It’s not every day that you come across a band with a genuine, no-nonsense approach to the music they create. But when you’re lucky enough to stumble upon a band like that, it is always a pretty refreshing experience. One such band is Little Caesar, best known for their cover of Aretha Franklin’s Chain of Fools.
Having just returned from a tour of Europe, lead vocalist Ron Young opened up and shared the Little Caesar story. “When we were putting Little Caesar together we were frustrated because we were in Los Angeles and all the bands were very much focused on their physical appearance and looking very glamorous to the point of caricature, and they were very musically based in pop… and sort of soft variations of highly produced metal music. We wanted to be more down-to-earth, more gritty, more blue-collared, more working class and more blues-based. We kind of put the band together out of rebellion from that… and yet, still to this day, we’re classified in LA as being an LA hair metal band [laughs.] It gets frustrating, but so be it. But nowadays, to put a project together is really difficult. On the one hand, the internet allows you to access a lot of great musicians and creative people. But the venues are drying up, the showcasing abilities and trying to build a fan-base and creative following is really dilute. So it’s really difficult. I can imagine it being really frustrating for folks starting out in the music business,” said Young.
When Little Caesar first arrived on the music scene in 1987, the popularity of “hair bands” were at the height of the music industry. Little Caesars’ image railed against all expectations of rock bands at the time and they wore this as a badge of honor. “Musically, we’ve never broken any new ground. Nothing we’ve ever done has been innovative and we’re totally comfortable with that [laughs.] Everything we do is reverence. It’s all reverent for really great and deeply entrenched forms of music, all blues-based/hard-rock based. And it’s allowed us to stay true to the essence of the band. We were kind of dated when we came out in 1987, harking back to late 60’s and early 70’s bands. Throwing in Motown influences and all of that, too,” explained Young. “Of course we looked like tattooed, ax-murdering bikers but we were sort of proud because it was so antithetic to what was happening. We wore it as a badge of honor to really be kind of gritty and really just be honest. All that hair and makeup was not really what those guys looked like when they woke up in the morning. We wanted to be true to that. It’s really allowed us to have the freedom over the years to age and age appropriately because it’s really just throw on a denim vest and build hot rods and keep riding motorcycles and keep playing this kind of gritty organically recorded music, because it never goes out of style. And it’s kind of allowed us a lot of freedom because there’s a lot of bands from the 80’s who I can imagine it being difficult to stay glamorous and stay pretty and have it come across as being sincere and age-appropriate and everything else. They walk a finer line than we have to. We didn’t know that at the time but it’s definitely allowed us more freedom over time,” admitted Young.
Little Caesar’s rough-and-tumble sound has stemmed from some unexpected influences in its’ formative days. “We had such wide and diverse influences… a lot of historically great bands like Led Zeppelin and Bad Company, some great R&B/soul artists like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Muddy Waters and Albert King. Just a really wide, diverse group. Just all the people that I loved listening to and that had such a heavy influence in music,” Young said.
In many reviews of Little Caesar, the band is often categorized as “biker rock,” a unique label that Young says he appreciates and, in some ways, even prefers. “I think ‘biker rock’ is a fine label. It’s better than ‘hair bands’ or ‘pop metal.’ For us, the whole biker label… we got associated and we started to get followed by a lot of motorcycle clubs. To be associated with a bunch of guys who ride together with honor and loyalty and honesty and horsepower and all of those things I totally respect and appreciate… That’s fine by us. We were never feminine, we were never ‘pretty,’ and bikers are never labeled as dishonest or posers [laughs.] So the adjectives and descriptors used around that, I would certainly rather have than some others,” stated Young.
Young says each of the band’s songs start out with one commonality: a love of music. “Usually we sit around and we just talk about our love of music and somebody will just hear something and it will inspire them to write a guitar part. It often starts out with the guitar part and at that point we just start jamming out on the electric guitar to give it that really groove because that’s really the essence of the music we love. Not anything that impresses you, but to move. Then I start writing the melody and lyrics over that and then finally we’ll do an arrangement of that,” explained Young. “It’s always just starts out with that love of music. We’ll be like ‘You know, we should do sort of a country/blues song or a rockabilly flavored song or a rock-based, riff-filled song.’ And we go from there. Like I said, none of it is innovative and that’s fine by us. We’re not trying to be Radiohead or U2. When you describe ‘biker rock,’ you’re not really describing anyone doing anything deep or eclectic [laughs] and that’s not something we ever strived to be.”
Ron Young and the rest of Little Caesar have experienced a lot throughout their near 30 year career. The band has opened for legendary acts, such as Jane’s Addiction, KISS, Social Distortion, Iggy Pop, Billy Idol, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Throughout his years of writing and performing music, Young says that it’s the simple things he has come to appreciate the most. “The most important thing is to enjoy every moment of it. It’s so easy to get caught up in the minutia and just the logistical parts of getting to a show and the best thing that all of us have learned is to be able to then, right as we walk up to the show is to put all of that aside and no matter what the circumstances, to really be in the moment. The magical moment of being in front of a crowd and realize that that one crowd at that one venue on that one night is something that will never happen again. That goes for whether it’s a light turn-out or a heavy turn-out; Whether it’s an excitable crowd or just a crowd that’s into just into absorbing the music. In the early days, you’re so caught up in success and you kind of just let that all go by you. And really the most pleasurable moment for any artist is that sort of momentary magic that happens. We may try to go into the studio and create that, but that’s a completely different process. So the most important moment is with that crowd and just changing the flow of their day– whether they’re staying out late or they’ve hired a sitter… we just like to show thanks for that,” Young explained.
Having just returned from their recent tour of Spain, Young says the band’s next feat will include the release of a live CD and DVD. “The great thing with technology booming the way that it does… during a couple of the shows in Spain, somebody filmed the whole thing on a few different Go-Pro cameras. So we’re gonna look at that and hopefully put out a live DVD because we’ve never done that because the technology back in the 80’s wasn’t available. We’ve got full-single tracks of all our live performances from the shows, so we’ll probably mix those up into a live album… which we’ve also never done. The band’s strength has always been in its live performance. It’s always been difficult for a band like us to capture our energy in the studio and create the energy with a producer in a studio that really represents the band. For us to have the music recorded to where we can actually mix it down and record live album is exciting. Then we’ll get back in and start writing. We’ve had some ideas for a while and our last album came out years ago, so we’re excited to take those songs and use that enthusiasm and translating it into creating inspiring music,” said Young.
Little Caesar has always been about the music, and it would seem that nothing has changed. While they once had one of the most unique looks in ’80s rock, that’s never diminished what this band can do. For that reason, it’s unlikely that Little Caesar will ever be washed away by changing musical trends like so many of their peers. But then again, they never really fit in with the norm to begin with.