An Interview with
Guitarist of Raiding The Rock Vault, DC4 & Bang Tango
and also a former DIO member that took place
on Wednesday 13th September, 2017.
Interviewed by Glenn Milligan.
Glenn: Afternoon Rowan, how are you doing? It's Glenn from Metalliville.
Rowan: Hi Glenn, how are you?
Glenn: I'm good mate. The last time I saw you was at Raiding The Rock Vault on 13th June and it was Howard's Birthday.
Rowan: Right! That's right.
Glenn: It was a good show that.
Rowan: Yeah it's quite a lot of fun, the Rock Vault. I'm going there tonight actually. I'm going to do a week on Howard's side. I'm not sure who's on the other side but I think it might be Dave Amato.
Glenn: Of course, I was talking to Howard last week and he was saying that Dave was down at the Rock Vault right now for a session.
Rowan: Jason (Boyleston) had to stay in L.A. this coming week. Neither of them could do it so Howard asked me if I could step in and do his side this week which is good.
Glenn: Yeah. You're originally from Cambridge aren't you?
Rowan: Yes. Originally from Bedford but moved to Cambridge when I was about 12.
Glenn: Do you miss much about being in the UK or that area in particular?
Rowan: Nothing I can say in particular really but I missed it at an early age. I still look at it as home. The Englishness about it. You've been to America. It's a very different place. It's a great country of course but it's quite different. I couldn't say one thing. I couldn't say it's the food – it's just different isn't it?
Rowan: I look at it like I've got two homes.
Glenn: Yeah! I always say that it's like my second home. Fort Myers is like my second home and Hollywood and Las Vegas are like my 3rd and 4th homes. That's how I look at it because I've been coming to the USA since 2002. It just becomes part of you so I totally get that.
Rowan: What's your favourite place then?
Glenn: It's weird that you ask that because I like different parts for different reasons. I mean, L.A. Is great but it works at a million miles per hour and there's so much going off all the time. It's such a strange place with homeless people and this and that. It's like night and day. Vegas is a bit like that but the actual Vegas bit it seems way smaller than what they make out.
Rowan: It is.
Glenn: It's just like one street that goes to a right angle (the Las Vegas Strip/Blvd). Then there's all your extra bits outside of it.
Rowan: That's right yes. The strip part is pretty small. Only a couple of miles across. It is a quite small town Vegas when you think of it, because it's so famous.
Glenn: I know. It's an amazing place but like Phil Varone said, “It's like a sub-culture that's got no culture”. It's all made up. You actually have to go outside of it to actually see the real Vegas where the people live. It's very strange and very surreal. It's like two planets almost.
Rowan: Yeah. It is. I mean, outside of Vegas in the suburbs it's really nice. It's normal. It could be anywhere.
Glenn: I totally agree. You just got the mountains to remind you.
Rowan: Oh yeah.
Glenn: That's just amazing that scenery.
Rowan: It's amazing yeah. If you drive about an hour north of Vegas you get to a little town called Mesquite. It's a little casino town. The mountains up there when you drive up there are amazing. It's really gorgeous.
Glenn: I guess you like to get away from all the usual hustle and bustle when you are there? You like to see other parts?
Rowan: Well when I first came to L.A. Larry Morand introduced me to going out and hiking in the Hollywood Hills. I really love that about the West Coast – hanging out there in the mountains.
Glenn: Yeah it's nice. That makes a lot of sense. I live out in the country and it's always good to get out of the city types of areas – the busy part and see the reality of it and relax away from it all. I understand that completely what you are saying.
Rowan: Yeah! I like to get out there. I need to get out.
Glenn: Previous to me seeing you at the Rock Vault, it was in January. You were playing the Randy Rhoads Remembered concert at The Yost Theatre, Santa Ana. It was a really long show.
Rowan: That was a good one. A good gig.
Glenn: Yeah. It was.
Rowan: Quite a few people. It was a good vibe.
Glenn: It was such a long show but what stood out to you from that show?
Rowan: My favourites to see as I remember was Richie Faulkner from Judas Priest. That was the first night I met him actually. He played brilliant. A really brilliant player. It was a fun show. Hopefully Brian (Tichy) will do that one again.
Glenn: This is actually cool to talk to someone with a similar accent as me when I phone Las Vegas. It's cool. How many times have you done the Randy Rhoads tribute?
Rowan: That was the third time I did it.
