JACK STARR: How long have you been playing and what made you start in the first place?
BERNIE TORME: Far too long. Almost 40 years actually. I started when I was 11 and I’m, oh, Gawd, you’ve just made me feel very sad and old Jack, where did I put that zimmer frame. I started cause I was a really shy kid with a stutter and I was young, free, and single and wanted to mingle with those young ladies and it seemed like a good way of attracting attention. I spent the first year with the strings tuned the wrong way round, sort of like a right-handed Jimi Hendrix but maybe not quite as good. I really got to love it very quickly, though, it suited me. It didn’t work all that well with the girls though, which was a bit of a bummer.
I’d like to ask you the same question and also, was there any particular solo or whatever that really blew you away early on? For me, it was Jeff Beck in the Yardbirds on the single “Shapes Of Things” and also the solo on the B-side of that, “Better Man Than I,” I’d never heard anything like it.
JACK STARR: The first solos that had a profound effect on me were Beck’s “Bolero” and the whole “Truth” album. I was just starting out and I actually knew someone who could play the solos on that album, his name was Rick Ramirez and he was 14 years old. He ended up signing to RCA when he was 15. Also, he showed me how to play Jeff’s “Boogie.” I also loved Ten Years After and the solo to “Going Home,” and last but not least when the first Leslie West album came out, I was awestruck at the power and the melodic beauty of the playing of one Leslie Weinstein from Queens, New York.
Who are your main influences and why are they?
BERNIE TORME: As regards to guitarists, I would say Hendrix. But, Jeff Beck earlier than anyone else. I was a big Yardbirds fan in ’65 and ’66 and he really created the sound before anyone else. Early Cream and Bluesbreakers period Clapton and also chordy people like Townshend and Keith Richards, I love all that windmill stuff. It’s all pretty much classic standard stuff. But, that is what I got off on originally and really still do. Being Irish, people like Rory Gallagher, Gary Moore, and Eric Bell had a lot of influence too. I was brought up on them and saw them play live loads of times. Gary Moore has a lot to answer for, he was just so brilliant live in the late sixties and early seventies, totally amazing. I like a lot of newer players too. But, I’d always go for feel and roughness over technical perfection. I think that’s why I like the people I like: sound and feel. After all, being dirty and lazy matters too. I don’t like people who play like metronomes, I like when they slide around the beat a bit, human stuff. I like BB King a lot too, though I’m no blues player. How about you?
JACK STARR: My main influences are Beck, Clapton, Page, Hendrix, B.B. King, Johnny Winter, and the highly underrated Kim Simmons. I also liked Bill Nelson of Be Bop Deluxe and Joe Walsh. In fact, the only reason I ended up going to my senior prom was that it had been advertised that Joe Walsh was to be playing. When I got there, I found out that the Brooklyn Bridge was standing in. What a letdown!
You have played with some very famous and infamous people like Ozzy and Dee Snider. Out of all these, who did you enjoy playing with the most and why?
BERNIE TORME: God, that’s a difficult one. They were all a gas, though maybe not all quite 100% of the time. Playing with Ozzy was astounding because he was Ozzy. I think Dee Snider was the most underrated, a really, really great frontman, which everybody knows. But, also a really great astronomically great singer, which he’s never had that much credit for at all. Of all of them, that’s the one that was the most fun and the one where I would have liked to have done a lot more live and recording work with. It would’ve been good. Unfortunately, Elektra pulled the plug because we didn’t sound like Metallica and we did so few gigs that it seems a bit ridiculous to say that in comparison to the amount of work I did with someone like Ian Gillan from Purple who I played with for years, which was also a blast. But, that’s my gut reaction, Dee was the most enjoyable.
You’ve done a lot of different things too and I’d like to ask about some of those. How did the Virgin Steele thing evolve, was it people who you had been playing with for a while or a new project? Also, you’ve done stuff in quite a few different veins, which is your favorite type of working lineup and kind of music? How did you feel about the instrumental stuff you did? I never did instrumental stuff, always felt a bit exposed with a song and lyrics to work around. I would be interested to hear how you felt about that.
