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Interview with Jeff Scott Soto
Vocals, guitar, piano

Jeff Scott Soto

Jeff Scott Soto and his days in Brooklyn, New York

Interviewed by Brian Rademacher
Date: April 2009

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: Hey Brian, itís Jeff, howís it going today?

Brian Rademacher: Good, how about you?

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: Iím doing well, (Iím) here in London and I just did a gig with Dan Reed Network. He did an acoustic gig here in London and he dragged me on stage for four songs. It was great.

Brian Rademacher: Yeah, I know Dan from way back.

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: Danís from Portland (Oregon) so any musicians from Portland likely played with him because itís a small musical community.

Brian Rademacher: Jeff, we have something in common; we both were born in Brooklyn, NY. What do you miss most about those days in Brooklyn?

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: Oh Yeah! Bayridge, Brooklyn; I still have a lot of family out there. I moved to California when I was eight years old but when I talk to my fellow New Yorkerís the accent starts coming back!

Brian Rademacher: Do you miss anything from your days in New York?

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: Knishes, egg creams; itís all about the food. You canít beat the food there. Chinese food, the pizza, nobody can touch it. When you go outside the box thatís when you really miss it. The food is good everywhere, you can find what you need to find but when you go back to New York you say ĎWhoa, this is the shit!í. Things like dodge ball and stoop ball too.

Brian Rademacher: Yeah, I remember even the luncheonettes that had the swivel stools!

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: Oh my god yeah, even on those really hot summer days when it was muggy. Someone would go out there with a monkey wrench and open the hydrant and everyone would be having fun until Con Edison came and closed it up. Block parties; everything, itís all coming back now.

Brian Rademacher: When you moved to California at eight years old how was it getting adjusted there?

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: It was pretty easy for me since I was only eight. The only thing is that I had the really thick accent and I didnít know that I had it because I thought I talked like everybody else. I had one friend that his best friend would always say when you say Ďwalkí, Ďtalkí, Ďdogí and things like that in my New York accent and he would then repeat it. He was almost like my speech therapist and he kind of ironed out my accent so I can sound like everyone else walking around L.A.

Brian Rademacher: I recently did an interview with Robin Beck and when I answered the phone she said Ďyo, yo, yo Brianí. She knew I was from New York right away. It was pretty funny because I must have said something with my New York accent.

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: Thatís great (laughing), you never lose it, weíve been out in L.A. for over 35 years and my Mom still has it. Itís like she came right out of the streets of New York.

Brian Rademacher: As a child growing up what song sticks in your head the most that you played over and over again?

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: I couldnít get things out of my head from the JACKSON FIVE and my Mom loved Johnny Mathis and Tom Jones, so as a kid Tom Jonesí voice was so soothing back then because he had a powerful voice that could breakdown walls and songs like "Delilah" and "Whatís New Pussycat" and all that stuff and for a kid liking that; kids usually donít like what their parents like unless itís pop or rock "n" roll and I really loved that stuff and all that JACKSON FIVE stuff like "ABC" when Michael was just a kid. I remember listening to Michael and he is only like a couple years behind me in age at the time and saying if he can do that I can do that. That was the catalyst behind me wanting to go into music. Even at that early age of six or seven years old I knew I wanted to sing and be an entertainer.

Brian Rademacher: Tell me what JSSís room was like as a child? Did you have posters on the walls like sports stars?

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: Yeah, it was baseball cards and sports stuff before music. I was a huge Mets fan, being from NY you either like the Yankees or Mets and Tom Seaver was it during that era. I didnít do the posters on the walls until I got into high school and that was even difficult because we were so poor. I had to share a room with my brother and then along came a cousin who my mom took in. So it really wasnít my room for my pleasure. I had two others in our room. It wasnít until I got my own place where I started putting up VAN HALEN posters and JOURNEY and QUEEN and that kind of stuff. It wasnít until mid-junior high school that I actually started getting into rock because all my life was always pop stars like THE BEE GEES, EARTH, WIND AND FIRE, that whole disco era. I actually could not stand rock back then. I hated bands like KISS and CHEAP TRICK and all that stuff that was popular back then. It wasnít until TOTO came along that it appealed to me. They were the band that could put a soulful and R & B guitar riff within the hard rock type of thing. I had to ease into the rock thing; I just didnít jump in liking JUDAS PRIEST and MAIDEN. TOTO was the first one then JOURNEY was next. Then it was STYX and QUEEN. Then from there I moved onto the PRIEST and MIADEN thing, thatís when I started to really appreciate the heavy stuff.

