It was a pre-pubescent purchase of Rainbow’s ‘Down To Earth’ and a record collection left behind by an uncle who had gone off to Germany with his band that got me into rock music. Amongst the records were classic 70s albums like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company and 10CC as well as great soul 45s. As a ten year old I’d play Deep Purple’s 45 ‘Fireball’ over and over without noticing that my favourite band, Rainbow, at the time shared the same guitarist. Early teens led to the pop charts but it was Queen’s ‘Greatest Hits’ that was a defining moment in my adolescence. I delved into their back catalogue and albums like ‘Queen II’, ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ and ‘Night At The Opera’ got me hooked and became close lifelong friends.
The MTV years turned me onto the rock bands that were denting the charts (Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Cinderella and the like) as I devoured the rock shows on radio and TV shows including No Limits (they played Loverboy, Honeymoon Suite and Nightranger when the rest of the UK mainstream pretended that they didn’t exist!) and The Power Hour (usually videotaped because it was on at some unearthly time in the middle of the night). By the time of my student years, I’d grown my hair, got the leather jacket and ripped my jeans. It was official; I’d sold my soul and I was a rocker. However, there was a branch of rock that hit the sweet spot more than any others; that was AOR. Even today when people ask what kind of music I like there are still many who reply “A.O what?”. Much maligned by many but we know they’re wrong as it has a mix of great musicianship, big melodies, guitar solos you can hum and some of the finest vocalists any genre can boast. How can you argue with vocalists like Steve Perry, Jimi Jamison or Lou Gramm? Journey, Survivor and Foreigner became my holy trinity. They sang like angels but angels that rocked. I sought out every AOR and hard rock record I could find. Journalist Derek Oliver of Kerrang became like an oracle. If he got himself in a lather about a record I had to check it out. Pre-internet, the record shop was a place of wonder; every visit an adventure. What would you find there? I became a detective who would look for clues on record sleeves to work out if I’d like the music on the disc. Did they look like a rock band? Was it on a record label that other bands I liked were on? Did I recognise the producer? Did the song writing credits include anyone I knew or were the session musicians and backing singers familiar? Did the song titles sound like they rocked? Sometimes this didn’t work but when it did and I found a new artist that I liked it was like winning the lotto. Stan Bush, Jimmy Barnes and Billy Squier were all found this way. Seeing the music live was even better and I caught all the bands I could that came to the UK, and all the local rock and blues bands.
The late 80s also saw a rise in interest again of blues music which helped broaden my tastes. From a love of John Lee Hooker, I traced my way back through the British blues boom of the 60s to the bluesmen of the 1930s like Blind Willie Johnson to find there was a magic there that still resonates almost a hundred years later. The hypnotic blues of Otis Taylor today shows that the blues still has something to say.
My work as a teacher, teacher trainer and academic manager has meant I’ve lived in many countries in Europe, Asia and Africa so I’ve been exposed to a lot of other great music I wouldn’t have ordinarily heard, widening my tastes further but I still always come back to melodic rock. In the 90s when many of my favourite bands were splitting up, there was a moment I thought the genre might disappear but thanks to the perseverance of some bands, the reformation of others and the dogged tenacity of people like Fireworks’ Bruce Mee to keep the music alive, today I am happy to report that there are as many great rock albums being released as ever. Whilst I was living in Italy I got involved in contributing for Frontier’s MRF promotional magazine and got a taste for reviewing. Since then I’ve had the privilege of reviewing hundreds of CDs and interviewing many musical heroes too for Fireworks, Powerplay and Blues Matters. Writing this the day after the news broke about the sad passing of Jimi Jamison, I think myself lucky to have interviewed him and met him a couple of times. It’s a reminder of why I enjoy doing this; to be able to tell guys like Jimi the importance their music has had in your life and to think a review or interview you’ve written may turn someone else on to their music, is a brilliant thing to be a part of.