INTERVIEW WITH FORMER BADLANDS BASSIST AND RED DRAGON CARTEL GREG CHAISSON
Date: December 4, 2016
BADLANDS, THE GROUP FEATURING GUITARIST JAKE E. LEE AND NOW DECEASED SINGER RAY GILLEN, HAS SEEMINGLY REACHED LEGENDARY STATUS IN THE HARD ROCK / HEAVY METAL COMMUNITY FOR GOOD REASON. THE BAND’S SELF-TITLED DEBUT ALBUM IS ONE OF THE BEST DEBUT OF ALL-TIME AND THE GROUP’S SOPHOMORE ALBUM ‘VOODOO HIGHWAY’ IS EQUALLY REVERED AMONG HARD ROCK FANS. WHAT SOME PEOPLE MIGHT NOT KNOW IS THAT JAKE E. LEE WAS ACCOMPANIED EVERY STEP OF THE WAY IN BADLANDS BY HIS NOW LONG-TIME FRIEND AND INNOVATIVE BASSIST GREG CHAISSON, WHO ALONG WITH LEE, PLAYED ON ALL THREE BADLANDS ALBUMS. THE PAIR WERE RECENTLY REUNITED FOR A BRIEF TIME IN LEE’S “NEW” BAND RED DRAGON CARTEL. I HAD THE PLEASURE OF SPEAKING TO CHAISSON WHO WAS KIND ENOUGH TO PROVIDE A CANDID VIEW OF BADLANDS’ JOURNEY OVER THE YEARS AND WHAT HE HAS BEEN UP TO SINCE THAT TIME.
Sleaze Roxx: Most people know you as the bassist in the legendary group Badlands. When did you first meet Jake E Lee?
Greg Chaisson: I moved to LA, I think at the end of ’82, and I had a couple of roommates there, one of whom was Bryan Jay, the guitarist from Keel, and another guy named Glen Mancaruso who was a great drummer and with whom I eventually did a couple of albums with in a band called Die Happy. They knew everyone so we would always go out every night to all the clubs to check out the bands. I had moved to LA specifically to try to “make it” so to speak. One night, we were backstage at a club. I think that we were at the Whisky actually. A bunch of musicians were back there and they were pointing out all these different guys and they pointed out Jake. They said “That guy over there is Jake Williams. He’s the guitar player in Dio. He’s the best guitar player in town.” So I just kind of made a mental note of that. One night, I was at the Troubadour and he was sitting at the front bar with his girlfriend and I went up and introduced myself to him. We just talked for a couple of minutes. We didn’t become friends or anything like that. I got a chance to see him shortly after he left Dio while he was playing in Rough Cutt. I not only thought he was the best guitar player in LA, I thought he was the best guitar player I had ever seen.
I actually met him officially, in the summer of ’85 or ’86 when I went to Scotland to audition for Ozzy and that’s where we actually became friends. Jake and I kind of hit it off and we had a lot of common interests. They were writing for ‘The Ultimate Sin’ record. I was there for three weeks but I didn’t get the gig. Ozzy hated me and didn’t think I had the correct look for the ’80s. I’m sure he was right. He said I looked like Charles Bronson in The Mechanic. He did like my bass playing though. Every time he got mad at the bass player they had, Jake told me Ozzy would say “We should’ve kept the ugly guy!” [laughs]
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] How did you end up joining Badlands?
Greg Chaisson: Even though I didn’t get the Ozzy gig, I spent three weeks in Scotland auditioning for him for ‘The Ultimate Sin’ album. Over the course of that, Jake and I ended up becoming pretty good friends. I know he liked the way I played bass because I had a very ’70s approach. We stayed in contact pretty regularly and would hang out when he was not on tour with Ozzy and talk on the phone sometimes when he was on tour. We had a lot of the same interests. He would always say “When I leave Ozzy someday, I’m going to start my own band, and when I do, I would like you to be part of it.” So when he left Ozzy, he called me up and said “I think it’s time for me to do my own thing so after I find a singer, I’ll get a hold of you.” So after he found Ray [Gillen], he called me and said “I want you to come and audition for the band.” Well, I misunderstood that to be like when he first told me that he wanted me to be a part of it, I thought I was just getting the gig outright. Come to find out, I had to audition, which I didn’t understand at the time. But as he later explained, he wanted me to audition along with about 40 other guys because that way when I got the gig, it wouldn’t be like he just gave it to a friend of his. It would actually be given to the best, or right player. So that made sense to me.
