In 1958, in what was to be among his last recordings, Buddy Holly performed a song called TrueLove Ways. It was one of the first rock and roll songs to utilize classical string instruments like violins, violas, and harps. While it is unknown where Holly’s music might have gone had he lived, one thing is certain, those recordings have ever since quietly influenced rock and roll musicians the world over. By the late 60’s, that quiet influence had grown into a full-scale movement, and many classically trained musicians began working in a genre which would soon be called progressive rock. Primarily a UK invention, the music of bands like King Crimson, and The Pretty Things crossed the Atlantic Ocean and opened the American door to these new possibilities.
In 1972, in Chicago, a band named Styx signed a recording contract. The first single from their self-titled first album, Best Things, dipped its toe into the hot 100 on the charts, and announced the arrival of a true American prog-rock band. While the album itself failed to find its way onto the charts, it was a clear harbinger of things to come. They had melded UK styled classical rock music with other distinctly American influences, such as the blues, to create a concept album which would sit comfortably on a college student's record shelf between ELP’s debut album, and The Yes Album. Unlike much of contemporary British prog, Styx music came at you with an unpretentious accessibility readily identifiable with US, and Canadian arena sized audiences. Between 1972, and 1983, the band created well integrated concept albums that together, went platinum eighteen times over. Though time, and personality issues brought about several personnel changes along the way, the band has never lost its popularity with audiences, and are once again touring.
This time out, they are introducing their newest album, their first since 2017’s, The Mission, titled Crash Of The Crown. While they’re excited to get back on the road, how did a band like Styx, well known for their complex, orchestration, and distinctive stacked harmonies create an album during the covid19 pandemic? Keyboard player Lawrence Gowan said, “More than half ofthe record was done before the pandemic hit.
That really surprises me because when you look at the lyrics, there’s no way people are going to think all this wasn’t written over this past year. So many of the songs seem to be commenting on the current situation.” He continued, “The songs are about renewal after a great fall, orsome kind of cataclysmic event, so to speak, and the opportunities, and positive things you can take from that, the things that can suddenly arise after such a disaster.” Despite many of the songs having already been completed, Gowan does,in a funny way, see the band as fortunate for having had to work through the pandemic. He says, “I have a studio here that contains all of my vintage keyboards. I’m like oh my God, I can use all of my vintage keyboards that I’m afraid to move ten feet because they might fall apart, but it all works. I love the song Crash Of The Crown because the very last note you hear is the old wheezing mellotron that I thought would never make it onto a record, but it’s all over this record.”
You would think with a record having incubated for nearly three years, and much of that time spent with the musicians socially distanced, it would be noticeably bifurcated, but it really isn’t. Gowan continued, “I think part of the charm of this record is it bridges the two eras, both before and after the pandemic, and it’s nice that it’s coming out now, after we’ve begun to embrace the after.” Along the way, Styx music has drawn influence from many disparate sources, like Bach, and Led Zeppelin, and vocally their melodies, and harmonies compare quite favorably with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, as well as YES. Continuing, He said, “A lot of these songs refer to renewal. There is a sense of renewal that’s almost like a thread that runs all the way through from The Fight Of Our Lives, all the way to Our Wonderful Lives, and To Those. That’s kind of the central thing.”
So what does the album title, Crash Of The Crown mean? He said, “As far as the crown goes, it’s symbolic of a seismic shift. It’s as if, after having reached the top of this mountain, the top had been lopped off, and what you’re left with is more like a volcano that’s spilling forth with all the terror, and potential triumphs that can come along with it.” With a laugh, he said, “I would encourage people not to take a literal interpretation. That’s probably not the best course when you’re listening to these songs.”
One of the more noticeable aspects of this record is how directly the band draws from those who have influenced them in the past. Along the way, you can hear bits and pieces of many great bands who were either their contemporaries, or preceded them. For example, at the end of the song Crash Of The Crown, there is a moment when Gowan sounds eerily similar to Freddie Mercury.
He said, ”Fifty years gone, I think it’s fair game at this point to want to embrace those things and make use of those tools in much the same way as younger bands now sound like they came out in the 70’s.” As for sounding like Freddie, he said, “I was goofing around, and I said I would have loved to have heard Freddy sing this. I tried to do it a little bit in that style, and right away, Tommy (guitarist, and singer Tommy Shaw) said yes, do it exactly like that because it really fits.” As for the band and its audience, he said, “It’s also fun.”
