As a teenager growing up in Chicago during the height of the Headbangers Ball era, Jason West made a habit of cranking up Skid Row anthems such as “Slave to the Grind” and “Youth Gone Wild” in his bedroom.
Three months ago, West, now a 31-year-old drummer living in San Antonio, showed up at the New Jersey home of ex-Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach to rehearse for an international tour that would begin in a matter of days.
If the story feels a bit Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp, it’s actually much better, because in this case, West didn’t pay to jam with one of his childhood idols, he got paid for it. And he also got to play for screaming diehards in Japan and hang out at hotel-suite parties with Guns n’ Roses in Australia.
How did it happen?
West, longtime drummer for local industrial/hard-rock band Pitbull Daycare, previously lived in Tampa, Florida, and Johnny Chromatic, one of his old musician friends from Tampa, currently plays guitar with Bach. When Bach’s drummer, Bobby Jarzombek (coincidentally, a San Antonio native), broke his wrist a month before the the beginning of the band’s scheduled tour, Bach and his mates scrambled for possible replacements, and Chromatic quickly thought of West.
“So Johnny calls me up, and I hadn’t even talked to him in like six years,” West says. “He says, ‘Hey, dude, I’m playing for Sebastian Bach and we’re doing this European tour.’ He said Bobby broke his wrist and they were going to cancel the tour. So he asked me if I wanted to do it, and I said, ‘Of course.’”
“The Skid Row stuff I knew already, from being a fan when I was a kid,” West adds. “But we’re doing six new tunes `in the set`. I got that stuff about five days before I went to Sebastian’s house to rehearse. So I spent five days learning those tunes, listening to them constantly, all day long.”
Over the years, Bach has practically become synonymous with heavy-metal self-indulgence, narcissism, and recklessness. From 1989-91, while Skid Row was vying with Guns n’ Roses for the thorny hard-rock crown, Bach made the wrong kind of headlines by peforming in a T-shirt that proclaimed “AIDS Kills Fags Dead” (he eventually apologized) and angrily flinging a bottle into an arena-concert crowd. After being supplanted on the airwaves by grunge and having his services terminated by Skid Row in 1996, Bach drifted aimlessly for a stretch before reinventing himself as a musical-theater performer (Jekyll & Hyde), and spoofing his own middle-aged-headbanger persona as an ancillary character on Gilmore Girls.
While he’s become more amiable over the years, his 2006 appearance on VH1’s Supergroup revealed him to be the Corey Feldman of the house: a needy, neurotic prima donna who nearly incited bandmate Ted Nugent to reach for his trusty elephant gun.
But that Bach is not the one that West saw. While the drummer describes the experience of showing up at Bach’s house as “crazy” and “a little nerve-wracking,” he says Bach quickly put his concerns to rest: “He’s a real nice guy, an energetic type of dude. He’s on 10 at all times, but he was real cool.
“I went in, started jamming the songs, and he said, ‘Thank God, dude, you saved the tour.’ He was really happy about it.”
The only musical stumbling block West faced during rehearsals was adjusting to the radically adrenalized tempos Bach now favors for his old Skid Row material. “When I came in, I was playing the album tempos, and he kind of freaked,” West says with a laugh. “He said ‘Oh man, these songs are dragging. I don’t want ’em dragging.’”
Bach showed West a video of Jarzombek playing with the band, to give the drummer a sense of what he wanted, and West sat down with his metronome and counted out the times for each song. “That was the only thing he asked for,” West says. “He said, ‘Dude, I’ve been playing these songs for so long, I like them faster because it gives them a different energy.’ It’s like a punk-rock energy.”
West and the band tore through the material for five days and then bolted for Japan, where they headlined four large theater dates, before hooking up with Guns n’ Roses (and Rose Tattoo) in Australia for a series of arena shows.
He says Japanese fans were the most rabid and emotionally invested. He recalls that they would wait in groups outside the band’s hotel, with memorabilia they wanted to get signed, and they would inevitably offer gifts to the band members
“This one chick gave me a card and this weird bandana thing, and I got a shirt and some weird cookies,” he says. “I’d come out of the hotel elevator and they’d come up behind me, saying ‘Hey, hey, hey!’ Then you have 10 people around you taking pictures and everything. It’s like, ‘I’m not used to this.’”
Bach and Guns n’ Roses frontman Axl Rose revived their long-dormant friendship last year when Rose suggested that they tour together, and West says the two hard-rock icons are “real good friends” who talk on the phone constantly. Rose has also made a habit of bringing Bach out for a duet on the Appetite for Destruction classic “My Michelle.”
While the easygoing West, much like Will Rogers, seems to have never met a man he didn’t like, the Rose he describes sounds nothing like the dark, reclusive egomaniac so often depicted in the media.
“People are always asking, ‘Is he some crazy dude?’ But he was real mellow and totally cool,” West says. “I’d be hanging out at his parties and I’d be talking to people, and he’d come up to me and start rapping.”
He says one night Rose busted out some tracks from the unreleased, long-awaited Guns album Chinese Democracy. “We checked it out and it was amazing. Totally killer. Hopefully it’ll come out soon. I think it’ll be huge when it comes out. I think he’s got some business stuff that he’s trying to tie up before this thing comes out. He’s got like three albums worth of stuff done. It’s crazy.”
With talk of another Bach/Guns tour in October, and with Bach’s new album, Angel Down, about to drop, West is keeping his schedule free, but he’s not yet sure if the call from Bach will come. In any event, he’s busy transitioning from Pitbull Daycare, which recently played its final gig at the Rock Bottom Tattoo Bar, to a new band called Cult to Follow, featuring Pitbull Daycare guitarist Todd Connally. And whether or not he again keeps time for Bach’s band, West has no complaints about the experience.
“I didn’t get rich from it, but it was good,” he says. “It’s kind of a cool concept, actually getting paid to play music.” •