STEVE JOHNSTAD INTERVIEW:
March 6, 2005
You may be asking yourself, “Who the hell is Steve “Zeus” Johnstad?” Well if you don’t remember him as the vocalist on Mayday’s two releases, perhaps you have heard of House Of Lord’s hit single “I Wanna Be Loved”, in which Steve co-wrote. In this interview you will see that Steve Johnstad has worked with many hard rock legends and continues to write and record.
SR: Let’s start from the beginning, how did you get into music?
SJ: Well, I would first like to thank you for doing this interview. It seems a great way to fill in a few gaps for anyone who may have had questions over these years concerning myself, or the band MAYDAY. I’ll try to be informative.
Let’s see, I grew up in a very musical family. My father known professionally as Conrad Johns,is almost 80 now and still performs throughout the Midwest with The Conrad Johns Orchestra. It was with his band, that as a drummer, I had enjoyed my first real professional experiences. Checkout his site www.conradjohnsband.com.
Now I’m talkin the 70’s here. I’d played in talent shows and school dances with several basement bands before this, but my father’s band was composed of older, professional players, who really knew their stuff. In time, it seemed only natural to hang up the drum sticks and continue in his foot steps as a singer eventually forming my own band, ZEUS. Actually, due to a typo the nightbefore our first big show, I glued the letters Z U E S on the back of a cape my sister made for me and knew the letters wouldn’t have come off without destroying the material, so, for the next several years, ” Hey ” “YOU SPELLED YOUR NAME WRONG” came out of the crowd ever so often! But as I saw it, that’s show biz!
Zues started out playing in high schools and local bars around the Wisconsin area, and by the end of the year, had already developed a loyal fan base while touring throughout the entire midwest. Although we’d written several original songs, I believe our wild stage antics and covers of Led Zeppelin / Deep Purple seemed to win most fans over.
When the band eventually broke up due to burn out and musical differences, I decided to joinSNOBLIND, a well established band in Wisconsin, who shared the same booking agency with CHEAP TRICK.
Snoblind spent approximately 28 days a month doing rock festivals, concerts and clubs whileopening up for bands like The Guess Who, R.E.O. Speedwagon, Rick Derringer, Captain Beyond, Canned Heat, and others of that time touring our turf. The friends and fans I’d met back then really made the experience of being in a band, special indeed. Nothing seemed impossibleand the world was ours for the taking. These memories are very special now, and I enjoy sharing them whenever possible.
SR: Who were your early influences?
SJ: There were so many great artists back when I was kid. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Animals, Association, Dave Clark Five, Hermans Hermits, just to name a few. Also, many of the soul singers from Motown turned me on such as Jackie Wilson, Wilson Picket, Ray Charles, and ofcourse my favorite of all time, Stevie Wonder!
I honestly found something I liked in everything I heard on the radio. Andy Williams, Tony Bennett, Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Sinatra, Man — I Loved It All.
I especially enjoyed bands of the 70’s time period such as Wish Bone Ash, Traffic, Jeff Beck, Captain Beyond, Allman Brothers, Black Sabbath, Jojo Gun, Bad Company, Faces, Montrose, Grand Funk, The Who, Jethro Tull, E.L.P, Kansas, Uriah Heap, Queen, Genesis, Yes, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Journey, Moody Blues!! Wow — nothin but good!!
Back in the day, everyone had their own musical sounds and writing styles. It didn’t matter ifit took a few records to break a band internationally, it seemed the label was always there for thelong haul. As long as the band had a few good songs, the rest of the record was art!!
Few artist these days, take me through that sort of musical journey. Creating singles, has longbeen the order of the day and though I enjoy listening to some of the new bands, I must admit, it’s a real drag to not have a new LED ZEPPELIN record to look forward to every year.
SR: Mayday formed from the ashes of Sun, what is the history of that band?
SJ: Well, from what I’ve been told, in 1976, SUN moved to NYC from the suburbs of Chicago, and soon after they arrived, recorded a song on the first “LIVE AT CBGB’s” album.
Randy Fredrix was on guitar, and Niki Buzz on vocals. But I never met the base player and drummer on that record, as they had been replaced by Bill Lazwell on bass, and Rob Gottfriedon drums by the time I came around.
SR: How did Mayday come together?
SJ: In the fall of 1976, after the breakup of SNOBLIND, I flew to NY to sing with a friend’s band called BLOODY MARY. I arrived at the airport and was met by Keyboard Player David Beck.
On the way down town, David informed me that we’d be living in a loft with a few actresses in SOHO, but failed to tell me they were all — female porn stars. “Sharon Mitchell” most notably.
I was totally blown away as I walked in and met several naked girls standing around as a filmcrew was packing up! Talk about REAL WORLD!! From that day on, it was like living in a perpetual Caligula!! I eventually ended up sleeping on the 4th floor fire escape for need of myown privacy!! Imagine that!!
Ever faithful, I knew my buddies back home would have died to trade places with me, if only for a day, but that’s a book in itself!! Bottom line, we all became great friends.
On one of our many night outings with the girls, we’d stopped by CBGB’s to see this band SUN! I was completely blown away. They were like a new wave Zeppelin, extremely raw andpowerful. The drummer played a see through double base set, and the guitar player looked likeZORO. The bass player just stood there with the coolest look, while his fingers ran effortlesslyabout the neck. The singer had a giant Afro, and hit notes that made glass crack.
Over time, the singer Niki Buzz and I had become good friends. I never imagined that in the months that followed, I’d be asked to replace him.
