Interview with Black Star Riders frontman and solo artist Ricky Warwick

Date: February 11, 2021
Interviewer: Ruben Mosqueda
Photos: Joe Schaeffer Photography (first, third and fifth photos), Olivier (fourth photo)

Sleaze Roxx caught up with Black Star Riders frontman Ricky Warwick on February 11th, 2021 to talk about his new album ‘When Life Was Hard And Fast’ set to be released on February 19th, 2021 on Nuclear Blast Records. The album features a number of guests — Robert Crane (Ratt, Black Star Riders, Vince Neil Band) on bass, Xavier Muriel (formerly of Buckcherry) on drums and Keith Nelson (formerly of Buckcherry) on guitar as well as Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, Andy Taylor (formerly of Duran Duran), Thunder’s Luke Morley, Dizzy Reed of Guns ‘N Roses and the most special guest on the record, Ricky’s daughter Pepper. “I’m so proud of her. She’s a singer and a great little musician. I don’t want to push her into this path but if this is what she wants to do, I think she’s got the potential to make this a career. Her tracks on “Last Place I Look” were cut in like two takes,” says Warwick proudly. He goes on to say, “I told her this song is about you. It would be great if you were a part of it. She agreed. Keith was amazed by Pepper.” Like with Warwick’s previous work, you can expect an eclectic listening experience. So having said that, let’s get to chat with Ricky. Enjoy the interview.

Sleaze Roxx: You worked with Keith Nelson on ‘When Life Was Hard And Fast.’ How did you connect with Keith and what did he bring to the table?

Ricky Warwick: My friendship with Keith is fairly recent. I was aware of him and his work with Buckcherry. I met him for the first time in 2018. Damon Johnson was leaving the band and we needed someone to step into that role. We were looking for a guitarist and his name had come up and we met. We really hit it off. I asked him about the possibility of joining the band and he said, “Oh, I don’t want to join the band! I love the band, but I’m not looking at going back on the road.” I was disappointed and I asked him, “Well, then why did you agree to meet?” He said, “Oh, because I’m a fan of Thin Lizzy and a fan of Black Star Riders and I wanted to tell you face to face.” What a compliment. So, I was disappointed, but that was the beginning of a great friendship. Things worked out and we got Christian Martucci, who turned out to be a great fit. When it came time to write songs for this record I thought of Keith and we got together to write songs. I have to say when we started writing for this record, we didn’t know each other very well, but I believe that when you get together to write, that’s when you get to know people. I think it forged the friendship. There was chemistry there. We wrote 12 songs in all, 11 made the album. The first song we wrote was “Fighting Heart.” We recorded the 12 songs but used 11. We must have had a total of 25 song ideas that weren’t used. Keith played guitar and produced the album and was an integral part of the album. We worked on the sequencing together and I think it turned out great.

Ricky Warwick‘s “You Don’t Love Me” video:

Sleaze Roxx: I like it best when bands put songs that aren’t throwaways on albums. I remember when the selling point on CDs when they began to crush cassette sales was that you could fit over 60-70 minutes worth of music on them. More often than not, less was more.

Ricky Warwick: I’m glad you brought that up because, certainly quantity was over taking quality during that time. There’s no sense putting 16-17 songs on an album, unless the concept was to make a double album. It’s just too much! Not to mention, people’s attention span. Now if you release a 45 minute album and you can engage the listener to hear it all the way through is a victory. Keith and I sequenced the music as an album. We found that the tracks in the order that are on the album are the best listening experience. Like a record, A side and B side. Six tracks on one side and six tracks on another. That is how we want to hear the songs and that is how we want to present it. I’m a huge fan of saying whatever the hell you have to say in three and a half minutes and then get the hell out of there [laughs]!

Sleaze Roxx: Having followed your career from your days with The Almighty to the present. The new album seems to come full-circle as you encompass a little of all your influences on this one.

Ricky Warwick: Thank you. I think I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I think with age comes a certain amount of wisdom, where I’m not out to impress anyone other than myself. I think it’s more important to be able to write stuff that connects with people, the same way that music that I love connects with me. I’d like to think that I’m even more passionate about music now than I was 30 years ago. It’s never waned. I’m still writing pretty much everyday. I also look forward to getting into the studio and seeing what comes out of it.

Sleaze Roxx: In a perfect world, you’d likely like to play some shows behind ‘When Life Was Hard And Fast’ album. In the days of a pandemic and the fickle support of rock music, what’s the game plan for supporting the album?

Ricky Warwick: I knew we needed to put this album out. We have a captive audience with the current state with the pandemic. We’ve been doing some streaming performances. We’ll continue to do that, because that’s all we can really do at the moment. It’s beyond our control. In a perfect world, we’d do some select shows, because nothing beats being at a concert with fans present in the room. You can’t replicate that kind of energy. We’ll do the best we can do for the time being, but I’d like to be out playing for the fans whether it’s a solo show or Black Star Riders. As far as the change in how people consume music, it’s frustrating, but again something that is beyond my control. We just have to adapt and put out more lyric videos and do some streams. I like some of it, some of it, I don’t.

Sleaze Roxx: You posted online last year that you were near my neck of the woods in Bend, Oregon. You were doing some recording. Was that stuff Black Star Riders or was it material for ‘When Life Was Hard And Fast’ too?

Ricky Warwick: Oh, that’s right! I did some recording for the next Black Star Riders album. Our guitarist Christan Martucci has a studio there, and he and I drove to Bend from L.A. to work on some song ideas. I believe that was in June of 2020. It was good to get out for a little bit during this pandemic and do something productive.

