Rock Overdose and Zisis Petkanas (with the little help from Pavlos Giannakopoulos and George Markogannakis) had a conversation with legendary drummer Simon Wright (AC/DC, DIO, UFO) who said many things about his life, his carrier and his future plans.
Rock Overdose: Hey, Simon! It's really a huge pleasure and honor talking with you tonight! How're things in Los Angeles after the lockdown and how much have these new living standards with Coronavirus changed your life?
Simon Wright: Hello, Zisis! Thank you for the invitation! Really nice to meet you! Well, things here are the same like in every country. You have to wear a mask when you go outside or when you go into a store now but, you know, we’ve kind of gotten used to it by now. It is what it is, but life is as normal as it can be.
Rock Overdose: It is a way of life. We have to learn to live with this.
Simon Wright: I hope it's not going to be the way of life forever. Obviously, I think, everyone wants it to change. It’s just what we have to deal with at the moment, really.
Rock Overdose: Do you believe this is gonna be devastating, besides the economy, on the music business as well for the bands, promoters and, generally, the future of music?
Simon Wright: Well yeah, it’s definitely going to affect a lot of businesses if it hasn't already. It's just a terrible thing. Hopefully, businesses will just get the go-ahead to open up and start again. Maybe next year… I think it has affected people already. It’s a real mess at the moment. Hopefully, they will bounce back and get started again. We can kinda save some of the theaters, the clubs and the auditoriums over here.
Rock Overdose: Mostly for the bands and the musicians, it’s a really bad period.
Simon Wright: Oh, yeah… There are so many musicians and crew members, and lighting people, and people who are in theatrics, right across the border. I mean, it’s just a terrible situation at the moment and, like I said, hopefully, we’ll start again next year and wave goodbye to this situation.
Rock Overdose: And never come back!
Simon Wright: Yeah! Never!
Rock Overdose: So, recently, we had a huge loss for 2020...and that was Pete Way's death after some serious health complications. Can you share with us some great moments with him on stage or in daily life?
Simon Wright: There were lots, I guess! I was in UFO for about three and a half years back in the ‘90s. We did a lot of touring! He was just a wonderful character! I mean, he was very harmless. Such a nice guy! He did have his problems and stuff with certain substances; it’s all been well documented.
You know, he was a really great guy. I mean, there were some really crazy moments on the road, and strange too. I was, like, the guy they brought in. They were all like brothers so I had to kinda fit in. It was great, I did and we eventually became really good friends pretty fast! But there was always this, sort of… With Michael, there was always this underlying thing going on…
All the trouble and the fights they had had in the past. That reared its head a couple of times when I was with them. Pete was always the guy to calm things down and return to normal instead of fighting. It was funny and weird at the same time, really. Pete was a great guy! I speak to Phil [Mogg, vocals] quite regularly and he’s upset about the whole thing… But Pete’s way of life led him to dangerous places at times. We’re just sad he’s gone, you know?
Rock Overdose: It was a huge loss, I agree. So… when did you start and what made you to play music?
Simon Wright: There used to be a TV program in England called Top of The Pops and I’d see bands on there, different drummers and stuff like that. I’d be tapping away on the armchair and watching awards, pretending I was the drummer. I think I was probably around 8, 9… Gradually, over time, my father got me a drum kit, a really small one, and I started playing and I really enjoyed it. I felt like I had an aptitude for it, that I could play, and I think that my father saw it too so they gave me a lot of time to play.
They didn’t tell me to shut up. That was a good thing! I got that kit when I was around 12, something like that. I just kept going and I took it from there.
Rock Overdose: What about your first band?
Simon Wright: Oh, that was a band in school, me and some school friends! Really stupid… But the first band I recorded with was a band called Tora Tora. That’s the English version, our band. It was based in Manchester. We recorded a single and it got in the music paper charts, heavy metal charts and stuff like that. We all thought, “Oh, we made it! Our single’s in the charts! We’re gonna be rockstars!”
Rock Overdose: And you became a rockstar!
Simon Wright: I guess so, over time! That was the first band! It was a lot of fun. I mean, we were just learning and we didn’t really know. It’s the way that most people start. It was a lot of fun and we had a good laugh.
