Randy Pratt - The Lizards

February 17, 2004

Tell me a little about The Lizards.

I was writing a book on the beginnings of heaviness with this guy for the last 10 years. Early proto metal bands from 1968 to 1972 which was stuff I grew up on and love. The more obscure bands like Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly, and Blue Cheer and the bands that grew out of them. Stuff more obscure than those. Those are the biggest bands in the book we were writing. In the course of doing that and meeting these people, I started to put them in the recording studio when they still had their skills together and that led me to starting this little record label, Hyperspace, to record and promote those guys which we eventually called new classic rock. New material by classic rockers. While doing that my engineer, I discovered, was very compatible with me musically and he plays guitar. We had met the guy from Sir Lord Baltimore, an awesome singer, and said let's start a band around this guy. So we started it with a drummer of a band I was in and then we ended up meeting Bobby Rondinelli during a session with Mark Stein from Vanilla Fudge. We became a new classic supergroup. That's become my main priority and we're out there touring around the world. Got a record deal in Europe now. We're about to go back with a second tour of Europe and getting a good buzz happening over there. Bobby the drummer is in Blue Oyster Cult also and he was not able to do this tour with us so we got Vinny Appice to go with us. Including the drummer as well as the singer from Sir Lord Baltimore, we have all these famous drummers in our family tree now which is very thrilling to me as a bass player.

It seems to me like you have a really good crew. Are these bands you were working with still doing stuff?

I've got a version of Blue Cheer that's recorded a couple of albums here. The second guitarist in Blue Cheer who is a good guitarist in the heavier Blue Cheer is Randy Holden and we got him together with the original drummer from Blue Cheer. We've done two albums with them. We reunited the band Cactus, the rhythm section for Vanilla Fudge, which was a supergroup from 1969 or 1970 that never got really big but they were awesome. They were the ultimate all time heavy rock biker band. These were bands that you would have called metal before the term metal existed. They were the heaviest bands in the world back in the beginning of heaviness. Vanilla Fudge, Cream, and Hendrix were probably the very first heavy bands and then the bands that grew out of those bands were really interesting but not as famous. Cactus had Carmine Appice who was in Vanilla Fudge and the bass player from Vanilla Fudge, Tom Bogart. Then they got this guitar player from Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels and the singer from Ted Nugent's Amboy Dukes and they had a Led Zeppelin kind of band. We reunited them here and they got an album completed. They're probably going to come out on Roadrunner. We reunited the band. We did Steppenwolf and Vanilla Fudge. Them and solo albums by them. The band Sir Lord Baltimore. I guess the history books call Blue Cheer the first heavy metal band but Sir Lord Baltimore was the first band that the press ever used the term heavy metal to describe and that was in 1970 when their first album came out. Creem Magazine. We've reunited them and they've almost finished an album. A band called The Vagrants which was Leslie West's first band. Captain Beyond is a band that I probably will work with eventually. They're friends of mine too. There aren't unlimited bands that I want to do this with. I'm really more interested in doing my own stuff now but that's how we got started doing this. Those are my main accomplishments in reuniting old bands. Those are definitely seminal historically important combos.

I've always been told that Black Sabbath was the first band that they coined the phrase heavy metal for.

No, Black Sabbath is considered the first band where it all came together. The image and the lyrics. Everything. It was all there complete. They're probably called the ultimate heavy metal band but they're definitely not the first heavy metal band.

I was just thinking about how in 1969 I was two years old.

I know that but anyone who is into heavy music should go back and discover that stuff. In the '60s when we were psychedelic rock kids and we all discovered that Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck loved Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf and B.B. King, we all went back and dug out those records out of the old shops and then those guys became famous. Actually the blues guys careers had stalled in the '60s but because of their association with The Rolling Stones and all those bands, they had the best years of their careers. The rock music and the kids got an education out of that and that was good. I don't see kids doing that now. I talk to kids who are into heavy rock and these heavy metal fans have never heard of Blue Cheer. Blue Cheer is considered the first heavy metal band. How could you not be interested in that? People should get into it. To me this stuff is heavier than heavy metal. I think a band like Cactus to me sounds heavier than Korn or Metallica because there's blues in it and blues is like soul. It's emotion and they're writing about more adult subjects and stuff even if it's raunchy. To me it's heavier like a blues vibrato band is tougher sounding to me than a lot of metal shred stuff is. Not that I don't like that but if you mix it up with some other stuff it's good. I think young people would actually really get into it. The blues is always almost cool. It's always floating around in people's minds like "the blues is cool."

I like to go back in time and research bands. My mom grew up on Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones. Those are two main influences on me. Peter Criss of KISS was talking about Gene Krupa being a huge influence on him so I went out and got some CDs by Gene Krupa and in turn Buddy Rich. Amazing drummers.

