Bob Rock plays every lick he knows on Rockhead’s “dumb old hard-rock album”



By Steve Newton

The first time I interviewed veteran Vancouver musician and producer extraordinaire Bob Rock, he was in the middle of helming Bitter Sweet & Twisted, the new release by British blues-rockers the Quireboys. The last time we chatted, he was heavily involved in the much-anticipated release by the newly revamped Mötley Crüe, the follow-up to the band’s Rock-produced hit, Dr. Feelgood.

But Rock is not only one of the world’s most sought-after hard-rock producers, he’s also the guitarist for local recording act Rockhead, a going concern in itself. So the question is: what comes first, his band or the other ones?

“That’s a question I always get asked,” Rock says, lounging in Capitol Records’ Burnaby office, “and I don’t really look at it that way. You gotta understand that—I just wake up in the morning and music is what I do. You know, today I’m doing interviews for Rockhead, but later on in the day I’m doin’ Mötley, and that’s the way I like it. I like to keep busy and I like to keep music fresh. But I’m very much looking forward to playing live through the year. I’ve made a big commitment to touring and gettin’ out there and playing.”

As a former member of Vancouver rockers the Payola$ (and its mellower offspring, Rock & Hyde), Rock has done his fair share of playing in bands. So, even though he’s spent more time in the control booth in recent years, he realizes that a band’s gotta get out there and play or it’s not really a band. That means touring is of vital importance.

“Especially for us,” says Rock, whose group—recently bolstered by the addition of second guitarist Ziggy Sigmund—is currently touring Europe with Bon Jovi. “I think with some people, immediately, their first reaction is like: ‘What the fuck is Bob doin’ a record for? He’s just tryin’ to cash in on his fuckin’ name and stuff.’ And I think it’s important that we just show that this is a real thing. So, for us, touring is a necessity; we have to get out there.”

After producing and/or engineering best-selling discs for the likes of Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe, the Cult, and Metallica, one might wonder how Rock approaches the task of producing his own band.

“Well, it was pretty straight ahead for me,” he says. “It was more like I was just trying to get what I had in my head down onto tape, and I really had Steve and Jamey and Chris to say, ‘Hold your horses, you’re goin’ too far,’ or whatever. So the other guys in the band were a real big part of the production. As we got to know each other better, they started screamin’ at me a little bit more and stuff, so…it’s definitely a band album, that’s for sure.”

Although most of the playing on Rockhead’s self-titled debut is done by the band members—Rock, singer Steve Jack, drummer Chris Taylor, and bassist Jamey Koch—Rock couldn’t help inviting a few of his rockin’ buddies into the studio to play on a song or two. Guitarists Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi), Billy Duffy (the Cult), Kenny Greer (Red Rider), and Apache (Little Caesar) all plugged in.

“Well, there’s 13 songs on the album,” Rock says, “and for me to play eight solos was plenty—I think that’s every lick I know. So I thought it would be cool to have those guys. They knew what I’d been doing, putting this together, and they all wanted to play on it as a return-favour kinda thing. And so I welcomed it.

“And, plus,” Rock adds with a chuckle, “Kenny Greer is a much better pedal-steel player than I am.”

Although Rock plays it a bit too modest when it comes to his own tasty guitar playing, it could also be said that Metallica’s Kirk Hammett is a much better heavy-metal shredder than Rock is. So how come he’s not on Rockhead, as well?

“Well, Kirk and [Metallica guitarist] James [Hetfield] said that they wanted to do something, but they were off in Europe. Actually, more guys are probably gonna be pissed off that they didn’t play on it than anything. I know [former Thin Lizzy/Whitesnake/Blue Murder guitarist] John Sykes wanted to play, and lots of other people said they wanted to do it.

“But the thing is, it wasn’t supposed to be like ‘the guests of Bob Rock’ kinda thing. It is a band record, and the other guys are really there just for the sake of having some different playing on the album, just to make it a little cooler to listen to.”

As well as the guest guitar-slingers, Rock opened up the songwriting side of things a tad, taking minor contributions by the likes of Jon Bon Jovi, former bandmate Paul Hyde, and—believe it or not—local alternative-rock hero Art Bergmann. The latter connection makes a fellow wonder if he would ever live to see an Art Bergmann record produced by Bob Rock.

“Well, I produced the Young Canadians’ stuff,” Rock points out, referring to one of Bergmann’s earliest bands. “And I’ve always been one of the biggest fans Art Bergmann could ever have, you know. I would love to produce Art, and I’ve told him many times. It’s just never been put together because of whatever—management, record company, and personal things.

“But I think the legend of Art will live on, anyway,” Rock adds, “and, hopefully, it won’t destroy him.”

There’s no doubt that the polished and melodic ’70s-style hard-rock of Rockhead is a long way from the punk-inspired, tortured howl of Bergmann and his ilk. Heck, there’s even a song on Rockhead that sounds a lot like Led Zeppelin, although that’s nothing Rock apologizes for.

“There’s no question that our album isn’t particularly trendy,” he says. “It’s not Seattle, it’s not heavy metal, it’s not nuthin’—it’s like a dumb old hard-rock album. So, I guess in the same way that Led Zeppelin was influenced by the great blues artists, we were influenced by them. But it’s definitely not a retro thing. We just play a style of music, and that came out.

“As a matter of fact, Jimmy Page came to see Rockhead when we played some clubs here in ’91. I was playing ‘War Child’, and he was sitting in front of me, and I froze solid for a whole verse. Everybody was trying to wake me up because I was completely stunned. I mean, here I am, and probably my biggest idol as a guitar player was sitting in front of me watching me play a double-neck Gibson.

“And the thing is, I phoned [Geffen Records’] John Kalodner the next day and said, ‘What’d Jimmy say?’ and he said, ‘Oh he liked you, but he just thought you were a little too loud.’ So I thought that was pretty funny.”

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