In conjunction with a recent Metal Hammer retrospective on SKID ROW‘s self-titled 1989 debut, guitarist Dave “Snake” Sabo spoke at length about the group’s early years with writer Clay Marshall. Some select “outtakes” from the interview appear below (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
On meeting bassist Rachel Bolan:
Snake: “We weren’t childhood friends — we met in the music store in Tom’s River, [New Jersey]. He was in another band, and I had the beginnings of [SKID ROW] going. I saw him, and I was, like, ‘This guy’s a rock star. I’ve got to get to know this guy.’ I was never afraid to go up to anybody and introduce myself — to drop names as much as I could. Anything to impress somebody so that it could help out, to reach that end goal. I was like, ‘I heard you’re a bass player. I’m a guitar player, and I’ve got this band. I know these people’ — a large stretch of the truth, if you will, but some truth to it, but definitely an exaggeration in a lot of ways. He was like, ‘Okay, cool. Maybe we should get together and see if we can write together.’ That was the thing. We got along really well as two young guys trying to form a band separately, and it turned out that when we got down to write, there were things that each of us did that the other didn’t do. That was exciting for me — I was, like, ‘Oh, man. You’ve got this going on really well where I don’t, so this is exciting. This could be something.'”
On the pair’s early songwriting efforts:
Snake: “It didn’t become iconic, but the first song we ever wrote together was a song called ‘Telephone’. We demoed it, but it didn’t make it to the first record. It’ll never see — shouldn’t see — the light of day, because it wasn’t very good. There were some really good parts to it and ideas here and there, but what it was, as mediocre of a song as it is, it was monumental to us because it showed both of us as strangers slowly becoming friends — maybe not so slowly — what the potential was, what the possibilities were. That was really exciting. I said, ‘I’ve got this band. I’m rehearsing up in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Come on up — let’s start doing stuff.’ I had some friends that I was playing with, and slowly but surely, we started weeding those people out that weren’t cutting it. Rachel and I were forging this friendship, but we weren’t SKID ROW yet. He still had his band with Scotti [Hill, guitar] and some other people, but we were jamming together. I’d become friendly with people in the record business in Manhattan, so I had a couple people come down and hang out and check out the band — people that worked for different labels. I knew in my heart of hearts that we weren’t even close to being ready yet, but it was good — it was impressive for other people, and for me, it was, like, an ego thing. I was very thankful that my friends would take the time to come down and do that. It sort of lent some credibility to the road that we were on. It helped bond Rachel and I. We’re making long treks here — I’m going down to Tom’s River to work in the music store, and he’s coming up to New Brunswick to jam — and as we’re getting to know and starting to trust each other, it’s like, ‘We might have something here, so let’s cut the crap, and let’s make necessary changes that we both know we need to make but aren’t really communicating.’ ‘Okay, cool, let’s do that.'”
On the subsequent changes he and Bolan initiated:
Snake: “The first step was, we had Matt [Fallon] in the band singing — a nice and funny guy, but problematic. We were like, ‘Okay, we need to get other pieces of the puzzle, and that will be something that we’ll get to. Hopefully we won’t have to make that change, because that’s the hardest change to make oftentimes, but we’ll worry about that down the road.’ We had gone in and done some demos down in Philadelphia at the old Warehouse Studios, and we had a different drummer, a different guitar player, myself, Rachel and Matt. We did three songs, and the night before we were due to go in the studio, our then-drummer went on an all-night binge, and the morning of the night that we were supposed to start, ended up blacking out high on whatever and stabbing somebody and ending up in jail. That was good. We’re getting ready to head down to Philly — we’re all excited — and it turns out that we don’t have a drummer. Thankfully, Jon Bon Jovi called up Tico [Torres, BON JOVI drummer]. Tico was in Manhattan at the time. He said, ‘Can you come down and do this?’ Tico, the most amazing pro that he is, just a monster of a drummer, came down. [We were] so thankful that he just laid these songs down in a matter of minutes, it seemed like. And really, that was a great lesson for us too, just to see, ‘Okay, this is how a real musician does this.’ Then it turned out that our guitar player just couldn’t play in the studio. Now we’re discovering things. Things are falling apart, but they’re necessary, and showing us that ‘Okay, here’s the holes in this project. You don’t have a drummer — he’s in jail — so you need that. Now your guitar player can’t play in the studio, so you’re going to probably need that as well.'”