Sleaze Roxx: How much input did you have in Badlands?
Greg Chaisson: On the first album, Jake brought in all the main ideas. He would have a riff, verse, chorus or middle part, and we would all kind of add in our little parts. 99% of the material on the first album, Jake brought in. We might have changed a little bit by adding some of our own parts. For example, Eric [Singer] wrote the drum part to “Devil’s Stomp” which I don’t think anyone but a drummer could write that drum part! On the second album [‘Voodoo Highway’], I actually wrote some songs for it. I ended up contributing three to four songs of which two made the record. On the ‘Dusk’ album, again I contributed some songs. Badlands was a democracy so to speak. Everyone had an equal say and if we came to an impasse, Jake made the final decision. This was no problem for me since he and I agreed on just about everything such as direction, image, the way we wanted to go about the band, etc… A lot of the arrangements and ideas came out of jamming. It was a great band to be in. When it came to the name, we all agreed that it was a good name.
Sleaze Roxx: So Badlands released three albums. What are your thoughts on the debut?
Greg Chaisson: I like it but it’s my least favorite of the three, but it’s still a great record. Oddly enough, when I tell people that, they go “Whhhaaattt” [laughs]. That’s our biggest selling one. I think the songs are great but I wasn’t crazy about the production of it. You can’t hear the bass really well. From a selfish bass player point of view, that would be kind of an issue. Our manager at the time co-produced the record and I didn’t really like the way he did all of that. It would have been better if Jake had complete control like he did on the second one.
An interesting note is that we recorded half of the album at One On One Studios in LA. We recorded a whole bunch of songs, maybe a dozen, but Atlantic decided we didn’t have a hit so they pulled us out of the studio and they flew Jake and Ray to New York to write more songs in search of the elusive ‘hit.’ They actually had another bass player and drummer there so they could use them to work out the songs. “Dreams In The Dark” was written there along with “High Wire,” “Streets Cry Freedom” and maybe “Winter’s Call.” So once they had what they wanted, Eric and I flew out and we recorded at the Record Plant in New York. Even though they had written the songs with the other bass player and drummer present, Eric and I wrote our own parts. We didn’t even listen to the demos with the other guys. We used songs from both sessions, LA and New York. Songs like “Hard Driver,” “Devil’s Stomp,” “Ball And Chain” and “Rumblin’ Train” were written in LA. In the end, we had more than enough songs to make two records. When the record was done, I didn’t think the bass was loud enough and I’m not a big fan of the drum sound as our former manager/producer used some triggered or sampled snare drum sounds. And I’m pretty sure the band agreed. We wanted something more organic. But it is a great record. From a song perspective, I think it’s got great songs on it and I think everyone plays well on it.
Badlands‘ “Dreams In The Dark” video (starting at 0:25 mark):
Rip to the late great and amazing singer Ray Gillen . From their first album Badlands. Very clear Video. With Ray talking about how great it was for the song to reach number one. Nice to see him happy. Gone too soon.
Badlands‘ “Winter’s Call” video:
Artist: Badlands Album: Badlands Label: Atlantic
Sleaze Roxx: What about ‘Voodoo Highway’? What do you think of that more than 25 years later?
Greg Chaisson: I think it’s a great record. I like the sounds we got better on ‘Voodoo.’ I thought it was more organic. I thought that we had progressed as songwriters. We started to get even more into the bluesy sort of thing. On the first record, we did multiple takes of each song, sometimes as many as 30. None of us were really happy with that idea but again, our manager was co-producing it and we kind of went along with it. On the second album, I don’t think that there are more than three takes on any one song so it’s got more of a sort of live vibe to it. The sounds are better. It’s got a more open production sort of thing where you can hear everything a lot better. The bass is louder. We had obviously changed drummers at this point. Jeff [Martin] brought a different perspective to the band. I think Eric and Jeff are both great drummers in their own right. But I had played with Jeff since high school and it was a very easy transition.
