Meeting one of your heroes can go one of two ways. They either fail to live up to the persona you've created in your head, or two, they exceed your expectations and treat you as a close friend, leaving you giddy as a 5 year old running for an ice cream truck. Paul Shortino was definitely the latter.
Part I of my interview with rock legend Paul Shortino
Thanks to Brett Wolfington (Big Dawg, Black Prizm) who brought the man here to the islands, I got to hang out with the legendary rock singer who has fronted such big named acts as Rough Cutt / Quiet Riot and who has been belting his heart out for audiences around the world since the early 80's. Most audiences today may remember his walk on role as "Duke Fame" in the movie, Spinal Tap. Look a bit deeper and you'll see a man who has fought against the odds of the brutal music industry in the 90's. Look even deeper, you'll find a man who has an undying dedication to his fans, his music, and has the utmost gratitude to his friend the late Ronnie James Dio who helped smooth the path for him on his musical journey.
We sat in his hotel room in Waikiki, while I devoured the cookies he offered me upon arrival, chatting about his long and fascinating career in music in his hotel in Waikiki before his performance at Pipeline Cafe.
Raul: So I know you've been busy like all heck these last few years, so you're singing with King Kobra now?
Shortino: Yes, all the original players Mick Sweda, David Henzerling, Carmine Appice and actually Johnny Rod. He actually flew in a week before I came here from Saint Louis to do the bass tracks for the record. And everybody else is doing the parts elsewhere, but we're all gonna get together to do some photos.
Raul: Very cool. The 808SceneZine as well as my own site is caters to an audience who are trying to live the dream as you are. Here's one for them. How do you mentally prepare yourself before a show?
Shortino: The day of the show is usually a mess. I get so stressed out. It's crazy. I also go over everything over and over in my head. I'm usually not so stressed when I work with guys on a regular basis because then you're familiar with the ground that you're working with. Last night we had a great rehearsal and the guys here that are backing me up are great players, they know the stuff better than I do. So I really have to do my homework. We were trying to do a little jamming last night and they go, well we learned it like the record. And I don't wanna throw a wrench in the works right now before the show. We made a few changes on a couple of songs and then we went over the Dio songs. In fact, I just wrote a song on King Kobra for Ronnie. It's a tribute to Ronnie called Monsters and Heroes. He was my monster and hero.
Raul: I'll probably cry while listening to that.
Shortino: It's a really cool song. Getting back to preparing. My wife gets the brunt of it. I try to keep it cool, else wise. For a long time I used to have a nervous reaction when on stage with Rough Cutt when I first started. It was like, I had to go to the bathroom standing right before the stage, ready to go on and I gotta go. And then that finally ceased. When you're touring, and it's a different crowd every night you don't know what to expect. They'e gonna like you or dislike you. Rough Cutt played the Reading Festival and the audience threw piss bottles and fruit at us and said they liked us. So what do you guys throw when you don't like somebody? Outlaws was on that bill and Saxon. And Outlaws got chicken and potatoes thrown at them. I said well, all you need is a little whining and that did it. I just try to keep myself low key until I get on there.
Raul: So how about vocally? I was looking back at Ronnie Dio's career. Everybody says he would just have a can of beer and half a joint before a show and he'd be good. Do you go through any kind of vocal training?
Shortino: Sometimes. Like right now I'm fighting something in my throat. I've sang a lot in the last 24 hours. So I probably won't because I've been practicing the songs all day. But sometimes I'll do that just so it just warms up everything. But majority of time, have some pot, a little cocktail and you know, go do the thing. The pot puts me in a really good state of mind as far as getting into the music. Some people, they take a hit a weed and then they're gone. Not me. I guess it's been years of practice.
Raul: I had a question about that song Dio wrote for the relief benefit that you sang on. You gotta have some interesting stories out of that. I mean, every one of my heroes in the same place, same time.
Shortino: Oh you mean the "Stars" thing. Yeah, every one of my heroes was there it was really interesting for me because I met so many people that were my peers and heroes in my life. Nobody had an ego. Everybody was really cool. Everybody was very receptive of just hanging out and trying to do the best possible on the gig. You don't usually get that many people together which such strong personalities. That was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had. What an incredible experience. Actually Wendy Dio is re-releasing that. Also some old Rough Cutt with some of the stuff with Jake on that. And there's some stuff that Ronnie did with Rough Cutt I think she has.
I just found this out recently which is really interesting. I moved to Vegas two and a half years ago and Ronnie's old engineer, Angelo Currie, who did the first three albums and did the Rough Cutt demos that got us signed, just told me that Ronnie and himself were really disappointed that they didn't get to take us into the studio and produce us because they did so much with us in the past. That could have prepared them for the Holy Diver album by taking us into studio. At that time I actually was living with Ronnie and Wendy Dio when Ronnie was recording Holy Diver. He'd bring me home mixes and ideas and said, "what do you think?"
We were pretty close at one time and then I parted ways from the management. Which stopped us from seeing each other on regular basis. Then I moved to Arizona then to Nevada. We kinda lost touch like we had before when I was living with him. Ronnie and Wendy both were very giving people. Always trying to help other people. This is why they moved me in: I'm a real believer in human nature, human kindness, the humanity of people and I normally just believe everything anyone says, so I continuously would sign contracts (before reading them). So we were putting Rough Cutt together and they said we gotta bring you in the house because you're too trusting.
That's been a big downfall of me in a business sense, but just being trustworthy in people in general, I'm still there. No matter how many times I get burned, I'm not gonna change that. I believe it's better to give than to receive and we should always try to give anything we have to give. If it's talent, if you got extra money, give it to somebody who is less fortunate than you. That's the way they [Ronnie & Wendy] work, and I was raised that way so it kinda just fit. We got along really well.
Raul: Ronnie James Dio passing away hit all of us pretty hard. I saw a video of you singing your song at the tribute.
Shortino: You know, it was the second song I chose. I was supposed to actually sing . Ronnie sang it with him so, Wendy called me and asked me if I would sing that song with Geoff. And what had happened was they couldn't get the music together. They had the orchestration part, but everything was acoustic that day. So I said that I'd really like to do In My Life because John Lennon had such had impact on the human race and I believe that Ronnie did as well in his own way.
It was quite a memorial. It was five and a half hours long. It was really cool to see a lot of people I haven't seen in a long time. But unfortunately, under those circumstances it wasn't a happy experience. But in the end, "we all have a one way ticket to here and a round trip ticket to life." You come and you go. That's life. And Ronnie's spirit is strong and he'll live on forever. We were energy before we ever became, so he's moving on and who knows if there is reincarnation which I feel that there could be. I think he'll be back.
Raul: Somebody'll show up and you'll start hearing folks say, Whoa, how did he hit that note?
Shortino: Yeah, exactly.
Raul: Cause even with his history. I was always a huge fan throughout Dio's career. Elf & all that stuff back then. And I went further back and discovered, Ronnie Dio and the Red Caps? The man's been around.
Shortino: Oh he really did. I saw that stuff at the memorial and it was really trippy. Cause I met a couple guys in Elf, before Ronnie passed away when I was living with him. Doug Thaler was in that band (Elf). I heard they got rid of him because he wasn't short enough. He had to go because he wasn't 4 foot something. He ended up being the manager for Motley Crue for a while.
Raul: I went through a whole three weeks of educating people on facebook about Dio. I was like, You like this, listen to this. I bet you guys didn't know he wrote more songs than Holy Diver. I had to educate people who didn't understand,who only just know that song. He's been around forever. He never changed. He sang as powerful as did in the beginning
Shortino: He does. Unbelievable.
Raul: Back to your career...
Shortino: I wouldn't have much of one if it weren't for him. But I did have a record out when I was 17 years old. A guy named Snuff Garrett produced it who did Sunny & Cher. This was back in the 70s'. And I had the song Follow Me. #22 on the charts, billboard. It was called Paul and JoJo. But if it wasn't for the Dio's... Ronnie saw me at this club and really loved my voice. So if it wasn't for them who actually got me into a position where I could sign to a major label like Warner Brothers, I dunno know where I'd be right now.
Part II of my interview with rock legend Paul Shortino
Shortino: We did some touring in Europe and tried to get a deal over there because nobody was biting here. And it's funny cause Rough Cutt had a deal before Quiet Riot. We got signed before everybody back then but then we had to wait around for a producer.
Since Ted Templeman signed the band we wanted him to produce us. But he got locked in to do something with Lindsay Buckingham and Eric Clapton. They were doing a record together. And so we said we'll wait till he's done with that. Then it kept going on and on and then all of a sudden the door was closing for us.
Motley Crue, Wasp, bands that already had their record out were safe. (The PMRC: Parents Music Resource Center, led by Tipper Gore fought to label albums they deemed offensive) Putting a label like that on it only makes people want to buy it more once they know who you are, but people didn't know who Rough Cutt was. When that sticker was put on our album, radio stations weren't opening up the record. When we were in town we were going to be playing the same night with Dio and I got to do a little pitch for the show. I got to ask how come this record hasn't been out, the Rough Cutt album the first album And I said it doesn't sound like what it looks like on the outside if that's what's throwing you off. Maybe we should have just had a black cover. Like the Beatles white album.
Raul: Wow, that's pretty crazy. I know Dee Snider fought the good fight against Tipper & Al Gore. Pretty much stood for every one in the heavy metal community at that point.
Shortino: Yeah, he did. He did go up there and speak his mind quite well. That was a weird time. And then you look at these same people (Al & Tipper Gore) getting a divorce. And he's making a fortune off his Inconvenient Truth.
Raul: So on another subject, I wanted to ask you something I'm coming along 29 now.
Shortino: Oh wow, you're a young man.
Raul: But at shows I'm becoming the old guy. I don't understand what kids are doing musically at shows anymore. What's your take on all these new 80's throwback bands now days. I dunno if they are trying to revive the old style of 80's glam rock. I mean, you've probably heard Steel Panther I dunno if they are paying homage nowadays or something else.
Shortino: Well Steel Panther pretty much makes a joke out of it, like a Spinal Tap thing. And they're doing quite well especially in Vegas and people are lining up. I think just putting a little bit of comedy into the rock is what they've done and making fun of themselves in some sense is attracted people to see them do their thing. To be honest, I think we're losing all of the big arena bands.
Raul: The musical substance is gone.
Shortino: Yeah, you know what I mean? It was a whole generation of people that were more concerned with their craft instead of being popular. They were really serious about their music I think everything now is a lot more mechanical, people are doing so much stuff on computers that grid everything it takes away some of the feel of the music. It's become so... perfect.
Some of the heavy metal, you know they won't be able to do that live. Even if they are, it will not be as precise as it is on the record. So you got KISS, they'll be gone eventually in the next 10 years. They might live on, but they're getting up their in age as well as Aerosmith. I just saw Robert Plant on TV the other night, he was doing some really neat stuff with the old Zeppelin songs with his own band and it was really cool. And he just did a thing with Alison Krauss. Really good stuff, I thought that's really cool cause he's stretching out to a different genre of music. When you get older you wanna open your mind a little more.
I love R&B. That's my favorite music. I love all the old stuff. The Temptations, Four Tops, Jackie Wilson, just some great music. And I'm putting a thing together called Duke Fames. We're not sure of the band's name yet. I think it's gonna be Band of Misfits. Duke Fame and the Band of Misfits. And it's gonna have a chick singer in it with me and a horn section. I'm thinking of doing some more standard songs like that heavy metal version of Send in the Clowns. And maybe do some R&B and make it heavy metal. We'll put horns in there as well with it and add to the heaviness behind the music. So that's my idea.
I just met with a guy, he used to be the partner of Alan & Rossi. Marty Alan had big furry hair and Steve Rossi they were comedians. They actually warmed up for the Beatles. They were on the Ed Sullivan show. The guy's 76 years old, but he's got some really good ideas he wants to turn me on to and kind of manage me a bit with my wife.
So we're kinda gonna stretch out in a different direction to try something different. We want to do it in arenas. He's wants to hook me up with somebody, so we might have Phil Varone from Skid Row, maybe playing drums. We're gonna get some big named players involved. It could be a really cool thing, in fact, you're the first person that knows anything about this.
So that's what I want to do because there's so much good music out there. Even Sinatra, people like that, did good songs. If you could take those songs and make them current. I do believe we're losing a lot of these greats. We just lost Ronnie Dio and we're gonna be losing these guys soon. Because of age, including myself. Ten, twenty, maybe thirty years. I don't see Gene (Simmons) and KISS out there when they're 80, but maybe, you never know. I mean, look at the Stones. Jagger's out there, he's in his late 60's. And he's got more spunk than he did when he was younger. Who knows? But eventually time catches up to you.
Raul: Yeah, once you start getting on reality shows...
Shortino: I had a conversation about the arena bands, about that whole movement. It's gonna be gone. And I don't see a whole lot of new bands that could pull it off. Nickelback may be one. Motley's still young enough to be around for a while. They've still got that heavy vibe going.
Raul: Even the Scorpions, they had their last album just recently, right? That was just as strong as their old stuff.
Shortino: Yup. But you know what, everybody's gonna get to the point where they don't want to do this any more. But I dunno if that's going to ever happen. They might just go until they drop.
Raul: To quote one of their final songs, How can we grow old when the soundtrack to our lives is rock and roll.
Shortino: Right. What's that old saying that Jethro Tull did. Too old to rock and roll, too young to die. You're never too old to rock and roll, really.
Raul: I'd like to think of it as they're re-teaching everybody about what it was like.
Shortino: They are. I think kids are getting more exposed to it. I went to see a Foreigner concert and people were bringing their kids making them aware of that music. I even saw Testament with Vinnie Paul and people had their kids there... and they were really little kids out there with their shirts on. So I believe it's filtering into our younger generation for sure.
Raul: Do you ever feel that it's a little too easy for kids now days.
Shortino: Well, I'll say this. What they have to look up to is Eddie Van Halen as a guitarist. Not just Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix or those people that I grew up with. Eddie Van Halen was the new to that and there was a whole wave of guys that picked up on his stuff. So they have a lot to choose from. And they have a lot of gadgets. There's a gadget out there that you can slow the song down and figure out every note to a solo or to get the song out. They didn't have that stuff when I was doing that. There's so much they can do in a home studio. Everyone's putting out records. Then there's the internet.The record companies weren't ready for the internet. There is no more radio. You've got your internet radio, you've got XM satellite and Sirius. It's like the cable news. You can pick your cable news as opposed to watching your local news. The local stations, they're not the ones giving it to you they're into whatever somebody's telling them to do.
What's really kinda cool is that the music is coming back. Like Wendy and Dio, she's got her own label and she's releasing Holy Diver again on vinyl. She's releasing Rough Cutt on vinyl and also re-releasing stuff that never was recorded which is kinda cool because she's in a position to do that. They must own the material and they must have got it from Warner Bros. We are living in a state of affairs all over the world. And it's amazing to see heavy metal so big in Europe with all the big festivals over there. It would kinda cool if they could get something like that happening over here in Hawaii.
Raul: I gotta ask, who are your favorites, your biggest influences. What got you started?
Shortino: Elvis and the Beatles, The Animals. House of the Rising Sun was my first song and then of course Led Zeppelin came out and just blew the doors down on everyone. Vanilla Fudge was another one, Bad Company. A lot of bands with really good singers really influenced me. Foreigner. Lou Gramm's a good singer. Journey, Steve Perry's a great singer. Ronnie James Dio, Robert Plant, Steve Marriot. Those were kinda my influences and the ones I kinda looked up to. Even the guy in Nickelback, he's got a good strong voice. I'm sure I could pick a few bands. I even like, believe it or not, I like the Goo Goo Dolls. Good stuff. Some of those bands from that genre of music, they actually came out with some good songs. It's all about songs.
Raul: Well okay, in closing, so I know you're also producing music now too, right?
Shortino: I produced a band called Black Tora I wish I had their CD, the singer's like 43. He sounds like Ronnie, I mean he's a powerful singer. He's got his own style as well, but these guys are kinda like Maiden vs. Priest and maybe a little ZZtop. They're from Texas. Three piece band, Mexicans. They're really good. They're American Mexican. Latino, that'd probably be a better way to put it.
Raul: Do you have any tips of words of encouragements for the local scene here?
Shortino: Make sure that music is something that you really want to do for the rest of your life. And also have a back up plan. Always have a back up plan. Go to school, learn music. It's a good thing. Get some professional training. I didn't, for a long time. I was singing wrong and a guy caught me on it. I got some vocal training, actually started playing trombone which helped me. Ronnie Dio played trumpet. So it helped my breathing and that's what I would say. Just make sure this is what you want to do.
But basically you should have a back up plan. I didn't have one. This is what I loved to do and I put everything into it.. all my eggs in a basket. And my dad told me, God rest his soul, he told me I should have a back up plan and put something in the wings. If it's computer programming or doing some type of artwork on the computer. Cause there's so much that people can do that are artsy in some respect. They should try to go more into editing video and movies, stuff like that because the music scene is not the same as it was years ago. If you get involved in the music scene, learn editing, mixing or mastering. But in the end I say, figure out a back up plan and make sure music is what you really want to do because you're going to be stuck with it.