Interviewer: Glenn Milligan, BA Hons CS
Location: Sheffield Boardwalk
Date: 13th November 2002
Glenn: What's the history of the band 'Strongheart?
Bobby: It's a long story - got a lot of tape?
Glenn: Yeah, about three hours.
Bobby: Well I guess I could condense it a little bit.
The original bass player, Billy Evans, he and I had known each other since being teens and played in a lot of bands together. We met Wilbur (Hess) on a recording session for this singer and we all got along really well and liked the playing. That's how we met.
We were all in different bands at the time and it was actually Wilbur's then girlfriend (now Wife), Julie that had the bright idea along with Wilbur to pressgang me and Billy and after not too much prodding we were like, 'Ok, let's do it, let's start a band - but let's do it in England and live out our Led Zeppelin fantasy.
Wilbur: (laughing) Yeah, let's go to England. Not sure when though. That was pretty much it.
Bobby: So we came over here in a view towards writing songs and putting the band together and we wound up meeting some management that kept us here with works Visa's and things like that. We wound up getting our first recording contract with AC/DC's record company in Australia called Albert Productions with their Producers. George Young and Harry Vanda. So that original 6 months of putting the band together turned into a 12-year odyssey.
Billy left - went back to the States after our second album (Ritual) in 1997 and after combing the areas for a decent bass player and we decided to settle on Chris (McMahon). Most of the bass players that we gave the material to, in order to work out with them just didn't seem to be up to it really and one guy was honest and said, 'Look I can't get this but I know a guy that can' and Chris was like the 15th bass player or something like that. We actually had a date booked and I sent Chris a tape and said, 'Do you wanna get together on this day and rehearse it' and Chris said, 'No, I can't because I'm rehearsing with another band and then I'm damn well rehearsing and depping with this other band'. He was in like 48 bands!!! So he just showed up at the gig and just struck right in. Not only did he just play right, but he also stepped up to the mike and sang the harmonies and I looked at Julie going, 'Yep, this motherf*ck*r will do!! (They all laugh).
Chris and Wilbur
Chris: As I remember it, I was rehearsing with another band at the time and got a phone call from a guy who used to play bass in one of my bands when I was just playing keyboards Juice (Julie - Wilbur's wife) got his number off somebody somehow and given him a tape of the material and he's listened to it and he just said, 'I can't hack this, I can't be ar*ed with it', so he rang me up on a Friday night and it was like, 'Do you wanna do a gig tomorrow? It's £50', so I go 'Yeah'.
(Immense laughter from all)
That was it and it was a lot of just Zeppelin and Hendrix - there wasn't much original.
Bobby: But we did some original (looks at Chris), which you played and sang on.
Wilbur: That's what blew us away.
Chris: We got original stuff back in real quick because I guess when you pick up players every night, you gotta play something they know (laughing). But there was a lot of Zep and Hendrix in that 1st gig and I started learning a lot of the original stuff after that.
Glenn: Where did you get the name 'Strongheart' from?
Well we were walking down Hollywood Boulevard, thinking, 'we gotta call ourselves
something'. We were taking pictures at the time and we came upon the stars - the
walk of fame. Looking down and seeing the names and going, 'John Wayne - nah-
no good, John Lennon, Elvis Presley - nah'. Anyway right near the
Bobby: We just liked the name. Later we found out it's the name of a dog in the tradition of Lassie - well this guy was the original. His dog did all those stunts.
Wilbur: Bad Ass Dog!! I'll throw the dog off the building (laughing).
Glenn: So what sorts of stunts did you do on stage then?
Wilbur: Now throw Bobby off the stage!!
Glenn: How did you sort out the deal with George Young? Over so many years he came to some of the gigs didn't he?
Bobby: Yeah. The first one was a gig in Mansfield somewhere and he invited us down to London to meet. We went down to London, had a couple of drinks and a free feed. It was kind of strange at first because he didn't really say 'Yeah, we're gonna do this, we're gonna do that'. He just said, 'We'll get together and see how it goes'. That's kind of what we did. We got together and saw how it went and I think it was about a year and a half until we started pre-production on our first album. A lot of things happened in that little interim. We went back to the States for six months so that our Management could sort out another year long Visa. We came back for a little bit (to the UK) and then went to Sydney, Australia and retreated like Kings for the duration of the recording of the album and the videos. It was fabulous - really fabulous.
Glenn: Weren't you hanging out with AC/DC quite a bit?
Bobby: Yeah. It was great and I suspect that Wilbur and Billy in particular were kind of like - they knew of AC/DC obviously but I don't think they were like as big a fan as I was. I was definitely in dreamland. I was a big fan. Just even being in the same room as George Young and Harry Vanda - I was a little bit much taken (aback). I think because the other guys were really sort of brought of brought up with other music. I think they handled it a lot better. (Laughing) Where I was like star-struck the whole time. We went to a barbecue and casually sitting by the pool is Angus Young and that's when Wilbur actually did get excited.
Wilbur: George, that's the guy with the shorts, right? (Joking) -
(Does Georges voice): 'that's my brother'.
Bobby: It was good stuff. It was fun. We played some snooker. We drank Johnny Walker Black and it was a nice barbecue. They had a caterer.
Wilbur: A nice girl
Bobby: Oh yeah. The chicks that were doing the barbecue were pretty fine. Yeah it was good stuff.
Glenn: Yeah, Rick (Wilson from CRF) was telling me that you rang George up one day and Angus answered the phone.
Rick Wilson (from CRF)
Wilbur: Yeah - George used to have an apartment in London before he bought his house and he used to Angus stay there. I just called up one day and Angus picked it up. We had a five-minute phone conversation trying to work out who was who. He wasn't going to tell me who he was and I wasn't going to tell him who I was so we talked about George.
Bobby: Then when they realised who they were, each other was talking to the other like, 'Let's get it straight dude - you're really good at it - playing guitar'.
Wilbur: They are all really good guys. Really cool together. Cool Guys.
Glenn: You made a couple of videos. What was it like making the videos?
Bobby: Oh, it was just everything you could hope for making a video. You'd see those documentaries on how videos are made and they actually did one for us. It was MTV Australasia - the making of our fist video 'The Kids are Wired'. It was just great - like buffets, all catered, make-up chicks and pin-ups, sound stages. It was terrific. It was just loads of fun. Again, they just treated us like kings.
Wilbur (to Bobby): Do you remember in the interview, before, when we first got there, it was like in this movie studio and they were building everything. They had all these guys out there - all these carpenters. They started filming us and interviewing us and I was, I don't know about you, I was sh*tt*ng myself at that point because I kept turning 'round going, 'Damn', and like all of a sudden there's like a camera there and (you) act like cool as though we do this sh*t all the time but thinking, (puts panic voice on), 'What the hell's that?'
Bobby: No it was fun stuff. The second one (Smooth as Silk) was in a Jet Hanger and that was terrific too. We got the V.I.P. treatment there as well and it was really fun even in the pre-production for those videos we round-tabled with the Director and the Producers and actually played a large part in those videos. Those ideas and concepts come from us, which I thought was really terrific of them to let a first time, sort of debut band
Glenn: Bring in the ideas.
Glenn: Cool. What would you say your main influences are vocally?
Wilbur: Oh gosh?
Bobby: As a band, probably thinking back, every great Rock band that we've ever heard. I suspect a lot of Hendrix, Zeppelin, Rush all the way up to like concepts of Red Hot Chilli Peppers. We actually sort of came up in LA alongside. We kind of go back that far. Everything that was sort of the 80's big hair thing - we were definitely immersed in that but I think our sites were often more on root heavy rock like your Zeppelin, Sabbaths and Purples and stuff. Which is why we've always had this draw towards England.
Glenn: How long have you been doing drum-clinics?
Bobby: Oh yeah - good question. I started doing them probably about '99 and it was in that little interim period where the original bass player (Billy Evans) went back to the States and there's a guy called Phil Oten, a good friend of mine. We used to gig together when we first came to England. He had started to work as a rep for various drum companies like Ludwig and DW and he had been after me for a long time to do drum clinics for the companies he was representing. I was saying, 'No, I don't know what I'm doing'. I've never had lessons; I've never been schooled. I didn't really know how to explain what I did.
Again, when our original bass player went back to the States, I had a lot of time on my hands and I thought, 'Woah, now's probably a good time to study up and start getting into all those books, videos, concepts and techniques that I'd been avoiding like the plague for years'. So I also started saying yes to people for people for lessons which I hadn't done before. Through that process of learning I started to gain a little bit of confidence and Phil Oten opened his music store, 'Drum Academy'- 'Repercussion Music' and I started doing drum clinics. I started bringing drummers in from the States like Rick Latham and then drummers here in England like Russell Gilbrook.
I started just been opened up to some different ideas in drumming. I did a stint with a guy called Adrian Elderken who at the time was working for Mapex Drums and through them and through Russell Gilbrook and Rick Latham and then Marco Minneman, who I've gotta say is like my favourite drummer on the planet, I started to get into Minal cymbals. Minal Cymbals have put together a lot of clinics. They really liked what I was doing and I really loved their cymbals and through studying, through teaching and doing drum clinics and meeting so many other drummers it's helped me immensely. I just feel like I can share and help out other drummers that were in the same boat as me. It's like, they can play but they don't really know the ins and outs, whereas I feel like I am a little bit better musician to explain it now. That seems to getting across.
To be continued....... some time !!!
Cheers to all in Strongheart, Rick Wilson and French Fred for putting this together!! and of course Chris 'n' Jools @ The Boardwalk for having the band on in the first place