By Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
Over the last decade, national recording artist, Jim Crean, has established himself as one of the most important and influential vocalist/songwriter/musicians in the hard rock genre. Not only has Crean dominated in his hometown of Buffalo, NY- winning countless awards for his velvet smooth, hard rockin’ vocals and fronting his 80’s tribute band, Hair Nation- Crean has also rocked stages across the world, fronting the international successful, Drum Wars band, which also includes the iconic rock legend brothers, Carmine and Vinny Appice.
Last year, Crean released his highly-anticipated, critically acclaimed second release, ‘Insatiable,’ on Rocker Records, the label imprint owned and operated by Carmine Appice. ‘Insatiable,’ truly showcases Crean’s amazing vocal and songwriting abilities. This 12-track release also features an impressive list of guest artists including: Phil Lewis, Mike Tramp, Jimmy Bain, Phil Naro, Dave Constantino, Robby Lochner, Carmine & Vinny Appice and many more. This album is a true must have for any lover of hard-rock music.
What follows is an exclusive Rock Music Star interview with the one and only – Jim Crean.
RMS: Jim, your recent record, ‘Insatiable,’ is a solid and impressive release. From the performances of the guest artists, to your vocals, the song selection, the artwork- it’s just top-notch quality all around. How satisfied were you when you first saw the final product?
JC: Very much. I think we spent a lot of time, from the artwork all the way to the songs. We spent our time to do it right this time. So, I’m really happy with it.
RMS: One the unique aspects of this record is the amount of guest musicians that performed on it. I’m assuming that that was probably a process in itself, getting everybody to sign on for it.
JC: You know, they’re all my friends, so it was one of those situations where I just reached out to all of my friends in the business, and everybody was happy to lend their talents. It’s really cool. It’s a pretty star-studded record; I’m pretty blessed, to be able to get all of these guys, because they all have busy touring schedules. Mike Tramp, for example. He stopped what he was doing, and we got right in the studio and recorded together. It was really cool, that these guys came to my side to make the record.
RMS: This is your first release on Rocker Records, which is the label owned and opereated by Carmine Appice. What is it like, working with him? I know you work with him in the band, Drum Wars. But, what is it like, working with him as a label owner and an artist on his label?
JC: It was great. He took me under his wing, as far as signing me to the deal. Like you said, I’ve played in a band with him for about five years now, in the band, Drum Wars, with his brother, Vinny. It was a great experience, that I got to get both Vinny and Carmine on the record. Carmine doesn’t play on a lot of people’s records; he doesn’t guest on a lot of records, so it was really a big honor to get him to do that. As far as the record company, they’re pretty selective on who they choose for artists. They get a lot of submissions and go through a lot of pretty good talent. It was really cool that he decided to bring me to the front of the choices and make it a priority. I was pretty happy with that.
RMS: How involved was he, in the actual process of putting it together, as far as picking the songs, and things like that?
JC: In all honesty, it was just me. I had full control over everything, which is really the deal that we did. He really didn’t push me to take control. It was really cool, that I had full control of all the musicians on the record, all the way down to the song I did with Carmine Appice, it had a rhythm section in there. It’s just been really cool, as far as having the freedom to make this record. I really made a really cool rock record, because I had a lot of freedom to do this record.
RMS: Knowing you for the amount of years I have, I also know that you’re a very good songwriter. I’m just curious as to why there weren’t more original songs on this? Was that just the concept, to have the few originals, and have the covers with guest artists?
JC: You know, it just kind of fell that way. People ask me, “Why so many covers?” It just kind of happened that way. What happened was, the KISS song that was on there was on a tribute album called, ‘A World With Heroes,’ so I did that for journalist, Mitch Lafon. He got a bunch of pretty well known, established musicians together and did a KISS tribute to raise money.
So, I did that song, and it came out so well, that we put that cover on. The Talas song, “The Whole World’s Gonna Know,” was supposed to be on a Talas tribute album, and that never happened. So, I said, “You know what, this is a great track and we did a good job on it,” so I put that one on there. “Over the Edge,” kind of happened because Phil Lewis from LA Guns is on the album doing background vocals on that song. It was one of those deals where, he was going to do a song. And I said, “Rather than that, let’s do ‘Over the Edge.’ It’s such a great song.” He was like, “You have my blessing, let’s do it.” So, it kind of just all fell together that way. It wasn’t intentional, to have all of these covers on there. Like you said, I do pride myself on the songwriting, and I had about two albums worth of material going into this record deal. I said, “You know what, these covers sound so good, let’s do a half and half.” That’s just kind of how it came out.
RMS: I think it was a good philosophy. People are familiar with the songs, and you sing the hell out of them. I think it’s a good step. I’m assuming the next one is going to be more originals, is that correct?
JC: It’s all originals. As a matter of fact, I’ve been in the studio since eight this morning. I’m doing a new album with the Appice brothers; it’s going to be amazing. I’ve been in the studio all morning, up here in New York City, with Carmine. I’m doing three songs on the record; we’ve got some great artists on the record, as far as musicians go. It’s going to be a really cool record. So, I’m doing that one, and right after I’m done with that, I’m starting my own follow-up to this album. It’s been a lot of recording. I have a lot of songs leftover that didn’t make it on, ‘Insatiable,’ that I’ve already got going to the new album. It’s going to be pretty cool.
You’re certainly keeping yourself busy.
JC: Yeah, it’s one of those situations where I just l ike to keep working. As far as constantly playing and touring, I feel like that’s the way to keep the music alive. The moment you slow down, that could be detrimental. That’s why I always continue to work. With Hair Nation, my tribute band, we try to play every weekend. When I tour with the brothers, we try to load the dates on. And, when I’m not doing that, I’m in the studio recording.
RMS: Getting back to the Appice record that you’re working on, what is the release date scheduled for that? Do you have one yet?
JC: I think it’s going to be in June. I’m not confirming that, but you know, we’re just trying to get everything done. The songs we have are just awesome. Me and Carmine wrote a song together, and I’m doing the vocals on that one; it’s such a great song. I almost wish it had been on my own personal album, because it’s that cool. It’s a really strong song. It’s got Bumblefoot playing guitar on it. It’s a really cool tune. The whole album sounds really good.
RMS: I can’t wait to hear it. You said that there’s going to be a tour for that, also? Are you going to hit the road with that band?
JC: Yeah, with the Appice brothers. That’s what we always do. But, now we can do originals in there, too. You’ve been to a couple of Appice brothers shows. It’s a great show. It’s a history of the brother’s career. We do tons of Dio, some Ozzy, some Rod Stewart, now we’re doing Blue Murder. We do a lot of their history. But, it would be cool, because I’ve been with those guys for five years now, so I’m part of their history now. Not only are we doing their history; we’re doing our history together. That’s why we said, “Why not do some originals?”
So, we can put them in, as well, and kind of become a band, and not just a retrospect of their career. In retrospect, that’s why we decided to do this album. We got signed to a label, SPV Records; they’re a big label. So, they signed us, and we decided to put a lot of originals on it. Plus, there are a bunch of really cool drum pieces that Vinny and Carmine have written over the years that we just do live. It’s just really cool. Did you hear the live album that we did?
RMS: I did, yeah. Several times.
JC: That being said, with the live album, we had a very good response to it. That’s when we decided to do a followup with a studio album. So, that’s kind of what we’re doing with that project.
RMS: When I heard the live album, and I saw you guys live, I thought to myself, “This is definitely more than just a tribute thing. These guys have some chemistry together. They should definitely go further with it.” Like you said, with bringing in the guest musicians, like Bumblefoot- I mean, Jesus, that’s insane. I can’t wait to hear that stuff.
JC: I mean, there’s more than him. He’s great- he’s phenomenal. But, we have a lot of big name musicians- we have all of their friends throughout the years- they’ve called in a lot of their friends to come in and play instruments on it. It’s going to be pretty star-studded as well, just as my album was. We got all of their friends together and recorded. I know Robin McAuley from Michael Schenker Group is going to do a vocal. Paul Shortino from Rough Cutt is going to do one. It’s going to be a very cool record. I think the fans are going to really dig it, there’s some good songs on there.
RMS: We’ve mentioned your tribute band, Hair Nation. Have you ever thought of putting out an original glam-sleazy Hair Nation, all original type of record? I think something like that would go over really well, too.
JC: We have such a following with Hair Nation. We’ve won the Buffalo Music Awards the past four or five years. We have a pretty cool following, and that has crossed my mind many times. It’s just, getting the funding and the deal to put that together. I’ve wanted to do something like that, but I’d want it to come out and sound really good, kind of like my solo albums do.
I wouldn’t want to just throw something together. A lot of fans have asked for it, so I think it would be really cool to come out and have an album like that. I think the fans would really dig it.
RMS: I do, too. Last time we had an interview, I asked you, out of all the bands that you’ve opened for, what was your favorite? You mentioned Dio’s Disciples. Since then, you’ve opened for a ton of bands. Has that changed at all?
