Ron Young Interview

May 16, 2004

Rock fans will remember Ron Young as the soulful/bluesy tattooed vocalist for Little Caesar and Manic Eden. He is currently the head of production at L.A.’s famous Key Club and talked to Sleaze Roxx about his days as a rock star and his current plans.

SR: Little Caesar has reformed over the last couple of years for some live shows, what was it like getting on the stage with the original band again after so many years apart?

RY: It was great experience… There was people who flew in from all over the country…we didn’t even know how they found out about it. We had a blast and the feeling of gratitude amongst the band was so apparent, just to make music together again. We were so relaxed and played great. The crowd was so into it and we fed off of that energy. It was really natural and we really savored every note of it. I told stories about the songs and experiences we remembered and was really intimate.

SR: I once read that you were a premed student. How does a guy go from premed to hard rock?

RY: I always wanted to make music but I was 18 I didn’t have the balls to go for a career in music. I did well in school though I hardly made it to class or did the work. When I took my college tests I did well and got accepted to a good NY State University that specialized in sciences and medicine. I figured what the fuck….it was really an excuse to leave home and party….needless to say my trips into NYC going to clubs and seeing some of the greatest bands of the era and feeling that energy, I decided to leave school, move into Manhattan and pursue music. I didn’t really have a choice as my GPA was so bad by the end they were gonna throw me out anyway…

SR: You started out in New York clubs, what were the similarities and differences between it and the L.A. scene?

RY: There was no comparison. There once was a thriving scene in NY but then it started to turn into the new form of music called Hip Hop. Rock started to die there and dance music was King. I got the hell out after getting robbed too many times and having the music scene dying there. I moved to LA and really dug all the second wave punk bands and all the Hard Rock that was emerging from the LA club scene. Social D, The Vandals, Los Lobos, the Blasters….a lot of different and great shit….not to mention all the Hard Rock too. Then it started to become mostly pussy lipstick metal made by guys who spent tons of time on their hair and make up and passing out flyers. There was a few good bands but the scene that was coming up with some music based on 70’s Glam mixed with punk, started dying for the more Motley/Poison vibe. We figured we’d never look like chicks so we wouldn’t even compete with those bands. We just rode our bikes and looked like wrench in slobs….cause that’s kinda what we were. We never thought we had a shot at a deal without lookin’ like a bunch of chicks…..we were wrong.

SR: How did Little Caesar come together?

RY: So a bunch of like-minded guys that were sick of the dudes in lipstick rock based on pop and jerking off arpeggiated solos decided we would put a sleazy R&B based Hard Rock band together. We picked some old Soul tunes and rocked ’em out…we never thought Geffen would wanna put those tunes on the record but they did…it kinda bit us in the ass though….we fought a lot with the label.

SR: The bands first appearance was on a little known LP called Street Survivors. How did you get involved with that LP and why wasn’t the incredible Down To The Wire ever released on one of your own albums? Also, how was it working with Metal Blade?

RY: We were in the process of negotiating with Geffen, but we wanted to get some shit out right away, and we knew the major label process is so fuckin slow. We asked Geffen if we could take some demos and put out an EP with Metal Blade. While they picked the songs they thought wouldn’t make it on their record and they immediately said that song wasn’t gonna be on their record…still one of my favorites! They were putting out a compilation of LA bands and we wanted to get on it and get our name out there. When Geffen approved it we got it over to Mike Fahley and Brian Slagel who were fans of the band. The funny thing is that those guys have their shit together so much more than Geffen. They are so passionate, as is their staff, about music. Their business is as much a labor of love as commerce. They know who their market and fans are and how to reach them. On top of it they have integrity and know that you can do a good business without being a bunch of assholes. They did great by us and it was so great to work a record with them.

SR: When you started recording the Geffen debut did it start worrying you when the label insisted on changes such as Downtown Mama becoming Down-N-Dirty?

RY: We knew we were in trouble as soon as we started workin with John Kalodner. He has a bigger ego than any of his acts and he never really got the band. We saw the “alternative” wave comin and we wanted to make a live, raw, real, minimally produced 70’s style record. He was too caught up in the slick overproduced records of the day. We finally agreed on Bob Rock cause he came and hung with us for a few days and he seemed to get it, and wanted to make a record like that. When we got up to Vancouver after waiting almost a year for him to be available, Motley Crue went #1 and all of a sudden Bob went from makin a Caesar album, to LC makin’ a Bob Rock record. We started makin the calls back to LA freakin out to management sayin “what the fuck?” They are rollin in 64 track digital tape machines and keyboards and doin’ a million over dubs….we fought like hell, but John is a fan of that shit and he had the power….it really bummed us out.

SR: Why did Apache leave the group and how did you manage to recruit the exceptional Earl Slick?

RY: Apache was the first to get fed up with the Geffen bullshit and decided it was time to bail. He saw the writing on the wall and said “fuck this shit, I don’t want to work with those assholes again”. Loren knew Slick for years and he was a fan, so we were doing demos of new songs and he came down to the studio to lay some tracks and it felt good. So we started writing with him and he stuck around. We were blessed to have 2 great guitar players occupying the slot. Then Tom went off to do A&R for Hollywood records. He was spent too.

SR: What were some of the bands Little Caesar toured with and what were they like to share the stage with?

RY: Kiss, George Thorogood, L.A. Guns, Warrant, Slaughter…to name a few. We did a big tour with Kiss and Slaughter. Gene Simmons didn’t get us at all and he kept tellin us to be more “rockstar” and glamorous. He told us to shave our goatees….”What is this, the 70’s” he said to us. Then the revues from all the towns and shows came in and he started to shut up….funny thing is 6 months later when Soundgarden was hittin, he showed up with a goatee and he still wears it…Ha!

SR: What led to the breakup of Little Caesar?

RY: 6 weeks into the first release Geffen sold out to the Japanese. There weren’t even records in the stores while our track was gettin played on the radio and MTV. Then 2 months later, the Label Manager got fired for masturbating on his secretary….yes….masturbating on his secretary. Then our Manager started Interscope Records and we had to fire him. The record was just dying because of the chaos. When Slick joined the band, after they buried the first, we were really in debt. We released the second record and at that point Geffen was in disarray. We went to Europe and were really well received. Everyone got it and went nuts. We were asked to support Monsters of Rock for the summer and Geffen said no. We came home and said, “fuck it”. Geffen said they would drop us but only if we agree not to reform on another label. He said he didn’t want us to be successful on another label and make Geffen Records look bad. He said he would hold me to my contract if we didn’t agree and never let me put out a record for 10 years….like Neal Young….they hated each other.

SR: Many people seem to think the band didn’t become massive because your biker image was at odds with the rhythm and blues music you played, what are your thoughts on that?

RY: At the time “alternative’ was just starting. Years later people had more open minds to the outward appearance and the music being a little different was all cool and marketable. We always thought bands like Skynyrd had pop and blues appeal, but the slick record that Bob made didn’t help, and put a split in our look versus sound. Our live sound with all the crunch, yet with harmonies and song melody worked. Bob and Kalodner never let us capture that….we got a lil closer on the 2nd, but we were over it all by then. When they released “In Your Arms” on the first record, easy listening stations were adding it….until they saw a pic and dropped it immediately…Geffen was trying to get us to shave and wear puffy shirts…to play along we tried it….when we saw the pics we said “no fuckin’ way!”

SR: You fronted the Four Horsemen’s final tour, was it difficult stepping into Frank C. Starr’s shoes?

RY: I never tried to step in his shoes. Frank had his own thing and the record was doing really well in Canada. They asked me to do the tour as a tribute and to just make music and have fun, as that’s what Frank woulda wanted them to do. It was great and we really had fun and the fans were really warm and accepting considering the circumstances. We were a badass band, Dave Lizmi is a killer guitar player and Pharoah is so musical and an amazing singer. He does the greatest Bon Scott imitation that you will ever hear.

SR: Did you record any material with the Four Horsemen?

RY: Because the tour went well and the response was great, we talked about it. We had a great chemistry as we saw music from the same perspective. When we got home there was a lot of drama going on with some of the members and it never came to be.

SR: How did you become involved in Manic Eden and how was it to work with some of heavy metal’s legends?

RY: They were doing a record for JVC in Japan and things weren’t working out with the singer they had. They wanted a bluesy singer to try to do more of a prog British blues invasion feel record. They got a hold of me right as they were doing the basic tracks. Most of the songs weren’t finished and they asked me to write the rest with them as they were tracking….so I took it home and got to work on the stuff that wasn’t finished. They are really nice guys. We had different lifestyles though. They were all healthy and Tommy bicycle rides 40 miles a day, they all eat healthy and get up early. Me and Tom Fletcher (the producer) were late night fast food guys. They would get so pissed as Tom would show up around 1-2pm as me and him were tracking until sunrise, and they were waiting at 9am for him….it was funny. They are all really nice and such seasoned pros that are down to earth. Tommy is one of the funniest guys you’ll ever meet and it was such a pisser touring in Europe with him.

