Interview - Jesse Damon
From July 2003. Jesse Damon has had a long and established relationship with Gene Simmons which has resulted in his co-writing material with Gene, which was used and not used, on KISS albums. Jesse has also done demo work, both with and without his band Silent Rage (which was signed to Simmons Records in the early 1990's), with Gene and two of the tracks have been released in the last couple of years, "Domino" (Box Set) and "You're My Reason For Livin'" (Gene Simmons Sex Money KISS Audio CD Lunch Box).
Jesse was kind enough to do a Q&A with the KISSFAQ. Jesse has recently release a solo album, "The Hand That Rocks", produced by Paul Sabu (yeah, Paul Sabu, the very talented guy whose recordings of "Wet And Wild" and "Rock Me Slowly" are often attributed as Eric Carr demos in KISS collector circles!) on Fire Records. The album includes the Jesse and Gene co-written song "Everybody Needs Somebody". KISSFAQ would like to thank Jesse for taking the time to answer this Q&A!
KF: When did you decide to try and make it in the music industry?
JD: I made my decision after going to my first few concerts, and after seeing the bands perform on stage I said "That's what I want to do", music was in my blood!
KF: You handle lead-vocals and rhythm guitar. Do you play any other instruments?
JD: Actually I play lead & rhythm guitar in Silent Rage, and my solo band. I played 90% of all solo's on the 3 Silent Rage CD releases, and also on my solo CD. I'm a slide player as well as an acoustic player also, but I prefer to play the electric. I also play Bass, and dabble with a little bit of keyboards for writing purposes.
KF: What led you to pick up the guitar, and who, if any are your musical influences?
JD: I picked up the guitar at age 8, when my parents won an electric guitar and amp in a contest! My older brother was playing drums at the time, so naturally I said "I want to play the guitar", and so it began. I started taking lessons for a year or so, but sports drew me away... It wasn't until I was 14 or 15 years old when I went back to it, and really learned!
As for my influences: My "main influences" that I've directly worked with would be Gene Simmons and Paul Sabu. My guitar influences are classic blues based rock guitarists: Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, Jimmy Page, Neil Schon, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck Rory Gallagher, Rick Derringer, Robin Trower, Ronnie Montrose, Ace Frehley, Rod (the bottle) Price, Donald (Buck Dharma) Roeser, Michael Schenker, E.Van Halen. Then in the 80's & 90's: Warren Di Martini, George Lynch, John Sykes, Bruce Kulick, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and acoustic players Jesse Cook, and Mark Antoine. My Current influences are: Doug Aldrich, Reb Beach.
My vocal influences are: Lou Graham, Robert Plant, David Coverdale, Paul Rodgers, Steve Perry, John Wait, Paul Stanley, (Lonesome) Dave Prevett, Robin Zander, Bryan Adams, Peter Cetera, Michael Bolton, Klaus Meine, Don Dokken, Jon Bon Jovi. I probably left out a few!
KF: Silent Rage, by the time you signed with $immons Records, consisted of you, EJ Curse, Mark Hawkins, and Brian James Fox. Howard Marks gave your CD to Gene Simmons, describe your first meeting with Gene?
JD: The meeting was at Gene's house in Beverly Hills. We rang the intercom at the front gate of his estate, and he answered "guy's c'mon up". He greeted us outside in the front yard, and after greeting him with cordial introductions and hello's, we then proceeded into his home and walked back to his pool area in the back yard, where we conducted our first meeting. It felt a little intimidating at first, but Gene has a way with people, and he made us feel comfortable with a few jokes, and some stories, and made us feel quite at home. We discussed his interest in our band, and both the band and Gene had questions for each other to answer.
He told us about his newly formed Simmons Records label, and was interested in signing us to it. In the meeting, we covered a multitude of topics such as our affiliation with Howard Marks and his contribution in sending our CD to Gene, we also talked about material to record, names, band names, image, experiences, and people we knew in common. One name was Hank Schmell; he was the Pyrotechnics & Special Effects Director for KISS from the mid 70's to the mid 80's. I noticed Gene was also a good listener, and he also loved to hear a good joke.
He thinks about what he say's, he never ramble's, and he also listens to what you say, and sometimes questions the way you say something as if your not being clear or to the point. He's an intelligent and articulate person, and can be very gracious! By the end of the meeting we all flew home on cloud 9!
KF: You signed with $immons then fledgling label via RCA. What led the band to go that route rather than some of the other established labels?
