At the hotel where Burning Starr are staying there’s anxiety and agony about the interviews we have scheduled to do with Jack Starr, and Todd Michael Hall, as we have the luxury of the camera, but the extra pressure of the sound check before the show in Athens. Jack shows up extremely cool with a beer in his hand and tells us that he’ll be back after they finish soundcheck to talk. Indeed, he is back and the he is firing with all cylinders during the interview talking extensively about everything, the new album, his band, Virgin Steele, even Ritchie Blackmore… Enjoy – and don’t miss the video! Interview: Sakis Nikas, Camera: Yiannis Dolas, Editing/Post Production: OpenFieldTeam

{tcg_youtube|view=YaW3SmtlNFE} Jack, I am sure you know that you have many loyal fans here in Greece. How does it feel to be visiting for the very first time our country?burningstarr02

Jack Starr: It’s a wonderful feeling because I am actually meeting some of them like a few minutes ago somebody came up to me and said “hey, Jack, remember me…?” And I did remember him from 8 years ago when he used to leave messages on YouTube under some of my videos. I’ve been meeting a lot of people that have been really supportive of my music and I must say that I see my fans as my friends. We are just metal brothers really. “Defiance” and “Land of the Dead” marked a return to the epic sound and especially the latter gained rave reviews from press and fans alike. Do you see it as a second productive and inspired period after your artistic success in the 80s?  

Jack Starr: Yes! I wanted to return to the sound of “No Turning Back”, “Blaze of Glory” and “Out of the Darkness”. I came to the realization that I will never be Motley Crue; I will never sell 10 million records. So because of that I may as well make the music that I love and believe in. For me that’s Epic Metal. You are also working on a new album that if we had to make a wild guess, it will be in the same vein as “Land of the Dead”. What can you tell us about it?

Jack Starr: The new album…I make a prediction…it will be the best album I’ve ever made. It’s going to be epic, heavy, incredibly melodic and if I never make another record after this one, it will be OK. This will be my “Heaven and Hell”, my “Stairway To Heaven”…it’s going to be what I always wanted to do for a long time. That’s a big statement. Have you written any new songs?

Jack Starr: Well, one song we have is called “We Are One” and this is a song about heavy metal and the brotherhood that exists between people that love that kind of music. It’s a great song and it’s a song that inspires people to raise their fist and make a lot of noise and just feel the spirit of metal. Most of your albums have been reissued, including my all-time favorite record of yours, “Out Of The Darkness”. That was a major step in your career as you had just left Virgin Steele. What do you remember from that period and what do you remember from the late singer Rhett Forrester?

Jack Starr: Rhett was an amazing person. I don’t know if you have seen the movie “Almost Famous”…in this movie there is this character that they refer to as the Blond God. It’s supposed to be maybe Robert Plant or maybe Roger Daltrey or maybe Rhett Forrester. Rhett was larger than life. He would walk into a room and everything would stop. Whenever Rhett was somewhere there were always beautiful women with him that simply wanted to be near him! He lived in my house one summer and it was crazy…I thought that I knew something about being a rock n’ roll musician…Rhett taught me a lot. He was like Elvis Presley! I know that this is crazy but Rhett was from the southern part of America like Elvis who was from Memphis. Rhett also could sing like Elvis and he had that same effect on people…not just women but everybody! So, one day we went to this club and I said “Rhett, we have to go to the recording studio tomorrow at 10 o’clock in the morning”. He just looked at me and he said “Jack, don’t worry! Tomorrow everything will be done in one take! You don’t have to worry about spending money…everyone will be happy”! I said “OK…are you sure?” and he said “Yeah”!”. Two hours later he was writing on a napkin at the bar the lyrics of “Concrete Warrior”! Then I asked him “what about “False Messiah”?” And he says “I will sing spontaneously whatever comes to my mind tomorrow…I will improvise”. The next day after drinking until 4 in the morning and having with him two beautiful girls, he woke up at 9:00…the first thing he did was to drink beer and said “OK, let’s go to the studio. I am ready”. The engineer in the studio asked Rhett if he wanted to warm up or if he wanted to do a couple of takes…Rhett returns and says to him: “Just turn the machine on, man, and hit the record button and whatever comes out, it will be good”. And it was incredible. I felt strange and said” Rhett, sure you don’t wanna do another take?”…Rhett said: “No, it’s perfect!”. And it was perfect…then for “False Messiah”, we brought in a church choir and it was a little bit crazy…you know…heavy metal musicians with long hair and the church choir! Rhett comes up to this big, black lady, puts his arms around her and said: “All we are gonna do today is create beautiful music”. The late Gary Driscoll is also featured on the record. Given that you are a fan of Rainbow, did you ask him to tell you stories from his past with Ritchie Blackmore in the mid-70s?

Jack Starr: Yes…he told me some interesting stories. One of them was about a recording that they were doing in France and Ritchie felt that the studio had bad vibrations…maybe something evil…and Ritchie came to the studio with a big cross and he said to the others to put it on the wall. He was very superstitious. Then, I met Ritchie many times because we lived in the same town and it was a little bit crazy. How was Ritchie as a person?

Jack Starr: I have to be honest…I love Ritchie’s playing; great guitar player! But he is not a nice person. I am not gonna lie…in my whole life I’ve never met anyone who is more…OK, this girl who is from a magazine in America called Hit Parader…we are in this little club and she says to me: “Jack, there’s Ritchie Blackmore there. Do you want me to introduce you?”. I said “Yeah, I love to meet him…I like his playing a lot”. I go over and say “Hi Ritchie, I am fan of yours and I love your guitar playing”. He looks at me, puts his head down and walks away. (Ritchie is) the only person in my life that refused to shake my hand. Crazy story but maybe he is changed now. Maybe he had become a nice guy. Many fans, including myself, were surprised to see you working again with David DeFeis for “No Turning Back” given the fact that you had an open court case with him for the Virgin Steele name. How did this collaboration come up?

Jack Starr: Actually it was two and a half years later so it wasn’t that close but…we live in a small place…Long Island…maybe two million people in an area near New York City. I would see David and he would see me. I would go and see his band with the new guitar player, Eddie (Pursino)…and he would see my band. There was no reason for us to be antagonistic. I felt when I was making the “No Turning Back” album, David would be a good asset because he’s got great ideas for epic metal and he plays great keyboards. So I said: “David, I’d love to have you…help out in the album”. He was OK with it…he was happy with it. The result was a great album. Was there ever any thought of rejoining Virgin Steele back in 1986?

Jack Starr: Well, when we broke up it was bitter. It wasn’t a happy divorce. What happened is…there was a lawsuit and David found a new manager; a guy from Canada whom I contacted in the first place because I wanted him to manage Virgin Steele. He was the manager of a Canadian band called Saga. So, I sent him Virgin Steele music and he wrote me back saying: “I love this…my wife even loves it”. Six months later we weren’t getting along. I felt there was too much keyboard in Virgin Steele and I really wanted Virgin Steele to be more guitar-oriented; maybe more like Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin etc. So, we were always clashing. Also stylistically, David interprets music different than I do. David is more of a trained musician. He has studied music theory and I haven’t done so…I play from the ear and improvise…we see music differently. I am really old school. David is a little bit old school but I come from the place of musicians like Jimmy Page, Gary Moore, Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore, Jeff Beck…none of these people can read or write music. I cannot write music…George Harrison from the Beatles could not write music. David could read music and all in all, we were coming from a different place. It would have been great if we could collaborate more because I believe that the best sounds come from bands with members that are not alike. Like in the case of Led Zeppelin. You had a singer who likes folk music…likes Celtic music and the blues. You have a bass player who likes classical music. Their drummer loves Motown. All together they create something fantastic. Same thing with The Who. The beauty of Virgin Steele in the first two and a half albums cause I played on two albums and one 4-song EP…the beauty was in its dissimilarity…the fact that we were not alike.  
 burningstarr04 Back in 1997 you worked with David on four tracks that were later known as The Sacred Demos. There were some really powerful tracks including in there like “Reign of Fire” and “Hellfire Woman”. What happened and things didn’t work out once again between you two?

Jack Starr: That really was a shame, too. The “Sacred Demos” were great… I played really good on those songs and I am very very happy with what I did. David sang beautifully and it could have been something special. I think that David wants to be in total control and that’s OK because some bands like Manowar…there is one person that’s calling the shots and has a vision that wants to see it implemented. The problem and this is a problem…I have the same feeling like David has. I have a vision for the music and I’d like to see it the way I envisioned it in the beginning. But I think that as people mature they realize that there has to be a compromise. Are you willing to compromise?

