HOLLYWOOD, California — He has not sold millions of records — yet — but Tony West is still a rock star in the truest sense of the word.
The tall, tattooed singer with chiseled features has the swagger, the looks, the confidence, and most important, the chops. But don’t just take my word for it. One spin of Blacklist Union’s latest and greatest CD, “Back to Momo,” is all it takes. It’s the best release of 2015, a disc that will have your heart reeling and your finger reaching for the replay button.
With NAMM approaching, including a plum gig for Blacklist Union as direct support at the annual Bonzo Bash (biggest show at NAMM) on Friday, Jan. 22 at M3 Club in Anaheim, West (who briefly sang for L.A. Guns) is hoping 2016 will be the breakthrough year for the Los Angeles band that is continually regarded as among America’s best unsigned outfits.
Meantime, West continues to put out CDs independently — each one better than the rest and always brimming with killer hooks and potential hit singles — while keeping the dream alive.
We met for dinner the other night in a Los Angeles restaurant for a talk, as I enthusiastically took notes.
METAL SLUDGE: Hey Tony West, what’s the very latest with you?
WEST: Well, we’re playing NAMM on Friday, Jan. 22 in direct support of Bonzo Bash right down the street from the Hilton. Since the whole Guns N’ Roses thing started back up with the reunion, the action on Blacklist Union — in terms of sales and web-page views and Facebook — dude, it’s 100 times what it had been doing. We had been literally just giving the records away to create a buzz, and it’s finally working.
It’s a great record.
WEST: Yeah, it’s on a lot of “top records of he year” all over the world. It’s still pretty new actually, just six months ago.
You had to take the summer off, and that set everything back a little bit.
WEST: I had gall-bladder surgery. I didn’t like it. Dude, I thought I was dying. It was so bad. I was profusely sweating, my kidneys, I had gall stones. It’s 100 times worse than kidney stones. They had to make an incision.
With some of your past CDs, you were going through a lot of grieving, a lot of deaths I remember. That was when you were most creative, and now, of course, we have Weiland dying and Motorhead (Lemmy) and now David Bowie. Is it drudging up some old feelings?
WEST: Sixx A.M. has a lyric, “nothing like a funeral to make you feel alive.” People die, including heroes that make an impact. Me, my whole life is just rather negative but taking on a positive impact. Scott Weiland, we used to get really fucked-up together, though we weren’t friends like I would go to his house, you know what I mean? (Later), we went to (12-step) meetings, and I knew his story, his two kids, his crazy ex-wives. We had a lot in common, and he had enough influence on me to get me back in the program.
Oh, so you’re sober now?
WEST: I am. For me, it’s just for today. I’m just doing today, but I’m going to stay a while. For me, I feel good about myself when I’m sober. I’m positive — and not in a Charlie Sheen kind of way! I like myself better. I have good business sense and good common sense. But I’m not a preacher. I’m not pushing this on anyone.
Mike Starr, you two guys were really close.
WEST: Mike was a really good friend.
What about Lemmy?
WEST: I wouldn’t say I was close with Lemmy, but we had many infamous interactions. One time, I told him that when I was 15, I saw Motorhead at the Ritz in New York City. I dove off stage, got punched in the face and lost my shoe, which was exactly what happened to me. Lemmy looked at me and deadpanned, “Serves you right for jumping on peoples’ heads.” He had that quick wit that would leave you speechless. I’ve loved Motorhead since I was 14. I’ve seen him for years, and I really respect the man and his influence. His death had an effect on me. I’m doing rock and roll until my last breath — and Lemmy just reinforced that if I had ever doubted myself before.
WEST: That fuckin’ woman should be ashamed of herself. First, she made Scott’s life a living hell, calling CPS and all the other shit she did, then she puts out that shit-ass statement about how the kids had “lost” their father a long time ago. And now, she is suing his estate.
Well, I’m not that up to date on probate law, but he was married again, so I think without a will, the new wife gets everything.
WEST: It’s like people say, when someone days, the vultures really do come out. I’m just saying, if my ex-wives ever say bad shit about me after I’m dead, don’t believe a word of it.
But Tony, what if they say you were great in bed?
WEST: It’s a lie. It’s all a lie!
And David Bowie now, too.
WEST: He was a guy who made me want to play rock and roll. When I was five, my Uncle Jimmy showed me a Bowie poster on the wall, and I asked who was that girl up there? He said that’s no girl, that’s David Bowie.
Well, you’ve been hammering away with Blacklist Union, putting out some good records and playing a lot of live shows through the years, but you still haven’t grasped the brass ring. Do you still have a lot of spirit and ambition?
WEST: You know, I’m a lifer. I have no interest in fame. Dave Navarro, I met him one time at Billy Wirth’s house, Billy from the Lost Boys, and Dave said, “Aren’t you Tony West?” I was like, how the hell do you know that? He was like, “You’re not famous, you’re infamous.” That doesn’t exactly pay the bills, but I don’t have to be famous — I am more interested in making an impact. I was a kid who needed music. A true success, for me, is when a kid emails me and tells me my music saved his life. To me, that’s true success as an artist whether there is money to make or not.
You kind of have a reputation of being moody, of being misunderstood. How much fun to you have?
WEST: I’ve always been a fun guy. I’ve just been through a lot of stuff and had to walk through the darkness. But yeah, I definitely am moody — but I have integrity, and I keep my word. I always hold people accountable, which isn’t too good a thing in Los Angeles because people in L.A. don’t like that.
And who is the very latest on your shit list?
WEST: Oh god, Kevin Wood, Andrew Wood’s brother — and (Kevin’s) wife, too. Andrew Wood was my hero, you know. I ended up singing in Malfunkshun, but when I first came to L.A., all I had was a bag over my shoulder, a Mother Love Bone CD and a dream. Literally, that’s all I had. I learned how to sing by listening to Mother Love Bone. Through a series of circumstances, I met Kevin and became the singer of Malfunkshun, which was Andrew Wood’s first grunge band, pre-Mother Love Bone. In concert, they split between Malfunkshun songs and half Mother Love Bone songs, but Andrew Wood fans know Malfunkshun songs, too, so it was such an honor to sing in that band. I met Andrew Wood’s mother, played side by side with his brother, and my dreams definitely came true. All the people that said I couldn’t sing, that I suck, well most of the Sludge readers who have seen Spinal Tap, they know the No. 1 rule is never let your girl manage the band.
WEST: The brother’s wife, she was total Yoko, yup. A Yoko times 10. With her, they should change the name to “Disfunkshun” because they’re pissing all over the honor and memory of Andrew Wood by the way they run business. The final straw was, they decided we were going to do new songs that the brother and wife had just wrote. I was like, come on, people are showing up to hear Mother Love Bone songs and Malfunkshun, and that’s it. That was where I drew the line. I told ’em I would not do songs that you and the wife wrote. I mean, if it was a good song, then maybe yes. It was like with “Double Fantasy,” you would have a song like “Watching The Wheels,” and then the following song would be a banshee song, and I just couldn’t deal with the unprofessionalism of the wife; I suggested he go back and watch Spinal Tap. I never actually knew Andrew Wood, but I just refused to further capitalize off his name if no integrity was involved.
So you’re doing NAMM. What are your other plans for 2016?
WEST: We want to go to Europe. We want to go on the road and at least break even, doing direct support for a national act. We’d be perfect for GNR, you know? I don’t think a lot of bands could handle that gig, but we can.
Thursday, Jan. 21 through Sunday, Jan. 24
Anaheim Convention Center
The convention itself is closed to the general public, but the evening concerts are not. Here are some of the highlights.
Who’s in your band now?
WEST: We have D.J. Nicholson, who used to play bass in The Mimes in L.A.. He wrote the song “Move to The City” on GNR “Lies,” so I’m really proud to have him in the band. He’s a great guy.
Do you still get mistaken for Tommy Lee?
WEST: Oh yeah. The crowd was all around me at the Motley Crue concert at Staples, asking for my autograph. I was like, “I’m not Tommy Lee,” and everyone was like, “You’re lying.” I was like: “Why would I lie? Look at my tattoos. They say Tony West,” and they were all, “That’s your disguise.” I think I like the way Motley Crue bowed out. Really tactful and really tasteful. I really look up to Nikki Sixx and all those guys. I took my son to the show. He’s nine, and he loved it.
You’re a divorced dad.
WEST: Well, Lemmy said that you’re either married to a woman or married to rock and roll, and I’m married to rock and roll.
WEST: I just think everyone is too PC, too concerned with what other people think, and that’s not art — that’s bullshit. Just like David Bowie, I experimented with everything — sex, drugs and rock and roll. I don’t need everyone to like me.
Oh by the way, did you see the Puddle of Mudd guy got arrested again?
WEST: Yeah, he is gonna die next.
WEST: It’s like Howard Stern, you like him because you never know what he’s going to say next. GNR is the same way. That’s why it’s so interesting. No one in that band has said a fucking word about the comeback. They’re playing it right. I’m sick of pussy PC bands. Fuck that. I’m not afraid to say fuck you.
Gerry Gittelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org