JACK STARR: I like all types of music and with Virgin Steele, I was able to combine various styles that I love such as classical and blues as well as metal. Also did an instrumental with some great players and I have even done a Latin-sounding album that was never released with some Latin musicians. My favorite type of music is the blues and I hope one day to do a full-blown blues album. I have been writing the songs for it for the last 8 years and it will see the light of day. But, first I have to do a few more metal albums. As far as playing without a singer, it does make you work harder and the guitar has to do more and that is a challenge.
Heavy metal and hard rock seem to have died down quite a bit all over the world and in your native England as well. Why do you think that is and what can be done about it?
BERNIE TORME: Hey, whatchit! I’m Irish. I’d rather be called a native martian than an Englishman! Let’s clear that one up right away. But, you are right about the metal and hard rock scene and I suppose we all have an opinion on it. My rant is that I think rock and metal started out with everyone trying to be different and do their own thing and, as time has gone on, the record company corporates don’t want that, they want identical stuff, all recorded in the same studios, same equipment, same guitars, same amps, same engineers and producers, same production values, pretty much the same sounds. So, when something is successful, they all try to sign copies of it and record it all the same way again. It’s a niche market and they want the product in the niche to be interchangeable. That’s pretty much taken the originality out of it and has made it a lot more boring. One thrash band meant that virtually nothing but thrash bands got signed for a period of time, one nu-metal band and suddenly that was all there was. And the media in music has always pretty much-played ball with the money, they need the advertising after all. Accountants shaking hands with other accountants. So instead of being interesting and taking chances and being dangerous and varied like it should be, it has become very identical, and dare I say it again, boring. The thing is all of the music biz subscribe to the same untruth, that more sales equal better music. So what makes Michael Jackson or Madonna or Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake a “great artist”, large sales, also makes Metallica or whoever else in metal a “great artist” in the eyes of the biz. Of course, they may well be, but good just equals good, and large sales just equal large sales, and the two don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other. So rock and metal people should start thinking less about sales and start thinking more about the music, that’s how it started, that’s how it should still be. Forget the major deal, start your own label and get on with doing it. Being an imitator or a cliche ain’t the way, try to do something different. Rock and metal need to take chances, one Metallica or Limp Bizkit or Zeppelin was enough. And it all suited the corporate biz splitting it all up into tribal nonsense like numetal or thrash or whatever, and saying such and such a band was the largest selling black metal /thrash unit in northeast Switzerland or something, they were then a “great artist” in an ever decreasing area, but therefore more promotable. What a load of old bollocks. Let’s get back to ground level, more small labels, more people doing it themselves on the web or at gigs or whatever, and more gigs. Big is not necessarily better. And I like bands from all parts of it, if it’s good it’s good, but the assumption is that people are so narrow-minded that they only like one type of rock or metal now. The whole point of the thing was that it was about NOT being narrow-minded. What a ridiculous situation to get to. It’s all cool if it’s good: you don’t need to stick to one type of beer to get drunk. We got divided and ruled, and we were too stupid to even see it. Let’s change that. Do it ground level, as the punks did in the UK in the seventies. Though that was indeed the beginning of divide and rule. Accountants rule the world at the moment, so don’t look to the accountants for salvation, they’re perfectly happy the way it is, do it yourself. They never were that clever anyway.
Maybe web radio is a chance, though it’s a bit of a joke here so far. Safer than the commercial stations and has no audience anyway. It would be great to have live band sessions on the web if they ever get over arguing about copyright, which let’s face it was a concept dragged into the music biz so that corporations could protect their income and accountants could remain happy…
By the way, I think your “Under a Savage Sky” album really goes against the grain of all my rant, it’s really good. When I first heard it I thought it was an eighties album and it didn’t really hit me, partly the Carmina Burana intro which I used to listen to endlessly on the Gillan tour bus in ’79 stoned out of my mind with John McCoy put me into that time warp. But I listened again, and I really like it, its seventies or early eighties playing values brought up to now, really great playing, great singer, good songs, good band, really good stuff. Love that guy’s voice. Sounds like you are all doing exactly what you love, and that really shines through, regardless of the timeframe. Hats off. I didn’t really know much about Virgin Steele, but that album is really rock-solid stuff. Great, I really love it. And it’s great to stay positive lyrically, personally, if I hear any more half-baked satanist twaddle I’ll puke.
