INTERVIEW: 707 [Part 2] (Apr 2004)
A trip back in time with 707, and Kevin Russell.
Here is Part Two of our Two Part Installment with Kevin Russell and 707, leading up to the re-release of their 'Megaforce' CD next month through MTM Music.
A TRIP BACK IN TIME WITH 707
INTERVIEW WITH: KEVIN RUSSELL
WRITTEN BY: LEE BRADFIELD (FOR GLORY-DAZE E-MAGAZINE)
It was at about this time that the Casablanca label was absorbed into Polygram, a very unsettling period for most acts on the roster. 707 was also negatively affected by this corporate chicanery, but once again the cloud had a silver lining, this time it takes the form of incredible news for 707 fans reading this, who have been hungering for previously unreleased 80's material from the band.
'Hmmm. Let's see ... it was another weird period for 707. I must back up and tell you that shortly before the REO/707 tour we found Tod Howarth (keyboards and guitar). We now found our new fourth member in the lineup. We recorded a really fine record called 'The Bridge' after that tour. The Bridge may finally come out on CD in the very near future by the way. This was before the recording of 'Megaforce' I might add.
When the merger came about with Polygram we got lost in the shuffle and we had no record deal for a little while. I must also mention that Neil Bogart passed away at that time from cancer. He was (I think) only 37 years old. So Casablanca Records was no more. Bruce Bird (from Casablanca) took us over to Boardwalk Records. He was not interested in 'The Bridge' record and so it was back to the drawing board for us. We never understood why he didn't want The Bridge. Also he was more interested in a couple of other acts he had signed to Boardwalk back then, more so than 707 to be honest. I knew that then and I know it now.
We got an offer to write the title song for a new film called 'Megaforce' starring Barry Bostwick (of Spin City fame). That came from a guy in the Boardwalk office named Gary Lemel. Tod and I wrote the music at my house and Jim wrote the lyrics. It worked out and the film producers loved it. We now found ourselves (Tod, Jim, Phil and Myself) writing material for what would become the Megaforce record.'
How about the lineup changes during the Megaforce era of 707 - how did it come about that Tod Howarth, Kevin Chalfant and Felix Robinson (ex Angel) joined the band? Well, as Kevin had already revealed to us the time and circumstances of Tod's inclusion, he now adds some enlightening perspective on the roles played by Felix Robinson and Kevin Chalfant, and the way in which the 'Megaforce' album was recorded.
'Ok, first Felix (Robinson) was never 'in' the band so to speak. He was just a hired bass player for one tour only. Tod was the only new full member in 707 even up to the end! We recorded the entire 'Megaforce' record as a 4 piece band. Phil, Tod and I had the vocals all done too. No disrespect to anyone, but we were pressured into getting a 'lead singer' from both management and record company. They felt we needed a 'focal point' or something. Kevin (Chalfant) auditioned and got the gig. He came in at the very end of the recording of 'Megaforce'. He replaced a lot of the vocals (certainly all of Phil's and some of mine). We were cool with it for the most part I think. However Phil did depart the band shortly after the record was finished. That hurt. Kevin Chalfant was in 707 for maybe 9 months total back in 1983. Tod, Jim and I remain friends to this day. I haven't spoken to Phil in a little while now, but we are friends for sure.'
So at this point 707 had a major hit with the title track 'Megaforce', which had tied in with the film of the same name ... and the album was (and continues to be) considered one of the AOR classics, gaining big recognition for 707. It's interesting then to see how Kevin's perspective is a little different on the matter, as he (without discrediting 'Megaforce') reveals what classic 707 is really about, and then some..
'I don't know about 'big recognition' .. ha ha! It was talked about getting 'Megaforce' re-released on CD back in 1995 or 1996 from a Japanese label. The offer wasn't that good and I didn't think it was worth it. Neither did my lawyer at the time so we passed. It's funny Lee, but when I think of 'classic 707' I really think of the first 707 record. That was the original band. No offense to Tod at all, but you couldn't get any better than Duke, Phil, Jim and myself for a 707 lineup, simply because we were all the 'original guys' period. The concept was ours, we made wonderful music together. We were very eager to play and build a following especially in L.A.
707 played the L.A. clubs and just a short while after we started to play those clubs (Starwood, Whiskey A Go Go, Roxy etc) we became a 'headliner'. We sold out every show we played right before we got a record deal with Casablanca. In fact Casablanca came to one of our Starwood shows and signed us on the spot. We blew them away! I have a couple of live 707 shows from 1979 and man we were HOT!
You must understand that our influences as a band in the original 707 lineup were that of: The Beatles, Elton John, Bob Seger, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Chicago etc ... 60's and 70's bands not 80's bands. As I said before 'The Bridge' was the record in which we felt like a real 4 piece band again, with the magic starting to return. So to answer your question about the recording of 'Megaforce'? Ummm, very trying shall I say? I was producing the band, playing guitar, singing, moving my family up to San Francisco from Los Angeles and trying to deal with all the politics that were happening in and around the band all while I was trying to make a record. Crazy, huh? That's what I remember ...
