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An Angel In Devil City: An Exclusive Interview With DEVIL CITY ANGELS Bassist RUDY SARZO

By Shelly Harris, Chicago Contributor
Thursday, September 17, 2015 @ 4:35 PM

"Even though I wasn't involved in the making of the record - I'm speaking as a fan - I think it is eclectic because it pulls from the influences of each of the members of the band as individuals."

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Live Photo By Larry Petro
Band Photo Courtesy Of Ron Lyon Photography

Few heavy rock or metal aficionados would be unfamiliar with the pedigree of Rudy Sarzo, since there are very few bass players in the genre that can boast the same success, consistency, and longevity via his participation in such storied bands as QUIET RIOT, OZZY OSBOURNE, WHITESNAKE, DIO, BLUE OYSTER CULT and others....

But, despite that luminous and elite past that has spanned several decades, Sarzo remains an active touring musician to this date, both as part of the band GUNZO, which he formed with Tracii Guns (formerly of L.A. GUNS) and his current gig with DEVIL CITY ANGELS, the "supergroup" he joined a few months ago that includes Tracii Guns, along with drummer Rikki Rockett (ex-POISON) and vocalist Brandon Gibbs of THE GIBBS BROTHERS and CHEAP THRILL.

On the eve of DEVIL CITY ANGELS' upcoming self-titled album release (on September 18 in the US and September 11 in Europe), Sarzo sat down to talk about topics as diverse as the new record and how he came to be involved with the band, the band's future plans, his side gig as a Skype bass instructor, and even his thoughts. as a Cuban-American, on the recent resumption of diplomatic relations with Cuba:

KNAC.COM: Tell me how this gig with DEVIL CITY ANGELS came about.

SARZO: I got the call to join the band, maybe three months ago. It so happened that Eric Brittingham [ex-CINDERELLA bassist], had recorded the whole album, then he walked away from the band. And, I had been playing with Tracii Guns in a group called GUNZO, so to me it was a perfect situation because I was already playing with Tracii in another band, and I had already seen the band, DEVIL CITY ANGELS, performing in November in Los Vegas at an awards show. I loved the band - they were great live and had great songs - and the record was just fantastic.

Also, I've known Rikki Rockett from when we shared the same management back in the 80s when he was a member of POISON and I was a member of WHITESNAKE, and we did touring together. So, it was like, I know the guys, I'm friends with them, the band sounds great, and Brandon is such a great singer. And the songs are so great; it was like, 'Wow, what's the down side!? - None!' (laughs)

KNAC.COM: What can you tell us about the album, specifically...

SARZO: Actually, I got the call way after the album was completed, and mixed and mastered, and the whole thing, which was a few months ago. And then, you know! Usually there's a certain cycle that all the labels are waiting for. The ideal cycle is right in September because you get the back to school sales, and you get the Christmas sales and all of that. You don't really want to release a record unless you're touring on it for the summer.

KNAC.COM: Yes, I was thinking that the release date involved a strategy. That said, I had been looking for tour dates. Are there going to be tour dates?

SARZO: At the moment we don't have a tour set up, but we want to wait to see what areas of the world it does well in, because now you don't only look at it domestically, you look world-wide. You look at where the record is the strongest, as far as sales and airplay - and then you put a strategy together to get to those markets first. It's a wait and see thing because it's almost impossible these days to know where things are going to go.

KNAC.COM: That makes total sense. And I did listen to the ones you could listen to in advance - and there were two of them - and there was quite a bit of difference between those songs stylistically. One might be described as mainstream rock, and the other heavy rock .... So how would you describe the band's sound on the album?

SARZO: Well, the band IS very eclectic. Because, even though I wasn't involved in the making of the record - I'm speaking as a fan - I think it is eclectic because it pulls from the influences of each of the members of the band as individuals. Like Tracii, he seems to be leaning towards the heavy; he's very influenced by Randy Rhoads and also his L.A. GUNS legacy. So, you've got that tendency towards neo-Classical, then you've got that L.A. GUNS sound, to it, which is more straight-ahead Rock n' Roll. Then you've got Rikki Rockett, who with his POISON background does bring in a bit of POISON, and then you've got Brandon, who is a very fresh young singer, so he's bringing in that modern edge to it, but with a bluesy angle to his vocals.

