KEVIN STEELE LIVE. Pondering....."Where's the next party gonna be at?"
TODAY WE ARE JOINED BY ONE OF THE COOLEST CATS AROUND , KEVIN STEELE . FRONT MAN AND DRIVING FORCE BEHIND ROXX GANG. WE LEARN ALL ABOUT THE BE-FREINDING OF BIKERS BACK IN THE EARLY DAYS , THROUGH TO GETTING SIGNED TO VIRGIN , BUT , THAT'S WHEN THE TROUBLE (FUN) BEGAN !
Hi Kevin , thank you so much for your time today. Roxx Gang were the real thing when it came to 80's glam. You understood the true meaning of glam. I remember you being interviewed on the "Hard and Heavy" video magazine and you said your influences were not "boy next door" but "transvestite junkie from across town" a very eloquent way to sum true glam up really , as much fun as a lot of the 80s glam was (and is) , you on the other hand were something a little darker and different , so let's start right there , who were the major (and minor for that matter) influences on you and the band?
Kevin Steele ; T.Rex , New York Dolls , Mott The Hoople , Iggy and the Stooges. Those were my influences. I can't speak for the other guys.
"Things You've Never Done Before" (and after) line up left to right ; Wade Hayes (Guitars , vocals) , Jeff Taylor (Guitars and vocals) , Kevin Steele (Cool Cat and Vocals) , Roby "Strychnine" Strine (Bass and Vocals) and David James Blackshire (Drums and Vocals)
O.k. cool we'll just keep it to just you then yeah?
K . S ; Cool
Nice list of influences there , not just ANY transvestite junkie then . Were there any particular front men that had a major influence or was it just the bands as a whole?
K . S ; Well I was a huge fan of Marc Bolan , Ian Hunter for his song writing , but as far as stage presence , and this might surprise you , I was very influenced by Jim Dandy of Black Oak Arkansas. Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler too.
No not at all Kevin , well maybe a little with Jim Dandy but definitely not with Steven Tyler and Mick Jagger that really makes sense. So to your love of rock n roll , what age were you when rock n roll first got you and when and how did that love morph into you wanting to be in band to make your own rock n roll?
K . S ; When I was about 8 years old I saw an episode of 'The Monkees' , where Davy Jones was being chased all over the Eiffel Tower by a group of rabid , screaming girls who tore off his shirt when they caught him. I knew right then that this was what I wanted to do.
Yes the job to have for sure! So did you always want to be the front man in a band? I think that's a yes , because well , shall we shall say you are no shrinking violet. Or did you start on an instrument and just evolved into a frontman?
K . S ; I always wanted to be up front. I started writing songs before I ever had a band , but I did have a dream. Plus singers have no gear to carry and let's face it they get the best looking girls.
Hahaha yes , that's the master plan right there. O.k so the songs you wrote then , did they end up in the Roxx Gang catalogue or was this way , way before? What was you first band?
K . S ; No my first songs were shit but you've got to start somewhere and NOT give up. The only way to improve is just keep doing it. My first band was called 90% Proof , a salute to out favourite whiskey , Jack Daniels. I was in high school and we were very raw but , we had a LOT of fun.
Cool , well it was fun so a good time was had but at which point did you want to get more serious about it all?
K . S ; After high school I got into a band called Victim , which over the years and with several changes to the line-up ( and our name ) slowly evolved into Roxx Gang. To be honest , although I had a strong drive to become successful , I never took it seriously (or at least tried not too) . I hate rockers who take themselves seriously. Rock n roll is my life and my true love , but as the Stones say "It's Only Rock n Roll". Rock n roll is all about having a good time , a tribal gathering. My goal is to be a shaman , a clown to provide an escape for people y'know , I'm not a business man , serious musician or politician .
"Love 'Em Leave 'Em" era ROXX GANG
Yes rock n roll . It should rock , roll and look good whilst doing it and not much else really but bottom line it should entertain. I hear ya! So not too serious but you still had the drive to get what you wanted for yourself and Roxx Gang. Did you demo before playing live or was it the live arena that you wanted to attack first?
K . S ; Oh! We played anywhere and everywhere we could before we recorded our first demo. I think it is a mistake to do it the other way around. I always prefer to play songs live and live with them for a while before recording , if that's possible , that is. I love being on stage , I am very comfortable there. I find the studio to be a cold and sterile environment and (for me) not the best place to create . I'd much rather perform than make records , but one is a means to the other.
Yes I hear ya! So did your image evolve whilst playing live or was it there from the get go?
K . S ; We were pretty over the top right from the beginning. I was the biggest Dolls fan in the band and I was always pushing the other guys to be more outrageous. Let me tell you , in Florida , where we're from a lot of people did not appreciate our look at first. We played some pretty rough joints when we were starting out. There were a lot of rednecks who didn't dig guys in eyeliner and feather boas!
I bet! But glam is meant to shock and not be acceptable and fluffy. Do any incidents or gigs stick out from those early years?
K . S ; We used to play this after hours bottle club back in the old days. Many a fight broke out. (pool) Cue sticks swinging. We befriended a couple of bikers back then who acted as security for us. I also remember being asked to pack up and leave a couple of times because our "naughty bits" were on to prominent a display. We were a very young band back then and many of our female fans were underage. That caused a few problems from time to time also. The alcohol and drug consumption was at a crazy level too. Between the booze and the hairspray I was sure that if Wade Hayes (guitarist) and "Strychnine" Strine (Roby , bass) were going to light up a joint, they would just combust on the spot! But as you stated glam was meant to shock and the state we were in was pretty shocking , well most of the time! I never felt a kinship to all the pretty boy pop hair bands , although we seemed to get lumped in with them. "Live Fast , Die Young" is a far cry from "Unskinny Bop" dig?
Yeah DIG! Wild , wild times! So how many demo's did you record before you did the demo LP "Love 'Em Leave 'Em"?
K . S ; 2 or 3. We weren't even calling ourselves Roxx Gang yet. The songs before were a little heavier than the Roxx Gang sound , but we did a cover of Alice Cooper's "I'm Eighteen" (click here to see the you tube video) . Alice was another big influence on me . "Love 'Em Leave 'Em" was Roxx Gang's first demo. It was produced by Carl Canedy , the drummer from "The Rods". That's what got us our deal with Virgin Records. Personally , I like the sound of "Love 'Em..." better than "Things You've Never Done Before" . It's a lot more raw sounding and a lot closer to what we sounded like live , at the time.
I'm glad you mentioned Alice because on the "No Way Out" video you are channeling him for sure and you and the whole band look killer! So "Love 'Em Leave 'Em" was the first demo of the band as Roxx Gang , did you shop it around or was it word of mouth that got you noticed?
Stills from the "No Easy Way Out" video and the USA promo 12" single
K . S ; Both. We did shop it everywere and by that time we were starting to get a lot of national (hell , international) attention. The "Love 'Em.." demo was actually in a lot of publications top ten albums of the year. Locally we even outsold Whitesnake and Guns n Roses for a week or two!
So was it all your brothers doing? He managed the band yes?
K . S ; Yes , my brother Brett has been our manager since day one . A thankless job if there ever was one. HA HA!
What numbers did you sell of the "Love 'Em…" demo? Pretty damn cool to outsell some major label bands , that must have been encouraging?
K . S ; I don't remember the numbers. It was over 30 years ago. But it was very heady . We thought we were hot shit!
Well you were! So how did the major labels appear and in what order and why in the end did you choose Virgin?
K . S ; Atlantic , CBS and Virgin all responded. Virgin offered the most lucrative deal and Virgin publishing a hefty publishing deal. In retrospect it was a big mistake signing with them. We were the first hard rock signing ever. They had no idea what they were doing or how to promote us. It was a nightmare! They did put a lot of $ into our videos and album , but I always felt we would have went platinum with a better team around us. That and if we'd been signed at the time we put out the demo. You see by the time "Things" came out Nirvana and Soundgarden had already put out their first albums , so really the tide had turned. We always suffered from bad timing. If the band had had the $ to move to Los Angeles it might have been a different story , but we were all dirt poor and stuck in bumfuck , Florida. No rich daddies in this band!
U.K white label test pressing of "Things..." .What a slab of vinyl!!!!
Maybe because there were no rich daddies in the band is the reason you went for the big bucks that Virgin offered , but hindsight gives great insight I guess. I don't doubt they put lots of $ into the band what with promotion you had and those videos , that were top notch. All this stood the band in very good stead. You say you would have gone platinum , how many records did you sell and was the fact you thought you should be platinum cause friction at the label?
"Scratch My Back" Promo only back scratcher!
K . S ; We sold a quarter of a million , initially. Yes it absolutely caused friction and frustration with label but also amongst the band. A lot of people were telling us we were going to be the next big thing and as cocky as we were then , we agreed! We were very disappointed at the time.
"Scratch My Back" U.K. 12" Promo E.p / "Scratch My Back" all U.K. issues
A bitter pill for sure. On the upside all the $ they put into the band you got some awesome videos out of it and the tour support , but also you worked with some very cool people , like Mick Rock. With your Iggy fandom and the whole glam scene of the 70's , was it a trip working with him?
Kevin Steele by Mick Rock
K . S ; Mick was a trip! When we picked him up at Tampa International airport he was doing handstands and cartwheels right in the airport! He raided my record collection for music to play at the photo shoot. He cranked a lot of old Stones and mixed it with classical music. While he shot us he kept screaming at us calling us a bunch of tarts (all in good fun of course). He was a very strange and extremely talented cat. And yes it was an honour considering his history with Bowie , Iggy , Lou Reed etc...
Wowie that sounds wild and very cool because , you are now part of his history and you are in very nice company there for sure! So when did the deal all come crashing down? I don't doubt that was a bad time , possibly the worst in fact. So if you don't mind how did you get out of the contract and did you walk away with anything , ie. your music rights or money?
K . S ; Virgin wanted to put out our 2nd album on their subsidiary label Charisma. We were so disappointed with how we'd been handled already this was the last straw and we wanted out. Our lawyer negotiated our release. We owed Virgin thousands upon thousands of dollars at this point , what with the album , the two video's and the tour support. We walked away not owing a cent and with the demos which would have become our second album , "The Voodoo You Love". CBS immediately offered us a deal but then a big personal change at the label left us out in the cold again. By now grunge was in full swing and even though we never considered ourselves part of the "hair band" scene we suffered from the backlash nonetheless. The band lost their per diems and one by one each of the "Things" line up was replaced (drugs , booze , ignorance and ego are a dangerous combination)! That's when Tom Mathers and Perris Records stepped in to release "Voodoo" independently. Most people don't know this but , even though the new line up's pictures appear on the album , with the exception of 2 or 3 songs , it's the "Things" line up playing on the record. "Voodoo" is my favourite Roxx Gang album. I think it's our best. I had taken the band in a much more boozier / bluesier direction closer to my own personal tastes but , alas without the support of a major label and with grunge dominating the charts , the album was largely ignored. Of course I'm to stubborn (or stupid) to give us that easy. Drive on!
Wow! I didn't know most of that! Yes as we have touched on the hair band tag , that wasn't you at all and if people care to look a little deeper into the music they would think so too! I think the voodoo vibe and image suited the band as much as the full on glam image. Was it a conscious move to tone down the glam some what? Also did Virgin have any issues with the image at all?
K . S ; As for toning down , I don't think Roxx Gang never really toned down our image that much. Virgin certainly never pressured us to do it , although I suspect they wouldn't have objected if we had. Haha! What happened was as we grew older we just started to dress more age appropriate. To me there is nothing sadder than to see 40 or 50 year old men (my peers , the guys who came out the same time as I did) still wearing make up and skin tight leather pants. I call it the Gary Glitter Syndrome. Full on glam rock is a young man's game. I look at my idols Mick , Ian Hunter , Iggy , David Johansen and David bowie (before he passed) , they don't dress like they did in their 20's. They'd look ridiculous if they did. A lot of 80s rockers could and should learn something from them. You can find a way to still look sharp , and you should , but I think it's kind of pathetic to keep up a look that's meant for a young man when you are getting on in years. ARE YOU LISTENING STEVEN TYLER?!
It's that stubbornness that most bands lack , be who you are (whatever that is) and stick to it , that's integrity , so even though you left with nothing , you still have that integrity and that must make for a happy life yes?
K . S ; I should have said "I WAS too stubborn..." 3 more albums followed (Old , New Borrowed and Blue , Mojo Gurus and Drinkin' T.N.T. and Smokin' Dynamite ) plus the demo "Love 'Em Leave 'Em" (released on CD) , a best of called "Bodacious Ta Tas" and 2 retrospect anthologies ; "Box Of Roxx" & "Last Laugh": The Lost Roxx Gang Demo's all followed. Then there's my band Mojo Gurus' catalogue but that's a different story.....And yes I agree with what you say about integrity and a happy life. Thank god I believe it 'cause I never got rich. But I am very happy with my life.
Before you go Kevin any last road stories or running for your life stories that spring to mind from those days?
K . S ; Well falling under "running for your life" stories , we once had a bachelorette party show up to a gig. The bride to be ended up back at the hotel and a little later so did an angry groom to be. Some fancy room shuffling resulted in no injuries. One night a roadie had been delegated to share "Strychnine" and Hayes' room. They weren't having it. His cot went out to the balcony and over the railings nearly crushing some unexpecting hotel guests! On a return trip from London I wasn't feeling well and when we landed in Orlando to refuel (the flight concluded in Miami where we were to go through customs upon returning from the UK) I tried to get off the plane and they threatened to shoot me. As far as party stories go , my life during the years I fronted Roxx Gang was pretty much one continuous party. And I'm paying for it today! Haha! You're asking me to remember stories from 30 years + ago. I'm going to save them for my memoirs if I can recall them but , thanks to Jack Daniels , Sister Morphine and cousin Cocaine I've got my work cut out for me! Thank you for your interest in the band Darren. It's been a fun stroll down memory lane. CHEERS!
Hey Kevin , no thank you for your time , being a fan it's been a trip. Do you have any parting words for your fans worldwide?
K . S ; I'd just like to thank everyone who has ever bought any of our records . worn any of our T-shirts , partied or fucked to any of our songs or even just told a mate about the band. Thank you! I love you!
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Interview conducted May 2018.
Photograph thanks go to ROXX GANG , KEVIN STEELE , MICK ROCK AND SUITSANDTHEPLATFORMBOOTS.COM VAULTS