SKID ROW guitarist Dave "Snake" Sabo Tell All Interview
Dave "Snake" Sabo of Skid Row
Here ya go…
Dave “The Snake” Sabo has written some of the most enduring hard rock songs of our generation as a founding member of SKID ROW. He’s toured the world and been a friend or collaborative partner of many of the artists we cover and love. Aside from all that, he is a totally underrated guitar player and easily one of the nicest “rock stars” you will ever run into. I had actually been trying to nail down an interview with Snake for quite some time. This was mentioned in our recent Sebastian Bach interview leading to a whole OTHER discussion about Snake’s concurrent career in artist management. The truth is, Dave Sabo is a very busy guy but recently he found time to call in and give an in-depth interview. He answered everything I asked, addressed our Q&A with his former lead singer and much more. Read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: Thanks for talking to us Snake. Your name came up a few times in the Sebastian interview we just ran and in the interest of fairness we wanted to get ahold of you to give you a chance to respond.
Dave Snake Sabo: First of all thank you John for your patience and diligence in getting this done. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to do it sooner. Had I simply been the desk jockey Sebastian described me as I probably would have been able to get back to you way more quickly (laughs). One of the first things I noticed in his interview with you was that it was clear he has NO IDEA what it is that I do (laughs). He talks about me being a manager and not really a touring act. Then he follows it up by saying he’s not saying that to be a dick (laughs) but that’s kind of a “dick” thing to say. So, I found a lot of what he said to be humorous and ridiculous at the same time to talk shit about my career. His words kind of diminish what I’ve been working so hard at doing these last 6 years in my work. Having said that, I am a GUITAR PLAYER first and foremost and always have been. Skid Row is my band and I read stuff like that and it dawns on me how much Sebastian doesn’t know me or know anything about me even after all these years. That’s fine, it’s not like we’ve made an effort to sit there and follow each other’s careers since the split but still….to put down what I do as a manager and say I simply hook up things for Phil Anselmo is kind of demeaning. Rick Sales is his manager. Is that all Rick does is sit around and arrange interviews for Sebastian?? I doubt it, there’s a LOT that goes into being an artist manager and that usually falls on a publicist which is something Sebastian should know. At the end of the day his interview really just added a little humor to my day.
LRI: Do you have any personal insight as to how he viewed the breakup? It was mentioned that Sebastian didn’t like the material he was presented with?
DSS: I think we all have our own personal viewpoint or truth as far as what we perceive to be behind the breakup that happened all those years ago. I have a pretty good memory John and there’s some truth to what he said but in all honesty this is what I remember. I remember writing six songs and he can’t tell you what those six songs were because in all honesty to the best of my knowledge her never listened to them. Scott McGhee brought them down to his house and said “At least give these a listen” and Sebastian was so pissed off at us at the time and we were just so distant from each other that it just got really bad to the point of him not even LISTENING to the material. From what I was told he just threw the tape at Scott and said “I’m not singing that punk rock bullshit” because that’s just how Sebastian viewed Rachel. That reaction of not even bothering to listen to it was what set me in motion as far as thinking maybe it was just time to move on. The thing is, from the first album on Rachel had ALWAYS brought that punk rock influence to the band, it was nothing new. It was always Rachel that turned the rest of us on to that stuff and had that Ramones or Pistols influence. Songs like “Piece of Me” or “Bonehead” never would have happened were it not for Rachel’s influence.
LRI: I love the passion Sebastian has for everything, he’s almost exhausting to talk with but it’s always fun. Why did things get so bad between Sebastian and the rest of you guys?
DSS: I think a lot of times what happens a lot times in these situations is that people’s idiosyncracies or characters can become masked or hidden when you are experiencing a certain degree of success. When that success starts to fade certain character issues will come out and rear their head be it in a positive way or a negative way.
LRI: You start seeing a different side of someone when you go from playing sold out arenas to sold out clubs.
