Excerpt from Chapter Five: Boyz Are Gonna Rock
Early in Chapter Five, everyone is gearing up for the Vinnie Vincent Invasion debut release. We talk about my dual life in Houston and La-La land, explore the cultivation of our “Wham Bam Mega Glam” look, and get into details of our tension-filled first photo shoot with famed fashion photographer, Moshe Brakha.
Now, let’s pick things up from the release of the album:
On August 2nd, 1986, the Vinnie Vincent Invasion self-titled debut record would see its official release. Man, there was a palpable vibe surrounding this record, especially in my hometown of Houston. Friends, family, and newfound fans converged upon the local record stores and snapped up copies of this thing like gallon jugs of water before a hurricane. To help matters along, at least on a local level, I had scheduled a record-release party at a Cactus Records, and a drum clinic at an H&H Music, right next door, on the same day. Both were well attended, and the drum clinic in particular would foreshadow a whole other career path I would pursue in short order.
Beyond my little bubble in Houston, sales around the country were nice and steady, and magazine reviews on the record were consistently favorable. It seemed like every week I was jumping out to the newsstand and buying every single magazine that had any mention of the record. These were memorable times, for sure.
The infamous pink vinyl promo 45
A Changing of the Guard
Several weeks later, the momentum was continuing to build. I was still in Houston, doing my usual hurry-up-and-wait routine, when Dana called one afternoon. That was never a good sign, since we would usually catch up late at night at the end of his workday on the West Coast. Afternoon calls from Strum almost always meant bad news.
“Aw, shit,” I began. “What happened?”
“Are you sitting down?” he asked.
“Aw, shit. What now?”
“Robert Fleischman is history.”
This was bad. Robert was the band’s front man… literally the “voice” of a record we had just released, and now he bailed. How did this happen? Why did this happen? How will we survive this?
Obviously, I knew there were some issues, and I was regularly hearing overtures about Robert being “difficult” with this or that. But I never would’ve expected that it might come to this.
Our initial photo session would ultimately provide a bit of a red-flag moment for me, concerning Robert’s long-term standing in the band. Throughout the making of the first record, I only saw Robert at the studio on an occasion or two. Beyond that, I could sense that there was always this undercurrent of uncertainty with regard to Robert’s long-term commitment to, or even interest in, being in the band. It was understated at first. In fact, I remember after my audition when I was supposed to meet Vinnie, Dana, and Robert at a restaurant before going over to Chrysalis for the first time, Dana instructed me not to show up early, since he and Vinnie would be “in a meeting” with Robert. I had no idea at the time what that meeting might have been about, although I got the feeling they had some issues to iron out.
And then, throughout the sessions for the record, I would occasionally overhear Vinnie on the phone with Robert, sounding as if he was trying to persuade him to be in the band, or go on tour with us, or something. This was in addition to conversations Vinnie and Dana would have about other “Robert issues.” Since I was the new guy, I was never fully brought into the fold about any of this and, of course, I never felt like it was my place to ask. But I got the sense that there was some kind of trepidation on Robert’s behalf with regard to fully jumping on board.
In retrospect, I suppose that made sense. Musically speaking, I always saw Robert as more of a Peter Gabriel or David Bowie kind of guy as opposed to, say, a Vince Neil or Bon Scott kind of guy. He was very creative and artistic, and liked to compose and sing a variety of different things. It seemed that his affinity for singing Vinnie’s songs—and his freakish ability to belt out these super intense vocal tracks—was more of a fluke than a specific career calling. And business-wise, remember, Robert was an industry veteran at this point: a known guy (having had a short stay in Journey just prior to Steve Perry), fairly established in the scene, earning his living from performing and writing music, and with a wife and kid. He wasn’t exactly prepared to jump out on the road with some newbie band, being away from home, and busting balls for newbie band chump change. At least that was my impression.
From our one and only photo shoot with Robert
Yet another factor in Robert’s reluctance that I would find out much later was this: when he and Vinnie collaborated on that initial demo that got Vinnie his Chrysalis deal (“Boyz Are Gonna Rock,” “Shoot U Full of Love,” and “No Substitute”), Robert was under the impression that Vinnie would be shopping the trip as something of a partnership. Apparently, Vinnie didn’t get that memo, and a solo deal was signed where Vinnie was the sole artist on the contract. When Robert found out about the particulars of the deal and how he hadn’t been included as an equity partner, he pretty much lost interest in the project and pulled away. Eventually, of course, he would be persuaded to sing on the record, but I don’t think he ever fully warmed back up to the idea of VVI being his mainstay gig.
In the end, I would never really know exactly what went down. At the time, I surmised that the final straw had something to do with business and money, and perhaps a contract Robert wasn’t willing to sign. I heard different versions of the chain of events from Dana, Vinnie, and George Sewitt, but I would have a more firsthand experience a few months down the road of how and why Robert might have chosen not to sign a particular agreement. But I don’t recall speaking to Robert directly about it at the time, so I never really had an opinion about the fallout one way or the other… except that it was a regrettable situation for us to have to try and salvage.
So now, as the record was out there really starting to make some noise, we had to find a new singer and somehow not lose momentum or create confusion in the marketplace. It was a bitch. Plus, Robert’s chair was not exactly the easiest to fill. We couldn’t just jump out to the Strip and find some pretty boy to step in and save the day. This motherfucker would have to have an iron throat to be able to sing those vocal parts… and hopefully be a great front man, to boot. The search was on.
Once again, being in Houston kept me out of the loop. I would only hear bits and pieces of how their efforts were coming along. Don’t quote me on this, but it seemed like Lenny Wolf was one of the first names to pop up. I believe he might have been with Stone Fury at the time, but he was still relatively unknown then; he struck me as a strong candidate. Not sure where things may have stalled with him. Ironically, we would all indirectly cross paths in a fortuitous way a year-and-a-half later during the All Systems Go era.
My lone recommendation was a singer I had briefly worked with named J. Jaye Steele. J. Jaye was a bad motherfucker, and had recently graduated from the cover circuit I had been on, to touring with ’70s rockers Head East. He was the quintessential veteran hard rock front man, had strong pipes, and was super interested in checking out the gig when I called and asked him about it. I happened to have a decent demo of J. Jaye doing some originals, so I sent it out west, and both Dana and Vinnie seemed impressed with him. Unfortunately, though, J. Jaye would fall prey to a rather unfair audition protocol that Mr. Vincent seemed to favor. Vinnie would call prospective singers on the phone and, after a few moments of introductory chitchat, have them sing a few lines from one of the Invasion tunes, right there on the spot, a cappella! I had no idea Vinnie was doing this until J. Jaye called me after his “audition.”
Naturally, he was blindsided by the request, but he said he did the best he could with a verse and a chorus of, I believe, “Boyz Are Gonna Rock.” He said the call came to a quick conclusion afterward, and that would be the last he heard from anybody. I was bewildered that Vinnie would think this was even a remotely reasonable practice for selecting a vocalist, but what could I say? I really felt bad for J. Jaye, and I wondered how many other bad-ass singers might have been shortchanged from getting a real shot at the gig. But Vinnie would insist “he could just tell” how good a singer was from this over-the-phone methodology.
After a couple weeks of serious scouring, it would finally come down to two guys, both of whom were somehow afforded the luxury of dropping vocal tracks in the studio, to a few songs from the record, for their auditions: Goran Edman, a seasoned singer from Sweden, and a young kid from Las Vegas named Mark Slaughter. Goran sounded really polished and pro on the tracks, and I know he was Vinnie’s early fave. Mark sang the tracks effortlessly, nailing the shit out of all the high stuff, but with perhaps a bit more of a raw edge. Strum and Sewitt were pro-Slaughter from the onset.
It was a close call, but in the end, it was a twenty-one-year-old Mark Slaughter who won the gig. It seems logistics played at least a small role in things, considering what working with the Sweden-based Goran would’ve entailed: work visas, international red tape, expensive travel back and forth, etc. Plus, I think Mark’s youthfulness and malleability might have played a role in things, given all they just went through with Fleischman. This kid would happily show up, for virtually any amount of money, and endure virtually any kind of conditions, with nary a word said about it… just like me. We were set. Kind of.
The only drawback was Vinnie’s overriding reticence about Mark, which would resurface on occasion in the months ahead. I remember the exact analogy Vinnie gave me when we were initially discussing the prospects of hiring him. He said, “If you and I were to watch Mark sing an Invasion song in a cover band at some club, we would turn to each other and say, ‘Hey, the kid did a pretty good job pulling that off.’ ”
In other words, Vinnie thought Mark was a capable imitator of Fleischman, but didn’t initially see him as being seasoned enough to really hold his own. However, the train was barreling down the tracks by this point and a decision had to be made, so Vinnie jumped on board with Mark. And yes, there would be some tense moments in our future as a result.
+ + + + + + +
Once we both arrived in LA to get to work, Mark moved into the Amber digs with me. As the designated youngsters in the band (I was just one year older), Mark and I bonded like brothers—immediately. Mark always had that signature “light energy” of his: super easy to be around, perpetually up in spirits, and with a fun-loving, carefree kind of vibe. It was hard to be in a bad mood around the “Slaughterhouse kid,” as I somehow took to calling him. Plus, Mark had world-class voiceover skills. From Gene Simmons to Donald Duck to pretty much anything in between, Mark could reproduce a wide range of voices with jaw-dropping accuracy. He was always cracking me up with his various impressions.
Hangin’ with the “Slaughterhouse Kid”
We hung out all the time and had tons of fun. Days later, we would find ourselves in the middle of the VVI vortex, with a video shoot, a Ken Marcus photo session, and rehearsals looming.
The Boyz Are Definitely Gonna Rock
As we were entering the golden age of MTV—back when they actually played music videos all the time—doing a video was paramount for any band with a new record. In fact, with little to no radio airplay, a band could make a lot of noise and sell a ton of records merely on the strength of a cool video that had any kind of rotation. Serious, widespread airplay was going to be tough for us, so we were putting a lot of stock in a kick-ass video.
To help us achieve that end, the label hired director Jeff Stein, who was probably best known at that point for doing Tom Petty’s Alice in Wonderland vid (“Don’t Come Around Here No More”). But he also had some deep connection to The Who’s The Kids Are Alright documentary, where they destroyed all of their gear on stage. Bingo! We were all about that, and all of the initial video concept meetings were focused on the idea of doing a modern version of The Who’s gear-smashing routine.
Here are some fun facts about the “Boyz Are Gonna Rock” video that I think are noteworthy:
1) That video shoot was not only the first time VVI ever performed together on stage, but it was the first time we had ever “played” together in the same room. We had never even rehearsed at that point.
2) Prior to the shoot, Mark Slaughter had always been a lead vocalist and guitarist, never just a front man. So that video was also the first time Mark had ever performed exclusively as a front man/lead vocalist.
3) The cymbals I used in the vid had been crudely painted with what was essentially pink house paint from someplace like Home Depot, and sounded like absolute dog shit in real life. I still have those very cymbals tucked away in a storage unit in Los Angeles.
Yes, it’s true: I will be letting a few of these very cymbals go,
in special bundles, during our pre-order launch of the book (4-15-18)
4) The pyrotechnics specialist for the vid was a Vietnam vet who did not appear to be of completely sound mind. This was a source of anxiety for those of us performing closest to the various points of fire and explosions!
5) Mark is briefly seen with a mic stand in his opening shot only. This is because, in an adrenalized moment of spontaneity during his first take, he hurled the mic stand off the stage and against a concrete wall, where it toppled to the ground in three pieces.
6) I have two crash cymbals set up directly behind me that I would strike with a sort of reverse backhand motion. It was Dana’s idea to place them in such an unorthodox location.
7) The shoot went on for an exhausting thirty consecutive hours: from 8:00 a.m. on day one, to around 2:00 p.m. on day two. Everyone was baked.
Video shoots are inherently tedious and tiresome as hell: tedious because you have to shoot many, many takes from a variety of angles, and tiresome because there is often a significant amount of lag time between each take. And in my case, there really was no extended break. As the drummer, I had to be in virtually every shot because even on someone else’s close-ups, the camera might catch the drums in the background, so I had to be back there hittin’. Let’s just say it was a long-ass day.
From the set
When it came time for the pyrotechnics to kick in and to set one of our “crew guys” on fire (part of the video concept), things got somber and serious. Some kind of fire marshal guy gathered everyone around the set and went over procedure and protocol. There was a special stuntman fire suit, with Los Angeles Fire Department personnel and plenty of fire extinguishers nearby. They were not even fucking around, and no one could afford to misstep, on any level. It was like, “Damn… shit’s about to get real around here.”
Fortunately, everyone stayed safe through all of those initial pyro scenes—even Vinnie and Dana as they did their gear-wrecking pick-up shots. Now it was time for more explosions to commence and then for me to trash the drum kit. Just before we began, a cheaper “replica” kit was brought in to replace the Pearl kit I had been shooting on, and then Jeff Stein, the director, stepped over to me.
“Okay, Bobby,” he began. “Once I say action, and as soon as you see the big explosion go off, I want you to go absolutely fucking ballistic and destroy this entire drum set.”
“Got it. But how should I do it?” I asked. “Should I start with the cymbal stands, and then…”
“Just destroy everything in sight,” he interrupted. “I don’t care how you do it, but just remember that we only get one shot at this, so make it a good one.”
And with that, he smiled, turned around, and walked away.
Then the Vietnam vet pyro guy walks up to me, looking all crazy-eyed. He directed an assistant to step over with a spray bottle to mist me down with water. I figured he was just trying to give me that “bodybuilder sheen” for the final take. But then she started spraying down my pants and hair. Sensing my utter confusion, he explained:
“So the initial explosion will be happening pretty close by. This moisture is just to protect you from any incidental debris that might happen to fly over… including any flames or sparks.”
Incidental fucking debris? I thought.
Before I could get a little clarification about that, he comes up around my right side, reaches down, and pulls the snare stand toward me so the snare is now painfully snug against my groin.
“Uh… I don’t usually play that drum so close,” I protested.
“That’s to protect the ol’ family jewels. Like I said, the explosion will be happening pretty close by,” he reiterated, stone serious. Then he walked away.
Aah, I got it: using my snare drum as protection from any of this incidental fucking debris. Good God Almighty!
And that was it. As I sat there waiting for a brief eternity, bathing in the hum of hot white stage lights, alone on an eerily quiet set, I could feel a strong surge of adrenalin building, and a pounding thump in my chest, like someone was kneeing me in my solar plexus from the inside out. I had no idea what I was about to do beyond:
Wait for explosion—Destroy fucking drum set
And, friends, that’s exactly what I did. In fact, I don’t even remember hearing the director call out “Action.” There was an excruciatingly loud bang, followed by a searing hot flash of fire… and then I just sprang forward and started assaulting drums and hurling hardware—just trashing everything in my path. All motorized instinct.
Seconds later, once all the gear was horizontal, I remember charging straight toward a camera, for dramatic effect, as if I was going to tackle it. But I side-stepped to the left at the last second, nearly giving the camera guy a heart attack. Jeff yelled, “Cut!” and everyone on the set applauded. It was early afternoon, the day after we started shooting, and now there wasn’t much left on that stage to shoot. They finished up with that closing shot of Vinnie, as he held his guitar over his head among the wreckage. Finally, it was a wrap!
From our photo session with acclaimed Playboy photographer, Ken Marcus
The following week, we all met with Jeff and the production team to see a rough cut of the video. For Mark and I, it was fun to see ourselves in the middle of all that mayhem—especially since it was our first major video production—and exhilarating to watch the vid explode to life with all those breakneck cuts. And I think Vinnie and Dana were largely cool with it, a few misgivings aside.
Soon thereafter, either in spite of or because of its way-over-the-top nature, the video would air to largely favorable reviews.
It would also represent one of the biggest blunders in VVI history.
Most people would figure out that, while it was Mark Slaughter “singing” in the video, it was Robert Fleischman’s voice from the record that they were actually hearing. No big thing, right? What was a big thing, however, was the fact that no one within our organization, legal team or otherwise, thought to negotiate permission from Robert for Mark to lip-sync to Robert’s tracks. It was an almost laughable oversight… laughable, had it not been so costly. Robert would handily win a settlement in the near future, and that would set a precedent for our not being able to do any more vids from the first record with Mark.
Next time, let’s pick things up from Chapter Six, where the infamous VVI “Hype Machine” really kicks in… and we hit the road with my boyhood idol: Alice Cooper!
And don’t forget to bookmark the Bobby Rock Store URL:
Our 30-day pre-order festivities will kick-off on Sunday 4-15-18, around noon PST. I have some crazy-rare collectibles (like those pink cymbals from the “Boyz Are Gonna Rock” video) available in special bundles with the book, and I don’t imagine they will be around too long.
Official release of The Boy Is Gonna Rock: 5-15-18
Oh yeah… one more thing: