GARY JEFFRIES (ALLIGATOR STEW) INTERVIEW:
April 14, 2004
Gary Jeffries, the gritty and bluesy vocalist for bands such as Asphalt Ballet, The Regulators and currently Alligator Stew, moved from Louisiana to the bright lights of L.A.’s Sunset Strip during the hard rock revolution. He talked to Sleaze Roxx about the old days and what the future holds in store for him.
SR: Your current band Alligator Stew is a departure from your Asphalt Ballet days; do you think it will appeal to 80s rock fans?
GJ: I think Alligator Stew could appeal to some of the 80’s rock fans. As far as a percentage of those fans I would say 30-40%. Alligator Stew has a kinda edgy sound, even tho it has a southern rock side to it. It rocks, great lyrics and really good musical arrangements from some really incredibly good musicians. It has great guitar leads, which was part of 80’s music. We still have long hair and attitude. The way I sing is similar to the Asphalt Ballet days, its just Asphalt Ballet was different musically. I’ve always sung a bluesy, ballsy southern rock style. I wore a beat-up cowboy hat then and I wear a beat-up cowboy hat now. So I would say Alligator Stew could appeal to some of the 80’s rock fans if given the chance.
SR: How did you hook up with Asphalt Ballet?
GJ: I was in a rehearsal studio in Van Nuys, California. I think it was called Aundey’s Sound. I was tryin’ out for a group called Masi. I think it was a guitar player called Alex Masi, he was on RCA records. It was a guitar band, didn’t really need a vocalist. Anyway I was in the rehearsal studio and in the next room was this badass soundin’ group. I peeked in. They were called Mistreated. They were tryin’ out vocalists also. I remember the singer that day was kinda a high-pitched opera soundin’ vocalist. Not bad, but well lets leave it at that.
When I was going out, the owner Aundey said they were huntin’ for a vocalist, and thought they would love me. I left my number and they called. I went to Mikki, Jay and Terry’s apartment. Of course wearin’ a beat-up cowboy hat and a full moustache, lamb chops and goatee I don’t think I fit the look they wanted. They were image influenced, which was part of the scene. I gave them a tape, partied a little and then left. Our heads were the same if my voice fit.
I remember going to the audition pretty prepared and about one minute into the first song they were lookin’ at each other grinning and I guess they loved my vocal style and ask me what I thought. Well they fuckin’ rock big time. They ask if I’d shave and drop the hat, of course I did. But the hat later became a trademark.
SR: Why did you decide to leave Asphalt Ballet during the tour for your debut album?
GJ: I’ve been asked that a lot and ask myself sometimes, I have to remind myself. Asphalt Ballet had been out touring most of the year and most of the cities we played you couldn’t find a copy of our CD. I remember doing an in-store signing and acoustic gig and there wasn’t a copy of the CD in the store! The Virgin people didn’t bring them any copies. Our record was nowhere. When you play a city and rock the place fans go out and buy your CD, unless it ain’t in stores. Well it wasn’t in stores!
Well that started bothering me. The band was fucking incredible live, maybe better live than on CD. We were all friends. When we were goin’ on our last tour our label didn’t want to send us out, sales weren’t high enough. So basically our manager financed the tour. We were goin’ out with a group called Shotgun Messiah and we were goin’ back to some of the same places we had headlined a couple months earlier. Only this time opening for a group that gave us half the power on P.A., half the lights and not enough stage to even move. Now don’t get me wrong, if it was a big headlining act I had no problem, someone with a draw. Shotgun had none of that and our record was being played way more than Shotgun Messiah’s. I felt Asphalt Ballet looked like it was losing ground. Come on, Shotgun Messiah? We would have been better goin’ out by ourselves.
I tried to hang in there tho. We were basically getting $160 a week per diem money and that was it. I think the final straw was that I could see the band wanted to get a little more grunge soundin’ cause grunge was in, the 80’s rock stars were out. I felt the band was losing the edge and attitude and was sucking up to the label to keep the record deal. But I remember asking for 500 dollars cause I was broke and needed money for a doctor cause my wife was eight months pregnant. I had been livin’ thinkin’ I would make some kinda money soon, but no! The band was thousands in debt so no one could give me a dime. I hopped a ride from my tour bus in Chicago and went back to Louisiana. I was working three days later in a hair salon called Regis. I felt a responsibility for my wife and new child that was on the way. It was really a hard thing to do. I love music and Asphalt Ballet, but I didn’t feel I could play rock star and not take on the responsibility to make income to take care of the bills. It was obvious Virgin was not into Asphalt Ballet anymore and to see what a shitty job they did for us when they were into us, could you only imagine what they would do if they didn’t believe? Asphalt Ballet’s manager convinced Virgin to put in enough for a new CD with a singer that was like Axl Rose (HA!). They did the CD and were dropped before a tour. The band thought a different singer would help them, they thought a blues singer was past tense. I think they thought I did them a favor. I do feel I was burnt out, tired from touring, I had a lot on my mind. We played seven nights a week for three months and would take a few weeks off and do the same thing again. So maybe if I would have been mentally better and had some source of money I wouldn’t have left. The way I did , I did it in an unprofessional way that wasn’t fair to my band members and manager. But fuck Virgin records!
Sorry for the long answer. It’s obvious it’s a tuff question that I want to answer to the fullest. I do feel guilty and will always wonder if it was a right decision. I guess I’ll never know. But I can’t change it now, but only go on. I don’t know what the other band members have done musically except for a CD with a group called 13A, which I don’t know if they still exist. I can say I’ve done two Alligator Stew CDs, two Regulators CDs, one Coup Deville CD and one Grouchy Rooster CD since my departure. I’m gearing up for a new CD this summer.
SR: What are some of your best Asphalt Ballet memories?
GJ: There were lots of great memories. Meeting the group for the first time. The first time we all saw our new tour bus and driving off in it. Everyone fantasizes about a tour bus! Doing “Star Search”. Playing the Roxy and headlining the first time to see a line down Sunset Blvd. at 4:30 in the afternoon to get Asphalt Ballet tickets for the Roxy. That line was long, we sold the show out. Wow!!! The Roxy! Signing autographs in different states, people singing your songs. I almost wrecked the first time I heard “Soul Survive” on the radio. Doing the video shoots for MTV. Going to Scottsdale, Arizona before we were signed. There are too many great memories, they were like yesterday. Memories of a lot of TRUE fans, the people you meet on the road. What a time!
SR: What did you think of Asphalt Ballet’s second release with the new singer?
GJ: A lot of the songs on the second CD we had worked on during the tour bus rides to and from concerts in the U.S. I had sung on a lot of them. I think Tommy was a good singer. The guys wanted him to be another Axl Rose, they changed his real shtick, molded him into what they thought would sell! He would do anything they wanted.
I saw him one night in L.A. singing. He couldn’t sing the stuff off the first CD. I gotta say he pretty much sucked on “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Soul Survive”. He had no soul or blues. People were shocked to see me there, I almost jumped on stage. I could see they were embarrassed of him. Maybe I was just jealous. I liked some of the songs on that CD. I just recorded “Nothing To Do With Anything” about three days ago. Great song.
SR: What is the story behind Riki Rachtman refusing you to play in the Cathouse?
GJ: Riki didn’t like Blackboard Jungle and Danny always wore that t-shirt at gigs and on our video “Soul Survive”. So Riki had it against us, lots of politics in rock-n-roll. Riki thought he was a big star, he had an ego at that time. It bothered him that we won MTV’s Ballbuster seven times and went on MTV’s Wall Of Fame. We beat the Cult, Tesla, C.O.C., Infectious Grooves and I forget who else. In that video the Blackboard Jungle t-shirt was clearly seen.
SR: You sang for an act called Coup De Ville, what did they sound like and was there any material released?
GJ: Yes, I sang for a group from Louisiana called Coup Deville. They were pretty much a top-notch top 40 bar band that was very tight and had been together probably ten years plus. After I left Asphalt Ballet I came home and probably two months later joined this band! I started playing a lot of four hour a night bar gigs doing cover tunes from such artists as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger, the Stones, Ted Nugent and CCR just to name a few. We even covered some Asphalt Ballet. The guitarist could burn up Stevie Ray Vaughn, he was one of the best in the south.
But I got the Hollywood fever again. I had told the group I would probably head back to L.A. after I got my thoughts back together, and I did. But after a year back in L.A. I called Danny, the guitarist for Coup Deville, and asked if he wanted to bring the band to L.A. and record a CD. He said, “Hell yes”! They stayed at my house and day and night we started working on material. I had several songs ready when they came out. I lined up a producer, the same one that did the Alligator Stew CD. We rehearsed for a week and then went into the studio for four days. In four days we recorded and mastered a CD that really rocks. It had some songs that were later on the Alligator Stew CD. You can listen to it on cdbaby.com. It was more of a fun CD, it also sounded good. It was called “L.a. To L.A”. Great bunch of guys and great musicians. They still rock Louisiana.
SR: What led you to join The Regulators, and why did you leave?
GJ: I joined the Regs because they were needing a singer and were a southern rock band that was already together and had a great style. Good bunch of guys and another bunch of great musicians. I think the biggest problem was they had all their music together, all the way from words to melodies. I was ready to form my own band and write lyrics and music. I was also ready to play guitar, the Regs didn’t need another guitarist. So I told ’em I was formin’ my own band and would fill in till they found a vocalist and that’s when they found Ronnie. So I started searching for members to form my own band. I knew what I wanted and went for it. I spent too many years joining bands that were already together with songs and a sound. I wanted my own sound. That’s what Alligator Stew has.
SR: Here are some bands you may have encountered on the Strip, what are your opinions on each?
– Kik Tracee
GJ: Kik Tracee was very cool and had a great singer with a lot of charisma. They had an original thing.
– Blackboard Jungle
GJ: Blackboard Jungle rocked hard and had a cool sleazy image.
GJ: London was cool and had been around forever with many talented players.
– Sister Whiskey
GJ: Sister Whiskey had a cool name and I dug their style. I think I almost ended up in that group.
GJ: Junkyard was a cool five piece, dual guitar slingin’ outlaws from Texas. The singer had soul and Asphalt Ballet played with ’em many times.
GJ: Southgang was cool, I didn’t ever see ’em tho.
GJ: Tuff worked very hard and had a great show. I liked this group and they had a huge fan base.
– Electric Love Hogs
GJ: Electric Love Hogs rocked. I still have one of their CDs. Asphalt Ballet played with ’em also.
GJ: WWIII was cool, had a cool image.
SR: You have a very unique bluesy vocal sound, who were your influences growing up?
GJ: I love the blues. Growing up I listened to Elvis Presley, Tennessee Ernie Ford, James Brown, Bob Seger, Ronnie Van Zandt and Aerosmith doing bar gigs to name a few.
SR: What led to a young man from Louisiana heading to L.A. in the late 80s, and do you think we will ever see a scene like the Sunset Strip again?
GJ: In the 80’s L.A. was the music capital. I went there to audition for Quiet Riot. I heard they were tryin’ new singers out. I did three auditions and they ended up with a singer from Rough Cutt, I can’t remember his name. The scene was unbelievable!! Bands were on the Strip passing out flyers, meeting fans, promoting their group and paying to play the Strip and only hoping to be discovered. It was an unbelievable era of music, I’m glad I was a part of it. I can remember seeing Stephen Pearcy from Ratt passin’ out flyers and you saw Poison everywhere promoting. I can remember doing shows with Warrant, L.A. Guns and Love/Hate. It was a wild scene. Rockers dressed as if they were ready to perform, big hair, mini skirts, lace, the Strip was so full of rockers. I even saw the fire department come with fire trucks and spray the Strip to get them to leave. It was a party! The bands looked like rock stars and worked hard. Asphalt used to have to sell 800 dollars in tickets to play the Roxy on a Friday. Everyone paid to play.
SR: What Sunset Strip bands did you think had the talent to be superstars, but just faded away?
GJ: Shark Island. They had a singer named Richard Black that had more moves than Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and Mick Jagger put together. The guy had a great voice and has to be the coolest front man I ever saw. I think he was in a group later called Contraband. I don’t know what happened to him? There were so many great Strip bands that faded quickly. Kik Tracee and Electric Love Hogs were great.
SR: Looking back, do you have any regrets or wish you had done some things differently?
GJ: Sometimes I wonder “what if”? I should have did one more CD with Asphalt Ballet. It doesn’t haunt me or anything, but Asphalt truly was a very real hard rocking, great songwriting bunch of rock stars, true attitude and loved rocking. I can’t look back and will never know what if. Grunge was in and our style was out. Virgin was finished with Asphalt Ballet. If Virgin would have kept backing the band I probably would have kept tryin’, or even if I felt the band believed more in me staying the singer I was. You can’t cry over spilt milk, just have to keep goin’. It was tuff leaving a dream come true (record deal). I wish I was in L.A. when I was 18.
SR: Do you have any plans to record some heavier music in the future, or even an Asphalt Ballet reunion?
GJ: I will get a little edgier on my next CD. Not sure that it will be full blown heavy, but definitely edgier. As much as I would like to do another Asphalt Ballet CD I doubt we ever will get together again.
SR: What can fans expect to see in the future from Alligator Stew?
GJ: As far as Alligator Stew, we plan on recording another CD this summer. Financing is hard when you are self-supported, but we have songs together and love playin’ together. We have the same style and southern rock attitude. Look for a new CD in 2004.
Thanks to Gary Jeffries and Alligator Stew