ROSS THE BOSS  “Never Lay Down Your Sword” 

By Dr. Abner Mality

In the world of rock and roll, a man’s guitar is his sword and the weapon by which he lays down the law. Ross Friedman won’t lay down his guitar until he’s dead, I think.  Ross the Boss has been carving a mighty path through the world of heavy music since the hazy days of the early 70’s, when he was in a band called...believe it or not...Total Crud.

He’s been cranking it hard and heavy since then. The snot-nosed punk of THE DICTATORS...the barbaric metal of MANOWAR...the haughty hard rock of SHAKIN’ STREET...that’s a great legacy for any axe-wielder. But it’s not enough for ROSS THE BOSS. Since 2009, he’s continued to bang away with the ROSS THE BOSS BAND, a unit which carries on in the tradition of MANOWAR but which also forges its own path. The RTB Band has been steadily releasing albums with the latest and perhaps greatest being “Born Of Fire”.

For the first interview featured for the return of Wormwood Chronicles, it would be hard to think of a better subject to talk to than The Boss. I caught up with the grizzled vet while the band was touring the West Coast. They just had their Salt Lake City gig wiped out by the worst winter storm of the season. Much like a certain mighty-thewed barbarian of Cimmeria. Ross takes such setbacks in stride and continues to march ahead, much like he’s been doing since the day he first picked up his sword…

Let’s see what the man has to say!

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: How’s the current tour doing? Where are you guys at?

ROSS THE BOSS: Well, right now we’re caught in a snowstorm and they’re not letting any traffic through.

WC: Prior to the current mess, how have things been?

RTB: Pretty darn good. I can’t complain at all. Up until now, we’ve been pretty lucky. We’ll be forging ahead from here.

WC: What struck me about your new album “Born of Fire” is that it’s pretty lean and mean, with a lot of aggression in it. Was that the plan from the outset or was there even any plan at all?

RTB:  The songs just lent themselves to the attack of the band and the songs pretty much just happened. It wasn’t really planned. It’s the way we play and the way we sound. It’s the natural progression of the band and the fact that we were together for 2 years and working constantly to improve.

WC: You deal with a lot of epic subjects in the lyrics and have this big, bombastic image, but the songs themselves were pretty compact. Things rolled along quickly and smoothly from tune to tune.

RTB: There’s no let up in the album and there’s no repeating. A lot of rock bands have a tendency to repeat their ideas. That’s never been the case with us. We reject repetition. The album is real diverse and yet it’s all the RTB band.

WC: It doesn’t overstay its welcome, which is an advantage these days. With the angrier cuts on the album, like “Glory to the Slain” and “Denied By the Cross”, would you say you’re getting as much influence from your punk past with THE DICTATORS?

RTB: Yeah! With “Glory to the Slain”, that’s more of a MOTORHEAD influenced song. It’s got that flat out energy where you just press the button and you’re going hard. With “Denied By The Cross”,  there’s a thrash element but it does break into other parts. I just think that there’s been a street and punk edge to me from the start. It’s all in there. The band is firing on all cylinders.

WC: Would you say that “Denied By The Cross” is the darkest RTB song so far?

RTB:   Yeah, it’s pretty dark. It’s about the movie “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”. It about when they killed his woman and he swore revenge on the church.

WC: When you write songs, are you like the general giving commands or do the other guys get input into the process?

RTB: Funny you should say that. This album was definitely a group effort. I could write four or five songs, then we all work on the arrangements. Everybody brought songs to the table this time around. Mike LePond, the bassist, brought some great songs in...”Glory to the Slain”, “Fight the Fight”. He really helped with my arrangements. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think the record could have been made. Marc Lopes, our singer, brought in a bunch of tunes as well. It was a group effort. We weren’t even two years away from “By Blood Sworn” and good songs don’t grow on trees, you know?

WC:  I was going to ask what it was like to work with Mike LePond because he’s such a tremendous bassist and he’s super busy with a ton of different projects. It’s sounds like your work with him is a full on collaboration.

RTB: Oh yeah, his musical output is amazing, just amazing.

WC: He’s one of those guys that isn’t happy unless he’s involved in something.

RTB: Yeah, he likes to work, that’s for sure.

WC:  With your singer Marc Lopes, there’s an angry edge to his voice that you didn’t really get from MANOWAR. A punkier kind of edge.

RTB: He definitely has an edge to him. You can really hear his anger. But he’s a man of many voices, as you can hear. He sings and he sings beautifully. He’s got the snarl, he can do the high range, he can do the low range.

WC: He reminds me a little bit of the guy who used to sing for METAL CHURCH, David Wayne…

RTB: Yes, I can hear that.

WC: The live chemistry you have with the band now, is it at its peak or is there further to go?

RTB: Well, we always have further to go. We’re definitely pushing the envelope. Our drummer on “Born of Fire”, Steve Bolognese, it was his first album with us. He’s one of the best drummers on the planet I think you’re only as good as your drummer and he’s amazing. He has a lot of swing, he even has that swing on the double bass drum. That’s kind of hard to perceive, but that’s what he does.

WC: It’s really physical to play that way.

RTB: Yup, but he does it effortlessly. You look at him while he’s playing and it doesn’t even seem like he’s working at it. He plays his ass off.

WC: You’ve been doing this for a good long time now. Are you still learning tricks when it comes to playing guitar?

RTB: I try to learn something everyday. Listen, I watch everything around me, I watch every guitar player I can. I try to perceive what’s going on with all the music I listen to. You’re never too old to learn things.

WC: What would you want to people to remember most about your career?

RTB: Well, that I never stopped, I never took “no” for an answer. I did what my heart told me to do, starting THE DICTATORS, starting MANOWAR. Being different, going against the mood of the day. Just doing what I believed in doing. Changing modes, changing genres and doing it effortlessly, which people can’t really believe about me. “Why’d you do this?”, “Why’d you change to that?” Well, the original DICTATORS are about to record again in March when I get home. And then I’m gonna do a blues record. I’ve just been blessed to be able to play well and not just one thing. That would be boring to me.

WC: Even on “Born of Fire”, there’s a good bit of variance in sound and approach. A lot of modern bands just can’t figure that out.

RTB: I am basically a blues guitar player. I start with that mindset. My favorite guitar player in my whole life was B.B. KING...B.B. and FREDDIE KING and those guys, they said more with a couple of notes than guys today say with a billion notes. But when I have to play fast, I play fast. There’s no doubt about it. But less is more, I’ve always believed. I have the ability to express an emotion, the ability to express passion and melody in my solos. It has to come from my heart. I start with a rock and roll attack and then I can vary it up in the middle of a song. I can call on a lot of things which I’m able to do. 

WC: The general overall state of music in 2020 is very disturbing. When there is no rock music at all at the Grammy Awards…

RTB: Right. The Grammys are a disgrace.

WC: Is there a way out of this mess?

RTB: We were just talking about this last night in the dressing room. People are talking about these great young bands and what they sound like. I’m not going to put them down, but I’m not hearing it. I’m not hearing the next wave of metal. I think the people doing the best work now are the veterans and the ones carrying the torch from the bands in the 80’s. I’m sure there are some bands out there that are fantastic, I just haven’t heard them. I hope they are out there. As far as the RTB Band goes, the young kids today who like real heavy music should like this new record. It’s aggressive and I guarantee we’re going to get some of those fans. I don’t really know where music is going. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just had a horrific class. They don’t recognize Judas Priest or Soundgarden or any of that. So we have the Metal Hall, thank God we have that Metal Hall. I was in the first class. Now everyone’s getting in on it because it’s legitimate and we have a place where people can get recognized for their life long work. That includes promoters, that includes journalists. Guys like you, you deserve a spot in there for keeping this music going!

WC: Well, thanks. I’ve been into heavy music since 1973. I got one of those old K-tel record compilations. It was supposed to be all heavy metal but only half of it really was. That was the first time I heard Deep Purple’s “Smoke On the Water”…

RTB: Then you heard enough…

WC: Yeah.  They also had a song by MC5, “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath,,,

RTB: All that stuff influenced me and THE DICTATORS in 1975. That’s when I started. All those influences were in me as well.

WC:  They were just starting to put a name to it back then. It seems to me that all the energy for heavy metal and hard rock comes from other countries these days. South America is crazy for it, India looks like it may be the next place to blow up. The concerts seem to be same over there.

RTB: Yes, our concerts over in Europe are always amazing. We’re getting tons of response from Germany, from Eastern Europe like Poland and Hungary. It’s all there, it’s all coming. Metal is not dying, it’s actually getting bigger.

WC: Worldwide, yes.

RTB: Definitely and I think it’s getting bigger here, too. It’s just a matter of time.

WC: The whole corporate power structure is dead set on surpressing it. 

RTB: They’ve hated heavy metal since the beginning. They’ve tried to kill us off and kill rock and roll off but they can’t. They can’t. If you see some of our fans, they’re so dedicated. You’re not going to tell them anything. They want the real deal, you know. That’s why people are waking up to the RTB Band now. It’s a revelation when they discover us. The new record is really going to help that journey with us. I think we’re positioned in the right space space, at the right time, with the right record and the right band. I think it’s gonna do good. It’s just put your head down and play.

WC: That’s the only way to do it anymore…

RTB: Right, that is the only way to do it.

WC: Do you have any further plans for the DEATH DEALER project you’ve been involved with?

RTB: Yes, we do. We’re getting ready for the third record. Sean (Peck, DEATH DEALER vocalist) is researching for whether we’re going to use a record label or self-finance everything. The record is done, the record is mastered, it’s ready to go. By the way, Mike LePond also played bass on that record. We’re just looking to do some selective excellent dates for it as well.

WC: That’s good, things have been kind of quiet on that front for a while.

RTB: Well, it’s all done and ready to go.

WC:  I guess it’s just a matter of timing and getting everybody’s various projects to line up the right way. As far as the RTB touring goes, after your finished with your current tour, how do you see things happening on that front? (NOTE: Sadly, this interview took place just before the Coronavirus pandemic broke out--Dr. Mality)

RTB: Well, we’re all off in March and everybody will be doing their own thing for a bit. I’ll be doing THE DICTATORS. After that, we’ll be spending the whole month of April in Europe. We’re going to be supported by BURNING WITCHES from Switerland, the all female metal band who are pretty cool…

WC: And pretty hot as well! (laughs)

RTB: Yes they are! We’re going to have another band called ASOMVEL going out with us, too, so it will be an insane tour. They have a new record coming out, our new one will be out and so will BURNING WITCHES. It’s gonna be a cool, heavy thing to go to and I think it’s gonna do real well.

WC: They never forget, over there. I’ve seen clips from the Keep It True festival and they have bands playing that have only ever released a demo or two. The whole hall is singing along with them! For a band that never even had a record out. It’s amazing.

RTB: We’ve played that fest and you’re right, it’s something else.

WC: Well, I certainly hope you get out of your current jam. Are you headed to the East?

RTB: No, we’re headed to the West. Right now we’re five miles outside of Salt Lake City and tonight’s show has been canceled.. There’ literally nothing we can do about it. We cannot get there.

WC: Not even mighty warriors can challenge the gods of the storm!

RTB: Not when they close the road completely, they can’t.

WC: Any final words to the fans?

RTB: Continue being the best fans in the world. Continue to support the bands, be they veterans or young bands. Continue to buy...BUY...”Born of Fire” on AFM Records and support all the other projects we do. Come see us live and you will never EVER be disappointed in a show. That’s a promise. I’m not a man of wild boasts but this is one of the best shows on the road.