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The capacity crowd assembled for the 2005 Earthshaker Festival was driven into a complete frenzy as the moment it had been anticipating arrived: guitar hero Ross "The Boss" Friedman stepping on stage to perform with Manowar for the first time in nearly 17 years. Although it was only for a few songs, it was the moment the fans had been patiently waiting for ever since his appearance was first announced.
"It was extremely emotional," recalls the guitarist. "I knew people liked me, but I wasn´t aware how much they loved me. "The vibe was incredible. We played “Dark Avenger” and “Metal Daze” and then everyone who´s ever been part of Manowar came out to play "Battle Hymn." Three drummers and three guitarists on stage: it was insane. Donnie [Hamzik, who played drums on Manowar´s 1980 debut Battle Hymns] was unbelievable." Days later, while still experiencing an emotional high from the event, Ross received a call from Oliver Weinsheimer and Majesty/Metalforce singer Tarek "MS" Maghary, promoters of Wurzburg, Germany´s Keep It True festival. "They complimented my performance, but said I didn´t play enough songs," he recalls. "They wanted me to play at their festival. I said, “Thanks, but I don´t have a band.” Oliver laughed. “You´re not going to believe this,” he said, “But I was just contacted by the Manowar-tribute band Men Of War.” "The guys [in Men Of War] all have full-time bands. [Singer] Patrick [Fuchs] and [bassist] Carsten [Kettering] are in Ivory Night and [drummer] Matze [Mayer] used to play with Divinus. They were doing the tribute thing as a goof and were planning on retiring it after a couple of shows. Oliver called Patrick and said, “I have another gig for you guys to play. It´s with this guitar player and I think you are going to want to do it.” Patrick asked who the guitarist was and when Oliver said, “Ross The Boss,” Patrick freaked out.
Ross was so impressed with the band members´ talent and musicianship that he took them under his wing, renamed them The Ross The Boss Band and began collaborating with them. The resulting New Metal Leader (out now on AFM Records) is exactly the record fans expected from the guitar legend: 11 consistent songs steeped in ´70s and ´80s metal traditions. Produced by Tarek and mixed and mastered by Achim Köhler, the album is certain to draw comparisons to music of Ross-era Manowar, but as songs like anthemic "May The Gods Be With You" prove, The Ross The Boss Band plays its own, unique style of true, unabashed metal.
Vinny Cecolini spoke with Ross The Boss as he celebrated the release of New Metal Leader.
An eagle wreaking havoc on a warrior army: you can judge New Metal Leader´s by its cover.
[Cover artist] Dimitar [Nikolov] captured everything exactly as I wanted it. The eagle, which is identical to the original tattoo on my arm, represents me swooping down and dropping the hammer. It´s symbolic of my return to this sector of the war.
New Metal Leader is a title certain to create controversy…
There are several reasons why I chose the title. People do consider me a leader in metal. It is a metal record. And I may not be new, but my band certainly is. The last thing I did [in the same musical vein as New Metal Leader] was “Kings of Metal”. The title of this new record had to be in the same realm; it had to have the same sick sense of humor.
Take us back to your first performance with Men Of War: The Keep It True Festival VI…
I was nervous for the first time in a while, ´cause I hadn´t played some of the songs in years-some of the songs I never played live-and the place was sold out. The show went incredibly well, however, and the band sounded just like Manowar. It was a righteous cover. We received offers to play gigs in Greece, Italy and Russia.
What was it about Men Of War that made you say "Let´s form a band and record a record?"
I realized they were special the first time we rehearsed. They´re schooled musicians with deep respect for me and the music. Before playing the Keep It True Festival for the second time, we stepped into Tarek´s studio and laid down tracks for "I Got The Right" and "We Will Kill." The next step was to see if Patrick could write lyrics for the songs. When the songs were finished, I knew I had a band and I never wanted to play another Manowar song again. I never wanted to be an "oldies guy" who paid tribute to himself. Playing Manowar songs with a tribute band was cheesy, but fun. We got great offers and made a lot of new contacts and friends; however, we knew we weren´t going to do it for long.
Ironically, you are not the "boss" of The Ross The Boss Band.
Everyone has an equal say. Unlike a few of my earlier bands, I don´t have to tell these guys what to play or show them how to play. These guys are fresh, hungry and full of song ideas.
New World Leader is not a one-off project?
No. I look at The Ross The Boss Band as the group I will take with me into the sunset. Hopefully, we can build a strong enough following to keep us working for a long time.
Ross The Boss Band performances will be devoid of theatrics…
Our shows will be about the music. We´ll have lights and a smoke machine, but that´s it. The real smoke, however, is going to come out of our guitars.
Is that why your first music video (for the song "Blood Of Knives") was filmed in black and white?
Exactly. We just wanted to show some balls-out rocking.
What are your touring plans?
We´re currently planning a European tour that will begin in November.
How difficult will it be preparing for the tour when you live in the United States and your bandmates reside in Reichenbach, Germany?
They have a rehearsal space that I´ve nicknamed "The Reichenbunker." That´s where they do their thing. Just before the tour, I´ll head over, we´ll rehearse and then we´ll hit the stage.
How has playing with different musicians throughout your career helped you grow as a musician?
There is always something to learn from other musicians; there is always something to help expand my horizon. That´s why I enjoy playing different musical styles with different musicians.
Best known for your work with Manowar, many people forget you were a part of New York Punk pioneers The Dictators…
I formed the Dictators while living in New Paltz, New York, which was an out of control sex, drugs, and rock and roll, college party town. We were inspired by the MC5, The Flaming Groovies, The Who and the Beach Boys. We actually formed before The Ramones got together, but they got credited for starting Punk because they were the first export; the first of the early New York Punk bands to tour Europe.
After The Dictators reunited, were you surprised by how popular the band had become throughout Europe?
It was amazing. The Dictators are especially popular throughout Spain and Scandinavia. The Hellacopters first shows were opening for us, and both Turbonegro and Backyard Babies have acknowledged us as major influences.
Are you upset that The Dictators are not as recognized for their accomplishments as The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Head or Television?
The Dictators were never as popular as The Ramones or Blondie. We were the punk band with the metal guitarist and we were written out of Punk´s history because of the notorious altercation [singer] Richard [Manitoba] had with Jayne County [the scene´s famed transsexual] at [legendary Punk dive] CBGBs. After it happened, Jayne´s manager pressured other club owners to blacklist us. Today, however, people can´t seem to honor us enough. The Rock ´N´ Roll Hall Of Fame is opening a New York City annex and it is going to feature parts of CBGBs, including part of its bar and infamous bathroom. I am happy to say that The Dictators will also be included.
How did you go from playing with The Dictators to playing with France´s Shakin´ Street?
Sandy Pearlman, who managed The Dictators, Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult, discovered Shakin´ Street in Paris, France. They were looking for a lead guitarist and he said, "I have the guy for you." That was it. I lived in France for a year.
How did you meet Joey DeMaio?
Shakin´ Street was opening up for Black Sabbath on the Black And Blue Tour. Ronnie James Dio [who was singing for Black Sabbath] approached me and told me that he loves The Dictators. He said, "I have a friend who plays bass. He´s working for us. I think you should hear him." Dio told Joey about me, so he decided to watch Shakin´ Street´s set one night. He thought I was a great guitarist, but thought that Shakin´ Street sucked. We started sneaking into Black Sabbath´s dressing room each night to jam on their equipment.
What made you decide to form a band with him?
I had never heard anyone play bass like that before. We jammed on some riffs and chord progressions I had cooking in my head. After a few jam sessions, we decided to put a band together.
What was it about Manowar´s chemistry that made the band so successful during the ´80s?
A lot of great bands put out a lot of work in a very short amount of time, while touring and doing promotion. When Joey and I got together our imaginations were fertile, which helped our musical output during those early years. When we put Manowar together, we were adamant that it would not be just one standout musician, but four personalities. In most metal bands there are two guitarists with a bassist who was just a standard part. That is why Manowar was so revolutionary. No one sounds like Joey. No one does that. No one can play like that.
After leaving Manowar in 1987, Ross joined his former Dictator bandmates in Manitoba´s Wild Kingdom, which released the critically acclaimed And You? album in 1990. Something that has plagued Ross throughout his career, the disc was neglected by their record company and quickly faded. During the 1990s, Ross and some of his neighborhood pals formed The Pack. That was followed by Heyday, which evolved into The Spinatras, the cult band who released their debut @Midnight.Com in 1999, which Ross describes as "The Dictators Meet Cheap Trick."
Are you still bitter about how Sanctuary Record let The Spinatras´ 1999 debut, @Midnight.Com, fall between the cracks?
It happened when CMC, the label we signed with, was taken over by Sanctuary Music. The label wasn´t ready to support us, because we weren´t heavy metal.
Fortunately, Ross was not forced to head to the unemployment line when The Spinatras crashed to a halt. During the mid-1990s, The Dictators reunited and have been touring. After recording a live album, Viva Dictators, a few years ago, The Dictators decided to take a break. Soon after, Ross received a call from former Blue Oyster Cult drummer Albert Bouchard.
Your working relationship with Albert began when he asked you to play on a new recording of "Cities On Flame With Rock ´N´ Roll"…
I recorded the song at Albert´s home studio and on the way home I started to think about what I had just done. "Cities On Flame With Rock ´N´ Roll," was originally recorded for Blue Oyster Cult´s self-titled debut, an album that changed my life. I couldn´t let it go. It had to be perfect. I called Albert and told him I needed to re-record it. It had to be perfect.
Albert was obviously impressed by your professionalism and perfectionism. He
invited you to join his band, Brain Surgeons, NYC.
Albert set me free in the studio and let me do what I wanted to do.
What is your current relationship with your previous band, The Brain Surgeons NYC?
I have no relationship with [singer] Debra [Frost], but I still have a great relationship with [drummer] Albert [Bouchard, formerly of Blue Oyster Cult].
Albert was not upset that you re-recorded two songs you originally composed for The Brain Surgeons NYC ("Plague Of Lies" and "Constantine´s Sword") for New Metal Leader?
He loves it! He is proud of the songs and he gets full credit for the disc for both songs
Recall the first time, as a kid growing up in New York City that you knew music was something you had to do? When did music become a passion for you?
I grew up in the north Bronx. My life was changed-like so many other people-when I saw the Beatles perform on Ed Sullivan. It was so powerful and so magical. I knew that I was going to be a musician after that. First I played piano, then violin and finally the guitar when I turned thirteen.
Is there an art to creating great guitar solos?
A solo should be a song within a song. If it does not say something, it should not be a part of the song. You get in, you say what you have to say, and you get out.
After you depart this mortal coil, how would you like to be remembered?
Nothing in life is easy. Life is a series of problems that must be overcome. Life should never be looked at as a death sentence. Life is about problem solving. If you are going to be a musician that is a part of the music industry, get ready. It is not easy. During my career, I have recorded 27 albums and there is a story behind each of those records. You learn, you take from it and you get better. But you have to enjoy what you do or you shouldn´t do it.
Author: Vinny Cecolini, photos: Ross The Boss Band Date: 2008-09-12