Black 'n Blue - Back in Blue
By Martin Popoff
Portland to L.A. transplants Black 'n Blue were a band somewhat out of time, plying and playing an ardent form of hair metal before such a thing existed in spades. Four major label albums ensued, solid to nearly great (Without Love) records that are now available through UK label Majestic Rock (see www.majesticrock.com or email email@example.com). What's more, the band (less Tommy Thayer, who now plays Ace in Kiss - I can't believe I just said that!) are finishing up a new album called Hell Yeah!, which, as lead singer Jaime St. James explains, will satisfy forthrightly fans of the bands sound, fans that in the mid-'80s, would have numbered in the hundreds of thousands.
"Basically, it's a classic Black 'n Blue sound," says James, on the new record. "We're not trying to do anything modern; it's basically where we left off in '88 with our last studio record. We're just sounding like the way we sound. We're not trying to change it and naturally it's easy for us to do that. I mean, there are possibly a few influences because it's been quite a few years. Maybe you'll hear a few things along the way, but it's pretty straightforward Black 'n' Blue record so far."
And definitely no chance of Ace, er, Tommy, being on board?
"Pretty much not. We did a reunion show with Tommy a couple of months ago and that was pretty much it. I mean, he's on tour with Kiss. Tommy is always welcome but he's got a pretty busy schedule right now. He's all for it, he's behind us 100% and he's helped us out a bit with a few things here and there, with some writing things. He just can't be involved full-time. The record's coming out on Z Records, out of England, so that's for the European release, and we signed another deal for a South American release. And then America and Japan is pending; we have to get some stuff finished so we can let them hear what we're sounding like. In terms of songs, there's the title track called Hell Yeah!, Hail, Hail Rock 'n' Roll, Angry Son Of A Bitch. I'm hoping it will be done by the end of October and then for a release date, I don't know. I'm guessing by sometime in November."
As I recall, looking back all those years, there indeed was quite the buzz about Black 'n Blue leading up to the band's tougher-than-it-looks debut. "We were probably signed based on how successful we were doing in the Los Angeles club scene," agrees St. James, a guy who looked, at the time, like a late teen version of Dee Snider, leader of a band that in context was a good a template as any, less the garish stage gear. "Wherever we would play, it was just packed out. They were lined up around the block trying to get in; we were really doing well. But we were signed after about six months. It only took a couple of months and it was starting to pack out. And basically there was a big buzz about the band and before we even got signed, there were people from Geffen who came out to see us and there were a lot of other labels calling saying, 'Don't sign, don't sign, we want to talk to you.' So there was a lot of interest and Geffen made a point to really try and snag us up quickly as they didn't want to lose us. It was an exciting time down there with all the bands that were going on. Technically, we were the third band out of that whole L.A. scene to get signed. Quiet Riot was first, then Motley Crue, then Black 'n Blue."
So what was the Black 'n Blue sound? You were there at the right time, and yet, were somewhat heavy, at least within the context of the debut
"I don't know, man. I was always influenced by '70s stuff: Aerosmith, AC/DC, Kiss, Alice Cooper, Bowie. But in the late '70s, very early '80s, we were influenced by some of the British stuff that was going on, Maiden, Def Leppard. I would have to say it was kind of a cross between the rock from the '70s and the metal that was coming out of England at that time."
Along the way, the band worked with Dieter Dierks, Michael Wagner, Mike Fraser, Jim Vallance and the now deceased Bruce Fairbairn. Lots of stories all around (but that's for another time and place). But, most definitely setting the stage for Tommy's work with Kiss, Black 'n Blue also first toured, then recorded, with Gene Simmons.
"He's very honest, sometimes brutally honest," notes St. James on the manic and proud self-promoter. "He doesn't mess around. I think the one thing with Gene that was different than with anybody else was he would sit... I mean, we did those records in Los Angeles and we would sit in pre-production at rehearsal and he would be there every day. We're talking about months and months of work. He'd be in there with us during the writing and try and maybe help guide something here and there. And sometimes, I think his stamp got put on some of the songs a little too much. But he definitely, you know, when he committed to doing the project, he's in it 100%. He was in there from the pre-production get-go right until the end. He was a good guy to have on your side, that's for sure. And he went to bat for us quite a bit. But I actually got Peter Criss come into the studio to sing on the Nasty Nasty record, and Gene and Peter hadn't talked in years, years and years. And Peter was actually scared to come in, but I talked him into it, and of course, once he gets to the studio, not much singing happened. Him and Gene just sat and talked and went on and on for hours. But it was kind of cool to see those guys unite and think, hey, I got those guys back together again a little bit. Peter is on there on a song called Best In The West. His voice is in there. He's solo, not just backgrounds."
And what is your fondest touring memory?
"It has to be the first tour with Aerosmith. Our record was finally done, we get back to Los Angeles and within a matter of a couple months we find ourselves out on the road with Aerosmith. And that's some of my idols there. Aerosmith was really big to me. And this is the first time were out of smaller venues and playing the big arenas. I'll never experience that again, to be able to jump to that level. To be able to walk out and hear that roar."
But you hear horror stories about Aerosmith.
"No, they were actually totally cool to us. But when we did that
tour, they were still partying and doing drugs and drinking and stuff.
At least Tyler was. But they were still in that mode. So they were a
little out of whack for the first half of the tour. The second half
was when they started to clean up and stuff. But it was a strange thing
to see Steven Tyler fall off the stage or something. But they were very
good to us. I have to say, we were never treated bad by any other band
we've ever played with, as far as opening goes. The only one that ever
treated us like crap was a guy named Alvin Lee who has been around forever.
We were supposed to play at a club with him in St. Louis on our way
to the Kiss tour. They told us to set up on the floor in front of the
stage, and we said fuck you and left. So we never even played with him.
But that's an interesting story in itself because there were a lot of
Black 'n Blue fans lined up outside the club. And I don't know why they
put us with this guy. We just said, we're not playing. But we walked
down the road with these people who had bought tickets and after we
signed all their stuff, we just kind of felt bad. And it turned out
there was this kid who had a band and we said, 'Where do you rehearse?'
'Out of the basement.' We said, 'OK, get everybody together; we're going
to go play our set in your basement.' And that's what we did. Took everybody
out of the line and went to this kid's basement and played our entire
set for them. And it's probably the coolest show we've done, man, the
coolest one ever."