Interview By Robert Cavuoto
In Mid-March to the excitement of US fans, Black Star Riders will be supporting Saxon and Judas Priest for a North American tour.
With their third CD Heavy Fire out last year and securely under their belt, the band continues to build on the success of their previous two releases All Hell Breaks Loose  and Killer Instinct . Their music combines commercial hard rock with big riffs and a tremendous sense of melody – all sung with a true sense of passion and purpose. The band consists of Ricky Warwick on vocals, Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson on guitars, Robbie Crane on bass, and Chad Szeliga on drums.
I caught up with singer and guitarist, Ricky Warwick to talk about the tour with Judas Priest and Saxon, their secret to making great albums, and their friendship with Def Leppard.
Robert Cavuoto: Are you as excited about the tour with Judas Priest and Saxon as I am?
Ricky Warwick: Terribly excited! Time is going so slowly too; I guess it’s a good thing when you are getting older! [Laughing] We have known about the tour from August of last year and have been counting down the days. We are honored to be part of it.
Robert Cavuoto: You must have been busting at the seams to tell people!
Ricky Warwick: We couldn’t say anything for about two months until it was all signed, sealed, and delivered. We couldn’t tell anyone outside of our social circles. It was a relief when we could finally tell people. It’s a massive thing for Black Star Riders. I’m happy to be part of it.
Robert Cavuoto: Are you fans of both bands?
Ricky Warwick: I’m the punk rocker in the band who grew up on AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, and Motorhead. Judas Priest was the heavy metal band to like if you were punk. British Steel was an album I had and loved as well as Saxon’s Denim & Leather. It’s a “must have” in any hard rockers record collection. I think Damon and Robbie would be the two hardcore Priest and Saxon fans in the band. Both bands are phenomenal for what they have accomplished in their bands for the last 35 to 40 years.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you think you have to win over the audience or do you feel the three bands have a solid connection to metal and hard rock?
Ricky Warwick: We have the Thin Lizzy connection which is great in our arsenal, but ultimately you are playing in front of their fans. I have to earn their respect, and it would be facetious of us to walk on out there and say “We are Black Star Riders and we have Scott Gorham in the band from Thin Lizzy aren’t we great!” That’s just setting yourself up to fail. [Laughing] We will be playing every night as if nobody knows who the hell we are and have a point to prove. That’s the way we always play even at our own shows. We never take anything for granted, that’s the whole thing with Black Star Riders. We are an “in your face passionate band” and want to make people believers at the end of the night no matter who they are or what music they are into.
Robert Cavuoto: What has been the reason that you haven’t come to the US sooner particularly for Heavy Fire as it’s been out about a year?
Ricky Warwick: We are now, and this is us promoting Heavy Fire! Europe is a big stronghold for the band, and we did two UK tours as well as seven weeks worth of festival dates across Europe last summer. That took us up to the Fall then went to Japan. So the whole year was taken up with promoting the record. We were waiting to get on the right tour. We felt we needed some help in the states so a tour like this will help spread the word. We have been waiting, pushing, and trying and it came together with Priest. It’s something we really have been waiting to get on since the band started.
Robert Cavuoto: I noticed when you are on tour you also perform acoustic shows in clubs or at promotional type events. Are any of those acoustic shows planned?
Ricky Warwick: Absolutely! Damon and I go out and do acoustic shows playing songs from the bands we were in as well as cover songs. It’s something we love to do so it if the opportunity arises we will do it. It’s a no-brainer, and it’s easy. I know we are looking into the possibility of doing them as a pre-shows or after-shows. We love doing it.
Robert Cavuoto: With each CD, Black Star Riders appears to be building on the band’s success and strength on songwriting as the band comes into your own. Do you feel that is the case?
Ricky Warwick: We came out of the Thin Lizzy’s history and evolved from there. We were not sure how people were going to take to the band. We weren’t sure if anybody was going to like it or even care. We knew we were a good band and had some great songs, but that goes for nothing if people don’t buy it. Thankfully they did. That gave us the confidence to become our own band and move forward. The first album did well, the second album did better, and Heavy Fire did even better than that! It’s a growing thing and the confidence we gained. Yes, we do come out and play two Thin Lizzy two songs in our 45-minute set, but the rest is Black Star Riders.
Robert Cavuoto: Most bands use all their best songs on the first CD, but Black Star Riders get better with every CD. Tell me about that.
Robert Cavuoto: Are there any concerns that you raised the bar so high for Heavy Fire that it will be tough to top it?
Ricky Warwick: It is, but we said the same thing about The Killer Instinct; that we had to top or at least match it. I feel we did it. We are our worst critics; we know when we are not delivering something that is not up to Black Star Riders standards. We spend a lot of time working on this stuff, so I’m fairly confident we will keep evolving; we have too.
Robert Cavuoto: I thought Heavy Fire had less of a Thin Lizzy vibe between the guitar parts and your voice. Was that intentional?
Ricky Warwick: I think it is by default, you have to remember the first album was at one point going to be a Thin Lizzy album. So it was written with that in mind. When we had the change of heart to become Black Star Riders, those limitations were taken away and we can grow into our own skin. We will always have the Thin Lizzy influence because of Scott as well as Damon’s and my love for Thin Lizzy. It will always be there, and we would never want to lose that. There are no boundaries; we can explore as many musical directions and styles to be ourselves as much as we want to be.
Robert Cavuoto: What are some of your favorite aspects of all three CDs that you will carry over to the fourth album?
Ricky Warwick: Just the confidence that now we realize people enjoy what we do. I don’t think that we have to worry as people have accepted the band. It’s a good feeling going into the studio, and that has grown with each record. We know what people expect from Black Star Riders. We know what we need to deliver and reaching that point after five years is a huge achievement.
Robert Cavuoto: Are you planning to work with Nick Raskulinecz as the producer on the fourth CD?
Ricky Warwick: Yes absolutely! Nick is wonderful, and his credentials speak for themselves. The last two CDs were mixed by Jay Ruston, and he is amazing to work with to so we don’t feel the need to change the winning team. Let’s not mess with it?
Robert Cavuoto: Was there any further talk of having Joe Elliott produce the next CD?
Ricky Warwick: Joe gets it. We were supposed to work with Joe on the second record, but due to scheduling conflicts, it didn’t work out. Joe loves the records and the way they turned out. He knows we have a good thing going with Nick. Joe is as busy as we are so I don’t know when we would ever get a chance to work with him. They are going on another massive tour again. I’m sure down the road we will work with him again because we love him. He is a phenomenal guy. I have worked with him before in the production role for my solo stuff. He is brilliant.
Robert Cavuoto: Did you and Joe ever talk about going out with Def Leppard and Journey prior to taking the gig with Priest?
Ricky Warwick: We had already secured the Priest tour. That was done quite a while ago, and he knew that. We toured with Leppard and Whitesnake in the UK about two years ago which was phenomenal. Joe is our biggest supporters. If he can help us, he always does.
Robert Cavuoto: I recall seeing you opened for Def Leppard with just a guitar at some point in time. Can you tell me more about that opportunity?
Ricky Warwick: I did the whole X tour with Leppard in 2003 and spent a full year on the road with them in the States and Europe. Then I did some shows with them in 2005 as well.
Robert Cavuoto: I give you so much credit for getting up there with just a guitar to perform in front of their rabid fans.
Ricky Warwick: Thank you for saying that. It was a life-changing experience for me in many ways. It made me a much better musician, singer, and frontman. It gave me no fear because I was being thrown to the lions each night. It went well and I was able to do the full year. They initially took me out for ten shows in 2002 and Joe said, “If this goes well you’ll probably get more shows.” If it doesn’t, you and I are both going to know very quickly. Nothing ventured nothing gained you know! I don’t think I opened my eyes for the first five shows. It went really well and then they offered me the full tour. I’m deeply indebted to them for taking me out with them.
Robert Cavuoto: How did this come about not to go out with a full band?
Ricky Warwick: Joe produced my solo record and it was coming out at the time. He saw how much energy and attitude I have in my performance. I think Def Leppard wanted a longer set and didn’t want to bring another band out with the change-over of gear. They wanted someone to walk on with an acoustic guitar and gave me a shot. It’s a testament that the guys liked my record and are my friends.
Robert Cavuoto: What can you share about the development of the next Black Star Riders CD?
Ricky Warwick: We are working on it and will continue to do so during the Priest tour. The great thing about the tour is that we will be all together. We all live far away from each other, so there have been a lot of emails and Face Timing, so it’s great being in the same room working on ideas. We will be on a bus together going through all the bits and pieces to figure out what goes where and what songs will make the final 15 or 16 on the CD. That’s really where we are at. Everybody will bring a ton of stuff to work through. We never struggle for ideas. Damon is a genius on ProTools so we will be working on the bus. We’ll go through all the ideas and get them down. The last record we had a year off from playing when we were writing and didn’t see a lot of each other. We spent a long time in pre-production showing the other guys the songs. This time will be different as we will be together right up until the time we start recording. In my opinion, this is better; we can get some pretty decent demos to Nick.
Robert Cavuoto: Jimmy DeGrasso left and Chad Szeliga is now drumming. Can you share what happened with Jimmy and how Chad was selected?
Ricky Warwick: There is nothing really strange or startling. Jimmy is a hell of a drummer and great guy. It was just difference of opinions and difference of where we were going. Jimmy didn’t seem to be entirely happy and it was just one of those things where we decided to part ways. There isn’t more to it than that. Things just reached a conclusion with Jimmy. He then did some shows with Ratt. We held auditions for a drummer and we had 11 or 12 guys who were all incredible players and contenders. We had known Chad when we toured with Priest and Black Label Society as Thin Lizzy. He couldn’t make the audition, so he sent in a video playing along to our songs. It blew our minds. We said, “It’s yours if you want it?” He took it. He is a great guy, drummer, and team player. A welcome addition to Black Star Riders.
3-13-18 in Wilkes-Barre, PA at Mohegan Sun Arena
3-15-18 in Youngstown, OH at Covelli Centre
3-17-18 in Uniondale, NY at Nassau Coliseum
3-18-18 in Washington, DC at Anthem
3-20-18 in Newark, NN at Prudential Center
3-22-18 in Uncasville, CT at Mohegan Sun Arena
3-25-18 in Ottawa, Can at The Arena – Td Place
3-27-18 in London, Can at Budweiser Gardens
3-28-18 in Oshawa, Can at Tribute Communications Centre
3-31-18 in Detroit, MI at Dtroit Masonic Temple
4-03-18 in Milwaukee, WI at Riverside Theater
4-05-18 in Green Bay, WI at Resch Center
4-06-18 in Hammond, IN at The Horshoe Casino
4-08-18 in Bloomington, IL at Grossinger Motors Arena
4-10-18 in Casper, WY at Casper Events Center
4-11-18 in Loveland, CO at Budweiser Events Center
4-15-18 in Kent, WA at Snoware Center
4-17-18 in Portland, OR at Veterans Memorial Coliseum
4-19-18 in San Francisco, CA at The Warfield
4-22-18 in Los Angeles, CA at Microsoft Theater
4-24-18 in Phoenix, AZ at Comerica Theater
4-26-18 in Tulsa, OK at Bok Center
4-28-18 in Dallas, TX at Bomb Factory
4-29-18 in Sugar Land,TX at Smart Financial Center
5-01-18 in San Antonio, TX at Freeman Coliseum