Monday, May 9, 2011

10 Questions With...Darren Hill

Red Rockers: Darren Hill, James Singletary, John Griffith and Jim Reilly

And now for something not completely different, but a little different.  I got the opportunity to talk a little bit with Darren Hill.  A man that has worn many hats in entertainment, so to speak.  He not only was a musician in a couple of pretty successful bands, but also manager of some of the great and legendary (no exaggeration) bands/performers in music history.  That's not all kids, he's just added entrepreneur to his impressive resume and like most things he's been involved in, it's a really interesting venture.  Darren Hill really is the definition of self-made success. 

DJ:  Where are you from originally?  Who/What got you into playing music?

DH:  New Orleans. During high school I was really into music and went to shows all the time – The Who, Stones, Pink Floyd,  Jethro Tull…I saw dozens of shows. I was learning how to play bass (figured 4 strings would be easier than 6) at the time, but the songs I was trying play were just too complicated. Then, within the span of a few months,  I saw both The Ramones and The Sex Pistols. It changed my life.  I realized that it was more about passion than technical proficiency. From that point on, I knew that was what I wanted to do.

Darren Hill and Dee Dee Ramone

How did the Red Rockers form?  What’s it like being a “one hit wonder?”  In no way meant to be derogatory, millions of people try the music business and so few actually have a hit.  Do you remember where “China” peaked?

The original band (John Griffith, James Singletary, and myself) all grew up in the same neighborhood and were friends. John could play piano and guitar already but James and I were just learning. After we saw The Ramones together we decided to start a band. I recruited a drummer that went to my school and we started practicing in John’s garage. Sometimes we would open the garage door and all the kids in the neighborhood would come watch us. Our first gig was opening for local New Orleans punk legends The Normals. Our second show was opening for The Cramps (original lineup). The Normals split up and we soon became the top punk band in town. We opened for everyone that came through – Black Flag, Mission of Burma, X…then we did our first out of town tour with The Dead Boys.  Eventually we realized that we were going to have to leave N.O. if we wanted to make it, so I talked the guys into packing up our belongings and we moved out to California. Our drummer was still in school and his parents wouldn’t let him leave so we recruited Patrick Jones in LA. Howie Klein (who later became president of Reprise Records) signed us to his label 415 Records out of San Francisco. Our first record Condition Red was released in 1981 and it got a lot of attention. We were dubbed “the American Clash” by several critics. We toured quite a bit on that record and then had a falling out with Patrick. Jim Reilly from Stiff Little Fingers took over as our drummer. We did some dates with The Clash – which was a real dream come true for me.

415 Records was sold to Columbia Records and that’s when things started to change. At the same time, our sound really started to evolve. “China” was just another song to us, but the label really thought it could be a hit.  They hired Annie Liebowitz to shoot our album cover and gave us nice budget to shoot a video. Radio really took to the song – it was # 1 on the Alternative Chart and I think it eventually cracked the Billboard top 40. MTV was starting to catch on and they played the crap out of our video. I think they didn’t have that many videos at the time…haha.

Suddenly we were in all of the Teen magazines. Anyhow, we toured constantly that year and sold quite a few records. Looking back, it seems surreal now. 

Do you attribute the breakup of the Red Rockers due to the band’s “style” change that was “China” or was it just time to move on?

In 1985 we were the support act for U2’s “Unforgettable Fire” tour. The tour ended on the East Coast and we decided to relocate to Boston. Boston had always been really good to us. We were all living in a big old house and working on songs for a new record. John had a girlfriend still back in New Orleans. One day he left to go visit her and never came back…haha. I’m sure it was much more complicated than that – there was a lot of pressure on us from the label at the time. I was devastated – I thought the songs we were working on were really good and that band meant everything to me.

After the breakup, Jim Reilly (drummer, Red Rockers and Stiff Little Fingers) and yourself would join The Raindogs in Boston.  How did that come about?  Please talk about that band.  

