CRAIG DEFALCO INTERVIEW:
May 20, 2007
As the driving force behind Laidlaw (www.laid-law.com) since its inception in 1991, Craig DeFalco has persevered countless line-up changes and label rejections. Justin “Crash” Crafton sat down with Craig to discuss the band’s long history, its triumphs, his career as a tech for bands such as Motley Crue, Van Halen and Kiss, and the making of the new CD. Armed with an amazing new CD, “The Foam Box Sessions”, and an equally amazing new band, Laidlaw just finished a run of dates with legends ZZ Top and are preparing for a summer tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd.
SR: Will you give fans, both old and new, a brief history of Laidlaw?
CDF: It all started back in 1991. It was 4 guys from 4 different bands in Southern California. I wanted to grab the best guys from 4 of the best bands in the area. I was in a band called Roulette. Buzzy James was in a band called Buster Chops. Michael Norton played bass in a band called White Tiger with his brother Mark St. John from KISS fame. And our drummer at the time was a guy by the name of Brian Fox who was in White Tiger and a band called Silent Rage. There’s a weird Gene Simmons/ Kiss connection here. Gene had signed and produced Silent Rage and Mike’s brother Mark was the guitarist in Kiss in 1984.
We started writing songs and auditioning singers from the area. We could not find a singer that fit this band for the life of us. Then one day this guy was doing pre-production rehearsals with a band he was producing in the next room at our rehearsal spot. Turns out he’s in a band that was signed to Arista Records from the Bay Area called Babylon A.D. His name is Derek Davis. The studio owner walked in and said this guy wants to know if he can come in and sing a couple songs. So, in walks Derek. I think we jammed a couple Montrose songs and an old Aerosmith tune in which he nailed! Then we played an original that he just started singing over on the spot. We ended the night saying see you tomorrow? With in 2 weeks of rehearsing we had about 6 tunes that were pretty cool. So I ended up naming the band “Moonshine”.
At that time I was teaching for my good friend Michael Anthony in Van Halen. Mike wanted to get involved with recording a project with me. So after another week of rehearsing the new songs, in walks Michael and famed producer Andy Johns. I remember Andy was all hung over and really didn’t want to be there because he was out with Jack Bruce from Cream the night before. I sent out for a six-pack of Mickey Big Mouths for him. He downed a beer and said “Alright then boys lets see what ya got” We started playing an up-beat tune and Andy went from laying down on the couch to up on his feet loving it. Now I had known Andy for about 8 months from being in the studio with him up at VH’s 5150. He produced their ‘F.U.C.K.’ record. So for me it was like jamming for a couple of friends. But for the rest of the guys it was nerve racking. Here’s a guy from Van Halen and a guy who’s recorded Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Rolling Stones, and Free to name a few, sitting in our room listening to us play. So I look back at it now and laugh. They were fucking nervous! And had every right to be.
So we finish the song and Andy says… “This is the real deal isn’t it!?” He said play me another one. Then after that he says… “Give me a ballad” So we played a slow one for him. He says “Datehead (my nick name the VH guys call me), you know that ballad you just played?” I said yeah? He says… “Find another one… that one sucks!!” We all started busting up laughing. So he tells us he wants to do some demos with us. So start writing some more songs and we’ll talk in one month. Turns out he started a Joe Satriani record and couldn’t work with us. Drag. Then I had to leave to go on tour with Van Halen. So everything was put off for 6 months until I got home. I asked the guys to keep playing and writing until I got home. That lasted about a month. Then they didn’t even talk to each other until I came home.
We went into the studio with Michael Anthony and this amazing engineer who did the Van Halen record with Andy Johns. His name is Mike Scott. We kicked out a (4) song demo in which Mr. Anthony financed and co-produced. Mike and Mike Scott started shopping us to Warner Bros and a handful of labels. All turning us down, we even had Sammy Hagar giving it to John Kalodner who was working with Zakk Wylde’s “Pride And Glory”(Who we became friends with and opened for a few times) over at Geffen Records. Nobody was interested in us.
So that being said, Derek quits the band and we start all over looking for singers. It was ten steps back. Then we have a problem with Brian the drummer leaving. So now I’m looking for a drummer and a freaking singer! Then Norton quits… Brutal times. Long story short, Buzzy and myself ended up going thru 8 bass players, 7 drummers, and 5 different singers! Fast forward to 1995, while I was still working for Van Halen after returning from a Tour, I get a call to work for Bruce Kulick from KISS. I do a couple of months with them in Australia, South America and Japan. Then as I get home from that it was back in the studio with Van Halen recording the Balance record. Then Bruce calls me and says he wants to write some songs with me, and this guy who writes for KISS, Curt Coumo. We ended up writing 3 or 4 songs together recording at Curt’s studio. At this time we are working with a bass player and a singer who in Bruce and Curt’s eyes weren’t cutting it. So I called Mike Norton up to get back in the band and found this singer by the name of Tommy Roberts. We record the songs and end up getting Curt’s manager Jake Hooker taking a liking to us. Jake co-wrote the hit song “I Love Rock And Roll” made famous by Joan Jett. And he was and still is managing Edger Winter and Eddie Money. Jake shops us around to some majors and gets rejection from everyone. So then Jake backs out of our deal as our manager.
Then comes 1996 and Paul Stanley wants me to tech for him for the KISS Reunion Tour in make-up. I couldn’t pass that up. So I do that tour and come home and with my tech money start paying for recordings with the latest version of Moonshine. With the line up being me and Buzzy on guitar, Mike Norton on bass, and Killer Dwarf drummer Darrell Millar (Darrell and I were old friends from the late 80’s) and Tommy Roberts on vocals. We ended up recording an 8 song EP titled “Moonshine”.
Then I ended up getting a call from Motley Crue’s management to work for Nikki Sixx. Nikki and I hit it off from the first day. We’re like long time friends within a week of meeting. He finds out I have a band from Mick Mar’s guitar tech. He asks me for a CD. While we are on tour with Motley, one day Nikki says, call your band and tell them to meet us in Arizona. You guys are going to open for Motley. Now we haven’t played together for 3 months because I’ve been on tour with Motley Crue working for Sixx. I call the band 2 weeks before the show to get them to start rehearsing without me and tell them the news we are doing the gig. They meet us with all our gear in Phoenix, AZ. We do a sound check, then in front of 10,000 people Sixx introduces us as some friends of theirs from Los Angeles. We played 5 songs to a very happy crowd. After our show, I had to get ready and work for Motley. Nikki comes up to me to get his bass before they went on. He’s got an ear to ear smile and says, “You fuckers rock, we need to talk after the show!!” Well after the show Nikki and Tommy ended up getting arrested for beating a security guard. At the next show, which was the second to last Motley show of the tour, Sixx tells me he wants to start a label and sign and produce Moonshine!
2 weeks after the Motley tour Nikki called and invited me up to his house in Malibu, Ca. where he had a little Pro-Tools demo studio in his garage. We ended up recording a version of Rick Derringer’s “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” Plus I played him a couple new songs Buzzy and I had written. Within 2 weeks we were in a rehearsal room in Hollywood, Ca doing pre-production for our first real studio record.
It was the summer of 1998 and we were recording our first record with Nikki Sixx producing with Brian Dobbs engineering. Brian worked for famed producer Bob Rock (Metallica, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, The Cult) to name a few! We recorded the record in 28 days straight. Then one day Sixx walks in and says. We have to rename the band, that someone already owns the name Moonshine. So I name the band LAIDLAW and suggest we name Tommy… Tommy Laidlaw. Like a Jim Dandy vibe with Black Oak Arkansas. So that’s the plan!! Well, later on down the road while touring, that didn’t last long. The band was pissed after one night Tommy’s head swelled up on stage saying he was Tommy Laidlaw and wanted to take this time to thank his band. WRONG!! So we changed his name back to Roberts.
Then one day Sixx walks into the studio and says: “I think I just landed you guys the opening slot for the next Motley Crue tour”. So while the record was being mixed in Maui, HI at Rock’s studio by Dobbs, we were in LA rehearsing for our first tour. At this time we were without a manager so I had to get everything together to get the band rehearsing, book flights, hotels and everything else to start the tour. LOOK… You’ll have to buy my book when I write it, because thinking about it now… I should really put one out! There’s so much I’m leaving out! Haha
SR: Laidlaw’s second CD came out in 2003. Since then, with the exception of yourself, it is an all-new lineup. What prompted the lineup change?
CDF: After we toured the “First Big Picnic” CD, a year before it was released and a year after, we parted ways with Nikki and our label Americoma/ Beyond Records. So after that Tommy and Norton quit the band and I went on the hunt for a new singer and bass player. I wasn’t about to stop then, I just got a taste of what I’ve worked all my life for.
Joey Pantera came back into the band. He was one of the many singers we had back in 95′. After we recorded the second record with Joey, I had the hardest time getting us a record deal or a tour. So I started YESSIR RECORDS and released it on our website.
Then finally I get a call from my friend and old employer Edward Van Halen with the invite for Laidlaw to be the opening act on the Van Halen 2004 Reunion Tour. So after landing the 3rd leg of that tour it was time to crank up the Laidlaw machine.
We started rehearsals in Florida because that’s where Joey and Garry Nutt (our bass player at the time) were living. Darrell Millar our drummer had since quit the band after recording and moved back to Toronto, Canada. So I called Michael Cartellone from Lynyrd Skynyrd to help find us a drummer. He hooked me up with not only an amazing drummer, but one awesome human being… MP (Michael Petrak) MP played with LA Guns for a short while and had done tons of studio session work in LA and was also a professional drum tech to the stars. We get to Florida for our rehearsals for the biggest tour we ever had offered, and Joey can’t sing the songs live. I freaked… I just couldn’t believe that he could not sing the songs with two months notice. So I called Tommy and put him on the next plane to Florida from Los Angeles. I had not spoken with Tommy since he quit in 2002. Tommy came in and did 4 rehearsals and the tour. But the problem was Ed VH didn’t dig Tommy’s voice and we got sent home 2 weeks early from the tour.
After that I went home and did some soul searching. I’ve worked so hard getting us on huge tours and doing great records with great people. But Buzzy and I just weren’t on the same page anymore. I knew it was time to move on.
So as I went on the hunt for a new singer for Laidlaw, because Buzzy and the guys didn’t want to work with Tommy or Joey. It just hit me one day as I was in Houston, TX looking at some singers that the ZZ Top camp told me about. I was watching this band with my new manager and I said to him: I’m not leaving Texas until I find all NEW band members! As I was looking at this bands singer I ended up loving the drummer and the guitar player. So I had lunch with the guitar player the next day. And told him I wasn’t interested in his singer (he knew who I was and that I was at his show trying to take his singer from him) I told him I was interested in him and his drummer, Brian Huffman (guitar) and Greg Hokanson (drums). Now I needed a bass player and a singer. I found this 24 yr old singer from Fayetteville, AR by the name of Robbie Locke thru someone who used to work for the management company for Lynyrd Skynyrd. He was discovered singing karaoke in a bar in Arkansas! But he’s never been in a real band before, so I am told. I got him on the phone and started working with him thru the internet. Writing and recording demo’s that we sent back and forth in mp3 form. Brian, Greg and myself were blown away by Robbie’s vocals! So I put Robbie on his first plane ride to Houston to see how he sings live. At this time we were going thru bass players left and right. Robbie was my biggest concern. I had to hear him sing live with us before I would do anything else. He came down to Houston and sang the songs exactly like the demos! We all knew we had our new singer after the first song he sang! He was nervous but he nailed it! So after that huge accomplishment it was time for the final topping… a bass player. Billy Hale (our manager) knew of this guy Eric Jarvis who not only plays amazing bass and sings great harmonies, but he plays slide guitar like no other! So after two months of hard work, I put together an amazing Rock and Roll Band!!
SR: Did you ever consider changing the name of the band?
CDF: Never, I own the name and all the bills!! It was very easy for other people to just up and walk away from the touring costs this band had that I ended up eating myself. Not even counting studio costs from the last record. I’m in it for the long haul. Laidlaw is my life. I’ve worked very hard getting this band and its name in arenas, playing with some of the biggest bands in rock and roll. It’s the same band I started back in 91’… Just a little fresher and younger… with more hunger!!