We were in our 20's and we all had our own issues to deal with back then I guess. All in all I think 'Megaforce' is a decent enough record Lee, but I have other fond memories of the '707 days' and certainly other favourite 707 records. It was a huge learning experience for me back then, I can tell you that.'
We're now mere weeks away from the official cd debut (on MTM) of 'Megaforce', and 707 fans (and AOR fans in general) are in a heightened state of excitement. Such excitement will surely increase tenfold once word hits the street about 'The Bridge' album potentially following 'Megaforce' onto cd sooner than later. Kevin explains how it feels to see 'Megaforce' finally getting a cd release, and what he (and all of 707 fandom not to mention AOR fandom) hopes will come after.
'It feels really good Lee. I am grateful that people still want to hear it. After all is said and done 707 is a big part of my musical history. I put just about all of my 20's into 707. I still hold the band near and dear to my heart. I remember the good times and the not such good times, you know?
I am hoping (Jim and Tod do too) that this will give way to the release of 'The Bridge' record. Phil sings wonderfully on that record too just like he did on the first and second 707 records. Phil also contributed songs on The Bridge too. Tod wrote some wonderful songs and so did Jim. I contributed songs as well. We also took some chances on that record. It has it's progressive moments! You should know that we were also into 'prog rock' bands and the 'rock-fusion' bands of the 70's (Jethro Tull, Yes, Jeff Beck, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever etc).'
Unfortunately the recording era of 707 didn't get beyond 1982, and one can only wonder what 1984/5 recordings with that 'one of a kind' 707 style might have sounded like. Band breakups are seldom easily explained - but Kevin tells us candidly, from his perspective, what went down that sadly led to 707 going down.
'Well Lee, we all have our own version as to why 707 split up, but I only know mine. We ended up not being the band we set out to be musically as well as successfully. As I stated earlier we were plagued with bad decision making from managers, lawyers and the record company. We lost two key members in a relatively short period. So we ended up with a 'hired singer' and a 'hired bass player'. The only original members left were Jim and myself.
I really missed Phil a lot and I guess I never got over that back then. He was my partner on stage, the guy who stood right next to me and sang with me and who rocked with me. He was also a very kind person. I also really missed the melodic rock style of the earlier lineup. Phil certainly brought that to 707.
We (707) were lost! We had lost our way ... we ended up sounding like everyone else at the time and that was never my intention. We became (for the most part) a formula band, you know? Always getting pressured for 'the hits' to be current 80's rock and so on. Journey is a great band, we all know, but that is not what I wanted to sound like. I am from Detroit not California.
707 was my band along with Jim and we had given up our vision to others I guess you could say - yes it was sad, but I was relieved in a way when we split. We couldn't have gone on any longer as we were. It was time to call it quits. Again our managers at that time were very much into their own agendas and they wanted to 'divide and conquer' the band. Well they did divide us alright. There were way too many secret meetings going on behind our backs. We were young and naive for the most part and they knew it. Of course there were hurt feelings for a few years. Maybe there is still some who knows?'
However, there was life after 707 and Kevin reappeared in the acclaimed British band Taxxi. We wanted to know how this working relationship came about, and how the experience compared with 707. Kevin takes up the story.
'The Taxxi guys and I became friends before I actually played with them. They had moved to the Bay Area (San Francisco) from Portland, Oregon. They are however from England and Scotland. We did a series of radio promotions shows in 1983. The lineup also included Randy Jackson (the American Idol judge, and one-time Journey bassist!) on bass and Tim Gorman on keyboards (from The Who).
I then went on to make a record with Taxxi on MCA (it never came out though). They had their struggles with management and record labels. Taxxi compared to 707? No comparison as far as the music or musicianship goes. Two completely different bands. I was a 'hired player' period. It was a gig and that is how I treated it. I did my job 100%.'
Tod Howarth also resurfaced after 707, first playing keyboards in Cheap Trick, then joining a resurgent Ace Frehley in his band Frehley's Comet. This led to the track 'Megaforce' being covered on the self titled Frehley's Comet debut as 'Calling To You'. Since Kevin was one of the original composers of the track, we asked how it felt to have his song make it onto an Ace Frehley album.
'Loved it! I spoke to Ace about it, and Tod. In fact Tod called me back then to ask me what I thought (which was very cool of him). He didn't need to do that. It just helped to get our name out there a bit more. Tod and I started our roads to making amends back then. Tod is a good man!'
In more recent times Kevin became involved in the blues guitar scene, releasing acclaimed solo blues albums and some under the name Russell Brothers, at one time even forming a blues band with Neal Schon. We asked about his post AOR blues career - but not before he eloquently takes us through his early blues influences and inspiration.