Then in April of 1977, things had finally run its course with Bloody Mary when the guitar player decided to call it quits. So, I decided it best to fly back to Wisconsin, were I made it back just in time for the birth of my only child Angela.
Once things settled down a bit, I decided to reform my old band “SNOBLIND”. This time, I concentrated mainly on writing originals. We eventually returning to N.Y.City in early Aug,and performed several live shows at various rock clubs in the village.
Unknown to me at the time, Randy from SUN, had come to see SNOBLIND perform at CBGB’s, and shortly after I left to go back to Wisconsin, he’d decided to travel back to the Chicago Ill. and drive north to Sheboygan, WI. to personally ask me to join the band. I was extremelyimpressed with his determination and soon after, I returned to NY.
Our Manager Charley Martin did sound at CBGB’s and that provide a place to play gigs and hang out as often as we wanted. Charley had also made it possible for us to record late at night after the club closed it’s door’s to the public. Back then, to have a 16 track recorder at ones disposal was great, especially since most bands had little to no recording gear at all.
Over the next several years, we played all over town. The largest crowd we performed infront of was in central park while filming the movie “HAIR”! Thousands showed up as theyfilmed off the corner of our stage. The producers had originally set up a two day shoot with several other bands scheduled to play, but after one set, the rest of the shows were canceledas they now had all the crowd footage they were ever going to need.
Then when Bill Lazwell, and Rob Gottfried decided to leave the band to do other musical projects, it seemed once again, to be the end of another great band. But then I’d remembered this bass player I’d met at a blues club awhile back, and soon after, Charley Torres joined theband. Now — Just for the record, Charles Mass and Charley Torres are one in the same, andthough I never understood why he change it for the LP’s, I can only imagine it had somethingto do with honoring his Mother since Mass was her maiden name.
Not long after charley joined us, he introduced us to Greg Gerson, a drummer friend living in the village who he’d long been wanting to work with. He was one hell of a drummer who alsoplayed just about every instrument on the planet, including a coffee cup.
After changing the name of the band from SUN, to SON, we immediately started rehearsals on the sound stage in the old ANDERSON THEATER on 3rd Ave. and 4th St. It was the site of several great concerts back in the 60’s and early 70’s and was under construction at the timeto become the new CBGB’s Theater. “THE JAM” played their first American show in that theater, as did several other bands. Soon, we were again playing every club in town.
In Oct. of 1978, we opened for the band POLICE at CBGB’s while doing their first gig in the US. That was a turning point for the band as we began experimenting with reggae music and combined it with hard rock. I have several recordings in my archives of songs we’d set aside for various reasons, but those were some of our most interesting compositions we’d ever recorded.
Later that year we decided to add David Beck from my previous band BLOODY MARY andby early 1979 the band was well on it’s way to becoming the hardest rockin band in NYC.
It was always a great time playing shows at CBGB’s. Over the years we had also opened upfor, Plasmatics, Richard Hell, Dictators, Dead Boyz, and many others. AC/DC with Bon Scott was another great show, or at least that’s what everyone tells me.
Then in early 1980, Randy decided to leave the band to go solo, but later decided to come back when I informed him of a deal offered to us by EMPIRE PROJECT.
This was a development deal in which we’d agree to do two cover songs, in addition to four of our own. Then Empire would shop the tapes, and then complete the record once the band got signed.
It seemed fair at the time, but once we realized it was a total buy out contract giving them 100% control of the publishing, not to mention everything else, the ink was already dry.
Empire then suggested we change the name of the band to provide them with a fresh sell to the labels and SON, became known about town as MAYDAY!
SR: Was there much of a rock scene in New York in the early 80s?
SJ: Absolutely. There wasn’t a better city on the planet as far as I could tell. Well, not like it was in the mid 70’s when I first moved there. But ya, it was a great place to be and definitely my city of choice for cultural events. Manhattan has always had such a great vibe. Many of the clubs were packed with players from around the world, and the chicks were off the hook.
Ya man, fast and furious twenty-four seven. There was always something going on, and anyone with a taste for the night life, eventually came, partied, and like the saying “if you can remember?? You were never there!!”
SR: How did you hook up with A&M?
SJ: After EMPIRE PROJECT had invested money for the first half of the record, MAYDAY then performed a live show at the popular mid town club called BONDS International. My good friend Mike McConnell was the guitar tech for “Mick Jones” of FOREIGNER and hedecided to lend us all of their on stage gear for that performance.
A&M who were quite impressed with our performance, seemed equally impressed that a NYC band had acquired so much gear for touring! Unfortunately, they didn’t notice the name FOREIGNER written all over the frickin place!!
That later came back to bite us in the ass, when we were asked to deliver our list for additional touring equipment. They were shocked to find out we didn’t even own a practiceamp, much less thousands worth of stage gear. Mike was never given a credit on the record for his effort, but I always felt he had a lot to do with the band getting signed thatnight!! Thank you Mike!! As planned, we signed with A&M for a two album minimum, with an option for five.
SR: What was the recording of the debut like, and did it turn out as you had hoped?
SJ: It was a great feeling to finally be recording in a professional studio, knowing it wasn’t going to be just another demo like others we’d done in the past. And even though it wasn’t the top studio in Manhattan at first, eventually we did track and mix in the Electric Lady, and after thatit seemed we were finally going to have a chance to make good. We rehearsed non stop for a few weeks in preparation, so when tapes started rolling, the tracks would hopefully go down asplanned. They didn’t — but that’s life, and being in the studio for the first time with this crew, was definitely like re-discovering the band all over. Every note isolated makes ya really hearthe truth. It’s humbling at times, believe it!!