By the time Lawrance Gowan came to Styx in 1999, the band had been together off and on since 1972. Disagreements happen in bands, and sometimes it's for the best for members to move on to other projects. The perfect example is the breakup of The Beatles. Gowan said, “Before I came to Styx, I had a long solo career. I had just finished my greatest hits recording (Healing Waters) when I opened for Styx at the New Montreal Forum. On that tour, their promoter decided he wanted me to do the show in Montreal, and also Quebec City (Gowan livesin Toronto).
The problem was, I had just come back from England where I had toured entirely solo, no band, just me on my piano. I said I don’t even have my band together right now. He said that's how I want you to do it. I want you to do the arena just on piano. So I said OK.” Continuing with this story, Gowan said, “When Styx manager heard this, he decided to come to the show from Atlanta. He thought this is going to be a lamb to the slaughter, one guy on piano?Tommy heard some of my stuff when he’d come to Canada, but the other guys hadn’t.
Then they heard the audience singing along with all these songs they weren’t familiar with, and they thought it had gone over extremely well.” Later, Tommy said, in the whole history of Styx, no opening act had ever had an encore, and he said we’re definitely going to work together again.
That was in 1997. I went back to England and worked there, then I did another tour across Canada, so when they called me early in 1999, I assumed, oh, you guys are coming back out
on tour and you want me to open shows for you. Then he shocked me on the call, he said yeah, I want you to come on tour with us, and (he asked) would you be part of the band? I said yeah, but give me an hour because I want to go listen to your records, so I know I can hit the notes on the songs you want me to sing.”
As for touring with Crash Of The Crown, Gowan said, “I’m always amazed at how optimistic Styx lyrics are, even in the darkest of songs. That’s what saves them from going too far down the rabbit hole of self-indulgence. It keeps it relatable to the every day listener. You can see yourself in the lyrics on Crash Of The Crown. You can see yourself in the narrative that runs through it. I hope people enjoy listening to them as much as we enjoyed making them.”
VISIT - www.styxworld.com
John Elway, The President of Football Operations of the Denver Bronco's, has had a nearly forty-year career in the NFL. From the controversial way he came into the league in 1983, to winning Superbowl's as both a player and an executive, Elway has excelled at every position. As a player, he led the Bronco's to five Superbowl's, and won two championships. Twelve years after earning the 1987 NFL MVP, he also won the Superbowl 33, MVP award by leading the Bronco's to a smashing victory over the Atlanta Falcons. After he retired as a player, the 1992 Walter Payton Man Of The Year Award winner, began a new career as a football executive. First, he turned his attention to the Arena Football League where, as the Colorado Crush's General Manager, he won Arenabowl 19, in 2005. Soon after, he joined the Denver Bronco's front office, where he masterminded the signing of QB Peyton Manning, and as general manager, and executive vice president of football operations, won Super Bowl 50. Among his other business interests, he is a restaurateur, and most recently, a winemaker.
Rock On: Hi John, thanks for agreeing to speak with Rock On Magazine. You were already a successful businessman by the time you helped start the Colorado Crush, but did that experience help you as you transitioned to NFL executive?
Elway: Absolutely. I purposefully chose to run the Crush in preparation to run the Broncos' one day if the opportunity presented itself. I didn’t know for certain that I would have that opportunity, but I wanted to be prepared if it did. I looked at it as my MBA on the business side of football.
Rock On: Recently, you stepped back from your role as Bronco's GM?
Elway: I think the timing was good. Like many business organizations, there comes a time when people need to hear a new voice, or get a fresh perspective. I didn’t go into my role with the Broncos’ thinking I was going to be the GM, but after a while, I thought I had a lot to add to that position, and could offer great perspective. Similarly, I realized that the timing may be good for some new ideas, so I went back to my role as President of Football Operations.
Rock On: What does the President of Football Operations do?
Elway: There are two sides to an NFL team; the football side, and the business side.
The business side oversees the stadium, licensing, and sponsorship. I oversee all football-related decisions, which are GM, the scouting department, and coaches.
Rock On: During the 1983 draft, you expressed a strong desire to play almost anywhere else, other than for the Colts. At that time, you had the opportunity to play for the Yankees in Major League Baseball, and told the Colts you would play baseball before going there. Would you have chosen baseball?
Elway: It’s been well documented that it wasn’t the Colts, specifically that I had an issue with; it was just the Coach (Frank Kush) at the time, wasn’t a particularly good fit for me. The way the NFL worked back then, was once you got drafted by a team, it was very difficult to get out of the situation. There was no free agency. I loved football and it was my first choice, but yes, I would have stuck to my guns and played for the Yankees. I’m glad it worked out the way it did though.
Rock On: I think millions of fans would agree. Would you tell us about your relationship with (Bronco's deceased Owner) Pat Bowlen, and what he meant to you, both on and off the field?
