In these LA Metal Specials you have probably read the name GREG LEON more than once. Greg was a very young guitarist at the time, still in high school actually when he began his journey on the Strip. His first gigs were however those infamous 'backyard parties' where another band called VAN HALEN used to attend to see what this boy wonder was all about. SUITE 19 was Greg's first pro band and while they garnered a large following quite quickly, they did experience some personnel changes like a lot of bands at the time did. The period where SUITE 19 starts though is not the 80's metal scene, but before that in 1976 or thereabouts. And if the name SUITE 19 sounds familiar, it's because they had a soon-to-be-famous drummer at one point: a 17 year-old named TOMMY BASS, aka TOMMY LEE.
Greg Leon was born and raised in the LA area known as Glendale, California, which is right next door to the City of Pasadena, home of the Mighty VAN HALEN. Greg never thought any band out there as being rivals, but certainly appreciated VAN HALEN when he first saw them share a bill with a band he would soon join: QUIET RIOT. Their guitar player actually became friends with Greg that evening, another known on the scene guitarist named RANDY RHOADS who lived just to the west in the next town from Glendale called Burbank, California. Greg of course was three and four years younger than EDDIE VAN HALEN and RANDY RHOADS and in this perspective and revealing interview he will tell you the stories of how he met each of these players. Actually it was RANDY RHOADS who suggested to Greg that he take his place in QUIET RIOT when he left to join OZZY, which he did. But Randy also asked him to teach his guitar lessons at Musonia, which he also did as well.
This is not the 'usual' if you can call it that LA Metal Special for the reason that Greg never reached the stardom of his other peers, the fourth guitarist on the scene widely recognized, GEORGE LYNCH. Greg tells his story but it does differ greatly from the others although he was involved in flyering as well once SUITE 19 hit West Hollywood but it was VAN HALEN who was flyering at the backyard parties, which SUITE 19 followed suit on soon after. But this was a long interview, great read and very interesting as it sort of establishes a foundation for the 80's metal scene before there was pay-to-play and it all changed and gave hope to the scores of bands that emerged once VAN HALEN was signed. There are stories here, some funny, some sad but all true. Greg and his wife took me to dinner after this and we just talked and talked and he kept revealing things to me that I wished he had said in the actual interview. This feature is more like a trip down memory lane for Greg, something he admitted because he is more about moving on than sitting and reflecting on. But it's all good and I got what you'll want to read for sure. Enjoy this
exclusive interview with GREG LEON of the GREG LEON INVASION.
JH: Nice to finally meet you. You know your name has been brought up by so many musicians for these L.A. Metal specials that it's just the craziest thing that we've never crossed paths.
GL: Yeah, I know. That is nutty.
JH: So you were really young when you first started out but where are you from?
GL: Oh yeah. I was born and raised here in Glendale, California, about 8 miles from here.
JH: And you are one of the very few people from the Los Angeles area, like TRACII GUNS. Most everybody else moved here to make it.
GL: Yeah that's right. A lot of people came from the Midwest and East coast, a lot came up from San Diego but yeah they were from all over. VAN HALEN made it; they all came here to do it too. I've been to the Van Halen's house back in the day; I'll never forget it: 1881 Las Lunas Street, Pasadena. I have a knack for remembering numbers and addresses for some weird reason; 931 Amherst Drive in Burbank is RANDY RHOADS' address; I don't know why I remember these things.
JH: So what got you interested in music in the first place?
GL: My dad was a big music buff and he would listen to Big bands and my mother would listen to opera and classical music and bluegrass of all things. She was from the Midwest, Omaha, Nebraska and my dad was from St. Louis, Missouri so my dad grew up listening to all kinds of music and he was a singer, piano player and a phenomenal harmonica player and he always had music going on in the house. And I used to mimic the opera singers that my mom would listen to get my dad to laugh. And the neighbors heard me and they'd say, that kid has a great
voice, you should work with him and . . . But I started playing drums
and that was my first love like most guitar players started out as drummers, at least all the good ones. We rehearsed in my living room in Glendale and when the guys would leave they'd always leave their guitars and amps behind and I'd get on there and try to figure out what chords they were playing and how they held their hands, me figuring out all these chords and stuff.
GL: Six months later I was starting my own band and let the drummer that I found play my drums and I bought a guitar and started rehearsing. And then we did a talent show at the Junior High that I went to and the whole school went crazy; we did "Johnny B. Goode" JIMI HENDRIX style, we did "Inside Looking Out" by GRAND FUNK RAILROAD and we did "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" off of HENDRIX and we were a three-piece band; I was in Junior High and we rehearsed the heck out of it and went there and had no idea that we'd be bad or good but we won it. So we knocked them dead and from that point on we got asked to play parties all the time and in Junior High I must have played 20 or 30 parties on the weekends and when I got to high school, almost every weekend I played a party on either Friday or Saturday night. You know we'd ask for a dollar donation at the door and 3, 4 or 5 hundred people would show up at these parties, the cops would always come but people would always have parties so we could play at their house.
GL: We did those house parties before VAN HALEN did but they took it to another level with the flyering because we didn't do that until we found out about it. We would just call everybody and they'd call people so it was a lot of fun. I remember the police showing up at the door with their arms crossed looking at us while we played saying, we thought it was a loud stereo and here it is a band; you guys are really good. So they'd just stand there and listen to us play for 15 minutes, have us turn it down and once they were out of sight we'd turn it back up until they closed us down at 10, 11 or midnight. But that was every single weekend from '73 to '76. And then we did it for a couple of years after that and those were just party bands that I did but when I met GARY HOLLAND, everything changed and got way better. Before that BILL GAZZARRI would tell me, Leon you're really good but your band sucks so get rid of them. And then when I got Gary in the band and a different bass player every gig that we auditioned for we got and with Gary and I, it just seemed that we were going to take over the world because suddenly we were selling out everywhere and there was a line around or down the block wherever we played.
GL: It was incredible; I just thought, there is no way this is not going to happen because we were outdrawing everybody; we beat everybody's record for draw. At the Starwood we'd play a three-day weekend, we'd get between a $1500 and $2500 guarantee and if we brought in a certain amount of people we would get anywhere from a $50-500 bonus and back then apartment rent was about $100-125 a month for a nice one-bedroom apartment. So we were making a good living and having the time of our lives playing and partying, getting invited to parties. I remember many times we'd be playing a party and QUIET RIOT would show up and we'd let them come up and play on our equipment so it was just fun and we were buddies. Nobody knew that Randy was going to go on and do what he did and get tragically killed in that plane crash but we had fun back then and now those days are over. I don't know any place that is like that anymore with parties all the time.
JH: That was a lot of money you were bringing in back then.
GL: That was a hell of a lot of money back then.
JH: Are you a self-taught guitarist?
GL: Oh yeah, 100%; 100%. I never took lessons and started playing when I was 12, 13; something like that. And when I started playing parties I knew that is what I wanted to do for a living because before that I would just drive my sisters crazy playing loud guitar and trying to be JOHNNY WINTER or JIMI HENDRIX in my bedroom with one amp plugged into the other amp so loud and distorted that it was just ridiculous. The neighbors pounded on the door and walls and I didn't care; I was honing my art (laughs).
JH: So before you were out of high school you knew that's what you wanted to do?
GL: Yeah. I had a feeling; my dad was always afraid that I was going to drop out of school but I was a straight A and B student all through school. But he still was afraid that I'd drop out and chase the music dream so he made me promise to stay in school, which I did. We played at school assemblies and when that happened 3 or 4 times a year, since we had 3,000 kids in school, there would be two assemblies, each one a half of the school so everyone got to hear me play and they loved it. Plus when we played out on the quad at different functions that was at least four times a year, you know a Day On The Green so we'd play again and we were playing FOGHAT, HUMBLE PIE, DEEP PURPLE, you know, all the bands of that era, DAVID BOWIE, all the stuff that we loved and everybody would be dancing and taking pictures and to this day people still post those on my website so it was fun, man; really fun times. I feel like one of the luckiest kids to have grown up in Glendale and to have a talent with music and especially in the era because they don't allow any of that stuff anymore in school or the house parties.
