INTERVIEW: Alex Grossi of HOOKERS & BLOW

What started as a reason to simply play some music and have a good time has grown into a band that’s pushing 20 years in business. When longtime Guns N’ Roses keyboardist Dizzy Reed and Quiet Riot guitarist Alex Grossi started the cover band Hookers & Blow in 2003, it wasn’t with the intention of recording an album or with an eye to the future at all. But now it’s 2021, and the band finally has dropped its self-titled debut record (save/order here), a collection featuring songs originally by such classic rock stalwarts as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Blue Oyster Cult and … Body Count? (More on that later.) Live Metal’s Greg Maki recently caught up with Grossi to discuss the new album and more.

ALEX GROSSI

LIVE METAL: Back in 2003, when you and Dizzy Reed were putting this band together, I’m guessing an album must have been the furthest thing from your mind.

ALEX GROSSI: We had no idea it would grow the legs that it did. It’s been almost 18 years. It started off as a goof, like a jam band in Hollywood. I started booking it on the East Coast, and it kind of grew legs from there. It’s really kind of taken on a life of its own. I think the special thing about this band is it’s not just a cover band. It’s a party that everyone’s invited to. Over the years, people have kind of latched on to it. It’s cool to see, knowing that we started literally from nothing, just for fun.

Were you surprised by the way it took off?

You know what, I’m surprised now looking back. But when it’s actually happening, you don’t realize it till you have a second to take a breath and go, “Wait a second, we did all this.” I remember in 2013, when I first moved to Las Vegas, I realized it was our 10th anniversary, and I booked a little tour around that. Most bands with record deals don’t even last that long. (laughs) And we’re a party cover band. And then 10 turned into 15, and now we’re approaching 20.

At what point did you start to think about recording an album?

I would say around 2018. Dizzy put out his record through a label called Golden Robot Records in Australia, and they contacted me about Hookers & Blow. We’ve done a lot of crazy things on tour, and one of them was calling the White House one night, drunk, because they had no cheeseburgers on a late night menu. Dizzy had told that story to the head of the label and then I reiterated the story, and when Hookers & Blow got signed, they ended up making a cartoon video reenacting that.

So I think the fact that they got our warped sense of humor right away kind of opened the idea up. We have complete control over the whole thing. They get what it’s about. They’re not looking over our shoulder. We have artistic control over everything. That’s really kind of the main thing, because we want to keep this as much our product as we can. And that’s why we really decided that it was the time to do it, because we found the right place to do it. They were the people to do it with.

How did you go about picking the 12 songs that made it onto the album?

Some of the songs, like “Ziggy Stardust,” for example, and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” are songs that were always in the set list. The Body Count cover and “Under My Thumb” and whatnot, those are songs we had never played before at all. We just made a master list and got in a room and jammed, and the ones that sounded good we kept on with and the ones that didn’t we got rid of. We have a couple more we’re working on. There’ll be another one, for sure.

Most of them fall into the classic rock realm, but as you mentioned, there’s the Body Count song.

Yeah. I remember being a kid getting that CD in the longbox for Christmas—it had “Cop Killer” on it. Basically, that song (“The Winner Loses”) is a ballad about freebasing. It’s a great song, it’s very powerful, it’s a very powerful message, and I’ve always been a fan of Body Count and Ice-T and Ernie C. Dizzy’s wife, Nadja, was a big fan, as well. Dizzy never heard it before. He’s like, “Let’s cover it.” I’m like, “Really?” He’s like, “Why not?” We started playing it, and we kind of built it into our own little thing. Ice-T heard it and loved it. He tweeted it, and he gave it the thumbs up, which is very cool, definitely a bucket list thing. So that’s a good example of the diversity we wanted to try to add. And the Eddie Money cover (“Shakin'”), as well. That’s another one. That’s a tough song to do, man. You don’t realize it. Eddie Money had a very unique vocal style.

Have you heard from any of the other artists you’ve covered?

I told the guys in Blue Oyster Cult about it. When I told Eddie Money about it—God rest his soul—I said, “Hookers & Blow’s gonna cover one of your songs.” He’s like, “Hookers and blow! My wife will kill me!” I’m like, “No, no, no, the band, the band!” (laughs) He was a funny guy. He was great. He was a really, really, genuinely funny guy. He didn’t get to hear the final version, but obviously his family has. But he knew we were doing it, and that’s probably one of my favorite tracks on the record. And then the Zeppelin tracks with Frankie Banali on drums, of course, stand out to me, as well.

It must be kind of bittersweet to have him on there.

Well, he wanted to do it. You would never know the condition he was in when he recorded it. He was down to like 130 pounds soaking wet, and he had a tube sticking out of him. But he went in there in the studio and played like he was a 25-year-old kid in perfect health. You’d never know. I believe he did both of them in one take, with maybe one punch-in, and that was it—”No Quarter” and “Trampled Underfoot.” Pretty amazing. (NOTE: Longtime Quiet Riot drummer Frankie Banali died from pancreatic cancer in August 2020.)

I find it interesting that in 12 songs, you chose two Zeppelin songs and two Rolling Stones songs.

They just fell into place that way. Dizzy was adamant about “Rocks Off.” That was his baby, and I never even heard the song before. And then “Under My Thumb” just sounded cool when we did it. With Zeppelin, we always had Frankie come down and play “Trampled Underfoot” with us live when we did our Whiskey a Go Go shows. And then “No Quarter,” it’s like if you’re in a band that a main guy’s a keyboard player, why not? And so many bands have attempted it. I’m not just tooting my own horn, but I think our version’s up there with some of the better covers. We put a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of extra money into it to make sure it sounded really, really good and get our own little take on it.

Yeah, I think, overall, you’ve done a really good job of staying within the spirit of the original songs but also giving them a little bit of your own twist. I wrote in my review that it doesn’t just feel like a collection of songs you guys like. It really feels like an album from one band. Was that the goal?

DIZZY REED

Yeah. I’ll say the secret weapon to this band is Johnny Kelly, our drummer. He sets the tone and the pace for everything and definitely holds us all together on stage, in the studio and off stage, believe it or not. He’s the adult in the room, for sure. He was the first one to lay his things down, so we sort of played to him, and his particular style of drumming really set the tone and the mood for things. Everything’s a bit heavier and a bit pulled back, and it sort of defines the sound of the band.

I tried to keep the songs true to form but maybe add my own little guitar things to it. Dizzy added his keyboard. If you listen to “Under My Thumb,” there are these keyboard loops going on and stuff and all this electronica-type stuff that obviously wasn’t anywhere near the original version. But it’s still the same song, not totally different. Overall, I’m happy and I’m really surprised at how well it came out, because you never know with these things. I think the pandemic definitely helped, because it gave us an extra year to work on it.

Yeah, that was gonna be one of my questions. What impact did that have on the making of this album?

It delayed it in a couple of ways. One was the factories that manufacture vinyl and CDs were shut down. So that delayed the physical product being released, obviously, for everybody. And you couldn’t tour on it, so there was no point in putting it out and not being able to tour, so we held off on that. And the recording studios out here in Vegas that I was using to work at were closed. So I built a home studio during the pandemic, and we did a lot of back and forth virtual recording. Thankfully, the meat and potatoes, the skeleton of the songs—the bass, the drums and the rhythm guitars—were all done before. So most of the stuff we did virtually was the vocals and the lead guitars and overdubs.

Did you play some shows in the spring? I saw they were scheduled.

Yeah, we did a little run in Texas. They were one of the first states to open up. We decided to be the canary in the coal mine, if you will.

How’d they go?

It went great. I have no complaints. People are ready to have a good time. And since then, Quiet Riot started doing shows. As long as people are cautious and adhere to whatever compliance is in order in whatever state you’re in, it should be alright. It’s nice to get back out there and play again, for sure.

Are there plans for more Hookers & Blow shows soon?

Well, between Guns N’ Roses touring so much—Dizzy’s day job, that other band he’s in—and then me with Quiet Riot. We generally play around the holidays when everything slows down, so I think we’re going to do a couple shows between New Year’s and Christmas, hopefully. Our day jobs dictate what we do outside of that.

When you mentioned Eddie Money’s reaction to the name of the band, it made me think, have you ever had any issues or any hurdles, as far as playing places or anything like that?

Oh yeah, we’ve had a lot, especially recently as things have gotten a little bit more politically correct over the years. Mainly, when it comes down to it, there will be times when we’ll get a call from a promoter and they’ll say, “Hey listen, Coors Light is sponsoring the show and they don’t want their logo on the same poster as yours.” The great thing is we did a bus tour a couple years ago where we had a 45-foot bus with our logo on it. So I’m like, “Yeah, sure. You can tell Coors Light that’ll be fine, but there will be a 45-foot tour bus with lines of cocaine and Hookers & Blow written across. So no problem. You can take our logo off the poster. We’ll live.”

Yeah, we’ve had some pushback, but then again that’s rock ‘n’ roll. Some people have asked us to change the name. You can not put it on the marquee, but we’re still gonna sell shirts, and we’re still gonna call ourselves Hookers & Blow. We are Hookers & Blow, and that’s it. We’re not here to make friends, we’re here to have fun. If you don’t see the humor in it, if you’re that uptight—I mean, come on, it’s a joke.

And you said there are plans to record more music?

Oh yeah. What else are we gonna do? At this point in our lives, we’re all completely unemployable. We’re not gonna do anything else. (laughs) Yeah, definitely. We’re definitely gonna do more.

You mentioned Quiet Riot. What do you have coming up there?

Right now, I’m packing to go to the airport late tonight to fly to Ohio to play a show. We’re touring all summer, and then we’re also working on a new record that should be, I’d imagine, done hopefully by the beginning of next year. We’re taking it slow. We’re just getting everything up and running again, but we have a lot of shows booked and a lot more being booked, and things are great. We’re working on new music, and it includes Frankie’s drum tracks that he had left behind for us. It’s nice to be able to keep the legacy moving forward.

Is there anything else you’d like to say right now?

No, just thanks for everything. For Quiet Riot, check out quietriot.band, and for Hookers & Blow, we’re on Facebook and Instagram. I don’t even think we have a website, to be honest with you. (laughs) We have no website, and our only band photo is a cartoon image of us. So that’s where we’re at (laughs), but it seems to be working.

LINKS:
Buy “Hookers & Blow”
www.facebook.com/HNBMerch
www.instagram.com/hnb_official
www.facebook.com/goldenrobotrecords 
www.quietriot.band
www.alexgrossimusic.com
www.facebook.com/alexgrossi1976
www.twitter.com/alexgrossi
www.instagram.com/alexgrossi1976

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