Guitarist GREG LEON has established quite a career, one could only dream about. He played in DOKKEN, long before George Lynch came into the picture. He replaced Randy Rhoads, when he left to join OZZY OSBOURNE, and he worked together with Delores Rhoads. And if this ain’t enough, the most recent album “Unfinished Business” of THE GREG LEON INVASION is really a must, if you are into some hot guitarwork. This and so much more were the perfect topics to take a deep dive into one of the most impressive careers in rock history. I welcome you to the world of GREG LEON.
When did you start your musical career?
Greg Leon: “I started performing in junior high school at talent shows and after school dances and house parties on the weekends in Glendale, California.”
What was the very first band you played in?
Greg Leon: “The first band I had where I played guitar everybody just called it THE GREG LEON BAND. I don’t think we ever came up with another name, because everybody knew us by that name.”
When was that?
Greg Leon: “That was in junior high and high school and college.”
Which other instruments do you play besides the guitar?
Greg Leon: “I also play the bass guitar and the drums (I started out on the drums and still play all the time). I also play piano.”
Who can we see as your biggest influences?
Greg Leon: “I think, my biggest influences are JIMI HENDRIX, RITCHIE BLACKMORE, FRANK MARINO and ROBIN TROWER.”
Let’s have a look at your impressive career, if we may. Who was in SUITE 19, and did you record anything with this band?
Greg Leon: “The original SUITE 19 had Don Peterson on bass and Gary Holland on drums and back up vocals. Then Tommy Lee replaced Gary for about a year and a half. We did record some demos, but I have no idea what happened to them. I've looked everywhere for these tapes!”
How would you describe the music that you played with SUITE 19?
Greg Leon: “The music we played was like HENDRIX meets RAINBOW meets VAN HALEN meets AXIS RICK DERRINGER meets JOHNNY WINTER.”
Where did the name SUITE 19 actually come from?
Greg Leon: “We came up with the name, because we were all 19 years old. We were sweet, but there was already a band called THE SWEET, so we changed the spelling to SUITE 19. It looked good in print and we all didn’t hate the name.”
How did you get in touch with Tommy Lee back then, and what do you think of him now as a drummer?
Greg Leon: “Tommy Lee was following my band around and after every show he would come up to me and ask me to get rid of Gary Holland, so he could join SUITE 19. It took a while, but he kept coming to my shows and we ended up playing together. He was great from the very first note we played. It was a perfect fit! I think Tommy is one of the greatest living rock drummers around.We hooked up a while ago and talked about getting together and play again. We both thought it was a great idea and then MOTLEY CRUE got back together again and that was the last I've seen of him.”
How long did SUITE 19 last and did you do many live shows with this band?
Greg Leon: “SUITE 19 was together for about three years and we played hundreds of shows in and around Hollywood, California.”
Why did the band actually split up?
Greg Leon: “The band split up, because I was asked to replace Randy Rhoads in QUIET RIOT and it seemed like a good career move for me. (Tommy was so mad at me for that!).”
The early line up of THE GREG LEON INVASION contained other well- known heroes, like Joey Vera (FATES WARNING, ARMORED SAINT) and Carl James (JAG WIRE). What did the band sound like in those days? Does the sound come anything near the style of “Unfinished Business” or did the music sound totally different back then?
Greg Leon: “The early bands always sounded like young GREG LEON BANDs, because they were me on guitar and vocals and me writing the songs.”
A very important career move - at least in my vision - is that you replaced my biggest all-time guitar hero of all time, Randy Rhoads, in QUIET RIOT. You became his successor, when he left to pursue his career in OZZY OSBOURNE’S BLIZZARDS OF OZ. What was it like to replace him? That must have not been too easy, I guess?
Greg Leon: “It was an honour to be chosen first to replace Randy in QUIET RIOT (nobody else on earth can say they were Randy Rhoads first pick to replace him in QUIET RIOT, but me). He thought I would be perfect for the position and I was! It was not hard to step in and fill the shoes. I had seen him play so many times and been on so many of the same shows, that I knew all of the songs. I loved Randy! Everybody did.”
Was it then, that you first met Randy’s mother (We will return later to the fact that you worked at her guitar studio) or did you get to know her far after this?
Greg Leon: “It was at this time that I met Randy's mother Delores Rhoads for the first time. I took over the teaching of guitar at Musionia music school, when Randy left with OZZY OSBOURNE. I think I had about eighty students a week.”
Have you actually ever met Randy? And if yes, what kind of a person was he?
Greg Leon: “Yes, I met Randy. We used to hang out at the Starwood club in Hollwood and we would go over to each others house or meet at our rehersal studio (both our bands rehearsed at Visions rehearsal studios in Burbank). I lent him my old Marshals, when he joined OZZY OSBOURNE and I drove Randy out to San Dimas to Charvel Guitars to meet Grover Jackson, who was a great friend of me and supplied many great guitars to me back then. It was at this meeting at Charvel, that Randy brought his rough artwork for the polka dot flying V. He had traced a Gibson Flying V and when Grover looked at it he said: “Why copy it? Let’s re-shape it and make it your own signature guitar”. So we started folding the paper and drawing lines, until it looked a little like the original and a lot like “Wow, that’s the coolest V guitar, we’ve ever seen!” A couple of weeks later, he got the call, that the guitar was done and he could pick it up.”
What’s the most favorite QUIET RIOT song you had to play?
Greg Leon: “My favorite QUIET RIOT song to play was “Slick Black Cadillac”.”
You also played live with the band. With whom (which bands) did you share the stage, while being in QUIET RIOT?
Greg Leon: “I don’t remember which bands we played with back then.”
You also played in DOKKEN, before Don met George Lynch, who came from XCITER. What was it like playing with DON DOKKEN?
Greg Leon: “I joined Dokken about one year after replacing Randy. Don called me up after seeing me play and told me we should be playing together in his band DOKKEN. He also told me we would go over to Europe to tour, and we did. I loved playing in DOKKEN. It was all guitar and great vocals and harmony vocals. We had four part harmonies in some of the tunes. I still see Don and and it’s always just like old times. Our bands just did the huge Rocklahoma festival together and it was great hanging with him again.”
You played on the “Back In The Streets” album, which is mentioned a bootleg album by Don on his website. Checking out the album cover, it says that George Lynch is the guitarplayer here. Giant mistake they made here, right?
Greg Leon: “On the "Back In The Streets" record, it’s just my picture. I don’t play on it. It’s a bootleg and whoever put it together was just trying to cash in on the band. It was probably the best or only picture they had of DOKKEN, so that’s how that happened (I get asked that question all the time). We did play those songs, when I was in DOKKEN.”
Who were really in the band, when the album was recorded?
Greg Leon: “That line up was Don Dokken, Greg Leon, Gary Holland and Gary Link.”
Did you know that this album was released as a picture disc in the eighties over here in Europe, by the way?
Greg Leon: “I had been told of this album and seen it. People would find me and ask me to autograph it.”
Another band that you played in was ROUGH CUTT. When was that and who else was in the line up at that time?
Greg Leon: “I only played in ROUGH CUTT for a short time. I didn’t hear any hits and they weren’t into letting me bring in any songs or co-writing anything with them. Even though they had a record deal on the table I didn’t believe in the music enough to sign on with them. I made the right decision.”
What was it like working with Paul Shortino, who’s another great rock hero, if I may say so?
Greg Leon: “Paul Shortino is a great talent. I can’t believe he has slipped through the cracks and not made it in a big way.”
OK, let’s get back to the time that you met Delores Rhoads. How and when did you meet her?
Greg Leon: “We met as soon as I joined up with Kevin Dubrow and Drew Forsyth. Randy called me up and asked if I would take over his position at his mothers music school. I said OK, so I did. It lasted about one year. I still see her only once and a while. I was with the Rhoads family and his ex- girlfriend Jody for the twenty-five year memorial at Randy’s grave site. Since then we have gotten together and had a party with a lot of the old QUIET RIOT fans. Just to talk about the old days and remember how much we all loved and miss Randy.”
You also played in a band called VYPER. For how long was that?
Greg Leon: “Yes, I did play with a band called VYPER. They were managed by a very good friend of mine Eric Grief. They brought me in to play guitar and write songs for their upcoming release, but we got a call that their record label went under and we decided to call it a day.”
I also read somewhere that you worked together with DIO. When was this and what did you work on with him?
Greg Leon: “I did work with Ronnie James Dio in the studio with ROUGH CUTT. The demos that got them their deal with Warner bros. Ronnie was and is the greatest person to work or just hang with.”
What’s the best memory you have from playing in all these well-known bands? Any bad experience, you’ll like to pick out too maybe?
Greg Leon: “The best memory is that I got to play with all those bands and still have memories about it. I don’t really have any bad memories about those days. I know some bad shit went down, but I let all of that go years ago.Why hold onto bad feelings? It only brings on more bad things.”
My main interest in this interview goes out to THE GREG LEON INVASION however. This band exists since 1981. Who was in this first line up?
Greg Leon: “The very first line up with THE GREG LEON INVASION was Carl Elizondo on drums and Joey Vera on bass.”
JAKE E LEE was a member of the band for a short time too, if my information is right. What was the exact link between JAKE E LEE and THE GREG LEON INVASION?
Greg Leon: “Jake E. Lee was only in the band for a very short time. He was up for the OZZY gig and he got it, which was good for him.”
Jeroen Bos was also a member of the band in 1985. Is he the same Jeroen Bos, who played in the Dutch band BODINE?
Greg Leon: “Jeroen Bos and I played together for a long time. He was a great bass player and very solid, as they come. I loved his grooves and feel for my music.Yes, he is the same one from BODINE.”
“Unfinished Business” is the title of your latest album. In which way does it differ from your previous albums, in your opinion?
Greg Leon: “Yes, “Unfinished Business” is the latest record. I don’t know that it is different. It’s just that my song witing has gotten better and my guitar playing has gotten better and my voice.... Well, you know the rest.”
The first album was even released as a picture disc by Azra Records. Do you have any idea how many copies of this rare item were printed?
Greg Leon: “I was told that the first album went into eight pressings, so it probably sold somewhere between eight and twenty thousand copies with absolutly zero publicity. Azra records didn't have a clue what to do with their artists. I never received one dime from the sales of that album.”
Are “Greg Leon Invasion” and “Born To Die” still available somewhere? And if not, are there any plans to reissue them for the fans in the near future?
Greg Leon: “You can still get copies of my first release through my website http://www.gregleoninvasion.com. I've added two bonus tracks to it. An alternate version of "Stay With Me Tonight" and also "Every Time". They were off the seven inch, I released in Canada.”
There is also a story going on, that you sold the name “Invasion” to VINNIE VINCENT (the former KISS guitarplayer). What was that all about?
Greg Leon: “Yeah, Vinnie gave me some money to use the name INVASION for seven years. After that I could go back to it, if I wanted.”
In the nineties you showed up as the guitarplayer of WISHING WELL, with whom you released the great self-titled album. How long did this last?
Greg Leon: “WISHING WELL lasted for nine years. It split up because of a couple of reasons. First of all, we were together for nine years. Secondly, we went through at least nine drummers and third, Stuart Brooks - the bass player - got tired of breaking in new drummers and he and his wife wanted to start a family. We still talk and see each other from time to time. They have a beautiful little girl and are very happy.”
Was WISHING WELL, Marc Droubay’s (later in SURVIVOR) solo band, so to speak?
Greg Leon: “Marc Droubay is and probably will always be the drummer in SURVIVOR. He and I have this musical connection, when we get together to play or record. We have never played a live show. Every time we put something together SURVIVOR gets back together and he's gone for a year. I love Mark's playing and him as a person. He is one of the best there is.”
OK, back to “Unfinished Business” now. How many copies were sold of this great album so far?
Greg Leon: “I’m not really sure how many copies of “Unfinished Business” have been sold, because you can download it for free online and everybody I know has it on their ipod. It is impossible to keep track of these things anymore. That’s why all the record companies are going under (file sharing).”
What did the press think of the album so far?
Greg Leon: “I have had nothing but glowing reviews on the CD. I’ve been lucky so far (no bad reviews).”
I noticed a lot of FRANK MARINO influences on “Unfinished Business”. Did he inspire you a lot while working on this album?
Greg Leon: “I love all the FRANK MARINO recordings and I’ve seen him play many times. I guess he rubbed off on my playing style. I take it as a compliment, when someone says "wow, you can play like HENDRIX, MARINO, TROWER or BLACKMORE." They are the reason I started playing in the first place.”
Who are the other band members on this album, and are these the same people as in your live band?
Greg Leon: “The other band members on “Unfinished Business” are Greg Stevens on drums and George Roelke on bass guitar and backing vocals. George and I still play together and tour and record. Greg Stevens can't really tour because of his position at a record company, but we still get together and play and I work up new ideas with Greg sometimes. He's a very talented drummer.”
Does the hidden track have a name? It’s a great instrumental jam, with again a FRANK MARINO-like atmosphere.
Greg Leon: "The hidden track is just called “the hidden track”. Greg Stevens wanted to warm up before we started tracking and we were all jamming along and it felt good. I had everything mic'd up, so I went over and pushed the record button. After the session I went back and listened to it. We decided it should be on that record as a hidden track. It wasn't planned at all.”
My favorite songs on the album are “Fever”, “Unfinished Business” and this instrumental jam. What’s your favorite song from the album, and why?
Greg Leon: “I would have to say that my personal favorite song to play live is “Don't Want To Say (I Love You)”.”
Let’s have a closer look at your live shows now. Which bands did you share the stage with most recently?
Greg Leon: “At our last gig we were on the same bill as DOKKEN, QUIET RIOT, VINCE NEIL, BULLET BOYS, POISON and about forty-five more hair bands. It was at the Rocklahoma gig in Pyror Oklahoma on July 12 -15 2007. It was like a highschool reunion for all of us. Some of us hadn't seen each other for twenty-five years!! It was great!! We got invited back to play next year. After the GREG LEON INVASION played, the promoters asked me to play the national anthem solo. I played it in front of the U.S. Marines and 45.000 people and a black hawk helicopter that hovered two hundred feet above the croud (quite a rush).”
What can people expect, when they come to see one of your live show?
Greg Leon: “When people come to a GREG LEON INVASION show, they can expect to hear great songs, great singing and great playing by all band members. People on stage that are NOT posers. We do what we do, because it's who we are. It's in us and has to come out. It's the real deal. I've been like this, since I was a young boy playing at parties in Glendale, California.You've got to be true to yourself or it's all just a lot of bullshit!”
Do you also play cover songs or do you just stick to your own penned material? If yes, which covers do you play?
Greg Leon: “Sometimes we will do an occasionally cover song. I love playing "I Just Want To Make Love To You" by FOGHAT. We do a good version and the crowd loves that one. Once in a while I'll do a HENDRIX song, like "Manic Depression","I Don’t Live Today" or " Voodoo Chile" or his version of the old CHUCK BERRY hit "Johnny B. Goode". They’re fun to play and it makes me remember why I started playing guitar in the first place.”
How many shows do you play in a year (average)?
Greg Leon: “We have been playing only about thirty shows a year, but I think we are going to start to play a lot more shows. We have been talking to many promoters from all over the world that have heard about what I do and they want to bring us out to play for the people.”
What’s the biggest show, that you’ve done so far?
Greg Leon: “The biggest show that I have played was for 65.000 people in Los Angeles in the 80's.”
What’s the metal and rock scene like in California nowadays? Are there many clubs left, where you can play live?
Greg Leon: “The metal scene in L.A. is stupid. It's all tribute bands, that should not be playing live. It's really sad. The club bookers usually make the bands pay to play. I don’t see a point to any of it. There are not vary many clubs left to play hard rock or metal in L.A. these days.”
In the eighties, everybody was talking about the world famous Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. What’s left of this in 2007, besides the great stories?
Greg Leon: “In the 80's, it was great on the Sunset Strip. Now it's just a lot of schwag, people trying to relive the past. People that look like they are in a MOTLEY CRUE video shoot (Don’t get me wrong: I love MOTLEY CRUE).”
You’re working on a new album called “Tell The Children”. When will it come out?
Greg Leon: “Yes, that’s right. It should be ready in a couple of months. Most of it is in the can. I have George Roelke on bass and most of the drumming is done by Marc Droubay. It's a very strong CD.”
What can people expect from it? What will it sound like and what’s the biggest difference, comparing to “Unfinished Business?
Greg Leon: “It's a lot heavier than "Unfinished Business".”
Are you also planning to go on tour, after the release?
Greg Leon: “Yes, we are planing on touring behind this release.”
When will you be coming over to Europe to play in the clubs here?
Greg Leon: “That’s really up to the promoters. I’ve been over to Europe a few times on tour and the main difference that I see is that the people in Europe are far less reserved, when it comes to showing how they feel about a band. They go crazy and it’s great to be part of that, when its happening.”
How exactly did you get in touch with my big friend Martjo Brongers and Blue Steel Agency?
Greg Leon: ‘When I got in touch with Martjo Brongers and Blue Steel Agency, it was through a former mutual friend of ours.”
Are you involved in other projects/bands, besides THE GREG LEON INVASION right now?
Greg Leon: “Yes, I am working with a producer/songwriter on another CD. I am also doing some songs for a couple of major motion pictures with the same guy. Things are looking up for the future.”
What are your future plans (long term and short term)
Greg Leon: “Future plans are to keep busy with music and start to produce some other bands and play live more and tour more. Not to take so long between GREG LEON INVASION CD releases.”
THE GREG LEON INVASION site at My Space is overfloating with many beautiful women. What’s your secret that the band attracts so many lovely ladies?
Greg Leon: “I don’t know how all those beautiful woman find my site, but I'm glad that they do...”
I read, that you have produced your wife’s second album "Party Girls". What kind of music are we talking about here and do you also play on the album?
Greg Leon: “Yeah, I'm producing and writing the music and playing on my wife's second album. Suza is a great singer/songwriter and lyricist and we’re having a lot of fun with her new CD. There are a lot of acoustic songs so far with great drums and keys on them. I think that people are really going to love this record!”
And I found out that you recently cooperated on the documentary or film, that is made 25 years after Randy Rhoads death? Who else contributed and what was that experience like?
Greg Leon: “I also did a long interview in the upcoming Randy Rhoads documentary film. This film is going to blow everyone’s mind! They talked to almost everyone, who played or knew Randy. I’ve gotten back in touch with so many of those people. It’s been really incredible to be a part of this great film. I hope you all get a chance to see it, when it comes out.”
Do you have any hobbies or interests besides playing music?
Greg Leon: “Yes, I have other interest other than music. I love automobiles and like restoring them. British sport cars are my favorites. I also enjoy keeping tropical fish. I've done it since I was seven years old. I also dig keeping snakes. I’ve done that since I was a little boy. I have a pretty good background in electronics and like to modify all my amps to get the sound I hear in my head. It makes it easier to get inspired, when you have a great guitar sound.”
The famous last words in this interview are for you, Greg.
Greg Leon: “You ask me for some last words.....I hope these are not my last words..ha ha... No matter what you do in life, do it because you love it and can’t imagine yourself not doing it. I think it’s a lot easier to be happy, if you can find a way to do this. Think about what it is you’re doing and be true to yourself and ask: "Is this really what I want to do?". If not, change it."
Interview by: Toine van Poorten (July 2007)
Official website: www.gregleoninvasion.com
or My Space: www.myspace.com/thegregleoninvasion