Gary James' Interview With Randy Gregg Of
They've sold out theatres from New York to San Diego. They've headlined major Rock festivals overseas. They are a Queen tribute band known as Almost Queen.
Almost Queen member Randy Gregg, who portrays bassist John Deacon, spoke with us about the band.
Q - Randy, you should know that you're the first Queen act I've interviewed.
A - Oh, ok. Yeah, well, I know for a fact there's not too many of them. Even over the last ten to fifteen years there hasn't been too many of them, which is another thing that has always helped us. Where do you see a Queen band? There's one out of Scotland right now and I think there's one that comes and goes over in California. They'll do it for a little while, then they won't for a couple of years and they'll do it again.
Q - You would think there would be more Queen tribute acts in Europe.
A - You would think. I've spent years in Europe, the last five or six years I've basically lived in England. They are not only played on the radio every day, but it's not the same songs we hear over here. It's not the same six songs you hear all the time. They're playing hard-core Queen stuff on the radio. I couldn't believe it. Queen is definitely outside of America. America is always into the next big thing and that's it. They don't really like to hop on anything. What's the flavor of the week? There's not a lot of room for catalogs of great music.
Q - You're not necessarily hearing Queen's music on Classic Rock radio stations, are you?
A - I've heard like softer songs played on Soft Rock stations. I've heard heavier songs played on heavier stations. So they reach more overseas than they do here. It's like here you just get a Classic radio station that plays it. That's it. Maybe every so often, a soft radio station will play "Crazy Little Thing". Something like that. (laughs) That's about it.
Q - Back in 1992, I interviewed a guy named Joe Russo, who was playing Jim Morrison. Your Freddie Mercury is Joseph Russo. Can't be the same guy, can it?
A - No, it's not the same guy. But there is a guy named Joe Russo.
Q - Who put this band together and when?
A - Joe was in it from the start, the drummer John Cappadona was in it from the start. They had a bass player and another guitar player. The bass player, within six months wasn't really working. When they had approached a management company, the management kind of knew me, I kind of got thrown into the mix. Our guitar player, Steve, started out as a sub in the band and then just led to him staying on full-time. I think I'm going on five years, so I think the initial idea of the band, maybe six years ago. But we've been out about five (years).
Q - Before that, I take it you were in other bands?
A - Yeah, I have a pretty extensive resume actually, (laughs) starting like in the late '90s. I played with like the reformed Angel that was out in the late '70s. They all were White. I don't know if you know them. Either you love them or you have no idea who they are.
Q - I know who they are. I interviewed Angel member
Punky Meadows. Did you play with him?
A - No. He was not part of the re-formed Angel. It was Frank Di Mino the singer and Barry Brandt the drummer.
Q - What happened to Punky Meadows?
A - He owned tanning salons for a couple of years, like a small, small chain. Maybe one, two or three called Tanfastic. He did very well with that.
Q - Is he still in music?
A - He still plays, but not publicly. He still loves to play. I believe for a little while he was playing some Country stuff, but he didn't want to get back into the Angel thing. For him it was like a been there, done that. But there is very small talk of them getting back again. Very small talk right now. (laughs) I played with Angel, then I wound up playing with Dee Snider of Twisted Sister a little bit and then I wound up playing with Thin Lizzy for about two years and then after that is when I joined the Queen band. Then about a year after joining the Queen band, I wound up playing with a girl named Lauren Harris, whose Dad is Steve Harris from Iron Maiden. We wound up doing about three-and-a-half to four years on tour with Iron Maiden. Big stuff. Madison Square Garden. 80,000 seat arenas. All that crazy, crazy stuff.
Q - So, there's still a world demand to see a Queen tribute band, isn't there?
A - Yeah, there very much is, definitely. The plus for us is there's a lot of other bands, Motley Crue cover bands, Bon Jovi tribute bands, where the artist is still touring. The positive side for us, or the plus for us is that Queen has been defunct, especially with the Freddie Mercury aspect. Our booking agent doesn't even like to call us a tribute act because we're more like a production and when it comes to playing Queen stuff, our band can pull off doing a Beatles show with no problem. (laughs) The Queen stuff is very, very hard to pull off and very, very gratifying to do it. Some of the best compliments we have are from the avid Queen fans. When we get off stage they go "Oh, my God! You do the studio versions!" That's like the biggest compliment to us, knowing that they know how Queen did it 'live'. It's a little bit different from the studio. There's four singers in our band. We pull it off. We do "Somebody To Love". We do "Bohemian Rhapsody" in full, as opposed to Queen, where they rolled a tape 'live' for the opera section. We actually pull it off. We do it, so it's the most gratifying band I've ever played with.
Q - You're definitely in a band where the audience is paying attention to every note that's played.
A - From my aspect, I came out of a Thin Lizzy, which was a musician's group. It hosted tons of guitar players, fabulous guitar players. So, to have the chops to go into that band was one thing, and then I turned around and went into the Queen band and went "What? Are you kidding me?" That's just the bass line alone. They've very intricate. Then you get more into Brian May stuff. He's got all these layered guitars and then you get into the Freddie Mercury part, one of the greatest singers to ever grace the planet and one of the better piano players around. I have to hand it to Jon Russo, he pulls it off. He plays piano, he sings. He does the whole stage thing. It's a lot on everybody's plate in the band, but everyone pulls it off really, really well.
Q - No matter what tribute act I interview, I'm always surprised there are people out there who can pull it off.
A - It is incredible. I wind up boasting about Almost Queen a lot and the thing I always try to stick in is, because I don't want people to... I boast about how good we can pull it off. At the same time I'm always boasting about the origins of the band. There's nothing like it. Those four guys, all of them, wrote Top Ten hits. Beyond the musicianship, they all had college degrees. What a phenomenal band to put together. But to be able to turn around and re-create it and get musicians to be able to pull off what they did is almost just as magical. To be able to do what we do and do Queen music justice and maybe even do some extra harmonies that they didn't sing, and I do a Brian May song a lot, but not as much as Steve Leonard does. So, we're all over the harmonies. They're pretty big shoes to fill. (laughs)
Q - Speaking of John Deacon, have you met him?
A - I've never met him. I've been a Queen fan since I was five years old. The first song I can recall hearing, besides "Dueling Banjos", was "Tie Your Mother Down". A neighbor played it for me. I turned around and said "What is that?" He said "Oh, check out this," and then he played "Bohemian Rhapsody". From that day on, I remember going "that's what I want to do." It's so funny that thirty years later I'm in a Queen band. Really unbelievably appropriate. Really kind of cool to come full-circle with that. I've only spoken to Brian May on the phone. I was never able to meet any of them unfortunately.
Q - Maybe one day your paths will cross.
A - I hope so. Brian is actually a big supporter of the band. I've gone to his website, punched in "Almost Queen" and a bunch of our dates would pop up. So, I know he was always very positive. A friend of mine, first hand saw him pick up one of our passes when we duplicated the Diamond shot and they said his face lit up. He was like "Wow! Look at these guys!" And that was years and years ago.
Q - I remember when I heard "Bohemian Rhapsody" for the first time, I thought what a great sense of humor these guys have. They took Rock music to a place where it had never been before.
A - Right. With Freddie's influence, it never did cross that path before. They'll never be another "Bohemian Rhapsody". They'll never be such an iconic song like that ever, and I can say that about a lot of their songs.
Q - Today's bands can't seem to measure up to their predecessors.
A - I agree with that. The level of musicianship has really watered down a lot. To go back to the '60s, you had the powerhouse bands coming out; Zeppelin, The Who, The Beatles did their run. Throughout the '70s you had the same thing. Through the '80s, which I'm not knocking, you started hearing the three chord songs. That's when marketing started becoming a big factor in music. Now it's so watered down it's almost like you don't need the song. But if you get a good photo of these four guys, we can sell them. It's like when business crosses art. That's where the big problem is. That's why I'm all for walking through Manhattan and going into a bar and seeing a band play in front of twelve people, because they most likely have a lot more to offer than turning MTV on these days.
Q - Maybe Simon Cowell will turn things around with his new show X Factor.
A - I'm not a big American Idol fan. I love Simon Cowell because he told it the way it was. That I can respect. At the same time, it's almost like them trying to make somebody. Meanwhile there's bands making themselves in their garages, practicing every day. Really that's the formula we know that every band did. They sat in their garage and they played and played. Take Def Leppard. They did it eight to twelve hours a day for a year and they came out and took over the world. That's what you're supposed to do. You're not supposed to go on a TV show and find out from Paula Abdul what you're doing wrong. If you don't know what you're doing wrong, you don't belong there. I'm almost against that. It's almost a form of killing it. At the same time, there's positives to it.
Q - Tell me about the venues you play. Almost Queen isn't playing bars, are you?
A - No, not necessarily. We'll do things from B.B. King's in Manhattan, all the way to a lot of huge, corporate events. We've done million dollar parties. We done House Of Blues type of stages. We kind of make sure that we're not one of those bands that fall into playing the bar up the block every three weeks. We do not drown a certain area what-so-ever, and being in the New York / New Jersey area, we could easily do that. We don't do it 'cause we see how it's affected some of the bands. We try to only play two times in the New York area. We make it that way so it's a big event every time we play.