Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Alcatrazz – PAROLE DENIED – TOKYO 2017 Sees 30 Year Sentence Overturned!

This will be my last post for Rock Guitar Daily, a labor of love which I have tended for the last eleven years. RGD was never a monetized endeavor. It was a tool that I’ve used for establishing my credentials as a writer, developing contacts across the industry, reaching a million readers (a steady fifty thousand a month without buying a single reader), and generally having a great time writing about rock without ever having to “go negative.” In fact, I could write about music from now until the end of time without having to crap on anyone. It’s fitting that this piece would be somewhat nostalgic, featuring the return of a band I first fell in love with in 1983 when Graham Bonnet exploded back on the scene after establishing himself as the go to vocalist with superstar guitarists Ritchie Blackmore in Rainbow and a brief stay with the Michael Schenker Group in which he recorded the seminal classic rock album, Assault Attack.

Alcatrazz was an interesting proposal that saw Graham first recruit bassist Gary Shea and keyboardist Jimmy Waldo from America Hitmakers New England and drummer Jan Uvena from Alice Cooper’s Band after tryouts with guitarist Zal Cleminson and former Iron Maiden drummer, Clive Burr failed to gel. This unit was completed with the inclusion of one Yngwie Malmsteen, a hot shot shredder who had made great strides in America via Mike Varney’s Shrapnel Records and the band Steeler.

In what would take a small book to explain, Alcatrazz ripped through three albums in quick succession with three startingly brilliant and very different guitarists. Yngwie had his vision and path to his own stardom and his leaving the band was carefully orchestrated with new recruit and ex-Zappa axe man, Steve Vai, writing music in Los Angeles for the band’s second album, Disturbing the Peace, as the remaining members fulfilled their touring obligations with the soon to be exiting Malmsteen.

With Vai aboard the band recorded what remains one of the most ambitious hard rock albums of the era. With Eddie Kramer at the board a stunning record on which the seemingly limitless musical imagination of the former six-stringer combined with Bonnet’s incredibly powerful and sophisticated vocals and lyrics and the brawny support of Shea, Waldo, and Uvena. The future would have hardly seemed brighter to the band before Vai was presented with an offer he couldn’t refuse (read as: $$$). DLR’s offer to the guitarist to be his musical right hand man alongside super bassist Billy Sheehan for the ex-Van Halen vocalist’s first solo album.

Again, Alcatrazz went back to the drawing board and they ended up bringing on a more traditional, but equally brilliant guitarist in Danny Johnson with whom the band when in a more pop/commercial outing with renowned pop producer, Richie Polodor (Three Dog Night, Steppenwolf, Alice Cooper) for the sadly under promoted Dangerous Games LP.

In light of losing three great guitarists and sagging album sales, the band finally split up in 1987. In spite of an incredible succession of break ups and business fiascos, Alcatrazz remained a very influential band in the world of hard rock and roll and heavy metal, and over the years Bonnet kept the franchise alive to varying degrees of success.

In spite of hiring band after band, Bonnet never had tremendous success and it seemed that Alcatrazz’s small but hardcore contingent of fans were never going to see a conglomeration of inmates that were worthy of the name until now. Thirty-some years on. The band finally reconvened in 2017 with Waldo and Shea rejoining with Bonnet and augmented with Bonnet solo band members Conrado Pesinato (guitar) and Mark Benquechea (drums). After two days of rehearsals and several U.S. warm up dates, the band triumphantly returned to their stronghold in Japan, a territory had certainly helped put Alcatrazz on the map back in the eighties.

To say that the resulting CD/DVD package PAROLE DENIED (Nov, 7 2018, Frontiers Music Srl) is a successful return may just be an understatement. When the review stream of the DVD crossed my desk, I engaged it with a degree of skepticism, not wanting to be disappointed by another half-baked version of the once-loved and revered band.

As it turns out, PAROLE DENIED is the finest product to come from the Bonnet/Alcatrazz camp since the original three studio albums.

The key seems to be in the musical chemistry of Bonnet, Waldo, and Shea, but one cannot for a minute disregard for the stellar contributions of Pesinato and Benquechea. In Alcatrazz revisions of the past, it seemed that the sidemen selected for the gig were always great players. They either never had a chance to gel or tht their attempts to create the heartbeat heavy, signature Alcatrazz sound proved elusive. They always appeared as mere characters of the original outfit.