JD: First of all, earlier in our career, we had shopped some of the major labels only to get rejection letters. Then, at a later time when we were signed to the Indy Label "Chameleon Music Group" with our first release "Shattered Hearts," we were in search of management, and sent packages to top managers, and management companies in the industry. It was The Howard Marks connection that brought Gene and us together. We sent Howard a package hoping Glickman & Marks would be interested in us, and Howard Marks himself flew out from New York To see us perform a showcase especially for him. Once we talked to Howard, He said "I think Gene would like you guy's, and he's starting up his own label, I'll send your CD to him." We thought great, but really didn't put to much hope into it. When we finally received the call from Gene about two months later, we were literally blown away!
KF: Brian had been the drummer in the Mark St. John project "White Tiger" which broke up in 1988. Apart from the departure, tell us a little about the band's "Spinal Tap" adventures with drummers and how Brian hooked up with Rage?
JD: We'd gone through 6 drummers before finding Brian, and asking him to join us. They ranged from childhood friends, to high school buddies, to semi pro's with their own history. Some we fired some fired us! Ha, ha, at least they thought so. What I mean is, they wanted to leave for personal reasons, and some just weren't cutting it! We knew Brian from the Orange County area in Los Angeles, where he lived. We'd seen him out in the audience at the clubs where we were playing at, and would have him sit in, and play drums with us! We also had mutual friends. When White Tiger ended, it was perfect timing because we had just let go of our current drummer at the time, and asked Brian if he wanted to join Silent Rage. It didn't hurt any that we were just signed to Simmons/RCA either!
KF: What led to you singing backing vocals on KISS' "Hot In The Shade" album, and do you recall which tracks you did? Since that album was essentially "sexed up" demos, were you simply helping Gene demo his own material?
JD: Gene called, and asked me if I'd come down to the studio where he was recording, and said "I need you to sing back-ups on a song with me, how about it." I said when, and where... It was at Fortress Studios in Hollywood, the song was "Prisoner Of Love," for the "Hot In The Shade" CD. Written by Gene Simmons, and Bruce Kulick. Around that same time, Gene asked me to come down again, and sing backups on the Gene Simmons Produced Doro Pesch CD, and although I wasn't credited for it on the CD itself, I was paid well!
KF: "Prisoner Of Love" - It's long been rumored that both Eric Singer and Kevin Valentine drummed on the "HITS" album. Do you have any idea who did the drum track on this song?
JD: I'm pretty sure that it was Eric Carr, although I'm not positive. I knew Eric Carr. We'd met several different times from the late eighties, 1988 to 1991. He was a really cool guy! He came to our (Silent Rage) first show on the Black Sabbath Tour in Poughkeepsie, NY for moral support, and to cheer us on! Although I knew Eric Singer from his past projects, I didn't start working in the studio with Eric Singer or Kevin Valentine until 1991. If I had to bet on who it was that performed on "POL," between Eric S. or Kevin V. I say it was Eric!
KF: One track included on the "Don't Touch Me There" album, "All Night Long", was written by Bruce Kulick and Adam Mitchell. How did that song end up on your album?
JD: That was a Gene Suggestion, and a good one! I liked the song when I heard it, and I also liked the fact that this would add some more KISS affiliation to our CD! Adam Mitchell was a proven writer with KISS already, and Bruce was in KISS. But the main thing was the song fit us, and we had our input as well.
KF: Gene only produced three songs on the album, with Paul Sabu and the band handling the rest. What led to this split in production?
JD: Two strong personalities sometimes don't always see eye to eye. I think that was the case. Gene had a vision, and so did Paul, Gene was ultimately in charge, but Paul would not be a yes man. So, Gene finished the last three songs of DTMT. In a way, I'm glad it worked out like that. We got the chance and opportunity to be produced by Gene, and learn at the same time. Gene also sang some back-ups on the song "I Wanna Feel It," for "Don't Touch Me There," of which is an honor.
KF: You toured to support the album, with the likes of Black Sabbath, how did the tour go?
JD: The tour was a blast. It was going fine until Black Sabbath management started having problems with tours details. I'll leave it at that, and not point any more fingers. The venue's we played at were so damn cool! The New York City Palladium, Boston's Orpheum Theatre, Baltimore's Merriweather Post Amphitheatre, Poughkeepsie NY's Mid-Hudson Civic Arena, Philadelphia 's Tower Theatre, Norfolk VA's Boat House, Toronto Canada's Varsity Arena, to name a few... It was pure pleasure to be able to watch Tony Iommi, and the rest of the band jam their asses off every night, after our set!
