Valhalla interview with Mark Mangold

June 12, 2011

Valhalla interview with Mark Mangold

Thank you very much for agreeing to this interview, Mark. First I would like to ask you about your childhood and teen years…what were some of your influences back then?
It was always the new bluesy pop stuff that used to come out…ie. Bo Diddley, James Brown, and eventually you know, the Beatles, Zep, Purple…all the popular bands coming up…particularly the Hammond Organ ones…like Rascals, Vanilla Fudge, etc.
Before we start talking about legendary Valhala, I would like to ask you if you or other band members of Valhala were in any other bands before? Perhaps any releases from then?
Not really, we were quite young.
When was Valhala formed? Tell us something more about the beginning, how did you come together?
Living on Long Island, playing in bands…it just gelled with some local Long Island boys.
Do you perhaps remember some of the early sessions you had?
Ha…session…you mean jamming in my garage…ha ha.
Yes, good memories…alot of drama (ie. that was Vietnam War days…so that was always looming in the background…a time of great civil unrest and anti authoritarian mind set).  It was a time of discovery..in those days it was about finding a sound and expressing some strong sentiment…hopefully…being rebellious in a way…as opposed to music these days where the opposite is generally the goal.
United Artists released your only LP in 1969. How did you come in contact with them?
Literally…I picked up the phone and the person calling said they had seen us at a club and wanted to sign us…AH the good old days.
I would also like if you could tell me what do you remember from producing and recording your album.
In those days it wasn’t as easy, as it is now to get great sounds…ie. drums sounds, etc in the studio.  We relied on our engineer, and “producer” totally…we were totally inexperienced.  It happened quite fast…ie. one maybe two takes at the most…all at the same time…basically no overdubs.
To this day we are not ecstatic about the sound of the record…the drums were so low in the mix.
It was wonderful to have the opportunity to have a full orchestra playing on some songs…it was interesting how they did it…the conductor was the only one who had head phones…listening the track we had laid down…and he conducted the orchestra…who was not really hearing anything but themselves…so you could hear sometimes it’s not totally locked with the band….but it’s pretty close…and we were so fortunate to have even been there…we really just went along for the ride…a bit powerless in some regards.

Do you perhaps know how many copies were made?
I really love the cover artwork. It’s a sinking burning Viking ship. The name Valhalla is the paradise of  the Vikings who died honorably, right? Who did the cover artwork?
Yes, quite right about the artwork.  I actually have the original oil painting here in my living room.
The artist was named Remo Bramanti.  Funny as I was a bit in the dark at the time regarding Scandanavians…the singer had thought of the name, but now I am surrounded by and work with alot of Swedes and Norwegians…wonderful people…and go there about twice a year.  Great songwriters and producers there.
How about touring? What do you remember from touring as Valhala. Did you play at any festivals?
Can you share some interesting stories that happened while touring?
Yes we played locally alot.  We never got to Europe, which we all wanted to do.   Played venues, colleges, clubs, a few festivals here in the States, mostly on the East Coast.  It was hippy days…people really appreciated the vibe of those shows…  and of course humping around the 450 lb. Hammond Organ and Leslie made me ALOT of friends ha ha.  I’m still paying the price…ie. my back…ha ha.
Thank god for computers…and the Hammond Organ.

Well, I would like to ask you about song writing. I will wrote songs you did on your only LP and if you can share a few words about every song…
Hmm   not really specific on the songs…but they were all created on the piano…or some jamming at a rehearsal…ie. an excuse to “play” (like I’m Not Askin’ or Hardtimes)….deep pretentious heart breaking melody…many anti war or social commentary songs…(Ladies in Waiting…Hard Times…Rooftop Man…Heads Are Free……sad songs (Overseas Symphony)
It was a fairly dark time…of discovery…or casting off the old and dated, stringent ways of thinking of another generation…ie. our parents…
about rebellion and to an extent being pretty pissed off…revolutionaries in a way and this is how we expressed ourselves.
Alot of things motivating us…some of which I can’t talk about…
After Valhala you went to American Tears and there you released three albums. Then you were in a band called Touch in early 80’s. Drive, She Said is another band you were in late 80’s. After that you released some solo albums. Would you like to talk about your history after Valhala?
SEE ALOT OF INFO AND INTERVIEWS BELOW>>> more info than you probably want…ha ha ha.

              Actually it started with a band called “Valhalla” on United Artists records.  Valhalla was a progressive “symphonic rock” band using, amazingly enough, a full orchestra on some songs on their record.   A song called “Overseas Symphony” received airplay here and abroad.   Then the band evolved into the the “power” keyboard/experimental trio “American Tears”.  It was “heavy” keyboard music, though not having guitars may not be considered that “heavy”.
