ROSS THE BOSS "Old Metal Soldiers = New Metal Leaders"

Interview by Dr. Abner Mality

Ross Friedman is the kinda guy that journalists like me spend their careers hoping to talk to. Not only is Ross a living legend who is a virtual encyclopedia of hard rock history, but he is extremely gracious, has an excellent memory and boy, does he love to talk. This combination of traits is mighty hard to find in one package!

Believe me, it's plenty cool to chat with a guy who can tell you about the time that Kiss and AC/DC opened up for him! Or who tosses around names like Joey Ramone and Albert Bouchard like they were long-time friends...which, in fact, they are! Ross was a huge part of one of the most underrated punk bands of the 70's, the Dictators. In my humble opinion, these guys were way more clever and powerful than The Ramones, who wound up getting most of the press.

Ross traded black leather jackets for sword and shield when he joined the immortal power metal gods Manowar in the early 80's. Let's face it, the early Manowar is still the best and it has Ross' trademark guitar excellence all over ever track. Who can forget stuff like "Fast Taker", "Gloves of Metal", "Thor The Powerhead" or "Each Dawn I Die"? It was in Manowar that Ross truly earned his nickname "The Boss".

Since leaving that legendary band in 1988, Ross has dabbled in a number of hard rock exploits, but recently has decided to strap on the warrior's weapons again in a new solo band firmly based in classic Manowar style. In fact, the first Ross The Boss solo disc "New Metal Leaders" is regarded by many as the kind of record that Manowar has forgotten how to make....

Join me for a fascinating conversation with this icon of metal...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Your new album "New Metal Leader" has just been released. How long was the desire to do this kind of metal building up in you?

ROSS THE BOSS: I left Manowar in 1988. I've always been into heavy metal, that's been a constant. My career proved it with Manitoba's Wild Kingdom and some of the other things I've done, but it wasn't really in this power metal style. I was just waiting for the right time, to meet the right band and make the right record.

WC: What was the signal that the time was right to do this again?

RTB: In 2005, I played the Earthshaker festival in Germany with Manowar. We had a reunion show and here were thousands of people coming up to me and saying "play more Manowar, we wanna hear the old Manowar songs. The old stuff is the best and we wanna hear you, Ross!" I got invited to play the Keep It True Festival also in Germany and one of the guys who promotes is Tarek Maghary from the band Majesty. I've played on a lot of his stuff. Tarek and this journalist Oliver Westheimer got a hold of me and said, "Ross, come and play this festival!" Well, that would be great, but I don't have a band.I'd love to do it, but I don't have a band.

Well, they came back and said "You won't believe this, but we just received a tape from these guys who are called Men of War!" They're called who? What?! They had this thing where they play Manowar covers. Well, OK, send me the tape, I'll check it out. I absolutely loved it. They were very precise, very good musicians. So I said, OK, let's do it, let's try it! We all got together and in March of 2006, we played the Keep It True festival. Right after that, I said, you know what, guys? I don't wanna play these shows anymore. A couple are enough, I don't want to keep playing these songs. I want to do new songs! In the meantime, we got offers to play Italy and Greece. We did all that. Then we went into the studio and laid down 2 new songs. I said to Patrick Fuchs, the lead singer, that the true test of a band is writing its own material. We went into Titanic Studios, whipped out those two songs and I said, you know what, we've got ourselves something.

WC: It had to be like a dream for those guys. It kind of reminds me of Tim Owens playing with a Judas Priest cover band and then playing with Priest itself.

RTB: Yeah, it was something like that! The thing with these guys is, they don't do just covers. They have their own band called Ivory Knight. They are serious metal musicians and they have 3 CD's out already. They were doing Men of War are a kind of "respect" goof and they had already retired. They weren't going to do that anymore. Then, when they found out who their new guitar player was going to be, they decided to do one more show! (chuckles).

WC: They were used to writing and performing original music, then...

