"Get Your Hang Ups Outta Here!" Those words were spat forth with swagger, attitude and glamour by the man who is joining us today the one, the only Johnnie Holliday, main man behind Star Star and now Scream Idol but the journey to the former and indeed to the later was a long one and we have that here right now. So let us go on a trip with the "Flyboy" in....
"From A Star To An Idol".
Hi Johnnie thanks so much for joining us today. Now you are a man of many talents and a man of many places but let us get to the basics first before we strap in for this long rock n roll rollercoaster ride. What age did rock n roll first bite you and where where you when it happened and which band or artist tripped your trigger first?
Johnnie Holliday ; There used to be a late night show in the States called Don Kirshner's rock concert. One night I was up late for an eleven year old... and I saw Rod Stewart and the Faces live. That was the moment man.... that's when R'n'R touched me and mesmerized me.... totally blew me away. I remember that night so clearly and that first defining moment in my life. The second such moment was when I got Kiss Alive 1.... and the third was at the Godz, Judas Priest and Angel concert at NYC's Palladium. I was just a little kid but, there was nothing I identified with more than R'n'R
Late night TV (which figures into your story later) was the spark to ignite your passion. So as a little kid you say there was nothing more you identified with than rock n roll, so was it just an escape from the mundanity of day to day life or was it a necessity for you to have somewhere to escape to? I mean you were born in New York yes? That was a rough place at this point yeah?
J . H ; First thing that struck me was Rod Stewarts hair.... and that whole look just fascinated me. Show biz, Hollywood, wild life all mixed in together. At that age it seemed like theatre, but I knew it wasn't.... that's what made it magical. Looking back... it must have been a need to belong to something. The truth is that being that I moved around so much as a kid I probably didn't have a chance to develop childhood friendships or hobbies, habits etc that a kid may identify with. It certainly seems now that it was an emotional attachment more than anything else... my love was instant and fanatical.... which is indicative of a "troubled" personality. I wasn't born in NY.... I was actually born in Montreal, Canada.
Maybe without you knowing it at the time, the rock n roll life was very transient and in a kinda of "planets aligning " moment your fate was sealed in the stars at that young age right there and then. Before we move on why did you move so much and where to could you give us a timeline of your movements
J . H ; Oh, I like that.... the "planets aligning" and "fate sealed in the stars". Regarding moving a lot.... I was sent to Athens up until kindergarten, then I went back to Canada to my parents. We moved to Jersey City where I went to first grade and a small part of second grade, before being sent back to Athens for the remainder of second grade. Then back with my parents in Jersey City to PS 23 for part of the third through fifth grades. Finally we moved to New York when I was 11. I moved out after high school and I worked as a haircutter until taking off for Hollywood at twenty one.
OK take us to the New York city you got to was it a shock for the senses or did you think..." so what mischief can it get into here"? Take us on your first trip into the city.....
"Johnnie, come up to the lab!"
J . H ; Man, growing up in NY was a blessing. I never felt "shocked" or anything like that .... I remember always feeling like I wanted to be a little more extreme than what was going on. Thinking back... it was likely my fanatical personality... my "if a little is good, more must be better" feeling. It happened to me at sixteen with the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I loved it the first time and went back to the theatre another one hundred and one times! Then at eighteen with club Xenon.... and so on.
Walking on the wild side indeed.. OK sixteen years old and rocky horror hits NYC take us into that first time seeing it and what In particular hit you about it
J . H ; This chick Patricia in my Group Psychology class told me about it... I was really intrigued with the free thinking and free feeling aspect surrounding Rocky Horror, as she described it. So I went....alone.... and loved it. I made friends there right away and all of a sudden my life revolved around Saturday nights at the 8th Street Playhouse. Formed a lot of bonds with people and even formed a big part of my ideology... if I may get so heavy. The thing that grabbed me was this huge variety of people from punks to freaks to accountants, bondage mistresses, sales people and secretaries all hanging together and partying. I loved that...loved loved loved it! That sense of freedom to express yourself in any way was addicting....it was a natural evolution of my R'n'R identity...
Johnnie bottom left. "Drama daze...."
Yes there is no stone unturned (well at that point) in the whole rocky horror thing so it was no wonder that so many people got it and still do to this day. OK Rocky hit your world and formed a cornerstone for your life and it was so cool you went on your own, so many people are afraid to do things on their own and by that I mean go out on a limb without the back up of friends or the acceptance of their friends so kudos to you and it , as you said formed a big part of your identity (which we will touch on later of course). OK take us what came next and when did hairdressing come into focus for you?
J . H ; I went everywhere alone. Everywhere... So...let's see.... haircutting. While I was still in high school I was also going to hairdressing school at night. It was a juggling act trying to get a band together, going to school, going to hairdressing school and being a drunken mess...among other things..... but it does build character. So before I actually finished school I got a job at Mystique Hair Designers. As an assistant at first of course....basically a shampooer, but I quickly got promoted to doing hair.... how we say in the business, I "got my chair". I quickly managed to get all the rock kids and more alternative people as clientele... and had some very crazy times. I would often go home after partying and I'd set my alarm clock for ten minutes... then I'd get up, smoke a joint on the way to work, and my assistant Lucy would do my hair so I didn't look like a mess before the salon opened. It was a big salon with a bar and stuff...and I was surely the talk of the neighbourhood. I had a lot of fun there... again it was a free atmosphere, and despite burning the fuse at both ends I was very responsible during work hours.... except for the slow days where we would do qualudes or mesc.
