Thursday, October 27, 2016

Never Enuff: Why Chip Z'Nuff Ain't Slowing Down

Photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions 

In 1993, Enuff Z’Nuff – a band nine years into their career – found themselves at the peak of their powers as they tore the roof off the place during a live appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. The spot was in support of their third album, Animals with Human Intelligence, which was released on industry powerhouse Arista Records. Fast-forward 23 years, and Enuff Z’Nuff – now with only founding bassist Chip Z’Nuff remaining from the glory days – are playing in front of a small crowd at a bar in Haverhill, MA on a Thursday night. The many events that transpired between those two moments could fill 20 books, but the highlights include major label woes, debt, changing musical tastes, frequent lineup changes, death, burnout …and some of the finest Pop-infused Rock songs you’ll ever hear.

Sure, Enuff Z’Nuff are commonly (and unjustly) lumped in with the Glam Metal fad of the '80s, but if you strip away the makeup and assorted trappings of the time, their 1989 self-titled debut album is basically the best Squeeze album that Split Enz never wrote. Subsequent releases (including 1991’s stellar Strength) demonstrated that the band could maintain high songwriting standards even as the Grunge movement pushed them out of the spotlight. In a perfect world, Enuff Z’Nuff's stadium-worthy songs would provide Chip Z’Nuff a life of riches; instead, he’s a middle-aged musician currently traveling to club after club in a van. Enuff Z’Nuff should have sold millions of albums; instead, Z'Nuff tells me that the band’s two records on ATCO/Atlantic back in the day somehow left them $750,000 in the hole despite going Gold. When the band’s time with their second label, Arista, resulted in only modest album sales, they began a second life as an indie label act and have existed with varying success to this day. Along the way, both ATCO/Arista-era guitarist Derek Frigo and longtime drummer Ricky Parent passed away. It certainly hasn’t been a smooth and happy ride for this bunch.  

But despite the constant shit thrown their way, Enuff Z’Nuff have never stopped putting out amazing music. Nearly 20 albums later, the band is still as active and creative as ever. In fact, Z’Nuff and singer Donnie Vie have more original songs just sitting around than most bands compose in a lifetime.

“Donnie and I probably have six albums in the can,” explains Z’Nuff. “We’ve written more than Zeppelin, more than Queen - all of them bands. We have tons of stuff. I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but my fucking band – Donnie and I – have been very prolific. We’ve written a lot of songs, in the early days all the way through our career.”

Of course, being able to produce such an extensive repertoire requires considerable focus, which Enuff Z’Nuff has been able to maintain despite the common – and often very fun – distractions that come from indulging in the Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle.

“In the old days, my band partied our asses off. We did more cocaine than Guns N’ Roses! We fucked more chicks than you can imagine on tour. We were out of control, but one thing we never shortcutted anybody on was the songs. We always focused our attention on great songs and strong performances, and that was the most important thing in Enuff Z’Nuff. The trim and the substance abuse was secondary.”

Unfortunately, years of band life have taken a heavy toll on Donnie Vie. Worn out, he stepped away from Enuff Z’Nuff in 2013. Z’Nuff insists that Vie is still an important part of the group.

“Donnie is not kicked out of the band; Donnie chose to get out because he was disillusioned by the business and he’s dealing with health issues. Maybe it was time for him to take a break, but he’ll always be in Enuff Z’Nuff.”

With long-serving guitarist Johnny Monaco taking over on vocals, Enuff Z’Nuff soldiered on as a trio until Monaco’s health precipitated his own split from the group. Undeterred, Z’Nuff decided to take over fronting the band himself. 

“I’ve dedicated my whole like to Enuff Z’Nuff; it’s my job,” he says. “When Monaco said he was leaving because he had some issues with his hands, and I guess he wasn’t interested in singing the songs anymore, I decided that maybe I’ll give it a go. I talked to Donnie, and he said, ‘Look, you wrote these songs with me. You go out there and sing them. People will know it’s Enuff Z’Nuff if you’re in front.’”

In addition to Z'Nuff, the current incarnation of Enuff Z’Nuff includes guitarist Tory Stoffrege, drummer Daniel Hill and – get this – former Ultravox frontman Tony Fennell on guitar. (A brand-new interview with Tony regarding his time in Ultravox and membership in Enuff Z’Nuff is available HERE.)

