Jeff Scott Soto is not only one of the great singers in music, but he is also the most diverse. Whether it’s the melodic rock of his solo work, the progressive metal of Sons of Apollo, the classics of Journey, or his Queen covers, Soto can do it all. Back in the early 90s, he created a unique, funky band called Slam, their record went unreleased until now. Jeff took some time to tell me the story behind Slam.
Please press the PLAY icon for the MisplacedStraws Conversation with Jeff Scott Soto –
On how Slam was formed – Talisman also had released the first album and at that point, there weren’t any plans on Talisman continuing just yet. Eyes was pretty much on the decent when Slam came about. Slam came about mainly as just a songwriting thing between George Bernhardt and myself. George was part of a band called Beau Nasty. Most of the players in that band I’d already had stints with. Douglas Baker and Mike Terrana, I played with Kuni in 1987, 88. Before that, Brian Young and I had a band called L’amour. So all these guys were part of Beau Nasty. The only one I hadn’t played with, I’m not going to start a band with the singer, the last member of the band was George Bernhardt, who I always thought was an amazing guitar player, great writer. We didn’t really even know each other. I just got a random call from him saying, “Hey, I got, I got a collection of tunes that I put together. I thought you’d be great to sing on them. Maybe help me collab and finish them?” No intention, we had no idea. It wasn’t like, “Oh, we’re going to write songs for other bands. We’re going to put a band together”. It was none of that. It was just, he’s got some songs. He wants to hear them finished. So I decided to join him on that because I always respected his playing and he was always such a great guy.
This was one of the few situations where it was so immediate. The respect and the level of trust was so immediate. I’m only six years into my professional career. I don’t have the meat and potatoes I have now behind me, but he trusted and respected what I did as a singer, as a writer. To do everything that I did, there was no guidance or there wasn’t any, “You should redo that. I don’t like that lyric”. He let me do me and I let him do him. And that’s one of the beautiful things about Slam. One of the very few instances where we just let the process happen and along the way, we decided we have to make a band out of this.
The first incarnation of the band, we had two guys from, well, it was actually George and I, for the first incarnation, we just wrote and did everything. He did all the drum machine, he played all the instruments. I did whatever keys and all the vocals. We found a drummer, a guy named Mark Bistany, the great drummer from Boston. We just needed to put the rest of the band together when we realized we needed to make a band. We got these two guys from back East. One of them was Craig Polivka from Connecticut. One of his best friends still to this day, Chris McCarville, who’s now still with House of Lords. I don’t know if he’s still doing House of Lords. He’s in Dokken, doing all kinds of stuff. He ventured off and did a lot of things after Slam, and God bless him for it. But they were in the first incarnation of Slam when we decided to make a band out of this. There was only one song that featured them on this release here.
Then came Mk. II which was basically with Gary Schutt. We got him in the band and we got a bass player named Ricky Wolking on bass. It didn’t really work out too well with Gary musically. I think we realized the direction we wanted to go is where you hear the third phase of Slam is where we were heading and that’s where we decided to keep it just a four-piece. We didn’t need a second guitar player. I guess George was just so used to that from Hanover Fist to Beau Nasty, he always had a second guitar player, second fiddle that they could play leads and do harmony stuff, but this band didn’t really call for it. So we didn’t continue it as a five-piece band.
On if he knew he would work with some of the former members later – I never really think about that during the process. When I start something new with somebody that I’ve never worked with or barely worked with, I don’t look at it like a checklist, let’s keep them on the Rolodex. That kind of happens organically later. If something comes up and a particular sound or position comes up, that’s where I go, “I think Gary would be perfect for that” or Chris or whatever. That’s what I can pinpoint. I don’t necessarily file anybody away to the “I’ll use them later” category. The “I’ll use them later” category kind of happens on its own and then I (feel) that kind of placement would work.
On the history of the tracks on this record – I’m saying the first more than a third was George and I. It was only the one song with Craig and Chris. Then when we were a fourth piece, with Ricky, that’s the tail end. That’s, that’s the other maybe, quarter of the album. So I’m going to say almost half of the first part of the album was George and I solely. We put everything together. We played everything. We did everything just the two of us, except for the saxophone player on the song “Lonely Shade of Blue”. There were no outside musicians or other resource. But the main thing to point out is these are demos.
