Duke Jupiter - 2003 Interview with Greg Walker

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INTERVIEW: Duke Jupiter (Aug 2003)
More updates from Rochesters' finest.
This time from Greg Walker
Written By: Lee Bradfield

Phrase: 'Rochester's finest'. Definition: 'Duke Jupiter'. Since forming the band in '73, they blazed a 7 album AOR trail from '78 to '85, combining Southern/Bluesy influences with an increasing dose of melodic AOR on each album.

The vocal attack isn't ever likely to be confused with Zebra's high pitched squeak, Marshall James Styler's soulful gruffness is more like an angel flying too close to the ground, as Kinky Friedman would put it - but delivered with such an intense understanding of melody it's become one of the more recognisable trademarks in AOR.

Add the fact that he plays all keyboards, combine that unique gift with a red hot rhythm section and you've got a good thing going, but there's still something missing - the heart and soul of the matter, a six stringer steeped in the blues yet relaying those roots into a melodic phrasing all his own. in steps Greg Walker for some Glory Daze discussion.

We had to know how a guitar style that venerable came about, so we asked him about influences not only while he was growing up, but during Duke's career as well. Greg takes up the story.

'My guitar heroes were (and still are) Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and a little known guitar player by the name of Harvey Mandel. Harvey was the first guitar player I ever heard doing the finger-tapping style that Eddie Van Halen used extensively and became so popular with the metal players. I couldn't believe my ears. How is he doing that?'

'Then I got a chance to see him and hang out with him. I loved the effect and started working it into my solos. You can hear some of that technique on our first album, Sweet Cheeks : recorded in 1978 (way before it became so popular)'.

'Although Stevie Ray Vaughan was not a 'trail blazer' like the above mentioned, he was a very gifted guitar player and a great torch-bearer for the blues, especially Hendrix's style of blues. Since we had the pleasure of touring with Stevie, I was able to see him perform up close many, many times - a real treat.'

After some years spent paying dues and refining their sound on the club scene, the all important record deal came via Mercury Records, resulting in the 1978 debut album 'Sweet Cheeks'. Those sessions happened far from home, and involved some worthy personnel - we asked Greg to fill us in on the early years, the record deal and the debut experience.

'When Duke Jupiter was formed in 1973, we were doing 100% original material right from the start. From '73 to '78 we were writing songs and performing them at local gigs - our fans' feedback helped us develop and refine our style. In 1977 our manager, Peter Morticelli, started contacting record companies and we landed a deal with Mercury'.

'The first album was recorded in Macon, Georgia (the same studio the Allman Brothers Band recorded at). This came about because our producer, Chuck Level (a former member of the Allman Bros.) lived nearby. At that time, Chuck had a band called Sea Level. Of course, Chuck went on to become the keyboard player for the Rolling Stones and has played on lots of sessions including the very popular Eric Clapton live sessions. We recorded two more albums with Mercury Records.'

Those two albums were 1979's 'Taste The Night' and 1980's 'Band In Blue'. While being typically sarcastic to a journalist, Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen once said 'We did it (Heaven Tonight) in LA to try and capture that New York sound'. in a similar way, Duke Jupiter were a band from New York state with a Southern / Texas sound.

How did they get from there to the trilogy of classic 80's AOR albums that would come later? They built a musical bridge called 'Duke Jupiter 1', recorded in late 1980 and released in 1981, it fused their familiar Southern leanings with a more direct / melodic approach, giving a hint of classic things to come. Greg remembers 1980/81 this way.

'We felt that our first three albums were somewhat similar. As mentioned on our website, the third album (Band In Blue) was recorded in NYC and produced by Steve Katz, the guitarist for Blood Sweat and Tears.'

'When Duke contracted Katz to produce the project he was a vice president at Mercury Records: the band felt he was a good choice, politically speaking. But - a few days into the recording session we found out he'd been fired by Mercury Records! Ouch!'

This record got very little promotion and was very disappointing from a business standpoint. For our 4th album (Duke Jupiter 1) we decided to get back to a more basic format - a straight ahead rock 'n roll direction. We got a new drummer and slimmed the band down to four members.'

'When the album came out a lot of critics were calling it dated because it wasn't following current trends (like punk rock, or disco, or glamour rock). Of course, not too long after our album came out, ZZ Top came out with albums in the same genre that did great'.

This is about the time that MTV was coming into play. Although we had some of the earliest videos on MTV, in our opinion, MTV hurt music/radio, in that a band's image became more important than the music'.

One of those videos was for the Billboard Top 20 smash 'I'll Drink To You', the biggest hit from the Duke Jupiter 1 album. Expectations must have been high when they recorded and released the first of their AOR trilogy 'You Make It Look Easy' in late 1982, also on the Coast to Coast label. It was full of crisp, melodic 80's gems and seemed destined for success. However, things worked out a little differently.

'You Make I Look Easy, our second album on CBS Records affiliate Coast To Coast Records, was produced by Ashley Howe. Although we never felt the record captured the magic and spontaneity of Duke, Ashley did a better job than previous attempts. Since we were writing so much music ourselves, we were always reluctant to record outside material, but Ashley kept pushing for us to do 'This Is Japan'.'

'Because he was relentless, we included it on the album and found it to be a real winner with our audience. We felt good about this album. Unfortunately the owner of the record label, Fred Frank, was up to his eyeballs in horse racing debt and wasn't paying attention to his acts. Again, we were totally disappointed in the lack of promotion of this album.'

Clearly a frustrating ending to such a promising album's chances, but as we all know, 1984 would bring us another classic: 'White Knuckle Ride', containing such gems as 'Rescue Me', 'Don't Turn Your Back' and surely one of 1984's best songs 'Me And Michelle'. To find out the story behind this album we hand the reins back to Greg.

'After two disappointing albums (in terms of label support) on Coast To Coast Records we needed to find a new record deal. Our manager, Peter Morticelli, shopped around and was able to get us a two record deal with Morocco: a new venture by Motown to get into the rock and roll market. We were one of ten acts signed to the new label'.

'We felt really good about the material we had written for this album. We filmed a really cool video of 'Little Lady' for MTV and also performed it on Solid Gold - we thought we had finally arrived. The guys at Motown talked big: 'By this time next year you'll all be driving Lamborginis'. but they weren't able to back it up by promoting the acts. Morocco was a short-lived venture that never got anywhere.'

There's something about the truly legendary AOR bands that enables them to record their finest work in the face of frustration and adversity - remember Shooting Star and Hobbit? As you'd expect, Rochester's finest were more than up to that challenge in 1985, recording one of the all-time AOR classics 'The Line Of Your Fire' under the most trying circumstances. Greg takes us into the Duke Jupiter camp circa 1985.

'Since we had a two record deal, our last album, 'The Line Of Your Fire', ended up (by default) on the Motown label. They didn't have a clue about who we were or what we were doing there. We had a bare-bones budget to produce the album'.

'Due to financial considerations we started the recording session with Glen Kolotkin, who had produced two of our previous albums. Halfway through the project we came to the conclusion that the production of the record was not right. We were able to find a couple of talented (and hungry) guys to bring on board - an engineer/producer team.'

'We went back to Motown and told them about our situation, trying to see if we could get more money to complete the album. Motown's only interest was to hold up their end of the bargain. So, to complete the project we had to finance a bunch of the studio time ourselves. It didn't take long to eat up the meager budget we had to work with.'

'To fulfill our end of the contract, we had to give them an album that never got a final mix. Side A of the album got a decent rough mix, but side B was delivered with only a basic working mix - the production is terrible !!! (We can't even listen to it without cringing). The instrument volumes are out of whack, no reverb, etc, etc'.

'On a different note, we were very proud of the material we had written for the album. I feel that this album has the best guitar work I had ever done. I still find the guitar solos on 'Dancing On The Ice' and 'You're My Hero' very inspirational'.

There you have it - a career of many highs and lows and seven remarkable albums, ranging from tasteful Southern/ boogie rock to clear and crisp 80's AOR. During their active recording years Duke Jupiter performed their songs for a great many fans in many cities, and shared the stage with some of rock's biggest names such as Foreigner, Toto, Shooting Star, REO Speedwagon and the much missed Stevie Ray Vaughan to name a few. Greg takes us back in the time machine for a look at some of Duke Jupiter's live exploits and encounters.

'In regards to being an opening act, we found that groups who were doing well were very friendly to us. But, the acts that had been successful (in the past) and were not doing very well at the time we worked with them were not easy to work with'.

'They wouldn't let us have a sound check, gave us very limited space on the stage, limited control over the monitor mix (maybe one mix for the whole band!), set a ceiling as to how loud the PA was, etc. They did everything they could to sound better than their opening act'.

'Being on the road with some great bands gave us the opportunity to see/hear some great music. Lots of cool gigs with Stevie Ray Vaughan, ZZ Top, REO Speedwagon etc. The Toto gig was cool - Timothy B. Schmit (bass player for The Eagles) was singing backup with them and I got a chance to tell him how much I loved his song The Eagles did, 'I Can't Tell You Why'.'

With the advent of the internet, informative websites and vibrant discussion boards, many AOR bands from the classic era have enjoyed a second generation of melodic fans discovering and treasuring their music - two decades after it was first released. Since Duke Jupiter is one of those at the forefront of this phenomenon, we asked Greg for comment.

'We're all surprised by the feedback we receive at www.dukejupiter.com! We touched so many peoples' lives along the way who continue to let us know how much they loved the band and the music. If you read some of the comments in our online guestbook, you'll get a sense of how loyal our fans are.'

'Overall, Duke Jupiter was a great experience - we're proud of what we accomplished. When you're in your 20s and 30s you can afford to risk everything to be an artist. But, when you're approaching 40 you need to assess where you are and where you're going'.

'After 13 years we were burned out. The music business and the road had taken their toll. We weren't willing to find yet another record deal and work our butts off on the speculation that the next company might actually promote our efforts. It was a great ride.'

Not long ago it seemed like that great ride might be starting up again, with Duke Jupiter delivering a scorching live performance at Rochester's Finger Lakes a while back. Reportedly the concert was filmed with a possible dvd release in mind further down the line, and there were whispers of new studio material being discussed.

Around the same time, the band set about remastering their albums to cd one by one. So far 1984's White Knuckle Ride and 1981's Duke Jupiter 1 have both joined the 1994 compilation as available cd's.

As for the five remaining albums in waiting, the band is taking the same democratic route to choosing the next one - Greg brings us up to speed on rumours and remastering.

'I don't know if we'll offer a DVD yet. Regarding a new album, we discussed the possibilities, but have no plans at this time. However, people can purchase our existing cd's from our website www.dukejupiter.com. When we're ready to cd another album, we'll put a poll on our website and let the fans decide on which cd they want next.'

Our fingers will remain crossed for a dvd release down the line, but in the meantime it's up to us to get involved in selecting and supporting the albums as they debut on cd. For us, the legions of Duke Jupiter fanatics worldwide, the ride continues.

DJ HOTEL

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