INTERVIEW WITH JETBOY GUITARIST BILLY ROWE
Date: January 17, 2019
Interviewer: Tyson Briden
BACK IN THE ’80S, IT WAS ALWAYS INTERESTING TO ME THAT A BAND COULD LITERALLY BE KNOWN WITHOUT OR BEFORE HAVING AN ALBUM RELEASED ON A MAJOR LABEL. IT WAS THE EXPOSURE THEY WOULD RECEIVE IN A MAJOR PUBLICATION THAT MADE THIS HAPPEN. A MAJOR PUBLICATION THAT COMES TO MIND FIRST AND FOREMOST WAS METAL EDGE MAGAZINE. EDITOR GERRI MILLER AND HER TEAM WERE ALWAYS AT THE FOREFRONT IN TERMS OF MUSIC PUBLICATIONS THAT MADE THE PUBLIC WELL AWARE OF WHAT WAS NEW AND EXCITING. JETBOY WERE ONE OF THOSE SUCH BANDS.
LONG BEFORE THE RELEASE OF THE BAND’S ‘FEEL THE SHAKE’ ALBUM, I KNEW EXACTLY WHO JETBOY WAS. I TRULY BELIEVE THAT PURELY LIES ON THE GREAT JOB DONE BY METAL EDGE. THE FRUSTRATING PART OF THIS SCENARIO WAS THE FACT THAT YOU COULD SEE THE BAND VISUALLY, BUT HAD NO IDEA OF WHAT THEY SOUNDED LIKE. YOU ONLY HOPED THAT WHEN THE ALBUM FINALLY ARRIVED, THAT THE MUSIC MATCHED THE IMAGE.
WITH JETBOY, THAT WAS INDEED THE CASE. AFTER A YEAR OR MORE OF HEARING OF THIS BAND, I FINALLY WAS ABLE TO OBTAIN THE ‘FEEL THE SHAKE’ ALBUM. AS I APPROACHED THE BIN WHERE THE ALBUM LIED, I FELT MY HEART RACE AND PALMS SWEATING. WAS IT TRUE THAT THIS ALBUM WOULD SOON BE MINE? WITHIN MINUTES, I HELD IT IN MY HANDS. AS I DROVE HOME WITH MY FATHER BEHIND THE WHEEL, I STARED INTENTLY AT THE COVER OF THE ALBUM. I COULD NOT WAIT TO WALK IN THE DOOR, GO TO MY BEDROOM AND PLACE THE NEEDLE ON THE GROOVE.
WITH ALL THAT SAID, THIS IS 25 YEARS LATER. JETBOY HAVE JUST RELEASED A NEW ALBUM ENTITLED ‘BORN TO FLY’ ON FRONTIERS RECORDS. FOR THOSE WHO ARE WONDERING, THIS IS A STELLAR PIECE OF WORK. FUNNY ENOUGH, AS I ARRIVED HOME THIS VERY DAY, THE RED VINYL COPY I HAD ORDERED ON AMAZON WAS WAITING FOR ME AT THE DOOR. NOW THAT’S IRONY.
I RECENTLY CAUGHT UP WITH FOUNDING MEMBER AND GUITARIST BILLY ROWE TO DISCUSS ALL THINGS PERTAINING TO ‘BORN TO FLY’ AND POSSIBLY A FEW OTHER THINGS THAT I NEEDED TO KNOW FOR MY OWN PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE. YOU MAY BE SURPRISED BY A FEW INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT ROWE THAT I WAS UNAWARE OF, BUT IT REALLY MADE FOR A FANTASTIC INTERVIEW. ENJOY!
Sleaze Roxx: Billy, great to talk to you.
Billy Rowe: Yeah. No problem. Where are you? Canada?
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah… An hour from Toronto.
Billy Rowe: Ah, some of my favorites are from there. Nick Gilder, Bryan Adams, Triumph, April Wine.
Sleaze Roxx: Oh, you know all the Canadian bands.
Billy Rowe: I’ll even get into Headpins man! Coney Hatch.
Sleaze Roxx: Cool. I have a couple of their vinyls. That’s wild.
Billy Rowe: Oh yeah. I saw Coney Hatch way back. They had a minute in the States. April Wine of course. They were hit masters.
Sleaze Roxx: Oh no kidding. I didn’t realize that April Wine did so well in the States to be honest with you.
Billy Rowe: Oh they did great. They had huge hits. They still play them on the radio. It’s only Bryan Adams. I think he hit the home run out of everybody.
Sleaze Roxx: Oh no kidding. He’s huge here, but I know he’s huge down there too.
Billy Rowe: I remember Glass Tiger and Platinum Blonde.
Sleaze Roxx: Oh my God man. Really?
Billy Rowe: Am I geeking out too much ’cause I can go deep with this shit?
Sleaze Roxx: This is awesome. These are all bands I grew up too. I still listen to all those bands.
Billy Rowe: It’s not only Anvil. Hey, I loved Anvil too! But it was beyond that shit man.
Sleaze Roxx: Wow, that’s amazing man! You nailed it. As far as Canadian music goes, you nailed it!
Billy Rowe: What’s another one? Moxy? Right? Of course Loverboy.
Sleaze Roxx: How did you get all this stuff? You obviously you got that material down there.
Billy Rowe: Oh yeah, myself and a few friends of mine, we were just absolute import junkies. If it was in the import section in the rock and the cover looked appealing, we’d buy it.
Sleaze Roxx: Oh, that is wicked. So I guess that’s how you would have discovered bands like Girl and Hanoi Rocks?
Billy Rowe: Oh exactly. Sheer greed! I wore the groove out on that record.
Sleaze Roxx: I don’t have that one on vinyl. I have the disc, but I have the second one on vinyl.
Billy Rowe: Yeah, ‘Wasted Youth.’ The first one was awesome. The second is good, but the first one has a little more angst to it.
Sleaze Roxx: Yes, it definitely does. There are some really good tunes on it.
Billy Rowe: Yeah, for sure. I’m still into all that stuff. I could go forever on that shit.
Sleaze Roxx: I remember Lillian Axe did a cover of “My Number”!
Billy Rowe: Yeah, Um hum. Yeah, Lillian Axe. They were on MCA with us.
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, that’s right. They were. Anyways, I’m going to get into the new Jetboy album ‘Born To Fly’. As I was listening to the album, I thought it was a perfect continuation to ‘Damned Nation’. It doesn’t sound like ‘Damned Nation’, but it is the next logical step.
Billy Rowe: Yeah. I agree. That’s kind of what we’re saying. This would definitely be the third album back in the day.
Sleaze Roxx: I understand that Frontiers Records came to you guys about doing an album? How did that all come about?
Billy Rowe: Yeah, exactly. It came about as our booking agent who handles a whole bunch of bands on Frontiers. I guess Matt who spoke with Nick who is the US representative at Frontiers — from what I heard, not his exact words but he said, “Oh you handle Jetboy? Do you think they have a new record in them? We’d sign them if you think you do or they do.” So our agent asked me, “Hey what’s going on? You’ve got this deal with Frontiers if you feel you can deliver a record.” Mick [Finn], Fern [Rod] and I said, “Yeah! Let’s do it!” That’s what ignited the whole thing. From there of course, it’s easier said than done. “Sure we’ll do a new record!” We scrambled for a hot minute and it just settled into place. It just rolled so easy. It was just easy, fine and everything to make. The energy was great. The moral of the band. We couldn’t be happier at how it came out. I guess it was just a meant to be thing you know!
Sleaze Roxx: In terms of the production, I did watch that promo video Frontiers put out on YouTube of the making of the album. I noticed you guys used 2” tape?
Billy Rowe: Yeah, in the studio, we recorded the basic tracks through an analog board, but it didn’t go to tape. It went to Pro Tools. I can’t lie about that. We wanted it to go to tape but unfortunately tape is just too expensive these days for our budget. For AC/DC, you could do it, but we have captured a lot of that analog sound. That was a goal because everybody was all into that. Luke who produced the record and Jason who helped engineer basic tracks were just analog nuts. I think we did a pretty good job of capturing that.
Jetboy‘s ‘The Making of Born To Fly‘ video:
Subscribe here for more videos – http://radi.al/SubscribeFrontiers | From the album BORN TO FLY. Get your copy on CD/LP/Digital or Stream NOW: http://radi.a…
Jetboy‘s “Born To Fly” video:
Subscribe here for more videos – http://radi.al/SubscribeFrontiers | From the album BORN TO FLY. Get your copy on CD/LP/Digital or Stream NOW: http://radi.a…
Sleaze Roxx: I just ordered the vinyl on Amazon. It’s released on January 25th I believe, so hopefully it will be at my door that day because I cannot wait to hear it.
Billy Rowe: Yeah, I can’t wait to hear that either to see how that all translates. What translates to vinyl is any record from the ’70s especially. It’s a whole other realm of listening.
Sleaze Roxx: I was just listening to Aerosmith’s ‘Get Your Wings’ before we started. It sounds so incredible.
Billy Rowe: It’s so warm, smooth and everything. It’s right there in the room with you.
Sleaze Roxx: I have ‘Feel The Shake’ on vinyl that I actually bought when it was released. I pulled that out the other day. It still sounds great.
Billy Rowe: Yeah, that record still holds up pretty good. It dates itself a little bit in places but for the most part it’s such a stripped down, straight forward rock n’ roll record. Something that lives on forever.
Sleaze Roxx: A song like “Hometown Blues” really sounds good on vinyl. That bluesy, gritty thing. With that said, did you guys self-produce the album?
Billy Rowe: It was a combination. Rick Terney who is a good friend of ours, he was in bands and what not. He’s a great guitar player. He’s a great producer. He’s also a singer. He produced the record along with myself and Fern [Rod]. It was a joint effort. When we started this record, I got very into it through the years. I was just recording on my own time. Just creating songs and stuff like that. We were able to demo everything really easily at my place. All the songs were demo’d pretty close to how we did the record with all the parts and harmonies. Guitar overdubs. When it came to recording the album, we had a blueprint completely made out. We kind of knew what we wanted. That’s where Fern and I did a lot of that working on the demos and the harmonies. Overdub guitar parts. Shakers and tambourines. So it was a good team that did this record. Rick Parker mixed it. I don’t know if you remember the band Lions And Ghosts? He was the singer of that band. We’ve all been friends through the years. He’s a phenomenal mixer. He does that for a living now.
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, the mix is very good. Of course I’m only listening to the advance on my computer.
Billy Rowe: Digital!
Sleaze Roxx: I am sure it’s going to pop a little more when I put on the vinyl.
Billy Rowe: Yeah, digital has its limitations. That’s for sure.
Sleaze Roxx: Especially in that format where it’s not a CD. It’s compressed and what not.
Billy Rowe: Yeah, exactly, it’s just squashed.
Sleaze Roxx: So I’m not hearing it the way it’s supposed to be. In terms of the guitar, I love the tones. It sounds so good. How did yourself and Fern approach the sounds? Was it the usual mike to amp with a guitar or did you guys use any of the new techniques.
Billy Rowe: No, it was the miked amp and the guitar really. It was pretty straight forward. In the room and just crank it. Fern is a big fan of the “Tube Rock.” So he used that head. He also used a Freedman. I used a Freedman. I used an old Marshall Plexi on a couple tracks. It was pretty much that. It was getting the mike placements right, dialing the tones and let’er rip!
Sleaze Roxx: In that YouTube video, it really looked like you guys were having fun.
Billy Rowe: Yeah, we were having a blast. It was fun and funny at the same time.
Sleaze Roxx: When it came to the basic tracks, did you record those as a whole band or was it one guy at a time?
Billy Rowe: Yeah, we did as you would in the old days. We did the music part all in a room together. We were all looking at each [other], sitting in chairs with headphones. You know with the spit on each other, right there. Mick [Finn] did the vocals after the fact, which is usually how you do it. You want some guide vocals. Funny enough, he wasn’t there for the basic tracks. What we did was we used the demo tracks. I isolated the vocals, sent them to Luke and those were technically our guide vocals from those demos. So we would have vocals, but they were from the demo versions so we could get a better feel for things and kind of know where you’re going too!