KNAC.COM: So, based on what you just said, and what I listened to, it seems it probably will appeal to a very wide audience. . .

SARZO: Yes, exactly. It's a pretty broad record. If you hear one song, it won't dictate that the rest of the record will sound the same. But I can only speak as a fan, because I wasn't involved in the making of the record. But, I loved the band before I joined it!

KNAC.COM: Now, on that note, I wanted to catch up with what has been going on with you specifically. I know you were pretty involved with computer graphics for a spell. Is that something that you're still involved with?

SARZO: Yes, I'm still involved with that, but recently - about three years ago - I had Lasik. I gotta tell you, before I had the Lasik, I was in pretty bad shape with my vision. Having Lasik re-ignited my passion for playing. To be honest, now I can really see what I'm playing again! (laughs) Without glasses. So, I really dove into playing again, and I'm more excited about playing than I've been in many years. ... And, you know, I've been teaching since the 70s. I started teaching at Musonia, Randy Rhoads' mom's school, when I was playing with QUIET RIOT with Randy. Since then, I've always had a passion for teaching. I've always had opportunities to do a lot of mentoring and teaching at events such as Rock and Roll Fantasy camp, and with other students that I have, but now I've decided to do online teaching with Skype. It's called the Rudy Sarzo Bass Academy, and I'm really, really passionate about that! It's one on one, lesson specific, for the needs of each individual student that I have. I'm so excited, because I'm finding some really great talented people out there - who might not necessarily know how they're doing - because I went through that phase myself when I started playing. I could learn something, and how to play it, but I might not necessarily know exactly what I was doing in relation to the song. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: So, you can relate to it as a teacher.

SARZO: Exactly. (laughs) Because I've been there. So, my goal is to make everybody I teach musically literate. So, they actually know what they're doing ... I actually learned from playing a lot of covers as a kid. How to apply, let's say a riff, that you learned from a song, and how to recycle that riff into your own song without making it sound exactly like it. The relationship of the riff to the actual tone center or key of the song. So, how do you change it up? You change it up by changing the rhythm, the pattern, the key, everything. I could go on and on about music theory! But I try to relate music theory to the students in a way that they can completely understand.

KNAC.COM: That's another talent in itself.

SARZO: It's de-mystifying the whole mystery about music - making it relatable and easy to understand. Because, it's actually easier than we think! To get to the bottom of it, and comprehend what we're doing. I get a lot of quizzical looks, but I don't stop the lesson until I know that the student really grasps what I'm explaining to them. Otherwise, it will be time lost.

KNAC.COM: How does all this work with your band schedule and potential touring?

SARZO: I schedule classes according to the times that I can really allocate. Being a touring musician, and someone who's actually doing it, rather than retired, makes me a better candidate to be able to relate what it is to be a modern musician to date. Rather than somebody who used to do it years ago and is not in touch with the realities of touring and recording - everything - even the whole music scene in general.

KNAC.COM: Even the technology changes.

SARZO: Absolutely.

KNAC.COM: Are you still involved with the Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp?

SARZO: Yes, as a counselor. There's one coming up in November that I'm really excited about. But, if anyone wants to get a hold of me regarding the online lessons, my email is [email protected]. And also on Facebook and Twitter too. I answer everything myself.

KNAC.COM: There's something I would like to ask you that has to do with current events - since you were born in Cuba, and are a Cuban-American who came here when the Communist regime took over. I'd be very interested to know what is your take on the re-establishment of diplomatic relationship with Cuba...

SARZO: I was born in Cuba, and I'm an American Citizen, Yes. I'm monitoring that situation; I'm watching which way is ghjoes ... because I can see that the United States is trying very hard to extend an olive branch, and that there's still some resistance from the current 55 and something old dictatorship. But, we'll see. I think it's more up to the people. I can see that the internet and Wifi is becoming more available over there. And I think other things are going to become more accessible ... So, we'll see! It's going to be interesting to watch!

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