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

 

INTREVIEW WITH MICHAEL T ROSS


by Mark Rockpit.

 

Photos by Leah Burlington

 

Michael T Ross is a cool guy with great boots and a wicked sense of humour. If you met him down at your local he would soon be a firm friend, he just has that kind of warm personality that makes you feel at ease, like meeting an old friend. I bumped into him by chance at the Great White show out at the Sunset Station in Henderson NV where he tapped me on the back and asked about how the Lita show went at Rock N America (I was wearing the t-shirt from the festival). We ended up having a good chat about the state of rock music and what he had been up to recently (he’s a busy man as you will see). We met him again, purely by chance, at the packed Scorpions and Cinderella show later that week at the Thomas and Mac Centre in Vegas (both shows are reviewed on the LIVE page). He invited us down to Vince Neil’s bar ‘Feelgoods’ out in the Vegas ‘burbs a couple of days later where he played a short set of covers.

 

We got in a few beers and met some new friends before Michael turned up with ace-photographer Leah Burlington (who took the shots in the interview) – check out her links at the foot of page!

 

As a musician Michael can make a keyboard scream with pleasure and moan with pain and to be honest I’m not sure who he hasn’t played with over the years. How about Hardline, Angel and Lita Ford just for starters? Like all the best interviews this on came out of the clear blue skies of coincidence. But I’ll leave the talking to him. If a band needs some keys, put him on your speed-dial!

 

It’s late; we’ve sampled a few Pabst by now and a couple of glasses of Vince’s own tequila. We head outside whilst the bands inside play on.

 

Photos by Leah Burlington

 

Mark: Most people in Australia won’t have heard of Michael T Ross, just give us a brief CV, and tell us a little bit about yourself.

 

MTR: I wear purple underwear on stage! I play keyboards for Lita Ford, Angel and Hardline, and anyone else that will pay me! On stage I like to dress up my keys, I like to put snow globes on top of my keyboards at shows and also I use nose spray. My nose gets all clogged up from the smoke and the humidity, especially in other countries. Lita also uses it, and so before shows, we grab our nose sprays and we cheers each other!

 

We laugh at the very rock and roll image!

 

Mark: So where did it all start for you, do you come from a musical background? Or did you just fall in to the rock and roll lifestyle?

 

MTR: I have an older brother who started on the piano, and like any younger brother I wanted to follow in my brother’s footsteps, and so I started at 8 years old playing piano.

 

Mark: Who was your first band? Was it in high school?

 

MTR: Yes, it was, I grew up in Southern California, and still live in L.A. I started on the Sunset Strip at age 17, I played The Roxy, Whiskey, and I played in a band with the bass player for Boogie Nights, who were a popular band in L.A.

 

Mark: I’ve not heard of Boogie Nights, what sort of music did they play?

 

MTR: They are a disco tribute band who started about 15 years ago in L.A. and they grew nationally and are now based here in Vegas. I grew up with the band members in a small town about an hour out of L.A. After taking classical piano lessons for a few years, they introduced me to electric guitars and electric keyboards, and it just grew from there.

 

Mark: What was it like on the Strip, back in the day?

 

MTR: I felt like I’d missed the boat a bit, as in 1992, things started dying out, but I still had a dream to play the music that I like, definitely melodic rock music.

 

Mark: It was quite interesting a couple of years ago, when we came back to L.A. after a long time, and there were hardly any rock bands playing the Strip, punk had come back, and there were new wave bands, but this year coming back, it’s all rock bands again. Do you think, coming from L.A. there’s been a resurgence locally, or is it a false dawn?

 

MTR: That’s interesting, because I feel it never really died. If you look at Bon Jovi, and other big acts, they always sell out, all these big concerts have always continued on, and when Aerosmith sold out the L.A. Forum, with 18,000 people, and a week later someone asked me “Isn’t rock dead?” I’m like “Wow, Aerosmith just played down the street, and sold out”, so I think it’s just a false perception.