KF: What happened to Brian?
JD: Brian is now living back in his native home town of Milwaukee WI with his wife Patti, and their two children. After completion of our third Silent Rage CD, he chose not to tour with us, and has since retired from professional music in 2002!
KF: "Thou Shalt Not" was co-written by you and Gene and was released on KISS "Revenge" album. How did that song come about since people have often asked Gene if it was based on a real life experience?
JD: The "REVENGE" album has a theme, and so when it came time for writing the lyrics, the story line used was written with some real life experience about Gene, and some biblical theme to coincide with the rest of songs on Revenge. The music was written first, from several writing sessions I had with Gene, over at his house.
KF: You also sang backing vocals on the "Revenge" album. Was it just on the one track you wrote with Gene, or elsewhere? Ever run into Vinnie Vincent?
JD: These are the song's I sang back-up's on: 1. Thou Shalt Not 2. Unholy 3. Take It Off 4. Tough Love 5. Heart Of Chrome 6. I Just Wanna These are the song's I demoed, and or Silent Rage demoed for the "Revenge" album: 1. Thou Shalt Not 2. Domino 3. Paralyzed Yes, we had Vinnie Vincent to our Silent Rage studio, to record new songs that he was co-writing with Gene. Mark Hawkins engineered the sessions. These songs have not been released.
KF: What was it like working with Vinnie? How was the atmosphere during his involvement during the "Revenge" sessions you were at?
JD: I had met Vinnie in passing over at Gene's house, and was introduced to him. "Unholy" had already been written by the time I got involved with co-writing for Revenge. So I never saw Vinnie Vincent during the KISS "Revenge" recording sessions when I was there. He came over with Gene, to our Silent Rage studio to demo songs that he and Gene had wrote. The atmosphere was cordial, but I didn't stay in the recording room long enough, because they needed their space. As I said to you before, Mark Hawkins of Silent Rage engineered the session, I was merely assisting!
KF: You did co-writing and demo work during KISS' "Carnival Of Souls" and "Psycho Circus" eras. Since none of this material seems to have been used, what can you tell us about the sort of material you were working on and with whom you were working?
JD: Ok, after the "Revenge" tour ended around 1993, I was back co-writing songs with Gene at his house, and in the studio. We wrote about three songs, one of which is in the vain of "Hate," off Carnival Of Souls Album, the title's I won't mention right now. In the studio where we demoed the songs, I played guitar, Gene was on bass, and both Eric Singer, or Kevin Valentine would play drums. At this time these sessions were for possible songs for the Carnival Of Soul CD.
Next, in 1997, Gene called me again and asked for my help with songs for the Psycho Circus CD. I ended up working on three songs, one of which made it to the CD entitled "We Are One.
KF: You didn't want to name any of the songs you were involved in during the "COS" or "PC" eras. That's cool; I know that at least "Everybody Needs Somebody" made the "B-list" for possible tracks on PC. How about I throw some song titles at ya and see if they ring any bells =)
- Hairy Palms (COS)
- I Am Yours (Psycho Circus)
- I Wanna Rule The World (Psycho Circus)
- Rain Keeps Fallin' (COS/Psycho Circus)
- Killing Joke (Psycho Circus)
- Everyday Above Ground (Psycho Circus)
- I'm Back (Psycho Circus)
- Sweet & Dirty (Psycho Circus)
- Carnival Of Souls (COS/Psycho Circus)
- Hunger (Psycho Circus)
- Master Of Flash (Psycho Circus - though it's an old, old Simmons song-title)
- Turn To Stone (Psycho Circus)
- Star Child (Psycho Circus)
- Spirit Is Willing (Psycho Circus)
- Psycho Circus Weapons Of Mass Destruction (Psycho Circus)
- Rocket (Psycho Circus)
- Granny Takes A Trip (Psycho Circus)
JD: Yes they do ring a few bells! As I said, Silent Rage and I demoed a lot of songs for Gene. Some were specific song demos for possible KISS songs, and others were merely ideas of Gene's that he wanted to here in full band form. Here are some of the titles I remember us demoing:
Silent Rage Song Demo Titles (written by Gene Simmons)
1. Your My Reason For Livin' (Song Demo, Sex/Money/KISS Audio CD Lunch Box)
2. Domino (Revenge), (Box Set)
3. Paralyzed (Revenge)
4. Rain Keeps Fallin' (Revenge)
5. Hold On (Song Demo)
6. Rotten To The Core (Revenge)
7. Never Gonna Leave You (Revenge)
8. Love Is Blind (Song Demo)
9. City Burn (Song Demo)
(There are more songs we demoed with and without titles)
Jesse Damon Song Demo Titles (Written by G. Simmons & J. Damon)
1. Thou Shalt Not (Revenge)
2. Everybody Needs Somebody (Revenge), (Jesse Damon/The Hand That Rocks)
(There are more songs we demoed without titles)
3. We Are One (Psycho Circus)
4. Untitled Song (Psycho Circus)
5. Untitled Song (Psycho Circus)
6. Machine (Carnival Of Souls)
7. Seeing Is Believing (Carnival Of Souls)
8. Your My Reason For Livin' (Recorded & Covered By Jesse Damon 2003)
(Included on the next Jesse Damon album)
KF: Any killer tracks from that period which you think will eventually get used?
