PAUL BLACK INTERVIEW:
October 28, 2005
The name Paul Black may not sound familiar, but anyone that frequents this website will recognize the band he helped introduce to the world – L.A. Guns. Years after becoming a musical footnote, he has released the early L.A. Guns tracks with him on vocals on a CD called Black List. Here he talks about that album, an L.A. Guns reunion and several of his other projects.
SR: You have just released a CD called The Black List. What is on it and how does it differ from Black City Breakdown which was released a few years back?
PB: Black List is 17 songs which were written and recorded for record labels by the original line up between 1985 and 1987 plus a bonus track from Black Cherry (my band after L.A. Guns). It’s different from the Black City Breakdown record because it has five more tracks and Black List has been restored and re-mastered so it sounds better and it has a 16 page color booklet with pictures that tells the history of the original LAG.
SR: How have sales for Black List been?
PB: It’s not actually out in stores yet so we’ve yet to see. I will say that the mere fact that it’s being released is getting an incredible reaction. It’ll be out November 7th but its available now at www.blackcitymusic.com.
SR: Are there any more unreleased L.A. Guns gems in the vault, or does this CD contain most everything?
PB: There are some cool videos of some live shows and some live audio. I tried to get most the songs we demoed on Black List but there are actually a few missing because the versions we found were too damaged. I tried my hardest to retrieve the masters. But, no such luck. If the world was gonna hear these songs it had to be from our own personal cassettes we had saved. These are the best versions we could find between Mick, Tracii and I. Nickey and Robert didn’t have anything left.
SR: There is also talk of you, Tracii Guns, Mick Cripps and Nickey Alexander touring as an original version of L.A. Guns. How close is this to materializing?
PB: It looked good at first. Then it looked like it wasn’t gonna happen. Now it looks like it’s happening again. The dates haven’t been confirmed and we haven’t even rehearsed cause Tracii’s on tour. But, I talked to Tracii yesterday and he’s looking forward to all of us playing together again. Jetboy is planning to play with us if we do it and now the Zeros and a lot of other bands want on the bill. We might just do one show in Hollywood and one in SF. Or we might not do it at all, we’ll see.
SR: Do you think it might confuse fans if there are two versions of L.A. Guns on the road at once?
PB: Well, it’s not exactly touring. It’s a short trip. We were only talking about 7 shows from here to Seattle. But now we’re thinking just one show here in LA and one in SF. Doing these shows is about kicks and the fans. Mick & Tracii asked me to bury the hatchet and sing with them again for some shows in August at the House Of Blues. At that time I didn’t know there was another L.A. Guns playing out. We found out soon after though that they were gonna play LA at around the same time as us, so we chose to hold off. We haven’t played these songs together on stage for almost 20 years, so it’s a rare event. We’re not competing with them. With all that’s happened between us (Tracii, Mick, Nickey, Robert & Me) this reunion is very unusual and it’s a unique opportunity for L.A. Guns fans to hear and see where it all started since this is the line up that created the classic songs from the first record. Maybe it will confuse people. I don’t know. But I’m sure by the time it happens, if it happens, people will figure it out. Most of the feedback I’ve received about this possible tour is that it’s remarkable that this is happening. It’s a one-time event and it doesn’t take away from the L.A. Guns of today. Hey, it’s all rock & roll.
SR: If the original members do reform do you think new material might be written?
PB: It’s strange to me that we’re even talking again, let alone write and play together. But, since the door has been opened Tracii and I have actually talked about it. Why not? We wrote some pretty good songs for the first record and nothings been bigger than that. It would be interesting to see what we come up with today. Maybe we could put something on the charts again.
SR: What are your feelings about the current Phil Lewis/Steve Riley version of L.A. Guns?
PB: Mixed. I’ve come to realize that Phil Lewis is actually a nice guy. He’s the first one to finally come out and acknowledge my part in writing the music for the first L.A. Guns record and he said some good things about me in a recent interview with Metalsludge. I really appreciated that. As for Steve Riley. That’s a different story. But I won’t go into that now. He knows what he did. On the whole, I’m happy for Phil that they were able to put out a strong record that’s getting good reviews. And apparently they’ve got a strong line up too. Although, had I been in Phil’s shoes, with a new line up like this, I would have done it as a solo project. His reputation is good enough that he doesn’t need the name L.A. Guns and this album would have helped him a lot. But the way he chose to do it is good also because it’s good for L.A. Guns. One more line up, one more story, one more album, one more chapter in the saga of L.A. Guns. And now there’s One More Reason to…check out BLACK LIST.
SR: Lets go back to the beginning, how and why did you first get involved in music?
