Greg Leon Interview
GREG LEON INTERVIEW:
March 25, 2007
Some of you may not recognize the name Greg Leon (www.gregleoninvasion.com), but you will know the musicians he has played with. He formed Suite 19 with a young Tommy Lee, toured with Dokken in their formative years, replaced Randy Rhoads in Quiet Riot and then struck out on his own with the Greg Leon Invasion. But the music industry can be unfair, and while Greg was battling with record labels and even Vinnie Vincent, his former bandmates were reaching platinum success. Greg hasn’t let that get him down though and he is still making music he believes in, the latest being the upcoming Tell The Children CD.
SR: What are you doing musically these days?
GL: Currently we’re putting the finishing touches on our newest Greg Leon Invasion CD. The album will be titled “Tell The Children”. “Tell The Children” is the closing song on the album and has a very pre apocalyptic message.
We played a Metal Fest arena tour of Hungary in October of 2005 and got an overwhelming response. After returning to the States we played a bunch of gigs in Southern California. I then decided that it was time to start recording another CD, so we took a break from doing live shows and went back into my Invasion Studios & started working up the new tunes. This album is definitely much heavier than any previous Greg Leon Invasion (or Wishing Well) CD so far. The music reminds me of early Rainbow and Black Sabbath (with Dio), but timeless. It’s classic “Riff Rock” with great melodies and strong hooks. I’m extremely proud of this record and can’t wait for people to hear it. It’s what I think is missing in today’s rock/hard rock scene.
The guys and I are having the time of our lives recording this disk. It’s the record that we’ve always wanted to do. We decided not to listen to anyone’s opinions about current trends or what’s hot today and just go in and play from the heart and please ourselves. I think it’s ridiculous how the newer bands all try to recreate last weeks hit. They all sound alike to me and I can barely tell them apart. I don’t find that fulfilling in the least and never did.
On bass guitar and backing vocals is George Roelke. He played on my last CD “Unfinished Business” and did the European tour and all the other dates with me. He’s a fantastic bass player, great showman, best friend and unconditionally supportive of what I’m trying to achieve with my music. When we started this new CD, Marc Droubay had re-joined the band (he’s the drummer from the group Survivor, remember Rocky’s theme song “Eye Of The Tiger”?). He also recorded the “Wishing Well” CD with me. I sincerely think that he is one of the greatest living hard rock drummers that there is, and it’s evident on this record. He completed about 75% of this record and then, unfortunately, Survivor reunited and we had to find a new drummer. I remembered seeing a Deep Purple tribute band one night and the drummer really stood out to me. I approached him (Andres Lopez) and scheduled an audition. He came over and completely impressed us. We have been working with him ever since.
SR: When do you hope to have the upcoming CD released?
GL: It should be done soon, 1 to 2 months, hopefully no longer than that.
SR: Do you already have a label lined up to release the CD, or will you put it out yourself?
GL: That’s a good question, I am talking to a European label right now and we keep emailing each other back and fourth about what each of us wants and or needs to make this deal good for both of us. As you know I’ve had some crazy dealings with labels in the past and I just want them to come through with what they promise me this time. It doesn’t mean anything to me to have deal if the record company isn’t getting behind my project and pushing it, I would rather just release it through my web site or cdbaby or my myspace site, if I can’t get a strong commitment from the label.
SR: How well did your last California shows go and what kind of setlist did you play?
GL: All the shows we did went over great. We play a mixture of Wishing Well songs, Greg Leon Invasion songs, Greg Leon Invasion (Unfinished Business) songs and some songs off of our new CD. The problem with L.A. is that the scene is dead here, very little money to be made. Most of the promoters think that the bands should buy all the tickets and then sell them ourselves, very few places to play the kind of music we play. L.A. has become tribute band capitol of the world, people don’t go out like they used to. No more lines around the block or standing room only, nobody does that anymore. They sit home on their computers and don’t leave the house, not what we did as kids. We couldn’t wait to go to the clubs and see the bands any night of the week. When we play live shows the people and fans love what we do because it’s the real deal and the people can tell we are feeling it too!!!!! We are not trying to be anything other than good musicians playing the kind of music we love, and it shows.
