An Exclusive Interview With:
This phone interview took place in early June, and my apologies for not getting it out sooner, but free time and a malfunctioning tape player [my cassette recorder of 20 years for interviews finally died during the task] took more time that I’d hoped. Anyway, enjoy the read! Thanks to Mike for his time, thanks to Blue Coupe for bringing him out of retirement! And thanks to Ron Mann for getting this one up on the site.
You’ve played with Blue Coupe a couple of times now?
Yes, that was my second performance on Saturday.
Are you doing any more shows with Blue Coupe?
They’ve asked me to do another one with them at Sacket’s Harbour. I guess it’s a festival, and they played there last year and Dennis said it was a great show, a lot of fun, it’s an outdoor thing. And I’ll probably do one more song, not sure which one.
You just do the Alice Cooper medley?
Yeah. Usually Dennis will just email me and let me know what they’re going to do, and I’ll brush up on it a bit, and then go do it with them.
Is there any discussion about doing anything from the "Battle Axe" album?
Yes, at first they were going to do …. "I Miss You", and so I brushed up, and when I got there Dennis said Joe hadn’t had a chance to learn it, so that didn’t happen. But it’s whatever they want me to do, pretty much. And they asked me that night if I’d be interested in doing a cut, some guitar work on [one or two cuts] on their CD. And I told them I’d be very interested to do that, so they’re going to be sending me some kind of stuff, I’m not sure when, probably more towards the fall [!?]
When did you get back in touch with Dennis?
It was actually a month before their induction in to the Hall Of Fame. It must’ve been fate, because a very good friend of mine, who’s on the computer a lot called me up and said he’d googled Billion Dollar Babies or something, and there was a little blurb on there that Dennis Dunaway was looking for Mike Marconi, and he’d left his email address on there! And my friend told me about that, and I said "Really!?", so I emailed Dennis that same night, about 8:15, and about half hour later I was getting stuff back from him, like "where ya been?", "How are you?" … Then we finally had about a 3 hour phone conversation, catching up on our whole lives since then. And it was through that correspondence that lead to him asking me to come and sit in on a few tunes. And when I played with them at the Rhino [Buffalo] , it had been 35 years or so, since I’d seen Dennis.
Now, I want to go way back…. You were in a band called ‘Wale’. I found some stuff on that, some sound clips – on the guitar player’s web site….
Oh, David Munkhoff. David Munkhoff came in to the band shortly before I left, and it was another kind of twist of fate, because when I left he really fell right in to it. And I really liked working with David, and a lot of people would think that it really wouldn’t work because you get two good guitar players and there’s like an ego thing between them, and that never existed between David and I because I respected him as a player, and vice versa. We got along great. David had a lot of good ideas and he added a lot to the band. And I haven’t seen him in so long. You’re bringing up names from my past now, that are just kinda like ‘Wow’!
Was there any recordings done while you were a part of that band?
Yeah, we were always in the studio. Life was a demo-tape back then. We were always doing demos, and this and that. I wish I had all the stuff that we did, but unfortunately I don’t. it’s one of those things where things get lost, or you just never think you’re going to want to look back on stuff. God knows where they are!? I know that Bob Murray, who was the lead singer, is a big memorabilia individual, and I’m sure that Bob probably has a lot of stuff. I know he’s got more than I do, and I do run in to him from time to time. He still lives here in the city.
Did you guys release any 45s or anything?
No, not when I was with them. We just did a lot of recording, a lot of live recording. Some people, fans – would come out, and they were in to bringing their stuff out, setting up, and you know as primitive as it was – it may have been a 4-track, and they’d hang microphones at different places in the place and some if it sounded good and some of it sounded like crap. But I loved their enthusiasm.
As far as that band went, what were some of the highlights – any big opening shows?