Black Star Riders‘ “In The Shadow of A War Machine” video:

Sleaze Roxx: I caught Black Star Riders on the North American tour in support of Judas Priest. It was my first time seeing the band live. What did you take away from that tour? Did you achieve what you set out to achieve?

Ricky Warwick: Well, when you get offered a tour like that supporting Priest on a tour that includes Saxon, you can’t pass that up. Certainly, those were some of the largest crowds that we played in the United States. These were arenas for like two months. It was great exposure for us. Sure, there were times when the arenas were a quarter to half full when we went on stage but eventually people started to make their way in when they heard us. It was a great opportunity to introduce the band’s music to the American audience that might have otherwise not heard of us. We made a point to perform our original material and not rely on the Thin Lizzy legacy. We’re proud to be a part of it. Scott [Gorham] is proud to have been in the band. It would have been easy to fill the set with Lizzy songs but that wouldn’t meet the goal of continuing to build this band in America. It was great watching Priest and Saxon night after night. We got along well and I have a lot of fond memories of that tour. Do I wish the arena was full when we hit the stage? Oh course, but I know that’s unrealistic for people to get to the venue at 6 or 7 o’clock when they have families and are leaving work. Overall, the experience was just fantastic.

Sleaze Roxx: There’s additional content in the form of a covers album ‘Stairwell Troubadour.’ There’s Elvis, Eddie Cochrane, Johnny Cash, The Clash, The Ramones, Iron Maiden, not surprising…

Ricky Warwick: I think what people have been asking a lot about are “You Spin Me Round [Like A Record]”, The Dead Or Alive song, and “Oops!…I Did It Again”, the Britney Spears cover. A good song is a good song. I wanted to do a couple of songs that might raise some eyebrows. I know not everyone will get it or are fans, but it was fun putting my stamp of those two well known pop songs. I’m just a fan of music from all genres. If it’s got a vibe, if it’s got a soul, I’m a fan of it and I like it no matter what genre it falls under.

Ricky Warwick performing “Oops!…I Did It Again” live at Rock City Nottingham in Nottingham, UK on July 27, 2013:

Sleaze Roxx: As we wind things down, let’s talk about the backstory of some songs from your career. “Power” by The Almighty from the ‘Blood, Fire And Love’ album. I thought it was a grittier take on The Cult that could hang with the grunge bands.

Ricky Warwick: I was thinking there’s not a song called “Power” on the new record? That’s The Almighty [laughs]! That song was directly inspired by me listening to The Cult’s ‘Electric’ album on a day to day basis. Billy Duffy is a great friend of mine and he knows that they inspired this song. They were and still are a great band and that record inspired me to write “Power.” I remember writing that riff and thinking “Oh yeah, this will work [laughs]!” I wanted a bombastic chorus about being young and being free and being in love. It didn’t matter if it was with a person or with rock ‘n’ roll. It’s about not letting anyone or anything hold you back.

Sleaze Roxx: “Fighting Heart” from the new album ‘When Life Was Hard And Fast.’

Ricky Warwick: As I said it was the first song that I wrote with Keith and it’s just special. I had the lyric and I think I had the verse. When I brought it to Keith, he came up with the chorus and the bridge. That’s a nod to Lizzy and all of the people that inspired me back in Ireland when I was starting out. It’s for the people that believed in what I did and believed that I could be successful at this. They were the inspiration for that.

Ricky Warwick‘s “Fighting Heart” video:

Sleaze Roxx: Going back to the second solo album ‘Love Many, Trust Few’, the song “Guilty” is one of my favorite tunes of yours. What’s the story behind that? Personal experience?

Ricky Warwick: Thank you. It’s sort of based on personal experience. It was written with a great Irish folk singer Kieran Goss. When I had the idea to go out solo acoustic. I went to a lot of his shows, because I was just terrified. I learned a lot from watching him. How to engage with the audience and how to play in that small and intimate environment. We became friends and we wound up writing a couple of songs. It’s a personal thing. I’m not proud of it, but it was about cheating on somebody. It’s about that feel of guilt you have when you wake up the next day. It is about letting yourself down and hurting somebody who loves me.

Sleaze Roxx: I’d love to hear a country artist take a show of that with you guesting on it on vocal and guitar. I think that’s a hit.

Ricky Warwick: Thank you. I have to admit that I’ve been secretly hoping that someone in Nashville would pick that song up. I agree with you it would be a hit.

Sleaze Roxx: “Bound For Glory” from the ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ album. That song still gets me each and every time.

Ricky Warwick: Thank you. That’s a champion song for the underdog. Damon and I wrote that at my place. That was the first time we have ever written together actually. Damon came and stayed at my place for a couple of days. That was one of the first songs that we wrote right out of the box. The funny thing about “Bound For Glory” is that Scott Gorham hated it [laughs]! He didn’t want it on the record. He came back with “I don’t know. That’s too much like Lizzy.” I was like, “Well, what’s the problem? You used to be in Thin Lizzy?” Kevin Shirley who produced that album was like “I think that song goes on the record.” Years later, of course now Scott loves it [laughs]! The story behind the lyrics [is] Scott Gorham and Marco Mendoza, who as you know was playing bass with us at the time, were out doing something and had then gone to a Chinese restaurant. The owner of the restaurant recognized Scott from his days in Thin Lizzy. The guy was on fire telling Scott about how much he loved Lizzy. This guy was a bit of a player, saying stuff like, “I could have been famous. I can sing. I could have been a singer!” He was an older guy by that time, but he still had that fire. Scott came back and was like, “We just met the craziest guy! He owns a Chinese restaurant and he’s this huge Thin Lizzy fan. His name is Johnny Wong!” That’s where the line “Johnny Wong keeps trying to get it right” came from.

Black Star Riders‘ “Bound For Glory” lyric video: