Rock Scene

Originally Published: November 1980

Flying Tigers

When one group fights another group for glory and gain that's called war!! That's a lot like the rock scene.a war of musicians battling each other to get to that mythical "top." The battlefield is the staqe and the weapons are the music. Here is a group that calls itself the Flying Tigers, a nom de guerre for four very talented guys who are in the war to win!

The day that Rock Scene talked to Neal Smith and Paul Roy they had just come to New Haven for a gig at "The Great American Saloon," having journeyed down from a very successful show at "Uncle Sam's" in Boston. We arrived late and Dennis Dunaway and David Stackman had to leave. We're sorry we couldn't talk to all four Tigers, but two Tigers at a time are plenty.

Neal: That Uncle Sam's is a really beautiful club. The whole Boston scene is incredible right now and we look forward to returning there next month. Meanwhile we're playing all over the East; Long Island Brooklyn, Gildersleeves in New York. That's another great place. You've got a good set-up for rock all around here.

RS: I know that Neal and Dennis played with the Alice Cooper band for a long time, but where did the four of you meet and get together?

Neal: Didn't you know that we are the four reincarnated pilots that were shot down from the Flying Tigers just prior to World War II? You didn't know that?

Paul: Gee, I thought everybody knew that. Yeah, we met over in China. We figured we either had to be ace pilots or rock musicians, but we couldn't make a career out of being, fighter pilots so here we are. Then too, once you've been shot down, it's tough to make a come-back

RS: True! And once the Zeros have all been shot down who are you gonna fight? I guess you did the wise thing.

Neal: Well, Dennis and I were both with Alice Cooper, and Paul and David were with "Shadows Of Night," out of Chicago. Then one day we got together under crazy circumstances and we put the "Flying Tigers" together. That was almost two years ago.

RS: Any plans in the future for things other than club concerts, for instance?

Neal: Well right now, much is happening, and we're kicking around a couple of possibilities. There is one in Puerto Rico and another on the West Coast. There are several tours pending. We'll probably do the biggest tour of any band without an album.

Paul: We laid low most of the winter putting a lot of tunes together. We use all original material. We could do three sets if called upon because every six months we pump out a new record.

Neal: That's what a band should do if they're really creative. We still use a few of the things we did when we started, but about every six months we go through an inspiration of writing material. We've done three albums. That's a formula that I think any band that is truly creative should strive for. Then of course you can pick and choose from what you've done.

RS.: How do you write your songs?

Paul: We sit down and try to drink as much liquor as possible. That's the only way we can ever get an idea.

Neal: They just come in all different ways. An unusual thing happened on one tune that Paul and I wrote, "Red Blooded American Girl."

Paul: Right! I was working on a piece that didn't have a chorus.that didn't have a hook. Then I came up here one day and Neal was writing a song in the exact same key that sounded like the chorus and we put it together and ended up with a really great song.

Neal: And never, never in all the years I've been writing have I seen two people working independently come up with the exact chords, with the exact key, and everything with the same idea. It was, you know, like really meant to be. Most times when you sit down to write a song you have to toil with it to really make it flower, but when something like this happens, it is one of those things that makes writing great fun.

Paul: The lyrics usually come first. The chorus, a hook in the song will be the first thing and then once you get a melody set in your head for that, you figure it out on the guitar, what the chords are. From that, you can usually develop a pretty good storyline in the song if you've got a strong enough hook. I generally start with the hook first and then sort of work my way around it.

Neal: We just try to make the words as pornographic as possible.

RS: You guys have been playing the club circuit for a good while. Do you find any difference in the club situation these days as compared to.let's say a year ago?

Neal: Yes and no. The clubs are as crowded as ever. In that respect, things are the same. But there is one new twist that I think is very significant. The bigger names are playing the clubs now. Bands that are being played on radio constantly are playing the small clubs ... like Aerosmith for instance. It's given the clubs kind of a re-birth. These groups don't have to do club dates, but they are. There's a lot of bands that have been touring out for a long time and they want to get back to the club scene. I can related to that perfectly from my tours with Alice Cooper. When you're playing concerts for so many people you kind of .you do same thing every night and its a pat show and you go through the motions. You're a saleable commodity instead of a musician who's working off of other musicians in a smaller room. Only there can you feel that counter-play. When you get back to the club room and club audience, you're feeling the music. I think that many people in the big bands may be doing the clubs for that reason.

Paul: Some people think that concerts and tours are just too expensive for our sick economy, but that's not so. If you're good, the tickets sell.

RS: Amen to that. Not long ago, the Eagles sold out at Yale Bowl in New Haven 67,000 tickets at $15.50 a pop! Any immediate recording plans?

Neal: Right now, we're working with some engineers and producers on some demo tapes which we claim are the first platinum demo tapes ever recorded. For the past few months, we have been talking to different management people that have been coming to us. It's kind of a nice thing, and we're not ready to rush into anything.

Paul: That is a very good thing about this unit, not being in a hurry. A lot of bands get together and are in a mad rush to get the management thing together and get a record contract right away. Then you have bands who haven't matured yet putting out records. They find out too late that there's no longevity in their project. With us, we've taken our time to make sure that everybody is projecting the same idea. This band could easily last ten years 'cause it's really tight Everybody works off each other and keeps It going. We are at that point now where we are seriously starting to negotiate with people about doing something and we feel that the results will be more solid because of the wait.

RS: How important is management to success.

Neal: I think that management is essential. The business side is as important as the musical side of it. I've seen musicians you'll never hear of, as good or better than superstars, but they never made it because of a lack of good management. It's a formula between the management company, the record company and the band. All three have to be strong.

RS: Our readers might like to know something about another part of the business. the instruments. Is it important, really, to have three or four guitars and different kinds of amps etc., or is it merely an indulgence?

Paul: I think it mostly depends on what you're trying to do. If you're doing more than one show then there is definitely a use for at least a couple of guitars. It varies the sound. A person that is listening to a band that plays the same instruments hour after hour will usually be hearing the same sounds all that time. After a while you're gonna get hearing fatigue. You need variety to keep it interesting. By changing instruments, it helps the dynamics of the set.

Neal: It can inspire the musician.

Paul: Yes. You pick up another axe and it changes your attitude. When I pick up my BC Rich I have a certain attitude, a different one from my Les Paul, or a Flying-V or a Stratocaster. It gives me another frame of mind. I think its good.

RS: In what direction do you think rock is heading?

Neal: Of course nobody really knows, but I think that it is going back to more rock and roll. But I think It has got to take on a new Character-an '80s whole new sound. And I think that sound can come out whether it's soft rock or hard rock, whatever. We by to keep our music very energetic. That's something we spend as much time on as writing songs. It adds an urgency to our music that demands to be listened to. At the same time, it entertains.and that's what it's all about. Some people think the music is going back to a heavy metal sound.

Paul: I really doubt that happening. Any resurgence to heavy metal will be short lived, I think.

Neal: It all depends. like you've seen it happen when The Who or The Stones will put out an album and then it all suddenly falls into place. It all depends. There are definitely trend-setters.

Paul: Then too there is such a difference in what's hot from area to area. I find it very tough to keep up with what's current for that reason.

KS.: You guys sound so tight, so together when you play, it's hard to believe that it has only been two years.

Neal: Well Dennis and I have been together for twelve years so it's like two years going on twelve.

Paul: We have one of the tightest rhythm sections around. It's great to pick up a guitar and have a drummer like Neal and a bass player like Dennis to lay your music on. It's really beautiful. You work out material and you don't have to spend a lot of time. They have a natural thing that falls into place.

KS.: I notice from your early photos that you have changed your visual image. The hair is shorter and there's the leather jackets and shades.

Paul: That's a throw back to the flyers who fought for China, The Flying Tigers. They are our heroes and that's why we took the name. They were hell raisers, they fought against great odds, and they did it for us.

Neal: It's a romantic parallel to our plight. Also it's very all-American.

RS: Last question. Do you have any advice you would like to pass on to the aspiring musicians who read Rock Scene?

Paul: Yes! Tell them all to get out of the music business cause there's too much competition. Tell them, quit!

Neal: Right! Give it up now because it took me twenty years to play my drums as well as I do and why do they want to spend all that time. Then I've got more drummers to worry about.

Paul: We don't want anybody else to play rock but us!

Neal: We would like them all to go into air conditioning. A real bright future.

And so as the sun sinks slowly into the horizon, we reluctantly take our leave of the unsinkable "Flying Tigers".