Devil City Angels: Album Review and Interview

Remember when rock and roll was fun? A time when bands of electric gypsies would plug in to deliver nothing but a good time in a quest to make you bang your head? I am talking about a time before the plaid-wearing depression era of the 90’s came along, ruined the party made it uncool to smile onstage?

Devil City AngelsWell, Decibel Geeks, on September 18th a new album from a new band (albeit with some familiar faces) was officially released that totally injects some fun back into your speakers! The debut self-titled Devil City Angels album has tattooed a big ol’ smile on the face of this writer.

Wikipedia defines “Supergroup” as a music group whose members are already successful as solo artists or as part of other groups or well known in other musical professions. In that case, Devil City Angels fits the definition pretty much to a T and that T is for Tracii. As in Tracii Guns, you may remember him as the founding member of LA Guns but Tracii is also no stranger to the term supergroup. Previously he could be found lending his six-string prowess to all-star bands like Contraband and Brides of Destruction.  So you take Tracii, add drummer Rikki Rocket from Poison, bassist Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Ozzy, Whitesnake, Dio and more!) and vocalist Brandon Gibbs (The Gibbs Brothers, Cheap Thrill) to the mix and Devil City Angels comes to the plate with some serious all-star pedigree.

So a few weeks back when I was offered the chance to review this album for Decibel Geek, my heavy metal inner child responded with a Hell Yeah! This band was 75% comprised of some of my hard rock heroes. Tracii, Rikki and Rudy have been involved in some of my favourite albums and I have been lucky enough to have seen all of them live in various bands over the years. Lastly, we have Mr. Brandon Gibbs, for me he was the unknown commodity in the band, but I figured if he can hang with the aforementioned company than I wanted to hear this album.

To set the stage, it was a rainy afternoon when I decided to first spin this anticipated new record and I was at home looking after my then 9-week old puppy. I pressed play and it was on! The first three songs on this album “Numb”, “All My People” and “Boneyard” (the first single and video release) hit me like a freight train. This was fun guitar driven, melodic rock with great vocals and a groove so deep you could fall in it! Halfway through “Boneyard” I found myself jumping around my living room as my puppy went nuts probably wondering if I had gone crazy. For those concerned no animals were harmed in the review of this album.

With the introduction out of the way, the rollercoaster ride of this album was just getting started. “I’m Living” starts off with a scratchy blues guitar riff leading into another arena rock song that would have been right at home on any Poison album. Closing off the first half is my current favourite track, “No Angels”. Blues rock with a Black Crowes kind of feel, this mid-tempo rocker could be a huge radio hit. I love the line “Hell is empty, all the Devils are here…”, man this song has great hooks.

devil city angels 8Opening side two of the album (side 2? You’re old!) is the requisite power ballad. “Goodbye Forever” holds its own with the best of them. Rich melodies and heartfelt lyrics, possibly one of the best ballads I have heard since Def Leppard’s “Two Steps Behind”.   The rock kicks back into high gear with “Take a Ride with Me” another rocker seeded in the blues. Conjures up images of the open road.

The big surprise of the album is “All I Need”. Like a curveball, at first it sounds almost out of place alongside the heavier rock songs on the album. That said, it’s a fun song with lush melodies and an almost pop feel to it. You might not bang your head to it, but it might just be one of the strongest songs on the record.

Back to the rock with an amazing cover of Suzi Quatro’s, “Back to the Drive”. When the song started it felt familiar but it took me a few minutes of head-scratching to realize just where I heard this dirty little rocker. In case you are unaware be sure to check out Suzi Quatro also known to us older listeners as “Leather Tuscadero” from TV’s Happy Days.

Rikki pounds the intro to the last track “Bad Decision” and it kicks into a full throttle kick ass rock assault. “Devil City’s coming alive. We’re gonna roll you over!”  Closing the album with as much intensity as it began, the debut Devil City Angels album is an album that deserves to be heard. I should know it’s all I have been spinning for weeks now!

Here’s the thing, this is one of the best and definitely the most fun rock record I have heard in years. Now if we could just get mainstream radio to take a moment and kindly pull its head out of its incredibly stale ass, maybe the Devil City Angels could get the serious airplay that this album deserves. In the meantime, I will scream it loud and proud. “GO BUY THIS RECORD!” Turn it up and we will all go back to the drive!

devil city angels 5The plan was to have this review up and ready before the release date on Sept 18th.  Then I got so excited, I decided to reach out and see if we could make this more than just a review. So “ladies and gentlemen, Decibel Geeks of all ages”, I bring to you my interview with Devil City Angels frontman Brandon Gibbs!

“Hey Brandon, Tracii Guns, you and me. That’s all I got right now” – Rikki Rocket

DBG: Hey Brandon, thanks for taking the time to speak with the Decibel Geek Podcast. I want to start by saying how much I am enjoying the new album. It’s probably my favourite release of 2015 thus far.

Brandon:  Ohh dude thank you!

DBG: Growing up a teen throughout the 80’s, I am a huge fan of LA Guns, Poison, Cinderella and just about everything that Rudy Sarzo has played on. So I am very familiar with your fellow bandmates but prior to the Devil City Angels, I had really never heard your name. That, of course, has changed and it’s about to change for some of our readers I am sure.

Brandon: Right on.

DBG: From what I have read it seems you were bitten by the music bug at a pretty early age. Can you take us back to the beginning and also tell us about your first guitar?

Brandon: Well sure. I started music when I was 8, my Dad for Christmas bought my brother and I a set of drums and he bought me actually a bass guitar because he played bass and figured that would make sense. He also played drums so he figured he could teach us both how to play. Instantly I knew that bass isn’t where I needed to be, so I told asked my Dad if I could trade it for what I really wanted to do and that was play guitar.

Actually, believe it or not, what I really wanted to do was become a professional chess player. I was actually in tournaments doing well. It’s funny but that was a big goal of mine and I was focusing all my energy into it because it came so naturally to me.

devil city angels 7So anyways, I got my guitar. My Dad traded the bass for an off-white Fender Mexican Strat, wow I played that until my fingers bled. I guess I was 9 when I got the six-string and a friend of mine who was a little bit older than me, he gave me a mix tape and it had BB King and the Allman Brothers. I just totally fell in love with BB King, it was great, the phrasing. That started to come very natural to me, I started incorporating BB’s riffs into the music I was playing and it all felt very natural to me. I listened to BB constantly and then one night I was at my Grandma’s place and we were watching Austin City Limits and there was a Stevie Ray Vaughan re-run and I went nuts. I was like, that’s a rock star blues guitar player if I have ever heard one. I was like, I have to know everything about this guy and I became obsessed with Stevie Ray. That was the pivotal thing that changed my playing, I went from being “oh yeah that kid can play” to extremely aggressive. So the Stevie Ray thing was just nuts.

Well then my brother and I started picking up traction, the Gibbs Brothers was my first band and we decided at around 13 or 14 that we were going to take it serious. We kind of had a lucky break, we decided to put a show on. We used our own money and we rented this movie theatre that had a stage there and we played a blues rock show. It just so happened that a promoter was driving through the area in noticed all the cars outside and decided “I have heard of these twins, I am going to check it out.”

So he enjoyed the show, I am guessing he probably found it cute more than anything.  Anyways, about two weeks later I am outside on the trampoline and my mom peeks her head out the door saying there is a promoter on the phone. To which my response was “What’s a promoter?” (lol) She laughed and proceeds to tell me that he wants to put us on a bill with Peter Frampton. I am like YES! I am in, please say yes and then I said “who’s Peter Frampton?” (lol). She again laughed at me and sure enough we were onstage in front of 15 000 people and that was how things really got started for us.

