Jeff Pilson Interview: Dio, Streaming, The End Machine And More

Jeff Pilson is a cornerstone figure in the realm of Heavy Metal and hard rock who came to the fore as the bassist of the legendary band Dokken during their heyday in the ’80s. With The End Machine, he has just released the seismic The Quantum Phase and album MetalTalk Editor Steve Ritchie says will be in his Albums Of The Year list. In part two of an interview, Jeff talks about streaming, Ronnie James Dio and how, thanks to the fans, he is “really grateful to be where I’m at.”

I asked Jeff Pilson, given his role as a musician and a producer, his position on streaming. Back in the day, it was suggested that Napster was going to kill music. But does he think that streaming has killed album sales? “Yes,” Jeff Pilson says firmly. “And streaming is killing the revenue for artists because streaming revenue is so poor. My feeling is musicians need to do what the actors and writers in Hollywood recently did. We need to figure out, and we need to negotiate a better streaming revenue for artists, or else it’s gonna kill music. It will. There’s almost no question about it because you also have AI coming in to write complete songs now. 

“So there’s gonna be a lot of composers put out of work by AI. Between AI and the revenue from streaming music, we are in danger. I feel like we need to renegotiate that and I feel it’s very important. And if it doesn’t get done, then it’s Black Hole Extinction.”

Jeff Pilson was in Dio at the time of the Strange Highways album, co-writing some songs. When that album came out, I absolutely loved it. It came out in ’93, a really horrible time for Heavy Metal with the Seattle sound. Jeff Pilson co-wrote songs like Jesus Mary And The Holy Ghost. Does he have fond memories of that time and fond memories of working with Ronnie?

“Oh my God, that was a magical period,” Jeff smiles. “Yes, it was a real unfortunate time for that record to come out. I think, over the years, it’s been more appreciated. I’ve done interviews in recent years about that record because I think a lot of people did not pay attention to it at the time, and it’s come to their attention since. 

“Because I’ve got to say the writing sessions for that were so magical. I’ll never forget the day that Ronnie and Vinnie showed up at my house. They came to the door and said, hey, Jimmy hasn’t shown up for the last three days. We gotta do something. We gotta find another bass player. Do you know anybody that would wanna play with us? 

“At the time, I had been writing with Don [Dokken ], and we had, we had written most of what ended up becoming the Dysfunctional album a year later. But Ronnie and Vinny were there, and I said, well, yeah, I’d love to do it. I said the problem is my sprinklers aren’t working, and I gotta try and figure this out. 

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“Vinnie Appice is one of the most handy guys you’ll ever meet in your life, and Ronnie happened to be pretty handy, too. So the two of them said, oh, no problem, we’ll fix it. So Ronnie and Vinnie actually went out and fixed my sprinklers. They got them going. I said yes, so I literally grabbed a bass, walked out the door, followed them to the rehearsal place, and we started writing. 

“The rehearsal place was only five minutes from my house. We all lived close to each other. It was a magical time. We’d go out to dinner afterwards. It was just so much fun. We were on a roll. 

“Tracy, Vinnie and I would jam. Ronnie would sit there, record it, and then take it home and try to write to it. It was just magic. It was absolute magic. We had a great time doing it, and the recording was really smooth. Very, very quick recording. To me, my memories of Strange Highways are some of my best ever.”

Jeff Pilson - Foreigner and The End Machine
Jeff Pilson – Foreigner. Photo: Jody Wilk/MetalTalk

I say I thought Tracy was, and still is, a really good guitarist. “He was fabulous,” Jeff says. 

When you listen to some of the music he has on YouTube over the years, I say that he has a unique style. 

“Yeah, and unfortunately, a lot of Dio fans didn’t take to it at the time,” Jeff says. “They thought it was too different. I know we loved it. Ronnie and Vinnie and I loved what he was doing and it felt so fresh and creative. I still think he’s tremendously underrated. A fantastic guitar player, great human being. For us, it was a magical time and I know we all felt it. 

“You could feel it in the room when everyone’s really dialled in, and boy, when that band played live, that was power. That was the most powerful band I’ve ever been in. Singing with Ronnie, at the end of We Rock, we would look at each other. I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it.”

“There’s a performance from Hammersmith Odeon from ’93 on YouTube,” Jeff says. “It was released not that long ago. It captures the band at that period. When I watched it, I was kind of blown away. I had forgotten how powerful we were. It’s a great, great video. If you can see that, watch it.”

Jeff has been busy. The new Revolution Saints album Against The Wind was released on 9 February 2024. That’s a power trio. Has he jammed live with these guys?

“No, we’ve never played live,” he says, “only through the recording. When we do video, we’re doing playback. But we’re talking about, for the next record, getting in a room and jamming out some stuff, which I think would be so much fun. I hope that can happen.

“I mean, logistically it’s always difficult, when you have guys from out of town. The technology to record mobile now is getting really good. So it’s kind of hard to logistically get together. But I hope it happens because how great would that be?”

The Quantum Phase by The End Machine is out now. It’s a really, really great album of proper hard rock played by top class hard rock musicians. I love it and music fans will too.

“I just thank you,” Jeff says to all the fans out there. “Thank you for all the years of being so cool and supportive and allowing us to do what we do because I don’t take it for granted.

“I’m just really grateful to be where I’m at and the fans are a lot of the reason for that.”

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