As the dawn of the '90's (i.e. 'The Second Millennium') inevitably approached, the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal genres found themselves in various stages of flux. Unfortunately, with the flannel-clad emergence of the Grunge phenomenon looming ominously on the horizon, many artists and groups that would have once almost assuredly been guaranteed a modicum of success were left awash amid a sea of uncertainty. Among the most prominent of such acts was Los Angeles, California-born icons Little Caesar. Following the release of their self-titled debut and it's criminally-underrated follow-up Influence (1992), the group splintered as the scene drastically morphed. Recently, vocalist Ron Young, always a many of many words and interesting stories, was kind enough to speak with us regarding, among many other things, the long-overdue release of their latest high-octane effort 8 (2018).
Todd: What initially prompted the group to reunite in 2001? Did you feel as if you still had unfinished business?
Ron: “We've always been really close. We were always like family. We had all healed from the big record deal thing (laughs) and we just missed making music together, so we got together to jam. It felt great, but we were only doing it in a rehearsal room, so we decided to start doing shows and then we decided to start writing and recording songs. We just kind of slid back into it. ...Once we got the business idiots out of the way, we made a promise to each other that we were going to do it for the art, fans and for fun and it's been that way ever since. It's the most freeing thing any of us has ever done musically because once you start thinking you're going to try and get a record deal or do it for a living and become someone of a certain notoriety, then your consciousness is a lot different than when you do it freely for the experience. You have to leave those results out to the universe.”
Todd: From a purely musical point of view, how did the group approach the writing and recording processes for Redemption (2009)? Were you consciously attempting to recapture the spirit and style(s) of your earliest efforts?
Ron: “We were looking to continue our straight-ahead Classic Rock approach with Blues, Rhythm, Soul and a little Punk Rock thrown in every once in a while. We were just looking to pick up where we left off, but we were also looking to do a very honest and stripped down Production. All we ever wanted to do is be a '70s Blues-based hard rock band à la AC/DC, Bad Company and Lynyrd Skynyrd. That's kind of what we wanted to do in 1990. We wanted to make that kind of a record. We kept telling the record label 'All of this big Production with the giant drum sounds and the giant reverb has got to change. You can't just keep putting out the same kind of record with the same kind of sound because it's getting really stale'. Back then, if you' were watching TV and closed your eyes, almost all the bands sounded alike unless you were a really big fan and knew the different nuances. The funny thing is that everything we were telling them ended up bearing fruit in the Alternative genre. With Grunge, you had Soundgarden coming out and sounding like early Black Sabbath. They were very honest records that were darker and more effective. ...They were very straightforward and they weren't slickly Produced, so we felt vindicated at that point. The label kept looking at us as being in competition with all of Warrants, Winger and Whitesnake and we were like 'Listen, man, we're just a straight-ahead Blues-based Rock band. We're a dated band and we want to be Produced in a dated way. We want to be a throwback and leave all the personality on the record. We don't want to do twenty million overdubs'. In the beginning, they said they were for it, but when we started working with (Producer) Bob Rock and in the middle of the recording, the Rock-Produced Mötley Crüe classic) Dr. Feelgood (1989) goes to number one, all of a sudden all our cute little organic sounding record turned into a big Production. It's hard to tell people who have a number one record that that's not the kind of record that a particular other band should make, ya know? So when we came back out in 2009, we decided we couldn't go that route. The last three studio albums that we did were recorded twenty-one to thirty days and those weren't even full days including the mix downs. It how they used to make records in the '60s and '70s. You'd go in and set up mics in someone's house or a little studio somewhere in between tours and you'd bang out a record in four to six weeks and then get back out on the road. ...So that was our approach to it.”
Todd: The band never seemed to entirely fit within the Glam Rock motif your label was so intent on impressing.
Ron: “No. It never did fit. That got stuck on us because we came from LA. It's funny because when we used to do shows back then, we played on the East Side of Hollywood in the really sleazy clubs. We always got lobbed in, but if you listen to our records, it's not really that kind of music. And if you looked at us, we looked like tattooed, ax-murdering bikers. There was nothing glamorous about us. (laughs). Not many of those Glam bands had goatees and Harleys. It's funny because when I used to hang out on the Sunset Strip, my buddy Gill Montie had this place called Tattoo Mania. It was down the street from The Roxy and The Whiskey (A Go-Go) and The Rainbow and across the street from The Viper Room. We used to hang out with him when he was giving us tattoos and we'd say 'Dude, we look like prisoners. We're the most heavily tattooed guys in Rock 'N' Roll.' As time went on, it was more and more common and then, once the '90's hit, man, there were all these nineteen year-old kids with tattoos up to their earlobes. It was interesting back then as a guy would have maybe one or two on their arms, but nothing like the full sleeves and big back pieces that (drummer) Tom (Morris) and I had.”
Todd: In regards to your self-titled debut, how surprised were you that a cover of (the Aretha Franklin classic) “Chain Of Fools” became the group's first--and arguably most well-known--hit? It was definitely an odd choice.
Ron: “The weird thing about it is I didn't even want it on the record. In fact, I didn't even want to record it, let alone have it be the first single. That was one of the first battles we had with (legendary A&R executive) John Kalodner. I was like 'First of all, it's a cover song and second, it's got background singers. We look scary enough. If we start bringing in these background girls on the record and in a video, the established core sound of the band is going to be a little off center'. And quite honestly, although that song made it very clear what the band was about with its R&B roots, I don't believe Aretha made that song. On it's own, I don't think the song is actually really great, but Aretha could sing the phone book and turn it into a hit. When we released it, we were like 'Well, you know it's fun, it's good and it separates us from all those other Poppy sounding bands'. There was a lot of other material on the record and they kept saying 'We're going to get to that. This is just the appetizer', but the we didn't even get to do a second video, so whatever. And we didn't need guys like John Kalodner to sit there and say how he's responsible for AC/DC and all of these other band when those bands won't even sit in the same room with the guy because they fight with him so badly. But you don't find out about this type of stuff until after you hire the guy to do your record. It's only then that you find out it's because the guy has a bigger ego than the band ever did. ...If you look at every record he's ever done, it says 'John Kalodner: John Kalodner'. The guy had four different T-Shirt designs with his own image on them, so there was always these ego issues going on. ...It made it very difficult for us to ever sit down and have a straight-ahead conversation with the guy.”
Todd: In hindsight, do you feel as if Influence (1992) would have fared better commercially if Bob Rock and John Kalodner had been as involved as they were with the first? Would it have helped the group 'sustain' things?
Ron: “God, no. We would have been better off if we'd never had either of them involved to begin with. The demise of the band came from a battles of egos, really bad business decisions and really bad timings of things more than anything musically. It was just one of those things. It's happened to a million different bands. You don't hear about it because guys like Bob Rock, John Kalodner and (Geffen Records founder) David Geffen don't talk about the records that don't make it. ...When it's all about the egos and in-fighting, nobody hears about it. It ends up looking as if we'd f off the face of the earth. And none of that came from within the band. We came out of the box stronger than the Black Crowes. MTV immediately said 'We love this band. We're immediately putting you into heavy rotation. Things like that just didn't happen for a new band. And it wasn't just because of (former manager) Jimmy Iovine and John Kalodner. MTV genuinely liked the band. They used to come see us at our shows, so we instantly had that level of support. Unfortunately, when John started fighting with Jimmy and Jimmy starts fighting with David Geffen and then John Kalodner starts fighting with Bob Rock, we became almost like stepchildren. In a sense, we were watching mommy and daddy fight while talked about getting a divorce. There wasn't a damn thing we could have done about it as a band. I would have loved to have kept those people on if they would have actually listened to the band because our sensibilities were always on point.”
Todd: So the rumors about David Geffen were actually true? I've always assumed they were highly embellished.
Ron: “You have no idea (laughs). Basically, he just looked at me and said he was going to let the rest of the band go and keep me to prevent the band from reforming and going to another label. He wanted to keep his business from looking bad because we had a such a high profile. And if we were to have gone to Atlantic, Epic or any of the other labels that were offering us deals when our option was up, then it would have validated everything that we were saying in the press about the company, But instead, it sounded like we were whining because we didn't become huge Rock stars. He was just like 'I'm just going to hold onto you for a number of years until everything dies down. And I'm sorry if you don't like it, but I collect artists like I collect artwork. You can ask (Eagles drummer/vocalist) Don Henley and you can ask Neil Young. These are all guys I've had battles with and they all lost, so have a good day'. You really aren't going to get any sway out of a guy like that.”