With Eric, he would play with the guitar player and I would kind of follow in behind that. With Jeff, him and I had played for so long that I knew everything that he did, and he knew everything that I did. So it was probably really easy for us to do those songs in three takes, four takes or whatever. I thought everyone played brilliantly. I thought Ray’s lyrics were better on ‘Voodoo’ than on the first one. He sang great. I like the songs in some ways better because it’s a natural progression from the first record and we were getting bluesier and more ‘70s sounding. I kind of underplayed on the first record so I really stepped it up on ‘Voodoo.’ Jake was amazing as always. I thought his production skills were a big step up from the first record. I obviously really liked the record and one of the cool things for me is that I brought in a couple of songs for it. On the first record, I didn’t actually bring any material in because I knew Jake had a whole catalog of stuff he had been saving up. On the second record, I brought in some song ideas that made the record so I was thrilled.
Badlands‘ “The Last Time” video:
Nós não possuímos o direito autoral do clipe! We do not own the copyright of the clip!
Sleaze Roxx: Finally, ‘Dusk’ was released well after Ray passed away. What role did you play on ‘Dusk’ and what are your thoughts on the album?
Greg Chaisson: It is my favorite of the three although ‘Dusk’ was never intended to be a record. They were just demos that we did. Ray had arranged for us to go in the studio a couple of days before we were going on tour. Jake and I didn’t even want to be there. Way back then, how it used to work is that if we were in the recording process, we didn’t play live. If we were getting ready to tour, we weren’t writing songs. Whatever mode we were in, we just focused on that mode. So Ray kind of threw us a curve ball there by saying “Let’s go in the studio and record these songs that we had written.” We were leaving to go on the road in a few days and I just wanted to be home and I’m pretty sure Jake just wanted to be at home with his daughter. But they insisted so we showed up at Goodnight L.A. Studios begrudgingly.
The engineer wanted to take a couple of hours to get bass and guitar sounds and they had already spent a couple of hours on the drums. Jake and I said “Nah, just put a mike in front of our amps and let’s go” which really ticked the engineer off. We each got our sounds in about 15 minutes. The engineer was very unhappy [laughs]. So we played each song one time, no overdubs, no retakes — one time. But we were so tight that everything came off really well. Years later after the band was broken up, there was a lot of interest in the so called “lost” Badlands third album. So I tracked down the engineer and bought the tapes. Jake and I sold it to a record company in Japan, remixed it and put it out at ‘Dusk.’ The only overdub is Jake and I added background vocals on one song, mainly because he wanted to see what it would sound like. I think it’s a fair representation of what the band sounded like at the time and the direction we were heading, had we stayed together.
I actually wrote a couple of songs for this record as well with one of them being “The River.” I actually wrote the song for the ‘Voodoo’ album but Ray wasn’t interested in listening to it for some reason. When we started putting together songs for what would eventually become ‘Dusk’, I re-submitted the song to Jake, he really liked it and told Ray he should give it a listen. He ended up really liking it as well. He wrote some great lyrics and really sings his heart out on it. I eventually put it on my solo record as well and changed the words around a little bit to reflect Ray’s passing. It’s one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written. On the ‘Dusk’ version, Jake added a really cool part at the end of the song that really kind of makes it. ‘Dusk’ is my favorite of the three records. Basically, it’s a live album. Jeff plays his ass off and the drum sounds are incredible. Jake and Ray are geniuses as always and I did a pretty fair job if I might say so myself. It’s weird how things turn out because Jake and I didn’t give a crap about it when we recorded it and it ended up being my favorite.
Sleaze Roxx: Were there ever any discussions with Jake about resurrecting another version of Badlands after Ray’s passing, and why or why not?
Greg Chaisson: Jake and I have always been tight so we have talked about it over the years. As a matter of fact, after Badlands broke up, Jake wanted for us to get a different drummer and singer and start a band and call it something else. At the time, I was moving back to Phoenix and we weren’t sure how that would work out with that many miles between us. I know both of us were disappointed that we wouldn’t be working together. We had a number of offers to put the band back together but we just didn’t see how it would work without Ray. As much as Jake was the sound of the band, Ray’s voice – just like any singer that’s in a band – was really the voice of the band. We just figured that we could never find someone as great as Ray was, which is kind of odd given that we ended up parting company with him and having to get him back into the band.
Once Ray passed away, we knew that there would be no way of doing a full blown reunion so I think kind of in respect to his greatness as a singer… He’s the best singer that I have ever worked with and in my humble opinion, the best singer of his generation. We just did not think that we could find someone that did what Ray did. I’m pretty sure Red Dragon Cartel is about as close to a Badlands reunion as there is going to be. I think it’s a great band and I really enjoyed my time in it. I think Darren [James Smith] is a fantastic singer. He does a really good job with the Badlands material along with everything else. I also think Jonas [Fairley] is a solid drummer and I really enjoyed playing with them. But never say never, who knows, Jake might call me up and say let’s do a Badlands reunion with some unknown singer. I’d be right in there.
Sleaze Roxx: Why did you guys part ways with Ray at one point?
Greg Chaisson: There were some issues that happened while we were recording ‘Voodoo Highway.’ Ray actually got us pulled out from the studio because he was looking for a certain song or something in his mind. He wanted to keep writing. We had – Jake, Jeff and I – always felt that we had enough material. We liked the material that we had. Ray actually went to the record company and said, “We should come out of the studio. We have some better songs that we have written that would be ‘hit’ songs” so to speak. So the record company actually pulled us out of the studio. We demoed some other songs and played them for the record company. They said, “These are good but they are no better than what you guys already have. We still don’t hear that one big ‘hit’ song.” I’m not sure what kind of ‘hit’ song that they were looking for. We went back into the studio and finished ‘Voodoo Highway’ but I think that kind of caused a riff between Ray and the rest of us. Of course, the record company wasn’t too happy about it. It was the typical band crap/drama that happens in every single band. It didn’t keep us from being friends or anything. We went on a big tour. We were happy with the tour but by then, the record company was unhappy with us. We kind of never followed what the record company wanted. We always kind of went on our own. We did what we wanted and if the record company didn’t like it, we didn’t care, which isn’t really the way to do that [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: Eventually, Badlands replaced Ray with John West but afterwards got Ray back in the band. How did that unfold?
Greg Chaisson: We were writing stuff for ‘Dusk.’ Had we done the demo yet? My time frame is a little screwed up but either Ray quit or we fired him, or vice-versa, or all of the above. I can’t remember anymore. So we thought we would just get another singer. We auditioned some singers and we were going to go do this tour of England. We had a six-week tour of England to do with another singer and our management said, “Promoters over there weren’t not going to go along with this.” So we had to sort of swallow our pride and ask Ray to be back in the band, which in hindsight was the right thing to do. Again, no one could sing those Badlands songs better than Ray could. It made for a rather contentious tour.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Greg Chaisson: Yeah, it was pretty high drama. But you know, we asked him to come back in the band. We did this tour and then after the tour, things were just so acrimonious that we just did the final split. We got a different singer to try to keep going on but you know, you got to be careful what you wish for. In a way, we didn’t want to play with Ray anymore because he was going in a different direction than we were. There were a lot of arguments about the material, and this and that – what he wanted to do versus what we wanted to do. But after he was gone, we realized it’s pretty hard to replace him.
Sleaze Roxx: What about John West as Ray’s replacement? What did you think of him and how did he fare?
Greg Chaisson: We had put the word out that we were looking for a singer and we got tons of demo tapes. I would go to the office every couple of days, pick them up and listen to the tapes. If I came across anyone interesting, I would bring it over to Jake’s place so he could hear it. Nothing was really blowing my mind until we came across John West’s demo and it was incredible. He sounded kind of like a young Glenn Hughes. The first time he played with us at rehearsal was great. We did some demos with him and actually a couple of shows but in the end, he just wasn’t Ray, but then again who is? I think Ray is the best singer of his generation.
John was just the wrong singer at the wrong time. John is a good singer but he thought he was joining a huge band that had a lot of money and we were kind of on our last legs. John wanted all this money, and this and that, but we just didn’t have any money. We didn’t even have any money for us. We did a few shows with him. The response wasn’t really great because again, it’s hard to replace Ray. Ray’s vibe, the way he was live and the way he looked fit us perfectly. John was a little different. There were a lot of people coming to the shows expecting to hear Ray and they weren’t going to accept any substitute so in the end, we just decided to part company with him. Nothing against John because he’s a good singer. He’s obviously gone off and done a lot of other things. I ran into him a few years ago at the NAMM show. It was great. He was very friendly. He was just the wrong singer at the wrong time for where Badlands were.
