JOHNNY DEE (DORO) INTERVIEW:
November 29, 2010
Websites: www.johnnydee.com – www.doromusic.de
Interviewer: Dirk Ballerstadt
Johnny Dee (John DiTeodoro Jr.) was born and raised in Conshohocken, a suburb of Philadelphia — the same area where East Coast heroes like Bon Jovi, Cinderella and Skid Row started rocking the world in the 1980s.
I first met Johnny Dee, and his band Britny Fox, in 1988 — and for a couple days (and nights) I witnessed how the American rock band worked hard for success. I watched them in the rehearsal room and also while shooting their video for “Long Way To Love” from their debut album. Looking back I remember that Johnny Dee was a young man, around 25 years old, who was gentle, quiet, honest, a good person and one of the nicest musicians I met during those crazy hair metal years. Maybe the reason for that was that drummers, as a rule, are good team players and not ego-driven fighters — and Johnny has proved this in bands such as Waysted, Britny Fox and now Doro, the German metal band where Johnny has called home since 1993.
The entries on his MySpace site says he likes mountain biking, extreme sex (a rocker has to say that) and one of those little books that can change your life, ‘The Four Agreements’ by D.M. Ruiz, a Mexican healer. Johnny also knows about being a Taoist and can tell you what Lao Zi and the Dao De Jing is all about (just being a good human being). In this interview with Sleaze Roxx, Johnny and I took a walk through the forest after an outdoor Doro show in Germany to talk about his years in the rock business.
Sleaze Roxx: Johnny, how did you first get started in rock ‘n’ roll?
Johnny Dee: My first steps in rock were the recordings of the album for a band named World War III, that was around 1982 when I listened to a lot of British heavy metal and read that famous English magazine Kerrang. The first time having a record out was great.
Than I came to the British band Waysted and worked with my idol Pete Way and it was super-cool because everything was pretty organized at that time. They had management and they had Steve Harris from Iron Maiden helping Pete out. It was good timing, everybody was focused, and when I joined Waysted we did a showcase for the EMI label at the famous Marquee Club in London and got the record deal, wrote material for the album ‘Save Your Prayers’ and released it. This was my first time working as a professional musician and I learned a lot from those guys. We ended up going on tour and did some warm-up gigs for Iron Maiden and again I learned so much from that experience. We toured the US and Canada and finished the tour in Los Angeles, stayed there awhile to audition guitar players for Waysted and then it seemed that the band lost the record deal… and finally lost it!
Around that time Michael Kelly Smith called me up to join a band named Britny Fox on the East Coast. I knew all those guys personally and I took the chanceto go back to Philadelphia and play drums for Britny Fox. I checked everything out and I thought it would be perfect to start with that band, a couple weeks later we did some gigs in the Philadelphia area and then we did pre-production for the first album, ‘Britny Fox’, and boom… next thing we did a video, went on tour and all those kind of things.
Sleaze Roxx: Why did Britny Fox break up after only two records with the original line-up?
Johnny Dee: What really happened was, when the whole time the band was going on tour and being busy, it was cool — but when everything is going smooth and so-called’road-bombs’ explode (trouble and stress while being on tour too long), then the times get tough. It was more about going in what kind of directions musically. Britny Fox was Dizzy Dean Davidson’s band and he decided to leave the band and do some other music — he wouldn’t work with us anymore and we thought it was hard to work with him. There was a lot of stress while doing the second album ‘Boys In Heat’ — we wanted to hold onto the success that we had achieved, but Dean wanted to change the direction into a bluesy rock thing. That’s when the fights were all about to begin.
We started out being a four piece, everyone is an individual and has their own thing and charisma, and two years later it was all bad. With the second album out we hated the title ‘Boys In Heat’, we thought it was stupid but the record label loved it. We tried to deal with that situation, had meetings with the management, but Dean didn’t want to talk about it. We had a successful intro into the music business and it was all thrown away.
So, Dean left the band and for the third album ‘Bite Down Hard’ we were looking for a new singer to get the record out fast and go back on tour. We wanted to stay Britny Fox but didn’t want to come out with the same type of singer, and then we found Tommy Paris who was the perfect fit and a nice guy. We changed record companies after Columbia Records didn’t like the new material, recorded the new songs in Los Angeles, and had a great time during those recording sessions. But as ‘Bite Down Hard’ came out everything was changing in the music business — MTV didn’t play much heavy rock anymore and so we did the best we could, but it was tough being on tour around that time when grunge rock started up.
Sleaze Roxx: Yes, a lot bands went through those years of bad luck when grunge hit.
Johnny Dee: It was hard, man, let me tell you. After doing arena shows, selling tons of records and being on MTV and then all of the sudden not getting any attention when you play a club and nobody cares about you anymore — it’s like banging your head against the wall and nothing happens. It was a big come down from that. Being on stage and playing gets you so high and when you come down after it, and there’s nothing to do, it has its depressive qualities. In 1992 we were all frustrated and we needed to have a break, then I did two records with a band named Mariah, and a little later I got a call from a friend to audition for Doro and it took me back to Europe where things were still going strong. It opened me up for completely different stuff because the Europeans were not so subjected to the trends at that time — not that ‘five-minutes-famous’ thing.
Sleaze Roxx: How was it playing drums, and being a full member, for a German band after the frustrating grunge years?
