"I'm not sure we ever split up. Nothing was formally declared. In fact I'm surprised we haven't recorded a new album before now." For long time fans of New York power trio legends The Rods, those might come as surprising words, especially as they come from Rods drummer Carl Canedy, who played with the band from it's 1980 debut 'Rock Hard' until 1987's swansong 'Heavier Than Thou'. But new Rods material seems some way off, and for now Carl can feel some level of comfort, having been part of one of the 80's greatest cult metal acts, renowned for their superlative energy and no holds barred approach. Their career saw its shares of ups and downs, from major labels and arena shows, to being dropped by their major and almost forgotten, a familiar story. But that we're here talking to Carl about a band who hasn't recorded in over fifteen years means they did something right. I had the chance to catch up with Carl and get his take on The Rods history, past and present, Carl sparing no detail in the process.
Like so many teenagers in the 1960's Carl grew up to the sounds of the British invasion. At first it was the relatively lightweight tones of The Beatles, but in a few years heavier sounds began to filter through, leaving a bigger impression. What exactly were then your earliest musical influences leading to a pursuit of music as a career? "I was thirteen when I started playing drums. My earliest influence was seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show " Carl confirms. "I had been playing drums for about six months when a band approached me, asking to join. They were doing top forty cover songs. I learned everything I could from those songs, but I was always a loud drummer. For some reason I just had to hit them hard. I remember getting shit from a guy I went to for lessons. He kept saying not to hold my sticks the way I was holding them and that I was playing too loudly. I quit taking lessons from him after the second or third lesson and taught myself until a few years later."
This was around the point when bands resembling Carl's hard hitting style of drumming started to appear, justifying his methods. "Somewhere around the age of fifteen I discovered Cream, Hendrix, Vanilla Fudge and The Who and my drumming changed forever" recalls Carl with relief "I had a friend who played guitar and we would jam in the basement for hours trying out everything we'd learned from those bands and any other groups who were heavy like Jeff Beck, Blue Cheer etc." Blue Cheer had a lasting impression especially, according to Carl. "I also remember seeing Blue Cheer on American Bandstand with full Marshall stacks and thinking how loud they must have been in the studio. It was great to work with that band years later on 'The Beast Is Back (1985, Megaforce)'. I think Dickie Peterson was an underrated vocalist." Carl took his first steps to achieving his desired drum sound when he took lessons from one of his drumming idols, as he recalls. "When I was nineteen I found an ad in a musicians union paper for drum lessons. The teacher was Carmine Appice and when I called I got him on the phone and was in shock that one of my favorite drummers was going to accept me as a student. I took about a year from Carmine and it was the real difference in my style. I've never properly thanked him."
"I was living in Boston at the time" Carl continues "and would drive to Long Island for double lessons. Carmine was very cool and took a lot of time to help me become a better drummer. He also taught me about playing because you love it, not because you want to be a star. I moved to New Jersey about a year after I stopped taking lessons from Carmine and my friend Billy Hilfiger hooked me up with Tony Williams (Lifetime). I'd always loved Lifetime and it was another chance to study with someone I'd admired for years. Tony was a laid back guy who had some serious philosophies about music and life. The insight I gained from talking to him was pretty incredible and something I've never forgotten." Carl also adds a tribute to his friend, the late guitarist mentioned earlier, Billy Hilfiger." Billy was such a great musician and passed away a little over a year ago. He was so dedicated to music that I would call him when he was in the hospital having treatments and he would be playing his guitar. Truly an amazing guy, I have page on my website dedicated to him and hopefully will be putting up some MP3's so people can check out his playing. Billy's sound and approach always reminded me of Mick Ronson."
Drumming credentials firmly established, Carl found himself teaming with David 'Rock' Feinstein (ex Elf), guitar and vocals, and future Manowar mainman, bassist Joey DeMaio. A fearsome lineup to be sure, I ask Carl how this formation led to the creation of The Rods. "Rock, Joey and I had done some work together which was truly amazing, but never wound up becoming a performing group. Rock and Joey formed Thunder, which to this day is the loudest band I've ever heard. I remember seeing them in a theater and the hum from their amps actually frightened me. I thought if their hum is this loud we're going to be pummeled. I was right. People were dropping they were so loud and heavy. I knew the 'happy' band I was in was about to lose me as a drummer." Sadly Thunder split, and Carl put his plans on hold. But things soon changed. "When Thunder disbanded Joey began putting Manowar together and Rock approached me about starting a group. That group wound up being The Rods" Carl reminisces with a devilish grin. "It was the spring of 1979 when we started putting it together" he continues. "We rehearsed at Al Falso's in Cortland, New York. Al was the greatest guy who really backed The Rods for their entire career. We rehearsed twice a day. Once in the morning from ten am to one pm and then from three to five pm we'd build equipment and at seven we'd rehearse until ten. We began writing songs immediately and went into the studio with Chris Bubacz (Metallica's first engineer) within three months of rehearsals. We played every gig we could and would go into the studio between shows."
