Michael Hannon Interview

October 20, 2008

As a founding member of the 80s cult-band Salty Dog as well as his current endeavor American Dog, bassist/vocalist Michael Hannon obviously has a fascination with man’s best friend and sleazy rock songs. Currently working on an American Dog (www.americandog.us) DVD for their North American audience, Michael and the band have toured around the world, running into everything from bird-flu to nudist colonies and gay bars. In this exclusive interview with Jason L., Michael Hannon talks about Salty Dog and much more, and check out Part 2 of this conversation at www.sleazeroxx.com.

Sleaze Roxx: We’re already three-quarters of the way through 2008, has it been a good year for American Dog so far?

Michael Hannon: Yeah. We’ve been to Europe three times this year and we’ve been to Japan once this year so far. Right now we’re taking a break. We’re working on a DVD of our own. There’s a European DVD out called “Hard on the Road.” That was put out by our European label Bad Reputation, and it’s PAL. Which, if you’re familiar with the two different types of DVD, there’s PAL and there’s NTSC. In America it’s NTSC. None of our fans over here can really watch it on a regular DVD player so we’re putting our own DVD together right now.

Sleaze Roxx: You guys kicked off the year with ten shows in Japan. How did that go?

Michael HannonMichael Hannon: It was OK. It was enjoyable but Steve Theado and I both got sick when we were over there. They had that bird flu or whatever going on around there. And it’s a long ass flight to get there. We went from Columbus to Chicago. And then from Chicago straight to Narita, which is the airport in Tokyo. That was like a 14-15 hour flight! As soon as we landed and got through customs we got picked up by our tour manager and went straight to the gig to play. The venue was a real small punk rock type club and we were doing the show with five other bands. They had all the bands in one dressing room about the size of a mini van. First of all, when we got to the airport we noticed about a fifth of the population was wearing surgeon masks because that flu was going around. That’s never a good sign because it’s flu season and our bodies just aren’t used to that shit. We were already tired from 15 hours of flying. So we got to the club and we sang and all these other bands (half of them were wearing the masks) sang on the same microphones. I didn’t have any time to buy some denatured alcohol, which I always use to wipe off the microphone and kill the germs and stuff right? But the first night you can’t help but hittin’ it. So the two guys that sing (Steve and myself), our mouths hit the microphones and we might as well have been making out with these other guys. Because the spit went right in. So we were sick like the next day. We had it for three weeks straight each of us, just hawking up green shit.

Sleaze Roxx: Hopefully you were over that by the time you guys went to France.

Michael Hannon: Yeah. We came back and we had a couple weeks off. Then we did a real tour, like 15 shows. Then we went back over two more times for one-off outdoor festival shows. An interesting show we did was a biker thing in Montalivet which is in the Aquitaine area in the Western part of France. There were no hotels nearby so our lodging was at a nudist colony. They have their own restaurants, bars, stores and everything in this area. It’s clothing optional in the community itself but when you go down to the beach you have to be nude. That’s kind of the rules. The only bar open at night at this place we stayed was the gay disco. So our options were stay sober, or go to the gay disco. Needless to say I was listening to a lot of Kool & The Gang and stuff like that those two nights.

Sleaze Roxx: Do you guys book all your tours over there or how does that work?

Michael Hannon: No. We’ve got a booking agent for Europe. We book all our own shit here in the States but you’ve got to have somebody else over there take care of that.

Sleaze Roxx: I read in an interview that you had done with someone a few years ago where you stated that Kiss was one of your early influences. I was wondering how that was to open up for Ace Frehley back in May of this year

Michael Hannon: That was great! That was a good time. We played at a place called the Newport (Columbus OH) which is an old agora. It was a packed place. We played right before Ace. It was one of those things where we were the middle band so we didn’t get a sound check. Which is kind of a pain in the ass. They don’t have any curtains so we had to roll our gear out on stage after the opening band with everyone kind of just looking at us. We had to do our sound check in front of the whole crowd. It’s kind of awkward. Then they brought the lights down and we played. It was great. The weird thing about it was Ace you know, he’s got his shit together again and he’s staying sober. He’s had some demons in the past and has made some mistakes like that. So little did we know, there wasn’t supposed to be any alcohol in the backstage area. Our dressing room was right next to Ace’s and there was no alcohol allowed on stage. Well, they told us that after we had already drank a case backstage. Live, we do a song called “D & F” where I pour a full beer down our guitar player’s throat while he’s playing his guitar (laughs). They took our beer away and said “no beer on stage!” We said “you should have told us that before you know?” It worked out for the best for us though. We were almost out of beer by then anyway. The people at the Newport were real nice to us and said “look, just go to the bar after and say you’re in American Dog and you’ll get free beer.” So hey all right! I certainly wasn’t going to leave. I wanted to see Ace. I love that old Kiss stuff. His solo album is the best of the bunch. So it was great. We drank down a lot more beer than we would have. It worked out for the best.

