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1. So Greg, let’s start at the beginning. Cirith Ungol was formed in the 70’s but didn’t get signed until the early 80’s, right? What do you remember about the early days?
GREG: Rob Garven and I first met in English class in 7th grade in 1969, and we found we had common interests in Ferraris and The Lord Of The Rings. A couple of years later in 1971, another guy in our school named Pat Galligan (later a member of the punk band The Angry Samoans) wanted to form a band called Titanic with Jerry Fogle to mostly play Beatles’ songs. For some reason they got Rob in to play drums (even though he didn’t have any drums and didn’t know how to play), and Rob called me because I had an amplifier. In the very beginning, there were three of us playing guitar through one amplifier and Rob with just a snare drum and hi hat! Well, I’ve never been a big Beatles fan, so I was pushing us to play heavier stuff like Cream and Grand Funk. Pat wasn’t into that, so Jerry, Rob and I quit Titanic in 1972 and formed Cirith Ungol. Almost immediately we started doing some originals (Radiation Blues, Flesh Dart) along with our versions of songs by Sabbath, Budgie, Spontaneous Combustion, etc. Mountain was really a big early influence on all of us, in the way they would do extended jams. It wasn’t until 1975 that Neil Beattie (aka Terry Dactyl) became our lead singer. He was a little more glam inspired than the rest of us, but he put on a really wild live show, with black widow spider fingertip extensions to go along with our six foot wide black widow spider for “Shelob’s Lair“. Even though he was a great performer, Neil’s voice didn’t quite fit in with our vision, and we parted ways after about a year. We spent the next couple of years writing a lot of songs and playing all the LA clubs as an instrumental power trio, playing with bands like Quiet Riot (w/Randy Rhoades), Y & T, and Van Halen, and going over amazingly well. We tried out a number of singers, but nobody clicked until 1979, when Tim Baker, who was our head roadie at the time, tried singing lead on “Hype Performance“. That version is the first song on “Servants Of Chaos“.
2. Was there any discussion about the subject matter; what the identity of the band would represent?
GREG: I remember some other possible band names we were considering: Minas Tirith, Khazad Dum, and Uruk Hai, all names from “The Lord Of The Rings”. Rob and I both liked J.R.R. Tolkien and Enzo Ferrari, so we knew our songs would cover both those subjects!
3. What about inspiration & influences? After what bands did Cirith Ungol pattern itself?
GREG: Cream was our biggest influence when we were starting out, but all the great early seventies bands were inspirations: of course, the “big three” Black Sabbth, Deep Purple, and Uriah Heep, but also Blue Cheer, Budgie, Hard Stuff, Stray, Trapeze, Highway Robbery, Head Over Heels, Bang, Dust, Sir Lord Baltimore, Cactus, Bloodrock, etc. We used to make the 50 mile trek from Ventura to L.A. every couple of weeks to go to a store called Moby Disc to find the latest imports. Dana Madore, the import manager there, would always have some new heavy rock discovery to show us. Rob and I almost came to blows on several occasions over who was gonna be first to take it home! I’m old enough to have seen a lot of cool bands in their prime. Some of my most vivid memories are of Iggy and The Stooges at the Whiskey in 1973, Rush and Moxy on their first West Coast tour in front of 50 people at the Whiskey in ’75, Stray Dog and Masters Of The Airwaves at the Starwood in ’74. My first “real” concert was Captain Beyond, Gentle Giant, and Black Sabbath at the Hollywood Bowl in 1972. Gentle Giant got booed off stage after two songs, Geezer Butler’s bass notes were like a punch in the stomach, and tragically, I remember almost nothing about my favorite band Captain Beyond.
4. What’s up with the band’s connection to the Michael Moorcock novels? Whose Idea was that?
GREG: I was a pretty voracious reader of fantasy and science fiction and along with “The Dying Earth” by Jack Vance and the “Fafhrd And The Grey Mouser” series by Fritz Leiber, Moorcock‘s Elric series is one of my favorites. Along with Clark Ashton Smith, they were all big influences on my lyrics. The obvious connection is the series of amazing covers that Michael Whelan did for the DAW paperback series of Elric novels in the seventies. Rob got in contact with Michael and he graciously agreed to allow us to use his artwork for a very nominal fee. I know the covers helped to sell the albums. In fact, I know several people who didn’t really like our music but bought the LPs anyway because of the cover art!
5. Playing Metal in Southern California, how important was the band image? Did you guys ever consider conforming to the ‘fashion rock’ ?
GREG: If you would have seen Cirith Ungol live in 1979 – 80 there is a very likely chance that would have seen Tim Baker and myself wearing skinny ties! In CU we always thought that a band should dress up a little more than jeans and t-shirts but we stopped short at wearing makeup and fishnet stockings. Now in Falcon I pretty much wear jeans and t-shirts.
6. After the debut “Frost & Fire”, what point did you actually leave the band and for what reasons?
GREG: I left in late 1982, because I felt I had reached a turning point in my life after graduating college, getting a “real” job in aerospace engineering, and spending 11 years in the band. It was more than a year after F & F had been released, and album sales were good, but I was somewhat disheartened by the number of negative reviews we were getting. We were still playing mostly clubs, and our career wasn’t advancing as quickly as I had hoped. I guess I wanted to lead a “normal” life for a change.
7. Did you stick around as songwriter for “King Of the Dead” or did the band just use your lyrics?
GREG: “Atom Smasher“, “Cirith Ungol“, and “Death Of The Sun” were all songs we had written together in the mid 70’s, and “Finger Of Scorn” was one of my songs that the band used with my blessing.
8. What were you up to between Cirith Ungol & Falcon?
GREG: I concentrated on my career as an aerospace engineer, raced bikes, and got married, but I never stopped playing guitar or writing songs. Every once in a while over the years I would play some crazy solo guitar stuff at parties or play karaoke style along to my favourite tunes, but I guess I first started to get the itch again a few years ago when Rob Garven and I went through all our old CU tapes to compile the SERVANTS OF CHAOS CD. I began to realize we had written a lot of pretty cool songs back in the mid to late 70’s that never saw the light of day and I figured they needed to be heard again, at least by me! I’m just lucky to find such sympathetic musical partners in Perry, Darin, and Andrew.
9. What ever happened to the other band members? Do you guys keep in touch?
GREG: I’m still good friends with Rob and see him quite often. We’re still trying to get him to sit in drums sometime with Falcon, although he hasn’t touched a drumstick in ten years. Of course, Jerry died in 1998 of liver failure. Such a loss af a great talent. Flint lives in Las Vegas and works as a sound engineer at one of the major casinos, and last I heard, Tim was in Lake Tahoe. Tim and Flint have really shown no interest in CU at all. Tim’s son Matt is much more into CU history than his dad is.
10. I got a double CD set of early material a while back called “Servants Of Chaos”. How did that come about?
GREG: Fans had been asking for years about unreleased live and studio songs, so a few years ago Rob and I got to talking about the stacks of unreleased songs we had laying around, and we decided that at least some of it was good enough to be released. Overall, I’m very satisfied with the finished product. The sound quality isn’t always the greatest, but Brad Vance at DNA did a great job of saving and cleaning up our old tapes, some of which were 25 years old. The fan reaction has been great, and everyone seems to have a different favorite song. We keep getting asked when Volume 2 will come out, and there is still some more material we haven’t unearthed yet.
11. For those who haven’t heard Falcon, are there any strong similarites or differences to Cirith Ungol?
GREG: Obviously, since there are four old Cirith Ungol songs on the first Falcon CD, there will be some pretty strong similarites to CU. Overall, I’d say that Falcon is a little bit less intense than CU, and some of our songs have a little more of a groove than CU. If you’re a fan of early seventies heavy rock like Budgie, Bang, Dust, etc., you’re gonna like Falcon. But let me introduce the rest of the band:
Guitarist/singer/songwriter Perry Grayson was in Destiny’s End from ’97 until ’03, playing on their two Metal Blade albums “Breathe Deep the Dark” and “Transition”. Quite a different band from Falcon. Very technical power metal, verging on progressive at times. After Perry left DE he formed another technical metal band called Artisan with friends Mike Bear (bass/vocals) and Ana Greco (guitar/backing vox). Eventually he started to burn out on playing such super fast stuff, and yearning to get back to a more earthier/bluesier style, he left Artisan in Fall ’03 after playing a farewell gig opening for Cathedral, Strapping Young Lad and Samael.
Darin McCloskey is the drummer, lyricist, and driving force behind the well-respected Pennsylvania doomsters Pale Divine. Which is very admirable for a drummer. Not too many drummers get that involved in the songwriting process, etc. Darin does!
12. Are you satisfied with the ‘cult following’ you’ve earned? How important is commercial success to you at this point?
GREG: I’m really amazed and honored that CU has so many loyal fans. It took 30 years, but after all the naysayers and negative reviews, it’s really gratifying to see that our music has gained some respect and a place in metal history. I get so many emails from fans and fellow musicians telling me how much CU music has meant to them.
I never counted on being able to make a living as a musician, which is why I went to college to earn an engineering degree. I didn’t want to end up as a 40 year old burnout working in a guitar store and playing requests at weddings. Having our own record label and handling every facet of the CD production from artwork to distribution can be a hassle at times, but we know where every penny goes, and we know that every decision made will be in our best interest. The downside of not being with a big label is lack of wide scale distribution, but I can tell you that we’ve made as much money selling 2500 copies of the Falcon CD ourselves as we made from royalties on 25,000 copies of the “Frost And Fire” LP.
13. What are the future plans of Falcon?
GREG: We just finished up some demos of a few new songs that will be on our next album tentatively titled “Die Wontcha” ( a play on the West, Bruce, & Laing album “Why Dontcha”). We also recorded a new version of CU’s “Edge Of A Knife” and “Johanna” by Iggy & The Stooges that will probably end up as a compilation track sometime in the future. We plan to record our second album with Chris Kozlowski at the helm again in October 2006, for release in early 2007.
14. At some point do you think there will be a Cirith Ungol reunion?
GREG: Never say never, but I am 99.99% certain there will not be a CU reunion. Even though Rob (Garven) and I are still great friends, he’s become very bitter about the whole business side of music making, and he hasn’t touched a drumstick in 10 years. His Ferrari 308GT4 is his passion now! And Tim (Baker) and Flint have shown no interest, either, and I have doubts about Tim’s voice holding up after 30 years of smoking. So I think it’s best for CU to rest in peace. It’s kind of a shame, since we get offers every year to reform CU and play at some of the big metal festivals in Europe. But as far as I am concerned, all my musical effort is going into FALCON, and I’m totally happy with our musical direction. With everything else going on in my life, I don’t have the time, energy, or the incentive to try and resurrect CU.
15. Any final comments? Websites to plug, etc.?
GREG: Thanks again to all you CU and Falcon fans for the incredible support! I hope to meet all of you someday. In the meantime, check out www.falconband.net, www.myspace.com/falconband, and http://www.myspace.com/cirithungol. Keep on rockin’!
THANKS TO GREG FOR THIS KILLER INTERVIEW! BALLBUSTER SALUTES YOU!