Shortly after the completion of the first half of the record, and subsequent A&M contracts had finally been negotiated, Greg Gerson was replaced on drums by Mark Kaufman. Mark andI had worked together a few years ago, back in Wisconsin. Mark had also played with SON on occasion after Rob Gottfried first left the band.
Mark’s big beat and incredible timing, gave us a warmer feel than the first half of the record,and with that, and a few rehearsals, we were confident he’d complete the record, no problem.
We still weren’t sure how long he’d stay with us by the time we signed, so no pictures wereever taken of the band with a drummer until the second record.
Suddenly, the pressure to complete the record within our new budget began to rain about the studio. With Empire pushing us in a commercial rock direction, Randy insisting on singinglead vocals on a couple of songs, the studio was starting to feel more like a battle ground for who does what, and when. It became a real struggle to keep it real.
With the tracks finally complete, the first mixes turned out really great. But then, the boy’s got into production mode and before you could say (What the hell) the power and punch wasmixed and edited right out of it.
A&M were expecting a well focused Hard Rock album to answer the call of that demographic,which was why they signed us in the first place.
However, due to wasted time and cost over run, the second half unfortunately lacked muchof the attention that the first half received. Most of my scratch vocals were kept as keepers and that little known phrase “FIX IT IN THE MIX” never really worked out! Still, I’ll always remain proud of the effort, even though it’s clearly not a perfect world.
SR: How did you feel about the Revenge album?
SJ: Much like the first — it started out great — and than became a struggle to keep it real. We alsofaced another change in the line up as Mark decided to leave the band to do other projects. We held several auditions and finally found what we were looking for in Eddie Rogers.
Unfortunately, Eddie was related to Greg, and after learning that, Randy didn’t feel much likedealing with it so, Eddie was out before he was even in, which really pissed off Charley, David and I since we’d already been rehearsing with him for weeks.
I then placed a call to another of my old drummers Danny Shmitt from Wisconsin. He was oneof my favorite drummers of all times and a great friend as well. Back in 1975, while he performed with me in the band SNOBLIND, Danny was even then considered one of the most incredible drummers around. When Danny showed up, he was hired on the spot!!
We also brought in a great road crew Mark (Smitty) Smith and Glen (Spike) Kaufman who instantly became like brothers. They not only handled all the equipment, but they also providedus with insight and inspiration based on they’re years of professional touring.
No task was too small to do — and the big stuff was a breeze. I’ve had many great roadies overthe years, and have loved them all. They were no less a part of any band I was in, and no matter what, they always made it happen. These boyz were the best in the biz, and with them on board, it seemed our future had suddenly opened up a whole new dimension.
While rehearsing for our first American tour with Rory Gallagher, Randy decided that Ben Wish(the engineer for Empire Project) should replace David Beck on keys, and again the band faced another divided moment. David was a great friend, and loyal to the bone, but regardless of that,Randy insisted on Ben. The rest of us didn’t agree, but buy then, Randy was clearly calling most of the shots.
Suddenly, with our scheduled tour support in question, we decided to can the tour idea andconcentrate on writing songs for the next album, REVENGE.
During the weeks before rehearsals began, Randy and Danny went up state and wrote songs, while Charley and I stayed local and did the same. By the time rehearsal started, Randy and the producers had made up their minds as to which songs would go on the record.
I didn’t mind that none of my songs were seriously considered, since Empire held 100% of the publishing anyway. But then I figured what the hell, they’d still be MAYDAY’s, and that was always more important to me than jerkin someone’s chain for a credit.
We started recording the rhythm tracks and from the first day in the studio things went to tapeloud and proud. With little time to experiment, it seemed rehearsals had once again paid off. But then as the Randy Fredrix sessions began, Charley, Danny, and I were all but excused.
For the next few weeks it became a waiting game as to who would be allowed into the studio todo what, and when.
Finally it was time for vocals, and once again it seemed we’d become a band. Everyone was in the studio, and the vibe was rockin. Sadly, most of our budget had been spent on circle jerksolos, and sushi, so many of my first vocal tracks became keepers.
In retrospect, I never considered myself a great singer, and wished after the sessions were allover, I’d taken much of that waiting time to be better rehearsed. It seemed that once I got on a roll — the session was over, and what was there, stayed.
I suppose it’s a common problem that last gets least, but when it came to my vocals, it seemed of a less concern to Randy, than those he’d sang lead on, and by the time we’d finally finished the record, it was clear that once again, Empire Project and Randy, had mixed and edited most of my best vocal stuff right out of it! It was like polishing a diamond back into coal.
When the night came to play the record in the studio for A&M, I knew right then we’d missedthe mark, and the look on the face of David Anderle only served to confirm it.
Look, in many way’s the Revenge album rocks. But what came out on vinyl, was only a bitof what that band was all about. It’s a drag that after the years of struggling on the street’s, and in the club’s, after all the untold hardships of others who sweat blood sacrificing for the cause, MAYDAY was dropped from the label right on our collective asses soon after its release.
