Ruben Mosqueda of KNAC.com spoke with Little Caesar frontman Ron Young. Highlights from the interview appear below.
KNAC.com: The production on [your EP] Name Your Poison was handled by Joe Hardy who is known for his work with ZZ Top and Steve Earle. How did you land him to work on that material?
Young: Well, we were fans of his work so that was one reason we got him. The thing with working with guys like Jimmy Iovine or John Kalodner is that when you’re linked to them, people will take your calls. [laughs] They don’t want to piss off powerful guys in the industry. So we sent Joe some demos and he checked them out. If you remember back at that time there weren’t a lot of “bluesy” rock bands that had the support of the record label. It was more of the “hair metal” kind of thing and he wasn’t a fan of that stuff.
Joe as you said worked with ZZ Top and Steve Earle and there was no way a guy like that was going to work with bands like Poison or Warrant. We wanted him to do the debut record but we actually wound up working with Bob Rock as a compromise between us and John Kalodner; it turned out to be a slick sounding record.
We went to Memphis at Ardent [Studios] to meet with Joe and he was just a super good guy. Joe totally got the band and he was super fun to work with, but Geffen [Records] didn’t care for what we had come up with. So they had decided that they would “let” us put out an EP from the material that we had recorded. The Name Your Poison was a totally contrived thing, man. We were trying to follow Guns N’ Roses; we’ll put out an EP on Metal Blade [Records] and make it look like it’s “organic.” It wasn’t. [laughs] It was totally contrived. [laughs] We felt that this was a great opportunity to introduce the band then we’d follow it up with the debut album.
KNAC.com: I can’t imagine that you [the band] selected Bob Rock to produce the album? At that point he was best known for his work on [Motley Crue’s] Dr. Feelgood and [The Cult’s] Sonic Temple.
Young: We wanted a guy like Joe Hardy, that was more us.
We were about ½ done tracking the Little Ceasar record when Dr. Feelgood went to number one and it went from Bob Rock making a “Caesar record” to Caesar making a “Bob Rock record.” We had these big fights over what the record was sounding like and it wasn’t what we wanted.
We were getting ready to go up to work with Bob Rock [in Vancouver] when John Kalodner and Bob got into a fight over Blue Murder. John wanted Bob to get back into the studio with them and we just sat around with our thumbs up our asses when that got resolved. There were all of these spats and fights that delayed things… Jimmy Iovine felt that if we had John Kalodner onboard working on the project we’d improve our powerbase at the label. John started to stick his two cents in and things just went “downhill.” I clearly remember walking down the hallways of the Geffen Records offices and he was having a little listening session in his office for the first Blue Murder single. So he pulls me in there and he has all the label guys in there and they’re all bobbing their heads, the song ends and they’re all like “Oh, it sounds amazing” and this and that. Then he asks me what I think. I said, “There’s no hook!” It was like I farted in church. [laughs] He looks at me as says; “What are you talking about?! Don’t you hear those drum sounds?!” I said, “Kids don’t buy drum sounds?! I don’t know what you guys think?! I mean it sounds good, but there’s no hook!” [laughs] It was from there forward that John was really angry at me. [laughs]
We got involved with people with egos and frankly everything that could go wrong with us on the business end of things did go wrong. Our label manager got fired for masturbating on his secretary, that was two weeks into our single release. [laughs] Three weeks into our single release David Geffen sold the label. In the meantime our records weren’t on shelves, but in a Warner Brothers warehouse and the new distributor was now BMG. So, we’re on MTV and in the stores there’s no product. As a result we drop off the charts and everything comes to a grinding halt. Then a marketing guy came along and cut budgets and the final nail in the coffin was Jimmy Iovine leaving Geffen to launch Interscope Records. David Geffen asked Jimmy if he would give the distribution to him and Jimmy said “no.” So all of a sudden David hates us and Jimmy didn’t have a band. It was all of these things that happened in a period of six weeks that pulled us into the swamp.
When you get involved with guys with egos and they hit a bump in the road, they can’t recover from it and they want to bury it. For them, it easier to bury it than to try to breathe life back into it. So away we go into the toilet, it didn’t just happen to us, it’s happened to millions of other bands.
KNAC.com: Were you in favor of the label launching the Little Ceasar record with the cover of Chain Of Fools? Was it the good move or would you have gone with something else?
Young: No! [laughs] I didn’t want to record it. [laughs] It’s so funny that you brought that up. Chain Of Fools was was the first thing we played when I first put the band together. I was sitting here in L.A. I was thinking I can’t tease up my hair I don’t look good in spandex, I don’t want to lose my goatee. I wanted to find four other guys that were gritty that looked like men. [laughs] I wanted to find guys that wanted to play bluesy, soulful music which was so far removed from the “pop-metal” market that was happening at the time.
I wanted to take an Aretha Franklin song and make into a hard rock song. That’s just what we did and it stuck with us. It became our moniker. John wanted us to record it, we didn’t want to track it and then he decides to use it as the first single. It’s a great song but as a song, it’s “not a great song.” [laughs] Aretha Franklin made it a great song because she’s Aretha Franklin! John kept on saying “It worked for Van Halen, it worked for Van Halen.” I was like “John, that’s Van Halen.” It was building momentum right out of the box. We sent people the video and the single and two weeks later things just fell apart.
We were on regular rotation with Z-Rock, they loved and supported us. When our label manager began to make an effort to break us as a Top 40 band, well then Z-Rock said “F–k You” and we dropped from their rotation. I mean the label wanted to turn us into a pop band and two weeks later stations dropped us out of their rotation. As a I said the label manager got fired later for jerking off on his secretary. Needless to say, his judgment wasn’t great at that point in time.[laughs]
KNAC.com: You were a part of Manic Eden which featured Adrian Vandenberg, Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge, all who had previously played together in Whitesnake. In retrospect what do you think about that album and your time in Manic Eden?
Young: Yeah, it was basically me and the Whitesnake guys; I’m proud of that record. JVC issued it in Japan and SPV released the album about a year later. That was really weird, because I got a call from Adrian, we were acquaintances. He said he and the guys were going to do a record with James Christian from House Of Lords. They had done some demos and they didn’t think that he had the “bluesy” feel that they were going for. They wanted a more stripped down sound than they had with Whitesnake. He sent me some demos and there were some really fun songs on there. We finished the songs and we went into the studio to make the record. There was a deal with JVC in Japan and Adrian had the rights to market the record outside of Japan. Adrian thought that was a great deal since it would get the record paid for and then we’d shop it with the majors in the United States.
We get the record done and they were bummed out because it wasn’t some overproduced f–king Whitesnake sounding record. You have to keep in mind, that kind of stuff kept going for another 10 years, they never got the “grunge” thing there. They wanted a “classic metal” kind of thing. It was shy of gold in Japan. Once we started shopping it with the majors here in America they were like “Nah, that’s not really what we’re into anymore.” They never even heard it. They wanted nothing to do with us based on who was in the band, they didn’t think anyone was going to buy “Whitesnake with another singer.” It was incredible. Between the three other guys combined they’d sold 20 million records. No one would pick it up. I remember we had one meeting where this guy was like; “Okay guys we want to do things but we’re going to market it as Ron Young’s project, because you other guys are kinda dated.” I thought Adrian’s head was going to explode! [laughs] It went nowhere and everyone went their separate ways and did something else, because they all had families to feed.
KNAC.com: [On your new album, Eight] I love that you kept to the classic formula of 10 tracks. Records that feature over 9-10 tracks tend to be filler heavy. I didn’t find that to be the case with Eight. The tracks that made the cut, were they written specifically for this album?
Young: They were written with the new record in mind. We haven’t released a new studio album since 2012 and that was done by design. I was just tired of having the revolving guitarist in the band, we’ve had 7 guitarists in and out of the band over the years. Apache left after the first record and since then we’ve we gone through all of these guys; all great people and fantastic musicians but they do this for a living and they have other things going on. I told the guys I wasn’t going to make another studio record until we have 5 contributing members in the band. We’re fans of music and you can hear that in our music. There’s things that sound like Angus Young, Chuck Berry or Mick Ronson, we can’t help it’s who we are.
KNAC.com: At the moment I’m really digging 21 Again, Mama Tried, Vegas and Crushed Velvet.
Young: Thank you. We did this record in 22 days and they weren’t full days, our day started at like 5 pm when we got off work. We just needed to get a warm sound on this record and if you have the right producer and the band goes in knowing the arrangements of the songs there’s no reason why you couldn’t get a great sounding record in the same amount of time. If you don’t overthink it or overproduce it you’ll be fine.
KNAC.com: I think you were just describing Blue Murder.
Young: [bursts into laughter] Listen, if that works for you fine, but all I’ve ever wanted to be is a black guy in a shiny suit in 1968. If I’m a white guy then I want to be Paul Rodgers or Rod Stewart or Bon Scott who worshipped the black guys in the shiney suits in 1968…In the 80s all of that went away, everyone wanted to be Eddie Van Halen and they wanted to impress people with their prowess. We wondered what had happened to the songwriting. I mean Cherry Pie isn’t going to be remembered as a lyrically inspiring song. It was great for its time. We were and still are more old school based and we’re still working at writing “the song.”
KNAC.com: Last thing Ron, Little Caesar got to open for KISS on the Hot In The Shade Tour. What was that experience like for you?
Young: We went out with them for like 6-7 weeks through the Midwest and the Northeast. Being around Gene Simmons for six weeks was a weird exercise in observing a larger than life character control the universe. It was a lot of fun, but strange. This was pre-internet era and we were often times going on before the tickets even said the doors were open. Gene would come up to me and say stuff like “Hey man, you need to shave the goatee and drop that ‘blue collar’ s–t. You guys need to be larger than life.” What he was doing was setting us up to kick us off the tour because once Winger left the tour ticket sales went into the toilet. We replaced Winger for the rest of the tour. I think the best line was when Gene called Jimmy Iovine and said “Jimmy I need to pull your boys from the tour. They’re going over like pork chops at a bar mitzvah!” [laughs] That’s a great f–king line! [laughs] Which was untrue because as the reviews began to show up the reviewers would say how much of an honest band we were. They just wanted us off to get Winger back. They were cancelling shows because the ticket sales were so soft.
KNAC.com: Kind of ironic that Gene was pointing out the “blue collar” look and the goatee because that’s what KISS did for the following record. Gene even grew a goatee!
Young: [bursts into laughter] Dude, that was hysterical wasn’t it?! I remember running into him three months later at The Rainbow [Bar And Grill] I said “Gene, how you doing? What’s with the goatee, dude? Do you remember telling me to shave it off?!” He replied, “Well, if you can’t beat them join ‘em!” [laughs].
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Little Caesar’s Eight was released on March 16th, for more information, please go here.
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