Rock Overdose: Which are your main music influences and who are your favorite drummers?
Simon Wright: Oh, I’ve got many influences! Lots of influences… Drummer-wise, I was loving Cozy Powell, Tommy Aldridge, Brian Downey from Thin Lizzy... There was a lot more. I used to listen to lots of different things and lots of different music! Just to check it out and see what was going on… I think heavy metal was my thing, though. That’s what I latched onto, kinda related to because, when it came out, it was kind of an underground thing in England. You know, British heavy metal was frowned upon: “All these guys with long hair, they must be all doing drugs… They’re drunk all the time…” So, that kind of appealed to me- not the drugs… Lots of influences, really.
Rock Overdose: How was the rock life in that era?
Simon Wright: Well, in Manchester, there were a couple of clubs that you could go to. They were rock clubs and they would play heavy rock and you could down there, have a drink… You know… Bands would come and play in the Free Trade Hall. I saw Rush twice in a year, Thin Lizzy about three times… They would come round every year, you know, and play like two or three times. UFO… It was amazing, and brilliant. Big shows, and there were big bands coming through. It was a great scene with that new wave of British heavy metal starting up.
Rock Overdose: Those were great days for rock music, especially the ‘80s.
Simon Wright: Absolutely! It was probably the same in Greece, right? You know, bands coming through, European tours. They really were great days. It’s a shame that it’s not like that anymore.
Rock Overdose: We miss that period, yes. I think that rock is very different from that of those past days.
Simon Wright: Yeah, it has changed! There are some bands out there who are sticking with their original formula. But a lot of bands have changed quite a lot of stuff and it is a combination of things, too. I mean, the record companies around, I think there used to be hundreds of them. Now, there’s probably ten, or something like that, and I think that’s affected the music scene quite a lot. People can put stuff on the internet without the help of a record company. They just do it in their bedroom, or a room and they come across this, “We’re a successful rock band”, when they’re really not. That’s a really bad thing about the internet, I think, but you know…
Rock Overdose: Having so much experience playing with legends of rock as AC/DC, Dio, UFO and many more, do you believe that changing many bands and sharing stages live with many musicians is good for a drummer? Or do you think that, sometimes, sticking up with just one band, having a whole career with them and making albums together would be better, like Rush, for example?
Simon Wright: The second thing you said. For one reason or another, it’s not my fault that I’ve had to move on because the band has changed, or broken up, or… It's just one of those things but I would sooner have stayed with one band. Which one of those, I’m not sure… Strange things happen in bands and, sometimes, you just have to move on!
Rock Overdose: In which one do you wish you had stayed?
Simon Wright: If there was one, I would say Dio, with Ronnie! Yeah, I mean… He had big plans but, unfortunately, he got sick. There were some big plans for Dio and I would have loved to have kept that going. We’d be still there, doing it with him…
Rock Overdose: It was so bad that we lost him…
Simon Wright: Yeah, it was… Massive loss…
Rock Overdose: Let’s continue with AC/DC. Besides “Fly on the Wall” (1985), “Who Made Who” (1986) and “Blow Up Your Video” (1988), is there any other AC/DC album you wish you had recorded drums with them for?
Simon Wright: There’s a lot! Probably all of them!!!
Rock Overdose: Ηow did you meet up with AC/DC?
Simon Wright: I was living in London and my friend showed me an advertisement in a music paper. There were music papers back then; there was Sounds, New Express… They had classified advertisements for musicians in the back and it said, “Drummer Wanted. If you don't hit hard, don't apply”. She said, “Well, that sounds like you,” and I’m like, “Yeah, it does!” So I answered the add and I went down to the rehearsal place and it was just me and the drum tech, and the drum kit and a PA.
He asked me to play these three songs, “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin, “Shoot to Thrill” by AC/DC and “Tush” by ZZ Top. I played them and he said, “Oh, that was good! We’ll be in touch”. I thought, “Yeah, right…” So, I got a phone call about 3 hours later and he said, “Can you come back tomorrow?” and I said, “No, I can't because I haven't got any money.” He said, “Don't worry about that! Just get yourself in a taxi and get down here tomorrow,” and so I thought, “They’re paying for a taxi so it must have gone okay!”
