Interview with Enuff Z’Nuff frontman Chip Z’Nuff
INTERVIEW WITH ENUFF Z’NUFF VOCALIST/BASSIST CHIP Z’NUFF
Date: September 10, 2022
Interviewer: Jeff Onorato
Photos: Jeff Onorato
In the years to come, I predict that the vast body of work co-created by Enuff Z’nuff vocalist/bassist Chip Z’Nuff will be looked back upon with great reverence and appreciation by hard rock fans new and old. Not only for the sheer volume of material he’s penned, but also for the echelon of quality achieved across the board on the many compositions he’s written or collaborated on over the years. Not only is he a founding father of the Chicago power pop machine that continues to roll across the nation, but he also subs for other acts and produces up-and-coming bands (such as The Midnight Devils) at his recording compound in Blue Island, Illinois.
Amidst all of that, he also hosts his own syndicated radio show on the Dash Radio network and also manages to squeeze his own artistic projects onto the calendar. His second solo LP ‘Perfectly Imperfect’, released back in March, is the latest of those endeavors and supplements Enuff Z’Nuff’s Beatles cover collection ‘HardRock Nite’ which hit the streets last December. Enuff Z’Nuff are also gearing up to release their brand-new studio album, ‘Finer Than Sin’, this November via Frontiers Music Srl. I had the opportunity to chat with Chip prior to the band’s recent show in Thomasville, Pennsylvania and was apprised of the band’s recent activities and their plans in the pipeline.
Sleaze Roxx: Thanks for doing this, Chip. Enuff Z’Nuff are out on the road with The Dead Daisies right now and you have several new releases out – ‘Hardrock Nite’ and your solo album, ‘Perfectly Imperfect’. The latter is your latest solo record which officially has ten songs on it, nine of those are full length. How has the reaction been to the album so far?
Chip Z’Nuff: Sold out completely. We’ve got to get the label to make more copies. We’re in a time right now where there’s too much product and not enough demand. There are so many bands out there, so much music. We’re with Frontiers Records on this release. It’s a strong solo record. I’m really grateful for it. During the whole shutdown of our country, and just around the world, period, I went in the studio and made the Beatles record ‘Hardrock Nite’ with my band. And then I did the solo record, ‘Perfectly Imperfect’, and I also recorded a brand-new Enuff Z’Nuff album as well called ‘Finer Than Sin’, which comes out on Frontiers on November 11th. So essentially three records in a year. That’s a lot of music. That’s how it was back in the 60’s. I guess I’m living my life vicariously through my father. That being said, I’m really proud of all the records. I love the Beatles stuff from ’67 – ’70.
My solo records are basically the world how I see it through my rose-colored glasses. And on this new record ‘Finer Than Sin’, a real potpourri of pop and rock stuff that I think is really gonna resonate with the new generation. But I make these records for myself. Make no mistake about that. I’m grateful to be able to still make music after all these years. I’m one of the last of the Mohicans, without sounding immodest. Not many bands are going to put out as many records as I do, or as we have. And… I’m still touring around the country. It’s really a blessing from above, that I get a chance to live my life putting art out every single year. New records, new music, and then get a chance to go out on tour and play the songs. That’s pretty special, and here I am tonight. I’m on The Dead Daisies tour, which is essentially a supergroup with former members of Deep Purple, Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Idol, Foreigner. Just a great rock band. And I get a chance to play these nice theaters, playing 800-1,500 seaters every night. And then once in a while there’s a little nook in the cranny of our country where I get a chance to go out and play some clubs as well.
And tonight, if you would’ve told me thirty years ago that I’d be out here playing at a place like this I’d say “Nah, probably not”. It’s far away, it’s a lot of travelling. Gas prices are ridiculous. We’re smothered right now with the cost of everything. But somehow, we find a way to get out here and play these shows. We’re got a good agency with Artists Worldwide. They seem to find work everywhere. I don’t know how they found this club. But we’re playing with a former member of KIX [Ronnie Younkins of the Blues Vultures]. I’ve known Ronnie a long time. I almost put a band together with Ronnie years ago. And here we are after 35 years, playing together and sharing the stage. I walked in the venue tonight. It’s very small, the place holds 100 people. I’ll be grateful if 100 show up here and I get a chance to play our songs, play all the hits tonight. Should be pretty exciting. In this day and age, to be able to go out and play these shows is a miracle. It really is, and I’m grateful for the opportunities that Enuff Z’Nuff get every single day.