'Oh boy, there are quite a few artists in the 90's I either played with and/or produced. I decided in 1990 that I wanted to go back to my roots and play blues again. I really loved blues as a kid. Both my brother Brian and I had a lot of blues lp's as well as tons of RandB Soul tunes of the day. We were huge RandB fans.
I was first turned onto blues through the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1965. Mike Bloomfield to this day remains one of my favourite players. I then would go back and learn who their influences were and so on. I have always tried to keep 'the blues' in my playing. It's where it all came from, right?
I have a quote that says 'I have always been suspect of musicians who do not dig blues' ... if it didn't come from blues then where did American rock-n-roll music come from? The answer is, blues! I am not suggesting that one has to be a blues player, only that one recognizes it and appreciates it for what it is.
I teach all my students blues first. They must understand the basic blues progression first before they can possibly move ahead with any real substance to their playing. My brother Brad moved to San Francisco in 1990. I was then the MD (musical director) for Clarence Clemons. I got Brad in the band and we toured with Clarence for a while. We put together the Russell Bros in early 1991. We wrote and recorded a few records together as The Russell Bros/Kevin Russell.
We also did a bunch of records for Blues Bureau International label. I believe those records came out on Roadrunner overseas. Please see my website at www.kevinrussell.com for more details on all the artists I produced etc ... one in particular is Rick Derringer. I produced 2 records for Rick. He is such a great player and a really wonderful guy! We became friends through working together. I have all the respect for Rick. His new 'smooth jazz' record is great by the way!
The Russell Bros has always been a trio (guitar, bass and drums). I've been playing in that format for over 14 years now. Each Russell Bros / Kevin Russell record we've made has been different while still remaining blues based. Whether it's electric or acoustic.'
Around 1999 it appeared that 707 had made a comeback cd called 'Trip To Heaven', which was criticised by many for sounding little like classic 707, eventually being re-released as a solo album. There is, however, quite a story behind all that, as Kevin candidly elaborates.
'Ok, I will tell you about all of that. Bedrock Records wanted a 707 classic rock record. They were stuck on this from the start. I talked to Tod about it back then. I then decided to go it alone. I called Denny Carmassi (ex Heart drummer) and he said he would love to do the record with me. I already had a collection of songs that I knew I would use one day. The time was right so I started the process of pre-production and then finally recording 'Trip To Heaven'. Everyone seemed happy with the record and so we completed the final stages. It was '707 featuring Kevin Russell'. I wasn't too thrilled about that from the beginning, but finally agreed. So after what they call a 'soft release' in the early fall of 1999 (set for a full release in February 2000) I said I want a new cover and a name change to Kevin Russell/Trip To Heaven. Bedrock Records did give in after a while. This was NOT a 707 record, but rather a solo record. I said this time and time again to them!
I got some flak from the reviewers who received an advance copy of 707/Trip To Heaven in 1999. They tore into me saying that it wasn't a 707 record and blah blah blah! Fair enough! I made the record I had in me at the time and I was pushed by Bedrock to return to my 'rock roots' one more time. It didn't work out too well either Lee. Bedrock Records went bankrupt owing me a lot of money! Once again inexperience proves itself. I do own the record 100% now and I am talking to a couple of record companies about an overseas release for it.'
The inevitable question, especially considering Kevin has a smokin' instrumental rock covers album called 'My Generation' imminent, had to be 'what are the chances of a 707 reunion, especially with the likelihood of two exciting cd's from the 80's imminent ?' Over to Kevin for a hopeful peek into the future and a rundown of the new solo record.
'That is a loaded question Lee! Ha ha ha! As for a 707 reunion? I would be open to it, but if it happened it would most likely be 'The Bridge' lineup - 4 piece!
My new record 'My Generation' are songs from my generation. My era. It is a collection of songs that impacted me in some way in my younger days as a musician. It is all instrumental, all guitar. I used drum loops and it has a very 'soul-funk-hiphop-jazzy' feel to it. WOW how's that for a description? I am very proud of this record. I took my time in making this record and I think it shows Lee. I spent more time on 'My Generation' that any other record I have ever made.'
Here at Glory Daze we have a tradition of bringing home to those we interview, just how deep an impact their treasured melodic rock/AOR music has on our day to day lives as fans. With this in mind, we asked Kevin for any message he had for the legions of loyal 707 fanatics out there.
'I want to say thank you to all the loyal fans. I know that 707 went through many changes through those years and it got a bit confusing for the fans, but we always tried to make great music! That was the number one goal of the band. I never say never about 707 playing together again. My door is open. The lineup that really rocked live on stage night after night was the 707 that toured with REO in 1981.
I thank you for the opportunity to 'set the record straight' for all the 707 fans. I hope you will visit my website and enjoy the music I have been making over these past years ...'
Lee Bradfield for www.glory-daze.com
To read the prior Part One installment of this interview, click here
For more reading, go to: www.kevinrussell.com/
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