December 30, 2015 Interview – Johnny Dee of Britny Fox
Dust off those old LPs, breakout that vintage 1988 circa tour t-shirt, because rockers Britny Fox are back. Initially established some three decades ago, Britny Fox rose to prominence during the height of what is called the Glam Metal era and attained success with their 1988 major label self-titled debut which sported the big hit “Girlschool.” Playing big arenas, building a strong fanbase, and doing what they love, as the ’90s approached, the tides of Rock changed, and thus Britny Fox bowed out. Like an athlete whose career may have been ended too soon, the fire inside the band never truly died, and twelve years after their last studio record, Britny Fox are ready to Rock-n-Roll once more. Recently we caught up with long-time drummer Johnny Dee for a closer look at the wild years of Britny Fox, their inspiration to reunite, plans for new music, and more.
CrypticRock.com – Britny Fox came together about three decades ago, and during the ’80s, the band had a good deal of success. Looking back, in hindsight, what were those years like when you had joined up in 1987?
Johnny Dee – I would say it was pretty exciting because I was not there from the very beginning, the formative year or so; a lot of the early writing and rehearsing process. Although, I am from the same area, I have known all the guys from the beginning, so we were all kind of playing the scene, if you will. The energy was really just apparent for everybody. The fact that Britny Fox was able to rise above the rest of the bands, to a certain degree, and actually get that initial interest from a label. To come into the band at that point for me was really pretty cool because a lot of the tougher stuff was already kind of crossed. Now, it was like, “Ok, you joined the band, we are gonna do some shows. We are gonna go in the studio and record our first major record for a label.” The possibilities were endless. I think it was a really exciting time for everybody, especially because that type of music was so popular at the time. To be launching ourselves into that on a big level and finally be on the arena stage, that was part of the best experience.
CrypticRock.com – One could imagine it had to be an exciting time. You had joined the band after the sad circumstances of Tony Destra’s passing. Do you remember what the moral, the feeling of the rest of the band members was when you came about into the band?
Johnny Dee – Not to say anybody was over it by any means, because it was the spirit of Tony, we had hoped to capture that, on the record. The record was dedicated to him, he was a big part of the sound of the band. A lot of the drum fills that I had to play and learn, pretty much all the songs on the first album, had Tony’s signature all over them. As far as anybody being really down, I don’t think that was the case. Right when it went down, I was there that night at the Galaxy Club when it all happened. I did not witness anything, but I heard about it, I knew what happened. I think I found out the next day and it was pretty intense, especially because the band was showcasing on the evening that it happened. So all that potential turned to a tragic situation, and it was just like, “Man, this is horrible timing.”
Once they got over the initial shock of it all, and decided to continue, the guys asked me if I wanted to join the band at that point. Maybe that was a few weeks, or month, or so after it happened. I was on tour with my band at the time, which was Wasted. I kind of declined because we were out on tour with Iron Maiden. There was a lot of stuff going on for me personally that I already had kind of felt that I was past the point where those guys were. I would have loved to jump in, but it was not possible for me at the time. I did not want to take a step backwards. I kind of felt like I was moving forward, but fast forward a year, they got another hometown friend to fill in, our friend Adam Ferioli. He was Adam West at that time. He filled in, they did a lot more recording, and a lot more shows. They actually, at the time, landed a gig opening for Cinderella at the Wildwood Convention Center. I think Tom Keifer wanted to help Michael, who was a former member of Cinderella. He wanted to help him out and threw him a bone for that gig. When the guys performed that night, they actually had someone from Columbia Records come down and check the band out. I think that was the moment when the major deal went down.
When I joined the band, it was completely in an exaggerated sense of excitement really because all that stuff. The Tony tragedy kind of passed a bit, everybody kind of had a chance to accept the reality of it. Then it was like, “Wow, we have a major deal now .” One of the stipulations of the deal was that they wanted a band to replace the drummer and that is where I got a call again. They asked for a second time and my situation had changed drastically. We had just gotten dropped from Capitol EMI. I was looking at a situation where it was an uncertain future for the band. I thought, “Well now it was definitely the time for me to jump into this Britny Fox thing because it’s definitely on the launch pad.” That is when I made the move. It was total excitement from that point forward.
CrypticRock.com – Right, you came aboard just in time of the recording of that self-titled major debut, which went gold. Obviously it includes the extremely popular “Girl School.” Did the band feel overwhelmed all of a sudden they were getting a lot of airplay?
Johnny Dee – I do not think so, really. It was kind of like everybody at that time sort of expected that. We knew what we had, it was a package deal. We were all ready to go, all we needed was that big machine behind us to push us out into the market. We felt that we had just as much to offer than any of the other bands that were out there. I would not say in a cocky way, I would definitely say had that not happened, we probably would have been really disappointed. I do not think anybody would have realized that it would have gone as far as it did. Although, once we got a gold record, we kind of thought, “Shit, if we’ve done that, we should definitely go platinum. Maybe we can even, in the best case, go double platinum, triple platinum, like our peers Cinderella and Poison, and all the others.” We were definitely along for the ride. We were strapped in and ready to go. That is kind of what we did.
CrypticRock.com – Right, and you mentioned Poison and Cinderella. At that point, in ’88 and ’89, you were opening for Poison, Warrant, and some of these really massive crowds. That had to be really exciting.
Johnny Dee – Oh, it was amazing, to be on MTV as well. Here is an example for you, the previous tour that I was on was not my first arena tour, but I had some experience in a support spot with Wasted opening for Iron Maiden, which was an unbelievably cool experience in itself. Wasted was not really no where near what Britny Fox had achieved with our videos and getting ready to become a band that was sort of on radar at that time. We were opening for Maiden and some people knew who Pete Way from UFO, but we were relatively an unknown band trying to play to these big arena crowds. We were doing it old school, coming out and, you know, how to take a crowd over. That could be an aggressive crowd or a crowd that would be totally not interested in the support band, because they are waiting for the headliner. You would kind of grab them by the throat and make them pay attention. You would kind of win them over by the end of your set, that was the thing we were doing with Wasted. We were winning people over on the live show and maybe they knew one song or something like that.
That was a cool experience for me, but to come out to an arena and have the feeling that as soon as we hit the first note, everybody in here is probably going to know who we are and what songs we have. We already had an album that was doing well and we had a video on MTV. We would come out and just hit it, and it felt like we were at home. This was opposed to having to fight for a reaction. That was amazing to finally come out and feel a different reaction, and it was a 1,000 times better than what I was used to.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like an amazing thing to experience. The arenas were packed out back then when bands such as Poison, Cinderella, and Britny Fox played. It seems like there are a lot of naysayers over the time that will kind of discount that era of Rock, saying that because of the glamorous image of the bands, but the fact is bands like Britny Fox were highly musical and rocking hard. Do you think history has treated that era in the timeline of Rock?
Johnny Dee – A lot of people like to say now that it is all of a sudden cool to like that, or to talk about those bands. Really, it was all about the band. Was it cool when it was happening? I do not know. Guys with huge hairspray and makeup, it was what it was. For the fans, it was the ultimate thing, I mean that is really what made it happen. There was so many people that enjoyed it and wanted it. There was a huge audience to play to, but we were never really given credit for, like you said, musicality or whatever. We were not the critic darlings and all that stuff, but you could not deny it because the fan base was there. It was like, who gives a shit when you get a bad review or somebody makes fun of you, because you know there’s 20,000 people out there tonight that are going to be losing their minds and totally digging it.
Now here we are thirty something years later, it is still the people that want to see it and want to hear it. That is the reason why anyone is doing it, it is not because we all think we have some musical statement to make or some kind of political angle. Really it was all about having fun. I think that was what it was. That was all it was, it was not meant to be taken too seriously. There were other bands, if you wanted to do that, you certainly had many other bands you could get into for that. We all came up on the KISS and Cheap Trick school, and all these bands that basically were singing anthems about having a good time or doing what you want when other people tell you that it is bullshit or that you should be doing something else. Why can’t we just have fun and do what we want to do and enjoy what we want to enjoy? That was really the spirit that Britny Fox kind of created.
CrypticRock.com – Right, makes perfect sense. It is a shame that some people would discount it because of an image, but that happened with a lot of bands back then. A lot of the bands are still around, like yourselves, who are reunited again here is 2015. What ignited this latest reformation of Britny Fox?
Johnny Dee – I would say two things. One was that we never really wanted to pack it in, we were kind of put into an early retirement with the whole musical climate that changed in the ’90s. Then, once again when the whole switch to downloading illegally and streaming that has been in the process for years since then. We just kind of got to a point where we could not really be the band that we wanted to be or perform the show that we wanted to. We were forced to go back and play really small clubs to not very big crowds. It really was difficult because touring all of a sudden went from a lucrative thing and a reason to be out there to promote your record, to something that was like a financial downswing where we had to all of a sudden get in a van and go out and lose money, which is really unfortunate for us. We saw the best and the worst of the time.
In doing so, we felt, “I do not know if we can survive as a band in this way, so maybe we should just step back and look at things and see how we might be able to do it a different way.” There really was not anything that we could figure out that was better. At that time, in ’92, nobody was doing a hair band festival or ’80s Rock package tours. There was really not a lot of options for a band like us, we just decided to take a step back and see what was going to happen. Unfortunately, that break took way too long, and then the usual creative differences and personality differences. It is no secret that this band was dysfunctional from day one. We had a singer that basically quit and packed it all in because he felt like he could not express himself as an artist although he created the sound and the name of the band, the look, and everything. It was like, “Wait a minute, we just had a gold record and now you don’t really want to do that kinda thing anymore, you kind of want to play songs that sound like the Black Crowes, I don’t get it?”
We had those kinds of things holding us back a bit, we had over the years tried to reform in so many different capacities, and talking, and not talking. At this point, it just became like, “Ok, it seems like a good time for us to do it, who wants to be involved?” When the smoke cleared, this was what you had, you just figured like, “Let’s go out and test the waters.” Now we have Rock cruises to do, we have got casino gigs, we have got festivals, we have package tours, we have clubs that cater to that kind of music and whatnot. We just saw a lot of our peers out there doing it, we figured like, “Why can’t we do it?” We wanted to be part of it as well, mostly because the fans still want to hear our songs. I travel all around the world with Doro and see and hear from people, and they ask, “Where is Britny Fox? When are you guys getting back together?” I got tired of telling them, “I really wish it would happen, but it hasn’t.” Now we finally have a lineup and a version of the band that we felt was worthy of playing the songs and putting it out there, so we did. We also want to make some new music, just because we want to get creative. Just try to write some new stuff to keep our interests in line.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent. The last time you guys did put out a studio record was 2003 with Springhead Motorshark, so there is going to be a new studio record coming up in the future?
Johnny Dee – Yes, definitely. We are writing and recording some demos at this moment. We started that process, things were a little bit of a detached feeling. We are a band that started in a rehearsal room with songs and now that the technology has changed, it is like a little bit of a geographical challenge to write together when everybody is twenty years on. Everybody has got responsibilities and other lives and stuff. You cannot necessarily say, “See ya at the rehearsal room.” This guy is in Vegas, that one is up here, this one is over there.
Putting together songs in the vein of what we do and how we used to do it has definitely changed. You can mail files back and forth and all that, but at the end of the day you really want to get a room and jam and feel that energy. So we decided to take a break from the individual writing and go out and play some shows, get that energy flowing again. Kind of remember what we sound like, what we do, what the whole genre was about. To get the feel of the fans and kind of take that and put it into the new stuff as well. Sometime next year, we hope to have a record out. We do not know, will it be a full album, I don’t know? Will it be any EP? Whatever the market seems to be demanding from us. Some bands can get away from a double album like Iron Maiden for example, but for us, it may not be possible. Maybe we will just throw one song out there and try to get everyone to remember us and get a buzz going. Then we may put something out there after that. We are defiantly working on it and excited to get it out.
CrypticRock.com – That is a good way to go about it. As you stated, the band did play some shows in 2015 including one in New York. How are you finding the live shows going with Britny Fox?
Johnny Dee – It is going cool. I mean, it has been quite awhile, fifteen years for me since I have played these songs at a show with this band. It is like, “Wow.” Part of me is like this is so weird and the other part of me is like it could have been one year. There is nothing really missing, it is like most of those songs are ingrained in my personality somewhere. It is like it almost just kind of came right back. To have people out there who some of them know us well, some of them have seen us twenty some odd years ago, and some of them caught the scene at the tail end and never got to see us. The shows that we have just done, I have heard every possible reaction from people. Like, “You guys are the reason why I came to this show,” or, “I never got to see you guys and I’m so psyched that I got to see you finally,” or, “Hey, I saw you on the first tour opening for Poison or Ratt in the late ’80s and man, it’s cool to see you back again.” Then you have people who may not really be that familiar with music that we have. We try to put across a show that, we also do what I was saying earlier, which would be to win over a crowd that does not really know who you are, if you are in a support situation or something like that. Every aspect is covered, it has been a great reaction, it is really cool to be out there. We recently did a festival with a bunch of bands like Warrant, Tom Keifer, Slaughter, and Kix. It is cool to be back out there doing gigs with the same bands that we were playing with back in ’88 and ’89. It is pretty fun.
CrypticRock.com – That is great to hear. As more people figure out that you are back, the more it will get better. Social networking is massive now and a great way for bands to connect with fans.
Johnny Dee – Yes, I know, it is crazy people can be in Germany, and when they wake up in the morning, they can fire up YouTube and see Britny Fox play a gig in Vegas, or whatever. It can be good and it can be bad too. If you have an off night, or you do something silly on stage, or fall on your ass, people are going to be able to see it, laugh at it, or make fun of you, or say, “Damn, you guys sound great.” It is just another form of media we have to deal with. Back in the day, you could hide a lot of things. Now, you have to be completely transparent and be open with your fans. We were always that way, even before the first record came out. We were very fan friendly. We had a huge little fan club that we relied on to get us onto dial MTV and stuff like that. We were a fan’s band and we used to try and answer all of our fan mail. We used to get garbage bags full of fan letters and actually sit there and write people back. It got really overwhelming at some point, but we were into all that. A band is nothing without a fanbase. Really, the social media thing is just an extension of that.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed 100%, that fan friendliness is important, absolutely. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers all areas of music as well as Horror/Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of Horror films, do you have a favorite?
Johnny Dee – Horror movies for me are like classic music, I like the classics. When I was a kid, it was famous monsters, like The Wolfman (1941), Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), and The Mummy (1932). Then I went through The Exorcist (1973) era of the Psychological Thriller Horror type thing. I like those lesser gore Slasher type stuff, it is more like the hairs on the back of your neck standing up, because you do not know what is in the dark or what could be around you at the time. I love a lot of those type of Horror movies.
I would probably say the classics, I was more into that than the newer types of stuff, because it is overkill for me. I like classic music with melody and with good sound with playing and stuff. When it comes to super aggressive technologically advanced music that sounds like a machine, I am not really into that. I like movies with some soul that make you think a bit and have some substance. I will take a classic, old Horror flick any day.
CypticRock.com – Agreed. The movies you mentioned are all classics. There is something about the atmosphere in these films that cannot be replicated by a bunch of gore or computer effects that we see nowadays.
Johnny Dee – Yes, definitely. It has reached a point where I understand it. People’s attention spans are like zero, so you obviously have to keep people interested. I think if you have a great story and great acting, that is a no brainer. You can keep people’s interest in that way as well and keep them in suspense or scared for two hours, if you do it properly. You do not have to bludgeon them over the head every five seconds with somebody getting their throat slit or coming out of a closet. You have seen it a billion times. Give me something that makes me think, make me scared. That is heavy right there.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it is a delicate balance. Some of the modern films have found that.
Johnny Dee – Just like there is music that is brand new but with a nod to the past. I think movies that do that are very cool as well.