Now, I would have toured the world and been happy to give voice to any song on Randy’s solo LP. But to me, MAYDAY was a band. I expected the best, and settled for less. But I’ve always appreciated the moment and hoped that no matter what the outcome of the experience, we’d still continue on as a band, and as friends. Unfortunately in contrast, on the day of release,Randy was nowhere to be found. After calling the record company, it became clear where we now stood with the label when the receptionist asked, “Who’s MAYDAY?” — EXACTLY!!!
SR: Randy Fredrik wrote all the Mayday material, did any of the other members have any input?
SJ: With exception of the two songs we’d covered on the first record, writing was always going tobe a collective effort. Writer, by definition, is someone who composes Lyric and Music.
In MAYDAY, it became a matter of choice. As I see it, these records gave us a chance tocreate music as a band. Randy, as the main writer, would bring a song idea into rehearsal, weall put something into them, and in the end, Randy got his credit.
Though it would have been fair to share. We just wanted to create a great record. Besides, the only ones who ever stood to make a dime were the guys in Empire Project.
SR: What bands did you tour with and how were they?
SJ: Unfortunately, we didn’t tour!! As SON, we performed all over the city and Long Island, but we never toured as MAYDAY. We were provided money to buy equipment for the first tour, but canceled due to the lack of tour support.
After the REVENGE record came out, I don’t believe a tour was ever even planned. I also found out later, that most of the money to support the tour, and promote the record, had instead, been used to fund a flower shop for the wives of the EMPIRE guys.
SR: What led to Mayday’s breakup?
SJ: I think all the above pretty much covers it! Once Empire Project put it back into they’re pants and Randy wiped off, MAYDAY dropped like a VIRGIN IN A FIST F**KING COMPETITION!!
In fact, the day after we’d finished the record, Empire tried to take back all of our music gearas partial payment for services rendered. Forget Payola! Greed replaced loyalty there, and asfar as I’m concerned, for being so selfish — I hope they now — SELL FISH!!!
Even our manager Mike Lembo played both sides against the middle. For promoting the first LP, Mike sent out a distress flag with a DOT and a DASH imprinted on the front and a book titled, Greatest Italian Heroes! Then for the REVENGE record, he sent out a pillow case with the imprinted words “WHAT CAN I DO FOR MIKE LEMBO TODAY” written on it.
Our first record release party was a combined party for ROBIN LANE, and MARTIN BRILEYheld at Mikes lower west side apartment. It was at least an effort, Revenge had none.
I’ve never heard from Mike or the Empire clowns again, and don’t expect too. I think they justkept running. But — if I were religious — I’d think hell’s got company comin!! Ha Ha !!!
As for Randy’s role after the A&M experience? Well, I tried to convince him, that as a band, we stood a much better chance jumping labels / manager / and Empire Project, than each other, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears. He wanted to go it alone, and like the last line of the chorus in the song Revenge, “You Got Your self In The End”!!
SR: You and Danny Shmitt tried to get a deal in 1985, was this as Mayday or a new band and what happened?
SJ: Ya — after MAYDAY broke up, we all split town for a spell. I worked with the band LaRoux from Baton Rouge Louisiana, as both Danny and Charley went back to Wisconsin to play witha band called, Short Stuff. After a year, we were all back in NYC teaming up with this hot shot guitar player from Yugoslavia, Andrej Yanijitz. Another six string slinger with a need for major volume. After an hour on stage with him, WHAT? Was often the only thing I had to say for the rest of the night. Matter of fact — I still can’t hear for shit.
Since David had moved to Florida, we added Michael “Beanie” Jordan on keys. He’d played for years in a band called MOON BEAM. This guy was the strangest, yet coolest key’s man I have ever had the pleasure. With that, we decided to give MAYDAY, another shot.
While we were still signed to A&M, I’d developed a close friendship with the companies East Coast A&R rep, Hernando Courtright. With him as our new manager it seemed we were firmly back on track, and going for broke.
Both Hernando and wife / partner Doreen had previously worked for major labels before they respectfully left to form COURTRIGHT MANAGEMENT INC. With both of them in our corner, itseemed everything was possible.
Determined to do it right this time, we entered weeks of rehearsals, and playing clubs around the city and Long Island. With our management funding the rehearsals, showcases, and other assorted promotions, the band was eventually granted a demo deal with EPIC RECORDS and by1985 we’d signed a publishing deal with WARNER / CHAPPELL. We then concentrated our search for the right record label, when another complication came up. Due to family concerns, Danny had again decided to return to Wisconsin and our forward motion came to a stop.
Although it sucked to loose Danny, we were once again joined by fellow SUN drummer RobGottfried, and within a few weeks, MAYDAY was back out performing live, and doing show cases around town. We opened up for Striper at the Ritz, and King Cobra at the old studio 54.
Suddenly, with several major labels finally interested, ANDREJ decided he wanted to cashin his new found notoriety, and go SOLO. That was extremely disappointing after all we had achieved as a band to reclaim our second chance.
We brought Tony Bruno into the fold, but as it turned out, he too was unwilling to committo the band long term. By now, New York City was becoming a very difficult a place to hold a band together, especially when Hernando now remained determined to divide his interest in MAYDAY with ANDREJ. Which in my opinion served neither cause, and had he used the balls between his legs at the time, he’d have told Andrej to go it alone, and thus providing him with a little needed incentive to see this through. After all —– Andrej was jumping ship in themiddle of the sea. And this to my way of thinking — was as wrong as the day is long to thoseremaining on board. Why in the hell would you want to reward that crap?
Charley and Beanie began playing with Rick Derringer, while Rob, still living in Connecticut, continued doing his ROB THE DRUMMER thing. He later record drum tracks on Andrejs solo demo, which in my opinion, basically sounded like a poor mans version of Malmsteen.
