1989! I was a wordly 15 years old and just beginning to really discover rock music. A friend and I went to see the movie Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure…..a whopping seven times in the theater! That film became like a mantra for the two of us. We passed each other in the halls at school and often mimicked some quick air guitar moves, exclaiming “excellent” just as the Bill & Ted characters did throughout the movie. When we had saved up enough paper route earnings or allowance money, the cassette version of the original soundtrack became our very own. That cassette was played daily through our big yellow Sony walkmans, home stereos, basically where ever it could be. It featured and introduced us to bands like Extreme, who would, of course, go on to huge success a couple of years later based on the ballad, “More Than Words”, but it also provided our hungry young ears an aural introduction into some awesome lesser known bands like Tora Tora and Shark Island. Shark Island was the only band to have two song inclusions on the Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure Soundtrack, “Dangerous” and “Father Time”, the latter being a favorite for us.
In 1989, Shark Island released their Law of the Order album, although it would be some years later before I myself would hear it. It was a feeling that must be akin to uncovering that dinosaur skeleton for the archeologist who has just discovered a new species. A fantastic piece of late 80’s melodic hard rock, dare I say hair metal even, that I feel was severely overlooked by the record buying public. While a popular staple on L.A.’s Sunset Strip, Shark Island never got their due, I’m sure in part a casualty of the hammer of grunge that was to smash down two years later. Original members, Richard Black (vocals), Spenser Sercombe (guitars), Christian Heilmann (bass) reunited and brought drummer Glen Sobel into the fold to record 2006’s Gathering of the Faithful.
Law of the Order remains a favorite for me, comfortable like an old friend and always comes out nice. Lead off track, “Paris Calling”, was also the single and music video and is near five minutes of pure melodic rock heaven. “Paris Calling”, together with the next two tracks, “Shake for Me” and “Somebody’s Falling”, are all basically perfect melodic metal compositions and should have flooded radio and driven this band into the lofty heights of stardom. “Bad for Each Other” is a little more ballady and was also recorded by Contraband in 1991. Contraband was a short-lived supergroup that consisted of Tracii Guns (L.A. Guns), Bobby Blotzer (Ratt), Michael Schenker (MSG), Share Pedersen (Vixen) and Richard Black (Shark Island). “Passion to Ashes” picks up the pace once again and “Spellbound” keeps it going, both loaded with the catchy guitar hooks and fantastic melodies found throughout this album. “Get Some Strange” probably bests “Paris Calling” and it’s cronies from the early part of the album for the choice cut of the collection. The spoken word section during the breakdown of “Get Some Strange”, obviously a guy talking to his girlfriend is classic 80’s, reminding me of Twisted Sister‘s “Love is for Suckers”. Some albums tend to lose momentum throughout, but not Law of the Order with its the sing-along choruses electrified by Black‘s gritty and versatile vocal ranges. “Why Should I Beleive” is a tender ballad that is even able to keep a non-ballad fan like me interested throughout and doesn’t diminish my listening enjoyment. From there Law of the Order ramps up for a big finish with “Ready or Not”, another high energy, uptempo rocker followed by Shark Island‘s rockin’ cover of Fleetwood Mac‘s “The Chain”.
French record label, Bad Reputation re-issued Law of the Order in 2004 as a double disc paired with the July 14, 1989, Bastille Day – Alive At The Whiskey EP and also including the Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure songs along with “My City” that was done for the Keanu Reeves film Point Break.
For a little insight into the impact that Shark Island and Richard Black had on the Sunset Strip in the early to mid 80’s, I have included an interesting section of an interview with Andrew McNeice from melodicrock.com and Richard Black at the bottom of this blog.
From an interview on melodicrock.com with Richard Black and Andrew McNeice (full interview: Finally time to Gather the Faithful)
I’m not sure if you want to comment on this – but I hope you do – but it is well known that several other artists mirrored their look and their stage antics on yours. I already mentioned what a huge reputation the band had as a live act, but the big draw card was your charismatic performance as frontman. It seems to be a well-known fact among followers of the scene at the time that Guns N Roses frontman Axl Rose would come and see you guys perform every week and ‘borrowed’ a lot of your moves – from your moves to even your stage rap and song delivery. There are other examples, but Axl seems to be the best known. Is this correct and what impact did it have upon you to see other bands getting famous off something which you more or less perfected?
You know I have always tried to avoid this topic because I never wanted to sound like a sniveling bitter victim, and I largely kept my mouth shut. But every so often however, the topic continues to rear its ugly head. But then again avoiding the subject never did any good. Let me tell you a story; in the early days I was influenced by the pioneers of this music, but I was getting it together. I soon learned if I continued to copy them, people wouldn’t take me seriously. I evolved and became my unique self. I have never systematically copied a single artist except jokingly or on Halloween.
What happened in my instance however, was quite a different story.
I was being copied all right…sometimes by down right impersonators, it was creepy.
I could see their point, they figured it was working for us, so why not them.
Regardless of how you felt about the band it was hard to ignore us. I suppose wearing nothing but an American flag or a paper jumpsuit with duct tape hasn’t caught on yet, but was pretty original…a little too ahead of its time I guess.
I would wear pajamas on stage just for fun…soon there after I’d see some our friends and followers wearing pajamas.
I use to have these bike shorts that I decided to wear onstage, then it seemed bike shorts were the rage in L.A. I don’t think it was a coincidence.
What I’m talking about is copying someone’ essence. When art is involved, that is not cool; it’s a form of plagiarism.
And I give a horse’ ass about ‘imitation is the best form of flattery’. I don’t need to be flattered.
Many Popular bands and personalities came to see Shark Island, that’s a fact, and many took elements home with them for their stage show or album covers, or wardrobe…oh well, I’m flattered…nothing that could have altered the path of my career.
But that good-for-nothing Axl Rose, he’ really a piece of work for the dregs.
As far as I’m concerned he’s never done anything original in his life. Him and his cronies would come every week and watch the show.
One day before GnR’s debut, I went to his place…as I walked in I saw a video of me playing on his TV and on top was a stack of VHS tapes all labeled Shark Island with dates and times. I remember being mortified, it was obvious he was studying my shtick, and I knew there was nothing I could do, being their album was about to be released, and he’d cap on the press get the credit.
My many years of developing, and refining my craft and years of modern dance were up for grabs by this fool and a video camcorder.
I remember some people telling me about him acting like me, but I never worried much on a count that we were all in the same boat.
Then came Welcome To The Jungle, I though I was looking in the mirror, or the videos on Axl’s TV.
You said ‘borrowed’ earlier well that implies a payback. What burns me up even more is in his heyday he never so much as mentioned Shark Island or Richard Black in all his press. Which, by the way, could have helped us at no cost to him; he never even threw us a bone.
Now, truth be told, I couldn’t possibly care less. That’s all old crap and it does me no good now, besides, I am nothing like I was back then, and I’d look like a fool to try.