I don’t know what you think the answer to that question is, I’d be interested to hear it, but I understand with Savage Sky it was a Greek label that financed it which is quite groundbreaking in itself, how did that come about? Again I’d like to ask about your influences on that, some of it appears a bit Celtic, and reminds me a bit of a heavier Thin Lizzy, who I was a big fan of, were they an influence. If not them, then whats the origins of the Celtic-y stuff?
JACK STARR: Sorry about calling you English, we Americans are not great at geography and especially me since I was born in France anyway but like Thin Lizzy quite a bit and I appreciate Celtic music and I loved that it was an influence in their music my bass player Ned Meloni is also a big fan of Thin Lizzy and the great Phil Lynnott in fact since we are on the subject Ned saw you play with Ozzy in Providence Rhode Island, I think that you had been in the band a short time and he was quite impressed with your playing. The last album was for a Greek label and it was also released in the U.S and Russia and Brazil on separate labels but the Greek label was the first to step up to the plate and give me a chance to make other records as I had been out of it for almost 10 years, so it’s great that today hard rock and metal are making inroads in all kinds of places,(even India is starting to have a metal scene!! I am working on a new album for a new production company founded by the bass player of Manowar and I am excited by this new recording because I honestly feel that it will be a great offering and I think I am playing the best I have ever played and my writing is at its peak so that combined with great production and it should be a home run(Americain slang for something good) I am trying some new things on this record such as tuning my guitar lower, planing my solos more, writing more songs than I need and then picking the best, and last but not least having very tight arrangements.
What are your plans for the future in terms of recording and touring and can we expect to see you once again in the States?
BERNIE TORME: At the moment I’m doing an album, I have my own studio so I do it in downtime, I’m afraid I’m the world’s worst as a self producer, it takes me far too long. I’m basically unbelievably lazy. It will be out next year, it’s sounding really good so far. I really like the way it’s turning out, and that was not always true in the past. I will be touring on the back of it, and it looks as if I’ll be doing some dates in the US too, which I’m really looking forward to. Can’t wait for that. And Japan.
I understand you are recording at the moment, how’s it going, when’s it going to be out. Any chance of seeing you over here in the UK next year, I suppose you are doing US dates when it comes out. And can I get a free copy!
JACK STARR: I hope one day to come again to the U.K. and play but in order to do that I will have to sell a lot of copies and I hope that this happens. I am honored that you want a copy of my next album and, of course, I will send one.
Who is a better guitarist, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page?
BERNIE TORME: Aaargh. My eldest son is called Jimi, so I suppose that’s a giveaway. I think Jimmy Page and I would both agree on the Jimi man. Are You Experienced and Band of Gypsys are both still totally awesome incomparable albums. But Jimmy Page’s productions are of course equally awesome. I suppose I just don’t rate producers as high as I do guitarists. But I do love Jimmy Page too. Maybe “better” isn’t the right word. Jimi Hendrix would be the guitar player I’d rate above all others.
So what do you think? And if not one of those two who is your favorite player and why?
JACK STARR: I guess naming your son Jimi with an “I’ does state the obvious and of course, there can only be one Hendrix and like Elvis, his place in history is assured Actually my fave at this time is Stevie Ray Vaughn and he has been my favorite for the last 10 years. I still get goosebumps when I hear some of his solos, especially on the song Tin Pan Alley. But, I really like anyone who plays from the heart and that would include people like Mick Ronson, Micheal Shencker, Blackmore (though his personality leaves a lot to be desired) meeting him makes you want to burn all your old Rainbow and Purple albums!!
Is there any band, tour, or album that you regret doing and if so, why?
BERNIE TORME: Yes. As regards tours I got blagged into doing a Hendrix tribute tour in Holland about ten years ago, Arthur Lee from Love was on it, and Snowy White from Pink Floyd and Lizzy. There I was doing white Irish wannabe versions of Foxy Lady and Manic Depression. Perhaps that should be manic o’depression. I really hated it. It just seemed totally fake and pointless. I’d never ever do that again. They can always ask Randy Hansen next time and get the hokey fake announcements as well. At least he’s American.
