Thirty years ago a record was released that flew a bit under the radar at the time but has aged into a true classic. Fresh from his stint in Whitesnake and before hooking up with Def Leppard, guitarist Vivian Campbell surprised many by putting out a record with an unknown band from Los Angeles called Riverdogs. I was lucky enough to get both vocalist/guitarist Rob Lamothe and bassist Nick Brophey on the phone together to present sort of an oral history of this hugely underrated band and their classic debut record.
There are a few sound/connection issues during the call (including a brief drop around 26:00) but it is more than worth a listen.
Please press PLAY below for the Exclusive MisplacedStraws Conversation with Rob & Nick of Riverdogs:
On getting to LA and joining the band – Rob – It took a while you know it took like I said, those multiple tries and lots of disappointments and lots of learning and eventually getting in a position where…I remember Nick and I spent so much time just sitting in the room with like a drum machine and writing and two guitars and working on songs, that’s kind of what it came down to. I think that’s how eventually we ended up making some really good records. 2:10
Nick – We’re trying to get signed as Aircraft and that didn’t work out. We kind of regrouped, Rob and I stayed together and we got a call from the former drummer from Aircraft (Alan DeSilva) that was now in a band called the Riverdogs. He said “I think this band could get signed because they have a great manager and Vivian Campbell from Whitesnake is gonna help produce the demo for the band but we need a singer and a bass player”, and Rob said, “Well I’ll come sing and Nick can play bass”. So we came up there and kind of essentially took over Riverdogs. I believe “Holy War” was one of the songs off the first album that was a demo that Vivian was helping produce and he started playing on the demo and started singing backgrounds on the demo and really enjoyed that idea of maybe quitting Whitesnake joining this band. That’s when we got the word that the management wanted to have a meeting with Vivian and that’s when he kind of told us “I want to be a Riverdog”. 3:50
On how the songs for the first record came together – Rob – Maybe because we had some, I don’t want to call them “setbacks”, but maybe because we’ve been learning things that we maybe didn’t want do in the future maybe we’re just thinking differently. Then we were writing differently and I think that maybe just happened naturally.
Nick – I know for a fact that we had “Spooky” and we had “Holy War” going (prior to Riverdogs). I’m not sure if “Baby Blue” was going then or not, but that one (Rob) brought in completely. 8:00
On lyric writing – Rob – I’ve always been fascinated by words and I am to this day. I obsess over absolute subtleties of things that I think a lot of people won’t even get my intention but I’m okay with that too. I talked to my daughter about it the other day, we were talking about songwriting and singing and she’s a really good writer now and we have this weird thought that words are just so valuable and I think that’s what I leave behind, besides my beautiful kids is this words and maybe, I don’t know, I think they have value just on their own. 12:50
On touring behind the debut record – Nick – We did a date or 2 with Cheap Trick if I remember correctly. The album came out June 1 (1990) and then I don’t remember when we started that radio tour, it was probably a little before that. Then we played up until our very last show as Riverdogs with Vivian was Halloween. I don’t think we did a proper tour.
Rob – We did like that little run-up north with Burning Tree, they did some shows with us or maybe they just did the one at the Roxy. We did a few shows but we never really toured with that lineup and with that album. In fact, very early on, the night when we were launching that little California tour which is, I don’t know, 4 or 5 shows, that night was the night that we’re basically told our record was over. The new label head, Richard Griffiths. I remember Viv saying” So what’s the second single going to be” and Richard Griffiths said, “There’s not going to be the second single”. 15:00
On Vivian leaving – Nick – He told us he had a certain length of time that he could devote to kind of going out on a limb and trying to break a band. When he got that news (that the label wanted a new record) he realized that was going to be another year before we could even have a chance again at at breaking the record, that we have to do another one. So I think that made his decision for him.
Rob – I remember at the meeting where we made official that Viv was joining the band we knew that night, I remember him telling us and telling our manager at the time “I can give this two years”. 17:00
On continuing without Vivian – Nick -It was difficult to get (the label) motivated… I remember they just weren’t doing anything with it and then we were approached by Ole from Green Circle Records in Germany saying, “Hey if they’re not gonna do anything with you I would love to make a new record with you guys”. So we asked out of the deal and they let us go and that’s when we at least had a focus, we could make a record and go out and try this again.
Rob – In some ways, we weren’t discouraged. We knew Viv, it was necessary for him to leave. We kept going, we kept creating. We kept writing and wrote some great stuff. I remember when the label was suggesting to us “You really should change your name, Riverdogs is kind of like damaged goods”. That name was over better move on. We didn’t feel like we were damaged goods. 18:50
On their memories of that era – Rob – We weren’t trying to be rock stars. We wanted to write and record great songs. That’s all we used to talk about. When we kind of had nothing, When things had fallen apart and we were like kind of regrouping in Orange County with no prospects except we had the songs. We were just as serious about writing the songs. When in that moment maybe nobody else cared but our wives, we still felt like we were on a mission.
Nick – What’s so rewarding are the comments we get about the music and the record. It’s almost like it was a big success in people’s eyes. Everyone is so surprised that this great album didn’t make a bigger mark and that’s very flattering. It’s almost as big a reward as us having had the actual success with that record.21:20
On recording California – Nick -When it came to California we thought, “Well, hey if we’re going to do another record what we need to do is have more of a plan about it”. What came about was the idea of a continuation off that first record. Since we’re gonna have Vivian let’s go back in and see if he still has any of that gear that he used on that on that first record and maybe we could get a similar sound that we had and kind of go around that and I think that helped us focus and get a real sound for that California album. 24:20