Although, I still felt inspired to continue, the boyz had by now made other plans, and so itwas my decision to let the band MAYDAY, go the way of the tide.
I don’t really know what makes musicians so temperamental, but it’s always been a struggle to bind the forces of nature. After all, when musicians become partners in the music business, and performers become partners in the performing arts, it’s the artists who become partners in the music business who often become nothing at all. You may want to read that again!!
SR: What happened to the members of Mayday and do you have any contact with them today?
SJ: This past May 2nd 2004, marked the twenty-four year anniversary since MAYDAY first signed with A&M Records. Charley, Rob, myself and many others, held dinner in China Town to commemorate the years of friendship, and like the old day’s, it was a greatest ballbust’s ever.
Although Randy has refused all attempts I’ve made to communicate, and Andrej has not been heard from in years, plans were set in motion to record with another guitar player who I’ve beenwriting songs with for many years.
Also missing from the dinner, was Spike, but he later picked us up at CBGB’s for a rock an roll tour of almost every new club in Manhattan. Front door service, open bar, and a great time washad by all who came along. What a home coming!! It was great!!
Later that month, Rob, Charley, and I, recorded six songs at a friends home studio in NJ. It was amazing to have these guy’s lay it down with so much power, style and feeling. Though it didn’tresult in as yet a finished product, we’re definitely going to have another go at it ASAP.
I’m also in the process of recording vocals on a new song Charley had written and recorded,and plans to put on his first solo CD. We speak quite often, and if things work out, I’ll be going back east to record more often in the coming years.
Charley is the one constant from that band, he’s been a shadow, a foundation, and my closest musical companion since 1978 and none has given so much of them selves to make these bandsand music happen. He’s the most incredible performer bass player I have ever known. He Is TheReal Deal. He’s still playing with Rick Derringer, and if you doubt, check it out!!!
Rob Gottfried, wow, Monster with the heart of gold. He was the main reason I joined SUN, because once I heard him play — I knew there was nothing we couldn’t do musically. His powerand smooth groove, he’s got it all. He’s still doing ROB THE DRUMMER, Check it out at his web site www.robthedrummer.com.
I have just recently been in contact with Niki Buzz, who is now living in the Netherlands. He’s still extremely active in music, fronting his own band on guitar and vocals.
Greg Gerson is still living in the village. He performs with a number of projects both live and in the studio. After leaving MAYDAY, Greg went on to record and tour with Billy Idol. He’s an amazingly talented musician, like many artist he’s a bit difficult to work with at times, and with that, he’s got no problem here!
Mark “The Shark” Kaufman is now a PILOT working out of Charlotte, NC. He’s also involveddoing several musical projects, though most often just for fun. We’ll be hooking up out here inLA in the near future. Should be a great time, and who knows, maybe we’ll throw down some music as well. He’s a really great friend, and it’s always a gas to hear from him.
Beanie left for Europe in the late 80’s and I have only heard from others, that he’s still there. Imust admit, he’s probably one of the most interesting people I’d ever worked with, and one hellof a song writer as well. I’d love to hear from him, and in time, I hopefully will.
Bill Lazwell went on to co-write and produce the hit song “ROCKIT” for Herbie Hancock which had made a definite difference in his musical life. He’s now become a major success in the prod-of hip hop, jazz, and art rock. He’s no doubt the most musically successful one of us, with as many credits, as awards. It would be great to work with him as well, though I’ve not spoken withhim in years.
Tony Bruno has recently been out with Enrique Iglesias. We’ve always remained friends and Ialways enjoyed working with him. He’s one of the best guitar players I’ve ever known and I wish him all the luck in the world.
The last time I heard from Andrej was after he left the USA to return to Yugoslavia in a sail boat with his wife and child in tow. We spoke after he arrived, and later sent me a record of a band covering our entire MAYDAY demo, note for note, sung in the native lingo of course!! Very strange indeed! I can only assume, that at this point in time, his dream of being the next guitar god, has long been replaced by fatherhood.
David Beck, HMMM, I have not seen or spoken with him in many years, but Charley ran into him a few years back, and I understand he’s now, playing key’s, and managing his own catering service in Florida. I’ll look forward to hearing from him as well someday.
Randy Fredrix remains a mystery!! I’ve not personally heard from him in several years. But I dospeak with ex-manager Charley Martin on occasion, who in turn, tells me he’s doing fine.
After fifteen years, I finally got back in touch with one of my closest friends and MAYDAY’sfinal sound engineers, Jimmy Blich. He’s been out to LA several times to hang out with me and even joined me when we visited the old stomping grounds during a reunion last May in N.Y.C.
He’s always been a great part of my support system back in the NYC day’s. Vinny who worked sound for NRG here in LA also lives in NYC now while working sound for MTV. I believe it’s these types of friends and committed allies that enable us to move forward with a smile, while recovering from disappointments of the past.
Eddie, and I also remain very close friends, and in fact, lives just around the corner from me here in LA. He still play’s monster drums whenever asked, and has recently built me a new studio recording system. That guy is amazingly energetic, and if I didn’t know better, brothersfrom another mother.
Spike, aka Glenn Kaufman, still travels the road as stage production manager working with several bands and coordinating major concert events. We speak together often and he remainsalert for the next CALL OF DISTRESS!!! MY MAN SPIKE!!!
