Interview with Willie Basse

- Jun 17, 2008 at 10:43PM
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The '80's were a time of rock n' roll excess. Hollywood's legendary Sunset strip played host to countless bands that have left their scar on the face of music forever. Nobody remembers that time better than ex- Black Sheep frontman Willie Basse. During that time frame Basse played with an impressive list of players that includes Slash, Paul Gilbert, James Kottak (Scorpions), Randy Castillo (Ozzy Osbourne) and Mitch Perry. After a lengthy hiatus Basse has returned with his new album The Money Grind, a throwback to the classic metal that once dominated the charts. Basse caught up with PureGrainAudio to give us the inside scoop on his new album, how the hip-hop group Black Sheep ripped him off and living during one of the most exciting times in music history.

A lot of people associate the band name Black Sheep with the hip-hop groud from the '90s. Give us a bit of background info on the Black Sheep that existed during the '80s for those that don't know and how you sold the name to the hip-hop group...
Willie: BLACK SHEEP was a real Squadron of World War II. Baa Baa Black Sheep, or Black Sheep Squadron is an exciting TV series about Pappy Boyington's VMF 214, a USMC fighter squadron of WWII vintage. They had those planes with the cool wings that sort of pointed upward. The Black Sheep Squadron flew 14,000 hours in combat, 13,000 sorties. The second incarnation, The famed "Black Sheep" squadron, fought above the Northern Solomons and Rabaul from August, 1943 through January, 1944. (visit: http://www.freewebs.com/blacksheepone) To me, those guys were real American Heroes! And That's how I relate to Black Sheep.

Coincidence...

There was also a band from upstate New York called Black Sheep that featured Lou Gramm. They were on Capitol Records and I believe recorded two albums. I have one of them around here somewhere! Lou later became the lead vocalist for one of the most successful rock bands of all time, Foreigner. His vocal style, range, phrasing and songwriting set the mark for me. Influencing me as to being able to write and deliver a "Hit Song" while keeping the hard-rock edge. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lou_Gramm) I actually consulted with Howie Hubberman, (owner of "Guitars R Us" the 80's guitar dealer to the stars/ shop on Sunset Blvd.) about using the name, Black Sheep. I got Howie to get in touch with Lou and askfor his blessing, BEFORE I ever used the name. As I heard back from Howie, Lou said "Cool"

So I used the name for over 10-years. I built a following, played countless Gigs, High Schools and my famous Keg Parties that Marc Canter talks about in his book, "Reckless Road, The Making of GnR's Appetite"

We were to be the flagship ROCK band for Motown! YES, Motown. We were sponsored by Fuller Gordy, Barry's older brother, the accountant of the family. We recorded at Mars Studios in Hollywood, but the Motown people were used to recording live, one take, therefore more performance orientated and low budget. They didn't get why it took me a few days to build one song with lots of guitars and choir-like backing vocals that were all sung by me. Needless to say the deal didn't work out, but I remained grateful for the shot, so I included "Stop In The Name Of Love" a Supremes cover on my first Black Sheep album that later came out worldwide on Enigma Records in November-1985.

We had been touring and I heard about some Rappers having an album coming out, there was a big push backing it and they were gonna call it Black Sheep? So I found them and confronted them. I didn't understand how they could spend all this money, release the promo single & video without checking to see if the name was clear! So they agreed to a sum which they NEVER totally paid me and I went solo.

They had agreed in writing to pay me half and the second half if the album sold 500,000. Well, it sold over a million and they never paid me another dime, They said, "Sue Us!" they knew they were on the East Coast, I was on the West Coast and it would cost me almost what they owed me to peruse the matter.

So in 2000, I released Black Sheep-2, Sacrifice an EP on my own Rocks Cool Records. I was not all that serious; I just wanted to know if I had anything fans would be interested in. And I wanted feedback...I was surprised! It was very well received. We toured 18 shows in 30-days. It was in heavy rotation 42 markets nationwide and my song, "Someone Like U" actually went to number 1 in a few markets above bands like, Creed, STP, Godsmack, Korn and Metallica!

Why after all these years did you decide to return to releasing and performing your own music?
Willie: I looked up one day, took inventory and had 42 songs recorded. I think the world needs to hear this music, experience what I do and let them, my fans decide and define the rest of the story of this book called, "My Life"

Where does the title "The Money Grind" originate from?
Willie: When I wrote "The Money Grind", I had George Lynch (guitar - Dokken / Lynch Mob) in the band with Pete Castle (guitar - Castle) and Greg Pecka (drums - Dokken) We used to always joke around and laugh at ourselves, having to make the money to afford to play. I mean, it costs money to be in a rock band, the gear, the show, promotion and lifestyle. Specially now days, but it always has, it's part of the deal that we do.