PB: I got involved with music simply because I love music. I always have. It must just be in my blood. So much so that I’ve been willing to suffer for it. Music was fun for me as a child. Almost like a drug, an escape I could get so lost in it. I loved everything Classical, Jazz, Rock, Blues. I remember the Beatles appearing on Ed Sullivan. It was really exciting to me. The screaming might have added to it but it was the music itself that hit me. The harmonies, the melodies, the beat and to watch the whole stage shake with Ringo pounding the drums. I knew right then I wanted to be a drummer. I had no concept of doing it for a living or for money or to get girls or even to be a rock star. I was only four or five years old. All I knew was that I wanted to play. My brother Marc had a hand-me-down trumpet and I had buck teeth. My parents told me that if I learned to play the trumpet it would push my teeth back in and they wouldn’t have to get me braces or spend money on an instrument. Luckily my brother Jody played electric guitar. He had a band that rehearsed at our house and I would watch his friend Lou Birmingham play the drums. I would pester him to show me things and he taught me the Ringo Starr beat, the Honky Tonk Woman beat, Wipe Out, all the basics for a drummer plus he left his drum set there so when they would leave I’d go nuts. I drove my parents crazy. Then in 6th grade I was able to save $100 from a paper route I had and found a drum set cheap enough to buy. I grew up in the hills of northern California so there were some real hillbillies that would get bussed down to our junior high. Some kids heard I knew some beats and owned a drum set and asked me to play. It was my first band. It was so far up in the boonies that my parents would just drive me way way up that long winding dirt road and just drop me off with my drumset for the weekends. We did a lot of pickin. Blue grass, Chuck Berry, B.B King, Old Country, Rolling Stones. It was great.
SR: What is the history behind a couple of your early bands the Mau Maus and The Joneses?
PB: I started playing drums for The Mau Maus in 1981. Ihad heard about them for some time but never actuallysaw them play until I was in em. Scott Franklinrecruited me from a band called Deep Six and wescheduled a rehearsal at my house. That’s when I metthe singer Rick Wilder and the original Berin Bratsguitarist Matt Cambell. It was a shocking experience.Anyway, the songs were great and the band lookedamazing, there was nothing like them in L.A. Anyway,New Years day was comin up and I had a mansion that Iwas renting in the Hollywood Hills. I got it cheapcause they were gonna tear it down to build a condo.Rick talked me into having a Mau Maus party there andI agreed but I said only a few close friends. YeahYeah sure sure. That was the most insane party I’veever seen. My house was Jam packed and I couldn’t keepan eye on things cause I was busy playing drums.People were slam dancing in my living room on thesecond story. I thought someone was gonna fall out thewindow. My house was destroyed. I was trying to turnpeople away telling em that the party was just for afew friends but I soon found out what a ridiculousnotion that was. People knew the Mau Maus were playingand there was no holding em back. Geza X showed upwearing a dress and was gettin a blow job from somechick all night on the stairway as people came in andout. This was my kinda band. I just needed to makesure the party wasn’t at my house next time. All ourshows were completely crazy and chaotic. Somethingabout the music. It was rare that we could ever evenfinish a show before cops would break it up. And wewere always looking for new places and naive people tobook us since most of the clubs were already hip towhat our shows were like. The Mau Maus evolved from aband in the 70s called the Berlin Brats. You can seethem if you rent the movie Up In Smoke by Cheech &Chong. Berlin Brats were a really Trashy Stonesy GlamRock band (kinda what I wanted for L.A. Guns) andprobably the coolest band to ever come out of L.A.They were even signed to Capitol Records. But neverdid a record. Van Halen used to open shows for them.Rick Wilder at one point held the key to the city. Hepretty much saw, before anyone else in L.A. what washappening with punk rock and wanted to drive the bandin more of a punk direction. So, to get away from theglam image he changed the name to The Mau Maus. That’swhen I came in. The Mau Maus were kind of a crossbetween The New York Dolls and The Sex Pistols. RickWilder is a brilliant song writer. We only did onerecord and it was produced by Robbie Krieger of theDoors, but it was never released. Robbie gave us thetapes though and told us to go ahead and release it.It’s my job to remix everything and put together thefirst Mau Maus record ever. I’m still looking for goodpictures, stories, videos etc…so if there’s anyoneout there with stuff to contribute just email@example.com. I’m still in touch witheveryone in the band, Scott Franklin the bass playerplays with the Cramps now. A couple of our guitarplayers are dead but the best one Mike Livingston isstill alive. Rick’s in New York and he’s coming out tostay with me in November and we’re talking aboutgettin everyone together for a Mau Maus show. Now thatwould be something. The Joneses were another great band, started By JeffDrake. On the edge of punk, but with long hair andglam look. There were open tuned guitars, Stones andChuck Berry riffs & a few country licks. Very trashyand rock & roll. I felt like I was back to my rootsbut with a more aggressive style. We found an obscureAerosmith song Chip Away At The Stone and recorded itfor a record even before Aerosmith. That started atrend in L.A. Every band had their Aerosmith coverthat they did. L.A. Guns’ was Adams Apple. GNR was MamaKin. I did one album for The Joneses. Keeping Up WithThe Joneses. But someone else got their picture takenfor the cover. Just like what happened to Nickey BeatAlexander on the first L.A. Guns record. I actuallyreplaced Nickey Beat in the Joneses and he replaced mefor a short time in The Mau Maus. Nickey & I use toswap gigs all the time as drummers. Then I switched tosingin and we ended up in the same band together.
SR: Is there anyway a fan can purchase music of these two bands?
PB: The Joneses-yes. The Mau Maus-not yet but soon.I’m still trying to locate some good pictures, flyers,anything cool to make a cover. If ya got something, Joneses, Mau Maus, old LAG, Black Cherry etc…contact firstname.lastname@example.org or just go tothe website www.blackcitymusic.com there’s a page forall these bands.
SR: Some websites claim you played in Faster Pussycat, is there any truth to that or did they just get you mixed up with Kelly Nickels?
PB: Actually this L.A Guns was Faster Pussycat. Mick and Icame up with the name from a movie my roommate hadcalled Faster Pussycat Kill Kill. We put the bandtogether and were gonna jam with Taime but we ended upjamming with Tracii & Nickey instead. We were gonnastick with the name Faster Pussycat but Tracii’sfriend Raz who owned the name L.A. Guns convinced usto reuse the name L.A. Guns by telling us he wouldback the band if we did. It was that easy. We changedthe name and when we did, Taime used the FasterPussycat name for his band which he recruited Kellyfor.
SR: How did you get involved in L.A. Guns?
PB: Like I said in the last question, I was starting aband with Mick. I was at some Goth club in Hollywoodpassed out at the bar. Mick Cripps came up to me andnudged me on the shoulder. I woke up and turned aroundand saw this guy with big thick black hair, make-up,and a pirate’s shirt staring at me. Mick said “hey youlook cool do you play an instrument? What do youplay?” I said yeah, a little of everything. Mick said”Great, I want you to help me put a band togetherbut, they have to look cool and whatever instrumentwe’re missing in the end, we’ll fit you in there”. Iwas playing drums with the Joneses at the time butthey wouldn’t let me introduce songs. So I told Mick”OK I’ll do a side band, but we need to do my songs”.I showed Mick a couple songs and we tried a coupleline ups, one was called Shaghai. But, when I wouldshow singers the songs, I would have to sing them frombehind the drums. As it turns out, generally singersdon’t like to be guided on what to sing by a drummer,especially when the rest of the players are saying Ishould be the singer right in front of him. Mick and Idecided to start again and try out Taime under thename Faster Pussycat, but then Mick heard a demo ofsome songs I had written and sung on and decided Ishould just sing. I didn’t really want to give up thedrums, but I was still playing drums in the Jonesesand being the singer did make it easier to incorporatesongs since I was in control of the lyrics. We endedup jamming with Nickey and Tracii at Nickey’s LovePalace. We played some Alice Cooper, Mitch Ryder,Aerosmith, New York Dolls and a couple originals Ihad. We did our first show one week later closingnight of The Cathey De Grande. Nickey and I had spentso much time there hanging out and playing in variouspunk bands. It was a great show. The closing of theCathey De Grande ended an era in punk rock history,but that’s where it started for L.A. Guns.
SR: With the changing of the Los Angeles music scene could you sense that you were part of something big?
PB: Yeah. It was kinda surreal to me though.
SR: What led to your departure from L.A. Guns?
PB: I think egos, selfishness, disagreements on musicaldirection soured things. We all became rockstarsbefore we ever sold a record. I also had a big problemwith the record label and management trying to tell mehow to write songs. They really wanted me to tone itdown with my lyrics. PolyGram’s top two acts wereCinderella & Bon Jovi and that’s the kind of materialthey were asking me to write. I hated that. Mick,Tracii, And Nickey just wanted to make sure we got thedeal and were asking me to please not scare the label.To a degree I tried, but not completely. I didn’t wantto compromise myself. To make matters worse, I wasgetting high. Then Izzy and I got busted together andthe word spread all over town. Rumors were goingaround that Guns & Roses were gonna lose their dealand this really scared my band and our manager sincewe were in the middle of negotiating our deal. Ourmanager felt like I was out of control and basicallytoo radical for PolyGram. And I guess I was. Theythought they couldn’t secure the deal unless I cleanedup and we conformed to their vision of what L.A. Gunsshould be and I couldn’t do that. Yet they wanted mymusic, my image, and my voice. I cleaned up after Ileft L.A. Guns. I didn’t drink, smoke or get high inBlack Cherry. I was a hell of a lot stronger in thatband. But it’s kind of ironic that the bad boylifestyle we were so famous for is what eventuallyleft me in relative obscurity.
