Interviews

Sunset Strip Certified: A Chat With Johnny X (The Wild), Jimmy Quill (Rattlesnake Shake), and Ethan Gladstone (Taz)

Rock 'n' Roll Rebels & The Sunset Strip: Volume 1 is the latest and greatest from glam metal/hard rock archive label Eönian Records: four CDs, 36 bands, 72 tracks, and nearly five hours of music from the self-described "third and final wave" of the heyday of the Sunset Strip scene during the late-'80s to mid-'90s. It's a must-have for fans of the more obscure and underrated side of the genre, so check out a few sound samples and pick up a copy!

SEE ALSO: Review: Rock 'n' Roll Rebels & The Sunset Strip: Volume 1 (Eönian, 2015)

When Eönian Records founder Stephen Craig informed me that some of the participating band members were available for interviews, I jumped at the chance to learn more about their involvement with the compilation, and their experiences amidst the more underground side of the legendary Hollywood rock scene. So, here's a conversation with Johnny X (guitarist/vocalist of The Wild), Jimmy Quill (vocalist of Rattlesnake Shake), and Ethan Gladstone (guitarist of Taz).

Rock 'n' Roll Rebels & The Sunset Strip: Volume 1.

To start off with, how did you get hooked up to participate in this massive Rock 'n' Roll Rebels & The Sunset Strip compilation?

Johnny: I had previously heard that Eönian Records was putting together a "Hollywood only" CD from some of the other bands on the compilation. It sounded like a really damn good idea, but only if we could get them all together to tell our story of the clubs, music, people, and extreme debauchery. Both scenes: the Sunset Strip and the Hollywood underground.

When Stephen Craig from Eönian and I began talking back and forth and I learned more about what his vision was for the project, I realized it was a damn brilliant idea. Nobody had yet spoken of the real Hollywood in the late-'80s/early-'90s through the eyes of the ones who actually lived it on this type of an enormous scale. We could show what the Sunset Strip was really like through songs, photos, bios, and the written word of this incredible story of our lives—living nights and days of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll to its fullest. Hollywood was its own living, breathing entity. Put all the poker chips in to win. No ifs, ands, or buts... I was all in.

Jimmy: Stephen Craig contacted me, but it's not like we ever disappeared from playing music. Rattlesnake Shake still plays out today with the original lineup. We played with Blackboard Jungle recently to a sold out rock crowd at the Viper Room on the Sunset Strip. People still live and breathe rock music, especially from that era, and the music that came from the Sunset Strip in the mid- to late-'80s!

Ethan: Stephen asked me. We had become acquainted while he was working on a Shake City release.

It's been stated that most of the recordings on the collection were essentially industry demos, so I'm curious about your experiences with record labels and "the industry" back in the day. Did you ever come close to inking a deal? Any horror stories?

Jimmy: Yes, we were offered two major record deals, but our manager at the time was dealing with a drug problem and was using the development money for his own recreational use. Let's just say it's the same old story: drugs got in the way!

Ethan: The great, recently deceased Kim Fowley got us a deal with Quantum/MCA Records, run by the two original owners of MTV. We were really excited because at that time MTV and the rock music video was king. Kim produced the record, but before its release Quantum and MCA had a falling out and discontinued their relationship, leaving us with a record and nobody to put it out.

Our next brush with the industry was with Warner Bros. Records. The now legendary producer Rob Cavallo was really into the band. I believe his dad was a player at Warner Bros. He was just a kid at the time and we were one of his early pet projects. He was great to work with—enthusiastic, creative—he helped craft and produce our demo with Warner Bros. Ultimately Warner Bros. passed.

Johnny: It was good and bad with the record companies. It was a business. That question might take a whole separate interview.

The Wild.

How much of a goal was getting signed, really? I get the vibe from the introductory essay, "Rock 'n' Roll Rebels: Sunset Strip Certified," that there was at least some sense of just having a blast being part of the scene, partying and playing shows for friends and fans, and not necessarily being concerned with wider "success."

Ethan: We were dead serious, actually. We practiced five or six nights a week and were a self-promotion machine. We did have a blast along the way, but we were very goal-driven. From the beginning to the end, our sole objective was to have a career in the music industry.

