CHRIS IMPELITTERI – “We are on halfway through recording a new Impellitteri album”

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INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJALA

Chris Impellitteri is an American guitarist and founder of the heavy metal band Impellitteri. Over the years, he has won several awards in various music media. In 2008, Guitar World named him one of the fastest guitarists of all time, and he has often been hailed as one of the world’s greatest guitar shredders. In addition to Impellitteri, Chris has also played in Animetal USA and guested on other artists’ records, including Alcatrazz’s BORN INNOCENT and House of Lords’ SAHARA.

Chris and vocalist Rob Rock formed Impellitteri band in 1987 in Los Angeles, California. Their self-titled EP, also known as “Impellitteri Black EP,” was released later in the same year. In 1988, the legendary Graham Bonnet (ex-Rainbow, MSG, Alcatrazz) replaced Rob Rock in the band. The renewed lineup released the album STAND IN LINE, which was a huge success, especially in Japan. After touring to support the album, the band returned to the studio with Rob Rock. The band released several albums in the ’90s, including the highly successful ANSWER TO THE MASTER and SCREAMING SYMPHONY.

In 2000, Rock decided to leave the band to concentrate on his solo career, and Bonnet was recruited once again for 2002’s SYSTEM X, but he split soon after. In 2008, Rob Rock announced his return, with WICKED MAIDEN being released later the same year. Since then, the band has remained active, releasing the albums VENOM (2015) and NATURE OF THE BEAST (2018).

I met a good-humored Chris last November (2022) in Los Angeles. In this interview, which lasted over two hours, we went through his entire career, starting from the mid-’70s, when he first discovered KISS, and soon later, Van Halen. We also discussed various other things including the past, present, and future of Impellitteri.


WHAT’S GOING ON WITH IMPELLITTERI

Well, first of all, it’s great to finally meet you in person.

Thank you, Marko. I’m glad we made it.

Let’s start with the obvious but important question, what going on with Impellitteri at the moment?

We are halfway through recording a new Impellitteri album. We owe another record to Frontiers, which is our label for the United States and Europe. JVC Victor has all of Asia and Japan, and they have Australia and New Zealand. So we owe JVC Victor and Frontiers another record. So that’s what we’re doing right now. And like I said, we’re about halfway through it. It’s kind of like an extension to our VENOM record, which we did two records ago. It’s kind of like a continuation of that album.

Is the band lineup still the same it was on the previous album?

It’s Rob Rock on vocals, James Pulley on bass, and on drums…it’s a big surprise, which I can’t say yet. But it’s a big surprise.

Eric Singer? [laughter]

No, no, but it’s a big name [laughter]. Big. So we’re excited about it.

We’ll see soon who the mystery man is. But overall, the last time I saw Impellitteri was at the Sweden Rock festival more than ten years ago.

Oh my God. What year was that? Was that 2009?

Well, I guess it was either 2008 or ’09?

I remember that show. I think Glenn Sobel was playing drums at that time with us, right?

Yes.

Speaking of Alice Cooper. Glenn was the second drummer of mine that Alice played with. [laughter] The first one was Ken Mary. I must love Alice’s drummers. Or, actually, technically, Ken Mary played with Alice Cooper before me. But Glenn played with me first and then with Alice [laughter].

It’s a small world. Any good memories from that Sweden trip?

I remember loving visiting Sweden, but the biggest thing I remember is that it was very cold there. I remember we were there in the beginning of June. I live here in Los Angeles and we usually have 80′ to 90′ degrees when it’s June. So it’s very warm here, very nice at that time of year. So when I went to Sweden, I thought it would be T-shirt weather there too. I remember how cold it was, and there were heaters on stage that I had to use because my hands were numb from the cold. I remember that Journey played right after us and I watched Neil Schon, and Neil was also constantly warming his hands, and he’d got three layers of coats on [laughter]. The wind was blowing, and it was really cold, but the people in Sweden were great, and I loved it. I want to play there again.

Impelitteri band. Photo taken at Mates in North Hollywood on 08/04/14.

THE EARLY YEARS AND INFLUENCES

Now when I remember, I just met your former bass player Chuck Wright, and he asked me to send his greetings and to say, ”Slow it down” to you! [laughter].

I don’t know how to do that! [laughter]. I need to [laughter].

I didn’t say that, but let’s move on. You are known as one of the world’s fastest guitar shredders in the world. Now that you have been playing the guitar for over 40 years and time has passed, have you ever thought that you would slow down your guitar playing a bit and try to do more different things as well?

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a lot more melodic, in all sincerity. I mean, when I was young, when I did the IMPELLITTERI BLACK EP, which had songs like” Lost in the Rain” and” Burning”– when we actually did that record, when we actually began recording it, I was probably 19 or 20. At that point, I was hungry, and I was just– when you’re young, you want to prove you’re the best, the fastest, whatever. It’s not until years later, you go, “Hey, that’s guitar masturbation.” You have to realize you have to incorporate melody, so I did. It was probably around the third record when I really started to listen more to guitarists like Michael Schenker and Gary Moore and really started to play more…still fast, but I also started to play more melodious. I changed my technique a lot. You have to have good melodies, and I also love orchestrations, so the answer is yes. [laughter]

I think that Michael Schenker is a perfect example of a guitarist who knows how to combine emotion and melodies with both slow and, when needed, fast playing. He’s still a great player, and even his latest albums are great.

Of course. A great melody is interesting. On this new record, we’re recording, I actually bought a 1975 Gibson Flying V, and I’ve actually recorded a lot of the new record with it.

Can I ask if it’s black and white, like Schenker’s? [laughter].

