The last time I had spoken to Vivian Campbell had been in the gents toilet of a County Down pub/ restaurant called Balloo House on a jam-packed Boxing Day about four years ago!
Now, many moons, and no doubt, several career jumps for both parties down the line, we found ourselves in conversation again! This time, however, we weren't face-to-face, but phone-to-phone as I was sitting patiently awaiting his call in the plush Riff Raff London offices, and Vivian was firmly rooted, along with his new partner in crime Lou Gramm, in an Atlantic Records conference room in The Big Apple.
The reason for this odd reunion of exiled Northern Irish was not to rekindle the memories of that eventful Boxing Day (that's another story!), but to talk to both Vivian and the ex-FOREIGNER frontman about their collaboration and the formation of their new band SHADOW KING. With both an album, simply entitled Shadow King and a single, I Want You now released here and in the US as a result of the group's deal with Atlantic/ East West Records, both Vivian and Lou were keen to start the ball rolling. So, introductions (or should that be re-introductions?) aside we got down to business...
So, after all this time, and several changes of working environment (from DIO to WHITESNAKE to the ill-fated RIVER DOGS to LOU GRAMM), did Vivian remember that Boxing Day meeting deep in the North Down countryside? (who gives a f**k - Ed)
"Umm, it was Christmas time? Eh, I was probably drunk! I don't remember..."
Eh, OK, enough about that, then. Onto more important things... Why did Lou choose to form a band, call it SHADOW KING, and not release the record as another Lou Gramm solo album?
"Well, I wanted to get into a band situation and have a permanent line-up around me, and I wanted to have a band name, not the LOU GRAMM BAND or anything like that. SHADOW KING was in the lyric of a song I wrote, and the guys seemed to like it, and it suits the band. So, we decided to go with it, as a lot of the good names are taken and we thought of a good one."
Right, so how did the collaboration come about? Vivian is quick to reply.
"I'd played on three or four songs on Lou's solo record. From there, Lou asked me to play guitar on his tour, but at the same time I was involved with THE RIVERDOGS, so I couldn't do that unfortunately. But we kept in touch. And things just didn't pan out with THE RIVERDOGS, and Lou kept saying he wanted to put a band together, so I said 'I'm your man,' and that was that!"
Ah, THE RIVERDOGS...whatever happened to them? Their debut, self-titled LP was released by Epic Records in just about every country worldwide, except the UK, so what went wrong?
"Ha," laughs Vivian. "It was released here [the USA] one week, and shelved just about the next..."
So that was the end of them. Did Vivian ever consider going back to Ireland, or even basing himself there again, after his split from the band?
"Well, I've just been back," he muses. "I was back for the month of August actually. I go back once a year."
Lou butts in at this point.
"I'm based in Rochester, New York, but the rest of the band are from the West Coast, so I'm the guy doing the commuting!"
Vivian shouts from the background that the band have one-way bus passes, and those cover a lot of miles...
Ah, yes...the band. Just who else exactly in in SHADOW KING, and where and how did Lou dig them up?
"Well, the bass player is Bruce Turgon, who I've been a friend with for about fifteen years, and he co-writes most of the songs with me. The drummer is Kevin Valentine, who, through a series of auditions, was the grand prize winner. Really, as a band, we've been together less than six months. We're a self contained band - we've written and played everything ourselves, no special guests on the album. It's all us."
Do the band write as a unit, or have Lou and Bruce written most of the material so far?
"Vivian has co-written on a couple of songs," states Lou. "Kevin on one, but it's been me and Bruce on the majority this time," he adds.
The SHADOW KING album contains ten tracks, all of which carry the instantly recognizable Gramm trademark voice, and the material is familiar FOREIGNER/ GRAMM territory, ranging from big anthemic AOR numbers, such as What Would It Take to heart-rendering ballads, such as the closer, Russia. Does Lou see this project and album as a progression and continuation of his solo career so far, or as a complete diversification from the previous path he chose to tread?
"I'll leave that to the listener to decide," he replies, somewhat pensively. "After two tries at solo albums which I really like, I felt that having a killer line-up around me would make more of an impact, and it did."
Fine. Being in an AOR vein, did Vivian find that his particular style of playing had to be altered from his previous work both with DIO and WHITESNAKE to suit SHADOW KING's material?
"Sure," he states firmly.
In what way though?
Well, with DIO, etc., I used to want to be a heavy metal guitarist. That was about ten years ago! Once I started playing with DIO. I kinda lost interest in playing real extreme heavy metal 'cos I just found it very confining. Throughout all that time in my life I was trying to keep up with all the YNGWIE MALMSTEENs and all that, and trying to play faster, etc., blah, blah, blah. I always found that it was really difficult to do, and I eventually realised that it was so difficult because I wasn't meant to do it. I just couldn't do it! I kinda went back to my roots. I mean the first guy I ever saw play and the first guy I ever stole licks from was a guy called RORY GALLAGHER, and then GARY MOORE. So, I kinda learnt from more bluesy players, so with THE RIVERDOGS I went back to a style that was more natural for me. And SHADOW KING is very much a hybrid of blues meets hard rock."
The album was recorded at Keith Olsen's Goodnight LA studios in, of course, LA. Keith produced the record. Why him?
Lou pipes up again: "We interviewed a number of people, and we got the best feel from Keith. His track record is pretty stellar in terms of hard rock music. I think his understanding of the songs and what we wanted to do was the best of the people we talked to. He was the best at keeping our ideas intact and not putting a producer's stamp on them. So we got what we wanted from him."
Talking of new albums, what does Lou think of the new FOREIGNER LP, and his replacement, Johnny 'Lou Gramm soundalike' Edwards?
"I think he is a fine singer. He's not a bad choice. He's got a fine vocal range and his delivery is fine. I haven't seen them live yet, but I have heard the album, and I think it's a good come-back album. I think they've got a lot of work ahead of them, though."
OK, so what about SHADOW KING's live plans? When do they intend treading the boards, and where, for that matter?
Vivian enlightens us.
"After the album promo work, we'll be going into rehearsal, and hopefully doing some shows in late November [in the US]. I think we might be playing in London in the second week in December at the Astoria, but there are no plans yet to play anywhere else. I really enjoy playing in Europe, and I particularly like playing in England. European fans, and particularly British fans, won't pay to see someone unless they're really into it. If there's enough interest over there for us to tour, it will be because people want to hear us...and not because of, eh...politics."
On that note, looking forward to seeing SHADOW KING playing in the UK sometime next year, I wish the gents good luck with the released of the album and single, and fleetingly inquire if they think there's anything important I've forgotten to ask them. Lou responds in the negative, and says he is quite happy with the proceedings. However, Vivian still has something on his mind.
"Tell me more about that afternoon back home," he demands. Then, before I can even begin to answer, he adds, "It was a restaurant in the country, wasn't it? Aah...I remember it now. That was a good day...maybe I'll see you again next time I'm over there!"
Balloo House, Vivian, Boxing Day - Mine's a pint!!!