American rock guitarist Kenny Dubman recently released his debut solo album ‘Reckless Abandon’, a fantastic album full of anthemic hard rock with hellacious guitar riffs. Through the magic of the old internet I managed to grab Kenny for a few questions and here is what he had to say about the album, Thin Lizzy, and Bon Jovi, among other things.
Hi Kenny, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. It’s much appreciated!
“No problem. My pleasure!”
Fans of 80’s American hard rock will of course know you for your spell with the band Prophet. You featured as lead guitarist for some time, but was it easy to make the transition from the guitarist in a band to a solo artist? Handling vocal duties as well as guitar?
“What prepped me for that was years of doing acoustic duo gigs. My partner and I would alternate songs doing lead vocals. It wasn’t until I did that for years that I really became confident and able to become the lead vocalist in a project. I still consider myself a guitarist first; singing lead really just grew out of necessity. I didn’t want to have to be dependent on a singer, so I wrote for my range.”
Musically, what have you been up to in the time between Prophet and your recent debut solo album “Reckless Abandon”?
“Pull up a chair, and pour a drink, hahahah! Okay, let’s see… I guess it was around 1990-91 that I formed a band called The Pack, with Dave Dipietro (TT Quick) on guitar and Robert Mason (currently of Warrant) on vocals. This was a killer band; full on raging testosterone twin guitar hard rock! We made a little noise locally, but weren’t much different from all the other stuff going on at the time. After a while of no record company bites, we drifted apart. I went on to write and record my own stuff after that; these tracks had me singing lead for the first time. The stuff was pretty good; I may actually release an EP of some of it up the road… but by then, we’re well into the Nirvana/Pearl Jam era, and my kinda rock was a dinosaur. After floundering around a bit with that material, I lost my heart for trying to “make it” as a musician. Cut my hair, got a “real job”… that lasted 2 years, and I started a charter fishing business that did great for 10 years. It became my new passion. I never stopped doing covers and acoustic gigs, though. Fast forward to 2014, after a bunch of tough personal years, I came back into my own and started writing songs for what would ultimately become “Reckless Abandon”. I’m an overnight success story, hahahaha!”
“Reckless Abandon” is an unashamed tip of the hat to the glory days of 70’s hard rock. The album opens with a needle dropping onto vinyl, and that was me hooked! It certainly sounds like you had a blast recording it.
“It was a blast to record, and a blast to write and arrange. My engineer/co-producer Steve D’Acutis (Sound Spa Recording, Edison, NJ) is a total hilarious nut. Our personalities ignite each other when we’re together, so every session is a non-stop laugh fest, and a creative soup kitchen! Steve has phenomenal musical ideas. He basically put the whole rhythm arrangement to “3 Little Words” together… I could see that he had the vision, so I just left the control room and let him work with my bassist and drummer. I had no clue what to do with it, and he knocked it outta the park.”
Although influenced by the 70’s, the album still sounds fresh and relevant today. By no means a simple feat, as many bands will testify.
“I grew up on 70’s rock. It’s in my blood and just the way I think musically. The fact that it sounds fresh and relevant is just dumb luck, I guess.”
One of the pleasing aspects for me is that although you are a guitarist first and foremost, the album is more song-oriented, rather than simply relying on fretboard wizardry. Some of the hooks on the album are massive. Was this always the intention?
“I never set out to make a guitar wizard album. Albums like that bore me to tears. What hooks me and makes me love an album are songs… memorable songs with melody and soul. I wrote everything on Reckless on acoustic guitar, so there was never any temptation to make a song rely on a riff… which is what we guitarists usually do. Each song had to stand on the merits of the chords changes, vocal melody, and lyrical content. Mind you, this method of writing was brand new for me… but it’s much better; it yields a better song. Right now I have 16 more finished songs, all of them written the same way. Thank you for the “massive hook” compliment, it’s the biggest compliment you can give the record. I think I just got lucky… the ideas beamed in from elsewhere. I can’t take credit.”
Another enjoyable factor is the chunky keyboards that feature on the likes of “Devil’s Brew” and “Sunset Serenade”. Jon Lord and Benmont Tench made it crucial that every classic rock album needed some beefy keyboard fills!
“Having keys on a rock record, even a hard rock record, makes it so much more dimensional. Tons of my favorite records… Kansas, Journey, Purple, Floyd, Zep, Skynyrd, and of course current faves, Blackberry Smoke all have keys. I knew right from the beginning that I’d have Tony Nardini play on “Reckless”. I heard keyboard parts as I wrote, and some are played verbatim as I originally heard them.”
There is a lot of variety on the album. For instance, “Angel Of Mercy” and “After The Bomb Fell” go with a softer acoustic vibe to begin with. Is a good acoustic guitar the most important weapon in a guitarist’s arsenal?
“I guess that’s up to the individual player. For me, it most certainly has been since the writing for “Reckless” began. I hardly touch an electric at home anymore… the acoustic has just become so much more conducive for creativity… it breathes. Not to say I’m writing all acoustic material, that’s hardly the case. All the songs on “Reckless” were written on my old, cheap, black Yamaha acoustic, Blackie Lawless. Blackie gave up his soul to birth the record; poor guy just went to shit near the end. Intonation is totally shot, not even a usable, tune-able instrument anymore. I treated myself to a new Gibson Songwriter acoustic… it’s an incredible guitar, and I’m madly in love with it. Blackie now enjoys his retirement on a stand in my daughter’s room, where he excels at collecting dust.”
Your acoustic guitar is called “Blackie Lawless”? Why Blackie Lawless?
“Cuz the guitar is black, so I named it after the legendary singer/bassist from WASP!”
Fantastic! My curiosity was getting the better of me there, but now I know!
“Brother Against Brother” is a belting foot-stomper of a song. Dealing with the American Civil War, it is very thought provoking. In some ways it brings to mind the current political climate worldwide. I know several families where divisions have set in over political disagreements… or is that just over thinking on my part!
“Thank you! It wasn’t written with the current climate in mind. That song was the product of the hook just spewing out; the actual line “brother against brother” over the A Minor chord. That tiny piece spurred the concept, which in turn birthed the song. Believe me, I know about politics causing rifts between family and friends, this US election was nuts like that!!”
“Wolf At Door” seems a deeply personal song. Is it written from your point of view, or from that of a protagonist?
“That’s all personal experience. Without getting too deep, it was my last relationship “straw” before discovering how awesome it is to be completely single. Of course, between the end of that experience and the start of my current awesome-ness was over a year of agonizing depression and anxiety. When I started to feel good again is when the songwriting started.”
The way that the song changes and ramps it up a notch is phenomenal, but when you let fly, then it truly is a guitarist’s fucking song!
“Thank you! Yeah, that’s a good example of having no plan for a song and letting it lead you where it wants to go. It wanted to get heavy. It pulled me like a pitbull on a leash. I tapped into Randy Rhoads and Brian May on that song. Tip of the hat to those two masters!”
On “Ghost On The Wind” I get a Thin Lizzy guitar vibe. So, are you a Gorham/Robertson man, or a Gorham/Moore man?
“Funny you should bring up Lizzy. I posted a couple of live songs from the 70’s that I found on YouTube on my Facebook page recently cuz they just blew me away! ‘Emerald’ from “A Night On The Town” performance 1976, holy shit! I just put it on now to hear again… although I’m a huge Gary Moore, the line up for me is Gorham/Robertson, because that’s the line up I saw when I was a kid. They opened for Queen at Madison Square Garden, I wanna say ’77 or ’78? So totally badass. They made an indelible impression on my two brothers and me. I was 14 and they were 12.”
Getting back to your time in Prophet, when you first heard Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead Or Alive”, what did you think? Eerily close to Prophet’s “Slow Down” despite this particular song coming out one year before “Slippery When Wet”? Jon taking the New Jersey brotherhood a step too far, or just a coincidence?
“Hahahahaha! You’re not the only one to bring that up. I have no doubt that they borrowed. But that’s cool… imitation is the sincerest form of flattery! I’ll take this time to tip my hat to Richie Sambora. Amazingly talented singer and writer. His voice is just amazing. I sent a copy of “Reckless” to Snake Sabo and asked him to forward it to Richie cuz I thought he’d dig it. I’m a huge fan of ‘Stranger In This Town’.”
Was being in a rock band in the 80’s as hedonistic as we all thought/hoped it was?!
“Eh, yeah, it was for many, but not too much for me. Believe me, I had my fun, but it was private, off the radar. Never was one for orgies or 2 on 1, hahahaha… just too weird for me. I did my last line of coke by the time I was 19 or 20, so that basically just left the booze, and I never let that get the best of me.”
What are your plans for 2017? Will you be hitting the road in support of the album?
“Getting ready to start rehearsing my live band for local spring and summer shows. Extended touring is off the table, at least for a while, because I have my daughter 4 days per week. I’d love to do some spot dates around the country or abroad, but one step at a time. I should note here that I’ve convinced my old pal Dave DiPietro from TT Quick to help me out with guitar duties on live shows. This is a MAJOR coup, as Dave has a big following of his own. We’ve played together many times in the past, and we know what it’s like to work with each other. Two massive egos beating the shit out of each other with their Les Pauls! Hahahahahaha! Totally kidding.”
Lastly… who is the most underrated guitarist in rock history? I tend to go with either Joe Walsh or Brian May. Walsh, as he had to compete with the vocal harmonies of Eagles, and May because he had to compete with Freddie!
“Wow, that’s a really tough question! Brain May and Joe Walsh are great examples. Mick Ralphs is another. Some of the best feel ever to come off a Les Paul. Frank Marino… not necessarily under-rated, but less known than many others. He’s a MONSTER! One of my all time faves, Steve Hunter, virtually unknown to the public, but played all the scathing leads on Aerosmith’s “Get Your Wings”. Peter Frampton… more thought of as a pop star, but an incredibly unique and melodic player… still is! And, of course, David Gilmour. I don’t think he’s necessarily underrated, but he’s not a speed or technique king… but his tone, ideas, and phrasing on ‘Dark Side…’, ‘Wish You Were Here’, ‘Animals’, and ‘The Wall’ still blow my mind to this day.”
Thanks for your time Kenny. All the best for 2017!
“Thank YOU! Always a privilege to be able to yammer on endlessly about music! Have a great 2017, everyone!”