JC: Oh, yeah. We’ve opened for so many great bands, it’s hard to mention them all. LA Guns are really good friends of mine; we always do some great tours with those guys. Jack Russell’s Great White; Jim Crean’s band is doing a show in May with them, so that should be really cool. There’s just so many. Mike Tramp- I love doing shows with Mike Tramp. Me and Mike go out every year, and we do like, four dates together and we have such great time. A couple of years ago, we went to Canada, and we did a couple of shows in Canada. Mike and I became really good friends, and I really enjoy those times together.
RMS: And you opened for the Last In Line a couple of weeks ago, and that was pretty incredible. That place was jam packed, it was a brand new venue. There was a really cool vibe at that show.
JC: Yeah, we’re back at that venue with Jack Russell. It’s a really cool place to go see live music now. I’m going to be doing a lot of my originals; it’s the Jim Crean Band. There will be a lot of songs off, ‘Insatiable-‘ pretty much the whole record, except for the covers.
RMS: Who do you have in the Jim Crean Band?
JC: Well, my fiancée, Colleen, is on the drums. Chris and Jay from Hair Nation, and Phil Naro. Phil and I have been best buddies since… God, I don’t know… 1984 maybe? We’ve worked together on so many projects, I can’t even count how many projects we’ve done. So, he’s going to play some rhythm and do some background vocals.
RMS: He’s also doing a show with Talas, from what I understand, right?
JC: Yeah. It’s going to be the version he was in with Mark and Billy, and they have a guitar player that’s going to do it with them. They’re doing a set in Rochester on July 19th, so that should be pretty cool. It will be cool to see those guys together, for sure. The great Dave Constantino- I’ve gotta throw his name out there because he’s one of my favorite guitar players- he’s on my record, too. He was kind enough to do a solo on the record. Dave’s one of those guys that, in my opinion, is one of the greatest guitar players in the world, and I’ve played with some pretty big name guys. Dave’s right up there with them, as far as I’m concerned. Wait until you hear his solo on my record, it’s pretty cool.
RMS: Yeah, he does the one on, “Miss Me.” I love that solo. I think it’s one of the best solos on the record. It sounds like his Marshalls are melting.
JC: The feel he has, and his tone and sound and delivery is just great. That song also features Colleen, my fiancée. She did a great job, too. The musicianship on this record is amazing. I’m really proud of it.
RMS: Anybody that is a fan of hard rock, heavy metal, 80s rock, would absolutely love this. It’s an all-star compilation of great music. Like I said, everything from the artwork, the songs, the production- it’s just top notch. I can’t say enough about it. Great record.
JC: Thanks, man. It means a lot. I was hoping people would get that, and it’s great to hear. Someone, like yourself, who hears tons of music- you get tons of music sent to you every day- it’s great to hear someone, like yourself appreciates it.
RMS: That’s the thing- I really have a lot of respect for you. You take your time putting the stuff out, but you are so concerned with the quality that it’s definitely worth it.
JC: it’s funny you say that about quality. If you want to be accepted in this business, you have to put out quality. You can’t just put out demos for money. It costs a lot of money to put out professional recordings and albums like I do. But, the end result is the respect factor. If you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it right. Even at the national level, I see a lot of my friends who do albums- they’ll get a deal and put out whatever just to put it out, and do the money grab thing. I never believed in that. That’s what we did with this album; it’s actually going to cost us money to do it. But, honestly, it’s going to sound pro. That’s the only thing I want to be associated with. I don’t want to put out an album that just sounds sub-par.
RMS: I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but the last question I have for you is in regards to the Buffalo music scene. You’ve played all over the country, you’ve played in Europe. What do you think of the state of the current Buffalo music scene, right now?
JC: The Buffalo music scene is thriving, believe it or not. Bars close, but bars open. There’s a lot of great talent and a lot of great bands in Buffalo. Like you said, I do a lot of touring around the country, and around the world. We get a lot of opening bands when I’m out with the brothers. They come out and they open, and we listen to them and go, “Okay, I can understand why they’re an opening band.” But then, in Buffalo, there’s so many great bands here. I’m astonished at how much talent really is in Buffalo, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a Buffalonian. There’s a lot of great musicians in Buffalo. They’re just as good as any bands that are national, as far as I’m concerned, and I truly believe that. Just from touring at a national level, and being in a national band, I hear local bands from my own town and say, “Wow.” They’re just as good as the national bands that I tour with.
For more on Jim Crean, visit http://www.jimcrean.net