DBG: From there the Gibbs Brothers band spent years touring in support of REO Speedwagon, Poison, Foreigner, Kansas, Cinderella and many others but one name I would like to ask you about. You got to open for a personal favourite of mine, Jeff Healey, what was that like?

devil city angels 4Brandon: Well my favourite moment ever, now that show took place in Sarasota Florida. The funny thing about it, I had sent an email to a promoter that I had found accidentally. At the time, we were having a rough time getting people to take us seriously because we were a new band and we didn’t want it to stay in our area. So you have to try and sell yourself and I sent this email out one night and it said “you don’t know me, I am in this band and we have opened for several really great bands and I would really like to be a part of your festival. Jeff Healey is one of my favourite guitar players, please consider it”

She decided that the email she got was cute. Here we have 17-year-old twins that play the blues, I am booking them. So the next day I get a call and she informs me that she has added us to the bill. Now the problem was we were going to have to go halfway across the country to the coast and I am like I don’t know if we can do this. I talked to my parents and they were like I don’t know, that’s not going to be an easy thing right now.

Fortunately, my grandpa called me and told me to email the promoter back and them you would be happy to do it. I am going to turn this into a family vacation and you are going to open up for Jeff Healey! I mean those are the things he would do if he thought we were missing an opportunity and that’s why he is tattooed on my knuckles.

It was so cool, I got to meet Jeff before the show and gave him a big hug. Told him I would I would be watching tonight and he was super cool. So we do the show and then he tears it apart! I mean it was a fantastic show and then that night the promoter comes to me and tells me there is a blues jam at this place called the Classic Wax. She goes on to say that “you’re not even old enough to be there but I think if we just don’t say anything we can get you in and you can be a part of the blues jam.” So my parents went with us and the place was just loaded with people in this smoky little bar. So they call up the Gibbs Brothers and we get up and play. Well during the second song I see Jeff Healey escorted into the bar literally 2 feet from me and he listened to our set. I watched him whisper something into his guitar player’s ear and right after we were done the guitar player comes over to me and says “Jeff Healey wants to play and would like to use your guitar.” I am like “you’re kidding me?” and he asks if I would be Jeff’s “guitar tech for the night?” I am like “wow, there is a god!” So there is a photo of me handing Jeff my 1998 Fender American Strat and he got up and just tore it up on this small stage. Then when he was done he hands be back the guitar and said “thank you so much man, god bless you.” I was like a kid in candy store. I must have smiled the whole 24 hours home.

DBG: Great story! So let’s get back to the Devil City Angels. How did you end up here?

devil city angels 6Brandon: Well the Gibbs Brothers played shows for a very long time as blues band. Well, the same promoter that was putting us on these shows with Thorogood and the Doobie Brothers and shows like that called us about a show opening for Poison on the Hollyweird Tour. So after we did that show I became great friends with Rikki Rocket, I must have been about 16 at the time and we would talk on the phone from time to time. At around this time my brother and I started writing songs and transforming away from the “blues” moniker into a more rock sound. Once we did that, I took my style and put that into the new songs with Rikki producing. So we hit it as a rock band but never really got enough traction. So by 2010, my brother decided to change direction and got into law enforcement because the struggle just got harder and harder and we decided to disband.

To this day, he is my writing partner and he has songs on the Devil City record but I went to Nashville and started my solo career. I released an EP that I wrote on my own and the 2nd song was picked up by ESPN and I decided “alright, I am back in the game.” So I toured in a band called Cheap Thrill for a very long time with my friends from Cinderella and went all over the world doing that. So after a number of cruises and a European tour I decided I wanted something more of my own, with my own songs. I told the guys that I was done with that project and I literally got this sinking feeling because I had been living on the road for a long time.

So literally 5 minutes later I get a text from Rikki Rocket who I hadn’t talked to in a good year and he goes “hey Brandon, listen you, me, Tracii Guns.  That’s all I got for you right now.” I am like Ok, so Tracii and I talked and I flew out to LA. Eric Brittingham joined us for a while and now Rudy Sarzo has stepped in. That also led into the whole Poison thing which is also really great to be working with 2 great bands that I love and get to contribute to. It’s like a big brotherhood.

