When the Glam/Hair Metal genre began to implode amid the more-than-considerable strains of the Grunge 'phenomenon' (most notably Nirvana Nevermind and Pearl Jam Ten) circa 1991, many artists and groups that had once enjoyed unprecedented success quietly faded from the proverbial limelight. This initially appeared to be the case with Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-born veterans Britny Fox following the departure of original frontman 'Dizzy' Dean Davidson (Black Eyed Susan, Love Says The Day). Now, nearly fifteen years after the release of their most recent effort Springhead Motorshark (2003), the core of the group's acclaimed Bite Down Hard (1991) line-up has returned with a vengeance. Recently, bassist Billy Childs was kind enough to speak with us regarding, among other things, the addition of former Northern Light Orchestra guitarist Chris Sanders).
Todd: What prompted the group to reunite? Was it a surprise that (guitarist) Michael Kelly Smith didn't 'rejoin'?
Billy: “Our manager, Wayne Dubay, contacted all of us and asked if we'd be into doing this and we all were, so it really was that simple. We checked with him when we … Let me see, I guess when we were in the process of getting it together. I had ran into him because we all live around the same area, at least a few of us do anyway, and told him what the plans were and if he wanted to be involved and he said no, he had no interest. He hasn't really done a lot in the business for, oh man, really, ever since, I guess, the early '90s when we had the first go-round, when the genre change occurred, right around that time. The rest of us have still maintained and kept doing things in the business. We are all still playing with various different things. It wasn't really a shock to us.”
Todd: How did the group become aware of guitarist Chris Sanders? Was he the clear choice to replace Michael?
Billy: “He's an amazing player, man. Our manager had had some contact with him a few years ago. I remember him saying to me right away when we reunited 'Look, if Mike doesn't want to do it, I have this guy'. Chris and I had met once before as well out in California. We got together, we jammed and the guy sounded great, so we're like 'Wow, he really is pretty monstrous', but he fits in, man. He knows what this gig entails. He knows this isn't a shredding gig. This is more of a Les Paul and Marshall type of thing. It's kind of bluesy and AC/DC-ish. Its that kind of thing and he gets that and is a great guy. He fits in with us really well. ...We're all very, very lucky.”
Todd: What separates this particular incarnation of the Britny Fox from those that existed between '07 and now?
Billy: “The years been '07 and now... Those were just silly things. I call that 'Britny Faux'. As far as serious member changes, we've obviously been through the two singers and (Doro Pesch drummer) Johnny (Dee, a.k.a. John DiTeodoro, Jr) has always been there. I've always been there and Tommy's been there now since 1990, so we just take it in stride. ...Me and Tommy have been writing for a good while now. We're pretty much using the same formula that we used on Bite Down Hard and just headed in that direction, really. It's an updated version of that, so to speak. I don't listen to my own stuff very often, but when I do, Bite Down Hard doesn't sound nearly as aggressive as it did back then. Things just seem to be following the same pattern. It's all been very organic. It's me and Tommy writing what sounds good, ya know? We just hope that everybody else will like it.”
Todd: There have been a multitude of reports that the group is currently in the studio recording. How would you describe the processes thus far? Stylistically, how does the new material compare to the group's earlier releases?
Billy: “It's funny, man. I keep seeing 'Britny Fox is in the studio'. We're not in the studio. We're in the writing process right now. It's going to be months before we hit a studio unless we release something and if we do, it will probably just one tune or something we could do fairly quickly just to throw it out there. Obviously, it'd have to be good, but we haven't even got to that point, man. We're just in the writing phase and that's the part that takes the longest. Me and (vocalist/guitarist) Tommy (Paris) are working through the mail. When Johnny gets time off from Doro, he comes down. Me and Johnny still live in the Philadelphia area, so it's easy for us to get together, but the rest of the band is scattered, man. Chris is out in Washington State and Tommy is still in Las Vegas. ...He's a Vegas guy, so it's hard for us to physically get together. We just did that for Chris when we auditioned. We also all got together not terribly long ago for a photo shoot. When things get more serious and they get down to the actual recording, we'll probably do that in Vegas, but I think we're going to go back and do what we used to do and that's just be very prepared so when we do go into the studio, we're going to have all our I's dotted and our T's crossed. It just makes it more of an expedient process and that way, you just get the best results. It's really good to go in prepared. You have to go in prepared, really. Maybe if you're Def Leppard you can sit around the studio for two years on the couch and say 'Hey, I've got an idea'. But a band like us, we can't really do that. We have to go in prepared and have a game plan. ...It really does work out better for us this way.”
