The recorded history of anything is always an interesting journey as you discover the origins of how events develop and evolve; “ah ha” moments. Though we all pretty much know who Hank Williams, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Chuck Berry and Dick Clarke are (among the many not listed), where do they fit; what really was their role? Were they just a bunch of entertainers or were they teachers? Lead vocalist and bassist, John Payne (Asia), believes they’re teachers alright; schooling us in the signs o’ the times. And he brought that lesson to a live stage on November 29, 2012, when Raiding The Rock Vault, “The Greatest Set List Ever” previewed for a packed house of industry professionals. And we’re the hardest to please, because we have a “license” if you will, to voice our opinions on a bigger scale to a broad audience; and that doesn’t guarantee we’re going to say anything good.
“You know it’s so funny,” laughs Payne, “it wasn’t going to be a press night at all because it was just our kind of first reveal of the show. We just didn’t know how it was exactly going to come out. And it was actually our first run through because it was such a complex show to put together with having a narrator, having a DJ, having actors, having dancers, having all these complicated timing visuals. And normally I would like to have run it at least 20 times before the public. But I think God was with us last night because it was so cool I had goose bumps myself playing. In my whole career I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed myself so much. The whole original idea of this was to have it filmed so as we could put together our promotion and sizzle reel to book all the shows from February onward. That was the main thing. And we weren’t even going to have a show because we’d been in the Mayan since Monday. So we had Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. The whole of Monday and half of Tuesday was setting up all the extra lights. The set cost a fortune and it took ages to set up. I am so glad — it was just like, for me this started as one of those things in a bar one night on a piece of paper. It totally started that way. And I actually sneaked into the audience for the intro because all the guys in those chemical suits were band members. But luckily it was alright, so I wrote myself out of that bit [laughs]. And I saw the start of it and the visuals of the spaceship coming to earth and the explosion in the narrative. And I started crying because it’s been a labor of love for two years.”
When Payne explained about writing his idea on a napkin in a bar it wasn’t a surprise to hear, as most creative types get ideas at any given moment, and if you don’t write it down, you may never get it back; toilet paper is tricky but it works. “The whole thing started as just a rock show,” explains Payne. “We were just gonna do a rock show with great classic rock songs, the greatest set list, with a really good band of great singers. And I’d got to starting that and went to see a lot of people at Live Nation and AG, and they loved the idea but they wanted more. They said, ‘This is great, but we’ve already got Steel Panther doing a show, there’s Camp Freddy, there’s always collectors of voices of classic rockers.’ And I went away from those meetings slightly disappointed thinking, ‘Well what can I do?’ And they talked about reality shows, and I didn’t want to do a TV reality show around it. And then one day it just came to me like, ‘I know what I want to do. I want to do a semi-theatrical show that would be the history of classic rock music from 1950 to 1990. And this thing that started rock and roll.’ And it then turned into this is a story of a lot of our lives. This is a story of the culture of America was around music with racism, with political things like war, with fashion, and it’s all tied in. And I started writing a script. And I got a finished script, but I knew it wasn’t quite there yet, and I’d been working with David Kirshenbaum. I started working with him in the studio over the last three years. And I’ve always been an admirer of his work. David’s one of these incredible entrepreneurs in the music industry. He’s been a record producer producing people like Bryan Adams, Tracy Chapman — he did that huge album — Duran Duran. It’s countless, his credits. Then he got involved in Morgan Creek and he got involved with Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. So he’s been on film and music and he’s had high executive positions with various record companies. And one of the executive producers, Paul Aiten said, ‘I think you and David should work on this together.’ And I respected this man so much I knew that he would have a wonderful input. And we had worked so hard on this and I’m so proud to have him as my partner as writer and creative director of this show. He’s great.”
When it came time to bring in the musicians Payne would tour with, he had a plethora of choices, as other artists wanted to be a part of this production. Being a musician playing classic rock 20-plus years afforded him the opportunity to tour with other classic bands and meeting a lot of people. “For someone like myself and being in Los Angeles it’s such a small community of people we all kind of know each other,” explains Payne. “And picking the musicians basically I had a short list of musicians and almost everybody I wanted I got. And I sent everybody a script. I wanted Howard Leese because to me he epitomizes the classic rock guitarist. Great songwriter. A great great classic rock player from 27 years in Heart, Bad Company and the Paul Rodgers Band. There’s a solid real epitome of the classic rock guitarist. I wanted him and I thought there’s no way I can afford him. And I sent him the script and he goes, ‘John I want to do this.’ He took it so seriously he grew his hair. He grew sideburns for Part 1 and shaved them off for Part 2. That’s unbelievable dedication of someone of his stature.
“Then I wanted somebody that basically was the real guy that lived — what Rock of Ages was doing. The real Sunset Strip guy. And Tracii Guns was before all those guys. He started Guns n’ Roses. He really was the real deal. And he is the whole antithesis of Howard — the younger guy that came in with the wilder guitar. There’s a great balance between the two of them. Jay Schellen’s been my drummer in Asia and Asia Featuring John Payne for several years. And I knew he would kill the gig. It would be wrong of me to get more people from my Asia band so I chose Jay. Michael T. Ross I’d heard of and a lot of people recommended him. And the guy plays and looks great for the part. Then it came to the singers. And as a kid growing up one of my biggest influences was Rainbow and Deep Purple. And to be onstage singing next to Joe Lynn Turner was amazing for me. Joe and I have been friends for quite a while now and a really great guy a really great singer. Same with Paul Shortino from Quiet Riot and Rough Cutt. And then my really good friend Robin McAuley who’s been in Survivor and the Michael Schenker Group. He did a great job doing the Freddie Mercury We Are the Champions last night. Brave of him putting the jacket on with no shirt underneath and jumping out. And then I thought it was cool that we went through this particular Los Angeles radio and having our DJ Richard who’s also the narrator going through and telling stories from 1948 till 1980. And then what was really wonderful was to — at great expense — to have the intermission and build a completely new set for the 80s. Paul Dexter our production director was involved with a lot of the visuals in the set. We also had Paul Lucas who was the art director.”
Raiding the Rock Vault starts touring in spring, so Payne and his crew are using this time to fine tune the show and promises this will be a few hours of fun that you can bang your head to, learn something new you may not have known about the influences that rock your world, and music and won’t lose the knowledge you gained. Ah-ah moments are cool.