Interview with Red Dragon Cartel bassist Anthony Esposito – Part 1 of 2

June 4, 2022
Interviewer: Jeff Onorato
Photos: Jeff Onorato (first photo), courtesy of Anthony Esposito (second photo), Olivier (third, fourth and fifth photos)

1990 remains one of hard rock’s most prolific years on record in terms of both the caliber and quantity of stellar new albums that were released to the music buying masses. Veteran acts Judas Priest and Anthrax dropped their monumental ‘Painkiller‘ and ‘Persistence of Time’ LPs, respectively, and AC/DC returned with ‘The Razor’s Edge’ which boasted one of the biggest hits of their career in “Thunderstruck”. There was also a host of new bands that unleashed soon-to-be-classic debut albums with the Black Crowes, Love/Hate, Warrior Soul, and Lynch Mob unveiling new efforts that would go on to become benchmark, fan favorites. Lynch Mob’s ‘Wicked Sensation’ LP was leading the pack and generating a tremendous buzz even months before its release, due largely to it being a new vehicle for Dokken’s George Lynch and “Wild” Mick Brown but also on the strength of the album’s sinister first single and title track.

Lynch Mob also featured the extraordinary talents of vocalist Oni Logan and bassist Anthony Esposito, both largely unknown at the time but quickly catapulted into the limelight on the strengths of their musical virtuoso and the sheer brilliance of their performances on that Max Norman-produced debut for Elektra Records. The years that followed would prove tumultuous for the band, resulting in frontman Robert Mason taking Logan’s place at the microphone for the tracking of their sophomore effort before the band ultimately embarked on an extended hiatus lasting until 1997 and the release of their ‘Syzygy’ EP.  Following his return to the band in 1997 and subsequent contribution to their 2003 comeback album ‘REvolution’, bassist Anthony Esposito has continued to work tirelessly in the music industry, as the owner of Obscenic Arts Recording Studio and his subsequent recording and touring with both Ace Frehley and Red Dragon Cartel. I had the honor of sitting down with Esposito in his beautiful, state-of-the-art recording studio to hear snippets of several in-the-works projects (including a potential solo album) and recollect on his past, present, and future endeavors in the world of rock n’ roll.

Sleaze Roxx: Lynch Mob’s debut album turns 32 this year in October. How did you get your start playing bass?

Anthony Esposito: Originally, I grew up in New York City. They come to your grammar school in the fifth grade, before you go into the sixth grade, and they ask you what electives you want for middle school and it’s either art, drama, or music. And I can’t draw a straight line, so art was out. And I never really wanted to act so I chose music. So, they give you this silly little test where they play you like two chords on the piano, and you have to say whether the notes were higher or lower [to determine] if you’re tone deaf or not. And then you have to pick brass, woodwind, strings or percussion. I always wanted to be a sax player, but I had braces so they’re like “No, you can’t play sax or woodwind or anything. You have to play strings because of your braces”. Being a boy growing up in New York City, the last thing that I wanted to do was play violin. So, I picked the biggest one, which was the upright bass. And I played in symphonies.

Once I held that big, upright bass and bowed it and you felt that resonance of that low tone pressed up against your body, I was hooked. And then I got my first [bass], it was like a Japanese P-bass copy and the action was like three inches off the fretboard. I got that in like the seventh grade and started playing in bands. I just took to it and there was no looking back. I was in bands ever since then, sneaking into bars when I was underage to play gigs and stuff. Putting posters on cars in parking lots to get people to come and see the shows. Going to the all-girl high schools and hitting their cars and posting the poles so that they knew about the gigs. We were very promoting / orientated when we were young. We practiced every day and really promoted, and our gigs were always packed, and we had a really good band back then in Staten Island where I grew up. But yeah, it was because I had braces. I got thrusted into that and once I played it, I was hooked.

Sleaze Roxx: You got your big break early, because you were 21, 22 when you joined Lynch Mob?

Anthony Esposito: Yeah. I think when we recorded ‘Wicked [Sensation]’, I was 22.

Sleaze Roxx: Being so young and being in a big band like that, was that intimidating at all?

Anthony Esposito: No. I never really was into metal. I was a punk rock/jazz guy. I was listening to The Clash and The Police and The Pistols and The Buzzcocks and The Jam and Miles Davis and Coltrane. I was never a metal guy. So, I honestly didn’t even know who George [Lynch] was and it was just… It’s a really long story. I auditioned for this band on Atlantic. And it was down [to] between me and another bass player. They auditioned like 70 bass players, and Phil Soussan got the gig over me.

Sleaze Roxx: From Beggars & Thieves?