Sleaze Roxx: What’s the Columbus rock scene like now compared to when American Dog got together back in 1999?

Michael Hannon with American DogMichael Hannon: There’s probably less of a rock scene I’d imagine. We hardly ever play our own home town. The only time we play here is when we open up for nationals. The Alrosa, where I’ve been going since 1981, is still around. It used to be nothing but a rock club. There always was a scene because of it. You knew you could go there any night of the week and you knew it was all hard rock. But now it’s reggae one night, rap the other night, metal one night, you know, whatever. You can’t blame the guy who owns the club because it’s the way he keeps the business alive. It was great before because you could always go there any night of the week and it didn’t matter who was playing, it would be hard rock night. There’s no clubs like that in Columbus anymore.

Sleaze Roxx: Let’s go back to 1986 when you co founded the band Salty Dog in LA. What events led up to you making the decision to move out to California and start a rock band?

Michael Hannon: I was young and dumb and full of cum. I was working at a record store here in Columbus called Peaches Records. I was listening to Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Dio, and Iron Maiden. All that kind of stuff was happening at the time. And in LA everything was happening. I had a ’75 Pinto. I drove it from Columbus to LA and just fuckin started. I got a job at a hardware store and met the guitar player. His name was Scott Lane. He was the original guitar player in Salty Dog. He was in a band called Max Havoc at the time. Khurt Maier, the drummer from Salty Dog, was in that band also. Scott said “you ought to come and see my band some time.” So I did and that’s how I started meeting people. Just like that.

Sleaze Roxx: That was right in LA?

Michael Hannon: Actually it was in the Orange County area. I was living in a place called Bellflower at the time. I was working at this hardware store in Anaheim.

Sleaze Roxx: I heard that Salty Dog played shows as an instrumental act prior to Jimmi Bleacher joining on vocals.

Michael Hannon: No. We were together instrumentally but we didn’t play any shows like that. We practiced for over a year writing all kinds of songs. We had tons of stuff together. We were real tight by the time we got a singer.

Sleaze Roxx: Did Jimmi fit in right away with the band or did it take a while?

Michael Hannon: He fit right in. It was weird because we had tried out so many singers and they all had what you call LSD (Lead Singer Disease). They were all jerks or they couldn’t sing. Or they just didn’t fit in with us as one of the group. So we just kept looking and looking. It’s funny. Jimmi is from Ohio like myself. He’s from the Youngstown area. A buddy of mine named Mark Chatfield who plays guitar for Bob Seger now, was in a band called the Godz at the time. He called me up and said “hey I got your singer here.” I said “well let him talk to me.” He said “you can’t talk to him now he’s too drunk.” (laughs) That was a weird sign but anyway I think I came back for Christmas to Ohio. I brought him some tapes and played ’em for him. He liked it so he came out to LA and tried out for the band. He basically blew us away and we really started the band going.

Sleaze Roxx: What’s the story of how you guys got signed to Geffen?

Michael Hannon with Salty DogMichael Hannon: Well it was weird. We just kept playing and playing our asses off. This is still with Scott Lane in the band. Vicky Hamilton was our manager at the time. She previously managed Stryper, Faster Pussycat, Poison, and Guns N Roses. She kept pushing us to all these labels. They all thought we were pretty cool but I don’t really think they liked our guitar player Scott Lane. He was about to get fired anyway. He was like not showing up to practices and just doing stupid shit. So we got a new guitar player, Pete Reveen. It took us a long time to get Pete in the band. The first show we played with him was at the Whiskey and that night the labels were there. We got signed after that show. So Pete was kind of in the right place at the right time.

Sleaze Roxx: What do you remember most about recording the album “Every Dog Has It’s Day?”

Michael Hannon: It was great. We did that with Peter Collins who was the producer, and Geoff Workman who was the engineer. Geoff was like this real blue collar scruffy nasty bastard and Peter was a very straight laced kind of guy. It was totally two different worlds. They were both two different types of Englishmen. It was just good fun. We did it in the Rockfield Studios in Wales which is where Queen’s “Night at the Opera” was recorded. Also the first Black Sabbath album and Rush’s “A Farewell to Kings” was recorded there.

