Craig Gruber is a name that should be very familiar to fans of Ronnie James Dio-he played bass with Dio in the early years of Dio’s career. In the early 70s, Craig got his start in Dio’s band Elf. Elf went on to open for Deep Purple and travel stadiums around the world between 1972-1975. Of course, all Deep Purple fans know that the guitarist Ritchie Blackmore later formed a band with Elf by kicking out Elf’s guitarist Steve Edwards. The new band with Ritchie would became Rainbow- this was the original lineup of a group that would have many lineups to come.
Rainbow was not the last time Craig hooked up with Dio; when Dio took over Ozzy Osbourne’s role in Black Sabbath, bass player Geezer Butler left because he feared the band had no future without Ozzy. Craig filled in for Geezer and worked on sessions of what would become the legendary 1980 Heaven and Hell album. Geezer later heard the album sessions and return to Sabbath.
Craig then went on to play with Gary Moore; his work on ”Shapes of Things” on the We Want Moore album is this interviewer’s personal favorite. While he was in Gary Moore’s band, they played the Monsters of Rock festival of 1984. Some of the acts in that festival included Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, and Van Halen.
His work with Gary Moore was the last we’d heard from Craig- until now. Craig has gone back into basses, but this time he’s not playing them, he’s making them. Craig’s new company, Infinite Metal Werkz, features his own line of new basses. His basses have already attracted the attention of two legendary bassists: Billy Sheehan and Victor Wooten. Readers of this interview can go to Craig’s website: http://www.kahlerbass.com for more information on his new project.
In this candid conversation with Craig, we cover his days with Elf, Rainbow, Sabbath, and Gary Moore. We also talk about a rare band he was in, Bible Black. Craig formed Bible Black with Elf/Rainbow drummer Gary Driscoll and Jesus Christ Superstar lead Jeff Fenholt. We talk about his plans for his new bass company Infinite Metal Werkz and of course, since Craig spent a lot time on the road, he shares some wild road stories.
I want to thank Craig for taking time out to do this interview.
Jeff Cramer: How did you get into music?
Craig Gruber: Just like everybody else that’s in the industry; they all start out just hearing something on the radio or something that kind of piques your interest.
My roots go all the way back to Muddy Waters; that’s where I came from. I mean I’m totally a blues guy way, way, way down deep inside. I mean that groove and that feel of the blues is what got me interested in music to begin with.
And then moving the clock up a little bit, my father was a big band enthusiast, so he always had Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey playing in the house. We came from New York City, so he used to go see those guys play live when he was younger. There was always music in the house.
JC: What made you decide to become a bassist?
CG: When Hendrix came out, I had already bought a guitar and I was playing it around the house. I just couldn’t figure chords out. I mean I could find the root note, I could finger the string and know what key it was in, but I could never figure out the chords. That’s what kind of prompted me to play the bass. I accidentally broke some strings through months of trying to play chords and all I had left was the A, B, and G strings, which is essentially the bass. My ear was trained towards the bass for some reason. I don’t know why. It just naturally picked it up from there. You know, when you learn a couple of notes, it kind-of gets encouraging. From there, I saw fame and fortune. I saw chicks. Everybody wants chicks, you know what I mean?
CG: I then ran into this bassist- he was a jazz bassist who lived right down the block from me. I used to walk by his house on the way back and forth from school every day. About 3:30 in the afternoon, I’d walk by his house and I’d hear this bass playing because you could hear it coming through the room. One day I peeked in the window and he caught me. I went, “Oh shit, I’m busted” He looked at me and just kind of waved to me, like, “Hey, come on in, man.” This guy was like a monster. I told him I wanted to play the bass. So he was instrumental in really teaching me scales and things that most people don’t know. I mean if you learn by yourself, you’re very limited unless you reach out. I learned a lot of scales and I didn’t have any theory. I still don’t have any theory. I don’t care. I’ll just play up and down the neck
JC: So what were you doing before you got the gig in Elf?
CG: I had played the bass for like five or six years at that time. I was in progressive bands- I liked Yes a lot back then. I liked Genesis. So anyway, I was in this band with this killer drummer. His name was Mark Nauseef and we were a three-piece band. It was piano, keyboards, Mark Nauseef on drums and me. We were playing this progressive- like metal, this crazy weird shit. The name of the band was Earth and we just played shitty bars- anywhere we could play. The bar would hold 200-300 people, and everybody screamed at us, “Turn it down.” We weren’t playing anything commercial at all. We weren’t playing the hits or nothing, so we were like outcasts. I don’t even know why people booked us. I really don’t. I mean we were just excessively loud and playing in 5/4 or 7/4. It was crazy shit.
One night, Gary Driscoll, the drummer from Elf came into a club we were playing at and stood off to the side of the stage, watching Mark and I. When we finished the set, I can’t remember exactly what he said, but something like, “You’re unbelievable. I’ve never seen anybody play like that. I’m in this band called the Electric Elves. [They were called the Electric Elves back then.] Have you ever heard of us?” I’m like, “Yeah.” I mean they were a regional success and they were gods. I said, “You’re Gary Driscoll, right?” and he goes, “Yeah. Ronnie Dio, our singer, is thinking about stepping down from the bass and just going up front. We’re looking for a bassist.” I’m 19 and I say, “Well, that’s pretty cool, but obviously it ain’t me.” But he says, “I’d like you to meet Ronnie. I think I could possibly put something together. I’ll set up an interview or a meeting with Ronnie and the rest of the band and we’ll go from there.” And that’s kind-of what opened the door.
JC: The name Elf had came from the short size of most of the members.
CG: David “Rock” Feinstein, was the original guitarist. He’s Ronnie Dio’s cousin. So from the back, both Rock and Ronnie had long black, thick Italian hair to the waist; they looked like one of those dolls, those fucking weird dolls. The drummer, Gary Driscoll was my height, 5’8”. Mickey Lee Soule, the keyboard player, was about 5’7”. So with Mickey Lee sitting down behind the piano and Rock and Ronnie up front, and me standing back a little bit, we were only five feet tall. That’s where the name came from. It was the Electric Elves and then Deep Purple said, “Just change it to one word. Elf.”
JC: So you aren’t that short? Not that much of an elf?
CG: No. I would go up to the front and sing backup with Ronnie and then you could see I was about six inches taller than him. It was kind of funny.