JH: So what inspired you originally to make you get the guitar? Was it the Ed Sullivan Show or something?
GL: Well I did see THE BEATLES when I was six years old but that wasn't the reason because I could always sing. Both of my parents sang, but mom tried to keep me out of music because she thought that it would lead to drugs and that lifestyle of craziness whereas my dad on the other hand was a frustrated musician who stayed in California when he got out of the Army but he didn't know how to make it happen for him. The older you get you realize that it takes you to make it happen and not anybody else, like have great songs, get great musicians around you, make demos, play the clubs and so on to get attention and draw out the record companies. VAN HALEN was together at least five years and played hundreds of gigs before they got spotted and picked up and most guys spent fortunes on demos every time they got $500 together because otherwise the labels wouldn't know you existed if you didn't send them your music, unless a club would tell a label, hey you got to check this band out, which, is what happened with SUITE 19 with Gary and I. We had a bunch of bass players but with SUITE 19 labels were always checking us out and for whatever reason they always said that we were great but maybe they thought that we weren't far along enough yet. They'd show up and we'd get all hopeful but it just didn't happen back then with a label deal for SUITE 19.
JH: So did you buy your first guitar?
GL: I did. I bought it at a pawn shop for $6 and I couldn't even go into the pawn shop without my mother. I saw it through the window and it was the cheapest piece of junk. I mean my fingers would literally bleed because the action was so high and the frets were so rusted out but it was like a Teisco Del Rey or some cheap little two pickup like that. And then I got a Hagstrom after that and that was a pretty good guitar and I learned all my Johnny Winter licks on that and practiced all the Hendrix records, DEEP PURPLE. And then I traded that, sold it and got a Fender Jaguar and it was like a real guitar and got some Fender amps and I could always fix things. I have a background in electronics and stuff so I started playing all these parties and by then I needed a Marshall amp. So we did a party in Glendale, 'buy Greg a Marshall amp party' and everyone donated $1-$5 and made a bunch of money, enough to buy a Marshall head then. And we had just gone in to do a session, some guy had seen us and took us into the studio at Hollywood and Vine and while we were recording, they had this Marshall cabinet that was being used as a door stop; it was a '71 Marshall Super Bass so I ended up using that and my amp, a little Fender Bandmaster that I had. So after the session the guy called me up, the owner and says, every time I look at that amp I think of you; do you want it? I said yeah, but you know and he said, I'm going to give it to you because I saw how much joy it brought you when you played through it so just come down and I'll have somebody put it in your car for you.
GL: So I go there, and the guy who put it in my car turned out to be a nice guy and a really good bass player so he joined SUITE 19 and his name was ROBIN KYLE. So I had all this extra money and bought a PA so everything was put into the band to make the band better and be able to play bigger and better gigs because none of the backyard parties had PA's or anything. You had to bring your own stuff and set up in the day so it was all about bigger, better and more back then. We just thought it would all go on forever, no end in sight and that one day we'd be up there with DEEP PURPLE, CREAM or whoever so I have a big smile thinking about it and the fun we had. For some it happened and then others it didn't.
JH: SUITE 19 was your first band?
GL: It was my first pro band, yeah. And then when Gary left, that's when TOMMY LEE joined and that was his first pro band as well. He had a band called U.S. 101 before that and I saw them playing and they were good but they didn't have any original material so it was just covers and they played dances and the odd club here and there. But Tommy had been following me for at least six months, telling me to get rid of Gary and I'd say no, he's my guy, I'm not getting rid of him. But then Gary for whatever reason quit and I called Tommy and he invited me to his house to do the audition and his dad had built him a room inside a room in their basement and you couldn't hear anything two inches from the door when it was closed; it was incredible. So I stayed out at their place, the Bass' house 4 or 5 nights a week and the bass player that we had, his mother was a booking agent so every weekend we were playing gigs. And then I would book us at The Starwood or The Whisky and we'd play shows there so it was pretty incredible and when Tommy did the audition, he knew every one of my songs, beats and everything.
JH: But wait, you talk about your songs but in order to play Gazzarri's and The Whisky you had to play covers.
GL: I didn't play Gazzarri's with Tommy. We did The Whisky and The Starwood and we did play covers but I was writing originals at that point. The covers we did were obscure enough to make the audience think they were our songs; we did a lot of AXIS material, a band called AXIS with VINNY APPICE, DANNY JOHNSON and JAY DAVIS. We did that whole record and a lot of DERRINGER but the odd DERRINGER stuff and for encores we'd do "Voodoo Child" before everybody did that. HENDRIX was kind of taboo; a lot of people couldn't pull that stuff off. But we'd do a HENDRIX song or "Day Of The Eagle" by ROBIN TROWER, "Too Rolling Stoned" or something that was more guitar-oriented so we could stretch it out because they'd say one more song so if we played one of those I just mentioned we would get a 5 or 10 minute encore and it'd piss the club off (laughs) but the crowd loved it and it was fun; we always pulled that stunt at the end. But then after eight months or a year with Tommy, I got the call from Kevin (DuBROW) and Randy (RHOADS) that Randy got the gig with OZZY and I was Randy's favorite guitar player in LA so they were calling me to say that if I wanted the gig, then it was mine.
JH: By that you mean to replace Randy in QUIET RIOT?
GL: Yeah, because I was Randy's favorite guitar player. But that was hard leaving Tommy because I loved him so much and his folks loved me; I mean they treated me like family, almost like their son over there. But I made the change because I figured it would be a good stepping stone and I told Tommy to let me do this and that I'll come back after I've made a bigger name for myself and I'll help get this band back together (SUITE 19). And then after a year with QUIET RIOT or DuBROW.
Actually, we had changed the name to DuBROW to get a record contract, which didn't come when I was with them. But we did showcases and every damn guy from a label who came to see us told me to get away from Kevin because he was blackballed in the industry, that he's never going to get a deal. And had Randy not been killed and all that publicity around his early band, he would have never gotten as deal. That's something pretty much everybody doesn't know but Kevin was blackballed in the industry because of his bad attitude and that's a fact.
JH: I realized that in the 80's when Hit Parader made the 'Kevin DuBrow Dartboard as a poster.
GL: Oh yeah; people hated that guy. Kevin and I almost got to blows twice. So then DON DOKKEN had been following me and trying to get me for like two years; we did a show with them at a place called The Rock Corporation but I can't remember if they were called DOKKEN then or they were still AIRBORN. But Don saw me and he was amazed and it was kind of funny because my roadie accidentally loaded his Marshall heads into my van so I get a call from Don the next day, saying, hey, this is Don Dokken, you played a gig with us last night; we just unloaded our van and our Marshall heads are missing so I have a feeling you guys took them. And I said, no, I don't think so and he asked me to check so I said, give me 5 minutes. So I went out and checked and sure enough they were there, like 3 or 4 old baby Marshall heads, the really good ones. So he called me back and I said, yeah, I got them so he came to my house and we started talking and he said, dude, we've got to get a band together; the way you sing and I sing and the way you play guitar it'd be awesome. So the next thing you know, I was sick of Kevin and producers kept telling me that nothing was going to happen with these guys because of Kevin so Don said that he had a tour in Europe in a month. I said, are you serious Don? He said yeah, we've got a tour booked and they're going to be adding dates in Germany so I said, you know what; I'm in! We needed a drummer so I brought Gary Holland along with me. Don didn't want him and I said if you don't take him you can't have me; we're a team. I was really loyal like that with people.
GL: So anyway we went to Europe and we were writing lyrics on the plane, it was so fun. We had the music rehearsed but we didn't have set lyrics or anything so we started piecing lyrics together and I wrote that song that is on two of my records (GREG LEON INVASION) called "Follow The Sun" that is about that plane trip because on the way to Germany it seemed like we were following the sun because the sun was always in the same place when we were flying, so that's how I came up with that idea for the song. So we hit Hamburg, Germany and started playing hitting gig after gig after gig and we played some big place and some small places and it was fun. It was my first time away from home in another country playing for people who really loved us. Don had released a single about a year before, a 45 over there so there was a lot of interest in that and then when they saw the band with two guitar players, because Don was playing guitar then, and Don and I shared the lead vocals and Gary who has a great voice was singing high-harmony backing vocals just like MICHAEL ANTHONY and we had GARY LINK on bass who I just found out has been playing with STEPPENWOLF for the last 30 years.
GL: So we get back to the U.S. and playing shows and people are loving us but the people in Germany; I remember a place we played in Hamburg called The Fabrik and we got there at sound check about noon and we weren't to go on until 10 or 11 at night and we were headlining and there was a band called K-WEST opening up for us. And they had come to America; do you remember that old radio station here called K-WEST? Well they had taken a box of stickers and stuff with K-WEST on it, you know, free promotion so they had all this giveaway stuff because people in Germany didn't know K-WEST. It was the funniest thing. But anyways, we did sound for them because the soundman couldn't make it because of the snow but at 12 noon there was a line of four people wide and a block long to see us because the word had been spreading about this new band from LA called DOKKEN. But it was great; a lot of funny stories happened in Germany but I was happy, played to a lot of crowds, there was a buzz on us, I had an endorsement deal with Charvel Guitars right when they were changing to Jackson Guitars; they were called Charvel/Jackson and they gave me 12 guitars before I left. That's how much they believed in me. Grover Jackson had told me, Greg before you leave come and see me so I did and he presented me with 12 guitars. He said, I don't care what you do with them but in Europe just play them and be seen with them. So I did but I was the guy who came up with the idea to put the 22nd fret on a strat neck so when Grover tried that and it worked, he never went back to the 21 fret strat neck and that was one of the things that set Charvel away from everybody else. That's when they changed over to Jackson Guitars.
JH: What's the difference between a standard 21 fret and the 22nd fret?
GL: Twenty-two instead of 21 so you can bend up to two octaves, a two octave range. That was a great time. And Grover showed up at The Whisky one night and set a guitar onstage for me and just smiled at me and walked away so those were great times. That was at the same time I was dating LINDA BLAIR from THE EXORCIST. She actually found me when I was playing with Kevin DuBrow and she was coming to the shows and totally was seeking me out so the whole time I was in DOKKEN she was my girlfriend including the first six months of the GREG LEON INVASION she was my girlfriend.
JH: And you were in DOKKEN for a year, right?
GL: Yes. And SUITE 19 ran 3 or 4 years and right before DuBROW/QUIET RIOT.
JH: Tommy Lee was even younger than you.
GL: Yeah he was four years younger and I hated to leave him and I wasn't sure how he was going to take the news, he was a kid but he was as good as he is now for sure; he has always been phenomenal. And he's got like a photographic memory when you learn something it's embedded; he doesn't forget it. And his meter was incredible, just solid and fun with him back there twirling his sticks and not missing a beat and people who just amazed at the kid. He was like a child prodigy. But man his folks, when I quit and told him that I was going to go with QUIET RIOT because that's what we were going to call it at first, his folks wouldn't let me in the house and if I ran into him at a gig they wouldn't talk to me. His sister Athena acted like she didn't even know me so they were pissed off with me, all of them. And then like I said I would, when that thing ran its course with KEVIN DuBROW and DOKKEN, I was putting the band together and Tommy is the first guy I called and we were going out to the clubs looking for bass players. And I remember at The Starwood one night LONDON was playing, it was their last gig and Tommy saw Frankie up there (NIKKI SIXX) and he said, that's the guy we should get and I said, I've already auditioned him twice and he didn't get the gig either time because he can't play.
GL: You know I was into being a musician and not dumbing myself down because I wanted to be better and inspired to be better by playing with better musicians so I'd have something to look up to. I mean I had to tune Nikki's bass for him at the auditions, he didn't know any scales so it was just terrible. So I told Tommy that I was not playing with Frank again because I need more of a musician. But Tommy just loved him and he loved the image and he was; he was the best-looking guy on the scene at the time. Nobody looked better than him, nobody had better stage personality than him; I mean Randy Rhoads was a young gorgeous-looking kid but as far as bass players go Frank had it in spades. I mean he looked like a star sweeping the floors at The Starwood so you just knew that he was going to be a star one day just by looking at him; you knew that he was going to do something, but I couldn't play with him because he couldn't play anything but quarter notes and I didn't want that in a band.
GL: So I told Tommy, you can do what you want but I won't play with him so I drove Tommy to meet Nikki and they wanted me to join the band before they even had a name. And I was sick of sharing the lead vocal thing with somebody else because I figured that I could sing as good if not better than any of these other guys so I didn't want to do that and Nikki was deadest on having a front man because that was the big thing with VAN HALEN and all of these bands who had a front man that only sang so I told them that I wasn't interested and was going to put a band together and write my own songs and do what ERIC CLAPTON does or JIMI HENDRIX, you know the guys who played guitar and sang because that was more of my thing and where my heart was. So I passed on that and they found Vince (NEIL) from ROCKANDI and then they put an ad in The Recycler as everybody knows the story now and BOB DEAL (MICK MARS) got the gig. I think his brother-in-law was managing them; he lived in Grass Valley and had a construction company and had some money put aside to do something crazy with so he managed them. He would buy six months at a time a full-page ad in BAM Magazine so every time you opened BAM there was this full-page ad for MOTLEY CRUE. They looked like they were major recording stars because nobody else was doing full-page ads. Hell you felt lucky if you could do a 16th page ad or something unless a club placed an ad and included you with four or ten other bands. But those ads helped and they looked different, they dressed different, they were their own thing and they had a party house above The Whisky on Clark Street so it was fun all the time.
GL: I remember going to one of their parties there and I was in the bedroom and I looked down at the floor and there was a pentagram on there. I asked Tommy what that was and he said, oh that's Nikki' s; he's into that shit. And on the wall over the bed was a big pentagram pointing down and I said that I wasn't into that shit but according to Tommy, apparently Nikki would do the worshipping thing to make it happen for him, whatever that means.
JH: Well, becoming successful and hitting the big time, which they certainly did.
GL: Yeah. And I remember another party one time where DAVID LEE ROTH showed up because he loved them in the early days I guess and he had a bag of Quaaludes and a bag of cocaine and Roth and Vince went into the bathroom and didn't come out and people were almost peeing on themselves they had to go so bad because Dave and Vince wouldn't come out of the bathroom as they were partying; crazy times!
JH: What year was that?
GL: It was before they had a deal so it must have been about '81, early '82, before MOTLEY had a deal. They were still playing The Whisky then.
JH: Roth was always showing up at things then after they had made it but what about EDDIE VAN HALEN? Any particular memories?
GL: Well I met him a couple of times but this one time was at The Woodsound. I remember telling the owner Phil of The Woodsound in Monrovia that I was a big VH fan back then and that if they ever played there to let me know. So he calls me one Saturday night and said that Eddie had just called and was on his way down. So I get there and Eddie had just arrived right before me and I knocked on the door and they were partying, doing lines and stuff but we stayed in there from about 10 at night till about three in the morning, talking and handing the guitar back and forth and playing guitar. I remember saying to him, man you must have big hands to do those spreads but it was because he had really flexible hands. So we put our hands together and they were both the exact same size hands, him and me. But Randy had little tiny hands with little fingers; we had a great night together, Eddie was totally cool and that was like a highlight of my life just hanging out with EDDIE VAN HALEN because back then nobody was better than him back in the day. That was before YNGWIE, STEVE VAI or any of those guys.