Johnny: Yes, we did have a blast, for sure. But getting signed to a record label was always and certainly paramount. We all wanted to have our musical art heard by the masses. Indeed, that was the main goal with most or all of us. The parties and excess were just the icing on top of the gigantic Hollywood cake. We all spent an incredible amount of time writing tunes; rehearsing; promoting the shows; and dealing with agents, managers, and record labels. Rising to the top was hard work and took talent. It was no different than previous bands from Hollywood—Van Halen, Mötley Crüe, etc.—except for one huge difference: the amount of fans, bands, and money. The scene had exploded in 1987. People were coming from around the world to feast on the musical excesses of the Sunset Strip. That meant more fans, more drugs, bigger shows, more clubs, more everything.

Jimmy: Every week the Coconut Teaszer on the Strip would have at the bottom of their ad in the newspaper a prediction that Rattlesnake Shake was the next band to be signed to a major record deal in Hollywood. The problem with that was one day we decided to destroy the club (with the owner's permission), which we did, and after that people just thought we were a liability and we needed a babysitter 24 hours a day... which we had, until even they quit.

SEE ALSO: 5 Underrated Glam/Hair Metal Bands

Going back to the beginning, how did you first get introduced to and involved with the Hollywood scene of the '80s?

Jimmy: Taime Downe and I were best friends in the '80s in Hollywood. It was one big family. Rick, the bass player in Rattlesnake Shake, was the bass player in Rose and Hollywood Rose with Axl and Izzy. Danny, the drummer in Rattlesnake Shake, played with Taime Downe in his first band Bedlam before he formed Faster Pussycat. Taime and Axl were a big part of Rattlesnake Shake forming in the '80s. I remember being in the studio almost every day while Faster Pussycat was making their debut record and Guns N' Roses was making Appetite for Destruction! We all know what happened after that!

Ethan: Kent and I started Taz in Orange County, south of Los Angeles. We would go see shows at the local OC clubs by bands like Leatherwolf, Kerry Doll, and Poison. Once that world was opened up to us, it was only an hour or so drive north to Hollywood to see bands at the Troubadour and Gazzarri's. At that point, we were building a following playing the scene in Orange County, and as a way to get in the door at the Troubadour and Gazzarri's, we would bus our OC fans to the Hollywood gigs. At that point, we all moved to Hollywood to get in the thick of it.

Johnny: Hollywood was the place to go. Mötley Crüe and Ratt had hit it big, and I was on my way from the mountains of Colorado to the Sunset Strip to play music.

Rattlesnake Shake.

Overall, what are your fondest memories of those days? Any memorable gigs with notable bands, etc.?

Ethan: Of course there were plenty of good memories of debauchery, but the fondest memories were the gigs and the camaraderie of the band members. We played so often on so many bills with so many bands of the time. It's all a blur. I'm sure I'm missing a few, but notable bands I can remember at the moment are: Jetboy, Kix, Faster Pussycat, Bang Tango, Poison, Lizzy Borden, Kyuss… too many to remember.

Johnny: The first thing that comes to mind was my second show as Johnny & The Jaguars. We opened up for Warrant at the Troubadour. Pre-Jani Lane. From then on, we started headlining. Great show and a lot of fun.

Jimmy: We played with so many great bands back in the day. Axl Rose would come to all of our gigs, it was such a scene back then. You could see members of the New York Dolls, Kiss, you name it. Hollywood back in the mid- to late-'80s was the place to be.

There are 36 groups included herein, and this is just the first volume. I'd imagine there were a good number of bands back then who never even had the opportunity to document their output in a studio. Are there any other Sunset Strip acts not present on the compilation that you feel were too far under the radar during the scene's heyday?

Ethan: Sorry, no answer. I heard many bands during those years. Can't remember the names.

Jimmy: I really think there should be a documentary about all the great bands—a lot on this compilation, and so many more that are not—who influenced that scene and never got recognized outside of Los Angeles. So many great bands that only we knew about that were so fuckin' talented and so fuckin' great live.

Johnny: Eönian has basically finished Rock 'n' Roll Rebels & The Sunset Strip: Volume 2, and have bands asking to be on Volume 3. Stay tuned to Eönian Records.

Johnny X, you've admitted that The Wild were dealing with quite a mish-mash of influences. Perhaps considered early adopters of a form of the "funk metal" aesthetic that really started to increase in popularity around the time of the band's demise in 1991, how did this blend of influences impact The Wild's individual story? Were you ahead of the curve? Too eccentric to be pigeonholed by the industry?

Johnny: Yes, The Wild was eclectic, for sure. That is why I included "Get Down 2 Night" on Rock 'n' Roll Rebels. The song has a darker side of Hollywood contained in it—lyrically heavier and with a more funk, underground feel. It's based on blues, soul, funk, and of course rock 'n' roll. The Wild had been playing music similar to that since 1985/1986 in its original conception called Johnny & The Jaguars. If history decides The Wild was a precursor to funk metal, so be it. I am certainly a fan of that genre. That is exactly what Rock 'n' Roll Rebels is all about. It's a time capsule of music and feel. Let the people decide.

SEE ALSO: 5 Underrated Funk Metal Bands

Rattlesnake Shake, "Shootin' Daggers" (1990).

Jimmy, Rattlesnake Shake had an EP released in Japan in 1990. How did that come about? Did Rattlesnake Shake ever perform in Japan?

Jimmy: Rattlesnake Shake went to Japan after touring with Cheap Trick to support our four-song EP put out on Monster/Sony Records. It was mind-blowing, that tour in Japan. We sold out every show and they made dolls of us. We even had Japanese girls crawling under the tables at restaurants, it was out of control. You can imagine what they were doing under there on their hands and knees: it's only rock 'n' roll, but I like it!

Ethan, it's interesting that Taz cited influences from AC/DC and Aerosmith to Prince and The Beatles, which perhaps explains the band's use of quirky melodies ("Dogtown") and emphasis on vocal harmonies and prominent backing vocals ("Day of the Dog"). How would you describe the characteristics that differentiated Taz from the standard fare of the era?

Ethan: Characteristically, in our early career I don't think we did differentiate ourselves all that much from "the standard fare of the era." Sonically, we were one of many typical power-pop glam bands. In my opinion, we didn't come into our own 'til mid-career. By then, the lifestyle had settled into our DNA and was elected in our tunes. At that point, we didn't edit ourselves: if a tune didn't necessarily fit the mold of the scene or what we had previously been writing, it was always evolving—encompassing all the influences we loved up to that point.

Every group is represented on Rock 'n' Roll Rebels & The Sunset Strip with two tracks apiece. How many (if any) other recordings did you put down when your band was still active? Any chance of them being made available at some point, digitally or otherwise?

Jimmy: Rattlesnake Shake has a whole album finished that will come out one day, hopefully sooner than later. It rocks and people should hear it!

Ethan: Unfortunately, nobody in Taz was a good archivist. We did an album for Monster Records in Japan. Warner Bros. has the Rob Cavallo-produced four- or five-tune demo we did in their storage somewhere. I would love to find that! We did a live to DAT recording, which is where these two songs came from. We have a couple more tunes from that session, but I think we initially recorded 10 or so tunes. That was our last recording together. The album for Quantum/MCA... no idea. I suppose if there was enough interest, I could put out some feelers to track these recordings down.

Johnny: Most of the bands on the box set have more songs to present to the public. The tapes just have to be dusted off, mastered, and digitized. I know that Eönian is working on that also. There is more music to be heard.

Taz.

What have you been up to in the decades since the "third and final wave" of the Sunset Strip scene died out? Any other musical endeavors, etc.?

Jimmy: I have a recording studio (Red Horse ATX) and make major label records today.

Ethan: I was briefly in Shake City and then in Tony Montana's (of Great White fame) Voodoo Cocks. More recently, I put out a project under the name of Led Man. Check it out! It's a mash-up of many influences. Chris Roy, the bassist for Taz, plays on it.

My present career was actually spawned by the Hollywood scene as well. Back then, for a living I designed gig ads for bands at Rock City News. I went on to study design formally, and currently work as a Creative Director in the entertainment industry here in Hollywood. I still drive the streets where the whole scene happened. I can still smell it.

Johnny: Quite a few of the bands on Rock 'n' Roll Rebels have been getting back together and playing shows. My band, Johnny X & The Wild, just did a sold out show at the Viper Room with two other bands from the compilation, Paradise and Rough Justice. I have another show in Hollywood coming up with Blackboard Jungle. Many of the bands are getting ready to perform again. Like I said, stay tuned to Eönian Records...

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