INTERVIEW WITH ROWAN ROBERTSON OF BANG TANGO AND DC4
Date: October 13, 2015
I’LL ALWAYS REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME I HEARD ROWAN ROBERTSON PLAY GUITAR. IT WAS ON “WILD ONE” WHICH WAS THE FIRST TRACK OF DIO’S NEWEST STUDIO ALBUM AT THE TIME, ‘LOCK UP THE WOLVES.’ ALL I COULD THINK OF WAS “WOW! HAD DID RONNIE JAMES DIO UNEARTH THIS 18 YEAR OLD GUITAR PRODIGY?” FAST FORWARD MORE THAN 25 YEARS AND IT IS A GREAT HONOUR TO BE ABLE TO INTERVIEW ROBERTSON FOR SLEAZE ROXX. IN THIS INTERVIEW, ROBERTSON SPEAKS CANDIDLY ON MANY TOPICS INCLUDING HIS TIME IN DIO AND NEW MATERIAL THAT WE CAN EXPECT FROM BOTH BANG TANGO AND DC4 IN THE FUTURE.
Sleaze Roxx: Most people know the name “Rowan Robertson” due to you joining the band Dio back in 1989 and playing on ‘Lock Up The Wolves.’ How do you feel about your name being constantly associated with Dio when that was almost 25 years ago now?
Rowan Robertson: It’s a privilege! A lot of guys would give their right arm to have their name associated with Ronnie James Dio. I couldn’t be more proud.
Sleaze Roxx: At the time that you joined Dio, long-time bassist Jimmy Bain and drummer Vinny Appice were still in the band but were eventually replaced respectively by Teddy Cook and Simon Wright by the time that ‘Lock Up The Wolves’ was released. What led to the departure of Bain and Appice and how was the band’s dynamics leading up to the release of ‘Lock Up The Wolves?’
Rowan Robertson: It was Ronnie’s decision to make the line-up changes, and Vinny’s too. I think he has given his reasons. I think there was a general feeling at that time, that things were coming to an end, but it wasn’t until 1992 that the industry really did change. So, even though things were relaxed and fun, there was definitely a lull in the overall excitement of that time in Los Angeles amongst people who made that brand of music. Ronnie, I know, was dealing with that.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Lock Up The Wolves’ is generally regarded as an underrated Dio album. What do you think of the album compared to the rest of Dio’s discography?
Rowan Robertson: I think the greatest albums in the Dio catalogue are ‘Holy Diver’ and ‘The Last In Line.’ I was a huge fan of those albums as a kid, and very passionate abut the guitar. I did the best I could do, and Ronnie got out of me, as near as he wanted to hear for Dio, so as far as I’m concerned, it is what it is and it’s a good record. With another five to ten years under my belt, I feel I could have understood a lot better what Ronnie wanted but he was the type of guy who didn’t second guess, only moved forward with belief and positivity, so took what I had to offer and the album was made. I think at times, he was frustrated that I perhaps didn’t fully understand what he wanted, but at other times he was very happy with my riffs and writing ideas. But I’m getting off the question.. I think ‘Lock Up The Wolves’ was a good album but the classics are the first two.
Sleaze Roxx: Eventually, Ronnie James Dio reunited with Black Sabbath for the ‘Dehumanizer’ album in 1992. How did your time in Dio end and why do you think that you weren’t part of the band again when Ronnie got Dio back together by late 1992/early 1993?
Rowan Robertson: My time with Dio ended when he chose to rejoin Sabbath after the ‘Lock Up The Wolves’ tour. And as for why I think I wasn’t included after, I don’t know. At that time, I had put together a band with Oni Logan. We had just gotten signed to Atlantic, and Ronnie never asked me to come back to Dio, so I can’t say why.
Sleaze Roxx: Wikipedia indicates that you have archived rehearsal recordings with Ronnie for the album that was meant to follow up ‘Lock Up The Wolves’ and before Ronnie went back to Black Sabbath. Is this true and if so, is there any chance that it might get released in the future?
Rowan Robertson: No, that’s not true. I have boom box recordings of two songs that never made the ‘Lock Up The Wolves’ album, but haven’t released those. For me, that is a call for Wendy [Dio] to make.
Sleaze Roxx: I am going to fast forward a bit but eventually you joined DC4 in 2006. How did you end joining DC4?
