In the summer of ’89, Bon Jovi were riding high on so much Garden State gratitude after the success of Slippery When Wet that they named their follow-up LP after their home state. The New Jersey tour would, appropriately, give a leg up to their local friends in the warm-up slot — a hard-rock band from Tom’s River called Skid Row.
“I don’t think anyone thought we would be successful,” says the band’s former frontman Sebastian Bach. But that year, dramatic ballads like “I Remember You” and “18 and Life” would help that little opening band go five times platinum.
This fall, a pair of dueling tours will honor the 30th anniversary of Skid Row’s self-titled debut, recently reissued in a deluxe, digital-only version. There’s the Skid Row tour, featuring original members Dave “Snake” Sabo, Rachel Bolan, and Scotti Hill, playing the songs they wrote. Then, on a different run, kicking off August 29th and running through November, fans will get to hear those songs sung by the voice that made them famous.
This past June, in a last-ditch ploy for a reunion, the singer addressed his old band directly on SiriusXM’s Trunk Nation: “I have an open invitation out to any of those guys, if they would like to get onstage and jam.” Aside from original drummer Rob Affuso, who’s no longer in the band, Skid Row have yet to respond.
“Don’t hold your breath,” Bach tells Rolling Stone. Bach isn’t even mentioned on the band’s official bio page and Bach says they haven’t spoken in 23 years, when he was fired — a claim that Sabo disputes. “I saw him about nine years ago when I was managing Duff McKagan,” the guitarist tells Rolling Stone via email. “Duff and his band had a show at the Viper Room and Sebastian showed up with his girlfriend. It was brief and cordial at best. Definitely not momentous.”
The idea of a reunion has been on the table before. “We were close to reuniting maybe two years ago, or a year ago or something like that, but then it didn’t happen,” Bach says. “The fact that it didn’t happen obviously makes me somewhat bitter, because life is only getting shorter, as the song says.”
“I wouldn’t say ‘came close,'” Bolan tells Rolling Stone in an email in response to Bach’s account of the reunion talks. “We entertained the idea. Snake and I went as far as talking with agents and promoters about money. But we quickly learned after a few text conversations, why we fired him in the first place. Nothing is worth your happiness and peace of mind.”
“It was already a miserable experience and we didn’t even get on the phone,” Sabo adds via email.
Since his exit from the band in 1996, Bach has bounced among VH1 reality shows, Gilmore Girls, and Broadway. He spent four years writing his tome of a memoir. These days, the singer known as Baz remains as jovial and talkative as he was in the band’s heyday — a native Canadian who still speaks like a surf bro. Even talk of the ongoing Skid Row cold war doesn’t get him down.
“If I haven’t seen somebody in 23 years, my inclination is to think of the good things, not bad things,” he says. “We’re going to die, you know? You only got one life.”
Bach spoke to RS about what he’s learned from the Skid Row saga, his initial brush with stardom, what inspired his dramatic vocal style, his newfound obsession with Steely Dan, and more.
Any luck in your open call to reunite Skid Row this year?
No [laughs]. How much fun was it for me to say, “Yeah, it’s going to be great! Sony Theater, New York!” And … nothing.
Not even a text? Not even an angry text?
No, we don’t do that. We don’t communicate. We’re like the Creedence Clearwater [Revival] of glam metal.
Do you think they’re offended that you put it out there publicly? Like, putting the fate of a Skid Row reunion in their court?
No. I think it’s an ego thing. They don’t like when I get attention, and they don’t get attention. It’s always been like that. I can already see them getting mad, because I’m selling out shows, and they’re not part of the show, and blah, blah, blah.
So, congratulations on the 30th-anniversary deluxe edition of Skid Row that just came out on Spotify.
Well, I have no idea how it came about. I was not involved in it. Nobody’s bothered to send it to me. But I know it includes a live show from 1989. I cringe when I try to imagine what I’m saying, because I used to get quite long-winded in between songs back then.
I believe one of the first words you say is “motherfuckers.”
Really? Maybe one day I’ll have the guts to check it out.
The live part ends with you doing “Cold Gin.” I wondered if that came from you, since I know you’re a big Ace Frehley fan.
I had nothing at all, whatsoever, to do with the digital file that was released. I learned about it by reading the press release. If I had anything to do with the 30th-anniversary release of the Skid Row record, it would have been a record — 180 gram remastered from the original source tapes. Then complete with versions of the home videos. I have all the videos that they made Oh Say Can You Scream from, which was a platinum-selling home video release. I have all the singles, audio tapes. Live concerts that we used to record on Bon Jovi tours and the Aerosmith tours. They’re all sitting in a box in my house, collecting dust.
Do you have plans to release any of it?
Well, that would require communication with the other band members. I don’t know why I’m holding onto it all.
I’m surprised putting together the digital reissue didn’t spur some sort of conversation along those lines. Especially since so many Seventies and Eighties bands are starting to put out deluxe physical reissues.
It’s a shame. Like, I’m a huge Rush fan. When I get one of their reissues, it’s complete with Neil Peart’s itinerary of interviews that day. It comes with the left spoke of the tire from the tour bus. I hope someday we can do that for our fans.
Our tapes, by the way, for the first Skid Row record, are missing. I don’t know if it was the fire that they went missing in, but back when they did the Best of Skid Row record, they tried to remaster some songs, remix some songs, and Michael Wagener, the producer, told me nobody could locate the master tapes of the first Skid Row record. Everybody looked. Nobody seems to know where they are. So there’s a mystery out there.
So, looking at the bigger picture, what would it take for a Skid Row reunion? What do you need to hear from them?
It would take those guys to realize that I have a lifetime manager. His name is Rick Sales. I’ve been with him since 2006. They don’t want to deal with a guy like that. They want to give some singer who doesn’t have a manager $700 to $800 bucks a week. I’ve got a team that’s worked with me and don’t allow me to get fucked around. I didn’t have that team when I was 19 years old.
[Editor’s Note: In response to Bach’s statements about the earnings of Skid Row’s singer, Sabo writes: “I guess fact-checking isn’t in his skill set. … The five of us go on that stage as a band and we all get paid equally. We’re in this together. There’s no egos.”]
You feel you didn’t know how to protect yourself back then, legally.
After it ended, I was all on my own. I had to start over again. I’m never going through that again. I’m too old for that.
There’s only one song on the first Skid Row album that you have an actual co-write on: “Makin’ a Mess.”
You have to understand, I was maybe 18, 19 years old. There were a million bands. Very few of them actually made it. I had no clue when I was, say, rewriting the melody line of “18 and Life” — I had no concept of what that meant down the line. I mean, I learned later on in life. But I didn’t know, man … I was just a kid. The rest of the band members were four years older, at least, and I just didn’t understand what I was getting myself into. Which was also evident by my behavior at the time.
The irony is we always got into fights about business. So I made a decision that I’m never talking business with any guys in any of my bands ever again. But [the members of Skid Row] won’t even deal with [my manager]. And I’m not leaving Rick. So if anybody wants to talk to me, they got to talk to him. If everybody wants to come to the table and talk business, we’re ready to do it. But they don’t like me.
Why do you say that? Hasn’t enough time passed? It’s not like you trashed them in your memoir or cut them out financially.
I think they have a real control thing. If you notice, they’ve had a new singer for what, two or three years now? He’s done zero interviews. Well, no wonder they don’t like me. When I’m around, I do the interviews. I’m just saying, they’ve always resented lead singers that get all the attention. That goes back to your magazine, putting me on the cover without them. They didn’t like that very much.
[Editor’s Note: In response to Bach’s statements above, Bolan writes, of current Skid Row singer ZP Theart, “Hmm, ZP does do interviews and ZP gets plenty of attention. ZP came into this band with his own celebrity and had his own fan base. Any attention Baz gets, is definitely not from Skid Row. I personally couldn’t care less about his career.”]
Do you keep tabs on Skid Row? Have you ever seen them play without you?
