Rock Eyez


Interview with Billy Rowe
(Guitar - American Heartbreak)

Billy Rowe

Interviewed by Brian Rademacher
Date: April 20th, 2006

Hey Billy, what’s up today?
Not much, just a little tired from playing some shows in LA this weekend & I just got back home from a long drive.

Are you coming to the East Coast?
Not yet, but we will to support the new American Heartbreak album sometime this summer!!

Tell me a little about your past?
My first guitar was a Memphis Les Paul Junior copy. I started playing around eleven years old. My first record I bought was Elton John’s single “Bennie and the Jets” and “Rocketman” and the first concert I saw was Day on the Green Concert 1977 Eagles, Steve Miller, Heart, Atlantic Rhythm Section, and Foreigner. In grammar school, I played some baseball and soccer, did downhill skiing, and was very much into skateboarding, and then guitar took over my life. I still skateboard once in a while; I'm what they call an old-school skater.

What was your first garage band?
It was with the first drummer for American Heartbreak, Erik Lannon, who I grew up with in San Francisco. We had a cover band in the eighth grade with a few other friends; we did songs from bands like Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Judas Priest, and Riot, the new metal for that time. We called ourselves Armageddon and had no idea there was a band from way back with the same name until later.

Jetboy recorded an 18-track demo for Elektra?
Those were demos that we did after we got signed to the label. We recorded all the songs we had been playing live so we could have something to give to producers and see who was interested in producing our debut album. Years later I found all the 1/4 masters just sitting around in a box so I thought it would be a good idea to release them as a CD. I went into a studio, baked the tapes, and then transferred them onto an A Dat cassette. That release was the first one I did called "A Day In The Glamourous Life" on Perris Records.

Why do you think Elektra released you from contract, and then you were picked up by MCA?
Basically, our A&R guy got fired. The president of A&R on the West Coast was on his last coattails of trying to break a band. It was a political thing so to save his job our A&R guy got fired and his bands had to go as well, which were Jetboy & The Pandoras.

What was it like when you had Guns N Roses as your opening act?
We became good buddies back before we both had our bands up & running. Fernie & I would travel to LA looking for a singer, which soon became Jetboy. We met Izzy, Axl & Chris Webber in front of the Troubadour at a WASP show in 1983. We all hit it off from being into bands that were new & unknown at the time like Hanoi Rocks, Girl, The Lords, etc. Basically, we became pals by having the same love for what was new underground Rock N' Roll at the time. They were forming what became GnR & we were forming what became Jetboy. So when we started playing shows we did a lot of gigs together being friends and playing the same style of Rock N' Roll in SF & in LA. I can say that Jetboy, GnR and Poison were the three bands that really built what became the late eighties sunset strip rock, & later know as hair metal.

In 1992, Jetboy did the Kiss tune “Hard Luck Women”?
Yeah, that song was from a batch of demos we did after we got dropped from MCA and moved back home to San Francisco in 91. I had bought a Tascam 8-track to do demos & we recorded that just for fun in my bedroom. That song was on one of the demos that were sitting in the dusty box I mentioned earlier & was one of the last recordings from Jetboy as well.

Tell me about The Lustkillers?
That was the former American Heartbreak guitar player Adam Becvare's band he had when he lived in Chicago in the early 90's. He wanted to put it back together before he quit or went MIA from American Heartbreak in 2002. I was the first guitar player until he got someone else but never told me. They sounded like an offshoot of Sisters of Mercy, The Damned, & Lords of the New Church. He wanted to put a new version together & play some shows and I said I would help him put it together for fun. It was his band; he was the front man, which in the end is what Adam really wanted to do the whole time he was with AH.

You formed Mindzone with Mickey Finn (a.k.a. Mike Demeter) and guitarists Fernie Rod after the breakup of Jetboy. Tell us about that band?
That was the band we started pretty much right after Jetboy dissolved. Bands like Pantera and Machinehead were hot and I was into that stuff for a bit, but Mickey was really into going in that direction. This is where Michael Butler came into play after Fernie was gone from the band. Michael joined on bass & our bass player Bill Fraenza took over on lead guitar. At the end of all that, which was about three years, Mickey just wanted to walk away from everything.

So when did Jetboy breakup?
Officially, 1993.

It seems you and Tom Mathers (president of Perris records) have a good relationship…tell me your thoughts on Tom?
Yeah, we did a few releases on Perris records; he’s been good to us. I can only hope my experiences with labels, has helped me and that he is being honest with everything. We really haven’t made much money but that's no big deal; we never did before either. Hopefully we will make something soon, after a few more years. After the CDs have recouped, we split everything between the writers of the songs. We did put something out on Cleopatra Records as well; the owner is our friend and a big Jetboy fan. But the guy we did the deal with was a friend-of-a-friend of Jetboy's from back then, who got into the music business. We come to find out 5 years later that the guy we don't really know and met thru our good friend has been embezzling the royalties from that release, which is a lot from what we were told!! Brian, the owner, blew the whistle on him and now we’re trying to get the money back. That's how the whole Jetboy reunion got going a year ago. So we are in the middle of how to deal with this guy who stole nearly ten thousand dollars from us!!!

I did receive the package from Brian of the “Hollywood Rocks” CD box set.
That was a great thing that Brian put together. He does a great job keeping that 80's stuff alive with the awesome coffee table book, the CD box set and next I hear there will be the DVD, which will be the next release.

Was it hard for you to except bassist Michael Butler since he was a thrasher in Exodus?
No, not at all!! Michael is really a Rock N' Roll fan like myself. We both love metal and Rock n' Roll!!  But we prefer to play good catchy Rock N' Roll, which is how American Heartbreak started.

Tell me how was it touring with Richie Scarlet back in 2004?
That was just a few shows we did, which went okay! Some of them were pretty bad though…

What is this “Bands That Should Have Made It” with Richie Ranno of Starz?
I haven’t seen that yet. We were in touch with Richie Ranno because we were big fans of Starz and we used some of the artwork from the first Starz album in the American Heartbreak split CD we did with Libertine. A couple of years later Michael Butler started a Podcast show (The Rock And Roll Geek Show) and wanted to interview some of his rock heroes. He got in touch with Richie and did a couple interviews, and then someone who is putting this show together contacted Richie about having Starz be one of the bands for the show. I guess he is pitching this show to VH1 "Bands That Should Have Made it Big.” So Richie called Michael and asked if Starz would come out and do this TV pilot and could he get them a gig in San Francisco and have American Heartbreak support since the show was shot in Fresno, and we said “HELL YEAH!!!”

We booked the show here in SF and it was sold-out by 10PM. It was just a tiny club in North Beach that held around 250 people but it was way fun!! It was pretty awesome to play with one of our favorite bands, as well as becoming friends with them! We went to dinner with Richie and Dube the next night and heard some great stories. Brendan was a cool guy but he went off and drove down the coast the next day, and Michael Lee was a nice guy but didn’t hang out much… kinda quiet. We actually just bought a Marshall amp for Richie after Dube's house burnt down and Richie's old Marshall amps were in the garage. He respects me as a guitar player and had me and Michael check one out he found out near San Francisco. When Michael and I went down to NAMM we bought him this Marshall and he paid us back. We spent three days with Richie as well as Frank DiMino from Angel which was just a bonus for us.

You did a Jetboy reunion show for the Hollywood Rock CD. Will you ever play again with Jetboy?
Yeah! Last year. That came together from Brian Perera at Cleopatra Records like I said here earlier. He was a big Jetboy fan and really wanted us to be the featured band for the release show at the Key Club in Hollywood. I called Mick and Fern and they were way into it!! We had talked about it through the years but it just never came together, and this time it did. I don’t know what it was, maybe something in the air but after I made the phone call to them, they both called back in less then five minutes and said, “Let’s do it!” We got a warm stand-up reaction from the beginning of the set till the end!! It really went better than expected!! We will do a couple more shows this year, April 28th in SF and April 29th in LA. Maybe jump on some of these summer tours next year, who knows? We just wanna have some fun with it every so often; why not, it was fun as hell back then and still is 15 years later.

In 1996 American Heartbreak formed?
In late 1996, after Mindzone ended, Michael and I said, “Let’s start a new band and play good catchy Rock n' Roll like what we grew up on as kids!”  

Michael and I are two guys who are very into obscure 70's bands like Starz, Angel, Rose Tattoo, etc but also into well-known bands like Kiss, Aerosmith, and AC/DC along with new bands like The Wildhearts which were popping up in the mid/late 90's. Our main focus was to be a rock band with great songs, which is what we are really true fans of. He knew our singer, Lance Boone, who tried out for his old punk band The Flex A Pleasers; funny enough Tom, the guy who founded Myspace, was the singer for a short time for The Flex A Pleasers. So the three of us got together right away and started writing songs with just a drum machine. In 1997, we did a 7-song demo, which was soon after released as an EP called “What You Deserve” on Perris Records in early 1997.

I was reading that you recorded 12 songs acoustically for a release?
Well, we did! The acoustic part came after we finished the electric version. We ended up recording all the tracks acoustically in our rehearsal room after we finished the electric version, which we will release sometime after the album is out. We wanted to release it as a double album, electric & acoustic, but the Foo Fighters beat us to it!! The acoustic version is not all done but we will be finishing it soon. The new release which is out April 18th is our second full length CD, which I consider our first real record!! This new album we worked on as a whole record, and not like we did with our past releases by just recording a bunch of songs. We didn’t have a label yet, as we had parted ways with Coldfront, so we did everything on our own. After we finished it I found us a manager and we shopped it. Liquor & Poker loved it and picked it up, so here we are. With this new album we all wanted to do a real big arena rock record as well as a really great-sounding record. We worked for a year and half on this thing in our rehearsal space; we went over every part until it sounded right. At the end of all the hard work, it was all so worth it. My friend Rick Parker helped produce the album and has a great studio in Hollywood; it was so great to work with. We did this record in about two weeks total with 14-hour days of solid work. Our first album "Postcards from Hell" was released in 2001; with that album, we just went in and recorded all the songs we had at the time in about three days.

On 2003's "You Will Not Be Getting Paid" album (Perris Records) you did a Starz & Cheap Trick cover…
Yeah, we did “Outfit” by Starz & “Come On Come On” by Cheap Trick.

What is your favorite song on the new release American Heartbreak?
I really don’t have a favorite. It would be like me picking a favorite band like Kiss or AC/DC. They are both great bands and I couldn’t say which is better because neither are, they are both great bands.  I can pick songs that stick out a bit more then others. “The Last of the Superheroes (of the 1970s)” is one of my favorites, which is a simple rock song. It’s about our heroes (Kiss, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick and so on) who were always in Cream and Circus magazine, which was the rock ’n’ roll bible back then. “The Girl Who Knows Nothing At All” I love a lot. They all stand their own ground. Mike, Lance, Casey and I wrote all the songs together; the lyrics were mainly written by Lance and Mike, but Casey and I put in a few lines here and there. Michael and I did write most of the music… Michael is really good with coming up with catchy chorus melodies and Lance is great with verses. At the end of everything, it’s really a collaboration of all of us working/writing together as a band.

What songs are the songs that the record company wants to push to the front?
They are talking about “Somebody” and “Things Are looking Up” going to radio. I am pushing “1970’s” as well. I think that could be a great single because of what it’s about.

We just did another interview with Metal-Exiles and [he] said this is the first record in years that [he] has received that is a complete sounding and flowing record like some of the great albums from the 70's & 80's like “Back in Black”, “Heaven Tonight”, “High n Dry” or “Destroyer”. This was our idea we had from the start of this album so it’s pretty cool to hear that. I had a vision of this record from day one and I’m pretty damn happy with what we did at the end here, great songs with great riffs and catchy choruses!! That’s what a great song and album is all about!! This is Rock N' Roll!!

How long did it take to record?
We did it in bits and pieces. It actually took about two weeks total to record, with another four days of mixing.

After the release what’s next?
A lot of press and getting out there for a tour, the label will do their part by getting the record out there, and we have to do our part and hit the road and bring it to the people.

So who would you like to tour with?
My wish list is huge. I would love to tour with AC/DC, Aerosmith, Motley Crue, Cheap Trick of course!! I think a younger generation as well as people who grew up in the seventies and eighties era of music would love American Heartbreak.

Would you like to say anything in conclusion?
Buy the record and support Rock n Roll!!! It's time for Rock to rule the world again!!


Billy Rowe
ABilly Rowe
Billy Rowe
Billy Rowe
Billy Rowe
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