EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ROSS THE BOSS OF MANOWAR AND THE DICTATORS
As a guitarist, Ross “Ross the Boss” Funicello has had a significant role in the development of much of the music we’ve come to love over the last thirty years. For New York proto-punks The Dictators, he welded bare bones rock and roll and pop hooks with sneering attitude, though never gained the godlike status of fellow metropunks The Ramones. As a founding member of muscle ‘n’ loincloth legends Manowar, he provided chest-beating, anthemic fretwork for the band’s revered first six albums. Though he hasn’t been dormant by any means since his departure from the latter band, last year’s New Metal Leader – released under his own moniker with Manowar cover band Men of War (now known as the RTB Band) filling out the rest of the lineup – is a return to the balls-out trad/power metal his most famous band was known for. The album charted in Germany, and the band are working on a followup when not touring in support of it. During a recent interview with MetalSucks, Ross the Boss – equipped with a thick New York accent and a very strong set of opinions – discussed his thoughts on his legacy, reunions (of which he’s been a part with Manowar and The Dictators), his favorite guitarists, and how the current state of the music industry is screwing over bands.
Ross the Boss: Sammy?
Sammy O’ Hagar: Yeah. What have you been up to?
What have I been up to?
Put out a record.
Alright. So you have a new album out and everything?
So how’s that going? How do you feel about the way people are reacting to it?
Is this the interview?
Yes it is.
Are we taping?
Yes we are.
Okay and what’s this for again?
Is that online or a magazine?
Okay. Why do you call it MetalSucks?
It’s kind of a take on how the internet polarizes metal and we’re being ironic in saying that is sucks but we actually love it.
Oh okay. I was wondering about that.
Believe you me, we’re all about metal there. We like metal.
Sorry about the confusion. How have the people been reacting to the album?
Yeah. I can’t complain. With the shrinking music business and the way the internet has basically killed rock and roll… but beside that, it has been very good. Everyone has really loved the record, and it has gotten some really good reviews. We did a tour in November that went well. Did you hear the record?
I did. It’s great actually. I like it a lot.
Yeah, it’s solid.
It’s old school metal. It’s the way that metal should be. It’s not generated from a computer. The drummer is actually real. He is playing drums as we’re actually recording it like we’ve always done, like I have always done. It is an old school approach with fresh ideas.
That’s cool. You mentioned earlier in your response how you think that the internet has killed rock and roll.
Could you clarify that a little?
I certainly can.
Okay so two weeks before my record was to be released on AFM in Germany, it was available online in Russia.
By thieves. So anyone who wanted could just go there and get it. This happens to every single group that tries to release a record and puts out promo copies to journalists that probably for 15-100 euros sends it off to a friend in Russia or wherever. Then it is illegally downloaded. So what happens is the artists get fucked in the ass. The record company gets fucked in the ass and will eventually have to close its doors and not sign anymore groups. So the scene gets destroyed. The record company gets destroyed. The artists can’t make any money from his work. They have to just go on touring and selling merchandise. Eventually the whole scene will just evaporate.
Yeah. Have you already seen signs of that hitting you directly?
Absolutely. You can bust your ass on a piece of work, and you see constantly diminishing returns. So why should I even make records? I made 28 of them. Why should I even do it if I’m going to get ripped off? I mean would you? Would you do something for free?
I would do something for free if it didn’t suck up so much of my time and effort I suppose.
Do you have a son that is about to go to college?
I do not.
How am I going to pay for the college?
Yeah. It’s all money out of your pocket.
That’s right. My time is my money and being that I am a grown man, I should think about supporting my family. When I get ripped off, I get rip riding mad. Everybody is enjoying the record, “Oh I didn’t pay for it,” but you know there are consequences.
Yeah. I definitely agree with you. That sucks. The record is solid, but obviously as you mentioned with the diminishing returns may keep you from being able to support certain aspects of your life.
Exactly, and a lot of artists are facing the same problem. Everybody I know.
This will probably put more emphasis on touring then, right?
Yeah, but now that the world is gripped in a recession, no one has the money to go out and support bands. So now it is a double whammy. So think about it. We’re in a world of hurt right now. My option was picked up by AFM to do another record because we sold enough and made money. Which is great, and I am very happy about that. All the bands are out there touring, and no one has the money to go see them all. So it’s a problem.
Are you going to make another record for them?
I’m going to make another record.
But, you know, it’s almost like a side project. I made 28 records, and my first record is sitting in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Did you know that?
Yeah. The first Dictators record.
Right. So really what do I have to prove to myself? I got to support my family. I am more of a musician than you ever want to meet. I have given my whole life to rock and roll and heavy metal music, but this is insane. I am very down on the downloads. For the price of like two beers in a bar, these people could have bought the record. A lot of these people could buy the record and support the artist.
Definitely. You mentioned that you are still making another record. Why make another record if the returns seem to be diminishing?
Listen. You still have to be in the game. We have a passion for music and we love creating the music. Maybe the recession will end and the touring thing will get better. We still have to do that. Think about it. It’s hard.
Yeah. It’s almost impossible to make a living as a musician.
And listen, I have done well in my life, very well. I cannot complain in that aspect. I can still make a living, but it is getting ridiculous. Someone should really find a way so that you can’t get robbed. There has to be some technology out there where you can’t get robbed. Everyone I know, all my friends in bands, have had it.
It makes sense; you should be able to make a living for yourself. Despite all this hardship and this toxic climate that the record industry is in with piracy and this splintering that has happened. Would you say that making a record despite that displays a passion you have for still making music?
Absolutely. I am not saying that we’re not going to make music. We do what we do. My new band has a lot of great ideas. They’re a bunch of young and hungry guys and we love doing it. We love coming together and working in that creative process. The expectations now are low on the returns because we know that we’re going to bust our asses on the next record and before it is officially released people will tell me that they have it. It physically sickens me to hear that, and I know I will hear that again.
You said that you made 28 records. You’ve pretty much have done very significant things in multiple genres of music that really aren’t necessarily closely related to each other. How do you still find yourself satisfied creatively at this point?
The process of making a song still really gets me going. When I come up with lyrics for something or I have an idea and I turn it out and Patrick has some lyrics on it and Carsten lays down his part and Maze puts a beat on it… that whole process is great still. That never gets old to me. That is amazing. I love the way things happen. I love how a little accident in the studio could lead you to another part. The whole creative thing is amazing. That is what I love.
In theory that will always be there, right?
Oh yeah. Do you know how many record companies have gone out of business?
Not just indie ones, big ones.
Eventually it is just going to be bands selling their shit online or on iTunes or something like that. Maybe the CD is just an enticement to get people at the concert. AFM made a limited run of vinyl for New Metal Leader. I look at that and the cover is all blown up, and it’s 3 songs per side on a double record, and I said “This is product.” That is fantastic. What heavy metal fan wouldn’t want to buy that?
That’s my point. People just want it for free. The whole world is like that now. Everybody wants a hand out. Our new president just promised everyone a hand out. People sometimes get what they want unfortunately.
Never mind how our people are working for him.
I don’t want to come across as negative or down. This is just what I’m feeling. You must be feeling it too.
Oh, I definitely am. Everyone is hurting in every aspect of everything right now.
I’m not hurting monetarily. My record charted in Germany.
It did. It charted on the real charts there.
That’s awesome. Congratulations.
Thank you. It’s doing very good. I’m very happy with that. Hopefully the market will do better than what it is so the next one will go higher.
Have you been over there a lot to promote it?
Absolutely. Did you see the video [for “Blood of Knives”]?
I haven’t gotten a chance to.
Right after this little talk we’re having, go onto YouTube and look us up and you’ll see the video. Then tell all your friends about it. It’s a real cool video, and it was fun. It’s doing well. I’m basically a happy fellow. I’m very worried and down on the music business at the moment. If I could snap my fingers and make it 1982 again, I would love to do it.
Things are changing, just not necessarily in a positive way.
The thing is there are a lot of bands out there and people are going to be less inclined to pick music as a career because where is the rainbow? Where is it? The major labels are only interested in bands that can sell a half million to two million units.
And they’re definitely not throwing a lot of money at metal anymore.
No of course not. You have to be Metallica or Judas Priest. Everything is changing. I love music and judging from my portfolio you can see that. I’m an eternal optimist, but I am very worried right now. With the recession and the downloading, who knows what is going to happen.
It’s putting a big dent in things. Let me switch gears for a second. What inspired New Metal Leader? What brought this record about? What made you think that making this record was necessary right now?
I left Manowar in 1988 after Kings of Metal. Right after that I did another metal record with Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom. I always wanted to do power metal again. It was just like there was constantly something else coming up. Then another set and project came up, another contract, another tour, and then my son was born in 1991. I really didn’t have the right bunch of guys to work with. Then I did the Keep It True Festival in Germany, I found my band. I found my band. Well they found me. The promoter said “I got this band for you. They’re called Men of War.” “What?” “Men of War. They’re a Manowar cover band.” So they sent me the tape and it was unbelievable. It was great. So I said “Okay” and I flew to Germany where we rehearsed and did this gig. The response was unbelievable. We did a couple of more shows in Greece, Italy and Moscow. So I said that I didn’t want to play old Manowar songs again. I didn’t want to do it. A couple of gigs were enough. We did a demo and we got signed.
So basically it was the timing. Things felt right, and it was great.
So basically it took about 18 years for stuff to finally come together?
Yeah, because I was busy and I had other things to do. I was always working, touring and producing. You know how things go. I just didn’t feel I had the guys and the platform to do that record. When I met the three of them, I knew. I didn’t want a bunch of old guys. I didn’t want any faded glory. I wanted new blood and to do it right.
So you have got to be feeling pretty good about that then?
I feel great. I love the band. I love the music. I love the record. I love the artwork. I love everything about it. I just don’t love that we’re in crisis mode. I don’t have a problem with that. We can only do what we can do.
Just sort of letting it happen in that way.
So to go in the way back machine, how do you feel about your legacy with The Dictators? How do you feel about your time with them?
I love it. Looking back it was great. A lot of it was misunderstood. I did my work. I think it’s a great band. Whenever we play, people are there. People are still interested. People still love the music. We just did a tour in early November in Spain that was sold out. Wherever we play people want the band. It’s a blessing. I think the legacy gets stronger and stronger as time goes by.
It does, yeah. How did you make the jump from a band like The Dictators to a band like Manowar?
The thing about The Dictators was that I was always the metal guy in the band. I was the one who really loved Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and all that stuff. I loved heavy metal and hard rock. So that next transition wasn’t really that difficult. I met Joey and we had specific things that we idolized like Queen, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Mountain. That’s what started Manowar.
How do you feel about Manowar both on its own and compared to your time with The Dictators was?
How do I feel about Manowar now?
How about both your time with Manowar and Manowar now?
My time with Manowar was about 6 records in 8 years. There was a lot of output in music that kept me busy. It was cool. Could we have done things a little different? Yes. There could have been more American touring. There could have been more appearances. That would have been great, but it didn’t happen. What I feel about them now? I am totally indifferent to them. It’s cool, but it’s not what I’m used to.
So do you feel positively or negatively towards new Manowar?
Honestly, I feel totally neutral. I don’t know. Some people seem to like it.
I mean is it kind of strange for you because you were such a direct part of it?
Listen, it’s been 21 years already. 21 years is a lifetime. I don’t want to think about that every single day, that’s for sure.
You have to let it rest after awhile.
It’s been rested for a long time. I’m totally at peace with myself, my friend.
You basically got back together with almost all the bands that you were a part of for reunion shows. What are your thoughts on reunions?