“These fucking guys can sing,” says Z’Nuff of his current bandmates. “They really play their asses off and sing well, and they believe in the legacy of Enuff Z’Nuff.”

Photo by Joel Gausten

As tight as the band is at this stage of the game, Z’Nuff acknowledges that he has a steep hill to climb if he is going to re-establish Enuff Z’Nuff in today’s marketplace.

“It’s a tough time right now. We’re in a time in the music business where there’s too product and not enough demand. Everybody’s got a fucking band; everybody’s trying to sell records and get out there. We’ve got a name, and we’ve got some big fans out there who love our band. Besides the rock stars like the Cheap Tricks and the Aerosmiths, we’ve got guys like Green Day and Foo Fighters saying nice things about us. Howard Stern is a big proponent; he still loves the band and still talks about us. I know millions of people know who the band is; we said, ‘We’ve got to give it another chance.

“Here I am playing a club tonight, and 200 people are there, but they all love the band and the band sounds strong,” he adds. “It’s a good show; I’m focusing on the first three records, which sold the most for us. There’s a lot more material in the kitty, but if we're going to play an hour-long set, I want to focus on those early songs…If it gets bigger and grows, I’ll put more songs in the set and I’ll mix it up.”

Of course, writing a great song (or 60) is only half the battle. In order to find the right ears for their tunes, Enuff Z’Nuff needed the right label to help them move forward. Enter Frontiers, the well-respected Hard Rock/Metal label overseen by former ATCO CEO Derek Shulman.

“[Frontiers] came to us and said, ‘Do you have anything for us?’ I gave them a three-song demo. The next day, they called back and said, ‘We fucking love it! Let’s do an album.’”

Out December 2 on Frontiers, Clowns Lounge is a collection of (mostly) previously unreleased material from the Enuff Z’Nuff archives. Ten of the record’s 12 songs were recorded circa 1988/1989 with the ATCO-era lineup of Z’Nuff, Vie, Frigo and drummer Vikki Foxx, while a brand-new tune called “Dog On A Bone” gets the whole affair off with a rousing start.

“The diehard Enuff Z’Nuff fans and the people who have been following the band for years are going to be so happy with this album. Most bands couldn’t do what we do; we’re putting an album out with the original guys. It’s an archival record with the original cats – Vikki Foxx, Derek Frigo, Donnie Vie and myself. It’s a rock-solid, 12-song masterpiece, I think. It’s got tons of energy; we were full of piss and vinegar at the time. They were such good songs; we were writing so much that we just let them sit in the can.”

The remaining Clowns Lounge track, “The Devil Of Shakespeare,” was recorded circa 2004 to promote the novel of the same name by former D’Molls drummer Billy “Dior” McCarthy. The song features Z’Nuff, McCarthy, Styx’s James “J.Y.” Young, Ron Flynt of 20/20 and the late Jani Lane of Warrant.

“I went to the studio and wrote this thing in fucking 10 minutes [and] recorded it in an hour,” Z’Nuff recalls. “Then, we decided, ‘Hey, let’s get Robin Zander to sing on it.’ We went to go see Robin Zander and handed him $3,000 at a concert in Rockford. As I was handing him the money, his manager came over and said, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ We said, ‘We’re gonna give Robin an advance, half the money. We’re going to give him $6,000 to sing on a record. He’s going to sing on one song.’ The guy said, ‘Hang on a second. Let’s talk about this. I want to hear the song.’ The manager was a real fucking prick. He gave the money back to us, and then we waited for about a week. He eventually got back to us and said, ‘Robin’s not available.’ Our next choice was Jani Lane; we loved him dearly. He was a friend of ours and a great singer and songwriter. We asked Jani if he would be kind enough to sing on the track, and he accepted. I was producing it; Jani says, ‘Chip, I’d like to take a different approach. I want to sing it like Bowie.’ I said, ‘Jani, any way you want to sing the song, go right ahead. I just want to have your beautiful pipes on here.’ In one or two takes, he nailed it. It’s not necessarily an Enuff Z’Nuff song because Donnie’s not on it, but I sang and played on it, and I wrote it. I thought it would be a nice thing for Jani Lane’s family to hear and for Warrant fans to hear as well. It was one of last tracks Jani Lane sang in a studio, and he sang it effortlessly. He sang his ass off and loved doing it because he loved Enuff Z’Nuff and loved Billy.”

