Richard Black / With Shark Island and Contraband “My dreams were huge”
21 November 2020
Shark Island followed in the footsteps of bands such as Van Halen and Mötley Crüe in the mid 80’s in being the house band at Gazzari’s, on the Sunset Strip. Formed by Richard Black (then known as Rick Czerny) and Spencer Sercombe in 1979, they were hotly tipped for success.
Many expected them to follow Van Halen into the big time and, by rights, they should have have been pushing an album out around the time of ‘Appetite For Destruction’, as by this time they had signed a development deal with A&M Records. This deal was for a period of one year, with no promise of being permanently signed to an official record contract.
Shark Island eventually signed to Epic Records in 1989 and released their debut album ‘Law of the Order’. This album contained the songs ‘Dangerous’ and ‘Father Time’ which featured in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and the song ‘My City’ which was in the film Point Break.
The first single from the album ‘Paris Calling’ was backed by a spectacular (for the time) video.
However, despite the three film songs and the ‘Paris Calling’ video, there was no backing from Epic and the band ground to halt.
Many have speculated that the album’s producer was not familiar enough with the band and failed to capture in the studio the high energy performances which fans could witness live. That high energy is said to have inspired Axl Rose, as he would have seen Blacks’ signature moves live.
Richard Black would go on to form Contraband with Michael Schenker, Tracii Guns and Share Pedersen before
Last year Shark Island released the album ‘Bloodline’ in a run of 1,111 copies.
MetalTalk’s Kahmel Farahani caught up with Richard Black to find out more about Shark Island, Richard’s experiences back in the days and the plan to give ‘Bloodline’ a wider release.
MetalTalk: So Shark Island is getting ready to launch ‘Bloodline’ 2.0!
Richard Black: “Yeah, Bloodlines 2020 (laughs). Originally, we released the Bloodline album independently, basically to our own cult following and it ran it’s course, did better than we expected and sold out. So we decided to go with a label to reach a wider territory.
“They wanted something a little bit different so I wrote an additional song and we put another version of one of the existing songs on there so now its like 13 songs in most places.”
I was lucky enough to see Shark Island on their last UK tour 2 years ago.
“Ohh wow! Was it really two years ago? We were supposed to do this hair Metal festival in Hull and it got cancelled. So we were here with our gear and decided to cobble together a club tour, at the last minute for the fans. It turned out to be really fun!”
Can you tell us about the start of Shark Island and seeing Van Halen before they got signed?
“Ohh! That was a long time ago. We were running after Van Halen went through the system so to speak. Van Halen was just a cover band at the time and so was Shark Island. In L.A. at the time nobody was interested in hearing originals.
“I mean Van Halen played at my local high-school dance for crying out loud (laughs). I saw them playing in people’s living rooms and they were just part of the local crowd. They were just normal, local figures.
“Then Van Halen got this running gig at Gazzari’s night club, which was one of the larger venues on Sunset Strip.
“Then they got a record deal and went all original and that was really when the music changed in L.A. because everyone had to switch to original songs.
“I think when Gene Simmons got involved with them it made the local record industry perk up because, at the time, it was a very small group of people signing acts. Like fifteen people looking to eachother trying to figure out what the other ones are doing.
“So from being a covers band with The Sharks we formed into Shark Island and started writing original material. It just went from there.
“We were self-promoting and usually playing six days a week, then touring through America. Eventually we got a record contract with Epic and recorded ‘Law Of The Order’.
“Then we took a long hiatus because the band, the management and mainly myself were having huge problems.
“I didn’t know better at the time and just ran everything with a nod and a handshake, then all of a sudden we were in the big league and there were a lot of sharks, so to speak.”
What did you think when bands on the scene like Warrant and later Guns N’ Roses got signed?
“Well …. It’s a delicate subject that people don’t really talk, about so I’m going to be vague. I’ll paint a picture and you can fill in the blanks.
“Everybody has heard of the ‘casting couch’ in Hollywood. So that type of behaviour existed in music as well.
“That type of thing was happenning and I was too idealistic to partake in that. I always believed that the talent was enough to get you there and that you would be recognised for your work and what you say and do.
“So when I saw these bands getting successful ahead of me I knew exactly what was happening.
“I mean you get what you pay for and who am I to say? If you have 10,000 applicants for a job and only 10 openings, it is going to cause horrible corruption and desperation.
“That’s how the whole ‘Pay To Play’ phenomenon started in L.A. then spread around the world.
“So, you’ve got like 10,000 bands all trying to play the same five clubs. You are going to have to say “OK, you’re going to have to pre-pay a thousand tickets and then sell them yourself to try and recoup it, or if you have rich parents it doesn’t matter, just give them away”.
“But the club is not going to be caught in a position where it might lose money by taking a chance with an unknown.
“So what else are you going to do besides pay? Maybe you can do me this little favour…. Are you getting my drift here? (laughs).
“This is real and this is how it is. I always thought “If I am not good enough on my own merits then screw it”. Sure it would be great to sell 10 million records but what’s the cost of that? And that’s in life too.”
Do you have a favourite band from that era?
“Well when I was young I used to listen to UFO and I really looked up to them. I thought Michael Schenker must be the best guitar player in the world and next thing you know I’m doing an album with him!
“I liked Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and Van Halen but mostly for songs. Oh Billy Idol too – I thought ‘Whiplash Smile’ was brilliant.
“I loved Steve Stevens too – he wanted me to sing in his band at one point but I was busy with something else at the time.
“In fact the song we did for the ‘Bill & Ted’ soundtrack called ‘Father Time’ was inspired by Billy Idol’s ‘World’s Forgotten Boy’.
“So one day I saw Steve Stevens and he goes to me “hey man, that song sounds a lot like ‘World’s Forgotten Boy’, you ripping us off?” and I said “Yup!” (laughs).
“I mean nothing in those songs is the same at all but it was inspired by them.”
The band you in with Schenker was Contraband.
“Yeah ! Lot’s of people like that band and that album, but to be honest it was kind of a black eye in my career.
“It wasn’t a good experience at all.
“I mean it looked terrific. You had all guys like Schenker and Tracii Guns and Share Pedersen from Vixen and Bobby Blotzer from Ratt coming together into this supergroup. That was pretty interesting from a fan’s perspective.
“But really it was a concocted thing that my manager at the time put together, because he was managing all those bands.
“He put it together purportedly to promote all our individual work, but it ended up becoming a permanent fixture.
“We were all losing our own…. I mean Shark Island was basically destroyed by that band, because there was no end to it.
“‘We’re going to do this promo gig, we’re just going to do a mid-west tour, we’re going to do a national tour, now a world tour’.
“It was just like “When does this end and when does my album start again?”
“So as far as my own dreams and what I wanted to do with my band, that was all dashed. To this day I don’t know how long he intended it to go on. I ended up just leaving.
“I mean the record was ok, it just had the one original song from one of my other projects and the rest was outside writers. The lineup you see on that record cover never played together – it was just an illusion.
“I mean I worked way to hard and too long to end up like this and at some point you ask yourself “is this worth it?” For me it wasn’t worth it. I’d rather groom the horses out back or do whatever.
“It’s not an easy life. It seems glamourous and the parties with all the sycophants saying how great you are and night after night after night constantly trying to keep focused on your dreams. Everybody from managers to record company people have their own agenda. You, me, everybody has their own agenda.
“I always joke around that “oh human beings are inherently evil”. People all go “ohh what do you mean” and I say humans are all out for themselves at some point. Whether they care to admit it or not, everyone wants something for themselves, that’s what their dreams are built on.
“Otherwise we might as well just dig a ditch, not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
Do you think that your experience in the music industry was disillusioning?
“Certainly it was. That’s why 98% of the people quit. They thought if they got a leather jacket and a Marshall stack they would be riding around in a limo. Maybe you are just not good enough or tone deaf or something.
“That’s the whole glamour thing – you see it on TV and want to be that.
“In the grand scheme of things my level of success isn’t even close to what I planned. My dreams were huge! I had a house on the east coast and the west coast and a plane.
“I consider myself OK – at least I left some kind of legacy behind and a cult following who like what I write and that makes me happy. But yes there’s a lot of disillusionment with the entertainment industry.”
What are you hopes for the future?
“I have to tell you, I don’t have much hope for the future.
“The world has changed and shifted in a way we can’t wrap our minds around. I know it’s not a flowery answer, but it’s what I believe. I mean I want to keep pursuing the things in music that interest me, but I might take a new direction…maybe something acoustic.
“Like the new track we put on the Bloodline record called ‘Someday’. I kind of wrote it about a person, mostly directed to guys, about living your life thinking that you will do something in the future that is better than what you’re doing now.
“Meanwhile, this is it – this is not a dress rehearsal. Life is fired point blank in your face, so the more time you put off being a better person, being a better man, the less time you’re going to have to enjoy what that is.
“Someday I’ll be better, well why not now? Start now because time is a-ticking. My music is a reflection of my life.”
As part of this deluxe 2.020 version, there are limited edition Mega-Bundles (while supplies last), which can be ordered here.
This Bundle Includes the Following Items:
One (1) SHARK ISLAND “Bloodline 2.020” CD
One (1) SHARK ISLAND Fandana
One (1) SHARK ISALND Tee Shirt
One (1) SHARK ISLAND Signed Poster
One (1) SHARK ISLAND Sticker
One (1) SHARK ISLAND Bracelet
Bloodline 2.020 Tracklist:
Make A Move
Fire In the House
Policy Of Truth
Rocks On The Rocks
When She Cries
Law Of The Order
On And On
Rocks On The Rocks (Producer’s Cut)