As a notoriously fervent, ADHD-addled practitioner of the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal genres, my musical tastes (and thus the artists and groups I’ve found myself partaking in) have changed dramatically as I have aged, matured and inevitably grown older. Gone, for the most part, at least, are the simple melodies of my woefully misspent youth, having been entirely–and in some cases unceremoniously–replaced by a mind-boggling series of increasingly-complex Progressive arrangements and abrasively introspective subject matter. Despite this, I continue to find myself utterly fascinated with certain subsections of artists and groups I’ve become ‘acquainted’ with during my often adventure-filled experiences as a would-be music and occasional entertainment journalist. A prime example of this overly enthusiastic enamoring is my unwavering fondness of improbably long-running AOR/Melodic Hard Rock masters House Of Lords and their latest high-octane offering Saint Of The Lost Souls.
Todd: How did you initially become involved with House Of Lords? Am I correct in understanding that both you and drummer B.J. Zampa (Chris Bickley, Maxx Explosion, Robin Beck) joined the group at the same time?
Jimi: “I actually got B.J. in. It was after the group had done The Power And The Myth (2004). At that point, the band dissolved. James and I are both from Connecticut. James was in a local band that used to play around called Eyes and I was in a band called Joined Forces. Both bands were very, very popular in the area. We knew each other through the circuit. We were friends. Not necessarily close friends, but we did admire each other’s talents very much. …He called me in 2005 and said ‘I’m gonna put House Of Lords back together, but we have to go back to the original sound. It has to be that Melodic Rock sound’. And he said ‘Have you ever written a Melodic Rock song or can you write a Melodic Rock song?’ Of course I said ‘Yes’ because I had never done it (laughs). I had never written a Melodic Rock song in my life, but I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to work with him. I figured I’d give it a shot and would do my best. The first song I ever sent him “I’m Free” from World Upside Down (2006) “Free” has a drop tuning and it’s pretty heavy. It has an almost a half-time groove, and I was sitting there going ‘I don’t know if he’s gonna like that’, but he ended up loving it and so did Jeff Kent, the lyricist that worked with him on it. They absolutely loved it and turned this heavier track into this really cool Melodic Rock song. At that point, I knew I was able to do it. When James wanted to put the band together, he was talking about drummers and I mentioned that I had worked with B.J. in David Wayne’s Metal Church, so I already knew I could write with the guy, I knew I could work with him and I knew he was a great drummer. He’s a friend and I knew that we had a very good rapport together, which was really important to me, so I really pushed James to give him a try. …Once James heard him, he loved him so we basically joined at the same time.”
Todd: In hindsight, why wasn’t there a second full-length release from David Wayne’s Metal Church? The debut (Metal Church, 2001) didn’t receive ‘proper attention’. It would have been great to have seen a sophomore effort.
Jimi: “I’m not sure. We were supposed to do more with that. We were supposed to go on tour after that record and we were supposed to do a second one as well. David ended up getting sick and then eventually passing away. It’s a shame because it would’ve been great to be out on the road with that. He was a real sweetheart of a guy, too. We did go out to California and that’s when we wrote and recorded the record. We had a great time with him. He was a lot of fun and he was a super nice person. It all came about in 1999. This is how B.J. and I started working together. B.J. was involved with the band Thunderhead from Germany. He knew the singer Ted Bullet, was from Connecticut. Ted was in charge of the band and B.J. knew they were doing a record so he got me to do the record. Long story short, we ended up on tour with Metal Church. …Metal Church put out a record called Masterpiece (1999) after they got David Wayne back in the band. We went off and did a Europe tour for a few weeks. That’s where David started to come and watch me play guitar every night. We had a double-decker tour bus and we were all on this one bus. One time when I was sitting in the back of the bus at the bus practicing, he sat with me and said ‘I come out and watch you every night. I love the way you play. I’m not going to be staying with this. I want to do a solo record. Are you interested?’ And I said ‘Absolutely’. I talked to B.J. about it as soon as we got home from the tour and we started writing and putting some songs together for him. You have to write for the artist. If you listen to the songs that were done for that record compared to what I do with House Of Lords, they are totally different. Those songs are a lot heavier and a lot darker. What we write for House Of Lords is a whole other thing. …It’s Melodic Rock, so you need to be diversified in all that you do.”