DSS: Yeah and to be honest it never really bothered me John. I’ve said this a hundred times in interviews so it’s really no news flash, it never really bothered me. I can’t say I was TOTALLY unaffected by it but not to the degree that it affected Sebastian. It really, really affected him when that happened at least from my vantage point. It angered him and he tended to act out and create personal issues with the band at that point. The way he treated Rob was particularly awful at that time and I think a lot of it had to do with us being very cognizant of our waning popularity. Sebastian, for some reason, just took that whole thing very, very personally. I think we all did but I know that I never looked at any of our success or acclaim as a BIRTHRIGHT or that the world owed me it, I understand that level of fame does not last forever. I looked at every bit of it as an absolute gift and still do to this day, including talking to you. To be able to still be involved in this very tough business is AMAZING and I am very, very grateful. I think it is a blessing that all five of the original members of SKID ROW are still in the business even though some of the band are doing their own thing. I never got into this to be a “rock star”. I wanted to be a guitar player and write songs and the fact that I am still able to do that is incredible. To be able to write songs that people enjoy or relate to is amazing. I truly am thankful to be able to play to any sized audience and accomplish what we continue to do.
Snake & Bas back in the day
LRI: Do you question him saying that you and Rachel wanted to control every aspect of the songwriting and that was part of what led him to frustration?
DSS: That is so untrue. If that were true then Sebastian’s name would not be on any of the album credits for SUBHUMAN RACE or any of the other things he got credit for including SLAVE TO THE GRIND. The thing is, to the best of my knowledge Sebastian really didn’t write all that much when he was in the band. We always, always operated on the premise that the best idea wins regardless of who writes it. It’s true that over the course of the band Rachel and I had built the ability to be able to write well together. I can’t really put a finger on why it happened, it just happened. Steven Tyler and Joe Perry write a lot and the other guys write as well but just not as much as that combo. Rachel and I have a certain thing and have always interacted very, very well with one another and those songs are result of that relationship built over time. It NOT that Sebastian and the other guys didn’t attempt to write as much as that they didn’t write as MUCH. Some of what they wrote was very, very good and some of it wasn’t. I’ve always been able to write the best with Rachel and that ended up being a lot of the material the band was built upon. We were always open to other guys in the band writing though because we always wanted SKID ROW to be about the band and the band member’s input and writing.
Classic Snake Sabo
LRI: Sebastian seemed to think your reliance on you and Rachel’s material was your downfall and you were opposed to outside writers or other people’s ideas.
DSS: I don’t remember ever voicing any public opinion about not wanting outside writers although to be honest I might have. It’s not to say that I was opposed to using outside songwriters or controlling it all but just that I thought, maybe not rightfully so, but I thought that given what we had done with the first two records that we were CAPABLE of writing all of our own material. What I didn’t take into consideration was the fact that our relationships to each other was growing toxic. Like I said, I was very adamant that we were able to and capable of writing our own stuff whether that’s true or not is another story. It’s not to say that Rachel and I thought everything we did was gold as Bas says because we were always open to writing with other people if for no other reason than continue to grow and learn. We never thought we couldn’t learn from other writers. We would write all the time with bands we were out on the road with. We wrote on the Aerosmith tour, we worked with Paul Stanley writing for the Revenge album and obviously working with guys like Richie and Jon. We were not at ALL against the idea of learning through collaboration. Maybe this is my ego talking but it’s just that I definitely wanted to keep as much of SKID ROW’s writing “in-house” as possible.
LRI: I am a fan of all of you guys including Rob (Affuso, ex drummer). I don’t think it makes sense for any band to have a divide and conquer approach to the fanbase who obviously connected with all of you to begin with. For many of us it just sucks being made to feel like we should pledge allegiance to one side or the other.
DSS: Yeah, exactly. We’ve never really said that much in the press over the years about how it all broke down. I really have no desire to take childish potshots at Sebastian. I’ve always said that he’s a great singer, a great frontman and a great showman. I’ve always wished the best for him if for no other reason than the fact that we had ten or so years with him where we all accomplished SO much. I’m really, really proud of that and don’t feel the need to slag him or anyone else. We had the privilege of playing for great fans on great tours with great bands and had great management and label support to boot. All of that played a HUGE role in our success. At the end of the day the breakup of the original 5 guys lies on all of us. It was the way we ALL reacted to each other, it was the things we said and did at that point in time.
Snake & Scotti Hill = Cover of Guitar World
LRI: Hopefully I only have a few more questions related to the Sebastian interview (laughs). What about the issue between he and Rachel over the opportunity to open for the KISS reunion? I could sort of relate to his frustration because I’m an insane KISS fan.
DSS: Well, I can’t speak for Rachel but I was embarrassed by the idea of the idea of us going up there and faking it as if there were no issues in the band at that point. The idea of pretending it was all good or going through the motions in front of a massive audience in my home state was not cool. To be clear, it was not an offer of the whole tour it was the one show in New Jersey at the Meadowlands. I could not go up on the stage and make-believe that all was good and we were a gang. Trust me, it broke my heart, that was a lifelong dream of mine and it was something I had to weigh morally within my heart. It was nothing deliberately done to hurt Sebastian and I personally went back and forth over and over again about whether or not to do it but it came down to the fact that I couldn’t lie. I couldn’t go up there and fake it. The whole thing made me really sick to my stomach for two reasons. First of all, because I felt that way and secondly because we weren’t going to do the show. Of course we were honored to be asked to open for KISS reunited, it was an amazing opportunity. The reason SKID ROW did the KISS tour in 2000 was because we were a BAND again and we were able to take advantage of that great opportunity not because I was working for Doc as Sebastian said (laughs). I didn’t start working with McGhee Management until the past 6 years.
LRI: I know I mentioned being at the SKID ROW/GNR kickoff show at Alpine Valley in 1991. I mention it because you guys were so amazing and it is still one of the best shows of my lifetime. You guys SEEMED to be firing on all cylinders. Were there any points during that era where Sebastian was becoming something of a distraction to the other four of you ?
DSS: Sure. Absolutely John and I think it’s once again a symptom of what happens when you have a certain level of notoriety or fame. Everyone processes something like that differently. I remember reading something in a magazine years and years and years ago that said when you have 100,000 people telling you how great you are, sooner or later you’re going to believe it. That had an effect on me and I think that humility is a very important and admirable trait. I’ve said it before and I will continue to say that I think Sebastian absolutely IS and WAS great but I’m not sure if at that point in 1991 he had much humility. The problem started to become rampant and with every action there was a reaction and it started to get out of control. We started to split into two camps with me unfortunately in the middle trying to play peacemaker and keep everything together which worked for a while. That started getting out of hand and becoming unmanageable when we were out with Iron Maiden and Motorhead in 1996 for a South American tour. Sebastian started faxing these wicked, horrific faxes to Scott McGhee who was our everyday manager and telling him what a piece of spineless piece of shit he was and just getting really personal. He was also getting vicious and hateful towards Rachel and you could just feel the venom and anger towards all of us. I mean, it was ridiculous. It came to a head with a phone call around Christmastime in 1996 when we were dealing with the show. I had forgotten to turn the volume down on my answering machine and Sebastian called and left this hate-filled message calling me every name in the book and I’m just sitting there with my jaw open with all of my family (laughs). It was pretty interesting, the message went on for a little while and I let the family leave before I made a phone call back. I called him and I said “You know, I got your message” and was really calm and said “I’ll never play in a band with you again.” And that was it. That was how it went and then I called up Doc and Scott shortly thereafter. I never said I was kicking him OUT of the band, even though Rachel and I own the rights to the name, for all record what I said I was that I would never BE in a band with him again, SKID ROW or otherwise. That’s how I felt at that particular time and that was for my own sanity for the most part. The band had become so much of what I NEVER wanted it to be. I attempted to hold it together for as long as I could but with some guys on one side and some on the other I really started feeling torn and compromised being in the middle. I was sacrificing and compromising my better judgement and opinions in the hopes of keeping this thing together all the time during the USE YOUR ILLUSIONS tour, it continued from that point on which is something that I regret sometimes and don’t regret at others. After that phone call in 1996 I just couldn’t continue to deal with the wedge that had been driven between us.
LRI: Johnny Solinger has been in the band for a long time now, how is the chemistry between you and Johnny at this point?
DSS: The chemistry has always been great with Johnny from day one to today. There’s been no heated arguments or any issues to speak of and we just have so much respect for each other. I didn’t wanna do this again if it wasn’t going to be fun. I wanted to have fun and it became fun again. We’re not playing 20,000 seaters unless it’s a festival or a support slot but even if it’s 1,000 seat places I am just having fun and loving playing again. That’s what’s important to me. It’s cool when we can play with Poison or KISS to big crowds but I enjoy every show with this band at this point in our career. I am still, at the end of the day, the same fifteen year old kid in his bedroom looking in the mirror and hoping to be Joe Perry or Ace Frehley or Randy Rhoads. Those guys were my heroes and that’s what’s embedded in me. I might be working in management and I love my job but at the end of the day I’m a guitar player and I love being onstage with this band playing these songs. Johnny is great and he never came in trying to be a Sebastian clone and that’s a good thing. There is only one Sebastian. Quite frankly we weren’t looking for Sebastian part two. Sebastian has made quite a name for himself in and out of Skid Row so we didn’t really want someone who was expected to be that, mimic that or always have that hanging over their head. We wanted a guy who sang well, who we got along with and who looked good and Johnny Solinger brought all those things. He certainly has his own opinions and we certainly value those opinions. This band feels more democratic than ever before. It’s not a case of “squeaky wheel gets the grease”. We have always attempted to be as democratic as possible in Skid Row but I think for some reason Sebastian always thought there was some conspiracy against him on the part of Rachel and I (laughs). Which was never the case….
LRI: Sometimes people forget the overall history of the band. I love Sebastian and Johnny but I like the demos you guys did with Matt Fallon before the first album ever even came out.
DSS: Yeah, I heard those again the other day. It’s a trip, pretty interesting. I really don’t think too much about all of that but I definitely remember those days. I remember when we had to replace Matt and how difficult and time-consuming it was. I remember how good it was when we finally found Sebastian and how much fun it was in the very beginning. I remember going out just the five of us and he got in a fight and we ended up jamming at this club where we knew the owners. We were TERRIBLE but at the same time we knew that we were finally a real band. You could tell from the moment you met Sebastian that he was a rock star and that’s what you want in a frontman, that’s exactly what we were looking for and exactly what we got. We were ecstatic, we knew it was gonna be difficult but at the same time we knew we had SOMETHING that was kind of special and that given the right set of circumstances it could turn out pretty cool. The stars aligned and we were given those circumstances but we always had a great belief system among the people around us and among the five of us, and I STRESS the FIVE of us because that’s what it was regardless of how it all turned out. There was belief in us from all angles and it was such a strange thing because usually when you’re starting out and struggling for years and years no one believes in you. It was so striking that once the five of us came together people took notice and BELIEVED in it from the very beginning. All of our support system, the people in New Jersey and Toronto, they all believed in us despite being very, very raw. They could see something beyond the rawness but also made it very clear that the edginess was something we should really hold on to but maybe just refine a little bit. Low and behold, we were in fact able to sell a few records and maybe make a positive influence on music in general.
LRI: A lot of bands who get new lead singers attempt to re-record a hits package or capitalize on the catalog by repackaging it somehow with the new members. You guys have never really done that other than the totally punk rock version of “I Remember You” which I actually prefer because I’m so sick of radio shoving the original down my throat for the last twenty years. No offense.
