Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Interview with Joe Retta – Singer with 'Heaven and Earth' and 'The Sweet'

Interview with Joe Retta – Singer with 'Heaven and Earth' and 'The Sweet'

Joe Retta fronting Sweet in Mt. Clemens, MI - Summer 2011.
Photo by Alun Williams©

Well, after some short calls between Joe and I and then phone tag on trying to do the phone interview and me screwing up the timezone that Joe was in at the time, finally ... Joe and I got through a series of questions about a lot of what he's been involved in.

Joe Retta has been the lead vocalist of the US version of The Sweet, led by original Sweet bassist / vocalist Steve Priest for about five years now and it has also featured a certain Stuart Smith, the main man behind the excellent Heaven and Earth project.
Drummer Richie Onori, is also a member of both the aforementioned bands and with Heaven and Earth from the start.

Before Joe hooked up with Sweet though, he had been in some pretty seriously good tribute bands, that the video's on You Tube prove, are worth checking out!
Right now though, he's working on the latest Heaven and Earth album as lead vocalist,  following some serious big name vocalists that have appeared on the last two albums and E.P., such as Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow, Deep Purple, Yngwie Malmsteen, Sunstorm), Kelly Hansen (Hurricane, Foreigner), Bobby Kimball (Toto, Yoso, Kimball / Jamison), Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi), Paul Shortino (Rough Cutt, Quiet Riot, King Kobra) and Kelly Keeling (Baton Rouge, MSG, John Norum, King Kobra, George Lynch).

I do know that they already have four songs, pretty much there, a fifth needs a little more work and then the rest, well ... Joe will tell you more on, further on in the interview, so off we go! 

AW: Hi Joe thanks for your time with this.
So Queen Nation, Holy Diver, Led Zepplica how did those two projects come about, who’s idea and what drove you to do that and are they projects you’re still involved with?

Joe: The tribute stuff was pre Sweet. Holy Diver was just plain fun. It’s a blast for me to sing “Dio” songs.
What can I say about Led Zeppelin? It’s also super fun to sing!
I love singing those ultra high bluesy notes Robert (Plant) gave us on vinyl.
The Queen thing I don’t do much anymore, but great songs from another great singer.
RIP Freddy. A couple of songs still choke me up when I sing them, probably because of thinking of Freddy’s passing …

AW: Are there any other projects that you front?

Joe: I have an R&B band called “Jomama” that I play with from time to time. The players are all from Ventura and the song list is mostly cool old R&B. Lots of Stevie Wonder, Al Green, The Spinners etc.

I have always been a bit of a chameleon. I have sung such a wide variety of covers throughout the years. It’s really good training. It taught me how to manipulate my voice in al lot of ways, from soft breathy Jazz, to Gritty R&B, right through to Metal!
I also toured with Gregg Rolie of Journey fame, singing the Steve Perry tunes.

Singing stuff I know and grew up with has always been fun which is why I dig fronting for Sweet so much.
I just love to sing and I don’t trip on the “Tribute” thing, although some people look down on it, Brad Delp of Boston did a Beatles tribute after Boston and he was one of the all-time best.

There is a huge market these days for it and it’s taken me to India several times and toured all over Canada doing tribute shows. People love the old stuff and the 70’s were the f**king best!
Although …, I also have a big love of the 60’s
 AW: OK, silly question now, for the Queen Nation gig, when did you last do that, I ask, because of the hair man?!

Joe: The hair is easy. A tight cap stuffed with my hair and a short wig on top. Voula!
Once I used a stick on mustache during a show and the thing started to peel off. Ridiculous!

AW: Who were your biggest influences Joe or do the tributes bands answer that for you really?

Joe: Biggest influences: EVERYONE! I grew up on 70’s R&B, Rock, Latin, jazz,  fusion, World, everything.
But early on it was Edgar Winter and the ‘White Trash band’ playing ‘Tobacco Road’ on the double live record ‘Roadwork’ and all the early 70’s radio play. After that …? Wow, everyone!

AW: So Joe you joined Sweet in early 2008, how did it actually come about, did one of the guys see you playing in one of the tribute acts or did it come about another way?

The Heaven and Earth guys, Stuart, Richie and Joe live with Sweet, Michigan 2011.
Photo by Alun Williams©

Joe: I joined Sweet after working with Stuart in a Jam band in Beverly Hills. It just went from there …

AW: Has there been any discussion about Steve (Priest) recording any new material with you guys, towards a new Sweet album or is that considered kind of taboo to Steve?
You obviously recorded ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ as a bonus track for the ‘Are You Ready ... Live,’ album, how long ago did you get that done?

Joe: I don’t think a Sweet record will ever happen…
I’ll always be writing and playing. Whoever wants to play ...
“Let’s play”.

 AW:  I thought the show last summer here in Michigan was fun, at least until that storm hit, but Stuart was telling me you guys were having a nightmare with the sound at the show. Being side stage, after the storm passed I couldn’t have a clue what you were hearing, so it was hard to tell. Was it that bad?

Joe: The Michigan show was crazy! I loved the storm and I had a blast.
Those people stayed front and center. True Rockers I bow to them.

Heaven and Earth 2012 - L to R - Chuck Wright, Stuart Smith, Joe Retta, Richie Onori and Arlan Schierbaum

AW: So, to Heaven and Earth, now you can sing it exactly how you want, being yourself … Are we all in for a surprise?
I mean with each of the other projects, you’re really guided to sing a specific way.

Joe: Heaven and Earth: Yes it’s nice to sing my songs, my way.

AW: First off, are you enjoying yourself? When we spoke last, you were buzzed about how it’s coming together, so it’s all good right?

Joe: It’s nice to be writing and recording again.
We are really focused. I’m staying away from clubs and parties these days.
There is always something going on out here, even on weeknights, so I have to remember what’s most important. So taking care of myself and doing a lot of healthy cooking.

AW: Now I know the main line up is yourself, Stuart, Richie, Arlan and Chuck, but you’ve had at least 2 special guests involved with Howard Leese (Heart / Bad Company, Paul Rodgers) and David Paich (Toto), anyone else you can tell us about? Richie (Sambora) maybe?

Joe: As far as album guests we’ll have to wait and see.
However, I will be playing percussion, harmonica and slide guitar on the record.
Richie Sambora is in! David Paich did a string arrangement for us and Howard Leese of Heart / Bad Company  Is playing some guitar and co producing one of the tracks …, so far.

AW: The Heaven and Earth stuff, I know the album is still not done but has there been any consideration of doing any live shows? If not, what will be your plans next Joe, as I mentioned before, Sweet doesn't tour that much does it?

Joe: Yes I can’t wait to do the Heaven and Earth songs live …

AW: I guess during the recording process you’ve encountered both some happy and sad life experiences with Arlan and Dorothea’s wedding, but then sadly Richie's Dad passed away. Please pass on my sympathies to Richie and of course congratulations to Arlan and Dorothea.So how far along is the album right now and when do you plan on getting back to recording?

Joe: I am working every day, either in the studio or on my own set up. Arranging harmonies and working out the new melodies. We have 5 more songs half done.

AW: Any thoughts towards a Joe Retta solo album at all, at any time or is it something you've not really thought about?

Joe: I am writing every day and yes some Ideas are not of this Heaven and Earth, ha!
I love of all styles of music, so I'm just gonna follow my flow and keep on.

AW: Finally Joe, what do you do, when you're not doing music, any other loves?

Joe: I love to cook, and I really miss drawing, painting and sculpting.
I love to scuba dive. I'm such a fish.
I still feel like I'm ten years old I'll play Frisbee for hours with anyone I can corral.
Love to water ski (I was brought up in upstate N.Y. right on a lake)
and snow ski.
My Mom still water skis and snow skis almost every day during the season,
I get my energy from her, anything physical and childish...I'm in.

A lot of people I meet in Hollywood ask me “where have I been” or where did you come from?”  
Well, I raised two girls on my own when they were very young so I couldn’t really go head first into my singing career. The Hollywood scene, touring and recording took a back seat to my kids. I have zero regrets but got a late start.

Well my thanks to Joe for his time, I for one greatly look forward to the forthcoming Heaven and Earth album and hopefully tour dates too.
Maybe they’ll even be a Joe Retta solo album down the road too, can’t wait!


1 comment:

  1. hey joe,jimmy jerviss here.
    The only time I heard you was with Tav. In Onterio Ca.You went to the
    top of my list.I have lots of R\R storys to tell but i hate to type.