Todd: What is the process that you use with B.J. and James to write new material for a House Of Lords record? I would imagine that after working together for such a protracted length, your methodologies would be efficient.
Jimi: “We’ve got a good system and I’ll explain it to you. I write a lot of the music. Just the basic music, none of the vocals, the melodies or anything else. Just the basic foundations for the songs. Then I’ll bounce them off B.J. because he’s a great arranger and writer as well. We work together on the basic stuff and weed through it. We add parts, take away parts and once we get a good structure, we’ll record it in full as if it’s going to be on the record. Then we send it down to James in Florida and he’ll do his magic to it and add keyboards the melody lines and the vocals. When we get the songs back, it’s usually pretty mind-blowing. You don’t really expect it to come back like that because you don’t exactly know what you’re going to get back. It’s always a treat to hear the way the songs come back. We send a good foundation of drums, bass and lead guitar. That’s basically what we send to him to work on. He’ll either like it or he’ll say ‘No. Send me another one.’ We do it with all new records.”
Todd: Anatomically speaking, did Saint Of The Lost Souls come together differently than your previous efforts?
Jimi “On Saint Of The Lost Souls, we just happened to have some really cool, different ideas for it. Some of the songs, the way they came out, was just amazing. One tune in particular I keep talking about is “Reign Of Fire”. …It has an AC/DC groove to it, believe it or not. It started off with the bass thumping away and then I laid these big power chords over the top. That’s how the song got sent. By the time it came back, it just was mind-blowing because of what James had done to it. It brought back a lot of memories of the early House Of Lords days. That’s what we’re trying to do on this record. We’re trying to bring it back the keyboards a little, but we don’t want to sound like we’re going backwards, either. We always try to do something different on every record. We always try to progress, so it’s cool we brought back the keys a little more with this particular record.”
Todd: What are your current touring plans? I’m assuming you’ll be out on the road as much as humanly possible.
Jimi: “We’re already booked for Europe. It’s a two-month tour. We start at the end of August in Hull City in the UK. at the Hair And Metal Heaven Festival. That’s where our tour starts. That’s our first show. Then we take off and continue to Europe for two months. We just signed with Ashley Talent International for the U.S. and they’re going to be booking us throughout America. They’re gonna do what it takes to build House Of Lords back up in this country because that’s really what we want to do. We want to build back up in the U.S. again because the band did really well in the U.S. when they first came out. They toured with Cheap Trick and the Scorpions and were playing in coliseums. It just …We all know what happened with Seattle, Nirvana and the Grunge scene. It just killed all the ’80’s bands. We want to do more shows and get back in the U.S. That’s our goal for the future.”
Todd: Have you found that European audiences are much more responsive in comparison to American audiences? If so, is it that their reactions are that much more intense or is it that they’re just more open–minded?
Jimi: “Europe still loves the band. We never lost our popularity over there. We do very, very well. We’ve always toured Europe every year and every time we put out a new record because that’s where the fans are. They know every single song we put out. They know all of the words. We have a great turnout every time we play. It’s …They appreciate music tremendously over there but the same people that come and see House Of Lords will also go see a Death Metal show. They just absolutely love music of all kinds. Over here, it’s a little different. You have people grouped together by the certain types of sound they like. They’re like ‘This is what I like and I don’t like anything else’. It happens a lot. If you’re a hardcore Metal fan, you’re not going to like House Of Lords. They’re very regimented in what they want, but there’s still plenty of people in the world that appreciate all the music that’s out there. I want to group together with some other bands and go out there and tour. That’s what we want. We just want to go out there and do our very best. We really have a tremendous catalog and our music isn’t light by any means. If you listen to the song “Cartesian Dreams” (from Cartesian Dreams, 2009) it’s heavy as hell. It really is. And the song “Saint Of The Lost Souls” is also heavy as hell. It’s an up-tempo, in-your-face track. There’s nothing light about the song whatsoever. …I think we have some great stuff happening.”
Todd: What type of set list has the group been working with? Are you consciously attempting to faithfully represent the group’s entire catalog? I would imagine there are certain ‘fan favorite’ songs that have to be played.
Jimi: “It’s tough. We’re one of the only bands that still puts out records every year-and-a-half. Most other bands play off of their old songs which is totally awesome because they can get away with it and the fans love it. But we choose to put out a record almost every year-and-a-half so we can give our fans new music to listen to. The best thing about that is when we go on tour in Europe, the fans don’t want to hear just the old songs. They all know our new material. Every time we come out with a new record, they know the songs from it. That makes us feel great because we don’t have to go out there and rely on “I Wanna be Loved” and “Love Don’t Lie” (from House Of Lords, 1988). We can go out there and play our new songs. We do about six songs from the first three records and then we start working our way up. We still do the songs “Free” and “Rock Bottom” from World Upside Down (2006). Then we do the title track from Come To My Kingdom (2008) and the title track from Cartesian Dreams and the title track from Big Money (2011). Every time we release a new record, we’ll play three songs from this. On this tour we’re doing “Saint Of The Lost Souls” and “Harlequin”, obviously, because it’s our latest video. We’re also doing “Hit The Wall” because it’s a great mid-tempo ballad. I absolutely love that tune. It’s got a great hook. It’s hard because sometime you have to get rid of songs you don’t want to. When we we’re out on the Indestructible tour, we were doing three songs and I liked all three songs we were doing. We did “100 MPH” and I really enjoyed playing it. It’s a really great up-tempo song and we opted to keep “Go To Hell” in the set because we did a video for it. When we release our next record next year, I’m sure we’ll get down to just doing “Saint Of The Lost Souls’. We’ll be keeping that one. That’s probably what will happen to it.”
Todd: Was it difficult for you to cop the styles of the many different guitarists that played with House Of Lords? Having to imitate the styles of Lanny Cordola, Dennis Chick, Michael Guy and Doug Aldrich has to be difficult.
Jimi: “I grew up idolizing many guitar players, but my main guy was (ex-Deep Purple and Rainbow guitarist) Ritchie Blackmore. Ritchie Blackmore never in his life played the same solo twice. He doesn’t play anything live that he’s already done on a record. I’ve always admired him for that because he so open to experimenting. He goes by how he feels on that particular day. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s so-so. He constantly does something different and I like that. When I first joined the band and had to learn some of this stuff, I didn’t learn things exactly note for note. I’m not one of those people who does that. I don’t take the time to learn something note for note. The only thing I sat and learned fairly close was the acoustic intro for (the Blind Faith classic) “Can’t Find My Way Home” (from Sahara, 1990) because I felt that was a very signature thing that had to be played exactly as it was recorded. I didn’t want to alter it too much. For the guitar solo in the actual song, I try to hit all the elements. I do this even if I’m playing in a local cover band. If there’s a song we’re doing, I don’t do the solo note for note by any means, but if there’s a part that you’re doing, and that’s a very signature part of the song, and you don’t do it justice, you know people are going to miss it. …Those are the parts you have gotta do.”
Todd: As the proverbial ‘outsider looking in’, it would seem that certain portions, particularly of truly iconic songs like “Can’t Find My Way Home” simply can’t be altered to the point of obliteration without repercussions.
Jimi: “When I was second in line to join Ozzy Osbourne’s band in ’86, it was between Zakk Wylde and myself. But beforehand, there was also this guitar player from Sweden. This was when (guitarist) Yngwie Malmsteen was very popular. I don’t know who he was but when he was up there playing “Flying High Again” and it was time to play Randy Rhoads’s amazing two-handed tapping piece, this person tried to do it with these sweeping arpeggios. Ozzy was standing behind him, acting like he was choking him to death (laughs). Acting like he wanted to stab him to death. You just don’t mess with certain things. It was funny to watch, but also scary at the same time. I had to really watch it when I got up and played with Ozzy so I could see what was going on. When I was learning the House Of Lords material like “Pleasure Palaces” (from House Of Lords, 1988), there is this part right before the solo starts that absolutely has to be there, so I learned that. When you listen to someone like Doug play, no matter what band he is in, he’s always been totally amazing. Plus, he’s already played with all my favorite artists like Ronnie Jame Dio. I absolutely love Ronnie James Dio. I always have been and I always will. …Then, once he’d become a member of Whitesnake, I became friends with the keyboard player for Whitesnake”
Todd: Is that how (ex-Vision Divine keyboardist) Michele Luppi became involved with recording “Harlequin”?
