Victoria Holdsworth talks with Robbie Crane.
Spring was in the air, the sun was shining, but all afternoon Leeds was preparing for a dark night of hard dirty rock from some of the loudest in the business; Black Star Riders.
I sat down with their bassist, Robbie Crane during rehearsals for a quick chat to find out a little more about this newer addition to the band, and to set some stories straight about his old musical endeavours.
As we are both shown up to the production office for a chat. I couldn't help but notice Robbie was looking more like a PE teacher than a world class bass player, who has graced the stage with many famous legends.
'Victoria, it's a pleasure to meet you. I just want to apologise for being in hideous clothing and for being sweaty. I just got finished at the gym in town and haven't had enough time to change. I wanted to get all limbered up for tonight's show.'
Apology accepted, and being assured now that I was not going to be asked to shimmy up a rope or do any pull ups, then let us begin:
Back in 2014 when you joined Black Star Riders, you pretty much hit the ground running with recording and being thrown straight into touring. It's coming up to the three-year mark now, so how have things been going with the guys?
It's going awesome! [said with a grin like a Cheshire cat]. This is probably the most productive three years I have had since I was in Lynch Mob. These guys are just like machines! They are constantly writing and we are always recording, so it's a real proper working band. It's amazing to do the things that we do and it's just impressive to see how we all work together so well.
Heavy Fire, the new Black Star Riders album has been produced by Grammy award winning Nick Raskulinecz. How influential has it been working with him?
Nick for me, and I'm sure it's the same for the other guys, is like our sixth member you know?
Not only is he a cool guy, we all get on with him great, and we all have the same tastes in music, and we enjoy each other's company. He brings an immense amount to the table. Ricky and Scott are great writers, and the rest of us will write stuff too, but when we get to production, like every band I guess, you sit there and say 'Hey I've got an idea about this' and we are all gun ho and get started, then we call Nick and say 'You gotta come over and listen to our great ideas.' [laughs].
Most of the time he's like, 'Yeah, that's killer!' but at other times he's like, 'Straight up. Maybe that needs working on a little more, or maybe do this differently.' Nick is not afraid to just tell us so we can work it out, and it's just a really good creative relationship. He is awesome, and he has just brought so many great things for us, for me personally he is just the best. He's very talented.
Robbie, you have played with some of the biggest personalities in rock and metal. How are Black Star Riders different to the rest?
Oh WOW! What a question! This could be interesting! [laughs manically].
Well most of the people that I have played with, okay maybe not most, but some of the people I have played with were either solo artists, so they have their own ego situations, but when I was in Ratt it was a whole band ego situation, so Black Star Riders are like a more matured wine. Some bands have been great and I've had some great experiences playing with some people, but the Black Star Riders guys have kinda come full circle and are at that point in their lives, where they really wanna be great, but we want to enjoy what we do, and we want to do what each other likes.
I have met Ricky a few times in the past and he always struck me as quite grown up and serious in his attitudes to quite a few things. He has always seemed ahead of his time.
It's really good that you said that because for me, at the time that I was asked to audition for Black Star Riders, I wasn't so sure I wanted to play rock music any more. I had played it for so long, and I was done with the whole rock mentality, and I was doing pop bands and just enjoying myself and having a good time, but when I heard the 'All Hell Breaks Loose' recording, I found something special in there that made me go 'Wow!'
So, are you saying that it stirred your loins?
[Laughs] Yes it did! So, when I got to play with them, it was good, but I really didn't think that I had gotten the gig, so when they called me I was like, 'REALLY?' [laughs].
Over past years you have had some pretty public disagreements with previous band members, especially with Mr. Vince Neil, who never ceases an opportunity to be less than favourable with his comments about you. How hard is it to work with so many fragile egos and how did you/do you deal with it?
Sure! Yes, I have had some. As for Vince, I am surprised. [I refer to the titles of some of the books he has collaborated on in which he has not been too favourable, including Mr. Neil's own autobiography].
Well, I haven't read it! But ya know sometimes things are not easy. With Vince, the truth is that we played together for about five years and made a couple of records together, and I always got on great with Vince, but as you know the guy has some history, but I always enjoyed the guy prior to the seven o clock wine time, and that's cool ya know, everyone has their own thing, but mine and Vince's disagreement was just two stupid dudes that got drunk and got into a fight, and I won it and ended it, and that was it! It took about ten years for us to be cool, and we have always been cool ever since then, so to hear that he has said other things after that, which he must have as the publications you mentioned were after that time, is unfortunate. I don't owe him money, I haven't screwed his wife or slept with any of his girlfriends, I don't have anything of his, so to my knowledge there is no reason for it, unless it has been engineered by him for some reason. Every time I see him he is always gracious.
Black Star Riders made a conscious decision to move away from the Thin Lizzy legacy musically over the past few years, but how hard is that to do with all that history and with the current members of the band?
Did we? [laughs] I don't know so much if it was conscious. I just think we write music and obviously if it ends up sounding like Lizzy then so be it.
I know that Ricky pledged that they would not release another studio album under the Thin Lizzy banner and that it kind of stemmed from there to do so.
Well I was one of the only ones who wasn't a part of Thin Lizzy and all that was before my involvement, when Marco was in the band. When I joined the band, I loved Lizzy and I'm a huge Thin Lizzy fan, and I have an immense amount of respect for Phil and the legacy, so my biggest thing was that I wanted to be in Black Star Riders and not in Thin Lizzy, I love Scott and it is an honour to just be around him and anything to do with the legacy that he and Lizzy created. What's interesting musically is that Scott was the writer in Thin Lizzy, so when you bring over a personality from a band like that and they're the predominant writer in the new band, you tend to have these flavourings, but that's just how we write now, so like I said before if it sounds anything like Lizzy then it's because the song writer and guitarist from Lizzy wrote it [laughs].
I think it's a natural feel and progression so it's not like we said 'Hey, let's not sound like Lizzy' We all work off of each other's styles, put songs together and it just becomes what it is. If it sounds like Lizzy it's awesome. What a blessing when it could be worse! I just think we sound like Black Star Riders and I think that it has those different elements. It's neat to see the path that we are heading on. Some people like it, some people don't. Some want us to be a lot heavier, but they forget that we are in our fifties now but we're getting there and it's okay to be who you are. I've been in bands before when they say 'We gotta sound like this!' and I was like 'Really?' but that's not what the legacy of the band is. It's not like 'We're not gonna get to play the Rainbow if we don't do this or that.'
What direction will Black Star Riders be taking over the next year, and will fans be able to see and hear more of you?
The direction is just where our creativity leads us. I think musically we are very coherent as a band and cohesive as a band and we love what we do. I think we all take our experiences are grow with them. Ricky is always writing a lot and I'll be like 'Dude, where did you come up with that?' and Ricky is like, 'Remember when we were here that time and we saw or did this, well I thought of that,' and I'm like 'Wow!' I think it's amazing that our journey's together and experience and history just makes the music what it is, based on those experiences and I think that yes, we hope to continue. I know that we took a year off, but again I also think that it was much needed because they toured forever on 'All Hell Breaks Loose' and we didn't do as much on 'Killer Instinct' but we intend to do a fair amount on this tour. We have our natural writing juices flowing and some momentum and Nick's still alive, so we want to more records with him [laughs].
Ricky Warwick and Scott Gorham paid you compliments to your audition piece of 'The Boys Are Back in Town' saying it was the closest it had been paid since Phil Lynott. What compliments would you give to them?
Oh, Man! I still think to this day that it was a piss take out of me [laughs] When somebody says something like that to you, I mean, what do you say? To me it was a huge compliment, and to them; Ricky and Scott have been hugely supportive, both as a musician and a friend and I feel very blessed that I was brought into this situation, so I love those guys. We are very close and I just think they are great people and great musicians. Their work speaks for itself.
Ricky does seem to be able to turn his hand to anything, and I have followed all his bands closely over the years from The Almighty to SIC and all incarnations inbetween, so I am glad that you have all merged together so well to create the current Black Star Riders.
Thanks, that means a lot to me as a band member, and great for Ricky. You know before Black Star Riders I didn't really know Ricky. I didn't know anyone in the band. I played with Jimmy DeGrasso once with Keri Kelly over in Russia, so that's when we got to know each other. I literally didn't hear from him for a year, and then I get this text out of the blue, seriously, just saying 'Hey, what are you doing right now? And I text back, 'Walking, I'm out with my daughter' [laughs] so he's like, 'Call me when you get back, I wanna talk to you about something,' so I called him and he tells me that they were looking for a bass player. Again, I was like 'Really?' but as I said earlier, I wasn't even sure if I wanted to be in a rock band anymore. So, I tell Jimmy that okay I'll go and meet them not thinking anything of it. They just happened to be playing near my home town, doing a gig with Skid Row, and Marco was gracious enough to let me use his amp and do some sounds with them and then I was lucky enough to go out on the road and gig with Marco for a week on the tour, and it was just so much fun, and Marco is amazing. It was just so cool and an awesome experience.
Who are your bass heroes?
I can't answer that, apart from everyone! I find beauty in everyone's playing. I love the Sid Vicious stance. I love Geddy Lee's finger positioning. I love Steve Harris, he's probably my favourite of all time. Phil Lynott, Cliff Williams, Chris Squire, I could go on for years! Flea from the Chili Peppers.....everyone of them at some point has made me go, 'Yeah I like that!' or 'How did they do that?'.
Ricky got me into The Stranglers, and I think that guy is awesome. I love everybody! Everybody that has got feeling and groove.....Gene Simmons.....[Robbie's eyes have glazed over at this point] People always say to me 'Hmpf! Gene Simmons?' He's fucking great! Are you kidding me? That guy can really play. He's a monster! I'm not one of those snobby musicians that only listens to one style. I listen to everything, I don't care [laughs].
I used to steal my sister's Duran Duran records to learn how to play a pop bass when I was fourteen, so come on man, I learnt all that crap when I was a youngster [laughs].
I thank Robbie for taking his time to speak to Leeds Music Scene and go watch the rest of the sound check. After a Spinal Tap in Cleveland moment, which sees Robbie leads us down many wrong corridors, he finally opens the right door, and the vocal's we can hear flooding through from Ricky Warwick sound powerful and heavy, steeped in Irish drawl and you just know that all hell really is going to break loose tonight.