[laughter] It’s white. I’ve actually been making a lot of the music with this Flying V, and it’s the original ’75. It’s  similar to the one he used, and it sounds amazing. It’s funny to play because it kind of makes you play a little bit like Schenker. It could be psychological, but yeah. Michael is one of those guys that I really listened to when I realized I had to become more melodious. He was definitely one of those inspirations, and he has influenced a lot of guitar players. I mean, he’s a big influence on a lot of people.

Discussing inspiration, can you name your three biggest influences starting from the early days?

For me, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, and Al Di Meola. That’s what I listened to when I began. Later on, I also started to listen to Gary Moore, John Sykes, Michael Schenker, and Uli Jon Roth. There are many guitar players, even my own age, that I love. I mean, I love John Norum, I love Europe, they are one of my favorite bands. Yeah! They are my secret love. I really like Europe a lot. There are many other great guitarists in the world too.

Earlier this year, somebody asked Yngwie Malmsteen why he always wanted to play as many notes and as fast as possible; he answered, “Less is not more. More is more.” What do you think about that statement?

I don’t know what to think about it. [laughter]. What I’ve learned…it’s like, playing music, creating music; it’s an expression, right? It’s like when you start a painting with a blank canvas, right? You express yourself musically, express your soul. I don’t think about how many notes I can play. I mean, look, if you listen to the guitar solo in” Lost in the Rain” or” Stand in Line,” they’re outrageous, maybe even too fast, but in some weird way, they fit the song because something is missing if I don’t play it that way. So technically, I kind of agree with him in some ways.

I respect Yngwie immensely. I mean, I’ve had to listen for years…I used to get called a clone, copy, and plagiarist. Yngwie certainly influenced me, but not more than Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Al Di Meola, and actually John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucia, flamenco. They are a much bigger influence on me than Yngwie, but I did like some of his stuff. I liked very much the first Alcatrazz record. I listened to that. After that, I really only followed him a little. Maybe I listened to his first two solo records, but as he progressed after that, I didn’t. I just ran away from it because as soon as I played fast, I immediately got called some clone or some odd thing. So I just stayed away from that and stopped listening to him altogether.

Speaking about playing fast, who do you think is the fastest guitar player in the world at the moment?

Truthfully, there’s really no fastest. It’s not true. There was a period of time, it started in Kerrang magazine I believe, they were the ones who called me the fastest guitar player in the world when we did the IMPELLITTERI’S BLACK EP. It was songs like ”Lost in The Rain” and ”Burning” or whatever. And after that, here in LA, all of a sudden, it was like a big competition. Who could be the fastest? It’s like, “No [laughter].” That’s when it got stupid. For me, as long as a solo complements a song and makes a song better, it doesn’t matter if there are 8 million notes or 10 notes – as long as it makes the song better.

But who is the fastest guitar player you have met if you don’t count yourself?

The guitar player where I grew up in Connecticut that influenced me that kind of taught me how Demi Ole and McLaughlin did it was a guy named Jimi Bell. He was amazing. He almost played for Ozzy. He was a left-handed guitar player and he looked a lot like Nikki Sixx, with big hair and all that stuff. He was insane. He was much older than me, so I used to sneak into clubs and watch him play. When I started playing in clubs years later, he’d come and see me, and we became friends. He was probably the fastest I’d ever seen.

Is he the same guy who’s been playing with House of Lords for a while already?

Well, he’s been playing…I think he still plays with House of Lords. He can play really fast.

I think he also plays with Autograph.

The band from the ’80s? I didn’t know that. That’s strange. Their bass player, Randy, who died about two years ago or a year ago- wasn’t he called Randy Rand?

Yeah.

He played bass on a few tracks on STAND IN LINE. He played on” Since You’ve Been Gone” and” Secret Lover.” It wasn’t Chuck Wright on those, it was Randy, except for the intro run of “Secret Lover” because I played that myself. Most people don’t know that.

ANIMETAL USA

A few years ago, you had a band called Animetal USA, which featured Mike Vescara as the singer. That band is remembered for its fierce Kabuki make-up and peculiar musical style, combining power metal and traditional Japanese music. Is that project still alive?

No. It was really popular in Japan, but only in Japan. The label tried to bring it to America, but the American audiences, I don’t think they understand anime. I mean, anime is a very popular thing in Japan. The first show we played, we did a big festival and I remember we played…I think it was called Saitama Arena in Tokyo. I remember the first show because it was Rudy Sarzo, myself, and Mike Vescara. Jon Dette played drums, not Scott Travis. It was our first show together. They wanted us to play after Whitesnake; it’d have been like a headlining gig. We were like, “No. We want to open, and then maybe 300 people would come in to see us, and we can kind of play.” I remember we played at 11:00am or noon, thinking that when we would come out, there would be 300 or 400 people. When we walked out on stage, there were approx. 18,000 people! It was totally packed. [laughter] It was crazy. It was a good show. We did it for three years, but we played only in Japan. Sony Music, they had an idea that it was going to be really popular in America too, and I said, “No, it’s not going to be.” This is a true story. We play the Los Angeles Convention Center, which holds about 5,000 people, and I remember walking up the stairs to get on the stage and there were, maybe, 200 people in the audience. I looked at Rudy, and I started laughing. We played great, and it was so much fun. Rudy was killing it like it was his last show ever. That’s was it, then. They wanted us to sign with Warner Bros., but I said, “I’m out. I quit.” It was the end of the band. I did love it, and it was a lot of fun for Japanese people.

I spoke with Jon Dette about the Animetal thing a couple of years ago, and he also said that it was amazing to tour Japan with the band.

