Friday, June 17, 2022

Catching Up with Chip Z'Nuff, the Hardest-Working Man in Rock 'n' Roll (Really!)

Way back in late 1983, Chicago multi-instrumentalist Chip Z’Nuff and his then-musical partner, Donnie Vie, began recording primitive demos of tunes for what would become the band Enuff Z’Nuff. With a sound more akin to The Beatles and Squeeze than Bang Tango and Sleeze Beez, the duo crafted a deep well of material that stood out like a sore thumb among their Glam Metal contemporaries. Sure, Enuff Z’Nuff looked the part themselves (especially via their videos for “New Thing” and “Fly High Michelle” off 1989’s eponymous Atco Records debut), but the band always had extraordinary Pop sensibilities hidden under all that makeup and hairspray. In an era that produced more style than substance, Enuff Z’Nuff was always a cut above the rest. (Just take a listen to the slice of utter Powerpop perfection that is 1991’s “Baby Loves You.” Case closed.) Enuff Z’Nuff is a band with songs, which is precisely why it is still alive and well after nearly 40 years and 20-plus albums.

That’s not to say that it’s been an easy career for these guys. After a major label run that left Enuff Z’ Nuff in debt more than it made it a household name, the band has spent the past two-plus decades slugging it out in the indie world amidst frequent lineup changes (including a stint with former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Jake E. Lee in tow). Vie jumped ship nine years ago, leaving Chip – the group’s sole original member – to carry on in the vocal position in addition to playing bass. With Chip at the helm, Enuff Z’Nuff has released a series of albums on Italy’s Frontiers Music that stand up to – and often eclipse the quality of – the records released during the group’s glory years. In fact, the past 12 months alone have been one of the most active and creative times in the band’s history.

In June 2021, Enuff Z’Nuff joined Faster Pussycat for the Straight Outta Quarantine Tour, which gave fans a much-needed dose of live Rock after far too many months away. Not surprisingly, Chip was thrilled to finally get back on the road.

“We were probably the first band to go out there and do a substantial tour this whole shutdown, and it was fabulous.”

Last November, Enuff Z’Nuff wore its Beatles fandom on its sleeve like never before with the release of Hardrock Night, a collection of covers of some of the Fab Four’s greatest hits.

“We looked at stuff off Revolver, Magical Mystery Tour and The White Album. We thought there were enough songs on just those three records to put together a whole Beatles reinterpretation,” Chip recalls. “I think we’re the first Rock band that’s ever taken the approach of doing a whole album of nothing but Beatles songs. I know Stone Temple Pilots, Styx, Cheap Trick and countless other bands have covered a song or two, but I don’t think anyone’s covered [an entire album of] songs. Perhaps it was a difficult task to get the licensing for all these songs, but Paul and Ringo have given us the thumbs up. Whenever you get the endorsement of the kings, you can’t go wrong right there.”

The seeds for Hardrock Night were planted years ago when Chip was approached by a tour promoter to participate in a proposed Beatles tribute supergroup alongside former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke, Mr. Big’s Paul Gilbert and drum legend Mike Portnoy (Winery Dogs/ex Dream Theatre). Although the plan never came to fruition, the bassist decided to put the idea down on record when COVID-19 prevented Enuff Z’Nuff from properly touring in support of its 2020 album, Brainwashed Generation. As a result, Hardrock Night was actually done and dusted more than a year before its release.

“In the old days, bands would put out a couple of records a year. We didn’t want to rest on our laurels; we wanted to put this record out right away. We weren’t lazy; we went into the studio and kept recording as much as we could. The biggest fear of any artist is running out of songs. How many can you come up with? All the great bands take a long time to put a record together. It’s not easy, but I felt that with this Beatles record, the songs had already been written. It was just a matter of getting some great performances and laying them down in just the right way. It took that much time for our label, Frontiers, to find an open window – because there’s so much product in this day and age – to get the album out in the streets.”

In addition to Enuff Z’Nuff’s spin on several Beatles classics, Hardrock Night gives a nod to the solo careers of Lennon and McCartney. In fact, Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” was the first song recorded for the album.