Jim and I were planning a new band when we met Johnny Cunningham at an Irish pub in Boston. Johnny was a world-renowned Celtic fiddle player from Scotland who was in the band Silly Wizard. He was sort of the Jimi Hendrix of fiddle players. He agreed to join our band, but we still needed a singer. A mutual friend of ours introduced us to Mark Cutler from The Schemers in Providence, RI. We loved his voice and his songwriting.  Eventually we talked him into joining what would become The Raindogs. We were signed to ATCO/Atlantic and recorded two critically acclaimed records and toured with Warren Zevon, The Waterboys, Don Henley, and Bob Dylan before calling it a day. 

After that, I was recruited to play in Paul Westerberg’s first post-Replacements band. We toured the world and played on “Saturday Night Live.” Then I played in a short-lived band called Klover with Chris and Brian from Gang Green. We recorded one record for Mercury.

I might be incorrect, but didn’t you have a record label, Monolyth?  Is it still operational?

Yes, I became partners with Jeff Marshall – who already had Monolyth up and running. I brought in Grandpaboy (Paul Westerberg), The Royal Crowns, The Pinetops, Big Bad Bollocks, and others.  Sadly, this coincided with the decline of the record business and we eventually closed shop.

How did you enter the world of band management?  What makes for a good band manager?

My son was born in 1990 and I decided I didn’t want to miss his childhood being on the road playing in a band. The problem was – I didn’t know what else to do. I had been in music all my life. I had some job offers from labels, but it would have meant moving to LA – which I didn’t want to do. By default, I ended up handling the business for every band I was in. In the back of my mind, I always thought that one day I would go into management. I tried to pay attention, learn, and make contacts throughout my playing days. It seemed like a natural transition for me. Plus, I didn’t have to move. I think what really helped me the most was the fact that I had the experience of being in a band myself. I think the musicians that I work with know that I understand and have been in their shoes.

Red Rockers with Jello Biafra joining them on stage

What bands/performers have you managed in the past?  What bands/performers are you currently managing?

My first two management clients were The Royal Crowns and Dropkick Murphys. Over the years, I have worked with Combusitble Edison, Skavoovie & The Epitones, The Black Eyed Susans, New York Dolls, and Hot Rod Circuit. My current roster includes Paul Westerberg/The Replacements, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Roky Erickson.

Are there any new projects/tours/albums you can talk about that your clients will be putting out in the future?

The Bosstones are working on a new record this summer and will be going over to Europe for the first time in several years to play some festivals.

Roky Erickson will be going over for festivals this summer as well. He just released a record with Okkervil River last year on Anti and more recently a dvd with The Black Angels.

Paul is doing some soundtrack work.

Who are your 5 all-time favorite bands/performers?  Are there any guilty music pleasures?

The Clash and The Who are by far my two top favorite bands. The Stones, Faces,  & The Jam probably round out the top 5. Can’t forget The Kinks either. I’ve really gotten into jazz over the last several years.

Is there anything or anyone you’d like to plug or promote?  Please use this space to do so. 

I recently opened an antique/art gallery in East Greenwich, RI called POP – Emporium of Popular Culture. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time and it’s a lot of fun.

How about that guys?  If that's not a cool and interesting interview, than I don't know what is?  I'd like to thank Darren for his time and the great pictures that he supplied me with.  Check out all of his bands...they are worth your time and effort.  If your local, stop in and see the cool stuff at Darren's POP.  I have to get down there myself.  See you next time with another interview.  This one will be hard to top.

1 comment:

  1. The Red Rockers could've been the next Nirvana or bigger than that. It's like they ignore "condition red" completely. That album was a Punk Icon to the New Orleans youth of the early 80's era of underground Punk and Hardcore. It had an appeal to both the Punkers and college people of that time. That album and that sound which they completely rejected from their music was a stupid mistake and it costed then their careers , Condition Red I think will never get the celebrity it deserves. They should reform and write songs the old school way and get rich. Their idiots for not giving a shit. Bands down here have always done that. So much wasted talent, and the dumbest excuses for why they chose to do so, Hail The Red Rockers, Hail...Condition Red. Get your heads crewed on straight guys, you can still do it, let's show america where real Underground Punk and Hardcore came from, with a sound like no other country in America. Guns of Revolution!!!!!!!!