Sleaze Roxx: Sweet! How did you guys get to record in that studio?

Michael Hannon: Well that’s the funny thing. We were just young dumb idiots at the time. The guys from the label said “hey how’d you like to record at Rockfield in Wales?” We said “wow that’d be cool!” We didn’t know at the time you had to pay back all the money it cost to record the album. We just thought, you get a bunch of money, screw chicks, put out a record, and be on MTV ya know? We didn’t even have management yet. We signed to Geffen, didn’t even have management and had this record deal. We didn’t get our manager until after the record was done. Then we were told “you’ve got to pay all this money back (laughs).” We were young “just do it” kind of people. You don’t know any fear when you’re that age. So we were gonna record an album and they said “you wanna go?” We said “sure!” I’m glad we did, it was a great experience. Beautiful countryside.

Sleaze Roxx: The most popular track is probably “Come Along” off that album. It begins with your famous bass line.

Michael Hannon: Yeah, that was written on bass basically. All it is is B-D-E. That one bass riff basically and we speed it up at the end. That’s all it is. The simplest quickest songs are the most popular songs. It’s just the way it works sometimes ya know?

Sleaze Roxx: Was it anyone’s idea in particular to start out the song that way?

Michael Hannon: That’s how we started it in practice. I probably still have the practice cassette laying around here somewhere. That’s just a riff I came up with. We always recorded our practices. Back then we had a cassette player with a microphone on it and we’d just hit record. I started playing that riff and we all started playing along. It was just magic like that. That was good, that’s a keeper. We recorded a demo of that one and everyone fell in love with it.

Sleaze Roxx: There was a video made for that song and MTV agreed to play it but didn’t. It’s rumored that someone from Geffen called and had the video pulled before it could be played. What was the deal?

Michael Hannon with Salty DogMichael Hannon: One of the guys that worked there didn’t like it. He was having a bad day and for some reason he didn’t like it. It had different coloring than your usual video. The guy that did it is the guy that did the Skid Row “Oh Say Can You Scream” DVD if you’ve ever seen that. It’s really fuckin cool. It’s just a great video (Come Along). Color is in spectrums and he took one of the colors out so it looked almost like a sepia tone but in color. But the guy (at Geffen) didn’t like it. We were like “what the fuck, we just spent $75,000 on this fuckin video!” He said “no, you’re just going to tour more with Robin Trower.” We were on the road with Robin Trower at the time touring in a mini van. And he said “maybe we’ll do another video some other time.” We’re like “what the fuck!” We told our manger “fuck these guys, just send it to MTV and see what they think.” At the time the song was getting radio airplay by the bazillions. I mean everywhere. We were top phones in like Boston, San Antonio, Seattle, everywhere. They sent the video and MTV said “great we’ll put it in immediate rotation right now.” The guy from Geffen found out they agreed to play it and he was pissed off. He wanted to show us who the boss was. So he called MTV and told them don’t you dare play that or I won’t give you the next GNR video. I’ll give it to the mom and pop video stations to make them look cool and underground. So MTV dropped us like a hot fuckin potato. Everybody couldn’t believe it. This is not an example of a label not getting behind a band. This is an example of a label stopping a band from selling. We were 300,000 units sold at the time and that would have pushed it gold.

Sleaze Roxx: It was such a great album.

Michael Hannon: Oh yeah. And the drum sound is fantastic. Khurt Maier is an incredible drummer.

Sleaze Roxx: You’ve been quoted as saying that the drug thing is what made Salty Dog not last so long.

Michael Hannon: We toured a lot on that album but it was all in a mini van. We busted our butts and played clubs forever. We had no MTV. Let me take that back. We did a second video for “Lonesome Fool” which is a song that did shit on the radio. It was only played 5 times on MTV, maybe 6. I can’t remember. So that just pretty much shot everything. Then some of the people decided doing drugs would be a good thing to do. That just really killed it. It took us a year to try and get some people off drugs. Then we tried to get them together again and it never happened. They didn’t want to quit drugs. So we were stuck. We got a new singer and he just didn’t work. That was pretty much the end of it.

Sleaze Roxx: If that hadn’t been the case I think you guys would have weathered the whole grunge era pretty well.

Michael Hannon: I would think so. We were kind of glammy but we were more in the regular guy, Tesla kind of world.

Sleaze Roxx: Do you have any regrets where Salty Dog is concerned?

Michael Hannon: Well you know of course it would have been great to do better and continue but shit happens. It happens to a lot of bands like that.

Thanks to Michael Hannon and Jason L.