Posted on November o8th. 2017
Questionnaire by Omni on behalf of METAL TO INFINITY WEBZINE BELGIUM
George Call is always working hard with many different bands, but I was fortunate enough to catch up with him for an interview. I asked him about the past, present and future of his career as a heavy metal musician and singer. His passion is evident to anyone who has heard him sing, but I was delighted at the depth of his dedication to heavy metal.
Omni: First of all, let me thank you for doing this interview. How are you doing?
George: My pleasure, Judith. I’m great, thank you.
Omni: Can you tell me a bit about your different bands for anyone who isn’t familiar with your work?
George: Sure. I’m the founder of Dallas/Fort Worth American power metal band, ASKA. We’ve released six full-length albums to date on a variety of labels with more to come. I’m also the singer for English legendary cult NWOBHM band, Cloven Hoof. I appear on Hoof’s newest record, Who Mourns for the Morning Star?, released in April this year. I also sing for former Metal Blade/Atlantic recording act, Banshee. I sang on Banshee’s comeback album, Mindslave, which was released in 2012. I’ve also recorded several singles with Mick Cervino’s (Blackmore’s Night/Yngwie Malmsteen) Violent Storm. Maybe half an album’s worth. Both Banshee and Violent Storm are presently inactive.
I was also with Swiss band, Emerald, for a brief time and appear on three of the songs that appear on the their 2017 album, Reckoning Day. With them being in Europe, me in the USA and my commitment to Cloven Hoof being what it is, we felt it best to part ways though we remain on very good terms and I think of those guys as brothers, including my replacement, Marcel. For fun & grins, I also recently joined a Judas Priest tribute act called Dreamer/Deceiver which features some fantastic players and a former member of Hades. I also used to sing for Metal Blade pioneers, Omen, for three years. I appear on a demo song called “Blood on the Water” that the band released on the Blood, Steel, Vengeance compilation album. As you can see, I stay fairly busy though my emphasis is squarely on ASKA & Hoof.
Omni: Wow, that’s a lot of information to absorb! Speaking of Omen, I remember reading that you and Danny White were going to appear on Hammer Damage, but you wound up in Cloven Hoof instead. Can you tell me how that all worked out?
George: Danny and I actually did begin work on Omen’s Hammer Damage album. Danny, who is my drummer in ASKA, Cloven Hoof and Violent Storm as well, recorded the original drums for Hammer Damage at ASKA bass player Keith Knight’s studio. I wrote lyrics, melody lines and began vocal work for the album at Kenny Powell’s home studio. Basically what derailed the whole thing is that Kenny was actually recording the album in secret with his personal friend at the time behind my back. I found this out when I was in the studio one night working with Kenny and he brought up a vocal track by mistake that featured somebody singing one of the new songs, but it wasn’t me. I asked him who that was singing. He responded with some hemming and hawing and tried to tell me it was him singing. I laughed because I knew better and because I thought, “Damn. I just caught homeboy in a lie and instead of fessing up, he just doubled down on his lie. Sad.” He then asked me to sit down because he wanted to talk to me about something important.
He wanted to sign me to a contract where I would sing for Omen exclusively. If I agreed that would mean I would sing for no bands other than Omen. This coupled with the track I heard of the mystery singer made me immediately wonder what was going on. I told him that it wasn’t financially or even artistically feasible for me to cut out everything but Omen but that he could rest assured that I would continue with Omen as long as he desired. Contracts usually ensure gain for both parties anyway and this seemed wholly one-sided to me. Before I continue here though, let me be clear – I’m only discussing this because you’ve asked. It’s not a secret and I certainly don’t feel it incumbent upon me to preserve and provide cover for Kenny Powell’s reputation. I’m not trying to denigrate Powell or impugn his character in any way, shape or form. He is and will forever be the sculptor there. I’m just stating the facts from my perspective. The people reading this interview can make of those facts what they will and reach their own conclusions.
That said, I continue with my sordid tale: After I discovered the other singer’s tracks, I still was eager to continue work on the album. Petty shit doesn’t bother or phase me. I’d been in the band for three years, toured quite extensively with them and felt that as a fan of the original, JD Kimball era of the group, I could bring justice to a new album in a way that just any vocalist off the street couldn’t. I also felt very strongly that the fans were waiting for something special and didn’t want to just shit out some poorly recorded and mixed songs just so that Omen could say they have a new album. It had to push the band’s legacy forward or I felt it would be detrimental to both the band and myself. I expressed this thought to Kenny with his wife in the room.
According to things I’ve read, they took that to mean that I didn’t want to record an album and that I preferred to just do live shows, ad infinitum. This was either a fundamental misunderstanding on their part or they heard what they wanted to hear because it justified the tomfoolery going on behind my back. Regardless, I wanted Hammer Damage not just to have good songs but I wanted it to be sonically pleasing as well. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy working in project and home studios as much as I do the big, professional places – but only if the recorded output passes muster and sounds good. For me, a band of Omen’s stature in the underground metal world required a well recorded album. That was not something anybody was going to achieve in Kenny’s home studio in my opinion and I freely expressed that to Kenny.
After leaving there that night, I still diligently made phone calls inquiring when our next sessions were and left messages stating that I was available at moment’s notice but I found that Kenny had stopped communicating with me altogether. He would neither answer my calls nor return my messages. Unlike you might think though, it was all more amusing to me than distressing. Keep in mind, Id been in the band three years. I’d seen and come to know this modus-operandi intimately. I’d seen Danny get this same treatment. Omen bassist Scott Clute got it. Omen drummer Wampa Zayas got it. Omen singer Kevin Goocher got it. JD Kimball got it. And now I was getting it. I sent Kenny an email telling him that his lack of response was telling and that he had 48 hours to respond to my email or I was officially and publicly announcing that I was leaving the band. He did respond to that.
He very warmly told me he’d come to the hardest decision he’d ever made in his life and was choosing to move on without me because I was too busy with my other projects. Dramatic yes, but I said I understood, I wished him well and agreed to keep things amicable both in day to day life and in the music press. A few months later, first Omen interview I saw had Kenny slagging me in it which I considered a tactless breach of our agreement and we were off to the races. It pissed off some promoters and probably some fans but you know what? I didn’t get into metal music to kiss asses or to suck up to anyone. I had a legitimate beef with a former bandmate whom I’d spent a solid three years with on and off the road. We hung out socially and professionally. I was attacked, besmirched and I defended myself and hit back. Ironically, Kenny’s singer friend that had been recording the new songs with him?
They had a falling out. They’re no longer friends. Physical threats were even made it got so bad. And that singer, Matt Story, and I are friends today. He no longer speaks with Kenny either. And Kevin Goocher, who was brought back to the fold? Ironically enough, but not at all surprising, he found himself getting the treatment a few years after his return and in much the same fashion as I, tried contacting Kenny repeatedly to no avail before announcing his own departure from the band last year. How the world turns, eh? Anyway, that’s how it happened that Danny and I were excised from Hammer Damage. Danny’s drums were even replaced with some electronic, fake drums for the final release which still makes me scratch my head to this day. Again, this is me answering your question. I don’t want to skip it or give you some glossed-over answer pretending that all heavy metal heroes and purveyors of the craft are perfect.
We’re not. We’re living, breathing people with our own biases, views and sometimes addictions that inform, color and seep into everything we do. Many of us like each other. Some of us don’t. That’s okay. That we can put out some killer music despite our human frailties, inadequacies and social missteps is a testament to our great spirit. We’re not pop musicians nor do we embrace that mentality. You can’t get us diehards to conform either. Metal has always been and will always be rebellious music for people with a wild streak in their heart.
While still a member of Omen, I’d had several offers to sing for other bands and retained my position with ASKA throughout. After my exit, I accepted some of these offers. First Banshee. We had a full album out within a year of my joining. I also released the ASKA Fire Eater album post-Omen and then joined Cloven Hoof in earnest after Joe Whelan’s departure sometime after Banshee’s American Mindslave tour. I met Lee Payne for the first time when ASKA was in Europe for some shows. We met again the following year when ASKA was back in Germany for the Swordbrothers festival. We performed a couple of songs together with Lee and Russ North and had a nice time of it. The hands of fate were in play.
Omni: Thanks for that background information. I was going to ask about how you came to join Cloven Hoof, but you beat me to the punch! Who Mourns for the Morning Star? is fantastic. I’d say that it’s the band’s best album since A Sultan’s Ransom. How has the album been received?
George: Thank you very much, Judith. It’s been received by and large with a royal red carpet and fanfare trumpeting the album’s arrival. We knew recording it that we had something special on our hands. I’d been a fan of Cloven Hoof since my high school days and was familiar with the band’s trajectory and legacy. Upon review of the songs we’d recorded I felt we had a very strong record on our hands and 95% of the reviews have said as much. Sure there were some clamoring for and missing Russ North as to be expected. He’s a great singer.
Keep in mind though, when I came into the fold, Russ was twice removed. I was replacing Joe Whelan who had replaced Ash Cooper before him. I had big shoes to fill and I’m as pleased as a father holding his newborn son that everything turned out as it did and met expectations. This is the same thing I had hoped to accomplish with Omen’s “Hammer Damage” had we been accorded the privilege; To put out an album worthy of its successors that ensures, builds on and pushes the band legacy forward. As things stand, the “Morning Star” album is definitely one of the highlights of my recording career. I know this one just came out but I can’t wait to do the follow-up.
Omni: Did you enjoy playing with Riot V ? By all accounts, it was a killer show. Some folks from Metal to Infinity attended and said it was incredible.
George: Yes. I actually got to play and meet the guys in Riot late last year when my band, ASKA, played a show with them in Ft. Worth. Great bunch of fellas and Danny and I were looking forward to seeing our Riot buddies again and introducing them to our Hoof brothers. It was cool when we met too because original Riot guitarist Rick Ventura was there with them. Great guy as they all were.
Omni: Yes, Riot V is a killer band and they seem like a killer bunch of guys as well. I was unaware that you had met them previously, but I suppose that makes sense since you also perform in America with ASKA. Do you think Cloven Hoof will be playing any shows in the United States?
George: We are working on that even as we speak here. We’re hoping to put something together for 2018. Possibly a package tour with Oliver/Dawson Saxon and Vicious Rumors. The wood is in the fire and it’s looking like it will all go down in the summer of 2018. It would be a first for Hoof as the band has never before performed on American soil.
Omni: Excellent! I hope that I can make it out to one of your shows. Is it tough to sing for multiple bands at the same time? How do you manage to find the time?
George: It’s not tough really because it’s what I do. My biggest complaint is that it can wear on my throat if I have too many shows too close together without much sleep. Also because I am the frontman in all of my bands, I don’t feel it right to tour any of the bands together. Economically, it makes sense. Two ASKA members are in several bands together. That saves cost on the road. We’ve actually done shows like that but only when both bands were on different nights. Otherwise it all runs the risk of becoming farcical with the same singer fronting a bunch of musical chair musicians. Nobody wants that thus I try to avoid my bands performing on the same bill on the same night. Different nights is cool though. So time is far less a thing for me than the strain on my vocal cords. In my estimation though, better to do and experience than wonder and wish. We’re here once that we know of, folks. Live!
Omni: That makes sense. You are one of the finest metal singers still going today. Who are your favorite singers and influences?
George: Finest as in best looking or….? I’m kidding. That means the world, Judith and I thank you for saying it. Some nights are better than others onstage of course, but I think my recorded work speaks for me categorically in that I love this music and always strive to do well by it. Regardless, it’s always nice to have one’s efforts appreciated and noticed, so thank you again. My favorite singers are pretty much the obvious selections across metaldom; Dio, Halford, Dickinson, Tate, Ozzy, Eric Adams. I also have and some less obvious ones in performers like Paul Stanley, Rick Springfield, Brad Delp, Peter Frampton, Phil Lynott and Glen Kaiser. My biggest band influences will always be KISS, Judas Priest and Manowar. The visual bands were always the ones that attracted me the most.
