Maybe some people read the Classic Rock feature on Rock City Angels in a recent issue.
The “where are they now” article.
To say that it was poorly researched and full of inconsistencies and rumour would be a bit of an understatement.
It would even be fair to say that as a piece of journalism it fell far short of what is normally expected from such an esteemed magazine.
My main problem with it is that anyone who is not familiar with Rock City Angels wouldn't be aware that it was a lazy rehash of a story that has done the rounds for many years without a single attempt to check the veracity of it.
Coincidently just prior to that hitting the news stands I had been in contact with Bobby Durango with an interview request and I can say that the guys an open book in regards to his past and present and this makes the article all the more unprofessional.
So without further ado here he is in his own words setting the record straight.
ElD - It's been a career of extremes Bobby.
I mean at one point there seemed little doubt that you had the world in your hands, but it spectacularly slipped through your fingers, or was torn from your grasp.
In hindsight how do you feel about it all? Do you have regrets? It's common for people to say they don't, but it's also human nature to harbour them.
BD - When it comes to regrets, I'm rather philosophical. I'm a Buddhist, a set of ideals I firmly embraced in the wake of being dropped/quitting Geffen Records. So while it is human to have regrets, it's not especially healthy as regret can turn easily into obsession, "What if I had done this?", "What if I'd said that?", etc.
I've seen many former and current artists on that particular path, (including a previous member of Rock City Angels) and it's not pretty. Were there mistakes made? Sure. But I know in my heart that I did the best I could given my rather limited experience with immoral music execs and larcenous lawyers whose job it is to take advantage of the very same artists they've been hired to help out
Through it all I stayed true to myself and the band which had become an extension of myself and that could end up pissing people off, especially those attempting to control us, but that was my path and I lived and learned. In the process, we created a lasting work of art, a damn good album and entertained thousands of people. Honestly, how could I regret that?
ElD - The original demise of the band is of course well documented. Or the legend of the demise I should say. Were the band really as debauched as is claimed, or were the problems more so in-house record label politics? How wild were those days and was the band and Geffen like oil and water?
BD - To blame the band for being a bunch of drinking, drugging, out of control kids would be a bit disingenuous. That was understood going in. That being said, when it came to business, Rock City Angels were on it. We never missed a show, always performed a professional, engaging set, (unlike some of our better selling peers) and consistently wrote interesting, timeless rock'n'roll as I think our recent, (2010) release on FNA Records, "Midnight Confessions", makes clear. This album is comprised of songs written and recorded for the never released second Geffen disc.
Record label politics made that follow up album an impossible dream. They can blame it on whatever they want, but the truth is our A&R rep. spent far too much label money on the first album in a gamble that it would sell so many records that it wouldn't matter. Problem was, he was gambling with our careers with out any discussion with us on the matter. Our lifestyles were the perfect escape clause for him when the shit hit the fan.
ElD - From the outside looking in it is difficult to understand what Geffen were actually doing. First they bought you out of a deal, but didn't pick up on the original album that was already recorded, then they invested time, energy and cash in you for “Young Man's Blues” before doing the same for a follow up that they then didn't release.
To call that frustrating would be an understatement.
It's as if someone would make a decision and then when it hit the boardroom some suit would laughingly decide to do the opposite just for kicks. Does that sum up their relationship with the band?
BD - Ha ha ha! I can imagine how crazy it all looks from the outside, the truth is actually fairly straight forward, with far more greys than harsh black and whites.
Let's start with the "glam album" that Geffen bought out from New Renaissance for $5000. There's a story going around implying that when we got signed, Geffen turned around and buried this recording, demanding that we stop wearing make-up and cross-dressing, thus changing our glam image, and, most important: changing our musical style! Nothing could be further from the truth. They would have loved us to have remained the same. In 1986 there were quite a few bands that fell into that Hanoi Rocks, neo-glam kinda sound and it would have been a whole lot easier to define and sell us as such a band.