SR: You work as head of production at the Key Club, how has the L.A. metal scene changed from its 80s heyday to today?

RY: The scene now is all what I call “cookie monster” rock…no singing, no hooks, no soul. All the guitar players have the same moves they saw in a Korn video and there isn’t much new going on. I really like the new stuff I call stoner hard rock….more sparse, cool riffs….more Sabbathy kinda shit…..and of course there is all the aging metal bands that have chopped off the back part of their hair, wear eyeliner to hide the lines and are still swearing its makin a comeback or are reliving their glory days by playing their hits to an old new crowd….they just need to remember that they aren’t in arenas anymore…lol

SR: Do you think we will ever see as rock scene like that on Sunset Strip in the 80s again in America?

RY: The whole music business has changed and those days are over. It’s big business with monopolization, internet, and very little support from labels and jaded fans who are bombarded with music from everywhere. The labels are dying, they are scared and they have no balls. The eighties was the beginning of the end, they should have learned their lesson from the “alternative’ movement, but unfortunately they just kept signing the next Pearl Jam, the next Nirvana etc and didn’t hear the cry from the fans….so we get 20 Eddie Vedder clones and they wonder why people stop showing up at the stores.

SR: Here are some bands from the same era as Little Caesar, what are your thoughts on each?
– Circus Of Power
– Rhino Bucket
– Faster Pussycat
– Kik Tracee
– Cats In Boots
– Asphalt Ballet
– Bang Tango
– Shark Island
RY: Circus Of Power was great and so was Rhino Bucket….they just played good rockin music, no make up or bullshit. Bang Tango had their own thing going and Joe is a great front man. They were also on that Metal Blade compilation. Faster Pussycat were cool cause they were going for more of that trashy New York Dolls kinda thing mixed with metal….the rest I’m not familiar with….is that diplomatic enough….I just remember hearing them and never looking into their music….remember, when you work at McDonalds you don’t run out to try a hamburger!

SR: What was it like appearing in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, and didn’t Little Caesar appear on an HBO or Showtime special about groupies at one time?

RY: Unsolved Mysteries was done for a friend that was murdered on his motorcycle. Ten years later they finally caught the fucker after they kept running the show. We appeared in a segment on MTV’s series on Groupies and sex appeal in the music world….I think they were showing how even ugly fuckers can get laid when you play music…hahahaha

SR: You have occasionally appeared on Earl Slick and Doug Aldrich releases, any reason why you have recorded so little in the last few years?

RY: I am so busy running the club and living my life I just don’t get to do recording or playing as much as I would like. Also as years go on the guys I came up with are making fewer and fewer recordings.

SR: Your tattoos are often considered the best in rock, how many do you have now and who did the jungle scene on your back?

RY: Bob Roberts did most of my work including my back…he’s now a legend in the art form.

SR: Is it true that you once auditioned for Slash’s Snakepit? If so, what was the experience like?

RY: Fuck you do your homework! I worked with Slash for a coupla months and almost started the record with him. He wasn’t sure which way he wanted the band to go. He went more for an “Axl” style than my gritty style. It was fun. I was also the singer in the Red Hot Chili Peppers for a few months. Anthony was having some problems in his life and they were thinking of a change. It was for the Uplift Mofo record. I had written the whole record and we were in pre-production with Michael Beinhorn when Anthony got it together. It wasn’t the same band without him….it was a fucking great experience. This was right before Hillel died. Flea is the baddest, most passionate musician I have ever had the privilege to play with.

SR: What can we expect musically from Ron Young in the future? Any chance Little Caesar will record again?

RY: Caesar keeps trying to get in a flow of writing but it’s hard with all of our lives and schedules. I’m really picky and the only band I have ever wanted to front was my buddy Brian Tichy’s band Ball….they fuckin’ rock!! The only problem is he’s the singer as well…..sssssh, don’t tell him I want to steal his gig from his own band…haha…he’s a great singer too….a total bad ass guitar player, and one of the greatest drummers I have ever heard….too much talent for one guy to have….Dorian from Powerman 5K was playin bass for awhile…..what a great fuckin band!!!

Thanks to Ron Young