 

Mark: I think I was talking more at a grass roots level, but yes I agree at a national level, it never really dies. One of the people we spoke to recently, Jay Jay French from Twisted Sister said “Rock is dead, you can’t make money from it anymore, the only way is by playing big festival dates, there’s no point recording albums, because no one listens to them anymore, no one comes to tours anymore.” But, when you get to the reality of what’s happening in America at the moment, there are still lots of bands with tours going on. We saw Aerosmith in Vegas last week, in front of a packed house, with Sammy Hagar, and around 10,000 people there. We both saw the Scorpions in Vegas, it didn’t sell out but pulled respectable numbers, it seems there are 2 differing perceptions of the state of rock!

 

MTR: It’s Interesting using Twisted Sister as an example, because they’ve been headlining festivals, always! They’ve always headlined and played in front of thousands of people. There’s never been a moment when there hasn’t been a crowd for Twisted Sister.

 

Mark: Going back to you, what was the first big band that you played with? And how did you get the break?

 

MTR: As far as internationally, it was when I joined Hardline. Around 2001, I teamed up with Johnny Gioeli who is also in Axel Rudi Pell since 1998, and it actually started when Geoff Scott Soto, who was the lead singer for the band Boogie Nights, and I became friends with him, and I wanted to be in his band. He’d just got signed for a solo record for Frontiers, in 2001, and I went ahead and met Johnny at that time, and went ahead and joined Hardline, and both of our albums came out at the same time on Frontiers. So about 8 or 9 years ago was when things started to really take off for me.

 

Mark: So, how did you get involved with Lita Ford?

 

MTR: I’m with Collier Entertainment, a management firm in New York, my representative, Danny Stanton gave me a call in June of ’08 and said Lita Ford was making a come back tour, and he’d like me to get on a plane the next day, which I did, and I ended up being in New York for 2 months, and things took off from there. We’ve been on tour off and on since then.

 

Mark: When we talked to Lita at Rock n America, a couple of weeks ago, we asked her, now that she’s got the reality show coming up, what are the possibilities of her playing Australia, and her answer was that nothing was out of the question, as far as the TV show was concerned (though she was probably just being nice!). Are you likely to be a part of that? And if you do come to Australia what do you think the reaction would be?

 

MTR: I think it would be amazing. From all the years of touring around the world, I could never seem to find a touring route that would take me to Australia or New Zealand, it always seemed to get skipped, so having that opportunity next year when Lita gets picked up for the TV show, and the opportunity of a world tour, it would be very, very exciting for us.

 

Mark: I understand that you very nearly didn’t end up with Lita though?

 

MTR: In June of 2008, I had a meeting with Matthew Nelson, and he asked me to join the band, he said they were out of a 14 year retirement, and his drummer Bobby Rock, who played with Hardline, referred me. I shook his hand and agreed to do the shows and we were going to start rehearsals. The first show was opening up for Boston at an arena, I was very excited and told all my friends, and the very next day, Danny Stanton called me for Lita! So, I had to call Matthew back and tell him, it was like the same story as Nelson, as she was out of a 15 year retirement! At first it was a hard one, as I really like the Nelson brothers a lot, I loved ‘After the Rain’ and I had practised 4 songs, but I had to go with the queen of rock!

 

Mark: That would have been a hard call. Back in the day, I was in to a bit of harder stuff, but Nelson was so melodic and so different to all the other bands that were around at the time. ‘Love and Affection’ was a classic, and when you listen back to all their albums, ‘Imaginator’, that should’ve been there second album, was a really heavy, dark album, and really good. We shared a plane back from Rocklahoma with Matthew in 2008, and he was a really nice guy, and then I did an interview with Gunnar about a month ago, and he was really cool too!

 

MTR: Yes, they would’ve been great to work with. It’s my understanding they are actually in discussion with Serafino (Perugino head of Frontiers Records).