The album has a bit of a throwback feel, but still modern sounding. How did you approach the writing and recording?
Willie: This is what I do, "Classic Metal" and it will Never Die! I don't try to fit in some preconceived style or pattern, You will never fit me "Into a Box". I do what I feel. It's coming from my heart. You are living my story with me. It's an energy exchange! Everybody loves crank' in guitars, especially when they're good, loud and in your face! I Live For This Stuff, it's who I am! I've spent a third of my life developing "My Sound".

Where did the guest appearances like Randy Castillo originate from?
Willie: Randy was my original drummer in Black Sheep with Mitch Perry on guitar (before he played with Lita Ford, Black Sabbath and Ozzy). I saw Randy at my office, (The world famous Rainbow Bar & Grill on Sunset Blvd). He was touring with Ozzy at the time, and I asked him to stop by to play on a song. He didn't even charge me, he was the coolest, non-egotistical, always professional. That is actually me on rhythm guitar and bass, so the core of the song is me and Randy, that's why it grooves and sounds so tight. There are also other guest drummers on the album like "JBJ" James Bradley, Jr. (Crazy Town / Mary's Danish), Ric Parnell (Spinal Tap / Billy Idol / Atomic Rooster), Todd "Vito" DeVito (Black Sheep / Michael Angelo).

The '80s are known as one of the most debacherous times in music and you were at the center of it all. What are some of your favourite moments or experiences?
Willie: Well, in my book I talk about being there, at Madame Wong's (a very small rock club in Chinatown L.A. where we were mainstays in the early 80's) and experiencing The Police pull up in a U-Haul to play. Doing a recording session with Stewart Copeland at American Recording Studio on Melrose. Also opening for new wave bands like The Motels, Oingo Boingo, Psychedelic Furs. Boy, what a mis-match! Very hard work too. But that's how to cut through the bullshit! If you can throw down to people who hate your style of music and get them to like you and respect you, you've done your job! Or there was PANTERA pulling up to the Troubadour in West Hollywood in a station wagon, pulling a U-Haul trailer and the words "LA, or Bust!" spray painted on it. No one knew who they were, but I did, because they were in the UK mags (like Metal Forces) with Black Sheep. So I went up to them and invited them back to my studio. We stayed up all night jamming & partying. They played me a track called "Pussy Tight" which I don't think was ever released. I remember them wearing MAKE UP and spandex! (Busted! I've got photos too). Or after waiting for months for AC/DC to come play LA, BON SCOTT got arrested at the Starwood for pissing on the front row during the show. He was totally wasted, Show cut short... My Parties were 3-Bands, 3-Kegs and 900 people at my studio! We owned a Printing Press and I had it in my office. The bands that started out at my studio were, LA Guns, GnR, Bitch, Sound Barrier, Leatherwolf. We supplied flyers to the bands that played the Sunset Strip.

You were in bands with some of hard rock & metal's biggest names like Slash, Paul Gilbert, James Kottak, Randy Castillo and Mitch Perry. What was it like to be in bands with each of those guys and any cool stories?
Willie: I think the thing they all have in common is, they were all great players who love playing their instruments. You can tell. It's like when they pick up the guitar, or sit down behind the kit, they go to this "zone" and it's magic, nothing can get to them, they are at home, in that special creative place where nothing else matters, but that particular moment and that's what I try to capture when I'm recording them. Like the old band, Canned Heat. I recorded two albums and a Target TV Commercial on them. They don't do much, but when they get into that zone, it's magic and no one can do "The Boogie" the way they do, It's very special magic! And when I can capture that magic, I've done my job.

Tell us about the show Rock Star Reality you are involved with?
Willie: It basically a reality TV Show showing a day in the life & times of Willie Basse... What it's like to be me, what I go through, etc. It's like walking a mile, or two in my shoes.

What's next for Willie Basse?
Willie: Touring. I want to play to the masses. I have a great lineup right now. I have commitments from:

Geoff Nicholls (Keys - Black Sabbath)
Bobby Rondinelli (Drums - Black Sabbath / Rainbow)
Mitch Perry (Guitar - MSG / Aerosmith / Black Sheep)

I think this will be the heaviest band I've ever had and I've always been blessed to play with the best!

Thanks for letting me tell a bit of my own story in my own words.
Sincerely Yours,
Willie Basse

Article by: Phil Winslade
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