By Warren Kurtz
Generation Radio came together with the intent to form a band with the purpose of bringing the sound of classic rock back to life. The quartet is comprised of Jay DeMarcus, bassist and vocalist for Rascal Flatts, Jason Scheff, bassist and vocalist for the band Chicago (for 30 years beginning in 1986), Deen Castronovo, drummer and vocalist for Journey, and guitarists and vocalists Tom Yankton and Chris Rodriguez. Goldmine learned that when Deen Castronovo is on tour with Journey, Steve Ferrone is the group’s drummer for their concerts. The exciting self-titled debut album Generation Radio has just been released on Frontiers Music.
GOLDMINE: Welcome to Goldmine. Congratulations on Generation Radio, one of my favorite albums of the year with its variety of power, beauty, different lead singers and the harmony of the group. Let’s first go back to Rascal Flatts’ beginnings. My wife Donna, daughter Brianna and I were at WSIX, The Big 98, in Nashville, visiting our friend DJ Slam Duncan, and he told us about how the radio station got behind your trio from the beginning.
JAY DeMARCUS: Yes. We were on our way back home from a leg on a radio tour in 2000. We heard our first single “Prayin’ for Daylight” on The Big 98 in a segment where they tested new songs with their listeners. The first couple of calls were negative but the rest were glowing reviews. I remember we were all nervous wrecks.
GM: Well, it turned out great with your debut CD single becoming a hit, which also included “Long Slow Beautiful Dance,” with such wonderful harmonies, as the second song on the single, both from your multi-million selling debut album.
JD: We loved “Long Slow Beautiful Dance” because of its uniqueness. We actually wrote melodies to the verses that were originally spoken. It also gave each of us a chance to step out vocally.
Fabulous Flip Side: Long Slow Beautiful Dance
A side: Prayin’ for Daylight
Billboard Hot 100 debut: May 6, 2000
Peak position: No. 38
Lyric Street 64039 (CD single)
GM: What a great beginning for you leading to over 40 Top 40 country hits for Rascal Flatts. Of your 14 chart-toppers, my favorite pair of No. 1 singles is “Fast Cars and Freedom” and “What Hurts the Most,” both so different from each other, just like what you are achieving with Generation Radio. In 2006, the same year that “What Hurts the Most” reached No. 1, Chicago’s album XXX was released, including Chicago and Rascal Flatts coming together on “Love Will Come Back,” balancing beauty and power. I was reminded of Chicago and The Beach Boys joining forces in the 1970s for “Wishing You Were Here.”
JD: For us in the Flatts, we were just so honored to be in the studio with some of our heroes. It was surreal to stand next to Robert Lamb, Bill Champlin and Jason Scheff, people I had looked up to my entire life. We had an absolute blast. I remember when I was a kid and I heard Peter Cetera sing “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” on the radio. I told my dad, “You’ve got to check out this new band called Chicago.” He died laughing and said, “They’re not a new band. Let me introduce you to the real Chicago.” He started playing all the early Chicago songs and I learned a whole different era of Chicago music and I loved it all. Growing up in the 1980s, I gravitated towards the big bombastic ballads. I was such a big David Foster fan as their producer. Their albums 16, 17 and 18 shaped my musical bias. There are songs from the Peter Cetera era with “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” “You’re the Inspiration” and “Along Comes a Woman” that I love. Then when my dear friend Jason stepped in to fill Peter’s shoes it was really unbelievable for me that they were not only able to find a tenor vocalist like Jason but also bass player, which was just the perfect fit. I think the album 18 really saved the band with Jason salvaging what I thought would have been a nightmare. They never skipped a beat and kept making hits throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. By the time I got to produce XXX we were already dear friends. I was such a fan of the band that I felt I had my finger on the pulse of all they had gone through with their evolutions. I was scared to death to produce a band that I was such a fan of but at the same time I went in with a lot of confidence, thinking I knew what the band’s strengths were. We went to dinner and talked for hours after we finished the vocals on “Love Will Come Back.” That is one of my favorite memories for sure. I was so pleased to produce the album.
GM: Now Chicago has just released their 38th album Born for This Moment, named after the title song Robert Lamm wrote with Jim Peterik, and you and Jason are back together as Generation Radio. Your album opens with Deen’s drumming and Jason’s vocals on “Why Are You Calling Me Now,” where I am reminded of Foreigner. The second song shifts in sound with you, Jason and Deen all singing lead vocals on “Angels,” which immediately reminded me of Alabama’s “Angels Among Us,” when you sing, “I still believe it, walking among us, among angels doing extraordinary things.” The lyrics throughout the song are encouraging, compassionate and encouraging.
JD: Thank you. There is no question on the Alabama song comparison. Monty Powell and I wrote this song back in 2007, which is how long that song has been around. We were always marveling at the fact that there are people who enter in and out of our lives and we are touched by them. The prospect of them being angels right here on earth was really exciting for us. Obviously, there hadn’t been a popular take on that since “Angels Among Us.” Putting our own little spin on that theme was exciting for us, making more of a modern rock version of that same sentiment.
GM: Speaking of rock, the next song is “All Night to Get There,” which Donna compared to one of her favorite bands, Bon Jovi. If Jim Steinman would have written this one for Meat Loaf, the title would have been the entire chorus line, “Nowhere to Be and All Night to Get There.” This song jumps out at me as my absolute favorite, in an album filled with favorites.
JD: Thank you so much. I wrote with Jason Sellers and Paul Jenkins, which made it on a Rascal Flatts album, but it was never released as a single. I always wanted to sing that song. Gary, of course, sang lead on the Rascal Flatts version. This gave me a chance to sing a song that I had written, and I was really excited about that. I think the track turned out phenomenal. Of course, Deen’s drumming on it is amazing.
GM: Donna and I saw Deen recently. The concert was Journey and Toto together here in Florida. What a great show. They also have a new album out called Freedom which includes a song called “Don’t Give Up on Us” that we enjoy. Deen sang lead on one of the Journey songs in the concert and we’ll discuss him singing lead on one of your songs in a moment, but let’s continue in album order with the next song, “I Hope You Find It.” You just mentioned a song from a prior album, well this is one I learned from Cher’s 2013 Closer to the Truth album, and it is my favorite song on that album, one that reminded me of LeeAnn Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” I have since learned that Miley Cyrus also recorded a version of the song. I am so happy that you included this song which I still believe needs wider discovery.
JD: Thank you so much. That song was actually pitched to Rascal Flatts years ago. For whatever reason, we didn’t cut it. Jeffrey Steele is one of my favorite songwriters of all-time and he co-wrote it with Stefan Robson. I am so thrilled that we cut that song. I think that Jason delivered a world class vocal. It is one of the best lyrics I have heard in a long, long time.
GM: When Brianna and I saw Chicago here in Florida a few years ago, one of her favorite parts was when the curtains closed halfway through the show like it was going to be an intermission and instead Jason came out, sat on a chair with his keyboard on his lap, and delivered a ballad from Chicago’s 19 album. It was so intimate and that is what I think of with his delivery on this song. Just like at that show when the curtains opened and the full band was back, that is what happens next, so powerfully on your new album with Tom’s “Time to Let It Go.” Your keyboards sound like a full orchestra.
JD: That recording is amazing. When Tom brought that song to the group, it lit the room up. Deen said, “I cannot wait to play drums on this one.” It is one of those high- octane, great tracks that really compliments Tom’s wonderful vocal delivery.
GM: I like your high-octane reference. If you took Deep Purple’s “Strange Kind of Woman” musically and turned it up a notch or two to “Highway Star,” you might get “Time to Let It Go.” Next comes “Lights Go Out in Paradise.” There is a Canadian band named Triumph, who finally broke through to the U.S. Top 40 in 1979 with “Hold On.” When Deen sings “hold on” in this song, I am definitely reminded of that song. It is catchy and has a late 1970s sound to it.
JD: I appreciate that. I wrote that song back in 2006 with Brett James and that was our goal, to write something that would harken back nostalgically to those late 1970s, early 1980s anthems. When we played that song, Deen said, “Oh my God! I love that. I want to sing that!” I felt he had the perfect voice to give it the life that it deserves.
GM: On “Don’t Go” with you and Jason together, I think the two of you capture the dual vocal Chicago ballad sound.
JD: Oh man, I appreciate you saying that. It seems like a natural evolution for this band to capture some of that Bill Champlin and Jason Scheff magic. That is exactly what we were going for, so I am happy that you pointed that out.
GM: When Chris sings about J Street and L and M on “Waiting on Your Sunshine,” I think about Washington, D.C. I spent time working there, walking along the letter streets to get to our office on K Street.
JD: Absolutely. Chris brought that song to the band, and it was one of those songs we thought we were missing stylistically on the album with a type of melody and chord progressions. We are really proud of that song and how the track turned out.
GM: The album ends with a beautiful song that you wrote with the other Rascal Flatts guys and Mike Busbee, “Finally Got It Right,” one you sing lead on. Donna said the song is destined to be used for the first dance at a wedding.
JD: Thanks. I appreciate that.
GM: I see you are playing September 17 in Raleigh and Journey is playing the same night in Reno. How does that work out for Deen?
JD: Deen pops in and out whenever his schedule permits. Journey has given him permission to play with us and perform Journey songs with us, but when he is not able to make it, we have Steve Ferrone step in and play drums with us, from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. It has been great having Steve and not miss a step. Thank you, buddy for your time and your interest in our music. We hope to see you at one of our shows.
Fabulous Flip Sides now in its eighth year