INTERVIEW WITH EX-VINNIE VINCENT INVASION AND CURRENT LITA FORD DRUMMER BOBBY ROCK (PART 1 OF 2)
Date: July 17, 2018
Interviewer: Tyson Briden
I RECENTLY WENT ON VACATION TO IRELAND. OF COURSE, A FLIGHT FROM TORONTO TO DUBLIN IS ROUGHLY SIX TO SEVEN HOURS DEPENDING ON THE TAIL WIND. JUST BEFORE I JOURNEYED FORTH, I HAD LISTENED TO A PODCAST ON THE GREAT THREE SIDES OF THE COIN SITE. AS I HAVE MENTIONED IN PREVIOUS WRITINGS, THIS IS A PODCAST THAT I TRULY ENJOY, ALTHOUGH I HAVE HEARD THAT “BRANDVOLD IS A TOOL” — HEY, I DIDN’T SAY IT, GENE SIMMONS TOLD ME! REGARDLESS, I LISTENED INTENTLY TO EPISODE 283 PRIMARILY BECAUSE THE GUEST ON THIS DAY WAS NONE OTHER THAN VINNIE VINCENT INVASION DRUMMER BOBBY ROCK. ROCK WENT INTO DEPTH ABOUT MANY VINNIE VINCENT STORIES. THESE STORIES YOU MAY ASK, WELL THEY ALL PERTAINED TO HIS RECENTLY PUBLISHED BOOK, “THE BOY IS GONNA ROCK: A DRUMMER’S JOURNEY FROM HOUSTON TO HOLLYWOOD IN SEARCH OF HAIR METAL HEAVEN.”
AT THAT POINT, IT WAS DECIDED I WOULD PURCHASE THIS BOOK BEING THAT I HAVE ALWAYS HAD AN INFINITY FOR VINNIE AND HIS INVASION. THERE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN THOSE ELUSIVE QUESTIONS IN MY MIND THAT I WANTED TO KNOW. WHAT IS VINNIE REALLY LIKE? IS HE REALLY AS DESTRUCTIVE TO HIMSELF AS THE MEDIA LIKES TO PERCEIVE HIM TO BE? SO AS I JOURNEYED TO IRELAND, I OPENED MY FIRST PAGE OF ROCK’S BOOK. FOR THOSE WHO HAVE MADE THE FLIGHT FROM TORONTO TO IRELAND, IT IS A LONG OVERNIGHT TRIP. MY INTENTIONS WERE GOOD TO READ AS MUCH ON THAT FLIGHT AS I COULD, BUT AROUND 2 A.M., TWO HOURS INTO THE FLIGHT, MY EYES BEGAN TO FALL VICTIM FROM THE BOOK INTO SLEEP SUBMISSION. WELL, TO MAKE A LONG STORY SHORT, IT WOULD BE THREE DAYS OF TRAVELING ON A BUS THROUGHOUT IRELAND BEFORE I WOULD COMPLETE MY LATEST EPIC READING EXPERIENCE.
BEFORE I HAD LEFT FOR MY TRIP, I HAD BEEN IN CONTACT WITH A GENTLEMAN WITHIN BOBBY ROCK’S CAMP IN REGARDS TO POSSIBLY SETTING UP AN INTERVIEW TO TALK OF HIS BOOK. MY THOUGHT PROCESS WAS THAT I WOULD READ THE BOOK ON VACATION. WHEN I WOULD RETURN, I WOULD SIT DOWN WITH ROCK AND DISCUSS THE BOOK’S CONTENTS. TO BE HONEST, IT SEEMED LIKE IT MAY BE A TEDIOUS TASK. HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT ASKING QUESTIONS WITHIN A BOOK? THESE ARE SUBJECTS THAT HAVE BEEN ALREADY DEALT WITH. IN DEPTH I MAY ADD. THIS IS WHERE I STARTED TO COME UP WITH A GAME PLAN. HOW WOULD I ATTACK IT? WELL, I DID AND IN MY EYES, I THINK I WAS ABLE TO GET A VERY CANDID, IN DEPTH INTERVIEW WITH ROCK. AS HAS BEEN THE CASE FOR ME LATELY, I WOULD HAVE TO BREAK THE INTERVIEW DOWN INTO TWO PARTS. HERE IT IS FOR ALL TO READ. PLEASE ENJOY MY FRIENDS!!!