The next day, I get back there and he's walking me through the complex to another, different, rehearsal space and there are all these drum cases lined up along the walls with “AC/DC” written on them. I sort of stopped him and said, “You are kidding, right?” and he just gave me a smile and said, “No”. I thought, “F*ing hell…” I had no idea it was for AC/DC. I knew it was a band that were probably quite doing well, because it was an expensive rehearsal complex. So he opens the door and I met Angus, Cliff and Malcolm.
They were just really down-to-earth people, just normal people- no big rockstar stuff going on! They asked me what I knew; I told them songs, and we did some playing. We stopped for a little bit, sat down and they started talking about this tour… I’m thinking to myself, “Should I leave? Cuz this sounds like a kind of private conversation…” I leaned over to Malcolm, I think, and asked him, “Does this mean I’m in the band?” and he said, “Looks like it, doesn’t it?” So, I was… I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t wait to get out there and call my mom and dad up! Basically, my life changed after that so I’ll always be thankful to them for that! It was an enormous break; they’re good people!
Rock Overdose: How is Angus as a person?
Simon Wright: He is great! Actually, he’s quite quiet, to be honest with you. He’s a good guy! Then, he puts the school boy outfit on and he becomes the devil! It’s great!
Rock Overdose: What songs really stand out in your memory with AC/DC, and why?
Simon Wright: There are so many! That’s the great thing about this band; they have so many songs that are classic, killer! “Back in Black” is a great song. There are so many other ones that it’s hard to pin them down! I always loved playing “Shoot to Thrill”, that’s a great song, among many others!
Rock Overdose: What was the reason you left AC/DC?
Simon Wright: I just needed to do something different. You know, when you’re a drummer- I mean, not to take away from anything about what Phil Rudd does or has done… He’s a perfect fit for that band; he’s the drummer for AC/DC. Their style is a bit constricting; there are not many drum fills, not many odd beats… You know? But it doesn’t take it away from the music. They are a great band, and their songs are amazing, but I just needed to do something else with drums. I became a little complacent, too. I think they saw it, and I saw it, too, in myself. It wasn’t fair on them or the fans and stuff. I played my ass off every night, I can assure you that, but I just really needed to move on. Luckily enough, I got to know Ronnie so that worked out. It was good that way.
Rock Overdose: Alright! Let’s go on with Ronnie James Dio. Ηow did you meet up with the Dio band? What’s the story behind it?
Simon Wright: Well, it’s through a friend of a friend, my wife actually, at the time… She knew Wendy [Dio] and I’d run into Ronnie a couple of times, too; I’d been to some Dio shows, and stuff… I loved the way he rolled, his music and, of course, his voice is so amazing, so powerful. We heard that his drummer, Vinny [Appice], was leaving for whatever reason, but… We got in touch with Wendy, Ronnie liked the idea… I went down, we did some rehearsals and it just worked out!
Rock Overdose: You played on four studio albums with Dio [“Lock up the Wolves” (1990), “Magica” (2000), “Killing the Dragon” (2002), “Master of the Moon” (2004)] and two live albums [“Evil or Divine - Live in New York City” (2003) and “Holy Diver – Live” (2006)]. What were those times like and what was it like, working with such an important person as Ronnie James Dio?
Simon Wright: It was great, it really was! I mean, the first album that we did… When I joined, an album needed to be recorded, studio time had been bought… It took us two weeks to get the songs done; you know, rehearse with them. That album was “Lock up the Wolves” and it was great. Ronnie was all about making the music, talking about music, and changing things up a little bit here and there. I loved it, it was great!
He loved talking drums, “What do you think we should do here?”. When we were on tours, we were always changing things in the set- little segues, medleys that he liked to do… It was a really interesting time! Dio was a band that was always about the music and being the best musician you can be. I found that really cool! I really enjoyed that part!
Rock Overdose: Such a great person, and a great voice!
Simon Wright: Yeah! It’s funny he would never do any kind of warm-up either! He got a pint of Guinness, talk and none of this vocal warm-up… He just went on stage and just blasted out! We never cancelled a show or anything cuz he was sick. Even if he was sick, he would get out there and do it! He was just a really strong personality and it was really amazing at times!
