The Axeman Speaketh: Lillian Axe Guitarist Steve Blaze Exclusive Interview
Monday, January 28, 2002 @ 1:05 PM
Steve Blaze Discusses His Life
Over the past year or so, I have had the extraordinary pleasure of meeting some great bands, seeing kick ass live shows, and the occasional interview. However, there was one interview that has always seemed to elude me. On New Year's Eve 2001, we attended a show here in Houston that would finally break this spell, albeit not exactly how I had it planned. Nonetheless, I was able to procure an interview with, in my humble opinion, one of the most underappreciated musicians of our time. That musician is none other than Steve Blaze, the lead guitarist and master artist of the band Lillian Axe.
Lillian Axe? Who is she? I can't tell you how many times I heard that question when I told people I was going to see them in concert.
From humble beginnings in 1983, the New Orleans-based hard rockers relentlessly toured the southern U.S. club circuit and built and steady following. While performing supporting Ratt, Poison and Queensryche, the band caught the eye of MCA Records and also Marshall Berle (nephew of Milton Berle) who, at the time, was managing Ratt. In August of 1987, guitarist, Steve Blaze and drummer, Danny King of Lillian Axe joined forces with vocalist, Ron Taylor, guitarist, Jon Ster and bassist, Rob Stratton. One month later a deal with MCA Records was offered, and in April of 1988, the band's self-titled debut album (produced by Ratt guitarist Robbin Crosby) was released. Spawning the MTV and radio hit, "Dream Of A Lifetime", the band hit the touring trail, supporting the likes of Krokus, Stryper and Lita Ford.
In 1988, the quintet released Love & War, which generated the hit "Show A Little Love.” However, when the label failed to sustain the support and give the band that extra little push it needed to truly rise to the top their momentum was lost and in early 1990 the band and the label parted ways.
After several lineup changes, the band released the hits collection Out of the Darkness Into the Light in 1991 through Grand Slamm/IRS Records, followed by the studio effort Poetic Justice in 1992, which featured the hit single "True Believer" and their cover of the Badfinger classic "No Matter What."
Spring of '93 saw Lillian Axe adding drummer Tommy Stewart (now in Godsmack), releasing Psychoschizophrenia and hitting the road for nearly three years of constant touring, including a trip to Europe and an extended co-headlining tour of the U.S. with Accept.
Cut to 1994, Lillian Axe are putting the wraps on their Psychoschizophrenia tour. Immediately upon entering Millennium club in Houston, I began to hear whispers that the band was breaking up and that this would be their last show. The rumor was so widespread that Ron Taylor even made mention of it during their set. "Lillian Axe is not breaking up, but simply taking time off to pursue other projects," said the frontman. But that would be the last Lillian Axe show for several years.
The band took a hiatus in the mid-‘90s, releasing only a rarities compilation called Fields of Yesterday through Z Records, an independent European label, and Pony Canyon Records, a Japanese label. They splintered off into side projects and began to become normal people again.
”Every song I have ever written is a result of my life experiences. Every song and every line I write can be expounded upon for hours.”
Jump ahead to 2001. The band members all have family lives now and rarely get out to play live, but every now and then they're "allowed" to sneak out of the house and play live again. Such was the case on Saturday, March 31st, 2001 at the 19th Hole Grill and Bar in The Woodlands, Texas. The band has changed members a couple of times, most recently adding a new drummer and guitarist, but the core members Ron Taylor (vocals), Stevie Blaze (guitars) and Darren DeLatte (bass) remain to carry on the legacy.
The band plays quite often now in the Dallas/Houston area, either with Lillian Axe or one of their side projects, Near Life Experience (Steve Blaze's band), or the Velvet Poker Dogs (Ron and Darren' side band). The whole reason the band plays now is for fun and it was quite obvious by the Benny Hill-like smile Ron Taylor exhibited throughout the show. If you are down Texas' way, be sure to look them up.
I originally was supposed to do this interview with Steve in person, but as you will see, he is so busy these days (he’s also working with the newly revamped ‘70s band Angel) and it is near impossible to tie him down long enough to get one or two questions answered let alone an entire interview. Steve was gracious enough to do this interview by email. The end result is still the same: The man is far more intellectual than most rock stars. He is a man with deep convictions and beliefs and is able to transfer those beliefs into exceptional music.
Enjoy what he has to say.
KNAC.COM: What have you been up to lately?
BLAZE: I am keeping very busy with finishing the new Near Life Experience album and writing a new Angel and Lillian Axe album.
KNAC.COM: You’ve had Near Life Experience for several years now. How does this band compare to Lillian Axe?
