I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, Skid Row was my second all-time favorite band behind Mötley Crüe growing up a young hard rock fan in North Jersey, and the fact that the Skids were from Jersey made them even more likeable in my eyes. I remember going to see them at Studio One in Newark in the late ’80s (yes, I’m aging myself) and the whole room just stopped what they were doing to watch this phenomenon on stage. Then a few months later, I saw them opening for Bon Jovi at the Brendan Byrne Arena (again, aging myself) and I was hooked. The minute I heard the opening riff and the first line of the song “Makin’ A Mess” off of their self-titled debut—“T-bone Billy just a singin’ the blues, caught his lady with another man…”—it was over for me.
All of these years later, I still follow this band with the same passion, even without the original guy singing. This past April, the band parted ways with Johnny Solinger, who actually fronted Skid Row for 16 years, which is longer than the original guy, and they replaced him on the same day as the departure announcement with former TNT frontman, Tony Harnell. A couple of weeks later, they would release a re-recording of their classic song “18 And Life” (one of my favorite songs of all time) with Tony singing, and it sounded pretty amazing, to a point where the original singer even tweeted his approval of the version.
Tony Harnell made his Jersey Skid Row debut at the Food Truck And Rock Carnival this past September and definitely proved a lot of skeptics wrong, including this guy (me). I had no doubts that Tony was an amazing singer. I just had doubts about him pulling off the classic Skid Row stuff, and he did it without even sweating a little bit.
Skid Row hits Irving Plaza in New York City on Nov. 4 to celebrate 25 years as a band, and guitarist Dave “Snake” Sabo, one of my favorite members of the band, actually called me to talk about the show and some other fun things. Here’s what he had to say:
Skid Row will be hitting Irving Plaza in NYC as part of the band’s “25th Anniversary Tour,” but didn’t the first CD come out in 1989? If my math is correct, doesn’t that make this the 26th anniversary?
(Laughs) When we wrote this up, we were like, “Guys, someone is not doing their math really well.” Maybe it’s because we didn’t celebrate last year. (Laughs) It’s like—we’re late to our own party! It just seems so funny to be talking in terms of 25, or as you correctly pointed out, 26 years, to be talking in terms of that length in time that this band has been around and all the crazy highs and lows that we’ve gone through. It’s just amazing to me that we still get the opportunity to play music in front of people. It really is a really humbling thing for us to be honest with you.
When Rachel [Bolan, bassist/vocalist] and I first started the band, it was a case of, we were very much in the moment, we weren’t thinking much towards the future per se, with the exception of we wanted to write a great record and record a great record and go on tour, and that was sort of the extent how far ahead we would look. We weren’t great planners for our distant future. So, the fact that we’re still around and people can still have an appreciation for some of the music that we’ve created, it’s kind of mind-boggling and it’s humbling, and I also have such a great appreciation for being given the gift of being able to go out and being able to perform. And that’s because of the fans! However many or few; luckily there’s still enough of them out there that allows us to go out there and do this.
Well, you almost answered my next question, which is when you and Rachel met at the now legendary Garden State Music Store, did you think you would still be performing with him here in 2015?
No, I mean, you always have lofty ambitions. Everybody wants to be The Rolling Stones for the most part. Every band wants to have the longevity and that impact. Very few of them have. Aside from that, in all reality, no, we never thought that, but here’s the best part: We’ve been best friends for so long that that’s the big payoff for me is the friendships I have with Rachel and Scotti [Hill, guitarist/backing vocalist]. We’re talking, literally, 29 years now, and that, to me, I mean, at the end of the day, at some point the band is going to stop and go off into the sunset or whatever, it’s those friendships and that brotherhood that you have with people along the way. That means the most to me. I get to go on stage with guys I consider my brothers and a lot of people say that and it sounds like bullshit, but I’ve got 29 years under my belt with these guys to prove it that we truly are. There’s a lot to be said for that, man.
