were talking and saying, “You know, I might be thinking about moving to L.A. You can get a house for the same money that you have an apartment in New York. You can drive around there, and you have fresh air.” So we kind of decided around the same time to move out and to go to L.A.
But now the same thing is happening in L.A. now. People are moving away, and they are relocating to Vegas, Nashville, etc.?
Yes, that’s right. Las Vegas is a popular place now. I have so many friends that have moved to Vegas right now. It’s crazy. It’s the same idea, they get there, and they can get beautiful houses. I don’t know the outskirts of Vegas; I’m going to have to visit some friends actually because all kinds of my friends live there. Stet Howland, from the band Metal Church, he’s moved out there. He set up all his studio. He does all his drum recording out there.
That’s news for me. The last time I spoke with Stet, he was still living in Florida.
Well, he was living in Fort Myers almost next to me; that’s how I met him. Then all of a sudden, one day, he packed up, and he said, “We’re all moving.” I think the whole band he was playing with down there moved. They all moved to Vegas.
Besides these Lordi and Lita Ford things, and a possible tour, what else you’re planning to do in the near future?
I want to start writing for a new solo album to come out by next year. Also, I have a punk project with which I’m right in the middle of the business. We’re going to see if we can make the timing happen. But I was working on a very special punk, “back-to-the-roots punk record” that would be a collaboration with CBGBs, for one thing, as a partner, and also bringing back some artists from back in the day to all sing on this record with me, and with some new people who have carried the flag, as a tribute to punk. So that’s a record that I wanted to try to get done this year. So, we’re just trying to see if everything is going to work out and if we can get the funding in time to try and get it out towards Christmas.
Many early “punks” now live in the United States. Johnny Rotten lives there, and also Steve Jones and many others.
That’s right. I’d love to get all of these guys altogether, all on the new record that’s a kind of a tribute to punk.
Speaking about punk, are you familiar with the old Finnish punk scene?
Well, not very familiar. I know bands like Hanoi Rocks; Michael Monroe is great. He’s always been one of my favorites. I’ve known him for years, and I was always a fan. Yeah, he was a very happy guy, a really, really great artist. Michael Monroe, Hanoi Rocks.
Before them, we had plenty of those “real punk bands.” Rattus, Kaaos, Appendix, Terveet Kädet, and so on. Do you know those bands?
Oh, I wasn’t that familiar at the time with those bands. But I’m going to check it out because I love Rattus. Rattus and Appendix. And that was when? That was the ’70s?
Yeah. In the late ’70s, early ’80s.
So, it was probably around the same time as Plasmatics?
I think so? And you know, what is a funny thing? One of the biggest fans of those bands is Max Cavalera. He’s even using Kaaos stickers on his guitars “Laughs.”
Oh, really? I love that stuff. Listen that is my roots, so I try not to forget the roots. I’ve tried to kind of keep a connection with your roots no matter what because, especially in America right now, there’s been a lot of resurgence of my old punk stuff. Like I had a song that I produced for the Ramones, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight).” And this year, believe it or not, at Christmas time, it got all this mainstream radio play. It was on the hit channel and the biggest Christmas hit on the channel. I was so surprised that I was just walking around the house one day, and I heard the song come on after Mariah Carey. I’m like, “What? They’re playing this song?” and then I realized it was in rotation. A lot of people went back to the Ramones. “Pet Cemetery” was another Ramones song I had done, and that turned out to be the highest-charting Ramones song of their career. “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” they talked about that on TV and also on CNN, FOX, and NBC because they were using that as a reference for Donald Trump going to visit Putin because the song was about Reagan going to visit cemeteries in Germany. So now they’ve decided to use that as a reference for Trump and Putin. I was like, “That’s strange.” So, the punk root is something…that’s where it all started. I just wanted to keep people reminded– always remember myself, where it began and evolved in different things, but where it actually started.
Jean, I think that’s all for now. Thank you for this interview.
Thank you. Hope to see you again soon!