Trouble guitarist Rick Wartell steals riffs from Chicago blues bands



By Steve Newton

The Windy City is not generally regarded as a rock ’n’ roll hotbed. The U.S.A.’s third-largest metropolis seems much better known for Bulls, Bears, and Blackhawks than big-selling boogie bands.

“It’s not exactly a boom town for music,” admits Trouble guitarist/songwriter Rick Wartell. “But it seems there’s starting to be a lot more of a scene here, a lot more bands playing, and a lot more clubs. I still don’t think it gets the recognition it deserves in the industry, ’cause there’s just not a lot of bands from Chicago that get signed.

“But, of course, Chicago is more noted for its blues bands, and there are some great blues bars in Chicago. That’s where I go and steal my riffs from.”

A strong blues-rock vein does, indeed, run through Trouble’s music, although the group was mainly inspired by ’70s bands like Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, and Alice Cooper. Its sound is a lot different than that of Pantera, the thrashy Texas act it will open for at the Commodore on Friday (November 6).

“When we first toured with them, I thought it would be a lot rougher than it was,” says Wartell. “We’ve been out with other bands that aren’t exactly along the same lines as we are, and there’s been nights when the crowd wasn’t very receptive to us. But every single night on the Pantera tour, we went over really well.”

Originally formed as a cover band while Wartell was still in high school, Trouble has since gone from basement band to club act to touring band to recording group, releasing three albums on Metal Blade Records before getting nabbed by Rick Rubin for his Def American label.

Well, not exactly nabbed.

“It was actually our doing,” says Wartell. “We were on Metal Blade for three records, and they did what they could for a small label, but I don’t think they were financially secure enough to really push the band over the top or to where we wanted to be.

“So we decided to give Rick Rubin a call ourselves. [Vocalist] Eric Wagner got on the phone with him and it took him all of 10 minutes to get a deal with him. He had seen us play in L.A. and I guess he liked us, so he said, ‘Let’s do a record.’ ”

The result of Rubin’s intelligent ear is Manic Frustration, a masterful hard-rock release that is tough but not thrashy and melodic but not sucky, with classy performances from Wagner—one of the few hard-rock vocalists around who can sing as well as scream. The album was recorded at a California studio called the Indigo Ranch.

Wartell remembers the sessions fondly.

“This studio was like a three-mile drive up into a mountain, so it was like being on a big camping trip with the band,” he says. “There were trails and roads and paths to walk down, and this one path led to a huge rock with a lounge chair stuck in it, and it overlooked the valley. So if you sat up there with a guitar you could hear it echo through the whole valley. Oh man, it was really cool.”

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