INTERVIEW WITH BILLY MORRIS OF TUFF (PART 2 OF 3)
Date: October 8, 2015
Interviewer: Greg Troyan of Lipstick
PART 1 OF SLEAZE ROXX’S INTERVIEW WITH TUFF GUITARIST BILLY MORRIS COVERED HIS TIME WITH PAUL GILBERT, HIS BAND KIDD WICKED AS WELL AS HIS ENCOUNTERS WITH SEBASTIAN BACH AND DAVID LEE ROTH. PART 2 OF SLEAZE ROXX’S INTERVIEW COVERS BILLY’S TIME IN WARRANT, THE BILLY MORRIS BAND, QUIET RIOT AND WITH FRANK DIMINO OF ANGEL FAME.
Sleaze Roxx: So, I want to touch on the Warrant thing, and your tenure in that band.
Billy Morris: Excellent. Let’s go.
Sleaze Roxx: Alright, let’s do it. I’ll let you do most of the talking.
Billy Morris: Well, let me tell you how I got to meet Jani Lane. There was a really cool club in Kent, Ohio called Filthy McMangian’s. I used to cover there every Sunday night to see all the cover bands play, and this was in about ’86 or ’87. It was the holidays, and Jani had been living in California but he was home for the Christmas holidays. And a friend of mine saw him walk by and said to me, “See that guy right there? He’s gonna be a rock star someday.” The guy called the shot. At that time his name was John Oswald, and I didn’t even meet him that night. I just knew that my friend said that he was going to be a rock star. Well, lo and behold, Jani Lane became a rock star.
I met him because my band opened for Warrant on the very first Warrant tour, before the record came out. It was a promotional tour with Warrant and D’Molls. It was at Peabodys in Cleveland, and my band opened the show. So, that’s where I first got to see him perform. Totally fell in love with the band, huge fan of Warrant, and like I said, anytime any of the big bands would come through Cleveland, I would open the show.
Anyway, Jani noticed me. We became friends and he noticed I could play the guitar and could shred pretty good, so Jani would call me when he was coming through town, and he would say, “Hey Billy, we’re coming through town. Why don’t you book your band and my band can come up and jam with you guys? Or I’ll come out and see you guys.” Because he loved to come out to jam and go to the clubs and party and stuff. So I’d do that, and we’d play these little corner bars with maybe 100 people or so. Then, when they exploded, he called me one time and said, “Hey, book your band. It’s a Tuesday night. Book your band at the Akron Agora. When we open for Motley Crue, I’ll announce we’re going there.”
So, we booked Kidd Wicked at the Akron Agora on a Tuesday night, which is when they’re usually closed. Now, this is a 2,000 seat nightclub, and at the Warrant show he said it over the microphone, “Hey, we’re going to the Akron Agora after our show. Come meet us and party with us.” And of a sudden, there’s 2,000 people at the Akron Agora on a Tuesday night.
So, that was my relationship with Jani. We were rock n’ roll friends. So, eventually it got to the point where Warrant was starting to play more clubs in between arena tours. I got to know their management, and their management said to me, “Look, do you want to open for Warrant for a week or two? If you want to, you can, but you gotta let them use your gear.” That was the deal: I got to open for Warrant, but I don’t think it was because “Billy Morris is so kick ass.” It was, “We can get along with Billy and he can bring along all the stage gear for us” because they weren’t traveling with their gear back then, they just used our back line. One of the good ones we did was a tour we did with Kidd Wicked, Slaughter and Warrant. That’s where I really got to meet the guys and become friends with the guys in Warrant.
So, time goes on, and it was around 1998 or 1999. I just got off the road with Paul Gilbert and I got a voicemail from Jani. He said to me, “Billy, give me a call. I want you to do guitars for Warrant.” I’m like, “Man, I don’t want to even call him back. I don’t want to do guitars for Warrant. I’m way beyond that.” I thought he wanted me to be the guitar tech for Warrant, setting up guitars and doing a soundman, roadie type thing. I was on the top of my game. I had just played with Paul Gilbert. I was on his live CD. I’d never played better. I’m feeling really good and now this guy is calling me to be a guitar roadie for Warrant. I just wasn’t interested. About a week later he called me back and said, “Billy, why didn’t you call me back?” And I said to him, “Jani, I’m sorry. I can’t go out and set up guitars for Warrant.” And he said back to me, “Dude, I didn’t mean that. I want you to be the lead guitar player for Warrant.” And I’m like, “Woah! Well then, I’m in!”