Glenn: I know you're a member of DC4 and I've got their last couple of albums – the Electric Ministry and the Explode albums which are both great. When can you see you guys doing more DC4 stuff or is that a case of as and when as in when things come up?
Rowan: Oh yeah. Pretty much because Jeff works a lot. He lives in Vegas now and he works a lot there. He's also still in Armoured Saint. Obviously, when those guys tour, that's really good for him. They play in Europe and they play in the States. Obviously there's a lot of big festival stuff he can do with them. I'm busy, Shaun's busy so we've got to get together when we can.
Jeff has basically written an album and recorded it. I've heard the stuff and I'm going to be getting together with him in the next couple of weeks to put my guitar solos on it and various other guitar parts. That record is going to be mixed and mastered pretty soon – in the next couple of months.
We've got a show coming up in about two weeks or so. Just a one off show not too far from here. We don't do a lot of stuff – maybe when the next record comes out we can get some opening stuff or something like that. We're all good friends. We love hanging out and playing. It's always good fun.
Glenn: Yeah. I've hung out with Matt. We went to dinner at the Rainbow a couple of years ago and he gave me a copy of the Electric Ministry album. Great album. He gave me a ride home in his truck. A few years previous I was at the Cat Club that Happenin' Harry used to put on – his jam night and I got chatting away with Jeff as well. Great guys. You are the missing jigsaw piece now because I have interviewed you at last. I did an email Q'N'A with Shaun a couple of years ago. It's cool that I've managed to chat with you all about things.
Rowan: Yeah that's cool.
Glenn: Completely. You got your break with DIO at 17. That must have been incredible at such a young age. What went through your head when you got that gig?
Rowan: I was just happy. I couldn't believe it. It's like winning the lottery. It's like a fairy story.
Glenn: If you could go back in time to the DIO days, say one particular instance of those times, what time would it be and what would it have to be and why?
Rowan: I couldn't say any particular time. I was very young then and certain things you'd probably do a little differently but all in all it was a great experience. I loved recording. That was my favourite time – being in the studio. Of course, what was real nice was hanging out and meeting people in L.A. like the Rhinobucket guys. You know the Rhino Bucket guys?
Glenn: Yeah great guys.
Rowan: I used to hang out at their house. Jimmy Bain would take me to the Rainbow and we'd hang out at his house. My room mate was Eric Gamons from Ferrari. We would do stuff and there was always a big party going on at that apartment. It was a brilliant time. A brilliant time for that sort of stuff.
Glenn: Can you see yourself doing any UK shows with anyone? Sir Harry Cowell was telling me that he was planning some shows in the UK and I wondered if you were going to be part of that or if it would be DC4 or Bang Tango that would be coming over or whoever else?
Rowan: Bang Tango just came over about a year ago for Hard Rock Hell but that's it. We were supposed to do some other shows but that fell through. I hope so though. I'm sure I will sooner or later yes.
Glenn: It would be nice.
Rowan: Harry wants to put the Rock Vault on the road so that will be really good. Hopefully someone will bring me over soon.
Glenn: Excellent. That's cool. What else do you like to do pm your days off when you're not at the Rock Vault and when your back in L.A.?
Rowan: I come back down here and try and enjoy myself a bit. Unless I've got something to do like recording or writing. I love to write and record my own stuff. Hopefully I'll turn that into something before too long. I like to work on that. The other night I had a jam with Bjorn Englen. Do you know Bjorn?
Glenn: Yeah he's one of my buddies. I've known him a few years. He's a great guy.
Rowan: We've had a couple of jams. Yesterday I was actually bought a speaker cabinet. I was tinkering with that. I was having some fun with that. Nothing terribly exciting (Laughs)
Glenn: Maybe when you get a few things together you could get in touch with Serafino at Frontiers Records and see if he is up for something. Is it instrumental stuff or is it actual songs with lyrics?
Rowan: Well what I write well I think is guitar riffs. I don't write lyrics well. I've tried a load of times but they weren't very good. If I'm in a group then its good to arrange stuff. I get ideas about arranging music but really what I think I do half-decent is guitar riffs.
Glenn: It's what you are good at and you've proved that anyway.
Rowan: I've been lucky enough. Very lucky. I'm still enjoying it.
Glenn: You even worked with Oni (Logan) which is cool. He's such a great guy.
Rowan: Oh yeah. I love Oni. He's a great friend and super talented guy. I love his singing. I actually saw him about four days ago. I was playing this gig with Bang Tango in Minnesota. We were on at 2pm. They had Warrant and Skid Row. Oni was on with this project called Scrap Metal. That was good. I in good touch with Oni. He's a close friend.
Glenn: Yeah. I'm looking forward to seeing him in Lynch Mob again in November. I saw him last year.
Rowan: They are coming to the UK?
Glenn: Yeah. They are coming to Sheffield which is great. I've known Oni a few years. How did you first meet Oni?
Rowan: Wendy Dio managed a group called 'Ferrari' with Marc Ferrari and Oni was the singer. Marc discovered Oni and brought him out from Florida and had him in his group Ferrari. Oni left a couple of years after to join George. George came into the Ferrari dressing room and uttered the famous line, “Hey Oni, do you want to be in a band called Ferrari or drive one?” (We laugh)
Glenn: That's hilarious. I'll have to bring that up when I see him at the Corporation, Sheffield on 11th November.
Rowan: Oni was looking to reach out musically because the Ferrari stuff was a much more commercial Keel sound. A really good band. Really good songs but Oni wanted to reach out a little bit and he could do it with George. And he wanted a Ferrari! (More Laughter)
Glenn: You can't make that up can you?
Rowan: No you can't. That's right.
Glenn: You've played with a lot of people – obviously Rock Vault 5 nights a week. Do you still get 'pinch me' moments and think, 'How the hell did I end up here?'
Rowan: Yeah! I do. I just feel quite fortunate and think, 'What's all this stuff about then?' I try and enjoy it.
Glenn: You play white double-neck in 'Hotel California' at Raiding The Rock Vault' and red double neck for 'Stairway to Heaven' – Are those guitars actually owned by you or are they just part of the actually show itself? How does it all work?
Rowan: Most of everything is owned by those who play them with the exception of those double-neck guitars on my side. One's owned by Doug and one's owned by Rock Vault. Everything else – everyone brings their own gear.
Glenn: I bet you must think, 'God, I wish I could take them home instead'. Do you get to take them home now and again or do they stop there?
Rowan: Oh I can take them home if I want.
Glenn: Oh that's good. It would be a pity otherwise wouldn't it?
Glenn: What songs would you say are your current favourites that you play at 'Rock Vault'?
Rowan: The favourite that springs to mind to me is of course 'Stairway To Heaven'. I love playing 'Hotel California'. The reason I like those to play is because the guitar parts are magical parts. They have this atmosphere to them. If the song's played right people get chills. Of course, I love playing a lot of the others but those are my favourites. I could sit most of the evening with them.
Glenn: When it comes to the songs in the show, what would you say are the toughest an hardest solos you had to learn for that and why?
Rowan: The solos are not too difficult – any of them. For instance, at the end of Pat Benatar's 'Heartbreaker' there's a guitar solo there. That's hard work. At the end of Whitesnake (Here I Go Again), the guitar player on my side gets to the front of the stage and shows off for 30 seconds. I have kind of got that down. I know what I'm going to play now but that's like pulling teeth a little bit.
The best solos are when it plays itself like 'Hotel California'. It's so well written. Or there's something when you're jamming and everyone feels the moment and stuff happens! Those are when things really happen easily.
Glenn: Awesome! The thing about it, you are not just feeling them, you are feeling the songs and you can tell that by watching you when you are on stage. You have to do certain poses especially with the double-necks when you put them in the air. It must be as heavy as hell at times and you've got to them perfect because all the eyes are on you. That must be stressful at times although you don't show it.
Rowan: I know what you mean. For instance, the beginning of 'Stairway To Heaven' when it's just the guitar by itself and if you hit a wrong note or something it's like a train-wreck. It's a little bit tricky.
Glenn: Has it happened much that?
Rowan: I've escaped with the skin of my teeth a couple of times. That's about it. There was one train-wreck we had. I came in right where I first came in – they were playing the fanfare in 'Stairway To Heaven'. They were doing it differently and I said to the drummer, “You know, actually it goes like this”, and he said, “Oh wow – that's interesting!” Then word got around and then Blas (Elias) came up to me and said, “Tonight we are going to do it the real way. We'll do it the way you said”. I said, “Oh alright then” and Howard said, “Sure, I'll just follow along”.
