lundi 3 mars 2014

Billy G.Bang! (aka Billy Douglas) - part 1

Billy G. Bang! If you were a long haired Rn' R fan in the late 80s/early 90s you might have heard this name. In Europe our first exposure to the man was with the band Kill City Dragons -that get a lot of press in the UK for an unsigned band- and then with Shooting Gallery, the band he formed with Dave Tregunna and Andy Mc Coy. Of course there's a lot more to tell about him as you may discover in this interview.


Billy : First, I’d like to thank you for asking me to do this. I’ve never really talked about my entire career in music with anyone before. As I changed musical styles and adopted different names and personalities over the years, I would always disassociate myself from the past, deny or ignore all of my previous work and start over again. Then, of course, I started shooting heroin, and I dedicated myself to doing that exclusively for nearly twenty years. It’s great to be here.


When did you start getting interested in music and did you want to become a pro?
I was born in 1956, and throughout the Sixties I loved the British Invasion stuff – Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Yardbirds and especially TheAnimals. In 1968 at the age of twelve, I became interested in hard rock music – Jimi Hendrix, then the first two Led Zeppelin albums, you know, just like all of the kids I knew. At the same age, I started smoking weed and drinking alcohol. 
In New York City at that time, the biggest radio station WABC-AM played nothing but Top 40. I found an FM station called WNEW-FM that played “album rock”, songs more than three minutes long, music that was more adventurous and experimental. One night, I heard them playing “Rock and Roll” by the VelvetUnderground, and I was fascinated by the music’s simplicity, its directness, Lou Reed’s New York accent (like mine!) and the gritty nature of the lyric. I got hooked. I started reading Rolling Stone and the Village Voice, looking for new and different sounds. I discovered T.Rex, and I immediately fell in love with Marc Bolan and his music. I had a life-size poster of Marc playing a red Gibson Les Paul hanging on my bedroom wall for years. I decided to take guitar lessons and I soon learned basic scales and chord theory. While I liked playing rhythm, I had no interest in leads or solos. I practiced playing chords and singing along in my head. I learned most of the songs on T.Rex’s Electric Warrior and The Slider albums, and learned to sing them pretty well. I also learned a few simple Led Zeppelin songs like “Whole Lotta Love” and “Communication Breakdown”. 


When I was fifteen years old, I played and sang Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” to my first love, high school girlfriend, and soon-to-be first wife, a girl named Pati Lopez. Pati ran and told some local musicians at my high school that I could sing, and I soon found myself in singing in front of a crowd of over 800 people at a local battle of the bands. Three of the other singers got stage fright, and I ended up singing with four of the six bands scheduled that night! I feel I should mention that I had smoked so much hashish and drunk so much wine before the show to get over my initial stage fright that I could barely remember the lyrics to any of the songs, most of which I had never even sung before. The next day, a hot local band in Queens asked me to front them. We called ourselves Marasmus, which is the “swollen belly” disease children get when they are starving to death. We played cover songs at high school dances for a year or so and made some decent money. During this time, I gave up a scholarship to university in order to have a child with my girlfriend Pati and get married. When she divorced me and kicked me out a year later, I had nowhere to go, so I joined a working cover band in the Bronx called Rondo and started playing in night clubs for money all over New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.



You were involved in the NY punk scene in '76 / '77. Can you tell more about that?
Okay. In 1976, I was living with a girl named Maureen in a house in the Gun Hill Road section of the Bronx. We shared the house with two guys from a band called The Dictators. They had released an album called Manifest Destiny, and the small, early punk rock scene was certain that they would be the ones to put punk on the map. However, The Ramones went to England and inspired the punk rock scene over there, and came back the first “punk rock stars.” I also became friends with a girl named Robin whose brother was in The Dictators. She waited tables upstairs at Max’s Kansas City. I used to hang around Manic Panic on St. Mark’s Place with my friend Kathy who worked with the owners, Tish and Snookie. Soon after this, I broke up with Mo and moved to Westchester County. 
There I was approached by some musicians in an interesting band called Gates Pass. They came from upstate New York, they had been around for nearly ten years, and several well-known musicians had been members at one time or another. I was playing in Rondo and I was barely twenty years-old. They were all over thirty, and far more experienced than I. From the beginning, I had been told that I had natural charisma, real star quality onstage, and I seemed to be advancing and growing quickly as both a singer and a performer - perhaps a little too quickly. We formed a group called Clockwork (like Orange), playing some deranged, musically divergent cover material in our own unique way. We started becoming quite popular, and in no time I had hooked up with Linda Blair, the star of the film The Exorcist