And that was it. I got to join Warrant. So, we got to do the first couple shows, and Jani and I roomed together. That was part of the thing that he wanted. He needed somebody in the band he could relate to. He needed another Ohio guy in the band, because it was him and all California guys. And while they shared the same passion for rock n’ roll, and they got along in a musical sense, when you’re out on the road, the music is just a small part of it. There’s more hanging out and traveling in a bus and watching sports on TV and doing activities aside from just doing the music, and he needed an Ohio guy.
So, about a week in, we were at the hotel watching Sportscenter and just talking, and he said to me, “Dude! I knew you were the guy! I knew you were the guy! Those guys were pushing for Dave Marshall [the Vince Neil guitarist] but I told them “No. I wanted you, and you proved me right!” So, they wanted Dave Marshall, but they got me, and I got to stay in the band for about five years. We would do clubs during the winter and the fall, and that would keep us going to gear up for the summer tours. And, luckily for me, the first four years were great summer tours. We were gone all summer on a tour bus, and I had my own bunk, and my own guitar tech and my own guitar endorsements. The first year, we played a tour with Warrant, Ratt and LA Guns as the bill for about 8 weeks. For me, it was amazing, because my favorite guitarist from that ’80s MTV era — and I hate to use the term “hair band” but I guess that’s the tag for it — was Warren DeMartini. And here I was, on tour with Warren DeMartini. I think we were alternating opening and closing Ratt and Warrant. So there would be nights where Ratt would play first and I would be on the side of the stage watching him, and there were nights when we would play first. I don’t think he ever stayed and watched me, but I got to tour with the guys and I was really excited about that.
Sleaze Roxx: So, I want to talk about the Warrant album you co-produced: “Under the Influence.” It’s a covers album with excellent production and is one of the band’s best albums. I want to talk about your experience as co-producer on that album, who chose what songs and what the process was like recording that album.
Billy Morris: That’s a great topic to talk about. It was hard to get Jani to write new music. We just couldn’t get him to get into the studio and write anything new. And let’s face it, there’s not going to a Warrant album with Billy Morris writing the songs for it. Jani was the songwriter. So, we were on the tourbus, and Erik and Jerry were really the business guys of the band. It was their band and they called the shots. And we were all talking, and they were like, “Let’s do a covers album. That way we can get something out there that’s new, we can sell it, and it will be something we can play some songs off of live.”
Everybody thought it was a great idea, everybody threw song ideas into a hat, and everybody collectively as a band picked that handful of songs. And then when it came time to record the album, Jani was living in Akron with his wife and his little baby, and I lived in Cleveland, and the other guys all lived in LA. And I had a studio. So we said, “We’ll go into my studio, we’ll do the basic rhythm tracks,” and we flew Mike Fasano [Warrant drummer] out and did the basic rhythm tracks: bass, guitar, drums and all the lead vocals and backing vocals. Then we sent the tapes out to LA. Erik did all of his rhythm guitars and Jerry did all of his bass guitars and then sent it back to me, and then I mixed it. I mixed it a couple of times and got approval from those guys to make sure it sounded good and they sent it out and got it mastered and that was it.
Now, on a side note, we were doing about ten songs. It’s cold out and it’s kinda hard to get Jani in the studio and get Jani up from Akron, so we’re doing lead vocals in a matter of three or four days. And we’re coming up to “Down Payment Blues” which is one of the last songs we needed to do, so I said to Jani, “Alright, Jani, get in there. Let’s do this. ‘Down Payment Blues.’” And Jani said, “I’m gonna go get something to eat. You sing it.” I didn’t even question it. I said, “No problem. I’ll go in and sing it.” That was one of the songs I picked, because I loved that song and I had played that song in my bands before. I don’t think that there was even anybody else around. I hit record on the tape machine and ran in the vocal booth, sang it a couple times, fixed it all up and the rest was history.
Sleaze Roxx: Were there any songs on the album that you pushed for inclusion on there?
Billy Morris: The other one that I totally picked was “Dead, Jail or Rock N Roll.” I picked that one.
Sleaze Roxx: Nice! I got to interview Michael Monroe recently.
Billy Morris: Nice! That was definitely my pick. Those two were the only ones that I was 100% responsible for bringing to the table. One that we tried to do was “Love is Like Oxygen” by Sweet, because we all love that song. We started recording that, and then once we got to the really mellow breakdown before the chorus, Jani said, “Man, fuck this song!”
Billy Morris: You know, the song had a cool chorus and a cool hook, but there’s this really mellow part in the song that didn’t fit what we were doing and how we were trying to come across. And there were some songs I disagreed on. I did not want to do “Tie Your Mother Down” because I think that Lynch Mob had just done that on a record. Jani was really heavy on the Badfinger cover “Come And Get It” and I was more wanting to do metal. ‘Under The Influence’ was a collective group effort. It was a painless, fun experience for me and I want to thank those guys for giving me the opportunity to do that.
Sleaze Roxx: I want to touch a bit on your Billy Morris Band solo album you released, which I believe was after you left Warrant.
Billy Morris: I was the lead guitar player for Warrant for four years. I had played with Warrant for four big summer tours, and I had a bunch of original songs I had been sitting on for years that I hadn’t recorded. So, I put a few of them together on a Billy Morris Band CD, most of which were co-written with Mike Szuter. He’s my go-to song guru guy for either completely writing a song, or saying, “Hey Mike, I’ve got this A chord, what do I do next [laughs]?” He’s the best producer. We get along so well. We’ve been best friends since the mid ’80s.
So, I put it out there, and it was such a weird time, man. I put it out there, and obviously the internet was out there, but I’m not the promotion guy. I can write the song. I can produce the song. I can go out and play the song live, but when it comes to being a record company, I’m not the guy. So I basically just sold it off the stage and basically gave it away to everybody. So, they’re out there. The musicians on that record: Craig Martini played bass, and he went on to play with Paul Gilbert and Joe Satriani on those G3 tours, and he’s a killer bass played from Cleveland. The drummer was a local drummer named Mark Anthony. I remember we did that at one of my nightclubs called the Hi-Fi club. It was a snowy night and we sent up a bunch of mics in the big room and did all the basic tracks in one night. It took me about a year to finish the rest of it, but we got all of the basic tracks in one night.
It’s been like ten years since I’ve recorded that, and I’m gearing up to finish my next Billy Morris Band CD. Like, Greg, you know I record a ton of people locally, and I made a promise that I’m not going to do any other projects until I get my thing finished. Because at this point in my life, it’s gotta be about me. At this point in my life, I don’t really need to record anybody else because I’m making good money with my bands and my truck, and it will be done by the end of the year.
Sleaze Roxx: Awesome. I’m looking forward to hearing it! So, I wanna talk about Quiet Riot for a bit. You’ve got a lot of bands to talk about being in!
Billy Morris: Well, you can’t really talk about the Quiet Riot thing unless you touch on my exit from Warrant, so we should start there. So, it was 2004, and tension between Jani and Jerry and Erik was boiling like a pot of coffee and they weren’t really getting along. I don’t really know the details. Those guys never discussed the business stuff with me. We played New Years’ Eve in New Jersey 2004/2005, and Jani quit the band. And I had to make the decision. “Alright, I’m in Warrant, and Jani just quit. And Jani is asking me to follow him.” Now, Jani was my original friend in the band. Jani was living in Ohio. And I had to make the decision. And I decided to follow Jani.
What followed was the typical “singer quit the band” bullshit drama. Jani was trying to go out and be Warrant, but Jerry and Erik WERE Warrant. So, because I went with Jani and there were lawsuits pending and everything, though I don’t think it ever got that far, the manager at the time told me, “If you’re gonna go with Jani, go with Jani, but don’t talk to those guys. Don’t take their calls, don’t talk to them.” So, I did what I was told. I didn’t have any communication with them. And it came that they won. They own the name. I think Erik and Jerry started the band way before Jani joined the band, so they own the name. So, we had to put the “formerly of” in the band name — Jani Lane “formerly of” Warrant. You always had to have that “formerly of” there.
And so Jani put a solo record out and did some solo shows, and I was part of his solo band for the tour. So, that kinda soured my relations with Jerry and Erik. Since Jani quit the band in 2005, I have not talked to those guys except for one time. I haven’t talked to Erik. He doesn’t talk to me, which bums me out. I did a show with Warrant, Great White and Billy Morris at Annie’s in Cincinnati, and I saw Jerry in the doorway of the RV Warrant was traveling in, so I went up to him and said, “Hey Jerry, I just recorded this CD. I just wanted to give it to you and say hi.” And Jerry took the CD, threw it in the chest of ice, slammed the door in my face, and I’ve never talked to the guy since. So, that’s how the whole exit from Warrant and staying with Jani Lane happened.