We opened for John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, but the absolute best show was when we warmed up for Montrose in Syracuse. And we used to do a lot of their songs, because I loved Ronnie Montrose, and I was a big influence in the band of doing a lot of Montrose! And the night that we warmed up the band we had told them that we did some of their stuff, and I said to them "would it be the wrong thing to do if we were to perform any of them?" and they said "no, go right ahead!" We don’t care". And that was Sammy Hagar. And I tell you, we did our show, and then they went up – and they were just feakin’ amazing! "Rock Candy" … I can hear it now!
That first album was spectacular.
Oh, it was! And they sounded so great! That was the best. We opened for John Mayall, that was ok, but opening for Montrose … And then I’d heard that he passed away, and I was very sorry to hear that.
Any other ‘name’ bands that you opened for?
Actually, Aerosmith, before they were big and famous. They were like – what we were in Rochester, Aerosmith was in Boston. They were a big fish in a little pond. We warmed them up at a club called KK Kady’s, and this was before they had a record deal. And I’ll tell you what – when we saw them – and we got to be good friends with them, hung out with them… but I knew it. I said ‘if these guys don’t make it, then nobody’s going to make it, because they were just really really good! The people of Boston friggin’ loved them!
I liked all the greats. Jimi Hendrix was a huge inspiration, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and of course – Jeff Beck. I mean, I’m talking that era. And still to this day there’s been many great guitar players that I go nuts hearing – Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Stevie Ray Vaughn, but Jeff Beck for me, has always been one of my favorite guitarists…. I think if you’re a guitarist, you have to look at Jeff Beck and just be ‘wowed’ by this guy. He’s not Eddie Van Halen, but Jeff Beck stands alone with his technique and style.
Were you guys into the British stuff like Deep Purple, Heep, Sabbath, that kind of stuff?
I was always in to Ritchie Blackmore and Deep Purple. My first band, in fact before it was Wale – we were called ‘The Backstage Review’, and then we made a change over with musicians, and style, and image and we named the band ‘Wale’, and now it was a rock band. But we used to do a couple of Deep purple songs, I loved Ritchie Blackmore! I was always kind of lucky, with the guys in the band, because we were all on the same page with who we liked, the style we liked, so whoever brought music in to learn a song to learn, it was usually something that everybody liked and we’d jump on it, and learn it and perform it. So I was kind of lucky in that regard.
Now, it was during that time that Neal Smith saw you, and that’s how you ended up on "The Platinum God" album?
Yeah, I was playing with Wale; we were playing at a club here in Rochester – ‘Fantasy Swings’ – we used to be a regular there. This was on a Sunday night, and they were in town because on Monday they were going to be at the Rochester War Memorial. They were on their "Billion Dollar Babies" tour. And they all came down that night, I mean the whole band, the roadies, security people… there had to be about 30 of them! They took the whole big line of tables in front of the band. And they got their at the start of our second set, and it was after that that they introduced everybody, gave us tickets to the show, and gave VIP passes to the private party afterwards. And it was at that party that their road manager, Andy Mills [I believe his name was. He used to be road manager for the Stones], came up to me and said "the guys really enjoyed your guitar playing. Would you ever be interested in doing any guitar work with us, any recording?" and said "well, of course!". And I didn’t get a phone call until about a year later when I’d gotten a call, and then went and met with Neal, and I met Dennis, and it was kind of like a whole ‘whirlwind’. And thinking back on it – just being this guitar player in a band here in Rochester, and all of a sudden I’m in New York City and in that environment, it was very very exciting for me.
Did you meet Glen Buxton at that time?
I did, but not at that particular juncture, but further on in to the project I did, yes. At first I really didn’t know what to expect because I felt a little awkward that – here I was coming in, and he was their guitar player. But it didn’t turn out that way, Glen was very nice.
Are you referring to the "Battle Axe" album or Neal’s album?
That was when we were doing some work on Neal’s album.
Glen was around for that?
He didn’t get involved in it, but I did meet him. When exactly, I can’t remember. I used to go back and forth, fly back and forth – work with my band, then go in and rehearse with them, then go back with my band…. I really didn’t have a day off, I’d go seven days a week for quite a while. And it was on one of those particular visits that I did meet Glen. And I felt very bad when he passed away.
