Addicted To Vinyl Musical thoughts from the open road, with headphones on

31Aug/100

30 Years of Don’t Say No: An ATV Interview with Billy Squier

I had the pleasure of running a brief radio interview tour last week with Billy Squier.  During the course of the morning's slate of interviews, the interview that my friend Mark Zander (host of the syndicated rock radio program The Rockin' 80's) did with Billy stuck out as one of the really good ones.  I asked Mark if I could use part of his interview here and he happily agreed, so I'm pleased to share with you the following discussion regarding  the new Shout Factory! 30th anniversary reissue of Don't Say No.

Spring of 1981, finishing freshman year in high school. Girls on the radar, big time. Then all of the sudden, two of the biggest albums to shape my rock n' roll life came out in the same month of April?? No way!

Way!

Along with Van Halen's Fair Warning, Billy Squier's Don't Say No is a hard rock soundtrack to a life lived by me in that very important year of growth and change. Lead off unassumingly by "In The Dark," the record tracks (even today!) right through to the finish as a carefree time capsule of rock fashion and attitude. It was my pleasure to talk with Billy about his (ours!) masterpiece...

I have to ask you this regarding the process heading into Don't Say No when you were recording it, which came after Tale of the Tape was released the previous year in 1980. After spending time with Piper in the '70s, Tale of the Tape was no doubt a respectable solo debut, but I'd say that it probably didn't make the impact that you were looking for initially. Once Don't Say No was written, recorded, released and it became a smash, can you honestly say you were ready and were you expecting it?


Actually I think I was pretty well prepared. Going back to Tale of the Tape for a second, I actually was quite happy with Tale of the Tape. It moved me up a notch on the ladder and it got a lot of airplay. "You Should Be High, Love" was the number one top requested song for almost two months in the country on rock radio. It really increased industry awareness a lot. I had a real good tour in support of that record with Alice Cooper. So I felt when I went to do Don't Say No that Tale of the Tape had really positioned me very well for what I was going to do next, if I could deliver - but I really felt good. That was my initial solo album and I felt real good about where I was after that.

So I went into Don't Say No with a lot of confidence and I did feel that it was in a sense, my time. It was my time if I chose to seize it. You know, that I did have people paying attention, that people would be looking for my next record to some degree and that if I delivered, I really had a chance of making a big impact. You know, that being said, what do you do? I decided to more than ever, hone my material and get a body of songs that really hung together [and] not try to do too much. I have a lot of musical influences and I tried to eliminate some of the influences that were on the extremes of the spectrum, so to speak. Try to think about who is Billy Squier - what do you want people to hear of you and where do you really sit in the musical sort of pantheon. I was kind of fine tuning it that way and obviously if you listen to Piper or things like that, there's a lot of times more of a pop influence - you're hearing me go back and forth between my influences.

Don't Say No, although it still has pop sensibilities, I was aligning myself more in the hard rock camp. I said, "that's really who I am." The bands I grew up with that I really liked the most, what do I want to play when I strap on a guitar - I'm playing rock music. I'm not playing Herman's Hermits, I'm playing the Rolling Stones [laughs]. Those factors contributed to how I approached doing the record and I had confidence to go out and do what I felt good about doing. I think there's always a tendency when you're trying to make it and even when you have made it sometimes, you might be aware of what's going on around you and you wonder what you should be doing. If something else is successful, should you be doing that? You're sort of, if not imitating, you're being affected by what's going on around you.

With Don't Say No, I didn't do that. Don't Say No, I really felt like "nope, I'm going to trust myself and I'm going to write the way I want and structure my lyrics the way I want." I'm not going to worry about what else is going on around me. When it was done, before it came out, I felt that this was the record that I had been spending my whole career to this point getting ready to make. I was totally happy with it. I remember saying to people before it came out - I didn't say "if it doesn't sell five million copies," I said "if this record isn't successful, I'm out."

Really?

Yeah, because there's nothing more I can do. I'm not making it up - I remember clear as day, this is the best I can do. If this doesn't cut it, I'm gone. Fortunately, I didn't have to do that [laughs].

A lot of people don't know this, but you approached Brian May [of Queen] about producing Don't Say No.

Brian was going to produce Tale of the Tape and then they got drawn out - that was around the time that they were doing The Game and "Flash" and stuff like that. He got a little bogged down and couldn't do it, but he said, "I think you should use Mack, if you can get Mack to do it. I think that Mack would be great for you." Because [Reinhold] Mack was working with Queen as well [as co-producer of The Game]. So although Brian didn't work on the record, he was pretty instrumental in forming that union between Mack and I - Mack was a big part of the success of that record - the sound of that record and the way he put it together, it was definitely important. I could not have done that record without him.