Sleaze Roxx: After Badlands, you were quite active in the music business for a number of years including releasing your own solo album and then you dropped out of sight. What happened during that time?
Greg Chaisson: After Badlands was over, Jake wanted to start another band. He was just like, “You and I will just start another band. We won’t call it Badlands. We’ll get a singer and we’ll get a different drummer and we’ll do that.” And I said, “That’s fine except I am moving back to Phoenix.” He said, “Well, how are we going to do that then?” I said, “Well, I’ll come out.” Realistically, that was probably not going to work so that kind of ended the idea of him and I doing another band. I know that he was disappointed by that and so was I. I would have loved to keep playing with him. He’s my favorite guitar player ever and he’s my best friend. It’s kind of like a double whammy there. And I liked the way he wrote. His style of writing fit the way I play the bass perfectly and vice-versa I think.
I got offered to audition for a lot of other bands; Slash’s Snakepit, Rainbow and some others. My name was out there a lot. But I didn’t really want to go on the road anymore. I wanted to stay home and help raise our son. It was important to me. I played on a bunch of other people’s records and did a lot of stuff for Mike Varney’s Shrapnel label and some stuff on the Christian label Intense along with my own solo record [‘It’s About Time’ which was released in 1994]. The solo record was cool. I had Eric Singer play drums on it and my buddy Jim McMillan played guitar and co-wrote a bunch of it with me. He’s the guy that talked me into being a musician in the first place. And all of that was cool but in a way I kind of missed Badlands. That’s probably the only band that I would have been interested in going back on the road with if there was a way to do it. Obviously with Ray passing away that made it pretty hard, and I missed playing with Jake. So I just quit and became a Dad and a baseball coach. I enjoy teaching little kids how to play baseball. I go by the name Coach Dude, pretty funny! And then along the way, my wife and I had a daughter so going on the road seemed less likely.
Sleaze Roxx: You’ve obviously kept a good relationship with Jake given that you ended up playing in his current band Red Dragon Cartel.
Greg Chaisson: Well, Jake and I always stayed in contact. The way that happened is Jake was getting back into the business after quite a few years out of it and he put together his new band. He was working with Ron Mancuso who owned the studio and the kind of a deal was that they could use Ron Mancuso’s studio if he could play bass on it but he wasn’t really a bass player. So when the record came out and they went on tour, Jake was unhappy with Ron’s bass performance. So early in 2014, he called and said they were doing a show in Tempe, Arizona and asked if I would play bass. So I agreed. They came out a couple of days early and we rehearsed at Sound Vision studios in Tempe which is owned by Michael Beck. Michael is the singer in my original band and an excellent singer he is. So we got together for rehearsal when Jake came in, he just started playing a riff, making up something on the spot and Jonas and I just fell in right with him and we jammed for about half an hour on this one progression of ideas he had which is how we used to do it in Badlands. It was awesome! Keep in mind that Jake and I hadn’t played together since the early ’90s so I was having a great time. When we got done, he looked at me and said “That’s what jamming should sound like” and I agreed. I did the one show with them and it was awesome.
As I said earlier, Darren is an amazing singer and Jonas is an excellent drummer. I thought it was a great band. Jake asked me if I would join right there on the spot and finish out the rest of their tour. But I had signed a contract to work nine weeks of baseball camp at a place called Arizona World of Baseball in Tempe, where I would teach little kids baseball, so I had to honour my commitment. I told them to call me on August 1st if you still need a bass player, I will be done by that time and if you want me, I will do it. I really enjoyed playing with them. I thought they were a great band. I liked Jonas as a drummer. I thought and still think that Darren is a fantastic singer. He has the hardest job in the world trying to sing Ray’s stuff. I think he does a really really good job of it. So I really wanted to be in the band. As a matter of fact, when we were playing, I looked over at a friend of mine while we were playing a song and I said, “I think that I could actually enjoy doing this again.” Jake called on August 1st and asked if I would join the band and I said “Yes.” We went on tour for a couple of months. It was great. My kids were grown by then and they got to see my play in a much bigger setting that what I was doing in Arizona. They even came and saw us play to a sold out crowd at The Whisky and another show in Las Vegas.
Red Dragon Cartel performing “Rumblin’ Train” at Oddbody’s in Dayton, Ohio, USA on December 16, 2014:
Greg Chaisson and Jake E. Lee jam out on ‘Rumblin’ Train’ from Badlands, at Oddbody’s in Dayton. More of this gig coming soon. Subscribe now if you wish to see the rest of the show!
Sleaze Roxx: Why did you end up leaving Red Dragon Cartel?
Greg Chaisson: The problem was that I was sick the whole time. I had a sore throat that wouldn’t go away. So at the beginning of 2015, we were supposed to do some dates but Jake had to cancel them due to a back injury. I wasn’t getting any better from whatever my problem was either. I could feel a spot on the back of my tongue and I had a feeling that it might be cancer but none of the nurse practitioners I had seen diagnosed it that way. They just said it’s a sinus infection, earache or allergies. But I knew they were wrong because I was taking Ibuprofen like M&M’s so I could swallow. We were supposed to go on tour during the middle of April so a couple of weeks before that, I quit and told them I couldn’t schedule it with my job. This wasn’t exactly true. I needed some time to find out what was wrong with me. Jake was not too happy about it because he and I agreed that I would be in the band until the very end. Finally I saw an ear, nose and throat specialist who diagnosed me with stage four cancer on my tongue. I immediately had surgery to have my lymph nodes removed and then had eight weeks of chemo and radiation. The treatment was brutal. I eventually lost around 70 pounds.
My cancer was brought on by a virus called HPV, which has probably been in my system most of my life. It’s the same thing with Bruce Dickinson, Tom Hamilton, Rikki Rockett among others. HPV related cancers are the fastest growing form of cancer right now, over 4 million new cases per year. People should get checked out and there is a vaccine that kids can get which I highly recommend. Had they not found the cancer when they did, I had between 8 to 11 months to live. If I had not quit Red Dragon Cartel when I did, I wouldn’t even have gotten it checked out until the end of September when the tour ended and it would have been too late. We wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. It was very hard for me to quit Red Dragon, as I had been wanting to play with Jake again since the ’90s and if I hadn’t been sick, I know I would still be there. But it is what it is and I’m sure Jake and I will play together some time in the future.
Sleaze Roxx: How are you doing right now?
Greg Chaisson: I am in remission right now but it’s been a rough year and a half or whatever it is. I go get a scan every six months and I went from 195 lbs to 121 lbs. I only weigh about 150 lbs now so my life is different now. It’s changed. My appearance has changed. Whenever you have radiation in your mouth, the treatment for that is so brutal that it messes up the inside of your mouth, your throat, and all that stuff. There are a lot of issues that come with it.
Sleaze Roxx: You ended up recommending Michael Beck to be the next singer for Red Dragon Cartel after Darren’s departure. How did that come about?
Greg Chaisson: Yes, I recommended Michael to Jake. Jake and Darren had a disagreement and Darren ended up leaving so Jake wanted to check out some other singers. Michael Beck owns Sound Vision Studios where we had rehearsed for the first show that I did in Tempe. So they kind of knew Michael already. Michael sings in my original project called Kings Of Dust that we have been trying to do for three and a half years but my cancer sort of got in the way. So I recommended Michael. They all knew him. As I said, he’s a great singer. By then Jake was using different singers every dozen gigs or so, kind of as a live audition. Just from what I heard on YouTube, I heard some bits and pieces. I thought that he did a good job. In the end, Jake and Darren worked things out and Darren rejoined Red Dragon Cartel. Darren is the right singer for the band. I would love to work with him again as well. All three of those guys in Red Dragon Cartel are fantastic players and fantastic human beings.
Sleaze Roxx: You have arguably worked with two of the greatest in the music industry in terms of Jake as a guitarist and Ray as a singer. What are your thoughts in that regard and where would you rank them compared to their peers?
Greg Chaisson: Well, as I said earlier, Jake is my favorite guitar player on the planet. [Laughs] I could be president of his fan club, I think so highly of his playing! In my opinion, he’s one of the greatest guitarists of all-time. You almost have to play with Jake to realize how great he actually is. He can play any style. It doesn’t matter whether it’s classical, ragtime, blues, heavy metal, neo-classical, blues-rock, and country… There’s nothing that he can’t play. He just has this innate understanding of how music works that most people don’t have. In my humble opinion, he’s a genius. I also consider him my best friend. We are kind of like two sides of the same coin in a lot of ways.
As far as Ray is concerned, as I said, he is the best of his generation. For the style of singing that Ray did, I don’t think that anyone could touch him. Ray had a way of singing. He could actually have two tones coming out of his mouth at the same time. So he had a high tone coming out and then underneath it, there would be like a lower tone. He would call it a “dual tone.” I never heard anyone do that before. He said it’s an actual thing but Ray — the cool thing about Ray — Ray would sing every take you did in the studio, every take you did in rehearsal, every take when you are writing a song. It didn’t matter if he had words or not. He is one of the few people that I ever heard do that. He would just be syllabizing, which is some of what’s on ‘Dusk.’ Some of it is not even lyrics. It’s just him syllabizing because the songs were not finalized then. So he was still writing his lyrics. I never played with another singer that sings every take. Even when he’s writing lyrics, he’s still singing every take. He’s not sitting there with a pad and paper going, “OK. You guys are playing this. Let me see what I will do right here.” He’s singing. He’s making it up. He’s kind of improvising as it’s going along.
It was really an amazing band to be in. I don’t mind blowing our own horn. I would be in the band thinking, “I can’t believe that I am in this band! I can’t believe that I’m in a band that is this great.” And that’s with Eric [Singer] playing drums. Eric is a great drummer. H wrote some of the most interesting drum parts. He was very John Bonham. He wrote really interesting drum parts like Bonham did. I never played with anyone that wrote drum parts that cool. And then playing with Jeff [Martin]… Jeff was just a completely fly by the seat of your pants Mitch Mitchell/Ian Paice guy. Just super fast hands. Just really great fills. Great vibe! A lot of energy! So between those four guys, I couldn’t have been happier. In my opinion, the best band in the world at its time. We must have scared the hell of a lot of people because a lot of bands would not tour with us. We would be up for such and such a tour. They would come and see us and be like, “There’s no way that we are having these guys open for us.”
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] That’s cool!
Greg Chaisson: I have no doubt that if Ray was alive, he, Jake, and I would have done some stuff together and there would probably still be a Badlands.
Sleaze Roxx: It seems that you have always been a big ’70s/blues fan as most of your projects including Deep Black Led focus musically on that. Do you agree and what brought on this love of the ’70s and blues?
Greg Chaisson: I’m old… That’s just the music I grew up listening to. I started playing bass in 1971 and all my favorite bands were pretty much blues based. Bands like Humble Pie, Mountain, Free, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Cactus, Johnny Winter Band, etc. And all of those bands did a fair amount of jamming and they all had bass players that really added something to the music. They weren’t guys that just “thumped along” on the E-string, pedaling on the note of A. They were adding a whole different musical texture. That’s one of the things that made Badlands work so well; the musical relationship between Jake and I. No matter what direction he wanted to go in, whether it be blues, funk, country, hard rock, metal etc., I would always be right there adding my part to it. That’s why I got the gig in the first place. We both had the same ’70s/blues rock inspirational tendencies.
Back in the ’70s, every good band had a bass player that could really play. Then AC/DC came along and everyone wanted a bass player who just played the root note and that’s it. Now don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of AC/DC, especially the Bon Scott stuff. But it really screwed us bass players [laughs]! And drummers for that matter! From that point, on bass players just played a lot simpler and that’s the style of bass playing that most bands were looking for when I got to LA. I would audition for different bands and they would say “All that stuff you’re playing is really cool but you’re not going to actually do any of that are you?” And I would say “As a matter of fact I am”. And they would say “Well, we would like you to just pedal on the A-note” and I would say “Well, you better call someone else because I’m not your guy.” Jake was the first guitar player in LA that I played with that said “Can you do more in that part?” And I would say “As a matter of fact, I can.” And the rest is history [laughs]! Sometimes less is more, but sometimes more is more and that’s even better.
One interesting side note is that when I was joining Red Dragon Cartel, Jake told me that my playing reminded him of a combination of Paul McCartney meets John Entwistle, which is a very high compliment from a guy who doesn’t give them very often. It means a lot to me.