It was also the music. We had half the original music and half covers, famous anime music written by a Japanese composer. If you listen, Impellitteri music usually starts with a riff, first verse, pre-chorus, chorus, repeat, bridge, solo, and then the chorus. With anime music and Japanese composer, it never repeats. So when we were playing live, thousands of people were in the audience, and I always had notes all over the floor. [Laughs]

Speaking about Japan, I met Yoshiki from X Japan a couple of years ago. He’s probably one of the biggest stars there. Do you know that guy?

Yoshiki. As a matter of fact, Yoshiki bought One On One Studio. So when we did the VICTIM OF THE SYSTEM and ANSWER TO THE MASTER, we used Yoshiki’s One On One Studio. When we moved in to start working on VICTIM, Metallica had just finished recording the BLACK ALBUM there. Later, he also bought Madonna’s studio. He bought the studio we worked at, spent millions of dollars on it with a credit card, and then bought another studio from Madonna. Yoshiki is a very wealthy man!

ANIMETAL USA: Rudy Sarzo, Mike Vescara, Jon Dette, and Chris Impellitteri

OTHER THINGS IN MUSIC OR NOT?

You will soon have a new Impellitteri album out, and the Animetal USA band is over. Do you have any other projects going on at the moment?

Any other projects? No. Impellitteri is all I can handle now. [laughter] It’s like, being in this band is a full-time job just writing the music. We usually spend about four years between records and writing. We do things very slowly except for the solos. We take a long time to write the music because we want to make sure we create the best music we can. So a lot of time, we throw a lot of music away. We work on it for months and think, “Oh, that’s good,” and then we listen back, going, “No,” and erase, and start over. So I wouldn’t have time for anything else. I’ve had some offers from some really big bands, asking me to be their lead guitar player or whatever. It just never interested me.

You know I have to ask what kind of offers you have received and from whom?

I did that a year ago! I said something in Blabbermouth, you know, so now, the answer is” no.” I don’t do that. [Laughs] I’ve had some nice offers from bands, but I’m really lucky because Impellitteri, we’ve had enough success in Japan that we don’t have to do anything financially. We can be loyal and honest to this band, which makes me do what I love doing. It’s not that I would be against playing with a bigger band or another band. The problem is, though, then I’d be playing their music, like covers.

Michael Schenker has said to me many times in interviews that after leaving UFO, he never wanted to join any other bands, because he didn’t want to play songs or solos written by someone else. He didn’t want to do that because he always wanted to play his own stuff. It sounds like you think the same way as Michael.

Yeah. I mean, look, you give up a certain amount of notoriety. Would it be easy to play with Ozzy or do something like that and get more recognition? Yes. Would you be happy? Some are happy; some are not. If I spend ten hours a day playing music, I might as well do it for myself or with the band guys. I mean, because Rob, myself, and James, we’re like a gang. We’re very close. When we make music, we do it because we love it. We can express ourselves musically – that’s more rewarding than playing someone else’s solos or playing someone else’s riffs. I agree with Michael Schenker.

Michael mentioned the many bands that had asked him to join their ranks. Could you also tell me a few names?

I think that everybody knows that Sharon and Ozzy called me in the ’80s. I’ve had other people’s inquiries too; how serious they were, I don’t know. I remember that…I think it was in 1988 or ’89…I was managed by John Scher, a big concert promoter in New York. He called and asked if I was interested in joining a band. I never talked to the band, but it was Deep Purple when they were looking for a guitar player. I heard they were interested in me. They never called me personally, but my manager told me that. So I’ve had little things like that over the years, but I always answered like, “No.” With that particular band, I thought they were too old for me. At that point in my life, I was still a kid. I was 20-something years old, and they were already in their 40s. “No!” [Laughs] I mean, even with Graham, and I loved Graham, but he was 18 years older than me. That’s a big difference in age when you’re trying to connect intellectually. Even Rob Rock is six years older than me, so we have a little bit of an age difference, but James and I are the same age.

 

ALCATRAZZ AND GRAHAM BONNETT

After a long hiatus, Alcatrazz released new music in 2020. How did you end up on the BORN INNOCENT album?

I did it just as a kindness to Graham. They asked me, “Hey, would you do this as a favor to Graham?” I said, “Yes.” I think Steve Vai gave him a song, and a few others also participated in making the album. Look, I will always love Graham. I mean, it was not always easy. Making STAND IN LINE was very difficult. There was a lot of partying at the time, and it was hard. It was the same thing with SYSTEM X. It was challenging to do, but I love what Graham did on that record. In my personal opinion, SYSTEM X is what STAND IN LINE should have been. When I listened to Graham singing “A Perfect Crime” and the music, I just loved it. Again, there was a lot of partying involved, which made it very difficult to get the work done.

Did you play any shows with Graham after SYSTEM X was released?

No, because we got flown to Japan. We did a press tour, and we were doing an interview for Burn magazine. I won’t say who, but one of the band members was drinking a lot and fell asleep during the interview. The record label got really angry, and they didn’t want to support us on tour, and we should have toured, and we didn’t. What can you do? Listen, being in a band is like being in a family, and families can be dysfunctional, right? Everyone in a family is not the easiest to get along with. Some people are difficult. Listen, I have my own problems. I’m stubborn. A lot of times, even though this is a band, it’s not my solo band; it’s a band, but we butt heads, and I fight really hard to get my way. Sometimes that might hurt us, right? The other opinion might be better than mine. Sometimes I say, “Ah, remember that,” and back off. That’s always been my personality. Anyway, I can tell you that with Graham, even though the albums were a little challenging to make, I really liked those albums.