JH: Give me a time period here.
GL: That was right before their second record because they were in the studio then recording it so it must have been about '78, '79, somewhere around then and we were playing The Woodsound then as well. And Eddie invited Gary and I down to the studio, Sunset Sound the next day so we were there the next day; we weren't going to let that pass and Dave comes out; it was the first time I had met Dave and he says, no man, we're doing vocals today----we can't have people hanging out because it's too distracting and I said, yeah well Eddie invited us here and Dave said, well I'm telling you it's not okay because I'm doing vocals and Michael is doing his vocals and we need to concentrate. I said well I can't argue with that so thanks anyways so we went out to my car and we both couldn't believe we had met Dave Roth (laughs). You know, we were just young kids at the time; it was exciting and inspiring and something to live through, to work towards and to see that that kind of success can happen.
JH: Didn't you meet Eddie and Dave though many years before that?
GL: I did. I met Eddie at Glendale College. I actually went backstage to meet Randy (RHOADS) because I had seen Randy play but I ended up in VAN HALEN's dressing room and of course Dave is there and I asked where Randy was there and he said, no man, Randy is in the dressing room down the hall; this is VAN HALEN's dressing room so I said thank you and have a good show because I hadn't seen them play yet. So I went over and met Kevin and Randy, Drew and Kelly Garni and told them who I was and we became friends and always kept in touch and hung out after that. It was probably six months before we actually started talking and hanging out and running in the same circles. But that was the first time I had ever met Dave and Eddie and that was a big mind blower because I was the hotshot guitar player at the time in my town; everything evolved around what I was doing musically.
GL So I go to Glendale College and I'm in the front row; my drummer at the time, Brian was head custodian (janitor) at the Unified School District so he put 'RESERVED' front row seats on the chairs there and it was $2.50 to get in. And I remember that it was fuckin' awesome; you saw QUIET RIOT with a well-rehearsed show and that was great and then later it was VAN HALEN on the stage who I had never seen before and had no idea what I was going to see, the best guitar player in the world at that time but nobody knew him yet and there it was in front of me: these two monsters in Randy and Eddie and I was like, oh my God! But that was the only show they did together as far as I know and there was no rivalry although some said that Randy and Eddie were in a rivalry but that never happened. That was all just some people talking. But that was the night that changed everything for me because I knew that I was a contender for that if I could just get the right band together. But this was right back when I was still in high school I think, but it was a great night and I'll never forget it. It must have been '75 or '76 because I was playing with Brian then.
JH: So what year was SUITE 19?
GL: Well I was 19 years old and that lasted till about age 22 or 23, so '77 to '80 or so, maybe '78 to '80.
JH: In DOKKEN did you play with BOBBY BLOTZER?
GL: No, we wanted Blotzer or Don wanted Blotzer. He wanted him really bad because he was a great drummer back then; I don't know what he's like now and I do run into him every once in a while.
JH: You spoke earlier of your dad wanting you to get an education.
GL: Yes, get your high school diploma at the very least and then I got a scholarship, an Electronics scholarship because my grades were good so I went away to Arizona to school and I couldn't stand not being in a band. So after six months or so I left, came back, went to Glendale College and put a band together and that's when I met Gary and everything changed when we got together. We were getting gigs, getting guarantees and playing backyard parties and we were making more money playing the parties because all the money was coming to us, it was our shows and several hundred people would show up.
JH: You had told me as funny story about Eddie and David Lee when you first saw them?
GL: Yeah, I was playing at a house party, Chevy Chase Canyon Country Club and there were about three hundred people there and we're playing in the club house there and these two guys walked in. I'm standing there playing, I had my Fender Jaguar on doing FRANK MARINO and HENDRIX and stuff and my friends from high school are there and I see these two guys walk in and I said, those guys aren't from around here and they came over to me and watched me play. And after that we took a break and one of the guys goes, hey how do you get that tremolo arm to go down so low? I said, well I took the spring and I stretched it way out and then I put it back in the guitar and pulled the arm up so I go down further. And then when I went to Glendale College that night to see QUIET RIOT and VAN HALEN I realized that it was Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth who were at that party and Eddie was the one who asked me how I got the tremolo arm to go down so low. But at the party house that night I didn't know who they were and that was the very first night I ever met them in person.
JH: That's a great story. So when you went to the show at Glendale College did Eddie or David remember who you were?
GL: No, no, I don't think so. It had been a while between those two times so no, I doubt it.
JH: Did you guys flyer to advertise your gigs? I know you said you did that at house parties after VAN HALEN did it.
GL: Yeah, we started flyering all the big concerts with our band and that, flyers everywhere and security were running us off the lots because we saw it as advertising but they saw it as littering, which cracked me up. I mean we were promoting but they didn't see it that way (laughs). Half the people would throw the flyers on the ground and it was the venues that had to clean it all up. But after that, everybody started doing that, flyering at shows at the Sports Arena, The Forum, The Coliseum, even The Country Club and then we did it all the way up Sunset Blvd. and Santa Monica Blvd.; all you saw were band posters for two miles, both sides of the street. You'd see posters 5 deep; people were jumping out of cars with staple guns every night, it was crazy. And then some bands would take a pickup truck and pull all the posters down but leave theirs up there.
JH: So you were part of that?
GL: Oh yeah. But I got sick of that real quick especially when the cops threatened to take you in (jail) for littering. We flyered for GREG LEON INVASION and the way that I came up with that name was that VAN HALEN had a tee-shirt that said 'World Invasion' on it so I thought, wow that is a powerful word and in my mind I was thinking that I could do this, that I could invade the world. We were already selling out everywhere and people were digging us so why not call it an Invasion? I mean that's what we were trying to do, invade everybody. So I called up the guys because we were just GREG LEON at that point but I wanted INVASION added to the name, like TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS so I told the guys in the band and they loved it. People loved it but some people hated it and went, oh his ego is out of control now but you have to have a name and I didn't think it was fair to the guys to just have GREG LEON and that they were a backup band. I wanted this to be a band so that's how the name came about; my name and INVASION added to it.
JH: Partial thanks to VAN HALEN (laughs).
GL: I still use that name to this day. And VINNIE VINCENT had to buy it from me to use for 7 years.
JH: Did he? So that's where the money went.
GL: (laughs) I should have held out for a lot more but him using that name really hurt. (he has me turn off the recorder) So after 8 years or so I did end up going back to using INVASION again. It's been great though. I finally got to Europe a few years ago and played a bunch of festivals; I went to Hungary and Romania, 5,000-20,000 capacity and was there for two months. I got really lucky because a friend of mine who I had played with became a multi-millionaire he owned a big amplifier company and wanted to help me out so he knew some people over there and got me in touch with them, set it all up, paid for us and got us over there. And then he came and stayed a month with us while we were on tour; it was incredible. And at the end of every single song, the Hungarian people would scream, U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A. and they'd keep going until we started the next song. And we'd get encores but nobody knew who the hell I was but I won them over on the first song every night. And right before the headliner every night we played and the headliner was a band called POKOLGEP who watched me from the side every night and they saw me as a MARK FARNER (GRAND FUNK RAILROAD) kind-of-guy, you know because I'm a guitar player/singer, have a high voice with good range so me to them, that's what I was. And they would want to hang out with us after the shows so we would and it was just fun for two months. I also did MTV Europe over there on that tour so it was incredible. Aside from radio interviews I also did a morning show like Good Morning America but it was in Hungary and we played two songs, we had an interpreter there and after we left the show that day, almost everywhere we went people recognized us because they had seen the show. That was 2005 or '06 because we played ROCKLAHOMA in 2007; I can't believe it's been that long already.
JH: With other interviews I've done for LA Metal specials people tell me that they played in their hometown like Pasadena and Monrovia for VAN HALEN and SHARK ISLAND as well as ARMORED SAINT. The next step for a band was finally making it to the Sunset Strip, the major leagues. When was your first time there?
GL: Yep, it was. I went there for the first time right out of high school, not to play but to check it out, '77 probably. I went down there with some friends, we all loaded into a car and we went to The Whisky and I remember that I saw THE BABYS at The Whisky on New Year's Eve one year and I love THE BABYS so much but they were so boring and I was so let down because they just stood there and didn't move a muscle. Anyway, The Whisky was the first club I was ever at in Hollywood.
JH: So in the late 70's what was the scene like on the Strip then? Were you mesmerized or what?
GL: It was just starting to kick in. It was busy but it wasn't like the 80's were. Once VAN HALEN hit and all those bands from the United States came there, every night, seven nights a week there were bands playing and good bands. These bands came here to get a record deal ad there were girls everywhere, hot girls, hot women and stand-still parking just because there were so many people on the street and it was so crowded; it was a whole scene going on; it was great!
JH: Did you guys realize that you had to start playing on the Strip? And were you still playing backyard parties?
GL: We were still playing backyard parties because we made such good money and we didn't want to stop that. Plus it kept our fans in touch with us because when we would play the backyard parties we garnered all this fan base that we would go into Hollywood and it would sell out because all of those people would follow us there. You know, it was a big deal to go into Hollywood then and to say they know the band; back then they had a big guest list and you could have an open guest list almost anywhere that you played. So we would get everyone's names and they would call me up and get put on the guest list and there were a couple of girls that were helping us out so they'd put these people who called me on the guest list, like 2, 3 or 4 hundred people and they'd show up with us playing The Starwood so no wonder we were selling it out. And The Starwood was notorious because everybody was in there drinking, underage, partying and when the music was over the crowd left. The Starwood loved us and within twice of playing there we were headlining after that because we drew big crowds and the crowds loved us and the music and we were co-headlining with QUIET RIOT, WOLFGANG, SNOW, a lot of shows with SNOW. In SUITE 19 we played a lot of shows with QUIET RIOT but with SNOW, my band also played The Woodsound with them and all over the place, like clubs would pair us together. But SNOW had a band house in Arcadia and we use to have a party at their place after our gigs when we played together and it was so much fun. Nobody had anything but we all played all the time, had chicks around, partied and had a great time.
JH: Were you at The Starwood the first night that MOTLEY CRUE ever played? They opened the weekend for Y&T.
GL: Uh, I was there for all the LONDON gigs and I don't think I ever missed a LONDON gig because we would go there and flyer and then we'd watch the bands.
JH: You mentioned playing Rocklahoma back in 2007. Any particular memories of that show?
GL: Well TRACII GUNS was also playing and he saw me, ran up to me and kissed me and said, Greg Leon, I'm one of your biggest fans. Me and one of my friends MARK WORCHELL (JOHNNY CRASH) and SLASH used to hitchhike over Laurel Canyon just to see you in SUITE 19 and you were our guitar lesson. We loved you so much that we never missed a show and you were the reason that we started playing because we loved what you did. And I said, wow, I had no idea and he then said,will you play the All-Star jam with us? I had just driven for 14 hours and the All-Star jam was in an hour and I wasn't ready and Tracii said, my roadies will get your stuff and set it up; just tell me that you'll do it. So we did the All-Star jam at Rocklahoma with Tracii Guns, STEVEN ADLER, and a couple of others and we did "Highway To Hell" and one other song and Tracii kept looking at me because he was so proud to be onstage with me and he hadn't seen me play in like forever. I didn't know who he was except for that he had L.A. GUNS and started GUNS N' ROSES with AXL but every time he saw me that four-day weekend he would smile at me and say, it's so great to see you Greg. I had no idea these kids were checking me out when we played so it made me feel good.
JH: You were there guitar hero, but who were yours aside from JOHNNY WINTER and JIMI HENDRIX?
GL: ERIC CLAPTON, RICHIE BLACKMORE, RICK DERRINGER, TONY IOMMI. I almost joined DERRINGER after Danny Johnson left to start AXIS. And I was dating Linda Blair at the time and Linda was best friends with Rick's wife LIZ DERRINGER. So she got me in touch with Rick and I knew every damn Derringer song and lick and I used to look just like him when I was a kid. But we were talking on the phone and making plans for rehearsals and all of a sudden he decided to produce the CYNDI LAUPER album and play in her band so I never got the gig because there was no gig. But I came that close to playing with one of my heroes, RICK DERRINGER. And Rick and I talk about that gig every time we meet and I'm still friends with Danny Johnson.
JH: How did you meet Randy?
GL: Playing. Well I met him that one night that we talked about and then I met him at The Starwood and he saw my band play and then he came to some parties and brought QUIET RIOT with him and they played at a couple of our parties in Burbank because we'd take a break and they would get up and play so we became friends and hung out with each other. I remember one time we went to a Halloween party and both of us dressed like women, both nurses. My sister Debbie was a nurse so I wore one of her skirts and I had nylons on with the white shoes that nurses wore then, and I had really long hair then, had makeup on, clean-shaven face. So I show up to the party in Burbank and there is Randy dressed up like a nurse too and we laughed or asses off and chicks loved it; it was the funniest thing; we got so much attention that night.
JH: Who were the big boys on the Strip when you first started playing there? Who were the known guys that headlined then?
GL: VAN HALEN, that band called WOLFGANG that turned into AUTOGRAPH, and they played all the time; they were fun. SMILE was good; they were a really good draw.
JH: I know that there was music changing and nobody got signed until VAN HALEN did, so did that give you other bands hope?
GL: It gave us incredible hope because until then it was just LED ZEPPELIN, BLACK SABBATH, bands that weren't from around here were signed so it was never attainable for us bands who lived here. The mindset was, you know you did your show and you went home and went to sleep but then when VAN HALEN got a deal, you'd open up Creem Magazine and they're playing the Texas Jam for a hundred thousand people and all over Japan for a million (embellished) people and the records are selling like crazy, you go, you know what? They have the same background as us; we can do this. We're going to really push now so let's quit our jobs, not that we had jobs but we weren't going to get jobs, so let's push this thing every chance we get, promote the shit out of our music, rehearse because we're only going to be young once and let's do it! So we'd keep playing parties and clubs and keep it going and our dream was to get a VAN HALEN record deal. And we almost got a management deal with Marshall Berle, the guy who signed them originally. There was a guy with that company who wined and dined us and right before we got into negotiations, the guy got laid off or something and the one who replaced him had no interest in us at all because he was looking for the next KNACK. Nothing happened with us and we just stood there looking at each other going, what the hell was the last six months about? So that was that. We almost signed with them and they were tied to Warner Bros. and so we just licked our wounds and got back out there and looked for another deal like everybody else.
JH: There was Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads so what other guitar players were considered to be in the Top 4 or 5? Were you included in that?
GL: Yes. There were four of us: Randy, Eddie, GEORGE LYNCH and me. CARLOS CAVAZO was good but he didn't have that 'thing' that great
guitar players have. I hate to say that because I love him and he's better now but at that time he didn't have his vibrato together then and I have always been a huge proponent of vibrato because that's like your signature, like your fingerprint with music. With a guitar player it's his vibrato that separates him from the rest because everybody can play chords so it's your vibrato and your tone and how you execute shaking that note; it's like a voice.
JH: I had heard that you were being considered for OZZY when Randy passed away.