DBG: You’re referring to the “Special Guests” which I thought was hilarious. Is that name going to stick?

Brandon: Well I can tell you that, that name is probably going to change. What we did was to get together and crash festivals. That was kind of our niche. Being billed as the “Special Guests” kind of added some mystery so people would be like “who the hell is here? The Special Guests? Shit, I just saw CC Deville he isn’t on the bill?” So it was fun and when promoters would call it was like yeah we are the Special Guests.

DBG: So being the young guy in DCA, has there been any hazing that you would like to admit to?

Devil City Angels 9Brandon: Ahhhh, not really. I had already worked with Eric for like 8 years prior and had a long relationship with Rikki so you know we would play jokes on each other. It was funny though we had, and we’re not sure how but we had a bottle of Jack Daniels on our tour rider and none of us drink it. So every night the tour manager would bring up all the leftovers onto the bus and that would always make it and soon we had all these bottles of jack stored up. So we started taking selfies of us looking like we are just slamming this shit. We had Rikki upside down, Tracii had me in a headlock forcing me to drink it, I would do the same with Rikki. We were brutal about and it looked like we were Guns and Roses back in the day. So then my Grandma (lol), she’s not a facebook person but tells her granddaughter “I would like to see what’s going on with Brandon on tour” So all she sees all these pictures of me looking wasted drinking Jack Daniels and she says to me, “I am so proud of you, I’ve seen pictures from the shows and the videos but Brandon, do you have a problem?”  (LOL)

DBG: Now almost immediately after becoming a band you guys hit the road playing many songs from each bandmates respective catalogues. So what is your favourite Poison, LA Guns, Cinderella and now add Rudy’s (entire career) song to play live?

Brandon: Well the Rudy thing just happened so we haven’t yet played a note of music together. We have done a music video together, he stepped in right before that so I am looking forward to seeing what they are going to suggest. On the tour, I always enjoyed playing Never Enough from Tracii and Nothing But a Good Time, when people think the show is over and you strike into that it’s awesome. Cinderella songs, I love doing Somebody Save Me, on the Devil City tour we focused on Nobody’s Fool a little more. That was always cool to sing because the crowd would sing the chorus with me.

devil city angels 2I think this next tour, though, we are going to let the record get out and marinate a bit and let the people decide on their favourite songs. There are some Gibbs Brothers tunes that we redid as a starting point to the DCA record. So I really enjoy those ones, so the next run we will probably cut down on the number of the older songs to focus more on what we have created. Of course, it will still be great to surprise everyone and give them a taste of the past but we are so proud of the record and how it came out.

DBG: I am very glad to hear that it is very much a band. My fear was that this would be one of the many “projects” that seem to come and go in today’s music industry.

Brandon: Yeah, it’s very easy to get that scenario where we could just go and play 4 or 5 songs from each of our catalogues and you could do it and make a living at it. Our first meeting was like “let’s become a band and go create a record.” So we now have product behind the Devil City Angels name and I am excited.

DBG: I also have to ask, whose idea was the Suzi Quatro cover? I heard it and knew it was familiar but it took me a while and it took me on a re-exploration of Suzi’s career. Great choice, and a killer version from DCA.

devil city angels 3Brandon: That was actually my idea, the Gibbs Brothers actually did a version of that song. We were just kind of jamming around one day and we kind of having some writer’s block. So I said check this one out and I had this kind of greasy remake of that. So I am playing it and Tracii was outside having a smoke and he pokes his head in and goes “Brandon, What song is that?” and I told him you probably won’t believe it but it’s a Suzi Quatro song. That’s it we’re recording that one and it was just an instant, everyone was like yeah!

DBG: Well Brandon, last question before I go and it’s really just a selfish, personal question. When is this band coming to Toronto because I need to hear these songs live?!

Brandon: I hope so soon, I have the Devil City, we have the ”Special Guests” and I also have my own solo stuff that’s coming together so there is no way that Toronto is going to get skipped next year. In one format or another there will be some music coming to Toronto for sure!

Wallygator Norton

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