Who would have guessed that after Roxx Gang released their well received debut album Things You’ve Never Done Before back in 1989 that the main brain behind the group Kevin Steele would have evolved and taken a new line-up in to the sound of The Mojo Gurus. He is a sensitive soul who has been in the business for several decades watching trends come and go, yet he sticks to the true essence of rock n’roll and has many thoughts on the subject.
The Roxx Gang debut album hinted at all manner of glitzy carnage yet the direction that pulled at Steele’s heart strings the most was more of a primitive collision; somewhere between 70’s glam rock territory, the song-writing talents of Ian Hunter and the charms of bands located in the deep South. So unsurprisingly when Roxx Gang unveiled their Mojo Gurus album in 1998 which showed versatility, some rock n’ roll roots and was swimming in Steele’s raw influences, it did split the band’s fan-base who seemed somewhat confused.
Instead of dwelling on the past too much right now, Steele was understandably keen to discuss the brand new album Who Asked Ya? “It took about three months and it went great because we produced it ourselves. I don’t like working with producers, they just seem to get in the way of interpreting our songs. Nobody knows our music better than we do.” Despite some contained outbursts of chuckles between his words, there was a sense that reasons lay beneath what he was sharing.
“I worked with Jack Douglas on Shakin’ in the Barn and the guy’s brilliant. Jack Douglas has produced some of the, in my opinion, some of the greatest rock n’roll albums ever made. He’s worked with the New York Dolls, he’s worked with Cheap Trick, and he’s worked with Aerosmith; he worked with frickin’ John Lennon you know, but we didn’t see eye to eye.” After an intake of air, the jovial lead vocalist goes on to explain further. “I don’t know if it was the age gap or what, I don’t know, I’ve never been so excited going into a project and so disappointed coming out.”
With thoughts of his discontent on that specific example, was Steele satisfied regarding the finished product of Who Asked Ya? “As an ‘artist’ I’m never satisfied completely with our work. I always listen to it back and there’s always something that bugs me, but yes, for the most part I’m extremely happy.” When pushed to elaborate on what this means, the front-man responds with “I mean you know, you just always – wish I would’ve done that, it’s all that second guessing, and hindsight and you wish you could’ve played that differently, or I could’ve sung that differently, you don’t want to get too caught up in that you know?”
To summarize this line of thinking, the main song-writer and rock n’roller explains “I’m open to new experiences all the time. If I could find the right collaborator and I thought I was working with someone who really understood us and was bringing something to the party, then I’m open to it. But so far it’s worked out best when we take control.”
The line-up for this quartet of rock n’roll rascals consists of Steele on lead vocals and harmonica, guitarist and vocalist Doc Lovett, Vinnie Granese on bass and vocals with Sean Doyle taking up the position on the drummer’s seat and also adding vocals. “Vinnie was with me in the final days of Roxx Gang, I think he’s been with me since the Mojo Gurus album. He came in when Roxx Gang was really becoming The Mojo Gurus – he’s like my brother in the band – my brother from another mother. So we go back the longest, me and Vinnie.”
The creative soul of The Mojo Gurus continues filling in the background of the line-up of the band. “He knew Doc. He and Doc had played in a band called The Blues Punks. When I was looking for a guitar player, Vinnie suggested Doc. Doc came in and Doc’s idol was Keith Richards so we hit it off instantly. Doc and I have the same album collection so we were drawing our references from the exact same library. Then Sean, well he’s a good ol’ Irish boy – loves his Guinness! You can see that by his waistline.” At this point, Steele lets out a hearty laugh.
When the topic of influences is brought up in conversation, the man who tenderly sings the Roxx Gang track Red Rose has plenty to share. “The Black Crowes are a band I enjoy listening to – I wouldn’t say they’re an influence. They are a band I enjoy listening to personally, and I mean I think a part of that is the fact that I’m American. As much as I like some of those bands, there’s no getting around the fact I’m American. I see parallels between early Mott The Hoople and a band like Lynyrd Skynyrd. There’s a big difference, one is European and one is from the American South. I personally see some parallels there. Ian Hunter is a huge influence on me, I love Ian Hunter. I’ve heard a few songs and I can only strive to match Ian Hunter’s wit.”
Observing the band is proud of their immediate environment of Tampa Bay, Florida, did that have any relevance to the sound of The Mojo Gurus? “Lynyrd Skynyrd is from Jacksonville, Florida. I’m originally from Cleveland, Ohio which for some reason even though Midwest was a huge stronghold for like a lot of bands that like when Bowie came over, and when Mott The Hoople came over, for some reason they always did well in Cleveland – hence the song Cleveland Rocks.”
Steele continues his momentum regarding the area and influences. “That’s when I got into glam rock and everything. Then I moved to Florida. There were alligators and people went hog hunting and I saw alligators where there was nothing between me and the alligators! Cultural shock for me right?!” He laughs before composing himself. “I think Gregg Allman once said he didn’t like the term ‘Southern rock’, he felt it was redundant because rock n’roll was born in the South. Little Richard, well all the Delta Blues guys really were the base; you take the hillbilly music and the blues music that spawned rock n’roll most of its from the South.”
Sounding passionate about the subject of the origins of Southern rock and rock n’roll, Steele gets animated as he explains his thoughts. “You know, the Rolling Stones, when they’re at their best and playing their honky-tonk, you’ve got Bobby Keys blasting away on the saxophone and you have Ian Stewart playing honky-tonk piano, they’re trying to sound like American Southern guys!”
Changing the subject back to the new album Who Asked Ya? and more specifically identifying one of the many highlights contained within the 13 tracks, No Damn Good felt like it had a back-story. “For the most part I do have a very clear vision of where I want to take my songs, for the most part from their inception. I come up with my lyrics and melody almost simultaneously and I take it into the band, I can play about three chords on the guitar and whatever I can’t play I actually sing to them. My band members all learned how to play by ear, I don’t think a single one of them can read music. So I just sing to them what I want them to play.”
Setting the scene, he continues to explain the story about No Damn Good. “No Damn Good started as a way more up tempo kind of country rocker. I said – you know what, I personally feel like this is a really good song and people aren’t giving it the proper respect, in my opinion, just because it’s a rock n’roll song. ‘Oh, it’s another rocker from Steele!’ To me one of the marks of a truly good song is when you can give it more than one treatment. If I can take a song and play it as a rocker and then slow it down then you know you’ve got something.”
If you’re a person who appreciates some good time rock n’roll and some Southern influences, you need to pick up a copy of an album by The Mojo Gurus. They are fully aware of the state of rock n’roll on a global scale and it’s a subject that casts an ominous cloud above Steele’s head. Why do you think they wrote and recorded a song called The Last Rock’n’Roll Show? It might not sound like the Roxx Gang you recall when you were smitten with tracks like Scratch My Back and No Easy Way Out, but you can’t be mad with a creative soul following his heart and his gut. By doing just that, Steele is being true to himself and therefore letting his integrity and the band’s honest appraisal shine brightly.
It isn’t necessarily about asking where you hidin’ your love? It is more about letting out your inner bandito and having a party to all that is genuine about the spirit of rock n’ roll. Time to get those shades out, the flared jeans and a hat that will make others smile. Most importantly it is a time not to care what others think and to let loose. If anyone has a problem with it, then just say “Who asked ya?”