Like, I dug Hanoi, Smack, Dogs D' amour and the early '70's bands like Sweet, but we'd been making that kind of music since '83 so, I for one, was ready to move on to something different, a wild mix of all our influences, punk, blues, glam, soul, power pop, southern rock and more. The target was an album of scope like, " Exile On Main Street". The "glam" album wasn't really an album at all but more a series of cheap demos strung together that didn't fit this vision at all.
In their favour, Geffen Records gave us complete artistic control at first and were behind us 100% in changing direction. Really, there were no significant disagreements until our producer, Jim Dickinson turned his finished work in.
Jim was an absolute genius at helping an artist find and achieve their ultimate vision. As he knew I wanted "Young Man's Blues" to be a sprawling, epic musical statement without pretensions, we worked really hard in preproduction for three months before heading to the studio for another three months to bring it alive. When Geffens' A&R Dept. heard it they freaked out! The general consensus was that the record buying public was too stupid to understand such a work and it needed to be "dumbed down" for mass consumption.
After all the time and energy that had been put into it, we were amazed by this idea. Then we got righteously pissed off. We asked for the album to be released as is. Our A&R rep. said that Jim had to "fix it" first.
As for Jim, he wasn't having any of this. As an artist himself, he refused to compromise, a lesson I never forgot, then promptly left the country for another project.
I was made to watch in horror as music execs with no experience went in to salvage the material by mixing it themselves!
Thank God I had final approval. Crappy, unimaginative mix after mix was nixed by the band before engineer Joe Hardy and myself were finally allowed to finish the album. By the time it was completed and approved, Rock City Angels had been in the studio for a whole year, leaving us way over budget, behind many other bands signed way after us and in a poisoned relationship with our record label. Both parties went through the motions for the next album but the damage had been done.
Before he died, Jim gave me a copy of his version of the album, as far as I know, the last copy in existence, and hoped that one day it might be released. I do my best to promote and sell this version on our various websites. It deserves to be heard.
ElD - How do you personally come back from that sort of brush with fame though? The roller-coaster ride aspect of it. I guess what I want to know is psychologically how bad was it? You were a young man at the time and it must seem like a lifetime ago now, but no one goes through that without picking up some war wounds and battle scars.
I personally can't comprehend how high the highs would be and just how low the lows could be.
BD - Believe me, I remember that whole experience only too well and yeah, there were some tough times but what matters is that I made it through it all and learned a lot. It's what they call "learning the hard way", hahahaha! I really wouldn't have had it any other way though, because, as you say, the highs were so high.
I mean we went from playing 500 seat clubs to 15,000 seat arenas overnight! I'm not going to lie, it's pretty awesome to suddenly hear your band on the radio, see yourself in magazines, t.v., etc.
Everything we had slaved, sweated and fought for, for the last six years... An audience.
Some people thought we had got signed after playing L.A. a few months.
HA! We paid our dues for sure. I dropped out of film school to pursue this dream. A lot of hard work and sacrifice went into Rock City Angels and it wasn't for fame and fortune. Yeah, we wanted an audience but it was really to make the music we wanted to hear that no one else seemed to be doing at the time.
I never deluded myself for a second that we would "make it big". We weren't pretty enough, savy enough or ass kissing enough for that to happen. As far as I know, everyone in the band was in it for the right reasons, a shared vision with the opportunity to make a simple living doing what we loved - making kick ass rock'n'roll that would stand the test of time. We hoped to become a cult band in the best Ramones tradition. Art with integrity. If we happened on a little more success, icing on the cake, you know?
ElD - So if you were to describe yourself in a few words would survivor be one of them Bobby?
BD - You better believe it, baby! I'm a rock'n'roll survivor for sure. Typical Taurus as well; down to earth, easygoing, artistic and bullheaded as hell. When I envision a work, be it a short story, song or album, I'm going to keep at it until it's the way I hear it or see it in my head. I won't settle for less, I'm a complete perfectionist and stay driven and consumed until it's right.