Johnny Dee: Doro understood the whole thing professional wise. First of all we are all the same age and grew up on a lot of the same bands (like Kiss). I had never worked with a female singer before, but Doro is such a normal person and it’s very cool for me to work with her and there’s no stupid things or nonsense going on… maybe because we are like a little family. She really works hard every day to keep things going for the band. You have to have the will to continue and she’s been in the music business for twenty-seven years. Doro has a very emotional connection with the fans and vice versa — it is a very organic thing, and so is the band.
Sleaze Roxx: In the following years you were living part-time in Germany and the US and again worked with Britny Fox. How did that come together?
Johnny Dee: Around 2000 we started to do something again as Britny Fox and had two albums out, ‘Long Way To Live!’ in 2000 and ‘Springhead Motorshark’ in 2003, also Sony released ‘The Best Of Britny Fox’ in 2001 and finally VH-1 did a special about us and it was great to go back to that. We did a few shows, not too many, and we actually did a couple gigs with Britny Fox and Doro together and I played drums for both bands — twice a night, that was fun and I enjoyed it a lot.
With ‘Springhead Motorshark’ we didn’t have the time or the budget to record it properly like we used to in the past when you recorded for about 3 or 4 months. Everybody has to move on — working, teaching or working with other bands. But I’m always open and ready for another album with Britny Fox, but we must do it the right way.
Sleaze Roxx: Tell us about your experiences regarding heavy rock then and now. What has changed?
Johnny Dee: It comes full circle. Heavy rock was big at that time in the 1980’s when I started out with Waysted and then in Britny Fox, and had some good years. Then heavy rock broke down a bit and I joined a local act before joining German metal band Doro in 1993 and experienced that the metal scene over in Europe is tighter. Over the years I would say the scene is getting bigger and bigger and metal is back!
Back in the ’80s it was tough for the European fans to see American bands that were focused more on playing 10,000 seat arenas — why go to Europe and play a 500 seat club? So now the record business is down and the bands play more shows and also invest more in merchandising to earn money to go on with the band. It seems that is the reason why bands like Tesla, Y&T, W.A.S.P., etc. are touring Europe more constantly today than they did in 1980’s and 1990’s. A band like Iron Maiden played everywhere, to everyone, in the early years and built up their name in metal history and now they are global.
Sleaze Roxx: Let us talk about the motivation, or a person, that got you to start playing drums.
Johnny Dee: I really have to say the person who really kicked me in the ass was Peter Criss of KISS. Before that I was crazy for The Beatles, but KISS was definitely the first time I listened to the records and stuff…
Sleaze Roxx: Same with me. The first heavy band I listened to was The Sweet, a British glam rock band, but when I saw KISS for the very first time on a German TV show with the video “Rock And Roll All Nite” back in 1975 I was sold. There was nothing like that…
Johnny Dee: Yeah, that was a whole different thing with the make-up and the show that I had never seen before — it was like going to the circus for the very first time. My parents didn’t understand it, but they didn’t freak out on it either. And from then on it was everyone and everything from the ’70s bands and their drummers. For example, Deep Purple’s album ‘Machine Head’ established in my mind what sound I liked most and Ian Paice blew me away because of his drum style. I’m a simple, laid back person and so is my drum style. I love that ’70s stuff, and even these days I rediscover a lot of bands from that era. Through the internet you can discover all the bands from back then, it’s amazing because when you hear a song you remember where you heard it for the first time or what kind of relationship you were in — it brings you back to those times.
Sleaze Roxx: If you could ever record your own album, what would it be like?
Johnny Dee: It would be more of the melodic stuff, in the way of the 1970’s bands. My tastes in music are mostly The Beatles, Motown, Soul, R&B, some Funk stuff and heavy rock from the 70’s like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. It wouldn’t be a death metal album (laughs). But I can’t write songs by myself, I need to collaborate with another songwriter. Recently I did a project with Doro’s bass player Nick Douglas who writes very good melodic rock stuff and he’s got great ideas. And finally, it would all be for the fun of it.
Sleaze Roxx: What do you see in the future for Johnny Dee?
Johnny Dee: Playing with Doro — she’s fortunate with her style and is a part of metal history. For me personally, I want to stay in music as long as I can. Keep playing, keep being creative — that’s the best for me. As long as I’m physically able to do it, I’ll do it! Now I’m reaching my 50’s and that scares me a lot and sometimes I can’t believe it. I also do a lot of creative stuff like art, because before I started with music I was in the art field and did a lot of that… also I like to design with the computer. I’m lucky enough to have taken this walk I’m going on.
Sleaze Roxx: Finally, what do you think about your life?
Johnny Dee: I have to say, overall, I have a cool life. I started playing music when I was 16 years old and I’m now 47 years old and doing it, travelling around the world and seeing a lot of shit. I look at things positively, live every day the way that I feel and do what makes me happy. You have to have a balance — obviously you need to make money to survive and sometimes music doesn’t make money and you have to do other things to survive, like play in another band, or maybe in two or three bands!
You need to keep working. I’ve never been in the position to be in one band to make enough money to survive for the rest of my life — maybe in ten years from now. I think I’ll do the same, hopefully the body is still working then. You can do everything when you’re 22 years old, but at 47 you must keep an eye on your body. You can’t drink booze and party like we did in our younger days. You have to take care of yourself, watch what you eat and do some fitness. Keep checks on yourself and don’t slack off!