Sleaze Roxx: What are your future plans music wise?
Greg Chaisson: Well, I’m a closet drummer and I’m actually pretty good at it. I have a couple of drum sets. I kinda play a little bit like Jeff Martin. I guess he kinda rubbed off on me from all the years of playing together. But I haven’t found anybody who will take the chance and let me play with them yet. Most of the people that are interested in me want me to play the bass. Damn it!
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Greg Chaisson: I have a band called Kings Of Dust. We were actually recording our debut CD when I got cancer so it got put on hold. It’s very ’70s style blues rock, not unlike Badlands. It features Michael Beck on vocals, an excellent guitar player named Ryan McKay, and our new, cool drummer Jimi Taft. The funny part is Jimi has actually never played with us. But that’s the good thing about having your own band, I just went ahead and gave him the gig [laughs]! I have played with him a number of times before. We had a great Bonham style drummer named Donny Fargo but unfortunately he had a number of injuries that prevented him from being able to play with us, so it took us awhile to find another drummer. I’ve been writing some new material and we should be ready to record sometime after the first of the year. A very ’70s blues rock style! We have a Facebook page, check it out!
I run a very cool guitar store here in Phoenix called Bizarre Guitar. It’s a shameless commercial plug here! It’s been around since 1976, a very iconic place. I have great staff and the owner is terrific. It’s the place to go in the Phoenix area as far as musical equipment is concerned. I really like working there, so even if the opportunity to do a bunch of touring came along, I would probably pass anyway. Although you never know what I might do if Jake called [laughs]!
Sleaze Roxx: There are some unreleased Badlands songs on YouTube. Have there been any discussions on releasing these tracks or demos in the future?
Greg Chaisson: Jake and I have never talked about it but there is some cool stuff on there. Quite a bit of early material when we were still finding our way. I listen to it now and then. Pretty interesting. There are also quite a few live tracks out there. We should have made a live album. Maybe someday in the future it would be released but I couldn’t say when.
Sleaze Roxx: What are your top three all-time favorite albums and why?
Greg Chaisson: This is hard one and I can’t keep it to three.
- Humble Pie’s ‘Rockin’ the Fillmore.’ Brilliant live album with Steve Marriot and Peter Frampton at their best. Killer rhythm section with one of my favorite bass players — Greg Ridley. Plenty of great, free form jamming.
- The Who’s ‘Who’s Next.’ The Who at their best with my favorite bass player, John Entwistle. Great, iconic songs.
- ZZ Top’s ‘Rio Grande Mud.’ Back when ZZ Top was cool. Real ’70s blues rock. It’s the reason I wear a cowboy hat.
- Ted Nugent’s ‘Call Of The Wild.’ Brilliant record all the way around. Ted at his best with one of my favorite bass players, Rob Grange, showing how to play the bass.
- Mountain’s ‘Flowers Of Evil.’ The live side is ridiculous. Leslie West was never as good without Felix Pappalardi. Their interaction is fantastic. Jake and I would have a lot of moments like that on-stage.
- Captain Beyond’s first album. Progressive blues rock. If you wanted to impress people when I was a young musician, you just played a couple of these songs at your local keg party. Bobby Caldwell’s drumming is out of this world. Very progressive. I could go on and on but I’ll stop at six.
An interesting Captain Beyond sidebar, when we were writing and rehearsing for ‘Voodoo Highway’, the record company sent us $30,000 to do demos with, which we promptly used to live off of. We sent them a tape of some of our new material, recorded on Jake’s Pro Series Walkman. It actually came out pretty good. When a couple guys from the record company came down to hear some of our new ‘hit’ songs in rehearsal, we played them a couple of Captain Beyond songs, which as I said, are very progressive. Not the kind of stuff you would hear on the radio… They sat there with their mouths hanging open in complete shock. You could see the look of panic in their eyes. They both almost had heart attacks. We already had the reputation for being loose-cannons and kind of doing things the way we wanted to regardless. I think they wanted to drop us right then [laughs]! After we got done playing the two songs, we said “Just kidding!” and played them two of our own songs. They were so relieved they almost started crying [laughs]!
I’m happy to be alive and every day is a good day. I look forward to the future in music and in life! I give all glory to God and I thank you for asking me to do this interview.