Interview with Jetboy guitarist Billy Rowe

INTERVIEW WITH JETBOY GUITARIST BILLY ROWE
Date: June 12, 2017
Interviewer: Ruben Mosqueda

Jetboy landed on my radar when reading one of the hard rock or metal periodicals. It was more than likely RIP magazine, which was my “go to” American magazine alongside Metal Edge.

Having read what kind of ‘buzz’ the band had created; naturally I had to pick up their album when it was available. ‘Feel The Shake’ saw the light of day in 1988 after the band moved to MCA Records. “We recorded ‘Feel The Shake’ while we were signed to Elektra Records. The album was recorded in 1987 and was on hold for like a year. Eventually Elektra dropped us and MCA bought the album from them [Elektra Records],” says guitarist Billy Rowe. “The album is as is with the exception with the Rick Browe produced “Make Some Noise” which replaced “Missing You” at the insistence of MCA Records,” recounts the guitarist.

Rock Candy Records is set to release the remastered edition of Jetboy’s ‘Feel The Shake’ with the cooperation of the band. In fact, Rowe was interviewed for the expanded liners for the upcoming reissue. Naturally, we had to catch up with Billy Rowe. I last spoke with Rowe for Sleaze Roxx when Jetboy had released ‘Off Your Rocker.’ This time around, we spent time talking all things ‘Feel The Shake.’ I didn’t ask him about Sami Yaffa joining the band because it was asked in 2010. No reason to rehash that all over again. 

Sleaze Roxx: You wound up on MCA Records but you were signed to another label prior.

Billy Rowe: Yeah. It goes back to like 1985-1986. We had all this label interest. The label for us was Elektra Records. We signed with them in 1986. In 1987, we recorded ‘Feel The Shake.’ What was released on MCA was the Elektra Records recording. Initially, the album was supposed to be released in 1987; then it was pushed back. In 1988, the band was dropped from Elektra and that left ‘Feel The Shake’ in limbo. Shortly after, Michael Goldstone [A&R who would go on to work with acts like Pearl Jam, Rage Against The Machine and Buckcherry] who was with MCA contacted us. Michael was the person that had shown the most interest in Jetboy since getting dropped by Elektra.

Michael wanted MCA to purchase the masters from Elektra Records and then release the album on MCA, which is in fact what we wound up doing. There was some confusion behind the album. Elektra had released advance cassettes of the album and we had some reviews in magazines. We were getting great reviews and were building momentum then we got dropped! There was that wave of band that came out around the same time — Guns N’ Roses, L.A. Guns, Faster Pussycat, Poison. We should have been a part of that. I feel we got left behind because the album was released a year later than we planned and we lost some ground.

Sleaze Roxx: MCA Records wasn’t known as a ‘rock friendly’ label. Did you have any apprehension about signing with them?

Billy Rowe: They had that stigma. If you want to get technical, no label was a ‘rock label’ at that time. I think for instance, Elektra Records became a ‘rock label’ because they had Mötley Crüe and Metallica. If you look at MCA, they have some of the greatest classic rock artists. They have The Who, Tom Petty and Lynyrd Skynyrd. I think a lot falls on the person who is working the record. It comes down to who signs the bands. Things just didn’t align for us for whatever reason.

Sleaze Roxx: Were the songs that made it onto ‘Feel The Shake’ the ones that you’d worked and refined in the live setting or was it a mix of new and old?

Billy Rowe: The songs that made ‘Feel The Shake’ were a combination. There are songs on that album that we hadn’t even put in the set leading up to getting signed. “Feel The Shake” was written after we were signed; same with “Bloodstone” and “Snakebite.” We made this shift in the earlier days. We were a ‘glammy punk’ type band then when Sami Yaffa [Hanoi Rocks] joined the band after we signed with Elektra. Sam was light years above the rest of us; in terms of musician[ship] and experience. I really think Sami coming into the band took Jetboy to another level musically.

Thinking back now, I would have loved to have made ‘Feel The Shake’ sound ‘grittier.’ I think the influence of the label thinking that we had radio potential took some of the grit out of the songs. When you have bands like Bon Jovi and Def Leppard breaking on radio, the rest of the industry followed suit. “Fire In My Heart” is an old song. The version on the record has the same vibe and melody but I’d say that it’s a bit more ‘sophisticated’ than the original. We also used to have “Bad Disease” in the pre-Elektra days. We had a song called “Missing You.” It was a ballad but it wasn’t your typical ballad. That song was pulled from the album that was released by MCA. In the time that we had been dropped, we had been working on some more songs. “Make Some Noise” was one of them. Michael [Goldstone], our A&R guy, loved the song. He felt that we needed to put that on the album. So next thing you know, we’re in the studio with [producer] Ric Rowde [Poison, Faster Pussycat] recording “Make Some Noise” which ultimately replaced “Missing You” on the MCA version of ‘Feel The Shake.’

Sleaze Roxx: Jetboy is clearly an eclectic band and it came out in the music. Do you think that might have worked against the band to some extent? Sure, there’s something on the album for everybody but at the same time, Jetboy wasn’t in the box.

Billy Rowe: There were some bands that were ahead of their time for sure. Jetboy, I believe was one of those bands. I agree with you the bands that were out there at the same as us that were signed were one dimensional. I don’t know if that’s why they were more successful? I don’t know for sure.

Sleaze Roxx: Once signed to Elektra, how did you go about hiring a producer?

Billy Rowe: I remember shortly after getting signed, our manager Richard Wright saying “I think you guys need to starting thinking what some of your favorite records are and who produced them. We have to think about someone to produce the record.” I was totally into that. I pulled out my KISS, Aerosmith records. We came up with a wish list — Jack Douglas, Bob Ezrin, Roy Thomas Baker, people like that. Tom Allom was also thrown on the table. We were a fan of his work with Judas Priest and he had worked with Def Leppard. If you can believe this, we even met with Paul Stanley when he wanted to break into production. So we had met with some people but it was Tom Allom who we felt a connection with. We loved Judas Priest’s ‘Point of Entry’ and ‘British Steel.’ Granted, we’re not Judas Priest but we loved his work.

Tom [Allom] was super into the band and he was super supportive. He helped us out even after we were dropped. When he signed on to work with us, it was fresh for him because he hadn’t worked with a band like us before. Tom felt that maybe ‘Feel The Shake’ would get him more work producing ‘mainstream’ acts.

Sleaze Roxx: What’s your recollection about the album cover of ‘Feel The Shake?’ To me it has this kind of comic book type vibe to it.

Billy Rowe: The MCA release has a different album cover than the original. The Elektra Records version has a picture of this condemned house that was falling apart on it. That house was actually down the street from where we were living at the time. We thought that it was fitting so we used it for a Japanese pressing. The marketing department at MCA decided that we needed a new album cover for the MCA release so they hooked us up with Jim Shea. He would do the album cover and would direct the music video for “Feel The Shake.” The album cover was shot inside the facade building on ‘The Psycho’ house lot at Universal Studios. When you see ‘The Psycho’ house, there’s nothing in it. That photo was shot inside of that.

Sleaze Roxx: So Jim Shea also directed the music video? Makes sense, they do have a similar style.

Billy Rowe: Exactly, he shot “Feel The Shake” and Kix’s “Cold Blood” back to back. Same stage, same staff and everything. So one day, he did one video; the next day, he did the other. It wasn’t until later on that I realized that Jim Shea had shot some of my favorite album covers — Joe Walsh’s ‘There Goes The Neighborhood,’ he shot Aerosmith’s ‘A Night In The Ruts,’ and some early Rod Stewart records. I ran into him recently and now he’s [country artist] Brad Paisley’s main guy. He does all of Brad’s music videos. When he did our video, he saw it coming and he wanted to get into video production. Now he’s enormous! I ran into him at a Brad Paisley show a couple years ago and heard someone mention him by name. I went up to him and said “Jim, it’s Billy from Jetboy you remember me?” He totally did [laughs]! He said, “Billy I really think Jetboy was one of the best bands from that era. I’m sad that you didn’t break big.” On one hand, I really appreciate the acknowledgement, but on the other I’m like fuck [laughs]!

Sleaze Roxx: Rock Candy Records will reissue a remastered edition of ‘Feel The Shake’ on June 16, 2017. I love their work. I imagine you do as well.

Billy Rowe: Right, absolutely. I think Derek Oliver [Rock Candy Records owner] is great. I grew up reading Kerrang! I’m a huge fan of [writer] Howard Johnson and [writer] Malcolm Dome. I’ve become close friends with Howard over the years and the Rock Candy Magazine is fantastic. Out of all the guys in Jetboy, I’m the biggest ‘rock geek’ of the bunch. I’m a huge fan of obscure bands like Angel, Girl and Starz — stuff like that. When I go online and see that Rock Candy Records has reissued albums by Riot, Coney Hatch and other bands that no one has heard, I get excited [laughs]! I’m like who didn’t buy this when it was originally released [laughs]? Leave it up to the U.K. to reissue these albums — I think it’s wonderful. I’ve been such a great fan of things that have come out of the U.K. — Kerrang!, The New Of British Heavy Metal, all of that stuff.

Sleaze Roxx: Rock Candy Records now has domestic distribution, which will be easier to find. I can’t wait to tear the cellophane off my copy when it arrives.

Billy Rowe: I worked directly with them. I got them some old photos and I did an interview with Howard [Johnson] for the expanded liners. I like you can’t wait to get my copy. We tried to track down an original master of the Elektra album, which included “Missing You” but we weren’t successful. I have a copy on a cassette but that wasn’t going to work. If we could track down the masters, there are a few tracks on there that weren’t even mixed. I know that for a fact. I even offered Derek [Oliver] to get him in touch with the photographer who shot the Elektra Records cover in the event he wanted to do a release as it was intended.

Jetboy‘s “Feel The Shake” video:

JETBOY – Feel The Shake [Official Music Video]

JETBOY – Feel The Shake [Official Music Video] from the album “Feel the Shake” (1988)