STAND IN LINE was a hard record for me to make because when I did the first record with Rob Rock with the EP, it was kind of like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest on steroids with all the fast technical guitar solos and the double bass drumming and the screaming. When I did STAND IN LINE after Rob left, I was like, I can’t do that kind of music for Graham; at least, I didn’t think so. So I thought, “Oh, man, we should maybe write and do more of a tribute to Rainbow and stuff that Graham was known for. “So I had to get out of my comfort zone.

Do you mean that you had to slow down a bit? [Laughs]

Well, no, I did not slow down, but I had to change uncomfortably. All of a sudden, I would listen to a lot more Rainbow and think, “How would this work for Graham?” Instead, on SYSTEM X I wrote the music for Impellitteri, and then Graham just sang, which I should have done for STAND IN LINE. That said, “Standin Line”, was the right song at the right time, especially in Japan. The band just exploded as far as popularity in Japan, and that gave us a career. Here we are 30 years later, still signed to the JVC Victor label after Sony. We still play packed places when we’re playing over in Tokyo, Nagoya, Fukuoka, and all those different cities. I think I owe it to Graham because, remember when we did” Stand In Line” Graham was still a legendary singer. It was only a few years out of Rainbow, Alcatrazz, and Schenker. When he joined Impellitteri, it gave us credibility.

Graham also did great work with Schenker in the ’80s, even though that collaboration lasted only a short time. Do you still remember why he had to leave the band then?

He told me!” Laughs” Zipper down, and everything fell out. He got embarrassed, ran off stage, and wouldn’t return. He told me that story. [laughter] I love it! Actually, I like the ASSAULT ATTACK record a lot, and I also like the one where Michael’s in the chair with the thing on his head, and he’s strapped in the chair.

Do you mean the very first Michael Schenker Group album?

Yeah, that’s a great record. “Into the Arena” and all that stuff. I also love the MSG album with Cozy Powell on the drums. God, I would have loved…you know what? If Cozy was still alive, I would have had him do one of the Impellitteri records. He would have been one of the drummers. I would have brought him in because he was an amazing drummer from that era. Remember that he never used samples or triggers on his drums. When Cozy was playing, you could really hear him with the power. He was an organic-sounding drummer but still a great player. He was amazing, and he was one of my favorite drummers.

Though he sadly passed away so young, he still managed to record many great albums. I love his work Rainbow, Gary Moore, MSG, and Black Sabbath.

Oh, yeah. By the time Cozy joined Sabbath, the band had been on hiatus for some time after things had gone badly wrong with Hughes.

Are you talking about Glenn Hughes?

Yes.

Impellitteri 1993 during the “System X” -era.

GLENN HUGHES TALK

Do you know I broke up Impellitteri in the late ’80s?

Yes.

And do you know why?

No?

It was in 1988 or ’89, and Glenn Hughes and I always crossed paths. One day, Glenn goes, “Do you want to do a band together?” I was like, “Why not?” So, that was the end of the STAND IN LINE band. At that time, Dave Spitz played bass in the band. He had played previously in Sabbath with Glenn and Tony Iommi. We had Stet Howland on drums, who later on played with W.A.S.P. So, I was playing with those guys, and it just wasn’t going anywhere. I was missing Rob Rock and all that. Glenn had just helped David Coverdale to make a record that came out… what was that album after the big one in 1987, the one with Steve Vai on guitar?

Do you mean SLIP OF THE TONGUE?

That’s it. David paid Glenn a lot of money to sing a lot of those lyrics on the album. So he then goes to him to fill David’s vocal parts. After that, Glenn and I worked together for three or four months. I would go up to his place in the Hollywood Hills. He was renting a house which was a really nice place. He would be upstairs all day long, doing drugs, and I’d be downstairs in the studio doing all the stuff, recording; I was even playing bass. I’m like, “Hello, Glenn?” Yeah, it was one of those things. At that point, I was still managed by John Scher, and he was like, “Wait a minute, I manage Chris, and Glenn had his own manager.” It just didn’t go anywhere. So that was it. I moved on and, thank God, I got Rob Rock back. That’s when we began doing the Impellitteri thing again.

I think that you are probably aware of why Glenn was asked to leave the Black Sabbath tour…

Well, I know how it ended. I know because Dave Spitz told me. What I heard is…so Dave Spitz told me that they made a decision to fire Glenn. He didn’t know it, but they actually literally left him in the hotel. I think Glenn had heard something was happening, and I think Dave said that Glenn was banging on his door, but they didn’t want to answer. Glenn wasn’t taking care of himself physically then. When I met him, he was trying to get in shape, but he was doing a lot of cocaine. I remember, I was just like, “Dude, if you want me to work with you, come down in the studio, get your bass and let’s work.” It didn’t happen, and I then told him, “No, forget it. We’re not doing this.” I remember that when I met him later on, he said, “I’m so sorry.” It was a difficult time in his life, but I remember seeing Glenn start getting his act together and back into shape. Our keyboard player, Ed Roth, he was also playing with Glenn. Ed would tell me it’s like they were trying to get Glenn going, and that’s what he eventually did. He did some really good stuff with Joe Bonamassa. Glenn Hughes is such an amazingly talented guy, but you’ve got to be careful with the party thing. Look, I also fell into that trap, especially during the STAND IN LINE period in LA.