A chance meeting at a music store in Toms River, NJ. Who would have thought? All these things are incestuous. It seems like when you play in a band in New Jersey, you somehow cross-pollinate with all these different people and bands and club owners and all these things and for some reason, they stay a part of your life for eternity it seems. (laughs)
In April, you guys dropped two bombshells in one day. First, the announcement on your website that Johnny Solinger was no longer with the band, leading many of us to believe there might be a reunion with that other guy, but the second bombshell came on Eddie Trunk’s show that former TNT singer Tony Harnell joined the band. Then a few weeks later, you released a new version of one of my favorite songs of all time, “18 And Life,” with Tony singing, which pretty much shut the naysayers up. Why did you decide to go that route as opposed to just releasing a new song with Tony singing?
Well, we wanted to make some noise. There’s so much traffic out there as far as so much information being thrown at us every day. In order to be heard above the noise level that we exist in, you gotta do something that will hopefully turn some heads a little bit. So, we thought that if we just did this boom, boom, boom, hopefully people will notice.
Tony has a stellar reputation, he’s had success in his own right, so we felt that we needed to make as much of an impact in a small amount of time as we could. The last thing any of us wanted to do was make it a negative transition for Johnny or the band. Johnny spent a great amount of time in the band and there are a lot of good memories there. By the same token, we live in a different day and age, and for us, we had to really cut the cord and move on as quickly as possible, and I don’t mean to sound callous with that, but it’s more a case of survival. Plus, we had to start planning the upcoming year.
It got to a point where it just wasn’t fun anymore, and when Rachel and I started this band, we made a vow that once it became overwhelming and not as much fun anymore, we would pull the plug. With Tony there is a new excitement and a new energy with the band.
Are you still finishing the third and final part of the trilogy EP, United World Rebellion, or will you be recording a new full-length with Tony?
Well, we’re trying to figure that out right now, whether we’re gonna do a full-length or if we’re gonna do one more EP. The record company perspective is that they want a full-length and I understand that. I just don’t know if that is right for the band. We’ve written some stuff and we have a new member in the band. So that changed the dynamic completely, but when we’re done touring, we’re gonna have to sit down with each other and start figuring what exactly it is that we want to do. Once we do that, I think it will be a fairly speedy process, but we’ll see.
Was Tony someone that you, Rachel and Scotti have been thinking about for a while?
To be honest with you, no! We didn’t have anyone in mind. This is just something that happened really fast. We went on a six-week European run at the end of 2014 and at the end of that, I think everyone just knew that we had to make a change. And so when that happened, we just went to work really quick. It’s not like it happened overnight. That would be doing the situation an injustice. It’s just something that I believe had been building and it had been addressed. So that tour was just the tipping point for everybody. We just felt it was time to make a change.
I have to be honest, Snake, as a fan of Skid Row since first seeing you at Studio One in Newark and then a few months later seeing you open for Bon Jovi at the Brendan Byrne Arena, I was a skeptic of Tony Harnell fronting the band, but after hearing him at the Rock Carnival this past September, I have to admit that I was pretty impressed. I am a fan of the original guy too, but…
That’s awesome! You know, the funny thing is that most people think when talking to me or someone in the band that it might be sacrilegious to talk about our past. I’m proud of our past. Seriously, how could I not be? I think that would be incredibly ignorant not to be able to talk about it, but to be proud of what we accomplished. The five guys in the band, when we did the first record and stuff like that, was a different day and age, we were different people and whatnot, but it was a great time! Of course, as time went on, we grew apart and idiosyncrasies tend to come out, but this isn’t about why the original five guys broke up or anything like that. I’m proud of it. Seriously, without that, I don’t have a career. We don’t have a career.