SR: Many musicians state how difficult it is to get people out to the clubs these days, what has to be done differently now as opposed to twenty years ago to get people out to shows?
GL: Life is much different now than twenty years ago. We didn’t have the internet, we didn’t have the ability to log onto youtube.com and see every band from the last twenty years whenever you want. You can rent a video, play video games, computer games, lots of distractions these days! People can stay at home and put on a DVD of just about any band they want, shot with multiple cameras with great sound. You don’t have to drive to a club, pay for gas, pay for parking, pay four to seven dollars a drink and deal with the cops, maybe a D.U.I. Also lots of people still love to smoke when they go out, you can’t do that anymore. Girls and guys were always hooking up at rock shows and clubs, now everybody’s scared of getting H.I.V. or A.I.D.S. or something else. People don’t have the same devil may care attitude they had years ago.
SR: Lets go back near the beginning. What was the music scene in L.A. like when you first appeared in the late 70s?
GL: Back then any night you went out you could see a great up and coming band like Van Halen, Ratt, Quiet Riot with Randy, Suite 19 with Tommy Lee and myself, Axis (Danny Kohnson, Jay Davis, Vinny Appice) and a lot more bands. It seems to me that then the people in bands were trying to be the best musicians they could, instead of just trying to be ROCK STARS!!!!! There was a lot more excitement watching a band, you knew that any of these groups could and probably would be the next big thing. And you felt that you were part of something special that was going to be great, and it did become just that, GREAT!!!! The kids would go out and when the clubs closed someone would say lets party at my place or some kids would put their money and rent a hotel room and invite everyone back to the hotel, nobody wanted the night to end. It was so fun!!
SR: Was Suite 19 your first major band?
GL: Yes, originally I had Gary Holland in the band. Gary Holland was the first drummer in Suite 19, Tommy Lee joined up with me after Gary. That was a great band, we had a huge draw with a huge female fan bass. We played everywhere and anywhere they would let us. Gary and I started it together after he saw me play at a club called The Rock Corporation in Van Nuys California. That is also where Don Dokken first caught one of my shows and asked me to join his new group at the time DOKKEN. In high school I called my group the Greg Leon Band, we played all the Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena, parties and dances and high school functions, we were always doing something.
SR: Did Suite 19 record anything? If so, any chances of it being released someday?
GL: Yes, but I have no idea what happened to any of those recordings. I probably gave the copies of demos and rehearsals and live shows away to fans and friends, somebody has got to have those tapes somewhere. We used to tape a lot of rehearsals and we would take the tapes home to listen to and then at the next rehearsal we would record right over them, I wish I had all those hundreds of tapes. It would be great to be able to go back and listen to them again, all the joking between songs and funny shit that went on at those rehearsals.
SR: What was Tommy Lee like back then? Could you tell he had what it would take to become a major superstar?
GL: Tommy Lee was always a star, back then he went by his real name Tom Bass. We had a great rehearsal studio that his dad built for him, it was a room built inside of a room that had dead air space between the two rooms so that no sound leaked out. It was big, it was free and Tommy and I practiced all day almost every day, that is how we got so tight, we had all this time to work it all out. Tommy always wanted to practice and so did I, the bass player was another story, so a lot of times it was just Tommy and myself working out the parts.
Tommy was always a chick magnet, he knew girls on every block for miles around his parents house in West Covina, California and they all loved to party with us (who the hell were we to say no?). Tommy always had that thing that set him apart from the others, he just didn’t give a shit what anybody thought or said, he knew he was going to make it and screw anybody who thought otherwise. I remember Tommy showing up at all of my Suite 19 gigs and begging me to kick out Gary and let him play in the band and one day I called him and said I was having problems with my drummer and did he still want to get together and make some noise. In about an hour we were together jamming and we played together for about a year. We had a lot of fun together in that year. A lot of times I would spend the night at his house and one night I was awakened by loud thumping sounds…he was playing a drum solo in his sleep!!!!! I just sat up and listened, it wasn’t too bad…for pillows.