So, Jani was promoting his solo album ‘Back Down To One’ and I was in his solo band. Jani was doing this tour called “The Bad Boys of Metal” which had the lead singers of different metal bands with the one band backing all of them. It makes sense. You have one band that’s backing up a couple different lead singers. And the run that we were on was Jani Lane and Kevin DuBrow. And I had known Kevin because in 2001, we did a tour together called the “Glam Slam Metal Jam” which was Poison, Warrant, Quiet Riot and Enuff Z’Nuff. So I spent three months on the road with Kevin DuBrow before that.
But going back further to the early days of my life, I’m a metal fan. I bought ‘Metal Health’ as a new release. I played it a thousand times, wore the needle off the record, and now I’m on tour with Kevin DuBrow and we became friends. We’re on the “Bad Boys of Metal” tour and we’re at our first show in Florida, and Kevin comes in and says, “Hi, I’m Kevin DuBrow. I know you’re [in] Jani’s band, and I’m glad that you’re playing with me, but I just have one rule. I’m going first. I do not want anybody in the band to drink before my show. As soon as we hit the last note, and you’re done with playing Kevin DuBrow music, you guys can drink. But, before my show, nobody gets to drink.” And I was like, “Amen. You’re the boss. That’s the way it should be.”
So, the first show, he comes in the dressing room, he’s getting ready to go on, and he sees there’s half a bottle of vodka already gone. These guys are already looped and he’s pissed. It ended up being a two week drunkfest, lots of drinking and partying, but not me. We would be getting up and having to drive two or three hours in a 15 passenger van, and the only people that could drive were me and Kevin. So, we’re talking, and he picks up his phone and calls Frankie, and says, “Frankie, we’re putting Quiet Riot back together, and we’re putting Billy Morris on lead guitar. Ten rows back, nobody will know it’s not Carlos.”
So, that was the reason Quiet Riot got back together. Kevin liked me so much and they were wanting to put the band back together, but I don’t think Carlos really wanted to do it. But Kevin recognized the value in me being able to play those songs and resemble Carlos Cavazo. So, I played lead guitar for Quiet Riot for about six months as a touring member. There’s an 8×10 of me that I don’t have, and if anybody has one of those, I’d love to have one.
I don’t really like to tell people that I joined Quiet Riot. I like to say that I was a touring lead guitar player for Quiet Riot, and we did some great shows. We went to Mexico and Spain, played some big arenas, and one of my best gigs with Quiet Riot, one of my best gigs of all time, was the Monterrey Metal Fest. It was Hatebreed, Dokken, Quiet Riot, Dio and Twisted Sister. It was the middle of a rainstorm and it was 15,000 Mexican guys in black leather jackets and it was great!
Sleaze Roxx: Nice.
Billy Morris: It was such an honor to be in that band. I was in it for about six months, and that’s all it really was. They went back to their guy that they have now, Alex Grossi, who’s a great guitar player and a great fit for them, and I’m glad that Frankie’s got that band working like a well oiled machine.
Sleaze Roxx: And you’ve played with Frank DiMino of Angel too, correct?
Billy Morris: Yeah, that was one little week tour. It was going to be a tour with Frank DiMino of Angel and The Godz. Back in the ’70s, when Angel was big, so was a regional band from Columbus, Ohio called The Godz. You know who they are, right Greg?
Sleaze Roxx: The Godz of Rock N Roll!
Billy Morris: Exactly. So, they’re gonna do this reunion tour, and Frank is kinda being handled and being brought into town by a local music legend named Snake Rock. He’s in a band called Snake Rock and his legal name is actually Snake Rock. He’s from Cleveland, he’s a rock n’ roller, a guitar player singer. He moved to LA, did the whole LA thing, moved to Vegas and did the whole Vegas thing, and decided to move back to his roots. And when he lived in Vegas, he became friends with Frank DiMino. So, when Frank called up Snake and said, “Snake, I’m coming through town,” Snake got the me the gig and I was the guitar player for Frank DiMino. It was a blast to be able to play all the Angel songs with the lead singer of Angel singing. If that isn’t a rock star dream come true, I don’t know what is.
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, I actually got to see Snake not too long ago. He was down in Nashville doing a few shows and I let him borrow my bass amp.
Billy Morris: Yeah, he’s producing a girl named Georgia now. So, what’s the next band you want to ask me about?
Sleaze Roxx: Tell me about working with Tuff.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of 3 of Sleaze Roxx’s interview with Billy Morris, which will be posted on October 10, 2015.