Impellitteri – Interview

The iconic heavy metal band Impellitteri just released their anthology, Wake the Beast, covering over 30 years of music.  Impellitteri is known for complex compositions and brilliant live performances. Chris Impellitteri, the guitarist and founder of the band found some time to sit and speak with me on the day the album dropped.  Chris has been dubbed “the fastest guitar player on the planet” by various publications, and is spoken about in the same breath as Steve Vai, Yngwei Malmstein and Joe Satriani.  However, Chris just wanted to be in a band and not simply perform shredding instrumentals. The band has been recording and performing since the mid 80’s with a stable lineup throughout their history.  Chris was able to overcome childhood tragedy by immersing himself in the guitar. He decided to use his last name as the band’s name as an homage and tribute to his grandmother.  Fabulous guitar player.  Humble human.  Great guy to speak with.

Interview by Gary Rabinowitz. Photo courtesy of Impellitteri.

Gary Rabinowitz: Let’s start with your background. What part of Connecticut are you from?

Chris Impelliteri: I grew up in a place called Ledyard, Connecticut. My grandparents who raised me originally grew up in New London, Connecticut. It was that little hub and that was my initial years on life.

GR: Is that where you graduated from high school? Ledyard High?

CI: Yep Exactly. And barely graduated. I was in a rock band at that point. It was funny, I was actually in an AC/DC tribute band called QT Hush. I don’t remember the year, but I joined, because my band opened for them. We used to play Van Halen and Ozzy and all that stuff. It was pretty surreal. We did that for, I don’t know, like two years. It was good experience to learn what touring and the road life is like.

GR: Mostly New England?

CI: Yeah, for the most part it was Massachusetts, New York, New York City, Upstate New York.  Probably went out to Delaware, places like that, Ohio, all over the place. But it was four or five nights a week. It was really great to kind of get acclimated to what it’s like to be on the road constantly.

GR: How old were you?

CI: I would’ve been 16 or 17. I was doing Angus. Literally. I wore the schoolboy suit and everything.

GR: That’s unbelievable. And so how did school and rock and roll fit together? Or, did they not?

CI: They did not. Years later I’d go back and get a master’s degree and all that. But initially, all I wanted to do was be in a rock band. That’s all I cared about. I just wanted to play my guitar. It was really hard. I got through, thank God, because my grandparents would’ve killed me if I didn’t. But as soon as I did, I was in a band with my current singer, Rob Rock. And we were playing seven nights a week, touring all those same states, and writing original music, and just beginning our craft.

GR: So once you got sucked down the vortex of guitar, was it a singular focus with nothing else going on? No other hobbies, sports, art, anything else?

CI: Very much so. It was an addiction. The guitar allowed me to express myself emotionally. I had kind of a strange childhood. I won’t go into it, but there’s a little bit of tragedy in my younger years. My grandparents raised me, and it was really cool. I was nine years old when I went to live with [them] and I remember they thought, “we got to find something for him.” An outlet, or whatever. My grandmother brought me to a music store in Groton, Connecticut named Mundell Music. I’ll never forget. I went there and there were two guitars hanging on the wall. One was a Les Paul copy. It was made by a company called Cameo, and then another was a Strat. I chose the Black Les Paul custom, but again, it was a knockoff. The strings were like an inch off the fingerboard. But I started taking lessons with a great teacher who lived in New London, I think he still does. His name was Mark Mundell, and he was an amazing player. He taught me music theory and really helped me start to learn the instrument, understand time signatures, and how to read music.

GR: How old were you?

CI: I think about 11 or 12 it became an addiction. Then my grandmother… I love her, she’s gone now… she buys me tickets to my first concert at the Providence Civic Center in Rhode Island and it was Kiss.

GR: Before the guitar, was music part of your childhood with your grandparents?

CI:  My grandmother always had music playing, but it was stuff like Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdink. I was always into music. There was just something about it that moved me. I don’t know what it was. I just really liked it. And the early bands that really affected me musically were bands like the heavy side of Queen, Thin Lizzy, bands like that. When I first heard the first Van Halen record that changed my thought process on how I wanted to play guitar. It was Queen, Lizzy, early Rush, Kiss, Aerosmith, [and] Deep Purple became a huge, at least the beginning of it. I mean, at this point, Deep Purple were already long gone because Richie Blackmore is already out. Rainbow was part of it as well. Really loved that stuff.

GR: So for you, was that Eddie Van Halen that brought you closer to being able to do what you do or confident enough to do what you do?

CI: I would certainly say Eddie, especially the first Van Halen album, and his younger years, had a huge impact on me. Randy Rhoads with Ozzy did as well. I saw Randy play live. It really impacted me. But at this point I had already started to hear about guys like Al DiMeola. Now these guys are not rock guys. These are more fusion players. Like John McLaughlin, listen to him play. Of course we didn’t have YouTube. We had to basically buy albums. So I would go out and get DiMeola records and [think] ‘Oh, this is awesome! I want to be able to pick like that and play the really articulate fast scale.’ So that stuff was already brewing.  But Van Halen certainly helped me see how to put it all together. One of the biggest things I learned from Eddie and Randy, and it’s the same thing probably with someone like Richie Blackmore, is, you want to master the instrument, you want to be an amazing soloist, but more importantly, you’ve got to write a good song and write a good riff. Because without that riff and that song, a great solo is just, it’s worthless.  It doesn’t really have a purpose.

GR:  So was that songwriting, that element of it?

CI: Yeah, absolutely. I know a lot of people throw me in with the shred guys and all of that stuff. And I get it, I got to be honest, I played into it, but I’ve never really thought of myself as one of those people. I feel more comfortable being like a Van Halen or Randy Rhoads. I don’t mean it as an ego thing, but as an artist, I really appreciated that. Yes, they played great solos, and I try to do the same, but you’ve got to write great music and you’ve got to be part of a band. Impellittetri is a rock band. It’s a metal band. It’s never been the ChrisImpellitteri ego guitar show, even though, I know it’s my last name. That was more of an homage to my grandparents and of course our love for Van Halen. But the reality is I just want to be part of the team.

GR: And that’s what makes it special. Did you say you met Rob in High School?

CI:  No, we were out of high school by then, but we were {in our] really early teenage years. He was from Springfield, Massachusetts

GR: And the bass player has been with you also for 30 years, right?

CI: Yeah. James Pull Pulley. We met in Los Angeles. He auditioned for us. We had a cattle call. We had a lot of amazing bass players come in. We had some of the Billy Sheehan type players, just amazing players I love. But James is more like Geezer Butler. He held it down sonically, he made the band better. James is actually from Pennsylvania but we’ve been in LA so long, since we were teenagers, so LA is our home.

GR: You left Connecticut in your teens?

CI: Yeah absolutely.

GR: When you first moved out, was there anything you missed about New England?

CI: The change of seasons. You find out in LA that it’s just beautiful every single day. It rarely rains. But the reality is, it’s almost like Groundhog Day. You wake up to the same thing every day.

GR:  Every day. Sunny and 75.

CI: It’s crazy. So then you begin to really appreciate those rainy days. People don’t realize, Los Angeles, California, in the wintertime, people think we’re all in our shorts. I’m out at my pool in the middle of winter. No, it gets cold. It can get down to 31. It’s not going to get much lower than that. But yeah, it can drop below 32.

GR: Do you ever get back east, aside from music bringing you back?

CI: I think it was on our previous Japan tour or some of the big European festivals we were playing. We went back and we did three, we call ’em live rehearsals, where we keep it very low raps. We played someplace in Connecticut, in Hartford. It was a big theater. And I got a chance to go back, but I didn’t go to Ledyard. I was in Hartford. Went to New Jersey, New York City, places like that. I haven’t been back to Ledyard.

GR: You, Petrucci, Satriani, and Vai, you’re all from the Northeast, all Italian, and you’re all brilliant guitar players, aside from long, bony Fingers, what else is going on there is there a connection there?

CI: I don’t know. You know, it’s funny. I wonder, are Italian guys the ego guys? We’re always trying to satisfy our ego in some way. We want to be loved and appreciated.  But, I really don’t know. I love those players, all of those guys are great. And it’s nice that a lot of players have the Italian heritage. But same thing with the Norwegians, the Finns. I mean, there’s some amazing players there too.

GR: I’m a big believer in order to master something, in order to be great, you have to put in your 10,000 hours. At what point did you surpass 10,000 hours and secondly, do you still play every day?

CI: Of course. I play because I love it. It’s not a chore. There’s just something intrinsically valuable about the guitar. For me, unless I know the people I’m doing interviews with, I tend to be a little shy and not really want to talk. So when you get me started, I don’t stop because I’m uncomfortable. But with the guitar, I feel comfortable. It’s like I can speak through the instrument.  And that there’s just something about it. It’s really rewarding to me. I don’t care if I’m playing by myself, just shredding in the studio, whatever. I’m having fun. Or I can be in front of 30,000 people and having a blast too.  I just love doing it.

GR: When you’re sitting at home, you’re going to grab the guitar and play?

CI: Yeah, always. I’ve got a studio in the house.  Either I’m in that studio or I’m at these studios here in Hollywood or wherever, and I’m always playing. Or if we’re overseas on tour, we’re playing live. It’s just a great instrument, it’s a lot of fun. It brings joy to people. It brings joy to me.

GR: You referenced that you had some early challenges, it had to be a healing experience?

CI: Absolutely.

GR: When you started, you were in a band playing AC/DC and Van Halen but at what point did you say I’m going down the Neo Classical path?

CI: I probably started really getting heavily into Richie Blackmore with Rainbow and Deep Purple. And then exploring guys like Uli John Roth who had been in the Scorpions in the mid-seventies.  Uli John Roth was doing Vivaldi, playing a cream colored Strat, wearing white boots. He was doing it all. So early on I was already listening to stuff like that. I listened to Michael Schenker a lot, which I really liked. All of these guys were already affecting a lot of us in a different way. And then it was really Randy Rhoads with stuff like Mother Revelation Earth where he started doing Harmonic Minors. I was like, ‘Hey, I can do that.’ And I think, Wait a minute, didn’t I hear John McLaughlin and  DiMeola do that? It started to come together. I would’ve been in a high school or junior high, but it was around 1979 or 80.

GR: So at that young age, you were able to notice, recognize, and draw the comparison from a Randy Rhoads to a John McLaughlin?

CI: When was Ozzy’s first solo record? Was that 1980 or 79?

GR: I think it was 80.

CI: Whatever that period of time was, that was probably the Aha moment. You listen to Revelation Mother Earth and you go. Hey, wait a minute, what’s that? That scale that he’s playing in?  Then you start doing a little bit of research and talking to other players, and to my guitar teacher, and realize, wait a minute, what are all these harmonic minor scales and these diminished scales? And you start learning all this other stuff and you put it together and realize that’s the sound of those scales those other guys were using. Especially guys like John McLaughlin.

GR: I got to see him with Jimmy Herring a couple years ago, the first time I had ever seen him and I walked out of there and couldn’t speak for 10 minutes. I was in silence.

CI: You know what’s interesting about John?  Maybe it was the right place, right time. In the mid to latter part of eighties, the shred thing really got big. And I’ve heard people say that there were a handful of guys that brought shred to the forefront. Obviously Yngwie was first, even though it’s probably Roth.  There was Yngwie, Paul Gilbert, a great player named Tony McAlpine. Then there was a guy named Vinny Moore, great player. Michael Badio, he was doing this stuff. Later on you would have these amazing players like Jason Becker guy and Marty Friedman. So all these guys and myself were getting a lot of the credit for doing all the crazy speed stuff.

What I was doing was maybe a little different than the other guys.  If you listen to the first Impellitteri record, which is the Impellitteri Black EP and listen to Lost in the Rain, or Play with Fire, you hear that stuff. We were trying to do more thrash with melodic vocals, with a high screaming, like Halford and Dickinson. But I was trying to do more of the DiMeola and McLaughlin stuff in that context of metal speed.  And it almost became like power metal. We were one of the first bands that started doing that and it differentiated us from the other instrumental guys.  I was never an instrumental guitar player. I mean, yes, I’ve done songs that our fans know, like 17th century Chicken Pickin’. There’s a ton of kids on YouTube all over the world that play that. And so maybe I’ve influenced some kids doing that, but I was never just that. The Vai’s and Satrianis, those were instrumental guys. I was never that.  I never wanted to be that. I wanted to be in the rock band like Van Halen.

We get credit and I’m like, ‘No.’ I think Kerrang Magazine started that whole, “Chris is the fastest guitar player” and all that silly stuff, which by the way is not true. And it never was true. But with that stuff, I used to redirect traffic and say, Guys, No, no, no, and especially today, kids go to YouTube and just Google John McLaughlin, 1973, and you’ll see him playing like these outdoor jazz festivals in front of 3000 people sitting in a chair with an acoustic guitar going crazy fast. This is 10 years before any of us will enter the scene.

GR: You get thrown into that grouping with Yngwie and you’re just trying to be in your band. You have been with Rob for a long time and been writing together for a long time, and now you got this anthology that’s kind of encapsulating 30 plus years of together. How has your band relationship and your approach to songwriting evolved over the years. How has it changed?

CI: Wow. that’s a really good question. I think you’re the first person that’s ever really asked that question about the evolution of it.  Rob Rock and I have really good writing chemistry. When we were young and in that band called Vice we were doing covers. We had to learn how other artists wrote music because we were learning their music.  We’d have to learn how they’d construct or compose a song. We were drawing off similar sources as we were developing ourselves as writers. And with that, it’s almost like saying we both went to the same school and we both learned from the same English teacher how to speak English. So I think that kind of helped us complement one another. To this day, when I write music with the band, I already know what Rob’s going to sing before he even starts. I just know. I have that emotional connection and I know him that well. And, and of course that’s progressed over the years where it’s got even better. Where we really kind of understand each other.

GR: Is it typically music first and lyric second or does it vary? Is it always music first?

CI: Always music first.  Always starts with the riff, it has to be a really good riff. Impellitteri is always about the riff or the hook, it has to be memorable, has to bring a smile to your face.  From there the song just starts to progress. It’s like you have the spirit or higher power channeling energy through you. It’s the weirdest thing. I’m playing all day long. A lot of times I’m shredding and I’m working on my guitar techniques. And then I’ll stumble and I’ll fall into something.  I’ll be like what was that? That sounded cool. And then before I know it, it develops into a riff and it just starts taking me on this journey. Where are we going?

GR: Are you always recording?

CI: As soon as that really good idea comes. Absolutely. I’ve got the studio in the house. Or a lot of times I will just grab the iPhone, record it and just put on the video recorder and just record. So at least I don’t forget the idea. I can’t tell you how many good riffs I’m sure I’ve forgotten and wish I didn’t.

GR: Yeah. They get lost, right?

CI: This is crazy to say this, but now I think about it… I listen to a lot of rock music or classical, and when I’m listening to new music, there are times where I’ve heard other great artists play a song and think, ‘I know that song. I hummed that in my head 10 years ago. I know, I’ve heard that before.’ And I do wonder, ‘Are there these fairies in the air that are giving us the ideas and you have just an infinite amount of time to grab it, or else someone else is going to get it?’ So now, especially over the past few years, when I hear something I like I grab the recorder quickly and document it so I’ve got it.

GR: Do you have any plans to tour in Asia or North America?

CI: We’re always touring in Japan and continental Europe. For some reason over the last few years, we just keep getting bigger and bigger there as well. We’ve played some of the mega metal festivals in Europe.  It’s just been beautiful. We did Rock Fest in Barcelona and they put us pretty high up on the billing. We were third or fourth from the top. I don’t remember if it was that day or next day, but Iron Maiden headlined. I don’t know if we were after Anthrax or before it was around there. It was 25 or 30,000 people and every one of those kids knew every word of our music.

GR: How are they discovering, your music today? Youtube? Spotify?

CI: I think so. But we have labels now in Europe that distribute us. And so the band has just started to really grow in the European community. We’re starting to play bigger shows there. I don’t know what it is about Japan. I don’t think we’re better than anybody else. Something happened.  We were just at the right place at the right time with the right sound and our music connected with the Japanese audience, and it just exploded. It’s interesting. My friends ask, what’s it like over there? I don’t really know if people exaggerate or under exaggerate, but, when we go to Japan it’s like we compete with bands like Metallica. We get on the cover of the magazines. The first show we ever did in Japan was a 65,000 seat place. I think it was the Tokyo Dome. We’ve just been really blessed to have some great success over there.

GR: I often wonder, whether it’s Europe, Asia, is there a cultural or societal nuance as to why heavy metal is bigger there than here?

CI: I’ve had that question many times specifically about Japan, and I have a theory. The Japanese are very well educated. And so with our kind of music, it’s pretty complex.  I mean, it can be pretty difficult to master to play your instrument. And again, I hope it doesn’t sound like we’re being arrogant or egotistical. But what I mean by this is, when you know you’re playing at 200 BPM, you’re playing 32nd, triplets and you’re doing all these complex scales. The same thing with the drummer. It’s pretty difficult. It’s almost like you’re becoming an athlete. And so probably the challenging aspect of the music kind of intrigued them initially. Japan is westernized, and don’t get me wrong, people think Japan is the same as it was 30 years ago. It’s not. All music went into Japan as well. It got more and more competitive for us. But over the years I think a lot of the reason we got successful in Japan, to be honest, had a lot to do with Graham Bonnet joining the band for Stand in Line. Because when we did the Impellitteri Black EP, that kind of made our mark of who we were musically, which was basically a pretty energetic, aggressive metal band. But when we did stand in Line, Graham joined our band and instantaneously in Japan, I think they gave me credit whether I deserved it or not. Graham was in his late thirties when we did Stand In Line. Graham was a pretty legendary singer in Japan because he had played with Richie Blackmore. I think the fact that Graham Bonnet was the lead singer of Impellitteri for Stand In Line, they immediately threw me in with guys like Richie Blackmore Yngwie, Steve Vai and Michael Schenker. So I give Graham a lot of credit for why Japan at least initially really started take off. But then after when Rob came back to band, we had to earn it. We fought, we were competing with bands like Pantera and Metallica. We had to earn every fan. Every record sale. Every ticket sold at our concerts. We had to earn it. We worked really hard.

GR: Have you been going over there annually for 25-30 years?

CI: Yeah. At one point it was every year. And then it became every three years. The market’s not that huge there, we always go and tour the big cities. You do Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, you may go to Sendi.  Sapporo’s a big island out there. It’s funny, we actually, for the very first time, about a year before the pandemic, did our very first headlining show in Korea. We headlined the Booson Rock Festival and our bass player, James Pulley, was having problems with his visa so he couldn’t go. So my friend, Rudy Sarzo, who played with Whitesnake and Ozzy spent two weeks learning the music and rehearsing with us. And we flew all the way to Korea to do the show. I remember thinking, ‘God, I hope people will come.’ I was terrified thinking, what if 30 people show up. We had done the sound check during the day and the buses bring us back to the show that night. We walk up these stairs, we call them “the ramp of death.”  You start to get towards the top of the steps and you can now kind of look over the stage and you can see the people staring at you. Rudy and I looked at each other. 30,000 people came to see us. It was insane.That’s the surreal part of being in this band and some of those markets. We do stuff like that. And then to come to America and people like, “Who are you?”

GR: When was the last time you toured the North America?

CI: Oh God, years. I don’t even remember. I mean, the last show we did with Graham Bonnet was the San Jose Civic Auditorium, which is up near San Francisco. I’ll never forget that show because it was completely sold out. We were co-headlining with the Pat Travers Band, who at the time was pretty big. And it was us and Pat and I remember it was an amazing show and that was Graham’s last show with the band. But it’s been many years since doing America.

GR: Do you do any shows around LA just for the heck of it?

CI: We’ve done that in the past. I think a few years back we did a show. It was more of a secret show because we were going to Europe. I think we did a place called the Whiskey A Go Go, which is a 500 seat room, pretty small. But it’s legendary. Van Halen, The Doors, everybody played there. So we played there. I thought, if we do a full US tour, we’re not doing clubs.  It’s not that we’re beyond that. It’s just I don’t want to do clubs, I mean, we’re spoiled. I’m okay if we’re doing like 2000 or 3000 seat venues, but I remember doing that show and it was a blast. It was packed and everybody’s singing every word and people flew in from other states to see us. It was crazy.

GR: Absolutely.  If you are playing a small venue, your fans are going to want to see you.

CI: We are trying to think logistically and financially how we could do a full blown American tour. It’s hard to sell us to promoters. And I understand why. It’s a risk when you say, let’s put them in a 3000 seat or 5,000 seat venue and 20 people show, the promoter will get destroyed financially.  So I get their fear. It’s hard for us because we go overseas and we play these massive venues and we’re used to that and here we have to figure out how we bring our production. I will tell you a funny story, it was right before The Pandemic. We were doing some warmup shows as I was saying earlier and it felt like I was in the Wizard of Oz. We’re going way out in the woods somewhere.  But it was a big place. We did New Jersey that was pretty full, we did New York City and we had a blast.  A lot of people came out, had fun with us. The New York City venue was so tiny, drums and maybe two cabinets on each side of the stage. If we had to do a real tour like that, if this was like our real show, first of all, that’s not fair to our fans. You want to see our show? It’s like going to see Kiss and they can’t bring anything. It’s not that Kiss wouldn’t be cool in a club. I’m sure they would be. So, but it’s nicer to bring the big lighting show, the Pyro and all that stuff that we do overseas. So, that’s the challenge for us.

GR: You work with the same lighting guy for many years? Or is that always rotating?

CI: We always have had revolving crew guys over the years.

GR: What about the artwork?  The anthology album cover is dynamic art.

CI: We’ve had some of the greatest artists out there doing our covers, especially for Japan. One of the ones people know us for was originally just for Japan. It was called Grin and Bear It. Google Grin and Bear It, look at the cover, that’s a real clown and a real contraption that Hugh Syme built. Most people outside of the music industry wouldn’t know this, but Hugh did all the Rush covers. Even when we did the Grin and Bear It cover, I remember Hugh called me and said, “Dude, Gene Simmons wants this cover for the Kiss cover.” I said, ‘No, it’s our cover, man. We spent all the time getting this right.’ I don’t know if that story was true, or if he was just joking, but I remember that. He was very well known. We’ve had artists do a lot of our record covers of that caliber. But nothing’s cheap my friend.  I mean that’s the difference with the band. When we make records. Even today, people think we’re just doing it in a bedroom.  We go into the biggest studios, we use the best engineers. I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars we spent making records, when we probably shouldn’t be. But we still do because we want to capture the band live and capture the power.

GR: If you are going to do it, you want to utilize the best possible equipment.

CI: When people listen to our music, even on the anthology, you can hear it from song one, which is Victim of the System. You either get it or not. To me, when I hear it, it’s like, you’re in the room with us. We’re playing live and you’re part of it, and we capture that energy and that power. So when you close your eyes, you’re laying down, going to sleep, and listen to that record, you’re in with us.

GR: With the album, what was your process for picking the songs?

CI: Over the years, especially playing live overseas, we know which songs resonate with people because you watch the audience when they’re singing every word, and the hands and fists are up and they’re into it, and they’re smiling. Especially when the song starts and they just go crazy.  Over the years, we know kids will get our CDs, and rip a song, and then they would upload it to YouTube and we’d read the comments. When you get comments like, Oh my God, this band’s great. Why aren’t they bigger? Then you go, Oh, okay. That must be a good song. Versus a comment that says, Oh, this band sucks. What do people see? And then we’re probably thinking that’s probably not the best song for them. But that did help us pick and choose those songs.

GR: Was it you or the band collectively?

CI: Well it was certainly me, a lot of it. But then I played them for Rob, and then of course, our manager, he was very much part of it as well. Just trying to get consensus. And of course our fan base, they really tell us what they like over the years. They’re the ones that, that have kept us alive for so many years, and especially in places like Japan and Europe, without them, we wouldn’t exist today without those people.

GR: You had referenced that you barely got through high school, but then you earned a master’s degree. So where’d you get your bachelor’s? Where’d you get your master’s?

CI: I never went to college when I was a kid. I barely made it out of high school, but years later there was a lull period where we were touring Japan, making records, and we’d have three or four months where we were down. I’m always playing my guitar and I thought, ‘Maybe I should, just out of curiosity, advance education.’ So I went to Pepperdine University, which is in Malibu, California. I started doing it and I was still able to play my guitar five hours a day and the band could still go on tour or make records. But you have those down periods. And I did it. Then I got curious about understanding business because at a certain point we started making a lot of money in certain countries and you have to trust business managers and accountants. You don’t always know you can trust them. So I thought, ‘Hey, wait a minute!’ So I went and got an MBA. Why not? At that time, I remember guys like Brian May were getting their doctorates in astrophysics. I don’t know, Duff McKagan, but I heard Duff actually went and got his accounting degree after Guns N Roses saw all that success. I thought, That’s cool. Why not? Everybody thinks we’re heavy metal rock guitar players, drug addicts, sex addicts. So I went, and now I could do this stuff.

GR: Did you ever have a period where you went hard into drugs, alcohol, anything like that back in the day?

CI: I have to be careful on how I answer that. I had a lot of friends, sadly, that went down the wrong road and did heroin, and I never did heroin. But yeah, I certainly went down the road of prescription medicine and overdid it, probably like most young kids. It probably is hard for a lot of people to understand this because Impellitteri is more of this cult metal band. But there was a period of time where in the late eighties when we were on MTV, we had a little bit of that. I joke and say that 15 minutes of fame and all of a sudden you’re a rockstar. When I did MTV, the Headbangers Ball, I remember coming home and all of a sudden life was different.

I’d go to the Rainbow Bar and Grill and all these people would be surrounding me or coming up to me and wanting to be my friend, and the girls, the partying.  There was a period of time where we were the flavor of the minute, and you fall in that trap where all of a sudden it’s all the girls from the strip clubs and when you’re a little kid, you don’t know any better and I was a young kid and so sure, I fell into a lot of that stuff. And there was a period of time where I think my playing at one point, especially in the late part of the eighties started to really go down.

 I was at this point where a lot of my critics that hated me, they were calling me a wanker. And looking back, I kind of understand why. Instead of spending my time like I do now, or how I originally did when I started playing and mastering my craft and understanding theory and applying that, being disciplined, I was out at the strip clubs, the girls were at my house partying and I didn’t know any better. It was the land of Motley Crue and Poison, those people were always around us. So you kind of fall into that trap.

But I remember reading a really mean critic saying that he’s just a wanker and there was a moment of clarity, like no prescription medicine, nothing.  And I thought, ‘Oh my God, he’s right.’ And it hurt. It hurt really bad. When you work really hard, you want people to like you. And it was an epiphany, but it was at a perfect time where it just forced me to get back to, if you want to be a great artist, you’ve got to be disciplined and you’ve got to work at it. And I do, this to this day. I work hours on my craft. I love it, but it is discipline. I got back into it and that was right around the time where the metal scene in America died.  This is the late eighties where bands that were selling millions of records all of a sudden had to go get a day job.

For us, because we became really disciplined and started playing really well and making great records. Not like we didn’t with the first Impellitteri Black EP. A lot of people love that as well, but we did really well. When we started doing stuff like Victim of the System and Screaming Symphony, we’re at the top of our gamel, and now we’re selling millions of records and selling out our tours and we’re gaining legions of fans all around the world, even as a cult status. And it’s because I woke up, and I woke very quickly and got out of it, thank God.

GR: Yeah. Thankfully. But as you said, you’re young, you got a taste of success. It’s pretty difficult, you have to be beyond overly mature not to go down that road for a little while.

CI: When we did the Impellitteri Black EP right before we got signed to Sony and Relativity, there’s Sunset Strip where all the big clubs are, like the Rainbow Bar & Grill, the Whiskey A Go Go, The Roxy Theater.  When I was there in the mid to late eighties, you’re talking thousands of kids up and down the strip. Celebrities, girls, you name it. They had a massive billboard at the Rainbow Bar & Grill. It was the first time they ever did a billboard, and they put me up for the Impellitteri Black EP. So when you have that and then girls are going, “Wait a minute, aren’t you that guy?”… I never thought I was a good looking guy. People think I’m a girl. But you have that period of time where everybody’s like, “Aren’t you that dude?” Believe me, as a young kid that hits you pretty hard. But you’re also like, ‘Yeah, I’m game. Let’s, let’s have fun.’

The interesting part of the whole thing, was the band, we’ve always been a very disciplined band with a little bit of that deviation of falling a little bit into that trap. Some people take that trap too far where they’re probably still in it. There are very few Tommy Lees of the world who are going to make it out, and still live in that realm.  Most other artists that did that, they burnt out, they burnt themselves into the ground.

GR: One last question about the album which drops today. You mentioned Victim of the System earlier. That was one of the songs that from struck me, along with the Over the Rainbow Instrumental. How long ago did you start playing that one?

CI: The first person to do that was probably Richie Blackmore with Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow. But the guy who influenced me… in Connecticut, there was a very well known rock band named Cryer and there was a guitar player named Jay Johnson who I loved. Him and Jimmy Bell. Jimmy Bell was another Connecticut guy and the reason that I started playing fast, He really helped me a lot and I loved him. But Jay used to play his version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and we were never going to do that song. But when we were doing Stand in Line, we were one song short and the label is asking where’s our other song We didn’t have it. We didn’t know what to do. I thought, well, I remember this amazing guitar player did this version. Their band had broken up and I didn’t know if he was doing it anymore. I felt uncomfortable because I really felt like it was more his thing. So I said, ‘Screw it, I’ll add the shredding thing.’ But we literally did it on the spot and Pat Torpe, god rest his soul, who was the drummer on that record, helped me arrange the song and we just cut it almost live. And in places like Korea and Japan… when we did Korea, that was the one song they said, please play that. And we did. And as a matter of fact, if you go search Impellitteri Somewhere Over the Rainbow Korea. It starts where someone has a camera right up on the stage but wait till the video ends, they’re going to pan out. You will see 30,000 people singing that melody. It’s insane.