Of course we got to that part in the song and it was just a train-wreck. It fell apart. It just went really bad. Howard came up to me afterwards and said, “I'm the Musical Director – leave any changes with me”. I thought, 'Right! That is the last time I open my big mouth'. (We laugh)
Glenn: Did he get his big knife out?
Rowan: Luckily the knife remained sheathed left to find another day.
Glenn: Yeah! He was telling me all about his knife and said that nobody ever seems to argue when I've got my knife by my side.
Rowan: It's amazing they let him on stage with that thing! (We laugh) It's crazy.
Glenn: Oh he's a good guy. He's great. He knows his sh*t!
Rowan: Oh yeah.
Glenn: Here's a question for you: If you could pull out certain songs out of that set and throw other songs in, what would you throw out and put in instead?
Rowan: Well I'm not mad on Pat Benatar. It's a great song don't get me wrong but one thing I'd love to do is play more of Boston's 'More Than A Feeling'. Everyone loves it when we start that and I wish we could play a bit more of that. Do a verse of that! There's so many good songs that you hear and you think, 'Oh it'd be great to do that one'. There's just thousands and thousands of classic songs. We haven't changed the set since I've been in it. But we'd have to change the video and everything.
Glenn: That's the thing about it. I've been thinking that for a bit. Since you must think, 'Oh we'll throw this song in' or 'Let's extend the song' and then it un-syncs all the video and narration. You're stuck aren't you?
Rowan: Yeah, we're kinda stuck.
Glenn: As a guitarist like your good self that can play anything, that must get frustrating at times but it doesn't come across. You don't show it.
Rowan: Yeah. It's fun doing it night after night. No it doesn't get boring because it's always a challenge for me to get it right one of these day. (We laugh)
Glenn: And not be stabbed in the back by Howard's knife?
Rowan: Yeah! That's it! Yeah! Getting the songs right or dodging knives in the back! Exactly. (More laughter ensues)
Glenn: That's awesome man! When you've played shows in LA or shows in Vegas, do you find a difference in the people or do you find they're all very similar with regard to performing
in Bang Tango or doing a DC4 show?
Rowan: L.A. Is a little bit more reserved especially if you play at The Whisky A Go-Go or somewhere like that. Rock fans are good like that but I think L.A is a bit harder to impress.
Glenn: A lot of people say the same. I guess it's because they are so used to seeing a show every single night of the week or there are shows everywhere all the time, it's as though they will stand back, arms folded and say, “Go on, impress me then!” It may be a bit like that. It's a strange place.
Rowan: Yeah. We did a show in Branson, Missouri and they loved it because they don't get much rock music up there . They do a lot of country up there and they are pretty starved for it. They were all about it. They loved it.
Glenn: Awesome! What places all over the World stand out that you've enjoyed playing or even as a tourist going around and checking places out when you've had a day off on a non-show day?
Rowan: A lot of the places that we've played at in the States, you go back to them every now and then... you might see a bit more of the city but it's nice to have a day off and explore a bit. Especially when you're in somewhere with some interesting stuff and some nice weather. Austin for instance, there's a lot of music there. A great town.
Glenn: What was it about Austin that you liked so much?
Rowan: It was the first one that came to mind. A lot to do. Lots of music. It's quite vibrant. But New Orleans – I've been there a couple of times – the French Quarter. Lots of nightlife there of course. And Jazz musicians!
Rowan: Yeah that's an experience.
Glenn: Nice I'll look forward to going there. What do you like playing most? Do you like playing originals or covers most? Is there a preference or is it a case of: you've got a gig, you're up there, you enjoy playing and you don't mind at all? What do you prefer personally?
Rowan: Personally my favourite thing to do is play original music that I've written. Obviously, I quite like bluesier stuff like Clapton and classic rock stuff. Those sorts of situations are fun when you can jam a bit. As long as it's good music I don't mind. I try and only take stuff that's quite natural for me to play.
Glenn: That makes a lot of sense. What can you tell me about your own stuff? Do you have certain songs written or instrumental pieces that you are really proud of? Also their styles?
Rowan: I'm proud of the record I did with Ronnie (James Dio – 'Lock Up The Wolves) but I was also very young and wasn't really developed. I think the best stuff I've written was with Oni to be honest because I was at that age. That was really developed creatively. It was a very creative time and partnership. I'm proud of that stuff mostly because it's still quite unique.