 

Mark: I can update you on that, Michael! They’ve got three albums coming out with Frontiers. They’ve got a live album from back in the day, called ‘Perfect Storm’, and a new album that’s been recorded called ‘Lightening Strikes Twice’. I’m hoping to get a few samples from Gunnar soon, he let me know they were all done, but he couldn’t send me anything till he’d sent them to the label of course! The third album, ‘Before the Rain’ is a set of demos, 30 of the 58 songs they recorded before they did the ‘After the Rain’ album.

 

MTR: Really! Nice! They were never released?

 

Mark: No, about 16 never made it.

 

MTR: I bet that’s good stuff.

 

Mark: I’m sure it will hit all the right spots!

 

Mark: I’ve always been a massive fan of Angel; even before I discovered Kiss and Aerosmith I bought an Angel album! I remember after buying Blondie’s Plastic Letters (my first record), I bought Sinful by Angel the next week, which as far as I am concerned is a flawless album; there isn’t one bad track on there! How did you become involved in Angel?

 

MTR: Danny Stanton!! Hey, it’s who you know in this business!! I joined Hardline in 2002, we put out Hardline 2, and we played England, and the Gods Festival with Geoff Scott Soto and Eric Martin, and then we came back after that successful show, and Johnny said he wasn’t interested in doing any more shows, and it was heart breaking for me, because I loved Johnny’s voice and loved Hardline, and the Double Eclipse record and Neil Schon and all that. So, I got approached by Danny Stanton in 2003, and he asked me to join Angel, and I’ve been playing with them ever since. Danny booked us for Europe and we went out with Sebastian Bach, in 2004, it was his first solo tour. We played in Switzerland and the Bang Your head Festival in Germany, and we played a Kiss expo in the Netherlands and other stuff. I was a big fan as a kid growing up, I had a Gregg Giuffria poster - he was the rock god keyboardist and that’s what I wanted to be! It was an honour for me to join that group, and be up there all dressed in white with one of my favourite bands.

 

Mark: I must admit when I bought my first Angel album, I always thought Gregg was the singer, because of the way he looked! And it took me a couple of years and buying a few more albums to realise!

 

MTR: Yeah, it seems to me there were very few keyboard players who got it, who understood that keyboardists don’t have to play behind a curtain, and that we are in the forefront of the music, and we can rock out and head-bang!!

 

Mark: It was funny because one of the best keyboardists I’ve seen recently was the guy from The Sweet, Stevie Stewart, at Rock N America, and as far as flamboyant keyboardists go, he had it, with the boas on the leopard skin prints, and his leg was either up on the keyboard all the time or up in the air!

 

MTR: Yeah, that’s wonderful, being able to step it up as a keyboardist on stage, is something that I always strive to do.

 

Mark; Frontiers records are good friends of ours, and keep us up to date with their new releases, have you got anything on the cards in the way of new recordings?

 

MTR: I do, I have a band called Accomplice, and I’ve been in the band since 2000. I had Johnny Gioeli sing on our last record, also Simon Phillips, the drummer with Toto, and many others was on there, and they produced it. I pitched it at Frontiers, and they loved it, it’s very melodic rock, but they felt it was confusing to the fans as another Hardline record was in the works. I have a new record with Accomplice, that’s ready to come out, and I’ll be pitching it again, but this time we don’t have Johnny singing on it. I also have about 4 or 5 releases with Frontiers, I played on Josh Ramus, who’s the guitarist for Hardline, on his album, ‘Living in the Light’, and I played as a special guest on other Frontiers releases.

 

Mark: Any live gigs planned?

 

MTR: Yes, tonight here at Feelgoods, with some local guys, they gave me a set list, and we’re just gonna have fun and jam out!

 

Mark: Have you got any regular gigs in L.A.?

 

MTR: Not really, I’m just focusing at the moment on albums. I played keyboards on the last Lizzy Borden release, ‘Appointment with Death’, and Martin Anderson is talking to me about the new record, and I hope to be a part of that. A couple of weeks ago I recorded some piano tracks for the new XYZ record. I also played with a band called Marconi, out from Italy, and just too many more projects, to mention right now!