On adding Scotti Hill and drummer Rob Affuso:
Snake: “BON JOVI was getting ready to do the ‘Slippery When Wet’ tour, and they invited us out to do the first three shows before CINDERELLA could join the tour. At that point, we had gotten Scotti in the band, who had played with Rachel, and Rob Affuso, who was at the time friends with a bunch of mutual friends — David Bryan from BON JOVI being one of them. Scotti was amazing, because he came in and played. He’s such an amazing guitar player. He was like, ‘I’ll just sit here and play rhythm. I just want to be in the band.’ I was like, ‘That would be a crime if all you did was that. We’ll split everything because you’re too good to just be sitting there playing rhythm guitar, and I would be an egotistical fool to not see that. You can show the world how great you are.’ That was easy. Rob was great too. He came in too with this Sonor drum kit that had, like, 29 drums on it. It was hilarious. It made Neil Peart seem like he was Gene Krupa, playing a three-piece. It was exciting. We had the band — Scotti, Rob, myself, Rachel — and we’re heading to do these shows. It was great — it was exciting playing in front of 7,000 people, sold-out, one of my best buds as the headliner. Just really exciting. [BON JOVI manager] Doc McGhee comes into the dressing room and goes, ‘Band’s great. Songs are great. But you need a singer. He’s not the guy. He’s not a star.’ We’re like, ‘Oh, man. Busted.’ We knew it inherently. We just were hoping to fool the world, and that doesn’t happen. Getting that message from Doc was like, ‘All right.’ We kindly parted ways with Matt and spent the next nine months looking for a singer, and [held] countless auditions. We put ads in the back of Metal Edge magazine, things like that. Very generic — we didn’t want to allude to what we had going on. Doc wasn’t overseeing it, but he was paying attention to it, and of course, Jon Bon Jovi was involved and helping us out, but you can’t do anything unless you’ve got a whole band. We spent nine months [auditioning], and watching the ‘Slippery When Wet’ tour unfold and knowing that we were a part of the very beginning of that but couldn’t be a part of any more of it because we didn’t have a singer anymore, and watching CINDERELLA do that, that was a really tough pill to swallow, man. That was really, really difficult. CINDERELLA was great — I loved CINDERELLA. Was right there when they were getting signed. Saw them at the Galaxy and the Empire down in Philly and South Jersey, and watched that whole thing unfold as well. But Rachel and I were envious 21-year-old kids, man, and determined, even toying with the idea that we were going to go out and do, like, just a punk-rock thing as a four-piece and play RAMONES covers — that’s how desperate we were — and call the band THIS BLOWS, because it sucked.”
On meeting Sebastian Bach:
Snake: “We had an idea — a very clear idea — of what we wanted the band to sound like. We were really close, but it wasn’t quite there. We knew that that was the missing piece. We had auditioned a bunch of singers, and through [photographer] Mark Weiss and a guy by the name of Dave Feld, as well as Jon Bon Jovi‘s parents, believe it or not, we were turned on to Sebastian. He had been with MADAM X and had been at Mark Weiss‘s wedding, and he got up and sang. Everyone was, like, ‘There’s this band in New Jersey called SKID ROW, and they’re looking for a singer,’ and so forth. We got his info — we exchanged phone calls back and forth — and then sent him four songs, if I’m not mistaken: ’18 And Life’, I think ‘Rattlesnake Shake’, ‘Youth Gone Wild’ and one other one. It may have been ‘Piece Of Me’; I’m not sure. We flew him down to New Jersey and got off the plane and we met up at my mom’s house in Sayreville. He was crazy and wild, you know, as he is. We went straight to a nightclub. We basically lived in this place, or at least I did, anyway — a place called Mingles. They had a big room upstairs, and a small room downstairs called Down Under. The owners were really good friends, so they let us do whatever we wanted there, and we ended up going downstairs and getting really, really hammered and commanding the stage. We went up and played a couple songs, and that was the first time that the five of us played together, and [we] announced on stage that night that Sebastian, he’s the new singer of the band. We were terrible, but we knew it was just… there was something magical about it for sure. You just knew it. We all did. We all knew, like, ‘Okay — now we’re ready to go the next step. Now we have five members of the band.’ There was a sense of chaos, I guess you could say. He ended up getting in a fight with somebody in the parking lot — threw a punch at somebody and missed by a mile — and we ended up grabbing him and throwing him in the car, driving down to Tom’s River and started rehearsals all hungover the next day, and just feeling each other out. You’ve got a guy who’s enormous — 6-foot-3, 6-foot-7 with the hair spray, but a great-looking guy, a great frontman, a great voice. Sang the songs great. Then it was just us figuring out who we were. We had the songs written for the most part. It was a case really of going out and getting into the garage and writing more songs, and really making it a band — basically, living together and playing shows together. After that, it was getting guys like Doc McGhee to see what he thought of it. Jon Bon Jovi brought Doc down, and everyone was like, ‘Okay — I think this is it. I think you guys got something here.’ Everyone was a believer in the songs that we were writing and the vibe of what we had created. We were missing that last piece, and Sebastian was that last piece.”
“Skid Row” was released on January 24, 1989 via Atlantic Records. Six years later, the album — which yielded the hit singles “18 And Life”, “Piece Of Me”, “Youth Gone Wild” and “I Remember You” — was certified quintuple-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for having shipped five million copies in the United States.
SKID ROW parted ways with Bach in 1996. Three years later, the group resurfaced with vocalist Johnny Solinger, who fronted the band until 2015. After an eight-month stint with former TNT vocalist Tony Harnell — who Bolan said last year was a “really bad match” that “just didn’t fit” — SKID ROW recruited former DRAGONFORCE vocalist ZP Theart, who has toured with the group for the past three and a half years.