As the core of The Rods, Carl and Feinstein were present from start to finish. I am curious though as to how many members passed through the ranks before the definitive lineup? "Our first bass player was Steve Starmer, followed by Craig Gruber (ex-Elf) followed by Gary Boronaro. Craig Gruber returned for the 'Heavier Than Thou' album. Schmoulik Avigal joined the band for that album (assuming vocals around 1987). He has an amazingly powerful voice and can sing full out for hours and come in the next day and do it again. One of the toughest and strongest vocalists I've ever worked with. He has a new album coming out with Jack Starr, 'Guardians Of The Flame', which is a great album. Joe Hasselvander (drums, Pentagram, Raven) and Ned Meloni are also on the album. Very tight and powerful. I think people will be surprised by it."
Steven Starmer, as Carl stated, was The Rods original bassist and appeared on the 1980 debut. What led to his departure? Carl recounts a story which rightfully affected him in negative ways. "Steve was a great guy and in looking back probably wasn't treated properly in his departure from the band. He really did a lot in the beginning and was there busting his ass with us. The problem was Steve's background was more straight ahead music, where Rock and I were used to playing in a heavy trio like Cream and Hendrix. We needed a different approach to the bass in the group and had to make the painful choice to replace him. It was unpleasant and really tough to do. There are people who still hate me for asking him to leave. It was the right thing for the group but the worst thing for me as a person. I still tell Steve Starmer stories. He was the funniest guy I've ever worked with and that comic relief was a godsend at times."
The Rod's debut 'Rock Hard' was issued in 1980 on Carl's own 'Primal' label. Arista soon showed and an interest in the band and signed them, the all important 'major' deal. What led to the signing? "As I'd said we started recording within three months of forming" Carl explains carefully. "Rock had songs and so did I, so we were getting our songs on tape as soon as possible and with Chris Bubacz help we were able to. When we had a few songs recorded we released a single. It got some great airplay and we were thrilled. It gave us the momentum to put out an album. We finished it a few months later and released it on our own. It sold out almost immediately. We then found a manager through Doug Thaler who was then working as manager for Motley Cr•e and co-managing Bon Jovi. We were getting interest from labels and our then manager got us a deal with Bertlesman. Shortly after we signed our contract Arista took over that catalog and roster and booted a ton of groups. For some reason following the shakeup they'd kept us."
Arista's first decision was to re-release the debut and repackage it, renaming it simply 'The Rods', the album emerging in September of 1981. Did this reworking of the debut dilute the power of the independent original? Carl says no. "Mike Bone signed the group and made some great changes to it. I love the first album because of what it stands for. That spirit of doing your own music on your own terms. I'm proud of what we did on that album and over the years the songs that were cut from that album were released as bonus tracks ('Getting Higher' and 'Wings Of Fire' were included as extras on High Vaultage's 1997 reissue, 'Getting Higher' originally appearing on 'Rock Hard' but removed by Arista for the reissue) so that true fans could hear them."
While the band experienced huge popularity in New York, their chosen state, it seemed that the debut was received with more fervor in Europe and the U.K, not an uncommon situation as Manowar could testify to. I put the question to Carl as to why this is. "I don't think there is any question that Europe has always been more into metal and heavier music. Just like here in America. Texas and some of the southern states have always been hotbeds for heavy and blues music. Also our sound was more British and European. Our influences were mostly from that side of the Atlantic."
Compared to subsequent albums, the debut seems more accessible, dare I say it, commercial. Looking back does Carl agree? "I've thought this from the first day we were faced with working with someone other than Chris Bubacz on the second album ('Wild Dogs' ,1982)" Carl concurs. "I felt it was a mistake to change our approach. I vocalized it and it became a bit of a rub at times. We were being asked to record songs that we didn't love. The recording process wasn't comfortable for me. I play hard and was asked to tune down and play harder. I was actually bending drum beaters. For anyone who's a drummer knows that bending beaters is nearly impossible." Carl continues on this state of affairs, unhappy with the forced direction. 'On the first album the songs we recorded we loved ('Ace In The Hole' and 'Nothin' Going On In The City'). For the second album the songs weren't as strong and we balked at them. It caused a problem with the label and the engineer who was caught in the middle. The album suffered from too many hands being involved. It's the same old record company song, 'we love you, everything is perfect, let's change everything'. I've since come to realize that you have to stand up for what you believe in to the end, since that's all you have when it's over. I think there are some strong songs on the second album, but sonically it doesn't hold up for me the way the debut does."
There's no denying though that tracks like 'Crank It Up' and 'Ace In The Hole' are eternal metal anthems to be proud of. How do you think they stack up over twenty years later? " I would have to agree with you" Carl agrees with a nod of the head. "The Rods were a great live band and those songs were done live in the studio with the exception of the lead vocal and solo. We had one night to record and mix those two songs. It captured the band as they were and I think that's why they still hold up." If I recall rightly the band also got huge support from (now defunct) Sounds magazine at the time. They were huge fans right? This assertion is correct as Carl confirms. "I remember getting calls from friends when I'd returned from a Foghat tour of the Southwest. It was our first tour after the release of the Arista album and nothing was happening here (in the U.S.). My friends told me we received a five star review from Sounds. At the time I had no idea how important it was. They were very supportive of us."
