Black ‘N Blue were one of the first bands to perform at the infamous Cathouse club on the Sunset Strip in the 1980s, alongside other reputable hard rock and glam metal groups that left their mark on the era.
If you didn’t have the chance to experience those moments three decades ago, you need to experience it on August 15 when the members of Black ‘N Blue hit the stage at the anticipated Cathouse Live! festival in Irvine Meadows, California.
While their lineup has changed over the years, with guitarist Tommy Thayer having since become the lead guitarist for KISS, the band is still piloted by mainman and core songwriter Jaime St. James. While James has had previous ventures with Warrant and numerous side projects, he remains at the helm of the band responsible for such anthems as “Hold On to 18” and “School of Hard Knocks.”
The same can similarly be said for drummer Pete Holmes; although he spent a number of years on the road alongside Michael Schenker, Holmes returned to Black ‘N Blue full-time in 2008 and has remained with the band ever since.
Music Enthusiast had the honor of sitting down with Jaime St. James and Pete Holmes at the Rainbow Bar & Grill in Hollywood, California to discuss their history in the Sunset Strip, the lasting power of their music, and what they’re looking forward to about the Cathouse Live! festival.
Music Enthusiast: At the age of five you knew you wanted to be a musician. What influenced you to have that desire to be a musician at such a young age?
Jaime St. James: Just seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, that’s all I needed. I didn’t know what it’s going to be, I just saw everybody was going to watch. I thought it was going to be a monster movie, and it turned out to be the Beatles. I just watched it and all of a sudden it sparked in my brain: music. I just knew I could do music, and we rolled from there.
You continued playing guitar and then switching to the drums all through high school, where you met original band mate and now longtime friend Tommy Thayer. How did you two meet?
Jaime: I first saw Tommy in a parade. We do something called the Rose Parade in Portland, and I played drums and he played the saxophone. We were in different bands, and we both saw each other in the big tall fuzzy hats with too much hair fricken hanging out of it. We saw each other and pointed at each other ‘cause we looked the same. We never spoke. A couple years later he came down to audition for my band that was called Hell at the time, and I go, “That’s the guy in the hat!” That’s true!
Shortly after Black ‘n Blue made the move to Hollywood, playing in clubs on the sunset strip such as The Troubadour and the Whisky a Go Go. That’s quite the move, did you ever second guess yourself or did you just go for it?
Jaime: Well, I never did. Pete will tell ya, I know for a fact we needed to come to Los Angeles to make it. We were never going to make it in Portland.
Pete Holmes: We had done everything up there we possibly could do playing covers in clubs, and it was the next step. We all knew that naturally it wasn’t a big transition. We had been coming down periodically playing and working up a following, so it was a natural thing. We all knew it wasn’t a big decision at all. Just said, “We gotta go!”
Jaime: We did, in fact. Sitting here and looking over there, it reminded me playing at the Roxy way back. We had a truck, drove from Oregon. We would drive back and forth a 1000 miles each way to play shows. We parked it right over there where that “Rainbow” truck is (approx.75 feet from where we were sitting) with our stuff in in.
Pete: To play the Roxy.
Jaime: 1000 miles to play the “Roxy” then drive back for a year in ‘81. ‘82 we moved here, we did that.
The band had their big break in 1983 upon meeting your first manager Garo Tashjian and signing with Geffen Records. Black ‘n Blue was also the third metal band from L.A. to be signed out of the 80s behind Motley Crue and Quiet Riot. You were soon playing to packed clubs, like the Troubadour and the Roxy. The Sunset Strip is a huge part of rock history, tell us about those times?
Jaime: It’s not the same and it will never be, but it was an amazing place to be. We used to live right down the street off of Sunset on a side street called Cartel. We lived right down the road, and every night we would go and see other bands. There would be a band either at the Troubadour, Roxy or the Whisky, or you would have to go out a little more to the Country Club or you could really put your filth through a fucking hell and go to Madam Wong’s, but we would go to see bands then hang out at the Rainbow afterwards. We didn’t have any money. We would get ourselves in for free ‘cause we played and the girls would buy us drinks. We would have a good time, but it was a crazy time. I’ll never forget, right out there on that street after hours it would be full of people. The parking lot would be spilling into the street until the cops finally stopped it, but from 2 to 4 AM it was like a ton of people out there, everybody walking out in the street and everybody knew each other. It was one of the best times in the world to be in.
Generations now will never experience or even know what it was about, except through photos or reading the history.
Pete: It’s still an influence on a lot of people to come here. To come to Hollywood and LA to try and make it, that is the main influence. this is where you want to go. It still has an influence on everybody.