When you’re a young kid, and all of a sudden, there’s money, there are girls, and people are giving you attention, people love you, it messes with your mind. I saw a lot of people go down the wrong road, and then they became obsessed with drugs or sex. It was like they forgot what got you up there. They got this appreciation from other people because of their art. There was a time when I hurt myself and the band, probably for two years. There was a period of time when I was horrible. I was messing up, and I was partying all the time. I wasn’t playing all day long like I should have been, but I woke up quickly. After you make a couple of errors, mistakes, you get some critics, and they’re saying, “Oh, you’re a wanker. You suck,” whatever, and you wake up one day and go, “Oh my God, they’re right.” You listen, and you’re like, “Oh, this hurts.” So you go back, lock yourself away, practice all day long, study, practice, work, and play live. That really was something that saved me. I saw many guys going like the Glenn stories or whatever, where they had this opportunity. A lot of times, you get that opportunity only once.

I totally understand you, and that’s the reason why certain people and bands can’t work together anymore. An excellent example of that is the original KISS. I totally understand Paul and Gene’s decision not to work with Ace and Peter anymore, even if they would probably make even more money that way.

I’ve been around…I don’t know if Gene and Paul would even remember, but it was 1988 or ’89. I remember being around them at Cherokee Studios constantly. They had an amazing work ethic. They were constantly pushing themselves. Of course, they argued a lot, but they would push themselves. It impressed me that they had that kind of loyalty and dedication. “Show up on time, and do your job. Do it as good as possible”, versus some of the other guys. I mean, of course we all know the stories of Ace, his partying, and all that stuff. Look, that’s selfishness. When people get famous, and they begin to abuse the fame, it becomes sad because then you have only the two people that are really responsible for making certain things so that the ship doesn’t sink. I remember the stories where they had to hire other people to play on their records, which was really sad. I mean, I just never understood that. For me, it was a good lesson; don’t do that! [laughter]

FINNISH METAL SCENE

Because you’re from Finland, my favorite band out of there, try to guess who that would be?

Nightwish? Children of Bodom?

I love Children of Bodom, but Nightwish is my biggest one. I love Nightwish. Marco, my man, I’m always thinking like,” Marco, you ever want to come to play with me?” I like that guy’s voice a lot. I remember when we did, I think it was…yeah, it was the last record. Our previous record is called THE NATURE OF THE BEAST, and we did it here in America and Japan. We did” Phantom of the Opera.” I was almost like, no, I can’t do it because Nightwish already did it, and I love Nightwish. It was a song we did when we were teenagers, and we love doing it. We’re like, “Oh, do we want to do this?” So we did everything in our power to make it sound completely opposite to what Nightwish did. It was hard because I really love their version. With Nightwish, it was Marco, and what was the original Nightwish singer?

Tarja Turunen

Tarja. So, Marco and Tarja did a duet on that song, but Rob had to sing both parts, the male and female, and he did it well. It’s funny, but Rob Rock is one of those guys, I don’t know how he does it. He just hits the high notes like a soprano when he goes up, and he can do it consistently; it’s hard, right? But every night, every time he can hit those crazy notes like Rob Halford, you know? It was all Rob Rock, and he did both parts.

Have you heard or seen the current lineup of Nightwish? If you have, what do you think about the band now?

Yes, I have, and it’s hard because when I heard the new Nightwish, it was not the same anymore. It’s not because of the new bassist they have now; he is a really good player, but the band chemistry is now different from what it used to be. When people talk about our band, if I would take out Rob Rock or even Graham Bonnet and put in a new singer who sings with a low whiskey voice, the band would sound totally different. I always try to explain that to people, and when I heard the new Nightwish, I immediately thought, “Oh, something just doesn’t sound right”. It’s still good, but something’s missing, and it feels weird. I know people will laugh at me, but my favorite Nightwish era was with Anette Olzon. They got it right then. I thought, “That’s perfect.” I like Floor Jansen very much as well, but I still like Anette’s era, that period of time. I thought the song writing was brilliant. Those albums have brilliant songs and a huge production. When I heard that stuff, that’s when I became a real fan of the band, but I also like the original stuff too.

Have you heard Anette’s new band, Dark Element?

I think it’s on our label, Frontiers. I heard one or two songs, and it sounded good. I remember hearing it and going, “Yeah, it’s okay.”

The guy who is composing the songs for that band is Jani Liimatainen. He used to be the main songwriter for Sonata Arctica in the past.

That’s interesting. I mean, look, Finland’s had some great bands. Nightwish is certainly my favorite, but I also like Children of Bodom very much, although Alexi said something about me about the speed thing; ”Too fast,” and I was like, “Hey!” [Laughs] I thought Bodom were a great band. You know what? What we were doing on our previous record, or we were going to but didn’t, but we were going to add some keyboard stuff on it. I was trying to find the keyboard player of Bodom because I really liked him, but I didn’t know how to reach him. I was like, “Where is this guy?” I wanted to basically fly him to LA and have him come in and play some keyboard stuff in the studio, but I didn’t know where to reach the guy. Now we have some very cool stuff that we need keyboards on. I would love to speak with him because I love Bodom’s sound. As a matter of fact, he always used to double Alexi’s solos. A lot of those solos were doubled with keys, which I thought was brilliant. So, what are those guys doing now?

If I remember correctly, the keyboard player went back to school and is becoming an architect. He’s still playing, and other guys have new bands too, but of course, those bands are smaller and less successful compared to Children of Bodom.

Yeah.

BEING AN MUSICIAN AND THE DREAM TEAM

The Bodom guys continue to play in their new bands on a smaller scale than before. The situation is bound to be challenging at some point for any musician playing in a big and well-known band. It is challenging for anybody to find a new job and continue their career at the same level if the current band calls its quits or breaks up. However, there are exceptions, such as Mikkey Dee, who found a new high-profile gig with the Scorpions after Motörhead was over.