Crazy times indeed so we touched on your personal journey via your influences and now your work (I use the term loosely but sure sounds like fun) now you said you were trying to get a band together at the same time so let's go into that. Did you pick the guitar up right away and sing or was it a longer journey for you ?
J . H ; The uncle that raised me during the years I wasn't with my parents, as well as three more of my aunts and uncles worked in what you might call cabaret clubs. Y'know people sit at tables, live band, dancers etc... They weren't entertainers but they managed acts and clubs.... so one summer when I was 11 one of the guitarists turned me on to the guitar. Just so happened that I had fallen in love with the chick that sang for the band, so I was very keen to being "cool" and hangin' with the "stars". I got my first guitar that summer, and as the Winter rolled in I remember that I would write a lot of lyrics and try to match them to whatever I could play on the guitar. It might have been during that time that I lost all interest in learning to play other people's songs. My first "song" was written with the first two chords I learned. Everything I learned to play was only interesting to me if I could use it in a song. I certainly didn't develop the chops that most guitarists have but, I can play the stuff I've written better than anybody else. So....regarding getting a band together. In high school the main problem was finding musicians that didn't wanna' play covers. I mean, now I do get it.... sixteen year old kids wanna' show some chops by playing "Highway Star" or "Stairway To Heaven"..... but that was meaningless to me. I wanted to play my stuff and I couldn't give a damn if they knew how to play one note more than that. I did manage to get a few line-ups together. First time I played was at sixteen at the school auditorium in a band we called The Punkies. Drums, bass and me singing and playing guitar.... even though I couldn't sing....or play guitar very well.... but we oozed attitude man! It wasn't 'til I got to Hollywood when I was twenty one that I found pro minded musicians and got serious about developing my songs and playing.
Sunshine, movie stars and that sign...
Wow walking like you talked it I bet you saw some sights in those clubs and not all good ones hey? So you then moved to Hollywood now take us into your head when the notion hit you to go to Hollywood and when it turned into a reality on you landed there
J . H ; Hollywood.... Growing up I always thought every one would want to live in Hollywood. I had taken for granted how unique and extraordinary NY was. I grew up California dreamin'. After high school I was working as a haircutter. Collage was out of the question... I couldn't make a long term commitment to anything. I had a drive inside me man and I just wanted to get a band together. However the years between high school and splitting for LA at twenty one were basically years spent clubbing and using hard. I was a regular at the great NYC dance club Xenon, which left a big imprint on my character. Going out like five or six days a week allowed me to actually be a regular at a lot of clubs. We could do a whole interview of those great days at the Mudd Club, Peppermint Lounge etc and all the bands around those days... but I digress. So....my opportunity to finally take off came when I discovered a music school there called GIT. It was on Hollywood BLVD over the Hollywood Wax Museum tourist trap. Yeah man.... I was going back to school. So at twenty one years old I left NY for LA. Truth is that GIT wasn't a good fit for me but, I did meet some of my closest lifelong friends there. I arrived in Hollywood and stayed at the Holiday Inn on Highland Ave for a few weeks while I looked for a place to live. There was a big abandoned motel on Hollywood BLVD then that was a big squat for homeless people...mostly punks. It was called Motel Hell and it was what you'd imagine... anyway.... I met some little bleach blonde chick who was squatting there and through her I made more friends that were living there so I kinda' picked up where I had left off.
Mikey Mess. Mikey Mess Carol & Johnnie
My first apartment was at 1767 N. Orchid Ave, and when school started I met my first friend there... Mikey Mess who I would later form Star Star with. I eventually ended up one block over at 1746 N. Orange Drive at an 11th floor apartment with a close postcard view of the Hollywood sign. Looking out at the view I felt this feeling of happiness and content rush through me man. The realization that as long as you're living the life that makes you happy, then you are successful. That's exactly how I felt. Successful ! Just for being there! So my spiritual awakening as to what is meaningful and valuable in life was complete at that point in my life.....and nothing has changed...never will.
Crazy days indeed so you took us to Hollywood and shown us inside your head and thoughts again so we are starting to get a more complete picture of who you are and what drives you. OK you are in Hollywood and you are making the moves and making the scene so take us to the first band you were in and indeed did any of the bands that were around in Hollywood have any impact on you either for good or bad reasons?
J . H ; Ok, so…. I’m twenty one in Hollywood… going out, having fun in all the clubs, checking out bands, partying hard etc….. and…. I bought a used Teac 4-Track recorder mixer. Mickey Mess had a little cheezy beat box thing that he had brought from Switzerland…the kind that sounds like bleeps and clicks rather than drums. For the first time I was able to record my songs and bring them to life. That’s exactly what I did. Endless hours, day in and day out recording, writing and actually coming into my sound and style. Working on songs while living at the foot of the Hollywood Hills, looking at the Hollywood sign are the most vivid memories in my life.... and certainly the most definitive time of my life. It was also clearly a creative time. I was very happy just jamming at home and writing stuff with Mickey. I didn’t even feel ready to form a band….and I wasn’t. I needed to address a few bad habits. So we rented a truck, loaded our gear and stuff…. along with a little parrot named “Shakey” and “Smirnoff” the cat, and we started driving to NY…well. actually…Mickey Mess did the driving… I was always a professional passenger. In all honesty… it wasn’t just that we needed a change of environment. Regardless of the party we were having in LA… Mickey, a punk from Europe, and I, a NYC club kid, had the feeling that NY was closer to our musical identity…. after all, that was our prime directive. We rented a personal rehearsal space…. and for the next year and a half we just binged on blow, booze and clubs. Other than some 4-track recordings and talking talking talking about what we had to do, we just partied man. A Boss DR-110 drum machine had replaced Mickey’s Swiss beat box.
Weeds, an early study
During this time Weeds, who I had grown up with, was riding horses as a jockey/exercise rider at NY’s Belmont race track. He was also playing bass in a local band. We made him an offer he couldn’t refuse….. leave your great paying job and your band, and come with us back to Hollywood so we can rock and party with chicks. The three of us rented another truck, loaded up our gear and our belongings and started driving back to Hollywood. This time Weeds would share the driving chores with Mickey…. but I did take it for a spin around a parking lot somewhere in Ohio one night when I was drunk.
So back to Hollywood you went via party or three hundred haha. So back in Hollywood with Mickey and Weeds is this were Star Star came to be?
J . H ; I forgot one thing… while in NY, we recorded four songs at a fabulous penthouse studio overlooking Manhattan called Calliope. Armed with our demo we get to Hollywood and we get an apartment at the same building on Orange Drive, on the 12th floor this time. It didn’t face the Hollywood sign but we had a fantastic view of all of LA. I preferred the other side looking at the sign and the Hills but this was very impressive as well. We were struggling to get a drummer. However we had found a very cool true R'n'R girl to sing. We even have promo shots with her and without a drummer. Even though I had sung on the demos, I’m not a singer so I just wanted to play guitar. Weeds, Mickey, our roommate Ryan, and I were all working at a trendy gift shop on the Sunset Strip. There was a trendy burger place across the street a few doors from the Whiskey Au Go Go, where a drummer we had met through an ad worked. One day he came across the street and just said something like, I’ve been thinking about the songs you played me and let’s get this band off the ground. We played a bunch of shows at the usual places and recorded two songs. Now… I’m sure there are many people who understand how distorted and warped and intense things can get when people drink a lot….and more. So we had a falling out with Mickey Mess…. and with Carol, our singer. She especially was hurt when we hid that we were gonna’ perform as a trio. She found out from seeing it in some paper. Those break-ups are two of the most uncomfortable and sickening memories that I have… I learned a lot from that mess of a situation. We’ve since made up with Mickey and are very close. He mixed and co-produced the Scream Idol album. The split for Carol was also due to various people around us and, two A&R reps who had heard both demos… as well as our drummer, all insisting that I sing. Everyone realized what a great singer Carol was. She was like a Wendy-O meets Pat Benetar kinda’ singer. I mean, I’m nowhere near her level of singing. She really was world class. So now we were a trio….but we played live with a really cool guitar player who was like a hired gun. He was in all kinds of bands and projects with major acts, but he did do us a favour and play with us for some chump change. I didn’t feel ready to be the sole guitar player and singer all of a sudden.
So you had your fill of Hollywood and you move back to NYC which it seems always would be the right home for you and your music. Now first things first what happens when you got back to NYC and what year was this. Also didn't you release an album with Carol singing or was that after the fact?
Weeds, Johnnie, Diz Kidrolla and Kane Daily
J . H ; It’s 1989 and we roll in to NY and immediately start looking for a guitarist and drummer. We’ve now decided that I’ll sing. Mainly because we thought finding a singer woulda’ took forever. Things went quickly and we found a great… I mean great guitar player man. Kane Daily. He brought his own dimension to the band. Looking back now through the years…there was always the element of… to be polite, I’ll just say “colourful” personalities in this band…and Kane certainly didn’t bring an air of sobriety to the group. Kane hooked us up with a drummer called Diz Kidrolla, but we got as far as taking some promo shots together. Like three weeks before our first “back in NY” gig at the Limelight we parted ways. Now imagine how screwed up Diz Kidrolla was that he was too fucked up to be in this band. Imagine that! We asked around for a hired gun to sit in on the Limelight show and we were introduced to Deon.
Deon and Kane
He wasn’t really a hired gun, just a hot shot in the neighbourhood. We rehearsed practically every day until the gig and after the show we asked him in the dressing room if he’d like to join the band. During this time, one of our dealers decided to form a production company and put out an album for us. We had known each other for many years and he was both a friend and fan. So that’s how the first album got done….which is a bunch of demos recorded in California remixed at Calliope studios, coupled with the new songs we were rehearsing. I didn’t know how to sing… and I was a total mess during that time and it shows.
So we’re doing gigs and partying, and one day on the subway some guy approaches a friend who’s listening to the album on headphones… and he says he likes the album, and our friend tells him he knows us and 'badda bing badda’ boom he gets in touch with us and wants to like manage the band. He works out a deal for us to record new songs and we take off for Kansas City. We spend some time there recording and partying like animals. Played at a club or two as well. Michael, our manager guy, was not liking working with the engineer there, so, we left without mixing. When we got back to NY that same engineer recommended a hot shot mix guy in Ohio that would be good for us. Weeds, Michael and I went to Ohio. It was no party. We went out one night and Weeds’ ended up getting laid, but other than that this trip was strictly business. Michael made sure we all stayed focused.
Spiro and some dude with a cigar
So we now had a new demo, but needed a guitar player. Kane had to leave and make a fresh start…our roadie Spiro, Kane’s partner in crime, also needed some time off.
OK so it seems the partying has stated to subside and you were back on track but needed a new guitar player. Before we talk about him was there anymore to the story about Deon? He indeed was a great player and a very important ingredient to the Star Star sound. Was he this from the get go or did that come with time? Also what was the state with his partying at this point?
J . H ; If there is such a thing as a bad boy Boy Scout…it would be Deon. He had a strong sense of pride, honour and honesty… but, like many drummers, he had a strange dark side. His forceful personality made you respect him, but he was also sweet and friendly. A very special goodhearted person man… Like I said earlier we met Deon while looking for a technically skilled player to learn a set in a little over two weeks. Once he officially joined the band he had to adjust to playing trashy R'n'R. It took a while….including arguing/fighting during rehearsal, then continuing on the phone…and the next morning. We had become friends and we were all determined to make it work. His talent and intellect helped him mature from a kid who wanted to show his chops…to someone who brought a new dimension to the band. After recording “The Love Drag Years” he finally got rid of his toms and ride cymbal like we were nagging him to do for years. It’s now a rule that this band does not use ride cymbals or rack toms. The new album is just kick, snare, hi-hat and cymbals. Now…as far as partying goes… if you must pry… Deon drank…nothing else, and he wasn’t the type to lose his composure or act foolish. The band had me and Jay for that. One quick Deon story… We were in Virginia Beach, first night opening for Blue Oyster Cult. Deon was off stage dealing with his drum kit when one of BOC’s crew came over and started loudly announcing “somebody broke a rule, somebody moved a stand”, over and over. The guy seemed like a total dick to us so we just ignored him. However, Deon dropped what he was doing, put all of his 115 pounds against this big guys chest and said, “First of all, your rules SUCK! Secondly, when I’m done I’ll put the stand back if I feel like it”. The dude never mentioned it again.
OK great background for us right there thanks for sharing. Now you mentioned Jay how did he join the band, you said you changed to a trashy sound was all that there before Jay joined or did he add a little trash dust?
J . H ; Ok, so we had a new demo but no guitar player. I went away for the whole Summer. I got back and Michael was working with Roadrunner Records. I went to Roadrunner’s offices and met Monte Connor, very unofficially, just exchanging pleasantries and shit like that. We started running ads for a guitar player and found Jay Hening. He told us that he saw the ad while reading the Johnny Thunders obituary in the newspaper that day. He also happened to be living like five minutes away….so, we met in the street about eleven at night and gave him a four song demo tape. The next morning, early morning, he called me and said, “ok, I’m ready”. We played together that night… he knew exactly what we were doing and it showed. He played the songs like he had been playing them for years man. Amazing! When he went to the bathroom….Weeds, Deon and I looked at each other and we didn’t need to say much. When he came back from the bathroom we asked him to join the band. We were all very happy. In all the years playing and recording with Jay, I can’t recall ever suggesting he play something a certain way or anything like that. Unlike Deon, Jay grew up listening to the same stuff we did...and he lived the way we did.
Jay, Johnnie, Deon and Weeds. The first live show of the "Love Drag" line up.
The band already had a definite identity which Jay completely understood and he embellished it perfectly... even taking a lead role in the production process to make sure the band didn’t lose its character. It’s hard to describe how naturally talented Jay was. He was able to communicate with his guitar as simply as we do with words. It was an extension of his body. I’ve never seen anything like it. Just remembered.... There's actual video of us in the studio of what may be the only time we disagreed musically. (Click HERE to view that video on You tube) I wanted to double all my guitar tracks and he felt it would take away from the trashiness.
Yes you found your missing piece of the rock n roll jigsaw and off you went. I want to get into the detail of how you got your deal with roadrunner. Did you have other labels interested in you was it just the logical thing to do being as Michael was working with roadrunner already. Also the demo you had did that have any of the songs that made it on to the Love Drag Years record at all?
J . H ; We recorded all the songs from the demos for "The Love Drag Years", including “Whore Whore”, which Roadrunner later released on an EP. Michael worked out a deal where Roadrunner would pay for us to record an album as a demo, and then have the right of first refusal…. meaning that we could only sign with another label if Roadrunner didn’t want to sign us first… and match the deal. So we recorded and mixed an album worth of songs to help them decide if they wanted to make an offer. Yes, we did run up the recording budget with miscellaneous expenses… but we really captured the spirit of the band. Michael couldn’t start actively meeting with other labels just yet. It’s an ethics thing, and rightly so. A lot of meetings followed with Roadrunner. Michael had made it clear that we would never meet at the label’s offices. All meetings were to be over dinner. A few weeks went by with dinner meetings at upscale restaurants all over NYC. Then the dinners continued as we entered into negotiations and strategy. A hot shot Chicago lawyer along with Michael worked out a record deal, a publishing contract and a merchandising agreement after four full months of negotiations. We signed with Roadrunner ‘cause they made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. At this point there was a degree of trust between the band, Michael and Monte from Roadrunner. It was a move in a new direction for the label and they were taking it very seriously. They made us feel very comfortable being the guinea pigs. We started rehearsing every day while they (and us) started looking for a producer.
So a deal was made and you got to work before we move on can you talk budgets and what advance they offered and is it true they marked you as priority from the get go?
J . H ; That’s why I said they made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. Monte seemed to believe in what we were doing and convinced the other heavy heads at the label to grow in a new direction. We benefitted most from this expansion at the label. Roadrunner was spending a lot of money… and to be fair and honest… on the band personally as well. Whether it was for clothes, gear, spending money, everyday expenses or big generous advances. They literally spent ten times as much as we had agreed on….and what we had originally agreed on wasn’t cheap either. Different times in the industry then.
OK yes very different (and more fun) times indeed. OK let's get to you recording "The Love Drag" record. Did you have a clear vision top to bottom for the record? Did the label have any say in the tracks on the record at all. I remember you saying your favourite track wasn't even on the record ("Whore Whore) take us into the blue print for the record and the recording process time to get serious?
J . H ; First thing on Michael and Monte’s agenda was finding the right producer. This took a couple of months. The choices were narrowed down to Eddie Kramer and Richard Gottehrer. We spent a day with Eddie Kramer at SIR studios in NYC talking and playing. At some point some label people stopped by, and I remember after they left Eddie joking with us about how record label people know nothing about producing an album. We met with Richard Gottehrer at Roxy Studios in Long Island City. A couple of weeks went by and it seemed that everyone agreed on Richard Gottehrer… even though there was no chemistry between us. He seemed the logical choice since he would bring a more alternative perspective to the album. They were afraid Eddie woulda’ made a hard rock band out of us.
Awaiting the thunder. Lights, Drums, ACTION!
We spent the first ten days recording drums at Kaufman Astoria Movie Studios. One of the biggest recording rooms I’ve ever seen. It’s used for recording whole orchestras. I remember that Tony Bennet had just finished recording there the day before us and that Keith Richards had it booked right after us. We had about a six man crew… a drum tech specifically for Deon, like three assistants etc. Among the vast array of drums, they brought the kick drum on the cover of the second New York Dolls album. We used it to record "Fly Boy". We spent one day per song to record drums…trying all different stuff. The whole band played together for a lot of the drum tracking so as to capture the feel....and as a matter of fact… we kept and used all my guitar parts from those drum tracking sessions.
Jay and Johnnie at RPM Studios
After the drum sessions, a couple of weeks went by …. and we went to RPM studios in NYC to track solos, bass and vocals.
All the band at RPM Studios
Everything except my vocals went well. Being that I wasn’t an experienced singer, or a singer at all, I was struggling.
Deon, Jay and Weeds singing back up vocals, Deon playing Harmonica and Weeds, "say what?" at RPM Studios
Despite reassurances by the producer and engineer, the band and Michael knew that it wasn’t right.
Time to party?
Christmas was coming and we were invited to Richard Gottehrer’s fancy apartment on fifth avenue for a party, with some very fancy guests. We got wasted and made a scene and our manager got angry with us. I won’t say we embarrassed him. A week later we fired Richard Gottehrer. We had spent a month on vocals, but Michael was very angry with him for not wanting to spend more time to get it better. After talking with Roadrunner, since they would have to pay him in full anyway, they gave us the ok to fire him. Now we were looking for a producer again. During that time I was really liking a band called Concrete Blonde, whose guitar player used to be in one of my fave bands, Sparks.
Earle Mankey and Johnnie
This led me to finding out that his brother Earle Mankey who was also in Sparks had something to do with their production. Then we found out that he was also involved with the Runaways and a bunch of other cool California bands. So we fly out to Los Angeles to do vocals with a dude I grew up admiring. This was the best part of the recording. Creatively and for me personally. First of all I got to hang out with my friends. Living in LA for so many years it had become my second home. Secondly, the chemistry and direction that Earle injected into the project was what made the album what it is. It took six weeks… most of that time was partying… with many days off between tracking songs. The vocals went down easy thanks to Earle helping me make adjustments that kinda’ started making me a singer. The album was tracked and now we needed a mix guy. Earle is so creative and talented, and he just finished co-producing the album so, it was a no brainer that he’d be our first choice. To this day the mixes that Earle did for us are the coolest mixes I’ve ever heard. Roadrunner rejected them. That was the first sign that the band and the label had some different views about the direction of the marketing. So…. before leaving California they book Neil Kernon to mix the album. We hung out with Neil about two weeks while he mixed in a studio South of LA, and he told us some cool stories about Judas Priest and some of the other great bands he’s worked with… even a little gossip. Neil’s mixes were also great. They did tend to make us more hard rock, but in an underground way. Roadrunner rejected them. I left my hotel and stayed with my ex-room mates, Jeff and Ryan, for about a week before going back to NY. I got back and we were introduced to a new Roadrunner employee, Howie, who was gonna’ oversee all things to do with us. In the past he had worked with a mix guy from New Hampshire who had done countless big acts and he hired him to mix our album. Cool thing about this studio was that it had an apartment on the top floor for bands to stay. It had two bunk beds and two separate bedrooms… it was quite spacious.
The Normandy Sound Reverb Room.
There was a swirling staircase that took you down to the studio. So for six weeks Phil Greene mixed the Love Drag Years at the great Normandy Sound. We would go out a lot to the nearest big city which was Providence, Rhode Island…mixing was in the day and we didn’t really have to be there anyway. Weeds and I did an impromptu jam at one club. I remember getting up on stage. The mixes were polished and really great. They just didn’t represent what the band was about live. They captured a different spirit of the band… not the character that we most identified with.
Mixing it up at Normandy Sound Studios
Roadrunner loved the mixes. The album was mastered by Howie Weinberg at Masterdisk in NYC. Roadrunner flew Phil Greene in to be around at the mastering. That’s where they decided…or sprung it on us that “Whore Whore” wouldn’t be on the album and would be released later. Phil, being a true bad boy rocker himself argued for keeping it on the album, actually saying it was the best song. It had taken almost a year and a little less than a quarter million bucks but, the album was done.
So you got the record out after what must have seen like a lifetime, but you had some fun whilst going round the block for sure. OK the record comes out take us into the promotion process by the label and what that meant for you.
If a picture could talk... the start of the promotion trail.
J . H ; We started touring the States before the album came out. The tour kicked off with us opening for Peter Criss in Detroit. For most of the shows we opened for established acts and they were really great.
Star Star with Joan Jett and Thommy Price
However, the shows that we headlined were disastrous.
We didn’t have any national press yet and the album was a few months away from release, so it makes sense that not many people knew us. We did the first video (Science Fiction Boy) with guest star Michael Monroe (click HERE to see the video on You Tube).
We got so wasted at the shoot that they took all the bottles away from us. We were really out of hand man, and it put Michael in an uncomfortable situation. No one was smiling at us from the production crew or from the label… they were seriously upset.
When the album came out the band was a mess. Hardcore partying. I thought playing more would force us to focus, but we just partied heavier. I wasn’t the only one with an addictive personality in the band… I wasn’t even the worst. Regardless, we still had a great live energy due to our relentless rehearsal schedule.
When the album came out we were optimistic as it was on the radio “most added” charts up there with and in many cases ahead of major acts. Always in the top ten during that initial release to radio. Michael soon had an issue with Roadrunner. He was wondering why, with all these radio station additions….why the album wasn’t charting as expected.
There were many meetings that became arguments and even fights between Michael and the label. Truth is…yes, the truth is despite the fact that the top brass at Roadrunner were behind the band… the actual staff at the label’s offices didn’t like us.
"Roadrunner, roadrunner going ninety miles an hour" but in the wrong direction for the Star boys?
We were a departure and evolution for the label, but the execs didn’t consider that the label’s staff would also have to embrace this expansion. No one is saying that they didn’t do their job…it just seemed that they didn’t understand how or really care to promote this band… most of them seeing us like a hair band, or sleaze band etc. Michael managed to convince the executives at Roadrunner of this… and they hired an outside PR firm.
Major news! RAW U.K. magazine feature.
The PR firm Inpress was hired and got us in to all the major mags worldwide. Including a three page spread in our fave mag High Times. Major problems arose when the marketing direction and promo materials provided to Inpress were not in tune with how we identified as a band. Big fights, with Michael accusing people of incompetence and worse… making the majority of the staff at the label not like us even more. Very tense period of time. We kept playing and partying and did a European promo tour as well. Inpress started taking direction from Michael and that didn’t go over well at the label…so, more bad vibes were brewing. Michael decided we should leave Roadrunner…
So you tasted the highs and drank through the lows and the troubles but still gave us record that still sounds killer to this day. OK so Michael says let's leave roadrunner, take us from when that became a reality and what was your next move?
J . H ; Management and our lawyer in Chicago were pressuring us to leave Roadrunner. Michael instructed us not to take any phone calls or have anything to do with the label. Even going so far as to not want us to have dinner with some German fans, who had won a “Fly to New York to meet Star Star” contest. It was perhaps the only time we went against Michael. We invited and hung out with the winners of the contest at our fave club at the time, Ward 6. We kept playing shows, but our official line was that we were breaking up. We had set up our own 8-track studio… our priority now was to write and record new songs, while laying low to get out of our contract. We recorded a bunch of stuff. The last recordings by the “Love Drag Years” band. Then we stopped playing so as not to be an active band. Roadrunner still owned the rights to all things we created. We couldn’t even send out any songs since Roadrunner would have a claim on them. They could’ve made things really hard for us legally… but they didn’t…and I’m very grateful for that. Jay split to do an album with Michael Monroe, while we re-recruited a rehabilitated Kane Daily to play guitar. We did a show or two and recorded some demos. Like the album the new demos were mixed three times, with the final mixes ultimately being done by Phil Greene…again. Our manager Michael had a strange attitude towards us… most likely based on his perception of our lack of focus. He expected better from us. Even at our best we were a mess. Now that we didn’t have commitments or constraints we were even crazier. As America turned from Rock to Grunge… in a moment of sobriety, or in a moment of an excited state of highness, I suggested leaving the States. Staying in our environment wasn’t gonna’ lead down any positive road. In all honesty though… I wanted to move to Athens. My most beloved uncle who had raised me was sick. I wanted to spend the rest of his time near him. Jay was now back home in Virginia. Weeds and I were determined to make this band thing work man. Didn’t matter where we were based. I get on the phone and I explained to Jay that I’d go first…I’d set up a house to stay in etc… he and Weeds would follow and we’d get a drummer there. Deon wasn’t gonna’ follow at this point in his life. I’m sure that he, just like us, always felt like he was still in the band anyway. Now, an inpatient Jay starts constantly calling and asking questions and wanting to talk… we all felt that rush. Let’s go play! We packed and shipped loads of gear and guitars and our 8-track studio and clothes and everything. Weeds decided to go to New Orleans until it was time to come. Before I left for the airport I called Jay and we went over everything one more time… he kept wanting to hear it. The last thing he said to me was, “life is full of changes”.