If you’re doing it to just make money then I would have to disagree with that. I just did one gig with Manowar. It wasn’t like we did a whole reunion tour. If the band is not going to be a band then I don’t think there is a reason to get back together again. The reunion with Shakin’ Street was for putting out a record with them. There was an actual CD that I played some tracks on so that warranted it.
So your stance would be that if it calls for it do it but avoid doing it for the money?
If it’s fun and you’re going to have a good time and it will be easy then do it. If it’s going to be uncomfortable and a struggle then no. If I’m still friends with everyone then great. If I can play with my friends and make a bit of money, drink some beer, some wine and have a good time, then it’s cool. If it’s going to be a drag then I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want to do it just for the sake of doing it. The big thing is the fun portion. Fun has to be had otherwise I don’t want to do it. I love playing music and I love having fun
Do you still get those two things from The Dictators?
Absolutely. We love playing and it’s a cool thing, otherwise we wouldn’t do it.
Who do you hold sacred musically?
Yes. He is my idol. You know why?
To me he’s one of the greatest guitar players in the world. He did more with three notes than every shredding knucklehead has done with a million notes. You know what I’m saying?
He can make a phrase with 3 notes that will make you cry. The rest try with a million notes and all that other stuff that no one wants to listen to. No one seems to get it. The only one who seems to get it is Angus Young and the guys from Judas Priest and Maiden. Those guys know it. The rest of them just don’t get it. They want to play as fast as they can with as many notes and no one cares. That’s why B.B. King is my favorite guitar player. Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck those guys are great. Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tony Iommi, Carlos Santana are also great guitar players.
So basically guys who are deeply rooted in the blues?
Yeah. I am very influenced by them. I like very emotional guitars. They are my idols. I might be missing a few.
Is there anyone out there right now that you like?
I haven’t heard any. The last guy I really liked was Dimebag. That guy was great. Great guy too and a great guy to be around. I don’t listen to all the new stuff coming out because I don’t have the time. What would you say in your opinion? Children of Bodom have a set of guitar players that are very good. What was that band that looked like they were in the 50s?
The only band that I could think of is the Brian Setzer Orchestra, but I don’t think that’s who you’re talking about.
Yeah, he’s unbelievable. I think he’s awesome. He’s a great guitar player and a great singer. You have to forgive me, but my memory isn’t as good as it once was. Sometimes I have senior moments and I don’t remember all the bands that I said I like and listen to. That music really gets me going. I haven’t heard anyone do it any better. Do you know of anyone who can do it better than that?
I think there have been different kinds of takes on that, but I think there is a spirit there that hasn’t been recreated. I think that Dime came the closest.
He was great. He had that kind of shredder thing, but he made it sound like something. There was an emotional quality to it. Joe Satriani is very good too. Steve Vai is another great guitar player. There is no doubt about it. But everyone can say that Angus Young is great.
That guy will never not be great.
And he plays the same three chords in every solo – and that’s my point.
And a good point it is. What do you think of metal’s present and what do you think of metal’s future is going to be?
I told you in the beginning of my rant to you that I am totally worried about it. I know there are a lot of good bands out there and there is a good heavy metal scene in Texas and all over the place. I hope and pray that it lasts and that people don’t get discouraged due to the lack of business, wealth, industry, and potential. I hope that it will see its way through. I’ll do my part and I have done my part. I just want to see it through. I hope it’ll get better when the recession is over. We’ll see. I gave you a lot of stuff there. I don’t want to close with being negative. I’m just very worried.
You have every right to be worried at this point. The outlook is bleak. Do you think that it is as bleak as it seems? Is there any hope?
I think there is hope, of course. I think some band will come out and galvanize a generation of kids so that they can stop listening to hip hop. My son loves all the old music and says that there are no good new bands. There are a couple out there doing it like Valiant Thorr but he’s just not hearing it. Hopefully a new band will come along and light the fire. When they do that, the major labels will turn around and sign them. It’ll be like the 80s when Quiet Riot hit. I hope it happens. I hope to be around for it. If not I’ll just keep doing my thing.