Todd: When (original guitarist) Jimmy 'Apache' Payne left the group, he was replaced by (guitarist) Earl Slick (David Bowie, John Lennon, Yoko Ono). Was he your first choice or did you have certain other people in mind?
Ron: “No, we didn't. ...We've had so many different guitars players come and go. We're so glad we found Mark. Tremalgia because he's just fit in so perfectly. He fits musically, personally and spiritually as well. With Slick, (guitarist) Loren (Molinare) was friends with him. He was in between projects and we were like 'Hey, we've got this record to do for Geffen.' And he knew that everything was really tense and going down the toilet, but he figured 'Why don't we get together? The music's fun and pretty effortless. Let's write and record and see what happens. Maybe we can resurrect this.' But the writing was on the wall. He did the one record with us and then we did a little bit of touring over in Europe and the UK and that was it. We came home and they pulled the plug on it all. ...Listen, I'm not bitter in any way (laughs). If I were to become the guy that those guys told me I had really good potential to become, I'd probably be dead or just a raging asshole. I'm happy as can be. My band is still together, we're still making music and we get to do it the way we want to do it. Nobody comes in and sticks their nose in it. We've also got some really great fans who are incredibly loyal. No, we're not playing big arenas or even big theaters, but everything is true. ...It's fun, it's right and all in balance, so we couldn't be any happier.”
Todd: At this point, how would you describe your relationship with Apache? Am I correct in understanding he was supposed to re-join the group? Is it safe to assume there is a story behind why he didn't come back aboard?
Ron: “Apache came back in and was supposed to re-join the band during Redemption, but three-quarters of the way through, he flipped out. We were actually done recording. Apache's got a lot of resentments from back in the day. The whole nightmare with Geffen and the business hit him the hardest. After the first record, he'd just had enough. ...It's interesting because there was a track called “That Was Yesterday” that was released in Europe but not in the US. It hints to how much he hated all the bullshit. When we got back together, it was one of those things that looked good on paper, but there was still a lot of tension and a lot of stuff he kept bringing up. It was just too much of a drag. I'm still friends with him, we still bump into each other and see each other, but he just couldn't jump back in the saddle with Little Caesar again and not really enjoy it. We respect that, so we canned all of his parts and brought in (guitarist) Joey Brasler to re-recorded a bunch of stuff. That's when Joey joined us. ...It's hard enough to keep a relationship with one human being, but when you try five, damn, it can be hard.”
Todd: What prompted (bassist) Fidel (Paniaguato) leave? It must have been so hard to lose an original member?
Ron: “Fidel was working at an auto body shop and he got the opportunity to buy the business he'd been working at for twenty-five years. When you start owning your own business, you are slammed and swamped and can't just disappear for three weeks to go on tour a couple times a year. It got to the point that where we were canceling more show than we were actually doing, so we decided to par ways so he could take care of his family be passionate about having his own business. We're not getting any younger, man. You've got to take care of yourself in your later years. He just couldn't keep doing what he loved to do. We loved playing with him, but it was like a relationship scenario where you sit down and go 'You know what? It's not because of any huge animosity, but rather logistically, this isn't working anymore. ...That's how it all came about. Life is simply life.”
Todd: How would you describe the songwriting hierarchy for 8? Did everything follow the same methodology that was used on American Dream (2012) or did working with another guitarist change how the group recorded?
Ron: “We didn't do a studio record for six years and that was by choice. We put out a double live record (Brutally Honest Live From Holland, 2015) because we had a sixteen track recording of it. I didn't want to go back into the studio until we found a permanent guitar player. We had three or four different players that were filling in and helping us out during tours, but they were also running off to do other projects. They're all great guys and great players but it just wasn't really a band. When we finally found Mark, I was like 'Okay, this the guy; he's got the time, we love him, he loves us and musically we're great'. We started pulling out all of our song ideas and he started writing these great counterparts to Loren's parts. Three or four new songs came out of that and we also had a lot of archived material, so we had a new record in two months. We had pre-Produced it and had already figured out which tempos we liked and figured out all the arrangements, so when we went in, Bruce was able to get some great sounds. We basically did it live to tape with just a few clean-ups and then a Mix. ...It's a little raw, a little edgy and a little sloppy for the sake of having some personality. A lot of bands, especially because you can't go to the studio for the same amount of time that you used to, wind up using computers and all of the technology that is available to perfect their sound. They'll use it to get the right pitches on their vocals and guitars. But what it's also doing is quietly taking the personality out of a lot of recordings. We're really conscious of not letting that happen. ...AC/DC and Rolling Stones records used to have things like a tambourine that was a little out of time or two guitars that were slightly out of tune. They'd be chorusing a little bit, but they'd also make for a fat sound. There was personality in those records, so we did it again on this.”
Todd: How did you become involved with Golden Robot Records? What made now the right time for the group to transition from Unison Records to Golden Robot? There appears to be a true Australian bend to what they do.
Ron: “Unison is the name of the label we used on our self-released music. Unison is owned by our Producer, Bruce Witkin, who is a very close friend of ours. He Produced the latest Junkyard record, and he's got a studio called Unison Studios. Now, he had a label, he still does, that wasn't doing any music like this, but he was like, 'Hey, you need a UPC code and you'll need a Distributor. It's a lot easier for me to run the accounting through my label.' It wasn't really a record deal per se. ...Plus, when we were approached, it was by (former Polygram A&R executive) Derek Shulman, who now runs the label for Golden Robot in the US. He is the one that introduced us to them. They were based exclusively out of Australia, but now they're worldwide and they're really, really great. They're exciting and they're excited to work with us. They're also excited to be in the music business, which I don't understand. They must be masochists because it's a very rough business now. But you know what? They've got a great attitude and they're really behind the band. They've gotten us some great publicity and it's such a shock and honor to us, especially when we used to throw out our records onto iTunes in Europe and in the stores in the UK. But now we have a proper label with proper Distribution and proper publicity and proper radio people. ...They've got Publicists all around the world. And Marco Alexander, the owner of the label, he is so fired up. He was a fan of us since the first record, so when he heard we were looking to get a new record out, we sat down with him and a couple other people from the label in L.A. It was such a fun meeting. He was so vibrant about taking the label to a worldwide level. It all just made perfect sense for us.”
Todd: Am I correct I remembering you that briefly toured with The Four Horseman? How close did you come to being a full-fledged member after the series of shows you'd done in support of Nobody Said It Was Easy (1991)?
Ron: “Yes. In fact, that's where I met (bassist) Pharoah (Barrett). He's been with us for five years now. They had done their second record and literally two days after (vocalist) Frank (C. Starr) finished cutting his vocals, he got into a motorcycle accident. They Mixed the album, delivered it and it started to do really well in Canada. There was a really big demand because people still didn't know. They didn't know what Frank's physical and medical outcome was going to be. So they were like 'Listen, we really want to get something going with this record. Would you like to come out and kind of do a tribute to Frank and sing these songs with us?' I was already friends with (guitarist) Dave Lizmi and Pharoah, so I was like 'Yeah, man. I'd love to.' We went and did this tour of Canada and then, at that point when we'd gotten back, it was evident that Frank wasn't going to make it. We talked about picking back up with me fronting the band, but at that point, a couple of the guys were from Canada, Dave was back in Maryland and Pharoah and I were here in L.A., so it never came to be. But I stayed in touch with Pharoah and when we had to make a change in the bass player department, I called him up and he was like 'Oh, I'm totally there.' We even do a Four Horseman song in the set as a tribute to Frank and the band. Both of us are still real good friends with Dave Lizmi. He's a great guitar player and a great writer. In fact, “Another Fine Mess” from 8 was one of the songs we had demoed for The Four Horsemen. .,.It's to a point in our careers where you can stay close to all the guys that you've always enjoyed making music with. And there's some guys, I'm not going to name any names, but there's some guys that are very difficult. They throw tantrums and they start drama on Social Media. Social Media is nice. You can stay connected to (Ozzy Osbourne guitarist) Zakk Wylde an (Sons Of Apollo vocalist) Jeff Scott Soto and (ex-Mötley Crüe frontman) John Corabi that you've made friends with over the years who all come from the same kind of mentality about music from the business and passion side. ...It's nice because we can keep friendships going, supporting each other. It's fun.”
Brutally Honest Live From Holland (2015)
American Dream (2012)
This Time It's Different (1998)
Little Caesar (1990)
Name Your Poison (EP) (1989)
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