Danny Shmitt, is my deepest disappointment, and nothing I can say, would truly express theloss I feel. Where there’s life there’s hope! But since Danny’s death, it’s been tough to except, we’ll never rock together again.
Danny died of an overdose of love. Because, when a person is loved so much by so many others, it becomes clear at some point, there’s just no way to give it all back. I don’t believe alcohol or drug had anything to do with it, Love was the real reason!! In his case, it wasn’tenough to have it, Danny also had to have a way to give it back!! Music was always Danny’scalling. It was his vehicle to deliver love to those he left behind. Although he accomplisheddoing it many times over, it was never really enough to satisfy his need. He’ll be missed forever!!
SR: In 1986 you started a band with Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge, what happened with that project?
SJ: In 1986, after the new MAYDAY disbanded, Hernando and Doreen decided to fund my trip toLA to join forces with them. Rudy and Tommy had been playing with OZZY OSBOURNE when theplane crash that killed RANDY RHOADS left a major hole in they’re hearts, and touring lives.
Hernando suggested after speaking with them, that we form an alliance. After all, they needed a singer, and I needed a band!!
It wasn’t my first choice to leave NY, but in light of my situation, and the fact my little brother,older sister, and my Mother were now living here, it seemed like a great chance to start fresh andbridge the gaps of time and space within my own family.
I had moments of doubt based on the reputations of both Rudy and Tommy as hired guns, butafter several long phone conversations, in which both convinced me that they’d had enough ofthe salary + premium crap and now wanted to have as they put it, ” a piece of the pie,” I tookthem at their word, and came west. Like I always said, if ya gotta starve for your art, it’s a goodidea to live where you can steel oranges all year around.
I drove cross country in my 1963 east coast mustang from hell. A true road warrior machine given to me by a friend only weeks before I left NY. From the first day in LA, I was blown away at how different life here seemed in comparison.
Only fifteen minutes in LA, and I already ran into a good friend Sirius Trixon from NYC walking down the street. Small world!!!
Upon my arrival at Rudy’s, I was greeted by all involved with open arms. We wrote songs and recorded daily Via my 4 track recorder. Tommy was one of the funniest S.O.B’s I’d ever met andRudy, though quite shy, became fairly involving.
With Lanny Cordola on guitar, and Philip Wolfe on keys, it seemed like the band was tighter than a gnat’s ass and ready to perform in no time flat.
But after we agreed on the name of the band being NRG, Rudy and Tommy refused to perform in clubs around town stating that it seemed, like a step backwards. HELLO???
I usually lived in the back of the studio during the week with my NRG sound man Vinny, and onthe weekends, I’d stay with my Mother and little brother who lived two hours south of the city.
Hernando and Doreen paid for rehearsals and supported us with trips out west to arrange ourshowcases for the major labels.
Though they had also given us some personal financial assistance during the several months of rehearsals and showcases, I felt it would only be a matter of time before these guy’s received offers to join other more established bands. The lure of big bucks that had long sustained them over the years was a constant pressure that made it into every conversation towards the end.
Then, despite the constant rumors and consequent denials by Rudy and Tommy regarding their loyalty to the band, both left to film the “Still Of The Night” video, and the rest is history.
The only tapes I have of that band are rough 4 track recordings. The songs are amazing, even in that format. It’s a shame they never made to vinyl. But as I said before — where there’s life — there’s hope!!
I later recorded songs with John Sykes, Tony Franklin, and Carmine Appice, in the Whitesnake offshoot BLUE MURDER, but was again disappointed, when John decided to sing it himself. It wasn’t anything personal, as I have known Carmine for years. I was told that John just wanted to show the world that he could sing better than David Coverdale. Well, what do you think?
SR: You co-wrote some songs for House Of Lords, how was that?
SJ: That was cool, at first, but then it became a question of fair play once again. “Wanna Be Loved”was one of many songs I’d written with Mandy Meyer, after NRG imploded. Between the shifty Greg Giuffria, and the “I’m A Dick” Gene Simmons, I don’t know who was worse.
They insisted on keeping 100% of the publishing, saying it was an all or nothing deal. They gave me a couple of thousand for the two songs, and I kept the Mechanical. I gave them all the publishing, and in short, I got screwed!!
I later discovered, a few other song ideas of mine had ended up on the record as well, without my permission. I guess there’s no honor amongst thieves, and that’s what both Mandy and I felt we were dealing with there.
“Wanna Be Loved” became the first single, while “Talkin Bout Love” went on the 3rd recordbut was never released as a single. I wrote and recorded that song by myself, but when thecredits showed up on the cover of the record with many other names added to it, Well, that just somewhat validates my above comment. Doesn’t it! I mean, just because one can take, doesn’tmean one should!! Ethics, ever hear of them Greg? Gene???
I later heard my song TALKIN BOUT LOVE on the radio, and despite the facts, I still felt a bitexcited that it was on.
Well, as it goes, I haven’t spoken to Greg or Gene in years, and after the records came out and I didn’t even receive a complementary copy for my contributions, I really don’t care if I ever do.
I’ve never had much time for people who selfishly host off the work of others. So, as they sayback east F**k’m!!!
SR: What did you do when you were no longer in the music business, and was it a big adjustment?
SJ: Ok, I’m not sure how to answer that. I’ve always been extremely active as a writer over the years, and never really considered myself in or out of the business. In the broader sense of your question, I do feel strange every time I pay my bills on time.