Black ‘n Blue released their self-titled album in 1984, with the songs “Autoblast,” “Hold on to 18,” “Wicked Bitch” and “School of Hard Knocks” being the strongest tunes which fans identify the band with. What is it about those songs that allows them to still resonate with fans after thirty years?
Jaime: One of the things when I think about Black ‘n Blue, I think back at everything. I think about all the bands that that played back then. A lot of our songs – not every one of them a lot of them – stand the test of time somehow, ‘cause they are not cheesy. They didn’t start out cheesy. A lot of the songs don’t get sucked into that time period. They’re kind of universal. We are influenced by the 70’s stuff and wrote these songs with bigger things in mind. These songs on the first record are big for a lot of people, but people like the second record. It’s kind of a battle of those two records. The only thing I can say is that the songs last, even if some of them sound a little dated. “Hold On to 18” is universal, it doesn’t sound stuck in that time period. “Autoblast” you mentioned, that song could kick ass on a Foo Fighters album right now. That’s what I think.
You sometimes hear that the producer overseeing the album has a strong influence on the final product. Did working with Gene Simmons on the third and fourth records have anything to do with Black ‘n Blue’s change in direction?
Jaime: No, Tommy Thayer and myself had the idea to change the direction. We wanted to get a little more raw. We had a real polished album with Bruce Fairbairn and Bobby Rock which was a great, excellent record and Mike Frasier was the second engineer. He was plugging stuff in that went on to work with Aerosmith but we wanted to beef stuff up. Gene Simmons was there to ask if we could do it. What do you think Pete?
Pete: There was a time when Gene wanted to change parts of songs or make the arrangements a little different. Both Jaime and Tommy said, “Hey, this is a Black ‘N Blue record, not a KISS record.” They stood up for that, and I think that commanded a lot of respect from Gene. The guys knew what we were doing, we knew the direction that band was going. It was all us.
With the split of Black ‘n Blue in 1989, you set out on a solo career. You formed the band named Freight Train Jane, who released one album that was never released here in the States. Why was this a limited release?
Jaime: I had a Japanese record deal. That’s how I was able to record that band, and in America nobody wanted to touch a guy from the 80’s, that came out in 94. I was a dinosaur no one wanted to ride.
Would you later release it?
Jaime: It is what it is, and I’m just going to let it be. There was a very limited release of only 500 copies that got released a few years ago, but that’s probably pretty much it. No label wants to put anything behind that anymore because people bootleg them. Everyone that wants it has it ‘cause it’s been bootlegged. The record industry is that messed up, I don’t get any more off that.
Black ‘n Blue reunited for one night to a sold out show on Halloween in 1997, which was recorded and released as a live album, titled ‘One Night Only.’ Was there any talk at the time of reforming for additional dates?
Pete: I don’t think there was, we were just getting together to do what we had to do. We had a label that was willing to put it out, something we hadn’t done in a long time. It was fun, fun to get everybody back together to do that and it came off really well, just the couple rehearsals we did. The show came off really good, and we can get that vibe off that record, too.
Jaime: It’s actually an amazing live record. We recorded it there with a good friend of ours Pat Regan who knows what he’s doing. Some of the live songs on that record sounds better than the songs original recordings to me. It just came out better. It’s a good record. Buy it!
You replaced Jani Lane when he stepped away from Warrant in 2004 for four years. Who approached you about stepping in, and did you have any reservations about joining such a well- known rock group?
Jaime: Jerry Dixon actually called me from the road. He said, “I think we need a singer and we want you to come. Where are you at?” I said, “I’m in Portland, Oregon working on the ‘Hell Yeah!’ record for Black ‘n Blue.” He goes, “When we get back, I want to fly you down and see how it sounds.” We all had a meeting and talked about it, their decision was “We should get the Saint.” I wasn’t doing a whole lot of live shows at that point, so I thought, “why not give it a shot?” If I didn’t sound good doing it, I would of said I can’t do this. If someone asked me to do a Led Zeppelin tribute, I’m out, because I don’t know how to sing Led Zeppelin stuff. I suck at it. I thought if I sounded good… I flew down to L.A. and did five songs, they said thank you and I flew home. Two days later they said, “You want the job, you got it.” It was fun, fun times.
Do I want it? I don’t like replacing another singer. A singer is like 50% of the personality. the sound, all the playing of the guys is the other half. Playing means everything, but a voice is a voice that people identify with real quick. I thought I was going to get shit thrown at me when I first went out there, but it ended up working out for the most part. There is always one guy flipping you off, the rest was OK.
Warrant went into the studio the following year to record and release the album ‘Born Again.’ What were those sessions like, and how collaborative was the process?
Jaime: We wrote stuff on our own, I wrote a couple of songs myself and presented it to the band. One was called “Hell California” the other one was “Rollercoaster,” and then I collaborated with Erik Turner and Jerry Dixon on three or four others. These guys wrote stuff. Jerry Dixon wanted to write some songs, they got to write some songs without Jani involved and they finally got to get some songs on there, which was exciting for them. I think it’s a good record. The hard core Warrant fans aren’t going to like it, but some who just love rock are going to like it. It’s good.
I like “Glimmer,” it really shows what a good vocalist you are.
Jaime: That was a song where the guys wrote the music and gave it to me and I wrote the lyrics, melodies, came in and said, “Here we go. Watch me sing it.” It was cool, it was a nice song to do.
Black ‘n Blue formally reunited in 2008, scheduling tour dates and making the attempt of releasing the album ‘Hell Yeah’ which had been in the works since 2003. It seems that our generation of music has come full circle, with bands of the 80’s coming back strong. Black ‘n Blue being one of them, was this just the right time for this to happen?
Jaime: Honestly it all started with me getting a solo record deal out of England. I called up Jeff “Woop” Warner and said, “You got a studio, I got a deal. “Why don’t we do a Black ‘N Blue record?” It kind of took off from there. It took forever to do. That was the time I was with Warrant doing 60 dates a year, but we finally got it together. I think it’s a great record, and Frontiers ended up buying out the original deal to give us more time and money. Frontiers is a great record label. It all fell together by accident, and from that point on we decided to be a band again. We started playing live and that’s so much fun for me. I have had more fun standing on stage with Black ‘N Blue. That’s where I live and it’s a blast.
‘Hell Yeah’ was released in 2011, and you played some of the drum tracks on this album. Was there any part of the album re-recorded before the release?
Jaime: I just did it ‘cause Pete wasn’t there and we needed some drums to play everything else off of. I said you could erase me, whatever you wanted to do.
Pete: I was out with Michael Schenker. I played with Michael for about ten years, and I just couldn’t do it being on the road. Jaime went in and did it, and they wanted to get me up there to do at least a couple songs or do them over. I thought there’s no need to do that; there is a million reasons why not to do that. I went up to do a couple songs and it turned out good. I thought that his stuff was better than mine, actually. It holds up, it’s a great record and I’m really proud of it, even though I didn’t play much of it. The guys did a great job.
I’ve seen Jaime play drums, he is a kick ass drummer.
Jaime: Honestly on or off the record, I wish Pete would of played the whole record. I wish I could of seen what he could of done with the stuff, ‘cause he would have been better than me. That’s all I can tell you.
Having reformed Black ‘n Blue, what are your thoughts on Tommy Thayer having since replaced Ace Frehley in KISS?
Pete: I wasn’t surprised when all that happened, it’s not a big a deal to me as far as him being that character, as it is to so many other people. The hard core fans maybe stay true to it, but I think it’s great. I knew Tommy would do something like that, I thought he was going to be a producer and be this huge name in the production end of it. I’m not surprised, I’m happy for him. I think it’s great.
Jaime: We love Tommy and we are happy for him. I like Ace Frehley and know Ace, I think he’s a great guy. Whatever happens between those guys business-wise and band-wise, it doesn’t have anything to do with me. I’m very happy for Tommy Thayer and I think he does a fricken great job. That being said, I’m out!
During the Cathouse Live! Festival on August 15 at Irvine Meadows, Black ‘n Blue will be hitting the stage. Is there anything you’re looking forward to seeing at this festival?
Jaime: Yeah! A massive crowd because everybody keeps saying we want a festival. We play the Mid-West, Texas and Oklahoma all over the rest of the country. Why don’t we ever have one on the West Coast? Guess what? We have one. Go to the damn show! Because if you go it’s going to work, and then we’ll have more. You’ve been belly aching for fifteen years about having a festival like this on the West Coast. You got it. Go! Fifteen bucks is the cheapest seat. You don’t have fifteen bucks? Don’t go to McDonalds three times and you’re in.
What can the Black ‘n Blue fans expect to see?
Pete: Hard Rock, kick ass show. I mean, we’re bringing it. We only have a small amount of time, which I think all the bands have the same amount of time. We’re bringing it, you’re not going to have time to breath. It’s going to be the old standard, shove down your throat, you’re going to be burping this band the rest of the day, let me tell ya!