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Legendary Rock Interviews: Q & A with RIPT guitarist Gregg DeCarlo
By John Parks
Rockford hard rock legends RIPT have been resurfacing for local reunion shows in the past few years, and they are always successful concerts, including their recent shows to benefit and honor the memory of local fan Verne Smith.
The RIPT guys travel from many states away to make the gigs because the fans always have as much fun as the band and make it well worth the travel miles.
RIPT will once again be playing two weekend concerts at Whiskey’s Roadhouse (3207 N. Main St., Rockford) this Friday, Sept. 27, and Saturday, Sept. 28. The shows start at 6 p.m. both nights and feature some great young bands — The Hazards and Bloody Mary opening up — and I recently talked with guitarist Gregg DeCarlo about the band’s past and present.
Q: Hi, Gregg. Lots of people are aware of the RIPT era around the time of the CD release, but the band had roots way before that point. You are an 815 guy still to this day and are known around town as a top-notch guitar player. What were you doing musically right before joining RIPT, and how did you wind up getting involved with the band?
A: Back around 1981 or 1982, Mike Ringo Nelson lived in the same apartment complex I did. Around that time, I had moved into a band called Trauma, which had a few lineup shuffles, but we included keyboards, and I still had a lot of keyboard stuff and studio stuff around my place. I knew Mike played and I played, and I actually helped Mike come up with his demo recording, which got him accepted at the Guitar Institute out in L.A. We were friendly, and years later when he came back to Rockford and was playing in RIPT with his gravity boots blasting out Metallica and stuff like that, I was playing this more keyboard-orientated material. But still, he knew I played guitar. We would see each other’s bands and one time he was like, “Dude, come over and jam.” It was a Halloween party and it was me, Nelson and (RIPT drummer) Wally Houck and (RIPT bassist) Greg Utley, and we just jammed on an AC/DC song at Nelson’s place on Rockton Avenue, and it just grooved. It felt good because I was getting back to my roots as a rock guitar player and they were like “C’mon, man,” and I joined around 1987. Within a month, (RIPT singer) Ian Serrano joined, and our first gigs began with that lineup. We really worked hard — I’d say about 70 percent of our stuff was still covering other bands’ material, but we quickly got to the point where we were doing at least 50 percent original material.
Q: Again, most people are aware of the songs on the album, but there was also a lot of songs that didn’t make the album which were great. Was it always pretty easy for you guys to come up with material?
A: Oh, yeah, yeah. This particular group of guys, we were really blessed with the fact that we could write stuff, man. For whatever reason, it just clicked and worked. Sometimes Nelson would bring in a song that was totally complete, a full production like “Nicole” or “When I Wonder,” but a lot of the material was one guy having one idea and another guy adding his two cents, and another guy adding another piece. That came pretty regularly for us. I can tell you a big part of it came from the fact that we played out so much in places like Chicago, and we’d have a big show and then have to lug all our equipment back to our practice space. We would get back, tired from playing a big show, settled into the practice space again and get everything set up and, inevitably, Utley being the animal that he is, would always be like, “It’s all set up, man, let’s just play.” So much of our material came from sessions like that (laughs). We had a real community effort. Wally did his thing, Ian did his thing, and so on, and we wrote about what we were living, which, to be honest, was rock and roll. I mean, if you look at the song titles and the lyrics, I think about six songs mention rock and roll, and that’s because that’s what we lived, ate and breathed — that was our life, we were writing about our life and it was real. We were a blue-collar, working-class party band, and we never pretended we weren’t. We sang songs like “Throw the Boss a Loss,” which was about telling your boss off, and “Drink Em Up.” These songs were pretty basic and self-explanatory, and real people can relate to them. When it came time to actually do the album, it was difficult to narrow down the material. There are songs that honestly should have been on the album, songs we need to do live, like “Rock and Roll Ain’t No Crime,” which was just an anthem and one of our best songs.
Q: I’m not the same teen-age writer I was when I interviewed you guys 20 years ago, and I’m not calling you a fossil, but it has been a long time, and it is somewhat amazing that you guys are able to sound as good — or better — than you did decades ago. What’s the secret?
A: I think the big thing is that we drilled this music in our heads back in the day and worked harder and rehearsed harder than you could possibly imagine. I mean, first of all, adding Tim Speer as a third guitarist brought so much to us as a band because he’s not only an amazing guitarist and fills in the sound, but he’s also a great singer and brings a lot to our background vocals. Second of all, this music is not RUSH or Dream Theater (laughs), it’s pretty straight-forward rock and roll. But lastly, good, bad or otherwise, we just had such a work ethic that it was ridiculous back in the day. We probably could have achieved the same result practicing a couple times a week, but we had the mindset that we needed to practice 360 days a year. I mean, we’d take off Christmas and Thanksgiving and Easter, but that’s about it — and that was all Nelson, who was the captain of this drunken ship — and in essence, we practiced every damn day. To go and drill those songs like that, it makes it become almost second nature to the point where if we couldn’t still play it now, I would be surprised, and something would definitely be wrong. This music is so embedded in us that we are classically conditioned to know this stuff (laughs).
Q: So, you are like Pavlov’s dogs?
A: Exactly … and we’re gonna salivate.
From the Sept. 25-Oct. 1, 2013, issue