Sleaze Roxx: Great to talk to you Bobby. Thank you very much. I must say that I really enjoyed reading your book. Primarily, I wanted to read it and go from there before talking with you. Maybe elaborate on a few parts within if we could. First off, I’d like to talk about the book cover itself. That was from the same photo shoot from the first Invasion album? That is just such a great shot.
Bobby Rock: It’s actually not from that photo session. It’s a painting that was done by John Douglas who played drums for Kik Tracee. John has been doing custom drum design for years. He works with Van Halen. Anything you see with custom drum design, it’s generally John. So he mixed that photo from the first Vinnie Vincent Invasion album session into the painting. That original photo was taken by Lynn Branam.
Sleaze Roxx: In terms of all the great photos on the back of the book, did you still have all this stuff that you kept from back in the day? There’s some really cool rare stuff including the painted pink cymbals from the “Boyz Are Gonna Rock” video.
Bobby Rock: Yes, I still had all that stuff. It was Mariana Tosca that put it all together. On the back cover of the book, you’ll see her name. “Back cover photos…” I think hardcore KISS fans love that shit. The collectibles kind of stuff. They appreciate it.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you have original pressings of both Invasion albums?
Bobby Rock: I do indeed still have those original pressings.
Sleaze Roxx: One of my favorite parts of the book was you tracking the drums for the first Vinnie Vincent Invasion album. While this was all going on, did you ever think to yourself, “Fuck it. I’ve had enough! I quit! This guy is nuts!”
Bobby Rock: Not really. It was my first major recording. I didn’t want to get fired. I would have done anything. Obviously, it was very frustrating. It was, “What does this guy want?” That kind of thing, but there was never a time where I thought about bailing. There was a time where I thought am I going to get kicked to the curb here? Or am I going to make it through? Going back and forth from Houston to L.A. like I did several times, it was very arduous in that sense. Man, when you’re young, it’s your first big recording, you’ll do anything to make it work.
Sleaze Roxx: I don’t want to give too much away in terms of the book. I am sure you want people to read it?
Bobby Rock: Awe, no. It’s all good!
Sleaze Roxx: I thought it was cool in the initial Vinnie Vincent Invasion audition, there were all these other guys waiting. By the end of it, there was one guy left and you knew he wasn’t getting the gig. That was really funny. How long would you say that audition went on for?
Bobby Rock: I think I said 45 minutes in the book. That’s being conservative. It kind of blew up into, “Play this part!”, so I did. Back in the day, things were exaggerated. It could have been 45, pushing 60 minutes. We stepped into a zone.
Sleaze Roxx: Going into it, I am sure you were somewhat nervous. You wanted to get the gig. As it went, on did you feel more relaxed?
Bobby Rock: Immediately! That was the thing that I noticed about it, that within five minutes, all the butterflies were gone. It was one of those things where we just kind of broke the ice. I hit the drums. It sounded really big. It was cool in that room. I got a good vibe from them right out of the gate. Leading up to it, I felt like this was something that was destined to happen. So as soon as I had any indication that it was going smoothly, I was pretty much home free.
Sleaze Roxx: As I was reading the book and listening to your recent interview with Three Sides of the Coin, something kind of jumped out at me. It was the conversations with the impending managers that led to the rift between Vinnie [Vincent] and the band. I think Dana [Strum)] had told one of the managers something along the lines of possibly not moving forward with Vinnie, which in turn made its way back to Vinnie. I get the term, but what exactly was the reasoning?
Bobby Rock: When things don’t work out the way you think they’re going to in terms of a band’s success level. Everyone thought the first album was going to be a platinum record. So there was all this high expectation going in and we fell short of that. We did 300,000 – 350 000 units. Whatever it was. Along the way, you’re wondering. Trying to make sense of it all. Why isn’t it happening? Why didn’t we do as good as we should have? Was it because of how we are as a live band? How we represent in the press? It’s trying to get a sense of why there are issues. Like I always say, if the record was to sell two million copies, then any idiosyncrasies you attribute to Vinnie Vincent; or he may be eccentric; or it could be A, B or C, all go out the window. For example, Ritchie Blackmore, he had been kind of known as a problem child with the press, but who gives a fuck? Purple was big. Or someone like Neil Peart who is very cold towards the press. Who gives a fuck? That’s Neil. That’s the way he is. You’re forgiven. If the band doesn’t do as well, then you kind of have to be careful. Along the way, the first year with Vinnie, the first tour and just sort of observing how Vinnie could be towards the press, towards fans at times and of course with the extended guitar solos. This was something we realized later, when Paul Stanley was telling stories of running on stage and cutting him off! Vinnie was saying it because his perception was, “They were trying to hold me back! They didn’t want me stealing the show!” We could see in a 40 minute set, if you’re doing an eight minute guitar solo and it’s kind of a one dimensional shred fest, that kind of creates a lull in the set. Could this have effected how we came across as live band? These are all speculative questions, but it was all that kind of stuff. Also Vinnie could be reactionary about things. He’s very emotional. He’s very artist driven. So you add all those things up. I think what Dana was trying to do was to sort of forewarn a potential manager — “Okay, these are some of the challenges ahead. We want you to know about this going forward.” So I think that was kind of Dana’s motive to pull these guys aside to tell them basically.
Sleaze Roxx: It wasn’t trying to get rid of Vinnie. It was saying what was going on internally if a manager was to take you on.
Bobby Rock: To be clear, that was the primary reason, but also we were stepping into a “Make it or Break it” type of thing. I think what Dana was prepared to do was saying listen, “If the guy kind of self-sabotages, combusts or things don’t work out with Vinnie here, the rest are prepared to move on without him, if we have to.” So he was being really transparent with the potential new manager. Now from the manager’s perspective, it seems kind of suspect because he’s here to check Vinnie Vincent and his band and now you have one of the band guys talking. So I can see maybe from his perspective, it felt like there was a divide in the ranks so to speak.
Sleaze Roxx: Now you go into depth in the book about Mark and Dana forming Slaughter. I spoke with Mark last year regarding this very subject. It was in terms of material for that first Slaughter album. I found it astounding that Mark and Dana did not start working on material until after the Invasion had broken up. So I can just imagine your apprehension with moving forward with a project when you had no idea of the material. Not knowing if they could actually put together an album.
Bobby Rock: You know that’s a good point you mention. I think the two reasons that I mention in the book, were I just needed to take a clean break from anything involved that was related to Vinnie Vincent Invasion after the mind fuck we all went through in that three years. I just needed to clear the deck and start fresh. The other thing was there were some other projects I wanted to pursue. My first drum book. A video. I had this sort of drummers’ drummer thing I wanted to do. So those were the compelling reasons. To your point, that’s right. Here’s the thing, I just gotta tell ya man, those are the reasons to not do Slaughter. However, had I heard a demo of “Up All Night” or “Fly To The Angels”, I might have said, “Well, you know what, I‘ll stick around.” To be fair, it’s easy to say, “I had to go on and do other things!” To your point, that was exactly right. I believed in Dana as a producer. I believed in Mark as a frontman. I figured they’d put together something cool, but without having heard anything… Like I had no fucking idea!
Sleaze Roxx: For Chrysalis Records to say, “Okay, we’re going to take on the record deal! You guys are gonna come over and we’re gonna do an album!” Without them ever hearing anything, I think it’s awesome. There were no outside writers. It was just Mark and Dana. They wrote all those amazing songs.
