Like the classic AOR, anthem goes, “Rock and Roll is a Vicious Game.” For many Musicians, the endless hours of rehearsals along with traveling to and from shows on top of writing and recording while maintaining a day job can take an excessive toll and challenge their dedication towards music.
So imagine what a pressure cooker it can be when you’re not only a Musician ….but also a Promoter! Recently, “The Count of Rock” had the privilege to discuss this particular scenario with Gary Atkins -who not only is the Drummer for Whiskey Rose, but he is also one of the most promising Concert Promoters in Southern Ontario today.
Mark St. John: First of all Gary, how did you come up with the idea of putting together Whiskey Rose?
Gary Atkins: Whiskey Rose was started by my Brother Mark and I, along with our long-time Friend Gunner San Agustin back in 2014. We had the idea to run through some 80’s material we used to cover or just loved to listen to back in those days. These were bands that had a significant influence on us. We wanted to cycle through various albums or sets of material as tribute shows. We felt we needed to find the best Musicians we could -a lot are jam-packed already- and put together the best shows we can on the biggest stages possible. For the most part, we are not trying to do look-a-like tributes -but if we happen to hit that mark, then even better. Our focus is on the music. The show not only has to be as precise as possible but it also has to have real energy. It must breathe, sound and feel like a real rock show as opposed to something the transporter pods from “The Fly” might conjure up! (laughs). We let the Musicians have their go at it and feel how they want to possibly even make slight modifications to certain parts, although it’s usually just song intros and endings that we embellish. We work hard and do the best we can. We may not hit material that is the most sought after in the Canadian scene, but we refuse to go there unless it happens to be something in our hearts, otherwise, how will the Audience get it? There is still a lot of ground to cover, and we have a fairly long list of Bands we want to pay tribute to.
MSJ: Who is Whiskey Rose comprised of and what qualities do you look for when selecting a Musician to join a specific tribute you’re assembling?
GA: We have the core guys that we rely on for pretty much every set of material. Like for instance Gunner San Agustin; a great Bass Player and Friend whom we go way back to our High-School days. We also picked up a nice guy named David Speck for keyboards on our second show, and this allowed us to cover anything that features keys and then some. Selection for any particular show starts with the Singer. We have to have the right guy for that specific job. Our ears are sensitive so hitting the notes as close as possible -and as often as possible, is a must. Anything else on top of that is like icing on the cake. If the Singer interacts with Audience successfully, then that’s a bonus. If he resembles the Singer from the Band we are covering, then all the better. However, we’ve never quite gotten that far.
As far as qualities go, Members must have a certain level of course. But if not the same basic level, we don’t mind helping them get there if the other things fit like location, Family/Work situation, etc. If the Player is more adept than us, well even better -we can learn from them. For the Black Sabbath / Dio and Whitesnake shows, we’ve performed with Darren James Smith who is also the Lead Singer for Jake E. Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel not to mention the Drummer/Vocalist for Harem Scarem. We’ve also had a guy named Steve, who goes by the name of Sy Kotik to cover Judas Priest and Scorpions. Three different Singers for the Ozzy Osbourne project, along with two other guys on 2nd Guitar for the Scorpions and Judas Priest tributes, namely Darren Lazary and Mike Aruda. The original line-up for our first Thin Lizzy project included our older Brother Joe Atkins on Guitar along with Des Leahy and James Taylor who was its Lead Singer.
MSJ: Which Bands has Whiskey Rose paid tribute to and what has the Crowd response been like thus far?
GA: We started with Thin Lizzy as our first show, now this was and is something many people in the local scene might not understand, let alone North America. But during that era of the ’70s & ’80s, Thin Lizzy was a huge influence on many Bands -big and small. You can hear Bands like Foo Fighters and Metallica, along with many others cover one or more Thin Lizzy songs and talk highly about them right on stage in front of their Audiences -why? Because they were and always will be a Band’s Band, a Guitar Player’s Guitar Player, etc., so they have much respect. Across the ocean, it’s a different story. In some parts, Thin Lizzy is huge in every way. Afterward, we decided to tackle “Heaven & Hell” by Black Sabbath. The early ’80s was very exciting in that Ozzy and Sabbath parted ways, but they both produced amazing albums in their own right, and we caught on to both and followed from there. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that we don’t like the Ozzy Osbourne era of Black Sabbath because we do, but it’s a different feeling. The third show we did was the first Ozzy album entitled “Blizzard of Ozz” with a bit of “Diary of a Madman” added in. Albums were typically 40 minutes long, so it’s never enough for a Headlining Act if you plan on doing a show that is based on one album. We ran this show a few times cycling through three different Singers, then placed it on the shelf for now. We hope to get back to this material as it’s very hot and fun to play.
We continued running Thin Lizzy shows until finally putting those on the shelf also. However, we have a new line up for this show and bringing it back to The Opera House in Toronto on February 2, 2019. The Black Sabbath show still runs to this day, but we’ve expanded it with material from Ronnie James Dio’s other bands Rainbow and Dio. From that moment it’s been promoted as a Dio show. After some time we finally started on some new tributes, namely Judas Priest and Scorpions with different Singers. Those are currently not running, but we hope to revisit them also. Next, we began the Whitesnake show which is now running, and we intend to expand on it more as this year progresses. As I mentioned earlier, the most recent is a come back to Thin Lizzy, which brings us to the present. We hope to bring more awareness to what Thin Lizzy is. You’ll hear a lot of blues influence, but their songs can make you want to dance, headbang, or even cry if you must. It’s a real mixture. We hope to have the Van Halen show ready by the Fall of 2019, which is already in the works, but these things take planning and the right combination of circumstances to get out the door. We had the set-list and began digging in. We can already tell this one will be inspiring. For this, we’ll perform both the David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar eras as we merely go by what caught our ears, so we don’t get into any Politics. It’s quite simple, the songs either got to us, or they didn’t ….we call this “THE HOOK!” As far as Crowd response goes, the feedback is always very positive, and we seem to pick up new Followers with each show that we do.
MSJ: What is the biggest challenge you face in not only being a Musician but also as a Promoter. Can the load be challenging to bare in balancing the two?
GA: The load is difficult at times, but when it comes time to perform every bit of what was done leading up to the show gets tucked under the Stage and its fun time. Organizing and promoting was and is a big learning curve, it’s also the business side of music which can even be more discouraging than just being a Musician who gets up and plays. For bookings etc., you must deal with people who are strictly about money and that for the most part counters against the passion for music. I pretty much need to change hats on a dime. Scheduling rehearsals and set lists can get pretty crazy when trying to communicate with all the Band Members who are involved. Some want to use Messenger, some prefer e-mail, and some only text -good thing I’m a Geek! (Laughs). It’s very much a balancing act, but everyone involved with Whiskey Rose help ease the pain. They are a great bunch of people, and it’s an honor to work with them all.
MSJ: Your ultimate goal for Whiskey Rose is?
GA: Well I would have to say continue to grow a following as it what allows us to sustain and do what we love to do. As I said, there is still so much ground to cover. No shortage of material, but time is what will eventually get us all.
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