We got a demo deal back in the day. We were working with a manager who was under the umbrella of the management company that worked with Prince, they work with Rod Stewart. They’re a big company. They were not interested in taking us on, but one of their colleagues that worked under them, she took us on because she believed in us. She loved the sound and everything. She did what she could with us, which wasn’t much in the long term. We couldn’t secure a deal, but she secured a demo deal for us from, I forgot what label it was.
Instead of George and I taking the money and saying, “Okay, well, let’s go make a bad ass demo, two or three songs in a studio”. We invested in our home studio. When I say home studio, I’m talking the old Tascam eight-track recorders, cassette tapes were our master tapes. We did magic with those cassette tapes. I equate what we were able to pull out of those masters, and you hear it right here, these are the original 8-track songs that we made together on that machine, I equate that to what Queen had to go though back in the day when they were making “Bohemian Rhapsody”. They didn’t have 96 channels. They didn’t have multiple, digital layers of as many tracks as you need. We were improvising as we went along. We were finding ways to bounce and mix and bounce and mix and overdub and it still worked without too much quality loss.
When you hear it now today, it’s unbelievable that we recorded this stuff over 30 years ago. On a cassette tape as our master. I give all that credit to George because he was one of those he’s one of those wunderkinds. He’s not just a guitar player or just a writer, he’s all of the above. He really. dug deep, into mixing and producing, into engineering. He, he just mastered all that stuff. So I give all the credit to him. He’d give me a song. I show up at his house at the lyrics I bust them out then he did all the work and all the magic afterwards. So what you get here is a collection of those demos.
There was a minuscule microsecond of talk, “Maybe we should go in and redo these songs for real the way they were intended to sound”. I kiboshed that immediately. These demos have been floating around the universe for 30 years, a lot of people have third, fourth, and fifth-generation copies of them, but they’re so married to those versions. I know how I am when I hear when I have a collection of things that are not released and you know you’ve got a hidden gem, but it just sounds cruddy. In the back of your mind is like, “My God, I wish I had a good quality version of exactly this. I don’t want it redone. I don’t want a remix, I don’t want a remaster. I want this. But a clean copy”. This is a point in time, it’s like a post stamp, we did it, we walked away from it and that’s the magic that we created. That’s what should be heard. We shouldn’t redo it. We shouldn’t touch it. There’s no way I can sing half of that stuff range-wise. It was a moment we captured it and I wanted to make sure that people who have those original versions get now the original versions in a cleaner. smoother way.
On where he was as a musician when creating these songs – This is the first thing that really took me in. When I heard these songs, George was writing the kind of material that I wish I was working on already with others. Again, I had Talisman, I had other entities that were great for me. They were great vehicles for me and my voice. But musically, I’ve always grown up with the funk R&B, soul side of things. I got into rock way late in life. Like maybe two years before I was with Yngwie. I finally started listening to heavy metal and started being influenced by it. But I always carried the torch of the earlier days of what I grew up with and loved growing up. We go into that time frame when Aerosmith were doing what they’re, they were always doing, but they were even doing it more so when they were doing the Pump album, when they were doing the Permanent Vacation album, there was a whole element of groove and excitement with their stuff compared to some of the earlier days. Now you add Extreme to that mix. You add Living Color, you add King’s X, you add Dan Reed Network. Now, all of a sudden, that world, I was like, “Forget metal, I did the metal thing. It was fun. It was great. But I want to now incorporate that into my world because that’s, that’s the world I grew up in”. I got into rock because I heard a singer named Bobby Kimball singing with this badass band called Toto, and they found a way to inject soul and black music with rock and that’s what I want to do. I wanted to put those two together and I finally found that vehicle with Slam. So it was exactly that. I took all my love for Prince, there’s even an element of Eon there. Extreme were new as well. They just released Pornograffiti and I was still tapping into that world. There’s a little Dan Reed. There’s a little bit of all those things that I loved during that time in what we did with Slam.
