Music Morsels - October 2000
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Music Morsels - October 2000
  • Crossroads - Bill Leverty of Firehouse
  • Industry Profile - Ken Greene - Director of Operations at Nickel & Dime Studios, Atlanta
  • Indie Band Spotlight - Ball in the House
CROSSROADS.......... Bill Leverty of Firehouse by Mark E. Waterbury
Pivotal moments in musicians careers propelling them from obscurity to infamy
(As appearing in the October 2000 issue of Music Morsels.)

Has it really been a decade since the era of "hair metal" had reached its zenith? As the 80s rolled into the 90s, it seemed as though the juggernaught of bands prowling the stages of the world in spandex and mousse would never slow down. But the masses are often times hungry for image, overlooking the fact that many bands tagged with that hair band moniker were actually quite talented. So of course we know what happened to a number of the acts as the big "G" word rolled down from the Pacific Northwest. Now in the face of a new millennium, these bands are finding their popularity once again, and many are realizing that their fans never really left. North Carolina's Firehouse had been one of those bands who enjoyed the ride on the hair band wave, with no-nonsense guitar driven rock and roll laced with powerfully melodic lyrics. The band consisting of singer C. J. Snare, guitarist Bill Leverty, bassist Perry Richardson and drummer Michael Foster never became as popular as the Teslas or Def Leppards of the world, but they carved themselves a nice little niche, particularly in the overseas markets. Here in the year 2000, Firehouse is alive and well, and doesn't really need a huge rebirth like some of their peers because they have remained together since the tough mid-90's, turning out album after album and thrilling fans world wide with their hot live show. And the story of how they rode to the top should be a lesson to fledgeling musicians everywhere these days.

As a youth, Bill Leverty received an indoctrination to rock and roll as he discovered his sister's record collection, listening to everything from Led Zeppelin to Stevie Wonder. "Then I saw KISS in concert, and I remember looking up there and thinking, "That would be really cool to do that." And then I saw Ted Nugent and I knew I wanted to try to do that. I hadn't actually started playing guitar yet, but I had a babysitter who taught me how to play four chord songs on the guitar. After learning that, anytime I would meet anyone who had a guitar I would play those four chords, and say, "Look at what I can do!"" Bill took a six week guitar course while in eighth grade in which he learned chord theory. He locked on that better than the guitar lessons he had taken as a kid. "The (early teachers) kept trying to make you read music and play "Mary Had a Little Lamb" when I wanted to learn "Sweet Home Alabama". But this teacher taught us how to play that rock and roll style, and those six weeks really led me to the point were I wanted to play the guitar and be a musician." Bill would perfomr with a number of short-lived bands throughout and after high school.

Eventually, Bill joined a band called White Heat with drummer Michael Foster. Another band in the area featured vocalist C.J. Snare and bassist Perry Richardson. Both bands played what they referred to as the "Carolina chitlin circuit" where they literally played for food sometimes and didn't make much money. Bill showed C.J. some songs he had written, and shortly after that, both bands broke up, and out of those ashes, Firehouse arose, although they had to make a number of sacrifices to get the band in front of people. "In the early days, we lowered our cost of living to near poverty level so we could afford to go out and play clubs and make thirty dollars a week. That was a tough part. If you wanted to get out and get on this circuit where you could start working with other bands and agents and what not, you had to get out there. I rented a closet that I could just barely fit my bed in for a hundred dollars a month that I lived in when I was in my hometown, but most of the time I was out on the road. You have to be willing to sleep in the back of a U-Haul and travel thirteen hour trips which we did many times. But you still need to be a songwriter, so we worked real hard at that, and if we were not gigging or riding in the back of a truck, we were working around a little four track and writing music."

Firehouse finally produced a good quality demo and started sending it to radio stations. One of the stations that supported the tape was WROQ in Charlotte, North Carolina, along with its program director Duane Ward. The song became the number one requested song for a whole summer, and that's when the record companies came out to see the band. The band wound up signing with Epic, who would release the self-titled debut that included the song "Love Of A Lifetime." The power ballad went to number five on the charts, and helped garner Firehouse an American Music Award for Best New Hard Rock/Metal Band, ironically beating out Nirvana and Alice In Chains for that title. "We didn't want to become rock stars or anything. We just wanted to make a decent living at it and get out of that one hundred dollar closet and maybe be able to buy a house." Over the next decade, Firehouse would produce a number of solid selling albums, keeping their foursome intact as many other bands faded or we nt through a myriad of personnel changes. Firehouse also explored other markets, and found a widespread popularity throughout southeast Asia and also in South America while the grunge era was causing lean times for bands trying to survive just playing in the U.S. It was difficult to get radio support in the States during that time as well, but in the past couple of years that has changed as stations that would not give bands like Firehouse the time of day in the mid-90's are now calling them to get them in their studios for interviews and acoustic sets.

"One thing that has helped is that there have been on so many tours going around that were real successful. We were part of the first The Rock Never Stops tour, and a lot of people were waiting for it to bomb. And it was selling 20,000 seats in Detroit, and 15,000-seat arenas in other places and 5-7,000 seaters in other places. It was just hugely successful. And then bands like Ratt and Poison and KISS and Dokken selling out everywhere...with the media helping now too, it's waking the industry up."

In the late summer of 2000, Firehouse released a live album "Bring 'Em Out Alive" and is now in the studio putting the finishing touches on their next studio album, due out in early 2001 on Spitfire Records. "The fans like to hear our songs live and they're always interested in what is going to be on the next record. There is an amount of credibility that they know when they buy a Firehouse album, it's not going to be one good song and the rest a bunch of junk. And we stayed true to our rock and roll roots. We never tried to jump on any bandwagons." Still another survivor of the 90's music scene with their lineup intact bodes well for the future of Firehouse into the 21st century. "The next step that will make our genre of music something that everyone is listening to again is for the labels to wake up and see that the people who really like melodic rock are still there and there are millions out there. They've got to start promoting their bands and getting them on the radio and getting them on the video channels again and in the press again with their new material. We have the people out there that want it - we have the media - but we don't have the labels pushing it, and once that happens, it will be right back to where it was before."

INDUSTRY PROFILE - Ken Greene - Director of Operations at Nickel & Dime Studios, Atlanta
by Mark E. Waterbury
(As appearing in the October 2000 issue of Music Morsels.)

A lot of people seem to find out what they really want to do with their lives after college instead of while attending. That is pretty much the way things happened with Ken Greene. Born in London, England and raised in Montreal and briefly in Nashville before moving to Atlanta in 1978, Ken discovered one side to his calling after attending Emory University. "In college I was playing horn in jazz bands, symphonies and orchestras. I got to play with Max Roach, Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, a whole bunch of people. My teacher was Stutz Limmer, a big session sax player. But when I graduated I just decided that rock and roll guitar was much better than playing trombone." Ken learned the guitar and began playing with several bands in the area. He also started working the production for other bands such as Big Slow Wreck, learning the facets of the technical side of the music biz as he went. He had developed a friendship with Lorell Studstill, who is now working road production with Marvelous 3 and Sister Hazel.

"One day I realized that no one is going to do me any favors, so I sure as hell better do it myself. And Lorell had a system at the Scrap Bar, and the system at the Dark Horse Tavern, too, and they needed someone to book that place so I took that job. It gave me an opportunity to push whatever I was doing and whatever else I thought represented the city properly." Ken would continue to do the bookings at the Dark Horse, and was also still working production around town and at Tree Studios. He had been doing a project of his own at Tree when Rusty Cobb suggested he check out Nickel and Dime Studios. He did, and soon Don McCollister persuaded him to run the whole studio. "At the time, it was definitely self-serving to get my own band going. The type of music that I was playing and my friends were playing was pretty much active rock which radio was under-serving in this market. So people didn't know what kind of music was out there, such as Sevendust."

Ken is still playing with his band Appleseed, and is growing in his knowledge of producing as he oversees Nickel and Dime. "I continue to produce sessions along with stuff of my own, trying to learn more all of the time. It's mainly a learning experience for me, and I have helped some bands along. But I do everything you can imagine, dealing with clients, labels, A&R people, management. The more you hang around the more you learn." Nickel and Dime recorded several tracks on the new Sister Hazel CD "Fortress", and is currently working with a band called Sing Sing Prison which includes the core members of Big Slow Wreck. It is also looking as though Ken's own production company, called Frame 313 Music is going to become part of BNL Music, who is the parent company of Nickel and Dime. Then Frame 313 will actively seek out and develop artists. "I'd like to get bands with the point where they have a label affiliation and are ready to go on to a manager who can properly manage. But I want to stay more on the creative side of things. Overall, I love the business. Each aspect has its assets and each one has its headaches, too. Just being a part of the good quality of music that is coming out of here regardless of style is great, but one of the best things is that we've been able to take my band and other good quality bands with really good songs who just haven't gotten the breaks and get them to the point where they are real happy with their music ."

INDIE ARTIST SPOTLIGHT - Ball in the House by Mark E. Waterbury
(As appearing in the October 2000 issue of Music Morsels.)

Boston has been know for several great bands over the years; Aerosmith, J. Geils Band, and...well, Boston. But the newest force in Beantown that appears to be on their way to stardom is very unique in the fact that they do not play any instruments. Ball In The House is a pop Acappella sextet that uses their vocal cords for the percussive backbeat to their self- penned tunes. And this combined with their great live performances has already awoke thousands of people to their presence, and has landed them on the bill with acts as diverse as The Wailers, Cher and the Goo Goo Dolls. The band's lineup currently includes Jon Ryan, Jason Downie, Mike Bernard, Dave Guisti, Ryan Behling and Scott Harris. With an exhaustive tour schedule (about 250 shows a year) and a new CD out, Ball In The House could definitely be the next big thing in pop music. The guys were kind enough to sit around and chat with me about what makes Ball In The House go 'round.

MM: Tell me about the band's formation

BiTH: Jon, Dave and Jason all went to a choir school from sixth to eighth grade. We kind of went our separate ways but Jon started the band and we all just met up again. All the guys sang in Acappella groups in college and we decided to form the band. So we found each other again, randomly. Divine intervention, man.

MM: How did the concept of doing the percussion with your voices come about?

BiTH: The idea for it was there at the onset but we didn't have enough people in the beginning. From singing in other groups, we heard other people doing things similar - not with microphones, but the idea was basically there to add something percussive to the music that people were doing. That sets us apart from a lot of pop groups, not having any instruments. Our rhythm section, the bass and drums, are all done with the voices.

MM: Do you think that is part of the band's appeal?

BiTH: Yeah, I think people respect that about us. The fact that all our backing music is done with our voices, along with writing our own songs and performing live are real important to us.

MM: What are some of the things you had to do in the beginning to get noticed in the area?

BiTH: It was a slow steady process. We didn't really try any gimmicks to get noticed. I think what helped us the most was Daniel Hall Marketplace in Boston. We were able to just perform out there as street performers so it didn't matter at first if we had a sound system or not. It was a great point for starting out. And we'd just keep playing and getting people on our mailing list, and e-mailing and calling them and getting them to come back to see us again. That enabled us to meet a lot of other people who were able to help us get gigs or hired us for their own gigs. I think that what makes us appreciate what is going on now is that we started from rock bottom. We didn't have a ton of money behind us, we had to start from scratch and build up our fan base from one to where it is know.

MM: About how large would you say your fan base is now.?

BiTH: Twenty-five or thirty-thousand. It's so cool. We do around 250 shows a year, and it's definitely been awesome.

MM: How have your CDs been selling?

BiTH: Last year we sold around 7500 CDs, and this year we sold nearly twice as many as last year. It just keeps getting bigger and is definitely growing, no doubt.

MM: You've opened for acts as varied as Cher, N' Sync, The Goo Goo Dolls. How has the acceptance been of your music in front of such diverse crowds?

BiTH: We definitely see acceptance. I think people really respect what we do even if they don't necessarily like the style of music. We do plenty of shows where not only do people respect it but also love what we do. Even people at the festival types of shows where there are strange bills put together with bands that are not really our style, a lot of people have told us they are not really into our style of music, but they think what we do is really cool and they respect us for what we do. So the acceptance is pretty widespread and the more we get out there, we think, the greater it will become.

MM: What's the feedback you get from people about what they like the most about the group?

BiTH: People like our show. They like our chemistry on stage. They like the songs we write. People have said to us there is something about our show that keeps their attention. The energy that we put out to the audience is very infectious.

MM: Is Boston a tough market for a band of your type?

BiTH: It's actually a great market because not only are there lots and lots of kids, but there are 250,000 college students. So there's a real youthful energy in Boston, and also many venues to play in. Any type of band can grow a good fan base in Boston. I think it's a hotbed for any small band trying to get gigs.

MM: Has anyone tried to lump you with that "boy-band" moniker and have you had any problems with that?

BiTH: The style of music we do, the sound is certainly unique and it has a different flavor than what you usually hear on the radio. We definitely appeal to the same group of people, and people have called us a boy-band before, but the fact that we write our own songs and don't use any backing tracks and sing it all live, it's a no-brainer for every other band out there. We do get lumped in that category from time to time and I think it's okay that we are in that category.

MM: Obviously you've had some good success already, but what is your next step to take it to your ultimate goal?

BiTH: Obviously, we want to sell a lot more records, and the next step is to find a record label willing to take a risk at something that we know will be successful. But for record companies it may be going out on a limb to sign us and put a lot of money behind us. That's basically it - we're looking for an investment from a record company with time, energy and excitement that will turn into radio play and album sales. We believe in it or else we wouldn't be crossing the country all the time doing all of these shows. We have a management company, but in a sense we are on our own. It's not like we have a road manager and sound technicians or a label getting people to come out to the shows everywhere. We're really doing it ourselves. This is very much a grass roots band.
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