Carl may have been disappointed with 1982's 'Wild Dogs', but in many ways 1982 was a watershed year for The Rods. The mainstream release of their second album and more importantly supporting Iron Maiden on their U.K tour promoting the U.K. no 1 'The Number Of The Beast'. Maiden were the brightest up and coming metal group of the era, so touring with them at the onset of the worldwide domination must have been a highlight. Once again Carl agrees, and in a way how could he not? "Touring with Iron Maiden was an incredible experience. They'd come off a tour with Kiss where their crew hadn't been treated all that well and they were determined not to do that to their opening act. They treated us very well and were extremely supportive of us as a group. I used to love hanging behind Clive's (Clive Burr, ex Maiden drummer) kit while they performed. It was great to watch them. They were so powerful and had a hold on their audience that was incredible."
As is the case with many bands interviewed in this series, there is an ongoing theme. A band is signed by a major, things look to be on the rise, when suddenly they are dropped and going nowhere. The Rods fell into this abyss also, Arista discarding them shortly following 'Wild Dogs'. Did this leave a bad taste in Carl's mouth for the music industry? Carl relates the course of the whole affair. "We landed the 'Screaming For Veangance' tour opening for Judas Priest. Unfortunately the timing wasn't going our way. Their set design was causing the tour to be pushed back. Meanwhile our album was sitting in the stores doing nothing. We weren't getting airplay and we had no tour. By the time we were on tour with them our album was over and sales didn't pick up enough to impress Arista. We'd also alienated our A&R guy who'd found Motley Cr•e and was about to leave for Elektra. We had no one in our camp. Also Arista was not a heavy music label. They did have Krokus but they'd come from Switzerland, not a U.S. signing. By the way, I loved touring on the same bill as Krokus. They had a great way with the audience." Very true indeed Carl.
Following the 1983 Shrapnel release 'In The Raw', The Rods signed to Music For Nations and promptly recorded 1984's 'The Rods Live'. Unfortunately the production was atrocious and the album must rank as one of the poorest live documents in the history of metal. Worse still was that the songs were all original, stifling any power they may have had. This situation is not lost on Carl. "I can't say how much of a mistake it (the live album) was. We were managing ourselves at that time and used it to buy out our manager. There were some good performances captured but the sound wasn't there when we went to mix. It was meant to buy us time but unfortunately cost us momentum." The live debacle was followed by 1984's brilliant 'Let Them Eat Metal' and 1986's little known 'Hollywood', which is frequently omitted from Rods discography's for some reason. The band was revamped by the time of 1987's 'Heavier Than Thou', prompting me to ask Carl what led to the changes for what was The Rods recording swansong. "We'd done the 'Hollywood' album and had songs that needed a strong vocalist. Jack Starr had introduced me to Schmoulik Avigal and his voice was perfect for the songs we were doing. He was living at my house at the time and Rock heard him and said he had to sing these songs. Gary (Bordanaro) was on the road with Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown at the time so Craig Gruber was back in town and had been our bass player before so it was perfect fit."
The band went their separate ways following the album and tour and as Carl said in the opening lines, "I'm not sure we ever split up." What happened then to the various members of The Rods? "Rock is still recording and has a new album coming out with John West doing the vocal honors. I haven't heard it but out tour manager George tells me that it's very different and the best thing Rock has done in years. He also owns the Hollywood restaurant in Cortland, New York. Great family restaurant! Gary is working at Cornell University. Craig Gruber is working for a company as a regional manager. Schmoulik just finished an album with Jack Starr and is recording and touring." And yourself? 'I'm involved in many things including Children's Theater. My daughter has her own group www.thepixiechicks.com and I write for them as well as do live sound and manage. I'm also still playing and writing." Any thoughts on the music scene in general? "To me the resurgence in metal and the fact most artists are back to being musicians who play their instruments together is a great plus. I also find diversity, which is important. I know that at times in the 80's I felt that if you didn't do a certain kind of music or image you weren't recognized as viable. That has changed for the better and groups who are into doing things for themselves are able to do so."
One thing we always like to ask is what your favorite tour or concert was over the years. The Rods obviously toured with some big names. Which one stood out? " There were many" replies Carl, straining at the thought of the question "but if I had to narrow it down to two it would be our first show in an arena in our hometown area. We opened for Blue Oyster Cult. We came out to ten thousand screaming fans who knew The Rods and were into us. The second was opening for Ozzy in Syracuse, NY. I remember being in the dressing room and hearing this amazing guitar playing. It was loud as hell and you couldn't even talk while he was warming up. Half an hour later Randy Rhoads walks down the hall. He was a really quiet, nice guy. Also I remember doing my solo on stage and looking over and seeing Tommy Aldridge watching me. I don't think he was impressed but for me it was the coolest thing to have someone I admired and stolen chops from to be watching me. Of course live Ozzy and those guys were amazing."
There you have then, the career of The Rods. Gone but certainly not forgotten, a classic American power trio in the greatest traditions. Metal, hard rock, The Rods were the real deal. And on that note thanks to Carl for answering our questions. And most of all for being a REAL rocker. Appreciatively, Carl gets the last words "Thanks for being someone who keeps the music alive!"