Fozzy: Would you take David Beckham seriously if he formed a rock band

Sometimes you just have to wonder – what more can one man do? Rich Ward has been the driving force behind Stuck Mojo (considered one of the pioneers of the rap-metal movement) his own side-project Duke, and arguably most (in)famously, the lead guitarist for Fozzy. And yet, more than a decade since they first formed, no one can get over the fact that Fozzy’s vocalist is wrestler Chris Jericho.

If ever a band could have a complaint about not being taken seriously for no good reason, it would be Fozzy. Metal fans can be notoriously particular about whom they choose to support, and who amongst us hasn’t had at least one my-band-is-holier-than-thou moment? So when someone whose day job has nothing to do with music decides to try and cut it as a rockstar, they get even more stick from punters. Understandable as that is, it can also be extremely unfair to a band that may actually be making good music – like Fozzy.

“That was very difficult from the very first day,” Rich confirms to me over the phone in his trademark fast, yet undulating tones. “It’s difficult because people are already sceptical that somebody is just using their celeb status to fulfil some type of fantasy. Would you take David Beckham seriously if he formed a rock band? That’s why it was easy with the back-story, when we had first started, where we wore costumes and had stage names. Ultimately I can’t change anybody’s mind.”

But, at the same time, Fozzy has actually been around for a decade, so they’re doing something right. You could put that down to the quality of their music and live performance as much as the fact that Chris Jericho has actually stuck with the band from the start. We’ve had celebrity bands before – Keanu Reeves and Dogstar, anyone? – but despite his hectic schedule with the WWE, Chris Jericho continues to take time out to record, gig and tour with Fozzy. It’s a commitment that doesn’t go entirely unnoticed, not least by Rich: “A lot of celebs may try it for a little while and then get bored of it but Chris stuck with it. He started playing in junior high school, just like the rest of us. We all had dreams of making records and playing live and starting a band and Chris was no different. It’s just that in his late teens, his life took another path and along with music he also pursued a career in wrestling and that’s the one that stuck for him. But music was still a huge part of his life, and he still had a couple of friends that he recorded demos with and stayed active musically”

In fact, that Fozzy has persevered this long is something of a surprise even to Rich. The group had very humble beginnings as an Ozzy cover band. Even the name Fozzy came from Fozzy Osbourne, the original name of the cover band (“I’m a huge fan of Ozzy, he was one of my main influences growing up and I’m still a huge fan of those first five Ozzy records”). Chris Jericho wasn’t even meant to be a full-time member of the group; he was simply called in to do guest vocals for one gig after wrestler and mutual friend Diamond Dallas Page introduced the two to each other backstage at a wrestling show. Originally going by the stage name Mongoose McQueen, Jericho went on tour with the band and released two albums which featured mostly covers. It was only around 2004 that the band began to take itself seriously and released an album of original material only, titled ‘All That Remains’. Featuring guest appearances from Zakk Wylde and Mark Tremonti among others, it garnered plenty of critical acclaim, and set them on the path to playing Download in 2005.

Given that history one has to wonder – is Fozzy even important to Rich? “Stuck Mojo was always my main priority in my career as a musician, and Fozzy was my side project, just like with Chris and wrestling – that’s how we’ve always treated it,” he says. “But in the last few years, we’ve had some discussions over this new album and how seriously we’re going to take this and if there was even any point doing it unless we prioritised it as the one and only band. That’s the way I moved forward with this album, with Stuck Mojo becoming my side project, at least during the time that I wrote, recorded and toured with ‘Chasing The Grail’. Maybe after this album is cycled out I’ll go back and do a Stuck Mojo tour again, but for right now Fozzy is my priority.”

Was there ever any overlap between Fozzy and other projects then? “On the ‘All The Remains’ album I was still touring with Stuck Mojo, had just put out a solo record, as well as writing and recording for Sick Speed. Sometimes there’s something to be said for only dating one girl at a time, if you know what I mean!”

It certainly seems to have worked for Rich. ‘Chasing The Grail’ isn’t just an interesting record, it’s a bloody great rock n’ roll record. Ever been a fan of Ozzy or Black Label Society? You’ll like this. At times, if you shut your eyes and forget you’re listening to Fozzy, you’ll swear it really is the new Ozzy album. Which is not to say this is a blatant rip-off; Under Blackened Skies is a musical version of a hundred horses stampeding, with its double quick double-bass, whilst Martyr No More is aptly described as having a Dimebag feel in the liner notes. And those are just two of the best tracks from what is a very strong album as a whole.

You would expect Rich to be proud of what he has managed on this record, and rightly so, but he’s not about to pat himself on his back: “I find it tough to say out loud that something I did was great because ultimately that’s not for me to determine, it’s up to the fans to decide. I find it arrogant when I sometimes read interviews and the band is saying their new album is amazing. I’m like, ‘Uh why don’t you let us decide that?’”

In fact, it takes quite a bit of prompting to even get an admission of satisfaction out of him, and even then it’s only a grudging “it exceeded my expectations going in”. Ever the humble man, all he’s willing to admit is that, “it has been very energising, that almost without exception all the reviews have been great. The goal is not to have fan appreciation or critical acclaim, the goal is to make a great album that you can listen to and say we played well, we sang well and captured it in a moment on the recording that has a great energy.”

Just like with the previous record, ‘Chasing The Grail’ has a few guest appearances – this time from Annihilator-legend Jeff Waters, and Peter Frampton who guests on the album closer Wormwood – a near 14 minute monster which manages to be epic without descending knee-deep into cheesy cliché.

There is one small clarification to be made about the Frampton guest appearance though: “It’s not the same Frampton!!” Rich laughs heartily. “The guy who played on our record is a local guy who lives here in Atlanta who is an amazing keyboard and guitar player. It’s the second time in my career that’s happened! On Stuck Mojo’s ‘Rising’ album we had a guy that helped sing background vocals called Warren Haynes. Everybody said ‘How did you get Warren Haynes to play on your album?’ so I said, ‘He’s just someone who lives here, I kinda know him from the scene’. As soon as I said that people’s jaws dropped: ‘Warren Haynes is a friend of yours?!’ Of course, that was a different Warren Haynes and this is a different Frampton but if you want to pretend it’s the real 70s god, then we’ll go with that!! We put the name out there, we didn’t explain in parentheses – not that Frampton!!”

Fozzy are going to be touring Europe soon, no mean feat given that Jericho has just become the world champion and his duties with the WWE will take up considerably more time. Even more interestingly, they will be playing two shows on the same day in London – one a matinee and one an evening gig – with a different setlist and different support acts for each one. It ought to be an interesting experiment, if nothing else, and one can only wish Rich the best of luck. If you have any doubts about Fozzy’s credentials, go and see them live and you won’t question them again.

Or, to paraphrase Rich Ward, it will probably exceed your expectations going in.

Read my published Q&A with Rich Ward who took time to answer your questions – Rich Ward Answers Your Questions

     

About Abhijeet Ahluwalia

Abhijeet Ahluwalia – I’m a freelance journalist who goes back and forth between London and Bombay. A huge metalhead, but I have an eclectic taste, from reggae to punk. Oh, and Manchester United are the greatest team in the world. Follow me on Twitter or drop me a line via Email.

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