DSS: (Laughs hard) No, none taken, I know. Yeah, that was just the a one time thing that we did just because we could do it. We figured we’d take our biggest hit and flip it completely on its ass and we took a LOT of shit over that, which I UNDERSTAND. To me, at that moment of time it sounded like fun. We’ve had conversations about doing re-recordings but have never actually gone through with it. We’re just much more focused on trying to get on with more new material.
Skid Row w/ Johnny Solinger
LRI: When we talked to producer Michael Wagener he mentioned that of all the bands he’s ever worked with Skid Row was by far his favorite. That’s pretty amazing.
DSS: That is pretty amazing. I read that interview you did too and it’s just so humbling. It’s really, really humbling that a guy of his stature and with his accomplishments would say something like that about US. His resume and reputation speaks for itself and I don’t even know what to say when I read something like that. All I can say is that my favorite time making a record was the time I spent working with Michael so the feeling is quite mutual. I love the guy dearly as do my bandmates.
LRI: You, Rachel and Scotti (Hill, guitarist) have all mentioned via Twitter that you’ve got some new material you’re weeding through. Someone asked you if it’s going to be heavy like SLAVE TO THE GRIND and you sort of hinted that it may be. You guys are so adept at writing melodies that it has to be a balancing act at this point.
DSS: Totally man, totally a balancing act.
LRI: Yeah, I mean, “In a Darkened Room” and “Breakin Down” are two of my all time favorite songs and you and Rachel have a real ear for melody within the riffage and chaos.
DSS: Thank you man. Thank you so much. Our history is a reference point to what got us to where we are. I look back at some of that material and see an attitude or a vibe or head space we were in that may be worth revisiting. It’s not about attempting to rewrite those songs in any way because that’s not only foolish but disingenuous. It’s more about taking a deep breath and closing your eyes and remembering what brought you to the place where you wrote those songs and had that feeling on those first four records. I will listen to some of those songs we did with Sebastian or even the songs on “THICKSKIN” and think “Man, that’s a SKID ROW record” and maybe there’s something in that energy worth revisiting.
Snake & Jon Bon Jovi tarde blows
LRI: It’s so hard not only for the fans to grow but the bands to grow or change because you ARE aware of what made those particular points in history so special. I know no matter how much I believe in art and moving forward I always believe Bon Jovi or Def Leppard when they say their next record is gonna be a return to the old sound. I ALWAYS buy into it because I WANT to but deep down I know I’m not gonna get “High Or Dry” or “Slippery When Wet”.
DSS: (laughs). Yeah, and that’s just because it’s all so much a matter of perception too. I mean, I remember when we first put out “THICKSKIN” and I know I heard a lot of that material different from some of the people who got the album. I heard people say that some of it reminded them of Nickelback (laughs). I don’t hear it, and I mean no disrespect to them because they write very good and have very successful records. I just still don’t hear it at all. I found that to be a really interesting comparison and quite off base from my point of view but that’s their perception. What I think might be reminiscent or have the energy or character of SLAVE TO THE GRIND might be seen in a totally different way by other people. I think some of the stuff we have for the next record really DOES have that kind of vibe but who knows.
LRI: How close are you to recording and releasing it?
DSS: You know what John, I don’t know. We’ve written and completed a bunch of songs, we have like twelve songs but the thing is, they’re not all great. So, we’re weeding them out and wading through it because it’s really important that we make a GREAT album. We don’t wanna just put something out because it’s been a while, we’re going to keep working and I really don’t have a concrete answer as far as how much longer we’re going to take. We’re kind of in a rush because we are busy and have tour dates so we wanna get something out there but at the same time we’re not in a rush because we’re not about to put something out that’s half ass. I know the fans want to hear something new from us and it’s been a while but at the same time we respect them enough to not just rush something out there. I would really like to have something out by the end of the year. We have at least 5 that will definitely make it and then about six other ones that we will continue to keep working on. You can’t just write ten songs and throw it out there. That more than anything is what’s WRONG with the music business. There’s just too many people who have shipped records with one or two good songs on it and the rest of it is filler. They’re just putting something out to meet a quota and that sucks. The one thing I am pretty proud of is that throughout the history of SKID ROW it’s never been about just putting something out to meet a deadline. We certainly had pressure on the second and third records but we never settled or compromised, at least not that I’m aware of. I know I never did.
LRI: You work with Doc McGhee and Doc works with KISS who are still my favorite band. One thing KISS and Gene in particular seem to get is that it’s always about expanding the fanbase. No matter what level you’re at, appealing to a younger and growing audience is important. KISS had a tour recently where kids got in for free with paying adults and I just thought to myself, “GENIUS”
DSS: Yeah, Gene and KISS have also always been experts at keeping the audience engaged. I think it’s essential that you stay in touch with your fans and keep them engaged in what you’re doing or they won’t be your fans anymore. Gene readily recognizes that without the fans there IS no KISS and he’s always been that way. He’s always been very cognizant and aware of what the fans want from the very beginning and still to this day. He makes sure that the live show is SECOND TO NONE. That was their mentality in 1975 and it’s their mentality in 2012, to be bigger, badder and better than anyone else.
LRI: KISS can sell me anything they want because I know that they’re going to deliver something I want the vast majority of the time. Do you think that concept of value and bang for the buck was inspirational to your band along the way?
DSS: Absolutely John, absolutely. You know that if you buy a KISS ticket you are not going to go home disappointed and that’s one of the very select few GIVENS in this business. You will walk away going “Holy Shit” and I think Skid Row and any band worth it’s weight has paid attention to that. I think that even people who aren’t FANS of KISS can recognize that “Holy Shit” factor regardless of whether they appreciate the personalities, the philosophies or even the music of KISS. That show and that music which I dearly, dearly love and grew up on is iconic and I think it’s a TRAVESTY that they are not in the rock and roll hall of fame. It’s one of the most ridiculous and political travesties in the music business. KISS is not a band for the critics, it’s a band for the fans and that’s something that’s always been a guiding principle of Skid Row as well. I think I’ve always been accessible to the fans and I think it’s important to never become so enamored of being a “rock star” that you lose sight of that. I’m proud to be in this band. I’m proud to have started it and to still be a part of it and I’m honored that we can connect with people in some way and that we mean something to them. One of the things we are very, very blessed by is the fact that we are able to have fans that are SO cool that they bring their kids to the show and the kids get turned on to us and the cycle begins all over again. They want their kids to get the same charge out of us that they did when they first saw us and I just think that’s friggin amazing. You said you were 15 years old and you skipped out of school to go see us at Alpine Valley and you had a blast.
LRI: I certainly did. Still have the shirt but it’s getting tight.
DSS: (laughs). That’s so cool that it meant so much to you and that you still mention it to people or mention it in interviews. People like you or any of our fans continue to make us smile by talking about us that way and they grow up and have kids of their own who they relive it all over again through. Or they have little brothers or sisters that they pass that down to. It is everything to me that I have four older brothers who turned me on to all of the stuff that ended up mattering to me. The great thing about that is that they really didn’t have any genres of music in particular that they exposed me to so I listened to EVERYTHING. There were no barriers back then between a great Black Sabbath song and a great Jackson Five song they were just great songs. I just listened to songs that moved me. I have no idea where I would have ended up had my brothers not had such a myriad of different kinds of music coming out of the upstairs bedroom of my mother’s house. That’s the truth. One day it was Elvis, the next day it was the Beach Boys or Procul Harem or the Four Tops. I’m just very thankful to have had the pleasure of playing my guitar and making music and I know better than to take anything for granted.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Mather,
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