No names no serial numbers no pack drill. I don’t like big productions much, so I’m not a great fan of some of the aorish stuff I’ve played on, smooth stuff is not really my cup of tea to listen to, but I love the playing anyway, and a lot of the people involved are very good friends, so I just don’t listen too much to the finished thing or venture an opinion! I never think I sound right in the context of aor ish stuff though, I always sound like the local serial killer brought in to kick the room apart before turning the chainsaw on the rest of the band. Here’s Bernie! Hey, you can’t like everything. I like a guitar to sound like flesh being ripped and bones grinding against the asphalt. Fuck sophistication lets just smash it all up.
I didn’t like the first solo album I did after Gillan much, called “Turn Out The Lights”, not at all heavy enough, it got compromised and produced to death.
Any skeletons in your closet?
JACK STARR: Everyone has them even the president of the U.S. But, I would say that on the whole, you will find more honest and sincere people in the world of rock music than in the world of politics and probably the only group of people more sexually obsessed than rock musicians would be politicians!!
Would you recommend the rock and roll lifestlyle to your children and would you do it all over again
BERNIE TORME: Yes and yes. But I would give ’em advice. Jimi (12) plays drums and bass. Eric (10) is a guitar monster.
Dunno if you’ve got kids jack, if so same question. If not, would you do it all again, and if you did knowing what you know now what would you do different?
JACK STARR: As wanting my two boys Julien and Matt to play music no, no a thousand times no, because people don’t like to pay musicans so it’s hard to survive on promises or seeing your name in a magazine, it looks good but you can’t take it to the store and pay for groceries with it, “Rock and Roll is a losers game it mesmerizes and I can ‘t explain the sights and the sounds.” Mott had it right.The only thing I would do differently is I would have started playing Fenders and Esps a lot sooner. Gibsons are miserable guitars that do not stay in tune, they are overpriced crap
You have made some great music over the years, and yet, in todays world, an artist like Britney Spears can put out crap and sell millions, what are your thought on this.
BERNIE TORME: Its corporate drivel: I’ve nothing much against Britney I’m sure she’s a very nice girl, nice bits and bobs, she’s very welcome to her uncountable millions, but pop used to be the Beatles, who I still really love, but now its total utter brain dead crap: cd’s with one good track on them, just a total utter ripoff for all the kids who buy them.
But Britney is much much better than what we got here, pop idols and all that crap, people who can do basically nothing at all even half well and still want to be famous and celebrities and have a hit record. Then they’ll feel loved. And the music industry here thinks thats a good idea. Why don’t they just send them to a psychoanalist and tell them they have to DO something first. It’ll be karma if the music industry implodes financially, its just totally pathetic. And what ever happened to music as opposed to tits and asses in videos? Music is exciting, its good, its raw, it can move you, it doesn’t get wrinkly and smelly and old. But now all that shifts product is tits and asses in the video. Hey i like that too, but it doesn’t work too well when you buy the cd and take it home, and you realise the music is really total crap and the tits and asses are but a distant memory…..and I always thought I was buying into the tits and asses anyway. Why don’t they use it to sell beercans? it’d be really crap beer, right? Basically we live in a world that values money, not music, and definitely not musicians. Hey they don’t need us, they’ve got drum machines and videos.
You’re a New Yorker right? what do you really think about the LA scene?
JACK STARR: First off regarding Lost Angeles music scene, I don’t usually like to speak in cliches but I don’t care for it ,the things that I have heard emanating from the west coast of America usually have been godawful maybe its because the people there don’t suffer enough and the weather is always nice, they say that great art comes out of struggle and living in New York is a constant struggle just to survive and get through each day and i think that is reflected in our music
So, my answer is 98 percent of everything I have ever heard from the West Coast sucked, Hendrix an exception but he had to leave and come to New York and then London, the other exception is some of the GNR stuff.
What would you like to say to the readers of Ballbuster and to metal fans reading this?
BERNIE TORME: Keep the faith, do your own thing, and play heavy. Never believe an accountant or a politician, and remember to keep those unfeasably large balls banging.
JACK STARR: In closing I just want to say to the reader of Ballbuster, thanks for taking the time to check us out and keep on rocking and always remember… rock will keep you young always.