My first question before we get into where your interest in music came from is, where did the name ‘The Duke of Metal’ come from?
There was a German rock magazine that said “If Zakk Wylde is the King of Metal, then maybe Rich Ward deserves to be the Duke of Metal” and the guys thought it was hilarious. Of course when you’re bestowed such an awesome handle of the Duke of Metal, I took full ownership of it and ran with it.
So growing up, what kind of music were you listening to? Was it very rock heavy or were you listening to disco and things like that?
The kind of stuff I was listening to when I was young was whatever was on the radio. I was born in 1969, so that was kind of the era of AM Gold, that period of the mid-seventies is really my first recollection of music. So it was kind of a cross between Elton John and that Kool and the Gang type style, and then you heard some rock stuff on there too. Kiss became a popular band when I was in elementary school and they were kind of all the rage back then, you know people drawing their faces on their notebooks and stuff. Then ZZ Top, Ted Nugent and ACDC and I had heard Ozzy before, but the first heavy metal that I ever heard was when I was in seventh grade and I’ll never forget it. A friend of mine named Bob Gallagher said to me ‘hey man I’ve got this new album’- and back then it was different because today there’s so many albums released, probably like 100 albums released every month by the millions of different genres- but back then there weren’t that many big bands so when a heavy album came out it was kind of a big deal. So after school we walked to his house and I remember he put it on the turntable and at that time it was one of the heaviest things I had heard- Screaming for Vengeance by Judas Priest. And it was kind of a game changer for me, and I quickly discovered Iron Maiden and then it was on. I was part of the cult of heavy metal at that point and it wasn’t even like I was sticking to the main bands either, I was looking for anything that was out there, bands like Accept and at that time the Scorpions were just starting to get popular. But I still love all the bands I grew up with like Journey and Foreigner and that whole era of Rush and Kansas and Styx, and I love that era because that time of late seventies American Radio rock was what I grew up listening to in the car when my mom and dad would take me to school and so it’s kind of imprinted on me, it was a big part of my childhood. So yeah I still love that stuff but it’s funny how in every era of my life there was an introduction to a new style of music. In the late 80’s I found the Chili Peppers and Faith No More and then in the early nineties I found Sepultura and Pantera and Morbid Angel, so with every era came a new kind of style. And throughout all of those things and all of those styles, somehow mixing all of those together is who I am as a musician, finding what it is about all of those different styles that I really liked.
And was it hearing all of those different styles that influenced you to pick up a guitar? What was it that made you want to do that?
There’s a guy that lived three doors down from me and I remember whenever I would be riding my bike or skateboard around the neighborhood I would just hear this super loud guitar coming from his house. And I remember just walking up, like kids do, you don’t think about ‘should I walk up in this guy’s front yard and look in his window?’, but when you’re a kid you don’t think anything of it. So I see this guy and he’s got super long hair and this handlebar mustache, you know the perfect late 1970’s looking dude with the bell bottoms on, and he didn’t even have a band! He was just playing guitar loudly in his room. I have no idea how old he was, he could have been 40 or he could’ve been 20 because back then everybody kinda looked like they were in the Doobie Brothers so he had that kind of look about him. And I just remember kind of watching him and he let me come in the house and he had this stack of amps, and I’m probably remembering that there were many more than there actually were, but to my 10 year old eyes this was massive. He would just play guitar and let me listen and I’ll never forget his name, Boyd Albritton, and I can never remember anything. I don’t even think he had a band! But that was the first time I ever saw somebody play guitar and I thought it was so cool and I thought that I would love to do that. So a friend of mine and I, we actually went in on a guitar- like we bought a guitar together that we would share, and we would have it on opposite nights. So every other night I would get the guitar and every other night I would try to learn ACDC and Black Sabbath songs and occasionally I would go down to Boyd and he would show me a thing or two and that’s basically how it started.
Now when you were in high school, were you actively in bands or was Stuck Mojo your first real attempt?