ElD - For us here in the UK you dropped off the radar for quite a while after “Young Man's Blues”. There was the start of some recording in 2001 and then nothing it seemed. It wasn't until around 2007, maybe a little later than that, before anything surfaced and that was a few whispers about the follow up to “Young Man's Blues” being finished and due for a release in 2008. What took so long and what were you doing in the intervening years?
BD - Whew! All kinds of shit went down after RCA disbanded in '93. I kicked around L.A. for awhile, writing a column for an underground paper and working with a director on a screenplay for Propaganda films.
The film was to be a neo-noir which was perfect for the frame of mind I was in at the time, cynical and dark.
I got even more depressed after I auditioned for a few bands that I liked, only to find I now had a stigma attached to my name that kept folks away. Though I was writing and staying creative, this was a real dark period for me, until a writer friend of mine, (who I respected greatly) turned me on to Gnosis and Buddhist thought through weekly classes.
My frame of mind gradually improved and I began to travel to San Francisco and New York City where I lived with good friends like Circus of Power. On my return to L.A., I ran into a girl I knew from Memphis, one of my favourite music cities. Next thing I knew, I had moved there and was married to that girl.
I soon put together a sort of Memphis supergroup called the 420 with members of Son of Slam, Gun Down Mary and Mama Terra. Outside of Rock City Angels, this was one of my favourite bands, the guitar player, Fred Thompson and I, would get loaded and write dozens of songs in his attic 'till all hours of the morning. I really honed my guitar playing skills at this time as well.
My percussive style of rhythm really inspired a lot of different styles of song writing. 420 was a strong outfit right into the year 2000 when we finally broke up from overambitious musicians trying only to be "discovered". I was well over all that.
DIY was where my head was at.
Not too long after that I joined a band called Hustler that was a little more low key but lot's of fun. I found them through their bass player who I'd worked with in a reggae-punk band I started called "Zebra Bug". Hustler and I worked up some fantastic songs, a few of which ended up on "Use Once And Destroy" after that band broke up.
It was around this time that I noticed people again showing interest in Rock City Angels. The only album available at this time however was the demo's that Anne Bolynne released through her label, New Renaissance, known as the "Glam Album" or "Self Titled". It was kind of embarrassing that this was the only thing representing the band and I decided it was time to show our growth as artists on album.
After a months preproduction, we booked time in Paramount Studio's, Hollywood, and layed down basic tracks in 2001. The band consisted of previous members of RCA and Hustler. I planned to then take these tracks back to Memphis with me and lay down legitimate Memphis horns and B3 Organ. It took six more years of investors falling through and one calamity after another before I was able to hear my dream come to life.
ElD - So “Use Once and Destroy” was finally with us and it revisited a more punky sound than some would have expected, but my main surprise is how an album that took a big chunk of a decade to record can sound so fresh and flow so well. How did you manage that? Did you have to revisit the tracks and keep then in mind as a work in progress, or did it all just fall into a place a bit at a time?
BD - I think the reason it sounds so fresh is the same reason people still respond to Young Man's Blues. The songs and the music itself is timeless and I worked very hard with my partner/engineer, Chris Swenson on producing it in a way that doesn't sound produced. Rick Ruben is the master of that technique and it is surprisingly difficult getting such a natural, "unproduced" sound that could come from any era. Which is why Rick gets the big bucks, ha ha
I always looked at the album as a whole, not piece by piece. I was attempting to adhere to a theme, Use Once and Destroy, and an overall sound with the songs working together to weave a loose story or idea, and for the most part I think it succeeded.
ElD - The use once and destroy title is very powerful. It could be tagged onto anything from relationships, or global economic politics to the disposable nature of modern society. It says something, and the music on it backs that up. It's at times an angry album with a take it or leave it fuck you attitude. Fair comment?
