Interview with Rough Cutt guitarist Chris Hager

Photo by Joe Schaeffer Photography

Date: July 30, 2018
Interviewer: Ruben Mosqueda
Photos: Joe Schaeffer Photography (photos 1, 5 and 6)

Sleaze Roxx caught up with Rough Cutt guitarist Chris Hager who walked through the history of the band as well as the band’s future. “There’s some stuff we’re working for the fall of 2018. I can’t say what it is as of yet but you’ll be among the first to know. I’m also working on some solo stuff that I’ll let you know about when the

time is right,” insists the guitarist. Rough Cutt as you know, issued their 1985 self-titled debut album produced by Tom Allom (Judas Priest, Y&T) which received critical acclaim and has gone on to become a cult classic. It was followed up by the sophomore album ‘Wants You’ which boasted a more polished and commercial sound. Without label support and adequate promotion, the album didn’t perform to the band’s expectations. In 1987 frontman Paul Shortino left and the band pressed forward for a bit without him before disbanding. Shortino surfaced as the new singer of Quiet Riot while guitarist Amir Derakh surfaced in the goth rock Orgy.

In 1996, Rough Cutt issued a live album that included three new studio tracks. Rough Cutt has reunited over the years and made special appearances, most notably their appearance on the Monsters Of Rock Cruise in 2018. Hager reflects on his time in Rough Cutt, “I can’t complain. We had a pretty good run of three-four years. We got to tour and see the world, meet fans. We got to know Ronnie James Dio, who was a mentor and a great friend of ours. Ronnie was the quintessential rock singer and an amazing person. It was a pleasure and an honor to have been allowed to be part of his life.”

Sleaze Roxx: There was quite a bit of variety on ‘Rough Cutt.’ There’s heavy stuff like “Take Her”; darker stuff like “Black Widow”; “Cutt Your Heart Out” which borders on thrash metal; the rocker “You Keep Breaking My Heart”; and, there’s a couple of covers with “Piece Of My Heart” and “Never Gonna Die.”

Chris Hager: The record company made us do that one [laughs]! The label thought that “Never Gonna Die” would be a hit for us. None of us really liked it to be honest with you. We didn’t want to ‘alienate’ our label so we went along with it [laughs]. So we did it, we remixed it, did a video for it, but [it] just really wasn’t us.

Rough Cutt‘s “Never Gonna Die” video:

Rough Cutt – Never Gonna Die

Excelent song from their debut album. Paul Shortino on vox!

Sleaze Roxx: There’s a lot of stuff happening on “Piece Of My Heart” that has really held up.

Chris Hager: That should have been a hit record. We were kicking around ideas. I couldn’t really tell you who suggested that. We started messing around with it and we knew that it was really conducive to Paul’s (Shortino) voice. We played around with it and we rocked it up a bit. It really showcased Paul’s vocal on an ‘iconic song.’ I believe if the timing was right, that song would have been a hit.

Rough Cutt‘s “Piece Of My Heart” video:

rough cutt – piece of my heart

the first video from this band

Sleaze Roxx: There was a delay in getting the debut album out, which is what you’re alluding to when you referenced to the ‘timing’?

Chris Hager: Yeah, it was. When you talked to Paul (Shortino), he probably told you the same thing. In short, we got signed by Ted Templeman (Van Halen, Montrose, Aerosmith). He was going to produce us. We were stoked. We were signed in 1984. We did a showcase at eight in the morning, [and] by that afternoon, we had a call that Warner Bros. wanted to sign us. We wanted Ted to do the record. He was busy with various records. He was working on David’s (Lee Roth) record and we waited around for nine months. That was a mistake. We didn’t have a timetable of when Ted would become available [so] we started looking for another producer. Tom Allom who had done a lot of work with Judas Priest was at the top of the list. Tom wound up doing the record and he was responsible for giving the songs the heaviness that you hear. I think had Ted produced [the album], it would have been a much different sounding record, for sure.

Sleaze Roxx: To me, the ‘Wants You!’ record sounds to me what Rough Cutt would have sounded like had Ted Templeman produced you guys.