Anthony Esposito: Yeah. That was the band. They had asked me. Phil had to go back to L.A. to pack up his stuff to move to New York, so they were like “You’re really good. Can you help us audition drummers”? I was like “Yeah, of course”. So, I helped them, and the publicist from Atlantic came and saw this band I was playing with at the China Club. She’s like “You’re really good. Your band’s not gonna go anywhere”. She’s like “But you’re really good, let me help you get auditions”. And she was the one that got me all of those auditions in L.A. and Phoenix. It was Lynch Mob and Dio and a bunch of auditions. And that’s how I got the gig. That’s how I got Lynch Mob. I was bussing tables. I had never played with anybody. It was only local bands, and they were more punk rock/jazz than [metal]. I grew up in New York. Metal’s not really big in New York. And I grew up in New York, like, Manhattan and Brooklyn. It was all punk rock back then. I think it had a lot to do with my style too because I didn’t sound like every bass player on the Sunset Strip. I had the jazz sensibility, the jazz knowledge to apply to the anger and the drive of punk rock. That’s what kind of set me apart from all the other guys that were auditioning. And, I mean, I didn’t know Dokken. So, I wasn’t fazed in the least. And when I got the gig, I was just a kid in a candy shop. I was just happy to be there. It was my first BBQ. I was greener than the centerfield grass in Yankee Stadium on opening day. I was just enjoying life, you know.

Sleaze Roxx: Were you aware of the fan anticipation for ‘Wicked Sensation’?              

Anthony Esposito: No. No idea. I didn’t really care and when I played with them, the first thing that hit me when I auditioned with them was Mick [Brown]. Because there’s always this marriage between drums and bass. I just felt it comfortable playing with him. He’s so great and underrated. And he’s such an easy drummer to play with, and lock with, and groove with. Immediately we grooved — that’s the one thing about the first Lynch Mob record. There’s such a solid groove that it’s almost sexual. And I felt that from day one with Mick. He and I just clicked with that feel. We used to call it Moroccan Roll. It was like a takeoff of a Bo Diddley bounce. It had a pocket of a metal bite to it and George, you know, he’s phenomenal. He’s amazing at what he does, and I loved Oni’s [Logan] vibe. Oni’s approach, and his vibe and his soul. I was just happy to be there, you know.

Sleaze Roxx: Mick’s brother Steve is phenomenal too. I just saw him perform with Tesla.

Anthony Esposito: Yeah. I met him back then but not very much. We were in the desert. Cave Creek, Arizona was where we lived so it wasn’t like we really got to know each other’s families or whatever. The immediate families – the wives and the kids and all that, we all got along. The external family, we never [met] unless we toured, and we were in their city and they showed up. But yeah, he’s a great guy. I’m happy to see him doing well. It’s great.

Sleaze Roxx: With George and Mick having just parted ways with Dokken when ‘Wicked Sensation’ was released, was there ever pressure from Elektra to sound like Dokken?

Anthony Esposito: No, I don’t remember Elektra ever interjecting or intervening with us. Well, maybe they heard roughs [rough demos] and stuff and were fuckin’ blown away. And they were like “Let’s leave these guys alone”. When we first started ‘Wicked’, we had two incredibly amazing, talented producers with Max Norman and Neil Kernon. Between that, and George and Mick’s pedigree, I think they kind of felt that we were in good hands. And then Neil kind of bolted mid-way through the process. He resigned. And Max just took over and brought it across the finish line, you know. Max worked so hard on that record. And he’s why, he’s one of the main reasons [why it turned out so well]. I think it was just a perfect storm where, deep down, George wanted to blow away Don’s solo album and show that he was the guy that was the driving force behind why Dokken was good. And so he really busted his ass on his guitar playing on that. He was taking lessons, he was sitting in the back of the room at GIT, and he was really worried about his tone and working out his solos. I think him wanting to prove that and Max’s work ethic just made that record. It was like a perfect storm.

Lynch Mob‘s “Wicked Sensation” video:

Sleaze Roxx: Right, because Don’s first solo album ‘Up From The Ashes‘ was coming out right around that same time.

Anthony Esposito: Same time, yeah. Same time. And on Geffen. When Dokken split, Elektra chose to go with George and Mick and let Don go. So Don went to Geffen, and he put together this all-star kind of band of guys that were all in, you know, Europe and Accept and Mikkey Dee from King Diamond. And George went the other route with Mick, and they got me and Oni who were relatively unknowns. I was definitely unknown. Oni had kicked around in Ferrari and stuff, but he never did anything like Accept or Europe or whatever. So, they went the new-blood kind of way. I mean, I’m 13 years younger than George. And they could have had their pick of any bass player they wanted at the time. It says a lot that they went for young [relatively unknowns]. Oni’s a year younger than me, so they went for youth and a fresh perspective rather than go and stay in the genre with established players. Which is what Don did. 

Sleaze Roxx: When that album came out in 1990, there were a lot of big debuts that came out that year. Love/Hate’s debut, which is now a classic. Warrior Soul, one of my favorites.