JC: So after you got Elf, they had already released one album and they were opening for Deep Purple. Purple were at their biggest at this point. It must have been a real jump from playing clubs to now playing stadiums.
CG: Yeah. They had their own 727 jet. I mean there were two jets made by Butler Aviation; they were called Starship 1 and 2. Led Zeppelin had one and Deep Purple had the other. So yeah, it was rock and roll excess to the max. It was just insane.
I remember the first time on tour with them. We only had about 20 minutes to do our sound check. Purple had done theirs and all their gear was set up on this huge stage, and then our gear was in front. So we only had about 20 feet from our amplifiers to the front of the stage. So anyway, it was pretty scary because I’m used to having my amplifiers like about a foot from my elbow, and I would like lean on them and shit. Now I’ve got like 30 feet one way and 20 feet another way.
It was pretty scary. With the first couple of gigs, I didn’t even dare go to the front of the stage. I remember I had such stage fright. I was scared to death, dude. I was shitting bricks. Finally, Ronnie said, “You need to get up front a little bit, Craig. These people really want to see us.” Ronnie was up front with the microphone and doing all kinds of cool shit he had worked out. I had never been exposed to that. So I just kind of crept up to the front and the crowd got enthusiastic, so I got a little closer.
Within two or three days, by the end of the week, I was standing on the monitors pushing my reverse Thunderbird bass into their faces. I got off on it, but it was really intimidating the first couple of times.
JC: Elf must have been very different for you to play in. It’s not progressive rock but more honky tonk.
CG: I know, dude, it was a cool transition, but we grew together as a band. Deep Purple picked us up and signed us to Purple Records, and we did Carolina County Ball. They flew us to England, we moved in to the Manor Studios in Oxford and lived there for about nine months in a 13th century castle owned by Richard Branson- crazy place. We evolved as a band because we were kind of bored with the material. I was now in the band and Gary and I would play different rhythms.
Rock quit the band and we hired another guitarist that I knew named Steve Edwards. Steve Edwards was more like an Eric Clapton-ish, you know, kind of guitarist-the early ‘60s Eric Clapton. The music Elf had written on their first album was a really cool groove; it had a bluesy, honky tonk, like you say, groove to it. But that little mix in people, that change in lineup created a new musical direction. If you listen to Carolina County Ball, you’ll hear the progression. It’s still linked to the first album, but the progression is there.
JC: On your third album, Trying to Burn the Sun, I hear echoes of what’s about to come with Rainbow, especially on the song “Wonderworld.”
CG: Yeah, that album was a natural progression. It was unconscious. We weren’t trying to change anything. We were growing as musicians and growing as a band and our direction was becoming more defined. Roger Glover had a lot to do with it too. He’s a brilliant producer and engineer and has great ideas. We had Ronnie’s vocal range. Gary and I could play just about any kind of rhythm and Mickey Lee, the keyboard player, is great.
Steve Edwards was the guitarist. He would take direction very well, but he wasn’t that innovative. Like you put Steve in a room and you said, “Okay, what are your ideas for the lead?” He just couldn’t come up with stuff. That’s why he didn’t stay with us. I’m not saying anything bad against him. He’s a great guy, but he just was not that innovative. He just couldn’t come up with parts. It was difficult for him.
JC: Yeah, I’m not saying Steve’s bad, but I remember Rock’s stuff vividly on the first album, whereas nothing from Steve sticks out.
CG: Steve was more like Eric Clapton. Less is more to him. He was a great blues guitarist, but he wasn’t aggressive. Rock was more like balls to the walls. He was out front, cranking on one knee with his hair falling forward. He’s still like that with The Rods.
JC: Trying To Burn The Sun also had Mark Nauseef credited on percussion. Was he now a member of Elf? Did you have two percussionists on stage now?
CG: Yes, to both questions. That one summer tour we did in 1974, we brought Mark back in because Mark was a friend of the band. Mark was also looking for a working situation but not necessarily with us, but he was so good that we incorporated him into the band to play that one summer tour. We were going to do another world tour with Deep Purple again, so we figured it would help out Mark. Somebody would see him play and then he would get a gig out of it. He did get a gig- he ended up in the Ian Gillan Band and that helped launch his career.
JC: I’d like to get briefly away from the musical side of things. While you were with Elf, I’m sure you must have a lot stories from being the road with Deep Purple. I know there are a lot of interesting stories just about Ritchie Blackmore himself.
CG: Ritchie was a real introvert. I mean super, super introverted. Very intelligent, a real like kind of spiritual kind of guy too but he was very contained. Backstage, we all had our own dressing room. There was the Deep Purple side, there was our side, and then whatever bands were there. But Ritchie, even though he was with Purple, still had a separate dressing room from the band. He had his own meals. I mean, he had a tune up room specifically away from the band. I mean it’s crazy shit. It was so odd. That’s why the band broke up so many times. He was a very domineering type of person, and if you didn’t do it Ritchie’s way, you weren’t doing it any way.
I mean I remember being on tour with him where we didn’t sell out. Elf always went on at like 8:00. And by 8:45, we were off and then Purple went on at like 9:00 sharp. It’s all done union. You have to follow the curfew and all that in those concert halls. Ritchie would peek out behind the curtain and if the whole floor wasn’t full, if the whole thing wasn’t packed, he wouldn’t fucking play.
JC: Oh my god! You mean he wouldn’t play the show at all?
CG: No. He was just so temperamental. If it wasn’t sold out, he wouldn’t play, so he would take a separate car back to the hotel, stay in his room and then go back to the plane (if we were using the Starship back then), or take a separate flight to the next gig. So he wasn’t around anybody. There was no one who could get to him and tell him that you have to play or anything. Then they’d get sued. You don’t play, you get sued. That’s a contractual agreement, and there’s tens of thousands of dollars in cash put out by the promoter for the insurance. You have to rent that hall and there’s an insurance binder for that night. If you don’t play, you get sued for that amount of money and then some. And, of course the fans go crazy, break shit.
It didn’t happen that often, but it happened, and that was new to me. I mean I had never seen anything like that.
JC: What about groupies or trashing hotel rooms?