BD - That's a very fair comment and right on the money. I'm actually a little surprised that more people haven't picked up on that. The photo on the back of the album is a major key to this line of thinking. It's a photo of the "lost" tribe found in the Amazon a few years ago. The idea was that this tribe had never had any contact with the western world until this picture was taken, in other words the last true indigenous tribe left on the planet. Various organizations claimed that they would protect this tribe from outside influences, allowing them to remain as they are indefinitely. We all know how that goes. As soon as a natural resource is found on or near tribal lands, that all goes out the window. The tribe is "studied", moved, and their culture all but assimilated or wiped out altogether. They are used and destroyed.
I've seen many bands used by record companies, disreputable managers and lawyers and destroyed. Hell, the planet Earth itself has been used and slowly destroyed. Yeah, as a pro-revolutionary, far left citizen and a feeling, thinking human being, it pisses me off and I don't make music to be a megastar, I do it because I have to.
ElD - Are you pleased with it after the amount of time invested in completing it?
BD - If "Use Once and Destroy" was my swan song, I could die a happy man. There were no compromises, it is a pure statement lyrically and musically and I couldn't be more proud of it. It's the album I've always wanted to make, using all my influences, from the rhythm guitar parts I played to the production techniques I used.
ElD - It's a bit of a nightmare to get a hold of it here in the UK. I ended up picking a used copy up from an internet auction place. Are you having a problem promoting it outside the US territories, getting it out there to people?
BD - I've had a few people overseas complain about that but it is very easy to find all over the world on CDBaby, iTunes and Amazon.com It is also available through FnA Records and soon through our online store.
ElD - I see you have been playing dates locally in the US. How is that going? Are you mainly getting older fans turning up, or are there a younger element starting to pick up on “Use Once and Destroy” and then working backwards?
BD - Yeah, our dates have been a blast! So far we've only toured the southern U.S. but that will be changing.
Our audience is actually a combination of those two plus folks that have never heard of us that end up becoming new fans, which is awesome. We work hard to give the audience a whole evening of great entertainment by playing with bands we really dig, not someone just to fill a slot.
ElD - A basic question, but what's next? Have you been working on new material?
BD - As a matter of fact we are! We are in the process of writing songs for a new album. We're aiming at an end of year release to tie into a European tour we are working on. That would be a real dream come true for me as I haven't been overseas since we worked with Brian Robertson from Thin Lizzy, (you can catch one of our songs on "Midnight Confessions".) in London. We have an incredible fan base in Spain and other countries and I can't wait to play for them, as many have waited years to see us live .
Our new album is going to tackle the themes of vengeance and redemption and is going to be the biggest production challenge I've ever faced. There will be no limitations on instruments, we're going to use whatever we need. I think our audience is ready for the next step and I'm really excited by the prospect of a no hold barred approach to instrumentation and experimentation. It will be a wild ride for listeners for years to come and the kind of timeless, dream inducing music our fans have come to expect with raw blasts of energy.
I also have another project I'm working on in Memphis called the Memphis Fury that I play rhythm guitar and sing in. It's a bit different from RCA in that it's just a big, dumb rock band that's a lot of fun. The band was put together with good friends and musical partners of mine in Memphis, like songwriter Kevin Walker and engineer Chris Swenson. We're working on recording some music as well, so keep on the lookout for that
ElD – Finally if you could set down in stone what the next year was going to be like then how would it play out?
BD – We've pretty much covered it my friend, these are the plans and expectations I have but like anything else in the music industry, it's a crapshoot, anything can happen and often does so we'll just have to see how it all plays out. I'm really excited by all the things happening around the bands "comeback" and new and old friends of Rock City Angels make all the bullshit worthwhile. This cat here ain't gonna stop making a racket 'till they do.
BACKGROUND INFO - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock_City_Angels
BAND WEBSITE - http://www.therockcityangels.com/
FURTER LINKS - http://www.myspace.com/rockcityangelsmusic