Special to Rick Keene Music Scene
Alliance is the best melodic rock band you need to hear! Just who is Alliance you’re wondering?
Alliance are made up of three rock veterans with some pretty good credentials. On vocals, bass and keyboards is virtuoso; Robert Berry. He spent a few years playing with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer in a unit called 3. There’s David Lauser, who pounded the drums for Sammy Hagar pre and post Van Halen. Last but not least is six-string stinger, Gary Pihl who also played with Hagar and then went on to join Boston. Their latest album Fire and Grace is full of melodic rock and positive messages. Gary gave me a late morning call where we spoke about Alliance, Sammy Hagar, Boston and of course; serve up some desert island discs.
Roxtar: Thanks so much for the call Gary. It’s a real pleasure.
Roxtar: So for those who don’t know who Alliance is tell us about the genesis of the band.
Gary: Oh yeah sure. Well, let’s back up here. I was in Sammy Hagar’s band for some time.
We had done the first and second tours with Boston, so I got to know Tom Scholz and those guys. Then in 1985 when Sammy got the call to join Van Halen, Tom called me up and asked if I’d play on a song on the upcoming Boston album, Third Stage. From there he asked me to stick around and do the tour. I was thrilled to do that since it was a very successful tour.
At the end of that tour, Tom told us that it would be a few years before the next album and tour so if we wanted to do any side projects now would be the time. I called up David Lauser from Sammy’s band. Then I called Alan Fitzgerald who was with Night Ranger who had some time off. Geffen Records had wanted us to hook up with Robert Berry after Sammy left us for Van Halen. So the four of us got together at Sammy’s recording studio in his house and went through some songs ideas.
Robert was such a perfect fit. He was like the brother we never had. Even though we did do other projects like Robert being in Ambrosia or David still playing occasionally with Sammy or me in Boston we were able to keep Alliance going all this time. Now we have this our sixth album out.
Roxtar: I should let you know I recently spoke with Robert Berry and he spoke about Alliance.
Gary: Did he tell you about December People?
Roxtar: No. Tell me about it.
Gary: Okay. A few years ago Robert had this idea to put together a project to play traditional Christmas songs around Christmas time in a classic rock style. He said every show will be a benefit for a local food bank. I told him to count me in. So it was me, Robert and David Lauser with some other musicians. We still do that for local food banks. We started doing that about nine years ago. Funnily enough, we are so busy with what we do in other bands and projects that it’s hard to get together to do Alliance. Then last year we were doing this December People gig and said “Hey we’re all here together. Let’s do this Alliance record.” and so we knuckled down and got it out.
Roxtar: I have to say it’s a good thing you guys did because the new album, Fire and Grace, is great. One song after another from Raise Your Glass, I’ll Have Some of That, You are the Heroes and the title track. There is not a bad song on this album. Are there any songs you happen to like yourself.
Gary: I think you nailed it on the head. I like them all. The other thing is all the songs have a positive message. There’s so much negativity in the world that we wanted to have positive
I’m proud of that. Usually, Robert is the main songwriter but on this album, I wrote two of the songs (I’ll Have Some of That, Fast Forward to Last Night) and so did David (Good Life, Real Thing). The title song Fire and Grace I had a guitar riff I was working on. David had this drum loop he had been working on. Robert then said he had some lyrics he thought might work. So we all started to work on it in the studio. We cut that four minute song one time and that was it. The first take is what you get. That’s the thing about playing with guys you trust. No one is trying to show off. Everyone is trying to make the song better and that’s what counts.
Roxtar: I know we’re talking mostly about Alliance today but going back how did you ever get the gig with Sammy?
Gary: I’m glad you asked me that question. I usually tell this to younger musicians starting out in the music business. I was living in the San Francisco Bay area at the time and so was Sammy.
He had just left Montrose and was working on songs with some other guys. He went through a lot of guitar players that didn’t work out. My manager at the time was like “You should just join in with Sammy. Call him up.”
So I did and we were talking when Sammy asks me if I’m into drugs. I told him I wasn’t and why was he asking me this. He tells me that his last guitar player OD’d on cocaine in the bathroom of a gas station. He tells me to come down and jam with him which I did. While I’m down there doing this jam/audition Sammy’s manager calls him up and says there’s a gig with Queen and Thin Lizzy but Queen had to back out. So now Thin Lizzy is going to headline and they want Sammy to be the opener if he has a guitar player. Sammy turned to me and asked if I could do this gig which was in two days. I was like “Sure, yeah.” I went home practiced all the songs and we did the show which got a nice review. I was leaving saying goodbye when the bass player Bill Church said to me that I wasn’t going anywhere and I was in the band now. I tell that story especially to younger musicians to let them know that I got the gig because someone else died due to a drug overdose. So maybe doing drugs is not a good thing.
Gary Pihl and Sammy Hagar
Roxtar: So how did Sammy inform you that it was all over between you guys.?
Gary: Well I think it was just a phone call really. He called us up and said he had an offer he couldn’t turn down which was to be the lead singer for Van Halen and we understood.
Roxtar: What was the last gig at Farm-Aid like?
Gary: You gotta imagine it was kind of bittersweet since we knew it was the last gig. Eddie Van Halen came on stage and joined us for a few songs. I already knew I was going to be joining Boston at least.
Roxtar: I just saw Sammy last month and he’s doing great with The Circle Band.
Gary: Yeah they came through here last year and I went down to see them. Sammy asked me to join them on stage so I went up and played Heavy Metal with them for old times sake and it was great. Playing with Jason Bonham, Michael Anthony and his guitarist Vic Johnson who is just the nicest guy ever. People ask me all the time what was it like working with Sammy Hagar. I always tell them “What you see is what you get. He’s always in a good mood. He’s always ready to rock! A terrific musician. You meet the guy and five minutes later you are best friends. That’s the way he is.
Roxtar: So who inspired you when you were younger to play guitar?
Gary: I’ve always been a guy who loved the sound of a guitar. For me it was really early I was listening to guys like Duane Eddy. Then, of course, the Beatles and Stones. You can’t talk about them without mentioning the other guys like Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Hendrix. All these guys were my heroes.
Roxtar: What would be your top three desert island discs?
Gary: I’d have to say, Steely Dan. I really like the musicianship and their lyrics have a sense of humor. Of course, I’d have to include something from The Beatles in there. AC/DC I’ve always liked. Jeff Beck Group and his solo work.
Roxtar: Since the Alliance album is doing so well, are there any plans for you guys to tour?
Gary: We’d love to. I think the best thing for us is to play some festival gigs where people are just there to hear lots of great music regardless of if they know the bands or not.
Roxtar: What would you like people to know about Alliance.
Gary: One reviewer recently quoted us and our album as saying we were the greatest melodic rock band you’ve never heard of.
Roxtar: I think it’s way better to say that Alliance is the best melodic rock band you need to hear.
Gary: Yeah! That’s even better.
Make sure to get out there and get a physical or digital copy of Fire and Grace from Alliance. It’s the latest greatest, positive, melodic music, from geniuses who will rock you.