Let's talk about the reissue - there are a couple of live bonus tracks on this 30th anniversary edition that were recorded last year. Were there any initial discussions about going back in the archives to get something that was done around that time, maybe on the initial tour for the album?

We talked about it, but it was my choice to put on the tracks from last year because I felt that to me, I get some artistic prerogative, you know? I felt like that a lot of the stuff that was recorded back then had come out one way or another, either on radio shows or King Biscuit releases, or we had used stuff. I thought that I approached the songs from Don't Say No that I did last year quite a bit differently than I did back then and I thought that it was more interesting. I thought, let me put something on it that's a current reflection of what I did back then. So that was purely a decision that I made and Shout Factory! was magnanimous enough to let me do it.

I really got involved in the process kind of late. They had licensed the album from Capitol and they were going ahead and doing it. They actually contacted me to see if they could get a couple of bonus tracks and that's how I found out about it. When I found out it was Don't Say No, I thought, well this is such an important record to me, I'd like to try to get involved as much as I can. So I sort of jumped in at the end and got the remastering engineer who had done such a great job on the Tale of the Tape remaster. Then I got a friend of mine [former Creem editor Ben Edmonds] who's a great rock writer to do the liner notes, the guy who knows me better than probably anybody. So we were able to at the last minute, put together a pretty good package with those tracks and the liner notes. We got some pictures out of the archives that hadn't been seen before, so that's new. I think as far as reissues go, it's worthwhile. Because by now, everyone should have worn out Don't Say No and you should get a new one. That's a cheap plug [laughs].

What's the story behind “My Kinda Lover?”

Actually when I was writing that one, I was thinking about Tom Jones. Don't ask me why, I have no idea - Tom Jones is not that big of an influence on me, although we certainly would see him on Ed Sullivan and stuff like that. I got the beginning of the song and I don't know why, I had that melody and I was thinking, "God, if Tom Jones did this, it would be like," [imitating Tom Jones singing voice] "You've got me running bay-bay." [laughs] I had this image of him in my head, thinking this would be a great song.

Wow, that really gives it a different spin for me.

But yeah, when I did it, of course I wasn't trying to be Tom Jones, I wasn't trying to do it as a Tom Jones song, but I just remember thinking, "man, this would be great." I remember meeting his manager a couple of years later, I think we were in Tahiti or some place like that, in a bar. I cut this song and he knew who I was and he actually knew the song. At that point unfortunately, Tom had made his foray into country music, so he never did it. That was a strangely Tom Jones influenced track, which you would obviously never hear! [Laughs].

The 30th anniversary edition of Billy Squier's Don't Say No is available now.  Click here for more information about the reissue and Billy's upcoming activities.

18May/1034

Ronnie James Dio, R.I.P.

What a shock it was to wake up on Sunday morning to the news that heavy metal legend Ronnie James Dio had passed away, after a six month battle with stomach cancer.  All recent indications made it seem like Ronnie was winning the battle (in fact, he was on the "black metal" carpet in April for the Revolver Golden Gods Awards, looking great), and although Heaven & Hell had recently postponed some summer tour dates, it made sense that perhaps Ronnie just needed more recovery time to finish treatments and get back to full strength.  Apparently things must have been much worse than any of us realized, or perhaps they worsened quickly within the past few weeks.  I was sad, both as a music fan and as someone that had experienced personally what an awesome human being Ronnie was.

I wrote a few words about my experiences with Ronnie for Popdose, and I thought I'd share a few more highlights here, as seen around the web.

My pal Chris Akin is the one responsible for my first meeting with Dio, and although we've had many memorable metal/music experiences together, Chris has quite a few tales of his own that I forget about - like that one time that Dio introduced him to Jimmy Page.

D.X. Ferris also wrote a nice Dio tribute here, while gathering additional thoughts from some of Cleveland's metal royalty, regarding Dio's passing.

Nationally, a bunch of metal folks stopped by Eddie Trunk's radio show on Sirius, and you can stream the interviews with former Dio band members Craig Goldy, Rudy Sarzo, Scott Warren and Doug Aldrich, plus Geoff Tate, Tom Morello, etc; here.

Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic  adds his own tribute via the Seattle Weekly where he is an occasional contributor.

This is Ronnie James Dio that we're talking about, so if you dial up Blabbermouth.net, you'll find tributes from nearly every musician that has ever picked up an instrument in metal.....only a slight exaggeration.  Without a doubt, the man was loved by many, and that will continue to live on via his music with both current and future musical generations.

On that musical note, my buddy Mark Zander will have a nice two hour musical tribute to the music of Dio on this weekend's edition of The Rockin' '80s - which you can stream via the following link.  I've seen the song list already, and it's a really nice collection of not only the hits, but some pretty cool Dio-related rarities as well.