GL: When Randy died the rumor was going around that I was the guy they were looking at to replace him but I didn't even want the gig. I mean Randy meant so much to me and so much to all of my friends-that when Randy died I think a little piece of all of us died and it just was never the same after that. I mean you work so hard to get that good and you go through all of the shit that you do as a musician and you finally get there and it's taken from you. I was bumming at that time and then I started thinking, Randy made it, Eddie made it and then George takes my gig in DOKKEN and they get signed with the demoes that
GL: I recorded, so I was feeling sorry for myself. And my dad says, hey Greg, don't you think Randy would trade places with you in a second, to be with his girlfriend, mother, brother, sister? Don't you think he wouldn't even blink an eye? You don't know how lucky you are, Greg. So just go out and enjoy the music, enjoy your youth and I had to start thinking, wow he's right.
JH: So what was your plan when you were coming up? Were you a band guy or a solo guy?
GL: I'm a band guy; I like that comradery of a band. But you know what I found is that the older you get the harder it is to get that comradery with people because they have their guards up and are set in their ways. They're not one for all and all for one anymore, the ingredient that it takes to break through. I had a great band together two years ago, the best band that I've ever had in my life. I went to sleep with a smile on my face every night. We did a gig in a park, a FB reunion with all of my friends from grade school on up that hadn't seen me play in years and it was in a park of all places and tons Oof people there. We played a great gig, 5 or 6 encores and the next day they called me up and said they wanted to be paid for rehearsing and $400 minimum each guy for a gig. I said I'll get back to you but I never called them back. They wanted to be paid a salary and not have a job but I work. I love money too but I work. So I realized then that there weren't there for the love of the music so I know it's not going to work out. At that point I started focusing on my business, which is doing quite well.
JH: What business is that?
GL: I have an amp repair business; tube amp and studio gear repair.
JH: Great. When the 80's came around, it seemed like every band in addition to original music had a stage show and it was all about a show, a theme and the music. Your band and the bands you were in didn't really have that.
GL: We were more about the music. And I always thought and I may be 100% wrong but I figured the reason all those bands had to have a gimmick was because the music wasn't good enough. You know, they had to distract you somehow and that's the reason why now these singers have 30 people onstage dancing is because on their own they're nothing. We'd go out just the three of us and knock them dead. We delivered every night, we didn't phone it in and every note meant something and we were very serious about being the best musician we could be. And VAN HALEN really didn't have a gimmick; they just had a phenomenal front man and the best guitar player at the time on the planet and great songs. I remember the first time I saw them that I didn't see them for another year or two. They played almost the same set but I remembered all those songs and if you remember the song and can hum it then it's a good song and all those songs were good and you could remember them. So what we tried to do was not have a gimmick.
JH: Well you were probably the only band out there aside from DOKKEN, RATT to a certain extent that didn't have a stage show although DOKKEN and RATT at least dressed in stage clothes whereas you guys didn't. You guys dressed in street clothes and played like ROBIN TROWER or something.
GL: Yep. We just played but we were good.
JH: And with VAN HALEN, Dave was doing his front man thing, doing splits, entertaining the crowd, Alex had his huge drum kit up there that took up a lot of stage, Eddie had all his amps lined up so they were kind of arena ready the and came off as that.
GL: Yes. And that did change it a lot when VAN HALEN came up. Before that you had your front men like ROBERT PLANT and then you had DAVID LEE ROTH who was like a gymnast onstage flying all over the place so it was incredible. But we just thought that the music was strong enough and we were good enough that we didn't a gimmick and I was probably wrong.
JH: Do you ever regret any of that now?
GL: Yeah, sure. I regret leaving DOKKEN; they didn't want me to leave.
JH: Did you write any songs in DOKKEN?
GL: Yeah. Most of the songs on the first album I worked on with him; on the BREAKING THE CHAINS record? Yeah. Most of that stuff I played on the demoes over in Europe with him. Dieter Dierks produced it and he shopped it and got a record deal with those songs. But I didn't protect myself so I have nothing or no foot to stand on legally, so what are you going to do? I shouldn't say this but I've gotten money from BMI for all of the stuff that I did in Europe but I've never been paid for one fuckin' record sale. I've always been ripped off from the record labels, management, never received a penny from that first Japanese deal that I had that had eight pressings; never received a penny. And I was talking about suing them and my lawyer said to let it go; just do another record and protect yourself.
JH: Wow. Unbelievable. So on another subject, who did you like on the Strip then? Was there anybody who really stood out to you?
GL: You know we liked bands but none of them we thought were better than us. When Gary and I would go out, we'd drive back home after a night and say we're way better than them and we have better songs. And we'd get these people like GIORGIO MORODER, big time producer at the time in the late 70's and 80's who did disco and stuff, saw us at The Starwood, invited us up to his house but all he wanted to do was sleep with us. That's all he talked about after we did a little vocal thing at his studio; he wanted to sleep with the other two guys in the band because they were really pretty boys. I told the guys, let's get out here; he's about nothing and that's what happened with guys like LEIF GARRET at the time----other guys would use these kids and promise them things but after having sex with them never came through on their promises. And at it did was fuck them up and ruin their lives, abusing these kids; it was terrible. And they tried to do that with us and I wouldn't have any part of that. It was going around a little bit and I'll tell you names but not for the interview. One of the guys just died.
JH: Oh, the booking agent for The Starwood? SIXX told me the same thing about him.
GL: It was a different world back then, that's for sure.
JH: Did you ever see VAN HALEN at The Starwood?
GL: No, I saw them at The Whisky. I did see JUDAS PRIEST at The Starwood and they were great. I also saw Y&T at least eight times at The Starwood, probably every time they ever played there.
JH: I always wondered about QUIET RIOT though. I mean, I know what you have said but once Randy died that's when they got a deal. In QUIET RIOT though, Randy was more of a pop guy, not a metal player.
GL: They weren't heavy or hard but once I got in there it got heavy because I've always been a big BOSTON fan and I love vocals and harmonies. So when I got in that band and DOKKEN too, I brought that element into the band and that's one of the things that separated DOKKEN from the rest were the vocals. JEFF PILSON and I have the same vocal range so to me he is the DOKKEN vocal sound because I've seen them many times since I left and after one song Don't voice is blown out but once Jeff steps up to the mic the vocal sound is back. And when I was in the band we had four-part harmonies and Gary Holland, GARY LINK both sang backgrounds and Don and I shared leads. It was a pretty unique band; a really good band.
JH: What were your favorite venues to play?
GL: The Starwood. That place was incredible. The sound was all JBL and if the room was tuned you could hear a pin drop and no matter how loud your band was you could hear everything. Everything about that club was awesome from the great dressing rooms to the guest list to the management to the soundmen, the servers, everything was awesome there.
JH: What kind of stories do you have about VAN HALEN, DOKKEN, QUIET RIOT, MOTLEY CRUE or any of the bands of that day?
GL: Most of the stories I have I can't repeat (laughs).
GL: Yeah because there was a lot of nonsense going on. I can tell you one thing that comes to mind because it involves something we've already talked about. You remember that head that I got from KSR Studios in Hollywood? I still have it Eddie Van Halen rented it from me to do the "Beat It" solo on the MICHAEL JACKSON THRILLER record, the biggest-selling record of all time. It's my amp that is on there because his shit was on tour and he flew in from New York, went into the studio, cut the track and went back. He rented it for $100 and I wish that I would have kept the rental receipt.
JH: That's some history there. Any particular stories about getting a deal or a showcase?
GL: Yeah, one comes to mind. My manager flew Jason Flom of Atlantic Records out to see us at FM Station in North Hollywood one time when he was interested in the band. The manager paid for everything, got him a great top floor Hotel room up in Universal City, nice room, catered to all his needs and everything, including getting his some party favors (cocaine). The night we played Jason is there sitting on the couch near the stage and he had drank so much that he passed out and never saw us play! I stood up there playing and singing and just looked at him in disgust passed out and all I could think of was, is this what everybody goes through to get a record deal? Man, I couldn't believe it.
