Little Caesar Aim To Redeem Themselves With New Album
Redemption is Little Caesar’s first new album in 17 years – and the band have finally toned down their ‘tattooed dirtbag’ image. Come inside to find out more about their comeback plans…
INTERVIEW: DAVE LING
Within minutes of picking up the phone in his Californian home, Ron Young makes the following statement: “There’s a reason this record is called Redemption.” Over the next half an hour, the explanation becomes abundantly clear.
Lead vocalist Young’s band Little Caesar released a Bob Rock-produced, self-titled debut through the Geffen Records subsidiary DGC in May 1990. Despite critics praising its fusion of hard-driving rock’n’roll and soul (viz covers of The Temptations’ I Wish It Would Rain and Chain Of Fools by Aretha Franklin), the quintet’s tattooed gang look was hardly de rigeur at the time. Worse still, as you will soon discover, behind the scenes issues at Geffen would conspire to bury them.
Tired of being dicked around, guitarist Apache quit to be replaced by Earl Slick of Lennon/Bowie/Ian Hunter/Dirty White Boy fame for a ’92 follow-up titled Influence. But music was changing and, so Young tells it, label boss David Geffen made it plain he would use his influence to prevent the band from fulfilling their goals.
There have since been sporadic reunions but Redemption is the first new album from Little Caesar in 17 years.
After all the calamities first time around, does this feel like putting your head back into the lion’s mouth?
Not really. But first time around everything that could go wrong for us did go wrong. This time, so many things in the record business have changed. Attitude-wise, we have also come to realise that if people like us then that makes us successful. We’re approaching things in a purist manner: Whatever happens, happens. In a more practical sense, we had done quite a few shows and got tired of playing the same old songs.
Does that explain why Redemption is being self-released?
Exactly. We spoke to a few labels but with the motivation no longer being to make money they didn’t have much to offer that we couldn’t do ourselves. That having been said, we’ve since had approaches from Europe, so going down the label route is still possible.
How many of the original band are in this line-up?
As you might know, Apache has come and gone a few times. He played on some of the record and then had another meltdown. So a guy called Joey Brasler is on guitar alongside myself and original members Loren Molinare [guitar], Fidel [Paniagua, bass] and Tom Morris [drums].
So no Earl Slick this time?
No. Slick is still involved with Bowie and doing a hundred different things. Joey has played with Steve Perry, he’s a great addition to the band.
Stylistically, Redemption picks up right where the debut left off.
I’m glad that you say that. We’ve always seen ourselves as a rhythm & blues-based hard rock band. It was like pulling teeth to make labels see that we were not trying to compete with hair-metal bands like Winger and Warrant. In that sense there were problems working with Bob [Rock] and on the second record [with Howard Benson]. Now all those years later, we can be what we wanted all along.
The band looks less like a gang of tattooed dirtbags than last time, but I bet you still don’t get messed with too often.
Now when I walk down the street I just look like some older guy you shouldn’t mess with, like I just got off parole or something [laughs]. But I’m not gonna dye my hair and grow it down to my ass. I need to be age-appropriate.
How badly did the band’s original look hinder its progress?
Oh, a lot. Because none of us associated ourselves with the whole hairspray thing, perhaps we went too far in the opposite direction. Our sleeves said: ‘Here we are, a bunch of scumbag-looking dudes’, when in fact we were quite nice guys. Very few people, including the record company, got that dichotomy.
The irony is that they didn’t see the [musical] change that was coming. Within a couple of years it didn’t make a different what you looked like. We’d been telling them, ‘Things are going to change; people will get sick of disposable music and fluffy power ballads’. And sure enough, when Soundgarden and Nirvana came along it was no longer about how you looked. And by the time it happened, we are already gotten so far south in our relationship with them, it didn’t make a difference.
A specific hindrance was that a senior executive at your label, DGC, got dismissed for, shall we say ‘rather unusual reasons’?
Yeah, he got caught for masturbating onto his secretary. But more damaging still, just as our record came out David Geffen sold the label to a Japanese company. We were on MTV, but you couldn’t buy it anywhere at its highest moment of promotion. Then, like you say, the label manager got fired for auto-erotica. And Jimmy Iovine, our manager, decided to start Interscope Records, which of course was injurious to his relationship with [DGC boss] David Geffen. It was one thing after another.
The obvious question is: Couldn’t the band have gone to another label?
Of course we asked, but the final nail in the coffin came when David Geffen told me, ‘I can’t let that happen. If you have success elsewhere it makes my company look bad’. He would rather enforce his own politics than let us have career. And it wasn’t just Little Caesar. Neil Young didn’t put out a record for ten years and there was a dispute with Don Henley. Basically, David looked me in the eye and said: ‘I collect artists like other people collect artwork. I don’t care if you sit in a warehouse’. I said, ‘Boys, it’s time to get day-jobs’ because we were not going to be able to live off our music.
Where do you stand on the sometimes-voiced theory that Geffen’s head A&R man John Kalodner was a musical genius?
Certainly, John would say that [guffaws with laughter]. John Kalodner is a gentleman. All I can say is that when a label’s A&R guy has four separate T-shirt designs on sale and his artist has two… well, do I need to elaborate? John likes to pad out his successes and downplay his failures. The main problem with Little Caesar was that John didn’t get us. He’s a great guy to have on your side, but if he’s not on your team then he can put up some very, very thick walls to break through. Was that diplomatic enough? [Laughs].
On a happier note, the band’s sold-out UK debut at the Marquee Club in August 1992 attracted rave reviews.
Yeah, that was while [Earl] Slick was with us. The record industry was talking about us, but our relationship with the label was an all-time low. What could we do next? In Europe the fans and writers ‘got’ the band. So Geffen gave us, like, eight dollars to go over and play seven shows. The review in Kerrang! [by current CR writer Neil Jeffries] couldn’t have been any better had I written it myself. One of the guys from Thunder [presumably singer Danny Bowes] was at the Marquee and said he could get us onto the Monsters Of Rock bill. Geffen just said, ‘No’. When we got back from Europe we knew it was over.
Some may recall your cameo in a bar scene of Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
That came about due to my long-time friendship with [director] Kathryn Bigelow, who later married [T2’s writer/director] James Cameron. James said, ‘Dude, you’d be great for my movie’.
Did you get to spend much time with Arnold Schwarzenegger?
Yeah, because there was a lot of downtime and I was friends with Jim. There are not many people who can claim they have whacked the Governor of their state around the head twenty times with a pool cue.
After Little Caesar, you joined the band Manic Eden album which included three-fifths of Whitesnake’s Slip Of The Tongue-era line-up. Amazingly, that one also dropped through the cracks.
At the start they had James Christian [the vocalist from House Of Lords], half the record was written but it wasn’t working out. They were trying to break away from what was expected of them, which I quite liked the idea of. But in the end Adrian [Vandenberg, guitarist] quit – walked out on his own band – to go back to Whitesnake.
You also toured, briefly, as vocalist of The Four Horsemen?
Yeah. Frankie [Starr, frontman] was in a coma [after being hit by a drunk driver] and it didn’t look as though he was coming out, and they had a record [Gettin’ Pretty Good At Barely Gettin’ By] to tour. The shows were great but kinda weird for me, filling in for someone who was in a bad way [Starr would later die of his injuries]. We did discuss continuing, but it didn’t pan out. This is turning into a real feelgood story, isn’t it? [Laughs].
In conclusion, is there any realistic possibility of UK gigs from Little Caesar?
It would be nice to get over there in the warmer weather… maybe get onto some summer festivals. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that there’s enough interest.
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