He was and is a good guy and an incredible drummer. I probably wouldn’t have broken up that band if the opportunity had not come at that time to take Randy’s place in Quiet Riot. Boy was Tommy upset with that decision, but I promised him I would come back and start another band or find him a great band to play with, and I did! Motley Crue!!!
SR: What sort of problems were you having with Gary Holland?
GL: To tell you the truth he just seemed mad about everything, it started not to be fun being in a band together. We were the best of friends, we did everything together and then it all went to shit. This really killed me because we really had something special together.
I brought him into Dokken with me also. Originally Don didn’t want Gary, but I told Don if he wants me then Gary has to come along because we were a team, and Don said OK. I still love the way Gary and I play together and I wish we lived on the same coast, I still think Gary and I could do something great together if the opportunity came up because we were always on the same page musically. We were a great team and it should have gone somewhere, it wasn’t for lack of trying!
SR: Tell us about your time with Don Dokken, you always hear good and bad things about him.
GL: I could go on forever about this one…Don Dokken and I are still friends, when we get together it’s like the old days.
That being said…I had a good time in Europe. I got to go over there and play my guitar and share in the lead vocals with Don, Gary Holland and Gary Link (I don’t know what ever happened to Gary Link). We recorded with Dieter Dirks, met lots of cool rockers, and met Speedy (the guy the Scorpions wrote the song Speedy’s Coming about). There were a lot of promises made that never came true and a lot of tall tales that I found out were just out and out lies, and I started to not believe anything that was told to me. It started to seem like we were being told stories of big shows and all kinds of shit just to keep us all interested in the band. I loved that band and I loved what we created together musically, it was a shame we couldn’t find real management that could make something real happen. We were managed by Don’s girlfriend at the time Sue, and there was a lot of wheel spinning. We did some showcases and all the record executives said we were dinosaur rock. They also said that Van Halen was the last of the hard rock/metal bands that would ever be signed. They told us if we wanted to get a deal we should change the way we looked, put on a skinny tie and start listening to the Knack and Devo. That really fucked with all our hearts and heads, they didn’t know that we were on the brink of something new and neither did I.
So I left to put the Greg Leon Invasion together, I figured what was the worst thing that could happen with my own band? Not get a record deal, I did get deals but the labels never came through with what they promised, same old story everybody tells. Don was smart, he went back to Germany where we had started a buzz and put another Dokken band together and built up his following, and from what I hear the demo’s we did got him his deal with Carrera in Europe!!! Good for Don!
That’s all I really want to answer about this question. There is a lot more, we’ll save it for another interview if that’s OK.
SR: How much of an influence did you have on the Dokken sound, or vice versa? Because I hear a lot of similarities between Dokken’s music and your own.
GL: I know that I influenced Don because when I joined Dokken the sound was much much softer. I was always into much harder music but I only liked music that had great melodies and hooks and lots of guitars, and that is what I brought into Dokken. I have never changed the way I write my music or changed my guitar style or my vocal style to suit anything. I just do what I do. I had a lot of people that were into my sound and style of playing way before I joined Dokken or Quiet Riot. There were local bands that used to cover my songs all the time, I’d go to a party and all of a sudden the band at the party would break into one of my songs. It used to blow my mind!!! I also took over Randy Rhoads’ students at his mother’s music school when he went with Ozzy, and all the students wanted to know how I got all those sounds out of my axe. I had quite a reputation as a guitar player/lead singer long before I joined those bands (that’s why they asked me to join them).
SR: You were also in an early version of Quiet Riot, and Kevin DuBrow seems to be another artist with a good/bad reputation. What was that time like, and was it difficult replacing Randy Rhoads?
