By the turn of the 90s, hard rock supergroup Damn Yankees landed two hit albums and toured extensively. Grunge storm survivor (when they would also have been paid a million dollars to go away for a while), they reunited towards the end of the decade for a third album slated for release on the reboot of John Kalodner of the 1980s label Portrait Records. .
With Tommy Shaw not available due to engagements with Styx and drummer Michael Cartellone with Lynyrd Skynyrd, composition replacements have been made. Joining Yankee mainstays Ted Nugent and Jack Blades, guitarist and vocalist Damon Johnson, late ’90s rocker Brother Cane, also stepped in, joined by Night Ranger’s Kelly Keagy behind the kit.
By all accounts, the sessions were troubled and even with Shaw returning to the mix in the middle of the proceedings, the decision was finally made to put the album on a shelf, where it remained for nearly two decades. . A few of the songs leaked through projects from individual band members, with the rest remaining undercover.
During a recent conversation with UCR to discuss their upcoming studio album, Detroit Muscle, Nugent remained convinced that the Damn Yankees could one day return. As for this unfortunate third album? He has thoughts on this, too.
I know the Damn Yankees’ third album attempt was complicated. But were there good times? It looks like it would have been quite fun playing on Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love”.
It was! I was just going to talk about it! I mean, how can we not have fun with a song we all grew up on. Plus, the musical authority we brought to it. You know, we all play. All guitarists play this instinct [grabs his guitar to play the riff to “Sunshine of Your Love.”]. I mean, come on! How not to want to reproduce this soundtrack?
We had some great ideas. One of them, I turned into a song. It was a lick that I came up with for [a song called] “Don’t stop dreaming.” It was just a nice arpeggio that I ended up using on my record. I rewrote it. [“Never Stop Believing,” from 2014’s Shutup & Jam incorporates the revised riff.] But how pretty is it? [Plays section of the song to demonstrate].
Now the way the Damn Yankees did it [plays the same section again to show the differences], Tommy started singing and I did a solo. We had a riot and I would love to see us do this song again. Because the producer [Luke Ebbin] said, “You know, it’s a really great idea, but let’s do it this way.” [Nugent pauses] You’re not going to produce the Damn Yankees and don’t let them be the Damn Yankees!
It’s not like Tommy Shaw needs advice. It’s not like I need advice on guitar ideas. I just want you to shut it up and hit the record button, buddy! So it was really a painful experience, but we had a great time. I don’t know where these tapes are and who knows what the future holds.
Maybe in a few years we’ll all be dead and someone will resurrect them and produce it properly and collect some of it. Our ideas were on fire. I would love to see us do that particular song again, because the way these guys played it, it was a blow to the emotional solar plexus.
The way Tommy sang it and Jack [Blades] harmonized, these guys are like the Everly Brothers with an erection. What a great description. But yeah, I’d love to see the Damn Yankees make more music. I’m up for it. Planning is a motherfucker. It’s really hard to get the four of us in the same room at the same time, but we’re going to keep going, I think.
Ideally, Damn Yankees is the core of the four with you, Tommy, Jack, and Michael Cartellone. But the other interesting thing about the third album was having Damon Johnson and Kelly Keagy in the mix. How was it ?
Damon is a monster. He is another musical force of greatness. And everyone loves Kelly. Once again, we surround ourselves with musical forces, with believable dynamic animal musical forces. I don’t even remember what the inspiration was to bring someone else. It’s not like we’re running out of songwriting or song ideas.
I don’t know where it came from, but I’m a team player. Regardless of how this idea was presented, I said, “Yeah, Damon is a freak – and Kelly, great guys!” Bring them in! Let’s see if they bring new fire to the party. I don’t remember if they did or not.
I know Damon can’t help but set the party on fire! What was his first group [that really took off]?
Yeah, my God, what monster music was that? What a great, great singer-songwriter and guitar monster he is. I don’t remember the impetus of it all, but the more killer musicians in the room, the better for me!
You played with a lot of drummers, having a singer drummer like Kelly Keagy is quite a thing.
Monster. Just an incredible force to be reckoned with. Phil collins [is another] unbelievable [singing] drummer. [Grand Funk Railroad’s] Don Brewer, what an amazing drummer, what an amazing voice, are you kidding me? So there are many examples of this. But certainly, Kelly is one of them.
Do you think grunge slowed down the Damn Yankees’ progress after Do not walk was released in 1992?
Not at all. Again, I think the Damn Yankees are a musical force. I don’t know what influences the radio or who the man behind the curtain is. Radio has kind of let down the music industry more than anything. And MTV did more harm to the music industry because it was all about images and style and fashion and the music seemed to be secondary.
Not in all cases, but in enough cases where killer, killer music [got lost]. Let’s talk about Triumph. Holy God in Heaven, what musical freaks these guys were. Don’t give them time to play Boy George weirdness [instead]? It was kind of heartbreaking. But I plow, no matter what, anyway! I think all the major groups are doing it.
I could name hundreds and hundreds of musical forces that have talent, work ethic, courage, passion and challenge. AC / DC has never taken a step back. They were never like “What is grunge?” They never said, “Well, there’s the Boy George stuff.” They just have AC / DC’ed like a crowbar up their ass, which is one of my favorite things in life.
How did you meet Triumph?
Well we did concerts together [in the ‘70s]. I saw their performance at the US Festival and I know their music. They play Triumph music in Detroit all the time. Every time I’m in Michigan I hear their amazing music. They are only monsters, virtuoso monsters, passionate and fire-breathing artists.
Timeless masters of musical composition and delivery. Just the tone of the guitar, the guitar statements, the drums and the bass, it’s like James Brown’s kids meeting, I don’t know, Ted Nugent, maybe? Or Mitch Ryder? They are just a storm of musicality and musical authority, musical adventure and musical credibility. They are so believable. One of the greatest bands that ever lived. That they’re not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it’s just stupid. [Laughs]
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