Gary James' Interview With Ron Jovi
of the '80s Tribute Band
If you want to know what Hard Rock music of the '80s was all about or if you just want to re-live that time period, then Mullett is your band! These guys recreate the look and the music of such classic bands as Van Halen, Def Leppard, Journey, Poison and Bon Jovi. We talked with Mullett member Ron Jovi.
Q - Ron, how did you know an '80s tribute act would work?
A - I had an idea, thinking that the way the music is today there's not a lot of music out there that has a lot of depth or lyrics and actual instruments being played, be it a lot of the Dance music, the Rap music. It just seemed that the best times were always a time when you could actually listen to the lyric and watch the classic videos and dress however you wanted. It was kind of fun and loose. I think that the age group we're hitting, the demographics for that age group was just starving for entertainment, something that they could go out and do as opposed to just going out to dinner for a martini. People still wanted to go out and get loose once in a while. When they see the hair and the clothes and they see the theatrics and hear the songs, some of the greatest songs in my opinion ever written, it just throws 'em back into a happy time. At the end of the day, people are looking for an escape. So, I just thought you can put them into an amusement park, a musical amusement park, and that would be a great draw.
Q - You don't see a tribute act doing the "Best Of" from all the Classic Rock groups as Mullett does.
A - That's another thing we had spoken about. A lot of the bands, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Bret Michaels, Poison, those people are still playing. Our thought was if people want to go see Def Leppard, they'll go see Def Leppard. They come around once or twice a year still. Why would they want to see a band that's playing Def Leppard? At the end of the day, all of these bands have a catalog of great songs, but if you were to take all of their encores and put them into one set, you'd have an amazing night of music and that's kind of what we were going for. Every band out there has their two, three, four signature songs and we could throw all those in on any given night and everybody knows every word to every song. It's just contagious. It's fun.
Q - The music that Mullett is playing was never really represented on any of the award shows in the 1980s. I'm talking the Grammys, the American Music Awards. It was always Michael Jackson, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, U2. Yet the Hard Rock groups of the day were selling millions of records and selling out concert arenas.
A - Right, and I think it was mainly because of the substance of the songs. People who deem themselves to be true self acclaimed musicians, they fell towards the bands like
Queensryche. They were more into the depth of the music. Poison, the simplest of lyrics, "Talk Dirty To Me", "Nothing But A Good Time", there was nothing genius about what they were doing, but what they were doing was absolutely genius because they were appealing to a whole culture of people who just wanted to go out and party and have a good time. They don't have to worry about if I'm listening to Madonna or Michael Jackson do I have to learn those dance moves and have to go out dancing. They'd have to worry about wearing a certain type of clothes. Just throw on your ripped pair of jeans and a t-shirt and grow your hair or not grow your hair. It seemed like everybody was socially accepted into that music. There was no typical fan of that type of music. It was across the board. Everybody was listening to it, evidenced by the fact that when we sing "Here I Go Again", every person in the crowd knows the lyric. They know the video. They know Tawny Kitaen on the hood of the car. They made out in the back seat of their car. It was the prom. It was whatever. That's kind of what we're going for. Life can sometimes be hard, so we want to create an atmosphere where, for ninety minutes or two hours or three hours or whatever the show is we're playing at night that people can just forget and go back to that happy time and have fun and have a cocktail and sing along.
Q - It is an easy sell to book this group?
A - It is. We've been doing this a little over six years and it's obviously gotten easier as our name has gotten bigger and especially casinos, they all talk. We've played casinos from Vegas all the way across the country to Connecticut, Maryland, Iowa, Wisconsin. They all kind of talk. We've been fortunate to be able to have a certain musicianship to play those songs. Don't get me wrong. When I say the songs are simplistic, the lyric is simplistic, the anthem for the song is simplistic, but the musicianship, the guitar solos, some of the keyboards and the vocal ranges of Steve Perry and some of these singers is just outrageous. Some of the best of all time. So when we go in and give a true version of the song; we don't play medleys, we don't do our own versions, we play the song just as it was written. Just how they were done on the CD. We want to be as authentic to the original as possible, which we get a lot of compliments on that because a lot of bands don't do that. They play their own versions. They do a fifteen song medley. People want to hear the guitar solo. People are there to hear the guitar player. People are there to hear the vocal, the bass player, the drummer, whatever it may be. I think that's very important and I think that's why the casinos have latched onto it as a showroom type of show, because it's something that people can either be standing up and dancing and having fun to and it's also a show with the videos going that you can be sitting down in a theatre environment and watch it. You know, Beatlemania sort of.
Q - You were in an original group. What was the name of that group and what type of music were you playing?
