By Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
If you live in the Western New York area, and are a fan of 80’s hard rock, you have most likely heard of Jim Crean, if not seen him perform live. The gifted vocalist, multi-talented musician/songwriter and Buffalo, NY native has been rocking the masses in his hometown for over 30 years now. His 80’s cover band, Hair Nation, has played many high profile gigs, opening for some of the biggest bands of the 80’s. And just last week, Hair Nation headlined a killer show at the notorious Whiskey A-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip to a gathering of new fans and celebrities.
In addition to Hair Nation, Crean also writes and records original material. He was even voted, “Best Original Male Vocalist” for last two years in Buffalo’s “Night-Life Music” awards. And last year, Crean released his 3rd solo record, entitled “Velvet Crush,” on the label, Melodic Revolution Records. This CD was co-produced by Crean’s partner in crime, former Talas vocalist, Phil Naro and Steve Major. “Velvet Crush” is a 12 song, epic release that showcase Crean’s incredible vocals and also the outstanding songwriting skills of Crean/Naro.
The future has never looked brighter for Crean. This summer he will be performing countless shows in WNY, opening for many major artists such as Bret Michaels and Great White, just to name a few. He will be returning to Los Angeles this summer to perform at the “Sunset Strip festival” in August.
What follows is an exclusive interview with Jim Crean. Take a look, check it out and purchase his hard hitting, melodic masterpiece “Velvet Crush.”
RockMusicStar: You just returned from a very successful trip to Los Angeles,CA in which your cover band, Hair Nation, played a headlining show at the infamous Whiskey A-Go-Go. How was the gig?
Jim Crean: Well, it was amazing. A lot of my favorite bands like The Doors, Van Halen and Motley Crue all got their start there. So that was great to be playing on the stage that they once played on.
RMS: You had a pretty amazing turn out there. That’s quite an accomplishment for a cover band based out of Buffalo, NY.
JC: Well, what happened is we played there before to a decent sized crowd back in the summer. We were support for a top local sunset strip band. And we pretty much blew everyone away. And I ended up giving out close to a 1000 of my solo CD’s, while I was out there. So, a lot of people had the Jim Crean –“Velvet Crush” CD. So a lot of the people that saw us the first time came back and told their friends about it. And as a result, we packed the place. It was really cool, and they were all there to see us.
RMS: Wow, that’s great. There were some well known musicians and celebrities there as well, right?
JC: Yes, Matt Sorum was there, Jason Bonham and also Ed Furlong from the Terminator movies.
RMS: How is the current rock scene in L.A.? It certainly isn’t anything like it was back in the 80’s, but is it still a happening music scene?
JC: No, it’s not like it was in the 80’s, with a lot of bands like us out there. That’s what makes this so cool. Because a band like us could kill it out there. We could play out three nights a week. Before, in the 80’s there were a thousand bands like us. When we played there in summer, there were six other original local alternative bands that played in front of us. Now we are a niche band, and when we play, it’s a total 80’s night. So, the Strip is a good place for us and we certainly will play there again.
RMS: Do you have any confirmed dates for you next visit?
JC: We are going to play in August. It going to be a big festival called the ”Sunset Strip Festival.” They block off the whole Sunset strip all the way from the Rainbow, Roxy to the House of Blues, and put up a big stage. And I guess, they usually have about 20,000 people at this thing, and we were invited. But it’s probably going to be my solo band, The Jim Crean band, because they want us to do all originals. So, I’m really excited about that. But, they have a great line-up with L.A. Guns, Dokken, and Bang Tango and there’s talk that London is going to be playing. That’s the band that Nikki Sixx was in before he started Motley Crue. So, that’s going to be really good, and I’m very happy that they asked me to play that.
RMS: That’s great. Now you’re not going to move out to L.A.? Are you?
JC: No, no. It’s a great place to play, if I wanted to further my music career, it would definitely be the place to go. L.A. is where the music scene is. That’s were all the music executives are based. But I think we could do a good job just going there every few months to get the recognition that we need to get.
RMS: Cool, because Buffalo, NY has lost a lot of great musicians to L.A. such as Billy Sheehan, and the Goo Goo Dolls.
JC: Well, they knew that’s what it would take to make it. I commend both Billy Sheehan and the Goo Goo Dolls for realizing that and doing it. I wish that I would have done that earlier in my career, back in the 80’s. If I could go back in time, I would do that for sure.
RMS: Well, you’re doing quite well here in Buffalo, NY. You were voted the ”Best Original Male Vocalist” in Buffalo for two years in a row. What did that award mean to you?
