Music Legends Honor Wounded Warriors

My interview with Cheap Trick lead singer Robin Zander begins in eight minutes inside the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. I’m trapped outside the gate and no one can find my press credentials so I can get in. I’m starting to get a little nervous.

Iconic composer Shawn K. Clement has over 300 film and TV credits in addition to numerous video games. “The Warrior’s Hymn” premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The piece was performed by a 107-piece orchestra and a 247-member choir with lead vocals performed by Jon Anderson, Yes lead singer, who also wrote the lyrics. For Clement and Anderson, “The Warrior’s Hymn” was a three-year project. – with Shawn K. Clement at Greek Theater.

It all started a few months earlier when a colleague asked if I wanted to interview Zander who served as lead singer on a song called, “The Warrior’s Hymn,” by composer Shawn K. Clement who co-produced the project with legendary music producer Jack Douglas. Clement created the song to help raise money and awareness for wounded warriors which sounds like a great cause to me. “Sure,” I replied, having no real idea of the legends I was about to interview.

When I began my research, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Shawn K. Clement has 300 television and film credits on his resume. He’s created production music for shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, American Idol, The Colbert Report, The Osbournes, Extreme Makeover, etc. Any programs with titles like The World’s Wildest…, Most Daring…, Most Shocking…, World’s Dumbest….chances are Clement composed the background music. You may not recognize his name, but he’s one of the most respected songwriters in the industry.

Also on the agenda, producer Jack Douglas who was a close friend of John Lennon. John Lennon! He was one of the last people to see Lennon alive and spent the day after his murder alone with Yoko Ono. They spent about eight hours together, in shock, listening to every song Lennon ever created.

In addition, Douglas produced some of the most iconic talent in rock and roll history (Lennon, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, The Who, Blue Oyster Cult, etc.). He had some GREAT stories including the one where he and Aerosmith invented rap music. When sharing that story, the most common response I get….”NO, THEY DID NOT!!!” That’s always fun. One more thing, Douglas considers Clement to be a musical genius.

Legendary producer of “The Warrior’s Hymn,” Jack Douglas, worked with John Lennon on a number of his albums including, “Imagine” and “Double Fantasy” and became close friends with Lennon. Douglas also produced other talents such as Aerosmith, The Who, Cheap Trick, Alice Cooper, Blue Oyster Cult, the New York Dolls, the Patti Smith Group, and The Knack among many others. – with Jack Douglas at Greek Theater.

Finally, I could not pass up the opportunity to interview Robin Zander. I got hooked on Cheap Trick the very first time I heard him say, “I want you to want me!” The album, “Cheap Trick at Budokan” was THE album for the summer of 1979 for me and my friends.

As an added bonus, the record really irritated one of my summer recreation counselors that year (I have no idea why). During our summer vacations, my friends and I attended “recreation” where we played sports and other activities under adult supervision at a nearby school. It kept us busy and out of trouble. As a snot-nosed teenager, the fact Cheap Trick bothered my grown-up counselor made the band all the more cool.

If given the chance, it was a story I would share with Zander and Douglas, who both worked on “Budokan.” As I began talking to Clement’s manager, Ed Cohen, I tried to not get too excited. Far too many times, I’ve had an interview, which seemed to be a done deal, completely fall apart at the last minute. People who work in the entertainment industry have unbelievably crushing schedules. Everything needs to be set weeks in advance. One little change and that’s that.

Anyway, the day of the interview finally arrived without any last minute changes. I showed up two hours before interview time to pick up my press credentials. I planned to conduct my interviews before Cheap Trick’s concert later in the evening. Showing up early has paid off more times than I can count, but this time, it worked against me.

The Will Call office did not have the press passes. The lady behind the glass said they might be at the Press Gate. Of course, when we get to the Press Gate…no luck. To make matters even more perfect, my cell phone reads, “No Service.” (This kind of stuff is pretty standard…which is why I ALWAYS show up very early.)

Fortunately, I’m not alone. I’m with Ed Cohen, Clement’s manager (his cell doesn’t have service either), and Air Force Staff Sergeant Kristina LaCoste, who will be my photographer for the evening. We manage to get a message to Carla Dragotti, Cheap Trick Tour Manager. Her message back….”You’re too early. Stay right there. I’ll be there in two minutes.”

Two hours pass by. My interview starts in eight minutes. One thing to keep in mind, Dragotti has a mind-blowing number of details she must handle at these events. To make things worse, Foreigner is the lead act for the evening. The headliner sets the agenda (generally at the last minute). Everyone else must then conform.