Elway: I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world to have joined the Broncos when I did. Mr. Bowlen bought the team in my second year at the Broncos (as their quarterback), and we had an amazing ride together. He was as competitive as I was, and wanted to win as badly. He took the necessary steps to put the Broncos in a position to have the success that we did. He was a great ambassador for the NFL and an even better man. I have the highest regard
for Mr. Bowlen.
Rock On; When I was researching for this article, I went to Youtube and put Elway into the search engine, and the very first thing to pop up was “The Elway Helicopter.” It struck me as curious, that of everything you’ve accomplished, both inside and outside the NFL, the most searched thing about you is a six-yard run against Green Bay in Superbowl 32. The NFL channel called it the 8th greatest play in Superbowl history. It's been suggested you didn’t like the play call, and were determined to run, pretty much, right away?
Elway: Well, after I saw the defense, I had my doubts if it was going to work. I knew we needed that first down and was going to possibly have to improvise. At that stage in my career, running wasn’t high on my list of choices, but that turned out to be the best option. Who knew that a run would be one of the defining highlights of my career?!
Rock On: Other than winning the Superbowls, what is one of your favorite game memories?
Elway: The (1986 AFC Championship Game) drive in Cleveland was a monumental game in my career. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was one of those moments that would come to define my career.
Rock On: Starting a winery does seem like a logical, and solid next step for a successful restaurateur. Would you explain how 7Cellars began?
Elway: I had my Elway Steakhouses for nearly 10 years by the time we started our wine business. I began appreciating wine more with my meals. My longtime agent and partner, Jeff Sperbeck, and I believed that a quality wine was a natural extension to complement my restaurants.
Rock On: How involved in the winemaking process are you? For example, do you pick grapes?
Elway: We have an amazing wine making team, led by Rob Mondavi Jr. and Mari Coyle. They understand my tasting profile, and they create beautiful wines around it. I taste all the wines during the process, and before they’re completed. It has my name on it, so I want it to be great.
Rock On: Which one is your favorite?
Elway: I really do like them all, but the one that I drink most often is the Elway Reserve Cab. It’s a big, tannic, steakhouse cab that pairs well with steak, particularly ones from my restaurants.
Rock On: Where can people find your wine?
Elway: The easiest way is to go online to www.7cellars.com, but we carry the wine in many liquor stores, wine shops, and restaurant locations throughout Reno, Incline, and Lake Tahoe area. There is a locator on the website.
Rock On: Thanks for speaking with us, it's been a blast!
For more info on Elway’s Reserve Collection
Please Visit www.7cellars.com
Brent Smith and Zach Myers planned to record a double album in late 2019 for their band Smith & Myers.
The album features 10 “reimaginings” and 10 originals. They hit the studio hard in February 2020. Seventeen songs into the
record, they started to feel the seriousness of COVID-19 revealing itself.
Myers said it was easy for the news to sound like fear-mongering in the beginning, but as the gravity of the situation fell on
them, they kept their poise. Their unity and music kept them together. He calls the bond they share the best part of their
bands. “We had each other,” Zach Myers, guitarist of Smith & Myers and Shinedown, said in an interview with Rock On
“That’s always been our thing within our bands - We keep each other sane no matter what’s going on.”
Once they saw the shutdown happening, Brent Smith, vocalist of Smith & Myers and Shinedown, said the most important thing was getting Zach back to his family, then he began sheltering in place. “The reality for me was the first day waking up and looking at the ideology of ‘We aren’t asking you to go to war. We are asking you to stay at home with your family and binge watch Netflix ’. ”
Smith said he tried to take that advice. On the first Saturday he was 30 minutes into a binge when he got restless, and instead started to research the virus. He wanted to first solidify the definitions of pandemic, social distancing, coronavirus and COVID-19. “Long story short, that’s how we partnered with Direct Relief,” Smith said. Direct Relief, headquartered in Santa Barbara, California, is a bipartisan non-profit who's stated mission is to "improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergency situations by mobilizing and providing essential medical resources needed for their care." Shinedown wrote “Atlas Falls”, a passionate song Smith said they “pulled out of obscurity.” They released a poignant lyric video on Youtube highlighting the efforts of first responders and medical professionals and created a t-shirt as a fundraiser for Direct Relief. Smith said they have since raised around $520,000 from the “Shinedown nation” for COVID-19 relief. “We did not stick our heads in the sand,” Smith said. “This is not the first time in human history a pandemic has occurred. This is not the first virus in human history. We tried to lead from the front.”
Smith said Direct Relief will always have a presence at Shinedown shows going forward. Despite the pandemic, Smith & Myers were elated to have played 26 shows at drive-ins and a short tour with strict protocol and required approval from the mayor, chief of police, county officials, along with District Board of Health. No matter the hurtles, precautions and changes needed, they needed to perform. Myers says his pre-show pray always ends with “Please let me never take this for granted”.
“It’s not the way you want to do a show, but at least you get to play,” Myers said. “It was a different vibe, but it was fun. Whether some of us admit it or not, I think we needed a break from the ‘Big Machine’. Maybe the world needed a break from us, but we didn’t know it was going to be this.” Smith, Myers and Shinedown’s successes are paramount. Along the road of creating six studio albums, they’ve sold over ten million copies worldwide, and have the most number one singles on the Billboard Mainstream Rock charts. One part of that success was a wonderful cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man”. Since, Myers has known there is a special power in Smith’s vocals and a single guitar. Smith & Myers is the skeletal version of Shinedown, and it’s powerful in a different way.
Both Smith and Myers are advocates for the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention and stressed the importance of talking about mental health. Smith said he’s forged through hard times, including 2020, by communicating with his fellow band members “We take mental health very seriously,” Smith said. “We [as a band]genuinely love each other and treat it like a marriage. Just like you’re not supposed to go to bed angry, you’re not supposed to go on stage angry.” Smith brought up the Friedrich Nietzsche quote - “Without music life would be a mistake” “A song can be whatever you need it to be,” Smith said. “You have to have a light to go towards.”
Smith is both optimistic about the future and quick to get into action. “It might not be the timeline everybody wants, but we have to work together to survive together,” Smith said. “We only have one boss, it just happens to be everyone in the audience. And what we are doing is fundamentally figuring out how we are going to return to the stage safely for our fans.”
Smith believes “The Media” has a heart and most
outlets actually want to report the truth, but there are many news formats that become performance art and revel in the negativity for viewership. He feels it can be dangerous during a pandemic. “In a pandemic situation like this, how do you return to shows?” Smith posits. “You need your first day with no death in your country. And then your first week. Then your first month. Then you need the contagion rate to go down.”
With the same tenacity he exudes onstage and in-studio, Smith is driven to end this pandemic and his research and passion are apparent. “If the data isn’t there and we can’t do it safely, we won’t do it,” Smith said. “Ultimately it’s going to come down to vaccination.” 2020 was a turbulent year, but Smith and Myers are optimistic about the future. Fans can expect Smith & Myers concerts, Shinedown concerts if the virus is contained, a new Shinedown album, and a film that accompanies their Attention Attention album.
Candlebox learns from experience and builds on its successes.
In the life of a rock band, ups and downs are inevitable. High expectations are often placed on a band when it scores a monster hit with its debut. And if subsequent albums don’t measure up, both the business and the listening public can lose interest. Often, that spells the end for a group. But Candlebox endured those peaks and valleys, took some time off to grow up and improve, and returned stronger than ever. With a healthy second wind, the Seattle group has been on a creative winning streak that’s entering its 15th year. Candlebox is currently touring in support of Wolves, its sixth album of new material.
Candlebox came out of the Pacific Northwest in the early 1990s, a time when grunge rock was in its ascendancy. Bands like Green River and Alice in Chains were beginning to gain a foothold outside the region, and Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden and others wouldn’t be far behind. But Candlebox would stand somewhat apart from their Northwest compatriots; their sound wasn’t as deeply rooted in the then-trendy grunge style.
“We were younger than the guys in Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden,” says Candlebox lead singer and founding member Kevin Martin. “We didn't grow up in that [musical] community.” He says that from the band’s start, Candlebox drew more influence from blues-based rock ‘n’ roll of groups like The Who, Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin.
But Martin and his bandmates weren’t isolated from alternative rock. He recalls his older sister turning him on to bands like The Clash and Blondie when he was all of six years old. “I grew up in San Antonio,” he says. “There was a great punk movement going on there from 1978 all the way to about ‘86.” When his family moved to Seattle in the mid ‘80s, Martin brought that background with him.
And he was surprised by what he found. He says that the Seattle scene of that time “was so different. It was more inspired by the tuned-down, Black Sabbath dark side of rock ‘n’ roll.” When he and three other musicians formed Candlebox in 1990, they followed a path that was informed by punk but with a firm foundation in the melodic side of things. “We didn’t really connect with Seattle early on,” he admits.
Candlebox self-financed the recording of an EP, The Red Demo Tape.