Now, this was all during Neal’s album, and that album didn’t come out until a few years ago, finally.
I didn’t even know it did. I haven’t talked to Neal in many many years, so I don’t even know what’s on it; if it’s some of the stuff we did, if it’s all of the stuff that we did…. [?]
Well, you’re in the credits.
That’s good. I don’t even know what was on that, it was quite a while ago.
That’s on his website, among other stuff. He’s got a new album out as well.
Do you remember another guitar on that album, Stu Daye?
Was he from your area?
No, he was from New York. I forget what particular song, but he played a good slide guitar. He was crazy, I really liked him. He had a very unique style, I remember him very well. He came in and did some great guitar work for us.
Do you know where he came from, band ?
He was playing with some band in New York City at the time, but don’t ask me the name, I can’t tell you.
Did Alice come down during those sessions?
No. At that particular time I believe Alice wanted to play golf and wanted get in to the movies… he was on the other coast; he was out in California, and was enjoying himself. I know there was a lot of communication with him - between Neal and Dennis, and then when Michael got in to the picture later on with the Billion Dollar Babies ‘Battle Axe’ – there was a Lot of communication with him!
Now, you had a few years in-between the "Platinum God" album and the Billion Dollar Babies. What happened in there, how did it end up becoming a band that you became involved in full-time?
While working on Neal’s album, what was happening was that Michael Bruce was also working on a solo album, and Michael was in Phoenix at that time. And I really can’t tell you what prompted this whole thing, but I think both Michael and Neal decided to put their side-projects aside and came up with this thought of - "look, since we’re kind of on hiatus here…. Neal, you’ve got some songs that you’ve written, and Michael you’ve got some songs you’ve written. Why don’t we get together and form a band – The Billion Dollar Babies, and see what happens". And it was at that point, that Michael Bruce got involved in this. It was kind of like a whole change, of dropping those projects or culminating them. Because I know that "Rock N Roll Radio"- Neal wrote that song, and that wound up on the Battle Axe album. And Michael and I, there’s a few songs that we worked on together. Once Michael got involved, it was a tremendous learning experience for me; it really was!
He was quite a prolific writer in the ‘70s!?
Yeah, he was. When you’re a musician and you’ve got all sorts of ideas floating around in your head. Ya know – if you’re a guitar player you might have a lot of little riffs that are really cool, but that’s really all they are is a riff! Well, Michael Bruce is the type of individual who will hear a riff….and there was so many times, because Michael then moved and lived with us, right in the same house, and we had a recording studio in the downstairs [can’t even call it a basement], and I’d be playing something and Michael would come running downstairs and he’ll stop me and go – "is that original? Is that your own? You didn’t steal that idea, did you?", and I’d go "No, that’s my own! (Laughs). It’s my own riff". And Michael would either pick up his guitar or go to the keyboard, and I’d play it, he’d learn it, and the next thing I know – now Michael’s got a change going in to it, then another change, and the next thing I know he’s got a melody….and it just would amaze me. And this is what I mean about learning so much from him on arranging, the bridge, the length of a song…. It was a great experience for me.
Now, depending on who you believe in various interviews, it’s been said that this was intended as the next Alice Cooper Band album, but Alice backed out of it, and that’s how it ended up being the Billion Dollar Babies band. Was there any truth to that from what you understood?
Well, I wasn’t privy to all the on-goings, and believe me – there was A lot of ‘behind the scenes’ things. They were disappearing in to rooms and talking for hours, going in to the city and talking to attorneys… And what it seemed to me at that point, and this is my own thinking – you’ve got a manager, a good one, and let’s face it – Alice was the star of the show; it’s like Stevie Tyler and Aerosmith. Stevie Tyler is the star of the show! And there’s nothing wrong with that, there’s going to be a focal point in every successful band. And I think it’s a question of – "look, Alice – you’re the star, and you can get anyone to play with you and put them on salary!" And Alice has been doing well, because he’s Alice, you know, riding on the success (in my opinion) of the songs that were written by Michael Bruce ... "Schools Out", "I’m 18", "No More Mr Nice Guy" ….and the list goes on, of the hit songs that Michael Bruce has written. At the same time Alice ‘sold’ those songs, he put it over. So it’s a team that needs to work together to make this big rock n roll wheel move. And it just didn’t work out that way. I think the Billion Dollar Babies thing, that started out as ‘something for them to do – until they got back together again’, turned in to ‘well maybe there isn’t a getting back together again, and this might be another way for us to perform, stay on the road, and write music’. … I don’t know if I answered your question, but not being privy to everything that was going down – and there was a lot! And I know there was a lot of animosities and things with Alice.
Do you think it was more a matter of outside people like managers and attorneys than the actual band members?
With the Billion Dollar Babies album and Alice’s absence, one the criticisms is that it’s missing that ‘identity’, as far as a singer goes.
Yeah, and we knew that going in to it. And God bless Michael, he worked his hiny off – he went for singing lessons religiously. And he practiced with the tapes, he worked really really hard. But, you’re right – it missed that individual out in front. The image of the Alice Cooper band was so powerful, that it’s hard to do anything…. You take any great actor or actress out of a sitcom that’s popular – I love Brad Garrett from "Everybody Loves Raymond", but take him out of that scenario and put him in to something else and it’s not as good. It’s just not as good, and that’s the way, and it’s unfortunate – but when you’re that powerful as a team, as a group – that without the ‘Alice’ thing there, people just aren’t going to buy in to it.
Looking at the writing credits on the album, you have quite a few. I was wondering what some of the songs you remember writing on, like "Too Young", "Miss You" …..
Yeah, as a matter of fact – "I Miss You", that is what I was talking about – that intro [sings the guitar riff]. I was just down in the studio and I was playing that, and that’s when Michael Bruce comes down and says "what is that?", "is that original?’, "Is that your own?", and said "yeah Michael, why?" , and he said "I like that!", and he took it from there. And then we both started going back and forth. I liked working Michael because if somebody comes down and tells you they like what you’re doing, it’s very inspirational, and you want to keep going on that. And now you’ve got this energy back, of Michael’s "why don’t we do this at this point" and "Ok, let’s go back this", "do this", "introduce this…. And next thing you know …. It’s the same thing with "Shine Your Love", I was playing the riff and Michael really liked that. It wasn’t a song, it was just a riff for me, and Michael – being Michael Bruce can see things and hear things, and put it all together. And there was a lot of songs like that – "Rock Me Slowly", "Wasn’t I The One", … And then of course working with Bob Dolin, he was a great keyboard player! I don’t know what bobby did afterwards, but Bobby would’ve been the world’s best studio musician, because first of all – he’s brilliant on the keyboard, he’s got perfect pitch, and he’s not the guy that wants to be in front, in the spotlight, ya know what I mean!? He’s very happy just to do his thing. A great musician, easy to work with. I don’t know what he’s done since then, maybe he’s in his own studio doing his own studio thing I hope, whatever he’s doing – I hope he’s happy because he’s a really good guy. But he added a lot to the melody parts, you know – playing it on the keyboards with Michael, working out melodies. It was a lot of fun working with them. All of them were self-motivated; there wasn’t anybody cracking the whip.
You also wrote on "Wasn’t I The One" [the ballad], and "Rock n Roll Radio", "Dance With Me"…. You co-wrote on more than half the album; but you’re saying that your credits are mostly riffs?
I’m saying that it would start off with riffs, and I might have a second change with him, and maybe another chord, but it wasn’t like it was a song; it wasn’t a song, until … once Michael would come down and actually start playing on the piano, a melody would happen, and you’re thinking ‘oh I think we could go here’, and Michael would go – ‘Oh, that’s good, then we’ll do this…’. So it was kind of like – this exchange going back and forth that started off as a riff, and maybe a couple of changes and then turns in to a song. I think on "Wasn’t I The One", I had a lot of the format down but not being a singer; and not being a singer …when you’re not a singer you can’t write melody because you’re not a singer, so that doesn’t come in to your head, so you need someone like Mike. Even though he’s not a singer, he hears these melodies in his head; he’s really talented!