SR: Were there any hard feelings watching your former band reach stardom with songs you helped create?
PB: Honestly, yes there were hard feelings. But onlybecause they discredited me by taking my name off thesongs. Plus in some cases they took the essence of thesong and mutilated my lyrics. Otherwise if they wouldhave credited me and done them in true form I think itwould have been great for them and me to get famouswith my songs. It would have given me credibility andkept us out of a lawsuit which damaged both ourcareers, especially mine. But it’s all water under the bridge now. I think we’veall decided to just bring everything out in the openand clear the air cause it just doesn’t matteranymore. We’re grown up now and we don’t have to feellike there’s a reputation to protect. Phil has finallyacknowledged my part publicly. Mick and Tracii haveasked me to put the past behind and play some shows.And I’ve acknowledged it was hard for them to have asinger on drugs. I’m just happy people like my music.Even if I didn’t get the credit.
SR: How did Black Cherry come about?
PB: After I left L.A. Guns I put the band together with myfriend Mark Lewis on guitar, Bruce Moreland (from WallOf Voodoo & Concrete Blonde) on bass and a kid namedScott Lipps on drums. We learned some songs from LAGand a few new ones and did a show with Jane’sAddiction. After that I told them to continue onwithout me and I moved to El Dorado Hills and checkedinto rehab. 6 months later the drummer Scott found newplayers and asked me to come back and sing again. Ihad just found out that L.A. Guns had released mysongs without my credit. So I felt I needed to comeback and prove something. When I got back in town Ifound out Scott hadn’t just put any band together, itwas a Great Band. Dave Walsh & Josh Blake on guitarScott on drums. We didn’t have the bass player yet butsoon we found Mike Stevens. Later on Curtis Grant tookover for Josh.
SR: Judging by the song “The Devil In You”, Black Cherry had the right sound for success. Why do you think the band ultimately failed?
PB: “The Devil In You” came out on a compilation record byMetal Blade. It got more radio airplay than any otherband on that record, and yet every band but BlackCherry got signed to a record label. If by failed youmean why didn’t we sign a record deal? It was simplyshitty record company politics and bad management. Iwas suing PolyGram records. That’s not a good thingfor an unknown artist to do. But there wasn’t muchchoice. How do you let 9 songs go? If we had strongermanagement I think we could have overcome that. Labelswere not even calling our manager. They were callingme. Capitol, Virgin and A&M but they all said theyneeded to see how the law suit would pan out first. Bythe time we were ready to go to court three yearslater, I was ready to sign anything just to get onwith my life, so we settled it out of court. We allgot screwed. Lawyers got most of the money. And by thetime we settled, music had changed. The sun had set onsunset strip. All the labels called me though when thenews hit of the settlement. They wanted to see what Ihad to show them but the band had fallen apart. Ispent six months putting a new line up together to doone show with Bang Tango. And that was it.
SR: How much Black Cherry material was recorded, and are there any plans of releasing it?
PB: Yes, I’m puttin it out. About two albums worth, and I’mgonna reunite that band too. Cause everyone keepsasking me to.
SR: After Black Cherry you seemed to disappear from the music scene, what were you up to?
PB: I wasn’t happy with the music business and how itaffected me and my music. Being in a band wasn’t funanymore. It was about getting signed and becoming arock star, not about friends getting together with avision to create some music they all believed in. Tome, if it wasn’t fun then there was no point. I neededa break. What happened after that? Well, it’s a longstory. I had some rough times, and some great times.Life’s one big roller coaster for me. But I’ve gothundreds of songs now. For the last eight years I’vebeen a dad. So it’s a whole new world. My son Sasha isvery rock & roll. He plays violin and he love’s mymusic. He always asks me to sing to him at night. It’sthe best gig I ever had.
SR: Many years later you formed Sonic Boom with The Dogs D’amour’s Jo Almeida, how many insane Tyla stories did he have to tell?
PB: One. And it wasn’t pretty.
SR: Drugs, alcohol and women seemed to play a huge part in the 80s Sunset Strip, how big a part did each play in your life?
PB: Well that was pretty much my downfall. I didn’tjust wanna play rock & roll. I wanted to live the rock& roll lifestyle, and be the bad boy of rock and roll.I succeeded in that and it was fun for a while. But,in the long run it didn’t get me anywhere.
SR: What can we expect from you in the future?
PB: Well like I said, I got hundreds of songs. I’m fullof energy, I’m really strong and I’m very good lookingso you can expect to see a lot. I’m putting a new bandtogether for a solo record and I’m ready to rock.
Thanks to Paul Black