Interview by DJ
Photo: Alex Solca
MGM: Let’s sort of take a step back in time and let the viewers know how you got into the Metal scene, how early in life did you start making music, and how those paths led to connecting with Rob Rock and your debut EP in 1987?
Strated playing guitar very early in life. With Rob we played in a band called Vice in the mid 80’s, covers mostly, meet Rob while loaning some equipment to The Gregg Allman Band…Greg Allman was playing a show in Connecticut and Rob was opening for him, his band at the time The Robert Allan Band. Instantly I was taken by his powerhouse vocals and range. The range, the vibrato, this angelic feel to his vocals, and I was blown away. Asked him if he wanted to be in a metal band and the rest is history.
MGM: After the Impellitteri Black EP came out, received some acclaim in some of the media, like Kerrang, Burn!!! In Japan etc. Where was the direction of the band going after that first album “Stand in Line” in 1987 with Graham Bonnet? Rob steps away to work on another project… Specifically the change in vocalists? Graham does a great job regardless but just an interesting phase there…
So Rob ends up leaving to go work with Dieter Dirks Producer of Scorpions Fame, to go work on a new band, and new music, Rob leaves to go to Germany to go work with Dierks, and now after critical acclaim via our EP, we just got signed with Relativity, and now we have no singer. Years earlier met Graham auditioning to replace Yngwie Malmsteen in Alcatrazz, myself and greats like Steve Vai ended up trying out, Vai ended up getting the gig, but I remained good friends with Graham and so started talking to him and reconnecting and mentioned I was bummed out that we lost our singer and wasn’t sure what direction to go in now…Alcatrazz had ended at that point so we started to write music and see how it would work. Now Graham is a huge idol and tremendous vocalist, his style is very different than Rob’s, and his stuff from Alcatrazz and Rainbow is very different than the Black Impelliterri EP. So we had to adjust the style some to fit his vocals in a tribute to Rainbow per se…That is how the sound of Stand in Line was created. Such amazing talent, some people to this day have told me they believe that is one of Graham’s best vocal works.
MGM: in 1992 Sophomore Album “Grin and Bear It” comes out then “Answer to the Master” comes out in 94, the mainstream rock scene turned its attention to Grunge, many bands were influenced by the 80s and early struggled to find their way during those times. Do you think that is partially the reason why some of your best works that came out during that era are so underrated today? Albums like “Answer to the Master”, “Screaming Symphony” and “Eye of the Hurricane” are terrific works of melodic/ripping guitar work and tremendous vocals by Rob Rock….
Is a complicated answer, I think partially because we garner such cult status success overseas and in places like Japan, later in Germany, etc, and also with having Graham on “Stand In Line”, and him already being a household name and having success with Rainbow, and him playing big stages like Donington, opening for icons like AC/DC, Metallica, etc, Graham was already a legend in the Rock/Metal world and it we kinda got catapulted in with that success and helped out find our way so we rode that wave per se to that cult status in some markets. You have to remember Graham played with Malmsteen, Ritchie Blackmore, Vai, and Schenker before he came on with Impellitteri. We got a ‘get out of jail free card and it helped us in a big way. Instant credibility. It was an interesting era but one that while one market was hard to tap in to, it lead to other avenues for us and we got really fortunate as I said earlier.
MGM: Let’s talk about the new 3 cd compilation “Wake The Beast”, excited to finally be available worldwide, your music had been hard to find in print for a long time, so that was cool to be able to put this out there now. What was the thinking behind the “Wake The Beast” Package?
Yeah so previously the import market was one of the few places to get our past music, making fans of our work have to overpay oftentimes to find the albums, so we thought it was time to start to put a package together of our past catalog, bringing together what we think is a culmination of our best work, from previous albums, fans favorites, songs that bring the different era of the band and also a way to reconnect with the new audience, especially in markets we were never fortunate enough to be as popular as places like Japan.
MGM: Did you have specific songs in mind when putting together the compilation, what was the process for the songs that we picked?
Yea so like I stated before, just a good mix of songs that we think, the fans, and a really good stock up of back catalog songs that mean the most to our audience, ourselves, but also songs that can present the band in a new light to new listeners that have not heard of us before. Is very evident on the running order you can go from Graham era songs to Rob and I think is a nice representation of all of our work.
MGM: The music hasn’t been remastered because you wanted to keep the songs as they were intended when they came out which is unique… Can you talk about that in particular?
Yes, exactly thank you for saying that, the songs already were very well produced, we spent so much money on production and making these songs back in the day the way they were intended, there was no sense to remaster anything as the songs still sound great to this day and on the opposite, I think having remastered them may have tarnished the original sound to some extent. What do you think of the music on the compilation?
MGM: I think they are fantastic honestly, I agree with you if you are an Impellitteri fan from your past works, listening to the songs sounds fantastic, it feels like listening to some of those classic records all over again I say it sounds even better to be able to listen to them in an expansive package. Very well done.
MGM: What do you hope that old fans of Impellitteri and new fans of the band hope they get out of this compilation?
Hopefully, that old fans and new fans of the band can appreciate a broad stroke of music we have created through the years and now they have choices of purchasing back catalog music that’s more easily accessible. To that end we now we’re able to get music rights back so we are able to do more with our back catalog of music and this is a part of that process.
MGM: You have talked about this before, the name of the band Impellitteri, can at first glance give people the wrong idea that’s just about you, you being the sole talent, and that’s just not the case as Rob’s contribution has been critical and some of the great drummers you have had through the years. Etc. Can you talk about that a little bit….
So you know I get that a lot, I get thrown in there with shredders/virtuosos like Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert, Batio etc some of the guys that came out around the same time… but Impellitteri is a band, always has been. Are 4 guys contributing to making great music, is it not about my guitar playing, or how fast I can “shred”. I think that connotation can take away from the overall music and you mentioned before about “riffs” in the end is about how I can come up with a memorable riff, how Rob can mend his powerful and amazing vocals to the songs, how you can provide the listener with this immense melody and powerful emotion while listening to the songs. Is not about “shredding” at all. Hindsight is 2020 but the name of the band I know can give people the wrong impression oftentimes, but the music is so much more than just a label.
MGM: Yes, I agree as well I always found the band to be able to mix the heavier metal hooks, with your monster riffs, and Robs amazing vocals and soaring choruses.. I think it strikes a fine balance that makes your music stand out.
Chris, how do you explain the import market, your music alongside for instance the Animetal project, it’s been pretty popular over there (Japan market), how do you explain the scene over there compared to here? Animetal featured Mike Vescera and legend Rudy Sarzo on bass…..
Yes you know again sort of a cult status over there, that is one of those projects that was fun to do and I remember many hours on planes spent with my good friend Rudy Sarzo going over there for shows. I’ll never forget that.
MGM: I read through the grapevine that there is new music in the pipeline, can you talk about what you are working on? New ideas for songs, when we can expect them to be released?
That is correct we are in the early stages of recording a new Impellitteri record and we expect to hopefully have a full release date sometime in mid-2023. Still signed through Frontiers Records and we hope to have the album completed soon.
MGM: I heard in one of your interviews that one of the works that influence you a lot was The Guitar Trio, with the great Al Di Meola, Paco De Lucia, and John McLaughlin.. that’s some great pieces of music and those are tremendous virtuosos… talk about some of your other influences… also classical music and the impact on your music today…
You know I always say that John McLaughlin was one of the original shredders, albeit a different style but boy he was playing on a whole another level in the ’70s, if you go back and listen to some of his stuff then, he’s just sitting there shredding way years before the term shredder became a thing. In terms of classical music, I always try to keep improving myself, technique and learning more into music theorie etc to keep on evolving on as a musician.
For the first time ever, the Impellitteri catalog has been made available worldwide. Lead guitarist Chris Impellitteri is known around the world for his high level of technical skill, as well as being an extremely melodic guitarist and a prolific, talented songwriter.
Despite being an American metal band (Chris is based in Los Angeles), the Impellitteri catalog has been hard to find for the majority of the band’s fans in the western world, with many fans having to buy expensive import copies direct from Japan, where the band enjoys a huge following. But with Global Rock officially licensing the full catalog between the years 1987 and 2010, the catalog will be made readily available.
In celebration of this occasion, Global Rock are releasing Wake the Beast, a three-CD compilation set that encompasses the Impellitteri story from 1987-2010. Every song on this compilation was chosen by Chris based on what he feels are the highlights from 12 different Impellitteri releases from over the years.
Whether it’s original (and current) vocalist Rob Rock on vocals or former Impellitteri frontman Graham Bonnet (Rainbow, Alkatrazz) singing, the intensity never lets up. This is the first ever Impellitteri career spanning compilation released worldwide, featuring not only the well-known album tracks but also rare Japan-only released bonus songs and B-sides.
Link to Impellitteri website: https://impellitteri.net
Link to Stand in Line: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTzp0XZodeU
Link to Answer to the Master: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nr3KORbvJQs