Oh, you’re right. He went from Motörhead to Scorpions. You know, we used to rehearse at Mates Rehearsal Studio, which was a legendary place. It was three rooms, and Mikkey used to rehearse at Mates with King Diamond. This is very early, like 1986 or ’87. Andy LaRocque was the guitar player, I believe. They used to be around us all the time. Mikkey and Andy and those other guys would always come to hang out with us in our rehearsal, I remember that. I don’t know if they remember it, but I think it was in 1986. As a matter of fact, I remember that Andy had a girlfriend that used to come to hang out, a blond girl, and they were really cool. We liked them a lot. Then Mikkey went off and eventually got the Motörhead gig, which was cool.

I mean, there are not a lot of guys who are going to go from one band to another on a high level. That was the thing with Rudy Sarzo. Rudy is one of those guys who did it three times. First, he did it in Ozzy Osbourne’s band with Randy Rhoads. I saw that tour. It was incredible, sold out, in front of thousands of people. As a matter of fact, I saw that show three or four times. I saw Rudy a couple of times with Randy, and I saw one show after Randy had passed away. I remember talking to him after that show.

Was Brad Gillis on guitar at that gig?

No, it was before Brad Gillis. It was actually Bernie Tormé of Gillan. He was playing guitar, and it was the second show they played after Randy’s passing. Rudy told me; he goes, “The Diary of a Madman” -the intro part would start to play, and he would start crying getting ready to play the show.” He was like that, and that’s why Rudy eventually quit. He couldn’t do it anymore. That’s what he told me. Going back to Rudy’s story, he’s one of those guys. I love Rudy; he’s a great bass player. The Ozzy thing took off, and it was massive. Then he leaves Ozzy and joins Quiet Riot, which went right to number one with METAL HEALTH. It was the first heavy metal band; they knocked Michael Jackson’s THRILLER off the Billboard chart’s number one spot. So Rudy, two times now, right? Then after Quiet Riot, Rudy did a record with my singer Rob Rock. Remember, they did this thing called Driver? They didn’t get picked up by a major label.

I remember Driver. It was Tony MacAlpine on guitar and Tommy Aldridge on drums.

Yes, great players. They couldn’t get a big record company behind the band, but they did the record. Then Rudy and Tommy got an offer from David Coverdale, which was a big offer, and of course Whitesnake blows up on MTV. They were just huge, at least here in America. Whitesnake was everywhere you went. It was Whitesnake, Whitesnake, Whitesnake. TV, radio, in here, you’d hear Whitesnake. So, for Rudy, that was the third time. How many guys have been able to do that? You know what’s funny? When we were doing Animetal, he was like, “Oh, it’s going to be happening again.” And I’m like, “No!” [Laughs] But yeah, so you’re right. I mean, there are not a lot of guys like Mikkey going from Motörhead to Scorpions.

What I have been wondering about is that, hey, what’s going to happen for people like Eric Singer after KISS is done? What he’s going to do?

I’m not going to guess—but it’s funny. I haven’t seen Eric in probably eight or nine years, but we used to know each other really well. Back in the day, he also used to rehearse at Mates Rehearsal Studio. Back then, Jake E Lee had a band called Badlands after Ozzy, so it was Jake and Eric, and I forgot the other band guys.

Ray Gillen?

Ray Gillen was a friend. I saw Ray literally about a year before he died. He came into our rehearsal room to say hello to me and gave me a big hug. Anyways, we were always together, always. When Eric got the KISS thing, it was great. I mean, that’s a great gig, and he’s done well. Eric has good music history. He has also played with Gary Moore, right?

I actually saw him in ’87 with Gary Moore in Finland. That was the first time he played there.

That was with Bob Daisley on bass, right?

Yes, yeah.

I love Bob. He’s another one of those guys I’d like to do something with. I mean, not now because he’s too old now. I don’t mean it in a bad way, but in the early ’80s, it would have been very interesting. I would have loved to have done something with Bob Daisley and Cozy Powell. Those guys were always on my wish list. Many people have asked, “Who are the guys you would have liked to work with” right? So if I had done something outside of our own band, I would definitely have done something with them and Dio. I loved Ronnie.

So, your dream team to work with would have been Ronnie, Bob, and Cozy?

This would have been in their prime time, in their youth, when they were still young. You know, I have one funny story about Ronnie. We were doing STAND IN LINE, and I think it was the” Secret Lover” guitar solo. I was doing this piece, and I was doubling it. It was all these triplets, and I wanted it to be perfect. I had a bunch of Marshalls in the studio, all mic’d and had the amps on very loud, just to capture a certain sound. I must have played this solo for four hours, just over and over again, to try to get the double and the triple parts right, so it sounded like one guitar.

I remember thinking, “Okay. I finally got it.” Then I went outside of my amp room, where the amps were, and there were a lot of pinball machines next to that room. And who was there the whole time playing pinball? Ronnie. I’m like, “I’m so sorry”, and I’ll never forget this, he said something like, “I think you had it perfect the first time.” I must’ve done it a thousand times, and I’m thinking I must have put him through hell. He was such a cool guy. He was so nice. It was at Sound City Studios. Such a great memory of him. I was like, “I love that guy.” [laughter] He’s also one of those guys where his legacy will live on forever. He made it. He was just an amazing, talented, unique individual.

Yeah, and as a person, he was always friendly and always had time for everyone.

