Tommy Shaw - Damn Straight!
by Allan Hirt
Originally appearing in The Justice(the weekly student newspaper of Brandeis University), in the October 20, 1992 issue
This article is ã 1992, 1999 Allan Hirt and cannot be copied, altered, or reproduced without my permission.
(This is how it appeared - the editors reworded some stuff and added the stupid section break titles)
Few bands capture the essence of pure American rock and roll. Damn Yankees is one of these bands.
Damn Yankees is not just any band of young neophytes. The band is comprise of veteran guitarists Tommy Shaw (formerly of Styx) and Ted Nugent, bassist Jack Blades (formerly of Night Ranger), and Michael Cartellone on drums. Their sophomore effort, Don't Tread, is a mature collection of songs which both rock and challenge the listener with its harmonies, lyrics, and melodies.
The road to Damn Yankees was a four year journey for Tommy Shaw, a road filled with the experiences of a man who had just left one of the world's most popular bands in the land - Styx. Shaw recorded three solo albums between 1984 and 1988 and toured for each. These efforts also helped shaw, always considered to be the fair-haired boy, to grow as a person and a musician.
"Looks can be deceiving. I may have looked that, but I was the monster throwing the TV out the window. G-d made me look like that ... and subconsciously that's one of the reasons I was being a little wild man behing the scenes," said Shaw in an exclusive Justice interview.
"I've kinda' grown up in rock and roll. Recently, I came up to my studio and got all of my CDs of everything that I've ever recorded on a major record label, and I just went through it and I did an anthology and put all of it on cassette," said Shaw. "And I just sat back and took a look at my work and I really watched my life go from this naive 23 year old who was really very immature, because I could be, and very innocent. I went from there to this grizzled, dope smokin', whiskey drinkin', coke snortin', wild, chick fuckin' wild man up to the middle. Then I started coming to my senses, and a few years ago I gave up all that stuff, and all of a sudden the smoke settled. It's like, G-d, I have all this experience, and now I'm starting to write. So it's been a real journey," related Shaw. "I've been very fortunate. None of that stuff killed me. I wouldn't suggest anybody going through it, 'cause it sucked. But since it didn't kill me, I feel like I'm on this quest now to make up for a little bit of lost time," he said.
Shaw more than makes up for that time. Damn Yankees is a force to be reckoned with in the studio and on the road, but the road is where the band excels. "It's a lot more raw live. It's hard to capture the rawness. A lot of times when you try and capture that rawness in the studio, it just sounds like you're making a lot of mistakes." The mistakes also help make up the character of Damn Yankees' music, for the band is not afraid to take risks that might ultimately show up as a "mistake" in the music. As Shaw explains, "Absolutely. We're kind of defined by our mistakes."
As a solo artist, Shaw also learned that a group situation brings out the best in him. "By the time I did that third solo album (Ambition on Atlantic Records) I'd finally learned how to do it, but I'd also learned another valuable lesson, which was that I liked being in a band. I've always loved spreading it around. You take it for awhile - I want to go over here and play. I want to go just not have any responsibilty so I can improvise and not play, and jyst have fun being on stage for a few seconds," said Shaw. "And as a solo artist, I just felt cemented in front of the mike stand. I was either having to play my solo, or I was singing. There was very little other time to play with the audience, and be a band member, and do that sort of thing. I missed it. So now I've got the best of both worlds. I mean, now if I'm saying, 'Take it,' Ted Nugent takes it. If somebody else is singing, it's Jack Blades or Ted, so I'm a happy man."
Ted Nugent and Tommy Shaw have known each other for years, and they formed the nucleus of Damn Yankees in December of 1988. Jack Blades and Michael Cartellone were soon enlisted into the ranks. The songs reflect the chemistry that the band has between the members, especially on serious, introspective songs such as "Mister Please" and "Silence Is Broken."
"Some songs are so inspired and so apecial that they've got a really special treatment. They can't just be jammed out, and they're scary," explained Shaw. "That's why a lot of people don't do 'em. If you don't do them right, they're absolutely just horrifying. They really suck and make you sound stupid, so it takes a very delicate touch to do a song like 'Mister Please'."
"They're very thoughtful and kind of revealing songs. The reason why you're seeing that kind of stuff now is 'cause we all know each other. Ultimately, these songs get played all over the world, in people's cars, and they're very public tjings. But as they're being written," Shaw said, "it's just four guys in a room, and when you're writing words like that, you're putting your guts out there for everybody to see. During that very vulnerable time, you've got to know someone pretty well to say, 'How about if we sing this,' and we know each other a lot better now, so it's reflected in our music and what we're willing to put out."
The members of Damn Yankees have also been very busy with other projects. While Ted Nugent took a weekend hunting trip to Hawaii, Tommy Shaw, Jack Blades, and MIchael Cartellone cut "You're Invited But Your Friend Can't Come" with Vince Neil. Shaw and Blades also lend their sweet vocals on Jude Cole's new album "Start The Car."
Damn Yankees is an extremely patriotic band. Not only did they contribute to the song "Don't Tread On Me" to the Summer Games album Barcelona Gold, but were also troop favorites during the Gulf War.
will kick off a tour in December to support Don't Tread. If it
was up to the band, they would have been on tour when the album was
released, but promoters asked the band to wait a few months.