CG: The backstage areas were crazy. I mean there was between 100 and 500 chicks a night or more. The crew really worked them over- that was their fun. Back in the ‘70s, a groupie was like a superstar. I met this one chick, she’s got a book. She was called “The Black Widow.” I met her and hung out with her in San Francisco. Sweet Tiny from Omaha, NE; Grand Funk Railroad wrote a song about her. She came in, sat on my lap, told me how cute I was and said the first one’s free, blah, blah, blah. I’m like, “Oh my God, dude.” But yeah, there was some crazy shit, and we set some hotel rooms on fire. My room burned when I was in Coventry, England.
JC: How did it get on fire?
CG: I went down to the hotel bar and the road manager, Colin Hart pointed to the room and he said, “Go back to your fucking room. I know what you’re going to do tonight.” So before I left, I grabbed a bottle of scotch from the hotel bar, and went back to my room. And I had this chick, this really cool chick. We went back to my room and we were going to watch some TV and hang out. We got into it, had some fun and we were just chilling out. We had the lights out, we were in bed, and somebody had taken an envelope-I think it was an envelope or a small book or something- lit it on fire, and stuck it under my door.
The paint started to burn off my door; I’m smelling fumes and shit. I get up out of bed and my door’s on fucking fire. So I got no clothes on, the chick’s got no clothes on. The crew had planned this shit and they busted into my hotel room. They came and grabbed the chick and me, and pull us out into the hallway. They took my bed and box spring, throw them down the hallway, and let the fucking room burn.
Gary, our drummer, freaked out when he saw the fire. In England, in those days, they had huge fire extinguishers like those ones that used to be in high schools. They were big metal things that looked like they were made out of brass and were about three feet long. So Gary grabbed that fire extinguisher, brought it back into the room, and started trying to put it out the fire. It didn’t go out. I said, “Turn that thing off, dude.” He said, “What am I going to do with it?” I said, “Throw it in the fucking bathroom. Shut the door.” So he threw it and it weighed so much that when it landed in the toilet, it broke the toilet off at the floor. The water was fucking screaming up out of there. The place was on fire. That was a fun night in Coventry, England. Crazy shit.
I mean I’ve got a hundred more of those stories, probably. They just start to come back after I start thinking about it.
JC: How did this whole Rainbow thing come up?
CG: All right. Roger Glover and Ian Gillan finally –they weren’t fired– they finally quit for like the eighth time. They left in 1973. So, they hired Glenn Hughes on bass and vocals from Trapeze, and David Coverdale to do the Burn album. Well, Ritchie didn’t like it because they’re too soulful. Glenn’s like a funk metal bass player. But he played with his thumb often, and Ritchie, if you played anything that’s got any kind of a funk overtone to it, he’d give you that death ray and he’d stop playing and walk off the stage.
There was this song Ritchie wanted to record; it was by Quartermass, and it was called “Black Sheep of the Family.” It was just a little, simple song, but they wouldn’t play it. They wouldn’t record it and Ritchie – I mean, if you go against Ritchie, it’s over.
They went through the tour and we opened up for them for the whole year. I went backstage, and Ronnie and Ritchie were collaborating. Ritchie had this like $90 guitar with a hole in it, this acoustic guitar. He played it all the time. And Ronnie and him were sitting around, and they’re writing. They’re playing these chords and shit. I said, “That’s pretty cool Ritchie and Ronnie are getting along. Isn’t that nice?”
The next year, ’74 came along, and we were doing the Stormbringer tour with them. I remember we were in Cleveland, Ohio when Colin, our road manager said, “Quick, get in the car. We’re going to the studio today.” And I said, “What are you fucking talking about? We’re playing tonight.” He said, “No. We’ve booked time in the studio. We’ve only got about four hours and we’ve got to get back to get a sound check. Ritchie and Ronnie have written a song and we’re going to go in and record it.” What? So anyway, so we jump in the car.
We went to this kind of shitty, crummy studio, downtown Cleveland, and Ritchie comes in, starts playing this riff. All right- he’s smiling, he’s kind of really super friendly, and it’s really out of character for him. Ronnie said, “We wrote this song, Craig. It’s called “16th Century Greensleeves”, which is one Ritchie and I had been working on. And we’re just going to put out as a single, and it’s going to be on Ritchie’s solo album,” and I went, “Wow, that’s fucking amazing. We’re going to back Ritchie Blackmore.” We knocked it out in about an hour. It came out great. There’s some really cool stuff in it.
That was actually the beginning of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. At the end of the tour, we had a little meeting between us and Ronnie came and said, “I don’t know if you know this, lads, but this is Ritchie’s last tour. He’s done with Deep Purple and we’re thinking about putting a band together. It would be kind of like the new Deep Purple.” We just looked at each other and went, “What?” He said, “Remember the song we did? Okay, it’s already pressed. It’s already master mixed and they put it out in England and it’s No. 7 on the British Charts right now.” This was like about six months later.
Ronnie also said, “Ritchie liked the direction, so keep this under your hat. Don’t say anything and at the end of the tour, Elf is no more, and we’re forming a band with Ritchie Blackmore”. I’m like, “Holy shit, dude.” That was actually the beginning of Rainbow.
JC: Oh, so what about Steve Edwards, did he have any idea what was about to happen?
CG: No, he didn’t know, and the rest of the guys in Deep Purple didn’t know. It was like hush, hush, hush. I felt pretty shitty because it was like we were cheating on them or something. You know? It just got really weird. Musicians are real perceptive. They know shit that’s going on. I remember Glenn Hughes got really, really drunk one night at the hotel bar, and he knew. Glenn came over to me, starting strong-arming me and was actually going to fucking deck me. He’s tall and he could have really knocked me out.
I said, “We went into the studio and we cut some tunes.” Glenn asked, “What’s really fucking going on? I want to know what the fuck is going on with you guys. This is bullshit. I don’t want to be kept in the dark.” I said, “You need to talk to management. You don’t punch me out because I’m the new bass player.” It got pretty heated there. Ronnie stepped in and said, “Listen. This is the wrong place for this kind of thing. All this stuff will be settled soon.” It was pretty bad. I mean, it wasn’t comfortable, that’s for sure.
The rest of the tour was real quiet and somber because they knew it was over. It was a pretty interesting transition. The tour ended; we went back to New York, they went back to England. Ritchie left Purple, rented a house out in Malibu, California, and then about four weeks later, we got a phone call from our management company in New York, Thames Talent, which also booked Purple. They said, “You guys are going to California. We’re going to look for some houses, you’re going out there to write the album and then we’re going to form a band.”