SR: Where did you find the guys to round out the lineup of the band?
CDF: See answer # 2
Robbie Locke (Vocals)
Craig DeFalco (Guitar, Slide Guitar, Bass and Vocals) (Eric and I swap instruments)
Brian Huffman (Lead Guitar, Harmonica and Vocals)
Eric Jarvis (Bass, Slide Guitar, B-3 Organ and Vocals)
Greg Hokanson (Drums and Vocals)
SR: When did you relocate from LA to Texas and what was the reason behind the move?
CDF: From 2002 to 2004 the band was spread all over the place. One guy lived in Toronto, one in North Carolina, one guy in Florida and two of us in Los Angeles. It was time for me to have the core of the band in one area again, like a band is supposed to be. So I have the band based out of Houston because that’s where Eric, Brian, and Greg live. This way they can still stay in their hometown and Robbie and myself can fly in when needed.
SR: In the past you had been a guitar or bass tech for bands such as Van Halen, Kiss, Tesla, and Motley Crue. Do you still tech for anyone?
CDF: Not really… I’ll do friends some favors now and then and fill in for someone who’s either sick or needing to leave a tour for another one. Like last year I got a call from a friend of mine who was out taking care of Michelle Branch and her lead guitar player. He went back to work for Motley Crue and didn’t want to leave Michelle hanging by just leaving her out there with some Bozo. So I jumped in and finished the tour. But it’s very rare these days. I’m always very busy working with Laidlaw.
SR: Joe Hardy, who produced, engineered, mixed, mastered and even lent his percussion and mellotron skills to “The Foam Box Sessions”, has worked with bands such as ZZ Top, Steve Earle, and Cross Canadian Ragweed in the past. How did you land such a talented gent to lend his skills to the new CD?
CDF: That was 100% our managers doing. Mr. Billy Hale from Bully Management made that happen! I wish I could take credit for that one.
SR: What was it like to work with Joe Hardy?
CDF: Joe Hardy was by far the greatest hang I’ve ever been on while working in a recording studio. What a great way to record a record. Nothing but laughter and music being made with no bad vibes or shattered nerves! He is a very intelligent man so his humor is top shelf as well. You’ve got to stay on your toes when dealing with Joe Hardy.
SR: Were there any funny or interesting moments you’d care to share that took place during the making of the album?
CDF: Everyday was funny and interesting. Put it this way… between Hardy, Eric and myself there wasn’t a day without laughter from some stupid joke or story. Eric is probably one of the funniest fuckers I’ve ever met! I told a lot of road stories and some famous studio stories were told by Hardy and myself, but I can’t share those with you all… sorry!
SR: Once you had the band in place, how long did the process take from the songwriting, rehearsing the songs, demos, and on through the recording, mixing, and mastering of the final product take?
CDF: I met Brian and Greg in June of 2005. Within a month we’d hooked up with Robbie. We had found Eric in September. So two months of rehearsing as a band. It was weird, I had about 10 songs but once we started playing as a band the songs just started pouring out of us. Brian had this riff for a song that I knew was great as soon as I heard it. Robbie got a hold of it on a break at rehearsal one day and wrote the lyrics sitting in Greg’s truck. That song is “Sunshine Woman” The great thing about this band is we have 5 song-writers now, 5 writers who are on the same page. We have the next record already written, and I know all 5 of us have an amazing song still in us!
By the time we stepped into the studio on November 1st 2005 it took us 14 days to record and after that Mr. Hardy mixed and mastered in 10 days tops!
SR: Can you give us some insight into that process?
CDF: Day one and two were all about bass and drums… Played live as a band off the floor! Then we focused on guitar parts. We did everything live and overdubbed guitars, guitar solos, Joe did the string section on “A Little Time” and a sweet mellotron part that I just love! We did vocals the last 5 days. Robbie kicked out 2 songs a day and 3 on day 5! And we sang background vocals to the songs Robbie sang everyday. So it was a well-planned session with no down time. 14 ten-hour days, that were 10 hours of creativity and hard work.
SR: What gear, from guitars and amps to recording equipment, did you use to obtain such killer tones as displayed on “The Foam Box Sessions”?
CDF: First off, the record was recorded at ZZ Top’s Foam Box Recorders in Houston, TX. Joe Hardy told me during the recording of the CD that Laidlaw is the only band to ever record a record there besides ZZ Top. Pretty cool… huh?
For me I used my 2 main 100 watt Hiwatt amps and cabs in tandem with either a Vox combo or a Crate V-50 series combo amp that are just amazing. And there were so many novelty amps that Billy F Gibbons had there. For guitars I mainly used my ’76 Fender Tele, a ’71 Gibson Custom Les Paul, PRS Single Cut Away, and a PRS McCarty Hollow Body. Plus a very old Martin Acoustic that Joe owned and a Dobro and lap-steel that Mr. Gibbons owned.
For FX: Joe Hardy had a real Leslie Speaker for a B-3 Organ, I used that and my favorite Dunlop RotoVibe pedal, Dunlop wah wah pedal, MXR Phase 90, and a few secret weapons Billy F Gibbons had laying around the studio! I would say: “what’s that?” to Hardy and he’d say: “I don’t know lets try it!!”
Brian used a Marshall JCM 800 head and a Marshall cab with vintage 30 speakers. For guitars: a Custom Shop Gibson Standard Les Paul, and some Fender Tele’s as well. Not sure on the years of those. For FX: Dunlop wah wah pedal, some cool ass fuzz box and a Boss Flanger that sounded killer!
Eric recorded direct thru an Ampeg direct box. And I had borrowed Michael Anthony’s main Yamaha Signature Series Bass from him. Eric just fell in love with it. Great bass.
And Greg used Frank Beard’s Tama drum kit that was at the studio already mic’d and set up. Perfect situation for Greg, he’s been a Frank Beard/ ZZ Top fan forever. He’s lived in Houston, Texas all his life and had never met Frank or any of the ZZ guys. So now here he is, in ZZ’s personal studio playing Frank’s drum kit. I was happy for Greg!
SR: How did you get ‘Mad’ Michael Anthony to guest on the album and just how many bottles of his own hot sauce did he have to ingest to rip off that scream in “Revolution Is Coming”?
CDF: Mike and I have been friends for over 22 years. It wasn’t hard to ask him to guest on the record. It was tough trying to figure out what song to have him sing on because he liked all of them. So I chose Revolution and he sang the hell out of it. I love Mike’s high background vocals.
SR: What was it like to have Michael Anthony in the studio and do you have any funny stories about his session to share?
CDF: I recorded Mike’s vocal parts at his vacation home in Arizona. After the recording was done in Houston, while Mr. Hardy was mixing, I flew home and grabbed my laptop studio and went to Mike’s place for a little dinner and drinking one night. We got drunk as shit and I set up a Shure KSM27 microphone and recorded what you hear on the record. That scream coming out of the break down in “Revolution Is Coming” was a one-take, classic Michael Anthony first-take vocal! His vocal harmonies and adlib screams are a huge signature sound in Van Halen to me. And I was proud to have my buddy on yet another Laidlaw record! It took Mike two passes on his vocal parts then it was back to drinking! He’s a professional singer and drinker!
SR: If memory serves me correctly, “Let Your Love Light Shine” was demo’d up for the CD in 2003 but didn’t appear on the CD, what changes were made to the original and what was Robbie’s contribution to the final version?
CDF: Wow… good memory bro! That was a song that I had written for the self-titled CD. But it never made the final cut. I wasn’t happy with the verses lyrically. So I had the second verse and the chorus written and just gave it to Robbie to see what he came up with lyrically. The vocal melody was already written. That actually was the first thing Robbie and I wrote together in Laidlaw. The first verse and the bridge are his lyrics. He showed me on that song that we can write together.
SR: Both “NASCAR Superstar” & “Are You Living Your Dream” were on the 2003 release, what lead you to re-record them and put them on “The Foam Box Sessions”?
CDF: Those were the first two songs we played together live as a band when we started. Brian really liked those two and the song “Fly Away”. When Joe Hardy heard a rehearsal CD he thought the songs were singles and deserved a second chance. He said nobody’s really heard the last CD we did and the fact that I wrote the songs, he thought we should re-cut them. I’m glad we did! They turned out great.