Bobby Rock: To be clear, they picked up Mark’s “Leaving Member Option.” So the perception is that Slaughter took over Vinnie’s contract. What’s tricky about that is on one hand, yes, they were letting go of Vinnie’s contract and handing over a new one for Mark. It kind of has that seamlessness kind of transaction feel to it. It was two separate transactions. We’re not going to pick up Vinnie’s third record. We are going to pick up Mark’s “Leaving Member Option.” That’s absolutely correct. They went in. I think the guys had to demo some songs. They had a certain interim period where they had to get those into them. They heard that first batch of songs and said, “Yeah, we’re into it! We can work with this.”
Sleaze Roxx: I guess the whole thing is bittersweet for Vinnie, which make me understand why he was the way towards Mark at the Atlanta KISS Convention back in January of this year. From reading the book though, it never seemed as though there was ever any animosity between Mark and Vinnie. Besides the stuff that Vinnie would say to Mark going onstage. It seemed like their relationship was fine.
Bobby Rock: Man, we had no indication. With Mark Slaughter, those first Vinnie Vincent Invasion shows were the first time that Mark performed as a frontman without his guitar on. Even at 21, 22 years old, he was still getting his seasoning together. Getting his pipes together. So he went through a learning curve quickly. That was the first few months with Alice [Cooper]. By the time we hit Iron Maiden, I don’t even remember at that point there being further discussion from Vinnie. You know like, “Ah you sound like shit. I don’t want you to play on the next record!” Iron Maiden — he really found his groove. From that point forward, we didn’t have any indication at all. As a matter of fact, somebody sent me footage recently of Dana and Vinnie doing an interview at Cherokee Studios with a Japanese TV thing or something like that and Vinnie’s like, “Ah you gotta hear Mark Slaughter on this new record. He sounds like Robert Plant.” That’s what Vinnie said. Again we had no indication that there were any issues throughout the record, throughout the demos for ‘All Systems Go.’ Anything that would lead you to believe he was unhappy. That’s why sometimes I wonder, “Are we getting a little bit of an emotional heightened recollection from Vinnie?” This is 30 years later.
Sleaze Roxx: Really this is the first time he’s ever really said his peace. He’s been elusive for so long. I was honestly disappointed to hear him say that about Mark. Mark is amazing. ‘All Systems Go’ is amazing, which actually brings me to my next question. In the book, you talk of the sound on the first Invasion album after you heard it. You alluded to the fact that the drums were buried. It sounds better on the 2003 re-master and it’s really guitar heavy. How do you feel about the sound on ‘All Systems Go’?
Bobby Rock: I think it was an improvement because the drum tracks didn’t wind up getting fucked with as much as they did on the first record. On the first record, things were kind of parched together. Pieced together. We recorded the record three different times. It was a little bit of a cluster fuck. So just the fact that those tracks are live — start to finish performances — and they were tracked with Dana and I playing together. There were a little bit of lessons learned from the first time around. Dana probably had a little bit more influence. You’ll notice it was Vinnie Vincent and Dana Strum production credit on the first record and reversed on the second record. I don’t know anything about that conversation, but there must have been a conversation somewhere that Dana said, “Listen man, I’m at the fucking studio from 9 a.m. till 1 a.m., everyday. Doing A, B and C.” Maybe he had a very diplomatic way of saying, “Vinnie’s co-producing but look at how many hours I put in.” There was a lopsided work ethic if you will. I shouldn’t say work ethic, but just their working relationship. Vinnie would come late and leave early. That’s how it was. So I think it was definitely an improvement over the first record, but honestly, the drum tracks remain my least favorite parts of those records. If I’m being honest. I love the songs. I love the vocals on both records for different reasons. I love Vinnie’s playing. A lot of the shit is super over the top compared to how he played on the demos. If you’re looking to get your head taken off by some scorching guitars and all that crazy solo shit, those are fun records to listen too. If you listen to the Invasion records up against a Mötley Crüe record or Def Leppard records, sonically, especially drum wise.