Brian Rademacher: Do you miss the days of big album cover jackets or are you happy now with a small jewel case picture with inlay?

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: Absolutely! That was our era of having posters or even hanging up the album covers. It was such a cool thing to have all the lyrics and pictures of course, and to have to condense it down, you really lose the element of all the hard work that the people who do all your art work (put into it). It is a pity but I would take a CD over an album any day in the sense of quality and the accessibility of it.

Brian Rademacher: What was JSS like in high school?

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: I was the nerdy guy, a bookworm. My brother was a grade older than me in school and he was so happy to move from grade school to junior high school and get away from his little brother because I was such a geek and bookworm. The school pulled my mother aside and said listen Jeff is excelling above his normal expectations we are thinking of bumping him with his brother to junior high school and skipping the sixth grade. It was the worst day of my brotherís life (laughing)! He said you gotta be kidding me but it didnít happen and I had to do my sixth grade. I always wanted to learn and make my mother happy, it wasnít until my last two years of high school when I got really lazy that is when I started to get into bands and all I cared about was playing and singing. I never got into drugs or drinking; I never drank any alcohol until I got way into my twenties. I was just addicted to music and I barely made it through high school to get my diploma because all I thought about was music.

Brian Rademacher: What was the biggest family function when you were a kid?

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: I would say the block parties because it would be an excuse for all the families to get together in one place. Man, I remember those parties being ridiculous with food, fun and playing in the street. It was such a thrill for a kid, because your mother would always say look both ways before you cross the street and playing kick ball during the block party you wouldnít have to worry about that because there were no cars!

Brian Rademacher: Do you remember the first record you bought?

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: It was THE JACKSON FIVE with "ABC" with the flipside of "I Want You Back".

Brian Rademacher: What was it like when you gave your first autograph?

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: It was cool but it was strange. Iíve always gotten autographs from other people and when someone asked me for one it was kind of cool. I thought to myself I was finally arriving.

Brian Rademacher: Did you always want to be a singer and who did you imitate before you joined your first band?

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: Yeah, it was Michael Jackson and Tom Jones. I couldnít do Tom Jones at six years old but Michael Jackson I had down to a tee.

Brian Rademacher: During your time with Yngwie did you ever feel the "wrath of Malmsteen"?

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: There was only a couple times he unleashed the fury (laughing). We had our run-inís; basically showing me who was boss. When we did have our run-inís I really didnít stick up for myself because I just wanted to keep my gig. I didnít want to prove anything; I didnít want to show Iím Mr. Tough Guy or stand up to somebody who can push me around. I was more submissive because I wanted to keep my gig. I had to realize I had to lay low with everything. There was one time and Yngwie would never hold this against me because it was a really long time ago and we are really, really good friends. When I rejoined the band in 1986 we did a Japanese tour and we had a couple weeks off before we went to Japan and the whole time we were doing a US tour it was a set thing at the end of the night there was a little break and we would do the last song and at the very end of the last song the band would stop and I would give Yngwie my mic and he would say goodnight and we would do the big grind-down and go off the stage. The first night in Japan I just had a mind funk and weíre on stage and the band breaks at the same spot and I say "thank you Tokyo, good night" and heís standing right next to me with this evil look and gave me the hardest shoulder shrug on stage in front of everybody, all I thought was Ďoh shití. I wasnít embarrassed or pissed off of what he did on stage it was more the fact I forgot heís supposed to say goodnight. When we came off stage he came full on with the altercation with the finger in the face saying ĎI canít believe this, youíre not the star, just because you had some success in Japan does mean you can change the whole set aroundí. I said "Yngwie it was a mistake, it will not happen again". I was smart enough to lay low and keep my gig and move on. Weíre really good friends to this day.

Brian Rademacher: Yeah I know the story well, I had dinner with John Macaluso and he told us his stories. He wasnít feeling well one day while recording with Yngwie so Johnny wanted to take a day off from recording and Yngwie said ĎIím paying you, Iím the boss, you get in there and you play the drumsí. So he did.

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: Yeah thereís no mercy for us little guys in the band but itís not one of the reasons why when people ask me if I would ever work with him again, has nothing to do with the fact itís his gig. Itís that I have moved on and have no interest to go back and do that style. Heís still doing his thing the way heís always done it. Iíve done so many different things through the years I just have no interest in going back to do that again.

Brian Rademacher: What were some of the things you would have on your tour rider back in the day?

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: I really donít remember because we were never asked what we wanted, whatever was there was there. I never knew what a rider was back then until I did my own tour. People would say now you have a choice of what you want. Back then I thought it was just a courtesy.

Brian Rademacher: So what do you have now?

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: Itís pretty simple. A bottle of Grey Goose Vodka, Gatorade, sodas, beers; I donít want to feel pressured loading up a bunch of stuff that no one eats or drinks. Iíve done so many tours and gigs that no one eats or drinks the stuff unless you are also getting it for the bus. I try to keep it down to the basic necessities and not let the food go to waste.

Brian Rademacher: The first time I met you was at the 10th Anniversary MelodicRock Festival in Indiana in 2007 and you put on one helluva live set and boy do you sweat a lot! What is it like when youíre not feeling well and you have to perform?

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: Luckily in any case adrenalin is 80% of anything you do and if Iím down and out itís that extra energy I get from the audience to boost my spirits. I can never cheat the audience for a show. I can give any excuse in the world, theyíre there to see a show, they are there to see a show and not excuses. The bottom line you gotta do what you gotta do. This is a blessed life that I get to do this for a living.

Brian Rademacher: With your latest release "Beautiful Mess", you can really feel a soulful sound and I see you list one of your influences as Sam Cook. Many bands when they reach a huge status lose touch with their fans with wanting an autograph or picture yet when I met you all you did was care about meeting everyone even with the tough schedule you keep. Do you feel that is missing in some cases with an artist?

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: Well the thing is the classic bands that have been around a long time, it does become a job at some point and sometimes they will extend themselves, if they do it for one they have to do it for everybody. When youíre on the road it does become a little tedious, you get to the point for a little down time. Everybody wants a piece of you all the time, Iím not going to make any excuses itís just like going to a job from 9 to 5 and coming home and having your boss next to you having dinner and talking about work. It can get tedious and you want to walk away from work and I can understand their side because they have been doing it for a long time. If you do it for one you have to do it for all and if you donít youíre considered an asshole. Point in case last night with Dan Reed, it wasnít my show we did our thing and Dan was doing his meet and greet and all I wanted was to get a beer after the show and I saw someone with a Jeff Scott Soto shirt so naturally I was going to be nice, actually a fan of mine came to the show just to see me playing with Dan and of course I took a photo with her and made a bee line over to the bar then a person saw me taking a photo with her and they said can I get a photo too, yeah ok, then the next one and the next one. All I wanted to do was get a beer but I guess bands like KISS or someone like that just want to get it done and move forward with the rest of their day. But there are a lot of artists that will give you a little time and talk with you and spend time with you. Donít forget you just spent six hours at a venue for sound check, show and after show then you go somewhere and could be there for hours speaking or signing things and pictures. Itís an exhausting day and to do that a month or two straight it can wear on you.

Brian Rademacher: If you can sum up what Jeff Scott Soto is as a person what would you say?

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: Iím honest, moral and respectful and again I canít repeat it enough Iím happy to do what I do; Iím so lucky to do what I do. Never mind what people think of my voice and talent itís still luck of the draw because there are a lot of talented people that are not living up to the potential of what they have to offer. To do what I get to do and for me I never look a gift horse in the mouth, Iím very lucky and happy. It all comes from growing up with the values that my mother taught me, being respectful and moral and humble. I want people to like me; I want people to think of me as a good person and a good artist.

Brian Rademacher: Jeff I just want to thank you for the talk, it was great talking about the old times in New York

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: Right on man. It was my pleasure, thanks Brian

 

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