“I wanted to get some solo stuff on there as well because I think those songs really speak to the fans out there. A lot of people love John’s solo stuff, and they love Paul’s stuff as well.”

For this writer’s money, there’s probably no other band on the planet better suited for a Beatles tribute album. Naturally, Chip is quick to share my enthusiasm for the finished product.

“Every single song is a juggernaut! It’s a great Hard Rock record. If you like Hard Rock and Pop mixed together, you’ve got to check out this album. It’s The Beatles on 10! There’s nothing but smash Hard Rock beyond belief, in-your-face recordings.”

Only four months after the release of Hardrock Night, Chip was back with another record – his second solo release, Perfectly Imperfect. A Rock/Powerpop masterpiece and easily one of the year’s finest albums, Perfectly Imperfect is Cheap Trick, The Beatles, Third Eye-era Redd Kross, The Posies, Squeeze, Jellyfish and Enuff Z’Nuff all rolled into one. (Frankly, the songwriting on this thing is downright stunning – among Chip’s best, and that’s really saying something.) Guests on the album include former Guns N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler (on the album’s sole cover – Mott the Hoople’s “Honaloochie Boogie”), Whitesnake’s Joel Hoekstra, Daxx Nielson of Cheap Trick and current Enuff Z’Nuff drummer Daniel Hill.

"All songs are written as I see the world through my rose-colored glasses,” Chip says of the album. “It’s my heroin letter to the new generation!”

That’s not all, folks. The summer of 2021 saw the release of Never Enuff: Rarities & Demos, a three-CD/four-LP box set on Deadline Music/Cleopatra Records that collects previously unreleased recordings from back when Enuff Z’Nuff was just Chip and Donnie Vie putting down rough songs on four-and-eight-track recorders. (Chip plays guitar and live/programmed drums on several tracks in addition to bass.) Although the recordings obviously don’t boast the sheen of an Atco Records production, Never Enuff is still quite possibly the only box set in existence that doesn’t have one second of filler. Chip was thrilled to see these early numbers finally hit the public.

“We never thought that would see the light of day. Songs are like embryos; you hang on to them and you don’t want anybody to see them until they’re ready and fully developed. So, those tracks were just sitting in a vault in my library. Brian Perera at Cleopatra Records approached me and said, ‘Hey, we want to put out your catalogue.’ I talked to Donnie’s management company. After many trials and tribulations, we released a record of all the stuff I saved. It has a great energy to it! Remember – these were all done on little DAT tapes and stuff. There was no adding or subtracting; all we could do was go in and master the record. We listened to the 60 or so songs that we had, and we picked the best 40 of them and put them all together on three discs.”

In addition to Chip and Hill, the current lineup of Enuff Z’Nuff features guitarists Tony Fennell (also known for his stint as vocalist for Ultravox) and Tory Stoffregen. The band is currently ripping it up on the road on the Glam Slam Metal Jam Tour with Pretty Boy Floyd. Last month, Chip, Hill and Stoffregen toured the US as the backing band for Chicago rocker Steve Ramone, who served as the opening act for UK legends The Quireboys. Since Chip presumably never sleeps, he also filled in on bass for The Quireboys for the trek. In 2022, you’d be hard-pressed to find a harder working man in Rock ‘n’ Roll. And of course, a new Enuff Z’Nuff studio album is right around the corner.

Nearly a decade after Vie’s departure made him the frontman of the band he co-founded way back in ’83, Chip Z’Nuff is still in the game and shows no signs of slowing down – proof that the real thing will always persevere despite the odds.

“The Good Lord works in mysterious ways. It’s a blessing from above for sure. I’m not a super-religious guy, but that’s the truth. The songs come from somewhere, and it’s a blessing that we’re still going after all these years. Nobody puts a band together and gears it up for failure, okay? I always thought we’d be going for the longest time. The last [other] original guy left, and it’s certainly been tough dealing with that throughout the years, but I think I’ve found my footing. I wear this dress well now.”

The Glam Slam Metal Jam Tour with Enuff Z'Nuff hits the Granite State Music Hall in Laconia, NH tomorrow night. Go here for tickets.

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