Jack Starr: I am…I don’t know if David has reached that point yet and I don’t know if he ever will. If he doesn’t that’s OK, too, because what he is doing is great, it is valid and I do wish him the best. I think that the world needs this kind of music because there are not many people that are doing music like David DeFeis or Jack Starr. So, it’s great…the music of both of us is out there. You were most prolific in the 80s as you were participated in many outside projects like Phantom Lord, Devil Childe and even Smokestack Lightning with David DeFeis. Did you feel the need to express yourself in different musical areas or was just a matter of making a living?

Jack Starr: I did…that’s a good question. I have a lot of musical influences besides heavy metal…the blues is one of them and classical music is one that I enjoy a lot. I even did some projects playing Latin music because I really like Santana. For me it’s great to be able to play many styles of music. You are also known for your love of blues music and you had released a few solo blues albums. You have also a small blues band in the States. What’s the status of blues nowadays and in your opinion what’s the future of that style of music?

Jack Starr: I think what’s gonna happen is as this generation of metal fans that is now in their 40s or 50s…as they grow older, a lot of them might not like to listen always to heavy metal music. Some of them might be interested in other styles like the blues, jazz maybe or whatever. It’s a good thing and I think that there is room for everything. Getting back to Burning Starr, this must be the strongest Burning Starr line-up in your entire career. What do you think and what’s the secret behind the chemistry of the band?

Jack Starr: Honestly the secret is that I’ve grown as an individual and I am finally listening to my mother’s advice…she told me 20 years ago: “Jack, if you want to be successful, make money, have a lot of fans…you have to treat everyone great. And if everyone in your band is making money and everyone is happy and feel that their input is respected and they are respected as talents, you will be able to keep them”. So, now, when I write songs I am very happy with everyone’s input…I am very happy with our bass player, Ned, who is a great bass player. I am very happy with him for writing the songs with me…he could even write all the songs and it would be OK. Ned’s songwriting is great and I am very happy when Rhino is writing for us…Rhino is an awesome drummer…probably one of the 10 best heavy metal drummers. It is phenomenal to have him in the band. Todd is an incredible singer…I was talking with him yesterday and he told me that he would like to write some lyrics for the new album. He kinda looked at me as if I was gonna say “no” but I turned to him and said: “Todd, please write lyrics, please help us come up with great melodies…of course you should write lyrics”. I guess this is how I changed and this is how I managed to keep the same line-up for 4 years now….actually more…5 years. We have already recorded four songs for the new album and they are great. For me the lyrics are very important. I am very proud of all the albums that I’ve done but maybe the lyrics on “Rock The American Way” might be…too much “baby”, “rock”…too much Twisted Sister. I want my lyrics to have an intelligent meaning behind them like for instance the song “Sands of Time”. Time is marching on and it’s important for us to realize that we are part of this structure of time but we are also able to influence events, leave a mark and change the world for the better. I don’t want to sing about “baby”, “girls, girls, girls” like Motley Crue which is OK cause it’s one emotion. But I prefer at this point in my life…maybe, ‘cause I am not young anymore…I prefer to speak about things that are more important. I know that you have kept in touch with Mike Tirelli. Is there any chance of working together again in the future?

Jack Starr: You know…it’s possible because Mike is a great guy…I’ve never been in a band with anyone who is so easy to work with (laughs). He sings great and he doesn’t have an ego and I don’t have an ego…so we could make fun of each other. I’ve been lucky in my career that I’ve had so many amazing singers…Rhett Forrester, Mike Tirelli, Todd Michael Hall and all the others. But if one day Todd decides to leave because it won’t be me getting rid of Todd…a great replacement would be Mike Tirelli. I am sure though that Todd will be with us for many many years. But I think that once we finish this new album…you know…heavy metal is like a ladder…in the last couple of years, I have climbed a little bit higher in this ladder. After the new album is finishes, I am sure we would climb another good part of the ladder. So we’ll see what happens. My last question: In the very early days, Virgin Steele was on the same bill with Metallica at a festival. James Hetfield came to you and told you that “Children of the Storm” was one of his favorite songs. How did it feel?

Jack Starr: Honestly it felt strange (laughs). I know that this is a weird answer but I didn’t think that James Hetfield or Kirk Hammett liked this kind of music. I didn’t think that they appreciated what we were doing. I thought that they only liked thrash music. So, James was with Metallica’s bass player, Cliff Burton, and Cliff said that he also liked the song and that we were on to something good. I said: “Thank you so much, guys”. At the time, they were not…I mean, they were big but not really much bigger than we were. So, if you are watching this, James Hetfield, do a cover of “Children of the Storm” cause I think, guys, you can do an incredible version.