The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world
Gasoline Inc Gab O'Brien Interview

MARK Rockpit GETS TO TALK WITH ONE OF HIS MUSICAL HEROES

SAMI YAFFA

OF MIKE MONROE'S SOLO BAND, NEW YORK DOLLS, MAD JUANA

and EX-HANOI ROCKS, DEMOLITION 23 and many more

 

Photo courtesy Sami Yaffa

Mark Rockpit: I have a confession to make when I was 14 I wanted to be Sami Yaffa. I took up bass, but it didn’t quite work out - after I failed to master the bass line to Cheyenne in a week of trying I wisely decided to stay with graphic design!  A year later the first gig I ever sneaked into underage was Hanoi Rocks in Nottingham in 1984. So getting the chance to talk with the man himself is a bit of a privilege for me, and one thing off my bucket list! 

 

Hi Sami – thanks for talking to The Rockpit. How are things today for you mid-Mike Monroe tour?

 

The summer is gearing up to be a busy one w festivals and writing for the new Michael Monroe album, knock on wood, keep it coming…

 

You and Mike obviously have a strong personal and musical connection – you’ve worked with each other many times over the years.  What is it about him that keeps bringing you back through band breakups, and so on?

 

I’ve always loved working w Michael, one of the absolute greatest talents in R’n’R, the real deal and a lotta fun to be around. We go back to when we were teenagers in doin’ this stuff, it’s very intuitive working w him, we basically know what we want to hear and how it should be presented.


 

Tell us about how you first met up with Andy McCoy and how you came to join Pelle Miljoona Oy prior to departing with Andy for Hanoi?

 

I was still in high school when I got a call from Pelle Miljoona drummer Tumppi about joining the band, I went to their rehearsal place where there was a guy that looked like Link Wray in lipstick, thought what an odd character , it was Andy, we started jamming, he blew my mind. Andy and I started in Pelle Miljoona at the same time.

 

What did you take with you to Hanoi from the experience of being in a successful band like that?

 

A lotta miles

 

What was the young Sami Yaffa like?

 

Nuts

 

It was the funky bass that got me about Hanoi, amongst other things of course. It all seemed to come together so well on those early albums and was just so different to anything on the UK rock scene at the time.  I could feel and hear the punk and reggae influences along with the Stones and the Dolls.  What were your personal influences and how easily did they fit with those of the rest of the band?

 

We were all on the same wave length; it was all Clash, Stones, Dolls, Damned, Marley etc….I used to love McCoy’s song-writing, brilliant stuff at that early age.

 

How much did the relatively quick home success of Hanoi affect you?

 

Not much, it seemed like a pre-destined path, get on the train and ride it and see where it takes you.
Pelle Miljoona Oy sold gold in Finland and was hugely popular before Hanoi Rocks got started so I thought that’s the way its supposed to go…

 

 

Can you tell us a bit about what it was really like in those early years living in London?

 

Not understanding a word around me, spending a lot of time in pubs and hearing the word “bollocks” a lot….not seeing the daylight too much, and running into my heroes like Stiv Bators, Brian James, Rat Scabies and Charlie Harper and just havin’ fun and making people go “….bollocks….” on our first gigs in London.

 

I think from memory you were first to leave Hanoi after Razzle’s death.  Can you tell us a little about your memories of him?

 

He was a very close friend and a beautiful guy, I still miss him. Too much fun to be around, a fckn ray of sunshine.

 

 Where were you all at, at that time, emotionally?

 

We were chemically induced emotionally

 

Some music papers reported that you had disappeared and gone back into graphic design, but you always seemed to be playing with someone – did you ever consider stopping being a professional musician?

 

Yea, after Hanoi I was burnt out…..but I got the scratch that you cant itch and let fate take over….

 

Your first encounter with the New York Dolls professionally came when you played a few shows with Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan in 1987?  How were those shows?

 

Actually in -84, when Hanoi toured w Thunders, Nolan on drums, they became friends whom I stayed in touch w after Hanoi split up. I did shows with Johnny in ‘86 and again in ‘88, Thunders and Nolan were 2 giants of R’n’R for me, I looooved playing w them, and now I have a privilege of working w the 2 other giants…..

 

How was the whole Jetboy experience that followed?

 

It was ok, you know, living in LA, in sunshine, being driven around by big-breasted American women and spending my nights in the CatHouse, a funny and somewhat surreal experience…

 

Something I heard about recently was that you also played with Mark Ford (of Burning Tree and later of the Black Crowes) in a covers band, all this at the same time as playing with Jetboy and continuing to play with Johnny Thunders. Do you prefer to keep yourself that busy rather than have downtime?