Chris Hager: I think that’s an accurate statement,.‘Wants You!’ wasn’t as heavy of a record. Who knows? Maybe, Ted would have had us write different songs. It’s hard to say what he would have done. Tom was a heavy metal producer, so when you look at tracks like “Black Widow,” “You Keep Breaking My Heart,” “Dreaming Again” and “Take Her,” we just crushed it. If you listen to the mix in “Black Widow,” it’s freaking scary! It’s what the guy was amazing at doing. He did justice to a lot of those tracks. I think when the record was released, there was a bit of a musical landscape change. Pop music had begun to dominate MTV. Metal and hard rock were still there of course but pop music was ruling the airwaves. Another thing we had working against us was that our A&R person had left and you’re working [with] someone else, there’s not that level of investment in the band. It was like “Rough Cutt?! Who are these guys?! Oh, that’s right, we signed them a year ago [laughs].” We toured a bunch and did some promotional stuff but we didn’t do nearly as much as we should have.

Sleaze Roxx: When you moved on to record two, was Tom considered for that record at all?

Chris Hager: Tom was working the latest Priest record [Turbo]. I remember our manager Wendy [Dio] bumping into him and saying “Hey, should we give it another go?” I think he would have done another record with us. We wanted to try someone new so we got Jack Douglas who as you know has done a lot of incredible records. He’s done all of our favorite Aerosmith records, so we were thrilled to work with him. Jack was an old school, straightforward producer. He didn’t use any modern-day gimmicks. It’s still a ‘punchy’ sounding record but it’s dryer. It’s not as wet sounding as the debut album and the songs are ‘poppier.’ We felt that we should write some ‘poppier’ songs, but in retrospect it was a mistake. As it turns out, most of the people that I’ve spoken to prefer the first record. Don’t get me wrong, there are fans of the second record but for the most part, people really gravitate toward the first record. It was kinda ‘too little, too late’ to quote a line in one of the songs [erupts into laughter]!

You know, even though we didn’t get the level of success that some of our friends did, Rough Cutt had a lot of the trappings. [laughs]. In retrospect, we had a great run and we’re all pretty grateful for that. It’s pretty cool that a lot of our stuff still stands up to this day.

Sleaze Roxx: In 1996, Rough Cutt released ‘Rough Cutt Live’ and you included three studio tracks — “House Of Pain,” “Prowler” and “Peyote.” To me, “Prowler” and “House Of Pain” really captured the vibe of the debut album.

Chris Hager:  Thanks for noticing that. “Prowler” goes back to the band Sarge which predates Rough Cutt. I wrote that with Matt Thorne who was in Sarge with me at the time. The Rough Cutt guys really liked it and they wanted to do it, so we did. I formed Sarge after I split from Mickey Ratt, which, as you know, became Ratt. Stephen Pearcy and I were and still are pretty close friends to this day. We [Mickey Ratt] used to play weekly at Gazzari’s and when I parted ways with Stephen, I asked Matt if he wanted to get together and do something, so we did this ‘army rock’ thing we called Sarge. We wanted to be different and we wrote these poppy songs, we were a power trio.

So, Sarge gets a call from this producer’s staff. We were like “Really?!” So we get offered this development deal, to record in a real studio, to record some demos. We were doing some pre-production, then I get a call from her singer Steven. He says “Hey you’ve heard of Berry Gordy from Motown [Records]? Well, he just offered me a gig and he wants to put a band together. He’s wanting to put me on a retainer. So, I’ve got a deal on Motown.” I’m like “Well, okay?!” [Laughs] This was a few weeks before we were to record this demo. So, I had to call this producer Brad Aaron [who had worked with Kansas] and tell him what had happened. I was kind pissed at our singer, but I guess who could blame him? I was scared to death to have to call Brad, but I did it. I said “Hey Brad, I have some band news and some great news.” He replied “Well, give me the bad news first!” So I said “The bad news is we no longer have a singer because, he’s now on Motown Records? The good news is we have a replacement.”

The guy we brought in was Rob Lamothe who has worked with the Riverdogs. He was another San Diego guy that migrated to L.A. I could tell you stories about Jake E. Lee, Robbin Crosby, Warren Demartini, all these guys that moved from San Diego. The music scene sucked in San Diego, it was going nowhere. In fact Rob was in a band with Robbin Crosby at one point. We wrote a song with Rob and we had Brad come listen to us. He said “This is a totally different band, but I like it.” Later on, we found out just what he meant by that. So we recorded the demo and it’s available on iTunes, actually. There’s the four songs we recorded with Rob and then there’s the two recorded with St. James. We did a couple of gigs with Rob and then we were approached by the Dio camp. Wendy was looking for a bass player and a lead guitar player for the band. That’s how Matt and I became involved with Rough Cutt.

Sleaze Roxx: There’s a lot of links back to [Ronnie James] Dio. Craig Godly was in Rough Cutt, then worked with Dio. Claude Schnell was a member of Rough Cutt when he joined the classic Dio line-up. You worked with Rob Lamothe who was in the Riverdogs who played with Vivian Campbell who was in the classic Dio line-up! Also, Rough Cutt was managed by Wendy Dio who was married to Ronnie.

Chris Hager: [Laughs] What a tangled web we weave [laughs]! There’s also a lot of connections to Ratt as well with Jake E. Lee, Stephen,… Matt played in Ratt for a while. David played in Ratt for a while… When Matt and I joined the band, Jake had left to work with Ozzy and Claude had left to join Dio. Craig Goldy was the guitarist and it was Paul and David. So, that’s how we started out. We did a couple shows and Craig left to join Guiffria. We then recruited Amir who was another San Diego guy and it was at that point that we solidified the line-up.

Ronnie invited us to Sound City where he was recording ‘Last In Line’ which is as you know is an incredible record. Anyway, Ronnie had Rough Cutt cut a couple of songs, so Ronnie produced two songs — “Try A Little Harder” and “Queen Of Seduction.” Those songs have made it onto our ‘Anthology’ album. Not only was Ronnie a fantastic singer but he was also a wonderful producer. He’s another guy we could have used to produce the record and later on we found out that he wanted to produce the band [laughs]! Can you imagine that [laughs]?

Sleaze Roxx: There’s a bit of a parallel between Rough Cutt and another one of my favorite bands Black ‘N Blue.

Chris Hager: Absolutely. We love that band and they’re friends of ours. They had a great deal on Geffen. They used high end producers. To this day, I love those records. They’re a fantastic band. You’re absolutely right about that, with them? I don’t know what the reasons were why they didn’t hit it commercially. I don’t know what it was, but one thing I know is that they didn’t tour that much.

I remember we used to rehearse at the same studio here in North Hollywood. Guns N’ Roses rehearsed there, so did Ronnie. One thing I recall at the time they had all these brand new, really cool road cases [laughs]! The thing was that they didn’t really play that much! I can’t really say for sure what it was, but I think they should have been huge. What a great band, but like you said, they were like us. They were relegated to ‘cult band.’ They did four records, where we did two. They used Bruce Fairbarn, Dieter Dierks and Gene Simmons. You’d think that would have gotten them further than they did, right? This just illustrates that nothing is guaranteed.

Sleaze Roxx: Stephen Pearcy revealed the new Ratt line-up recently, which ironically enough now also features Pete Holmes from Black ‘N Blue.

Chris Hager: That’s right! That’s a great choice!

Sleaze Roxx: He kept it underwraps for a while, I assumed that you’d be the lead guitar guy, given the relationship you have with Stephen and having performed with him in the past.

Chris Hager: You know, I have heard this from other people too. He could have used anyone. He could have used guys from the solo band. He elected to use new blood. Juan Croucier and Stephen wanted to get guys that they’ve used on their solo stuff. On the record, I’d like to say that I’m really happy that Stephen finally got the name back that he created. That’s justice. That whole thing has been such a travesty. I could go on and on about that, but I won’t [laughs]!

Sleaze Roxx: Last thing, seems like a lot of bands from the ’80s are releasing new music, regardless of whether they sold any records in their heyday.

Chris Hager: To say the least [laughs]!

Sleaze Roxx: Is there a chance of some new Rough Cutt material on the horizon? There’s other bands out there doing it. Why not Rough Cutt?

Chris Hager: Dude, we’ve actually written four songs. I have those on my computer. We may release those before the end of the year. We’ll see what happens. We still have to add drums and finish them up. We’ll see what happens. Looks like we’ll be doing some shows in October and November. We’ll let you know more on that soon.

Rough Cutt‘s “Double Trouble” video:

Rough Cutt – Double Trouble [HQ]

One of the best hair metal songs ever! Rough Cutt classic! I don’t own the copyright to this song or any other songs posted on the Hair Metal Network. This i…