 

Mark: We caught up with Lizzy at Rock in America, and those guys are also looking at the possibility of coming over to Australia if they got the right offer. Would they bring over a keyboardist?

 

MTR: Well, yes, Lizzy, Martin and I have had many discussions about me playing keyboards. They’ve recently lost Chris Hanson, their second guitarist, he’s no longer in the group, but they’ve now replaced him. I did mention to Martin, that I’d be interested in playing both guitar and keys in the band, as I’ve been growing with the band and seeing how amazing they are live, I would be really interested in playing with them. They know I’m available and I’d gladly do it.

 

Mark: You mentioned working with XYZ and Terry Illous. One of the highlights for me at Rocklahoma 2008 was seeing them play, Terry has a great voice, I understand you know him quite well.

 

MTR: Yes, Terry and I both live in Hollywood, and I started working with him about 7 years ago, and we actually just performed together in May, in Italy. We played with Steve Saluto (Italian jazz guitarist) and we played at Bologna at a music festival, and a couple of club dates also. Terry and I have worked together with Accomplice; I employed working with him as Johnny was off in Europe with Axel, so Terry did perform with us in New Jersey, and all along the east coast. He is an amazing guy and a great singer, and I was very happy he called me to play keys on the new XYZ record.

 

Mark: It does sound to me like there is work out there for melodic rock keyboardists out there if you can find it.

 

MTR: Yes, I feel blessed being a keyboardist, as there are a few players who get most of the gigs, like Tony Franklin, Marco Mendoza, and Brian Tichy in their respective fields. Brian of course just got hired for Whitesnake. When top artists are looking for someone, there’s a circle of guys who are asked first, and I’ve been blessed to be included in that circle. If I’d have been a guitar player I don’t know if I would have survived, there are thousands of great musicians out there. I’ve been fortunate to grow up in L.A., and get to know everyone that I needed to, and with that combination, I’ve been fortunate to get called first for a lot of the gigs.

 

Mark: When we went to the Great White concert here in Vegas, we met up with Paul Shortino. You mentioned there may be an opportunity for you to also work with him?

 

MTR: I sure hope so! I think he is an amazing guy and a great singer. I played on Jeff Northrup’s new solo record ‘Wired in my skin’, and Paul and Jeff did a record together, and I actually sat next to him at the Scorpions concert we went to, and he gave me his card and we just started a relationship and we hope something can come out of it. That’s one reason why I’m out here in Vegas, there’s so much to do, some great rock bands.

 

Mark: Yes, we’ve noticed, it seems that Vegas and Phoenix seem to be the rock capitols at the moment.

 

MTR: Yes, it’s unexplainable, I love Hollywood, I love my town with the great clubs, the rock has never died. Just because Brittany Spears came out doesn’t mean that people stop going to rock concerts.

 

Mark: Tell us something no one will know about Michael T Ross.

 

MTR: I do like playing different styles, it’s basically melodic rock to progressive rock, and I also play keyboards with Missing Persons, with Dale Bozzio. We did a 2 week run from Chicago to New York.

 

Mark: Now that is something I didn’t know, so you worked with Chip?

 

MTR: Yes, Chip Z’Nuff, we have worked together with Missing Persons, on many shows, from San Francisco down to L.A. Chip actually got me in the band, we’ve been friends for quite some time.

 

Mark: Everyone in the rock world seems to be connected in some way.

 

 

MTR: It’s a small world, and again it’s to my advantage, growing up on the Strip and meeting all these guys, and as I got older and fine tuned my craft, and when I was ready I approached them and said lets rock, and fine musicians like Chip said let’s do it!

 

Mark: It’s great to hear that rock music is thriving. In Australia the festivals are putting in more rock bands, it’s turning away from the new metal stuff. Europe is still of course the hotbed of rock!

 

MTR: Yeah, there’s a band called Pagan’s Mind I heard, and I’m real excited about them, the singer Jorn Lande is amazing, he’s great.

 

Mark: I’ve been a fan for a while now, but no one seems to have heard of him here in America.

 

MTR: It’s sad that a lot of rock fans in the States, haven’t really caught on to what’s going on in Europe. I do focus on Europe a lot, I’m going back out there in October to Croatia, and I’m opening up for Richie Kotzen on his tour.

 

Mark: The interesting thing about Europe, especially Eastern Europe, is that rock never died.

 

MTR: Absolutely, the fans are unbelievable, and all the shows are sold out.

 

Mark: The European festivals especially are the biggest, and it’s great to come to America, to Rock in America, but the Bang Your Head festival, Sonisphere, and even the Download festival all in Europe really blow away the festivals here for numbers.

 

MTR: I agree with that. We had some shows with Lita, opening up for Motley Crue, in Italy, with Heaven and Hell at the Sweden rock festival, and with Journey at Bang Your Head. Those memories are going to be with me forever. I’m a proud American, and I’m happy with the festivals we have here, and I hope they continue. People are finally starting to catch on to it!

 

Mark: The Melodic Rock Festival in Chicago this year was put on by Melodic Rock.com, another Australian web site. I think, Andrew, was a bit disappointed with the turn out this year. I imagined Chicago to be an absolutely perfect place to put on something like that, because of the population, and it makes you wonder with the Midwest festivals, like Rocklahoma, where most of the fans come from.

 

MTR: Yes, it seems a lot of fans in the States don’t want to travel very far. It’s nice playing in a club in Italy, when people have travelled 14 hours on a train to come see us perform. Here people don’t want to drive just to the next state to see a show.

 

Mark: Our final question and we do ask everyone this, is ‘What is the meaning of life’?

 

MTR: Kitty Cats!! Purple bras, rock keyboards, and Italian women!

 

Mark: That’s my favourite answer so far!

 

Laughs.

 

Mark: Thank you so much for talking to the Rockpit.

 

MTR: Thanks, I think it’s amazing that you came all the way out here from Australia, to support Rock n Roll here.

 

Mark: I think it’s amazing that we bumped in to you by chance, at the Great White concert.

 

MTR: Yeah, I came up to you and it was interesting to hear what you had to say, and then we met again at the Scorpions concert, and you’re having a great time, right?

 

Mark: I’m having the best time!

 

MTR: Does rock look like its dead to you man?

 

Mark: No way.

 

MTR: No way, that's right man! Great White was a good crowd, so was the Scorpions, and everyone’s happy that Cinderella is back. When we played Rocklahoma in 2008 we were scheduled with Cinderella, and they did not perform, so we’re just glad to see Tom back singing and sounding great as ever.

 

Mark: Thanks so much again Michael, and please keep in touch. Any final words for everyone out there?

 

MTR: I just want to say to reach me; I’m at Facebook.com/rockkeys. I’m working on a new solo record right now with Atma Anur, the drummer for Hardline, Ritchie Kotzen and many others, and I have demos up, that I’m excited about at reverbnation.com/michaeltross. Thanks a lot Mark for having me.

 

Mark: Enjoy the rest of your time in Vegas. And I still want to know where you got those boots...


Mark Rockpit

 

Michael's Links:

http://www.myspace.com/michaeltross

facebook.com/rockkeys

 

Thanks:

Many thanks to Michael for the interview and all the stories; and to Leah Burlington for the photographs. Also thanks to the very cool bar staff at Feelgoods and to the local crowd and rocking bands we met there (big hi to Dan!). You can keep in touch with Michael at the links above and I’m sure he’ll be up there on our news pages from time to time!

You can check out Leah’s work at her site: leahburlington.com and her Myspace at Myspace.com/leahrockphotographer

 

Photos by Leah Burlington