Enuff Z’Nuff‘s “Fly High Michelle” video (from Enuff Z’Nuff album):
Sleaze Roxx: Back to your solo album, this is actually your second one with ‘Strange Time’ having been released back in 2015. Are the solo albums perhaps a way for you to branch out into musical territory that you don’t cover with Enuff Z’Nuff?
Chip Z’Nuff: Perhaps on the first record it was. Because on ‘Strange Time’, that’s on Cleopatra Records by the way. That was a record that was made when my brother left the band. And I wasn’t sure if I was going to carry on with Enuff Z’Nuff after all the years. I thought maybe there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. I certainly couldn’t see it. I started doing a solo record and I called up a bunch of friends. I got Biff Butler, Geezer Butler’s kid, to come in and sing a song with me. And I went and got [Steven] Adler from Guns N’ Roses. I was playing with a band called Adler’s Appetite. I got Steven to play on half a dozen songs. Slash did a solo on a track, and Dale Bozzio from Missing Persons came down and sang with me on a track called “Tonight We Met (and Now We’re Gonna Fuck)”. I was really happy to have made that record. It showed a different side of what I do as a songwriter and as a musician. And it did very well for us. I didn’t anticipate anything except putting a record out and cleanse my soul as an artist.
It did really well for us and when Donnie [Vie] heard it, he’s like “You should’ve gotten me. I would have been happy to contribute”. I said “That’s exactly what I didn’t want to do. I want to show another side of what I was doing, just like you did on your solo records”. And the record did well for us, it got into a couple of movies and soundtracks. It got a few little things happening – a couple of artists covered a couple of the songs. And I thought “That’s it”. I’ll put out one solo record and that’s it. My focus, as an artist, is to do Enuff Z’Nuff songs and leave a nice catalog of material behind when it’s all said and done after, I move on. Whenever that may be. I never envision an ending to anything to be honest with you but obviously, we’re all getting older. But the record company approached me and said “Hey, we want a solo record, and we want another Enuff Z’Nuff album. And we want that Beatles record that you guys just recorded”. So, I had a six-album deal with Frontiers and I fulfilled my obligation as an artist. This record that I have coming out in November, ‘Finer Than Sin’, is a great showcase of rock and pop at it’s best.
I really believe Enuff Z’Nuff was alternative before there was alternative, to be honest with you Jeff. When we put the first record out, nobody knew how to categorize us. We were always the critics’ darlings. That’s a blessing there. If that means lack of album sales, I don’t know. But the first album came out and went gold. The second album ‘Strength’ came out, that did the same thing. We were picked as one of Rolling Stone magazines’ ‘hottest bands in the world”. We did a ton of touring around the country, went on the Howard Stern show a dozen times. There was a lot of good stuff happening with those earlier records. It’s hard to follow all that stuff up, and now I just write songs just like I have from the beginning — for myself. And if they stand the test of time, then I put them out and I let everybody else hear them. I’m not putting anything out there that’s not strong, solid and concrete.
There’s so much to write about nowadays. There’s so much fodder out there. So much subject matter to discuss and our biggest fear — I think John Lennon said it best — is running out of material. When I don’t have any more songs left. And they still keep coming to me. I don’t know what it is. There are so many ideas that come up, and when I’m on the road, I come up with songs. And meeting guys like you, you say something or a certain phrase or metaphor – I pick up on it and I put it in my little potpourri. My library, so to speak, in my mind. Try to get it out there when I get back home. Record the songs and try to put out as much stuff as I can. What I’m excited about now is producing records for other artists. The Midnight Devils just came out with their record [‘Never Beg For It’] on Pavement.
Sleaze Roxx: It’s a killer album. Really aggressive.