I’m thrilled to say that the beautifully shot and recorded, PAROLE DENIED, stands as a logical follow-up to the band’s original legacy, and in fact, may be the finest representation of the band in a live context that we have yet seen.

Playing before a sold-out audience in Tokyo, this band is majestic and shockingly accurate in its recreation of many classic Alcatrazz moments and memories, and is actually quite exciting. The chemistry between Bonnet, Shea, and Waldo is undeniable and there are many moments of shared smiles and obvious affection, but the shocker is what the new guys bring to the mix.

The Parole Hearing!
Since Alcatrazz is remembered as a band of guitarists’ guitarists, let’s start with Conrado Pesinato. His greatest attribute is that he has not only absorbed the actual notes and phrasing of all three original axe-slingers, but that he has a tone of his own that avoids any attempt to totally cop the sounds of Malmsteen, Vai, and Johnson, instead opting for a classic Strat-into-Marshall tone. His recreation of the original parts is accurate and admirable, but he manages to sound wonderfully organic in this setting. Previous Alcatrazz stand-ins here had a tendency to cover up a certain lack of authenticity while being wrapped in too much heavy metal posturing and over-distorted guitar tones. Pesinato nails the vibes and the notes, and he looks like he’s having the time of his life as he almost casually rips off huge shards of guitar artistry. He rings his own presentation to a classic tribute.

Behind the drumkit, Mark Benquechea displays a fierce countenance that brings to mind Cozy Powell. He never overplays, but he does show that he is both a powerful, chops driven drummer, as well as a guy who plays for the songs and he locks up with the rock-solid bass work of Gary Shea, who never loses sight driving the pulse of the band.

Jimmy Waldo is, as Gary Shea recently told me in a soon-to-be-published interview with the band, “the kind of keyboard player that guitarists love.” Being a guitarist himself, Waldo knows when and what to play, never forcing himself onto he music, but rather providing superlative arrangement details and extremely tasteful chops. When he does then choose to solo, it’s all the more impressive. He’s written much more of the Alcatrazz catalog than one would presume for such a guitar-oriented outfit and he produced the package’s outstanding audio alongside Giles Lavery, and he looks like he’s having a great time along the way, quite refreshing in a world that all too often seems reuniting bands doing so more for the quick buck than the love of the music.

That leaves us with Graham Bonnet. At the end of the day, Alcatrazz has always, for better or worse, been his baby. Through the band’s successful run in the eighties, and onward over the years, the prodigiously gifted singer from Skegness has alternately been landed for a limitless range and for being one of the most powerful vocalists of his ear, as well as being occasionally raked over the coals for the almost inevitable inconsistencies resulting from attempting to recreate his vocal gymnastics in a live setting.

PAROLE DENIED is unquestionably one of Bonnet’s best onstage performances. His recreation of Alcatrazz’s catalog is superb. While on tours with his solo bands over the last several seasons, Bonnet has depended heavily on some technical assistance to get him and his bands through the nights of poor monitors, sporadic scheduling, and propensity for globe-trotting that would battle any voice, this set finds him in incredible shape for a young man of nearly seventy-one years. If there are any fixes to be found here, they are well masked and not at all a distraction. Very few live rock records exist without some subsequent fixes, and grown up audiences and listeners understand this fact.

Then there are the songs and the music to be found on PAROLE DENIED. In spite of being a band known for almost ridiculous technical process, Alcatrazz is really all about the songs. Gorgeous melodies consistently wind themselves through and around the might of the band and he endless guitar wizardry. While its seldom discussed, Bonnet is amongst hard rock’s most uniquely talented lyricists.

From the opening greeting of “Ohayo, Tokyo,” to the infamous anti-war tome, “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” he emotional tribute to his mother, “Suffer Me,” and his James Dean homage, “Will You be Home Tonight,” Bonnet avoids any typical hard rock/heavy metal clichés, or the typical dungeons and dragons territory so often trod out by the genre. Alcatrazz’s legacy may well be that they were always a little too intelligent for the genre.

The DVD is beautifully shot and the HiDef visuals are stunning throughout. If this package had come out in 1988 instead of thirty years later, the story of this band would be very different. If there was ever a lineup that should make another Alcatrazz studio album it would be this one. Everyone is firing on all cylinders and new guys Pesinato and Benquechea certainly prove to be up to the task.

The world of hard rock is rife with failed reunions and ill-fated attempts to recreate past goodies, but with PAROLE DENIED, Bonnet and his merry tribe of men had wildly superseded expectations.

Thrilling from beginning to end, PAROLE DENIED stands tall alongside anything in this sadly undervalued legend of a band’s catalog.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Wishbone Ash Rocks Sacramento - If Rock 'N' Roll Is Dead, Andy Powell Didn't Get The Memo

Going into yesterday evening's show at the B Street Theater in Sacramento, California, I knew it would be good. Andy Powell has always insured a high quality product, but honestly, I was not expecting what I witnessed. This latest iteration of Wishbone Ash is as powerful as any lineup the band ever fielded, and it may even be the best. One of the best shows I've witnessed in the last five years, a band at its apex.

Lineup changes for rock bands are a funny thing— it's a delicate business of factors that can lead to discussions of musical compatibility to the ability of beings to live together on a tour bus. A lineup change can fail disastrously and alienate a fanbase, or in some cases, it can give a band new life.

One of the great examples of this in recent times is the tremendous fire that Ritchie Faulkner lit under Judas Priest when he joined the band. He invigorated a lineup that was running the risk of becoming too entrenched in its own past, and Faulkner did an amazing job to rekindle the fire that fuels the metal foundry that is the Priest.

This year's Ritchie Faulkner Award (remember this a year from now!) is going to the newest member to join Wishbone Ash, and the bands' ninth guitarist, Mark Abrahams.

I can't honestly tell you the last time a guitarist new to my realm held me so enthralled. This cat exudes stardust. First, above all things other, he knows, loves, and respects the music of Wishbone Ash. This band features some of the most challenging arrangements in the world of guitar rock, and Abrahams knows them back to front. Second, he looks equal parts like he's thrilled beyond dreams to be in a band with Andy Powell, but he also looks equally like he could not care less. He is one of those players who makes what he is playing his own— he sticks to the arrangements, but his tones, his phrasing and incredible vibrato are all his own. I just wish I could have seen the look on Andy Powell's face when they first played together with the band. Powell has hired a lot of great players over the years, but I saw him shake his head and smile more than a few times last night as his younger charge took the ball and ran with it.

Wishbone Ash— I last saw them in 2013, and it was an excellent performance. Powell has never settled for less in a lifetime labor of love that has now been running for forty-eight years, but the band I saw last night has evolved from being an excellent outfit to greatness. No disrespect to any player that came before him, however, Abrahams playing and energy are reminiscent of a younger Gary Moore, and the effect is not terribly dissimilar to the effect Moore had on Phil Lynott's group when he would show up with Thin Lizzy. Abrahams is the ideal fourth corner and his presence should insure that Wishbone Ash not just maintains its place in the world of rock, but it may just be that the third act might be the bands' best. I can't wait to hear what this outfit does in the studio.

Andy Powell runs a tight ship— this band is amazing in its ability to turn on a dime and change direction through complex arrangements, yet still maintain the emotion and subtly of the myriad dynamic changes and complex melodies and harmonies. Bob Skeat is one of the most solid, powerful bassists in rock, jumping from finger to pick and back, and he also supplies the harmony vocals that are such a huge part of the bands' history. Drummer Joe Crabtree is still behind the kit and he's playing more explosively than ever, and he brings a great sense of musicality to the proceedings, a factor that is a make or break factor with musical greatness. Crabtree's subtle stick work is a big part of what makes these complex arrangements easy to digest for the listener.

Speaking of Andy Powell, it looked last night like he was having the time of his life. The crowd was fantastic, the band surprisingly energized for the last night of an American tour, and Powell was the perfect host and ringmaster. His guitar playing, while never less than excellent, is being elevated by the presence of the new kid on the block, you can viscerally see the effect and inspiration he's getting from their six string dialogues, and he knows just how to make it work. Powell is a very underrated talent with a voice that delivers night after night, and a melodic guitar style that has resonated with audiences since the days of Woodstock. I would be remiss if I did not mention that Andy Powell also authored on of the finest rock autobiographies I've ever read, entitled Eyes Wide Open (link below).