            The band’s first record was called “BRANDED BAD” on the Columbia Records label.  The band eventually did two more records,  (TEAR GAS/1975, POWERHOUSE/1977).  For the second record the band changed bass players to Greg Baze and released Tear Gas.  At that stage there was much touring with bands such as Peter Frampton, Gary Wright, J. Geils, Gentle Giant, Alvin Lee, UFO and many others.   Eventually, on the third LP for American Tears the band decided to add a guitarist and vocalist and use multi-harmonies (enter Craig Brooks on guitar and a new bassist, Kirk Powers on bass), rather than Mark singing alone surrounded by 15 keyboards.  The sound became more lush and multi-textural and the band was able to expand it’s sound.
            The history of the band Touch starts with “American Tears”.  AT did it’s third record for Columbia and then basically went into reformation and rethinking to create a new sound and unit.  Changing bass players, again, to Doug Howard, the band then rehearsed for about a year in a loft in New York and recorded demos, eventually doing a rough live video of four songs (Black Star, Don’t Fail Me Now, There’s A Light and Last Chance for Love) which by present standards looks very rough but in those days, when video was just starting, was a unique tool to try to get the band out there.  That’s what got them “discovered” by Bruce Payne, and Ritchie Blackmore, and Bruce became the bands manager and made alot happen for Touch.  But that’s another story, and another record.

Drive, She Said                      History Notes
It was the late ‘80’s (I’m not very good with exact dates) and Al had just completed working with the band TZR and I was working, trying to create a band, with Fran Cosmo (the lead singer with Orion the Hunter and eventually Boston).  It all really started with the songs, and a mutual friend/songwriter introduced us.  Al came over and I played a few songs I was working on and I was blown away with his voice and he definitely wanted to create a band.  We started right away writing and recording and eventually a friend (Ed Garcia, an engineer at Atlantic Records) got us a really good spec deal to do some demos at Quad Sound in New York.  We couldn’t afford to use real drums and had to use machines so the music ended up being heavy and melodic but with the then 80’s techno drum thing (a bit like Def Leppard drums).  But you could hear that there was a great voice there.  Then providence took over,  a friend at the time bumped into a girl who used to live across the street from me when I was growing up, about 5 years younger, and Joy used to always sit out and just listen when I would rehearse with my then band Euphoria, which eventually turned into Valhalla.  What a coincidence AND Joy was married to John Luongo a producer/re-mixer (Aerosmith, Hewey Lewis and the News, etc.) who also wanted to manage bands.  John heard the tape and definitely wanted to get involved.  We demoed a few more songs including “Love Has No Pride” (which I wrote with Aldo Nova in Montreal, a good friend) and “Maybe It’s Love” with Esra Mohawk, who John introduced me to.  We put together a band (Tony Bruno was nice enough to play guitar with us) did a show case, a very wierd experience, for Capitol (which consisted of the band playing their buns off while two guys in suits sat on chairs, smoked  and stared).  That didn’t work out and I decided to do what I had done with Touch years before, which was to get some sort of video happening so we could present the band and not have to hear them ask to see us play live, and do a showcase where it all comes down to the sound system at some club.  Anyway a good friend, Martin Kahan, was and still is a video director, rented a camera and we put together a funky, grainy Super 8 video on “Love Has No Pride” and “Maybe It’s Love” (we couldn’t afford to finish “Maybe It’s Love” so the screen goes black right after the second chorus where John would say “We ran out of money…HERE! ).
            John presented the tape and video for Tony Martell, the then president of CBS Associated Records.   Hooray, Tony liked it, thought “Love Has No Pride” was a hit, loved Al’s voice and thought we had a sense of humor by having the audacity to play him a video and say “We ran out of money…HERE!”   Well, we started recording the album at Calliope studios.  From the liner notes you can see the people who helped out, from Tony Bruno, Bob and Bruce Kulick, Kenny Aronoff, Benny Mardones, Fiona (who also wrote a song with me “Hard Way Home” for the record) and many others.  I was excited that John and his partner, Gary Helman, were going to help mix the record because that, to me is the hardest part of a record and has always been a stage in previous bands where it could all be lost (it’s so important to know how to judge the speakers in a studio, which require getting used to {eg. you may be used to hearing more bass on your home speakers but have ample amount on the studio speakers, so it’s real important to play tapes and CD’s to see how they sound on the studio speakers).  Anyway John and Gary did a wonderful job at Right Track Studios, mixing the record.  We shot the album cover at a Power Station in Staten Island, asked Sean Daly, a very talented artist who painted reflective/robotic art wonderfully, to do us this steering wheel, and it was done.  The record was just being released when there was a big re-organization at CBS and we found ourselves with a new record company president and Tony’s powers were limited.  This was not great in that we were Tony’s “project” and the new “boss” had his own “projects”.  We’ll they decided to release “If This Is Love” as the single (not “Love Has No Pride”) though without any real push.  Meanwhile the record was being very well received, including in Europe, and we couldn’t get any support from the record company.  Enter, Dee Anthony, the great manager, who had a meeting with the powers at CBS, who said they were not prepared to do much for the band, eg. no video, etc. and Dee opted for getting us released from the deal (those guys play hardball) though Al and I would have been happy to try to wait it out and maybe do another record.  ANYWAY, we immediately got the interest of Mr. Martin Hooker at Music For Nations who signed the band and brought us over to tour. So that was it, our first club tour of the UK where we played every nook and cranny of and made many friends and fans. A few nights we opened up for FM and had the pleasure of meeting that very talented band.