GL: Kevin Dubrow and I had a nice talk the other day, we put all that old bullshit behind us, we talked about old times and had a few laughs, it was good to hear his voice again on the phone. It’s all good between Kevin and me. Also when I joined the band when Randy left to play with Ozzy Kevin changed the name to “Dubrow” and all the shows we played were under that name, the plan was to get a record deal then change the name back to Quiet Riot!!
It was not hard for me to replace Randy, I’d seen him play a hundred times and been on many of the same bills with Quiet Riot, I knew how every song went.
I loved Randy, everybody did. It was an honor when Randy and Kevin called me and asked if I would take his place in Quiet Riot because he got the Ozzy gig. I was happy for Randy and I was happy for myself, this was a good stepping stone to bigger and better things to come. I thought Drew Forsyth was one of the best drummers around and I brought my last bass player from “Suite 19”, Gary Van Dyke, into this new opportunity. The last time I got to really hang with Randy was when he was at my house borrowing an old Marshall head, the same one Eddie Van Halen rented from me to record the solo on Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ song. Eddie’s equipment was in New York at the time of the recording, they were on tour. And yes I still have that old Marshall head, it’s a 1971. Getting back to Randy it’s a shame we didnt get to spend more time together after he went with Ozzy. We would see each other but he was always in such a rush we couldn’t just hang…………….sad isn’t it.
SR: After your stints in Quiet Riot and Dokken you started your own band, the Greg Leon Invasion. How did this band come together?
GL: I can’t remember for sure. I think Tommy Lee and I had been getting together again and talking about putting a new band together but we couldn’t find a bass player that was good enough to do the job, and one night at the Starwood we ran into Nikki Sixx. Tommy thought he had a great look (and he did) and he wanted to audition Nikki for the bass position. I told Tommy that he had already auditioned for Suite 19 twice and he couldn’t cut it musically! Hell, I had to tune his bass for him. I was showing him this one song and I told him it needed a bass run to get from this key to that key and all he came up with was a bass slide to that note, he couldn’t do it!!! But Tommy liked him anyway, I wanted more of a musician. We did talk with Nikki about starting a band, and he said that he would only be in a band that had a front man lead singer in it not a lead guitar lead singer. I told Tommy to do what you want to, but I’m gonna keep looking for the right bass player.
Then I saw this band called Razu play their last show at the ‘Ice House’ in Pasadena California and the drummer, Carl Elizondo, was perfect, and he knew this young hot bass player named Joey Vera so we started jamming. It came together so fast, I had lots of original songs and in one month we were playing out and packing clubs. I had just gotten back from Germany with Dokken and I had a good buzz on the street that this band was hot and gonna do something big. I was able to get us a backer and he bought us whatever equipment we wanted, our own 24 hour rehearsal studio, he gave us money every Friday, took us out for sushi almost every night and paid for all recording cost.
Things were going great………so I thought. Joey missed playing with his high school buddies and I heard they had started a band and one night Joey called me up and said he couldn’t make practice because he had a really bad stomach flu or something like that. I said OK, call me when you feel better. Then I called Carl to tell him there was no rehearsal and he said that was bullshit, nothing was wrong with Joey he was rehearsing with his new band Armored Saint, and Carl said he thought he knew where they rehearsed and asked me if we should go and surprise the boys. I said yes, and when we got there they were jamming. So I opened the door and all this pot smoke rolled out of the room and when the smoke cleared they could see me and Carl standing in the doorway. Joey didn’t know what the fuck to do, he was busted!!!! So I called him outside, had a few words with him asked him to make a decision right there and then, wished him and the boys good luck and took off. I don’t like being lied to or being played.
Then I found Chuck Stevens, then somebody else, then somebody else and on and on and on. There was a magic with Joey, Carl and myself that none of the other bass players had and I knew it. It was like we were just going through motions, it was good but not great. It always felt like there was dead weight. After a year or so I broke up the band, I needed a break, something new, fun and fresh!
SR: Did you manage to find the ‘new, fun and fresh’ band you were looking for?
GL: Yes I did, a few along the way, but my new Greg Leon Invasion is a hard hitting mother of a band. When we were in Europe the kids went nuts for us and we had a great time over there. The music is harder and driving more now than ever.
SR: I have the old Greg Leon Invasion picture disc put out by Azra Records, but it doesn’t say who played on the album. Who recorded the LP and how happy were you with the results?
GL: On bass was Chuck Stevens and on drums was Carl Elizondo. I recorded and produced it at John Thomas Studios in North Hollywood. I was happy to have an album out and I was proud of the music, but there was no support from the record label. I was offered a tour of Japan and wanted to go but the label said to “wait until you are bigger”, which never happened because there was no promotion. That ultimately broke up the band. It was a very frustrating time.
SR: What was the deal with Azra’s Dave Richards? I’ve read that some of his picture discs were limited to two copies and other odd things about him and his label.
GL: Dave Richards, what a piece of work. All talk, never any cash! There were 1000 picture disks pressed up at first, then it went into eight more pressings of 1000, mostly selling in Japan and in magazines that catered to hard rock/metal fans. I never received one penny from that jerk. I was told in my contract I would receive three dollars for every unit sold…………yea right! That kind of shit really causes tension in a band.
SR: Michael Hannon, who went on to Salty Dog and American Dog, once told me that he auditioned for your Invasion. Do you remember that audition, and what other up-n-coming rockers do you remember trying out?
GL: Yes I do remember Michael, very nice guy, just not the guy I was looking for at the time for that band. This is an impossible question for me to answer, I don’t want to name names. I think I must have auditioned every bass player and drummer in Southern California at one time or another. It was just crazy, I would sometimes have ten bass players and or drummers come up each day for two or three weeks at a time, sometimes it seemed like it would never end. Sometimes if I didn’t like the way somebody looked or smelled I would tell that person that I just found the musician I was looking for (sad but true).
I remember one time a drummer did not get the gig, as I was helping him load his equipment he asked me If I wanted to see what his day gig was and he took out this box, it was full of 8 by 10 promo shots of all the porno movies he had made, that was just too slimy for me. Sometimes a guy would tell all his friends that he had an audition with me and build it up like it was a big deal or something, and when the guy didn’t get the gig he would tell all his friends that I was an asshole or hard to work with. I just knew what I was looking for and knew what I wasn’t looking for, it’s as simple as that.
SR: When I interviewed John Covington I asked him about Vinnie Vincent using the Invasion name, and he said it really took the wind out of the band. What is your take on what happened there?
GL: Yea it knocked the piss right out of us. I had been using The Greg Leon Invasion name for about five years at that point and one morning, about 8 a.m., Ron Fair from Vinnie’s record company called and told me they were going to use the name Invasion and I had to stop using it. He got real shitty on the phone with me, I told Ron that he should be talking to my lawyer and not me. He laughed and said who would that be? I said Stan Diamond, I think you know who he is, and why are you treating me like shit? What did I ever do to you?
We reached an agreement and I let him use the name for seven years. Before Vinnie took the name I could pack any room in Los Angeles and after the name change nobody knew when I was playing! I think we called it Marshall Law right after that for about 6 months. That’s why the last Greg Leon Invasion record is called “Unfinished Business”, I’ve got to finish what I started.
SR: What did you do when the Invasion fell apart? I heard a rumor that you joined Vyper for awhile.
GL: That’s true, man you do your homework! Yeah a good friend and former manager, Eric Greif, invited me to join this band and write some music for the band he was managing called Vyper. They were signed to GreenWorld. Eric and a friend drove out from Kansas City, Missouri, picked me up and I went out there for three months. We rehearsed in a huge barn in the middle of nowhere in a town called Grass Valley, I had my own private lake to fish every morning and night, snapping turtles, snakes, it was a dream come true. Some of my favorite things in life are playing music, fishing, catching and keeping snakes.
Then we got the call from the record label (Greenworld records) and we found out they had closed their doors and gone under. Time to go home. Well, at least I had fun out there, too bad nothing came from it……………oh well.
SR: Did you keep pursuing music when you came home after the Vyper gig?
GL: Yes. When it’s in you it has to come out.
SR: Do you ever wonder to yourself why so many of the people you played with reached platinum success, yet you haven’t been able to reach the same level of commercial success?
GL: It used to drive me crazy, I’d turn on MTV and see Dokken or Quiet Riot or Ratt or Armored Saint and think that should be me, and it should have been. But that was in the 80’s, I got over all that shit a long time ago, I had to. That doesn’t get you anywhere, sitting and dwelling on what could have, should have been. I know lots of players from back then that still haven’t let all that shit go, what good is it doing them? It just drives them nuts and won’t let them move on with their lives or music, poor me, why didn’t it happen for me? That’s for losers, not me!
Sometimes I run into someone from back in the day who “MADE IT BIG” and they’ve got nothing to show for it, it makes me feel sad for them. They can’t do anything else, drug problems, ex-wives, child support, multiple children from different woman and moving back with their moms and dads sometimes. It’s crazy, most of the people you think made it, didn’t. They are working day jobs because they wasted all the money, didn’t know how to handle their money, had major drug problems or the big monies never got to them.
I own my own home, have a beautiful wife, I own my own business, have a great studio, have some classic British autos, live at the beach, I still rock, I can and do play the shit out of my guitar and still have my singing voice (so many of the singers from my era can’t do it any more, they’ve blown their voices out). I still go over to Europe and play metal fest tours. I’m playing a show in July in Oklahoma for over 30,000 people!!!
It didn’t happen the way I hoped it would, but that’s OK cause I’m still here and I still have fun singing and playing and people still get off on what I do, so it turned out OK. It’s all good.
They got real lucky, right place right time, enough money put into promotion and a whole team of people getting paid to make it happen. I’ve never had big money poured into anything I’ve done. It’s always been me against the world! I also play music because that’s what I do, not because I wanted to be a rock star. I did, but it wasn’t the most important thing to me (it might have been nice to have my music heard by millions of people and not have to work or to only work on music). Like Mick says “YOU CANT ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT………………BUT YOU JUST MIGHT FIND YOU GET WHAT YOU NEED”!!!
SR: Speaking of the drugs and alcohol usually involved with the 80s scene, did you ever get caught up in that lifestyle?
GL: I partied, but I never got caught…..It wasn’t that important to me.
SR: Do you think we will ever see a scene like the Sunset Strip again?
GL: No way, that scene will never happen like that again. It started in the late sixties through the seventies and started to die out in the late eighties. The one thing all those eras had in common was great music, the music made you feel like you were part of something great! Great drummers, great guitarists, great original vocalists, great hooks in the songs and lots of different clubs that were full of people that were there for the right reason……………….THE MUSIC.
Now the Sunset Strip is such a drag, bands can’t fill up the rooms. Most of the bands are no good, they haven’t even got any real songs (most of them). The clubs make most of the bands pay to play (the club makes the band buy 100 tickets and then for the band to get their money back they have to sell the tickets for eight to ten dollars each, if they can’t sell them, too bad for the band). Most of the bands I’ve seen lately have been high school age kids that should be at home practicing, and the club bookers don’t even care what these bands sound like. If the band buys and sells the tickets, I know a few bands that will buy one hundred tickets at eight or ten bucks each just so they can get up on stage and pretend to be rock stars for thirty to forty five minutes, and these are better bands than most!!
It’s out of control, I don’t know how it could ever come back, that scene is DEAD…….too bad.
SR: I see that you sell all your albums on your official website. Are they all professionally pressed discs?
GL: Yes they are. I am also in contract negotiations with an English record company, they are talking about releasing a box set of three CDs plus also picking up the new release “Tell The Children”. We’ll see what happens with this deal, keep your fingers crossed.
SR: What final words would you like to say to all your fans out there?
GL: Thanks for all the love and support over the years, thanks for all the emails and pictures you’ve sent me, thanks to the thousands of you over the years who have come up to me to shake my hand or just tell me you had a good time at one of my shows. You’re what makes it worth it!!! Thank you.
Thanks to Greg Leon