Bitten By The Beast ~ Keeping it all in the Family
Niji Entertainment
by TK Smith

“It’s the most important song I’ve ever written because we finally got a chance to do something together again.” ~ David “Rock” Feinstein on working with Dio for “Metal Will Never Die”

I’ve known Rock for twenty years. I’ve eaten at his Hollywood restaurant in Cortland, NY a dozen times – and no one does pasta better. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to know and work with Dave over the years. I started as a fan of Elf and though I never saw them live, I memorized their catalog of music. When Elf split, I followed the various careers of each of the guys. As The Rods started releasing music, I was first in line to get their records. Years later we meet up, grabbed a bite to eat in Cortland and headed up to Ithaca, NY for a stunning Rods show. The excitement is still the same when I see Carl’s massive drum set, or enjoy Gary’s laid-back demeanor and hear the feedback buzz of Rock’s Gibson Melody Maker through his 100 watt Marshalls. The Rods were working on their comeback album in 2007 when Rock got a call from him famous cousin Ronnie James Dio. RJD was going to be in town for a couple days and wanted to know if Rock was available to record a couple songs. Rock had been anticipating a time when the two of them could work together. It had been years since they played in Elf. There was something in the air. Rock could feel it. This session was going to be special.

That same year Dio was firmly planted in Heaven & Hell with a full tour already underway. His voice was in top form when he stopped in a small local Cortland studio to cut two tracks with The Rods. The story has since become legendary and when I called Rock he was kind enough to tell it one more time. “Ronnie called me when Heaven & Hell were in pre-production to do The Devil You Know,” explains Rock. “Before the call I was working out an idea I had with a heavy riff and some scratch vocals. I’d worked out the melody and the lyrics and Carl (Canedy) put down some drums on a drum machine. I called it “Metal Will Never Die” and we both agreed that would be a good one to give to Ronnie. When Ronnie showed up at the studio we played the song through on an old boombox. We worked out a few bits and Ronnie just went for it. Just like that!  He gave it this world-class performance. I told Carl before hand that he wasn’t going to believe the way Ronnie works in the studio. He doesn’t spend all day working on a line here or there - he goes in and nails the songs! The only time he’ll do a second take is if he wants to try something different. That’s the way he works!”

“Metal Will Never Die,” was an anthem Rock had wanted to write for some time. When Dio lent his vocals Rock knew it was bigger than he’d ever imagined. Says, the guitarist, “One of Ronnie’s unique talents was to be able to take a song and give it exactly what it needed. He sang it so natural but in a way - unexpected. There is a scream in there that no one had ever heard him do. He felt the song needed that vocal performance. We did a couple takes and some harmonies, Gary did his bass part and Carl did the drums - and we were done. Because of the tragic turn of events it’s almost as if it was meant for me to write that song and it was meant for him to sing it. Now, its part of his legacy and for me, it’s a tribute to him. It’s the most important song I’ve ever written because we finally got a chance to do something together again.” Another song was recorded the same day called “The Code” that will appear on the next Rods record in late spring 2011. Of that Feinstein says, “It’s a song that Carl wrote with Ronnie in mind. It’s not really a traditional Rods song but we knew Ronnie had to sing it – when he did, he put the right vibe to it.”

After Dio’s contribution, recording stalled for a time giving The Rods a chance to tour with festival dates in Europe. Rock eventually came back to the songs but felt “Metal Will Never Die” would be best fitted on his solo record. “I was working on some songs with Nate Horton a local session drummer. He’s the kind of drummer that can play just about anything. He lived close by so I could do a scratch track, run it over to him and have him add a drum track to my idea. Over a period of time I collected about nine songs. I ended up playing everything else on the album, the guitar, the bass and the vocals. It’s as close to a full solo album as you can get.” During the time Feinstein was writing the record, Dio was diagnosed with stomach cancer. “A lot of the songs have a sharp connection with me emotionally,” says Rock. The song “Kill The Demon” is about Ronnie and his cancer battle. I changed my vocal style to fit the song and some people think its Gary (Bordonaro) singing. Some of the other songs including “Break Down The Walls,” “Smoke On The Horizon” and “Run For Your Life” I intentionally gruffed my voice up. I felt that’s what I needed to do to get it right.

Rock was fortunate enough to travel with Dio on several occasions as Heaven & Hell criss-crossed the US and Europe. “Tony Iommi was always a big influence on me,” says Feinstein. “We even covered a couple Sabbath songs in Elf. One of Ronnie’s favorite songs was ‘War Pigs.’ I see myself as more of a one-dimensional guitarist. I don’t try to sound like anyone else. I just do what I do. It’s taken years, but I feel this album is a good representation of where I’m coming from as an artist, a writer and a player.” With songs like “Rock’s Boogie,” “Evil In Me” and “Give Me Mercy” Feinstein sets the bar for his personal best. “Rock’s Boogie’ might be considered the odd ball of the album but it one of my favorites to listen to,” says the guitarist. “Back in the Elf days we use to do a song called ‘Rock’s Boogie.’ We would each take turns jamming and the song could go all night. This version is not the same but has a similar rhythm. I thought it was perfect to include on a solo record.

To capture his signature sound Rock uses an old 1958 Gibson Melody Maker with an EMG pickup and routes it through a Marshall JMP rack mounted preamp with a set of 100 watt Marshall amps on each side to the stage. “I use that guitar because it’s really comfortable for me to play,” Rock says, “it fits me really well. I used a few other guitars on the recording of the album for tone and textures. Most of the leads were done with a Steinberger, it has a shape like a Fender body and a whammy. I keep my pedals simple, just a wah wah or a Ross Flanger. Other than that there are no other effects.” Feinstein uses the same basic set up in the studio as he does live. You can hear his sound live as The Rods are in full touring mode next year. They have even incorporated four of his solo songs into their set including “Metal Will Never Die,” “Kill The Demon,” “Evil In Me,” and “Break Down The Walls.”

“Anytime I go out to promote my solo stuff it will be with The Rods,” says Rock. “I feel that next year is going to be a really good for us. We’re back and we deliver a great show! We include ‘Metal Will Never Die’ as a tribute to Ronnie. I sing the vocals, not near like Ronnie, but we can get the meaning across. It’s really emotional for me, but I want to do it. The three of us work so well together now – in our case, three wrongs really do to make a right!” The title of the new Rods record will be Vengeance and is tentatively scheduled for April or May 2011. The Rods are signed to Niji Entertainment, a company formed by Ronnie James Dio and his wife Wendy. “Wendy liked my solo record from the start, she was so supportive,” says Rock. “Working with her is such a good feeling – it’s family.”

The temptation to ask how a modern Elf album would have sounded was to great to pass up so we asked Rock his thoughts. “I know we would have done it if Ronnie had survived the cancer,’ he says. “It was in the works and we had a plan to do it. We were going to do two or three new songs and put them with some of the older Elf songs. The new stuff would have had Ronnie’s identity, my guitar sound, definitely some keyboards and piano. The right thing to do would have been to keep it in the same vein as it was originally. Keep it a boogie band. People would want to hear that. It’s amazing the Elf music has held up over time. People still love it.”

*A special thanks the Jen at ChipsterPR and Mr. David “Rock” Feinstein.

Website: David “Rock” Feinstein