Rowan Robertson: I met Jeff Duncan on some out of town gigs though a mutual friend, and Jeff said, “Hey, wanna come play with my band?” So I got together with them in LA, and it was just the sort of group of guys and music that I wanted to get involved with at the time, as I was looking to get back into blues based rock again. I really missed it! Off subject, I think the last era of music to really include the blues roots was the Soundgarden/Alice In Chains era stuff. Today, popular music has no blues in it to speak of. There are some newer bands carrying the torch like Orange Goblin, Rival Sons and Blackberry Smoke. That’s really where my heart is as a musician. The blues influence really carries the magic for me. Of course, I love classical music too and it expresses a whole different range of feelings that blues cannot express, but for me, if it’s rocking, the blues has to be there! It’s that mixed with the beat that makes people go crazy — in a good way of course!
Sleaze Roxx: Please take me through your musical journey with DC4.
Rowan Robertson: Since I’ve been playing with them, Jeff and I continue to geek out like crazy on guitar stuff, as guitarists do. He is a very strong player as his work with Armored Saint and DC4 shows. We’re always showing each other neat stuff, from Van Halen to some new things I’ve been working at. I will always be a student of music so go through phases of learning new things and my time with DC4 contained a lot of that sort of thing. We always come back to the same place though, killer riff based music because it’s what grabbed us early on in life.
Rowan Robertson: Joe Leste approached me after a gig and told me he wanted me to join. It’s always fun with them, Lance Eric and Timmy Russell are very funny guys so we’re always cracking up. It’s well known Joe is an excellent frontman and he has a real talent for songwriting, so it’s a pleasure for me to work with him. We have already come up with some song ideas for new material. We added Drew Fortier into the group on guitar as well, as it really fills out the sound. He also has musical ideas and brings a real shot in the arm to the band.
Sleaze Roxx: You have actually been busy with a number of projects between your time with Dio and DC4 including an album recorded with Oni Logan which was eventually released in 2002. Out of all the projects that you were involved in during that period of time, which one was your favourite and why?
Rowan Robertson: My favourite is Violet’s Demise with Oni Logan, Scot Coogan and Spencer Campbell, and produced by Dave Jerden who has worked with Alice In Chains and The Rolling Stones amongst others. Though I feel there are a lot of things wrong with that record strictly from my personal performance, and I wish one day we could re-record it, me doing the job that I know I can do on the guitar, tailor the song arrangements more, update it… But that being said, it was a really killer record from a creative and original stand point. The bulk of the writing was Oni and me, with help from the band of course, but I’m very proud of how interesting, strange and heavy that record is. Oni is a huge talent.
Sleaze Roxx: Which one has been your least favourite during that period and why?
Rowan Robertson: I always try to be the best I can and there’s enjoyment there and challenge also. Just playing guitar is such a wonderful thing. To be able to do so, that’s where my passion lies, so there’s something good in everything.
Sleaze Roxx: What other projects have you been involved with since joining DC4 in 2006?
Rowan Robertson: I played on a Billy Ray Cyrus record and did some gigs with him and his band, and I’m currently playing in, ‘Raiding The Rock Vault’, a rock show in Las Vegas with Howard Leese of Heart, Andrew Freeman of Lynch Mob and Offspring fame, Robin Mcauley of MSG and many other excellent players. It’s a real privilege for me to be involved with these guys and I highly recommend seeing the show. People love it!! Tracii Guns is back in on guitar right now and I’m coming in and out when they need me.
Sleaze Roxx: What are your future plans going forward?
Rowan Robertson: New music from Bang Tango and DC4 is on the cards for the immediate future.
Sleaze Roxx: Can you provide some further details regarding those two releases such as when we can expect them to be released, how many songs will be on each album and the musical direction for each of them compared to prior albums?
Rowan Robertson: DC4 are aiming to make a new record before spring. The musical direction is much the same; riff based melodic rock, hard hitting classic metal. Jeff has most of an album written now so we aim to do a full length record. Bang Tango are not as far along yet with our writing process being as yet limited to jamming ideas in hotel rooms on tour, but in the near future I plan to go to Arizona so we can get our heads together and move forward with a record. Joe has told me he is looking to do something a bit more in the realms of The Rolling Stones. We plan on it being a full length record.
Sleaze Roxx: Last question — what are your three all-time favorite records off all-time and why?
Rowan Robertson: Too many to say, and not just in the rock world! But off the top of my head, ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ by Black Sabbath, ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ by The Beatles and ‘Rocks’ by Aerosmith. The grooves, the tones, the creativity… These are some of the greatest moments from some of the greatest rock bands ever captured on tape, and there are so many more great recordings to enjoy.