She and I were soon living in a house in Connecticut together. She was seventeen, and I was twenty! I found myself addicted to drugs, living with a movie star and singing in front of crowds of up to 2,500 people at a time, in spite of the fact that I had NO fucking idea what I was doing or how I had gotten there. In December ’76, Linda went to shoot a film in Hollywood, Clockwork took a month off, and I started driving down to the east side of Greenwich Village to visit some of my junkie musician friends every night. It was then that I was introduced to snorting heroin, and I found myself spending days and nights getting fucked up and having sex with strangers and waking up in places with no idea at all how I’d gotten there or who I had just fucked. I also started writing and jamming with some people in that scene, very glampunk/NY Dolls attitude but Ramones-type of energy. We played at a loft party, a gallery show, then booked a block of studio time but got too fucked up to show up and record on time, but stayed just long enough to play a couple of songs for the people who’d been waiting for us! Then the guitarist overdosed and it was all over, like a strange dream. Linda came back from Hollywood and found me all punked out – short, spiky, dyed-black hair, dressed in leather and rubber and safety pins and zippers, and it was over. Clockwork kicked me out for being strung out, Linda couldn’t stand me (and neither could I), so I went back to Queens and begged my way back into my parents’ house for a few months. I was barely twenty one years old, and I had become a father, a husband, an ex-husband, a drug addict, an up-and-coming rock star who was living with a movie star, a punk rocker who had retired from the music business.


In 1979, I returned to the music business after a hiatus of more than a year. I had cleaned up and gotten healthier, stronger. I began to take my voice as an instrument more seriously, and I decided that the best thing I could do was work on my singing, develop some style and stamina, away from the spotlight. I found some young, eighteen year old musicians in a band called Toys and talked them into dumping their singer and hooking up with me. I got us a manager and an agent, convinced them to play punk rock covers and started playing the club circuit all over New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire. For a year and a half, we played every single night, sometimes thirteen nights in a row before my voice got too shot to sing. In 1980, I started studying with an opera singer named Katy Agresta who lived in the Ansonia on 72nd and Broadway. She was teaching Jon Bon Jovi, Cindy Lauper, Annie Lennox, even Joey Ramone. I was her student for more than three years. I left Vixen in December of 1981. I never recorded anything with them. I had formed the band to develop my voice, my stagecraft and my style. It was never intended to be a “serious” project, but more “under-the-radar.” I didn’t count on us actually becoming popular. We were voted Best New Band of 1981 by the readers of the EC Rocker, then called the Good Times. It was really quite a shock. I quit soon thereafter.


In some of the pictures I saw, you appear very Bowie-ish. Were Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and David Bowie your main influences at this time?
My influences as a singer: Jagger, Plant, Bowie, Alice, David Johansen, Jim Morrison, Little Richard and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. As a performer: Bowie, Iggy, Freddie (Mercury) and Jagger.  



What did you do between Vixen and
Kill City Dragons?
I signed a contract with a guy in ’82 who had powerful ties to organized crime because he promised to bankroll my next project. He soon started trying to control my choice of material, style, musicians, eventually providing me with drugs so that I would have sex with him. I put a band together called A Lad Insane which played nothing but Bowie-covers. I got to sing and play rhythm guitar onstage for the first time, as well do all kinds of makeup and costume changes during the set, recreating the Ziggy Stardust album live. It was SO MUCH FUN! It consisted of a piano player, sax and trumpet, two guitars, bass, drums and myself. They were all excellent musicians, though we only played live about fifteen or twenty times. We made a lot of money before I shut it down to study acting briefly at the Actor’s Studio in New York City. When my mobbed-up manager sued me, and then threatened to kill me, I got a job in the Editorial Research department of Newsweek Magazine for more than four years (’83 to ’88) while I found a way out of my management contract. Thanks to a great lawyer and friend named Jeff Bowers, the contract was declared null and void in 1986. I then ran a big ad in the Village Voice and auditioned for nearly everyone in New York.   I received a lot of offers. I had an offer to sing in a Broadway play about the history of rock and roll; Joey Ramone’s brother’s band, The Rattlers, wanted me to work with them; The Plasmatics had broken up, and Jean Beauvoir and I talked; there was even a minute where I thought about joining a black vocal group on Motown as their lead singer, but the label didn’t want a white guy!

