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Mike Tramp on White Lion, Vito Bratta, Sebastian Bach, big pay checks & the hey day of the 80s

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Mike Tramp on Vito Bratta "There isn’t any bad blood between us.

It’s just frustrating that I’ve had to carry on White Lion all by myself 100 percent."

WAIT, YOU NEVER HAD A CHANCE TO LOVE ME

Here’s a Metal Sludge exclusive with superstar Mike Tramp of White Lion

By Gerry Gittelson

Metal Sludge Editor at Large

The 80s — We’ve been waiting for a huge star like Mike Tramp from White Lion to do some Sludge, and it finally happened. After months of planning and negotiation, the great singer who was more than a pretty face agreed to an hour-long tell-all, and here is what we’ve come up with.

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White Lion the classic line up

METAL SLUDGE: Hey Mike Tramp! We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. How is it going?

MIKE TRAMP: Well, I’m in my own world out doing what I do acoustic on my own little tour. It’s where I belong. It’s not a break between rock bands or between albums. This has what has come from many years and what I have ended up doing. It’s sort of what I do.

SLUDGE: I’ve got to admit. I love the full electric version of White Lion. You guys are one of my favorite bands EVER.

TRAMP: I appreciate that. As I get further away from it, it’s clear we stood apart from a lot of the bands we’re compared to. Sonically, if you listen to “Pride,” we’re just so different. As far as the label of being a hair band or whatever, it’s a shame that we’ve been pulled together with all these other bands on different web sites, all these different sites like hair band or hair nation or house of hair. We just played music. It doesn’t fit the title, White Lion doesn’t. There is no hair in the songs themselves. It was about the music. The hair, that was the image, and I think too many people got caught up in that. But White Lion is timeless, and centuries from now, the music will still stand up.

SLUDGE: Great fuckin’ songs.

TRAMP: I appreciate that. At the same times, with these songs, for them to sound like they did before, we can’t do it because we can’t reunite. We can’t reproduce that feeling, the feeling the band had at the time. I mean, it’s more about going out now, going out there and playing songs from my solo albums, but I do perform 11 classic White Lion songs. This is just my own way of taking the next step. What I’m doing now, it’s not just White Lion unplugged. It’s Mike Tramp at 52, and this is the best I’ve done so far.

SLUDGE: Interesting. White Lion was so big. You look back now, did you enjoy yourself? Or rather, did you enjoy yourself as much as you really should have?

TRAMP: For a lot of the years, no. But I was constantly rewarded musically because it’s what I wanted to do. By that time, I had given my life and heart into the band. When I went solo, at times I would do a version of White Lion, and I look back now, and I never should have been out there doing that. White Lion was in my heart, but I guess I just didn’t have enough faith in myself, and it never felt right without the original members. That sound we had, I’ll never being able to reproduce it. The only way to reproduce it is to have those same four guys back again on stage.

SLUDGE: I remember the first time I saw White Lion live. You were opening for AC/DC at Long Beach Arena. Looking back, I guess AC/DC is not an easy band to open for obviously, because you’re looking down at the front row, and everyone, everyone in the arena, they have one thing on their mind and one thing only: Angus.

TRAMP: Yeah, I know what you mean, but we toured with AC/DC for almost three months, and we were very successful on that tour. The start of that tour, I remember being in the dressing room before the show at Market Square Arena, and I’m thinking, is “When The Children Cry” really going to go over with an AC/DC crowd? But the whole crowd, the whole place, they just lighted up when we played that song. That showed to me that White Lion music is about more than hair. The thing I learned playing with AC/DC is that you always need to stick to your guns and don’t change the plan because it will work in the long run. Twenty-five years later, I wouldn’t have changed one single thing. And it still works today.

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    "I just want to set in on record once again: We were White Lion once, but never again"



SLUDGE: White Lion had some very special songs. You must take great pride in all those incredible songs like “Wait” and “Little Fighter” and “Lady of the Valley.”

TRAMP: Yeah, of  course I do. We were a band from Brooklyn in the 80s with a different attitude, a lot more engaged. I remember we would be having meetings on the road and ask ourselves why are we not doing this and not doing that? Why are we the ones not getting arrested? But thank god we weren’t. I had paved kind of a Davy Crockett course compared to Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth. We were compared to them a lot, but I always thought we were so much in the direction of Journey instead of being silly and doing all these silly things.

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SLUDGE: I would agree with that. And let me add I thought Journey was the best band in the world.

TRAMP: Journey has shown that in the long run, the songs remain.

SLUDGE: So you’re now doing acoustic versions of the White Lion songs? Are you satisfied with the way it sounds?

TRAMP: Well, I think the Mike Tramp that people are seeing today is very different from any of the other 80s guys. I’m delivering something different. I come from a background where I’ve always laid my heart on stage, and it’s a perfect way today to dig deep into the solo songs. Everyone today that sees me, and it’s unanimous, they know what Mike Tramp stands for, and that’s what I’m aiming for. I am doing this for me, all alone, doing some soul searching. I’m driving a rental car and going from city to city all by myself, doing my own songs.

SLUDGE: Lots of meals at Dennys across the country?

TRAMP: I don’t know (laughs)

SLUDGE: OK, I want to ask you some old-school Sludge questions. I don’t usually do it, but since you’re such a big name I feel like we owe it to the Sludge readers, OK?

TRAMP: Yeah of course. I love it.

SLUDGE: OK, what’s the biggest music-related check you’ve ever received, and what did you spend the money on?

TRAMP: Wow. Well I remember one check later on, actually a wire transfer cause that’s what they did in those days, they wired it into your account, and it was like $375,000. But as far as what I spent the money on, it’s easier to remember a better story of my first check for like $2,500. I cashed it on the spot and walked to Eighth Street in New York and bought cowboy boots and a jacket and the whole fuckin’ gear cause at the time all I had was one pair of jeans.

SLUDGE: So you had some tough times before?

TRAMP: Yeah but it didn’t matter back then because I had come from nothing in Denmark. I just wanted to come to New York and take it to the top and just sit in the city and look at the girls walk by and maybe Eddie Money.

SLUDGE: Of all the bands you’ve toured with, who treated you the best and who treated you like shit?

TRAMP: The best? Well, no one was nicer than Aerosmith because I became really close with that band. They were very involved in supporting us. As far as AC/DC is concerned, the real truth is I only met them for like five minutes in the three months we toured with them, but the tour itself was phenomenal, and their crew treated us well. But with Aerosmith, I spent a lot of time with Steven Tyler. He used to invite me to dinner every night and also the other guys in White Lion. There were never any bad incidents at any time. Whoever we were touring with, they knew White Lion was a bold act, and even though a band like AC/DC might have sold 10 times as many albums, the other bands, they knew our place, and that’s why we survived. We had a great reputation. We also played with Kiss, Stryper, Ozzy, all these different bands, and we never ran into anyone who treated us bad.

SLUDGE: What about the backstage groupie action.

TRAMP: The backstage was full of that.

SLUDGE: The way you looked, you must have got a lot of female attention, Mike.

TRAMP: Kind of, but you know what? I will never match up to what some of the others have done. It’s just the way it was in the 80s, and everyone took advantage. Roadies that were never able to pick up girls like that, you know what I mean. With early Van Halen, if a girl was wearing a certain pass, that meant she had been through the whole road crew.

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                                 Vince Neil, Lenny Wolf, Stephen Pearcy & Mike Tramp

SLUDGE: OK, rate the following singers 1 through 10 with 10 being a total vocal god and 1 being someone who could barely sing a note.

TRAMP: Oh my gosh, I don’t like doing this, but OK.

SLUDGE: Let’s start with Axl Rose.

TRAMP: I would definitely rate him a 10. When he came out, I remember driving along Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica and listening to “Welcome to The Jungle” for the first time, and I got the message loud and clear. When you look back at Axl Rose, he was the real deal at that time regardless of what he has turned into. Axl Rose in his prime was a true rock and roll star, a true frontman.

SLUDGE: Tom Keifer from Cinderella.

TRAMP: We toured with Cinderella. I always loved Tom Keifer. He was kind of the glam part of Cinderella, and I love his new solo album, too. I wonder why it took so long because it’s really different. I also loved the way he played guitar on his Telecaster and Les Paul. He was classic. He could have been in Aerosmith. I’ll give him a 10, too.

SLUDGE: What about Jack Russell?

TRAMP: Jack Russell once came up to me, he was a little drunk, and he came up and learned over me and hugged me and said, “Look, a guy who looks like you, you wouldn’t think he even knows how to sing.” On a scale of one to 10, Jack is a great singer. He’s an easy 10, and it’s sad how he has ended up today because to me, Jack Russell IS Great White. I wish him the best.

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                                                           Vince Neil & Mike Tramp

SLUDGE: Vince Neil.

TRAMP: Motley Crue without Vince Neil is just not Motley Crue. He’s a great frontman. Vince has definitely gone sideways a couple of times with getting his face redone and stuff like that. He is a true rock and roller. I couldn’t sing like Vince. No one can. I think Vince is the best Vince Neil there can be possibly be, just like I’m the best Mike Tramp. Vince does a beautiful job. He’s a 10 in my book even though he can’t compare to Steve Perry or Steve Walsh from Kansas or Dio. But no one else can fill Vince Neil’s shoes. It’s like some guitarists, it doesn’t matter if they’re the fastest or the best, but they’re the real deal.

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SLUDGE: Sebastian Bach.

TRAMP: My thoughts about Sebastian is he is what he is. Right from the start, you could see he was going for blood. He wasn’t taking any prisoners. By the time Skid Row came out, he was a vicious frontman and a great singer. He had everything. He was a great ambassador for that band. Bach’s a 10, too, but on the first Skid Row, he toured with us and pissed me off a few times. We did three shows with them, very early, and we used to like things pretty mild and pretty in-control right before we went on stage, and one night our road manager closed the door as they were coming into our dressing room, and for years Baz kept telling everyone that Mike Tramp had him thrown out of the dressing room. So for Sebastian right now, brother you have to put it to rest because I did not have you thrown out. He was double testosterone. Nothing could stop him.

SLUDGE: Steve Summers. The guy from Pretty Boy Floyd.

TRAMP: (pause) I’ve never heard Pretty Boy Floyd, so I couldn’t comment.

SLUDGE: OK. Back to the girls and the groupies, then. How “in-demand” were you?

TRAMP: I don’t know if I’d use the word groupie. In the 80s, there were some girls that were really into it that and took care of the band members, a gesture really. And there were also just silly little girls following an old trend and trying to come up with something different. Van Halen and Motley Crue brought that to a whole different level. I think I was up there with the top guys, but that didn’t mean much to me. I just sort of let it fall into my lap. It’s just what the times were back then.

SLUDGE: OK, give us some memories of some cities. Not just the biggest shows necessarily but something interesting.

TRAMP: OK.

SLUDGE: We’ll start with Los Angeles.

TRAMP: Interestingly enough, of all the cities, White Lion has only played in Los Angeles twice, and once was actually in Long Beach with AC/DC in 1988, so the only other time was at the Roxy in 1987. So you think about it, the mecca of hair glam, we only played Los Angeles twice. Still, the memory of playing the Roxy, a soldout crowd, it was great of course, a great thing, though I don’t think we really understood so at the time.

SLUDGE: San Francisco.

TRAMP: I remember coming out, opening for David Lee Roth or maybe it was AC/DC, and I smashed myself into the drum riser and busted my knee up.

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                                                    White Lion in the early years

                                                             

SLUDGE: Did you keep on going?

TRAMP: Of course I kept singing. The pain didn’t me until after. You know how adrenaline works.

SLUDGE: What about some cities in Canada? Toronto, Montreal?

TRAMP: We did very well in Canada. It was wild and crazy. At 11 in the afternoon, there would be a strip bar going on right at the hotel. Daylight and strippers, those two things mix in Canada.

SLUDGE: Canada did have a reputation for great strippers. Would you agree?

TRAMP: Is this on the record or off the record? (laughs) Let’s just say I have some strong memories there with Steven Tyler.

SLUDGE: What about Japan?

TRAMP: We went to Japan three times. The thing about Japan is that’s where we broke in the first place with the first deal with Elektra. Everything started there and in Europe and France and Germany with Kerrang and all that stuff. A year before anything was going on in America. But by the time we got to Japan, every band had been through three, and the whole thing had kind of already been done before. I never felt like I enjoyed it there.

SLUDGE: London.

TRAMP: Let it be said that amongst the 80s bands, White Lion was one of the few that toured Europe with every album. We did three soldout shows at the Marquee before it closed down, completely conquered that place, and there were a lot of witnesses. I remember the London Quireboys, those guys we DID throw out of the dressing room. They were the total opposite of White Lion, and the singer thought he was GNR or Aerosmith or something, while White Lion, we were more like going back in a time machine of old New York City with the clean-cut managers in suits, and London Quireboys just didn’t fit in.

SLUDGE: Miami.

TRAMP: We were playing Miam with Ace Frehley, and after the show I went out the beach and splashed some salt water on my face because I was just fried from being too sunburn. The sun was so strong it was like permanent scars. My face was shiny like wax.

SLUDGE: And finally, Las Vegas.

TRAMP: I guess I have no great stories except playing there with Aerosmith and AC/DC. We’ve been through a couple of times.

SLUDGE: You didn’t like to gamble?

TRAMP: Nah, I hate to say it, but all of that stuff, it just wasn’t me. It’s not what the band was. But I look back and think to myself that maybe I took it too serisously.

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                  "What I’m doing now, it’s not just White Lion unplugged. It’s Mike Tramp at

                                 52, and this is the best I’ve done so far." Mike Tramp

SLUDGE: I have to ask you about Vito Bratta, your guitarist. I know you haven’t always gotten along and have never got back together, but at least you have more perspective now. He was so just so great, Mike.

TRAMP: I appreciate that. I had made a public statement that I was not willing to talk about all this anymore, and I don’t know what he is doing, but as far as Vito the guitar player and Vito the songwriter and musician, he was in a caliber all by himself. It shows in his great solos, and so many people love the way he played like Eddie with the hammer-ons and all that stuff like the Van Halen solo on “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love.” I just love the way Vito played solos on “Wait” and “Little Fighter” and some of the others. He was like Mozart. We tried to do new White Lions with Warren DeMartini and Paul Gilbert and all these others, and no one wanted to do Vito. He was unlike anyone else, he had his own way of doing thing, and plus he was a great songwriter. Had he remained in the business, Vito would have been bigger than Steve Vai and all those types of guys. With him the melody came before anything else, and that’s nothing but the highest praise. I loved the sound of his guitar and I loved writing songs with him and stuff like that, but we had nothing else in common, unfortunately. There isn’t any bad blood between us. It’s just frustrating that I’ve had to carry on White Lion all by myself 100 percent. I just want to set in on record once again: We were White Lion once, but never again. But as for Vito, I am surprised he isn’t a million percent bigger in the music business. I don’t have an answer. No one ever will.

Gerry Gittelson can be reached at [email protected]

 

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