BLAZE: Near Life is very dear to me as is Lillian Axe. I think NLE is a bit darker and heavier but still just as insightful. Also, there is a different chemistry altogether.
KNAC.COM: As the principal contributor to Lillian Axe, several of the songs convey personal experiences of yours. Do you carry this same philosophy when you write songs for Near Life? Do you have any examples?
BLAZE: Every song I have ever written is a result of my life experiences. “Goodbye Cruel World” is a lament for my sister who passed away when I was four. “Rock and Roll Killed the Family” is a rebuttal to the critics of rock and roll as an entity that destroys families. I touch on the stupidities of such comments. Every song and every line I write can be expounded upon for hours.
KNAC.COM: Your Yahoo message board had a post this past week mentioning about eight songs you had written for a solo record. Is this totally separate from Near Life and, if so, what’s the difference?
BLAZE: The solo CD is a collection of musical oddities from keyboard pieces to dark ballads to guitar excess. It is separate from everything else.
KNAC.COM: Near Life mainly plays the gulf coast area. Have you had the opportunity to or are you planning on extending some shows further out?
BLAZE: We will tour heavily when we have a label for support. I can’t wait to take NLE all over the world.
KNAC.COM: Earlier this year, you were approached about replacing a founding member of the ‘70s band Angel. How did you get involved in that?
BLAZE: I was a huge Angel fan as a kid, with all the records, posters, magazines, etc. Two years ago, a friend who knew Gordon, the keyboard player, told me they had reunited and were auditioning guitarists. They flew me to New York. We played seven or eight songs and the next thing I knew they said you got the job. They knew of my previous musical endeavors and I was a fan.
KNAC.COM: How much time did you have to put in to learn the material?
BLAZE: I knew a lot, but a couple of days and I was very prepared.
”We had the goods to be huge, but no machine behind us.”
KNAC.COM: How was the crowd reaction to you being in the band?
BLAZE: A lot better than I thought. Punky Meadows (whom Steve replaced) was a very strong personality in that band, so no matter how good I was, I knew it would be a bit tough. However, I heard not one critical comment. Lots of "Punky who?" -- which is an honor because I think he was very innovative and ahead of his time.
KNAC.COM: It’s also been mentioned that there is possibly going to be a new Angel recording. Are you a part of that and what is the status?
BLAZE: Yes, Frank [DiMino] and I have written two songs so far of which I have written the music and Frank the vocals and lyrics. We have a great rapport.
KNAC.COM: Okay, moving to Lillian Axe. The last time you guys played here Ron surprised the crowd by mentioning that you two had discussed writing tunes for a new Lillian Axe record. Has that gone anywhere yet?
BLAZE: It's in the primitive stages. We have a group of 10 to 12 songs written a few years ago that I think would be perfect. I would like to take eight and write four new ones. I am working on some now.
KNAC.COM: Now, the time you guys played here before that, Tom Mathers from Perris Records was here taping the show for a possible live Lillian Axe CD. I know you guys had some “technical difficulties” during that show. Is the live CD still a possibility?
BLAZE: We have no live tapes that we are happy with. We are still hoping to do this soon, maybe in the next two months.
KNAC.COM: Looking back now, what would you say was the most defining moment of your career?
BLAZE: Tough to say. I don't think I've had it yet. Maybe hitting the Top 40 on the back page of R& R or hearing “True Believer” in the beauty salon while my girlfriend was getting a manicure.
KNAC.COM: Is there anything you wish you could do over again?
BLAZE: If anything I did in the past was done differently, who knows what path my life might have taken? So, I guess what I wish is that certain outcomes were different, but not my choices.
KNAC.COM: Lillian Axe flirted several times with breaking it really big. Are you satisfied with the level of success the band achieved?
BLAZE: Not at all. I’m very proud, but let's face it, we never got any breaks. We had the goods to be huge, but no machine behind us.
KNAC.COM: What about your best and worst moments while being a part of Lillian Axe?
BLAZE: The best moments were touring, especially Japan, and releasing records. The worst moments were watching lack of label support and the frustration of working your ass off without the support that was promised.
KNAC.COM: Do any of you guys keep in touch with former members of the band? If so, what are they doing now?
BLAZE: Only Tommy, who now drums for Godsmack.
KNAC.COM: Lillian Axe and Near Life have some of the most loyal, devoted fans. How do you explain the trueness of your fans?
BLAZE: We have such devoted fans. I think one reason is that we are devoted to them. We always made sure we were true to them and spent time as much as possible showing our appreciation.
KNAC.COM: Any final thoughts? A message to the fans maybe?
BLAZE: Thank you so much to all our fans for sticking by us through everything. I will continue to pour my soul out through my music to all of you until I stop breathing. Please stay tuned to nleweb.com.