Vital Signs has recently and finally released their debut album! A catchy AOR album with a lotta hooks and keyboards to match the sign of the times. Indeed, most of the material were already recorded back in the 80's, when they also recorded the song "The Boys and Girls are Doin'' It" for the movie soundtrack "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure". Check out what guitarist/songwriter Jimmy Z has to say about the past, present and the future to come!
- I thought you borrowed the name 'Vital Signs' from the Survivor album (1984) But I guess you guys go even further back?
Actually, the truth about that is that none of us were that much into Survivor at the time. I don’t think any of us were even aware of the fact that Survivor had an album named Vital Signs. All I knew from Survivor was The Eye of The Tiger from The Rocky movie. Later on, we met the guys in Survivor, when they and the guys from U2 came to hang out on the set at A&M Records when we were filming the video of The Boys And Girls Are Doing It for the Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure soundtrack album. They were nice guys and they didn’t pick up on the name thing either. I think a lot of Survivor fans are just indulging in a little wishful thinking.
You have to understand that, being an original rock band in the San Francisco Bay Area at that time, the last thing any band would do, even if they wanted to, was copy another band or do anything that even hinted of hero worship. That was considered the ultimate in amateur, garage-band mentality! Our local neighborhood bands, our friends, were guys like Y&T, The Eric Martin Band, Babylon A.D., Night Ranger, Eddie Money and Billy Satellite. Those guys would have laughed their asses off if anyone thought we were indulging in hero worship. All the years we have been Vital Signs, no one ever asked about that Survivor album until this year. Strange!
- Do tell us a little bit about your musical background! Did you play with any 'famous' musicians/bands before or after the (first era) Vital Signs days?
I was brought up in a musical family. My father was a drummer. He was in bands and always had people rehearsing at our house. As long as I can remember there were always guys there playing stand-up bass or big, thick jazz guitars and I was always bugging them to show me some licks. I would hit them up after they were through rehearsing. I would go up to the guitar player and I would go “Show me a little bit of that. What was that?”
I started working professionally when I was really young. The first band I was in, I was nine, the drummer was eight and the bass player was ten. Their mom was our agent and we were a little kid band. Before you knew it, we were playing clubs. We were playing Army bases and we were playing bars that we were too young to get into. We had to stand outside on the breaks, then we would get in there and play. Finally we got the opportunity to go and open for Bobbie Gentry, who had a hit song “Ode To Billy Joe”, at Harrah’s Casino in Lake Tahoe (Nevada). So there I was, eleven years old and I was playing in front of 900 people at a sold out show. We were just little kids and there we were on this big stage, with this big crowd.
Later I played with my Dad’s band. My dad was a working musician; he wasn’t an original music guy. They did covers and worked for money. So, I didn’t really start getting into the original music thing until I was in high school. Up until then I was working, I was gigging, I was making money. All through my childhood, I was out at clubs, playing other peoples songs. In high school I formed a band called “True Heat”. The biggest thing we had going was a fog machine! (laughs) I brought the fog machine home one time to test it out. It wasn’t the chemical kind, it was the oil and dry ice kind. My parents weren’t home, so I tried it out and fogged up the whole house! It left a film of oil all over the rugs and furniture. We got oil all over everything and we thought it was great. You couldn’t see in the house, there was fog everywhere. That was the only thing that mattered; we had a damn fog machine! We started writing rock. We started writing our own material. And we had a fog machine!
After Vital Signs, I did a lot of sessions with Troy Lucketta, the drummer from Tesla. I was in a jazz-fusion band called Faldo’s Toy. We recorded a CD that sold pretty well and played a lot. And recently, I worked on a project called Guitar Farm, which is an instrumental guitar album featuring a lot of great Bay Area guitar players. I wrote five songs for the project, including the only vocal track “Play This Guitar” which features Tommy Castro on lead guitar. I played on all the tracks, both rhythm guitar and some solos. We had a lot of great players, like:
Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson from Night Ranger.
The whole thing is sort of a We Are The World deal for guitar players. One guy takes one section, one guy takes a chorus, one guy takes the bridge, and another guy takes the next verse and so on. Everyone just solos away! The good thing about the record is that it’s not really a “shred-fest”, but there is plenty of shreddin’ on it..the shreddin’ all makes sense and there are plenty of melodies being played. It’s a real nice deal for people who like rock guitar. There are some really nice tracks on this record. Hopefully it makes it over to you guys in Europe.
- Who(m) or what inspired you to play AOR / Melodic Hardrock in the first place?
Basically, it was the time we were in. We were living it and breathing it! It was the late seventies and the eighties. I had come from a place of liking melody in songs. Plus I like metal, I like heavy guitars, I like to BURN! So when you mix a good song with melody and add the metal edge, you come up with melodic rock. I think it’s sad that there’s not a whole lot more of that going on over here in the states. I always really liked it..it’s a great way of expression. Bands that influenced me in that area were guys like Ronnie Montrose, Richie Blackmore, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep..those kind of acts were what got me going in that direction. Then in 78, Van Halen came out and pretty much changed the way that guitar players play, look, sing and approached their instruments. That had an effect on everybody! That was a good thing for music. Those elements steered us all into what developed into melodic rock.
- What was your first reaction when AOR Heaven (Georg) wanted to release your material after all this time?
Well, I was about to soil my shorts!! (laughs) I couldn’t believe it really. I teach guitar and I was working with a student at the time and the phone rang. It was our producer, David Sieff, from L.A. and he was saying “Well, hang onto your helmet Jimmy. A record company in Germany wants to put out the Vital Signs record!” I said, “Wait a minute” and I went and told my student to take a break. David explained that Georg Siegl at AOR Heaven had gotten a copy of our record from Magnus Soderkvist and really liked it. The next thing I knew, we were in the studio recording “Bang Bang” to finish the record.
- I guess that anyone who releases a AOR album today are doing it more for the love of music, than the money? You can't really expect to be multi millionaires in these 'brutal music' days or?
I didn’t have any idea that I wasn’t going to get rich off this thing!! I guess I should cancel the order for my new Ferrari!! (laughs) No, I’m not counting on anything coming out of this. I just think it’s really a blessing that the material that we wrote has been able to finally be released and people can enjoy it. I’m really excited about writing some new material because I’m a better writer now! (laughs) I’ve actually started writing and demoing some new songs…I’ve got a studio at my house. I’ve started kickin’ around some new stuff and I think it’s going to go in a cool, new direction.
- Did you know anything about the 'New Wave Of AOR' here in Europe? It may not be as the heydays, but it's more popular over here than in the States.
Kind of. What I knew was that friends of mine like Eric Martin (Mr. Big) were able to work over in Europe and I thought that was amazing because the American market is all eaten up with rap, hip-hop, whatever. I talked to one of the guys in Mr.Big and they were saying that people in Europe appreciate good rock and it’s a treat to go over there and play. I think it’s fantastic!
- What about the melodic rock scene in USA today. Can you find any new influences or band(s) that you enjoy?
I get an opportunity to listen to a lot of new music. Some of it has come around full circle again. It’s got a little different twist on it, like the guitars are tuned down more..like Linkin Park and Blink 182. It’s just rehashed pop, maybe it’s a little faster in some cases or a little more produced but I think music is coming around again. I think there are not enough solos..the guitar players don’t play enough in the new bands. It’s more part oriented, background thrashing, the Papa Roach type thing mixing rap and metal and pop. I think there’s some good things out there.
- I guess it's a good idea to include a Bryan Adams/Jim Vallance song on the CD. But the song itself is not that much to talk about or?
Oh, it’s a pretty good song. Lots of people seem to like it but I prefer our own songs. It’s different from our songs but people seem to go crazy about it when we play it live.
- Well, I really prefer the home made material, Secret Lover, Ticket To Love, I'm Not Gonna Wait, Bang Bang or the lovely ballad One Step Behind. All written by: Zeigler/ Pasternak/Notary. Who brings in what into the mix and do you still write together?
Usually what happens is I bring in the chord structure to the song, the title and how the melody is sung. David comes up with the lyrics and works on the vocal arrangements. Danny gets involved with changing breaks around, helping to make stuff more interesting, adding arrangement ideas and harmonically changing chords. Do we still write together..yes! Danny has a 24 track studio and I have a 16 track studio and we’re currently writing some new material for Vital Signs 2. Scoop Sweeney, our manager, put together a CD of a bunch of our songs that have never been recorded, from live tapes and demos, and we’re going over some of that material as well. We plan to start working in the studio in the near future, so Vital Signs 2 is not just a possibility, it’s a certainty!!
- Are there any plans of taking the album on tour? Will we be able to catch you live here in Europe?
Absolutely! We plan on playing live. I think it would be a lot of fun and it would be a good show, with a lot of energy. We played this stuff for years, we rocked a lot of a houses across the nation. Vital Signs was a live act long before we became a recording act. That’s where most of our stuff comes from. We are a live band and we do the live thing pretty well. I’m looking forward to playing our music live in Europe and elsewhere.
- Are you currently talking with AOR Heaven or any other label about a second album?
I don’t really know how that’s going. I know Scoop Sweeney and David Sieff, our managers, are up to something, because whenever I ask about another record deal, Scoop just smiles, hands me a cookie and tells me to be a good little boy and go play my guitar! (laughs) Seriously, we are writing right now for a second album. I just wrote something last week that I think is going to be pretty strong for the new record. We going to continue writing and let the chips fall where they may. We’re going to demo some stuff in the next couple of weeks and we will probably have some from that for people to listen to. Hell, we’re going keep doing this stuff until we are ninety years old! Maybe we can change the band name to “Raging Senility”! Survivor doesn’t have an album with that name, do they?? (laughs)
- So, what can we expect from a second album? Grunge/Alternative oriented material, out of tune guitars and a guest rap artist?
Absolutely, all of the above! We’re going to get Marilyn Manson, Ice Cube and Kid Rock and maybe The Captain and Tennille. We’ll have them all sing doo-wop choruses and maybe even have Yngwie Malmsteen do a tuba solo! (laughs) No, we are going to do what we do and make good rock songs. We don’t plan to change our sound completely but we are all good writers and musicians and we haven’t stopped growing and developing since the first CD was recorded. Vital Signs is moving into the 21st Century! We are working on new material that is pretty exciting. Some people have complained that the first CD sounds too much like the eighties. One guy thought it was cheesy, clichéd and dated. He obviously didn’t bother to read the press releases or he would have known it was written and recorded IN THE EIGHTIES! The stuff he considered dated or clichéd was new and fresh when it was created. Unfortunately, we never mastered time travel, so we couldn’t go back in time and tell ourselves that some guy in the 21st century may not like our arrangements. I think the new record will be pop oriented and melodic and powerful. It will probably have some surprise twists that people are not expecting.
- Tell us a little bit how you managed to become one of the artists, included on the "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" soundtrack. You were after all an unsigned band.
Well, like anything else in the music business, it was a fluke. Our producer, David Sieff, was working as a staff producer at A&M Records. One of his friends was working with a band, doing music for the movie. He wasn’t happy with what they were doing. He and David hooked up in the hallway and David was telling him about Vital Signs, who were recording in another studio at A&M. David told him “Hey, I’ve got the band for you” and before we knew it, we had the single from the album and a big budget video.
- It's a shame that we can't find "The Boys and Girls are Doing' It" (from the Bill&Ted movie) on your CD. But I guess it's all down to budget?
The reason it’s not on the record is because it’s on it’s own record, still making money for us and A&M. It came down to budget, obviously, because Universal/A&M Records isn’t going to license a song that is still making them a lot of money, unless we paid them a lot of money for the rights. The Bill & Ted album is still selling well all over the world and we would be foolish to mess with that success.
- Here's a couple of quick Q's (below) please just answer what ever pops up in your head .
– Dead Men Don’t Wear Spandex
- If YOU have anything you'd like to say, add or promote. Please do:
I’d like to promote my solo project called “Z”. It’s a melodic rock, guitar instrumental record, along the lines of Eric Johnson or Joe Satriani but with melodic rock sensibilities. I think there will be a little guitar on this project! (laughs) Scoop and I have been talking about doing it for some time. I’ve actually recorded a couple of tracks already and have a bunch of songs I am working on. It’s going to be a record where I get a chance to really play some guitar and stretch out and burn!
by: Urban "Wally" Wallström,