DAVID "ROCK" FEINSTEIN
By David Iozzia
Near the end of 2010, before all of the snow started falling and all of the snow shoveling started, I rode the train from my central New Jersey home to New York City. I was presented an opportunity to do an in-person interview with musician David "Rock" Feinstein, and I jumped all over it. Rock's musical legacy started in the late 1960s when he joined his cousin, the late great Ronnie James Dio, as a guitarist in a band called Ronnie Dio and the Prophets. That band would evolve into the "Electric Elves," then "The Elves," and finally "ELF" when Clive Davis signed them to Epic Records in 1972. After departing ELF, Rock formed the heavy metal power trio The Rods in the late 70s with bass guitarist Garry Bordonaro and drummer Carl Canedy. The Rods signed with Arista Records and toured heavily, opening arena tours for bands like The Scorpions, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest. The Rods even did a headlining tour with an up-and-coming band some of you may have heard of called Metallica. The Rods split up in the mid 80s, but they're back! The band plans on releasing a new studio record in 2011. When we sat down to chat, Rock was in New York City doing publicity for his great new solo record, "Bitten by the Beast."
Dave: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to conduct this interview with you and best of luck with the release of your new record, "Bitten by the Beast."
Rock: Thank you Dave.
Dave: When was the official release date of "Bitten by the Beast"?
Rock: The record was officially released on November 23.
Dave: I'm sure the downloaders will know where to go, but I'm an old-fashioned kind of guy. I need that physical copy in my hand. What's the best spot for music fans to go to purchase a physical copy?
Rock: Specifically, I couldn't tell you. I imagine it's at any place you can buy CDs. Stores like F.Y.E., Amazon, and Best Buy will have it. You can also purchase "Bitten by the Beast" at the Dio webstore, http://officialronniejamesdiowebstore.com.
Dave: "Bitten by the Beast" is a nine-track disc, and I'm sure that savvy music fans have already heard sound clips via the Internet. Because my website is text only, please give me a sentence or two that describes the musical direction of your hard-hitting record.
Rock: The musical direction of "Bitten by the Beast" is basically what my musical direction has always been: old school hard rock or heavy metal. It's similar to what my band The Rods did back in the day.
Dave: Eight of the nine tracks feature you on all of the guitars and vocals. I guess that makes it the ultimate solo album?
Rock: That's for certain!
Dave: You left the drumming chores in the hands, and feet, of a musician named Nate Horton. Please introduce Nate.
Rock: Nate is a world-class drummer from my hometown, Cortland, New York. He's not only a great drummer; he's a great guy. Nate never really had any worldwide notoriety. He never played in a band that did anything big as far as recording. I became friends with him, and as I got to know him, I saw what a great drummer he is. That's why I picked him to play on the tracks.
Dave: The "other" track features two bandmates of yours from The Rods: drummer Carl Canedy and bass guitarist Garry Bordonaro. The lead vocal chores on the song "Metal Will Never Die," which is the record's first single, were handled by your cousin, the late, great Ronnie James Dio. What circumstances brought the two of you back together to record that song?
Rock: For quite a few years, Ronnie and I talked about doing something together again, whether it was him singing on a solo record of mine, him singing on a Rods record, or us doing new Elf material. Whenever I'd go out to California to visit him, we'd work on some songs. Logistically, it was difficult because of his demanding schedule and the fact that we live 3,000 miles apart. The idea was always there, and every time we saw each other we'd talk about it. For a long time, nothing solid ever became of it until about two years ago. Ronnie was making more frequent trips to Cortland to visit his parents. On one of those trips, he called me and said he'd be up this weekend and that he was staying a few days. Ronnie thought it would be a good time to sing a few songs for whatever type of record I'd want to use them on. Carl Canedy, the drummer from The Rods, and I were working on new Rods material. I said we'd have to pick a few songs that Ronnie would sing. As it turned out, I had just written "Metal Will Never Die" one day prior to Ronnie's phone call.
Dave: Divine intervention?
Rock: Yes. It was meant to be that Ronnie James Dio would sing that song. I brought the song into the studio, and we did a quick demo. It was obvious that "Metal Will Never Die" was a song Ronnie had to sing. It was right up his alley. I picked up Ronnie and his wife, Wendy, at the airport. The following day we were in the studio. He listened to the song on a boom box and went in and performed his magic. That's the way that Ronnie would work.
Dave: You mentioned being 3,000 miles apart. How frequent was your contact with Ronnie?
Rock: For a few years it was very sporadic given Ronnie's hectic touring schedule. If it was somewhere I could make it, I'd go to the show and see the band. I'd visit him in California when I could, but his demanding schedule made anything more than sporadic contact very difficult. During the last five years, we saw each other more often because of his visits to Cortland. When Ronnie re-formed Heaven and Hell, that band did a lot of East Coast shows that I had a chance to attend.
Dave: The press release for "Bitten by the Beast" states that the track "Metal Will Never Die" is one of the last-ever recorded vocals of Ronnie James Dio. Do you think we will ever hear new Dio music posthumously?
Rock: I don't know how to answer that question. He could have recorded a hundred new songs back home for all I know. I don't want to speculate. I will say that he will be heard on a new track by The Rods when we release their new record early in 2011.
Dave: Being in a recording studio with Ronnie was nothing new to you. In 1966, you joined Ronnie Dio and the Prophets, a band that morphed over the next couple of years into Elf, who signed a record deal for Clive Davis and Epic Records in 1972. Shifting ahead almost four decades, what surprised you the most about Ronnie's efforts in the studio recording "Metal Will Never Die."
Rock: Back in the early days of Elf, Ronnie was also the bass player. He played and sang on that first record when we recorded it in Atlanta. Untraditional when compared to the way guys do things these days, Elf played as a band in the studio and they recorded our efforts. Ronnie's capabilities were so great. He did things effortlessly, especially when it came to vocals. It was the same deal when it came to "Metal Will Never Die." He came in and sang the song. Unlike many vocalists who need to re-do things or complain that their voice wasn't right; Ronnie came in and nailed the song from the get-go. If he wanted to do another track, it was because he wanted to try something different. It was never a situation that he didn't sing it right, that it was flat, or that it needed sharpening. Ronnie was capable of so much. That's the amazing thing about watching him work in the studio. He'd go in and sing the song. He'd do a great job. It would blow most people's minds because he didn't need hours and hours to get one take. I tried to tell Carl Canedy, who's a phenomenal producer and has worked with so many musical artists, about how Ronnie worked in the studio. After it was over, he said how right I was.
Dave: I'm not content calling "Metal Will Never Die" a song. After giving it a few listens, I was ready to call it a heavy metal anthem!
Rock: Thanks Dave. It gives me goosebumps when you say that. That song came about in a very quick process. I had never written a song where boom, the whole thing came to me at once. Usually, I have a riff and I work on it for days. That song just came up, and it came up two days before Ronnie was going to be in town to record with me.
Dave: Your lyrics "hear the thunder of heavy metal" and "we are metal. We will never die" say everything about a musical genre that has withstood the test of time. In your opinion, why has metal endued all of the constant shifts in modern music?
Rock: Because a lot of metal music comes from the inside. It comes from the heart. Heavy metal stays true to the people who like it. It's not music that you create to be like a corporation. It's not "let's put this together and get the formula down." I understand how that works. It's a money-making machine when you do that. Heavy metal is a style of music that you have to first feel and then play. Doing the "Bitten by the Beast" album, or any of my other albums, the first person that I had to please was myself. Being happy with my effort is all that matters to me, even if nobody else in the world likes it.
Dave: Stealing this line from the press release on "Bitten by the Beast," you state that you "feel like it was meant for me to write 'Metal Will Never Die.'" Why?
Rock: I mean it, but it's hard to say why. Probably because of the series of events. Ronnie and I talked about doing a few songs together for years. But realistically, I never knew if it would happen. I always hoped it would happen, but with scheduling and other factors, it was never guaranteed. Like I said earlier, it was written two days before Ronnie came to town. The guitar solo was the first and only solo I did. It was a scratch solo. Some people do a hundred solos and agonize trying to pick the right one. When I hit the last note on that solo, the computer in the studio crashed. With the horrible turn of events with Ronnie getting sick and passing away, it's too eerie to think what made me write this song. Why did Ronnie decide that week would be the time to visit the East Coast and record two songs with me?
Dave: After hearing the "anthem," I can't agree with you more when you state that "it was meant to be that Ronnie James Dio should sing it."
Rock: I say that because of the way he sang it and how he sounded on that song. When you listen to Ronnie's vocals, it sounds like he rehearsed it for hours. He listened to a rough scratch track on a boom box, he sang it, and he made it world-class like he usually does. Nobody else could have nailed that song the way he did.
Dave: Did Ronnie deliver the "anthem" the way you envisioned, or did he interpret it differently?
Rock: Ronnie followed the track the way I put it down, but he put his turns and his Dio-esque sound on it. He made it great.
Dave: What direct feedback did Ronnie give you about "Metal Will Never Die"?
Rock: Ronnie thought it was a great song. He also liked the other song we recorded for The Rods. That song isn't an anthem-like song. It's in a different vein. Knowing Ronnie well enough, if he didn't like the songs, he would have said something to us.
Dave: Start to finish, "Bitten by the Beast" is a great record. One of my favorites has to be the final track, a remake of the Elf song "Gambler, Gambler."
Rock: That's funny Dave. I did a phone interview the other day with somebody from Oregon or South Dakota. The interviewer said it was a great song, but he asked me if I had just written it. He didn't know that "Gambler, Gambler" was written almost 40 years ago for the first Elf album. I always loved that song and wanted to re-do it. If you listen to the Elf version, the only difference is Ronnie's voice and Micky Lee Soule's piano. Other than that, it's basically the same arrangement. A funny story about that song is that Ronnie lived next door to me at the time. A guy we knew from town was a bookie. Sports betting, of course, was illegal. He'd hop from one telephone to another to take bets so that the police had a hard time tracking him. And he'd pay people to let him use their phone. He was using Ronnie's phone at the time the police busted him. Ronnie was also arrested. That's what inspired the song "Gambler, Gambler."
Dave: As you prepared to sequence the record, I can understand ending the record with "Gambler, Gambler." What was your thought process on sequencing "Metal Will Never Die" as the fourth song?
Rock: When I start recording and my songs are in rough form, the songs I think will be great are never the best songs after I'm done recording them. The song I didn't think was good often turns out to be great. I always knew that I'd sequence Ronnie's song in the middle of my record. I wanted the record to represent me first, and for Ronnie's track to be like the flower for the whole thing. And it is. I sequenced the album by listening to the finished songs and how they fit together and how they set up Ronnie's song. I don't have a set pattern or set rule when I sequence my records, but I do spend some time thinking about it. There's no right or wrong. If I played those tracks for 10 different people, there'd probably be 10 different sequences.
Dave: "Kill The Demon" and "Rock's Boogie" don't set up "Metal Will Never Die;" they follow as songs five and six. Please give a little breakdown of those songs to my readers.
Rock: "Metal Will Never Die" is kind of a down-tempo song. "Kill the Demon" is more up-tempo. I look at that song as one that could've been a Dio song. "Rock's Boogie" is an off-the-wall song because you don't hear and expect that type of tempo on a heavy metal record. I really like that song because it's so different and so old-school. I think that song is a nice pick-up after "Kill the Demon." As I said before, sequencing is just a matter of taste. The album could never start with "Rock's Boogie" because it's not representative of the whole record. The anthem-style songs are traditional and typical of what I would write. After leaving the band Elf, I would still write songs with Ronnie's voice in mind. As a songwriter, there were no limitations. I could write anything and he could sing it. When I started The Rods, I had to write songs with limitations. The band is a power trio and it's a certain style of a band. With me singing, I'm limited as to what I can sing. I don't consider myself a singer. I had limitations, but I still would always come up with songs that had Ronnie in mind. That's why I think some of my songs from this record, "Kill the Demon" in particular, could have been songs on a Dio record.
Dave: Is it true you'll be touring with The Rods in 2011 to support "Bitten By The Beast"?
Rock: We want to. We don't have anything booked yet. We're waiting for the phone call. We want to play and support this album, as well as the new Rods record we'll release in 2011. The Rods has always been a band that thrived on playing live. Whether we play a festival in front of 10,000 people or a club in front of a hundred people, The Rods are still going to play the same way.
Dave: Because "Bitten by the Beast" is not a Rods record, how much of it will you play live?
Rock: The Rods will be the band supporting my records, whether it's a solo record or a new record by The Rods. In our current 60- or 75-minute set, we work in three or four songs from "Bitten by the Beast." If we're limited as a support act, we'll still do three songs plus the popular Rods songs. We've created a few medleys of Rods songs so fans can get a taste of all the songs they want to hear.
Dave: How tough will it be for you emotionally to sing vocals on "Metal Will Never Die"?
Rock: It's very difficult because Ronnie's death was such a horrible thing to happen. There are times I've done the song live where I'm on the verge of tears. Because The Rods are a trio, I have to concentrate on the guitar parts. If and when I make a mistake on guitar, you'll hear it. I also know that I could never sing that song the way Ronnie would sing it. I can't even begin to try. I just have to play it and sing it to the best of my ability, but it will always be Ronnie's song.
Dave: Tell me more about the Rods reunion album.
Rock: The Rods have a record that is 99 percent done. It's not scheduled, but it will be released on Niji Entertainment sometime early in 2011. The working title is "Vengeance." We're at a good point closing out 2010. We're starting to play some shows, and we're in the final stages of recording The Rods album. Like I mentioned earlier, Ronnie James Dio will sing on one of the tracks on The Rods album. Fans can stayed tuned in at www.therods.com.
Dave: Are there any other aspects of "Bitten by the Beast" that I've neglected to mention that you want to chat about?
Rock: Not really. Aside from doing the record, I'm really happy that Ronnie and I got the chance to do something together again before his untimely death. How much better could I pay tribute to my cousin than by having a song like "Metal Will Never Die" for him to sing?
Dave: Thanks for the interview Rock. Feel free to close it with a message to your fans.
Rock: I just want to thank everybody. If it wasn't for the fans, you wouldn't be here interviewing me, and I wouldn't have the opportunity to make this record. Ronnie was dedicated to his fans. I watched him sign autographs in the rain for an hour until the last one was signed. I feel the same way. If it wasn't for music fans, nobody would make records and nobody would play shows. I appreciate each and every one of them. And thanks for the interview Dave. You've had some great questions. Let's chat again when I release The Rods record.
Dave: Sounds like a plan Rock.