Skid Row Still Lapping North America


February 27, 2008

Hair metal stardom and drag racing go together like Motley Crue and drug abuse. However, few people actually get to live the experience of kickstarting the hearts of 20 000 screaming fans in an arena and also blazing past the finish line in a dragster. But Rachel Bolan, bassist for veteran hard rock act Skid Row, is both a seasoned rocker and racer. His passion for driving started around the same time as his passion for music, and it hasn’t slowed–even after being on the road for two decades.

“My older brother was into [racing]; he always took me to drag races and stock car races when I lived in New Jersey when I was a kid,” the laid-back Bolan explains over the phone. “I became a Dale Earnhardt fan through him and got into NASCAR, which I still love. It’s cool now because I know a lot of the drivers.”

Born James Southworth, Bolan founded Skid Row in 1986 with current guitarist Dave “The Snake” Sabo. The band was one of the last hair metal acts to find success in the mainstream music market, as their self-titled debut went multi-platinum, and the followup Slave to the Grind was also a major hit in the US.

Following some internal skirmishes that led to several lineup shuffles, the departure of singer Sebastian Bach, a hiatus period, and a number of drummer changes that Bolan describes as “very Spinal Tap-ish,” the band has settled into a relatively stable lineup in the past few years, albeit with fewer terminal cases of ’80s hair. The group has toured with some of the biggest names in rock, including Aerosmith, Guns ‘N Roses, Tesla, and a certain group of face painted rock stars that Bolan describes as very influential.

“Doing the KISS tour–nothing has to be said about that, growing up as a KISS fan,” Bolan notes enthusiastically. “[Gene Simmons] was one of my biggest influences. I mean, I didn’t even know what the bass was [growing up], but I wanted to play with the guy that spit blood. We did, I think, 130 shows with them, and I must have watched them in the majority of those shows. It was great.”

Unlike KISS, Skid Row remains an active band, releasing a new album, Revolutions Per Minute, in 2006. The group continues to tour and is writing a new album at the moment, and despite Bolan’s continual involvement with the band, he finds time to act as a producer, and is also currently writing a book based on his experiences on the road, containing his memoirs and stories about the numerous rock stars he’s met and celebrities he’s almost partied with.

“The most interesting person that I almost partied with was David Lee Roth,” Bolan recalls with a laugh. “I met him back in the day [at a club]. It was just a chance meeting, and he offered to buy me a drink. He ended up walking away without paying for the drink.”

When not on tour with the group, Bolan devotes most of his time to his other hobby: burning rubber and capturing the checkered flag. His fondness for racing inspired him to start his own motorsports company, which allowed him a chance to go beyond his stage presence to connect with fans.

“I started Rachel Bolan Motorsports so that Skid Row fans could see what I do outside the band. I race cars called legend cars. I also race thunder roadsters and go-karts. Whenever I get a chance to race, I always put my schedule up so fans can hang out and watch me race. I still make a lot of noise, but they can see me do something other than jump around on stage.”

After 22 years of high-octane performances, playing music still hasn’t gotten old for Bolan. He says that he still gets the same thrill as he did when he started, and in that, there’s a certain familiarity between his two lifelong loves.

“Racing and playing are so similar. Putting on my fire suit is like putting on my stage gear. Walking down the hallway is like getting ready to go onto the race track.

“It’s the same thing: you hit that pedal, and it’s like, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Skid Row.’ Except I don’t have to worry about flipping when I’m onstage.”

Two decades of skidding out

* While Skid Row’s self-titled debut went quintuple platinum and had three hit singles, the success was bittersweet: they’d waived their publishing royalty rights to Jon Bon Jovi’s Underground Music Company. Bon Jovi, along with associate Richie Sambora, got most of that cash, though Sambora gave it back after a very public dispute. Bon Jovi did not.

* In 1989, the band’s then-vocalist, Sebastian Bach, was heavily criticized for donning a shirt that read “AIDS kills fags dead” during a concert. A fan had tossed it onstage, and Bach put it on without looking. He later apologized and made a large donation to an AIDS charity.

* In 1996, Bach was fired, and a few months later, so was drummer Rob Affuso. Though Skid Row never officially split, the remaining members toured under the name Ozone Monday for a while, eventually reforming Skid Row in 1999 with new members. Bach went on to play in a few other bands and dabble in Broadway theatre, playing Riff Raff in a stage production of Rocky Horror Picture Show and Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar. He was fired from the latter for his diva-like demands.

* Despite releasing two post-Bach albums, the band’s still waiting for that next hit. Although Bach’s gone on record saying he’d welcome an original line-up reunion, the rest of the band seem adamantly opposed.

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