SHOOTING STAR is maybe one of the best Classic AOR bands ever, because most of their albums are as good as the well-known acts such as JOURNEY, SURVIVOR, KANSAS... They released quite a lot albums, starting in 1980 and ending last year with 'Leap of faith'. The music has always been a mixture of pure AOR and Pomprock, close to afforementioned acts, yet with an own identity. Finally I had the chance to do an interview with bandleader Van Mclain, and he had to tell me a lot about the past 25 years...
Hi there, first let's get back to the late 70s, what were your first music experiences (as in when did you start with playing an instrument, or wanted to become a musician)?
i started playing guitar when i was 6 years old the next day after i saw the beatles on ed sullivan. i played in bands through school in kansas city. when i was 18 years old i moved to london england with ron verlin our bass player. we formed a band and looked for a record contract. we did a demo of a song i had written called take the money and run. arista/bell records signed us on the strenghth of that song and we recorded a single. we did it at the famous morgan studios (rod stewart,yes ect.) and we were really excited being a bunch of guys from kansas city. about 3 weeks before it was to be released steve miller came out with his song take the money and run ,same title different song, and that killed our record deal.
back to the states and hooked up with gary west.gary and i
instantly hit it off as songwriting partners. we formed shooting
star with gary west -vocals and keyboards, van mclain-vocals and
guitar, ron verlin -bass,
steve thomas drums, charles waltz-vocals violin and bill guffey on keyboards. we started playing around the midwest of the us and after about a year we moved to New york. We found management and then showcased and picked virgin records to sign with. we were virgins first signing in the US.
Did you play in a band before SHOOTING STAR?
garage bands around kansas city. nothing exciting.
When did you form SHOOTING STAR?
version of the band that played on the first album formed in
1978. the first album came out in january 1980
Then please tell us all about your wonderful first album (LP went to #147 in the US charts, while one of the singles "You've got what I need" went to #76)< tell us about the songs, production, sales, just funny stories of that year 1980...
we recorded the first album with gus dudgeon (elton john, chris rea) at his private studio in the english coutryside. it was one of the most beautiful places i have ever seen. it was an old millhouse on the thames river that gus had totally redone and built a world class studio. there were swans on the water and a waterfall. it was incredible. gus was a great producer and really great to work with. when the album was released in the US we had modest success with the first single but nothing great. we toured with robin trower and cheap trick for about 6 months but when the single faded we headed back to kansas city to start writing the next album.
one day i
got a call from a radio program director in chicago who called to
congratulste me on our success. I was confused. i didnt know what
he was talking about so i asked him what he meant. He couldnt
believe i didnt know that a song called last chance was number 1
on the US radio charts. I started checking around and sure enough
last chance was a big radio success. that was the good news. the
bad news was that virgin had gotten in a fight with atlantic
records ( their US distributer) and had no distribution in the
US. We had the number 1 radio song in the country and no records
in the stores. we lost all of our momentum on the charts but we
built a new and loyal fanbase. we should have sued virgins ass
off but we didnt because of promises about what they would do on
our next record.
Your music was 'pompy AOR', which bands influenced you (KANSAS, JOURNEY and SURVIVOR I guess)?
biggest influence was the beatles. we really werent influenced by
kansas but everyone thinks that because we had a violin player.
we liked 70s genesis and yes. believe it or not we loved ac/dc
and i think that showed up on our 2nd album hang on for your
One year later 'Hang on for your life' was released, another great album that went into the billboard hot 100 LP charts, please tell us all about that record?
recorded that album at randy bachmans of BTO home studio in
linden washington with dennis mckay. we were pissed off at our
managers for screwing us and pissed off at virgin and i think
that anger came through in making hang on for your life really
rock! that album stayed on the us album charts for over 1 year
and helped us build a loyal following even though the record
companies failed to deliver a hit single.
Did you play live by that time, if so, with which bands, and tell us funny stories about bands you played with?
for an entire year opening for jefferson starship,zz top, molly
hatchet, blue oyster cult and foghat. we also headlined clubs and
were the #1 drawing band in1982 for small venues in the US.
'3 wishes' from 1982 was maybe one of your most succesfull releases, please tell us all about it?
recorded 3 wishes with kevin elson (Journey) at fantasy studios
in berkley california. kevin became a good friend of ours and we
had a really great time in the studio. lots of practicle jokes.
we had the guys from journey working in the studio next to us. we
would sneak in to there studio and turn the heat up as high as it
then we would wait for them to go inside and we would lock them in. they would have to get someone to open the door from the outside and they would be covered in sweat. we had fun!
'Burning' is not your strongest release, but still it contained some great songs, why did you put the cover "Reach out I'll be there" on that album?
always liked that song and we used to play it in the bars in
kansas city. we tried it in the studio one night and we thought
it sounded cool. We werent really thinking of what people would
think. we just liked it.
In 1984 you did two songs for the movie 'Up the creek', please tell us about them, and also how you got involved in the movie business?
working with geffen records now as their US distribution. david
geffen was and still is very involved with movies and they asked
us to get involved with up the creek. we met the producer spencer
proffer (quiet riot) and we recorded 2 songs,take it and get
ready boy for the movie. get ready boy was going to be on silent
scream but we went ahead and let the movie have it. We also got
to be the backup band for ian hunter on a song called great
expectations. that was really cool because we were big mott the
hoople fans. when the movie came out we were really excited to
see it and we were invited to the premiere. i thought the movie
sucked and we were disapointed. it also came out the same week as
poice acadamy which was a big hit in the states. the funny thing
is up the creek still plays on cable tv all over the world and i
still get royalties for that piece of crap! isnt life funny.
We're now in the year 1985, and you released your best album ever, the ultimate AOR classic 'Silent scream', an album that still to this day is held high here in the European AOR scene as an instant classic, everything just sounded brilliant, how did you get RON NEVISON as producer?
we got ron
nevison trough john koladner at geffen records. gary and i worked
for a solid year writing those songs. we really put everything we
had into making that record and we had very high hopes for that
album. we had the US tour opening for heart when they were hot.
the single summer sun came out and got 135 adds to radio the
first week. it looked like it finally was going to break big for
us and something happened and i still dont know what but i think
virgin ran out of money. i read richard bransons book and he says
they were out of money around this same time period.the lables
wouldnt return our calls. kalodner wouldnt return our calls. what
looked like a sure fire hit dried up and died. we were devestated
because we felt this was the best record we could ever make. I
guess in europe it did well but not well enough to keep us going
. gary west decided to get out of music altogether because of his
disapointment. even though we made our best record it didnt pay
off and i blame virgin records for this.
And please tell us all about that fantastic LP 'Silent scream' (the songs, the sales, funny stories when recording)
scream was recorded in england,malibu california, san fransisco
california and los angelas california. we had a lot of fun
recording it and got to travel to a lot of great studios to make
it. lying on the beach in malibu in the morning and recording at
night was really awesome! we had been touring alot and i think we
were just on our game when we made that album. when we were
cutting basic tracks in england we were in touch with the
engineer of our first album, stewart epps. he was working with
jimmy page on the firm album. we decided to have a competition
with who would finish tracks first. i dont think the firm knew
but we knew through stewart what tere progress was we won the
competition easily and we were feeling pretty cool until stewart
told us that all of paul rogers scratch vocal tracks were kept
for the album . What an incredible singer! oh well at least we
beat them at something.
Although RON NEVISON produced many gold records (SURVIVOR, HEART), your album didn't sell as much as those huge AOR bands did in the 80s in the USA, while you had the same kind of high quality AOR on your records, why do you think you didn't become as succesfull as bands like SURVIVOR, JOURNEY, HEART, REO SPEEDWAGON...
i know it
sound like an excuse but we should be the poster boys for
"stay away from bad record companies" we just never had
a push from virgin like other bands got. Was it money? i dont
know you will have to ask them.
Anyway, then it became quiet around SHOOTING STAR, what did you do between 1985 and 1989?
gary and i
wrote some songs but gary just wasnt willing to trust record
companies with his life any more so he got out of the music
business and started his own company doing house inspections.
In 1989 a best of was released, and it also included the fantastic new song "Touch me tonight", a superb AOR song, please tell us all about it, and I believe it was made for a movie right?
none of our albums were available on cd. ron verlin our bass
player and i decided to press up 10,000 copies and sell them over
the next year or so . we added a new song i had written called
touch me tonight. it had a new singer keith mitchell. we sold all
10,000 copies in 1 week. enigma records asked us if they could
take over since we were selling it out of our garage. we made a
video and it made it to #1 on mtv requests. the cd sold very well
and was by far our most succesful release we toured with bad
english and brian adams. everything was looking great until
enigma went bankrupt. they had spent a huge amount of money on
the christian heavy metal band stryper. it didnt sell and it took
them down. that really sucked because they were a good small
lable that believed in us.
2 years later SHOOTING STAR returned with a complete new CD entitled 'It's not over', a superb pure AOR/Melodic Rock release, please tell us all about it?
already started recording its not over in our studio in kansas
city. i produced it myself and we decided to go ahead and finish
it on our own. we sold about 100,000 copies on our own lable and
we toured with alot of different bands but it was right when
grunge was coming out so sales started to slow down .it really
was the first album for keith mitchell,dennis laffoon and rod
In the early years you had a violin player, why did you drop him on the 'It's not over' release?
waltz moved to los angelas and started his own band called toledo
waltz and had some success with that so he didnt come back for
the new version of shooting star
I also heard that Gary West wasn't involved with the band anymore back then, but still he played on the 'It's not over' release, right?
He did not
play on its not over but several of the songs were songs we had
written together. some of those songs were supposed to be on
silent scream but didnt make it but we thought they were still
good songs so we reworked them a little and used them on its not
You were quite popular in your state Kansas, I believe you even played as headliner in 1989 for more than 16,000 fans!
still very popular in about 20 us cities. wherever we are still
getting radio airplay. we just played about 10 dates in 2000 seat
halls in the us as headliner. all but one show was sold out.
Anyway, then it became quiet again, although your label V AND R RECORDS did re-issue all 5 albums onto CD, please tell us about those re-issues?
recieved the rights to sell all 5 of the original shooting star
cds in 2001. we have put them out in the states and we are
negotiating with now and then records to release them in europe
allthough you can buy them off our websight www.shootingstarband.com now
Where was the 'Live' CD from 1992 recorded?
city at a large theater.
You toured with NIGHT RANGER in 1997, can you please tell us all about that tour?
actually did not tour with night ranger. in 1997 i had esopagus
cancer. i had major surgery and radiation and
chemotherapy. in 1998 after i recovered kelly keagy of night ranger and jim peterik of survivor asked me to come to chicago and play a cancer benifit for a young boy with cancer.i said yes and i was so blown away with the crowds response to my songs that i decided to put the band back together and record another album.
Last year you released a complete new CD entitled 'Leap of faith', can you tell us all about it?
i was at a
party in nashville tennesse and i ran into kevin beamish
(produced reo speedwagons big albums) he asked me what i was up
to and we decided to do a new album together. This is our newest
release leap of faith.
it is my second favorite album shooting star has ever recorded. we worked on it in my home studio in kansas city and in nashville. and dont worry/it aint no country album!
Is this last CD going to be issued through a bigger label, and do you have connections with Europe to release it over there?
trying to find a label to help us in europe. we also would love
to tour in europe because we never have but we have no idea how
to go about it. Maybe some of these things will get straightened
Have you been writing new songs yet, will there be a new album in the future?
been writing new songs and we will probably do a new album later
this year. we are doing a lot of touring this summer so it will
depend on when we come off the road.
Finally, what are the plans for the future for SHOOTING STAR and do you plan some other musical stuff...
we are going to play as much as we can in the coming months. we want to get the word out that the first 5 albums are available on cd. i do alot of producing other bands in my studio and i have several projects coming up after our tour. this is going to be a big year for shooting star!
Thanks for answering the questions, all the best and hope to speak with you in person someday soon.
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