            Playing live, especially in rock venues, makes you play a bit harder and Al and I were writing songs that were more aggressive and would work in that environment (for instance “Drivin’ Wheel”, “Pedal to the Metal” (our “Deep Purple” derived set opener), “Veil Of Tears”, etc.)  We also were doing “Can’t Get Enough” (by Bad Company) which went over very well as a last encore and which ended up on the second record.
            Coming back to the States we immediately began working on “Drivin’ Wheel” the second CD.  Not wanting be called “wimps”, that terrible English phrase, we sometimes sacrificed melody for the more aggressive approach and the second record was a bit “harder” than the first, Al was singing a bit more raspy. We again recorded it at Calliope and another studio called “Mystery” in N.Y. and Gary Helman was nice enough to help us mix it.  Sean created that wonderful “snake” Drivin’ Wheel for the cover and…Oh, somewhere in there I had worked a few days with Michael (Bolton) and we had written “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle”, which I think Al sang beautifully and had also gotten together with Aldo again (he was touring in support of his solo CD “Blood on the Bricks”) and we wrote “So Hard to Hold”.  Martin Hooker was nice enough to set up another tour for us, and we finally did a video (“Think of Love”).  We came over to open up for FM and UFO. Wow, an interesting match, touring UK and eventually Germany with UFO.  Again, to accomodate the harder UFO audience, we were emphasizing the more aggressive songs, (the piano/voice version of “Love Has No Pride” was DEFINITELY cut in half or often not done…).  That was a wonderful tour and we got out to alot of people…until disaster struck when Al, spending days on end in smokey clubs and an even more smokey tour bus (which we shared with the UFO crew, a healthy brood of chain smokers) lost his voice.  We struggled through one night, missed another and still Al couldn’t speak above a whisper. I considered trying to sing those nights but my voice is much lower than Al’s and it wouldn’t have been “Drive, She Said”.  So our participation on the tour had to be ended, a great dissappointment AND LESSON for all.  It took quite a while for Al’s voice to really come back and it was a bit scary there for awhile.
            Coming home we again began to work on more songs.  I was “experimenting” with songs that I would feel comfortable singing and which said things I really could embrace as a person/singer.  I wrote “Something At Last” and “42nd Street”, which eventually lead to writing many more songs for myself and eventually my solo CD “Mirror Image”.  We recorded “Excelerator” which was a more eclectic CD, ranging from the instrumental “Excelerator” to the bluesy “Let It Ride” (which was inspired because I was fortunate enough to have Paul Rogers record a song I had written with Benny Mardones, called “For A Little Ride”, on Paul’s band “The Law”…so Al and I went for it).  We wrote “All I’m Livin’ For” as the “single” which was very well received classic D,SS, and also went into some different places instrumentally, eg. “Inside You”. etc..basically “spreading out” a bit.  Clearly, in the States, “alternative” music was happening and we were not feeling the need to emulate our first “melodic metal” record again, did not want to follow the crowd and write “alternative” songs, so we just went “inside”, were a bit more individualistic and did what we wanted, which ended up having a wide style.
            Having done that record we never got to come over again to tour in support of it.  There was a bit of a hiatis, though Al and I still wrote and worked together, there was no record to work on.  THOUGH, I always new we would do another record for the strange reason that I always could envision the cover of the record.  We had always had these “steering wheels” on the covers and the last “Excelerator” was going to a spiritual place (a pyramid) but I always saw an eclipse where the light from the hidden sun formed the handle of the wheel, and a faint shift in the middle; a “natural” phenonemon rather than a manufactured wheel.  Also I always wanted to hear all the “single’s” put together on one record (and always thought there were quite a few potential “single’s”).  Well, Steve Harrell and Toshi Aramaki (in Japan) and Serafino Perugino and Mario de Riso (in Italy) were nice enough to share the dream and this album came into existence.  Al and I had written some songs, and we also had the almost completed tapes of songs written long ago that never ended up on our records (“Look At What You Got” which I wrote with Michael Bolton for his “Everybody’s Crazy” LP, and “Water From A Stone”).  I wrote “Road to Paradise” which to me is a synthesis of the spiritual music I was doing for my solo CD and a new rather aggressive sound and arrangement (which actually came to me in a dream) that was uniquely “Drive, She Said”, a departure from that negative/angry/evil  sound so prevalent, but rather positive and spiritual-New Age Metal??  Al had written a Beatles- like song “Suddenly Closer” with his friend Gary Gold, which blew me away and we rearranged that a bit, changed the bridge and recorded it.  Oddly enough it’s the first D,SS song we did that I didn’t formally write or co-write and it certainly is one of my favorites (especially with headphones).  Anyway that brings us up to the present.  It’s now up to the listeners and fans to help write the future history of Drive, She Said.  We would love to keep on going and writing and do what we do and we appreciate all your help and support through the years.  Without you…who knows. 

            Perhaps one of the most eagerly awaited AOR releases of 2000.  “The Sign” can be considered something of a supergroup, the line up includes legendary keyboard player Mark Mangold (Touch/Drive, She Said/Michael Bolton/Flesh And Blood) Billy Greer (Kansas/Streets), Terry Brock (Strangeways/Le Roux). Randy Jackson (Zebra/China Rain) and Bobby Rondnelli (Black Sabbath/Rainbow), this line up looks good on paper I know, but what about in reality,how does this thing sound I hear you cry? Well fear not, the guys are on form and as expected we don’t find one weak track throughout ‘Signs Of Life’.
            The opening track ‘I’m Alive’ has a raw almost seventies sound, perhaps a little pompy sounding, the songs chorus is very catchy, check out some Coverdale impersonations from Brock, which can also be heard on the song ‘Signs Of Life itself.
            ‘Aryon’ is another favourtie track of mine, this song is lush and glorious and it’s one song that will send the shivers down your back. Brock sings with superb passion and comes over like Bob Catley. Actually the whole song has a vintage Magnum feel with AOR influences, the chorus is very addictive and once Mangold’s keyboard parping kicks in you’ll be hooked.
            ‘Stranded’ is punchier, the guitars kick the song into gear whilst Brock’s voice is more melodic in a Jeff Scott Soto vein. Then we get to hear a killer ballad called ‘I Will Be There For You’ which reminds me Survivor.
            Fans of Drive, She Said will enjoy ‘Wine’, the chorus is lovely and Mangold’s keys sit nicely into the mix which has a hint of blues about it.
            ‘Desperate Heart’ is even better and one of my favourite songs, this is a perfect AOR/melodic rock song with a killer chorus to singalong with, the Richie Sambora inspired guitars perfectly surround Brock’s slick vocals turning ‘Desperate Heart’ into one of the albums highlights.
            Of the ballads ‘I Will Be There For You’ is the best, here Mangold puts in a beautiful performance, this song is very similar to Survivor and Drive, She Said, the whole band play together superbly on every track and if your a fans of all the musicians previous outfits then be sure to check out The Sign. Recommended.
Nicky Baldrian
THE SIGN – SIGNS OF LIFE (Frontiers/Now & Then)
            How often is it that a band is put together of well known musicians and you’re a fan of all of them? Damn Yankees? Nah, who was that drummer again? Mothers Army, Alliance? Not quite! Platypus? Maybe! The Sign? Now you’re talking!!!
            Put together by keyboard player Mark Mangold (American Tears, Touch, Michael Bolton, Drive she Said, Flesh & Blood, Mystic Healer and solo artist), guitarist, Randy Jackson (Zebra, China Rain) and singer Terry Brock (Strangeways) and, the trio were later joined by Billy Greer (Kansas, Streets) and Bobby Rondinelli (Rainbow, Black Sabbath, BOC).
            Sound good so far? Let’s read the record company biography, these things are notoriously inaccurate aren’t they? “An incredible mixture of Zebra, Journey & Touch, with strong symphonic overtones a la Kansas”. After listening to the album I’ve got to say that the description has hit the nail firmly on the head.  In fact I would go a bit further and add every band that every member has ever been in to that mixture.
            There seems to be a sub-genre evolving that can only be described as retro-AOR. The reference points for the music on this disc would be similar to those for the recent Kharma record, ‘Wonderland’. It’s the kind of melodic music that any one of us thirty-somethings (I’m still allowed to say that for a couple of months!) got into in the late 70’s/early 80’s, everything from the Journey/Boston/Foreigner/Styx era up to the more recent Drive She Said, Bad English and The Storm.
There is a lyrical theme running through most of this record based on the story of a girl named ‘Aryon’ who comes out of a coma. The lyrics seem to be mostly Mark Mangolds work and the themes will be familiar to anyone who got into his Mirror Image solo album.
            I must admit that the opener ‘I’m Alive’ threw me completely. I didn’t really expect anything as progressive as the early Kansas style opening, pomp rock at it’s finest with a keyboard sound that not only goes back to Touch, but possibly as far back as the first couple of American Tears records. The song then changes pace into a Randy Jackson riff before mellowing out into a verse that reminds me of BOC’s ‘Great Sun Jester’. Vocals come in from all angles with Mangold doing the deep voice, Brock covering the middle ground, and Jackson doing his helium filled Zebra scream. The song is pretty laid back but halfway through it speeds up into a keyboard/guitar solo, the like of which we haven’t heard since ‘Drivin’ Wheel’. Slightly disappointing to me is the fact that there’s nothing as self-indulgent as that on the rest of the album, I could easily have listened to a whole album of it. However, ‘Crossed the Line’ is a great uptempo rocker that features another awesome keyboard solo with some chunky guitar from Randy, and it’s worth the price of this album for the instrumental sections of these first two songs alone. The drums and bass are perfect and bounce along accordingly.
            No doubt some of you will be familiar with ‘Aryon’ from it’s inclusion on the Union 3 compilation. It’s actually a pretty good indication of what to expect from this disc. A well written and well arranged slice of commercial American rock, with a good emotional vocal from Terry who actually sounds quite like Paul Shortino in parts, and some great piano and guitar work. ‘Forever Again’ is a piano based ballad, more in the style of D,SS with some Kansas thrown in for good measure. The track also features some huge harmony vocals and some great slide guitar.
‘Stranded’ is the next big surprise. It really is quite heavy with some minor chords and discordant vocals, with Randy coming to the fore giving it a very Zebra-like feel. It would probably require more listens than the rest of the record due to the sheer uncommerciality of it but you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that it will grow to be one of the highlights. ‘All Your Life’ is  a simple uplifting acoustic based song with some great 3 part harmonies and more than a nod in the direction of Kansas, while ‘The Wait’ starts like pre-1987 Whitesnake but kicks into a simple but effective song with a bouncy chorus and a bluesy verse. Brock does a fabulous impression of James Christian on the bridge.
            Of the remaining songs ‘I Will Be There For You’ is the big ballad, the kind of thing that Mangold can probably write in his sleep, ‘Nothing but A Heartache’ is a melodic uptempo song with some great keys that wouldn’t sound out of place on the Two Fires album, and ‘Wine’ has a country flavour and is easily my least favourite.
            On ‘Desperate Heart’, many’s favorite on the record, it’s also interesting to hear the change in Brocks voice from this track to the last one, ‘Signs Of Life’ itself. A monster of a song with a truly great vocal performance from Terry who sounds very gravel voiced compared to the previous couple of songs, and a very good lyric from Mark. It has big harmonies and one of Randy’s best ever guitar solos and some really odd chords in the middle which raise it a little bit more in my estimation.
All in all, a varied and interesting piece of work that should appeal to anyone who liked the Kharma album or any of the bands mentioned in this review.
With the current state of the music business, especially in relation to the melodic rock scene, I guess the glory years have been and gone. The days of spending half a million dollars recording an album and then touring the world for a couple of years are limited to literally a handful of bands who are still successful at it. But while the internet is full of people bemoaning the lack of success of their favourite bands, and asking when the music is going to come back around for it’s next 15 minutes, what scene there is left has many good things going for it. One is that almost none of the bands are in it for the money, they persevere because they want to make music, which can only be good for their creativity. Another is that because hardly any of the musicians are in bands that take up their whole year, they have downtime to forge all kinds of interesting collaborations with each other. One of the most interesting collaborations at the moment goes under the name of The Sign.
            Put together by keyboardist Mark Mangold, guitarist Randy Jackson and vocalist Terry Brock, they were later joined by bassist Billy Greer and drummer Bobby Rondinelli.
            Mark Mangold started his recording career in the keyboards/bass/drums trio American Tears in 1974, who by their third album had added Craig Brooks on guitar, and later evolved into the excellent Touch, who were the first band ever to take the stage at Donington. After many hassles during the recording of the 2nd Touch album they disbanded and Mangold went on to form a writing and playing partnership with one Michael Bolton, the fruits of  which included much of Bolton’s first two solo albums (not including the two he made as Michael Bolotin) and ‘I Found Someone’ which was a worldwide hit for Cher. He then came back with his own band Drive, She Said, a duo with the wonderful Al Fritsch who made three albums and even toured the UK a couple of times. He was also in the blues-based band Flesh & Blood, Mystic Healer (a project on MTM) and released his own album ‘Mirror Image’.
            Randy Jackson has been the guitarist and singer in Zebra since the early 80’s, a band who had considerable success in their native USA, they released 4 albums for Atlantic and will have a new album out around the new year. He was also in China Rain a few years back, a band that also featured drummer Brian Tichy (Pride & Glory).
            Terry Brock is a respected session singer who with Scottish band Strangeways released two of the best British AOR albums ever, but has also appeared on a bewildering number of albums by genre favourites like Kansas, Aviator, Valentine, Heavens Edge, Kerry Livgren’s AD and Van Zant.
            Billy Greer was the bass player with the legendary Streets, before tagging along with his bandmate Steve Walsh on his return to Kansas. He’s been with them for the last 15 years, appearing on their last seven releases.
            Last but not least, Bobby Rondinelli is best known for his spells in Rainbow and Black Sabbath, and is currently also a member of Blue Oyster Cult.
Not a bad track record, but how would they all get along in the same band? They’ve been confirmed for this years Gods, by which time their debut album ‘Signs Of Life’ will be in the shops. I spoke to Mark Mangold, Randy Jackson and Terry Brock to see how things were going.
When did the original three of you first meet?
(Mark) I’ve known these guys for about 10 years.
(Randy) Mark and I met through a former manager of mine named Scott Ross who
introduced me to Mark during the writing phase of the “China Rain”
CD. Mark and I put a couple of songs together and kept in touch over
the years.
(Terry) Yeah, I’ve known Randy and Mark for quite some time. My band Network used to open for Zebra in L.A. years ago, and I’d done sessions for Mark on Drive, She Said in New York.
(Randy) And I hadn’t seen Terry again until now.
When did the idea for the Sign first come about?
(Terry) The band came about because the label asked Mark to get us together for a project.
(Mark) It started building last summer and we started talking to Serafino and Mario (Frontiers Records in Italy) about it and we figured we’d do it.
(Randy) Mark called me to see if I was interested in doing this type of project.
How did you get Billy Greer involved?
(Mark) Billy was a great friend of Terry’s through his Kansas sessions.
(Terry) The Kansas guys gave me my break into the business in 1983. We’ve been friends for nearly 25 years (since I was 6?). I see them quite a lot. They’re my much older brothers.
(Randy) I still haven’t officially “met” Billy face to face.
You originally had Chuck Bonfante on drums but now you have Bobby Rondinelli, how come?
(Mark) We were just putting together the band and the label actually opted for Bobby.
So that wasn’t your decision then?
(Mark) No, not really, the band was put together in tandem with the record label.
(Randy) I knew Bobby before he was in Rainbow. He and his brother Teddy had
a group called “Tusk” and I used to see them here on Long Island a
lot in the late 70’s.
Terry, describe the members of the band and what they bring to the Sign.
(Terry) Billy is a highly underrated singer/writer/bassist, he’s also ancient, needs reading glasses and can’t hear well. Mark is a very talented writer/arranger/producer & motivator. Randy is a killer guitarist, great writer/producer & vegetarian. Did you know Randy means anal in Japanese? Bobby who? Oh him! the Italian John Bonham. Don’t ask about me!
With so many individuals in the band, who decides what goes down with the songwriting?
(Randy) Everybody writes except that Bobby came along after the songs were done.
(Mark) It’s a total collaboration, there’s a lot of compromise going on.
And what about the direction of the material?
(Mark) We knew we were going to do a melodic metal record, that’s what we started out to do, so within those parameters we kinda tried to stretch it whenever we could.
(Terry) Each song is different, whoever has the original idea usually dictates the direction, with everyone else’s input.
I’ve heard the original mixes of the songs, they sound like a mixture of all the bands you’ve all been in, a classic late 70’s/early 80’s sound, do you agree with that?
(Mark) Yeah, we haven’t done one of these kinds of records for years so we really just went crazy. We used a lot of ideas that had been building up that we really hadn’t been able to use through the years and it was a lot of fun for that reason.
(Randy) I think we share a lot of the same musical roots and this makes
writing and communicating ideas very fast and fluid.
(Terry) We’re sort of Zeppelin meets Genesis meets Kansas meets Bad Co. meets with an unfortunate end.
(Randy) Yeah, the early 70’s is my favourite musical period as far as rock
goes and I know I am heavily influenced by that!
And certainly from Mark’s input a lot of the keyboard sounds hark back to Touch or even American Tears, was that a conscious effort or did it just turn out that way?
(Mark) No, it wasn’t a conscious effort. You fish around for a keyboard sound and you go with the one that you like. I’d say that there was a lot more piano in those days, and I used a lot of piano on my solo record.
I understand that Randy’s remixing the album. I’ve heard the original mixes of the songs  and they sound fine to me, I like the dry vocal sound and the huge keyboards. Why is it being remixed?
(Terry) Ahhhh,you’re a keyboard player I see!  Actually the powers that be felt a bigger sound was more appropriate for this kind of project.
(Randy) And, because we didn’t want them to sound just “fine”.
Seriously, Frontiers really wanted to get the mixes done for a late
summer release so we brought in George Tutko to do the mix. George
was only available for 6 days which seemed alright considering the
release schedule at the time. When the mixes were done we realized
that a lot of what had been recorded was not in the mixes, not
through any fault of George. I for one just hadn’t organized my
guitar tracks well enough for someone to come in and make any sense
of them, especially in just a week. Some of the songs had over 130
tracks of audio on them. Sometimes I have 30 – 40 tracks of guitars
playing in one song. That is a LOT of info to sort through even when
you are the one who recorded it. It would have been a shame to have
put out the CD without having all the parts in the mix.
(Mark) Yes, it’s still being re-mixed as we speak . It’s been a community record, everyone has their opinions and various people wanted to hear other things. They thought we should make it sound bigger,  so they wanted a little more guitar and a little more echo on the voice. And because of the limited budget, we’re not in a huge great studio doing the ultimate mix with the ultimate equipment so were trying to make it sound that way so we just keep tweaking it. The one thing about the first set of mixes was a bit of an attempt to use current mixing techniques, which means drier drums, drier everything.
Yeah, the vocals especially, Terry sounded completely different from anything I’ve ever heard him on before.
(Mark) That’s the way records are done these days. We were trying to, in a way, be more current and up to date. It sounds dry but it isn’t , it just that the voice is right in your face, like Terry’s sitting in your lap. But it doesn’t sound like it’s awash with echo like a Steve Perry record, not that I’m criticising him, he uses the best echo equipment in the world at Capitol Studios. We just wanted to make it like what they’re doing now, most of which is bone dry. I think it gives it soul, it’s out there standing on it’s own not protected by echo and things like that. The performance is right there in your face and the singer is sitting in the car with you, it makes it very intimate and that’s what’s been happening in the States in terms of new music. A lot of producers now won’t even have any effects in the studio when they’re mixing, so we did a little bit of that. We might use those mixes, or at least that technique for some of the songs that are released in the States. In Europe they want to hear it the way it’s always been recorded , which is more wet. It’s funny, it’s just a little knob on an echo machine, you turn it and it dries it up. It not a big significant thing to do, you’re just turning knobs.
So basically it’s like we’re painting a picture, what kind of picture do you want to see?
Mark, in the last few years you’ve done a lot of projects like this and Flesh & Blood and Mystic Healer. Will the Sign be another project or will it be an ongoing band?
(Mark) It is an ongoing band and Flesh & Blood was a real band too, we played a lot over here and if it had met with more success we would still be a band. It’s just that it didn’t quite happen in the way that we wanted it to but it wasn’t really a project, but as we’re not together anymore I guess you could say that’s what happened to it. Mystic Healer was the idea of Magnus at MTM to do a lot of the older material that I already had and a whole bunch of songs written with Michael Bolton, and take these songs that didn’t make it onto other records and use them. We never had any offers to go anywhere and play them or we would have been there in a second. To go back to your original question, I hope The Sign continues because it’s been a lot of fun, but it’s really a function of what happens because of the nature of these things. In the States there really isn’t anywhere to play this kind of material except if you’re a Kansas or a Yes, or were once a major band.
Talking of Kansas, I know that Billy’s still on tour with them and the dates they’ve announced with Yes are now going into November, so I take it he won’t be coming over with you?
(Mark) It doesn’t look like it, no.
Is Bobby Rondinelli going to be coming over?
(Mark) I hope so, right now he’s out with Blue Oyster Cult, but we’re trying to see what’s up with that.
From your Mirror Image album, you’re obviously very upfront about your beliefs, is this something you have in common with the other guys in The Sign?
(Mark) Well, they let me get away with these lyrics. I try to inject some of that into these lyrics.
Like ‘I’m Alive’?
(Mark) Yeah, even more cartoon like, it goes to a bit of an extreme but it’s fun. Instead of talking about the ministries of death we’re talking about the ministries of life. A lot of the heavier kind of music like Cannibal Corpse or whatever, they go to the extreme in the other direction but we go all picturesque and pompous in a positive direction. I couldn’t write any more songs about the night or the fire, and in a way I think it gives us a more distinctive personality. In any event, the lyrics are there in your face, the songs come through with a good positive message, all that you believe is all that you become. The story of Aryon threads through the record and that’s the important thing.
(Randy) I think they are positive and very spiritual.
(Terry) Most of the lyrics are cool and I actually wrote some myself, but Mark kinda leaves me on the Chakra crowns and the undead mystic Kings. I tend to be more eloquent, like ….yeah, baby, ooh, baby that’s right, baby, took your sweet touch NAAAAGHHHHH!
Do you think your beliefs have helped you in trying to make a living in such a vicious industry?
(Mark) I decided a while ago that if I believed it was a vicious industry then it would be one , so I don’t believe it is anymore. That’s the essence of the belief system, what you believe you will manifest. I try to think of the music business as a very benevolent joyous place, and that’s what it’s been. It’s been really good to me, the projects are happening, I keep being productive and I must say that The Sign has been just so gratifying. Just being able to write this music and actually doing a keyboard solo, which I haven’t done for years. I would love to do more, it’s just finding records that permit it. I was in Nashville writing country songs for a while which is the most restrictive form of music you could ever be involved with, it’s way more narrow than any other form of music. Especially with the limitations the record companies put on things down there in terms of lyrically and instrumentally and everything , so The Sign was a great record to do after spending a year in Nashville. Even pop songs are very limited also.
I think the one thing about The Sign album is that even though some of the songs are completely different from each other it’s still recognisable as the same band.
(Mark) Yeah, that was the line that we walked, just trying to keep that thread. But yeah, I think it sounds like the same band too.
You haven’t played over here for about 10 years, are you looking forward to coming back.
(Mark) Yeah, I haven’t been over since Drive, She Said.
(Randy) I’ve never been to the UK. I am looking forward to it. I love new
places and new people!!!
(Terry)I was last over in ’95. We’re coming for The GODS in November of this year and it’s about time I had a proper cuppa tea, a good curry, and an English brekkie!
(Mark) It’s kinda strange coming over for one gig, it’s a lot of preparation for one show, I’m used to coming over and touring for a while. So it limits you, especially for this band I’d love to bring over about 10 keyboards, just be surrounded in keyboards just like the old days. But for one gig you really can’t do that.
With a lot of the technology now , I don’t think that it’s needed is it?
(Mark) No, we don’t need it but it looks good. I saw Kansas the other day with Yes and they had two keyboards for many, many sounds, everything’s all in a rack of back-up sounds. On the other hand the guy from Yes, unnecessarily I guess,  but it looked really good, had about 15 keyboards around him. In every possible direction he was surrounded by keyboards and it was pretty cool.
Terry, you’ve been doing some acoustic shows with Randy, tell me about that, and what songs did you play?
(Terry) I was just tagging along with Randy for his acoustic shows. We went out playing some songs while we were mixing, I was playing mandolin and selling merchandise. I always knew I’d end up being someone’s roadie.
(Randy) We do some Bad Company and a lot of stuff I don’t know but Terry
covers up for me! Everyone always asks when he is coming back. They love him!!
Terry, what have you been up to since ‘Walk In The Fire’?
(Terry) After ‘Walk’, I moved to New York and began doing session work again. Other than two years in Nashville (don’t ask!), I’ve been there ever since.
How did you come to be in Strangeways?
(Terry) Kevin Elson, through Rodney Mills,  contacted me about the band. I didn’t join the first time they asked, but the 2nd time I caved.
What went wrong with the band?
(Terry) They were too Scottish!
With such a great voice why do you do more background vocals than lead?
(Terry) It pays the bills my friend! Also, I don’t have to work for a living.
Are there any bands you’ve turned down?
(Terry)  Just some band called The Beatles.
Randy, how’s the new Zebra album coming along?
(Randy) I’ll finish it in the next couple of months!
Did Zebra actually split up for a while, or was your inactivity down to other
(Randy) We never split up. We just stayed local doing gigs for the
last 13 years. A lot of people outside of New York and New Orleans
just figured us for dead!
The first Zebra album featured songs that were written over a long period of
time, did it really take you so long to get something happening?
(Randy) Yes, 8 years before we got our deal with Atlantic. Atlantic had
turned us down 4 years earlier saying that our music was “dated”. We
got our deal 4 years later with the same tape.
Was it difficult to transfer some of the complex arrangements over to the
live shows?
(Randy) We had 8 years to practice it  “Live” before we did the 1st record!
Was China Rain just a one-off project or was it meant to be an ongoing band?
(Randy) It could have been something more but when Atlantic decided against
releasing it, the project was over!
I should imagine that with so many good singers in the band, the harmonies should be quite good. Have you been working on those especially or does it come naturally?
Now you are in a band called The Magic Freak Society. What can you tell me about it? When did you form…what are some of your future plans?
Yes, Magic Freak was a pursuit of that old sound…alot of Hammond…retro stuff.  We actually re recorded a few Valhalla songs…  very funky 60’s kind of stuff.  Maybe Steppenwulf would be some sort of comparison??
Thanks a lot for your time and effort. Would you like to share anything else?
A pleasure.
And let me add…by some strange twist of fate…I have heard from our drummer Eddie Livingston for the first time in many years…about the same week as your request for an interview came.   Synchronistic or WHAT??????
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2011
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/ 2011
  1. Don Howard Krantz

    The roots of Valhalla came from a band called Yesterdays Children on Pickwick Records. Don Krantz the guitar player in Valhalla & Bobby Hulling the lead singer recorded two songs for Pickwick Records in the mid 1960's , you can find these tunes on Youtube.
    Don , Mark & Bobby got together & brought in Rick Ambrose on bass & Eddie Livingston -drums to form Euphoria which finally became Valhalla. We signed a deal with United Artists after our manager Jim Foley set up a showcase in NYC for many top record labels.
    Don Krantz went on to record The Don Howard Band - Poets Road album in the mid 1990's.
    btw- my back still hurts to from lifting that Hammond organ. we had some great times back then.
    Don Howard Krantz

  2. JB

    Don....do you know what became of Jim Foley? I last saw him in 1993 or 1994. He had quite a career behind the scenes.

  3. dhk

    After Valhalla broke up I lost touch with all the guys....a few years ago I heard from Eddie & Mark , I don't know what happened to Jim.

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