JC: So this would be the first of many lineups that Ritchie would have. As you know, he’s never kept the same lineup for more than one album.
CG: Yeah, there were a lot of changes. At one point, I sat down and added up that there was twenty-seven different members for the first five years.
JC: The music in Rainbow would be entirely different than Elf.
CG: Yeah, Elf had broken the zippers, if you will, and just busted out of our seams. Elf had been touring with Purple for almost three years straight and in our rehearsals I always brought in the Zeppelin kind of feel or the Deep Purple kind of feel. That’s the kind of rhythm stuff I played, but it just didn’t fit in Elf. Ronnie would say, “That’s a really great riff, Craig, oh my god, that’s killer shit, but really, it doesn’t fit on this album.” So the transition was right.
JC: There’s one thing I have to comment on regarding Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. I know the credits read Blackmore/Dio for “If You Don’t Like Rock’N’Roll,” but there’s no way Ritchie wrote it. It sounds very much like an Elf tune.
CG: It wasn’t initially gonna be on that album because if you listen to the album, it’s kind of a misfit song. It was a song that Elf had come up with the riff and partially written it. It was supposed to be at the end of the Trying to Burn the Sun album. The album was pretty much done, in the bag, and we had that song left over. We just came up with it too late and it ended up on the Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow album.
JC: So you went ahead and you recorded the Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow album, but Ritchie went on tour with the Rising lineup. What happened?
CG: We had bought houses out on the Coast. The band was a viable band, and then we got in to actual rehearsals to go out on tour. The rehearsals just weren’t going good. I mean Ritchie kept putting the guitar down and walking away and it was like Deep Purple all over again. So there was a band meeting and they wanted to make some changes. They wanted to bring in Cozy Powell. Cozy Powell was and still is in my mind, first of all, a great person. One of the sweetest guys and one of the funniest guys you’d ever meet in your life. He’s an amazing guy and a machine on drums. Gary, our drummer from Elf, was amazing in his own way too. Gary had an R&B kind of a groove, funk feel where Cozy had like a metal feel. Gary kind of dabbled around in between the beats and played a little bit too many little fill kind of things, if you will, for that type of music. Cozy just laid it down, played across the beat and just like laid down this monster thing.
So they brought Cozy in to rehearse for a week and didn’t tell Gary. Here’s Gary, living right down the beach from me, not even a hundred yards from my house, and we’re going in to Hollywood every day to SIR Studios and we’re fucking rehearsing to go out on tour. Oh my God, how fucking horrible.
That caused a huge upheaval in the band. Mickey Lee and Gary were in the band for so many years before I joined. Mickey Lee had a fit. He didn’t show up one day. Mickey Lee got so smashed. I mean he just drank an incredible amount of scotch and he just got fucking trashed. We couldn’t find him for a couple of days, and then finally, Colin came in and said, “I found him. He’s at the beach now.” Mickey Lee said, “If you’re getting rid of Chops –that was Gary’s nickname– then I’m leaving too. This is not the band I want. This is not what we did. This is not what we worked our lives, heart, lungs and liver out for, to be sliced and fucking diced”. So Mickey Lee quit.
There was a huge explosion. Then they told Gary and he literally cried. Literally fucking cried. That’s when I said, “You know what? Fuck this. If this is the way this thing is going, it’s only going to be a matter of time before you fucking pluck me too.” They were left with Cozy, Ronnie and Ritchie.
JC: I also heard that you were rehired in 1977.
CG: Yeah, they threw Jimmy Bain out and they brought in Mark Clarke from this band called Tempest. Mark Clarke is like a jazz-fusion bassist. He’s kind-of like a metal version of Stanley Clarke but Ritchie hated him because he played a lot of notes. So anyways, Ronnie calls me back in ’77 and said, “Listen, you know, we’ve gone through some bassists and we realize that you were the founding member. You’ve got a fucking great groove. The band hasn’t felt the same since you left. It would be great to have a friend in the band. Would you like to come back?” So I flew back out and rehearsed with them. It’s like dating a crack head- it just doesn’t change. Ritchie’s pulling the same shit. Ronnie and Ritchie are in different dressing rooms. This fucking temperamental bullshit. I was bringing in a lot of musical ideas and directions that Ritchie didn’t want to know about. Automatically I started to get constantly fucking hit on. It was like, “Look, Roger wouldn’t play it that way. Roger this, Roger that.” I said, “Well, go fucking hire Roger.” It was great though, playing with Cozy, because Cozy was an animal.
JC: Ritchie eventually did hire Roger Glover. Was Tony Carey in the band while you were there?
CG: Yup, Tony Carey was in the band.
JC: I heard that he was another character that was also separate from most of the band members.
CG: I never really got to know him. I mean we would say, “Hello, how you doing?” and then you’d say, “Great. Come on over here,” and we’d figure out some counter-melody parts to play and some rudimental bass parts that matched his stuff. He was like an employee, I mean, he wasn’t even like a band member. He was like a stagehand and he just was always in the background. The only time he said anything was at an interview when somebody put the mic in front of him and asked him some questions. He wasn’t a weird guy, but not real personable.
JC: What did you do after Rainbow?
CG: I was burned out from playing four or five years straight; it was about 200 nights a year. I stayed in Los Angeles for another year after that and then I moved into the Record Plant. I had a really good friend that was an engineer and he says, “Look. We’re close friends. Why don’t you come in and just do some work with me?” So I said, “All right.”
I was engaged; I finally had a girlfriend. We had got a house and everything was nice. I was at the Record Plant for two years and I played on anybody’s album that needed a bass player. I was doing $3,000 to $4,000 a week. I mean, that’s like $10,000 a week now. And I went at eight at night until like six in the morning. Then I’d go home, have breakfast, and hang out. It was like the vampire life, but it was the studio life and I loved it.
JC: Who did you play with during those studio years? I know you probably can’t name all of them, but can you name some of them?
CG: I did some James Taylor sessions. I did a thing with Aretha Franklin. The Brecker Brothers. I met the guys from Steely Dan and played on some shit that was never released.
JC: Now, I came across one album that you recorded at the Record Plant; Ozz’s Take No Prisoners.
CG: Oh, yeah. The guitarist, Gregg Parker, was a good friend of Ringo Starr’s and Ronnie Wood from the Stones, so they were kind of instrumental in helping him get a deal with CBS. He was like a Jimi Hendrix kind of a guy, and he actually introduced me to Donnelle Hagan, the drummer on there that was playing with Aretha Franklin. Thanks to Donnelle, I got the gig with Aretha.
JC: Oh yeah, that must have been cool.
CG: It was unreal who you met because everybody recorded at the Record Plant. The Record Plant was the fucking place. I mean I actually recorded in Studio C, where Hendrix did the Electric Ladyland album. I actually recorded on that same marble stage. Standing there where Hendrix recorded, in the same studio, on the same piece of marble was unreal. There were even road cases there that read “Electric Ladyland Music.” I was like, “Man, this is Hendrix’ shit.” It was great.
JC: How did the Sabbath thing get started?
CG: Ronnie calls me up. I just don’t know how he got my phone number because it was unlisted and I hadn’t seen him and I didn’t hang out with his people. But my phone rings and it’s Ronnie. “Craig, it’s Ron.” “Ron who?” “You probably don’t remember me, do you?” and I went,“Ron who?” “Ronnie.” And I went, “Fucking unbelievable, dude.” He said, “Listen, before you hang up, blah, blah, blah. I know you’re pissed, but hear me out.” I said, “The only reason you’re calling me, Ronnie is because you fucking want something. You never call anybody if it’s going to do them any good. You’re one of those.” “Fuck you, Craig, blah, blah, blah.” He hangs up.
Ronnie calls back, and he says, “Listen, I just joined Black Sabbath,” and I laughed right out loud. Then I remember saying, “Those fucking dinosaurs,” and that’s a terrible thing to say. They were done at the time. Never Say Die was the last album and it was horrible. He goes, “Listen. We wrote some material. I’m a full member of the band. Oz is gone for good and Geezer just quit.” I say, “If Ozzy’s gone and Geezer left, then you’re pretty much fucked then.” He said, “We’ve got a big house up in Bel Air. We’ve been rehearsing for about two months. We’ve looked at some bass players, but no one can do what we need them to do. You’re the only guy I know. It would be great to have a friend in the band again.” I said, “That’s what you told me in fricking Rainbow. This is the same story.” He goes, “No, please, please.” I said, “I’m happy. I’m at the Record Plant. I’m happy. I’m making really big, really good cash, and I’m home every morning.” He says, “I’m going to come down. We’re going to talk and I just want you to come up. I just want you to hear what we’re doing.” Anyway, I said, “Okay.”
So they came and got me and we drove up to this five-car garage and a gorgeous house. I said, “Ah, it looks like you’ve got some money. That’s a good sign.” Ronnie and I walk up the door. Bill Ward opens the door. It’s about six at night. All he’s got on are his boxer shorts and he’s got a 16-ounce can of Schlitz in his hand. He hasn’t shaven for like five days. I didn’t know who he was because he didn’t look like the pictures; he looked like a garage guy that fixes cars. He said, “Come in mates. I’ll take you into the living room and you can meet Tony and the rest of us and we’ll have a little chat.” Ronnie goes, “This is Bill. Bill Ward. This is Craig,” and I went, “Okay, it’s a pleasure to meet you in your underwear.”
We walked into the living room and there’s Tony because I recognized the real thick, squared-off helmet hair that he had back then. He’s standing there and he’s got a couple of Marshall cabinets in the middle of this living room, cranking metal. So I just sat and chatted a little bit, and then Bill got behind the drums. There’s a drum kit right in the living room and the drum leg, you know the little legs, they digging right into this beautiful floor. They didn’t give a shit. There were beer cans and shit on the floor of this house. They went into “Children Of the Sea.” So he goes, “See if you can follow this. It’s an A Craig.” So I dropped in, no problem.
Then they showed me “Wishing Well” and I can’t remember the third song. But anyway, we played there for about an hour or two. I mean just kind-of jammed in the house and Ronnie said, “What’s it feel like to you?” and I said, “I don’t know. It didn’t feel like anything.” He goes, “Well think about it. I’m going to talk to these guys for a couple of days and I’ll call you back.” So they took me back to my house, and a couple days later, Ronnie rings me back and he said, “We rented SIR Studios in Hollywood, we got a full setup and we’d like you to come back in and play for a day and see what happens.” So that’s how the Sabbath thing started.
JC: Now did you help write any tunes that would show up on the Heaven and Hell album?
CG: Yeah, I brought in “Die Young.“ They didn’t have an upbeat, really strong, up-tempo song. We had moved to Miami to do the album, so we took over one of the Bee Gees’ houses. We rented one of Barry Gibbs’ houses there right in Biscayne Bay. We would do the album at Criteria Studios. Tony said, “I need something that’s a cruncher, like something up tempo, something that’s going to change the tempo of this album. Do you have anything?” I had this song called “Blinder“ and it was kind of like a “Kill the King“ kind of a song. It was really fast and I ended up using that with Gary Moore. I also had this idea that’s called “Die Young.” Ronnie says, “What’s that about?” I said, “Well, it’s self explanatory. My idea in life is get in, get what you want, and get out quick.” He goes, “Okay, cool. Let’s see what you’ve got.” So I played the riff. It was in the key of E, so it was easy to drop in on, and then we worked that up. In about an hour, we had “Die Young” done.
When we got in to the studio, we changed the middle eighth section where it drops down into like the half tempo piece. I didn’t write that piece. Ronnie wanted to bring it down. But the actual riff itself and the idea were mine.
JC: Okay, cool. Was there anything else besides “Die Young” or was that it?
CG: No, I wasn’t instrumental in writing any other pieces. I mean Tony and I bounced ideas off of each other and chord structures, but I’m not going to take credit for anything that I didn’t do, no.
JC: Okay. Now at a certain point, Geezer came back into the band.
CG: Yeah, the album was done and then we all were burned out and kind of fried, so we took a week off and I went to Key West. When I came back, we all got back together and we were making plans for rehearsals and the date that the album was going to come out. Ronnie said, “We’ve had a band meeting, Craig, and there’s something we need to discuss with you.” I said, “Okay, no problem.”
So we all kind of sat down and he said, “Geezer has been in contact with the band. Of course, he’s been in the band for fifteen years. While you were gone, him and Tony were on the phone together and we actually sent him a copy of what we’ve done. He’s very interested. He really, really is excited about the band again and he loves what we’ve done. We’re trying to make this transition equitable for everybody and we really think it would be better if Geezer came back to the band. How do you feel about that?”
I said, “Well, musically, I think it’s probably the smartest thing you could do because he’s an original member. Really what I did was kind of just filled his shoes. I never expected to be the bassist in this band. I didn’t come in here to replace Geezer. You can’t replace the guy. On the other hand, I’m pissed because you pulled me out of a situation that I had and I kind of was hoping to go forward with this thing. I know this album is definitely going to be something that’s going to make a mark on music. I mean I can hear it. That portion of the genre of music is dead right now and I think this album is going to reignite it,” which it did.
JC: Indeed it did.
CG: I said, “You know, we could probably fix that with a discussion. You could buy me out or whatever. We’ll talk money and we’ll go from there, but I do want credits for the album. I want my name on it. I want my writer’s credits and when the thing does go gold and platinum, I want my record awards and I want the residual income that goes with it.” So that’s kind of where that ended.
JC: Okay. Could you elaborate on what Geoff Nichols’ role was all in this?
CG: Geoff Nichols was and still is a very close friend of Tony’s. He was with an English band called Quartz. He’s a really funny guy. He’s a really great rhythm guitar player. He plays fill-in keyboards, although not a great keyboard player. When they hired me, Geoff Nichols wasn’t even part of the scenario. It was Ronnie, me, Tony and Bill. And then when we moved to Miami to do the album that’s when Geoff showed up, at the Miami house. A truck pulled up and this real tall skinny British guy got out with some gear and whatnot. He looked like a roadie.
JC: That’s cool. Now, right after Sabbath, you had the group Bible Black. Bible Black reteamed with you Gary Driscoll from Elf and Rainbow. The lead singer is the guy who was Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar: Jeff Fenholt. How did Bible Black take place?
CG: After I left Sabbath, I moved. I bought a house in New York and I wanted to get out of L.A. I just had been up there for literally about nine years, and I love LA, but I needed a change. I was in upstate New York, and I found this house overlooking a lake in the middle of a vineyard. I guess it was, like a hundred thousand bucks, which was a great deal. Brand new house, four-bedroom house, had a full basement. I finished it all off into a studio. I said, “This is the shit, dude. I can get drunk and I live in a vineyard.”
I joined The Rods for about a year, and I played a bunch of dates with them, like maybe a hundred dates or so. Then, I left, and that’s when I formed Bible Black.
I had been in touch with this management team in New York: Harold Orenstein. Harold was Jeff Fenholt’s personal attorney and kind of confidante. He was instrumental in getting The Robert Stigwood Organization that was running Jesus Christ Superstar show on Broadway. Harold was like the liaison in getting Jeff Fenholt hooked up in that show.
Jeff was the original singer, the original Jesus Christ in Jesus Christ Superstar. If you go back and look at Time Magazine, Jeff’s actually on the cover of Time Magazine. So, he was the original before Ted Neeley. I mean, Jeff was the original singer, and he’s got an incredible voice, incredible range. He’s a great guy. Deep down inside, he’s a blues singer, too. He’s like a Paul Rodgers kind of singer, just awesome.
JC: Was Jeff already more spiritually inclined by that point?
CG: Yeah, he was very spiritual and he always had a Bible with him. He would read things and whatnot. I’m very much into God and Christ, and we hit it off very, very well.
Anyway, with Bible Black, I brought Gary in. We were like brothers. Then, I flew to New York and I met with Jeff. He owned one of Gregory Peck’s houses in Long Island. That’s how much money he had. I only went down there to meet him for a weekend, and I ended up staying for two weeks. We started writing material in that house.
We didn’t have a guitarist; we auditioned four or five guitarists. I mean, even we were thinking about getting Leslie West. That’s how I got in contact with Felix Pappalardi, who did all the Cream albums and ended up doing the album. We finally found this guitar player. His name is Andrew MacDonald; his nickname was Duck MacDonald, and he’s a very good friend of mine. We went back to my house in New York for, like, six months and just wrote material.
Bible Black did a bunch of dates. I mean, we played the Midwest. We played some summer festivals in North America. We went out; we probably did between forty and maybe sixty gigs and then four or five big festivals, and we got a huge response. Everything was great. It was a great live band because we’re all really good players and comfortable in front of twenty thousand people.
I hooked up with producer Jeff Glixman, who produced Kansas, to produce our album. I know him very well.
JC: Now, that album’s never been released.
CG: It was never released. I have the master of it. We went to Atlanta because Jeff Glixman was living there at Axis Studios. Axis Studios is where he did all the Kansas albums because all the guys from Kansas were from that area. So we went to Axis Studios for about a month and we recorded the album. We brought Felix in to engineer it and help us with the sounds and everything because I loved the sounds of Mountain and I loved Cream. I loved Felix. He’s one of the greatest bassists that ever breathed. Plus, he’s a great guy. He’s just awesome.
We all kind of split up and went our separate ways because Jeff was gonna shop the record for us. He had all the connections with the labels and whatnot. We had some offers, and they just weren’t what we were looking for. Jeff Fenholt wasn’t real sure if he wanted to stay or not. He thought things were gonna happen right away, which we did, too. I mean, we had put a lot of money into this thing. We spent our own money on it. Of course, he had some, and I had some, so it wasn’t like a big drain or nothing, but it was the time factor. Like, a year went by, and we still didn’t get a deal.
So he was looking at other things, and Gary, the drummer, moved back in with his girlfriend; she was in the Midwest. Duck went back and started playing with some other metal bands, and I was the only one left. So I said, “Well, I need a break from this,” so I moved to London for, like, a couple of months. I just went over and rented a flat just to get out. Anyway, to make a long story short, I brought, of course, the master with me, and I went to EMI. I called up EMI, and I said, “Look, I’m in London,” and he said, “Bring it. I want to hear it.”
I brought it in. I played four songs for EMI, and they immediately offered me 200,000 pounds right there, which is about 350 grand, for a deal to go back, reorganize the band, re-record the album, write some new songs, and we were gonna put this album out under EMI. Well, that same week, I went to see Ronnie play at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. That was his first Dio tour. I went back and was hanging out, and who did I run into? Ian Paice and Gary Moore.
Gary Moore had just finished the Victims of the Future album. He just had fired Neil Murray for, like, the tenth time and didn’t have a bass player. And they had a world tour booked, ready to go, and they said, “What are you doing now?” I said, “Nothing. In fact, my return ticket’s on the tenth of the month. I have about eight more days here, and I’m going back.” “Well, you ain’t going back. We want you to stay, if you’d like to.” So we rehearsed, and I learned all the songs off the new album.
We went in and we did rehearsals for about a week and a half, and it sounded awesome. I mean, it was just great because I had known Ian for years, and it just locked in. I love Gary Moore. I mean, he, Steve Vai, Jeff Beck, Eddie Van Halen - there’s very few people that can accomplish what those guys can do on guitar. So, I sacked the Bible Black thing. I called them back and said I had just joined Gary Moore’s band, and I was gonna stay with them.
JC: Bible Black has some tragedy. Both Gary Driscoll and Felix Pappalardi are no longer with us.
CG: Yeah, Felix is gone, and that was a tough, horrible, terrible thing. That just floored us right there. Of course, Gary, three years later was murdered. It was very, very tough. I mean, I just kind of wanted to forget about it for a while. There was too much pain. It was a tough time for me, too. I mean, my musical career was way high. Then, it went down and flat and I rebuilt it. I went through a divorce during that time period, too, so it wasn’t a good time.
JC: What did you do with Gary Moore?
CG: I stayed with Gary Moore for three years. I did the Double Life andWe Want Moore albums, and a couple of videos.
JC: You were on tour with Gary Moore with The Monsters of Rock festival. Talk about that festival.
CG: Yeah, that was an awesome thing. We toured England, Germany, France, and Austria. It was us, AC/DC, Ozzy, Van Halen, Accept, Mötley Crüe, and that was a fun thing. We did about 90 dates or so. That was May through December. That was crazy; the back-stage area was just all opened up. It was just like a huge barbecue, like a family back-yard barbecue. It was all roped off and secure and all that, but we didn’t really give a shit if the fans came back. I mean, we couldn’t have 10,000 of them back there, but it was cool to have guys jump the fence and shit and want to come in and hang out. We gave them drinks and we hung out.
The chicks were there. There were tons of chicks. I mean, monster chicks, naked chicks drinking beer every day. What a view, dude! The press was so fucking cool. Most of these guys in the press are musicians. Most of them play an instrument, and they love music. After about a few weeks of talking with these people, they followed us everywhere; it became like this fucking entourage.
It was a lot of fun and I became very good friends with Tommy Lee. Tommy Lee told me his story. He said, “I always wanted to play drums. I drove my mother nuts. I grew up in West Covina, a tiny, shitty suburb of Los Angeles, and my mother, she was single. She didn’t have the money to buy a fucking set of drums. I had an accordion. She made me play piano and then in the school band, I would play accordion. I had my accordion hooked up to an amplifier in my bedroom and I used to put it up against the window and play “Smoke on the Water” to the neighbors. Then, finally, I got a set of drums.”
Tommy and I just kind of hit it off really well. We were drinking partners, and we’d keep the bar open no matter where we were every night. We would all just get pounded. We knew we had to play the next day and their tour managers would come around and give us that look like, “Come on, guys, you know. Come on, you have to play tomorrow.” I mean, we got fucked up. I remember a couple of times Tommy and I got thrown out of the hotel bars.
I remember walking up beside the stage because Mötley Crüe was an opening act then; they weren’t headlining yet. I’m watching Tommy play through the set. He plays really hard. I’m looking over, he’s looking at me, and he’s fucking rolling his eyes. He’s purple because the alcohol’s coming out of him. He’s sweating his ass off and I’m just pointing at him, laughing. He’s looking at me going, “We fucking fucked ourselves up last night. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this set,” but he did it.
It was such a relief to get through the set because, I mean, literally, it’s a hundred degrees. Europe in the summer is as hot as it is in Florida. Yeah, we sweated our asses off. The backstage area was great.
JC: I know that Ozzy and Eddie Van Halen are big drinkers.
CG: Yeah, it was nuts. Every night was like New Years’ Eve. We were all young then and stupid. I mean, whatever came into our mind, somebody would do something crazy and we’d all try and outdo them. The most fun part was being able to play with everybody because backstage, everybody had their gear on, and it was just an open area back there. I would just walk from one dressing room to the next with a bass on, just walk in and just crank it.
We all knew the same songs because we all grew up in the same era. Somebody would go into “Living, Loving Maid,” a Led Zeppelin song, and then we’d do a bunch of Cream riffs and shit. It was crazy. It was just so much fucking fun. That was the best part of it, I think: being able to play with everybody, be buddies and be friends and shit.
JC: Why did you leave Gary Moore?
CG: Let’s see, I left at the end of the second year, and I just couldn’t see myself staying in the band indefinitely. I wasn’t able to write. The only thing I wrote was "Blinder." We used my song, “Blinder” as a single, but Gary was in complete control of everything, which he should be, but I was more of a sideman. I mean, I was in the band, but I wasn’t like a full member, so I was paid differently than Ian Paice. Paice got a ton of money, which he should have, but I wasn’t making a lot of money. I wasn’t writing. I was just floating the ship trying to figure out what I wanted to do.
I almost went with Ozzy Osbourne.
CG: Yeah. Bob Daisley left Ozzy. When I left, Gary hired on Bob Daisley, and Bob said, “Listen, Ozzy’s cool. You’ll love him. You’re a perfect fit for him.” We had some conversations. I spoke with Sharon a number of times. I sent him off some tapes, and they said, “We know all about you, Craig. We’re not in the dark about you. We’ve seen you play many, many times. You’re a phenomenal bassist. Your attitude is really a lot like ours. It would be a good fit. Why don’t we talk about this?”
Truthfully, a couple of weeks went by, and I just never pursued it. That’s something you don’t turn your back on. You know what I mean? I really wasn’t enthused about it. I mean, truthfully, the money that we were talking about wasn’t gonna be huge. To me, it was gonna be like me playing in another great band as a supporting musician. I just didn’t want to do that again.
JC: Ozzy seems to have a habit of having bass players write lyrics. There’s Geezer. There’s Bob Daisley. I mean even Lemmy wrote, “Mama, I’m Coming Home.” You might have not gotten credit, but you might have had a chance to get your lyrics out.
CG: I know I probably could have written some stuff. I know that because I know that kind of music, but it just wasn’t what I wanted.
JC: Right after Gary Moore’s, you come back into The Rods.
CG: Yeah, I came back from England, and I had known David for years from Elf and Carl Canedy, I had known him as a drummer for years. He’s a great drummer. They had a bass player, and I think it’s the same guy they have now, Gary Bordonaro, but Gary didn’t want – at that time, didn’t want a commitment. He didn’t want to play a lot of dates, for whatever reason: I guess family reasons or personal reasons. I just signed back on and did Heavier Than Thou with them as a bassist and then we did a few dates up until about ’87.
JC: The Rods would be your last gig. Why?
CG: I just needed some time, and time turns into more time, and I kind of retired. I moved to Florida. I got a house down here near the water, and I just started building stuff. I started building basses and playing the basses that I have. I’m a mechanic, too. I restore cars. I bought a 1972 Porsche 911 and disassembled it. It took four years just to take it apart by hand and just disassembled it piece by piece right down to the bottom, and then I reassembled it with all new parts: new-old stock parts. I’ve just been kind of living a really happy life. I mean, I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I don’t party. I’m single.
I got divorced for the second time, and I got custody of my son; my son’s twenty-four now. We have a really simple life. It’s great. I started getting re-interested in the music portion of it again, and I play around here with just some local guys. I went to New York and play with The Rods. I did a few dates with them.
JC: Talk about your bass company, Infinite Metal Werkz.
CG: When I was playing, I had endorsements with Hamer, Fender, Ibanez and Schechter. These are great companies and they would build me anything that I wanted specification-wise. They could make little changes in the neck and the circuitries to get the sounds that I wanted, but they were always limited. I mean, they’re great basses, and I admire what they do, but I was always needing something else. It was never what I wanted.
Also, if you look at every bass that’s out there, they’re beautiful, they’re brown, and they’re boring. It’s like, “What the fuck?” You know what I mean? I love the colors of wood, and I’m not trying to put anything down, but nothing got me excited.
I figured, “You know what, I’m a bassist. Who better to build a bass than somebody that’s been playing the instrument for 30 years? Nothing’s changed in the bass world in 20 years. It’s time for a change. No one’s building any colorful stuff.” So I took Ferrari yellow, Porsche GT3 biker green and the Lamborghini colors and kind-of – I can’t call them those colors because I’ll get sued, but those are exciting colors, and I built an overdrive system in it and a Kahler tailpiece that’s a solo piece, and you can go out and play some monster shit with that. That bass will play more different kinds of tones and sounds than any other bass on the market.
I created a body that’s sexy-looking. It’s comfortable to play. The balance is perfect. You don’t have to hold the neck up and it’s got a really clean sound- if you want that sound. It’s got a three-band equalizer built right into the bass, so with a twist of a knob, you can go from clean, you know, Stanley Clarke deep funk to like an overdriven Felix Pappalardi sound on the same bass without having to change the tones on your amplifiers.
Then with the hip shot tremolos set up, (I got a deal with Kahler), there’s nothing you can’t do. It’s a perfect transition from a normal bass in one instrument to something that’s a solo bass. I used to have to put down one bass when it was time to do a solo and pick up another bass- this one, all you do is add the bar to it. Then you can go out there and just spin some crazy shit and play some monster stuff. You can’t stop playing it. Once you pick it up, you can’t stop playing it.
JC: I see that two of the finest bassists in the world picked your basses up: Billy Sheehan and Victor Wooten.
CG: I’ve known Billy forever, since way back. We’re only like 75 miles from each other and used to play in the same club. I figured he’d be a perfect guy to show this to. He picked it up, played it and just started to laugh and shit, and he said, “Wow, this is fucking amazing good.” I’m shipping him one out.
Then, about a month ago, Victor Wooten played here at the beach where I live at the Freebird Café, which is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s bar here. It holds about a thousand people. I brought one over, and went and talked to the stage manager in the afternoon. He goes, “Yeah, Victor, I’m sure he’d like to take a look at that,” so that was really simple.
At the end of the gig, I had one in the car in a gig bag and I said, “This is a bass.” I handed him a note and an overview of what it was, and he said, “Yeah, man, come on in. You’re the bass player with Rainbow and Sabbath? Wow.” I never met him before. He’s a cool dude. He’s so fucking down to earth. I brought him that biker green one, and I said, “Here, this is what I’m building.” He said, “Wow.” He sat down and just started playing. He played it for about 20 minutes straight and just said, “This is fucking unbelievable. This is one of the greatest basses I’ve ever played in my entire life. Where do I get one?” I said, “Well, I build them, and the company’s Infinite Metal Werkz.”
JC: These basses you can get on your website or on eBay. Is there any plan to distribute them offline? Do you plan to sell them at Guitar Center or Sam Ash?
CG: Yeah, we’re taking those steps. The main plan right now is to get into the NAMM show. Once you get into the NAMM, that’s the show. That’s the biggest music show on the planet earth, and over 100,000 people are going to go through there in four days and I’m hoping for some kind of a little buzz there, I’m hoping. Next step would be get a licensing agreement with a large distribution worldwide and then put them in stores. That’s the plan. That’s the big picture.
JC: Anything else we can expect you from besides the basses?
CG: I think we’re going to do an Elf reunion album. I really think that’s in the works.
CG: Yeah. David went off to see Ronnie. I think it was in June. He stayed two weeks out there with Ronnie and they were writing stuff. David came back and said, “You know what, Ronnie brought it up. I think it would be the best time to do this. The music industry is right for that kind of music, and we’re all still alive, thank God, and it might be something we want to really consider.” Mickey Lee’s back in town, back in New York, and he was speaking with Ronnie. I think 2010 might see David Feinstein, me, Ronnie Dio and Mickey Lee back together again as Elf and we’ll find a drummer.
JC: I hope that’s the case next year. Well, I think that covers everything. Thank you, Craig.
CG: Thank you, Jeff.