 
A bit later a young friend named Anthony, who later played drums in the original lineup of The Throbs, introduced me to a guy named Tommy Be. He was an amazing musician who could play any instrument ten minutes after picking it up. He and I formed an all electronic project called On Ten Tu, and soon had a manager named Willobee. We recorded a couple of things, with Tommy playing all of the instruments and me providing all of the voices. We released a single and put together a live band to perform the stuff. We sold out a Wednesday night at the Ritz, and opened for Faith No More at the Gun Club. One of our songs got remixed by the guy from Psychic TV, and Al Jourgensen of Ministry was thinking about signing us to his label Wax Trax 

I lost interest in electronic music, however, and some personal issues came between me and Tommy. 




 


I soon quit my job at the magazine and threw myself back into harder, guitar-based music. I started hanging out and tending bar at the Scrap Bar in the Village, reconnecting with old friends and making a lot of new ones. Around this time, I ran into Stiv Bators and Cheetah Chrome, who I hadn’t seen in almost ten years. I also finally got to jam with Johnny Thunders at a loft party one night, something I’d wanted to do for a long time. We did a very Yardbirds-esque “Train Kept a Rollin” with Lars Ulrich on drums and (I think) J.D. Malo on bass! Fucking smashed out of my head, it was great. 
At one point, I was approached by Anthony and Pete Pagan from The Throbs. When I didn’t act quickly enough and jump on the offer, they drove up to Canada, got Ronnie Sweetheart and signed to Geffen Records. I became determined to get out of the Scrap Bar and start a new band. Ronnie and I became friends, even though I once bounced a beer pitcher off of his head for calling me “Billy G. Bartender!” I gave up an offer to buy 25% of the Scrap Bar and went to London and formed the Kill City Dragons instead.


So at one point you met Stiv Bators. How ?
In ’79, Vixen had become quite popular rather quickly, despite the fact that we were only playing cover material. It was all about our style onstage. We were getting a lot of work from a guy named Mitch who booked bands into a punk rock club in Flatbush, Brooklyn called Zappa’s (it was on Avenue Z, get it?). On Halloween night ‘79, we opened for The Dead Boys and The The. Stiv’s microphone had blown out during his sound check, so I agreed to lend him a new mic worth $250 that I’d bought for myself as a birthday present a month earlier. He got really fucked up before the show, and proceeded to beat my mic to pieces onstage during his set. After the show, when I flipped out and started screaming at him in the dressing room, Cheetah beat the shit out of me. I thought the guy from The The was going to faint! That night, I hung out and got fucked up with Stiv, Cheetah and Knox from The Vibrators
Over the years, I seemed to cross paths with Stiv and Cheetah a lot, even getting into an argument with them at a bar on St. Mark’s Place in the Village called the Holiday. Cheetah and I were always talking about starting a band together, it just never seemed to happen. That’s why, when Steve (Von Saint)  and Dave (Tregunna) called me from London in ’89 to say that Stiv and Brian James had broken up The Lords onstage at the Marquee, I just flew to London and jammed with them. It just felt right to follow Stiv, I guess. We even talked about the possibility of Nasty Suicide joining the KCDs in the beginning, though he did appear onstage at the KCDs first live gig at Loose Lips. Nasty and I became very good friends for a couple of years in London. He used to stay with me whenever his wife Simone kicked him out of the house for drinking. 



Steve von Saint was also in the entourage of Stiv Bators. Did you meet him then ?
 
No. I had been acquainted with Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley from KISS since the ‘70s, from the scene, just to say hello, and I’d gotten drunk with Ace a couple of times at a club in Yonkers called the Rising Sun. KISS had a road manager named Romeo, and I think he introduced me to a drummer named Augie Raia. Augie was in a band called Limousine, and he was an exceptionally good drummer. Understand, we all knew one another from backstage, VIP rooms, after-parties and after-hours clubs.The music scene in New York was incredible, 24 hours a day, and everbody knew everybody. Augie played some shows with Johnny Thunders. I went to see Augie, and I think I saw a band called Angels in Vain open for him at the Limelight. It was either Johnny Thunders or Stiv’s solo thing, the Master Bator, and Steve was in that. I also knew Kelly Nickels of LA Guns in New York City when he was just a kid. I think I saw his band Sweet Pain once too, and I don’t know, wasn’t Steve Von Saint in that band with him? I think it was the producer, Bob Ezrin, who first told me about Sweet Pain and Angels in Vain. I KNOW Bob was the first one to tell me about Hanoi Rocks. He loved them and wanted to produce them: I didn’t like them.



Angels in vain was Steve Von Saint's band actually and Kelly Nickels and Augie Raia ended playing in the band at some point. Why do you think Steve wanted you to join Kill City Dragons?
I talked with Dave and Steve, and we discovered that we had a lot in common. We jammed together. It was immediately apparent that we were very, very good. Along with Danny, we had excellent chemistry together.


You were often compared to Hanoi Rocks but like you said earlier you've never been a fan of this band. What were your main musical influences ?
The band was a combination of many things. We all shared a love of basic, blues-derived hard rock, like early Stones. Our live show included “Get Off My Cloud” because Mick Jagger was always an influence on my singing. So was Alice Cooper. The “Be My Lover/Sweet Jane” medley was something I had done on my own back in New York in the 70s, and we resurrected it with the KCDs because it worked. Our attitude was pure punk, over-the-top glampunk. We have been called hair metal, but I see us as more of a revival of early 70s glitter rock, protopunk, more Stooges meets T.Rex and Alice Cooper than Hanoi Rocks and Poison.
 

KCD headlined the Marquee after only 7 gigs. How do you explained this?
Because we were, in our own way, amazing

 

How would you described the band onstage?
Energetic, unpredictable, rude, over the top, tongue-in-cheek, arch, ironic, inebriated, sly, self indulgent and hilarious.



 You also made a demo pretty fast, right? How many and which songs were taped ?
 Just Devil Calling. We did it “live” in the studio in a single afternoon.



 Can you tell more about the KCD Newsletter? Who handled your fan club ?
 A girl named Maria Davies poured her heart and soul into running the KCDs fan club. If not for her tireless work, along with our friend, artist and videographer, Mark Campbell to help her document everything, create and market our merchandise, promote us to the public, the musical community and the press, we would never have caught on so fast or gone as far as we did.




English press was pretty supportive. I'm quite sure the French never talked about the band. What about the rest of the world, any feedback ?
The English press was, overall, extremely supportive, with few exceptions. I mean, we appeared on BBC America and made the cover of Sounds and NME without a recording or publishing deal. The Japanese press absolutely adored us, printing reviews of our live shows in England, I was told. Strange, don’t you think?



Newsletters, T-shirts, posters, press features, apparently the band knew how to manage things. Since everything was going so well guess it was natural to release an EP by yourself. How was it from the inside ?
Like I said, KCDs owed our success to a couple of very dedicated people who worked incessantly for us, real friends, true fans of what it was that we were doing. For them, it was a labor of love. I never appreciated that at the time. Now, I am humbled by it. By the two of them, and by the fans who so readily embraced us.

 


Why did you released an extended version of the EP rather than another live EP like Guns N Roses or Bang Tango did a couple of years before ?
I was in the Shooting gallery by then, I had nothing to do with it.


Which were your favorite songs ?
Devil Calling was always my favorite, especially live. I haven’t owned a copy of the EP in twenty years and I don’t really remember what is on it. At the time, I liked singing Inspiration. I loved Black Death – give me a drug that ain’t trying to tease me! Be My Lover was my cue to really scream my fucking brains out, something I have always loved to do.


 
What about record labels. Any offers from them since you were the hot new band ?

All of the major and minor labels and publishers were watching carefully, but not one of them made an offer. Business people found us somewhat worrisome. We were hard-core drug addicts, seriously fucked up and more than a little dangerous.





Things went fast for the band, even the split of the first line-up with Dave and you leaving in 1991. Was it because Andy Mc Coy came with a full bag of promises or also because cracks started to appear between the band members and the honeymoon was over ?
I announced my intention to leave the KCDs on my birthday in September, and then left the band after the show at the Borderline in October of ’90. I was dissatisfied with the way that the songwriting was going with Steve, and I always felt that Danny saw playing with me as a let-down after playing with Stiv Bators. The Lords were Danny’s favorite band, so I can look back now and understand. At the time, I took it very personally. I was very immature about it. I was already insecure about the constant comparisons to Stiv Bators, and I bristled at the merest mention of Michael Monroe. Anyway, I had been offered one or two signed projects, on Atlantic and Atco/America, but I hadn’t made up my mind at all. Dave got in touch and said Andy was back in town and wanted to talk. Initially, I said I wasn’t interested. But Andy and Dave persisted, so I went to meet them. Andy had some good demos, he liked my ideas, and he made me many promises. Uzi Suicide/Geffen had just bought the rights to the Hanoi Rocks catalog, so Andy had lots of money just then. Also, Polygram had signed a band called Mother Love Bone and sent us a promo copy of their CD Stardog Champion which, at the time, I liked very much. Polygram wanted to sign us to Mercury Records immediately. They said that we’d bang out the album, and then the two bands could do a co-headline tour of the U.S. together. It all sounded great. We formed the Shooting Gallery over the phone with the company in Los Angeles from a hotel in the West End of London. Then, before we could fly to America, the singer of Mother Love Bone, Andy Wood, died of a heroin overdose and they broke up. Six months later they found a another singer, signed to CBS Records and called themselves Pearl Jam. Dave flew to Germany to marry his girlfriend before coming to the U.S., and Andy and I got on a plane and flew to Los Angeles. Holy shit.



But Andy already tried to get you  the year before, right ?
No. I believe Andy came to see the KCDs at the Hippodrome the first time because there was such a serious press and industry buzz surrounding the band, starting with our first gig at Loose Lips in Soho in September ‘89. Nasty got up and played with us on Devil Callin’. People had flown in from New York, Helsinki and Tokyo just to see and hear us play our first show. Isn’t that incredible? It was quite unexpected at the time (though Steve Von Saint was also a very able publicist, always promoting the band). I find it all very humbling now. Soon, we were headlining the Marquee and the Hippodrome after being together for just a couple of months. Thanks to Axl Rose, Andy had sold the publishing rights to the Hanoi Rocks catalog to Uzi Suicide/Geffen for quite a lot of money, and he and Angela were flying around the world doing I-have-no-idea-what. Spending lots of money, I suppose. They showed up at the Hippodrome, but Andy started giving me all kinds of attitude, in my own dressing room. I then reminded Angela that they were at my show, not his, and she started barking at me about Andy being such a big star, so I asked to have the two of them escorted from the theater. Dave was freaked, he said nobody did stuff like that to Andy. Andy and Angela really were behaving rather badly. He and I never discussed anything till a year later, after I’d already quit the Kill City Dragons



It was a bold move to go with Andy since you didn't like Hanoi Rocks and, with his reputation of being, let's say, "difficult". Would you have done it if Dave wasn't part of the deal?
At the time, I’d left the KCDs, and I was already thinking about doing something different. When Dave contacted me, my first reaction was to say no, emphatically, no fucking way. But Dave kept after me, and he swore that Andy would treat me respectfully, and that I should listen to what he had to say. Mind you, Stiv Bators had warned me never to trust Andy, and I had seen for myself the emotional scars that Nasty bore as a result of his association with Andy. But remember – I was older than Andy, I had been playing in bands longer than he had, and whether he knew it or not, I could handle myself. So, I decided, why not talk with him? And yes, having Dave at my side, I always felt like we could take on anyone, even the likes of Andy McCoy. If not for Dave, Shooting Gallery would never have happened.



Was Paul Garisto involved from the start as well? 
Andy, Dave and I talked about Paul from the beginning, but Paul was playing with Mike Monroe or Iggy Pop, so we went with the drummer who played with Andy briefly in L.A. named Jamie Scrap Phillips. He was a brilliant drummer, and still a good friend. I lived with him briefly in the early days of the band, and we became quite close. Jamie was close to my late wife, Irene, who died in 2009 from an  infection caused by shooting heroin with me for 19 years, right after I finally got clean. Jamie and I just reconnected recently, he runs the Viper Room in Hollywood these days. Unfortunately, back then he lacked the stamina and sheer physical strength necessary to do the songs justice in a live setting, and Mercury insisted that we replace him. He got a raw deal financially as we all did by the time Shooting Gallery was over. Paul stepped in and became our drummer in early ’91.



When you arrived in L.A., did you start working on the songs?
Okay. As soon as we arrived in L.A., the A&R guys from Polygram (Mercury Records’ parent corporation) gave us three days to rehearse and then showcase our material – three days. Back in London, when I told Maria, the head of the KCDs fan club, that I was planning to fly to L.A. and play with Andy McCoy, she kicked me and broke two of my ribs. This meant that I had to sing with a pressure bandage around my chest. I was so high on pills at the time, I didn’t really care. We secured an old icehouse in the San Fernando Valley to rehearse in, and practiced 6 or 7 of Andy’s songs, as well as an old Thin Lizzy song that I had always wanted to cover called Genocide (The Killing of the Buffalo). The band was shit-hot, we sounded great. The corporate guys were not impressed. They had assumed that I was some English kid, but soon found out who I really was. I had a reputation in the business, and not a good one. I was rather well-known in New York for being “difficult” as well. Mercury then tried to get rid of me, and replace me with some fucking guy from Toronto or Montreal. The band stood behind me, however, and the label backed down. This really scared the shit out of me. I admit it. For the first time in my entire career, someone had said that I wasn’t good enough. I had always been a fucked-up drug addict, but I was also the guy that everyone always said would be a big star whenever I finally got my shit together. I had always left bands to move on to bigger and better things. No one had ever said that I wasn’t good enough. This was my excuse for shooting heroin for the first time – I lost my nerve. I admit it. It made me feel so numb, that I didn’t give a shit what anybody thought of me.



You demoed a lot of songs, and you personally were so satisfied that you wanted to release them as the album. What happened?
The label said they didn’t hear a single. They always say that. Also, they were intimidated by the band members’ reputations as drug addicts and troublemakers, individually and now together. They insisted that we demo all of our material first, and then use the demos to attract a powerful manager and agent. Then they would have someone to deal with, someone other than the band members. They were businessmen who were accustomed to musicians who were a bit more conventional behind their public image. We were not. Not at all. We were exactly what we appeared to be. The slogan Mercury used in all of the advance promotion for the band was taken from something I said in an interview early on – “If you scraped away all of the dirt, you’d have nothing left” or something like that. I almost choked the first time I saw my words across the top of a two-page advertisement in the centerfold of Circus magazine. Anyway, our faithful friend and road manager George Nix secured the services of an aspiring producer/engineer named Ron Day, Mercury signed the check, and we set up an old analog mobile 8-track recording unit in the icehouse and went to work. We created isolated sound fields for each musician, playing the songs live, recording whole takes. It was fucking hot, raw, powerful, we could feel and hear one another, spurring one another on, inspiring one another, as really great musicians do. The isolation of each musician allowed for multitrack control, while we were all fed individual live mixes in our headphones. Also, there was significant “bleed-through” from one field to another, just enough to create a real live ambience in the studio. You could even pick up the music blasting in my headphones on my mic and on my vocal track. It was amazing, like fucking Exiles on Main Street-sounding. We recorded the instrumental versions of the songs, keeping the best entire take of each one, punching in guitar solos and backing vocals. Then I laid down an entire live vocal take over each track – no punches. Ron and I then spent 2 days mixing it all. The results were spectacular – raw-edged, half-baked, compressed and squeezed and expanded and explosive, like nothing I’d ever done before. I wasn’t crazy about all of the material, it was a bit “Guns ‘n Poses: Hanoi Rocks Harder” for my tastes. But there were some things we did that were incredible. Menaced by Nightingales was gorgeous, like something from Zep’s Physical Graffiti but with bigger balls. Genocide (Killing of the Buffalo) should have been released as a single right then, a full six months before Smells Like Teen Spirit. It would’ve been the swan song of old school rock as it ushered in the alternative era, with a cocked eyebrow and a punk rock snarl under its breath. Unfortunately, Mercury Records did not agree. I alienated the entire label when I stood up at the meeting about this and asked them “Why don’t you leave the music to the musicians and just do your fucking jobs?” Not very diplomatic. Shooting my mouth off, like a junkie know-it-all. This was the end of my working relationship with Mercury Records.



What were Mercury Records plans for the band?

Initially, they wanted another Hanoi Rocks. Then, they wanted the next Guns n Roses. Next, they wanted to get rid of me. Soon, they realized that they had no fucking idea who we were musically or what to do with us. Finally, they just wanted to try to get back as much of the money they had invested in us before illegally breaching our contract and dumping us out on the street.



You ended up recording a first version of I Mess Around with Ric Browde for the soundtrack of the movie Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man.
That was a disaster. The label had already kept us sitting around on a salary for a year as we all slowly went stale and miserable. I kept busy by shooting heroin as we rehearsed the same tired list of songs over and over until I really hated all of it. When the label insisted that the movie people wanted I Mess Around for the soundtrack, I couldn’t believe it. It’s an awful song. Never mind asking Andy’s fans, ask a music critic. It sounds exactly like what every other band from that that era was doing – trying to sound like Guns ‘n Roses. Ric Browde spent $22,000 of Mercury’s money recording that song and the band members never got paid at all. And after all that time and effort and money, it sounds like it was recorded in a phone booth.