I met him a few times, and he was always a gentleman to me. He was always really nice and made you feel very welcome. It’s interesting how Ozzy got so much more success than Ronnie. It’s interesting, I mean, Ronnie, especially what he did with Rainbow, the LONG LIVE ROCK AND ROLL record, to me that album set the bar for how you should sing in a metal band or a rock band. Ronnie deeply influenced so many. As a matter of fact, when we were doing our new record, WAKE THE BEAST, the compilation record, we were thinking about what songs to put on it. We had to listen to all the music over the years, and I remember when we did the CRUNCH record for Japan in 2000, we did a blatant tribute; we almost plagiarized Ronnie on it. We were doing a song called” Speed Demon,” and we wanted it to sound literally like it was Dio. It was like our homage to Ronnie. He influenced so many people. Rob Rock loves Ronnie. I mean, how can you not love him?

I can’t hesitate to ask f Ronnie ever ask you to play in his band.

No, but I did talk to Ronnie when he had this really young kid playing guitar. I don’t remember his name.

Do you mean Rowan Robertson?

Yes. I remember talking to Ronnie at a NAMM show about it. I was like,” Hey, what are you doing?” At this point, he already had that guy? I was curious at that point. Again, I’ve always, as I said, I don’t ever really want to jump out of my own thing, but I remember being curious, like,” All right, what are you doing?”, because I knew he had moved on with his new guitar player, and he was doing something new, and I remember at that time, he still had a keyboard player named Claude Schnell in the band. Claude ended up playing on VICTIM OF THE SYSTEM. As a matter of fact, we did a song called “Cross to Bear,” and that’s Claude playing the piano on it – he wrote that intro. He did a great job, and he’s a great, great musician. I was around there and talking to Ronnie, but it was never anything like,” Hey, Chris, would you play guitar for me?” It was more me being curious and asking questions like,” Why did you lose your guitar player” and” What are you doing now?” So knowing me at that point in time, I was probably saying to him,” Hey, do you want to join my band?” [Laughs]

KISS AND TELL

Before closing this interview, I still have a few questions left to ask. First of all, I know you’re a big KISS fan like me, so I would like to ask about your best KISS memories. For example, what was the best show you’ve seen from the band?

Well, I can tell you the best one; it was on the Love Gun tour. They opened up with ”I Stole Your Love.” The band sounded great and played great. On stage, they came down on the risers. They were really good on that tour. The Dynasty tour was…I was more into Van Halen at that point. Musically, I was having a hard time digesting it, but they were still really good live.

I have seen a lot of footage from the Dynasty tour, and the stage looked great and massive.

I can tell you truthfully; I remember it wasn’t as big as it looked. I saw the tour. I remember when I got in there were all the amps, two stacks on each side of the white ramps. The cool thing was the entrance when they came out. But KISS was always very mysterious. So when I saw the Destroyer set, the Rock and Roll Over -tour, it was like,” Who are these guys? They’re scary.” By the time Dynasty came out, everything was so bright. It was white lights on. It wasn’t scary anymore.

Did you go to see KISS also in the ’80s when they performed without the makeup?

No, I didn’t. The last time I saw Paul doing anything live in the ’80s was his solo tour. Eric Singer played drums, and there were like three other people in the band, but I can’t remember who they were.

It was Bob Kulick on guitar, Dennis St. James on bass, and Gary Corbett on keys on that tour.

Yes, now I remember. That was the last time I saw Paul playing in the ’80s. I didn’t see any of KISS’s unmasked stuff live, but, as a matter of fact, I saw Eric Carr before he passed away. I’ll never forget that. We were at another rehearsal studio. It was sad; I knew what it was. It was the original drummer of Quiet Riot who had a rehearsal studio. We were in one of the rooms, and KISS was there. Eric was playing, they were working on “Unholy”. I said “Hi!” to him, and he looked okay. I think he had a wig on because he was going through treatment or whatever. He was in good spirits but he knew what was going on.

I still remember when his illness was first diagnosed. It took only a few months, and he was gone. It was horrible.

I knew it was fast. He was giving it his all in rehearsal. I remember because they were in the other room, and we were playing KISS music. I know they heard us because we were playing it really loud. So we were playing something like ”Love Gun”, just having fun. Of course, I was probably driving them crazy with my fast playing. But you know what? I do remember hearing him play, and even with what he was going through, Eric still played great. He was still playing really well. literally right before he had to go.

You know, KISS had a big, big part of my childhood, but when Van Halen came, that was the end of my KISS fandom. As soon as I heard that first Van Halen record, I was 15 or 16, that was it. It was all about Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, and Gary Moore then.

But if you ask Gene, it was only thanks to him that Van Halen made the breakthrough! [Laughs}

Gene likes to take credit for a lot of things! [Laughs} Something tells me that Van Halen was probably going to make it without Gene.

Have you heard the ”Love Gun” demos where Alex and Eddie play with Gene?

Yes. ”Christine Sixteen,” all that stuff. At the time, Van Halen had already made such an impact in Los Angeles. They were kind of ”the talk of the town.” I mean, I talk to people now that saw it and they said Van Halen was even playing like at parties, like in the back of someone’s yard at their house, and they said that Van Halen would draw so many people. They were probably already on their way to making it. If I listen to the Gene demos, it doesn’t sound as exciting as what they were able to capture with Donn Landee and Ted Templeman because all of a sudden, Eddie’s on fire on the record.

Do you remember the time when Gene had his own record label, Simmons Records, and he signed many bands then?

Oh, yeah, House of Lords. I play on one of their albums.

