A Conversation with Blackthorne/Alcatrazz Keyboardist Jimmy Waldo

Back in the early 1990s as grunge was beginning to take over the rock world, Jimmy Waldo and a group of old school rock veterans formed Blackthorne, one of the great footnotes in rock history. The surviving members have recently released a compilatio of the band’s recorded music, including both studio records and various demos. Jimmy Waldo recently took some time to talk about the history of Blackthorne, the future of Alcatrazz and much more.

Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws.com Conversation with Blackthorne’s Jimmy Waldo –

On how Blackthorne formed – I met Bob (Kulick) in 1978 in New York, we both lived in New York, and we just hit it off and talked about writing some songs and stuff, and then I went on the road with New England. I was really busy with New England, so he and I didn’t get the hook-up for a while, I moved to LA after New England, Bob had moved to LA. So we reconnected in LA, and I didn’t even know he was living there at the time, and we just said, “Okay, we gotta get serious about this. Let’s do a band”. So, we needed a singer, obviously. So Graham (Bonnet) contacted me and really wanted to come back from Australia, he was not happy in Australia, so we arranged that, got him over to LA from Australia. Frankie Banali and Chuck Wright were obvious choices. I had played with Frankie and Quiet Riot and Chuck as well, and some other things. So those guys, amazing rhythm section, and some of my favorite players ever. So Bob and I were writing, putting a lot of material together with a few outside people, so we finally kinda locked in on what songs we were gonna do, and went into a rehearsal place and rehearse the material, old school. This was recorded on tape, two-inch tape, and went the studio, cut the stuff, and it was pretty straight-ahead really, Frankie and Chuck as a rhythm section, those guys are like a machine, Chuck knows what Frankie’s gonna play. They played together so much…Bob and I (produced) it together, but Bob is more of the “keep the session running really good”, very musical guy, obviously. So it was just Bob and I. We had worked with Bruce (Kulick), Bruce had co-written a couple of songs actually, most notably, “We Won’t Be Forgotten”, was Bruce and Bob and Paul Taylor (Winger). 1:07

On whether they felt a shift in rock music as they were recording – Well, we didn’t know, but we sure had a bad feeling about it as we were writing and putting that together, the writers, some of the writers that we worked with and friends of ours were saying, “Man, you guys are behind here, the grunge thing is happening now”. We knew some label people, and we were in touch with them, just as friends and they said the same thing. We played in what we were doing, and they said, “God, it’s great, but it’s really a grunge world out there”, and we were not that, didn’t try to be. We could have changed gears and started writing some songs, has a different kind of songs, but that’s just not who we were. Bob and I were not that kind of writers or players, we just thought, “You know what, we’ll stick to our guns”. Obviously, as a keyboard player, grunge, there are no keyboards in the grunge, so we didn’t worry about it, we just kind of forged ahead. We really thought good songs, a great record, we’ll get a deal here in the states, we had a deal in Japan on Polydor, a really good deal, and that money they gave us helped pay to make the record, but we really thought we would get a deal in the States, which didn’t happen. We couldn’t get arrested in the States at all. 4:13

On why the second record, Don’t Kill The Thrill, was never released – We were writing songs and just cutting song demos, basically, a lot of which we cut at my little studio in LA. Bob would bring a 100-watt Marshall over, and that’s the way we recorded in my little room in my condo, and the neighbors probably hated me. We were just songwriting demos and we worked hard on them and finished them. Tried to make it as close to a master, at least for the arrangement, and the performances, we want to really know what we had. Bob and I were both like it wasn’t good enough just to put down a quick demo and then think you’re gonna go in the studio and cut that. So those demos, we try to make them pretty complete as far as these are the guitar parts, these are the keyboard parts, vocal melodies, lyrics, we really try to nail that and some of those songs written by outside people, so the lyrics and melodies were done. So we didn’t really have to worry about that. It was mostly just getting our performances together and getting ready to go in and cut those… And then things fall apart. 6:06

On why this material is being released now – Well, our manager, Giles Lavery, who manages Alcatrazz, was that my house in LA a few years ago, and I was really preparing to move. I live in Chicago now, so I was preparing to move to Chicago. I was in the garage, throwing stuff away, cleaning stuff, Giles was helping me and he saw this box and he goes, “Wow, what are all these tapes?” I said, “Oh, I don’t know a bunch of demos and stuff”, and he started picking through them, and it said “Blackthorne, 91 songwriting thing” and “92”. Giles said, “What are you kidding me? There’s all kinds of stuff in here”. There were 16-track tapes, which were pretty good quality, and so Giles started going through them, and he did really all the dirty work. I would be working on the side in my studio and Giles was there in headphones on a DAT player, cassette player, and he would say, “Okay, what’s this?” And he would let me listen to and I go, “Oh yeah, that’s the song we did with blah, blah, blah”. I had those tapes, I save everything. I had those tapes for years. The 16-track stuff had to be baked before it was transferred, and the cassettes, we even baked some of the cassettes, because the transfer guy that I used in LA is really anal about that. He won’t transfer an old tape without baking it first. He didn’t wanna be responsible for ruining it. Give it the best shot. So that’s what we did, and we put a lot of money into doing that. I was excited about it because here’s all this material that I had done, was involved in, and Bob, and he was really excited about it at the time, and so we thought, “This is so cool, we’ll get all this stuff together”, and in Giles was like, “Yeah, and let’s see if we can get a deal for it”. There’s no money upfront in getting record deals these days, so it really wasn’t about the money, it was about wanting to put it out and re-issue Afterlife so somebody that wasn’t real familiar with Blackthorne or Afterlife could get the whole picture. You can look at that and the dates are there, and you really get a sense of what the band did and what we were capable of and the people involved and the whole thing. So that was the idea. It was just like a really fun project. To get it out there so people could hear it. 7:42