RTB: Yeah, they are well schooled metal musicians. It wasn't just a cover band that I played with.

WC: Are the songs on "New Metal Leader" ones that have been floating around for a while or are they relatively recent?

RTB: They're fairly recent songs. "Plague of Lies" and "Constantine's Sword" I wrote with Albert Bouchard from Blue Oyster Cult. I was in a band with him called the Brain Surgeons before this new band happened. Those two songs are about 5 years old. The rest of the songs are very new.

WC: How easy was it for you to slip back into "barbarian" mode since it's been a while since you've done that? Did you sharpen the old sword, get the axe out of mothballs?

RTB: (laughter) You know what? The only weapons we really used were guitar, bass and drums. The imagery on the album cover was obviously to claim stake to something that I helped invent.

WC: I picked up on the Manowar imagery right away. I was already into sword-and-sorcery stuff...

RTB: That's cool!

WC: The image was very unique at that time. It had not been seen before. I compared it a little bit to Kiss.

RTB: Yeah, it was something that was a little bit off the charts.

WC: Now that you've been out of the band for a while, what do you think the proudest Manowar moment was for you?

RTB: Well, to be honest with you, all those years were great but working with Orson Welles was something else. That happened early in our career. Just to work with someone of that stature was unbelievable. This guy was just from another world!

WC: Except for just a couple of things, he was never understood by mainstream Hollywood.

RTB: Right! Just like the mainstream metalheads never understood Manowar!

WC: Was he a real easy guy to work with?

RTB: Yes, yes. He was incredible to work with.

WC: His vocal work on "Defender" was charged with a lot of emotion.

RTB: Yes, "Dark Avenger", "Defender" were tremendous. He was truly into what we were doing.

WC: What would you say your favorite Manowar album was?

RTB: My favorite Manowar album? The first one!

WC: What made that special?

RTB: The first one was the template for everything that came after.When I was in the band, we did rock n' roll songs. We did epic songs. We did instrumentals, we did speed metal songs. That set the template for what was to come.

WC: In recent years, it seems that Manowar's material has gone too far on the symphonic route. It's lost some of the grittiness of the early albums. They don't do songs like "Fast Taker" or "Metal Daze" anymore. Would you agree?

RTB: I have to agree with that. It's a different direction, a different concept. The use of symphonies, keyboard patches...listen, it's all good. I just think it is not what Manowar was.

WC: I think that's why "New Metal Leader" has gotten a great reaction. It's pretty diverse.

RTB: Yes, it uses the same template as old Manowar. You got your rock n roll songs and your epic songs.

WC: Like "May The Gods Be With You". That's a real catchy ,upbeat tune, which is something we don't hear much of these days.

RTB: It's rock and roll."Plague of Lies" is in a similar vein. And then we've got "Immortal Son" for the epics. Listen, I've
never been interested in doing a record that's the same song over and over. I don't think I'm capable of that. We've got a great diverse thing going on. I'm the proudest of the song "Matador".

WC: That tune had an awesome flamenco type solo in it. Even if somebody wasn't into metal at all, they could listen to that and be impressed.

RTB: I was really looking to do something like that. I felt it was the time and this was the song we were going to do it on. I said, Patrick, you go write the lyrics, you research it and come up with it. That's the beauty of the band.I don't wanna to everything. I don't want to tell the singer how to sing or the drummer how to drum or the bass player how to play bass.

WC: Would "Matador" be your favorite tune off the new disc?

RTB: Right now, it's my favorite tune. Sometimes, it's "I Got The Right", which is balls-out rock n'roll. All the tunes are really fine on that record. I think it's kind of like a metal sleeper. It continues to garner rave reviews and people just think it's really good.

WC: Right now, the metal scene is as diverse and as creative as its ever been.

RTB: Yeah! There's some awesome stuff that's going on that I'm aware of. I don't follow everything that's going on, but there's a lot of young energy out there, a lot of great young bands.

WC: A lot of the new bands are starting to put themselves in that classic mode of metal that you come from. But you can find almost anything you're looking for. There's not one dominant trend. The thing is, nobody can make a living at it anymore.

RTB: Yeah, it's really tough right now. That aspect of the business is bad, especially the CD market. It's terrible what's happened. On the other hand, there are new horizons to be had. You just have to stay true to yourself .

WC: You wouldn't be doing it for this long if you didn't love what you're doing.

RTB: Exactly, Mike, exactly. The road is gonna separate the wheat from the chaff.

WC: Do you have any idea how any Ross The Boss material is gonna sound? Will it be pretty firmly in the "New Metal Leader" mold?

RTB: It will be a continuation of what we've done on the first record. We're not going to do an about face and starting playing alternative rock. This is what we are, this is what we do. We're a melodic power metal band.

WC: That gives you a little room to work in. It's not as limiting as being only thrash metal or nu metal.

RTB: Absolutely, absolutely.

WC: Now I want to get a little further back in time and hear about your days with The Dictators. You were a pioneer once again with a genre that hadn't even really been properly named yet, this time being punk rock. How crazy were those days?

RTB: I don't want to date myself, but New York City back in the 70's! (chuckles) When The Dictators started, that was actually before the CBGB's scene got rolling. There were only a couple of places to play in New York City. There was this place in Queens called The Coventry. The New York Dolls played there and this crazy band that wore makeup....they were called Kiss?...they were playing there,too. It was amazing. And then all of a sudden, we had a record deal, Kiss had a record deal, the Dolls had a record deal. In 1975, our first record came out and then we started hearing about this place called CBGB's. We went there and started playing there and then the scene really changed. That club became an icon...

WC: You had a great honor because you played some of the final shows ever there...

RTB: No, we played THE final show there! Well, we played Friday and Saturday night on the last weekend. Patti Smith played Sunday night. I don't know if you could consider her a punk rock or metal performer...I always figured her as "experimental". So The Dictators played the real last hard rock shows at CBGB's.

WC: What were the feelings like when you played those shows? It had to be indescribable.

RTB: Considering the history and who had played there and who had been on that stage, including myself about 56 times, it was quite emotional. It was an ending...they closed the doors after that. It was hard. The last Saturday night was very emotional. The last song we played was "Blitzkrieg Bop" and we played it with Tommy Ramone. That was the last song we did on that stage. We did it basically for our friends Joey and Johnny and Dee Dee that weren't with us anymore. It was a very bittersweet night. The first time I left, it was like, oh man! Wow!

WC: It's tough anytime you say goodbye to a place you were really familiar with.

RTB: By the way, we also closed another long time club called The Continental. That was a famous club,too...they had live music for almost 18 years.

WC: I'm afraid the live music situation is gonna get worse before it gets better.

RTB: In order for a real club to sustain itself, it has to have a band like The Dictators play there four nights a week!

WC: I'm from the Chicago area, I remember when you played the Thirsty Whale.

RTB: Yeah, Manowar played the Thirsty Whale and The Dictators would play the Empty Bottle! People want to see live music. You can't get that over the internet. To feel the real energy, you've got to come see the band live. That's where the band can make its money. If you're really good, if you're really worth your salt, you gotta be able to play!

WC: Bands now make quite a bit of money from selling shirts. But back in the 70's at CBGB's, it wasn't about the merch. It was about the band and the fans.

RTB: Rock n roll!

WC: What do you think the legacy of The Dictators will be when all the history is written?

RTB: Well, more and more, the history is being rewritten for us. More and more, we're getting credit where credit is due. We were the band between the Dolls and The Ramones. We influenced The Ramones greatly. Tommy Ramone even told us, we owe you guys more than you could possibly know.

WC: That's a heavy compliment to get.

RTB: Judging from the look of The Ramones and then what the Dictators looked like on the cover of "Go Girl Crazy", its' very similiar.

WC: That was an exciting time in music that will never be duplicated.

RTB: No. you won't see so many great diverse artists in one spot again. I'll tell you an amazing story. In 1977, when this band called AC/DC opened up for The Dictators at The Palladium, we helped pack their stuff up and then we went to CBGB's to play.

WC: Did you see at that time what AC/DC would later become?

RTB: Yes! They opened for us in New York and we opened for them in Cleveland. After that, they never opened for us again.(laughs) I told my singer, these guys are for real. Something amazing's gonna happen with this band.

WC: They've become more than just a band.

RTB: Yeah, they're the greatest! I would have to say that they are the greatest rock and roll band.

WC: In the last few years, people have started to speak of them the way they used to talk about the Rolling Stones...

RTB: No doubt about it. And they are the nicest people in the world. They have no ego, those guys. They have nothing to do with the rest of the musical world. They don't care about trends, they don't care about style.

WC: I heard a journalist ran into Phil Rudd and said, have you guys ever heard of Six Feet Under, who do a death metal version of your stuff? Rudd turned to him and said, what is death metal? All we listen to is old blues records.

RTB: (laughs) That's exactly right.

WC: You were also for a time in the band Shakin' Street. They were hyped to be a big band at one point. What happened there?

RTB: After the final Dictators record came out, I kinda took a holiday. I was looking for a job and Sandy Pearlman, the producer and manager of Blue Oyster Cult, was in Paris and there's a band over there that's looking for a new guitarist. Their old guitarist wound up doing heroin. Sandy told them I happen to know one of the best. And that's how I hooked up with Shakin' Street and toured with them. Yeah, that was a good time. As a matter of fact, I just played with them 2 weeks ago in Paris.

WC: Is that just a nostalgia thing or is it more serious?

RTB: No, actually we just laid down some tracks for a CD that's gonna come out in the middle of February on a French label. It's a good record! I didn't have anything to do with the songwriting, but it's still good stuff.

WC: I live in Rockford, Illinois and I almost saw Shakin' Street...

RTB: We pl;ayed Rockford with Manowar once, with Cheap Trick. Those guys are awesome. Great guys!

WC: Shakin' Street was supposed open for Blue Oyster Cult and Black Sabbath at the Rockford Speedway, but didn't make it. I think by that time maybe you had joined Manowar...

RTB: Hmmm, I thought we played the Speedway...

WC: No, I remember it very well, It was Molly Hatchet, BOC and Sabbath. It was a real overcast, rainy kind of day.

RTB: Oh, now I remember what happened! We couldn't play because there was some sort of time problem getting there. We got there, but we didn't get to play.

WC: Are you still in the band The Brain Surgeons?

RTB: Albert and I are very good friends. Right now the Surgeons don't really exist because he was in the band with his ex-wife and they're suing each other for divorce now. I think the Brain Surgeons as a concept will pick up again one day. But not with Debra though.

WC: What was the last CD you got just because you wanted to check it out?

RTB: (chuckles) I can't even remember. I think it was on vinyl...B.B. King Live At the Eagle. I haven't got a new CD from a new band in...I couldn't even tell ya!

WC: What was the last gig you went to just because you wanted to check the band out?

RTB: Ummmm...haven't to been to a show as part of the audience since....longer than I've gotten a new CD! (laughs)

WC: In your long musical history, is there any real Spinal Tap moment you want to share with the fans?

RTB: (laughs) As a matter of fact, it was when we played a Brain Surgeons show in Pittsburgh. We were in the dressing room and we had to play the show and the door was locked. The door locked from the outside.

WC: How long did it take to get out of there?

RTB: It took a half an hour.Everybody was wondering, where's the band? (laughs) We were banging on the door, but there's another band playing so nobody hears us. We're bangin' on the fucking door and can't get out! We're callin' people on our cellphones and nobody's picking up. I mean, what the fuck?!