I’ve been a musician for many years, and yes, to be inactive as a performer is weird for sure.As a performer, you get used to the adulation, validation, and confirmation you get from the crowd. I still jam once and awhile. I’ve also done guest spots with bands I’ve known over theyears.
But I also get most of what I need right here in my own studio. Look, there’s really nothing in the world that can truly replace the feeling of performing live, especially with the right band. It’s simply euphoric!!
SR: Have you worked with any other bands over the years?
SJ: I have had the pleasure of working with several great players and bands. Loudness from Japan, is one of my favorites. I co-wrote Lyrics and sang background vocals on a few albums.The singer Minoru (Micki) Niihara remains one of my favorite people on this planet.
Another band was EZO also from Japan, and the boyz in LaRoux. I’ve written songs with Bob Kulick for Skull back in the 80’s.
I’d sang on several other projects, including the song “Minds Made Up” in the Walt Disney movie “MY SCIENCE PROJECT”. That was a gas and also the first time I had a chance to workwith my good friend Bobby Held. Bob and I also met up when I returned to NYC, last May. Wespeak on occasion and look forward to doing something musically in the near future. I dig this guy and more importantly, I trust him with a song.
These days are much different for me. I write and record, and I don’t really think too much about it. If anyone I know wants me to write with them and that song never gets on a CD, it’s all the same to me. Its music, and I do it for the love, if nothing else. Remember, a great songwill last forever!
With several hundred songs under my watch, I’m still gettin off on it, so I think I’ll just keep on write more!! It’s all just part of this BEST KEPT SECRET thing I’m working on!
SR: Here are some of my favorite Mayday songs, what are your memories of each?
– Chicago Nights
SJ: Great homage to life in the Mid West. Like many, Randy had some small town separation problems that definitely resemble those of my own. It seemed like an anthem for a time.
Anyone who’s ever tried to escape life in suburbia can tell ya, it’s often harder than it seems!!
– New York City
SJ: That’s one of the songs I’d asked to do again, but was told it was a keeper. It was fun to do, and like some of the older songs, it was a show stompin son of a bitch live.
SJ: This was a cool song that was originally called Romance! But without the visual? It didn’treally have that much going for it. It’s one of the original SUN songs and live, it was just a monster stomper from hell.
I remember one show at CBGB’s when I jumped out into the crowd and landed into the theater seats. Leaning over the back of the chair, I’d hit my head on the corner of the table where my girl friend and her mother were sitting. Blood streaming, I never felt a thing, andended the show with a hand stand on the base drum into a backward flip. Ya, I guess it earnedits place on the record.
SJ: Now you’re talkin!! That song told of a very deeply hurt individual. One who’s personal losshad suddenly turned into a cool spite. While tormented in self pity, the painful possibility of passing forward is all that’s left. A sort of “I hope you hurt as much as me” while still praying for a chance to say “I told you so”! It’s a very twisted and week circumstance, a load of passive aggressive evil right out of the black heart of Dir Fredrix Himself! I gave it my pain, and I can still relate to it now.
SJ: Fun song all the way around, but once again, half baked!! Live it would rip your dick off!!
– This Girl’s On Fire
SJ: Oh Baby, oh baby oh!! Cock Rock!! It’s Big Cords!!! Good Groove!! Simple Lyric’s work well in a bar. I loved singing that song — but again — scratch voc made it a tough listen.
Seriously, there were so many good songs that didn’t make it on the record, songs like L.S.D.and FREE YOUR MIND, WHITE LIGHT, PHOTOGRAPH, ROCKIN CHAIR, GOODTIMES, just to name a few. Had the band stayed intact — I’m sure we’d have knocked down the wallsof any who would have tried to block us. But unfortunately, the walls came from within.
SR: Are there any plans to release the Mayday album on compact disc?
SJ: Now that seems to be the question of all questions!! I don’t know!! Seriously, I’d absolutely love it. I have been asked that same question many times over the years, and since I don’t havethe master tapes, or the copy rights, it’s not my call. But perhaps someone reading this could help make it happen?
I would also like to release a third record based on the EPIC demos which kick total ass as well.They may also require a bit of fine tuning first, but I still have the master tapes so we’ll see.
The only thing I’d like better is to record another MAYDAY reunion record with Randy, Rob,Charley, and myself. It would be an unbelievable record I’m sure. Maybe Bill Lazwell could co-produce it. OK, Back to reality, don’t count on that anytime soon. Besides, that would require a measure of accountability, and that’s a big big order. Even for a man of god!!!
SR: In all of your years in the business, what musicians gained your respect and which left you shaking your head?
SJ: Well, in what order do you want them? Let’s start with the good guy’s, as it’s always nice to end on a bitter note! Ha Ha!! I have made several close friends in this biz who have been loyalto the bone!! Most of them unfortunately are better kept secrets than myself. They have been the unsung heroes who have been plagued with “Almost made it, but no cigar “syndrome.
They are not the ones you’ll find in the “Where are they now” column? But more like the ones in the “Who ever really gave a shit in the first place”! These friends are the shits to my giggles!!
The players I’ve mentioned here and performed with over the years, have always been the best. They may not have achieved the greatest level of success or reached the top of the charts. But like so many others, they kept my rockin world going round!! Look, I’ve livedthrough a lot of musical changes, survived almost every aspect of a musician’s life. I have loved no less than a thousand times, and hated no man more than myself. Regardless of thedisagreements, the loss of hope, or the outright wars, it’s always been about brotherhood here.