“It cost us five grand,” Martin recalls. And be believes that the comparatively raw recording is a true document of the band’s sound at that point. “We were firing on all cylinders then,” he says. In the space of a 12-hour “lock-in” session, the band cut eight songs, including vocal overdubs and mixing. “Two of the songs didn’t even have finished lyrics,” he notes. He completed the lyrics during that session.
Things took off quickly for Candlebox when the band was signed by Maverick Records, a brand-new label co-founded by Madonna. “We were the first band they signed,” Martin says. It was a successful alliance. “They got lucky with us, and we with them,” Martin observes. The runaway success of Candlebox’s self-titled debut album in 1993 paved the way for Maverick to sign other up-and-coming artists like Alanis Morissette and The Deftones.
And Maverick took a hands-off approach to the music, allowing Candlebox to make music the way they wanted to. The 4X Platinum-selling album spawned two hit singles, “You” and “Far Behind.” Music videos for those tracks plus “Change” were popular on MTV as well. Martin says that he was thrilled at the band’s success, but admits that he saw it coming. “We knew that if the songs were given the chance and there was an opportunity for people to hear them, they would take us where we wanted to go: to have a career and be a touring band.”
Winter 1993 represented a turning point for Candlebox. “We had already sold 250,000 records,” Martin recalls.
“We came back to Seattle and sold out three nights at the Paramount.” With the creative winds at their backs – and three million copies of the debut sold – the band returned to the studio in 1995 to record a follow-up album. Released in October 1995, Lucy was a comparative commercial disappointment.
The album explored different styles than its predecessor, and fans of the early hit singles weren’t as impressed. “By going the direction we did,” Martin allows, “we alienated a lot of the people who loved us for ‘Far Behind.’” But success is relative: Lucy would eventually go Platinum. “It only sold a million records,” Martin says with a chuckle.
In the wake of the second album’s modest showing, Maverick did what record companies often do: they assigned a producer to work with the band, one with a proven track record of delivering hits.
In this case it was Ron Nevison, best known for his work with both hard rockers (Michael Schenker, Ozzy Osbourne) and mainstream pop acts like Chicago. “We wanted Jeff Lynne or Roger Waters,” Martin says.
Martin acknowledges Nevison’s talents and skill, but in retrospect thinks his approach wasn’t right for Candlebox. “He had a history of taking rock bands and crossing them over into the pop world,” he says. “We were just not interested in that, so it was a bit of a battle.” The resulting album, Happy Pills, repeated a pattern, selling fewer copies than the record before it.
Maverick was going through changes at the top, and the members of Candlebox weren’t fans of the new management. “We broke up the band to get out of the contract,” Martin says. A key-man clause in the group’s contract meant that Martin was forced to remain with the label; he would produce demos under duress. “I was writing songs that I knew they wouldn't accept,” he says with a laugh. In 2002 he finally gained his freedom from Maverick; the label ceased operations a few years thereafter.
By 2006, the Maverick catalog was owned by Warner Brothers Records. When that label decided to compile a Candlebox best-of, the band members were inspired to reunite. “We got in touch and said, ‘Let’s go back on the road and support The Best of Candlebox and maybe make a new record,’” Martin recalls. They did just that, and 2008’s Into the Sun represented a return to form, a new beginning for the group.
Martin ascribes some of that record’s creative success to the time the members spent away from the group. “We had become better songwriters and better friends, getting to know each other,” he says. The creative streak has continued unabated since then. As solid as Candlebox’s early releases are, Into the Sun and 2012’s Love Stories & Other Musings showcase a band that sounds more comfortable in its collective skin.
Disappearing in Airports would follow in 2016. Candlebox’s most recent – and quite possibly best-ever – album, Wolves, was released in September 2021.
Working with producer Dean Dichoso, the band adopted a live-in-the-studio approach that effectively captures the power, energy and passion of the band. “It feels the aggression, it feels the sadness, it feels the tension,” Martin says, explaining that the group took its time to write and refine the songs before going into the studio.
Future plans call for more touring in support of Wolves, and then sessions for a follow-up record to commence in late ‘22. And next year will mark the 30th anniversary of Candlebox’s smash debut. “We’ll probably do something special for that,” Martin teases. “Making records is fun, but it's really about getting out there and playing those songs.”
And with the 1990s receding into the distant past, whatever tenuous connections Candlebox might have had with the grunge movement are largely forgotten now: the band is measured on its own terms. And Martin says that opposed to groups that are built around one prominent member, his band has a different character. “I think people love us because of the whole,” he suggests. “They don’t know us as individuals. The majority of people know and love us because of the songs. That's why we're still here. And we still write some pretty great music.”
Candlebox will be appearing at Harrahs South Shore Showroom
in Stateline, NV - April 2,2022