Mike DiMeo, Bobby Rondinelli, Patrick Klein, Randy Pratt
They’re heavy but they’re not dinosaurs. They’re ever-changing but they’re not chameleons. They’re a big hot commodity but they’re not Komodo dragons. They’re THE LIZARDS, one of the best classic rock bands of our times. And that’s not the pedigree of the musos – bassist Randy Pratt cut his teeth with THE FUZZTONES, Mike DiMeo sang for RIOT and MASTERPLAN, guitarist Patrick Klein lending his licks to one of “The Nightmare On Elm Street” movies and drummer Bobby Rondinelli is famous for having been in RAINBOW, BLACK SABBATH and other legendary ensembles – that makes them such a great listening proposition, it’s the funk and grit in their heavy gumbo. This year THE LIZARDS showed their bifurcated tongue with the simultaneous release of the covers album,"Ar-che-ol-o-gy", and the "4.2.11" live DVD, and that was the starting point of our conversation with the quartet’s leader.
– Randy, you’re releasing the covers CD and the live DVD at the same time. Looks like you’re taking stock of the band’s doings. Are you indeed?
I guess so. After my car accident, we had this stuff in the can, so [guitarist] Pat [Klein] mixed and mastered it. It does serve as an overview up ’til now.
– Why did the DVD release take so long? I mean you’ve begun talking about it at least two years ago…
Life got in the way… over and over. I hope that everyone hasn’t forgotten us. We weren’t in fashion before, so I guess we’re not more out of fashion.
– Don’t you think the DVD title standing for four knobs turned up to eleven would be too eslusive to most of the fans?
I was surprised that no one got it when I showed it to them. Eleven is such an important number in classic rock. The reviewers are getting it, though. I tend to be obscure.
Andy Fraser was definitely one of my biggest influences, along with Tim Bogert and Glenn Hughes. I’m as much of a fan as I am an artist. I loved recording these covers. I think the song was the most important factor, but it’s probably no coincidence that there are no bass slouches in there.
– The album’s rather short, and there’s a feeling you had more songs recorded for it. Did you?
No, there were no more. I wanted to do more, but I wanted to release it with the DVD, which was getting impatient to be seen. It’s funny. We got a lot of complaints that our last CD was too long, now this one’s too short. We’ll get it right next time!
– How did you get Steve Augeri to sing on “The Wizard”?
He’s a friend of ours and claims to be a fan. He’s a wonderful guy. I saw him in front of a sold out, 15,000 seat crowd in New York and he ruled.
– Six-string basses that you play: how do they expand your versatility?
More notes and easier access, mainly. The extra long neck is for tone. I’ve been playing six-string, exclusively, since 1992, but I’ve started playing four-string also, this year. [It’s] a completely different animal. The skinny neck seems like it would be easier, but it’s all what you’re used to. I’ve been playing a ’62 Fender Jazz bass and a Fodera non-reverse Thunderbird.
– You’ve had Glenn Hughes sing on your previous record. Glenn’s a great funky bass player. Did you learn anything from the man?
I’ve been learning from him since I was a kid. He’s probably my ultimate hero. Not only for his skills and creativity, but is vision. I’ve based mine on his… Hope that’s okay, Glenn.
– You seem to have been friends with recently departed Mel Galley. Sure, you first heard him – and Glenn – on TRAPEZE records, but how did you hook up? And how do you remember Mel?
Mel was the first person that I called when my studio opened. I practically begged him to fly over and work with me for awhile, but it never happened. He’s probably the funkiest heavy guitarist of all time, black or white. [As TRAPEZE] he and Glenn and Dave Holland tried and succeeded to mix heavy and funky. I have a picture of me and Mel on our tour bus in Birmingham. I look like I’m crying and I may have been. I’d just handed him a Les Paul and a Marshall and he cried. He was a sweet, gentle, one of a kind artist who had a lot more to say. A terrible, irreplaceable loss.
– When did you become interested in blues and how did you progress from the garage days of FUZZTONES to your current style?
It’s funny, I’m the same guy all along. My tastes were established before I even picked up a bass. I always looked for the heaviest, most soulful music I could find. The music that THE FUZZTONES played was the most bad ass stuff in the world in 1966. I remember loving THE MUSIC MACHINE, THE ELECTRIC PRUNES, THE BLUES MAGOOS. Then THE VANILLA FUDGE, CREAM and Hendrix all came out the same year and put that style, garage rock, to sleep. It’s still great, though. The obscure, second MUSIC MACHINE album is an awesome masterpiece.
– For how long you’ve been playing harmonica – and does it surprise THE LIZARDS’ audience when you whip out the harp and blow it?
I picked up the harp in 1994. After my accident, I thought it might become my main instrument. And I guess LIZARDS fans are expecting it by now. I’ve got the biggest and the smallest weapon in the band!
– THE LIZARDS are a band of yours, but how does it feel to have a superstar drummer in the line-up who can be the focus of attention before everyone else?
We push Bobby [Rondinelli] to the front. One of the most obvious style factors of the band is the lead drums, super prominent in the mix. He’s brought the athlete out in me, that’s for sure. You warm up before going onstage with him. t’s like rollerskating through an earthquake. I’ve said that before, but it bears repeating.
– How would you describe each of your band members, yourself included? What each of you brings into the fold?
I’m the wardrobe guy! And sometimes that’s been a bad thing! I write lots of riffs and lyrics and vocals. So does Pat. Pat and Bobby are arrangers. Mike writes lots of vocals and lyrics too. His are more classic blues, mine are classic “weird”. Pat used to write more lyrics, but he does all the recording, mixing and now mastering, so his time is tight. Bobby pushes us to be our best… a real motivator. He also writes lyrics, riffs and vocals – a lot on the last CD. We all write, there are no free loaders in the band. We work fast and easy together and make each other laugh endlessly.
– The original LIZARDS singer was another legend you’d brought back to the mass attention, SIR LORD BALTIMORE’s John Garner. Did you initially cast him as a temporary singer before taking Mike DiMeo on board?
No, I was way into SIR LORD BALTIMORE. I think John has one of the coolest voices I’ve ever heard. A reviewer once said of us “For anyone who ever wondered what Tom Jones would sound like in a hard rock band”. I took that as an ultimate compliment. He simply couldn’t tour like we wanted to, for health reasons. I just had a nice conversation with him last week, I’m sure I’ll do something with him again. He’s in Bobby’s league as a drummer, by the way.
– Are you proud to be the guy behind the CACTUS reunion? And why it was this band and not many others you could have backed?
God, I am in CACTUS, aren’t I! They’re up there with TRAPEZE in my book. They actually shared stages in 1971… what I wouldn’t pay now to see that! I saw them at the Fillmore East in 1971. Ooops, I was only three years old, honest. They had a similar gravitas to MOTORHEAD, but with ZEPPELIN’s chops. I had already reached out to THE VANILLA FUDGE so it was a logical move to bring back CACTUS next. I just did a killer gig with them a few nights ago. There may be a new album deal in the works.
– How long will THE LIZARDS’ vacation last? What does the future hold for the band?
The next thing will be our fifth studio CD of originals, which is about 70-75 per cent done. I think it’s our best. Thanks for the interest!
Photos by Paul Latimer and Kevin Lowes.
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