On how Alcatrazz formed – Graham’s manager was looking to put a band together. Andy Truman was Graham’s manager and Andy had a son, Paul Truman. I think Paul might have been 13 at the time or something, and he was young but he was playing guitar a little bit and kinda had a band. He was a real serious music fan, so he knew about New England, so through Paul Truman, (Andy) got hold of Gary and I. Andy said, “Yeah, I wanna put a band together”. So we got together with Graham threw some song ideas around, and away we went. We started auditioning guitar players and drummers and ended up with Yngwie (Malmsteen) and Jan Uvena as a drummer, there were quite a few drummers actually before we ended up with him. 10:57

On the story of Yngwie firing the drummer on his first day in Alcatrazz – Well, nobody was fired. I know what Yngwie is talking about. I’m not gonna mention any names, but the drummer wasn’t working out at all. So Yngwie and I and Gary (Shea) were in unison about this is not happening, he’s gotta go, we gotta get somebody else. We did, we had feelers out there looking for people, and Jan’s name had come up, we had a phone number, so we called him and he came down, I think that next day, he came down and played and it was perfect. We were like, “Yep, that’s the guy”. So that’s kind of the way that went down. Yngwie and I and Gary, we were frustrated at not being able to find a guy, We had a couple of really hot prospects that we thought were gonna be great, and then they just turned out to not be so great. Clive (Burr) what a cool guy, and a great drummer. It was just stylistically, that just didn’t fit. That was the weirdest thing. Usually, a drummer comes in and he kinda gets a feel for your music and sort of morph, usually, if it’s in the same vein, Clive wasn’t that guy though. Great chops, a great drummer, and a fantastic person. But it just didn’t gel. Just wasn’t happening. We auditioned Aynsley Dunbar. Aynsley was an amazing drummer, but that wasn’t gonna work either, wasn’t a question of is drumming really, business reasons, and other reasons that I just wouldn’t get to work. He didn’t really wanna be in a band, he just wanted to do a record, like a session, and we really wanted a band member, so that’s why we just kept auditioning guys. So when we auditioned Yngwie, I want to say that was the drummer from Robin Trower, that’s horrible, I can’t think of his name. But that really wasn’t working either, so it was surprising, we thought, “Oh, this guy with this name, he’s gonna blow us away”, and it just wasn’t. 12:32

On his keyboard style – I never really thought too much about it, to be honest, but I did see the value of…it’s a band. When Yngwie got in the band, it was obvious that Yngwie’s gonna be the guy people are gonna look at that, it’s a guitar world out there, and I know that, and I’ve known that for a long time. I loved Yngwie’s playing, I still do. I’m not like a chopsy kind of guy anyway, I’m more of a band player. Parts that work, rhythm guitar player kind of thing, so I was always happy with that, I never have problems with that, and I do solos here and there. I try to play melodic lines and parts that support the song, and in doing that, invariably, it’s like the guitar player’s doing something similar, like with Joe Stump and Alcatrazz, that’s what happens. Joe will play a line, and it’s part of his chords in the song, and I’ll pick up on that, but I’ll do something a little different or that is counter to that, that complements his line. Just to make it harmonically a little fuller and stuff like that,. But the keyboards don’t have to be really loud in a mix to do that, as long as that musical note is there and you’re doing something that makes a nice harmony. That works, and that’s fine. So yeah, I’m happy with being where I’m at, I like doing what I’m doing. 15:43

On Doogie White replacing Graham Bonnet in Alcatrazz – Well, this happens in bands, this is nothing unusual. It seems like a big deal to some people, but these things happen. It wasn’t working, Graham wasn’t happy where he was, so it was just kind of natural that he wanted to go off and do something different. Doogie was the obvious choice for us. I knew Doogie, we’d met Doogie before. I’d seen him play, heard him sing, loved his records that he made Rainbow, and (Michael) Schenker, and his own solo stuff. It was kind of a very natural choice to see if we can work with Doogie and it worked out fantastic…(the new record will be out) on October 15 it hits the street. 18:47

On whether the surviving members of Blackthorne will get together – No. We’re just gonna put it out. Yeah, Graham’s got his stuff going on. And Chuck’s busy, and I’m busy with Alcatraz, that’s my main focus. So it wouldn’t be any time to do anything anyway, and the truth is, we try to tour in the day… I try to do gigs in the day and we couldn’t get… We played a few shows in California, but nobody showed up, looking agents didn’t work, but us, they were like, Hey, guys, here. And they said it, they just said, It’s a grunge world out there. You’re not a grunge man, I can’t book it to try to rekindle something now, it really wouldn’t make sense, I just like to leave it on a high note, so to speak, I really liked the record and I like all those songs and I’m proud of all that. 20.09

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *