Black N’ Blue the pride of Portland’s rock n’ roll roots
Jaime St. James on Gene Simmons, Ted Nugent, Peter Criss & all things Black N’ Blue.
Posted By: Metal Sludge
Written By: Ruben Mosqueda
Black ‘n Blue, the Oregon Music Hall of Fame act that made the move from Portland to Los Angeles all those years ago, will be playing a hometown show on March 8, 2013 at the Hawthorne Theater. Oregon Music News caught up with vocalist Jaime St. James about the upcoming show in The Rose City.
“Three out of the five members still live in Portland, [drummer] Pete [Holmes] and I live out in the LA area. We don’t want to keep Portland waiting too long. Also in March we’ll be doing the Monsters of Rock Cruise which is sold out,” says the ecstatic St. James. When the band regrouped they selected Portland as the warm-up show for Black ‘n Blue to change up the set. St. James and company played the Monsters of Rock Cruise in 2012, however Holmes was unable to attend as he had a prior commitment touring with Michael Schenker.
“We got Pete back. He just finished up some more touring with Schenker, this time he’ll be able to make the cruise which we’re all excited about,” explains St. James. As you may or may not know Tommy Thayer has been out touring with KISS and guitarist Shawn Sonnenschein has taken over, playing in the band for close to a decade.
What about new music? Are there plans for a new album? “Things are so different than the old days. Hell Yeah! took so long to record and it’s not like it used to be when we were in our 20s when that was all we did. We have so much more going on in and out of music,” say St. James. “It’s discouraging when people will wind up downloading it for free. That’s a year of my life that someone just took for free,” signs the singer. So for now they’ll simply be performing live but the door hasn’t been slammed shut on the possibility of more new music.
When Oregon Music News last caught up with St. James in the spring of 2011, Black ‘n Blue had just issued their reunion album titled Hell Yeah! The majority of the conversation was around their new studio effort and there was simply no time to dig deep into the Black ‘n Blue back catalog so this writer not only took this opportunity to advance the show but also review the band’s history.
You had a KISS tribute band with Tommy Thayer years ago called Cold Gin. You were the drummer in the band and Tommy was ‘Ace’ in the band. How weird is it to see him wearing the ‘Space Ace’ paint?
That’s right! It doesn’t surprise me that he’s doing that. Early on when we started playing in and around the LA area some of the articles that were written were very favorable. We’d have an article written about us in the LA Times and LA Weekly saying something to the affect, “it’s really sad when the best band in LA is a KISS tribute band.” That was the truth. We packed every place that we performed in. It was during the early days of tribute bands and you didn’t see them very often, unlike today. [KISS’] Gene [Simmons] and Paul [Stanley] would come to our shows and they’d hang out with us. Tommy was working for KISS as tour manager. I knew he knew all the parts perfectly and it was surprising when he wound up in the band. It was Ace’s [Frehley] job to lose, but I knew that Tommy would fall into it at some point.
I never witnessed the band in the flesh, but as a long-time KISS fan I have seen a lot of footage and you guys were very authentic.
I wasn’t in the band from the beginning but Tommy made mention to the guys that I knew all the parts and could play drums. I wouldn’t do it unless we went all-out with the makeup and the costumes. It only made sense to do that and it would make it something. We got the guy that made all the KISS boots and costumes to make them for us.
One more on Cold Gin and then we can move on. How long did it take you to perfect the Peter Criss make-up?
You know it didn’t take long at all. If you can believe this, the first time I put it on it looked great. We got some tips from Gene and Paul on how to apply it properly and how to improve it. We could do our own makeup in about 20 minutes. We wound up touring across the United States and even went to Japan, so we put it on a lot. We got so good at it that Gene hired Tommy, our bass player Spiro [Papadatos] and I to do the makeup on the girls in the KISS Playboy issue. There was something like 20 girls that we needed to apply makeup to over the course of two days.
Black ‘n Blue reunited in 1997 and it spawned a live album, One Night Only. I was at that show at the now defunct Key Largo. Is there a chance that you guys will crank out another live album at some point?
I would have to say no at this point and I’ll tell you why. That’s just a great sounding record, we struck gold on that one. We brought in Pat Regan to Portland along with all of this gear—we did it right. It sounds great. There are some songs on that live album that blow away the studio versions. I don’t know that there’s a need to do that again, you know?
I suppose if you can’t top it why touch it?
Yeah, I haven’t been ask that question before but that’s what I think. I don’t think we can beat that.
In 1984 you guys released your debut album Black ‘n Blue. you guys brought in producer Dieter Dierks [Scorpions, Accept, Twisted Sister] to produce the album. How did you guys get him on board?
One of the things that Geffen [Records] did really well is that we’d have meets and we’d state who we wanted [to produce the albums], we were hell bent on picking our own producers. The label originally paired us up with a guy that normally worked with Don Henley and Jackson Brown and it wasn’t a good fit. It was at that point that we decided that as a band we needed to take control. Between the band and the road crew we listened to various records; it was Steve Young [bassist], Patrick Young’s brother brought in an album by a band called Warning which Dieter produced. It just sounded great. Between the Warning album and his work with Scorpions we had to get him. Geffen then sent him our demos. He listened to them and agreed to do the record. It was the same thing with the followup [Without Love]; we picked [producer] Bruce Fairbairn and [engineer] Bob Rock. Those guys went on to work with Bon Jovi on Slippery When Wet. I spoke to Jon Bon Jovi one night and he said to me that it was Without Love that made him decide on using those guys. Then they went on to sell, what, like 12 million albums?
Just between the first two Black ‘n Blue albums you have quite a number of album hits. The debut features “School of Hard Knocks,” “Autoblast,” “Hold on to 18,” “Wicked Bitch” and “Chains Around Heaven.” From the 1985 sophomore album Without Love we have “Rockin’ on Heaven’s Door,”“Without Love” and one of my all-time Black ‘n Blue favorites, “Miss Mystery.” What’s the story behind that song?
When we headed over to Canada to record with Bruce [Fairbairn]and Bob Rock that one wasn’t there yet. The chorus was in my head, I just didn’t know what to do with it. We had a songwriting session with Jim Vallance who had written songs with Bryan Adams among others. It was Tommy, Jim and I and I said to them, “Listen I have this idea for a song. I’m going to sing it to you.” I did and Tommy had his guitar and it just evolved into that song. It was written while we were recording Without Love.
Tommy Thayer, Jaime St. James, Patrick Young & Jeff "Woop" Warner
How long had “School of Hard Knocks” from the debut album been kicking around prior to the recording of the album?
When we moved to Los Angeles from Portland we weren’t playing that one there. We were playing “Hold on to 18” when we were playing the clubs in Portland. “School of Hard Knocks” was written before we went to Germany [to record the album]. I think it came out great. There is a lot of strong songs on that album as you’ve mentioned and there’s a lot of people that think that’s our best album, which often happens with bands and their first album. We still play a lot of those songs to this day. “Autoblast” and “Chains Around Heaven” are among them.
Then in 1986 came Nasty, Nasty which was produced by Gene Simmons. Jonathan Cain [Journey, Bad English] produced “I’ll Be There for You” which he wrote.
That song [“I’ll Be There for You”] actually wasn’t supposed to be on the record, it was going to be used for a soundtrack. Geffen hooked it up, he produced it and he wrote it. When Geffen heard the final mix they wanted it on the record. That’s why that song sounds different than the rest of the record; when we set out to record Nasty, Nasty we wanted to beef things up. We wanted to get a little heavier than Without Love because that’s what we felt like doing at the time. That song didn’t fit the mold of the rest of the record but it’s still a very cool song.
So that was a song submission that was sent your way then? And what soundtrack was it supposed to be used for?
What can you tell me about “I Want It All, I Want It Now” and “Best in the West?” You guys brought in a couple special guests for that song, Ron Keel [Keel, Steeler] and Peter Criss [KISS]. That was one of the most interesting things, bringing in Peter Criss. I was at The Rainbow [Bar & Grill], I spent a lot of time there I guess? [laughs] Peter Criss happened to be there, I recall that his wife at the time came up to me and introduced herself. She knew we were working with Gene on the album and I asked her to approach Peter about singing on the record. We needed some guest for “Best in the West.” I honestly didn’t think he would do it since at that point it had been years since he had spoken with Gene. I gave her my number she was persistent and she talked him into it. It was great the first day he came into the studio, Peter and Gene just sat there and talked about the old KISS days. It was an amazing moment. Like you mentioned Ron was also on there, it was a great time. “I Want It All, I Want It Now” was a song mainly written by Jeff Warner. I brought in some ideas for that. It’s a great tune. That’s one of the ones that we’ll be throwing into the set this year. Black ‘n Blue did have their fair share of anthems and we haven’t done that one in a longtime. We haven’t done that one since the late ’80s—bringing it back would be very cool. The followup was 1988’s In Heat which featured fan favorites “Rock On,” “Heat It Up, Burn It Out,” “Live It Up” and “Great Guns of Fire.” You dialed things up on that album and it was also criminally ignored.
That was arranged by our A&R guy at Geffen Records John Kalodner. He brought this demo to us, he said he’d like us to do the song, it’s going to go in a move. We looked at each other and said “hey why not?” It was going to be in a movie called Out of Bounds which starred a young Anthony Michael Hall. I don’t know what’s it’s about because my song wasn’t in it, so what?! [laughs]
What can you tell me about “I Want It All, I Want It Now” and “Best in the West?” You guys brought in a couple special guests for that song, Ron Keel [Keel, Steeler] and Peter Criss [KISS].
That was one of the most interesting things, bringing in Peter Criss. I was at The Rainbow [Bar & Grill], I spent a lot of time there I guess? [laughs] Peter Criss happened to be there, I recall that his wife at the time came up to me and introduced herself. She knew we were working with Gene on the album and I asked her to approach Peter about singing on the record. We needed some guest for “Best in the West.” I honestly didn’t think he would do it since at that point it had been years since he had spoken with Gene. I gave her my number she was persistent and she talked him into it. It was great the first day he came into the studio, Peter and Gene just sat there and talked about the old KISS days. It was an amazing moment. Like you mentioned Ron was also on there, it was a great time.
“I Want It All, I Want It Now” was a song mainly written by Jeff Warner. I brought in some ideas for that. It’s a great tune. That’s one of the ones that we’ll be throwing into the set this year. Black ‘n Blue did have their fair share of anthems and we haven’t done that one in a longtime. We haven’t done that one since the late ’80s—bringing it back would be very cool.
The followup was 1988’s In Heat which featured fan favorites “Rock On,” “Heat It Up, Burn It Out,” “Live It Up” and “Great Guns of Fire.” You dialed things up on that album and it was also criminally ignored.
It really was. People tell me that it’s one of their favorite Black ‘n Blue records. It’s kind of all over the place in certain ways. The songs you mentioned are really cool. “Heat It Up, Burn It Out” and “Live It Up” also ways seem to find their way into the set. Strangely enough you mentioned “Great Guns of Fire” and at this point it sounds like we may be doing that in the set as well. That’s a good record and there’s some good stuff on there for sure. We were coming to the end of our contract with Geffen Records and they just wanted to get it out I think. They didn’t put any effort in promoting the album, there was no video, they just wanted to make whatever money they could and that was that.
I remember buying that album on release date at Tower Records. I picked up the cassette, ripped the cellophane off of it and stuffed it into the car deck and listened to it repeatedly all the way home. Like you said it’s a different album but there’s also some pretty cool heavy moments on there too.
It really does. Black ‘n Blue has never put out a ‘crappy’ record. They all varied a little bit—Tommy and I came from a diverse musical background; we were into metal and were into Cheap Trick. All the records were good and we’re still proud of them. Unlike a lot of the bands from our era the music still holds up—it’s not terribly dated, there are a few exceptions. I can listen to them and not cringe because I’m embarrassed.
What can you tell us about the song “Rock On?” That also went on to be used by Doro Pesch’s album that was produced by Gene Simmons.
Yeah, I know she covered it. I remember Gene told me that they were going to record that. I remember thinking “Hey that’s cool!” I’ve never heard her version of it—which is kind of strange. I don’t know if I can recall where that song came from. I know I had the lyrics but I don’t recall if I had anything to do with the music or not. I’m assuming that the song came from Gene, Tommy and I. It’s a good song, good enough to start the record with.
Jaime, Gene & Tommy
Jumping back a little bit, Simmons ripped you guys off on the Revenge album that KISS recorded. How do you feel about that?
When I heard the song “Domino” I was like “Oh come on!” [laughs] I talked to him about that. I said to him, “I know where you got that riff.” He looked at me and said, “I absolutely ripped you guys off, 100%. No question about it! Yes I did.” That’s pretty much where we left it. That was Tommy’s riff on the tune “Nasty, Nasty.” Turnaround is fair play, though, because there’s a song on ‘Nasty, Nasty’ that I’ve been told sounds like a song on KISS’ album The Elder. I’m not familiar with that album very well at all so I couldn’t tell you. It’s a part that Gene wrote so he ripped himself off! It’s kind of a messed up thing! [laughs] Actually I know what that was. It was the middle section of the song “Nasty, Nasty,” check that out.
Didn’t you have Ted Nugent guest on In Heat?
Yes we did. Well, Tommy, Ted and I wrote a song called “Survival” together, we went in to record it. It was a cool song—Gene didn’t want it on the record. He kept fighting to not have it on the record. As deadlines approached Ted came in and played on it, soloed all over the place on it and when we reached the end of the record Gene won. He said, “Hey listen, we don’t have time to finish this song,” and it didn’t make the record. We think in retrospect he wasn’t buying it and he didn’t want it on the record. Ted was awesome and we wanted that song on the record. That song is probably in some vault at Universal Music now.
What’s a favorite crazy Ted Nugent story from his time with Black ‘n Blue during the In Heat sessions?
We were hanging out together a lot, we’d go to shows together, comedy clubs and sit around and talk in the studio. What’s my favorite “crazy Ted Nugent story?” Basically it would riding with Ted in LA [laughs] It was insane! We’d be headed straight on the 101 freeway doing 95 when everybody else is doing 30. He’s insane, man. Tommy would never ride shotgun—I would always have to do that. Tommy refused to ride in front with him! Ted could have been a race car driver. He’s that good. We’d go down a parking lot as fast as it would go in reverse and he’d spin it around and we’d go forward. The first time that happened I was like “I’m out! I’m out!” [laughs]
Jaime, Pete & Tommy with Steven Tyler on tour
Sounds like you should have been wearing a diaper.
[laughs] I should have been wearing a diaper!.
Let me tie in the diaper thing in. I believe there was a a photo in the back jacket of the In Heat album with your drummer Pete Holmes wearing a diaper. He stuffed a Budweiser beer in the diaper and that needed to be altered because the label freaked, no? This went on to delay the release of In Heat.
That’s true! We were playing in Washington state. I don’t recall where exactly at the moment. We were opening for Joan Jett and somebody else, it was a great crowd I do recall that. The photo was taken at that show. We had brought [rock photographer] Neil Zlozower on the road with us and he took that photo. Pete had walked out in his diaper, took a bow at the end of the show with us with a beer in hand. He shoved the beer into the side of the diaper and that was it. Geffen, like you said, freaked and we wanted that photo on the back of the record. They insisted on going back to air brush it out of the photo.
I’m looking at all the great music you’ve recorded and the great producers that you’ve worked with including your A&R guy John Kalodner. Black ‘n Blue busted their ass trying to make this thing break big. Obviously, Black ‘n Blue along with a handful of some other great bands didn’t reach Bon Jovi status but it wasn’t because the talent level wasn’t there?
[pauses] Listen, I agree that we didn’t get what we deserved. The reason is really unclear to me. It just wasn’t meant for us to be as huge as a band can get. I went into this band with a determination to make this band break. I think that is why you hear a lot of quality there, heart and soul for the music that we did. Sometimes you have the wrong management, you have problems related to certain decisions that have been made—maybe they could have been made differently. At the end of the day there are millions of dudes playing music and I’ve done pretty damn well for myself. It’s a different musical climate these days. I’m just glad to have lived during the time that I did. What am I saying? I’m not dead yet! [laughs]
Black ‘n Blue will be playing a hometown show on March 8, 2013 at the Hawthorne Theater.
The above article is from OregonMusicNews
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