GL: And then Michael Wagener comes into the picture, falls in love with what we're doing and Gary Holland and I are playing together again years later after the DOKKEN thing and Gary runs into him and plays Michael some music and he loves it and says, let me produce you guys and when you guys get a deal I'll do the real record for you guys and I'll just do this for free for you. So I told my manager, my manager sends out some money, I book a studio in Burbank and tell my manager that Michael Wagener is producing this for free on spec because when the deal comes he'll work out a deal for doing the real record then. So he calls up Jason Flom and tells him, well Greg has Michael Wagener working with him and Michael Wagener at the time was the shit (the best).
GL: So my manager Chris calls Jason saying that Michael is doing it for free so then Jason Flom calls op Michael Wagener and goes, I heard that you're doing Greg Leon for free? Michael goes, Greg who? He acted like he didn't know anything about it and then Michael calls Gary up mad as hell and goes, dude, I'm doing you guys a favor; I can't let them know that I'm doing bands for free because I don't do stuff free for labels. I'm doing this because I like you guys and now your manager calls and I had to act like I didn't know anything about it. So Jason Flom calls my manager back and says, you know what, fuck you, you fuckin' liar----he doesn't even know who Greg Leon is! He hangs up the phone after saying that and we were this close to a deal on Atlantic Records. So that was another time and I was like, oh man! Again it was something that I had no control over it and I didn't know about it until it was over close calls, near misses; pretty incredible.
JH: You still play live, you still release new albums but in looking back on everything do you have any regrets?
GL: Yes, I release new material, I still play live, I love playing, I produce and write for my wife; uh, we go out and do gigs all the time so I still love doing it. Do I have any regrets? Well yeah, in hindsight I shouldn't have left DOKKEN. It's hard for me to look the other way when I see stuff happening and I try to treat people the way I want to be treated and I expect the same respect from people I play with that I give them. But I just saw so many things going on behind the scene that I didn't want to be part of and I caught so many lies and so I got to the point where I said I don't want to do this anymore if this is the game you have to play. So I left DOKKEN, he goes back to Germany, he shops the demoes that I helped write and recorded and gets a deal on Carrere Records. Then he hooks up again with Dieter Dierks for the SCORPIONS because Klaus was getting vocal cord surgery or something and for six months he wasn't allowed to sing or talk; Don goes in and does the vocals on whatever record it was and lands a record deal with the songs that I worked on with him. So there's a regret there but when I look at where these guys are now and what they have to do----and look at QUIET RIOT; FRANKIE BANAL' and those guys have to keep going out and playing as QUIET RIOT and none of them were original members. Why? QUIET RIOT was Kevin, pure and simple. There is no QUIET RIOT without Kevin. Chuck and Frankie came way later, years later. I think I'd kill myself if I had to live my life reliving 1983 again, trying to keep that window alive.
JH: Like the line from the AEROSMITH song "Amazing". Life's a journey, not a destination'.
GL: Exactly, perfectly stated; that line is the greatest, thank you STEVEN TYLER. I'm very happy with my life right now, playing shows and then coming back to my business that's very successful and lucrative. I have a beautiful wife who I love dearly and love being with, I've travelled but the one place I'd really like to go is Japan one day. I've had two tours offered to me but both times the same management said, wait till you're bigger and all it did was make the band break up because we waited till everybody was sick of waiting and everybody got offers from other people and they left. So again I was left with starting over again because it was my name but I know I have to go to Japan because I have a good fan base over there just from the fan mail and emails that I get and social media messages. But that is my bucket list, to go to Japan and tour because the people there really love music and they really, really get it. So I have to get to Japan sometime and thank God I still have my voice and I still play well.
JH: Aside from QUIET RIOT and DOKKEN were there any other bands that wanted you in the band? I know you had said MOTLEY CRUE.
GL: Well it did turn into MOTLEY CRUE; they didn't have a name yet or a guitar player so yeah but FOGHAT wanted me as well. They wanted me to play with them when DAVE PEVERETT left. I was actually at the NAMM show and I was demoing at a booth for Charvel Guitars and Powerpods, which was an electronic booster that went inside the guitar. So I was in the booth and the road crew for FOGHAT came by and they were watching me play slide guitar and afterwards they were asking me questions and they said they would bring the members of the band by tomorrow to meet me because they were looking for another guitar player who could sing. FOGHAT was my favorite band at the time but I had just joined DOKKEN and so I talked to some friends who said that FOGHAT weren't going to go anywhere so just that I should stay in DOKKEN. So I turned down the audition for FOGHAT, which I know I would have gotten because I could play that stuff to a 'T'. But I don't really have many regrets.
GL: You know I did stuff pretty much on my own terms and if something was fishy or stunk, I got out of that situation because all I wanted to do was play and not do bad things to people like a few and I think you know who I mean here. That's why I can go anywhere and nobody will have anything bad to say about me because I never screwed anybody over. I had a guy in my own band want to kill me because I kicked him out of the band. Why? Because he broke into my car and stole all the seats and sold them and so I kicked him out of the band. True story. He committed theft on my own car to make money so I fired him. Why would I want to play with anybody who did that to me? Then he was mad at me and called me an asshole because I refused to play with a guy whom I let live with my family for a year or two while we were playing in a band together. It was ridiculous.
JH: So I'm guessing because of the money you generated that you didn't have strippers taking care of you or paying your bills and buying you guitars?
GL: (laughs) No.
JH: And you lived at home, right?
GL: Well I did have a few of my own places but I did live at home for the most part because I had a studio here. I am also a big nut for fish: I breed tropical fish as you can see and sell them as a business on the side and as my folks got older they needed someone to help them out and this place is large enough; both my sisters moved away so I came back home here. But I had a few places on my own back in the day but then I came back here. As you can see I have my car collection here, my fish business, my recording studio and my amp repair business.
JH: Who are some of your clients as far as amp repair and modifying business?
GL: Oh JACKSON BROWNE, STEWART COPELAND, I've done a lot of stuff for LEMMY and PHIL from MOTORHEAD; they've been up here a lot---I do stuff for VIVIAN of DEF LEPPARD, GEORGE LYNCH, CARLOS CAVAZO, JUAN CROUCIER, GEORGE BENSON, I just did an amp for LARRY CARLTON a couple of weeks ago, BILLY MUMY, BILLY WEST who does all the voices like REN & STIMPY, he's on HOWARD STERN too, so many people that I can't even think of right now; JEFF DUNCAN from ARMORED SAINT, JOEY VERA----Joey Vera was in the first INVASION. I also do work for some amp shops, guitar stores and so on.
JH: How about WARREN DeMARTINI? Did you ever work on his amps?
GL: I'm glad you reminded me because Warren almost came in to play guitar with me in the INVASION. And it was between him and JAKE E. LEE and I picked JAKE E. LEE and Jake played with me up to the point that he got the gig with OZZY. And he wouldn't sign with my management company for the month that we played together and we were dual leads, us each playing lead, us each playing rhythm and he wouldn't sign the agreement, he kept avoiding the contract and he was going to auditions for OZZY. And when he got the OZZY gig I said, dude why didn't you tell me that you were doing that because you would have got the gig? So I wished him good luck and that was that.
JH: Who were some of the guys that became known that have been in the INVASION?
GL: Joey Vera. That band would have been huge had he stayed. We had management and when he left it was just never the same. After that we never could get a guy with the magic that he and I had; that band was so magical. We were fresh and young and I was just out of DOKKEN and I had something to prove to the band and we had these dates and women were going crazy for us. It was incredible! And he wanted to play with his high school buddies. We had the best time in the INVASION and then one day he wanted to go off and join his high school buddies and that's when ARMORED SAINT was formed. But he hung in the-re about a year with me and there are no hard feelings on my part because he deserves the success he has had. But I wish it got to the point where that record deal would have happened instead of him skating out like that.