Cheap Trick lead singer Robin Zander takes a moment to ham it up with AFN Radio’s SSgt Kristina LaCoste. – with Kristina LaCoste and Robin Zander at Greek Theater.

AFN Legacy’s George Maurer thanks Cheap Trick vocalist Robin Zander for his time. – with George Maurer and Robin Zander at Greek Theater.

I look at Cohen and say, “I’m starting to get a little nervous.” I’m now envisioning a scenario where we turn around and go home for the evening with nothing. LaCoste then says, “Let me go back to Will Call. Maybe the passes are there.” As it turns out…that’s where they are.

In keeping with the theme of the evening, LaCoste went to the Will Call window, but only I can pick them up. I begin running up the hill (you just knew Will Call had to be UP hill). A little background on me and “running”…I retired from the Air Force in 2009. Those who witnessed my last few PT tests probably still chuckle at my annual mile and a half “run.” However, there’s no time for pride and I try to ignore the amused looks as I’m “running” up the hill.

I pick up the passes. I run back down the hill (Things are picking up…downhill this time). We rush inside and the interviews begin. These interviews would later become a special edition of my daily radio show called, “Lunchtime Licks,” featuring, “The Warrior’s Hymn.” During the show, if you listen closely to the first few questions I ask Zander, I’m still a little out of breath.

Robin Zander was incredibly gracious that evening. He allowed AFN to interview Shawn K. Clement and Jack Douglas in his dressing room as he prepared for his concert. This required him to dress in his private bathroom which was not air conditioned on a hot Southern California night. When Douglas asked how he was doing, Zander yelled back, “I’m melting!” Not too many famous musicians would do the same.

Cheap Trick lead singer Robin Zander’s sneakers–one of many pairs he owns and wears while performing.

In the end, the evening was a tremendous success. We got entertaining interviews from all three gentlemen. LaCoste took some great photos. The Cheap Trick and Foreigner shows were fantastic. It was just one of those nights I will remember for a long time.

As we left the parking lot and starting driving home, my cellphone service suddenly returned. All at once, I received several text messages from Dragotti which were sent much earlier in the evening. They were all various versions of, “You’re too early.” Yes, I suppose I was.

 

George Maurer, Contributing Writer
George Maurer, Contributing Writer

What’s Old is New Again with Greta Van Fleet

Greta Van Fleet

Danny Wagner (Drums), Josh Kiszka (Singer), Jake Kiszka (Guitarist), Sam Kiszka (Bass Guitar)

I’ve often wondered if there will ever be another great, American rock and roll band. Would we ever see the likes of an Aerosmith, Van Halen or Journey, again? When will a voice stand out amongst today’s heavily populated, cheery, pop-driven Alternative music?

It may be too early to call but in my mind hope was restored when I was turned onto a band named Greta Van Fleet. After hearing their name I wasn’t even sure where they were from but after hearing their debut single Highway Tune, I was certain where they were going.

I was so blown away by Greta Van Fleet’s (GVF) sound that I played it for anyone at the AFN-Broadcast Center that would listen. Almost everyone immediately felt compelled to compare GVF to some of the classic rock greats (complete transparency, so did I). None of us knew the band but I think we were all comforted by a joyful familiarity of when we thought music was great. This new music re-kindles old flames and I am excited about the firestorm that follows. The singer evokes the living spirit of Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant on the track Highway Tune. There are flashes of Geddy Lee’s resonant vocal on the EP’s title song Black Smoke Rising. I’ve heard comparisons to The Who, Rush, The White Stripes, The Black Keys, and the list goes on and on. After playing the 4 song EP over and over again, I realized that I stopped thinking about whom they sounded like and I started to just enjoy them for who they are.

Angel Orozco (broadcaster for AFN Radio) interviewing Greta Van Fleet.
Angel Orozco (broadcaster for AFN Radio) interviewing Greta Van Fleet.
Music is a passionate topic amongst Greta Van Fleet.
Music is a passionate topic amongst Greta Van Fleet
Josh Kiszka explains his powerful singing style.
Josh Kiszka explains his powerful singing style.

[view slideshow]

Greta Van Fleet is a band made up of 4 young men from the heartland of America, 3 of which are brothers, and of those, 2 are twins. The group’s name comes from one of the matriarchs (Gretna Van Fleet) of the Bavarian themed town Frankenmuth, Michigan, where they call home. Greta Van Fleet has a pure style that is influenced only by their desire to spread joy and love through their many musical talents.

AFN met with Danny Wagner (drummer) and the three brothers, Josh Kiszka (vocals), Jake Kiszka (guitar) and Sam Kiszka (bass guitar) in Hollywood, California early this summer. Below is the all-encompassing interview and music of Greta Van Fleet.


Angel Orozco, Contributing Writer
Angel Orozco, Contributing Writer
All photography by Natalie Wiser-Orozco: The Devil Wears Parsley

Phil Labonte: All That Remains…is constant change!

If, after 15 years your style has been highly opinionated, unapologetic, genre-breaking, and also very successful, why would you change it? Maybe because change has been one of the keys to Phil Labonte and his band’s longevity. It is not a trick, nor the “game-plan” to switch up the sound to maximize record sales. As Phil says, “I can’t, in good conscience put out the same record over and over. I write music because I want to experiment and try new things.”

All That Remains delivers an album that ranges from catchy hook-filled songs like “Madness” (video at bottom) to hardcore metal sounds and lyrics in tracks like “Safehouse” (loosely inspired by the Showtime® TV series Dexter). Labonte wears his heart on his sleeve in “Rivercity”, a song that flows with emotions and tells the real life story of what he went through as a military spouse while his then-wife was serving as a Marine on deployment in the Middle East. “Rivercity stands for ‘reduced communications,'” he explains. “Me and my ex would be on the phone and she’d be like, ‘Yo, the base is getting mortared. I gotta go.'” If someone dies, they shut off communications until they can notify the families of the people that die. Labonte experienced this many times and in the interview with him he struggles to keep from choking up as he discusses his feelings about this particular tune.

All That Remains takes “Madness” to a new level as the bands 8th studio album winds down to a close; it’s something I’ve never heard on a hard rock/metal offering. The final track starts with the natural sound of rolling thunder that quickly cracks into a 6 second man-made storm of clean electric guitar and accompanying bass. A breath of calm plucking follows, before the lyrics of Garth Brooks -The Thunder Rolls are reincarnated by the slightly effected, dynamic vocals of Phil Labonte. Hard rock and a country classic collide for this epic song!

Click the link below to hear the AFN Radio exclusive interview with Phil Labonte, singer for All That Remains.

Interview: Phil Labonte from All That Remains, 2017


You can hear more music from All That Remains on AFN 360 Freedom and Legacy.

Angel Orozco, Contributing Writer
Angel Orozco, Contributing Writer

Scott Stapp: A voice for the ages, embraces The Madness

Art of Anarchy

He rose to fame as the lead singer of Creed, the post-grunge band that scorched the scene with popular Arena-Rock songs like “My Own Prison”, “Arms Wide Open”, “Higher” and “My Sacrifice”. Scott Stapp and Creed sold over 59 million albums worldwide, becoming the 9th best-selling artist of the 2000’s.

With great success there is always great pressure to maintain or exceed it. Stapp and Creed eventually cracked and split under this pressure. In 2004 Creed disbanded and Scott Stapp found his solo voice, recording his first individual album in 2005, he would later record a second in 2013.

Scott reunited with his old band in 2009, but once again tensions arose and projects were halted. By late 2014 drugs, alcohol and depression increasingly crept into his life culminating into a series of troubling social media videos and disturbing behavior full of paranoia. He hit rock bottom, but that would not hold this rock star down.

Art of Anarchy: the MadnessScott is reinvigorated, free from the prison of drugs and alcohol, and is now the lead singer of Art Of Anarchy, a super group consisting of lead guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal who hails formerly from Guns N’ Roses, bassist John Moyer who rose to fame as a member of Disturbed and twin brothers Jon Votta (guitar) and Vince Votta (drums), who gained prominence as fixtures on the New York music scene.

In Art Of Anarchy’s latest single, his voice emerges through a blend of precisely timed and expertly executed instruments. “I’m frozen within the ice and bitter wind” are the first 8 lyrics instantly reminding us why he stands near the top of the Mount Rushmore of rock vocalists. Scott Stapp has returned to do what he does best, all the while embracing …The Madness.

Scott Stapp calls AFN Radio, talks Troops, Art Of Anarchy and life, click below to listen!


Angel Orozco, Contributing Writer
Angel Orozco, Contributing Writer

Troop Talk with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, spoke with TSgt Holly Roberts Davis during a “Worldwide Troop Talk” at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Sept. 21, 2016.

He took questions through social media and from service members in locations including Baghdad, Iraq; Kabul, Afghanistan; Guam; on the USS Zumwalt advanced warship; and at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. The Troop Talk aired live, worldwide on AFN News and AFN Radio.

Ash Carter answers Troop Talk questions.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter sits with Air Force Tech. Sgt. Holly Roberts during the 2016 Troop Talk. DoD photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley.

You can click below to hear the radio broadcast.


The Story of the Blues Brothers featuring Dan Aykroyd

Dan AykroydDan Aykroyd is a genuinely nice guy. That was my biggest take away after speaking to him on the phone. I produce an hour-long radio show called Radio Recon which airs on AFN Radio and features in-depth interviews with music artists. I thought the Blues Brothers would be a fantastic subject. Normally, these interviews require months to set up. It only took four days with Aykroyd. I sent an interview request on Friday and I was speaking to him on Tuesday.

When Tuesday arrived, I called the provided phone number at the appropriate time. When someone answered, I began to explain why I called and suddenly realized I was speaking with Dan Aykroyd himself. He answered his own phone. Interesting.

The blues have always been more than a passing fancy for Aykroyd. He grew up in the thriving blues community of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He spent many hours in the legendary Ottawa coffeehouse, Le Hibou, which also served as a hub for the blues scene in Canada’s capital city. He took up the harmonica inspired by the performers he saw on stage. Aykroyd so dedicated himself to the instrument, he was soon considered a professional quality player. In fact, every single harmonica note on every single song ever recorded by the Blues Brothers… was performed by Aykroyd.

He is considered one of the most commercially successful bluesmen of all time, but he pointed out many times during our talk the Blues Brothers are much more than just a blues band. Their music incorporates elements of funk, R&B, soul, reggae, and even country. They have always strived to be more than a simple delta blues band. Whenever I listen to the Blues Brothers, one thing always happens. I tap my foot to the music. It’s not something I do often, but there’s just something about the Blues Brothers. They just have… a certain groove.

For me, the real magic of the Blues Brothers is rooted in the genuine friendship between Aykroyd and John Belushi. During our interview, Aykroyd called their first meeting “love at first sight.” They created the Blues Brothers the very same evening. Their goal was to simply express their affection for a style of music they both loved. That goal has never changed. Perhaps that’s why Aykroyd still draws audiences 40 years later as Elwood Blues. Elwood’s goals are simple. Love the blues and share the love.

As I was wrapping up the interview, I decided to take a chance. One of my best friends growing up is a MASSIVE Dan Aykroyd and Blues Brothers fan. Certainly a man in Aykroyd’s position who answers his own phone… I wondered aloud if I could shamelessly abuse the privilege of his time and asked him to say, “Yo, this is Elwood Blues. Jimi Schmitz is the bomb!” Elwood delivered the line flawlessly and that audio is now my friend’s ringtone. Yes, Dan Aykroyd is a genuinely nice guy.

Tune into AFN Legacy’s RADIO RECON featuring the Blues Brothers with Dan Aykroyd. Aykroyd brings you the complete story of the Blues Brothers. How did a simply hobby become the greatest selling blues band of all time? Elwood Blues calls in during the show despite being a fugitive from justice. And what aspect of the Blues Brothers did lead singer John Belushi absolutely despise? Hosted by AFN Legacy’s George Maurer… RADIO RECON featuring the Blues Brothers and Dan Aykroyd. Listen below or tune in on Monday July 11th at 3am, 10am, or 5pm CET/JKT… on AFN 360.

Special thanks to Ben Manilla of BMP Audio, producers of Elwood’s BluesMobile, and audio engineer Aaron Holmberg for making this edition of Radio Recon possible. Elwood’s BluesMobile airs Sundays at noon CET/JKT on AFN Legacy and AFN360.

George Maurer, Contributing Writer
George Maurer, Contributing Writer

Operation Song: Memorial Day 2016

Operation SongOperation Song was a Memorial day special hour of true stories told through music…stories from the battlefield and back home. This Memorial Day Special was produced by WUTC, Chattanooga for air on AFN Radio on Memorial Day, 30 May 2016.

Operation song is a Nashville-based nonprofit that empowers veterans, active duty military and veterans to collaborate with Nashville songwriters to tell their stories through music.

Go to http://wutc.org/post/listen-operation-song-memorial-day-special for more on Operation Song.