Anthony Esposito: Yeah, I love Warrior Soul. Johnny [Ricco, guitarist] was in my band. The guitar player from Warrior Soul — fast-forward to after I quit Lynch Mob — I had a band where I was singing lead and playing bass. The band was called Pure 13, and Johnny was the guitar player. We did a record, it was on TVT. It came out in like, 2000. I still talk to Johnny, probably like once every other month we connect. He’s a pilot now. He kind of did the Chris DeGarmo thing. But he always gets the itch. He’ll text me like every six months. “So when are we doing a new Pure 13 record?” But yeah, a lot of bands did release that year and….

Sleaze Roxx: The Black Crowes did…

Anthony Esposito: Nirvana [laughs].

Sleaze Roxx: ‘Nevermind’ was right around the bend. But where I was going with that was do you think that saturation of new bands that year hurt Lynch Mob?

Anthony Esposito: No, none of them had Dokken [history], none of them had five platinum albums prior to that. Love/Hate didn’t, and Warrior Soul didn’t. I mean, I found out this later, like hindsight, but George and Mick were kind of like metal royalty. When we would open for bands, it wasn’t like we were a new band opening for Queensrÿche or a new band opening for whoever we were opening for. It was like George Lynch is opening for that. So we kind of….yeah, we were a new band but we didn’t really start from square one. And also I think at that time, we were the highest debuting album from a new band besides ‘[Led] Zeppelin I’.  ‘Wicked’ entered the charts, I think we entered the charts at #29 and ‘Zeppelin I’ was #25 the first week or something like that. And that’s all because of George and Mick and Dokken. We weren’t a baby band, by any means. We started at step six, not step one.

Sleaze Roxx: As a fan, I always thought it was cool that George and Mick went with unknowns instead of just assembling a band of star players.

Anthony Esposito: Yeah, but we were both like…. Oni and I were both like old souls. We were older than our ages when it came to music and approach and all that.

Lynch Mob‘s “River of Love” video:

Sleaze Roxx: You toured with Cinderella and Nelson on the first album. What do you remember about that?

Anthony Esposito: Yeah, I used to hang out with Eric [Brittingham, Cinderella bassist] all the time and we’d go to bars after the gigs and stuff. And he would get so pissed off because we would be in a bar and everybody in the bar knew that we’d just played. And they’d come up to Eric and, because he had long blonde hair, they thought he was one of the Nelson twins. And he would get so pissed off [laughs]. He’s like “I’m not fuckin’ Matthew. I’m not fuckin’ Gunnar. I’m in a band called Cinderella”. That was fun. And Tom [Keifer] is just a polished, class act. Every facet – onstage, offstage, as a human being. He’s just a great human being, a great person, a great songwriter. And I was so young, it was great. That was my first ride touring America playing arenas with them and it was fun. I remember we played the old Giants Center here. The old, old one. It was cool.

Sleaze Roxx: With Mick Brown being retired now…

Anthony Esposito: Yeah, I wish he still played. I’d love to play with him again.

Sleaze Roxx: Do you see a chance of the ‘Wicked Sensation’ line-up ever reuniting for a show?

Anthony Esposito: I approached George on the 25th anniversary of ‘Wicked’. So it was what, seven years ago. I was still with Ace. I had spoken to everyone in the band. I spoke to Max, I spoke to Oni, I spoke to Mick, I even spoke to the road crew. The guys that we had back then. And I was like “Let’s do a follow up to ‘Wicked’, 25 years later, original line-up, with Max producing and then let’s do a world tour. And let’s just bang it out the right way. And George was the only one that wasn’t interested. I think he just sees… He saw Lynch Mob as an opportunity where he was the only original member left, and then Oni came back, but it was an opportunity where for him to utilize the name and make all the money. Where he didn’t have to cut us in. Lynch Mob was always an equal split. It was always 25% each guy. Everything – t-shirts, publishing, it was always a band. And I don’t think George wanted to relinquish his control of it. Of him being all of it and hiring guys and paying them salaries and him keeping the lion’s share of the money. But I don’t know, that’s conjecture. He was the only one that said no. And I thought that would have been a brilliant thing. We could’ve made the follow up to ‘Wicked’ with Oni and Max and taken our time and made a great record. Not one of these “Bang it out in three weekends” records. Take our time and make it really good. And he wasn’t interested. And I was sad that that happened. So seven years ago was right after I got fired from Ace, and it was before I joined Red Dragon Cartel so then I started playing with Jake [e. Lee] right after he said no. So… so be it.

Sleaze Roxx: Everything happens for a reason.

Anthony Esposito: And we made ‘Patina’ [laughs].

Sleaze Roxx: What really prompted the change in singers from Oni to Robert [Mason] between that first and second album?

Anthony Esposito: Oni, it was his live thing, and we were opening for guys like Keifer and Geoff Tate, and it was a live performance thing. We loved Oni’s vibe onstage. We loved him as a frontman, as a singer, his swagger, his vibe, his coolness. But it was live. And you’re opening up for guys that don’t drop notes. They are perfect every night. Geoff Tate and Keifer. You’re talking about these guys in their primes. I mean, they were professional frontmen and lead singers. And George, to quote him “I don’t have time for our lead singer to learn how to sing”. And I was like “No”. I went to bat for Oni.  I was like “Let’s get him lessons, let’s get him to where he has a warm up tape and he’s prepared for the show”. If he’s gonna take it seriously, let’s work through this and George was like “I don’t have time. Let’s get another singer”. So, I mean, yeah, it’s a band on paper but ultimately my name’s not in the band name. You knew who was calling the shots. And it was George’s decision and it fell on deaf ears, my plea, but what are you gonna do? I’m only the bass player.

Sleaze Roxx: Right around the time that the second album came out in 1992 was when Pearl Jam and Nirvana were moving in. Was there any indication within the band that there was a shift in the label’s marketing focus?

Anthony Esposito: Yeah, but we didn’t care. I mean, we knew. ‘Wicked’ came out the same year as Nirvana, and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was everywhere and you saw it in attendance dropping off at shows. The arenas weren’t sold out anymore and the writing was on the wall, but we do what we do and we are what we are and we’re not gonna suddenly cut our pants up and wear flannels and Doc Martens.

Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, that would be cheesy.

Anthony Esposito: It’s not our thing. Nor would we want to. I don’t really think that, you know, we weren’t that type of band. We practiced our instruments and got really good at it. Why would we dumb it down? I don’t see Seattle as a step up. I see it as a step down. It sort of just dumbed it down and everybody was dark and complaining. I mean, Chris Cornell’s a genius.  He’s the one out of all of them that I think was ultimately talented, but the rest of the bands were pretty much just built on vibe and complaining. It didn’t really last that long if you think about it. Then rap and country took over pretty quickly after metal was dead. 

Sleaze Roxx: You’ve worked with Keith Olsen who has worked with artists such as Ozzy, Foreigner, and Whitesnake.

Anthony Esposito: Rest in peace. He was amazing.

Sleaze Roxx: He passed away in 2020. Did you learn a lot from working with him?

Anthony Esposito: He was the one at Sound City that bought the famous Neve [analog console]. He was the house engineer at Sound City, and he did Rick Springfield there and he’s done tons of shit that people don’t even know about. His discography is incredible. He was the engineer at Sound City that ordered that famous Neve, that [Dave] Grohl ended up buying that they made the documentary about. He saw the advent of digital coming, so he moved right next door to Sound City and started this studio called Good Night L.A. and it had this board. It was a Trident Diane. It was a digital/analog hybrid board and he had digital tape machines — old Sony 48 track digitals. So we went in, and he had just finished ‘Slip of The Tongue’ with Whitesnake. He did ‘No Rest for The Wicked’ with Ozzy there, and he did the Scorpions’ ‘Crazy World‘. His discography is to die for. Anyway, so we went in there and I think George wanted to go more for a Whitesnake sound and that’s why we went to Keith. He wanted the success that Whitesnake had.

And probably in hindsight, I love that record, but I don’t know why we didn’t do another one with Max after ‘Wicked’ came out so good. It’s kind of silly. But we switched management too. We were managed for the first record with Freddie DeMann, who I don’t really think knew what to do with us. He was Madonna, Billy Idol and Michael Jackson’s manager, and I don’t really think he knew much about a metal band. And then we switched to H.K. on the second record — Howard Kaufman — who did Whitesnake and Janet Jackson, The Eagles, The Cult, Poison. Frontline Management/H.K. was insane with their artist roster. So, we went to them and that’s how we also got with Keith. Because they had the Whitesnake connection, David [Coverdale], and all of that.

Sleaze Roxx: The first and the second album; they’re similar but different.

Anthony Esposito: I love ‘Wicked’, start to finish. The second album, there’s moments that I fast forward, which… with ‘Wicked’, there’s none. I love ‘Wicked’ as an album. There’re moments on the second album that I think are really, really good and there are moments that I really cringe.

Sleaze Roxx: I think my favorite on the second album is “No Good”.

Anthony Esposito: I like “Cold Is The Heart” and “The Secret” and I love the single “Tangled In The Web” [which] I thought was killer. And that came out and it was Keith’s idea to bring in the horns. We used U2’s ‘Rattle & Hum’ horn section and we brought them in and it was Keith’s arrangement, the horn parts, and I thought it was great. And it debuted at like #13 or 15 on Billboard, and we couldn’t tour because George was in the studio doing his solo album, ‘Sacred Groove’. So, we had like the #13 song in the country, but we couldn’t support it because George was doing his solo album, which kind of, I think, didn’t help. We needed to be on the road at that point while we were getting all that airplay and stuff and it kind of screwed it up.