JD: I not sure what Gene's view is on releasing songs from the past, that were in the running for possible song selections on KISS album's. It's very possible I might record, and release 1 or some of them on my own solo CD sometime. Like I did with the song "Everybody Needs Somebody." That was a possible song for KISS to record, but their next album was Revenge, and it just didn't fit the mold for that CD. So I finally recorded my own version, and released it on The Hand That Rocks! Yes, there is a demo of it recorded by Gene!
KF: Your band was credited on KISS' box set as performing on the demo of "Domino" with Gene. How did the band end up backing Gene and did the band and him do any other demos together geared towards KISS?
JD: Yes, we demoed many songs for Gene & KISS. It started when he was writing for "Hot In The Shade" CD, and Silent Rage was also in writing mode, so that meant plenty of time in our studio. Gene would come to our studio with new song idea's, and pay us to demo his new idea's. It was a good learning experience! He'd have an idea on tape with him singing or humming the melody line, and playing a guitar riff or guitar part to it, or he'd come in and play it live for us. Then we'd make it into a full band song demo. It continued through to the next album. That's when he approached me, and asked if I would like to song write with him for KISS, of course I said YESSSSSSSSS!
KF: Your band performs with Gene on his new previously unreleased demo "You're My Reason For Livin" which was released on the Audio Box Set of Gene's "Sex Money KISS". When was this recorded and what do you recall of the track - great song!
JD: It was recorded sometime between 1991-93. Around 10 years ago. I absolutely thought it was a smash hit, not our demo, I mean the song itself, the chorus "You're My Reason For Livin," say's it all. Coincidently, this year I recorded my own version of "You're My Reason For Livin," and it will be on my next solo album.
KF: For the new Silent Rage album you had four tracks produced by Bob Ezrin. What was your experience like working with the master who is legendary to so many bands?
JD: Let me start by saying Bob Ezrin is a very talented musician, and songwriter, as well as a killer Producer. He has the ability to pull out the best performance of any artist he's working with. That was my experience with him in the studio. He worked a lot with me on my vocals, and melody lines in each song I sang! Bob feels strong about an artist's own believability, if it's not working or coming across in the performance, don't use it! I will cherish the time I spent working with him, and very much want to work with him again!
KF: You co-wrote "Everybody Needs Somebody" with Gene Simmons and the song appeared on your solo album. What can you tell us of the history of this song?
JD: This was the first song Gene and I wrote together, it was in the running as a song for a possible KISS Album, but didn't make it. I liked it so much, years later I recorded it, and put it out on my solo CD! When we wrote the song, it came together very easy. I remember it taking only a couple sessions to write it, and knew this was a good experience for both Gene and I. I thought to myself this is the beginning of a great writing relationship!
KF: What are your current musical plans and projects?
JD: I'm now finishing the last few songs for my next solo studio album. I'm co-producing it with the French Brothers production team! Next, I plan to record 2 more projects back to back. One is a KISS Related Recording CD, consisting of songs I've written with Gene Simmons, KISS, Silent Rage, Jesse Damon Solo CD, and a few choice KISS covers. I plan to have some surprise guest artists appearing and performing on it.
Also, I'm writing and recording song for a Spiritual based CD project Produced by Michael and David French, and recorded at the French Brothers Studio in Burbank, CA. With regards to Silent Rage, at present, I'm writing & stock piling songs for the next possible studio release! After all this is completed, I do have future plans to record what will be my heaviest CD yet! In the vain of Classic KISS & Black Sabbath, with some Silent Rage feel!!! All new material.
Not sure who will produce it, but sure would like to snag Gene Simmons, or Bob Ezrin for that one. But that would be expensive. Only time will tell...