That's a lot of great stuff right there. I've got a blues band right now with this young guy who looks like Nikki Sixx and he never heard this stuff before. For a joke we had this variety show and we had him do a Cab Calloway song, "Minnie The Moocher", from the '30s. He did such a good job at it I started turning him on to all these old Louis Armstrong tapes. We have this great old jazz band. Six months ago he'd never any of this stuff. It's at the core of rock and roll. It's in all of us. It's even in the young people whether they recognize it in there or not. When they hear it though, the music will move them I think. It's basically the roots of rock.

What exactly is stoner rock?

I wasn't even aware of that scene. I guess the scene isn't exactly at it's peak vitality anymore. I think stoner rock and grunge almost made some of those kids vaguely aware of this kind of music I'm talking about. To me it's heavy rock. For kids who never heard it and they go back, it has almost a garage feel to it compared to the slick production of Metallica or something like that although you still have that metal riffing kind of screaming vocal type of thing. I think that's a term that this generation put on their discovery of this kind of stuff like Sir Lord Baltimore and Blue Cheer type of thing. That's just a new phrase for that kind of retro thing that they try to get into. We played a stoner rock festival last summer and we were the only band that sounded anything like us there. They were calling my singer the inventor of stoner rock so I don't know if they really necessarily understand what they're trying to retro but I applaud the interest anyway.

People have to come up with a label for everything.

Yeah, I know. When I'm doing self-promotion I find myself trying to invent labels. One of the quandaries we had when I was semi-managing or in concert with somebody else managing Vanilla Fudge because Carmine is such a hustler that he was able to do something with my help, we're out there and the radio stations really usually only play the old songs by the old bands. Even though there's a good tour circuit for them, they're not really encouraged to be creative. They just try to force them into being an oldie's act. These guys are better than they ever were, a lot of them, so we found some radio station in the Midwest called New Classic. That's the label we invented for basically classic rockers coming together and doing new stuff as though their careers were still happening in spite of all the efforts of the record industry.

I listen to these classic rock stations that play the classic hits and these bands are still releasing albums. Alice Cooper is still releasing stuff. When they play some of his old stuff, why not play some of his new stuff too?

I know. I guess the implication is that the older audience just wants a quick fix and they're not really paying that close attention to the scene. When we play these tours, I'm going out there and I see all these old gray-haired people out there. Are they going to like us? I'm looking at them and actually they have gray hair but they're not that much older than me. I guess that's just the music they like. I think they are into it. I think it's a whole scene that's being sold short. It's not being paid attention to because I think they don't know what to do with it. They don't know how make money on it. They're not watching MTV. The whole record industry is about to implode and that might be a good thing for new classic because you're not spending a million dollars on Blink 182's new video because nobody's buying it anyway because they're downloading it. Why force Blink 182 down your throat and not allow Vanilla Fudge into your house. Maybe there won't be all those barriers anymore. Things are about to get ripped up and thrown up in the air to see where they land again and I hope we're positioned well at a time like that to make some use out of that situation. Anyway, we're going to be touring around and making records and we'll see what happens. Europe is better. They look at the classic stuff as something vital. They get excited by it and they don't say this is nothing real because these guys are 50 years old. We don't even really pay attention to this. It's not really like that as much over there.

With the music industry, they're so busy chasing down what they think is going to be the next best thing that a lot of these bands become disposable after the first couple of records.

AC/DC didn't have a hit until their fifth or sixth record. Nowadays they wouldn't even have made it to their second record. The Doors in interviews have said they wouldn't have been signed in this climate today. They would never have been signed.

I notice a lot of bands these days have their own labels and distribute their own stuff.

I don't really see it's that easy to sell 100,000 albums on the Internet yet. I'm not sure how it's going to end up being. Here in New York all the record stores that I would go to are closed. Sam Goody and HMV. They just closed. There's nowhere to buy CDs anymore anywhere near where I live in New York. I'm a half hour from New York City. Something is changing dramatically and yet I'm out there touring. I'm doing better than I ever have and it will be really interesting to see that these bands who are basically big old guys in their mid-50s are playing classic rock music and yet still having this feeling that maybe they can do something with this. Five or 10 years ago it would have been like you couldn't do anything. There was nothing to do with a band like that. Maybe from our trips over to Europe, I had this feeling there are possibilities that things could happen. It's fun and it's cool.

I think people have tried to take rock further and further. We're at the end of the line. These days you're playing instruments and screaming. I don't see what's beyond that.

That's an interesting phenomenon. You're not supposed to be into the same kind of music that your parents were into in the rock world. The whole thing was to offend and separate from the last generation. I think that kids today think that the old music isn't worse. That's the input that I'm getting from the young people that I meet. It doesn't make me want to gloat. Music is just to have fun and appreciate.

I'm always introduced to new music and I dig some of the stuff my parents listen to.

I hear stuff all along that makes me realize that it has nothing to do with age. It has nothing to do with anything except just the environment. In the '60s there was this feeling like we're going to take over the world. We can change everything. This is brand new and we're inventing the stuff out of the air and it's amazing. The early '70s was the last time in the history of rock music that the recording industry was run at least partially by artistic people. Then it exploded. Radio, concert promoting, and the record production and promotion got so huge money wise that it was taken away from those spaced out hippie artist types and put in the hands of money people slowly but surely. Now between Clear Channel running all the concert promotion industry and the radio's totally format radio. Just the Top 40. In the '60s they'd take an album by a pretty cool but semi-obscure band and play the whole album side on the radio. Now it's just so formulac and these bands have to be exactly a cute cool new way and be no older than 22 years old. Play the exact pigeonholed thing. They've had that for so long now that I think there was a feeling back then where you could just invent yourself. It's been 20 years that everybody has to feel that they have to fit into this thing. It's a business. This isn't what they want this year. They have to look like this band. That's gone on for so long now that I think that the spark has been dulled as to why you do music in the first place. That's not anybody's fault except the creepy bad old businessmen lawyers that we all hate. The kids aren't creative.

It's gotten to a point where I expect bands to come out in business suits and attache cases.

I know some girl punk band and they got so disgusted by that. It's like you meet a rock guitarist and he looks like an accountant and he goes "hi, how can I help you?" It's like no, no, you're supposed to provoke. They never try to provoke anybody anymore. I want to shock with greatness.

You guys put out a CD called Rule.

I would call that a transitional album. That was partly written before we met Bobby Rondinelli and he's plugged into that and then wrote the second half with us. We started touring with him. Now we've got that released in Europe. We just really released it now as far as an official release in Europe. It was released at the beginning of this month. I don't have a record deal in America with it but we're doing this tour with that record released in Europe now. I'll tell you when I get back how it's doing as far as sales. We're expecting this tour to be even more than the great first tour that we had over there. I think there's a buzz happening. We're getting great reviews coming back in. I've got a really good publicist now and he's getting reviews from all over Europe that are great. People seem to get exactly what our influences are and what we're doing and they seem to like the songs and love John's voice. I'm really excited.

When I listen to a CD for the first time, I always go through the CD booklet. I look at the cover and read the lyrics. One thing that I noticed was the songs were well written and they tell stories. A lot of bands these days write provocative lyrics but unfortunately it's difficult sometimes to make out or distinguish the words.

The way they sing? That's the thing I miss the most in the new heavy rock. I grew up in a period when the singers had good voices and I'm into the lyrics. Some of these bands are purported to be really into their lyrics and I used to be able to decipher James Brown's lyrics. It's not like my parents where it has to be perfect diction for me to understand something. To listen to five songs and not to be able to hear one lyric. I guess the guy in Pantera was the first guy to sing what I call the monster vocal style. To me personally as a lover of the heaviest thing I can possibly get my hands on, I loved heavy from the minute I could find the heaviest thing. To me, when those guys sing like that, it sounds like a bunch of adolescent boys who think girls have cooties. It seems like okay let's just turn off all the girls first. Maybe girls like that kind of stuff but to me it sounds really adolescent. Like ooh, scary. Ooh I'm scared. It's just doofy to me. I'm probably going to turn off a lot of young people saying that but I like a great singer. Glenn Hughes is a great singer. Robert Plant, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Paul Rodgers, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, James Brown, Al Green. Great, great singers.

I love David Coverdale from Deep Purple and Whitesnake.

Glenn Hughes you know from Deep Purple too. I would say he's one of my favorite singers and one of my favorite bass players.

Not to mention I have the Black Sabbath stuff he played on.

Yeah, I saw him with Black Sabbath. Unfortunately, he didn't have his stuff together that time. He had a very bad drug problem for a while and wasted what would have been his classic great years. It's very sad but he's definitely got all of his skills back now. Unfortunately the industry isn't as open to him as it would have been up until as late as the '80s. He still could have gotten back. Art for art's sake is fine with me. I don't care if I sell a million records as long as you can keep doing it. Performing it for people.

I think one of the saddest things in the music industry is that drugs play such a heavy role in it and destroy people.

Yeah, I know. Coming from somebody who used to be very wild myself, I ache for all the people I work with to be straight and work out and eat well and don't smoke and don't drink. As soon as I got Bobby Rondinelli and John Garner in the band, I just wouldn't stop bothering them to quit smoking. Bobby had this three pack a day habit and I just kept annoying the hell out of him until he finally quit. I feel that it's one of the proudest things that I did for anybody. John the same thing. I'd get them to start losing weight. I want these guys to live for another 30 years. Bobby's biggest days are behind him. He's not playing the Garden anymore with Rainbow but he's a better drummer than he ever was. People need to keep being there and having their music out there.

You guys have been touring Europe. Have you toured the States?

We've done some tours. We toured with Frank Marino from Mahogany Rush. Talk about one of the world's greatest guitar players. That guy is unbelievable. Mahogany Rush was a band from the '70s. Get any of their albums with Frank Marino. It's Hendrixish but it's spectacular. I loved him at the time and he's better than I remember him being.

Out of curiosity, why did you guys name your band The Lizards?

I just blurted it out. It was one of those things without a second thought put to it. Yet years later, I realize that in the '70s when The Sex Pistols and all the punk bands came out, they started to call the classic rock bands "dinosaurs". I think I was subliminally relating to that. All my favorite bands like Pink Floyd, Yes, and Led Zeppelin were still around and the punks were laughing at them and calling them dinosaurs like their time was over and they were getting so antique and ridiculous. As I said, in our video we have a song on our new album called "We Are Dinosaurs" and we are proud. We will eat Johnny Rotten for breakfast and spit him out. We are dinosaurs. Yes, you're right. Dinosaurs are big, powerful, majestic creatures with fabulous skills.

Have you guys toured Japan?

We thought we were going to go to Japan on this tour. The Fudge have been to Japan. Right now we're doing a lot of touring with the Fudge because I started off kind of managing the Fudge and now we're touring with them. Of course Carmine and Vinnie are brothers so they went into a drum battle on stage every night like they did with Bobby too. Bobby was actually a student of Carmine too. The bass player and Carmine were in Vanilla Fudge. Then they went on to Cactus together. Then they went on to Jeff Beck so they've done a lot of stuff together. The rhythm section from Vanilla Fudge was very famous back then up through the '70s and then they sing together in harmony. They're awesome. We were about to make a deal with, and I still probably will, the manager of Blue Oyster Cult and we were hoping that part of the deal was that Bobby was going to be allowed to sub in Blue Oyster Cult but they got real antsy about that so we backed off that idea. We're using some higher profile other guys because I told Bobby he was raising a child. If you're raising a child and you have to go out of town on business and you have a nanny take care of your kid, you want the nanny to be as good a parent as you if you possibly could. He was very jealous when we had to replace him on this tour. He and Vinny know each other so I think it's going to be fine. We're all going to be in one big happy family here.

You found somebody who could fit the mold and not upset Bobby too badly.

We rehearse a lot out here. We all live in the same area so we became very close as friends and very creative. We rehearse a lot together and we're always writing. We've got the next album written and half of one after that written already. We're always working together so you get very close. We all have the same sense of humor and hang out together so it was traumatic at first when we had to get a replacement but Vinny's a great guy too. We're so close to his brother. It was very smooth even though his drum style is very different from Bobby's and yet it's great. We have enough time now to work him in. We're rehearsing every day for about three weeks before we go away so it's going to be totally locked in when we get over there. The difference between the two drummers is interesting. Bobby has a liquid feel and he's a very busy drummer. We encourage him to be almost a lead drummer. He's always doing constant fills and he's flashy with the technique. He's probably one of the greatest double bass players in the world. He's put a book out on double bass drumming and he's probably one of the best in the world at that I would say. Vinny doesn't play double bass. Bobby plays behind the beat like John Bonham where it's kind of coming up from behind and it's pulling back a little bit of the beat. Vinny plays like a James Brown thing where he's really down fast and hard on the one and it's very much like choppy. Bobby is more loose and almost liquid and behind the beat. Vinny doesn't play double bass and he has different fills and a different style. It's thrilling to take the same music which we're all very tight in the harmonies and the riffs and then have a different engine to the thing. It's fun as long as you've been trying to acclimate to it. They're both world class drummers. It's just the style that's different. If one guy wasn't as good, it wouldn't be thrilling. It would be just a pain in the ass. This is kind of a groovy science experiment.

Well, you'll have one sound on CD and another sound live.

I'm not positive it'll be as dramatic as you just said there to an audience. It might. I don't know. He's copying the basic arrangements and some of the main fills that Bobby does but I think just the way it feels playing is different. A little different. It's cool.

Any other comments or thoughts?

I just want to thank you for your interest. We're on a holy mission from God here. We hope to spread the gospel of good music.

The Lizards