|Phil Lewis - LA Guns - Interview Exclusive|
|Written by Johnny H|
|Friday, 02 September 2011 05:00|
Just how do you start an introduction for an interview with a legend of the rock scene such as Phil Lewis? Well how about with the impact he has had on my own life for starters? Phil was the lead singer in one of the most influential bands of my teenage years. Girl, a band that crossed glam rock style with punk rock attitude and with his ice cool image and unique banshee vocal style he soon had his picture in all of the nation's tabloids, largely I guess due to his girlfriend at the time being Britt Ekland. All this got my teenage brain thinking that maybe one day I should start my own band. I mean who knows? Perhaps Britt might be on the rebound sometime soon eh? It also helps that Girl also made some fantastic music to stand testament to my fawning praise some thirty odd years on, but the mark that band left on my life was an indelible one, and as such I became what you might call a bit of a "Phil Lewis fan".
By 1982 Girl were failing to pieces and via a stint fronting The New Torpedoes it wasn't long before Phil picked up the vocal job in Torme, a band that also featured the one and only Bernie Torme on guitar.
Failing to set the UK alight with Torme in spite of becoming a huge underground cult band, it was in 1985 that Phil, finally found his true spiritual home as lead singer in L.A Guns, and I suppose the rest you pretty much know.
It was a great honour and a privilege to get to speak with Phil and exchange Emails for what became the foundations of this interview, and it was also a great pleasure to witness him front his childhood heroes The Heavy Metal Kids back in May for what will no doubt be one of my gigs of the year come the time to compile my final list.
Anyway enough of my wittering and on with the interview action as ladies and gentleman I give you the one and only Phil Lewis.
Hey Phil firstly many thanks for taking the time to talk with us at Uber Rock when things must be more than a little busy for you preparing to hit the road in the US and then the UK again later in the year with LA Guns. You've just announced a set of dates for you and Steve Riley's LA Guns what's happening with the line up right now?
Phil: Right now I'm driving from Cleveland to Lapeer Michigan. Last night we played an outdoor festival with Jackyl, that went very well they always put on a hell of a fun rock show tonight we're playing with Steelheart.
(I'm inserting a letter here from the promoter to our agent from this specific show just so you can we had a great time)
Well, Steelheart is great. Very respectful and polite. Everyone dressed appropriately for a family festival. Very pleasant to work with.
However, LA Guns is and was HORRIBLE. The Lapeer Days Festival and Chamber of Commerce is extremely unhappy with them. And embarrassed! They brought ladies with them that looked like the belonged in a strip club. The tour manager uses vulgar language and was violent with the sound company's back line. He was throwing stuff around the sound company's truck and kicking equipment. The band was awful. They had to be told three times they could not have beer on stage. It is an outdoor festival in a downtown area. The police regulate the city ordinance not the festival or the chamber. They still took it on stage with three police officers standing behind the stage. After the performance they went down in the hospitality suite. I was on main stage getting things ready for Steelheart. A security guard came to tell me I had to go to the suite because the front man of LA Guns stripped his clothes off. He was not pleasant and very rude. He had to be told by three different people to get dressed. Including by a police officer. There were children down stairs. LA Guns were not happy they were not the headliner. I did not pick the line up that way. So needless to say...if we could get our money back we would ask for a full refund. And we are considering not using ARM next year. You said they were an easy band to work with. I felt like I was watching a bunch of two year olds. It was not good at all.
You can't make this stuff up can you.
Anyway back to the interview................
It's the busiest time of the year for us. It's trying but great fun, I love being out on the road. Next week we're back in LA for the Jani Lane tribute with Great White and Quiet Riot. And then we're off to Korea for the first time, and from there we fly to Norway for a European run that includes France, another country LA Guns have never played in. Viva la France Vive la Anarchy.
And you're playing some really intimate dates on your upcoming UK tour, what's the idea behind that?
(Laughing loudly) 'Intimate', that's a polite term for small. It's been a while since we played outside the US. I'll be honest, Tracii bringing one crap version after another over there hasn't exactly enhanced the band's reputation, but it's just got to the now or never point. It's time to give the fans the real deal. All original songs played amazingly well with the voice that's on the record. I'm glad people are already responding favorably. I just heard our show in Glasgow has already sold out, so I guess people know the difference.
It's been six years now since 'Tales from the Strip' (which I thought was a real return to form for you guys by the way) surely we are due a new LA Guns album from you guys sometime soon?
We have the songs and we have the same dream team that produced 'Waking The Dead', 'Rips The Covers', and 'Tales', Andy Johns and Bruce Whitkin. Right now I'm working on a new solo record that's long overdue. After that I'd love to get back in the studio. Recording 'Tales' was an amazing experience. We did very little pre production, and I wrote most of my parts on the fly, but we knew quite early on we had the makings of a great record
Keeping with LA Guns for a moment you've obviously read my recent live review of Tracii's version and seen his comments about only wanting to work with you guys again if the "money was right" what do you think or have to say about the stance Tracii has taken over the L.A Guns brand and legacy?
Honestly, I want double what he's asking to put up with his crap, and no one out there is offering that kind of dough, so no. We sound great. Stacey's an amazing guitarist, we have great chemistry, and we proved with 'Tales' we don't need Tracii anyway. Tracii's been running his version of the name into the ground and hasn't released a single new song in the six years he's been doing it. It's sad actually. He's a brilliant guitarist he should be doing better.
What I find refreshing from your current line-up's point of view is that your website features all the line ups of the band, and all the history of LA Guns whatever the singer, whilst Tracii however really seems to have a selective memory....
I will forever be grateful for Tracii giving me the gig that changed my life. It's hard to explain how much fun we had together when I joined the band, but he's a fickle dude, and it wasn't long before the honeymoon was over. We were kinda stuck with each other for a while, and we had little in common, most of all music. I admit that on the first record it was a salvage job, and I think I did pretty well, but 'Cocked And Loaded' had some very good songs Tracii and I wrote together. But by 'Hollywood Vampires' I got back into writing complete songs like 'Over The Edge' and 'Crystal Eyes' and bringing them in to the band. During the recording of 'HV' and 'VC', I never saw Tracii in the studio; he just snuck in with his posse and laid his solos on finished songs.
Anyway enough of L.A Guns just for now, you've also been involved with the legendary Heavy Metal Kids recently fronting some shows in Croatia and London (which I was lucky enough to be at). How was that for you?
A dream come true to be honest. I was the world's biggest HMK fan, and after Girl got signed I became friends with Gary Holton, who actually sang lots of backing vocals on 'Sheer Greed'. It was magic befriending my idol. He was such an enigmatic guy; I learned so much from him. We shared lots of things, including a few girlfriends. I was devastated when he died. I lost him and Phil Lynott - both dear friends and peers, and all from the same horrible heroin the Iranians were flooding the streets of London with after their currency was deemed worthless by the revolution they were escaping from. At one point it was cheaper to get high on smack than it was beer.
Anyway I loved the HMK, and when I heard they reformed I was very curious. And as soon as I heard 'Hit The Right Button' I became excited and got in touch via Myspace and half joking/half serious offered my services. I never knew anyone else from the band except Gary, and I never heard back from them for about a year.
Is it true it all came about due to Joe Elliott?
Yes, in a way it's true. Joe and Phil were also huge HMK fans and were at a show in London where Joe got up and sang 'She's No Angel', and after the show he suggested me, and then the penny dropped. They got in touch and offered me the gig. It was a lot of work learning their entire set, but well worth it as soon as we started the very first rehearsal. The guys were golden, and it's truly one of the highlights of my career, singing in the band that I worshiped when I was a teenager. I hope we can do more shows in the future. I was so heavily influenced by Gary, it was an amazing compliment when Ronnie Thomas referred to me as "the sorcerer's apprentice", really gave me chills. I love hearing all the funny Gary stories from the guys. I miss Gary, but I feel him living on through me whenever I play his music. It's hard to explain.
There are some great pictures I've seen of you and Gary Holton on Facebook.
Gary Holton and Alex Harvey, who also sang some backing vocals on 'Sheer Greed', were my two biggest heroes. They were such larger than life characters; I was spellbound when ever I was around them. I think they both were a huge influence on my fledgling rock and roll persona.
I also have to say you fitted the position of Artful Dodger perfectly Phil can we expect to see anymore shows with you at the helm?
I really hope so.
And of course you brought your own touch to the line up by adding a cracking cover of The Angels 'Marseilles' to the set list for those shows, a song which you last did with LA Guns on the 'Rip The Covers Off' album.
Yes thanks, but to be honest the band had no idea what a fan I was of theirs, and I hope pleasantly surprised that I knew their songs so well and didn't really need to do any covers in the set.
So who else influenced you to do what you do? I mean Girl were really like no one else in the UK at that time (OK maybe Japan were kinda similar) and Torme etc were all bands well ahead of their time, I guess
Bingo!!! Japan were Girl's biggest influence without a doubt, I loved their first two records, and me and the band would attend any local shows they played like a religious event. It's funny now, but back then I thought they were going to be the next Beatles. I was sickened to watch them get appalling abuse from the Blue Oyster Cult crowd when they opened for them at Hammersmith Odeon, but to their credit they completed their set in spite of being covered in spit and beer. Little did I know, I was in for the same kind of treatment quite soon after.
Long story short but Girl were once due to play my hometown back in the early Eighties with Def Leppard, but the show got pulled due to the local Council receiving complaints about people enjoying themselves too much at a previous month's show by Saxon (laughing).... How much has the live music scene changed in the time since the days of those early shows?
Really? Strange story. It's way different now that we've become mainstream, not too many pissy nightclubs and roadhouses, more casinos even cruise ships, and our fans have grown with us and have higher standards and have much more money now.
What was it about the UK that finally made you relocate to the US back in the mid Eighties?
It was very frustrating not being taken seriously by the UK music industry. We (Torme) were selling out every show we played, with lines around the block and die-hard fans loyal to the band. We were getting stellar press, and still no label had the guts to invest in a rock band. After a while it became obvious if we didn't release something we would lose the momentum. Which we did, and things got bad between us due to frustration. I proved them wrong when I joined L.A Guns and our record went gold very soon after its release in the States and did very well in the UK. I think if Torme had been signed, I might not have left England.
The evolution of L.A Guns is a pretty well documented these days (with the Internet and everything) but what can you tell us about your time in the band that no one else knows (not yet of course)?
With the exception on one member who shall remain nameless, I've remained very good friends with everybody that's ever been in the band, even if they were only in for a very short time. Chris Holmes, Kerri Kelly, Brent Muscat all life long friends and fellow rock soldiers.
Okay lets move on to another facet of your long and illustrious career for a minute, please tell us what was the idea behind you taking up the role of Doctor Gorgon in the movie 'Witchmaster General'? (The premise of an evil witchdoctor who you can hire for a murder on demand certainly sounds interesting....)
Jim Haggerty, the writer and director of the film, has been a fan since I snuck him and his mates backstage when they were teenagers when we were on tour with AC/DC. I guess the actor he had for the part didn't work out, and he offered me the role. I didn't know at the time it was for the starring role, I thought it was just a tiny cameo part. I freaked out when I received the script. It was a challenge. I like challenges.
Can we expect any other venture into the field of acting Mr Lewis?
I thought I did a pretty good Gary Holton. Yes?
If we were to do the random five tracks on Phil Lewis' I Pod/I Phone MP3 player right now what would come up?
Lots of classical music. I love Beethoven. The seventh symphony is my favorite piece of music, I get chills whenever I hear it. Lots of HMK. I absolutely love 'Hit The Right Button', and in my honest opinion 'Whiskey' is a masterpiece. I like sexy dreamy music like Mazzy Star. My favorite new band is VOJ. Jesse Forte is the best new singer in L.A, they're a very exciting band to watch now that he's fronting them. And I'm a huge Robert Johnson fan, I can't get enough of that raw early blues stuff, and when I fancy a laugh I listen to The White Stripes.
And just to finish things off as I do with most interviews I do these days are there any messages you would like to share with your fans worldwide right now?
Thanks for the support. I admit I was a crap singer when I started, with no idea how to write a decent song, but fan support really helped maintain my enthusiasm and kept me going and eventually made something out of me. I couldn't have done it without the support of fans. The press and industry hated Girl, but we had the most loyal fans a young band could ever ask for.
And with that we'd like to thank you for taking the time to speak with us at Uber Rock, we'll hopefully catch up with you on the UK tour so until then we wish you all the best Phil.
It's all good. Thanks guys
And it's not just the U.K either Phil and his version of L.A Guns (what many might refer to as the definitive version) will be touring Europe pretty much solidly throughout September and October, and you can check out all the dates and band news via their website. See you down the front punks!