Todd: What are the group's current touring plans? Is there a desire to showcase Chris? I would imagine the group has been offered a number of different 'package' tours now that the wheels are officially again in motion...
Billy: “No, we're not doing anything like that right now. We've booked a couple things, but they're quite far in advance. We've got the Monsters Of Rock Cruise for 2016. We don't even have a record deal yet. We've had them offered to us, but where we're at right now, man, we're not even really concerned, at least I know I'm not. It's nice to have it there and obviously we're going to need it at some point, but right now, I'm just concerned with writing for the album and really nothing else. That's really all I'm concerned with. Let's put it this way; if we do get anything, I'm sure we'll do it, but there are no plans at the moment. I'd say our focus is entirely on the album right now. With Springhead Motorshark, we thought we had plenty of time to get everything done. We weren't really concerned with it and it just didn't end up working out that way. I don't think we're ever going to let that happen again. If you knew these guys and knew what they were like, you'd see that they're of the same mindset as I am. We know that we're supposed to do a lot better than that and I think we're a little embarrassed by that album. It's not without its moments. It definitely has its moments, but it's certainly not Bite Down Hard.”
Todd: In hindsight, what led to the group dissolving following the tour in support of Bite Down Hard? Although it's become a rather clichéd rationale at this juncture, how much did the proliferation of Grunge contribute to it?
Billy: “The genre just fell apart, man. We did Bite Down Hard and when it was released, it came out five months before (the Nirvana classic) Nevermind did. We were pretty much ground zero. We started out playing some really nice venues, actually. I forget the names of a lot of them, even if they're still there. You know how quickly clubs can change. That was a long time ago, but we were playing nice rooms. Then, a few months into it, the crowds started to get a little spotty. The band was actually really killing t that point, man. Everybody could see what was happening, but through that time period, it seemed like the '80s bands and the Grunge thing coexisted for probably about a year before Grunge obviously started to dominate. We were touring right through that period and after a year of playing some pretty good places, we played a place called the Good Food Sports Pub down in Florida. It had tables and booths and I was like 'Wow, if this is indicative of what's happening, it's not good, man'. At that point, we just shut it down for a while. It's really what happened. Only a few were able to persevere through that. Obviously, some of the guys with bigger names like Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe and Poison continued, but out of the rest of us, there really wasn't many that kept going. A lot of guys disappeared at that point and we were among them. There didn't seem to be anything logical for us to do.”
Todd: How difficult was it for the group to transition from a period of Gold-selling, MTV-fueled success to certain obscurity? Had you initially planned to soldier on despite the proverbial odds being stacked against you?
Billy: “It was shocking. When I look at what a lot of bands were doing at that point in time, I think a lot of us were in denial. We could see it happening, but it's just human nature. ...I know this is how I felt to a degree. I knew that '90's music was taking over, but I had this weird feeling that Britny Fox was a little bit heavier and not your typical '80's band. I know we look like it and we epitomize the genre in a lot of respects, but I was denial, man. I thought we might be one of the ones that were able to squeak through and keep going. I was wrong on that and it really did suck, obviously. Then, around the end of the '90's, things started to come back. For a while there, in beginning of '90's through the mid '90's, it was really tough for an '80s guy, man. You were pretty reviled at that point in time. People just did not dig you. ...Then, with nostalgia being what it is, towards the end of the '90's, we got our Spitfire (Records) deal and we did a couple albums for them. One was a live album that we really, really like, and the other one was a studio album (Springhead Motorshark) that we were just not ready to do. It was the first time that ever happened to us. We were always one of the most well-prepared bands at what we did because when we came up, we didn't have much money, so the more prepared we were when we went in to record, the better product we would have. But that album, we didn't even think we were prepared. We thought we were going to go to a different label. We had a buy-out going and all of a sudden at the last minute, Spitfire turned around and said they wanted the album like yesterday. so we didn't really have that many songs. We didn't really have anything, so we just went in and cobbled together what we had the best we could. We never really got to do that follow-up to Bite Down Hard, if you know what I mean. Technically that would've been it, but we were just unprepared for it all. We didn't even think it was going to really happen.”
Todd: Prior to the release of Springhead Motorshark, the group issued a live effort Long Way To Live (2001) that featured the Bite Down Hard line-up. Had everyone expected it to make a much bigger commercial impact?
Billy: “We loved the live album, man. There are actually two or three out there, but the other two weren't actually authorized by us. One is just a really shitty cash-in by Columbia (Records) and you'll notice that it's awful. I think one of them is a board mix. ...The only one that we consider real is the one we did for Spitfire, but we noticed we didn't seem to get a lot of push from them. We didn't seem to get a lot of promotion. We thought we put out a really good product and then we were supposed to do the studio album. Our lawyer at the time had negotiated a buy-out with them and this thing was pretty much in the bag. We were going to take the buy-out and go shopping for another label, so we didn't plan on doing anything for probably at least six or eight months. Then, at the last minute, Spitfire said 'If we're going to do this buy-out and give you guys all this, we'd just as soon have the album and we want it right away'. That's basically the story. Three days later, we were holed up in a basement in Jersey trying to get our shit together and, as I say, we were just completely unprepared, which was the antithesis of the way this band always functioned before that. ...We all knew. At least me, Tommy and Johnny did. We were like 'Man, we're not ready for this'. We had a game plan going and all of a sudden it got changed at the eleventh hour, as they say. We did the best we could, man, but we just didn't have anything and I don't know what else we could have done at that point. You can't just refuse to do an album. At any rate, we did it and it is what it is. That being said, it really does have a couple moments on it that aren't bad. It doesn't sound like us, but if it did do anything, it did allow us to do a few tunes that we probably would never have touched on. They sound nothing like us, but they're not too bad. I'm just being brutally honest here. ...I don't sugar-coat.”
Todd: What ultimately caused Dean to leave the group? Had there been internal strife between all the members?
Billy: “He was becoming unhappy. He was unhappy with management and him and Mike were having a lot of problems. He knew that he had a deal waiting for him as a solo artist (Davidson would ultimately form Blackeyed Susan and released Electric Rattlebone in 1991) and he just went for it at a very inconvenient time. Him and Mike had a fight in a hallway. ...Personally, I forget where it was. I think our last gig was in Providence. There was a big dustup in a hotel hallway and that was pretty much the end of it. I don't even know if Dead was fired or if he'd quit. ...He headed back the next day and that's when we started looking for a singer.”
Todd: It's long been rumored that the hotel fight was the proverbial 'straw that broke the camels back' regarding Dean opting to leave. What actually happened? Did Dean seriously fracture one of Michael Kelly Smith's arms?
Billy: “It was nothing like that at all. We were walking down a hallway. We'd had a meeting in Dean's room. Our manager had come out and we were really trying to just say 'Look man, we know you're not happy. We're not really happy with the situation either. We've got a really good summer ahead of us and we've got videos coming out'. “Dream On” had come out not that long before that and was doing really well on MTV as most of our videos did. It was in the top ten every day and all that nonsense. ...Right after that, we were going to do a video for “Hair Of The Dog”, which we all felt was going to be that year's “Girlschool”, but it just never happened, man. We went down, we had this meeting and we just wanted to say to Dean 'Look, let's just be levelheaded about this and get this tour out of the way so everybody can line their ducks up. It gives us time to find a singer and it gives you time to do whatever you're going to do'. It was also going to be a pretty profitable year for us, but he was kind of hard to handle sometimes, man, to put it lightly. So we left the room. We never did reach a resolution, but we left the room anyway and we were walking down the hallway. I was last in line. Johnny, Mike and our manager were all ahead of me and I just felt this thing go by me like 'whoosh' and I was like 'What the fuck?'. Then I realized it was Dean wearing nothing but a towel and he was a handful, man. He ran to the front of the line, threw a block and hit Mike and Mike went down. It wasn't a punch or anything like that. There wasn't any broken arm. Then he turned around and I think he yelled at John 'You're next'. and everybody started running into their rooms at this point. I don't know what I was doing. I was just standing there. It ended with just me and Dean just standing there staring at each other and all of a sudden I thought 'Wow, this guy's going to bull rush me'. I was getting ready for that and he turned around, ran down the hallway and went back into his room. I'm just standing there in the hallway by myself going 'What the fuck just happened?'. ...It was nothing. There was no broken arm involved or anything like that. Dean was a lot bigger than Mike but he didn't brutalize the guy or anything like that. I don't know, man. I still can't explain it. That's really the short story right there, man. Then I remember we were sitting down. It was me, the sound man and maybe the tour manager. We were sitting down in a restaurant and we were eating. The restaurant had a big glass wall and we looked outside and saw Dean. ...He had his guitar with him, he got into a cab and that was it.”
Todd: Once Dean had officially exited the group and the search for a new frontman began, did you have anyone in mind? Was the plan to find someone similar to Dean or was the group searching of something truly different?
Billy: “Back then, it was a lot more difficult. It's probably a lot easier today because back then we had to rely on sending things through the mail. I don't remember how exactly it was done, but we were receiving cassette tapes and photos of guys from all over the country. We knew what we wanted. We needed a guy that was able to do the old stuff in some fashion. We didn't want another Dean. I don't think any of us were in love with that voice, to be honest with you. It was what we had but we didn't want that. In a way, it was liberating but we also realized we needed a guy that was able to pull that stuff off yet was a real singer. …My God, man, it must have took about seven or eight months or maybe even nine months. It really took a long time. Finally, we got something from Tommy and I sent him “Louder” and “Over and Out” and he sent those back and it was like 'Oh, shit. I think we got the guy here'. That was when we flew him to Philly and not long after that we got started. A lot of that stuff you hear on Bite Down Hard was already written through the mail before we even went and secluded ourselves for six months. We basically came out of there with twenty more lousy songs that I ended up on some bootlegs that I personally wish would've never seen the light of day. Those things were terrible. They weren't on the album for a reason. It worked with Tommy really well. I just wish it wouldn't have taken so long because if we could have gotten Bite Down Hard out a year earlier, it probably would have done a lot better. By the time we found Tommy and actually got the next record deal process started, it ended up putting us all behind schedule a great deal. When Bite Down Hard came out, it didn't have a chance to succeed.”
Todd: How did (ex-Ozzy Osbourne guitarist) Zakk Wylde become involved with the recording of Bite Down Hard? I felt the solo he played at the end of “Six Guns Loaded” solidified the tone for the remainder of the disc.
Billy: “We'd known Zakk forever. A lot of the guys in Philly and Jersey all know each other. We also know a lot of the guys in Skid Row like (guitarist Dave) 'Snake' Sabo. Snake and I had a band before Britny Fox, before Skid Row and before Tyketto. We had a band in Philly. We were writing tunes that had Dave Sabo playing guitar, (Tyketto vocalist) Danny Vaughn singing and me playing bass. Johnny B was playing drums and we had a cat named Jimmy Delelo playing keyboards who had played with Wasted and things like that. So there is a connection between us guys around here, the east coast guys. The guys from Philly and New York are pretty tight for the most part. We all know each other, or at least we did. I didn't know Zakk before that, but I do remember when he got the gig with We were all out in L.A. doing these functions that you do at different conventions and all of a sudden Zakk was there. We had a lot of mutual friends and being east coast guys, we just always hit it off and got along. We played a lot of Madden football and shit like that. He would come to the studio, hang out and play solos when Bite Down Hard was Produced by Duane Baron and John Purnell. They had done (the highly-successful Ozzy Osbourne release) No More Tears (1991) right before Bite Down Hard, so Zakk just started hanging around the studio. ...He became part of the cliques that we were hanging out there.”
Todd: Is there truth to the rumors that Dean had re-joined the group prior to thisreunion? How serious was this?
Billy: “That never happened. Johnny and I live in the Philadelphia area. He contacted me and told me that Dean wanted to have a meeting. Personally, ever since Tommy's been in the band, that's the guy I want to play with. I like him as a singer and I like him as a person. Dean wanted to have a meeting, so I said 'Yeah, what the hell, man. Let's see what's up with him'. It was out of curiosity more than anything. We had a meeting and Dean was talking about how he wanted to record at Abbey Road (Studios) and spend a hundred thousand dollars on the album. It was all kind of bizarre, actually. We just left going like 'Yeah, okay'. Then next thing I know, I'm reading that the band was supposed to get back together and I had squashed it or something. I don't know, man. It never amounted to anything more than us having a couple drinks and hearing what he had to say about it. Look, he did start the whole thing. He obviously deserves a certain amount of respect and I got no problem giving it to him, but the chances of that happening were really slim to none with none being by far the favorite.”
Springhead Motorshark (2003)
Live At Froggys (2002)
The Best Of Britny Fox (2001)
Long Way To Live! (2001)
Bite Down Hard (1991)
Year Of The Fox (DVD) (1989)
Boys In Heat (1989)
Britny Fox (1988)
In America (1987)
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