GL: For about a month I played with ROUGH CUTT and RONNIE and WENDY DIO were mentoring and managing us but I didn't join the band because I didn't hear any hits. But we were rehearsing at Mates in North Hollywood and one day this old beat up Toyota Corolla pulls up and I hear my name called so I turn around and it's ARMORED SAINT, the entire band in that little car. And this was after their third or fourth record, they had no money and they were driving around like that and all I was thinking was, why are you guys doing this if this is how you have to live? This is crazy! You guys are going on the road for months at a time and you're driving a car that is worth $50? I'm glad that I grew up when I did, all those great bands from the 70's and you had hope and dreams of making it but young bands these days don't have any of that. You know what? I never worried about money until the last couple of managers that I had because they were all about the money and they poisoned it for me. They wouldn't let me do certain gigs because it wasn't much money.
JH: Who was your closest friend coming up? Who did you hang with the most?
GL: Of who made it? Randy and I were pretty close and we met at the Glendale College gig with VAN HALEN but after that at The Starwood we met again and we just hit it off. So we were both guitar players and he knew about me and I knew of him so we hit it off and invited each other to our parties and we just became friends.
JH: What do you miss about the 80's?
GL: Gigs to play all the time. I miss having a lot of gigs lined up as well as the fun and the excitement and the way that the people were back then, which was so into the music. Today kids have YouTube, MTV Classics, AXS TV and all these wonderful things to distract them from the music so they don't have or want to go see a band because it's already available on your computer, phone or television set for free and you can sit at home and watch your favorite bands for three hours the best they've ever been. It's not like it was when I was growing up because you had to go out and see bands; there were no videos or any of that in the early days. You've listened to a record and then you went to a concert and that is what everybody did in Hollywood, Glendale, everywhere in LA and I'm sure the rest of the country too. I miss all of that. I also miss the naiveté of how the music business really is because the way we thought it was is not the way it really was. It's always been a business, it's always been corrupt, and the record companies have always chipped off your profits or lied to you or whatever. Now you're online selling your stuff but you really aren't moving anything but major labels had the promotion, advertising and global distribution budgets and power to sell and get product readily available. The internet on the other hand has destroyed bands having any revenue stream so I must say, Lars was right. What METALLICA said would happen, has happened and only musicians would understand what I'm talking about but it's true.
JH: You told me on the phone that you had an YNGWIE story.
GL: Yeah. I opened up for Yngwie his very first show in America when he was playing in the band STEELER. It was at The Troubadour and I did my sound check and some people came up and said that I should stick around and see this next guy coming up; like he is something you have never seen and nobody could pronounce his name. So I stick around and I see this guy and he has a Marshall 50 watt half stack and a Stratocaster and one or two pedals and he gets up there and plays the most monstrous, amazing, blistering leads I've ever heard in my life. So I wait till they're done and I'm upstairs and he comes upstairs and gets on one knee to tie his shoe. I walk over to him and put my hand out to shake his hand and say, dude, you are probably the best guitar player I have ever seen in my life and he looks up at me and goes, yeah I know. And he didn't shake my hand; he just went back to tying his shoe (laughs). And I just stood there like an idiot with my hand out like, wow, okay. So move ahead 20 years or so, I'm at the Avalon on Vine Street across from Capitol Records and now we're friends and I'm backstage after the concert and there are about a dozen of us hanging out backstage and his wife April is there and Yngwie has his shirt unbuttoned down to his belly and his big gut is hanging out. Everyone is telling Yngwie stories and finally I go, I've got a good story for you and I tell that story so his wife comes over and hits him so hard that I felt it. It took his breath away and he had a big red mark and April says, that's why you can't be an asshole to people because nobody forgets anything. And Yngwie goes, Greg, I really said that to you and I go, yeah and he goes, wow, I was really full of myself. I said, well I'm glad it happened because I've gotten a lot of mileage out of that story (laughs).
GL: I also auditioned for GRAHAM BONNET and I got the gig and he calls me up and says, Greg, I've got good news and bad news: he says the good news is that you got the gig, they loved you and the bad news is that the other guitar player does not want another guitar player in the band so we won't be adding another guitar player. But we became friends after that and I took my wife to the audition because I had just turned her onto the DOWN TO EARTH album, and we just love that record but I remember Graham calling me and he felt so bad. I said dude, don't even worry about it; we're still friends though and I see him from time to time.
JH: Are you a metal guy at all because the 80's was when the LA Metal Scene started on the Sunset Strip and you were here before that with VAN HALEN as a teenager? I mean it was all about leather, silver jewelry, hot chicks, crazy videos on MTV, arena rock, heavy metal was the biggest musical genre and all that so are you a metal guy?
GL: Well I'm not a metal guy because I don't like screaming and stuff like that but I do like good melodic hard rock.
JH: Like RATT?
GL: Yeah, RATT, WHITESNAKE, DEEP PURPLE, ZEPPELIN, HUMBLE PIE, FOGHAT; you know I like good melodic hard rock that has melody to it.
JH: We talked about regrets earlier. You were here in the very, very beginning, you were one of the Top 4 guitar players in the LA area. Even before VAN HALEN got signed you were gigging too and playing backyard parties and you honestly thought you were getting signed and there were so many times and opportunities but those all went away for one reason or another. From what I have heard here is that it was bad management or the wrong management in my opinion.
GL: You are absolutely right. We always had the wrong management that did not know how to handle us and they dropped the ball every time. It seemed like when I was taking care of business things moved ahead to the point where I'd say, okay now we need management because it's getting big. So we'd sign with somebody and they'd drop the ball and they would screw the whole thing up. There were labels checking us out and management would say the wrong thing or they would try to play hardball with the record label and that would turn the record label off.
JH: So are you angry the way it turned out? Did you really want that rock star stardom?
GL: Well I did want the rock stardom, I did want to tour the world and I did want to make records for a major label but no, I'm not mad at all because like I said, I've got and have had a great life, got a nice house, a great wife so I'm very happy with it.
JH: I know you got taken advantage on and therefore never received credit for songs where you wrote all the music to or ones that you simply helped write, like on the first DOKKEN record where you received no credit at all. What are some of those songs? I mean there was a song on your first record that had parts from other songs.
GL: Oh that's "I'm Leaving You" and "Paris Is Burning" sounds very similar to that on the first DOKKEN record. But that first record, BREAKING THE CHAINS was stuff I wrote on every song.
JH: One of our mutual friends said to me that "Party All Night" and "Thunderbird" is stuff where you wrote the music and all Kevin did was write the lyrics.
GL: No, with "Thunderbird" we both contributed to that but "Party All Night" is musically all mint.
JH: Still though you received no credit for it or money.
GL: Oh no; either or. I had "Thunderbird" on the first QUIET RIOT album METAL HEALTH and "Party All Night" on CONDITION CRITICAL. And there is so much more but the reality of it is that at some point you have to let it go. The classic lineup of QUIET RIOT say that they have never earned a penny from their albums and I know that I never did but they got credit for what I wrote on the records.
JH: What is the best advice that you ever got from any of your peers like STEPHEN PEARCY or NIKKI SIXX or somebody?
GL: Those guys never told me anything but my dad and his friends said to always hold onto your publishing because that's where you make the money is in the publishing so don't sign your publishing away and I never did and I had a lot of offers for record deals but they all wanted for me to sig my publishing over and I was like, I'm not going to give you everything. So I was pretty hard set on that unless they gave me millions of dollars up front but that never happened.
JH: But Don and Kevin did take advantage of you and stole your musical ideas, right?
JH: And no hard feelings toward those two?
GL: Not any more. I had to let it go because it'll drive you crazy. I'd rather be happy than pissed off over something that I have no control over.
JH: Have you talked to them in recent years?
GL: Oh yeah. I see Don from time to time and we're really good. We always have some laughs and hug each other and see how each other is doing.
JH: That's it for me, Greg. Thanks for all this time.
GL: My pleasure; it was fun and I've enjoyed it so thank you.