After 32 years in the game, Chip Z’Nuff still approaches his career with the enthusiasm of a young kid penning his first song in his garage. With Clowns Lounge about to rekindle the public’s interest in Enuff Z’Nuff, he’s ready to take his rejuvenated band as far as he can.   

“Not many guys have been doing it as long as I've been doing it. I’m very lucky, and I thank the fans for sticking with the band and being supportive all these years. I’m not going to let you down; we’re going to continue to put good music out there.”

Photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions 


From New Wave to "New Thing:" A Chat with Tony Fennell of Enuff Z'Nuff

Tony Fennell (second from left)  on stage with Enuff Z'Nuff (photo by Joel Gausten)

For Birmingham-born singer/guitarist Tony Fennell (or Fennelle, depending on which album credits you’re reading at the time), recently becoming a member of Enuff Z’Nuff is an opportunity to be part of a band he’s loved for nearly three decades. He first met the band's incomparable leader, Chip Z'Nuff, in 1987 when his old band Big Noise was signed to Enuff Z'Nuff's then-label, ATCO/Atlantic.

“I’ve hailed this band forever,” he says. “I remember being in the offices of Atlantic and Derek Shulman, the guy who signed them, played me these two songs. He played me 'Fly High Michelle' and 'New Thing.' I was like, 'Holy fucking shit! You’ve got gold.' It was mind-blowing.”

Like other hardcore Enuff Z’Nuff fans, Fennell believes that the group was unfairly pigeonholed as part of the Hair Metal genre.

“The record company signed them because they had great songs, but the record company needed to make money, so they put them in the same bag as anybody else. [Original Enuff Z'Nuff singer] Donnie [Vie]’s songwriting and Donnie’s voice superseded all of that shit.”

Fennell's love for Enuff Z’Nuff remained so strong over the years that he simply couldn’t refuse Z’Nuff’s offer to join the band. Before he knew it, he was sitting next to his new bandmates in a tour van.

“We had two run-throughs in a rehearsal room, and we went, ‘Fuck it; we’re out,’ and that’s it. We’ve never rehearsed since. We learn songs in soundchecks. We’re all old school pros, and [Chip’s] the best Rock bass player I’ve ever played with… He loves this band; he’s never, ever given it up. He’s the same guy who, 30 years later, will put a sticker on a toll booth. He’s that guy.”

Fennell’s arrival in Enuff Z’Nuff is a bit of surprise considering that one of his best-known endeavors was fronting the '90s reincarnation of New Wave giants Ultravox. In 1992, he stepped in to replace former singer Midge Ure in an Ultravox lineup helmed by sole remaining original member, Billy Currie. The Fennell-fronted version of the band released an album, Revelation, in 1993.

“I was in a studio in England, and I was working with the guys from Soul II Soul – a guy named Will Mowat and a guy called Nellee Hooper,” Fennell recalls. “Ultravox were upstairs, and I had met Billy years and years before. He came down and he was like, ‘What the fuck are you doing here?’ He said, ‘Look, we’re auditioning singers; Midge is out. What do you think?’ I went, ‘Okay.’ I went upstairs and auditioned in front of the wives and the girlfriends in a studio booth with headphones; it wasn’t even a rehearsal room. It was as nasty as you get; I either fucked up or I got the gig. I walked out and they were like, ‘We go on tour in three weeks. Are you in?’ I went, ‘Fuck yeah!’ I knew the songs anyway because I loved the band.”

Of course, stepping into the singer positon in Ultravox meant following in the footsteps of two of the New Wave era’s greatest frontmen.

“[Midge] is a great guy and an amazing singer, and I was lucky enough to sing some of his songs,” Fennell says. “For me, John Foxx was better than Midge Ure. I love Midge; I adore Midge, but John had that skeleton face; he looked like he hadn’t eaten in 200 years. ‘Slow Motion’ and all those songs were just game changers for me. I was an Ultravox fan; I used to watch them every Thursday on Top of the Pops.

Not surprisingly, Fennell initially faced tough crowds who were not ready for a new vocalist.

“In Germany, [on] the first day of the tour, we finished [Ultravox's 1984 hit] ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes,’ it went quiet and this guy in the front shouted, ‘That is not Midge Ure!’ I said to him, “Listen, do you want your money back? I’ll give you your money back. Let me do the gig, and I’ll meet you afterwards.’ He came back afterwards, and he went, ‘All good.’ It wasn’t that I was going to carry the mantle, because Midge Ure is Midge Ure – one of the greatest singers I’ve ever heard. ‘Vienna’ is one of the hardest songs to sing ever because you’re going from [sings ‘...walked in the cold air’] to the big notes. I used to dread that every night, because it’s difficult. Somehow, I pulled it off, and I pulled it off because I love the band.”

Although Fennell was involved in the early songwriting stage of what eventually became 1994’s Ingenuity, ongoing personality clashes with Currie led the singer to part ways with Ultravox.

“It was too much for me. I think at that point, he was trying to carry the Ultravox name and I had enough of trying to fill those shoes. As much as I loved the band – and I love the songs dearly – it was just time.”

Looking back, Fennell is proud of his time with the group.

“I genuinely, genuinely loved that band. ‘Sleepwalk,’ ‘Slow Motion,’ ‘Vienna,’ you fucking name it.”

He remains particularly fond of  “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes,” even though replicating the song’s high-register vocals was far from an easy task. 

“I loved it as a kid, but when I started singing it, I hated it! I was like, ‘Oh, God, please!’ The lights would go down, and I'd go, ‘Oh, God. Here we go!’ It would kill me. But I was in the band, and it was wonderful.”

Following his stint with Ultravox, Fennell got involved in music publishing, eventually leaving his life as an onstage performer behind.

“For me, it just felt right… I decided that I didn’t want to do music anymore. I wanted to write, and I wanted to be in the business, but not play anymore. But [Chip’s] been hounding me for about 15 years, and he’s a hard man to say no to!”

With Enuff Z’Nuff set to release a new album and currently tearing it up in clubs around the country, Fennell is enjoying the best times in his career in the here and now.

“I’ve be blessed. I’ve been with Ultravox, and I’m now with one of my closest friends. I’m having the fucking time of my life, and I’m grateful to be doing this again.”

Chip Z'Nuff Interview

Official Enuff Z'Nuff Website


Guns N' Roses: What's Next?

Guns N’ Roses are having one hell of a year.

When original members Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan officially reconvened for a long-rumored reunion tour, there wasn’t a soul alive who didn’t think the jaunt would be a huge success. Although the “Not in this Lifetime” tour hit the road without classic members Steven Adler (drums) or Izzy Stradlin (drums) in tow, it far exceeded industry expectations. According to Live Nation, the tour had already grossed more than $100 million in ticket sales by July 2016 – and that was for the first six shows alone. This success has undoubtedly been made stronger by two high-profile guest appearances by Adler, who joined the band onstage at their Cincinnati and Nashville shows in July. The following month, he hit the stage with Guns N’ Roses again during the second of two shows at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. These three appearances marked the first time Adler played on stage with Guns N’ Roses in 26 years.

Although Adler only played “Out Ta Get Me” and “My Michelle” at each of these shows, his return to the GNR drum throne was a triumphant victory for a man who had finally overcome decades of addiction. Adler’s old friend and former roommate, Chip Z’Nuff, could not have been happier to see four of the original five members play music again. 

“We used to sit in [Steven’s] house in Studio City and pray that one day Guns N’ Roses would call him back,” he says.

While this was Adler’s first time performing under the GNR banner in more than two decades, it wasn’t the first time he shared the stage with some of his former bandmates. In 2007, he played alongside McKagan and Stradlin during a show at the Key Club in LA in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Appetite For Destruction.

