Let's face it; amid the hairspray and mascara-encrusted histories of the Glam/Hair Metal sub-genre, few artists successfully survived the quasi-apocalyptic purge known as the Grunge era with both their careers and dignity intact. Among those fortunate enough to have persevered within the notoriously less-than-friendly environment was drummer Bobby Rock. Initially coming to prominence as a founding member of Vinnie Vincent Invasion via the group's 1986 self-titled debut and it's Mark Slaughter-led follow-up All Systems Go (1988), Rock would continue on as a full-fledged member and in-demand session player for artists and groups ranging from Lita Ford, Nelson and Nitro. Now, with his formal induction into the Rock Godz Hall Of Fame complete, the chart-topping 'skinsman' and author of Rock-Solid Fitness and Veggie Zone is poised for continued global domination.
Todd: How did you become elected to the Rock Godz Hall Of Fame? They're the Grammys for Rock and Metal.
Bobby: “I have no idea. (laughs) A committee member reached out to me a month ago and said that I was in consideration. The next thing I knew, I got an E-Mail stating 'Congratulations. Here's the date of the festivities.' It was all very surreal, ya know? Back in the day, the industry used to be much more vibrant in terms of Gold and Platinum records and the way things charted. There was a lot more ways to quantify your success, if you will. It was even different with the magazine and the media. In terms of accolades, it seemed like there was a lot more to go around, even above and beyond the big award that you mentioned. This whole thing has really made me think about how much things have changed throughout the years, especially for someone like me who's been more of a hired gun. I love doing it and that in itself is enough for me; that's a reward in itself. But it's occurred to me how rare it is in this era to have a quantifiable accolade or recognition. It's been very surreal to an extent.”
Todd: Beginning with the earliest stages of your professional career, what were the main catalyst(s) behind you transitioning from attending the Berklee College Of Music to working with (Classic Rock veterans) Rare Earth?
Bobby: “While I was at Berklee, I had taken a detour into that type of music, like Jazz instrumental stuff and Fusion, more drummer's drummer style of playing. When I got out of Berklee, I was playing in a Jazz band in Houston, Texas, playing the clubs and doing a little bit of touring. At some point, I said to myself 'You started as a Rock drummer. I did a detour into Jazz and somewhere along the way I lost something. I've gained a lot, but I've still lost something'. What I'd lost was that fire. That harder hitting kind of energy that I'd had as a Rock player. So I decided to jump back into Rock music and try to recapture some of those dynamics and vibe. ...Back then, there was a very vibrant touring circuit, ya know? You could tour anywhere all over the country as long as you wanted to, really. While I was touring with another band, we opened for Rare Earth and of course I had been a fan of theirs. They had this innovative Rock and Funk thing they had been doing that I really liked. and it turns out they were looking for a drummer, so since the band I was in was just about to call it a day, it was the perfect time for me to transition into that. They were looking for a drummer, they liked the way I played and one thing led to another. I joined them, but it coincided with when I started hearing about the Vinnie Vincent auditions. My time with Rare Earth was very short-lived, but it was fun to have had the affiliation for a minute.”
Todd: In hindsight, once you'd officially joined Vinnie Vincent Invasion, did you find working with (ex-Journey vocalist) Robert Fleischman to be difficult? He appears to have been an unusual choice given style of the music.
Bobby: “Visually speaking, it was an odd choice because as I've always said, he was the odd man out in that he he was already a veteran in the music business. He'd had an affiliation with Journey (Fleischman was a member of the group prior to the recording of Infinity in 1978 and co-wrote “Wheel In The Sky”) and he'd done other stuff as well, so he was a well-known guy in the L.A. Area who was fairly seasoned. Conceptually and visually, Glam was really starting to pick up steam and we were of on board with that, nut Robert wasn't. If you look at the back of the album cover, it's sort of the obvious. And we knew even back then that he wasn't budging on it. And you have to remember that the band had just been put together. I was the last guy to be hired and we then went immediately into the studio, so we didn't have the opportunities bands like Mötley Crüe or Poison who played the circuit and got their shit together from playing clubs. There wasn't any of the trial and error that most bands use to develop their look, sound and vibe. This was much more of a calculated decision between (bassist) Dana (Strum) and Vinnie where they said 'Okay, let's go for this pretty boy Glam thing. That's what seems to be happening now.' So we just jumped into it that way without the organic process of developing it. Musically, I think Robert was very on point. Vinnie truly loved his vocals and his range and I thought he was a killer singer.”
Todd: The issues were based solely on his appearance, or specifically, a lack thereof? That is completely insane!
Bobby: “Musically, there were no issues with him. ...There was some beneath the surface stuff that we didn't know about business wise between him and Vinnie along with some other things that were going to prevent him from staying on board. But the biggest, most obvious obstacles were the visual ideas. He thought it was going to be a flash in the pan gimmick that would last for six months. It didn't resonate with him to dress that way and do all of that, so we had to make do throughout the photo session. And ironically, right after the record came out, he bounced anyway, which is how everyone became acquainted with (Slaughter co-founder) Mark Slaughter.”
Todd: Was it immediately apparent that Mark was the 'right man' for the job? Taking into consideration that he was virtually unknown at that particular juncture in time, was there any doubt that he could handle the pressure?
Bobby: “Yes and no. There were a lot of guys that were being considered, and Mark was great. There's no question. But the reason I say 'yes and no' is because there was another guy from Sweden that Vinnie really, really liked. And these were the only two guys, for whatever reason, who actually got into the studio and sang over the tracks. Other auditions happened in very bizarre ways like Vinnie having guys sing over the phone. It was fucking whack, man. It probably wasn't the best or fairest way to audition, but unfortunately, that's how it went down with some of the guys. So there were a lot of different guys considered, but it came down between these two guys. I think Vinnie always preferred the other guy over Mark. Mark, at that point, was twenty-one years old and had these bionic vocal chords, but he was still getting experience and seasoning at twenty-one, ya know? The other guy was more seasoned and I think because of that, Vinnie was leaning toward him. Dana, our manager and everybody else was really lobbying for Mark because he was young and hungry and already based in Las Vegas. The other would have been more complicated to hire because he was based in Europe. ...It would have been much harder to get him here so Vinnie was convinced to go with Mark Slaughter. Right out of the gate, I thought it was an excellent choice. Mark and I bonded like brothers. We were the two young guys in the band, so we roomed together and we lived together in L.A. And of course, he was a super cool guy who picked up on things very quickly. His level of improvement from when we first started with him on that initial Alice Cooper tour to when we jumped onto the Iron Maiden tour just a few months later was amazing. Right out of the gate he was absolutely killer, man. He's a great frontman and everybody absolutely loved him. We had no issues whatsoever with him. Plus he kept getting better and better while we were on the road doing those tours.”
Todd: From the proverbial outside perspective, once he embarked on a solo career, Vinnie always seemed to be shrouded in an aura of eccentricity. Given your experiences with him, is that a sentiment you'd fully agree with?
Bobby: “Yes, that would be a very fair assessment, for sure. ...Eccentric is a good word for it. I think a lot of the things he would do, in my opinion, were often misunderstood, and have been misunderstood. When we recorded the first record, there's a very infamous story about how the drums were handled and how I had to re-record the drums. I had to do the drums on (Vinnie Vincent Invasion) on three separate occasions because of his perfectionism. ...It was my first big time, major label recording and dealing with the trauma of getting it wrong three times, according to Vinnie was very arduous. He had a very specific thing he wanted with the sound he was looking for and I ended up flying back to Houston a few times until we finally got it up to his satisfaction. The story with that is that he was this relentless perfectionist and he had this unreasonably high standard about syncing my drum parts to a drum machine. If there was one single beat that wasn't completely inline with the drum machine, I had to go in and redo that part. When you hear those stories, you're either gonna say he's a mad man or you're gonna say he's a prick for putting me through that boot camp environment. There's a lot of things you can derive from that, but the truth of the matter is I think he was looking for a specific sound that he wasn't completely sure of. He was engaging the creative process the best way he knew how. Even back then, I never got the sense that he was doing it just to be difficult or just to be a picture-perfect perfectionist. That's where, I think, in my opinion, some of the misunderstandings about Vinnie have come into play. People see these strange behaviors and they fill in the blanks in terms of why they feel he's doing whatever it is he is doing. ...But at the same time, I think there were also much deeper reasons for why he did certain things the way he did, ya know?”
Todd: At what point did you realize your time with the group was coming to an end? Was there a specific incident or situation that made everyone realize it was time to move on? The stories I've heard are quite strange.
Bobby: “Somewhere between when the record (All Systems Go) was coming out and we were going to hit the road, we changed management. We had meetings with a lot of different managers and at that point, you have to remember there were a lot of issues floating around the camp regarding why the first record didn't do better than what it did. Everyone was pointing fingers at the band and the band was pointing fingers at the label and the management. ...But one of the prevailing thoughts was that could Vinnie Vincent be, on any level, a liability to his own band, and if so, in what way? For instance, on the first tour, Vinnie would do these really extended guitar solos, doing that ninety-miles an hour thing for eight to ten minutes during a thirty or forty minute set. We were hearing things about that and we were also hearing things about how Vinnie could have been a detriment in how we dealt with the media and how he dealt with fans. These were all just issues of concern, yet it's Vinnie's band, so he should be able to do whatever fuck he wants without question. But as we were all equity members to a certain extent, we would talk to management on the side. Dana was usually the one to spearhead those conversations because he was our defacto manager in certain ways. Long story short, we had had some discussions with some of these different management folks, not about how we're going to pull a mutiny on Vinnie or anything, but how these were our areas of concern and we were obviously not comfortably talking about them in front of Vinnie. We found that out that it was a sensitive issue to talk about his guitar playing, so our intention was to try to illuminate some of the challenges that we felt a manager could help with. What eventually happened is that somebody told Vinnie about all of this and it painted a certain picture. Vinnie's impression was that we were trying to pull a mutiny and were trying to kick him out of his own band. It was a very exaggerated perception, but it's the point of view Vinnie had. So when we went to hit the road, there was a lot of acrimony and weird distrust that led to a really uncomfortable vibe. About a week into the tour, I saw what was going on and against my better judgment, I had a conversation with Vinnie and said 'Yes, it's true. We did have some of these conversations because there have been concerns, but we never intended on trying to split up your band. You can't get kicked out of your band. You're the one with the record deal, so it's your trip'. ...But by just bringing it up in the naive way that I did, I fucked everything up. Once Vinnie heard that, there was no other reasoning. The door was closed at that point. From that moment forward, we all knew it was the end. ...We had to finish the dates for that last tour, but the conditions had become miserable on nearly every possible level”
Todd: When you describe the touring conditions as 'miserable', what in specific are you referring to? Amenities?
Bobby: “The new manager was Vinnie's manager and had little interest in us. Plus, a bunch of weird financial shit went down. Only one of the hotel rooms would be kind of nice, so the three of us had to figure out who was going to sleep in that room and the two rooms that were left over. The bus would go from the hotel to the gig and back to the hotel within thirty minutes after the set and if we weren't on the bus, we would have to find our own way back. The vibe with Vinnie during those last few months was almost unbearable for everybody. Unfortunately, that was the demise of it and that's the after taste we all had once we got back to L.A. at the end.”
Todd: Had you initially intended to join Mark and Dana in the original line-up of Slaughter? While it's obvious (original drummer) Blas Elias was a true fit, it would've been great to hear your playing on Stick It To Ya (1990).
Bobby: “Yes. That was exactly what was supposed to happen. At that point in time, we had just been through a war on the last (Vinnie Vincent) tour. Mark, Dana and I always remained on very good terms. I had no issues with Mark and Dana and we all kind of had to suffer through the conditions of that final tour. When it was over, I felt like I needed a fresh start. Mark's option had been picked up by Chrysalis (Records), so we knew there was going to be a record. They knew they were going to call the band Slaughter and they were just about to start working on songs and start heading down that path. But again, I felt like I needed to get a fresh start and take a break from all the madness. It didn't have anything to do with Mark or Dana, but they were part of that whole 'energetic landscape' of what we had just been through. I felt like I wanted to get into something different and musically, I had other aspirations as well. I wanted to go off and do some other things. I wanted to do my first drum book and drum video and focus my attention on some other things of that nature. All together, it was a very difficult decision, but Mark and Dana were cool about it. We have remained on good terms over the years.”
Todd: How did you become involved with (Glam Metal over-achievers) Nitro? Am I correct in understanding you were never officially a member of the group? I can clearly remember seeing your pictured in ads for O.F.R.
Bobby: “Ultimately, that was just one of a number of sessions that I did in the fall of '88. I had known (guitarist) Michael (Angelo Batio) from the scene in L.A. He's a killer guitar player and he and (vocalist) Jim (Gillette) were putting this project together, so they reached out to me and asked me to do the thing. And the time, I said 'I can't commit to a band situation right now. I just got out of the Invasion and my head is in other places right now, but I'm happy to do the session and play on the record.' That's all it ever really was. I went in and played drums on the record and it was a blast to play that shit. Those guys were super cool. We went in, did some pre-Production and I knocked out the drums in a couple of days. That was it. They understood that I had other things going on and that was supposed to be the extent of it. But then, a couple of months later, once the record was finished... I don't know if they had been auditioning guys and they just couldn't find anybody who could play all the parts, so they weren't able to hire anybody when it was time to do the photos and stuff for the album design. They came back and they said 'Listen, I know that you don't want to do the band thing, but can you come in and do the photos with us?' I was like 'If I do that, everyone's going to think I'm in the band and it may be confusing, so I'm not sure where I'm going to end up'. Long story short, I agreed to do it under the condition that they list me as 'special guest'. If I remember, in the liner notes they had my name with an asterisk next to it”
Todd: It must have been difficult to be so heavily associated with a group you actually had very little to do with.