Omni: It’s hard to go wrong with the classics. They don’t really make singers like those guys anymore. Is it hard to go from playing guitar and singing in ASKA to just singing in Cloven Hoof?
George: I’ve been playing in bands so long now that nothing is really hard anymore. Well, um, actually… remembering lyrics for a thousand songs is hard. Playing in ASKA is like wearing a favorite pair of shoes for me. It fits and feels right. Especially lately with Keith Knight back in the band after his brief departure. Nothing against anybody of course. I appreciate all the guys who gave blood, sweat and tears to ASKA but there is something special about still having a guy in the band with whom I’ve recorded the band’s entire discography and toured the world with. That said, in all of my bands outside of ASKA, I am vocals only. I find things infinitely easier and more doable for me that way.
Omni: I was glad to hear that Keith had returned. Are there any plans for another ASKA album? It has been a few years since the last one was released.
George: Oh for sure. We were just talking about it. The plans were to put out a live album initially but we are itching to do a new studio record and may hunker down soon and start doing just that. Keith has a studio set up and Danny is building one too so it’s just a matter of putting our feet to the grindstone. If you look at our release schedule though, you’ll see we are about right on target. One ASKA record every five to seven years.
Omni: Ah, excellent news! What do you think about the state of heavy metal today versus the last few decades?
George: The genre has seen better days, that’s for sure. It all seems so underground now. And all of that screaming nu-metal just seems very flash in the pan, trend following. Of the moment. All of my heroes are old now but I’m pleased as punch that they seem intent on doing it til they drop.
Omni: Yeah, I’m not big on nu-metal, metalcore or most of the new stuff either. How did you get into heavy metal music and what made you want to start playing it?
George: My introduction to heavy music started with KISS. My brother and I had purchased the KISS Alive! album from the son of a friend of my mom’s and it was love at first listen/look. The band looked as wild as they sounded and being a big superhero fan, I thought the group was somewhat of a personification of those mythical worlds and characters. Hearing the music on that album I knew then and there that I was going to learn to play an instrument. I was enamored with everything rock. And just to drive the point home, though many bands and genres of rock and metal are well represented in my music library, KISS to this day remains my favorite band. My love of KISS and everything they represented was fully responsible for changing the course and setting the trajectory of my life. Though I’m not happy with the band’s present policies of having Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer in Peter and Ace’s faces, it is still my band. I’m of the opinion that after the Beatles, there was never a band as influential as KISS in the history of the world.
Omni: I’ve never properly gotten into KISS, but I do love their costumes. Are there any newer bands that you’re interested in?
George: I like Avenged Sevenfold, Satyricon. If by newer bands you mean bands that weren’t around in the 80’s, sure. I like Falconer. Nightwish. Primal Fear. Other bands too, though I remain loyal to the bands of my youth as long as they continue to release worthwhile albums.
Omni: What has been your proudest moment as a musician so far?
George: Proudest? There have been many. Releasing albums, getting record deals, playing for large crowds, being on TV, in magazines, on radio, touring the world, joining legendary bands, meeting and befriending my musical heroes…. basically, anything that goes hand in hand with my childhood dream of bringing my music to the people and basking onstage to the cheers of the adulating throng. That makes me go happy.
Omni: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Do you have any final words for the readers out there?
George: Well you’re very welcome and thank you. And thanks for your patience. To all metal fans – thank you all so very much for purchasing the music you like and not being flash in the pan fans like so many in the pop world are. It’s keeps us metal bands going. We do a whole hell of a lot of it all for you.
I look forward to hearing more music from ASKA, as well as the details regarding Cloven Hoof’s future tour dates in the United States. Be sure to check out Cloven Hoof’s newest album, Who Mourns for the Mourning Star, released on High Roller Records!