Sleaze Roxx: I love that way of doing things.
Billy Rowe: I agree.
Sleaze Roxx: I don’t know how many new bands do it that way. Probably not many.
Billy Rowe: I don’t know but it is important. It’s like some of those records from the old days and how they sound. It’s like live, when you see a band and they’re on that night. Sometimes, you’re on and others times, you’re off, but when the band is on, it’s something in the air that everybody’s just clicking. It’s the same thing in the studio. You get in the room and you get that take. You could do it twenty times, but there’s that one take where you say, “I don’t know, there’s just something special about that one!”
Sleaze Roxx: On the album, will it be, you’re on one side, Fern’s on the other?
Billy Rowe: Yeah, yeah. It’s pretty much that. In the mix, it’s hard left, hard right. Not super hard, but you know it’s separated.
Sleaze Roxx: You know, I love hearing that when you’re listening. You can pick out the two guitars.
Billy Rowe: Yeah, um hum. I agree.
Sleaze Roxx: Now, the opening track “Beating the Odds”, that little musical intro that goes into the verse has an Aerosmith feel to it.
Billy Rowe: The main riff?
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, it’s just so cool. Tell me about that song a bit. What was the approach on that? Lyrically as well.
Billy Rowe: Well, lyrically it kind of says it all. Mick writes all the lyrics, so it’s his thing. That’s a song that Mick and I wrote a couple years ago. I think it’s one of the two that were songs and another musically that were almost done. That one, we worked together and we had vocals on it. We took it and rocked it up a little bit. We switched a couple things. I don’t know when I sit down with a riff, I just start playing stuff. If it hits me or it feels like it could be something, I’ll record it on a voice memo or whatever. Then, I’ll start working with it. That song to me, it’s got a very early Judas Priest vibe in a way, which is cool. Also a little Motörhead. Again, we’re fans of all that. It’s stuff we grew up on. Mick loves that stuff. Fern loves that stuff. It’s not just AC/DC and Aerosmith! It’s Iron Maiden, [Judas] Priest, Saxon, Sex Pistols and The Clash. It’s kind of how the three of us are. That stuff is just bound to come out when you’re writing your own music.
Sleaze Roxx: Mick’s vocal on that, I love it.
Billy Rowe: It’s great. He did a great job on the record.
Sleaze Roxx: On the first record, ‘Feel The Shake’ compared to the second record ‘Damned Nation’, he sounds a little bit different. To me, he sounds more like on the second record.
Billy Rowe: I think that’s where he kind of found himself was on that second record. We would talk about a lot of that stuff and he does too. He says that now, where you get to that place? You listen to the first Aerosmith record, then you listen to ‘Toys In the Attic.’ Steven Tyler would say, “I never really found myself until ‘Toys In The Attic’ or a little through ‘Get Your Wings’!” On ‘Toys In The Attic’ and ‘Rocks’, he knew what he was doin’! There’s a lot of guys like that.
Sleaze Roxx: I agree with that. It was like Mötley Crüe. Vince Neil didn’t sound the same on the first album. That’s a very good point.
Billy Rowe: Now some people have done it and some haven’t. First time you’re doing a record, you don’t really know what you’re doing.
Sleaze Roxx: “The Way That You Move Me” — that’s got a great kind of Rolling Stones vibe with the back up singers and what not. Did that just come together or was it intentionally written to have that vibe? Was it a natural progression in the songwriting? Taking those ’70s influences, mixing them together and that’s what comes out.
Billy Rowe: With that song, Mick had an idea lyrically. That’s a song that kind of went backwards in a way. Most of the time, we send him the music, he writes the lyrics and melody. Think of something that will go with that. That one was ‘Boom, boom.’ We came up with the pattern. That was the rhythm. It’s like Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.” It’s the whole thing that’s the whole song, but all these other things change around it, which makes up the verse and the chorus. Once it started going, I was getting that Stonesy, Rod Stewart, “Maggie May” vibe with a little bit of I don’t know. I want to say an ELO thing in there as well with the backing vocals. We knew right away, Fern and I said, “Yeah, we need a girl singing on this!” It’s very Stonesy, but at the same time, it’s not. It’s a little harder. It can fall into Faces and Rod Stewart in a way.
Sleaze Roxx: It’s funny, a song like that, if that had been on the radio in the ’70s, it would have probably been a huge hit.
Billy Rowe: It would be huge. Exactly.
Sleaze Roxx: It’s so disappointing now to hear a song like that and say, “Will this ever make it to radio? It should be on the radio.”
Billy Rowe: Yeah, I agree. Growing up in the ’70s, I listened to all the A.M. radio pop shit. That song, I hear it like that. I think, “This would have been so hot in the ’70s!” It could have rode in there with Cliff Richard’s “Devil Woman.” It’s a different time now. That music is timeless.
Sleaze Roxx: It is kind of like “Too Late” off of ‘Damned Nation.’ That was a fantastic song as well. I don’t know what happened with that song. Was it ever released to radio?
Billy Rowe: No, it didn’t. You know, it just fell into bad timing. I just named a bunch of Canadian bands I love, probably half of them they had hits too. Why didn’t they become a huge band? It’s just how it is you know! There’s a lot of, “One guys gonna win!” It’s only a handful that are gonna win. It’s not even a win. It’s just basically the ‘golden ticket’. They got lucky.
Sleaze Roxx: Exactly, the right marketing, the right people behind them. So let’s talk about former Faster Pussycat bassist Eric Stacy. He is now in the band. He has been for some time I believe. I feel his style of playing really bonds well with the Jetboy sound. What do you think he brought to the table in terms of the band and new album?
Billy Rowe: Eric’s a great bass player. He’s a phenomenal bass player, but the main thing is he grew up with the same era of music as the rest of us. Especially with Eric, I can go deep with all these bands that I mentioned. He can go super deep with all the same ’70s rock, the members of the band, etc. That’s a huge part of it too. As they say, “You’re cut from the same cloth!” There’s really not that much to say. If you just listen to something and if you’re influenced from any of that style of music, you just know what to do.
Sleaze Roxx: Now I’ve got a couple questions regarding some things from the past. I kind of wanted to go back to the beginning. I remember Jetboy being signed to Elektra Records, than Ron [Tostenson] had an accident where he broke his leg? Is that correct?
Billy Rowe: Ah, no that would be me. I broke my arm. We were on our way to open for Mötley Crüe, Whitesnake and Poison at the Oakland Stadium in Oakland, California. It was “A Day On The Green.” The morning before, myself, Mickey and Fern were driving and these two older guys who were coming back from a fishing trip. I don’t know. They were in their 70s. They were older. One fell asleep at the wheel and lost control and slammed us off the road. I suffered a compound fracture on my right arm. It put me in the hospital for a week. The band played without me. They had to do the show. That was that story.
Sleaze Roxx: Did that delay ‘Feel The Shake’ then?
Billy Rowe: No. The album was done. That was October 9th of 1987 when the accident happened, which is my mother’s birthday. The show was on the 10th. The album was done, I think, July or August of ’87. After that accident happened, which was October, in early December we were dropped by Elektra.
Sleaze Roxx: Okay, so they dropped you. They said, “Okay, we’re just going to move on!”
Billy Rowe: They “cleaned house” as they say. Our A&R guy got fired. They let go of the artists that he had signed, which was us and a band called The Pandoras. We got interest right away. Michael Goldsmith at MCA signed us, but it took nearly nine months to renegotiate. MCA bought the masters from Elektra. It was a “hurry up and wait game.”
Sleaze Roxx: That’s funny that Elektra fronted the money to get the album done, then let Jetboy go.
Billy Rowe: Yeah, it happens.
Sleaze Roxx: We talked of Hanoi Rocks. I wanted to ask about Sami Yaffa. How did he initially come to the band? Being that he was from Finland, was there someone behind the scenes that made that happen?
Billy Rowe: No, it was our manager at the time, Bridgette Wright who was pretty much with us from our first years up to the second record. We were having issues with our bass player — who’s since passed — Todd Crews. Bridgette said, “If you guys could have any bass player, who would you want?” I said, “Sam Yaffa!” She was like, “Okay, well…” It was a longshot to be felt, but she knew somebody who worked at Warner Brothers in Sweden. So she made a phone call. Sam was a known name of course being from Hanoi Rocks. One person led her to this person, who got his phone number. His ex was cleaning out the apartment. They were living in and she answered the phone. It was Bridgette and she relayed the message to Sami. He called Bridgette back. He had interest, than we bought him a ticket and flew him over to the States. He came over and he never went back.
Sleaze Roxx: You guys must have been ecstatic that you got the bass player from Hanoi Rocks.
Billy Rowe: Ah man, we were trippin’! It was incredible. It was great. We’re all still good friends to this day. We went through hell and back together in that time. We had a lot of great times. A lot of hard times, but we’re all still doing it. We’re all still friends and still breathing.
Sleaze Roxx: He did the ‘Damned Nation’ album?
Billy Rowe: He did both records. He did ‘Feel The Shake.’ When he came in, we were nearly done writing for that album. He went through the whole process. There are couple songs that he wrote on. He joined in June or July, maybe April of ’87. We pretty much went immediately into the studio with him. It took two months to record ‘Feel The Shake.’
Sleaze Roxx: Did Jetboy tour the ‘Damned Nation’ album?
Billy Rowe: A little bit. Not a lot. We did a few months.
Sleaze Roxx: Were there plans to do a third album?
Billy Rowe: Well, I guess yes and no. With ‘Damned Nation, we got pulled pretty quick! The album was out, we went on the road. It was coming to the end of 1990. The same thing happened, we got dropped by MCA. After that, it was pretty much it. That was the shift for everybody. Some didn’t see it coming. Some did. Some didn’t feel it ’til a few years later. The Seattle scene and the alternative rock scene took over. That became the next mainstream big thing. So it was over for Jetboy. It’s kind of how it goes. I am sure every band can tell that story starting back to the ’50s.
Sleaze Roxx: I’m going to let you go as that’s pretty much all I have. I’m going to go pull out that Moxy album now.
Billy Rowe: Oh yeah, I know. I’ve got that Moxy album too. I’ve got all that stuff. You know the other band I love a lot is Prism.
Sleaze Roxx: Oh yeah! Bruce Fairbairn was in Prism was he not?
Billy Rowe: He was. I know Bob Rock produced some of those records. I think Fairbairn is on that ‘Armageddon’ record that Bob Rock produced, which is a great record.
Sleaze Roxx: That was a great band. They get airplay up here occasionally, but not as much as they did back when that music was released.
Billy Rowe: I saw them open for Judas Priset on the ‘Point Of Entry’ tour. It was Savoy Brown, Prism and Judas Priest. I think it was that show or Prism was opening for AC/DC on the ‘Highway To Hell’ tour. One or the other, but I did see them.
Sleaze Roxx: You grew up in the “Bay Area”, right?
Billy Rowe: I did. We were very fortunate to have a lot of shows in those days.
Sleaze Roxx: Y&T?
Billy Rowe: Y&T of course.
Sleaze Roxx: The “Bay Area” had a great music scene.
Billy Rowe: We really did, yeah.
Sleaze Roxx: Did Jetboy move to L.A. at one point?
Billy Rowe: We did. We moved to L.A. in 1986 when we knew we were signing with Elektra. We relocated down there. We had being playing L.A. for about a year or more at that point. We just knew it was the right thing to do.
Sleaze Roxx: Then you went back to the “Bay Area” I take it?
Billy Rowe: Yeah, we went back.
Sleaze Roxx: That was a great interview. Thank you very much.
Billy Rowe: Alright, cheers! Thank you.
Jetboy‘s “Brokenhearted Daydream” video:
Subscribe here for more videos – http://radi.al/SubscribeFrontiers | From the album BORN TO FLY. Get your copy NOW: http://radi.al/JetboyBornToFly Follow th…