How does one properly introduce a living musical legend; an exceptionally gifted musician, performer, songwriter, producer, whose music is a part of the fabric of everyday life of people all around the world; whose unique keyboard playing style and technique continues to and may forever influence and inspire generations of new players – young and old; whose creative talents and career as a consummate professional are unparalleled; and, who has gifted us with some of the most iconic music brands in history from Yes, ASIA, and The Buggles, amongst others. Such it is for this multi-platinum selling music pioneer…Geoff Downes.
Geoff Downes, finds himself in familiar territory these days. Having been a founding member of the ‘Supergroup’ ASIA, Downes once again takes part in yet another ‘Supergroup’ with some of the most prolific musicians in music…with himself on keyboards; Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge, Jeff Beck, and Rod Stewart on drums; Gene Cornish of The Rascals on guitar; Rudy Sarzo of Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot, Whitesnake, and Blue Öyster Cult on bass; Phil Naro of Peter Criss’ KISS Army, and Talas on vocals and guitar; and, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal of Guns N’ Roses on guitar, have joined together to form The Platinum Rock All Stars ready to bring their respective highly acclaimed collection of classic hit songs to life at the Arcada Theatre, 105 East Main Street, Saint Charles, IL 60174, on Saturday, October 22nd, at 7:00pm. Tickets are available through Extremetix here.
I recently had the honor and privilege of chatting with musical legend Geoff Downes via phone prior to the start of The Platinum Rock All Stars Tour.
William Kelly Milionis: Such an honor and privilege to have this opportunity to chat with you. How are you?
Geoff Downes: Pretty good, how about yourself?
Kelly: Am well, thank you. Where are you currently?
Geoff: We are in Toronto at the moment rehearsing the last couple of days for these forthcoming shows. It has gone really well. Nice bunch of guys. We are really looking forward to it.
Kelly: When thinking of musical artists, in the context of the greatest bands of all time, naturally, thoughts turn to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Queen, U2, and, yes, Yes. You are one of the most influential and enduring individuals in music ever. A musician, a keyboard player, whom many over the last few generations have been inspired by or are attempting to emulate. October 20th is a very interesting and special date. It is the 37th Anniversary of your track, “Video Killed the Radio Star” topping the UK Charts at Number 1 with your group, The Buggles.
Geoff: Yes, it was Number 1 in the UK just 37 years ago actually, believe it or not!
Kelly: How did that song come about? And, how did that song make its way to MTV?
Geoff: Well, the song was written well before MTV was even conceived. It was very much a kind of a period piece that we came up with towards the end of the 70s. Video was just starting to come into people’s houses. It was really a play on people being replaced by technology in a way that I suppose the talkies replaced the silent movies to some degree. That’s really how the song came about. The song had been out a couple of years before MTV was actually formed. And, it was by chance that they thought it would suit their new format, so we got the song at the front of that.
Kelly: You’ve certainly been to Chicago a few times during your career…
Geoff: …yes, indeed!
Kelly: What are your fondest memories?
Geoff: I’ve always liked Chicago! It’s a very vibrant city. Obviously, you’ve got the coastal areas, like the west coast and the northeastern seaboard, which is highly populated, but I think Chicago make its own trends and I think that’s what’s great about it and why I always love going there. We always have a really great time there. The people are really nice too. Chicago is a good rock ‘n’ roll town. Certainly, one of the first shows I did with Yes, we toured Chicago and I have great memories…we did it in the round. We actually, I think it was the 5th or 6th show on the tour, we had a power cut and it was quite surprising that the audience just stuck around. I think we were off for about an hour and a half or something like that. The audience was very patient. We came back on and they went crazy! So, I’ve got a really good memory of that night, particularly the first time I played with Yes on the “Drama” tour.
Kelly: You have an historical career in music having performed in a good handful of significant musical acts. Now, you are in The Platinum Rock All Stars that has recently been formed. What is the thought process of putting a ‘Supergroup’ together and how does the ‘Supergroup’ function?
Geoff: I think if you go back to when ASIA was formed, that was billed as the first ‘Supergroup’ in the 80s. I was fortunate to be a part of that. And, I think the whole thing is that a lot of people think these things are manufactured and that they get put together by someone in the backroom. But I’ve known certainly most of the guys socially that we’re playing with now. Certainly met them before, usually at the tradeshows, like the NAMM [National Association of Music Merchants] show in January out in California. Once you get your head down into it, you don’t feel that you are in a ‘Supergroup’, you just feel you’re in another band. It’s a great band! We’ve only had a couple of days rehearsing. It’s real interesting to play with these guys. I expect a change from the other bands that I’ve been involved in.
Kelly: Are you planning on going into a studio and recording original material?
Geoff: Well, I think we’ll see. Yes, we all seem to get on pretty well and it’s a wealth of music that we have between us. And, we’ve sold a lot of records between all of us too. If the time and the opportunity comes up, and we have some ideas, we have a great vocalist in Phil Naro…he’s a terrific singer. Hopefully we might get in and record some stuff at some point.
Kelly: That’s great! How did the song choices come about?
Geoff: Well, I think what happened was we each were given maybe 3 or 4 that we would select from our own historical past and then we put that together. It makes for quite a legendary rock experience. I believe the fact that we are playing songs that say Rudy has been involved in with Quiet Riot and Whitesnake, it actually expands your vision for a lot of material that you can do. It’s quite interesting from my standpoint, although they appear quite simple on paper, in fact there are a lot of little intricacies that you don’t realize when you first hear them.
Kelly: The Platinum Rock All Stars are tour visiting different cities. But, a show like this would typically be found in Las Vegas at a Casino with a nightly run of 6 months to a year with potential for renewal. Is this being considered?
Geoff: Yes, it’s tailor-made certainly for the Casinos and State Fairs. Because the list of music is so familiar, I think when people go to those venues, they are not necessarily dedicated diehard fans. A lot of them are really passing ships of the night musical enthusiasts, rather than really big into any specific one band. From their standpoint, I think it makes for quite an interesting night, “I remember that one, I remember that one, and so on”. The familiarity of the material suits that kind of environment.
Kelly: Will there be an opportunity to expand the setlist?
Geoff: Yes, I think we’ll see how these two shows go. We are going to film in Chicago, which is going to be nice. We’ll have a recording of the whole proceedings. I think we’ll see what works and what doesn’t. It’s still very early. We just conversed by email and really came together a couple of days ago. It’s a developing thing. These guys can play anything. There’s a whole world of music out there that could be addressed. You got to make a start somewhere. We’ll see how this works out.
Kelly: As you mentioned earlier, you really can’t force anything. There are musicians that are extremely talented, but if you put them together, sometimes it doesn’t work…
Geoff: Yes, very true…
Kelly: …you’ve been involved with so many creative individuals and have made it work. How is the chemistry between each one of you in this particular group?
Geoff: Well, it’s actually very natural. We have a lot of respect for each other. I think that’s the key to making good music. When you think about the guys I am working with, I have a lot of respect for what they have done historically. You know what they’ve done in recent times as well. It’s a symbiotic relationship. We feel very confident and optimistic.
Kelly: There are so many individuals who are seeking their 15 minutes of fame by utilizing new technological advancements to bypass learning an instrument or are simply just wanting to “cheat” the system. As a consummate professional musician, do you have any recommendations for individuals who truly aspire to play an instrument?
Geoff: I think it’s easier if you have a genuine aspiration. There are no shortcuts. You can’t just be the master of playing an oboe overnight. I think the way the presentation has been done with a lot of these reality shows now, is that it really relies basically on someone singing the song rather than someone learning an instrument. That’s how people have seen this as a shortcut to success. But it’s not gonna work for everybody. One thing that is for sure, if you actually look up all the really, really major artists, historically, none of them have gotten there by appearing on the X Factor or something. People have done their time. It’s just the same as any other profession really. If you become a brain surgeon or an astronaut, you don’t just walk into the job, you have a lot of research to do, a lot of work to do, you have to really earn your stripes. I think that’s one thing about this band, you can say every guy in this band has earned their stripes. I think, unfortunately, there is a whole wave of people these days that think they are going to bypass all the hard work your gonna have to do and just get their overnight. Good luck to them. I mean, some people can make it kind of work with some degree of success. But, I think in the long term, if you look at the history of music, you realize people are there because they put in the work.
Kelly: You have gifted music fans all over the world with so many great songs. I am certain we are all grateful to you for the breadth of your work and extraordinary historical contributions you’ve given to the world through your music. Is there something you would like to add?
Geoff: That is very kind of you, thank you. I am grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to do it. I mean, it’s a real privilege to be able to make music for a living and to throw your ideas out in front of people and they appreciate you for it. It’s a great thing, obviously to be in a position to be able to do that, and at the same time, as I said before, it does come along with a lot of hard work. It’s not just a big party on the road, there’s a lot of work that has to be done behind the scenes. So, that’s what we did with this band, and what I do with all the bands that I have played with. If I could impart any advice to anyone who’s thinking about getting into music, then I’d say that you got to get your head down, discover yourself, and do the things that make you a better musician, and hopefully more original.
Kelly: I truly appreciate this interview opportunity. Thank you so very much.
Geoff: Yes, nice to talk to you Kelly. Thanks very much.
Kelly: Much success this weekend.
Geoff: The show Saturday night should be a blast!
Kelly: Yes, it should.
Yes, indeed, this show should be a blast and one surely not to be missed…The Platinum Rock All Stars debut U.S. show at Arcada Theatre, 105 East Main Street, Saint Charles, IL 60174, on Saturday, October 22nd, at 7:00pm.
View The Platinum Rock All Stars Sizzle Video Reel on YouTube here.