Everyone I have had the pleasure and pain of working with have all contributed greatly to my personal love of music. They have inspired me in they’re own way’s, many times over, and I am eternally grateful. As for the down side? YING YANG!!
SR: Have record company politics ever forced you to do things you didn’t agree with?
SJ: Not really, since I’ve not had to deal with them directly. And let’s face it, I’m not Bon Jovi or Prince, and my recording history was never so successful that it would have mattered anyway.
But as things go, the record companies have all blown it big time. As I said before, it used to take a label two to three albums to break an artist or band. Now it’s hit or bust!!
But even though the fast food dirty politics of the jack asses in the industry who have done they’re jobs horribly, it seems many of the most talented people in the world still manage to make it to the top of the pile.
It’s not easy to be screwed, ripped off, lied to, rejected, and still get it up! But that’s life, weare all truly the authors of our own condition. If you’re honest with yourself, it doesn’t matter if you achieve anyone else’s expectations. The measure is internal, the bonus is everything else!!
SR: Do you ever miss life on the road?
SJ: Absolutely!! It really seems like another lifetime ago. But I’m sure if I would have continued,I would have always tried to maintain the balance. You see, I never do anything all the time — including nothing at all.
So, of course I miss life on the road. I miss the people you meet if only for a moment. I miss the sights of places I’ve never been before. I miss the different rooms and stages, the lights and the sound systems. But most importantly I’ve miss the players I’ve traveled and performed with. The brothership of musicians is everything you ever dreamed it would be. Even the hardtimes seemed less difficult when as a band, we all went through it together.
SR: What are your thoughts on the state of rock today?
SJ: I think music is just like everything else. It goes through phases, when it sucks it brings ya down, when it’s good, it gives you inspiration. Josh Groban to Gavin DeGraw, Glenn Hughesto Eminem, Avril to Shania Twain. It’s all good stuff. I don’t go for the (rip your face off) crap.
I don’t like thump junk or jazz much either. But if it swings and has a grab ya hook, I’m ok with it.
I do think, with so much music out there, it’s getting harder to find ones own original sound and style these days. When I listen to the radio it’s often difficult to identify the different bands or artists due in part to the similarity in sound and writing styles. For every new artist, three more come out with a very similar vibe and it takes away from the uniqueness of the first artist. Over saturation is only part of the problem, and the record labels suck for doing it.
While many unique artist’s never get the breaks, there always seems to be enough room for the cookie cutters.
Plus, many of the band’s and player’s coming onto the scene today, had been influenced by the so called players of the 90’s who never mastered they’re instruments in the first place and now, consequently they suck as players themselves.
It’s difficult to develop style and sound, let alone chops and technique. No wonder there areso few solos being played on records these days, it takes more than basic ability to do a good one. Jeff Beck, Blackmore, Page, Hendrix, Stevie Ray, Clapton, Howe, Gilmore, were just a few of the great guitarist over the years who not only wrote great songs, but also wrote great solos. Even the Drummers, Keyboards and Bass players back in the day, were great soloists as well.
Still, I do like many of the songs written today even without solos. Eminem has become one of my favorite artists ever. He’s been written off by many rockers. But as I see it, he’s the most prolific lyricist since John Lennon, Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan.
That dude has more story, rhythm and rhyme, attitude and vibe in any one song than most artists have on their entire CD. Black or white!!!
Josh Groban is like the David Gilmore of vocals. He can say more with one note than half ofthe singers of rock can say with a hundred. He’s just that good, and it doesn’t stop there, he’s also a great drummer and plays keys with complete fluidity. It’s just my opinion, but with all his talent and ability to make good music, we’ll be hearing from him for a long time to come.
But the most under rated rock singer on this planet is in my eyes, Glenn Hughes! This man ismy absolute favorite rock singer period!! There is nothing he can’t sing and for anyone who hasn’t done a bit of listening, since the Hughes and Thrall days — Go check out ADDICTION!!
SR: Are you still writing, and will we ever see new music by Steve Johnstad?
SJ: As I mentioned before, I am always writing and recording. As it stands now, there’s no reason to stop a good thing! I’d love to release my new material, and possibly get back outand perform.
It used to be, I was too young to do the music I liked. And now, I sometimes wonder if I’m too old to do the music I like. Sometimes I feel I’m so ripe I’m rotting. But still, every timeI plug in, or grab the mic, it’s just like it’s always been for me, fun as hell.
I’m not cut out for the work force, and I don’t get on my knees for anyone. I’ll probably never be able to retire should I live that long, and so, it leaves me with little choice but to continue doing what I do. Who knows, a song is never really old until it’s new. As I havementioned, I have now written and recorded several hundred songs. It only takes one to make a life changing experience. If I’m lucky, who knows?
In the meantime, you know where you can find me! Right between the “who gives a shit”and “where is he now” column where many, others from the 70’s and 80’s ended up. And,even though I’m not where I’d like to be as a singer and occasionally I bite, I never suck!!!
SR: Any last words?
SJ: Are you kidding? I feel like I’ve just written a novel, not to mention all the crap I deletedin the process. Seriously, I would just like to say, all my life I have considered my family and friends to be my wealth and my fortune. I’d like to thank you for this opportunity to reflect.
The years of the MAYDAY band will affectionately remain part of my musical history. The interest you’ve shown here, has created yet another significant chapter, and I’ll always, remain grateful for this opportunity you’ve given me.
Take care, and remember who luvs ya!!
Thanks to Steve “Zeus” Johnstad