Chip Z’Nuff: Thanks. I was really happy I could make those guys put a smile on their knitted brows. Because they weren’t sure what they were gonna do on their next record. They’re a good band live, too. They’ve got a lot of attitude and they’re full of piss and vinegar. I also produced the newest Steve Ramone record. That comes out in a couple of months as well. Maybe it’ll be out early next year. What I’m really excited about is the duet that I just did with Ann Margret, the actress who was in the old Elvis Presley films, with Joe Perry from Aerosmith and a couple of other great guys. And that’s coming out in a few months on Cleopatra. I’m pretty excited about that, to be with all those heavyweights. Robben Ford’s on the record too, playing guitar – it’s fantastic. I think [drummer] Clem Burke is playing on the record as well. There are some really good players. So, the Ann Margaret record comes out soon. I did a duet with her on an old song – a Frankie Lymon song and it really came out well – “Why Do Fools Fall In Love”. A really good version. Great musicians on the record.
I like to surround myself with good players, like I do with my band Enuff Z’Nuff. And if I can play on other people’s records and lend my expertise if you could say, for lack of a better term, to anybody’s recordings – that’s what I like to do. At the end of the day, I’ll be happy with that, to put those records out. By the way, Enuff Z’Nuff has released 20 albums — 20 full-length records. I’ve been reading things about “Oh, this is their 16th record or 17th record”. No, it isn’t. We have 20 full-length records outside of all the live records and greatest hits stuff and we’ve got a real nice potpourri of material. A wonderful catalog, and I should be able to work for quite a long time. You never envision an ending to it, and I look at all my constituents and my rock star friends and they’re all older than I am. The Aerosmiths and the Cheap Tricks of the world and they’re still touring around the country. There’s no reason why I can’t do it.
Enuff Z’Nuff‘s “Cold Turkey” single (from Hardrock Nite album):
Sleaze Roxx: Do you have a favorite among the albums that you’re put out with Enuff Z’Nuff?
Chip Z’Nuff: No, I don’t. I like them all. They all have a certain indelible mark that they’ve left. I enjoy them all but to be honest I really like the records where I have musicians sitting in with us. Like for instance, our ‘Paraphernalia’ record. I think that’s our sixth or seventh record. I got Rick Nielsen [Cheap Trick] on a bunch of songs, James Young from Styx, and the great Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins playing with me on that album. Those are kind of fun records. My solo record ‘Perfectly Imperfect’. I had my cousin Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater play on that record.
Sleaze Roxx: Is he really your cousin?
Chip Z’nuff: Yeah, he is.
Sleaze Roxx: I didn’t know that.
Chip Z’nuff: So, I’ve got some good guys that are part of making these records with me and that really leaves a nice little feeling at the end of the day for me because I love to share my stage with great artists.
Sleaze Roxx: Would you ever throw a solo album track into the Enuff Z’Nuff set?
Chip Z’nuff: Probably not, because when people see an Enuff Z’Nuff show, they want to hear the Enuff Z’nuff songs. That being said, maybe one of these days. But I haven’t. As we speak right now, I normally don’t throw those songs into the set. Although I’ve done “Heroin” a few times at some of the shows. For the most part, I just try to focus in on the singles of what Enuff Z’Nuff does as a band. These people have been waiting 10, 20, 30 years to see this band play. So, they want to hear “Baby Loves You”, “Fly High Michelle”, “New Thing”, “Heaven Or Hell” and “Kiss The Clown” off the debut record. So, I think I want to focus my attention on what the Enuff Z’Nuff fans know. But perhaps one day I’ll go out and do a solo tour and there’s plenty of material there. A lot of fodder, to go out there and support those records. Right now, the task at hand is to go out and play shows and leave an indelible mark with the fans all around the country. The focus is Enuff Z’Nuff.
Enuff Z’Nuff‘s “New Thing” video (from Enuff Z’Nuff album):
Sleaze Roxx: As much as I love the first two albums, ‘Animals With Human Intelligence’ is up there for me in the catalog as well. For that album the band moved to Arista from Atco. At that time, grunge was also moving in. What was that time like for the band?
Chip Z’nuff: It was a terrible time for all bands, not just us. A lot of bands took an ass-whipping, and a lot of them went away. And rightly so perhaps. For us, we weren’t gonna stop. We knew we were going to continue to move forward. You had Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney — there was a huge constituency of great musicians and bands that were coming out. They all had flannel, shorts, combat boots, that was a whole trip. Alice in Chains — they’re fantastic. I love Jerry Cantrell and that band. But I thought that there was still a spot for Enuff Z’Nuff in there because when we came out, even though people thought that we were a glam band or a glitter rock band. We weren’t. We were alternative just like those cats.
