By Thomas S. Orwat, Jr.
The Rods guitarist/singer/songwriter David “Rock” Feinstein will be releasing his second solo CD on November 23, 2010 entitled “Bitten by the Beast.” This hard hitting, nine track release is Feinstein at his all time best. “Bitten by the Beast” has killer guitar riffs, slamming solos and well written metal style anthems. But most importantly, “Bitten by the Beast” includes the track “Metal will Never Die,” which is one of the last vocal performances by Feinstein’s late cousin- Ronnie James Dio. Feinstein regards “Metal will Never Die” as the most important song that he has ever written. Feinstein, who was also the guitarist/songwriter in the Cortland, NY based band Elf, with Ronnie during the early/mid seventies, and had always wanted to record another song with his cousin. Finally, he had the opportunity to do it again. “Metal will Never Die” is currently being played on many hard rock radio stations all across the county.
Recently, Feinstein called us here at RockMusicStar to discuss his new solo CD. During our conversation however, it became very difficult discussing the tragic death of the great rock legend Ronnie James Dio. Feinstein is still very emotional about the passing of his cousin, but he is also very eager to promote his CD, so rock fans can be made aware of Ronnie’s awesome performance. This is what Feinstein had to say.
RockMusicStar: I’ve been playing your new CD “Bitten by the Beast” non-stop since I got my press copy in the mail. It’s an incredible release that really showcases your skills as a songwriter, guitarist and vocalist. You must be very happy and satisfied with this release.
David Rock Feinstein: Thank you. I was very pleased with the way that the CD came out. I wanted it to be as close to a solo project as possible. And after I got the drum tracks down, which were done by a good friend of mine from town, who has never been in any band of notoriety. I kind of crawled in a hole and finished the album myself. I didn’t even play any tracks to anyone until was totally done, because I didn’t want opinions. When I heard the finished product, I was happy with it. I didn’t know how it would be accepted. But, it is pretty much representative of where I am as a guitarist and songwriter.
RMS: When did you start writing and recording this CD?
DRF: Some of the tracks I had written a while ago. I had the basic instrumental tracks done and the drum tracks were kind of piecemealed a few different ones at a few different times. I actually started recording and finished recording at the end of last year, probably last November. That’s when I actually finished the songs and then started recording. Most of the time that I was recording was when Ronnie was diagnosed with cancer, so I was going through some pretty emotional times. And some of the songs certainly reflect that. You can tell when you listen.
RMS: Yeah, I just want to take a moment and say how deeply sorry I’m for your loss.
DRF: …Yeah, I know. Nobody thought that it was going to end that way, but unfortunately it did.
RMS: Ronnie James Dio was an amazing person. I was so fortunate that I had the privilege of interviewing him and running an in-store signing for him. He signed autographs for three hours straight on that day.
DRF: Yeah, he was always great to his fans. I’ve seen him many times stand outside and sign and meet fans out in rain. When I went to his funeral services, I finally realized that people didn’t love him just for being a rock star or a great singer, but for being a great person. That really showed at the funeral, people were there because they respected him as a person. He listened to people when they talked. A lot of people don’t do that. If you were introduced to him and you saw him a year later, he would remember your name and your kid’s names, and everything about you. That was just one of the unique things about him. He had a pretty brilliant mind.
RMS: Ronnie sang on the first single “Metal Will Never Die” from your new CD. When was his vocal track recorded?
DRF: Actually, it was recorded about two years ago. I lot of people think that I wrote the song about him. But what happened, was that for years Ronnie and I talked about doing some music project together, like an ELF reunion, or a guest appearance on a Rods album, or a solo album. We wanted to do something, but he lived 3000 miles away from me, so that made it a bit difficult. He also had a very busy schedule. But when we would see each other, we would always talk about it. In my mind, I always wanted to do something and he did too. And then a couple years ago, his mother become ill, so he was coming back home pretty frequently. I got a call one day and he said he was going be in town for a few days and he would be able to sing a couple of songs. Coincidentally, I had just written “Metal will Never Die” the day before he call. Carl (drummer of the Rods) and I were in the process of putting together a new Rods record. So, the next day I got together with Carl and told him that Ronnie was coming over, so we need to pick out a couple songs that he can sing on. But before we did that, I wanted to make a demo of the song that I just wrote because I didn’t have it down on tape yet and I didn’t want to forget it. So we put together a demo version and when we finished it, I said this is one of the songs that Ronnie has got to sing. It would be perfect for him. So we chose that songs and another one, which will be on the next Rods record. The next day, I picked Ronnie and Wendy up at the airport and gave him a CD of two songs that he had never had heard before. We didn’t listen to them on that night, because he just flew in. We just socialized and had a few beers. But then the next day, we came into the studio and he put the songs into a boom box and listened for a bit, and then did a world class performance on both of the songs. It was unbelievable. But that was the way that Ronnie worked. I was exposed to that in working with him before, but Carl hadn’t. And Carl couldn’t believe that Ronnie could just go in a nail it right away. Ronnie also had a unique talented of knowing exactly what a song needed. And that’s what he did with “Metal Will Never Die.”
RMS: Recently, there was a picture of Ronnie and you in the studio posted. I thought that he sang on that track when that photo was taken.
DRF: That was in March, when will did the final mix of the album. He told me to bring the entire album and we would re-master it in the studio with the engineer – whom he always used. So I went out there in March to visit him because he was ill. And we mastered the album together. Then a couple months later, the tragic events took place and he ended up passing away. Now, there is so much more meaning to that song. To me, it’s the most important song of my career. It means more to me than any other song that I’ve written, or probably ever will write, because he and I finally got a chance to do something again together. Its part of his legacy and it’s a tribute to him. I feel really bad that he can’t be here to be a part in this whole thing, and see the album come out, and be part of the promotion. Or be part of a live performance of the song.
RMS: What kind of sprits was Ronnie in during those March sessions? Did he seem alright?
DRF: No, when I went out there, I didn’t realize how bad he was. He was worst than what most people thought. I was there for a week and he was in a lot of pain. He was fighting it and responding well to the chemo. And chemo seemed to be doing the job. But, he was in a lot of pain, and we really didn’t get to do a lot. We hung out at his house, watched TV, we went for a walk. We saw a movie one day. The day we went into the studio, he really wasn’t feeling good at all. I said to him, “Ronnie, I can do it alone, if you don’t feel up to it.” But he insisted, and really wanted to be part of the whole thing.
But yeah, he was in a lot of pain. It was customary for what he was going through, but I realized that things were a lot worse that what I anticipated. When I left to go back home, I was really grateful that I had the opportunity to spend that time with him. We had some really good conversations, but I was really nervous and worried about what might come in the future. (pauses) But, he was optimistic that he would get through it. Nobody thought it would end the way it did. There wasn’t anyone involved that thought that he wouldn’t make it. That was the whole shocking thing about it. It came all of a sudden, and then he was gone.
RMS: How terrible, this is really difficult to talk about. It seemed like all the press about his situation was very positive. I know that he had stomach cancer and it was serious, but he passed so suddenly. There really wasn’t any press statements stating that he took a turn for the worst or anything.
DRF: Yeah, I know.
RMS: You have a track on your Cd called “Kill the Demon.” Was that track written for Ronnie?
DRF: Yes, it’s a very DIO-esque type of song. Obviously, it’s about Ronnie killing the demon that’s inside of him. Cancer was Ronnie’s demon. All of us have some kind of demon in us, that one time or another we are fighting against. It could be an addiction, it could be love, it could be hate. It’s anything that is eating at us. That’s what the song is based about. Because I was writing it around the time that Ronnie was diagnosed. It was like, let’s kill that demon. There is a lot of emotion in that song.
RMS: I also like the last song on the CD a lot “Gambler, Gambler.” It sounds a lot different than anything else on the CD.
DRF: That song was on the first ELF album.
RMS: Oh, really? Sorry, I wasn’t aware of that. That’s why it’s stylistically different. OK, makes sense now.
DRF: Yeah, I wrote that song forty years ago. I always thought that it was a great song. The story behind that song was when Ronnie was living next door to me, and there was a guy that lived next door to me that was a bookie and would take bets over the phone, which was illegal. He used to pay people to let him use their phones, because it would be hard to trace him, and track him down that way. Well, one time he was using Ronnie’s phone and he got busted. In turn, Ronnie got involved in it. It was nothing too serious, but he got involved with the police and that’s what inspired that song. I always liked that, and thought it would be cool to include an Elf song on one of my solo CDs. A lot of that early Elf music really holds up over time. It was good then, and it’s good all these years later.
RMS: What are your promotional plans for the “Bitten by the Beast”? Do you plan on going out on tour?
DRF: I’m going to take the Rods out on the road to promote this album. It makes sense because Carl, Garry and I, play so well together. We’ve already worked in four of the songs from “Bitten by the Beast” into our live set. As we get out playing a bit more, we will work in more. They sound really good in a three piece band. So we are willing, ready and able to go out and play, and we want to play as much as we can, to support this album, and the future new release, from the Rods. It’s just a matter of getting hooked up with the right people and getting the gigs booked.
RMS: You have Niji management (Wendy Dio) backing you. That must be reassuring to have management and a record label that you can trust.
DRF: To me it’s like being with family. Ronnie and Wendy started the label and all the people involved I know, so for me, it’s a very comfortable place to be. I feel very fortunate to be in that position, to be with them.
RMS: My final question is, how emotionally difficult was it to speak at Ronnie’s public memorial?
DRF: It was very difficult. You couldn’t hold back the tears, everyone was so emotional. The services were actually three days long. The first two days were for family and for those who were close to him. I spoke at those as well. It was difficult, because there was so much emotion involved with everyone that was there. There was so much to say, it was hard to speak. Everyone that did speak did an excellent job and spoke very highly of Ronnie. But yeah, it was pretty difficult.