Rock Overdose: What about your time with UFO?
ISimon Wright: Ιt was really good! Like I’ve said earlier, they’re great people, we got along straightaway. Michael Schenker’s manager got in touch. It was one of those periods when I was in-between bands… For a while there, it was gonna be the Michael Schenker Group that we were talking about and, then, for some reason, at some point it changed and she said, “It’s actually for UFO,” and I was like, “Oh, that’s great!” We met up in Arizona- I think it was in, like, 1995. Like I said, we got along straightaway- the hotel, we had the rehearsal place there in Arizona, as well.
There were some really strange times, too, with that band- I have to be honest… There was a time when Michael smashed his guitar up in the middle of a show and just walked off… It was in Japan. To this day, I still don’t know why he did it! There’s some strong blood between all those guys, you know? It goes back years! But I really enjoyed my time with them; it’s a great band!
Rock Overdose: You’ve had a great career! What are you doing nowadays?
Simon Wright: Not much! I did some sessions of stuff, a couple of them so far… That’s been really enjoyable but there’s not enough of them. Once you finish the session, you just go home and you go, “Oh, okay… What now?” I keep myself busy- I do a lot of walking, I play a little bit here. I don’t have a drum kit; I just practice things and I’m trying to keep myself occupied, really, at the moment.
Rock Overdose: Would you like to leave a message to your Greek fans?
Simon Wright: Sure! I can’t wait to see you all, hopefully next year. Last year, we were doing the Dio hologram, called DIO Returns, and it went so well. We had plans for this year with it but, obviously, we can’t do anything with it at the moment. Hopefully, next year, we can bring it to Greece so you can all see it, enjoy it, and we can all celebrate Ronnie!
Rock Overdose: Was Greece in your touring plans?
Simon Wright: They were talking about everywhere so… We’ve got some good friends, we played in Athens. I can definitely remember Athens with Ronnie! It was a great show, really good! Hopefully, we will be back to Greece and bring Ronnie with us in that form, and celebrate!
Rock Overdose: I believe it’s important and exciting to watch Ronnie even through his hologram!
Simon Wright: Yeah, and there’s been some changes made to it. It’s bigger and better now, so… Like I said, we took it out here in America for about a month and it’s bigger and better. It looks really good! We do get some criticism for it, I gotta be honest with you.
Rock Overdose: Yeah, I’ve also made some comments about it…
Simon Wright: Yeah, but, I mean… We were, like, his family: Wendy, me, Craig [Goldy, guitar], Scott Warren [keyboards], everybody involved… We’re doing it with total respect! We keep, kind of, apologising for it, for bringing it out… It’s like… If you don’t like the idea, don’t go; it’s really simple. We’re doing this out of respect for him, and there’s a lot of people who never got a chance to see Ronnie live. This is the best we can do at the moment.
Rock Overdose: I agree with you! For me, it’s important despite the opinions of others.
Simon Wright: It is! It’s important. We played with him, we know stuff and we’re just carrying on his tradition and celebrating his music.
Rock Overdose: So, what about your times here in Greece? What do you remember?
Simon Wright: I believe we played a festival there with other bands. I think Twisted Sister were on the bill as well. I remember it being a great day! The festival was really well-organised, the people were great, the audience was great and it was just a great time. Actually, Ronnie had a birthday, I believe- that’s right! At the hotel, after the show, in Athens. Big birthday cake and stuff; great party!
Rock Overdose: It was a Greek named George Galanis who was great friends with Ronnie and came to the hotel…
Simon Wright: Yeah! That’s right! I saw George last year. He came to one of our hologram shows. He’s a good guy! Great friend of Ronnie’s and ours! Hopefully, we’ll see him and everyone next year!
Rock Overdose: So, would you like to say something else through this interview?
Simon Wright: No, I think I’m good! Thank you, Zisis! It was good talking with you!
Rock Overdose: Thank you very much! It was a great honor for me and I really hope to meet you in person!
Simon Wright: Sounds good! Hopefully, like I said, we’ll get things organised and see you next year! Fingers crossed! Take care, man!
For Rock Overdose Webzine,
Questions: Pavlos Giannakopoulos-George Markogiannakis
Transcription: Stergios Gkoutsidis