So, I look back at much of that fondly, but sometimes you have to move on. Happiness to me is my spirit and my soul is more important to me than having dollars in my wallet. People may [not] believe that and that’s okay. Anybody who knows me knows that to be true. I don’t think you can place a price on happiness. We’ve been hit repeatedly over the years with, “Why don’t you do a reunion tour?” And you know what? I understand the question and I get it. I really do and if I were on the outside, I’d be asking the same question, but no one feels comfortable with that idea.
Since this is your “25th Anniversary Tour,” which Skid Row song is your favorite to perform live and which CD is your favorite?
I guess to this day, Slave To The Grind would be my favorite for a number of reasons. It was a shock to a lot people that we would come out with a record like that after the first record and the success that we had with the first record. I think a lot of people expected us to become formulaic with the way we approached the first record and we had no interest in doing that. And I’m so proud of all of us for being on the same page with that. I’m not saying that it would have been easy from the creative standpoint to sort of go along the lines of the first record because it had some pretty big songs on that first record as far as radio goes, but we were in a different mindset. We had gone from barely leaving the state of New Jersey to seeing the world that very few people are privileged with.
So, our perspective and outlook were thrown into a whirlwind. The only thing that I was concerned about was being a part of a great band and writing a great record and hopefully selling a couple of records because if you sold couple records it meant you connected with some people, and that was the whole thing. We just wanted to connect with people.
Many of the guys from your era—the Mötley guys, Duff, Rex Brown, Slash etc— have written biographies. Your story is pretty amazing! Has there been any thought about writing your own biography?
Yeah, I’ve been approached a bunch of times, but I have to be honest with you, man, it’s not something that’s appealing to me because I find much more interest in reading someone else’s as opposed to working on my own. For me personally, I feel it’s gratuitous, and that being said, I encourage my friends in this business who have a great story to write, and I read as many of them as I can.
I’ve worked with Duff quite a bit and I think his books are great! I wish Philip Anselmo would finish his, but I understand why he had to pause it, but his story would be amazing to read. Paul Stanley’s book was amazing, all of Chris Jericho’s books were awesome, but for me, personally, unless it has a purpose, I’ll pass on it for now.
What is Dave “Snake” Sabo listening to these days, musically speaking?
I find myself always going back to listen to Rival Schools. I don’t know if your familiar with them, but it’s one of Walter Schreifels from the band Quicksand’s band. Then the latest Machine Head record is great. I basically get up in the morning and take the kids to school; I’ll put on whatever random station is on and sort of gets me through waking up at 6:30 in the morning. There are a couple of unsigned artists like this young girl from Weehawken, New Jersey, named Chloe Baker. She’s incredible!
You’ve been playing with Skid Row for the better part of your life; who would you like to collaborate with as part of your career bucket list?
Oh, man! There are so many people, alive and dead. To sit down with just people who are better at this than I am because I’m a sponge. One thing I learned as a kid was surround yourself with people better than you, and that’s how we started the band. In my own personal view, each member of the band has qualities that are better than my own. So, those are people I want to surround myself with. I’m a fan of ridding your life of negativity and I think that’s why we balk at the idea of a reunion, because we just don’t want to visit any negativity whatsoever.
What’s funny is, here is a person I never collaborated with, but we’re close friends and fellow Jerseyans, is Zakk Wylde. We never collaborated on anything together except for the excerpt I wrote for his book. That’s it! I never collaborated with Phil Anselmo either. We used to write silly shit in the back lounge of the bus, but we never wrote anything serious together. I would also have loved to have had the opportunity to sit down with a guy like Jeff Buckley or be able to get a guitar lesson from Randy Rhoads or watch a guy like Jimmy Page create in the studio. How about you? Who would you like to collaborate with?
Dave “Snake” Sabo and Rachel Bolan! Who else?
All right! (Laughs) Trust me, it will be an underwhelming experience!
Catch Skid Row on their “25th Anniversary Tour” stop at Irving Plaza in NYC on Nov. 4 with Killcode and Scottish Windows opening. For more info on Skid Row, visit SkidRow.com.