Sleaze Roxx: It seems so strange to me that Dana produced both the Invasion albums considering how sonically great the Slaughter albums are. In the book, you stated they were going for a more Def Leppard sound. I find the production on the Slaughter albums and especially Dana’s bass tracks, so much fuller than what the Invasion albums were.
Bobby Rock: Right… Because he wasn’t having to deal with somebody sitting next to him who is constantly pushing up the faders on the guitar. Having that kind of an influence. There is the travesty of the whole thing. He had that record in him. I am sure he was improving as a producer doing both those Vinnie Vincent Invasion records. He was doing some other stuff as you know. For example, had Dana Strum produced the Vinnie Vincent Invasion albums on his own and was able to veto.
Sleaze Roxx: I just wonder for instance that drum intro on “Dirty Rhythm” — what it would have sounded like had Dana had full control. I listen to it and think, “I wish it was a little more punchy!”
Bobby Rock: [Laughs]… Tell me about it. Also on the Slaughter record from a production perspective a couple years later when they were working on that, I think some of those sounds you’re hearing with the kick drum and the snare, they were going with the Mutt Lange influenced drum sounds and all that. The different technologies. They’re using samples. I remember talking to the guys and hearing the lengths they were going to to replicate the drum sound “De Jour.” That was the apex of the huge drum sound. All of that’technology coming in. In Vinnie Vincent Invasion, we were still old school. Set the drums up in a room and get the best sound you can out of the drums. It’s a live drummer playing. It was kind of like the night and day production approach.
Sleaze Roxx: Of course, we all aware of the song “Burning Bridges” from the first Slaughter album. Without being to disrespectful to Vinnie, when you first heard it, did you feel what was being said was warranted or was it a slight overreaction to possibly sell a song?
Bobby Rock: Well, It was an honest statement from Mark and Dana fresh off of all that we went through. I mean, we went through some bullshit on that last tour. There were some financial discrepancies. Every type of discrepancy you could have. So creatively speaking. Artistically speaking. Whatever you want to say, they have the right to write a song like that. Now, personally that’s not my style. I probably would not have lobbied to do a song like that. There’s no right or wrong, it’s just a matter of approach. A matter of opinion. I’m more the type to say, “You know what man, I don’t want to marinate in that energy.” I wouldn’t lobby to sort of do that. In their case, they saw it as an opportunity to say, “You know what, let’s tell our side of the story of what we just went through! Let’s fire one back across the deck!” And they did. I often wonder. I may have alluded to, if not in the book, but a couple of times since that, how much was that on Vinnie’s mind when he spoke of Mark Slaughter in present tense. I sang on a record that sold two million copies and is about him. Everybody knew it was about him. You wonder if that was something also that could have, let’s say, colored Vinnie’s recollection.
Sleaze Roxx: That’s what I’m getting at. Vinnie’s saying this. That song’s on the album. What was it? “So you wanna do another solo?” “You wanna go eat some dinner? Charge it to the record company!” That took some balls. What year was that? 1990. So I was still young. That song came out and I was, “Yeah! That’s cool!” Now as I think about as I’m 43 years old, I think, “Ooooh!” As a teenager, going into your 20s, you think about it and think it’s cool.
Bobby Rock: Yeah of course, 30 years later, whatever it is… 28 years later. Again in that moment. All we went through. All that happened. These guys get into the studio and it’s their turn. To do the record they want. To share their side of the story. The press. All those things. They took the bold approach.
Sleaze Roxx: It’s a stellar album regardless. I have a KISS question and I was surprised the Three Sides [of the Coin] guys didn’t ask you this. Did Vinnie ever allude to the fact that on the ‘Lick It Up’ cover, that was only Vinnie’s head on a mannequin’s body?
Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon…