INTERVIEW WITH KEEL, COLD SWEAT AND MEDICINE WHEEL GUITARIST MARC FERRARI
Date: December 19, 2016
Interviewer: Tyson Briden
This latest interview that you will read below is one that I was quite excited about. Doing my research for this interview really made me think back to 1987. Hair metal bands ruled the airwaves. You couldn’t turn on MTV/Much Music without seeing something related to hair rock. Going to the record store was always met with great anticipation. Being that I was only in my early teens, my funds were limited, so I would rifle through the LPs examining every cover until I decided on just the right album to buy and take home to listen too. There was something about the image and the music itself that drew me in. Life was good.
One of the first bands I ever recalling seeing on Much Music was a band called “Keel.” I absolutely loved the video for “The Right To Rock.” Keel had the look and sound that I found tantalizing to my eyes and ears. There was one member in this band that especially and really stood out to me though. It was this really cool looking guitarist with long dark hair with two blond streaks in the front. I thought now that guy is rock n’ roll! His name is Marc Ferrari.
I would follow Marc’s career for many years to come. When he left Keel and formed Cold Sweat, I was very excited to hear his new project. To this day, that first and only Cold Sweat album is still a favourite album of mine. Marc would then move on to form Medicine Wheel. For those who own that first Medicine Wheel, it can be attested to the fact that it is a great album as well. So getting to interview Marc was a great pleasure. I hope you enjoy what he has to say and maybe I have actually touched on something that you may not know about the man!
Sleaze Roxx: Hey Marc, really great to talk with you. I’ll start off by saying, it’s a great honour for me to speak with you. I have followed your career since the mid ’80s. My CD collection features a vast array of your catalog: Keel, Cold Sweat and Medicine Wheel. I’d like to start off our interview with a topic that I am sure you’re very passionate about; your new children’s book “Don’t Dilly Dally Silly Sally.” What was your motivation to write a children’s book?
The story was inspired by my daughter. At a very early age, she was constantly running late and I always used to say to her “Don’t Dilly Dally Silly Sally.” The phrase stuck with me and I decided to write a story about it. The story is about a girl who is chronically running late and o
ne day she misses something that is very important to her because she didn’t get there in time. She then learns to allow herself some more time to get ready and is not late again after that.
Sleaze Roxx: Is the book available in stores or just exclusively to your website marcferrari.com?
The official release date is January 5, 2017. It will be available in all Barnes & Noble stores and of course on Amazon as well. Currently, I have some advance copies that I will personally sign if bought from me directly. Folks can email me through my website or PayPal
$19.95 to Marc127@aol.com
with instructions on who to sign it to and their address.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you have plans to keep pursuing writing children’s books or is this a one off thing?
Marc Ferrari: We’ll see. Perhaps there’s a continuation of the story!
Sleaze Roxx: I’m very interested in talking about your days before LA and Keel. I’ve read that you played in an Aerosmith tribute band in Boston. Being that it was Boston, the demand for such a band must have been very high. What is your recollection of those times? Obviously this was not something you saw in your future and you decided to move out west. I am assuming that with a look very reminiscent to Joe Perry [the blond streak on black hair that Marc was known for in the ’80s], that was the part you played in the band?
Yes, I played the part of Joe Perry in the Aerosmith cover band which was called Last Child. I have some pictures of the band on my website marcferrari.com
. We started doing this in 1982 which was well before the bulk of the tribute bands we now see. Coincidently, the other guitar player in the band also got a major label deal. His name was Jim Khoury. He played in the band Meliah Rage.
Sleaze Roxx: So upon arriving in LA, what was your first step? How long did it take before you hooked up with Ron Keel? Did you play with any other bands in LA before Keel?
I moved to Los Angeles in January 1984 to join the members of Last Child who had moved out ahead of me by a few months. The game plan was for us to reform the band in Los Angeles and then try to get a record deal. We were not able to get things going as quickly as we had expected and some of the members decided Los Angeles wasn’t for them and moved back to Boston. I stuck it out and ran into Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records at a clothing store on Melrose. He was the one who introduced me to Ron Keel. Things happened very quickly once I got in the band. Our first gig was in April 1984 and by August of that same year we had recorded two records.
Sleaze Roxx: You played on four Keel albums in the ’80s — ‘Lay Down The Law’, ‘The Right to Rock’, ‘The Final Frontier’ and ‘Keel.’ What would you catergorize as your favourite of the four? And what is your least favourite of the four?
Marc Ferrari: My favourite has always been ‘The Final Frontier.’ I think the band was really in full swing then and we had written a well rounded, diverse record. As far as least favourite of the four, I guess I would have to go with ‘Keel.’ There were some outside pressure for us to be more commercial and we wound up covering some outside material on that release. Although it was an amazing sounding record, I personally feel that some of our better material may have been left off. Case in point the song “Proud To Be Loud” which Pantera covered on their power metal album the following year.
Sleaze Roxx: The album cover for ‘Lay Down The Law’ had quite a provocative cover photo. In the time of Tipper Gore and the PMRC, did Keel take much flack for having such a “sexist” — as some would put it back then — cover? Were there any retailers that refused to carry the album?
I’m sure we ruffled a few feathers back then but then again other bands were doing the same kind of thing like W.A.S.P., Lizzy Borden, etc. I can’t say that it really bothered me at all. I wasn’t really paying too much attention to what the PMRC felt about bands like us.
Sleaze Roxx: I am sure the recording of every album was a different experience. Can you elaborate on the process of these recordings somewhat and give me an idea of what it was like in the studio back in those days where things took a lot more time to do. I am sure as the albums went on, the budgets became bigger and with that came more pressure to outdo the last album. I will also note that the self-titled Keel album was an all-digital recording. What was the digital recording like back then? Probably much more primitive than it is now.
Marc Ferrari: I’m not sure the word ‘primitive’ is the right one to use. However, ‘old school’ comes to mind. Yes, we were doing analog back in those days with two inch tape. Those were the days before auto tune or any kind of digital trickery. So we really had to get our performances down tight. We never spent a lot of time in the studio [sighs]. A lot of things were done very quickly and then just a few takes. We certainly did not have the liberty of time like Def Leppard, Boston or some of the other bands that seemed to have taken six months to a year to do a record. We were always in and out pretty quickly. I think that actually worked to our benefit. We were always prepared when we went in there.
Sleaze Roxx: For those of us that grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, KISS is a band that was much loved and inspired a many ’80s musician. Gene Simmons produced ‘The Right To Rock’ and ‘The Final Frontier.’ What was the experience like working with Gene? Did he have a lot of input into the songs, arrangements etc.?
Marc Ferrari: Gene was a huge part of our story. Not only was he a big musical influence on all of us but he became a true mentor, friend and flag waver for the band. He was very helpful to our recording process helping to structure the song arrangements, bringing out the best performances in us, mediating disputes, and making for an overall great experience in the studio. We all learned a lot from him. On ‘The Right To Rock’ album, we even covered three of his songs.
Sleaze Roxx: I’ve noticed on the liner notes of the four albums that the songwriting was spilt amongst the band members. Was there ever conflict between the members of the band wanting their songs on the records or was it a joint effort where the thinking was “what was best for the band”?
Marc Ferrari: Well actually, the songwriting was not split equally among the band members. However, if someone contributed to a song, they were given credit. Ron was very fair about that kind of thing. I started stretching my wings and by ‘The Final Frontier’ album, I had become one of the two main songwriters in the band. Ron and I always had a healthy competition as far songwriting goes. We really pushed each other to greater heights, and yes, the whole band benefited from that. It’s like the saying goes “the high tide raises all ships.”
Sleaze Roxx: On the ‘Keel’ album, there are two songs that were written by Jack Ponti and Russell Arcara — “Somebody’s Waiting” and “Don’t Say You Love Me.” Were these songs that Ponti/Arcara had left over from their days in Surgin? How did the band feel about recording these songs? Was there a push from MCA to include them?
Keel in 1987
Marc Ferrari: I am not sure if those songs were left over from the Surgin project. I was not involved in the decision making process as far as the inclusion of those two songs. Although I may have been a little disappointed that two of our own songs may have not gone on the record because of the inclusion of those two, I supported the decision because everybody thought that those songs would be beneficial for us. I would imagine there probably was some pressure from the record company to have a commercial hit at that point in time. By the way, Jack Ponti became a great supporter of the band and helped us get the Bon Jovi tour in 1987.
Sleaze Roxx: Keel toured with many great ’80s bands, but the one that stands out to me is Bon Jovi. It was just when ‘Slippery When Wet’ became a huge hit. What do you remember most about that tour? Do you have any stories that you can share?
Marc Ferrari: It was just an amazing experience all around. It was our first American arena tour. Everything was sold out months in advance. Multiple nights in venues such as Madison Square Garden, the Nassau Coliseum, the Jersey Meadowlands, Great Woods outside of Boston, etc, Extraordinary energy all around, screaming fans, etc. etc. etc. You get the picture. It felt like it was the culmination of everything we had worked up to at that point in time. We really thought that was going to be the tour that would bust us open. However, things did not go as well as planned and it was certainly frustrating to return to have to play clubs and only get one video out of that record.
Sleaze Roxx: When the ‘Keel’ album was released, I recall seeing the video for “Somebody’s Waiting” on Much Music. I thought you guys had a great look and the song was fantastic. Keel looked like it was finally going to break to Motley Crue/Bon Jovi status. Shortly after in 1988, you would leave the band. What do you attribute to the buzz being high, but the album not doing as well as anticipated? It must have been frustrating.
Marc Ferrari: As mentioned in the previous question, we had a lot of momentum coming off the Bon Jovi tour but everything just seemed to stop from there. We actually did not tour again that summer. We just had sporadic club dates and by the fall of that year, we were scratching our heads as to what happened… or should I say what did not happen. Certainly, you could infer the record company dropped the ball on the whole thing. We took our lap around the track but it seem like other people did not.
Sleaze Roxx: When you left Keel, you formed the band Ferrari, which later became Cold Sweat. Can you elaborate on the name change?
Marc Ferrari: Back in early 1988 when I started the band — which was initially called Ferrari — we did reach out to the car company because we anticipated there being some issue. At that point in time, they said they had no problem with us being named Ferrari. Keep in mind, there was also the band Triumph and Triumph motorcycles and there was certainly no confusion between the two of them. However, it took us nearly two years to get the record out and by 1990, the car company had changed their mind. They actually did not object to us releasing a record by the name Ferrari. However, they did object to us putting the word Ferrari on a t-shirt and selling it. At that point in time, the Ferrari motor company made as much money licensing their name as they did selling their cars. We didn’t have the means to challenge them on it so we decided to change the name.
Sleaze Roxx: The Cold Sweat album ‘Breakout’ was released on MCA Records in 1990. My understanding is that the day the video for “Let’s Make Love Tonight” was released, MCA dropped the band. What was their reasoning for this? I recollect my excitement for Cold Sweat being high. Metal Edge magazine really pushed you guys hard. I heard one song on the radio and then it was gone. It seemed so strange.
Marc Ferrari: Again, record company logic goes against what any sane person would think would be appropriate. Yes, we had some good momentum going that summer. We had a fair amount of MTV rotation, a fair amount of record sales, and decent touring. We were out with Dio that whole summer and were playing in front of mostly sold-out audiences on that tour. We were winning new fans every night and certainly gaining some ground. One can only speculate as to what happened with that decision. However, it would’ve taken another few videos and more tour support to put us over the edge. Sometimes record companies will just cut their losses instead of putting more money into something they’re not sure they’re going to get back.
Sleaze Roxx: There is a song on the Ferrari demo called “Stay.” This song would not appear on ‘Breakout’ but would later appear on the first Medicine Wheel release. What was the reasoning for it not appearing on ‘Breakout’? I really think it’s a solid song and feel that back in 1990, could have done very well.
Marc Ferrari: I think that song was very strong and would’ve made for a great single. However, the band was a democracy and there were two ballads to choose from at that point in time and I got out-voted. I actually like “Waiting In Vain” quite a bit. I was not really upset about “Stay” not being on the record… I wrote or co-wrote most of that release anyway.
Sleaze Roxx: What was the recording process like on ‘Breakout’? Did you feel pressure to live up to your work in Keel? Or did you feel enough confidence in the songs and the band that you just didn’t worry about it?
Marc Ferrari: The recording process was loose. We had a couple of jokers in the band that kept everybody in stitches most of the time. That’s not to say we didn’t have disagreements. On the contrary, I butted heads quite a bit with the producer. We had different visions of what the final result should be. If you had heard some of the original demos of those songs, you would notice that they were a lot more raw. I was not in the least bit worried about trying to outdo myself from Keel. I knew we were making a very solid record and that I had a great bunch of guys alongside with me.
Sleaze Roxx: In 1991, you would appear in the movie ‘Wayne’s World’ playing in the fictional band “Crucial Taunt.” You would reprise that role in ‘Wayne’s World II.’ Is there anything you can tell me about this experience?
Again, another amazing experience. I got that role through my friendship with the director of ‘Wayne’s World’ — Penelope Spheeris. She directed a video for Keel called “Rock ‘N’ Roll Outlaw.” That song was on the soundtrack for her previous movie called ‘Dudes.’ Spending the summer working with such great talent as Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Tia Carrera, Brian Doyle Murray, and others was truly a once in a lifetime experience. ‘Wayne’s World 2’ was also pretty fun to be involved with. Got to hang out with Aerosmith, Chris Farley, and Peter Frampton!
Sleaze Roxx: After you left Cold Sweat, your next musical venture would be Medicine Wheel. ‘First Things First’ was such a great album. I think vocalist Michael Mulholland was a fantastic singer with many different styles to his voice. How did that project come to be?
Marc Ferrari: Medicine Wheel was just a continuation of where I was at the time musically. The first Medicine Wheel album was recorded and released in 1994 pretty much in the midst of the grunge rock movement. I think we made a pretty solid record and yes, I agree with you that Michael Mulholland was a find. He’s a great guy and a great singer.
Sleaze Roxx: Medicine Wheel released three very solid albums — ‘First Things First’, ‘Immortal Fabric’ and ‘Small Talk.’ All feature a different singer. With the state of music in the ’90s, was it difficult to keep singers around? I am sure the crowds, venues and money wasn’t like it was in the ’80s and that could have played into the equation as well.
Marc Ferrari: Medicine Wheel was a part-time band. All of us were doing other things at that point in time. I had already started my production music library called MasterSource and was going full-bore with that. And yes, during that point in time when grunge rock was ruling the world, commercial hard rock was not selling as well and it was more difficult to get deals. We did what we could in the environment that we were dealing with and I think that we made some pretty good records for that period of time. Many of those songs wound up being placed in major motion pictures, TV shows, commercials and the like.
Sleaze Roxx: What can you tell us about your first solo release ‘Guestlist’? You got some pretty great musicians playing on that album. Steve Plunkett, Robin McAuley, Tommy Thayer and Pat Torpey to name a few. Was this an album that was done all at once or over a period of time? I will add that this album is almost impossible to find. On my list of must haves that I just can’t seem to find.
Marc Ferrari: I was recording songs with many of my friends during that time and eventually I had enough to make into a record. Although most of the songs were recorded in a generally similar chronological era, it wasn’t a studio project where I went in and did them all at the same time like we did with Keel, Cold Sweat or Medicine Wheel.
Sleaze Roxx: Your second solo release from 2003 — ‘Lights, Camera, Action’ — is a collection of songs that you did in film and TV through you company MasterSource. I am curious to know more about MasterSource and how you got into that.
Marc Ferrari: I had always been acutely aware of music publishing. Keel had songs in a few TV shows and films and I was well aware of the additional income and exposure that those placements gave the band. In the early ’90s, I started getting some of my demos used in some small films and TV shows that I had friends of mine working on. That was the lightbulb that went off in my head and I realized that there was a great need for professionally sounding demos that could be licensed very quickly and inexpensively. My idea exploded on me and in no time, I was doing this the whole time. Fast forward to 2007, I sold my business to Universal Music Publishing. I still continue to produce music for them to this day.
Sleaze Roxx: Keel released ‘The Streets Of Rock N’ Roll’ back in 2010. It was a very solid album. Are there plans to do another Keel album in the future?
Marc Ferrari: I personally would love to do another record. However, it’s a lot of work and these days, there’s really not much of a financial incentive to do it. Complicating matters is that the five guys in the band live in five different states and that a few of them are busy doing their own thing. While I’m not saying “never”, it may be a little while before we get to do another record again.
Sleaze Roxx: You seem like a very diverse and well-rounded guy. Can you tell us what you are passionate about outside of music?
I got into cars a little later in life than some other guys but I have caught up with the passion of owning and driving exotic cars. I also am a very outdoor oriented guy and I love to backpack, hike, fish and get out of cell coverage! Two years ago, I crossed off one of my bucket list items. I went to Nepal and hiked up to Everest base camp with two buddies of mine. It was nearly 100 miles of hiking over two weeks and we got to 17,500 feet. Totally amazing experience. Head on over to marcferrari.com
to find out more.