Lynch Mob‘s “Tangled In The Web” video:

Sleaze Roxx: Even “Dream Until Tomorrow” is a great song.

Anthony Esposito: Yeah, a lot of people love that song.

Sleaze Roxx: Lynch Mob, in my mind, was a band that could have gotten away with not doing ballads but it’s cool that you guys did one on each record.

Anthony Esposito: We liked doing ballads. Also, you have to look at the makeup of the band. The ballad is a great vessel to show George solo in a slow setting. I mean, George can burn for days, but you don’t want all the songs to be mid or up-tempo. You want one slow one so he can really bleed on it, you know, which he did. He’s great. He’s great at what he does. Did I answer your question?

Sleaze Roxx: Yeah. So then when the band regrouped for ‘REvolution’ in 2003….

Anthony Esposito: We actually regrouped before that. In 1997, for ‘Syzygy’, we went in to do demos because after I quit the band, I quit the band in ’92/’93, Elektra dropped us. George went back in ’93 to do ‘Dysfunctional’ with Dokken. Mick and George went back to Dokken and then in ’97, they were kicking the tires around “Hey, why don’t we put the original line-up back together and make a demo and shop it?” So, we did those three songs in a studio in Phoenix on our own dime, so that we could shop it and try to get a deal. So, we did those three songs and we booked tour dates and then Mick said, “I’m not interested in doing the touring”. Oni said he’s not interested in doing the touring, so George and I were stuck like two days before the first gig without a drummer and a singer. So, we just found — I got my drummer from New York that was in my solo band, Bobby Rae, and then somebody found this singer that knew all the Lynch Mob songs and we just grabbed him and satisfied the obligations of those dates. And then that fell apart. We didn’t like that line-up.

And then in 2000 — I think it was 2001 — I was out in L.A. visiting my kids and I went to the Henson Studios/A&M studios on La Brea, to visit my friend Joe Barresi who’s a phenomenal producer. He did Tool. He’s done everybody. He was in Studio A. I think he was doing the Loudermilk stuff. He was doing somebody. And he goes “George is in studio C, want to go fuck with him?” So, I was like “Yeah, of course” and we walked over there, and he had this seven-string guitar coming out on ESP. So, he was doing this solo album where he detuned everything, dropped it down and reworked it, to basically sell this guitar. And he’s like “How long you in town for?” And I’m like, “I don’t know, a week or two”. He’s like “You want to play on this?” And I was like “Yeah, why not.” So, I played on it, then all of a sudden Robert’s singing on it, and it went from a George Lynch solo album to a Lynch Mob album. And I was like “Wait, wait wait — if it’s a Lynch Mob album, I still own a third of the name.” Because when Oni was fired, everything was split three ways instead of four and Robert was paid as a hired gun. And I was like “Wait a second, if it’s a Lynch Mob record, I get a third of the advance – I get a third of my cut.” And that never worked out. I got paid a salary to play bass on that. And then we went out and toured on it. We had a drummer, Chas [Stumbo] from Earshot played drums, and Robert sang and me and George played. And we had a break in the touring schedule, and George came back and broke up the band. And that was it [laughs].

Sleaze Roxx: When you did ‘REvolution’, what made the band opt to re-work versions of old songs rather than giving Cleopatra new songs?

Anthony Esposito: He already had all that done. He already had all the arrangements done and everything because it was re-worked to show this seven-string guitar tuned down to drop-C or whatever the hell it was. So it was… He wanted to showcase that guitar and that’s why it was re-worked. And I came in and it was like “Oh”, and I just tried to do weird, aggressive bass lines to those licks that he came up with already. He already had all the changes done.

Sleaze Roxx: So that you’d have the synchronicity with the bass and the new sound of the guitar?

Anthony Esposito: Yeah, pretty much. But I was dropped down pretty low too. And I just wanted to make it sound kind of different. They do sound different. I mean, I think it’s a better re-work than when they re-worked [Wicked Sensation] Reimagined.

Sleaze Roxx: I was going to ask you about that… what you thought of that album?

Anthony Esposito: I think it’s shit. I think if you take the name Lynch Mob off it, and you forget that the songs have anything to do with the ‘Wicked Sensation’ songs, and you just judge it as a band, I think it’s a mediocre record to begin with. But then if you put it in the context of it’s a re-work of a really great album, it’s even worse. And um, I just think that it smells of cash-grab. And I hope nobody listens to it. Or if they do listen to it, then they can appreciate how good the original is. And the four guys that made the original and why it was the four guys that made the original so good. It’s not one or two guys.

Sleaze Roxx: I have to tell you, I bought it.

Anthony Esposito: Of course. I’m sure a lot of people had curiosity. It’s like, curiosity killed the cat [laughs].

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] I’m not going to lie, I have it on vinyl.

Anthony Esposito: Somebody sent me a clip to one of the tracks. There was a video of them in the studio and I heard a snippet, and I was like “Oh my God, this is gonna be up there with ‘Smoke This’”. This is not a highlight of George’s career.