It was the end of 1991, and still no album made. Ric Browde was the man chosen by the record company to produce it. What were the band members feelings about it?
I can only speak for myself. Ric Browde had been around the New York music community long enough to remember me from my very first serious punk rock band, a band almost no one remembers anymore (now that Stiv Bators and Johnny Thunders are gone.) He also knew of my reputation as a drug addict and a real problem professionally. I did not care for Ric’s production on the Faster Pussycat album, either, it sounds like it was mastered in a garbage can. When we met, I was dating my wife Irene Soto, a beautiful young model and actress who Ric had had a crush on after meeting her backstage hanging out with The Black Crowes. When he realized she was with me, he couldn’t swallow it. He and I never got along after that. Irene told me that he ran me down to her at every opportunity, telling her she needed to get clean off heroin and get away from me as fast as she could. Meanwhile, I learned that the reason he had been chosen to produce us was because his wife Holly Browde was Chief Financial Officer for Mercury Records, and she had gotten him the job. This is a fact, a matter of public record. If it were not true, he could sue me for saying it. You can look it up. This was a clear-cut conflict of interest, certainly unethical, if not somewhat illegal as well.



In the end, the record didn't sound and reflect what you wanted it to in the first place. Don't Never Leave Me and House of Ecstasy were Mercury's choices, but why did you re-record Devil Calling, then cover a Van Morrison song like Brown Eyed Girl?
I’m tired of talking about Devil Calling. I never wanted to cover the Cherry Bombz song or the Hanoi song. I take a lot of criticism for my version of Don’t Never Leave Me but I tell you the truth – I FUCKING HATE THAT SONG. And when I sing it, that’s what you’re hearing. Me, hating that fucking song, and the fact that I was forced to sing it by the label. I was childish, and irresponsible and too scared to tell them I wouldn’t do it. So I tried to sing it, and it sounded horrible, like I’m being tortured, or burnt alive. I spent more time in the bathroom shooting heroin between takes than I did singing in the booth. I was so high after trying to sing that song for two days non-stop, I overdosed in the car on the way home. (I’ve never told that to anyone before.) We did Brown-Eyed Girl because the label still didn’t hear a strong single. I wanted to sing it half in English and half in Spanish for Irene, but they wouldn’t go for it (she had beautiful, big brown eyes, “ojos cafeses” in Spanish.) The best part of that song is Nicky Hopkins of The Rolling Stones’ piano work and Mars Williams of Psychedelic Furssax playing. I would’ve preferred it if they’d left more of Mars’ crazier takes in the final mix, as he’s a jazz player. Also, they used the most upbeat vocal takes, my least favorites, it comes off rather candy-ass. On the KISS tour in Chicago with Mars onstage, we sounded like the Stones gone totally punk/jazz insane – it was unbelievably good, about 10 or 12 minutes long!

 
Nonetheless, did you like some of the "new" songs which made it on the LP?
Nature of my Business. Fucking love that song, Freeway Killer, Andy and I were calling it at first. We opened with that on the tour, and it killed every night. Scary good.



After the recording of the album, Jo Almeida from The Dogs D'amour joined SG. Why and how did it happen?
Not really common knowledge, but Dave had lent the Dogs a hand playing bass on some tracks for them in the early days before they got Steve. Dave and Tyla were always good friends as well. See, unlike other places, the English rock world back then was like a community, friendly, mutually supportive rather than the raw competitive bullshit one encountered most everyplace else. It’s one of the reasons I really loved England, they welcomed me and accepted me, both my fellow musicians as well as the fans. I lost sight of this, I became too wrapped up in myself to appreciate that many people in England had come to care about me, and to love me, in a very short space of time. I was immature, and ungrateful, and I through it all away very carelessly. Amazingly, most have forgiven me over the years, and would welcome me back with open arms even now. Shit, I feel like crying as I say this.
Anyway, the Dragons and the Dogs were all part of a circle of friends which revolved mostly around Dave, as he was the most well-known and respected member of the band. Nasty Suicide was one of our very closest friends, along with Cobalt Stargazer from Zodiac Mindwarp. Gunfire Dance were brilliant guys, we played together @ Marquee several times. Jo Almeida was someone I’d come to know, mostly because Bam, The Dogs D’Amour’s drummer, and I had gotten very close in England. When SG needed another guitarist for the tour, Jo was the logical choice, and he was in L.A. already.



Restless was the first single released as a promo 7-inch and then a video was shot for House of Ecstasy. What was your spirit at this point?
Restless was a cool song when we performed it live, but the production of the album, and my voice in particular, is awful. That’s all I will say about that, as blame is for small children. I was high as fuck and not exactly on my best behavior, so the tracks certainly do not reflect the sound of the band at all. Period. The video was one giant, expensive cluster fuck. It looks like someone spent about $10 making it – it cost around $17,000. Again, I will not point any fingers. I was high as fuck, and I allowed certain things to go on which I could have done something about, but I didn’t. I’m sorry, but I can’t say anything further about it.


video



How did you end up opening for KISS during their US tour and how was it?
Strange thing. I had been acquainted with several members of KISS since N.Y. in the ‘70s. I used to get high with Ace Frehley at a night club in Westchester County in New York called the Rising Sun. I had seen KISS play at a club called Boogie Hotel in Sunnyside, Queens near where I grew up when I was still in high school. I met Paul Stanley there. In the 80s, a close friend of mine named Ro London was their #1 “band-aid.” Ro was like my little sister, she wrote a tell-all book about the band, I believe. I had met their tour manager Romeo hundreds of times. I was managed by KISS’ old manager Bill Aucoin for a short time, and I even met Eric Carr on a number of occasions before he was in the band. Mercury thought it would be interesting to put us together. KISS had nothing but good things to say about us live, but we had serious problems when we reached New York City. KISS and SG were playing at the Ritz, a mid-size venue, about three thousand people, a sold-out show naturally. Any opening act was going to have a tough time with a crowd of die-hard KISS fans in their hometown, but New York was MY hometown too, and I knew how to handle them. We took the stage and Andy started to play the opening chords of Nature of My Business, and the crowd started booing him. He got really rattled, and started spitting and swearing. Finally, he just stopped playing, and the crowd, smelling blood, got louder and more obnoxious. I stopped the music, and called for a spotlight. They were all chanting, “KISS! KISS! KISS!” and “YOU SUCK! YOU SUCK!” So I shouted at them to “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” And when they got quiet, I asked them, “Are you here to see KISS tonight?” in my obviously New York accent, and they all screamed, “YEAH!” and I told them, “Gene and Paul asked us to come down here and play for you guys tonight. They INVITED us here tonight. So I guess you don’t think they have any taste in music then. I then yelled for the house lights to be turned up, and they came on. Then I said to the band, “Fuck these people, they don’t deserve to hear us play. You don’t want hear us play, do you?” And they all screamed “YEAH!” and I screamed back at them, “I CAN’T FUCKING HEAR YOU!” and they screamed ten times louder, “YEAH!” so I called for the lights to come down, looked at Andy, he started Nature of My Business and the crowd went nuts. We got called for three encores, and eventually KISS made us leave the stage, turning up the house lights amidst some booing because they had made us stop! I was ecstatic. We were a fucking hit, in New York City, in my hometown. Backstage, after the show, the executives from Mercury and the parent corporation Polygram were all upset because they said that I was “entirely too hostile with the audience.” Me, being an immature loudmouth, said to them, “If you guys knew ANYTHING about how to handle a crowd like that, you could have my job and become a rock star instead of just being some fucking loser in a suit.” At the end of the tour, we were as good as dropped.




Eventually, the band parted ways with Andy McCoy. What really happened ?
The truth is, Andy had grown more and more distant from the band on the tour, and the tour didn’t end well. KISS felt we were competing with them too much. The fact was, we were fucking great live, though you’d never know it from listening to that god-awful album. They refused to take us to Europe with them. I was considered too unpredictable because of my drug habit, and especially after the N.Y. show where I scared all of the business people with my rather strong "personnality". Andy started becoming extremely abusive with our management company representative, calling him at all hours of the day and night, using racist language, insulting him, questioning his integrity. Our managers quit. The other members of SG had a meeting, and we fired Andy. We all agreed that Jo Almeida was the best thing that had happened to the Shooting Gallery, and we had become a different and more musically interesting band on tour with him on guitar. I wanted to do an album with him immediately. The label, using Andy’s departure as an excuse, dropped us in violation of all of our contractual guarantees. A very expensive Hollywood entertainment lawyer told me afterward that they owed me $980,000 on paper, but that I would never see a penny of it. So I just gave up. And as far as other versions of the story which everyone has heard, particularly Andy’s version, I want you to promise me that you will ask him one simple question: If Billy G Bang was the real reason for the failure and breakup of the Shooting Gallery, then why did the rest of the band stay with him instead of going with you?


to be continued...


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