SR: Are there any songs left over from the writing sessions that could appear down the line or were all songs that were written showcased on the album?
CDF: There are so many songs left over from this record. That’s what I love about this band. Everyone writes and it was all about picking the first 10 strong songs that made the record. “A Little Time” was written a week before we went into the studio. We had already made the decision on the 10 that would be recorded. Then one day at pre-production rehearsal I started playing an acoustic and singing the verse. Robbie freaked and asked me what it was. I wrote down the lyrics for him and started playing it again. The band kicked in and Brian started playing this Slash style G-n-R part with a wah that just blew my mind. We just looked at each other and knew we had to finish it right then and there. When Hardy heard it he said… “We have to record this one too!” So that was really the first band involvement song. It was different for me because I usually wrote everything or co-wrote with the singer. Or someone else wrote a song. I just wished we had more time to write as a band for this record. Because of Joe Hardy’s schedule, we only had that time frame to work with. So the next record will be more of a band, writing together. I think being on the road playing this record and playing as a band we will write together as a band. Everybody has great ideas for songs and when I play someone else’s idea it comes out differently. And still sounds like Laidlaw. This band has really transformed into a great unit. I laugh because if Joe Hardy read that… He’d laugh and say: “You said UNIT!” He kills me… he’s a grown man that acts like a kid. You’d think, man that was a stupid thing to say, but then you realize that’s why he said it! I love JOE HARDY!
SR: The initial release of the album was via your imprint ‘Yessir Records’, through the website www.laid-law.com. Anything in the works that will allow this CD to be placed in record stores across the country?
CDF: That is being worked on now by management. We should have some news soon about when and where you can pick it up besides the website. Because we don’t have a distributor for it yet we wanted the fans to be able to get it thru our website without being stupidly priced. CD’s don’t have to cost people 12 to 16 dollars unless there is a label trying to recoup their investment quickly for marketing costs. If they have a huge overhead then I understand it. Since we did it ourselves we wanted the fans to get it cheap. We’re selling it on our site for $6.00 USD. So, get it now before it goes up in cost, because it will go up in price soon.
SR: What song will be the first single released to radio?
CDF: “Revolution Is Coming” seems to be the one we’ll push. But it’s funny, there’s this great online radio station who’ve been spinning 8 songs from it. That is exciting to me, Radio airplay worldwide! For FREE!!!!!! Check them out at www.arfm.co.uk.
SR: What are you guys looking at as far as tour plans? Club shows on your own or possibly hooking up with other acts in larger venues?
CDF: Laidlaw has been very fortunate in the past to hook up on major arena tours. There are a few of those being worked on now. Nothing confirmed, but a lot of irons in the fire!
SR: Will any songs from “First Big Picnic” in 1999 or the self-titled release in 2003 appear in the live show?
CDF: We are playing just the new songs live right now. Besides “Are You Living”, “Nascar Superstar” and now and then we mess around with “Fly Away”. To be completely honest I don’t think any of the guys have ever even heard anything off of “First Big Picnic”. I don’t even have a copy of that record. When we do a headlining tour in the future where we can play more then 8 or 9 songs, we’ll most likely dust off that CD and play something from it. But for now I’d like to focus on “The Foam Box Sessions” There’s 11 songs on it that I’d love to play live every night. I’m very proud of this record.
SR: Any cover tunes the band would like to have in the set list?
CDF: We jam “Adams Apple” by Aerosmith. We played it live at the CD Release Party for the first time. I think it fits us perfectly!
SR: Anything you’d like to add or say to the fans of LAIDLAW that will be reading this?
CDF: I think CHANGE IS GOOD! You know? Some people might want to hear the old version of the band. To me, it was like a bad marriage or a crappy relationship. It was time to move on. I wish Buzzy, Derek, Tommy, Joey, Dunk and everyone else nothing but the best of luck and I hope they still chase their musical dreams. They are great musicians and I am proud to have worked with them. We’ve made some great music over the years!
I would like to thank the fans… Who have welcomed Robbie, Brian, Eric, and Greg to LAIDLAW. So that being said, go check out the new band and CD, You won’t be disappointed.
Thanks to Craig DeFalco and Justin “Crash” Crafton