Who would come up with the lyrics usually?
Usually it would be Michael, and a lot of times Neal or Dennis would have an idea on this or that, or a theme, but I would have to say for the most part it was Michael.
Now Stu Daye co-wrote on one song, "Love Is Rather Blind" …
I wrote the beginning [sings riff], I had the beginning….kinda like a riff once again. I can’t remember if Stu was hanging around that day or we were jamming together or whatever, and I think that’s how that whole thing started to come together.
You’re not on the credits to that song…
I know that because I didn’t feel like I did that much on that song; I really didn’t. The cool thing about working with them, because I was a rookie, when we were recording Michael was ‘look – this is how this works. On this particular song Mike, what percentage of the song do you think is yours’? And I’d go ‘what do you mean percentage?’, ‘well, think of the song and think of your contribution to the song. Do you think it’s 40%, do you think 50…’ , and we’d go through, I’d go ‘Oh maybe on this one I think it’s 50%’, and Michael might go ‘actually – it’s more like 60’… So, doing it that way, and I never really realized it, that it’s for royalties – if the album were to be a success, and there’s royalties…. And on some of the songs it was only 10% or 25%, but working with Michael he was very sure that I felt they were being fair with me.
What do you recall of the guy who produced the album, Lee DeCarlo?
I really liked Lee, as a person; production-wise…and hind-sights 20/20, I think we could’ve had more success with a better producer. And I’ve had this conversation with Dennis, and I think Dennis shares the same opinion that – either it’s the producer or we should’ve said ‘no, don’t like that, don’t like the way this is coming out.’ It kind of goes both ways. You can’t always fault the producer, because often times you can say – ‘look, I really don’t like that mix’, or ‘I don’t like the sound of the drums, or the bass, or the guitar’…. You know what i mean!? You can take that route too. But you know, at this late date, I think maybe a producer with a bit more experience may have been better for us.
Now, there was some problems with the album, the pressing, upon release, correct?
Yeah. It had to be re-mixed. And they brought in …
It had to be remastered and that held up the release, and they did a lot of remixing. And I guess that would fall back on the original production of the album. I don’t know exactly why they had to remaster it, I can’t remember what the exact reasoning was on it, but I know it held up the release date on it. But you have to understand, I was so excited, to even be involved in this project and doing what I was doing, that so much of the business end of things kind of went over me. It really just went over me, I was 25 years old and I was living my dream – my dream in life; and the term ‘rock star’ - it doesn’t fit me, because I don’t put myself in that category, but all my life I wanted to be in that situation, even for a short time – it’s better than never having reached it at all. And I made some great friendships – with Dennis, and Michael, and Neal, and all the people that I met through that whole experience, that I would do it all over again – without any question!
Upon completion of the album, what was the atmosphere when it finally got released? Was it kind of nervous?
Oh yeah, there was a lot of anxiety, because there was a lot of money invested into this, a lot of time, reputations were at stake and they had some big shoes to fill. And the actual show itself was pretty spectacular, actually. The whole "Battle Axe" sequence, which we all choreographed ourselves, with Michael and I, we had a whole arena – a ring that would come up; it was very elaborate.
And you guys only did 4 shows in the end?
Yeah, it wasn’t that many. I’m not sure why, but I’m thinking it would’ve been very expensive to tour like that. And I think, truthfully, that everybody – like the record company, was very leery of the fact that Alice wasn’t involved, and because he was such a powerful force in the music world back then that he carried a lot of clout, and it just seemed to me that with all that staging that we couldn’t be a warm-up act, we had to be the headliner, and without a hit record in the charts, getting a promoter to make you the headliner was kind of difficult.
Was there any problems or legalities about using the name ‘Billion Dollar Babies’?
I don’t think so, I wasn’t made aware of that. If there was they never made me aware of it. There may have been problems with using ‘Billion Dollar Babies’, but then again – they ARE the Billion Dollar Babies, because it was their tour. And at the same time Alice was in the process of doing his own thing, so I know there was problems with him using the name, but then again – he changed his name legally, so….that’s his legal name.
Upon release of the album, and I’m looking at 1977 Circus magazine feature. How was press with the album and the tour? Was it hyped at all?
I think it could’ve been more. I really think that being who they were and what the show was, I think it could’ve been more. And that’s just thinking back on it now, because really – the stage show itself was real exciting. The live show was very very exciting, everyone put their heart and soul into that project, they really did. It was all put together with the lighting and the costuming, and the theatrics was really well done, I’d have to say. And I think it deserved more promotion and more hype, certainly, yeah.
How was Polydor behind the album?
I don’t think that they were strong enough, because they if they would’ve supported that album and the Billion Dollar Babies, we could’ve done more touring, and that’s what supports record sales, and that will excite the record company to let you go in and do album # 2.
Now, it ended after 4 shows. Do you recall how it ended? Did you guys have a band meeting or anything?
As I recall we didn’t know it was going to be our last show, it wasn’t like "this is it, then we’re done" it was management problems, with getting the concerts lined up, getting the promotion lined up; the people that are supposed to be doing their jobs in a situation like this. When you have PR people and management and you have promoters that, ... it seemed like everybody was on a different page; there just wasn't a strong push to get this band backed, get them out there, 'let's get these guys set up with a 10 week tour in all the major cities that Alice Cooper was strong in'... I know Detroit - that's why we played in Flint, Michigan. ...hitting all the cities that were big sales for the Alice Cooper Band, I mean that to me would have been the logical thing to start with. Hit those areas where the band was big, get them out there, let them hear this group…but I think after the fourth one… And then – all the chaos that was going on with members of Billion Dollar Babies and Alice was really putting a strain on all of them, it really was! You have to imagine, Kevin – that if you were a member of that band, as successful as it was, and it’s falling to pieces right before your eyes – that it’s heartbreaking. I mean the stress of going through all that. And that’s why my hat goes off to Dennis – here’s a guy that was in one of the biggest groups in the country, inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame [and I think that’s great!], and Dennis – if he’s got to drive from Connecticut to Mickey Rats in Angola, New York [they left at 7 o’clock in the morning and got there just before 7 pm!], so it’s a long drive, and that’s dedication to your love of playing. Here’s a guys that took limos and they had their own airplane, and he loves to play! Such a good spirit about everything. He just loves playing, and enjoying life, and I think that’s fantastic.
Now, getting back to the 4 shows; Was there any other shows scheduled and do you remember what the 4 shows were?
I don’t think there was any scheduled, because if there were – we would’ve done them. I think it was a management problem, and in fact I remember – he got fired, I remember they got rid of him, and in the process of looking for another manager other things were going on between them and Alice, and all this stuff going back and forth. I think there was always this hope that they were going to get back together.
Now was there anything final – getting the band together to cut a demo, or any band meeting?
It was just kind of a thing where we were all together, it was just real casual… and "here’s the state of affairs – this happening, this is happening….Polydor isn’t going to re-up [?], the management is crumbling, we can’t get any dates, it’s not looking good…", And realizing that, I accepted an offer from some friends of mine to play for in Buffalo, and that was Talas. So, that’s when I left there and moved to Buffalo.
Did you any contact with any of the guys, up until Dennis last year?
Yeah, Michael, and this was back…and I can’t remember the year, I want to say 1989, 1990…Michael was coming through, stayed at my house. Actually Michael came to my wedding! He was at my wedding in 1979. He drove up from New York, and he just totally surprised me that he was at my wedding, and then in 1990 he came and stayed at my house, and the my wife at the time – the 3 of us, rented a car, and we went to Detroit, because he was working with an Alice Cooper Tribute band, and I can’t remember the name of that band [!?] Michael was involved with them, I think as a guest appearance or that kind of thing. And then I didn’t see him for a while, and we talked a couple of times on the phone a few years after that, and then I didn’t hear from him anymore.
I think around 2000, just for the hell of it I called him up, and he was shocked to hear from me, and we talked on the phone for about an hour. I’d love to have a reunion just to see the guys again.
Now, going back to the end of the band – was Glenn ever around?
No, I was only in his company twice, at his place, we had gone over to see him. He never came around, and I think that’s just part of who he was; maybe he needed to stay away from things like that – I don’t know, maybe he was uncomfortable being around it, I don’t know.
Everybody in the band was very focused. It was actually the first band I was ever in where the self-motivation was incredible. I mean, most bands I was in, it was hard to get a practice in because one guy’s going out with his girlfriend or another guy’s too tired, or whatever! And here these guys were, and that’s it – music was their life!
You’ve never heard from Bob Dolin again?
No, I did not.
Now, immediately after that you were in Talas, and I knew you were in Talas because I interviewed Dave Constantino a few years ago, and he mentioned you, and mentioned that he’d learned a good bit about songwriting from you then.
That’s because Kevin, because everything I learned going through that whole thing with Billion Dollar Babies, and Michael Bruce; it was almost like I went to camp, or went to music school for those 2 and a half years. Because when I joined Talas, I knew all those guys from when I was in Whale; they used to come to Rochester and play and they’d stay at our place and sometimes vice versa we’d go there on their turf, and perform. Anyways, David was a great guitar player, they had great ideas in the band – but they didn’t do any original music. And I said to them in our rehearsals "you know, I hear great ideas, let’s start creating", and then they would let these ideas come out, and then I kind of like to them was like the Michael Bruce in arranging, because I learned a lot from him, believe me – I did. It really made me a better writer, and taking a riff and turn it in to something. And it doesn’t work all the time Kevin, but it does work some of the times. And sitting with David and Paul Varga, and seeing the capabilities of both of them, and we started to write some songs, and they really had some great ideas, and it opened up many doors for them. I’m really grateful and appreciative of his comments.
Who was the bass player at the time because It wasn’t Billy [Sheehan]?
No, it wasn’t Billy, it was actually our bass player from Whale – it was Dale Croston. They had gotten him in line, because Dale was a very very good bass player, not as flamboyant at Billy, nobody was.
Do you know where Billy went?
I don’t remember specifically what he did, but I know that there was some turmoil in their band between them and Billy at the time… But there again, it comes down that in every band there’s a focal point that brings people out, and I think that in Talas’ case – and it doesn’t take away from David or Paul at all, but Billy was a big draw. And the way I look at something like that, if I was their manager I’d have to give them all a hit on the head and say "OK guys, this is how it works guys – there’s going to be somebody who’s the focal point, and this is the focal point, and let’s capitalize on that, and we can all keep working and let’s roll with it." I mean if I was in a band, and Steven Tyler was the lead singer [or any of these great singers] – and if this guy was making me a million and a half a year – I’m all for ya, I’m all for you! That’s just the way it goes in this business, and that’s why a lot of great bands break up.
How long were you with Talas for you?
It wasn’t very long, it was a little over a year.
You guys did the Buffalo to Rochester area. Did you guys do any Ontario shows?
We did some Toronto shows, and then back down to the Albany area. I think that’s as far as we went, and on our way back we’d hit Syracuse or something like that. It was pretty much confined to this area, there wasn’t anything really elaborate.
(Mike tells about the time the band recorded a cover of the song "Stagger Lee" in New York for Atlantic Records, that was shelved since Neil Diamond planned to cover the same song).
Did you do any songs with them in the studio? Did you leave Talas for any particular reason?
Actually, what it was - was I had gotten a call from their manager Fred Casuto [sp?] , and I felt really bad because I felt that David and I and Paul were really good friends and that they would talk to me first about it, but I got a phone-call from their manager, and I think it was mainly because we were so close that none of them really had the nerve that they wanted to change the whole Talas thing, and there was some talk at the time that Billy was going to come back, so they we were going to get rid of Dale, so they wouldn’t need me anymore. The only reason that they brought me in to the whole thing was because at that particular time I had developed a huge reputation, even with my band Whale, and then when I went to New York and did that whole thing with the Billion Dollar Babies, that my name was like – it was a draw. And don’t get the wrong idea when I talk like that that I’m ‘beating my own drum’, but the reality of it was that with Billy gone that they felt what they needed was a draw, I never felt they needed that, but I think that they felt they needed that draw again – something exciting and new and happening in the band. And frankly, I was getting very tired, very warn, I had been playing in bars – starting at the age of 16, and by the time with Talas I was just getting tired of the whole scene; it was wearing on me. And so really, they kind of did me a favor, because I thought ‘well, I’m going to see what it’s like to get a real job’, because I’d never had one. I always supported myself playing guitar from the time I was 16 years old. And I wound up getting married, and getting a job working with a carpet guy, making minimum wage - ‘no experience necessary’, and next thing I know I have a little boy. So I learned the trade, and went off on my own, had 2 more kids. And the next thing you know, that was my whole life, I took a totally different road Kevin. I was then a family man, a provider, had a nice home… And that really was the end of my musical career at that point with Talas. It was the last time that I would play in a band. And that’s why I get really nervous about performing because I don’t do it that often anymore.
Are the Blue Coupe shows the only times you’ve been on stage since?
That was it. Other than a few of my friends who are still kicking around, who have a few of these bands – and they’re good, and they still play up at the marina where I keep my boat, and we’re there every weekend, and some of my friends come through there and play, and I get dragged up on stage to play 2 or 3 songs with them, and I enjoy it, but that’s just the extent of it now. I do play everyday, I play downstairs, I have all my amps and all my gear set up, but professionally I don’t do it anymore.
Did you keep much in the way of memorabilia or paraphernalia from those days?
I am the worst at that. Now, I am kicking myself, but I am the worst at that. I had all this stuff and between moving and going here, going there – I don’t have any of it anymore. In fact I have an album that my younger cousin had when it came out, and when he passed away at the very early age of 48 years old a few years ago, his wife gave me the album with a Billion Dollar Baby guitar pic that I used to toss out to the crowd, they’re white and it says Billion Dollar Babies on it, and it’s got my autograph on them. And he had one of those and she gave me that with the album. And other than a few pictures I have, Dennis has been sending me stuff left and right from the old days. Dennis has all of that stuff, I am terrible with it, and I wish I hadn’t been as it was such a great part of my life. That’s why when you came out with the album it was like "holy cow!"
There were a few people out there who’ve posted pics from the [Blue Coupe] show, and I know a few people came up to me at the show and wanted to see the album because they’d never seen it. I didn’t think it was that of rare of an album.
I don’t think it was rare, like I said I just don’t think there was that much of a ‘push’ on that album, to give it more…. And I think if we would’ve had a chance at a second album, because there was a lot of stuff that didn’t go on that album that we were kind of like going to put on the second one that musically would’ve been a lot better. Unfortunate.
Have you heard anything of the CD release of that album?
It was an illegal release. It was the album, a live show, and a cd of demos.
I wonder where they got that!? Wow.
[Talk about access to master tapes ensues]
Who would have a copy of the demos?
I don’t even have a copy of that! You see, there was a lot of stuff that we were like just going to sit on, and put on the 2nd album - which never came about. That’s too bad.
[Chat ensues about Mike’s meeting Jimi Hendrix in Rochester, as well as other famous rockers he met back then, as well as Jeff Beck, Wale’s set-list – which included "Maggot Brain" and "Stairway To Heaven"]www.munkmusic.com
Review: © Kevin J. Julie / Universal Wheels, July 2012