Makin Waves: An interview with Dave ‘Snake’ Sabo of Skid Row

Skid Row

COURTESY OF SKID ROW

Skid Row members, from left, include bassist Rachel Bolan, guitarist Dave “Snake” Sabo, vocalist ZP Theart, guitarist Scotti Hill and drummer Rob Hammersmith.

Guitarist Dave “Snake” Sabo of Sayreville is returning home to rock the Starland Ballroom once again with his longtime band, Skid Row, which he co-founded in 1986 with bassist Rachel Bolan. For 30 years, they and guitarist Scotti Hill have remained the core of a band who still play more than 100 shows a year.

Sayreville’s Dave “Snake” Sabo is returning home to rock the Starland Ballroom once again with his longtime band, Skid Row. The Nov. 11 show also will feature local faves Dark Sky Choir, Tilted and Brake Brothers Band.

I hope you enjoy the following chat with the guitarist, who co-founded the band in 1986 with bassist Rachel Bolan after a brief tenure in Bon Jovi, which makes Robin Place, the street he grew up on, and Robin Hood Drive, the road that Jon Bon Jovi called home, the most rock ‘n’ roll neighborhood in New Jersey.

Skid Row also includes longtime guitarist Scotti Hill, drummer Rob Hammersmith (Rockets to Ruin) and new vocalist ZP Theart (DragonForce, I Am I). Having played recently in Indonesia, Skid Row will tour extensively in the United Kingdom and Europe from March through May while working on the third and final chapter of their “United World Rebellion” series of concept records, the first to feature Theart.

Find out more below, as well as at skidrow.com.

Q: Do any of the original members of Skid Row still live in New Jersey?

A: Everybody moved out, unfortunately. Scotti is in L.A. and Rachel is in Nashville. We get together in Nashville. Rachel and I are part of a management company in Nashville and L.A. (McGhee Entertainment). I get down there to do some writing and Skid Row stuff. We’ve made that the band’s home base. We rehearse down there, and Rachel built a studio in his house where we record our demos. It’s really cool. But I’m glad to be back on the East Coast. It’s not Jersey, but it’s close. You can’t take away the heart of New Jersey.     

Q: What is it like playing Starland Ballroom in Sayreville? Do lots of old friends and family members come out, kind of like a reunion, and do you get a chance to hang out with them?

A: Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s like a high school reunion with friends of ours. I grew up a few miles down the road. When I was 19, I worked at Willy’s before it was Hunka Bunka (and then Starland Ballroom). I worked at the beginning of Hunka Bunka. I was the assistant bar manager, then the bar manager. And I opened for Metallica in a cover band there when Metallica played their first East Coast show. I used to rehearse there in the beginning days of Bon Jovi. To think all this time later, I’ll be back there. To me, it’s a very special place with a lot of great memories and friendships that were made there. To be able to go back there and have that place not only exist but thrive in my hometown is awesome to me. I always look forward to it.

I don’t know how many friends and family will turn out. They might be sick of us, and I’ll have to meet them at Bello’s later on (laughs).

I love Sayreville. I always come back and want to be mayor one day. It’s exciting to come home. The great thing about that town – and New Jersey in general – is that friends stay friends. I still have friends I was close with in junior high and high school. Some of them work with me still to this day. I don’t see that very often everywhere else. Skid Row started in 1986, and 31 years later, we’ve played in every corner of the world. We just played in Borneo, headlining a festival with 69,000 people. But there’s a community that exists in Sayreville that I still hold dear and keeps me attached to that area.

I moved to the West Coast for a while, but it never felt like home. I missed the four seasons, the crappy winters, the Nor’easters. People thought I was crazy. I lived out there with a bunch of friends, but they were all from the East Coast. I was like, “What am I doing here?”

I got the opportunity to come back to the East Coast when I met my wife. She was from Long Island. I was planning to come back, but then I met this girl from Long Island, and we’ve been out here five years. It’s great being back on the East Coast.

Q: Skid Row played Indonesia last month and are touring the UK and Europe extensively in the late winter and spring of 2018. Is your audience overseas larger than in the United States? If so, why do you think that is?

A: In some places, depending on what sort of territory. In the U.S., we do better in some places, not so good others. That’s just life. Same thing with Europe. We have a strong, loyal following in the U.K., and other parts of Europe are better than others.

The only reason we get to do what we do is that people still come to see us. We don’t take people for granted and have a tremendous gratitude. It’s very humbling. We had no idea when we started Skid Row that in 2017, we’d still be playing in front of people. There have been tons of changes with the band, but it still exists, and we’re very proud of that.

ATLANTIC RECORDS

Skid Row circa 1989: From left, Rachel Bolan, Dave “Snake” Sabo, Rob Affuso, Scotti Hill and Sebastian Bach.

Q: Having played with Rachel for 31 years and Scotti for 30 years, what keeps Skid Row fun and exciting?

A: People are astounded that we play about 100 shows a year throughout the world. What’s kept me going is a number of things. First is the love for the music we created and are creating. Two is the honor to be able to play that in front of people. People can do anything with their time and money, especially in this day and age when there are so many distractions. We are overloaded with information. We live life in real time. There are so many things going on at once. Everyone is attempting to grab your attention or time. To make the decision to spend 25 or 50 bucks and take their chick or significant other or buddies to go see Skid Row, that’s an incredible honor. They’re taking a lot of time out of their day and parting with their hard-earned money. We don’t take that lightly.

The third thing is you have to love being onstage with the people you’re surrounded with. After all these years, it’s supposed to fun, yes, but it’s a business. It’s how we provide for our families, our kids, our extended families. If you choose to do this full time, you better be able to make your living at it. We’ve been really fortunate in that sense. And we’re very lucky. No one’s been overly foolish with the money they’ve made with the band, so we’ve been able to provide.

But the big thing is that you want to go on stage every night and be joyful not only with the music that you’re going to be able to perform but with the people you’re performing with. That’s why we still exist. We all get along and love being onstage together. We love traveling together. We’ve been given the opportunity to be our best because of those conditions. So those are the three things that keep us doing what we do. You travel all over the world away from your family, but it’s your gig, so you better love it, and we do.

Q: How did Skid Row hook up with ZP? Were you friends with I Am I?

A: They did dates with us in the U.K. in 2014. We were friendly with him, then the opportunity came for him to do shows with us. He was great, a really nice guy. Rachel kept in contact just as friends in music. When the opportunity arose to consider someone else to front the band, his name immediately came up. Why it didn’t come up sooner, I don’t quite know. Circumstances led us somewhere else. We didn’t know if it work or not because DragonForce and I Am I are two different animals than Skid Row. But he has a great voice and sings our stuff really well. And he’s a really hard worker. He doesn’t take anything lightly, and he’s willing to get his hands dirty and be part of a team. He’s not out there to promote himself. He’s about the band and Skid Row’s history, as well as moving forward. He has a similar outlook because he’s very blue collar.

And he knew everything about us. Apparently, he was a fan and really familiar with our stuff, unbeknownst to us. He would warm up to our stuff in DragonForce, so it wasn’t a stretch to have him come in and do 15 songs because they were familiar to him … so it was like second nature and seemed really comfortable. There have been changes here and there. Interpretations are sometimes different, but that’s easy.  

We’re proud of the history of the band, but just because you create an amazing work with people doesn’t mean you get along with them. A lot of people refer to a friction that works when you’re creating something. But the truth is that it’s a shooting star, an intense flaming ball that will burn out sometimes quicker than later.

It was an intense period of time for a long time, but it was destined to be that way, considering that we haven’t gone back (to longtime frontman Sebastian Bach) in 21 years. We’re really lucky to be in a good spot with each other … My concern is Skid Row in 2017 and making sure that it not only honors the present but also the past. I think we do that.

Q: Did ZP influence the direction of the third chapter of the “United World Rebellion” trilogy?

A: I think in a way he has. He has a different style and thinks differently than (previous frontman) Johnny Solinger did. At the end of the day, Rachel and I write a certain way. We’ve always written for the song, and all five of us have to adapt to the song. That’s how you make it your own. Since day one, we’ve never put limitations on the songs or the melodies. That’s why we always need great singers in the band: because some of the stuff can be really challenging, vocally. So I think his presence has had an influence. He’s a very positive guy.

It’s very easy to become jaded in this business. Going from having success to not having it can mess people up. I know it has. But the core of Rachel, Scotti and I were raised a certain way. Life doesn’t promise you anything. Life is what you make of it. Life doesn’t owe you anything. What you get is a gift. Be humbled by that. We’ve always thought that way.

It’s hard to go through the roller coaster business of music, but because of the way we were raised with great families raising us, we tend to look at the perspective of having a No. 1 album with Slave to the Grind and all the things that come along with the history of the band … as a matter of keeping the perspective that success is not a birthright. You have to work your ever-lovin’ ass off. The history of this band shows that we’re really lucky. To still exist, we’re very lucky.

Q: Briefly describe the concept of the “United World Rebellion” trilogy.

A: It’s a summation of what we’ve always been about. As far as a statement, it’s like “Youth Gone Wild”: Do good, do what you believe in, and be an individual amongst a group. Just do good and be proactive. Stand up and have a voice. Be heard! Maybe those lyrics in this day and age might not signify that blatantly, but from the standpoint of a metaphor, it does. It’s all positive stuff, a silver lining. Hopefully, that’s how it comes across.

“United World Rebellion” has a thread that runs through it that still remains the same all these years later, 28 years since “Youth Gone Wild” came out. It’s the same ideology that we live by, that we’ve passed down to our kids: to have a voice, be smart, be educated, stand up for what you believe in and do good by people. Especially in this day and age where we are in November of 2017, the state of the world the way it is, that idea is the most important thing. Be respectful of your fellow man, don’t be a bully, don’t use any position, whether of power or stature, in any negative way. Be a force for positive and be proactive. That is a rebellious attitude, by and large. We’ve seen division, but we’re about unity, staying together. I’m not an overtly political person in any way, but I believe in doing right by others.

Q: When will the third chapter of “United World Rebellion” come out, and how does it complete the story?

A: The record is still being written. I don’t know when it will come out. We’ve written a bunch of stuff for it. We started before we got ZP in the band, and then things changed. All of a sudden, we had a different outlook on things and had to rework some stuff, and some things might not fit like before. It’s the same with every record. You write a ton of songs and see what works. When it’s ready, it’s ready. That’s where we’re at right now. We’ll continue writing this month and hopefully have a vision of what needs to be completed soon.

Q: Will it come out on Megaforce, like the first two?

A: We’ll talk about that when it’s done. Megaforce has been a part of my life since Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven in the (Route 18) Flea Market, buying imports and Kerrang magazine. The whole history of Megaforce has a space in my life. (General manager) Missi (Callazzo) has been great. I love her. Hopefully, we’ll work together again.  

Q: Do you expect to perform the entire trilogy upon the release of the third chapter?

A: Not unless there’s an overwhelming amount of people who want to have that happen. That could be fun, but I don’t know if people want that. We’ll wait and see. Otherwise, we’ll cover the entire landscape.

Q: Do you keep in touch with Jon?

A: Yeah, absolutely. We’re still very close. That will never change. We were close before anybody thought to be in the music business. We were best buds. Paths may go different ways, but those ties and friendships that were born at such a young age develop and strengthen through time. They may weaken, but they don’t break unless something drastic happens. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen.

Q: What is your most fond memory of growing up down the street from Jon in Sayreville?

A: I had a couple of different groups of really close friends. With Jon being a few years older than me, it was like a big brother type of thing. He was the guy I first went to nightclubs with when I was way underage. We’d be going to nightclubs when he was 18 and I was 16.

Before he started playing music, you could feel that there was something successful about this person. Everything he did, he worked really hard at, whatever it was. His work ethic was second to none, even at an early age. When he started playing guitar it was one of the things that made me want to play guitar — so we’d have more in common, I guess. And I had an older brother who attempted to play guitar and failed, so it was on opportunity to outdo my older brother. But the guy up the street was playing guitar, and that was really cool to me. It’s still very cool to me. I don’t know how cool it is to a lot of other people, but it’s cool to me.

But you knew this guy was going to be a star. I was getting an education of what would become an iconic person in the music business, watching how to be part of a band, how to handle it. I had a front row seat to that, that work ethic. You can say so many things about the guy. He might not be the best singer, the best songwriter, the best performer. You can say whatever you want, but he will outwork everybody. I don’t care who it is. That’s the reason he’s so successful and has been able to maintain his success. He refuses to fail, and that’s an amazing work ethic. It’s something really great to witness. And it instilled in me the desire to work hard, but I don’t think anybody can outwork that guy.

Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor and still a contributor to The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at makinwaves64@yahoo.com. Like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.

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