 

I love playing and get bored easy, if something good knocks on my door and I have the time I usually take it.
 If nothings knocking on my door, I start knocking on doors….don’t take me wrong, I need my leisure time as well, I got the need to chill…..

 

And you managed just the one gig with Mike in LA in 1988!  How did that come about?

 

He was in town, lookin’ for some biz connections, we put a band together and rocked it, simple as that, just a one off.

 

Then there was Smack, and Jerusalem Slim.  I never managed to track down the  Smack album, but despite what you hear about Jerusalem Slim and the Mike v Steve infighting the album had its moments. What was your take?

 

I hate that record, what a waste of time and $$$

 

These were busy days – playing with so many different artists.  Did you ever pause for breath?

 

They weren’t as busy as my days are now… what the fuck happened..?

 

What are your memories of playing with Alison Gordy? There was another Johnny Thunders connection there?

 

I love Alison, it was a fun NYC gig, I just saw her the other day, wish she would get into singing again…

 

Then you and Mike were together again in Demolition 23, where Nasty briefly joined you. What caused the split? I really liked what you guys had going there?

 

Demolition 23 was and remains one of my favorite bands. The original guitarist got hit by a van after copping smack on Avenue C and couldn’t do the tours so we called Nasty, I think Nasty already was done with the music biz in his heart and the thing just fizzled after he quit, what a shame…

 

And then in 1995 you formed Mad Juana with your wife - a very cool band that you still play with. I love the sound – I hear the Clash meets Gogol Bordello in a dark alley after listening to the Velvets in a Mexican bar – how would you categorise your sound?

 

Just like that, I should cop that for our bio……

 

Can you tell us the story behind Demolition 23’s name?

 

I read a book high on something by William Burroughs, I think it was “The Exterminator” There was some kinda method to your mind called “Demolition 23” in the book that is something seriously fucked up, I gotta check into it again…..

 

How much of your roots came through in the sound of that band – it was an unexpected groove for older fans of your work?

 

It’s my Pistols youth, from when I was 14…that’s what we wanted to make, a simple, powerful, loud R’n’R record, never mind the bollocks…..

 

I think it would be fair to say that your resume is pretty long and there’s a lot of variety in there - do your strongest influences come out differently in the different bands you’ve played with?

 

I utilize what I feel is right unconsciously for each moment

 

How have those different influences affected your sound over the years?

 

My bass tone keeps getting thicker

 

Do you prefer writing or is it the playing that really does it for you?

 

I love both, apples and oranges. Often it’s the road that gets you there that is important and interesting , not the end result.

 

Before you joined the Dolls in 2004 there were a heap of other bands you dabbled with like Vasquez and Murphy’s Law and even Joan Jett. Can you share any tour stories with us?

 

Vasques was another NYC band with Rick Bacchus from D-Generation, we lived on the same street, would meet at the bar, and go play a gig that could be brilliant or complete disaster and go back to the bar.


Murphy’s Law was destruction in a van,…I did one Japan tour and one US tour with them, memories are hazy at best, a lot booze, pot, blood, insanity and absolutely amazing shows.
I was with Joan Jett for a year and a half which was cool except it turned into a punching a clock kinda experience, same set list every night and way too serious for my taste.
I have the utmost respect for the lady and she is a true legend, she still keeps chugging along, definitely the hardest working lady in R’n’R biz!!

 

For me the Dolls have always been one of the true greats. How did the Dolls gig come about?

 

Arthur Kane passed away after one re-union show, they called me and I jumped onboard, you don’t say no to that call.

 

I managed to catch you guys in Australia a couple of years ago. It was an amazing night. How did you like it down under?

 

I loved it down there and have been waiting for an opportunity to go back since then, it was my one and only time there, come on ye Aussie bastids, bring us back!

 

Back to Hanoi for a second - was a reformation always just a matter of time?

 

No

 

I personally liked pretty much everything Hanoi put out, but I guess when you grow up with a band you always go back to what made them special in the first place and for me that was the original line-up and the first 4 albums. Do you have a particular favourite album or period of the band’s history?

 

I was only part of the great period

 

And now you’re back with Mike again –this is billed as a solo tour for him, but with you, Ginger and Steve Conte on board it’s more like a supergroup!  How do you guys view the band? 

 

It’s the most fun I’ve had for a long time, I love playing w these guys, a great chemistry.

 

When we last spoke you mentioned you were loving playing with this band - are you planning to record together?

 

Studio in the fall, writing some new stuff as we speak

 

Is life good for Sami Yaffa?

 

La Dolce Vita

 

What does the future hold for Sami Yaffa?

 

La Dolce Vita!

 

And as we always ask, what is the meaning of life?

 

La Dolce Vita!

 

All the best Sami and thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

 

Thanks holmes

 

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