We came out at a time, we didn’t sound like Mötley Crüe, we didn’t sound like Whitesnake or Poison or any of those bands. We had a look that was similar perhaps, but our music was totally different. We came from a different time, and we listened to Stevie Wonder, Sly & the Family Stone, Smokey Robinson, Led Zeppelin, Queen, David Bowie and Thin Lizzy. We were pop and rock. I think it was a nice mixture right there. You know, journalists couldn’t pinpoint exactly what we were. We knew what we were. At the end of the day, we were a rock n’ roll band that had quite a few influences that were probably on our sleeves. So, I think at that time, we were able to withstand the punishment that a lot of those bands took by focusing out attention on writing songs, looking at what was happening in the world and still putting records out. When ‘Animals With Human Intelligence’ came out, we were lucky enough to where one of the A&R guys with Arista records heard our stuff. He never wants me to mention his name and I won’t because he’s embarrassed.
Sleaze Roxx: Clive Davis?
Chip Z’Nuff: No. The A&R guy over at Arista Records brought our demos over to Clive. Clive heard us said “Go get on the phone. Get these fucking guys”. Bring them to us. And then we met Clive. He was a wonderful guy. Super smart, great sense of balance, wonderful set of ears, signed everybody from Aerosmith to Simon & Garfunkel. We said, “This is the guy we’re gonna go with”. And we were in considerable debt at the time. We had two gold records and we were still three-quarters of a million dollars in debt. I talked to all of my friends about it, including Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick. He said “You’ve got to try to find another home somewhere”. And we ended up signing with Arista. It was a huge deal for us. It helped put us on the map. We were in a tough time right there. We were going through some substance abuse problems. We were travelling around in a bus, and it cost us too much money. There was no tour support. We had a huge record deal, but we fucked that up like we did with most of the stuff that we did with our promiscuity and substance abuse problems. But the songs were still strong.
The label still believed in the band. We went out and toured around the country. Played with everybody that you can think of – Def Leppard, Cheap Trick, Dee Snider. Just tried to play tours and surround ourselves with artists that sold a lot of records. And we were able to withstand the punishment and stay alive and put more records out. And that record did really well for us. It came out of the box, and we sold a little over 300,000 records on that album and it was considered a failure back then. Because there was no internet, there was no social media, there was no Spotify, no iTunes, no Rhapsody, no e-music — none of that stuff. The band did ok, but they had bands like Whitney Houston and the guy that plays the fuckin’ flute…
Sleaze Roxx: Kenny G?
Chip Z’Nuff: Kenny G, yeah. And they sell a lot of records, those cats. We were compared to that, and we didn’t sell a tenth of what they sold. Our management company at the time, which was Herbie Herbert, he was the best. There’s not a guy better than him. God rest his soul. We lost him last year. Having our day-to-day guy Bob Brigham, who has a company called Nighthawk, which does Lady Gaga, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, those guys. He said “Listen, it’s time to move on. We have to get out of our deal. We owe one million dollars to the label”. We sold 300,000 copies, but we were still in debt like you wouldn’t believe. So, we politely asked for a release. We never got dropped by any fucking company. It’s a joke. Why would they drop the band? They gave us a Brinks truck full of money to make these records. And so, we politely asked if we could get off the deal and they were nice enough to let us go.
And then we started working independently. We did a record through Big Deal/Caroline. We went over to Mayhem Records and just tried to stay alive until we could find our footing as a band. It was an uphill battle all the way. It was tough. Once you have a chance like that, record companies putting money into you after struggling and having nothing, having a record deal and a couple of hit songs, and then you muck that up with your behavior and extracurricular activities, it’s really hard to turn it around. So, for me to still be going here, the word failure perhaps is not in my vocabulary. Perhaps it was a second chance for us, a second coming. I was able to turn things around. We lost Derek Frigo in 2004 and Ricky Parent in 2007 so we’ve certainly had our problems and tragedies. Donnie left in 2013 and I took over lead vocals at his suggestion. He said, “If you’re going to continue the name, at least the people will know it’s Enuff Z’Nuff when they see you at the front”. I took that chance and maybe he said that because he thought it would fail. But the fans have spoken and that’s who I listen to. I listen to the audience. Every single record.