Jimi: “I asked him to play the keyboard intro on the song “Harlequin”. He said it would be an honor to come up with something because he’s a huge House Of Lords fan. It was so amazing that this guy was the biggest House Of Lords fan. He had grown up listening to (ex-House Of Lords/Giuffria/Angel keyboardist) Greg Giuffria. He idolized him. When I said ‘Would you want to play on a House Of Lords record?’, he freaked. He said ‘Oh, my God.’ It was a piece of history for him. It was something from his childhood that he admired, so it was a real big thrill. Then I asked him if he could do the video. He was overwhelmed, but he had to get permission from (Whitesnake vocalist) David (Coverdale) and David gave it to him. Thank you, Mr. Coverdale for allowing that to happen. It was really nice of him to let that happen. And now we also have an amazing video for “Harlequin”.
Todd: As both a personal and professional level, how difficult was it for you to be rejected by Ozzy and Sharon? I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like to come that close to landing such a high-profile gig without ‘getting’ it.
Jimi: “It really was devastating. When I got done playing, Sharon and Ozzy sat down with me and said ‘Well, it’s between you and Zakk.’ …They had already started playing with Zakk. I had been discovered afterwards. They had already started working with him and then Kramer Guitars, who I was endorsed by, sent them a tape. Sharon saw it and loved it, so they flew me out. I auditioned with just the band first and Sharon sat in on the audition. Then I went and auditioned and actually played with Ozzy. That was a tough thing to have to go home from, but Zakk had that Randy Rhoads look. He did back then, at least. He didn’t look like he does now. He was skinny, clean-cut, had long blonde hair and bell-bottom pants. He had that look. I had big black spiky hair and I’m left-handed. Maybe Ozzy didn’t like that I was left-handed because of (Black Sabbath guitarist) Tony (Iommi). Maybe that had something to do with it. Sharon still gave my tape to (Black Sabbath bassist) Geezer Butler for his solo band. She obviously liked it enough to hand it off to Geezer. I ended up working with Geezer for a while. …I’ve always compared it to the Miss America pageant. One person gets the crown, the other one is the runner-upper. That’s just how it is. Someone’s the winner and someone’s the loser. That’s the way it was. …I still don’t understand the whole thing with (ex-Ozzy Osbourne guitarist) Jake (E. Lee) being replaced. I’ve never really gotten the whole story on why everything had happened. The only thing I have ever heard was that he had totally stopped coming to rehearsals. I think he might have lost interest. I thought he was great, so who knows?”
Todd: How did you ultimately find yourself co-starring in the (Joan Jett and Michael J. Fox) film Light Of Day? While you’re obviously well-known for your recorded works, your role in Light Of Day is generally overlooked.
Jimi: “Joined Forces had hooked up with Joan Jett’s management. A guy that worked for Joan Jett’s management company was starting his own company and he took us on. He had a partner that owned a tour bus company, so he put us out on the road with Joan Jett. We had no record deal and no record, but he still put us out on the road. What we did have was a tour bus. We weren’t getting paid, but we had a tour bus. We were only getting around ten bucks a day to go out and get something to eat, but our bus was the bus. Joan’s entire band and her entire crew rode on our tour bus because they didn’t want to be on their bus. They liked our bus much better. …Joan is an amazing sweetheart of a person. Her and I had many conversations. I was the only person she let have a photo taken with her which I still have. Her management protected her a lot, but she had a liking for me. We talked a lot of business business even afterwards when I was able to get to see her she was always so happy to see me. That’s how it all happened. We went out on tour with Joan first and then the opportunity for the movie came. But it wasn’t just because we’d toured with Joan we got the part in the movie. We still had to be accepted by the Producers. They accepted us. They saw our photos and we did it. …It was such an incredible experience.”