Sleaze Roxx: Moving on to Red Dragon Cartel, ‘Patina‘ is turning four this year. I can’t believe it’s been four years since that album came out.

Anthony Esposito: I can. I wanna work! Waiting on Jake. We did like… That record came out, we did 25 shows and then we died. What the hell? Let’s go! Let’s keep going, let’s keep working this thing. We did 20-sum odd shows in the states, we did like four or five in Japan and then the plug got pulled and I was like “What the hell?”

Sleaze Roxx: It’s an album that has a lot of complexity to it. You can’t get it all on the first listen.

Anthony Esposito: It took a year and a half to make. And the way that it was written, the way that it was recorded, it’s not a one listen kind of record. It’s not like an AC/DC record where you’re just gonna get it from the get-go — an old pair of shoes kind of vibe. It’s a record that… the deeper you choose to listen to it, there’s a lot of stuff going on. And then if you even dare to try to figure it out and play it, then you really realize the stuff that we did. Like the intricacies and the layering and the phrasing and what’s going on. You could listen to it as a listener, but if you try to figure it out and play it then you’re like “What are these guys doing?” We took our time and we approached it like… The label [Frontiers Music Srl] hated us. The label would call us once a month “Where is the master? Why isn’t it done yet?” Blah, blah, blah. And we’re like “We’ll give it to you when it’s done. It’s not…”

We approached it as if it was Jake’s last album. And that’s how heavy in importance and integrity it had to be. This might be the last time Jake E. Lee ever records ’cause he doesn’t know. He lives life day to day and it’s like, if he wants to record, we’ll record. If he doesn’t want to record, game over. But we approached it like that, and we had this “guitarsenal” we called it. It was like 30-35 vintage guitars. And 52 Tele’s, and 62 Strats and 57 Gretsch’s. We had all these old, vintage amps. We had Laneys, like Tony Iommi, and Marshalls, to vintage Plexi’s. And every song, every part of every song, he would go through different amps and different guitars and different pedals. And then the order of the pedals and whether he would have a buffer before it or a buffer after. “Oh, let’s try the distortion before the tape echo, and let’s try it after it”. And he would literally spend days on finding the tone, and then Jake being Jake would lay down the part in 30 seconds. And then we would move on to another part and go through the process again. So that was one of the reasons why it took so long. It was very focused, and it was microscopic on tone and what we wanted.

We wrote it live here and then we started drums. They took two weeks to do. And then I laid the bass down. And then Jake started working with Tyler, my son, on guitars at night. They’d start after dinner and go through the night. And then I would be in here during the day and I wrote all the lyrics and the melodies. So I would write all the lyrics and all the melodies and then Jake would check them, change them, alter them a little bit or whatever and interject his idea. “Oh, I hear this – this might be a good concept for the chorus” or whatever.  And then once we had the pilots down, then Darren [James Smith] came out and sang them and did all the background vocals and the percussion all at once. ‘Cuz he’s a great drummer. And he’s really good from Harem Scarem, coming up with harmonies. So he’d be on the mic, nail the lead vocal, then he would nail the background vocal, then he would grab the percussion and play whatever we needed over the drums and then we would do that during the day and then at night, Jake would be working on guitars with Tyler.

Red Dragon Cartel‘s “Bitter” video:

Sleaze Roxx: I always hear a little bit of ‘A Fine Pink Mist’ [debut solo album by Jake E. Lee released back in 1996] in ‘Patina’.

Anthony Esposito: Yeah, yeah. It’s kind of… It’s got the diversity of ‘A Fine Pink Mist’. You know, “Ink & Water” doesn’t sound anything like “Havana”. Or “Painted Heart” doesn’t sound anything like “Speedbag”. But it works as a unit. Jake has that natural ability to interject the common denominator that kind of ties it all together. He’s a great musician. He’s not just a great guitar player. He’s a classically trained pianist, and he hears music top to bottom not just guitar. It was a pleasure working with him. I learned a lot working with him. And at this point in my life, it’s refreshing to still be able to learn, you know?

Sleaze Roxx: The album has a lot of replay value. You can listen to it over and over again and hear something new each time.

Anthony Esposito: I wish more people heard it though. It’s kind of a drag in this environment and this situation that the music business, or whatever you want to call it, has deteriorated into… If you sell 10,000 copies, that’s a lot. Radio has pretty much turned their backs on it. Maybe classic rock channels, or Sirius, Ozzy’s Boneyard or Hair Nation, they’ll play the old tracks, but they won’t play anything new by those bands. It’s almost taboo. They’d rather play the new Ghost song than play something off the new KIX record or whatever it is. And it’s kind of sad that radio and any kind of promotional means has just kind of turned their backs on that whole era of bands that are still active.

And we’re at a catch 22 where it’s even worse because when we were re-negotiating our contract with Frontiers, I told Jake “It’s probably a really good idea to change the name of the band from Red Dragon Cartel to Jake E. Lee”.  I go, “because Jake E. Lee has more marquee value for touring. More people know you than know the name Red Dragon Cartel”.  It’s almost like a second layer they have to figure out “Oh, Red Dragon Cartel is Jake E. Lee’s new band”. Whereas, if it’s just Jake E. Lee, they’ll get it immediately because he’s more known. And he didn’t want to do that ‘cuz Jake’s always liked to be in bands. He not a guitar hero in his mind. He is when he plays. He’s definitely on that level playing wise, but his mentality is not that he’s a guitar hero. He doesn’t want to be in that Satriani [echelon], even though he’s as good as all those kinds of guys.

But we’re at a disadvantage because OK, we’re a new band, with a new name, of old guys that have legacies. So new radio won’t play it because it’s a bunch of old guys and we don’t have the marquee value of, let’s say you throw Badlands or Lynch Mob up on a marquee, you’re gonna get paid probably five times the amount of what we get paid as Red Dragon Cartel. ‘Cuz nobody knows who the fuck Red Dragon Cartel is. And then when you play these festivals — Rocklahoma, M3 [Rock Festival], Monsters of Rock Cruise and stuff…because you’re not Enuff Z’Nuff or Bang Tango, even though we’re a great band and we have a legacy, we don’t have the marquee value because the name is new. So, it’s kind of like a catch 22. We get screwed on both sides of the fence. Whereas most bands only get screwed on one.

Sleaze Roxx: Yeah. Because even though you have that history, Red Dragon Cartel is not a recognizable name in terms of the 80’s.

Anthony Esposito: Exactly. Nobody has memories from the 80’s and 90’s in their lives with Red Dragon Cartel. They do with Badlands. They do with Lynch Mob. They do with all those bands like Ratt and L.A. Guns, they have those memories. Red Dragon Cartel doesn’t have the memories, but we’re looked at as an older band because we’re made up of guys who do have legacies. It kind of sucks.

Sleaze Roxx: It’s partly the attention span of society now, with regard to music. The immediacy of being able to grab songs right off of YouTube.

Anthony Esposito: But they have to find the band to get it. And they have to know that Red Dragon Cartel is Jake E. Lee. And it’s kind of hard. That’s why we do things like this, with interviews and stuff, to try to get more people to see that this band is made up of people… You know, Phil [Varone] was in Saigon Kick and Skid Row. And I was in Lynch Mob and Ace Frehley. And Jake obviously was in Ozzy and Badlands. But people don’t know. They see Red Dragon Cartel and they think it’s a new band. 

Sleaze Roxx: Even with Frontiers giving the album the push that they did….

Anthony Esposito: It’s preaching to the choir. Frontiers doesn’t really do anything to expand your base. They just sell to the base that you already have in existence. And as we know, that base diminishes every year. It goes down because people have lives. And there’s also no way to really hear new music unless you know that new music is coming out to even go hunt it and listen to it. 

Sleaze Roxx: I agree. It really is a shame.

Anthony Esposito: It’s a great record. We really took our time on it and I just think that it’s worthy of a listen. That’s what really bothers me. How many people haven’t heard it that would like it? And it’s an honest, good, rock record with an incredibly talented guitar player.

Sleaze Roxx: All of the playing on it – Darren’s vocals, your bass, Jake’s guitar…

Anthony Esposito: Yeah. It’s just a shame that more people didn’t hear it.

Red Dragon Cartel‘s “Speedbag” video:

Sleaze Roxx: Since you recorded ‘Patina’ here at Obscenic Arts, as opposed to being booked in an outside studio with the clock ticking, did that take some of the pressure off to where you could explore ideas more?

Anthony Esposito: I hate the whole “red light syndrome” we call it. Once that recording light goes on, people go “Oh my God, we’re in this studio and we’re paying X amount an hour and this solo is costing us X amount of dollars”. I mean, yeah, we reaped the benefit of me owning a world-class studio because we booked out and whenever it was done it was done. But I deal with my clients the same way. I don’t charge hourly. I charge per song. We discuss money in the beginning once and then we don’t discuss it anymore. And I spread payments out. It’s a third when we book the first session, a third when recording of all the instrumentation is done, and a third when the mixing is done. So, the money is spread out. You know “OK, we’re doing four songs. It’s X amount per song. This is the total. Here’s the third up front. Let’s go”. And then you never look at the clock. And my standard and the band’s standard is met and we don’t stop until everybody’s incredibly excited about the songs. And you’re not looking at the clock, you’re listening to the music and the focus is on the music. Where it should be. And it takes that whole anxiety and stress and money factor out of the game. ‘Cuz we talked about it once, then it’s done, then you just focus on the music, which is where it should be.

Sleaze Roxx: Since you came into Red Dragon Cartel after the first album, how did you form that partnership with them?

Anthony Esposito: I knew Jake from Badlands. I mean Lynch Mob and Badlands, we were buds. I knew Ray [Gillen] before I knew Jake in New York and all that. When I got fired from Ace, originally Jake had approached my son to play bass on the second album. My son’s a really great musician and Jake and my son are best friends. Tyler was Jake’s best man at this wedding. And Tyler saw how the press went after the first line-up. The Whisky show, and the NAMM show, and I don’t think he wanted his first profile gig to be that high-profile. Jumping into a situation like that. So, we were sitting on the rocking chairs at the porch, he was talking to Jake. He told him “Thank you so much for the offer, but I don’t think it’s right for me, to be a new guy” and Jake’s like “Well, what about your Dad?” And Tyler literally was on the phone, he looked over at me and was like “You want to play with Jake?”  I’m like “Yup” [laughs]. And that was it. That was how I got in.

Ummm, I don’t think the first album is necessarily a band album. And I think that the first album should have been called Jake E. Lee – not really Red Dragon Cartel ‘cuz of all the guests and all that. It was almost like the Slash solo album where he had all these different singers and stuff. And I don’t really think that the band that he had was on his level to be playing out after not playing all those years. I don’t really think that the band makeup was very good, and I think that had ‘Patina’ and that line-up been the first thing that Jake did, I think it would have been a better comeback. Although, there are spots on that record that are really good. I like “Feeder” a lot and I like “Wasted”, the song with the [Iron] Maiden singer, with Paul Di’Anno. There are moments on it that are really good. “Shout It Out” I think’s really good. But I think overall, I think ‘Patina’ is a better record and it’s more of a band. It’s more of a band approach like he would do with Badlands, where they would get in a room and hash out licks and put songs together that way. The first album to me is kind of piecemeal and who’s gonna sing on this and that, and it’s a more modern record. And I think it would have benefitted if it was just called Jake E. Lee because he only had the band on like a few tracks. I think Darren only sang on less than half the record.

Sleaze Roxx: Yeah. He had Robin Zander on one song, Maria [Brink] is on one….

Anthony Esposito: Sass [Jordan], and Paul Di’Anno…. I just think that it’s more of a guitar…. It’s not even a guitar-based record I think. It’s a good record but it’s more of a Jake E. Lee record than a Red Dragon Cartel record.

Sleaze Roxx: The second album was more cohesive for sure.

Anthony Esposito: Yeah, it was more like the way we used to write in the 80’s and 90’s. We’d get in a room and work and sweat and jam out the parts. It’s organic that way.

Sleaze Roxx: It reminds me of a 70’s classic rock record – in your face.

Anthony Esposito: Yeah, we approached it…. Grand Funk, Thin Lizzy you know. But it’s so diverse. Grand Funk would never attempt a song like “Ink & Water”. You know what I mean? We stretched the parameters, and the reason too is, Jake is not a one-trick pony when it comes to guitar. So, he wanted to show he’s doing George Benson-style guitar licks then he’s going into heavy Tony Iommi licks and then blues-based, Thin Lizzy style licks. I mean, he’s not a one-trick pony and we kind of wanted to show that in the performance and also the sounds of the guitars. A lot of it… it’s very different flavors.

Sleaze Roxx: Is there any news as far as a new Red Dragon Cartel album in the works or a tour possibly?

Anthony Esposito: Well, Jake’s got a… it’s no secret that his back and his wrists were bad. And when we toured, he would never complain. You’d never know, and he’d wear long sleeves and under that he’d have a lot of K.T. copper tape on his wrists and his back was always bad and he would roll his back on the back of the bus. And he wants to just…. He found that he got carpel tunnel in his right wrist and he wants to get that sorted out and he wants to get the operation done and fix that. He did text me. He does want to record. He does want to tour. He just wants to really iron that out so that he can be Jake E. Lee again. You can’t argue with that. He wants to be the best that he can be. And if surgery is the answer, then so be it. So, he’s gonna go do that first.

Sleaze Roxx: With Phil [Varone] then having retired from drumming, who would the drummer be in the new line-up?

Anthony Esposito: Well, we had this guy. He actually played some of the percussion stuff on the record and he played with us when we were doing some of the writing for ‘Patina’ and he’s a local guy. So, Jake had liked him as a person. He’s definitely one of us. And we get along great with him and also, he sings really great background vocals. So, the last tour we did, we didn’t do any of the harmonies and stuff because it was only basically…. I mean Jake sings some, but it would only be me singing back ups and now that we added a drummer that can sing, now we can add that into the mix as well. But it was this local guy Greg Riegle. He’s from around here and he’s a great guy. He’s actually coming in tomorrow to record drums on something else that I’m producing.

Red Dragon Cartel‘s “Havana” video:

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the interview with Anthony Esposito on Sleaze Roxx!