Nowadays for any band that’s out there, you put a record out and you sell five, six, ten-thousand records – multiply that by ten. That’s the way the record business is right now. A band comes out, they sell 10,000 records. That’s like selling 100,000 records back in the old days. That’s considered successful. And then the way to make money, for any band to make a living, is to play live shows and to do licensing deals. Put those songs on movie soundtracks, in TV shows, commercials. And then you might be able to survive. That’s the only way to do it. For the newer bands out there, it’s very difficult. The Greta Van Fleets, the Rival Sons, the Dirty Honeys, the Vintage Troubles, it’s really a tough road for all of them. The good thing is one click of a button on social media and a million people see what you’re doing. If you’ve got an audience out there, you’ve got a chance and there’s some good opportunities for some of the newer bands out there.
I’m a very optimistic person. Pessimism is not something that I wear very well. I believe in a lot of the good music that’s out there. Those guys are carrying the flag of what we started. I believe that at the end of the day, if you go out there and you work hard, the money will follow. And you get a chance to at least make a living doing this and that’s what I do. I’m not in a tour bus on this tour. You see me in the Oscar Meyer Weiner wagon. I’m the singer that wrote the songs. I’m driving the van every single day with my road manager, Beasley, and it’s almost like going back to the old days. I remember when we were on tour with the Michael Schenker Group and the tour bus pulled up. I’m like “I’m gonna go say hi to Michael”. And I went to the tour bus and I’m like “Hey, how you doing? Is Michael there?”. They go “No, he drives his own car. He’s got some small little Fiat”. Him and his wife, just travelling around the country. He likes driving. So, I’m not embarrassed that I’m driving in an Oscar Meyer Weiner wagon. I’m happy that we’re all still doing it. It’s nice to have the bus, there’s no doubt about that. But nowadays, it’s driving and flying to the gigs and here we are in 2022.
I finish this tour with The Dead Daisies and I’m home for a week, I go out and do the Glam Slam Metal Jam tour [leg 2] with Pretty Boy Floyd and The Midnight Devils. Two bands that are leaving a nice little, indelible mark with their music around the country and playing great shows. They’ve got a lot of fans. And I’m out for a couple of weeks with that and then I jump right on a plane and we’re out with Skid Row for a whole European tour playing nothing but O2 arenas. So, it’s bells and whistles. It’s up and down. You just try to do the best you can navigating what you get. But opportunities are there for Enuff Z’Nuff and we’re gonna work our way through the rest of the year touring and then next year, same thing. Starting in January, we’re out with Styx and Tesla, the Rok Island Festival down in Key West. That’s a four-day event. Play a couple shows down there then jump on a plane right to Australia with Pretty Boy Floyd, Faster Pussycat and a bunch of bands. The schedule moving forward is pretty good, new record comes out in November, and the good Lord works in mysterious ways. Very grateful that the audience comes out. I noticed at these shows that we’re playing, a lot of the moms and dads that followed the band in the early days are bringing their kids to the gigs and they get to share that together. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to music.
Sleaze Roxx: Can you give us any indication of what we can expect with ‘Finer Than Sin’?
Chip Z’nuff: Yeah, a fucking great record. It comes right out of the box kicking ass. The first song is called “Soundcheck”. It’s just us plugging in at the studio playing and getting our sound together. It’s killer. And the very first track, it’s called “Catastrophe”. It’s the first single. It’s one of my favorite songs that I’ve written in a long time. It exposes all the warts, scars, and tattoos of a person that just can’t get it together in life. Could be any of us. At the end of the day, maybe you get lucky, and you can turn it around and look at the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s it.
Sleaze Roxx: Can’t wait to hear it.
Chip Z’nuff: It’s a solid rock record. I think people will be pleasantly surprised when they hear it. It’s very Beatle-esque. It’s an analog record with the harmoniums, mellotrons – great instruments on there. It’s not a cock rock record. It’s very well written and it just exposes what the world’s about right now through my eyes.
Enuff Z’Nuff‘s “Catastrophe” single (from upcoming Finer Than Sin album):
Sleaze Roxx: At this point in your career, do you prefer recording and working in the studio or touring and playing live?
Chip Z’Nuff: I like both. I first make the records, get them out there, and then go out and tour. That’s how I like it. That’s usually how it works. Just like when you make a record, Keith Richards said it best with “You’ve got to have drums. Drums first. Get the drum sounds together and start working”. And that’s how I look at it. Record first, get the music down, write the fucking songs, record them, do the best you can putting together a rock-solid record and then worry about touring after that. And that’s how I like to do it. Everything’s in order chronologically. And if I have a little time off, it’s great.
Just to let your readers know, I’m also on radio every single day. I have a radio show seven days a week. I have 1.7 million people listening to me. It’s as good as Sirius XM. It’s the other satellite radio. It’s called Dash radio. You can download the app Dashradio.com. It’s not one of these stations where you just hear podcasts or something. It’s massive. We have 20 million subscribers. Snoop Dogg has his own show. B-Real from Cypress Hill has a show. The Kardashians — Kylie Jenner has her own show. I’m on the Monsters of Rock channel seven days a week from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm. You want to hear about hard rock and heavy metal? I play it every single day. It’s a great program and I’m grateful to be on it. I do the shows on the road every single day. People get a chance to hear my voice and I talk about the songs and the different bands are on there. I’m playing new and old. It’s a potpourri of over 90,000 songs that we have in our repertoire through Global Music. It’s an amazing program. Not because I’m on it but the music that I get the chance to play for everybody because I have the chance to expose the new bands as well as the older bands that started it all off for us all.
Sleaze Roxx: That’s awesome. One last thing to close us out. I heard that you almost became a major league baseball player before choosing a career in music. Is that true?
Chip Z’Nuff: That’s true. I graduated from Brother Rice high school in 1979. Not many people know that. I was a young kid. I got a couple of lucky breaks. My grandfather played with the White Sox in the 30’s. There was a guy that worked with the White Sox organization, his name was Benny Sentura. He took a liking to me because of my grandfather. He came out and saw me play. He took me up to try out for the Milwaukee Brewers, Kansas City Royals, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox. It was a wonderful opportunity for me. I just didn’t have a quick enough fastball. If we had a rock and jock game, I’d whip a lot of these bands’ asses. Because I was a great pitcher. But I didn’t have what they were looking for at the time, and I realized that maybe the same template that I was using in sports I could use in a rock band. A little discipline never hurt anybody.
And I went out and I put a rock band together and I showed all the love and support that a baseball team does to each player, and I think I’m a good leader when it comes to that. I love people and I like to win. As far as I’m concerned, I’m still winning right now. I’m on the road. I’ve got a great band. I’ve got Tony Fennell from Ultravox with me, Tory Stoffregen from the Black Mollys playing guitar. He’s been with me for quite a long time. Daniel Benjamin Hill from Chicago, solid as a rock drummer, great record producer. I put together a pretty good team and we’re just going to move forward right now and hopefully we’ll leave an indelible mark at the end of the day.
Sleaze Roxx: When you’re not recording or touring, what records do you like to listen to?
Chip Z’Nuff: I listen to everything from Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky all the way down to old Queen and Focus. Bands like Led Zeppelin, Bowie, Mott The Hoople, Crack The Sky… There’s so many different bands that I listen to. I’ve got a great record collection, through my father by the way. I try to listen to all music, and I find inspiration in everything. Of course, I listen to all The Beatles’ stuff. I’ve got every single recording that The Beatles have ever done. But I might be listening to bands like Black Sabbath too. I just go through it all. I like metal, but I like hard rock and I like pop. Maybe it’s Captain & Tennille or ABBA that might trip my trigger one day. And the next day, I’m going “I feel like listening to some Grand Funk Railroad” or something underground that a lot of people don’t hear from Squeeze or Smithereens – love that band. Or Cheap Trick. There are too many bands, I could sit here all day. If I had to write them all down it would be overwhelming because there are thousands of bands that I love. You show me a guy without influences, and I’ll show you a cat who hasn’t written one fucking note.