On some songs resurfacing on Love Parade and Humanimal – That was my mindset, we created such great stuff and nobody will ever hear it, or people will only get their mitts on the cassettes, the demos, and all that. I love these songs so much. It was actually Marcel (Jacob)’s idea when he knew Slam was not going to exist anymore. He asked if we could do “Wasting Our Time” and “Dear God” for the Humanimal album which I was so happy for. He came to me about it. I didn’t have to say, “Hey, I got a couple songs. Maybe we can try ’em”. Because then, then he would be interested, he would be into doing it as opposed to doing it only for my benefit. It was the same even on my “Love Parade “album. There’s a version of a song called “United Divided” and another one called “Monogamy and Lust”. I took the lyrics and made completely new songs for Love Parade because I didn’t want to infringe on the Slam sound. I wanted something totally different for Love Parade. So I reinvented the songs musically, but I still took the lyrics and melodies. Now you get the original versions. You get to hear those and get to A B them basically.
On why the songs are being released now – Well, it wasn’t our decision. It was 20th Century that came to us. They were amongst many, many that had these demos that had copies of them. They grew up listening to these songs. Again, as I said earlier, they had third or fourth-generation copies. They came to us asking, “Guys, would you be interested in doing a compilation of all these songs and releasing it finally making an official release? Because there’s a lot of people out there that know these songs. They’d love to have a copy of them clean”. I thought George would say, “Why bother? They were demos there. They were never meant to be masters”, and we both (said), “Absolutely”. We’re so in tune. I love these songs the way they sound the way they are as they are. He was the same way. It’s like, “Absolutely, let’s do it just for the sake of that”. We’re not trying to sell a new band. We’re not trying to introduce a reunion. We’re not putting the band back together. None of that stuff. It was all about, “You guys want to do it. We’re interested in working with you and putting it together and making sure it happened”. George actually mastered this stuff because again, another side to him is he’s gotten to mastering and he’s great at it. It took me like a year to finally dig up all the DATs and the copies, was this the final version or is this one? I actually screwed up the version of the song “Dance The Body Elektrik” on the record is the wrong one. That’s me singing over Chris and Craig’s original demo that they sent me when they still live in Connecticut. We redid it together in L. A. And I have that version. But for some reason, stupid me put the wrong version in the masters I sent to George. So you have the original original demo of that. They recorded all of that on their home studio back in Connecticut. That’s my voice just kind of kind of working around what eventually came became the final version of it. That unfortunately not on this album.
On if Slam ever played live – We did a gig in LA opening for Dan Reed Network. We did a show in, I think we played Colorado, Utah. We did a few dates here and there, just basically trying to present the band out there. Unfortunately, they weren’t big enough shows to entice labels to come out. You’re talking about 91, 92. That was a time where everything was shifting the whole LA scene, the hair metal scene, everything was going. Even a band like Extreme changed their sound from Waiting For The Punchline. Everybody was heading towards that Seattle grungy sound and sSam had no placement whatsoever. Labels did not want to take the risk or the gamble. They told us, “Guys, this music is old. It’s nothing we can work with”. I saw a lot of those bands just go, “What do we do now?” Slam was one of them. So we just kept doing it for us. We kept reinventing what we were doing. As I said, the final songs on the record are what we really want. That’s what should have been from the beginning. That’s where we really wanted to go. But unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough interest to keep it going and it fizzled out.
On his creative song title spelling back then – I just ripped off Prince. All my lyric formatting was all Prince. I remember when I first signed with Frontiers Records and I sent them the first album, Prism. They said, “We need the lyrics to put on the album”. I got an email from the president of the company, he goes, “Jeff, what is this? What are these words, these letters, just instead of words and numbers. What are you doing?” “Hey man, that’s just the way I do things. You know, I’m hugely influenced by Prince”. “But it’s ridiculous. It looks ridiculous”. “So, tell it to Prince. He’s pretty successful. It’s not so ridiculous”. So I eventually weaned off of it because I realized that is, that is kind of a signature stamp of this, but I was so influenced by it. I just did it on everything.
On what’s coming up next – Unfortunately, this interview is too soon to speak about it. There is something in the pipeline that I can’t talk about. The only thing I can say is in September. You’re going to know exactly what I’m talking about. As I said, it’s unfortunate I can’t talk about it. I can’t even hint about it now, but it’s, it’s really, really cool. It’s something I’m really proud of. I can’t wait for the world to hear it and see it. It’s not Sons of Apollo. It’s something totally new for me. From what I hear, we’re going to be blasting throughout the world next year. So it’s one of those things that we, we put a lot of commitment behind and I’m already turning a lot of things down for next year to make room for this. By September, when this drops the announcement of what it is, it’s going to drop the same day that the music and the video drops. It’s all going to happen. Nobody knows about this. I’m already saying too much.