He signed House of Lords, Keel, E-Z-O, etc. This is funny. Over the years, I’ve interviewed a few guys who played in those bands, like Chuck Wright and Ron Keel, and when I asked, “How was Gene as a producer?” they said that Gene was not the actual producer. Instead, he was barely even present during the recording sessions. If he was in the studio, he spent more time by the pool and drank coffee instead of would have done any actual production work.

I did the guitar solo for the title track of their second album, SAHARA. It was the album’s opening track, and I did it very fast. When I did it, Gene wasn’t there. The album producer was named Andy Johns. You know, Andy had done all the early Led Zeppelin stuff. In the studio, it was only me, Andy, Chuck Wright, and Gregg Giuffria. I did that for free. I said, “All right, I’ll help you guys.” It was one of those albums when they kept calling me all the time, and finally, I said, “All right, fine.” I’ll tell you another KISS story. So this is a true story. Remember, I was telling you about our first record, EP?

Yeah.

So I come from a place– do you know where Connecticut is?

Yeah, it’s like outside of New York City?

Yes, that’s where I grew up. So when I came to Los Angeles, when we were doing our first record, we were in a studio called Baby-O. That was the name. it was called Baby-O Studios. We had an engineer named Mikey Davis. We were in room A, and we were doing songs like ”Lost in the Rain” and ”Burning.” We had to do a lot of it live. Mikey, who was our engineer, at the same time he would walk across the hall like the right to the book thing right here, open the door, and Gene Simmons was in there doing KISS demos. I remember we were playing, and I was doing all this crazy shredding, and I don’t know if Gene would remember this, but Mikey and Gene came over. “I am Gene Simmons.” He had short hair because he was doing a movie. He said something about he heard me shredding or whatever, and I’ll never forget; he said something like, “Don’t you know any Cream?” I went, “What do you mean?” He goes like, “Dun, on, on, on, dun, dun.” So he comes over behind me, and I have my guitar on, and he plays my guitar. “Dun, on, on, on, dun, dun,” playing Eric Clapton. Cream, right?

I thought, “This is crazy.” Here I am, like 20 or 21 years old, right? Having seen all the big KISS shows in Connecticut. Here’s the guy, it was my first time being in a major studio recording my first record. Then this guy comes in, and I’m like, “Is this normal?” [laughter]. It was like, “This is cool.” So that was my fun KISS story. That’s true; we were actually doing that first record, so. But it was Mikey Davis. I remember the engineer. We were sharing them.

Mikey Davis, is that the same guy who later on used to play with many bands?

No, he was an engineer. Mikey Davis. I don’t know what ever happened to him, but he had worked with Gene a lot. He did the first two Impellitteri records with us. He also did Vinnie Vincent Invasion. Mikey Davis. He did a lot of that with Dana Strum. Mikey was just this great guy. He was really good at that time for what he did. Good guitar sounds. That was my first experience in a studio. We’re doing the first Impellitteri record, and who walks in? It’s Gene. I was like, “Okay.” [Laughs] I remember it was odd because his hair was then short, and I was like, “Who are you?”

Chris Impellitteri live in Sweden Rock -festival 2009

THE FUTURE OF MUSIC

I think that now it’s time to finally close this long but really interesting interview. We have discussed a bunch of things, bands, and people, but how about the future? How do you see the future of music and bands in general? For example, do you listen to new bands and music, or are you an ”old-school” guy only?

I do listen to new bands. I realize now that the new bands that I listen to are not new anymore. It’s like I sit there and go, “Oh, they’re new”, and then it’s like, Avenged Sevenfold. That’s not new. I was just with a friend of mine, and he’s a big record producer. His name is Joe Barresi, and he just finished the new Avenged Sevenfold record. He just did the new Slipknot record. I was at his studio about six or seven months ago, and we were talking about all the stuff. Joe’s worked with so many great bands. I was telling him like, ”I keep thinking these are new bands, but realizing, ”Oh my God, they’re not much younger than me.” [Laughs] I mean, there are great new metal bands. There’s no doubt, but you know.

There are indeed some great new bands, but the biggest difference between old and new bands is how long they stick together. Many older bands, such as Scorpions and KISS, have been together for over 50 years, while younger bands hardly last more than five years. That’s a big difference.

That’s because financially, you have to figure out a way how are you going to survive. I mean, look, when we did Impellitteri, especially in Japan, when we really had a lot of success, you get to that point where you can buy beautiful homes. Where I live here, Tommy Lee lived up here. Tommy Thayer lived over there. I mean, I’m in that area as well. You get that, your dream house. You get the mansion. You get the cars. You get all that stuff, but then you realize, “Oh my God.” How are you going to keep this up? Even if you pay for it with cash, now there’s property tax. There’s all the things that go around, the electric bills, the water bills, the maintenance, the property; there’s a lot of stuff that goes along with that. As an artist, you have to be very business savvy. You have to understand the music business. The business part of it is how you survive. To be fair, and I know some artists, the Marilyn Manson’s trust fund kids, but he has a rich daddy. People like that don’t need to work. They’re doing okay.

Maybe that’s a bad example of a person, but there are artists like that where, yeah, they’re trust fund kids where they don’t need the money. Like, what’s the band, Maroon 5, the singer? His dad was really wealthy. I mean, there are a lot of people. Taylor Swift’s dad is wealthy. These are pop stars, right? But there are certain people in the music industry, yeah, they don’t have to, but they’ll never have to work because they have inheritances and trust funds and all that. But in the average band, you need to be really smart. I think that’s one thing like KISS was able to survive. I think those guys were very prudent. They knew where to spend their money and when to save their money.

Chris, I think that our time is up now. Thanks a lot for doing this interview with us

Thank you, Marko.

 

 

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