JC: It meant everything to me, because I won as “Best Male Original Vocalist” and that means a lot. I’ve played in cover bands forever, but it was great to get the recognition for my original material as well. I also want to be known for someone that has an original voice, not just a guy that sounds like someone else or a Steven Tyler clone. I want to be known as an artist that writes good songs and has a good voice.
RMS: At what age did you realize that you were a gifted vocalist?
JC: I was 13, when I got my first guitar from an old Buffalo store called Brand Names. At the time, I decided that I was going to be a guitar player. So, I got together with some friends and we needed a singer, so I decided to give that a try. And quickly, I noticed that I could really do it. So that was the start. I just then really worked on improving, and started playing bars when I was 15. From there on, I haven’t looked back at all.
RMS: You certainly do have a very unique voice. I really think that you would do very well on “The Voice” or “American Idol” if you ever decided to do that.
JC: Well, thank you. I think that it would be very cool to do that, but I plan on going in another direction. I have a couple songs in movie soundtracks and that’s pretty cool. If I have to become just a songwriter and write songs for other people that would be fine by me. There’s a song on the record called “Past Tense” that me and former Talas members Phil Naro and Johnny Angel wrote together. It has a bit of a country feel. And I would love for a country artist to take that song and possibly rework it a bit and make it a hit. I think it could really turn into something.
RMS: Your solo CD “Velvet Crush” is very impressive. From the great songs, to production, and even the art work is incredible. There are even two great cover songs, which are old Talas songs, “Crystal Clear” and “My Heart Breaks Down.” Why did you decide to include those?
JC: We picked “Crystal Clear” because it’s a phenomenal song that never got the recognition that it deserved. I remember when Talas released that song on a live album, “Live Speed on Ice” in 1983. The band felt that song was going to get them on the charts. It did a little bit. In Buffalo, the station 97 Rock played it every hour for about six months. But other than that, it never got it’s due. So when Phil and I were talking about what cover we should do, we decided that “Crystal Clear” should get another shot, instead of us doing some other overplayed famous song. Phil never really liked the way that it sounded on the live album, and he knew he could make it better. So, we took it into the studio and I was very impressed by the way it came out. “My Heart Breaks Down“ is an old Talas song as well, it was written by Billy Sheehan. Originally, we were going to have Billy play on a track on the CD, but it was just around the time that he got back together with Mr. Big, so he was really busy. So the next best thing was to use one of his songs for the record. So that’s why that song is on there.
RMS: That is one of my favorite tracks. You co-wrote many of the tracks with Phil Naro, and he co-produced the CD as well. What was it like working with him?
JC: Phil is one of my best friends. I’ve known him for about 30 years. He produced my last two records; I did an EP early 90’s, in which I wrote all the songs. And I also did one in 2000, which was produced by Phil and Steve Majors. So, Phil has always been involved, and will always be my producer from here on out. But working with Phil is great, because he was a huge influence on my career when I was growing up. Not only as a vocalist, but he taught me a lot about the music business. So, I’m really honored that he has produced all of my recordings.
RMS: The CD is on the Melodic Revolution Records imprint, how did you hook up with that label?
JC: We shopped around are demos and we went looking for the best deal possible. We started writing this album ten years ago, right after we finished the second one. So we had some pretty big labels interested, but then as the music scene started to change and some of the labels were no longer interested. But then we got it to Melodic Revolution Records and they liked it and we decided to sign with them.
RMS: Well, like I said before, they did a great, very professional job; again the artwork is pretty over the top.
JC: Yeah, thank you. Ed Unitsky is a famous artist in Russia. He did all the artwork and he did an amazing job.
RMS: You have all the tools to get the job done, that’s for sure.
JC: It has done really well. The reviews have been real good, and I’ve put this CD in the hands of some pretty famous people. A lot of very big players in the industry have heard my album.
RMS: Last question I have for you Jim is that you have opened for a lot of major bands over your career. But, is there one band that really stands out as your favorite that you opened for?
JC: I never got the headline arenas, but I have been an opener for many bands that have, such as Queensryche, Dokken and many bands like that. But, one of my all time favorite singers, next to Steven Tyler and Robin Zander, who we opened for, was Ronnie James Dio. But we opened for Dio Disciples and that was a highlight. It was shortly after Ronnie had passed away, and it was Dio’s band. They were still grieving over Ronnie’s death. And we got to kind of be a part of that, in a weird way. It was really cool hearing the stories from those guys. So that one was probably my most memorable, it was the next best thing to actually opening for Ronnie James Dio, I guess. But, we did some pretty big shows in front of 20-30,000 people. We played with Poison once and that was phenomenal. But, I will always have that memory of Dio’s Disciples.
For more on Jim Crean and Hair Nation, please visit www.jimcrean.net