Bobby: “I tried doing the incognito thing. I'd wear these sunglasses and have some razor stubble, thinking I wouldn't be immediately recognized. That's what that was all about. ...But I didn't realize that these fucking ads were gonna be everywhere, man. I think there was even a full-page ad in Billboard (Magazine). And of course when people saw it, they went 'Oh shit, that's Bobby Rock. He must be in Nitro now', ya know? I don't know what the hell I was thinking. It certainly wasn't the end of the world and all it did was confuse people at that time because I had just started playing with Nelson, which was, of course, the night and day opposite of what Nitro was. It was like 'Is he in Nelson? Is he a Nitro? How could he possibly be in both? What's going on here?”
Todd: How would you describe your tenure with Nelson? Did it have a different feel to it or was it the same experienced where the group had been assembled by a third party and you were chosen as a piece of the puzzle?
Bobby: “Nelson really felt like a band situation to me at the time. I got along with the brothers really well. The initial conversation I had when I sat down with the brothers and their manager was that they wanted to do a David Lee Roth-esque like what he had done a few years prior (on Eat 'Em And Smile, 1986 and Skyscraper, 1988) where he had hired all of these heavy hitters like (guitarist) Steve Vai and (bassist) Billy Sheehan. He had this kick ass band of virtuosos behind him That was the concept. They wanted to hire top rate musicians to back them and kinda take a cue from that concept. And that's exactly what they did, man. They also had Brett Garsed Frank Carson on guitar and Paul Mirkovich on keyboards. Those guys were the best of the best, so it was an absolute motherfucker of a band. Now, once we got into pre-Production, I knew exactly what it was. I knew it wasn't going to sound like Dream Theater or Rush, but in theory, or in concept, it was all about the live show, so it would definitely have some of those elements. That was their intention, really. But once we got in the studio with the Production team we wound up having (John Kalodner, Marc Tanner and David Thoener, among others) and the influence of the label (Geffen Records), it became more of a mainstream Pop Rock album, ya know? And that became the perception of it all. ...The whole image became middle-of-the-road Rock with a Pop edge.”
Todd: It certainly didn't take long for the group to become stereotyped after the huge succeses of After The Rain.
Bobby: “Now, if you ever saw the band live, it was a totally different story. We were headlining based off of one album, so by default, Brett, Paul and myself each got to do extended solos, so it was kind of bizarre. People would go to a Nelson show for this Pop teen idol vibe with those two brothers doing their thing, and then you'd have these extended virtuoso-type solos thrown in the mix throughout the set, which was okay with me, ya know?you know. It was a great band, we all got along really well and we had a hell of a run, especially on that first record. Unfortunately, by the time we got around to releasing the second one (Because They Can, 1995), everything had changed in the industry. It had shifted over from mainstream, visual-heavy Rock to Grunge and our allies at the label had moved on. Everything had completely changed, so we then had to rethink everything.”
Todd: What can you tell us about the book Rock-Solid Fitness? It focuses on your dedication to diet and fitness?
Bobby: “I'm actually revising that one of them right now. It deals with the overall philosophy, which is centered around the idea of weight training and exercise combined with nutrition and the mind body connection. It's a lifestyle centered around those three things. That's the overall big picture, for sure. The weight training was one of the first things I got into back then and I got into it mainly for the stamina and power and endurance. For a Rock drummer, it really helps, man. If you look at pretty much any professional athlete from any kind of endeavor... Back then, it was much more taboo since people used to say 'If you lift weights, you're going get muscle bound and it'll slow you down'. ...But what have people found is there are benefits with weight training.”
Todd: Was it easy for you to move towards hosting drum clinics? You have been doing them for some time now.
Bobby: “It was a very natural process for me because I've een a drum instructor starting while I was still in high school. I've always had private students and I really like to teach, so I felt like I had a pretty good affinity for explaining things. Once the Invasion situation really started cooking, I got a few endorsements and started doing clinics. Back then, especially when doing a drum clinic, we'd show up at a music store, do a presentation, do some playing, do some more demonstrating, talk about some different techniques and then answer questions. That was pretty popular back in the day, especially when retail music stores were thriving prior to E-Bay and other online services. I loved it, man. Having a room full of drummers was the ultimate forum for me I've always been a drum nerd who likes working on all the different technical aepects. I also like practicing for hours at a time, so to have a showcase where I can talk to drummers and demonstrate that kind of stuff was natural. It was a natural transition for me to get into it. ...I ended up doing close to nine hundred clinics through the years.”
Wake Up Call (2003)
Hardline II (2002)
Visceral Rock (2000)
Blows U Away (1996)
Because They Can (1995)
Quid Pro Quo (1992)
No Bones About It (1991)
After The Rain (1990)
All Systems Go (1988)
Vinnie Vincent Invasion (1986)
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