ON couple of occasions, the odds against Jon Stevens ever making it to here, and to now, seemed very, very long indeed.
In 2009, the face of Aussie rockers Noiseworks and Michael Hutchence’s one-time replacement in INXS went for a routine check-up and found that an artery was 99.9 per cent blocked. Had he left it another day, he may well have been dead.
Stevens, 52, underwent a double heart bypass, endured complications and recovered to collaborate with guitarist David Lowy (son of Frank, Australia’s richest man), write a single with Slash and assemble an all-star cast to tour with an ambitious new project, The Dead Daisies.
He was then, ahem, attacked by a crocodile….
“I was catching some mud crabs and a croc came up and frightened me,” Stevens, sitting next to fellow Daisy and long running Guns N’Roses keyboardist Dizzy Reed on a tour bus in Nottingham, tells Hot Metal.
“I fell over and bloke my leg and broke my thumb. I went to America with a broken leg and a broken thumb (he then suffered an infection, too)
“I had no excuses. My voice worked fine. I was in a wheelchair the whole time, I couldn’t even be on crutches because of my thumb. It was pretty hairy.
“(And) a double heart bypass after going for a check-up … people, if you’re feeling bad, go to the doctor. It saved my life, anyway.”
Dead Daisies are a commercial rock band – heavier than Noiseworks, poppier than Reed’s GN’R. What’s most striking about them is the calibre of musician involved,
Supporting Thin Lizzy spin-off Black Star Riders the night we saw them, there was the current bass player in the Rolling Stones, Darryl Jones, two current members of the Gunners – Reed and guitarist Richard Fortus – and long-time Divinyls skinsman Charley Drayton,
As a journalist, one can’t ignore the influence that a man of Lowy’s means must have had on assembling and financing such a sprawling venture. The head of the Lowy family’s private investment arm, David owns a Gulfstream jet and enjoys collecting and restoring WWII fighters as a hobby. The Lowy family’s connections to Israel must have also played a role in December’s DD tour there.
But the same rock purists who sneer at a rock band as a “play thing” of the wealthy probably redirect their own income from outside music into their love for it.
“When we were asked to do the ZZ Top and Aerosmith dates in Australia, it was a case of putting a band together,” Stevens explains.
“Charley Drayton was the first person we called. We’re old and dear friends. Charley brought in Richard and Richard brought in Dizzy. Marco (Mendoza) came in then by the muso mates network.
“When Marco couldn’t do it, Darryl became available. It’s really just like-minded musicians and knowing who’s who in the zoo and going ‘I want to play with that cat’.”
While the hooky, bluesy offerrings on the supergroup’s debut album were written mainly by Stevens and Lowy over a 12-day period, with Slash contributing to first-up single “Lock N Load”, the current touring band has written, demoed and performed a number of new tracks.
“We actually recorded three new songs in the middle of that last (US) tour,” says Reed, 50. “I think we do well under pressure.
“I just try to make the song better, and do what I can to make the song sound better. I don’t think we ever talked about what we wanted the songs to sound like.
“We had some riffs and I think we all sort of found a common ground. We all listened to the same music. It’s kind of what we do. When people hear it – there’s not a lot of bands doing this - I think they’re pleasantly surprised. You’re making people happy because you’re playing good rock’n'roll music. There’s not any other way to describe it. It’s just good rock’n'roll music.”
Stevens: “We’ve got some more stuff we’ve collected and we’ve just got to get in the studio and put them down, really. We’re doing some shows in Australia in February/March and we’ll hopefully get in then for a few days and do some stuff.”
“Lock N Load” garnered publicity not just because of the involvement of Slash (Fortus finds himself playing the top-hatted one’s licks even when he’s not in GN’R!) but for its touchy subject matter and a choose-your-own ending YouTube video.
Stevens: ”It’s written about: a young boy wakes up, decides he’s pissed off with the world – really pissed off – and goes to school and takes it out on everybody. We’ve all seen and heard that story before and we’ve seen it on the news that that’s literally what the song is about. He’s had a gutful, the guy’s never shown any of it before and why didn’t anybody recognise the guy was a ticking time bomb? Why did nobody see it? Why did nobody do anything about it?
“Slash and I wrote it. He was right in on (the subject). At the time we were writing it, one of those tragedies happened and I think out of anger, it just came out. We wrote that song a few years ago.”
The video allows the viewer to decide the fate of the main protagonist, who is involved in a less- confrontational Lord of the Flies-style adventure. “We just thought we’d make a video that wasn’t that heavy,” Stevens continues. “Although he dies in the end, it wasn’t as literal as the song.
“We didn’t want to depict that in the video by making it that obvious so we got a young bloke in who looked like me when I was 17 maybe – oh no he doesn’t! Haha.”
Reed says his initial interest regarding the band was in touring Australia as the keyboard player. Fellow Gunner Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal has recently bemoaned the unpredictability of GN’R's career trajectory. Asked if it was difficult to predict when he might be available, Reed says: “In my situation it’s impossible sometimes.
Guns have recently announced a festival date in Mexico early in 2014. Reed is evasive when asked about Axl Rose’s plans for the year.
“You know, I’m just so happy to be able to play music for a living,” he says with a wry smile. “I’m just so happy to be playing with these guys. I still like playing with GN’R – a lot. I think there’s some things coming up but, you know what? We’ve got a show tonight ….”
For all their international star power, the Dead Daisies described themselves as an Australian band. The debut album still hasn’t been released there. The second single, “Washington”, is about Stevens’ partner, model Jodhi Meares.
“It’s about my girl really, being away and coming home – to cop it.”
Stevens would like to keep the current line-up together as long as possible, but is a realist. ”I think Mick Jagger might have a problem with Darryl Jones and I think Axl might have a problem with Dizzy and Richard so…..
“We’re all grown-ups and everyone has their day job and their thing. Dead Daisies probably provides a little haven and an escape, a creative haven if they’re available and if David and I aren’t doing anything at the time, on the road or whatever.
“If we’re creating … we’ve already proven within the structure of this band and these members that we can create together and that’s important for moving forward.”
For all their multi-platinum album sales and stadium-filling exploits as individuals, the Dead Daisies will be again supporting when they return “home” early in the new year.
“We’re in a support role but that’s where we belong,” Stevens grins. “We’re still shit-kickers….”
Which is still better than where Stevens could have been.