No, I was in a few bands but the thing was that I practiced all the time; my life was based around music. I loved it so much but there were so many of my friends that started at the same time as me who got so much better faster. They were playing Van Halen, Randy Rhodes and Ozzy stuff and I was still learning the basics- playing Motley Crue and ACDC songs. It was really weird so when I joined bands, you know back then the two guitar band was the big thing, so I was always the rhythm guitar player because the other guys were so much better than me they would play the solos and I would play the rhythm. And later it served me well because I learned to be a really good rhythm player instead of trying to jump ahead and practice on playing solos and being fast and all those things. I really focused in on what my role was in those bands, which was to hold down the chord structure and play the rhythm parts and be really tight and work on that technique. Even though at the time I wanted to be a ‘guitar hero’ style guy, I now look back at it and that’s exactly what was supposed to happen- I was really honing those super important skills. And I will say this, I see a lot of guitar players when I go into a music store to buy something or whatever, and man, young people are just amazing! I see 12 or 13 year olds who can just shred and they’re playing these super fast things but they skipped over the fundamentals- and the fundamentals are rhythm guitar and learning how to play in the pocket and playing in tune and in time. And I’m really lucky that just by accident or by chance or even if that’s what was supposed to happen, that I got to focus in on my rhythm playing. So yeah I played in a couple bands, we played high school dances and homecoming dances and we played everything from Bryan Adams to Def Leppard to Duran Duran and whatever was popular. When you’re 15 or 16 it’s not like you can go play a bar, they won’t even let you in. So when you’re a kid and you’re in a band you’re just playing used rec centers or like, somebody would throw a party and you’d play that. So that was kind of cutting my teeth and learning how to play, and that wasn’t necessarily heavy metal stuff but that’s what was popular on the radio. When I first started playing in bands I was growing up in north Georgia, I was kind of in the sticks. The idea of being in a band that played Metallica and Iron Maiden…you would never get a gig. Nobody wanted to hear that and you know, if you’re playing high school dances, those payed good money and they’d hire you if you were playing Kool and the Gang or Duran Duran or something else. And like I said, I was really focusing in on getting good and not realizing that playing Duran Duran is rhythmically a really challenging thing, it’s a different style. So playing this kind of variety of different music from Bad Company to Def Leppard was a really good way to cut my teeth and I learned several styles and it really helped me focus in on not only learning how to play, like you said, Smoke on the Water or other metal and hard rock classics. I was also learning to play Atomic Dog and these interesting funk/pop songs at the time, when you’re playing No Parking on the Dance Floor you’re learning something different and I’m not saying I would ever do that again but it’s an interesting way to cut your teeth. Especially when I started playing metal stuff and putting together my own original band, which was Stuck Mojo, I realized that that rhythm play from all that funk music that I learned when I was 15 or 16 years old really helped my technique, it was cool. So all of these things were a real important part to who I was as a player.
If I’m not wrong, Stuck Mojo was formed in like, 1989, right?
So that was towards the end of the hair metal era and close to the beginning of grunge- Stuck Mojo was neither of those. What made you want to try and do something that was so unique at the time?
Well we we’re trying to do like, the Chili Peppers and Faith No More, I really loved that style. I liked funk music and I loved metal and punk rock and hardcore and I was trying to mix all of those styles together because when you’re younger you don’t know who you are yet, we all think we do but we’re really just finding all of those things that are your influences and trying to put them together. I was delivering pizzas for Pizza Hut and Bonz was a cook and he was always rapping when he would make pizza and I was like ‘man, will you come over and work with our singer?’, because our singer at the time was more of a soul singer in the vein of a Lenny Kravitz kind of vibe. And Bonz came over and started rapping and that was it, I had never heard anything like this. I’m playing hard rock and metal and I’ve got this reggae funk bass player and this fusion jazz drummer and this rapper and all of a sudden I was like wow, this is a unique sound and I’ve never heard anything like it. Again, just by accident, no blueprint. It was really that influence of all those different styles and having all these guys with different views, so I guess it’s like trying to make some type of meal without a recipe. You know kind of what you like but you’re just throwing spices in there and just winging it, and that’s what we were doing- winging it. Just going with our gut and playing things we thought sounded cool, and after playing in the clubs for two or three years, by ’92 or ’93 we were really starting to develop a style and getting to know who we were. We were focused on who we were as a band, and we were rehearsing seven days a week. It’s not like we we’re just like ‘okay on Friday night let’s get together and play!’- we wanted to take over the world. And by taking over the world we meant we wanted to be the best band in Atlanta, and you know, our world view was small because no one thought you could get a record deal, that wasn’t even a thought. Who’s gonna sign two black guys and two white guys playing punk rock with a rapper, like that idea was never gonna happen .So we just wanted to be the best band in Atlanta and we wanted to be able to draw more people to our shows, and after rehearsal we would flyer every car and every parking lot at the mall and at clubs. We were just hungry kids and again, just like any person driven by wanting to be the best- whatever that means. We just wanted to be as good as we could be.
And you were really young when this all started happening, you guys were still kind of like kids. Did that affect the band in anyway? How you guys performed or how things got done?
No, I think by the time that we got singed we had already been a band for five years, and we spent a lot of time on tour. Our manager made an agreement with us- we met this guy named Mark Willis in 1992 and he was the biggest local band promoter in Atlanta. He gave us a shot and booked us in some big clubs in town and really took us under his wing and I approached him and asked if he would manage us and he said ‘well I only will if you’ll do a few things for me, and one is you all need to break up with your girlfriends and move into the rehearsal space.’- which was a ten by sixteen concrete block building with no running water or bathroom. We all just lived like animals, and we showered with a hose that we hung over our heads behind our rehearsal space and we would have to do that at like midnight because we didn’t want anyone to see four crazy looking naked dudes showering with a hose in an industrial park area. And you know, he just wanted to see how badly we wanted it because when you’re playing 200 shows a year- sleeping on peoples floor when you’re in St. Louis and sleeping in a van when you’re in Indianapolis and having to ask the club owner if you can sleep in the parking lot- you can’t have a girlfriend, you can’t have rent, you can’t have a car payment. It’s almost like going into the marines or something, of course a lot less honorable than being in the marines but it’s still something that required 100% commitment from us. And by the time we got signed in 1994 we were already fully committed and for us it was like getting accepted to a college. It wasn’t a sense of ‘yes, we graduated from college!’ it was a sense of ‘yes, we finally got into college!’ and now the real work happens, we gotta study and work hard. Now, instead of competing against the local Atlanta bands we were now competing against Machine Head and Life of Agony and Pantera and Sepultura and all of these bands that were our heroes that were out there making albums. Now, technically, we were in the same league as them. We were at the baby steps at the bottom of the hill but we were still in the league. We were the worst team in the NFL but we were still playing and that was cool for us. It just made us even hungrier, made us work even harder.
And I know throughout the bands history there’s been a few points of high tension within the band, did those times ever negatively affect any performances or band productivity?
It may have, I’m not aware of it if it did. We were like a gang, we loved each other and we would fight to the death to protect each other- we were family. But at the same time like any family there was internal tension and some of that internal tension probably created some really interesting creative things and at the same time there were many bus rides where nobody spoke to each other and everyone had their headphones in listening to music. And part of that was nothing abnormal, every band I’ve ever toured with- meaning that we’ve opened up for or bands that have opened up for us, there’s always that dynamic. It’s always been there. I never saw it in us, I always thought we were a tight knit organization, but now looking back at it we were just like any other band. These two guys hung out together and those two guys hung out together, or those three guys hung out together and the singer hung out with the road crew. And that was true for every band, I’m not kidding you! Life of Agony, Type O Negative, Pantera, Testament- I mean every band we’ve ever toured with there’s always been that dynamic. But we always made sure we never aired any of that, we kind of kept it to ourselves. The only time it ever came out was after the first kind of big spilt that we had in 2000 and there’ll always be two opinions on what happens, right? Looking in the mirror is one of the most painful and difficult things to do and having to accept that you had some responsibility in it- and all of us did! There was no innocent party in Stuck Mojo’s lineup changes over the years and we’ve had lots of them. We’ve been a band for a lot of years, literally twenty seven years this band has existed. Even the successful bands, there’s very few of them that have the same lineup as they had younger on and that’s just because it’s hard. Being married is hard, working at a job with coworkers is hard- relationships are difficult. And what makes being in a band more difficult is not only do you have to have the relationship that’s based on respect and honor and love, but you also have to have the creative respect for each other and there’s the financial aspect where you’re business partners. And guess what? You have to eat dinner together every night. Oh! And did I mention sleep in the same hotels together and travel together? Literally there is no time apart, so there’s never that moment where you can detox. All that tension that you wanna blow steam off of, there’s really not a lot of time to do that. That’s why when you see bands like Metallica and ACDC and The Rolling Stones take big breaks apart from each other, it’s because they know it’s healthy. When they are on tour together they’re a family and they’re together 24/7, it’s nice and healthy to take a little time apart in order to just keep those relationships healthy. But Stuck Mojo was never that big, we were always a middle class band, a blue collar band, which required us to always have to work. If you’re going to pay the bills, if you’re going to keep your cellphone turned on, if you’re gonna pay the power bill- you’re gonna have to play shows! You had to stay out on the road, and because of that we never really took breaks and I think that played a part in the foundation kind of crumbling apart. The best thing that ever happened to Stuck Mojo was me meeting Chris Jericho and starting Fozzy because it allowed me to move from one really creative music outfit to another one, and I could still keep working. A lot of times when a band breaks up, everybody looks at each other and says ‘now what?’- I was really lucky to be able to move from one to the other and keep moving forward.
We’re gonna talk about Fozzy in just one second but before we do that, can you tell me about the new Stuck Mojo album?
Yeah! We wrote it and recorded it over about a period of a year and a lot of that was because we weren’t really a band. We did a reunion run, and by run I mean three shows, with the 90’s era lineup of Stuck Mojo. It was Bonz, Corey Lowery, Frank Fontsere on drums and myself on guitar and we did a hometown show and it was basically like a twentieth anniversary show of the release of our first album. And then it went really well, we booked two more shows and after those shows our bass played Corey got an offer to go play with a band called Saint Asonia, it became apparent that that band was going to do really well and that’s where his priorities would lie. And then the same old tensions that happened previously within the band between Frank and I with Bonz- you know, it’s not fair to make it about the three of us. So we decided hey, let’s leave it at those three shows. They were great, they were cool for the fans to see and they were great for us to be able to play together again but we needed to move forward in a different direction. I had already started writing the album so not only was I working on new material but I was also looking for new players to work with and to try and figure out who’s going to be part of this band looking forward. So it took a year to make all of that happen, the entire process of putting the new band together, writing and recording- and part of that was because we were touring with Fozzy. We did a tour with Slash and we did the Kiss Kruise so we were working, we went to Europe for a month and we were staying really busy in Fozzy as well. So it’s not like it was Stuck Mojo locked up in a rehearsal studio or a recording studio, we were kinda doing it over a little bit of time. And I think it’s the best thing that could’ve happened- to really take the time to make sure that everything was right and everyone was happy. We didn’t set a deadline for ourselves, there was no time frame. We just worked as a group, four guys. And I have to say, I’ve made a lot of albums in my life and I may feel different in five years, but I have to say that it’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited about an album. Again, with Fozzy, sometimes the record company says we need a record out by July and in the past with Stuck Mojo it’s been the same- you have to have it out. You’re a little bit of clock watching, you have to be efficient and the beautiful thing about not being efficient and not having the watch a clock is you can just let the album and the writing dictate the pace. You don’t have to force anything, you don’t have to think ‘we need to work longer hours’ or ‘we need to change the process because we aren’t moving fast enough’, I don’t like that. I like for an album to kind of, envelop and take shape through an organic process- not through time tables. And I really feel like because of that we did all the right things, we spent the right amount of time working on it. It’s not like there was six months in the recording studio working on it, recording wasn’t a long process, it was the writing and the demos and all of that kind of pre-production- the time where you really need to spend the hours and long days to make sure that when you get to the studio you’re prepared and you’ll play at the top of your game.
Well good, I’m excited to hear it! I’m happy to know that it wasn’t based off of forced creativity.
Yeah! You see, I can work under both. Like the last two Fozzy records are, in my opinion, the best two Fozzy records. And we were on a timeline- I was busting my ass working long hours, I was producing them, I was writing them, I was recording them. And also, Jericho’s my partner, so I’m working with him on lyrics and on melodies and recording him in Tampa and sometimes in Atlanta so that can be stressful. But that stress created two great records I’m super proud of. The other thing is that sometimes taking your time can be a more enjoyable process. It doesn’t always mean that if you like it more or if it’s more enjoyable it’ll make for a better end result, but in this case I feel that all of the stars were aligned and we really did well. And I think part of it too was meeting Robby J, the new vocalist for Stuck Mojo, which was really great for me. He’s younger than me, he came up in a different era of music. When I first started making albums there was no digital recordings, you recorded to tapes and everyone recorded in a room together. There was no internet so you discovered music by going to the music store and flipping through CD’s and looking at their covers and reading magazines. You went to the local record store and tried to figure out which records you wanted to buy, and Robby came up in a generation that through the internet you can discover so many new styles of music and hear so many new types of bands and have so many different influences- it’s really cool to work with somebody who had a completely different experience in how they found music. And I think we’ve really become good partners at this, and I really love him. He’s a brilliant guy. He has a really interesting way about him because Jericho and Bonz have similar energy, in that they can’t stop. They’re amazing, they’re the Terminator. They just have this endless supply of energy and are always on 10 and they can take over the world- and I’m about a 6 or a 7 on that meter. Like, I can go crazy on stage and I like to go crazy on stage but when the shows over I like to be quiet. And Robby and I are kind of partners in that world; he has that same type of energy and even more so than me because when Frank and I are having a meal with Robby and are out at a restaurant, me and Frank are arguing over each other for voice time. We’re those guys where you gotta hear my story first, and Robby’s not that way. He has a really artist type of sense, and artist type of personality where’s he’s just quiet. He’s not concerned about being the center of attention or dictating the conversation and what we should be talking about, but what he does say, he’s just super insightful and super smart. And when we’re performing and even in the studio, like when I’m recording guitar I sit down, in a chair, and I play. And it’s really intense, but it’s an internal intensity, right? I’m not like jumping up and down and creating physical energy. When Robby was performing in the studio, he’s going crazy! I thought he was going to fight the microphone. He has this chaotic energy about him, and when we’re done he’s this quiet, super respectful and super intelligent guy. I love that about him. I’ve said this before, and I’ve never met Kurt Cobain but he reminds me of what Kurt Cobain may have been like from all that I’ve read and seen in interviews with him. He’s just wild man on stage and off stage he has this quiet artist personality about him and I really think that energy has brought a lot to the band.
You can read part two of this in depth interview here.