A - The name of the band was Secret Smile and that band actually put out four CDs which are all available on iTunes. Myself, Dan Halen and Teddy Lee, the guitarist, bass player were also in that band. Part of what sparked all of this was the fact that we were playing original music and opening for all of the bands that we cover now. Bret Michaels, Meatloaf, Rick Springfield, Ratt, Dokken, L.A. Guns. The list is forever. Almost every band that we play, we played with, all of them. We saw the reaction that these guys got, and we saw the need for this to continue on. Unfortunately, you see some of those bands play at a venue and they won't draw the crowd 'cause they only had one or two big hits, where a band like us, as Mullett, can go out and play their one or two hits plus everybody else's and pack a showroom in a casino. It's great for us. It's kind of sad for the original artist in a way, right? But it's just the nature of what's out there. People want it all. That's why some people will get a DJ for a wedding. They want to hear everything. They don't want to hear just one band. They want to hear it all. With our original band we had a lot of success in regards to touring with these other bands, but there was never the financial success we needed to carry on, so we finally stopped doing it and then got together again and started doing Mullett and Mullett took off. It's just been a home run for us.
Q - How is it you were able to open for or share the bill with so many of those nationally or international known bands?
A - Secret Smile and Mullett were both located in Connecticut. We always used the New Haven, Connecticut area, but we're in the suburbs of that. With Secret Smile we played mostly regional, New England, mid-Atlantic. So we would latch onto bands, Danger Danger for four shows. We'd play New Haven, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island for four nights. We would do the same thing with Bret Michaels. We'd do the same thing with Enuff's Enuff, L.A. Guns, Rick Springfield, whatever it was. Sometimes it was just a one-off show. Someone comes to Connecticut and we'd play. We had a very big following in our area. So, when these bands did come into town at like Toad's Place, which is a legendary Rock club, Rolling Stones, U2, The Police have played there. The Webster Theatre up in Hartford would contact us and ask if we wanted to open. They knew we would draw a crowd as well, being their opening band. So it was really great for us. We got to meet all of these guys. It was great. We were playing that kind of music and we were able to sell product and get our name out there.
Q - What years would you have been opening for these people?
A - Mostly from '98 to 2007. In that ballpark. Then we took a couple of years off and we started to get Mullett going at the end of 2009. Mullett played our first show at Toad's Place in New Haven, Connecticut on April 9th, 2010. When we came out that first night, we had no idea what to expect. We had a huge crowd. All of our Secret Smile local following came out and supported us and it's just exploded since then.
Q - How were you able to support yourself when you took those two years off?
A - Well, we all do studio work. Personally, I did a lot of singing for some other projects and commercials and doing some commercial advertising for people and jingles. Whatever we had to do. We had saved our money. Just doing side projects here and there. Just staying afloat.
Q - Envision Records. Is that your own record company?
A - Envision Records is a vanity label that was Dan Halen's label. That was the last CD he did that he put out on that label. We did that ourselves, but the previous two CDs that we did, which was "Hurry Up And Wait" and "The Road Less Traveled", those to CDs we did on Metal Mayhem Music, which was a record company owned by Ryan Northrup. He was distributing our CD over in Europe, Australia, Asia. That was kind of our real record deal that we had with them.
Q - I just have to ask, did you ever meet Jon Bon Jovi?
A - I've never met Jon Bon Jovi. He's had one hell of a career in regards to longevity. Him and Bret Michaels really have stretched their careers out. Bret's dabbled in the Country thing a little bit and really not had too much success with that. But he just keeps touring and playing the Poison songs and making a good living doing it. Jon Bon Jovi still tries to put out a lot of new music. I haven't really listened to the new music. When he tours he's got quite a catalog of hits.
Q - Do you ever have a wise guy in the audience who will yell out "Beat It" by Michael Jackson or "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson?
A - Well, you'd be surprised. (laughs) We get "Freebird!" and "Flock Of Seagulls!" People yell out all kinds of crazy stuff. I mean, they're just having fun. It's alright. Someone will yell out "Sweet Home Alabama!" and Dan Halen will give 'em the first couple of chords of it just to get a hoot or a yell just for fun. The crowd is payin' the bills, right? At the end of the day you gotta love the people that come out and see you and you just kind of roll with the punches. There's always someone out there who's looking to razz you. It's part of the business.
Q - But if you wanted to, you certainly could learn "Beat It" and floor those people, couldn't you?
A - Absolutely. We actually toyed around with a couple of songs like "Billie Jean", really rockin' it up and making some of the chorus a little bit different and making it a little bit more hair-band sounding, but we've kind of stayed away from it just for the sole reason that a lot of people that come to see us really do come to hear that kind of authentic (sound). They want to hear the song. You do one song like that and then it leads to maybe four or five more and you kind of get away from what your money maker is. Our management company was very adamant about our tour dates geographically making sense. So we're not ever over-saturating a market because at the end of the day, let's face it, there are no new '80s songs coming out. (laughs) The set is the set. We have not played in our hometown, in our area of Connecticut, in almost a year. People are dying for us to come back on social media. "When you coming back?" We just announced a show today at a theatre in our hometown. The socials are just goin' crazy. That's why we spread ourselves all over the country, because we're in Iowa once, twice a year. We're in Ohio once, twice a year. Maryland, wherever we may be, Upstate New York. We play Turning Stone twice a year. People don't get sick of it. People will only go see Bon Jovi or Def Leppard once a year. It's a good thing. Everybody has fun with it. We're really lucky to have the following and support that we get.