BILLY ROWE (American Heartbreak)

Ever since I first heard Jetboy about four years ago I wanted to talk to any members of this band. Their crazy hairstyle, catchy music and brilliant songs still sound amazing even after 15 years from their original recordings! It turned out that Jetboy founder and guitar player Billy Rowe never left the music scene and continues to play rock'n'roll in one of the most promising U.S. bands called American Heartbreak. Believe me, this is the best musician I've ever done the interview with - he remembers everything, he's a very nice and welcoming person and he's the true rock'n'roller. Hopefully his attitude and music will once again bring rock'n'roll music to the top of the charts in the United States and worldwide! Enjoy! Hello, Billy!

Billy Rowe: Hello, Michael! It's great to hear someone from Russia! Well, Billy, nowadays you're playing with American Heartbreak but almost two decades ago you were the founding member of glam legend Jetboy. Let's talk about it.

Billy Rowe: Yeah, go ahead! Your singer, Mickey Finn, was one of the most amazing ones on the scene mainly because of his hairstyle.

Billy Rowe: (laughs) Yeah, he had the mohawk! The reason for that was that his girlfriend was a hairdresser and she helped him create this hairstyle. But on early photos he looks more ordinary.

Billy Rowe: Yes, he didn't have mohawk in the beginning. About a year or two since we started in 1984 he had more or less ordinary hair. But one day he came to the rehearsal with that amazing mohawk. We were really surprised but it kinda became our trademark and Mickey was probably the only singer with such hairstyle at the time. As far as I know Mickey Finn is not his real name.

Billy Rowe: Correct, he is actually Michael Diemeter. He had a nickname Mickey and eventually became Mickey Finn. On very early photos of Jetboy you also have the hairstyle that looks like hair explode from your head!

Billy Rowe: (laughs) Yeah, I had it in the beginning! But as I was growing up I changed it to a more or less normal one. The official Jetboy biography written by you in the booklet of a Jetboy CD says that when you met Mickey for the first time in the alley he was shit-faced. What does it mean?

Billy Rowe: He was totally drunk! (laughs) He couldn't even pronounce his name. But me and Fernie (Rod, second guitar player) liked him a lot and he became the member of the band. Before that he used to sing in punk bands. What I personally always admired about Jetboy was that even when you were singing about desperation and hopelessness like in songs "Suicide Shakedown" or "Trouble Comes" the songs themselves were still fast and rock'n'rolling.

Billy Rowe: I understand what you mean. We never really took troubles and problems too seriously, we just played rock'n'roll and loved every minute of doing it even when the times were hard. Another interesting thing was that in some songs there were spoken words like "Oh, mom, I don't wanna turn the stereo down! Fuck the neighbors, I like it loud!" ("Make Some Noise") or "Ford is like an asshole, everybody's got one! Let me tell you about my car" ("Heavy Chevy").

Billy Rowe: Yeah, we tried to make our songs different from other similar ones of other bands and musicians. I think people felt stronger connection with the band via those spoken words. We always loved our audience and we had great support. We could easily draw almost 1000 people in a club after two years since the band started. Billy, since you witnessed the whole rise of the glam rock movement can you tell me more about places like Sunset Strip in Los Angeles and Broadway in San Francisco? I've never been there and besides currently everything is not the way it used to be back in the 1980s.

Billy Rowe: Yes, it changed a lot since those days. OK, both places like Sunset Strip and Broadway are basically just normal boulevards but they have lots of bars and clubs. And the name of 'Strip' comes because there are a lot of strip bars there. But in those days every rock'n'roll band played in those bars and many people came there to watch those bands. Many times record companies executives came to those clubs and signed bands to major labels. With Jetboy it was the way we signed with "Elektra". And moreover, those streets were used as hangout places where lots of people used to go just to be there, meet friends, listen to stereos and discover rock'n'roll music. The situation changed since those days - people no longer spend so much time there and a much less number of rock'n'roll bands is playing in those clubs. After you got signed with "Elektra" you recorded lots of songs in the '24-hour lockout session'. But the record never got released. What happened?

Billy Rowe: After that exhausing recording we were really thrilled and thought, "This is it, we made it!" (laughs) But almost two weeks from that recording our A&R guy got fired from "Elektra" and we lost the contract. And some time later he hooked with "MCA" and the rest is history. The first two official Jetboy albums are hard to find nowadays especially abroad. Is it possible to do something about it?

Billy Rowe: Yes, I'm working in that direction. I'd like the company to re-release them as the 2CD set and the debut album "Feel The Shake" will have the original cover, which is totally different to the current one. What happened to your original bass player, Todd Crew?

Billy Rowe: We parted with him after recording tracks for "Elektra" due to personal problems and he died some time later in London where he went with Guns N'Roses. I heard he was the drug addict.

Billy Rowe: That's true, that's what this 'personal problem' was all about. And then you found a new bass player in ex-Hanoi Rocks man Sam Yaffa. How did it happen?

Billy Rowe: After we parted with Tod I wanted to know where Sam is. The reason is that I was a big fan of Hanoi Rocks and really loved Sammy's playing style. Actually we were supposed to play with Hanoi Rocks a week after the tragedy with Razzle happened. Gigs were lined up and we really looked forward but... However, we once played with both Hanoi Rocks guitarists, Andy McCoy and Nasty Suicide, when they were in Cherry Bombz. We became good friends since then. But back to Sammy's story. (laughs) OK, I found out that Sammy was living in Sweden and didn't play in any band there. So I sent him tapes with our demo recordings and he loved them a lot. That's when he came over to California and became the permanent member of Jetboy. And the funny thing is that some time later Nasty and Andy both came to live here in California. Even Michael Monroe (Hanoi Rocks singer) came here to have fun with us fron New York City once in a while. He even played saxophone on a song from "Damned Nation"! Are in contact with Sammy nowadays? How does he look like?

Billy Rowe: Yes, we're good friends with all the guys from Hanoi Rocks. And Sammy still lives here in America. He's currently playing with reunited New York Dolls. And he looks absolutely the same way he was in the Jeboy days. How do you like the new album of Hanoi Rocks "Twelve Shots On The Rocks"?

Billy Rowe: It's a great album! I think they did a really good work on it. I love this album, the band sounds even better than in the early days! I'm totally agree with you. Going back to Jetboy, it is extremely hard to find video clips "Feel The Shake" and "Evil" now. I myself even had to download them from P2P networks. Is it possible to do something about it?

Billy Rowe: Yes, I'm planning to release a DVD of Jetboy sometime soon. It will include a couple of shows from "Feel The Shake" era and those two video clips will be there as well. There are several video recordings of Jetboy from 1988-1990 in pretty good quality. Talking about videos I recently found out that Jetboy songs were used in movies. How did it happen and what movies were there?

Billy Rowe: Our company did it on their own because there was the MCA/Universal branch that produced movies. There were three songs ("Bloodstone", "Locked In A Cage" and "Make Some Noise") in the movie called "The 'Burbs" and two more ("Feel The Shake" and "Make Some Noise") in Tony Danza's movie "She's Outta Control". It was a way for the label to promote its bands by placing their songs in movies. I always wondered what happened to Mickey Finn after Jetboy split. He's an amazing singer and I really think the world lost a great performer in him.

Billy Rowe: He's now working as a producer. He produces various bands but I feel that after all those years he really wants to sing again. We recently met with him and Fernie and we're discussing the possibility of playing a couple of shows in the classic Jetboy line-up. Sammy would like to do it as well. Billy, I understand that it might be a personal matter but I'm very curious to see the lyrics to all Jetboy songs especially because albums released on "Perris" and "Cleopatra" do not have lyrics in booklets. Is it anyhow possible?

Billy Rowe: I think it is. I want to do a Jetboy Web site with all the information on it including articles, photos and lyrics. The problem with lyrics is that they were not really written down or papers were lost in the course of time so I will contact Mickey and we'll both try to figure out what he was singing about. (laughs) Your new band American Heartbreak actually resembles the sound of Jetboy but sounds even more rock'n'rolling.

Billy Rowe: Pure rock'n'roll! When we started I didn't want to hear anything about grunge, rap or anything else. American Heartbreak is a totally rock'n'roll band! You play a lot in Europe and especially in Germany. How do you like it?

Billy Rowe: A lot! I love playing clubs in Germany. It's a great country and people over there are hungry for rock'n'roll. It's a shame we never played Europe with Jetboy - we only toured the States and Japan. And I was also really surprised to see so many fans of Jetboy in Europe. People were asking me to sign very obscure stuff from the Jeboy days that I've never ever seen in my life! It's really amazing... Billy, it's surely a personal opinion but did you ever hear about the German band Bonfire?

Billy Rowe: No, never. Well, it's an old German hard rocking band and they are still alive and kicking. I think that tracks from the forthcoming American Heartbreak studio album that can be heard on the official homepage remind about Bonfire especially in terms of vocals.

Billy Rowe: Really? It's interesting, I'll try to find their records and listen to them. Even in the early days of Jetboy you always used only guitars of the Gretch company. What exactly those ones?

Billy Rowe: The reason is that I am a big fan of Malcolm Young from AC/DC. I always loved his guitar-playing style and he always plays Gretch guitars. I think it incluences our sound a lot. Yeah, if comparing Jetboy and American Heartbreak to other bands the sound is really different.

Billy Rowe: And that's because of that guitar. It sounds deeper and groovier than other guitars like Gibson or Fender. Billy, since you lived through the glorious 1980s can you tell me what happened to hard rock and glam music in the 1990s. Why so many people in America that seemed to be so loyal to this music just abandoned it and turned to that grunge shit?

Billy Rowe: I think the problem was that the whole genre outperformed itself. When we started there were just some bands that played similar music around. There were Guns N'Roses, L.A. Guns and Faster Pussycat. But then the market grew bigger and bigger and lots of very mediocre bands appeared and record companies were signing them without thinking how talented those musicians were. It was just the trend of those times. And then when grunge came it was something new and absolutely different and people wanted to see something they didn't expect to see, something out of the ordinary glam/hard rock movement. That was the main reason. Billy, you live in America, you've been through those glorious 1980s and you still play rock'n'roll. What is your peronal opinion - is it possible to return hard rock music to the level where it used to be back in those days?

Billy Rowe: Well, in some ways yes, in some ways no. During the 1980s it was not just hard rock or glam rock music, it was the whole feeling, the scene and everything around it, you could smell rock'n'roll life in the air and it was seen day after day on MTV, Sunset Strip, Broadway and every club all through the United States. It can never be repeated. But concerning hard rock music itself, I think it is possible to return it to the certain level of popularity because nowadays many people are hungry for entertainment and they really want to see many of those old bands. At least me and my band American Heartbreak will do all we can to make this rock'n'roll thing happening again. You'll know it when the new record is released in summer this year. Another thing I always wanted to know is - why so many people in various bands at that time were drug addicts and alcoholics? What was the reason for this decadence?

Billy Rowe: I really don't know the answer, sorry. I personally never touched drugs and never drank too much to be unable to control myself. Of course, we used to party a lot in the Jetboy days but I never went beyond the level of self-control. Talking about Jetboy, Mickey had a little affair with cocaine for a very short period of time and he described it in the song "White Rock Devil"... Is that the one that was released only on "Hollywood Hairspray (Volume 3)"?

Billy Rowe: That's right. It's actually the demo version of "Suicide Shakedown" but with different lyrics. And about other people around that were into drugs, I don't know, maybe they had troubles with their girlfriends and family members especially because their parents didn't really like the music and attitude of their kids towards that heavy music and some were just poor and very depressed about lack of success. OK, many uprising and unsigned bands were but what about monsters like Motley Crue or Guns N'Roses? They were millionaires but still extreme drug addicts and severe drinkers.

Billy Rowe: About Motley Crue, I don't know the reason why. I still don't understand it when I read news about Vince Neil getting drunk and doing crazy things. I really think it's time for him to get himself together and get straight. Look for example at Duff McKagan from Guns N'Roses. He's done very well from himself since those early years, he became straight, he quit drugs and alcohol and he's much better nowadays. I know him, Slash and Izzy very well, we're always in contact and we're good friends. I was really surprised to see in your information page on the American Heartbreak site that you like KISS song "Crazy Crazy Nights" because most of the people I know don't like KISS of the 1980s.

Billy Rowe: Of course, I know early KISS records, I grew up with them. You couldn't ignore KISS living in America in the 1970s, they were everywhere. I enjoy their early records like "Dressed To Kill" or "Destroyer" but I think that song "Crazy Crazy Nights" was "Shout It Out Loud" for the 1980s, a really great party song. Maybe KISS of the 1980s were not so good visually as in the 1970s but musically they were powerful enough. You always mention Cheap Trick as one of your main influences.

Billy Rowe: Yes, especially in terms of songwriting. I like all their records, their music is great and they were and continue to be a major influence on me. Is it possible that there will be more compilations with unreleased Jetboy music?

Billy Rowe: I think it's possible, maybe one because I still have some demo tracks that we recorded for "Feel The Shake" but never released like the demo version of "Don't Mess With My Hair" and "Boogie Woogie Girl". Recently the SPV sublabel "People Like You" released the 2CD set of American Heartbreak albums "Postcards From Hell" and "You Won't Be Getting Paid $".

Billy Rowe: Yeah, they did a very good job. They released a great package with lyrics, nice artwork. We appreciate their job a lot. I was curious about the sublabel name, which in full sounds "I Used To Fuck People Like You In Prison".

Billy Rowe: (laughs) Don't ask me, I didn't give it such name! (laughs) Germans are funny people. Sometimes they take words or phrases in English that sound cool but mean absolutely disgusting things. I think they don't understand the real meaning behind those words. But it still sounds cool to people outside. Oh, this name, it's like saying directly "I'm a gay" in America! (laughs) What do you do for a living? Do you have any day jobs?

Billy Rowe: I do, I am building guitars. I was interested in it from early days and this is my official day job for now apart from American Heartbreak. OK, Billy, that's all I wanted to ask. Thank you very much for the interview! It was a true pleasure for the die-hard Jetboy fan!

Billy Rowe: Thank you! Keep in contact with me! Don't be a stranger!

Dead Ripper
(January, 2005)

Very special thanks to American Heartbreak manager, Jeff Keller,
without whom this interview could never be possible.

American Heartbreak official site:

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