Bob Rock on the Payola$ reunion and the influence of Mick Ronson as a producer



By Steve Newton

At one point during the exceptional Blackie & the Rodeo Kings show at Sonar a couple of weeks back, guitarist-vocalist and former Junkhouse member Tom Wilson casually leaned into the mike and said: “Roll out red carpet, here come China boys.” His group didn’t follow up with a performance of the song that line is taken from—the Payola$’ 1981 rave-up, “China Boys”—and there was no actual mention of the seminal Vancouver band. Perhaps the sensitive, albeit biker-looking, poet-rocker simply detected a ghostly trace of the group from some long-ago gig, back when Sonar used to be called the Town Pump.

It seems that Wilson’s not the only person with Payola$ on his mind these days. The band’s two main members, vocalist Paul Hyde and guitarist Bob Rock, are reuniting for a five-night stand Tuesday to Saturday (December 2 to 6) at the Media Club. As Rock explains from his home in Maui, the concerts will follow the “storyteller” format, where music is interspersed with anecdotes from and insights into Payola$ history.

“Basically what it ends up being is the story about Paul and I,” he relates, “about our friendship. And as I know now—because I’ve worked with so many bands as a producer—our story is just slightly different than just about every other band’s story. You know, some of those things that happened to us when we were in the Payola$ were horrible. You’ve got all your ambitions from your youth and everything rolled up, and then somebody slaps you in the face. Some of those stories are gonna come up, and at the time they were devastating to us, but we can look back and go, ‘Wow, it was kinda funny, actually.’ ”

Although the Payola$ experienced their share of highs (radio hits like “Eyes of a Stranger”) and lows (minimal popularity in the States), Rock’s tenure in the band led to him becoming one of the most successful producers in the world. He points to the time spent in the studio in the early ’80s with Mick Ronson, when the British guitar legend helmed the Payola$’ No Stranger to Danger album, as extremely influential.

“It kinda changed the whole way that I perceived making records,” explains the 49-year-old Rock, whose production for such acts as Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe, the Cult, and Metallica has resulted in mountains of units moved. (Metallica’s self-titled 1991 release, aka The Black Album, sold more than 16 million copies worldwide.)

Rock says that he and Hyde talked about a possible Payola$ reunion for years but didn’t take a serious step in that direction until last September. That’s when the two got together at Rock’s Hawaii studio with the musicians that’ll back them up at the Media Club: drummer Sean Nelson, bassist Chris Weis, and keyboardist Jamie Edwards. The quintet recorded a dozen new songs, some of which they premiered at Maui’s Hard Rock Café.

“It’s very diverse,” says Rock of the current Payola$ material. “There’s something that the two of us do when we’re together that is unlike what we do separately. I mean, it’s not exactly Jagger and Richards, but it’s our unique thing, I think.”

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