Albuquerque

The lineup may have changed, but the music hasn’t. Skid Row still knows how to rock.

It’s been more than a decade since the hair metal band made its big breakthrough with its self-titled album in 1989. Now, more than a decade later, the guys continue the wild ride of spreading rock and roll across the country.

In a telephone interview with Skid Row guitarist Dave “The Snake” Sabo, I discovered more about the band than I ever knew as a seventh grader with teased bangs and stone-washed Chic jeans.

Jennifer Harmon: Listening to the first Skid Row CD takes me back to my junior high days. How did the band get its name?

Snake: “It seems so long ago. Rachel and I started the band in early ’86. We were struggling to find a cool name. I remember the day we were driving down the Garden State Parkway. We saw skid marks from an accident. Rachel said, ‘Check ’em out. We should call the band, The Skids.’ I thought, oh, man, there it is — Skid Row. The name immediately clicked. You search for so long and, in the span of 30 seconds, it happens.”

J.H.: What about your name, Snake. Have you always had that nickname?

Snake: “Yeah, I got it when I was 12. Back then, I had one long black hair on the middle of my chest. My friends used to make fun of me all the time. They used to say, ‘Dude, it looks like a snake.’ Everyone called me that through junior high, high school. It never went away.”

J.H.: Where did you get your start in music and who influenced you?

Snake: “I’d have to say it was when I saw Kiss at 13. I took the train with Jon Bon Jovi, who was 15 at the time. That night completely changed my life. I was a total jock at 13, but, less than a year later, I was playing the guitar.

“I’m the youngest of five boys. There were no musicians in my family, but I was always around music. I’d wake up in the morning and music was the first thing I’d hear. Black Sabbath, the Beach Boys, Janis Joplin, Motown. My parents never put labels on anything. I learned to appreciate music for what it was. Nothing was thrown down my throat.”

J.H.: How do you adapt when someone like your former lead-singer Sebastian Bach leaves the band and someone new comes in?

Snake: “Everything fell apart in ’96. It wasn’t hard to see him (Bach) go. The writing was already on the wall. Egos were out of control. It was the right thing to do. We wanted to keep our sanity. I loved music too much … and it had become unpleasant.

“I took a step away for a couple of years. Me, Rachel (Bolan, bass player) and Scotti (Hill, guitarist) — we made an effort to keep creating it. I am completely proud of my past. I’ll never deny it, but I’m extremely proud of what we’re creating now. I’ve never been happier than these last couple of years. The guys and I do everything together. We hang out, eat dinner, do interviews, play together, live on the bus together. We’re a close-knit family. It feels like a new adventure every day.”

J.H.: How would you describe the band. What are your most memorable qualities?

Snake: “The fact we’re so tight as people is unique. We have a great amount of respect for each other. There’s a very clear focus and vision. We love to be on stage. Whenever we play a show, there’s no one else there but us. It’s our show. We go all out from top to bottom, start to finish. It’s like a boxing match and we leave everything on the stage. We sweat it out.”

J.H.: Does the lineup change affect your diehard fans and the size of the crowd at your concerts?

Snake: “We’re drawing huge crowds everywhere we go. People are open-minded. Once people see what we’re doing and hear it, there’s no question that they will know what we’re doing is viable and quality. Our music is pure and honest.”

J.H.: What’s life on the road like with Tesla, Jackyl and Vince Neil since you started the Rock Never Stops tour?

Snake: “We’ve known Vince since 1989. He’s a blast. Tesla are such sweet guys. The bass player from Jackyl is an old, dear friend. There’s definitely camaraderie here. It’s a really cool tour to be a part of. There’s always quite a bit of excitement. Playing new material is what it’s about with us, since we have a new record out at the end of the year.

“… I love the big festival attitude. We all get to drink, have a good time and meet the fans. It’s all about having fun.”

J.H.: What’s the craziest thing a fan has done to get your attention?

Snake: (laughing) “One time a mom showed up with her daughter and asked to give her to me for her 18th birthday. It was a bit out of control. I just shook my head and said ‘sorry, but no.'”

J.H.: What are your favorite Skid Row songs to perform live?

Snake: “I get off playing ‘Monkey Business.’ I love ’18 and Life,’ and I like to do ‘I Remember You’ to see the crowd reaction. ‘Mud Kicker’ is pure power. But we also have new songs to play that are fresh and near to my heart. Over the course of a few days, I wrote ‘Thick Is the Skin’ (the band’s most recent single) with Rachel on the road last year. It’s full of killer riffs and lyrics. The song is the beginning of something cool. It’s pretty much about how the five of us have banded together and are still standing. You can’t tear us down no matter how hard you try.”

J.H.: How would you describe the sound of your new songs? Is there a difference between the older and newer stuff?

Snake: “It’s in-your-face rock — a Skid Row record. There’s no one scratching on our record, no one rapping. Jimmy’s voice has a lot of energy, which I love.”

J.H.: What are you doing to draw fans in who weren’t part of the Skid Row scene a decade ago?

Snake: “We put up our ‘Thick Is the Skin’ single on our website, where we allow everyone to download it for free. That’s why we do interviews and get out there — to meet people after every show. We all value the fans. It’s great to re-acquaint ourselves with the fans. It’s cool to meet the younger fans. A lot of people say their big brothers brought them to the show.”

J.H. : What do you do when you get a day off?

Snake: “When we’re not taking care of music, we’re resting. We tour so much and have so many shows in a row. Once, we did 15 shows in 19 days. That’s quite a bit of travel. We like to chill with each other — go to clubs and hear other bands. We’ve been to Albuquerque and Las Cruces before. It’s great to take a break from the road and take everything in and see its effect, allow it to influence our writing.”

J.H.: Are you always working on music in your head? What’s the craziest thought you’ve ever had that led to a song?

Snake: “A song like ’18 and Life’ is about my brother, Rick, who went to Vietnam when I was a kid. He came back different. I could never articulate my thoughts about that time enough, so I used that as a motivation to create a character. That song touched a nerve with people who could relate to my personal experience. I guess people found out later what it meant to me. That’s the beauty of music though, to hear a song and make it your own.”

J.H.: Does metal still fit in the music scene today? Do you guys want to top the charts again?

Snake: “I want it all. I want the world. We all do, but on our own terms. We are not willing to compromise our integrity. That’s why we’ve taken complete control of our career. We decide where we play, how much we get paid. It’s all handled by us. We control our own destiny. We’re that close to it. Our entire life has been invested in it. We want as much as we can.”

J.H.: What inspires you to get up and keep at it every day?

Snake: “My love of the music, being with these guys. We create something new every day. So, we had to step away for a while because of the ugly situation. So, I stopped doing it. But we all got into this for the right reasons — to make music and have a good time doing it. We all agreed upon that. This is who we are. We’ve been together for over two years in this incarnation.”

J.H.: Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?

Snake: “I don’t look that far ahead. Our immediate vision is to make this next record as great as possible. We want to get it out to fans before Christmas and January.”

(Editor’s note: Jannifer Harmon is a News-Bulletin staff writer. She has been interviewing many bands for the Caliente section.)

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Jennifer Harmon