There are lots of things about the recording that I could have done better but it's still quite interesting and unique to me. It's a long time ago but I haven't really done a lot of my own original stuff throughout the years. I've collaborated here and there but I haven't really done anything that's been my baby.
Glenn: It makes sense. No matter what, you've kept busy that much haven't you? You're never not doing something. That's a great thing in itself.
Rowan: Yeah. That's right. I try to keep busy.
Glenn: I'm going to turn over to side 2 of the tape. I like using tapes because you can't lose anything on a computer.
Rowan: I love tapes. I've got a tape player in my car and I like to get them on E-bay and find them in thrift stores because they just sound so much better.
Glenn: Oh yeah! A lot warmer, It's like having vinyl. Alright, so what is your favourite tape then that you always like to put on?
Rowan: I've got 'Exile On Main Street' (by The Rolling Stones) in the car. That's great. I've got some Beatles. A bit of Boston in there. I haven't got many in the car to be honest but I love the sound of cassette.
Glenn: I like the sound that goes from no sound to the clear lead-out tape that you can't record on. There's something about that.
Rowan: You mean the sound test at the beginning?
Glenn: Yeah or when you go from the white noise to the no sound when you get to the lead-in or lead-out tape as well. I think kids will not appreciate that the same as what we do. It's just silly little things like that. I've not thought about that for years.
Rowan: Yeah! Yeah! I know what you mean! (laughs)
Glenn: We're showing our age now but there you go.
Rowan: It makes an amazing sound.
Rowan: Brilliant! The hiss and everything!
Glenn: Yeah! You say to a kid 'Dolby' and they said, “What? What's that?” They won't get it.
Rowan: Yeah! Yeah I know! (We laugh)
Glenn: it's nice they now understand what a vinyl record is. I mean, a few years ago they didn't have a clue. It was rather, “What do mean you don't know what vinyl is?” (Said in surprise!) It's nuts!
Rowan: Yeah! I saw they had them in Sainsburys which is nice to see.
Glenn: Anyway, there are two DIO related bands out there – Last In Line with original material who perform a few Dio songs in the set and of course there's Dio Disciples - the official tribute. Now, because you've been a member of DIO in the 'Lock Up The Wolves' period, what would you say and what would go through your mind if you were asked to be part of one of those? I know you were a member of 'The Southern Cross' with Geoff Nicholls - Rest his Soul!
Rowan: Well if it was a DIO tribute band, I'm quite happy that I'm not to be honest with you. I'm glad that the music's staying alive and it's some of the greatest stuff of the time of heavy rock. There's a lot attached to it with people saying, “Living off his name” and having to live up to those recordings. I'm quite happy I'm not doing it.
Glenn: That's a good honest answer, I was interested to see what you'd say about that. That's a really good answer. I totally respect that as well. I have seen Dio Disciples when they had Toby Jepson on vocals and Tim 'Ripper' Owens who were awesome. I also really like what 'Last In Line' have done. The album (Heavy Crown) they did with Jimmy Bain – it's phenomenal.
Rowan: Yeah there's some killer stuff on there. I was really glad that Jimmy got to make an album he was really proud of. I know he was really happy with that record.
Glenn: I got to meet him once briefly. Al Bane was there and we were in the Whiskey A Go-Go. Al shouted me over and he said, “Tell Amy (Rae Yard) that Jimmy's here, he wants to have a chat”. I looked at Jimmy and we made eye contact, nodded to each other and smiled. I am really chuffed I got to have some sort of connection with Jimmy.
Rowan: Yes. Jimmy was really down to earth. He was a lovely guy.
Glenn: Yeah. He is such a sad loss. He was awesome. Anyway is there anything you'd like to add while we've talked for the last 50+ minutes about a variety of subjects?
Rowan: No. I was quite happy just to have a chat with you. That was fun.
Rowan: I appreciate it. Thanks a lot.
Glenn: No problem Brother. It's been great.
Rowan: Okay Brother.
Glenn: You take care. Thanks Man.
Rowan: Take care.
Glenn: See you later. Bye.
Be sure to see Rowan Robertson @ Raiding The Rock Vault that's held at The Vinyl Room of The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada or at a DC4 or Bang Tango Show in the not too distant future.
Special thanks go to Michael T. Ross, Robin McCauley & Sir Harry Cowell ;
all the other performers and staff @ Raiding The Rock Vault as well as
Brian Tichy & Noelle Kim for the Randy Rhoads Remembered Night!