If rock 'n' roll is dead, someone forgot to tell Andy Powell and Wishbone Ash. It looks to me like they're just getting started. Long live Wishbone Ash.

Thanks to the entire band for what they brought. Two hours of joy in times that are so often less than joyous. You guys made a lot of people happy last night.

Set List:

Eyes Wide Open
Way Down South
The King Will Come
Throw Down The Sword
Leaf and Stream
Wings of Desire
Standing In The Rain
Jail Bait


Faith, Hope, and Love
Blowin' Free


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Michael Schenker Fest - Lights Out in San José!

photo by Robert Lio
Michael Schenker Fest played to a nearly sold out, loving crowd at the San José National Civic Center on Saturday night, but as much fun as the audience had belting out lyrics with their favorite Schenker vocalists and being mystified by their hero's heavy licks, I think the most fun was actually had by the eight hard rock legends who make up the Fest.

I don't believe that I've ever seen a band have more fun onstage. The four singers (Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet, Robin McAuley, and Doogie White) came across more like a hard rock version of the Four Tops than competing metal myths, and their fun was both contagious and inspiring.

With the exception of some one off shows, it is most unusual to see a working band featuring both singers and musicians from various eras of a popular band's career, the Michael Schenker Fest is a hell of a template for future tours. This tour sees Schenker and company playing for crowds that are four times as large as we have been seeing in recent years, and this band was tailor made for large rooms. They are incredibly powerful and melodic.

Michael Schenker has seen more lives than the average cat, and he's never played better or been seen having such a great time onstage. The night's setlist featured a mini-set by each vocalist in the order of their time with MSG that is parsed with an instrumental number strategically placed between each singer's appearance. At various times, each singer is joined by their contemporaries, and their ribald humor often evokes a memory of Marx Brothers' road shows. No egos, no competing, just collaboration and sharing the love between four veterans who have served well.

Geoff Ketler/Aces High Photography
Schenker is playing like a man possessed, and he's on the short list of the greatest guitarists of his era. His dexterity and speed are not hampered by the years (or the ravages), and he is now improvising more than he has in the past, and seems to be having great fun doing so. There has never been a better time to be a Schenker devotee!

Four sets of solid history from Barden, Bonnet, McAuley, and White, are followed by an excellent set of UFO classics from the band's legendary live album, Strangers In The Night. Also, the tracks the band plays from their new Resurrection album fare very well in a live setting.

Kirstine Walton Photography
I'd be remiss if I didn't speak of the band. This is truly a greatest hits version of various Schenker ensembles, and the Fest features the always excellent Steve Mann (Lionheart, Sweet) on second lead guitar, vocals and keyboards (and it was great to see the band perform the hit "Anytime" from 1989), drummer extraordinaire Ted McKenna (SAHB, Rory Gallagher), and on of my favorite rock 'n' roll bassists, Chris Glen. These fellows rage through the setlist (see below) like a runaway train, and their power and precision is majestic.

If you have chance to see this tour, DO NOT MISS IT! I've been closely following Michael Schenker since the mid-70s, even working for the band as a guitar tech for a brief time during the McAuley/Schenker years, and I must say that there has never been a better time to see this man weaving his six-string magic, and to have him joined by so many brilliant musicians from his storied history might just make this the tour of the year.

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  7. (Scorpions song)
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  26. (UFO song)
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  27. Encore:
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  31. (UFO song)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Lance Lopez - Tell The Truth - An early contender in its class for 2018

Lance Lopez overwhelmingly succeeds in his quest to bring sizzling blues rock to the masses once again with his latest full length release, Tell The Truth, currently out on Mascot Label Group.

Tell The Truth is that rarest of beasts, a well thought out blues rock record. In a genre which can become stiflingly repetitive, Lopez, along with producer Fabrizio Grossi, avoid the usual pitfalls by bringing to the forefront some elements too often found absent in so many youthful displays of six string exuberance common to the breed.

This is apparent right out of the shoot as "Never Came Easy" starts off the proceedings with a dropped D tuned acoustic guitar and an effected vocal that sounds as close to Nashville as it does to Texas, but where you would imagine the song would then kick off into the predictable guitar histrionics, a sultry electric piano that sounds as if it just found its way out of 1973 and a growling, throbbing, greasy bass line come in to accompany Lopez's gritty vocals. This song set is strongly autobiographical, and when Lopez breaks into his silky slide guitar solo the soulful background vocals paint the picture to great effect. Song based blues rock - Lopez hits the nail on the head, and he keeps it between the ditches for the entire ride.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Jimmy Kunes talks National Wrecking Company, Cactus, and more!

"It’s an intense record. It’s an intense world we’re living in." ~ Jimmy Kunes

Jimmy Kunes is a man on the move. He's just finished up with one of his "Freed Live" tributes to Free (and some Bad Company) at B.B. King's in New York City as he heads out the door for Europe with Cactus for some shows before he'll return to oversee the release of his killer new project, National Wrecking Company. Before he jumped on a plane for Italy we had a chance to get a preview for the album, and to catch up on all the dizzying details!

National Wrecking Company is one of those rare records that sounds like you know it the minute you hear it. The songs, melodies, and riffs are classic hard rock, but there's also a definite sense that they've captured the times we're living in, and there's a great sense of urgency to the material. It's a record that deserves to be heard. That's where we started the conversation:

This is real classic hard rock with a modern sound, did you write with an agenda to sound that way or is it more organic? Tell me about the band and how this record came together.
Jimmy Kunes: "Funny you should ask a question that was right on the tip of my mind, so to speak.  
"Randy (Pratt) had started to assemble very strong hooks, riffs and grooves along with one of his drummers, Neil Cicione and TC Toliver (Plasmatics). He had me in mind to check out a few of these ideas that were then arranged into songs by our engineer/ producer JZ Burrell. 
"I was knocked out by how original and utterly exciting they sounded and immediately came up with lyrics, subject matter and imagery for the songs. It all happened quite rapidly. 
"So, I took in my lyric drafts and started laying vocals down.
"They had also been quite prolific in keeping the ideas churning and would hit me with a new one after I'd finished a vocal. I would come up with a root idea on the spot and elaborate on that, go out to the vocal booth and build it up from there. I was right on my game but the songs were so hooky, catchy and crafted so well that it all just seemed to glow and flow very easily. More often than not we would finish off 2 songs in a day's work. Very satisfying. 
"So yes it was a very organic, fresh way of approaching writing lyrics and laying vocals down for me." 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Black Country Communion back in action with new video & album!

My pals in Black Country Communion are beck in action with a smoking new video out today, and an album, IV, that will launch on Friday September 22nd!

I'm going to get out of the way, and let the music do the talking, but it's great to have the boys back in action!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sidemen - Long Road To Glory coming to the big screen in August!

Earlier this year, you will remember that I played a role in helping Sidemen: Long Road To Glory run a very successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $200,000 to pay for the final rights and clearances, and to move the film into its next step, that of distribution and being brought into theaters around the country. 

Well, as many of you now know, Abramorama, the company that brought us The Beatles 'Eight Days A Week' in 2016 and the Grateful Dead documentary, 'Long Strange Trip' this year is now bringing Sidemen to big screens with its premiere happening on August 18 in New York (see listings below).

Sidemen: Long Road To Glory is an intimate look at the lives and legacies of three legendary bluesmen; piano player Pinetop Perkins, drummer Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith and guitarist Hubert Sumlin, all Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf sidemen. The film captures some of the last interviews and final live performances, before their deaths in 2011. The historic live shows are accompanied by performances and personal insights from many of the blues and rock stars these legendary musicians inspired including; Bonnie Raitt, Gregg Allman, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Tim Reynolds, Shemekia Copeland, Robby Krieger, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Perry, Joe Bonamassa and Johnny Winter.

RGD's Tony Conley announces new book, Paul McCartney In The Beatles!