Only one time on YouTube, a couple singers back. It said “I Remember You,” and I thought it was my band, so I clicked on it, and then I watched it, and I said, “What the fuck? … Oh, my God.”
Well, no one thought Guns N’ Roses would reunite, much less for this long. You’re friends with them. Any lessons from them in how to cope with a situation like this?
Yes. Well, lessons would be: Don’t disparage each other in the press, which is so hard to do when websites just look for any sentence and then make that sentence a headline. We all get in trouble all the time, without even trying. It seems to be a confrontation-based culture as far as rock bands go. I never read when I was a kid, oh, “David Lee Roth whooped this guy’s ass.” It’s just like, what the fuck does any of this have to do with music? Nothing. As the years go on, I look at it like stealth is wealth. Stay off the internet as much as possible, because actually I’m too cool for that … [pauses] … It’s a big business if they’re talking about reuniting a band like that, whether it’s Poison or Guns N’ Roses.
Those first two Skid Row records mean a lot to people. And the songs have lasted. “I Remember You,” “Youth Gone Wild,” “18 and Life” — 30 years later, they’re still on the radio. How does that sit with you?
That always freaked me out. I remember Rolling Stone did an article called something like “The Top Five Songs of My Life,” or whatever, and it was Norah Jones. Somebody sent me the article, and she picked “I Remember You,” by Skid Row. When she was 11 years old, she told the whole story. You can look it up. It’s your magazine. “Every time I hear this, I get this unbelievable wave of nostalgia. …”
Zoe Kravitz’s first-ever cover song was “I Remember You.” There was a big article in Rolling Stone about it — how her dad helped her pick the song. And I remember hanging out with Lenny years and years ago, him always telling me how he loved that album. There are so many instances of that song having a life of its own.
Carrie Underwood. Anybody who wants to should go to YouTube for her version of the song, which is mindblowing. Then there’s Adam Levine, a great buddy of mine, who chose “I Remember You” for The Voice — which, that would be my voice, thank you [laughs]. He chose the song for his team in the finale to sing. I could go on. The single has a life of its own that transcends. There are other songs that sound similar, but for some reason that one just resonates decades and decades later.
I wanted to talk about another big anniversary in 1989. Your first arena show, which was on tour with Bon Jovi, and it was in Dallas.
You’re clearly not someone that suffers from a lot of stage fright. But did you really close your eyes that whole performance, as you write in your memoir?
I really did, because I couldn’t concentrate on singing and look at the fact that I was in an arena at the same time. I wasn’t mentally prepared for the fact that maybe my dream as a little kid would come true of being a rock star. I couldn’t. I was paralyzed, like Cindy Brady with television-itis. That was me, like, “Oh, my God.” I don’t know what to tell you. There’s a reason why people like being taped onstage. There’s a lot of variables that come into play if you’re trying to sing for an hour or 45 minutes or two hours. Things that come into your head. Distractions and stuff. Audio variables. I don’t know what to tell you. It was all a bit overwhelming for a 19-year-old person to do that for the first time. It was a bit much.
And still, during the span of that tour, you go from that kid who can’t open his eyes, to standing up to an entire stadium, shouting at the Johnstown, New Jersey, police for tasing you before the show. How did that shy kid go into power-tripping rock star mode so fast?
You’re full of testosterone. You’re full of piss and vinegar. You’re fucking wild. You feel indestructible. And then you put a kid like that on the stage, with the power of 20,000 people. What can I tell you? Oh, my God. I just got kind of power mad. I got caught up in the energy of the audience.
For some reason, I haven’t been allowed to play all of these rock festivals. There are a million of them. Operation Rock. Heavy Montreal. Rock on the Range. All this stuff. I have played one or two of them, and when I do, look out other bands. That’s the way it’s always been. Because when I get on the stage, and I get caught up in the crowd, I have a vibe and an energy that is different than other frontmen. And I can get a crowd very, very excited. When the day comes that they do allow me on these festival stages, I’ll fucking show you what the fuck I’m talking about.
Let’s go back to making the first Skid Row record. You had been living in Toronto with your girlfriend Maria at the time and she was pregnant with your son. Dave “Snake” Sabo sent you a demo tape. You liked the songs, so you flew out to Tom’s River, New Jersey, where Rachel Bolan lived with his parents.
I can remember vividly what you’re talking about. It was in Rachel’s garage.
The only two songs that made it onto the album from that demo were “Youth Gone Wild” and “18 and Life.” So then the other songs, did they give you any creative license?
I think “Rattlesnake Shake” might’ve been on that demo … I’m not sure. But no, we all just basically hashed it out in Rachel’s garage. That’s where I heard “I Remember You” for the first time. Then I heard “Piece of Me.” We wrote the song “Makin’ a Mess” together in the TV room in his house. We just rehearsed them so many times, and we recorded them as well in demo studios. In New Jersey — there was a place called House of Music where we recorded 30 songs.
You were the only one who liked “I Remember You,” right?
[Motley Crue’s manager] Doc McGhee came to one rehearsal, which was in the garage. We were going through the set. It was near the end, and I said, “Doc, Doc, you got to hear this song! You got to hear this song, man. They don’t want this on the record, man. You got to fucking hear this song! It’s so fucking great! You got to hear it!” And everybody’s like, “Whatever.” It was an acoustic guitar song. The only song with an acoustic, and he just played it. And I started singing. By the end of the song, I looked over at Doc, and he was laughing. I didn’t know if he thought it was cheesy or too wimpy, but Doc goes, “So you guys don’t want that on the record?” And somebody said, “No, I don’t think it really fits.” And he goes, “That’s funny. It’s on the fucking record.”
What was the argument against it?
It was too wimpy and it didn’t fit the image of the tough kid from Jersey. But I don’t want to get this misconstrued into yet another fight somehow, because at the end of the day, it was all five of us that made the song and put it out. It was the number-one prom song of 1990 in USA Today, right up there with “Free Fallin'” by Tom Petty.
A lot of millennials were probably conceived to that song.
[Laughs] I’m glad to be of some assistance.
Why didn’t you guys do any other ballads after that?
Well, I don’t know if you would consider “18 and Life” a ballad. But that was released before “Remember You” and was a Top 10 single. It was Number Four. It’s kind of heavy. But [the acoustic guitar] immediately put “I Remember You” into ballad category. Without question.
Skid Row had a knack for pulling off heavy ballads.
Charles Mingus said, “There’s only two kinds of music: Good and bad.” I always knew [“I Remember You”] was a good song, man. I just did. I can’t sing a song if I don’t love it. It doesn’t come out right. And I fell in love with it immediately when I heard it and when I started singing it. I just loved it, and I still do, 30 years later.
When you heard that song and you were singing it, you were thinking about Maria?
At the time I was, yeah.
Why do you sound so angry at the end?
All the emotion that you hear on the vocal there is a father leaving his kid just on a dream, and basically saying, “Well, I’m going to give this everything I’ve got.” And you hear when I’m singing it — there’s a desperation there. It affected me when my dad left me when I was a kid, and I swore to God I’d never do that. And then here I was doing it. So that’s what you hear in the scream at the end. I’ve always been the kind of vocalist where I think of the words and the meaning really comes out in my singing. And that’s how I know when I’m doing it right. Really delivering the words. I learned that on that record, really. That song is where I learned how to do that.
How did you make “18 and Life” your own?
I just thought, “Can I do this?” [Sings lyrics] “Blew the child away …,” “fingers to the bone … ” — I added all of those different kinds of high-pitched screams, and people really liked when I was doing that. So I just kept doing that.
Today, are you on good or bad terms with the Bon Jovi guys?
I’m on good terms with them. I saw Richie in Vegas. We did a song together with Dee Snider onstage for a charity thing. Before, a couple years back in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Jon, Richie, and I killed about 10 bottles of wine [laughs]. I haven’t seen Jon in a while, but we were definitely having a great time the last time I saw him.
Can you explain to me why Jon Bon Jovi collects royalties from Skid Row’s debut album?
Because he helped us out. He took us on the road for the whole New Jersey tour, and we signed what was called a production deal at the time, which gave him a cut of the proceeds if we were successful. The last thing anybody ever thought would happen. But actually we were quite successful. It wasn’t exactly an overnight success. It took at least two weeks. On the road with him, it was a quick rise.
You don’t seem bothered that he still gets a cut.
Some people say [Jon Bon Jovi] got overcompensated. But as years go by, I look at the chance we were given, and most likely, we never would have made it without going on that tour.
That’s a very diplomatic answer.
Yeah. But we were also given Bon Jovi’s accountant, a guy by the name of Bruce Colgretter, if you really want to get into the nitty-gritty. That was [pauses, laughs] very handy.
Do you get royalties from the first Skid Row album?
Yes, I absolutely do. I get performance royalties.
If you were rewriting melodies of hits like “18 and Life,” shouldn’t you also get publishing royalties?
I’ve been told many, many times by far smarter businessmen than me, that yes, I should. It’s just that, to be honest, getting bogged down in a legal fight like that would just take so much energy. As I get older, I choose to put that energy into making as much content for fans as I can while I’m still able to do so. That includes doing a tour with no back-end tape, still doing it live, old school, which is a rarity these days. My next thing will be a record. It took all my energy for four years to write that book, 18 and Life on Skid Row.
It’s the same impulse that I have about our current president, who drives me insane to the point of being depressed. I want to express this on Twitter, and I have expressed it, many times. But then who wants to be that voice? There’s enough people talking about miserable stuff all the time, and I just don’t want to be miserable.
How are you managing to achieve that?
I’m concentrating, really, on my health and exercising. For the first time in my life I’m trying to eat right, which is crazy.
Really? How are you doing that?
How am I doing that specifically? Well, my wife makes me spicy veggie brats. No meat. And I’m starting to fit into the little, itty-bitty T-shirts again, which mocked me in my closet. Thousands of them! I’m like, “I’m going to fit in those fucking cool shirts, again, man.” I’m happy to say it’s going well.
Do you still run seven miles?
Well, it’s actually four miles, but Mick Jagger, what the hell is going on with that guy?
Mick Jagger is an inspiration. As far as having that much energy, looking that cool, fronting the band the way he does at his age. It’s astonishing. If you Google his regimen, it says when he’s getting ready to go on tour, the weeks leading up to tour, he actually runs 10 miles a day. I find that hard to believe that it’s true, because that takes a long time to run.
I also am very inspired by my friend Duff McKagan, who introduced me to the hot yoga.
That sounds intense.
It’s brutal. I was like, “Dude, how do you look like that?” [Duff] goes, “Meet me at nine in the morning at this address.” I go, “Nine in the morning?!” I got there, and I did it with him, and I’ve been working on it ever since. It’s very … trippy.
So what do you listen to on a long run?
You won’t be ready for the answer. I listen to Donald Fagen. Solo career. The Nightfly blew my mind. I have every record. Kamakiriad. Morph the Cat.
You’re right, I did not see that coming.
Look, I like my metal fucking loud, dude. But my hearing means even more to me. A couple years ago, my doctor told me, “Sebastian, your ears are fine. But if you don’t start turning it down now, 10 years from now you’ll wish you would have.” So when I turned down the volume, it changed what music I put on. I have a huge vinyl collection. I have different stereos in different rooms of different levels of quality. I immediately started listening to a lot of Steely Dan.
I love Steely Dan, but I have to say I’m not that familiar with Fagen’s solo music.
Oh, my God. Just get ready for The Nightfly. It will become your favorite album if you like that kind of music. Yacht rock. I have every record. Those albums, for an audiophile, are just so listenable. They’re incredibly good.
So, lastly, it going to be painful for you to spend the next few months fielding Skid Row reunion questions? You clearly want it to happen.
I have to compartmentalize. There’s nothing that I like about the current situation with the band. But I can’t change the way other people are or what they do. I just know that for me, I can’t be mad at somebody I haven’t been in a room with in 23 years.