By Susan Sliwicki
They say that if you want something done right, you should do it yourself. Jeb Wright took that adage to heart when he decided to found the website classicrockrevisited.com in 1999. Since then, he’s interviewed hundreds of musicians and written millions of words in articles, many of which have appeared in Goldmine magazine. Wright also is the author of the new book “Rock Icons and Metal Gods,” which features interviews with artists ranging from Billy Gibbons and Ronnie James Dio to Steve Perry and Sammy Hagar. (His book “Stadium Rock” is heading to a second printing with Jake Brown/publisher Rock ’N’ Roll Books.)
Jeb went from being a fan in the audience at a Van Halen concert on 1982’s Diver Down tour to a music journalist in the thick of things backstage. In addition to dishing out details on artists — including which bands he’s observed who treat their fans the best — Jeb shares some of his favorite stories about the rock stars he’s met along the way. We even got him to pick sides in some of classic rock and roll debates.
Goldmine: When and how did you get started writing about music and interviewing musicians? Who was the first musician you interviewed, and what do you remember from that experience?
Jeb Wright: In 1998, my wife got tired of my complaining about how magazines were covering grunge bands and not classic bands. She told me to start a website. So I did: www.classicrockrevisited.com was born, and I had never written an article or done an interview in my life. The first musician I interviewed was Roger Earl of Foghat in 1999. We are now good friends, and he actually wrote the intro to “Rock Icons & Metal Gods.” To find out the rest of the story of what it was like, you need to buy the book, as Roger tells it all.
GM: What was the first record you ever bought? (And, did you ever get to interview anyone related to that record? If so, who, and how did it go?)
JW: The first album I bought was when I was 8 years old. It was Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim.” He died, so I never got to interview him. The first rock album I bought … I honestly do not remember. When I was 13, I got mononucleosis and was stuck at home for the summer. My parents bought me three albums: The Kinks’ “One For the Road,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gold & Platinum” and The Knack’s “Get the Knack.” I have interviewed members of Skynyrd and Dave Davies of The Kinks. They went great.
GM: What do you like to collect? How long have you been collecting, and what’s the pride and joy of your collection? What do you wish you could add to your collection?
JW: I have never been a true collector … until … one day, after doing 10 years of interviews, I realized I had a closet of signed photos, albums, CDs, drumsticks and other stuff artists had given me over the years. Now, I have a rock room where I do my phone interviews, and the stuff is all framed and on the walls. My pride and joy is the RIAA Platinum Album Award for Ted Nugent’s “Free for All” album that was presented to Ted back in the day. The best part of my collection is that I have not had to spend a penny on it! If I were rich, I would collect RIAA artist awards. I love them. The only other one I own is a Kansas Gold 45 for “Dust in the Wind.”
GM: Of all the folks you’ve interviewed — and let’s be honest, that’s a pretty long list — who was the most fun to talk to? Who made you most nervous? Who was the most difficult to interview? Who surprised you the most?
JW: Most Fun — I had an interview with Dave Hlubek of Molly Hatchet where we laughed until we cried. The story of him passing out on a toilet and his legs falling asleep — and having to have the wall torn down so he could be hoisted onto a room service tray, his rear end covered with a sheet and then wheeled out to the tour bus — is a classic.
Most Nervous — Every time I interview Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, I get knots in my stomach. Not only is he an idol of mine, he is so damn intelligent that I want to impress him. I feel like I should be standing at attention and saluting him as he talks.
Most Difficult — I became friends with Kevin Dubrow of Quiet Riot, but the first interview I did with him got off to a terrible start. He had a long press day, and I was the last one. He was giving one-word answers, and it was going nowhere. I finally said, “Kevin, if this is a bad time, let’s just not do this now.” He said he was sorry, and we got talking about bands, kind of taking a break from interviewing and just chatting. We discovered we both loved Blodwyn Pig and their guitar player, Mick Abrahams. All of a sudden, we hit it off, and the interview was saved.
Most Surprising — Jim Dandy of Black Oak Arkansas. I expected a drunk redneck. I got a drunk redneck who was smoking weed during the interview and telling me of stories of traveling to heaven and hell and then being questioned by the CIA. He ended up totally being out of this world. Another one was a drunken Eddie Money, who complained his daughter was getting high all the time with the crew …
GM: If the constraints of space, time and reality bent enough to allow you to interview any musician, dead or alive, who would you want to talk to? What would you want to ask or find out?
JW: As far as living musicians go, I have always wanted to interview Roger Waters, Jimmy Page, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend, Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth. If I could bring anyone back to life to do an interview with, it would be Randy Rhoads.
GM: What’s the hardest question you’ve ever had to ask someone? And when you asked it, what happened?
JW: I have never been hung up on or thrown out of a hotel. The hardest stuff I have ever talked to anyone about was probably Bill Ward of Black Sabbath and his suicide attempts. There was one wilder, but it was about a death that was not reported. I didn’t publish it and am not going to give any details in print. Let’s just say it was a freaky story, and I have no idea if it was true or if the guy was on drugs and making stuff up — and I don’t want to know!
GM: What was your worst interview experience ever, and why?
JW: I ended an interview with Don Dokken because he was either so hung over, stoned to the gills or, as I suspect, it may not have even been him on the other end of the phone. It was so horrible, I just stopped the interview, said goodbye and never rescheduled. It was the last time I ever talked to Don.
GM: Which artist/group do you think is the most overlooked talent among classic rock and/or metal, and why?
JW: There are a TON of them. Remember Shooting Star? They were a great band who never got what they deserved. Buck Dharma from Blue Oyster Cult, Robin Trower and Richard Williams from Kansas do not get near enough respect. I could make this list go on the entire magazine, so I will stop with those three. OK, one more: Uriah Heep are very underrated.
GM: Which band/artist is the most loyal to its fans and treats them the best?
JW: Foghat are amazing. I have seen them spend longer at the merchandise booth after the show signing autographs than they played on stage. Uriah Heep I have seen do the same thing. Both bands took pictures and signed anything … not just stuff bought at the show. They know where they came from and why they are still there. REO, if you can get a Meet and Greet pass, are great with fans. Ronnie James Dio was in a league of his own with fans. He loved them like family. Another guy who is awesome with the fans is Doug Aldrige, who is the guitar player for Whitesnake. He has no idea he is a rock star!
GM: Now it’s your turn in the hot seat. Pick your side in these rock and roll debates.
• Vinyl records or CDs?
JW: I like CDs, but I LOVE Vinyl. Some of my favorite memories are scouring the racks at Paul’s Records & Tapes in Topeka, Kan., in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I still have all my old albums but no longer have a turntable. They are in my bedroom closet, and they drive my wife insane.
• Jimmy Page or Brian May?
JW: I love both, but for my money, it is Pagey ALL the way. What he did with Led Zeppelin — writing, playing, producing … he is one of the most important men in hard-rock history.
• Paul McCartney or John Lennon?
JW: Nothing WRONG with Paul … I am just not a 12-year-old girl, so I go with John. Every time I visit New York, I spend time at Central Park at Strawberry Fields and pay homage.
• Paper or plastic? (Just checking if you’re paying attention.)
JW: As a guy who worked in his share of grocery stores, nothing beats paper when it comes to sacking groceries.
• Peter Frampton’s “Frampton Comes Alive” or Cheap Trick’s “Live At Budokan”?
JW: No contest … Cheap Trick. Frampton’s live album was cool with the popular kids, while Cheap Trick’s was big with the kids wearing jean jackets who skipped class and smoked in the parking lot and drank beer. Let’s just say I wore jean jackets!
• Beatles or Rolling Stones?
JW: The Stones. Keith Richards: ’Nuff said.
• “Fat” Elvis or “Skinny” Elvis?
JW: Mini Elvis. Got my picture taken with him on the Vegas Strip for a buck.
• REO Speedwagon or Foreigner?
JW: Foreigner is good. REO, the first 10 years were amazing. In concert today, both are good, but I will take an REO show any day. Heck, REO just for the song “Golden Country.”
• Styx or Kansas?
JW: I am buds with Dennis DeYoung, and we did a great article for Goldmine. But I am from Topeka, Kan., and Kansas guitar player Rich Williams grew up next door to my grandparents. Kansas was the first rock band I loved, and they are still my favorite band today.
• Ronnie James Dio or Ozzy Osbourne?
JW: This is unfair. Ronnie as far as the BIG picture. Ozzy from Sabbath through “Diary of a Madman.”
• Van Halen or Van Hagar?
JW: DIAMOND DAVE RULES. That should answer that …
• Steve Perry or Freddie Mercury?
JW: Freddie all the way. Both are amazing singers, but Freddie was a personality that comes along once in a lifetime.
• George Harrison or Eric Clapton?
JW: Well, George is my second favorite Beatle but, as they say, “Clapton is god.” Well, maybe not god, but he is one of the most amazing musicians ever.
• “The Wall” or “Dark Side of The Moon” (and, in that same vein, Roger Waters or David Gilmour)?
JW: Roger Waters may be my favorite lyricist of all time. He also is an amazing songwriter. Gilmour plays guitar — he’s good and all, but Waters is the bomb. I have to go with “The Wall.” While “Dark Side” broke new ground and is one of the best-selling albums of all time, “The Wall” is special to me. To be honest, though, I love “Animals” and “Wish You Were Here” the most.