JULY 17, 2017


Good Mojo Press announces upcoming release 
and Indiegogo campaign featuring incredible artwork and more 

"Analyzing a Beatle is like trying to describe a season. It is, by definition, an attempt to describe a force of nature. If art is subjective then all that matters is taste. Mr. Conley's loving, penetrating book on Sir Paul is definitive. His understanding of Vaudeville Paul & Little Richard Paul embodies the ethos of an artist that recreated songwriting and performing for generations to come... A black bird singing in the dead of night, forever." - Michael Des Barres, host of Little Steven's Underground Garage | SiriusXM Radio

Tony Conley, music journalist and voice behind the long running Rock Guitar Daily, and publisher Good Mojo Press are pleased to announce their new release, Paul McCartney In The Beatles. The book takes a comprehensive look at the music and musicianship of Paul McCartney during his career with the Beatles. Paul McCartney In The Beatles is set for release in November, 2017.

What it's all about: 

Conley's inspiration for the book sparked nearly thirty years ago while living in Los Angeles. During that time, he met Denny Seiwell, ex-drummer for Wings, the first band McCartney put together after leaving the Beatles. "Denny told me some great stories of his time with McCartney and Wings, and he had a unique demeanor concerning the experience of working with Paul." said Conley, "He always came back to the music and musicianship. That has always stuck with me."

While a great many books have been written about McCartney and the Beatles, Conley paves a less traveled path, opting for an in-depth look into the musicianship and the music created by McCartney and the band instead of the well trodden road of biography.

"I think at the end of the day, this is an analysis of someone who does what he does creatively for all the right reasons, and in the right ways," Conley says, "My hope is that people will read the book, and become inspired to work as hard and as fearlessly for their own art."

To go along with the book, Good Mojo Press will be creating playlists for the major streaming sites that will serve as a musical guided tour to the book. It's the writer's hope that people will read the book and listen along as they read, as he believes this provides and creates the most enjoyable, comprehensive way to experience the book.

Good Mojo Press to launch a crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo on July 24, 2017 featuring incredible art as perks:

The 30-day campaign features as perks some of the most stunning and original art ever created and committed to a crowdfunding effort. In addition to these one-of-a kind items, there will also be books, posters, t-shirts, and other goodies available. Some of the one-of-a-kind opportunities for collectors to own: 

  • Stephen Holland (official Artist of the Grammys) offers an original 28" x 42" painting entitled, McCartney In The Beatles.
  • Renowned sculptor Tony Natsoulas has created a series of ten original McCartney clay masks that have to be seen to be believed.
  • Five specially made museum quality lithographs (archival grade printing on a custom designed cloth) featuring the artwork of John Lennon.
  • The original prototype of the Ben Fargen built and designed John Lennon Artist Series Amplifier that features a print of Lennon's famous self-portrait and his signature - all officially sanctioned by Yoko Ono/Bag One Arts.  

Paul McCartney In The Beatles will be available through Amazon, select retailers, and the Good Mojo Press website, and also as an e-Book.

About Tony Conley:

Tony Conley is the voice behind the long running Rock Guitar Daily (35,000 monthly readers) and a contributing editor and writer at many online publications. Conley makes regular appearances on several classic rock radio stations around the country as a rock music expert and industry insider. A lifelong music business professional, he has worked in management for Guitar Center for many years, and has played with and worked for such acts as Iggy Pop, Bobby Womack, Guided By Voices, and many others.

Advance praise for Paul McCartney In The Beatles:

"Tony Conley takes us beyond the pop star mythology to the core of the artist. The innovative and game changing genius bassist, pianist, guitarist, drummer, songwriter and singer. Behind the boyish grin, the "cute Beatle" was and is still nothing less than one of the greatest hands-on musicians of the last few centuries." - Johnny Hickman, Cracker

"Analyzing a Beatle is like trying to describe a season. It is, by definition, an attempt to describe a force of nature. If art is subjective then all that matters is taste. Mr. Conley's loving, penetrating book on Sir Paul is definitive. His understanding of Vaudeville Paul & Little Richard Paul embodies the ethos of an artist that recreated songwriting and performing for generations to come... A black bird singing in the dead of night, forever." - Michael Des Barres, host of Little Steven's Underground Garage | SiriusXM Radio

For interview opportunities and press, please contact:

Tony Conley
(937) 441-4502