"the love drag years really screwed me up".........
So on the way to the airport your mind must gave been mush with all the band had gone through but somehow you managed to remain focused (to a point) on the band. So at the airport talking to an impatient Jay, Deon wasn't on board (or was he?) and Weeds almost on route. What happened to the plan for Athens and the band .........
J . H ; At the airport I was stressing about our stuff that was being shipped… my computer, printer and some other stuff did end up getting “lost”. I’m not sure if we were focused…. we never thought of stopping. The band is my character man. I think I speak for Weeds also when I say that our personalities emanate from and are based around our identity within the band. I arrive in Athens and inside an apartment in the centre of the city… a four minute walk to the Acropolis… I set up our 8-Track studio to record demos…using closets as guitar isolation booths, and the bathroom for natural reverb. Everything was almost ready…. but…. everything stopped.
Johnnie in a daze......
I remember waking up in an emergency room… I just started talking… telling the doctor that I had to go. That I had work to do. He answered, “Go where? You don’t know what we have here”. To which I replied, “Tomorrow, what about tomorrow?”…. A car hit me and I was thrown very far. I had a concussion, a broken shoulder, banged up everywhere and one of my legs was in sixteen pieces….luckily not the knee or the ankle. I spent a few weeks in the hospital and the first day home I passed out from partying. I guess it was a shock to my now clean system. I woke up on the floor and struggled to get up ‘cause of my broken shoulder and leg. I got up though. My recovery was very long… and during that period Deon got sick and died and Jay killed himself. So, Weeds and I ended up in Athens alone.
Wowie from hero to (broken up) ground zero again. OK before we move on would you like to go into Deon and Jay's stories just a little more for everyone just to clarify their situations and in turn what effect did that have on you and Weeds? I know you said you ARE the band but are there ever moments of "screw this" or did you re group more solidly in your now haze free state of mind?
J . H ; Deon, unfortunately had cancer. I’ve learned a lot from him and I miss my friend very much. A few days before he passed away we had a long conversation that made me realize how lucky I was to have known Deon. As for Jay, he had a special kind of heart man. His unique talent was due to the depth of his character…. a cyclone of emotions. The hardest thing is imagining how bad he felt that he ended his life.
Deon (with Michael) and Jay in better times
There was never any thought or mention of stopping between Weeds and I. I’ve never really made any decisions in my life….I’ve been true to my heart. There was nothing to think about or rationalize…. we knew how we felt. I was nearing the end of my recovery kind of….and, we wanted to get a band together to play shows and record…and party.
Thanks for clarifying about Jay and Deon and indeed a very sad time but at least you had your time with them and still hold them dear, that's strength of character right there. OK I figured you were not going to give up but take us from the last days of your recovery to the birth of the new Johnnie, how hard was it to stay on track.
J . H ; My recovery included wearing a strap on brace on my leg for a year or two. It was ok ‘cause I’d strap it on over my pants and it kinda’ looked like I was wearing it to look cool. We were jamming and working out new songs…and going to a lot of clubs and meeting people. We were hardly ever home at night and when we were we weren’t alone.
One night we saw some punk kid on the floor of a club with some chick standing over him saying shit. He was the coolest dude in that club. It was unbelievable that when we asked if he was a drummer… that he was!! We had also seen some guy playing guitar and singing in a band…turned out to be from Chicago… we became friends and decided we would try the band with both of us playing guitar and singing. That was the Star Star in the late nineties.
We did do some shows with this short lived incarnation, but it didn’t feel like Star Star. It sucked. So, we end up a trio. Weeds, Jack Kennedy and I. This trio thing felt like a natural evolution of the band. In hindsight, we should’ve changed the band’s name.
However, we were getting calls from promoters and labels for “Star Star”, so a name change didn’t cross our mind then. Meanwhile…. I bought half of a historic dark, gothic, industrial underground club in Athens… after it’s heyday. I was sure that it could be revived. The club is basically a big dance floor with steps goin' up around it where people sit….and then one area with a big roundish bar. Perfect! There was a buzz in the scene that Rebound was being reborn and that we were involved. We didn’t promote, we didn’t even turn on the lights outside the club. All you saw was a metal door in some building. We only opened on Saturdays for people that knew about it. We had an eccentric looking clientele, so we were very careful to keep the atmosphere comfortable and free inside. It was always packed….always. But…. I digress. We started seeing our live shows grow… and more local press… and we started doing Star Star parties at clubs all around the city.
Johnnie and Marky DJing for the masess.
We would basically DJ for two or three hours, get drunk and meet chicks. Those parties were also really hot. We were making it happen locally, organically and undergroundly . We parted ways with Jack ‘cause he had some issues to work out. Next we met an inexperienced drummer with a lot of desire. So, every single day we rehearsed… everyday, week in and week out. We started getting some big shows as the lone opener for a bunch of major acts, as well as gigs outside of Athens. I also got a gig on Greece’s biggest rock radio station Rock FM 96.9. I did that on the weekends for five whole years at ten in the morning…. going there straight from the clubs drinking out of a bottle of vodka and smoking joints while doing the radio show…. really blew their minds at the station the first few weeks. Through this time the main problem was that we were partying constantly around the shows, parties and events that we weren’t focusing on the album.
So you hit the ground running, so to speak. Sounds like a crazy but super fun time. So what happened next with your new drummer was it always on the cards to do another album even though you were without a label but you did have the underground cool people's backing this must have meant a lot to you then after all the hassle with record company folk?
J . H ; We remained a trio. It felt right. It was right. Our drummer Chris proved to be a faithful and committed band member. Our plan now was to have two background singers during the live shows. We had various combinations of singer girls over time. One of them was with us for years and was like an actual member of the band, Elaine Nardo Sunset.
Elaine and Weeds and Maya.
Some producer guy saw us live and invited us to record at the hot studio here called Sierra. We were determined to make the most of it. We went in and played our whole set absolutely live. Besides gigging often, we rehearsed every day…we had the energy man. Both the producer and engineer commented on how obvious it was that we played every day. After pondering if we should release these recordings as a live studio album, we opted to invest in setting up our own pro recording situation. Our thinking was to create two world class recording chains so we can get pro quality raw tracks which could then be mixed elsewhere. Weeds and I built a recording booth in our apartment…which also doubled as a laundry room. We had to pull the laundry bags out so I can get inside to sing.
Time to record anytime, anyplace.... anywhere!
We spent years recording this forthcoming album. Like I said earlier…. we were living this crazy situation of playing shows and hosting club events, and y’know man, chicks, getting high and shit…. that we just fell in to a rut of recording, re-recording, changing songs and re-recording. It wasn’t sane… but man, it was such a crazy time that it felt right to us…. like we were making a better album…. even though it was taking so long. During this period of time both Elaine Sunset and drummer Chris got married. Throughout this time we remained good friends with our ex drummer Jack Kennedy….. he’d even come along on out of town shows to party with us from time to time. So, when Chris felt he couldn’t commit to the band anymore, I called Jack Kennedy who was now living in Brazil. Yeah….Brazil. Don’t ask. Anyway…. make a long story short he comes back and is back in the band.
So line up completed if by a round the back roads kinda way. OK so you were recording what happened to the tracks or does that bring us to Scream Idol? Take us on the timeline if you will...
J . H ; The Scream Idol album, although all new tracks…. are the result of this marathon recording project. When Chris the drummer and Miss Sunset could no longer be in the band, Jack flew in from Brazil and, Weeds and I finished recording the songs one last time. Mickey Mess is actually the guy that put an end to the ongoing recording. He put in perspective the fact that we have another album, or at least a couple of EP’s ready to go… so, just put this damn album out already!!…. and we’ll release the other songs later. More importantly…. he mixed the Scream Idol album. The talent and creativity that he has a musician is also evident in his mixing. So, we’re rehearsing…. getting a new show together where we play the whole album. We’ll be doing a video for every song…. and, promo events etc. After all these years…. our life as we know it… continues.
So here we are and it is Scream Idol time and we can't wait. OK before we get into the tracks why the change of name was it anything to do with roadrunner at all. Also who owns the masters for the Love Drag Years now is it still them and if so have you tried to get them back at all?
Pure class in black and white!
J . H ; I mentioned earlier that we should have changed the name years ago. We felt that Star Star was another band, with Jay and Deon and Kane and Mickey. Ever since becoming a trio it has felt different. Despite that it was a true and natural evolvement of the band, we feel that we’re no longer a relevant representation of Star Star. It had nothing to do with any legal stuff. The masters for "The Love Drag Years" always belong to the record label. They paid for them, they own them. The only thing bands are entitled to is what was agreed upon during the contract negotiations… which in most cases includes a separate publishing deal. Of course buying and selling masters and publishing is fairly common. Universal recently bought the rights to those Star Star songs. I have no idea what they’re gonna’ do with them.
OK it makes total sense to change the name not only because of your feelings towards the old name but here we are in new times and that is a perfect place for Scream Idol to inhabit. It seems also that universal are buying lots of music let's hope they do something worthwhile with the record and involve you in the process. OK Scream Idol let's get into your new music. Tell us a little about your favourite songs on there and what are your hopes for the record in these ever changing musical times?
Click on above image to listen to full record now!
J . H ; Scream Idol accurately reflects the band musically right now, as well as us personally. Any musical evolution is always the result of changes in our lives and sensibilities. The new album expresses where we are now on many levels…. don’t wanna’ get philosophical… we’re still just trash rockers. Different things make songs favourites.…y’know… like if you’re with a chick when you hear it. Or if you hear it during your first buzz in the morning. Our hopes are simply that through this album we can keep playing and partying. If I wanted more I’d feel greedy. We’re very lucky that we’ve been able to live this way. We’re proof that you don’t have to be a rock star… to feel as successful as one. So to recap… our hopes are to play shows and have crazy freaky club events and parties… and, no. It doesn’t get old… it gets better
So with that mindset it seems you have (in your mind) won already and all the rest is just a sprinkling of glitter onto the world which in my opinion can only be a good thing! Thanks again Johnnie for joining us it has been a thrill to speak to the man behind one of my favourite albums ever so thank you. One last thing do you have any words for your fans n friends who have been with you on this journey?
J . H ; Thanks for your time and kind words… and sorry if I over-babbled at times. Earlier I said that we were grateful… Our gratitude is for the fans/friends over the years. We’ve always felt humbled by their appreciation and support. I hope the new music gives everybody a nice, fresh, R'n'R feeling!
Interview conducted October 2021.
Photographs courtesy of Johnnie Holliday and the Suits vaults.