“Duff and Izzy came down, and we all played together at the rehearsal,” Z’Nuff recalls. “Because it was such a good rehearsal, they said, ‘Keep the bass amp up there. Chip’s gonna sit in with us, too.’ I played bass all night with those guys. Duff and Izzy came up, and Duff played a couple songs on bass with me, but for the most part, it was me playing with the Guns N’ Roses guys – Steven, Izzy, Duff, myself and the singer from Hollywood Roses [Colby Veil]. Slash was on the side of the stage with [former guitarist] Gilby [Clarke]; they didn’t come up because they thought that maybe if there was ever a reunion, they didn’t want to muck it up with a show like that. They wanted to do it the right way, with Axl there.”

Five years later, Adler joined McKagan, Slash, Clarke and later drummer Matt Sorum for a live performance during the band's induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. (Neither Rose nor Stradlin turned up at the festivities.) According to Z’Nuff, Adler was ready to participate in the “Not in this Lifetime” tour, but fate had other plans.  

“He was going to be on the beginning of the tour, and the lawyers all fucked it up; they just couldn’t get it together,” he shares. “They were trying to lowball him; they weren’t treating him with love. But Steven is such a loving, kind man; he just wanted the opportunity to get back out there. Guns N’ Roses owe it to the fans more than anything to do this; the fans provided Guns N’ Roses with a wonderful living, and that’s all they want - the original band.

“When they first started playing, Steven went down to rehearsals; he was going to be a part of it. The first rehearsal went great; they were all happy,” Z’Nuff adds. “The second rehearsal, he came down and couldn’t even fucking stand up. He pulled a disc in his back. He had three epidurals trying to fix his back. That’s a lot. He couldn’t do it; he wasn’t sure if he’d ever be able to do it with Guns N’ Roses. But with time and a lot of prayers being answered, he was able to get back on the horse again.”

Z’Nuff was one of the first people to hear from Adler after he made his long-awaited return to the Guns N’ Roses stage.

“Steven called me that night after the first show; he was so happy. I go, ‘Where are you, bro?’ He says, ‘I’m in Cincinnati right now. I’m on the tour bus.’ I go, ‘What tour bus?” He goes, ‘I’m with Slash!’ I go, ‘You’re kidding me! You’re hanging out with Slash?’ He says, ‘Yeah, I’m traveling with Slash.’ It was Slash, his girlfriend and the security guard; that was it. I go, “Bro, just be careful. Be safe on the tour, and congratulations! I’m so fucking happy and proud of you that you got this opportunity.’ He goes, ‘I’m going to Nashville!” So he played the next night in Nashville, too.”

So what’s next for Guns N’ Roses? Naturally, Adler’s appearances led to the usual speculation of a full reunion of the Appetite For Destruction lineup. According to Z’Nuff, the chances of this actually happening might be stronger than ever.

“The rumor mill’s been going crazy,” he says. “I text [Steven], and he texts me and tells me how much he loves me, which is fine, but he really didn't tell me much of what’s going on except that in 2017, they’re planning on doing another big, long tour and they’re trying to get Izzy involved as well.”

In an interview with me last year, Adler discusses some of the reasons why he believed the original lineup worked so well together:

Nothing was going to stop us. We were going to do it this way or no way. I think what made it happen and be so magical is there's five individuals with five different styles. I liked the Queen and the Pop music and the Kiss. Axl liked Elton John and ELP, and then we got Izzy with The Rolling Stones and Slash with the Aerosmith and Zeppelin and Duff with The Stooges and The Fartz and things like that. All together, it worked really well. That, and me and Duff really worked together so well because he's originally a guitar player. He doesn't play bass like a bass player; he plays bass like a guitar player. That's how I learned how to play drums – with a guitar player, which was Slash. He fit right in perfectly. It was magic; we could do no wrong. Even if we went out of our way to do wrong, God would stop it and make it right. It was just such a wonderful time. Even our worst shows were great.

As long as there’s a band called Guns N’ Roses on the road, there will be a demand for the Appetite For Destruction lineup to take the stage.

“[It] would be nice if you had all five guys there,” Z’Nuff says. “The fucking band owes it to the fans and the people. I hope they do what’s right; that’s most important. It’s not always about the dough. If you’re a multimillionaire already, you’ve got to look at the big picture. There are a lot of people out there who helped put you in that position. Show some love.”