Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Never Turn Your Back...On The RIPPER!!! Interview with Rob Graves!

Well, shit, this is an easy one! There isn’t a whole lot more I can say to sing the praises of Texas horror metal gods that I already did in the review of their brand new “The Dead Have Rizen” disc (Black Widow Records) posted just a scant few weeks ago. The top-class, crunching metal ass-kicking it delivers puts it way up top for consideration in the early 2009 album sweepstakes and made wonder why on God’s green earth it took them till now to release this monster, seeing as it’s predecessor hit the shelves over 20 years ago. Here’s the whole story from RIPPER main man, Rob Graves.

RAY - You guys have a history…Christ, do you have a history! Give us some background on this thing we call RIPPER! Be as detailed as you want, lie some if necessary but tell us what you can.

ROB - Ripper was conceived in the minds of Sadie Paine and Animal Axeman, the bands original bassist and drummer, in the mid 70's...Even though we didn’t know each other at the time, we were all HUGE fans of KISS, Alice Cooper, and horror movies...They spent the remainder of the 70's trying to find a guitarist that fit their particular vision, but to no avail...One day in 1980, I was in a music store buying some guitar strings when I saw their ad, done on yellow parchment, burned around the edges, and hand-scripted in old English calligraphy...There was also a glossy black and white 8x10 of Sadie and Animal in costume, and in an old cemetery...I was entranced to say the least, so I snagged one of the tear-away phone numbers, asked the clerks if anyone knew anything about them, and left...I called them that night and we talked forever, eventually arranging a meeting...The idea was to take the darker elements of the KISS image ( like 4 Gene's ) and combine it with a heavier type metal, more in the Sabbath and Priest vein...We adored KISS though, make no mistake about it...To us, they were *the shit*, but our tastes in music had gotten heavier and more aggressive...Without them though, there would have been no Ripper...The 4 character aspect of Ripper had been designed and established before I came along, it just so happened that I agreed with it whole heartedly...They had some original material, but we soon decided that the writing direction was going to have to get alot heavier if it was going to work...We all loved the 70's Sabbath and Priest, and that style soon became the focus...We had worked up about 10 or so songs, gotten tight as hell, and began the search for our second guitarist, but before we found him, Animal quit the band...The timing was awful...We had just booked time in the studio to make a demo and couldn’t cancel...Frantically, we searched high and low for a drummer, when finally our good friend Stephen Bogle ( guitarist for Tokyo ) said he'd ask his drummer ( Don Ramirez ) if he would do the sessions with us...Don agreed, and after one rehearsal with him, he went in with us and laid down the drums to 'Sinister Minister'...Before we went back in for the next one, we found J.D. Shadowz, and he completed the remainder of the 4 song demo with us...This was late 1983...I was resigned to the fact that I'd be doing all of the guitar work on the demo until J.D. suggested that we talk to his former guitarist from Angelust, Johnny Crystal...We hit it off with Johnny immediately, with him joining just in time to sing the lead, and punch in the guitar solo on 'Death Awaits You'...We were finally complete...We almost immediately hooked up with Josh Blyden ( son of Larry Blyden, of the 'Whats My Line' 60's TV game show fame ) and J.C. Matalon, who had formed a company called Technifex...They were both licensed pyrotechnicians and trained special effects makeup artists, and they loved Ripper...We already had a road crew of 6, our own box truck ( a retired Ryder rental ), professional equipment ( Gibson, Ludwig, Marshall & Sunn ), and were actively seeking permanent management...A friend of mine ( Ron Miller ) where I worked part-time had taken our demo tape home and played it for his wife ( Gail E. Miller of GEM Entertainment Management), and she told him she HAD to manage us...We were set and ready, and hadn’t even played our first gig together...The 4 song demo was an introduction to the 4 permanent characters of Ripper, with each of us singing lead on our song...Through word of mouth and fanzine trading, these cassettes ended up in the lucky hands of people all over the world ( we recently discovered a few of them in pristine condition ). We found an office warehouse w/kitchen for rent, had a shower installed, bought a washer & dryer, and moved in...It had 4 rooms that we converted to individual living quarters, and a 20x20x12 warehouse room that we had professionally soundproofed...We carpeted the floor, but left the drywall bare, and the sound was incredible...We had our own P.A. but hired a professional sound crew ( L.D. Systems/Houston ) for live performances...We were cranked to a minimum of 100 decibels in clubs and showcase venues, with an average capacity of 500 to 1,000...We were fuckin' LOUD man! From 1984 to 1986, we literally owned Houston...We were never allowed to open for anyone, and could seldom find an opening act either, forcing us to headline our own 90 minute, all original concerts...Ripper was the top drawing act in the city, and no matter who was in town, we outdrew them...This was a time when Helstar, Kings X, WASP, Saxon, Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, Savatage and Pantera were on the same circuit as we were...We did alot of hangin' and partyin'...Dime and Vin were a fuckin blast, although they were all cool in their own way...Life was good and we were movin' on up the ladder...It was nothing to see celebs from bigger bands in our audience...Ripper was the 'Texas KISS', for lack of a better term...We were a solid wall of metal death, unrelenting, unfathomable, and absolutely unstoppable...Our makeup was latex prosthetics, made from molds taken from plaster casts of our faces, to actually alter our appearance ( like Lon Chaney ), but it was pliable and moved with our own facial expressions...Ripper was an atomic assault on the senses, with fire, smoke, fog, bombs, lights, costumes, and a ton of heavy metal...We were as 'in your face' as it gets, with no apologies and certainly no remorse...Gail would negociate with the club owners and say: "We'll play here tonight for free, and the next time, you'll pay us whatever we want!" They did...They turned 'em away at the door man, religious groups protesting outside, the whole ball of wax...We packed every venue, even on Monday nights...We were poised to make it, right along with the rest of 'em...Life was good!

RAY - A guy I knew told me Texas was a hotbed for hard rock in the ‘70’s: ZZ Top, the Winter Bros., etc. and he told me bands like Sabbath, Riot, etc. always did well in that state. Was that true? Did it forward into the ‘80’s.

ROB - It was true alright, and it most definitely carried over into the next decade, and beyond...I was one concert goin' MF! If you came through town, chances are I was there, Purple ( in the Astrodome ), The Who, Jethro Tull, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Uriah Heep, Yes, Kansas, Styx, Aerosmith, KISS, Motorhead, Maiden, Sabbath, Priest, AC/DC, Led Zep, Van Halen, you fuckin' name it...Stayin' out all night in line for the best tickets...It was a wild time man...I'd see these shows and be filled with a resolve to make it! I'd go home and practice my ass off for hours and days on end...I learned from my records...Lessons weren’t for me...Texas spawned not only ZZ Top and Johnny Winter, but Bloodrock even earlier on, Eric Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Omar and the Howlers, Watchtower, Cannibal Corpse, Deadhorse, S.A. Slayer, Helstar, Kings X, The Hunger, Pantera, and countless others...From what I could tell, everyone that came through loved it here...I dont remember seeing an empty seat at any show I attended...It was a great time...Reagan was bitch-slappin' the commies, and all was right with the world in Texas!

RAY - Rob, you’ve obviously got a deep interest, not only in metal/music but also in horror. What inspires you from the past and what do you like now? What sucks? Music, film, etc. Bro, you’ve got an open forum…let us have it!

ROB - Dude, I really REALLY got off on the old black & white horror flix w/Chaney, Lugosi, Karloff, Lee and the rest...There used to be a show that came on TV every Friday night in the 60's called 'Weird', and they showed every horror flick known to man over the years, then an all-night show called 'Paw's For The Night' came in during the 70's, and I saw more sci-fi and B shit than I had ever seen in my life, plus long blocks of 'The Outer Limits' and 'The Twilight Zone'...I remember seeing 'The Amazing Collasal Man', 'Night of the Living Dead', and all of the stuff from Japan too, and I worshiped it all...There were also a lot of drive-in theatres during the 60's and 70's, and I loved that the most...There’s nothing like you and a bunch of your buddies, smokin', drinkin', trippin' on 'shrooms or whatever, and seeing 'The Exorcist' at a fuckin' drive-in man...LMFAO! We were so freaked out by that movie ( I was 14 ), that everything we heard and saw for a week was a demon...We had a ball! My earliest musical inspirations from the past were definitely Hendrix and Trower, with Pink Floyd and Travers not far behind, with perhaps Trower being my favorite guitarist...That boy is a monster, so cool, so soulful, so dynamic, so fuckin' fluid...'Bridge of Sighs' is number one on my top 10 list, followed by the first 'Montrose' album, 'Aqualung', 'Whos Next', and '2112' among others...I loved British and American rock equally...To me nothing really sucked, because my world was what I loved, and I paid precious little attention to anything else...I was, and still am a Beatles fanatic...My parents are big time music lovers, and just about every day when I got home from school, I'd find 2 or 3 new 45's strewn on my bed...Mom hit the neighborhood record stores often, and would always get stuff for me too, things that she thought I'd like...I loved 'em all man...'House of the Rising Sun', 'Purple Haze', and alot of good old R&B stuff too, Clarence Carter, The Ojays, Billy Paul, The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Earth Wind & Fire, Marvin Gaye, The Isley Brothers ( Ernie Isley is BADASS ), and Barry White ( now THAT was one cool motherfucker )...Wanna score on a date, have a Barry White 8-track in the deck! I could go on and on, hell, that’s what I'm doin' ain’t it...Wishbone Ash, ELP, The Ramones, HELP ME RAY...I'm havin' a flashback meltdown!

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: Can a woman have such large breasts that she would be scary?

ROB - As Tigger would say: "Why, tha'thh impothibibble, hoo hoo hoo!" You fuckin kiddin' me or what Ray..? The only thing that could possibly be scary about women would be a lack thereof, my friend...I was bird-doggin' chix in Kindergarden, and goin' steady with 'em by the 3rd grade...Back then I got a little ID bracelet with my name engraved on it, and if I clasped that MF around yer wrist, bitch, you was mine! Being Sicilian, I been sniffin' around for it forever man...All I can say about the question Ray is, warm in the winter, shade in the summer...Got milk MF..? We love 'em because they're there ( not to mention the hypnotic bouncing and swaying ( * )( * )...Food for thought! I guess I do understand Uncle Ted's agony after all...Da poor bastid!

RAY - “…And The Dead…” came out in 1986 &, from what I understand, “The Dead Have Rizen” was written only a year later. Why the 22 year wait?

ROB - We made a second 4 song demo in 1985, and that along with the first, became 'ATDSR'...Iron Works/Azra Records suggested that we put the two together and let them release it, so we did...Before long, Bill Metoyer from Metal Blade Records was courting us, so we decided to pack up and head for Los Angeles in 1986 to negotiate with them for our next release...Not long after we were there, J.D. and Johnny left the band, for reasons I still dont fully understand...I'll go ahead and blame myself...I was very rigid and anal about perfection, and could be a real killjoy when it came to band business...I guess that, along with some other things that I'm not really at liberty to discuss, pretty much did us in...Anyway, they were gone, and Sadie wanted to attend The Makeup Institute of Hollyweird and work in films, so we stayed for another year while she did that, and I just sat in my apartment and wrote 'TDHR' to keep my mind off of the reality that we'd never really be able to truly replace J.D. and Johnny. Metal Blade wanted us, but our inability to permanently replace those guys made them lose interest, and thats why it was never recorded until now...Bro, I've been carrying that music around in my head all this time, never really believing that I'd ever get to record and release it...In 1990, after moving back to Houston, Ripper officially disbanded...Dream over...

RAY - Is there anything possibly cooler than a RIPPER album on the Black Widow Label?!?!

ROB - The only thing I'd add to that would be insanely HUGE royalty checks...Other than that, we have a good thing going...Their product is always first rate, they're very pliable to my wants and desires, pretty much giving me free rein to do whatever I want to do, and for that I'm thankful...I guess if what I wanted sucked, they'd speak up and tell me so...The love Ripper so much, and man, that’s kinda hard to compete with, ya know...They put up with a lot from me, but at the same time, they truly do understand where I'm coming from, and I feel fairly certain that they know whatever I give them will be of high quality...They pushed for me to include a cover on the album...I threw around a few things until we all agreed that covering KISS would be the most logical...BWR loves KISS, I love them, and KISS fans love them, and they're starting to dig Ripper too...I've received a lot of support from The KISS Army for doing the cover, and that’s a very cool thing to me, for I also am a part of them...I'm proud of my musical heritage, and if you dig Ripper, you gotta pay some respect to the influences also...They raised the bar so high man...They did for rock music what Muhammed Ali did for boxing, and thats change it forever, how its done, how it sounds, the packaging, the merch, everything...It is what it is...Smart MF's! Luckily for them, they made their fortunes before it became legal to steal it from them...That has changed the record business forever too...An artist’s work is no longer his/her own...Shall I stand beside you when your boss hands you your paycheck, and just snatch it away from you, simply because its there, and I can..? I, like you and BWR, simply love the real deal, the product man, the package, the booklets, the LP's too...Its sacred...An artist gets paid from what the distributors order, but they're not gonna take a bath in your product when they know people are gonna download it for nothing, and I don’t blame them...I hope someday someone figures out a way that makes it technically impossible to do it...Didn’t mean to rant, but labels and their artists are suffering...Nuff said!

RAY - The songs you come up with, from “Hemicidal” to “U.S. Tank” are brilliant because they are so simple & yet so impossibly catchy and heavy. What is your songwriting process, music, lyrics together, one first before the other, etc.

ROB - I always write the music first...The musical part of the song puts me in a certain vibe, and that’s when a title is born, and once I know what it’s called, the lyrics come easy...I'm hardly ever without a guitar in my hand...I play it daily, be it 30 minutes, or several hours...I must play my guitar...It calls out to me wherever I am, and whatever I'm doing...If I'm not playing, then I'm thinking about it, and always trying to make time to do it...The guitar is who I am, its an extension of me...Words I could never utter come out of that instrument...Its spiritual, like speaking in tongues, but with your hands...There’s a power there that only players know about first hand, and yet, the music lover and listener understand this too as the power of it moves them...If I hear something awesome, I get chills, and that kind of power is not genre specific...That power can exist in any form of music, for any number of reasons, and to any number of people...Frequency man...It vibes with your spirit and your bones...Its as important as breathing...Without music, the world would go insane, I know I would! The catchy part of the songs comes from my desire to hear a groove over and over again, and being raised on good music showed me how to construct them in such a way...Its like Dio's 'Rainbow in the Dark'...Thats what I'm talking about...That structure...You feel the chill when you write it, and you figure a way to expand the song, but all the while making that chill factor element repeat itself...I listen to Ripper alot...I'm a fan of it...I enjoy it immensely...If I don’t like it, you'll never hear it...

RAY - What do you think of all the radio metal shit without guitar solos? Is this all part of the dumbing down of America? It’s either that or, like the new G&R, techno-weenies with a zillion notes and no soul, eh?

ROB - Well, you can either chalk it up to differences in taste, or what you said...I personally dont understand the dumbing down of America theory...I think people live in fear of having no voice, or worse yet, being lumped in with someone else...We scream for individuality, and demand to be noticed...In that regard, I'm no different...To me, the absence of lead guitar is *punk*...A rebellion against what they consider to be a cliche'...Now, there’s no doubting that some of it is indeed metal with no lead, like Mudvayne or Korn for example, heavy, complex, but no lead guitar...For some reason, the 80's and hair-metal left a bad taste in peoples’ mouths...Think about it...Every one of them could shred, and wrote songs about goofy cherry pie, bubblegum, schoolyard bullshit...Real metal was sort of driven underground, but it festered and broke free again, especially in Europe...Today, Killswitch Engage, Slipknot, Godsmack and others are carrying on the tradition of metal with lead guitar...Its metal man, no trumpet or violin solo, it has to be done on a guitar...There are those with a zillion notes that *do* have soul...Yngwie for example...He's not just doing it because he can, that MF means it, feels it, adores it...Yes, he's classically trained, but without the natural talent he possesses, there'd be no emotion at all...He took the training, but it was his raw talent that morphed it into what it is...Its his, its signature, and no one else can do it like him, no one...Same deal with Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, and a host of others...But I do understand how the abandonment of this prowess makes it *seem* like a dumbing down...For one thing, the drop tuning requires a much heavier gauge of strings to stay in tune, which in turn, might make it more difficult to bend the strings, and then there’s the other side of the coin that suggests that they just plain *cant* do it...If they really cant do it, then of course they're gonna shout it from the mountain tops how stupid they think it is...For the first time in the history of music, a superior technique has been all but abandoned...I'll always solo, its what I do...I don’t give a fuck who likes or doesn’t like it...*I* like it!

RAY - Does RIPPER incorporate a lot of visuals live? Or is the music scary enough?

ROB - The music could have always held its own without the visuals...You can’t see the visuals when you listen to the CD...Like playing lead guitar, we presented the image because *we* loved it, and we never really entertained the thought that somebody might not...We were playing for *us*, getting *our* rocks off doing what *we* enjoyed doing...Luckily for us, others dug it too...LMAO! I think that Ripper music represents horror-metal pretty well, I mean, that’s the intent and the drive behind it...The costumes, the makeup, the 7 inch platform boots, the smoke and fire, that’s just icing on an already damn good cake...I've always considered Maiden a horror-metal band of sorts, because of the themes and their mascot Eddie, and they had no image whatsoever...Did it lose its effect, hell no...I recently saw their 'Live in Rio' DVD from 2001, and man, I was just fuckin' blown away, and a lot of their stuff does have that creep vibe to it, Priest and Sabbath too...I think you got what we gave you because of our immense love for horror and theatrics, but there was never an accusation that we were hiding behind the image for a lack of musical substance...We can definitely play.

RAY - Let’s play word association!

ROB - Well, why not...
a. Iommi
Proof positive that it took the son of Italian immigrants to create heavy-metal...Ay yo!
b. George Dubya Bush
Forwent his legacy to keep us safe...Got in *their* face to keep them out of *ours*...What balls!
c. Angelina Jolie
Isn’t it ironic that her Dad was told that *he* had a *pretty mouth*...Peaked in her looks as the peroxided, tatooed, thrill seekin' ho' in 'Gone In 60 Seconds'...That evil lil' look in her eyes...Brad tamed her down too much...She needs that Cher-like independence to become the immortal vixen she dreams of being! Just my opinion, but hey MF, you asked, dint'cha!
d. Lemmy
The Mike Tyson of heavy metal...He doesn’t give a rats ass what anybody thinks, he just soldiers the fuck on!

RAY - What’s next for RIPPER? Any live shows planned? If you play Baltimore, I’ll buy you a beer…or at least a can of Old Bay.

ROB - There are definitely things in the works, most of which has to stay under wraps for now, but since you're in the inner circle so to speak, you'll be kept informed as things begin to unfold...Time, schedules, and financial matters are the key elements we're dealing with at the moment, but there are things that have been set in motion to remove the obstacles and create the flow of momentum...When we were 20, it was nothing to sleep in a van for a week, not knowing where our next meal was coming from...It was water off a ducks back...Now however, we exist in the realm of the almighty mortgage amidst a multitude of financial responsibilities...Suffice it to say that if there’s a way, we'll find it!

RAY - Well there be another RIPPER album? Will it take till 2031?

ROB – That’s funny MF...Actually, I have the next 2 albums already written and ready to be recorded...Its hard to sit on this much material until such a time as it can actually be loosed, but hell man, I've been doing it all of my life...There will be more Ripper albums...Mass and da boys will set the time table for product and release, its our job to have everything ready when they call...If I had a while to sit down with you and recap the last 30 years, you'd know and understand why things went down the way they did, and why this process has been so difficult...

RAY - Tell me the most outrageous story you can muster in association with your time in RIPPER?

ROB - It was 1985 when KISS came to Houston on their Animalize tour...We pretty much had carte blanche wherever we went, so we decided to see if it would work on a much larger scale...Gail made some phone calls, including one to Ritchie Wise ( the producer for the first 2 KISS albums, and her cousin )...She had the makeup crew come to our headquarters and get us into full deck, as if for a show or photo shoot...We had everything arranged, time, place, transportation, you name it...Then the unthinkable happened...A massive Canadian winter air mass blew through and collided with our typical ocean breeze conditions, and it fuckin' snowed sideways...Needless to say, if we were still going to venture out on this escapade, we were on our own...LMFAO...There we were, ready-n-deadly with no place to go...We carefully shuffled our way across the frozen parking lot in our 7 inch platform boots, to Johnny's old car ( he had the only sedan )...I drove as we slowly and dangerously made our way to the downtown arena where they were playing, and we were the ONLY idiots on the streets...It was bad man...We had the heater in that old beater maxed...It was getting dark, and all you could see anywhere was the glow of traffic lights...I'm a native Houstonian, and I had never seen the weather so bad, before or since, but nothing had ever come easy for Ripper anyway, so we just accepted the fact and went on about our business...After an hour or so had passed on what should have been a 20 minute drive, we arrived at the backstage entrance, and it looked deserted...At this moment in history my dear friends, Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow, and the Lion pounded on the massive doors of Emerald City, and they opened...The backstage area was full of warmth, soft lighting, and people everywhere...You could have heard a pin drop...KISS had taken off the makeup a year or so earlier, and there we stood, like 4 Terminators...The band had come out of their dressing room to mingle and take pix before the show, and were surrounded by the press...To his credit, Gene $immon$ was the only one who walked over to greet us, shaking our hands and making small talk...When he reached out to greet J.D. Shadowz, a Ripper EP cassette was slipped into his hands...Gene knew we looked killer, but he was very gracious and friendly...Paul, Eric and Bruce kept at a distance, but continued to turn and look our way...Finally, we were escorted to some private seating to the side of the stage to watch the show, and they kicked some major fucking ass that night...During the drum solo, Paul made is way to the curtained off edge of the stage, about 20 feet from us, and shined a flashlight at us to get a better look...There we were, for all intents and purposes, the old KISS watching the new KISS...It was surreal, but we had a fuckin' blast...Everyone treated us extremely well...I don’t know if they remember that night, but none of us will ever forget it, that’s for sure! I'm sure Gene still has the EP somewhere in his archives...The boy is a packrat!

RAY - Any final comments?

ROB - Ripper was like a big hyped television series that only aired for a few seasons, and then fell apart, and for that, I apologize to everyone...But even in the midst of all that, our fans remained loyal and true, and kept our name circulating on the web, without our knowing...By chance, I decided to do a Ripper search in 2003, and there it was, page after page, remembered, documented, cemented in history, and none of it was our doing...I started contacting a lot of these people to say thanx for remembering, and before you know it, record companies were contacting me...Tobi Piwek of MetalCoven.de put me in contact with Mass, at which point he and da boys flipped out and told me how they had been searching for us for years to do re-issues and make new albums...It was like finally getting rescued from Gilligan’s Island...This new album was originally designed as a gift to all of those who remained faithful to something that we thought was long gone and dust...They were moved by the power, and kept the lights on for us, and I'll never forget that...They encouraged me, sent me well wishes, and helped me every way they knew how, to remind me of who I was, and what I had once been a part of...Its like a fairytale, but it happened...I wanted them to have what would have been, and now is the actual sequel to 'ATDSR'...They made Ripper more than just a curiosity or a myth...They breathed life into us again, and waited and waited and waited...Man, that kind of loyalty doesn’t come easy, so there you have it Raybo...We honestly had no idea that we had left such an impact...I owe them everything, and little by little, they'll get it too! Our fans, TheRIPPERCorpse, yanked us out of the grave, dusted us off, and kicked us in the ass and said: "Go and wake the dead again!

What a fun interview and a real candid look into the world, not only of one Rob Graves but into the forces behind the band RIPPER and the pulse that makes this timeless American metal band tick. What’s that, you haven’t heard RIPPER yet?! Well, poor soul, get going!

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