DAVE 'SNAKE' SABO On How Legendary Manager DOC MCGHEE Came To Represent SKID ROW

August 6, 2019

In conjunction with a recent Metal Hammer retrospective on SKID ROW's self-titled 1989 debut, guitarist Dave "Snake" Sabo spoke at length about the group's early years with writer Clay Marshall. Some select "outtakes" from the interview appear below (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).

On SKID ROW's musical development:

Snake: "With that first record, there's so many different voices commenting on what songs should be on there, what songs shouldn't be on there, and it all plays a part in the definition of who you are. Sometimes, what happens — and it happened to us, and we were able to sort of figure it out — is like, 'Okay, I know who we want to be, or at least I [know what] my perception of who we want to be is.' But there's oftentimes a difference between who you want to be, and who you really are. So, I think you had five guys who had a lot of common ground, but there was [sic] a lot of discrepancies in how they viewed this thing forming, and what it would shape itself to be. That shape comes into focus just through rehearsing every night in a garage that's heated by a propane gas heater, playing every dump that you can play, borrowing money from anybody you possibly can just to stay alive while you're holding a job down or two, while you're writing songs. Look, it's no different than any other person — we all have the same struggle. I think what it comes down to is, how ambitious are you, and how determined, and how much you can sit there and really, really stay focused and stay the course, all the while being so naive that you don't know what the course is, so you're just running on your gut and you're running on your trust of others, and figuring out, 'Who is SKID ROW? Who are we?' Again, trust is a huge factor in that — trusting in your own intuition and your own vision, as well as the guy that you're building with, as well as the rest of the guys that you're building the band with as well. Initially, it's Rachel and I. We're constructing these songs, and we're getting feedback from people that we trust who have sold a lot of records — guys like Jon [Bon Jovi] and Richie [Sambora] and Doc [McGhee, BON JOVI's then-manager] and people in other bands too that are in the area. The guys in TT QUICK or PROPHET or guys that would come into the music store, like Zakk [Wylde], who before he got the OZZY [OSBOURNE] gig was playing in a cover band in New Jersey as well. You'd play him songs. You'd play your friends songs, and see what they think. You're looking for answers, all along the while creating this thing. All this comes into play. You certainly get advice and whatnot, but there's no set blueprint. You're just figuring it out as you go along. It's so exciting, but it's so stressful. You don't know what you're doing, and when someone reacts positively, you don't know whether to sit there and get super-excited or be discerning or both. And you're 21 years old! But it's exciting, and it's great. Talk about uncharted territory. Watching these songs come to life as well as watching us figure out who we are as a band and as individuals, how this thing sort of gets defined as we're getting closer and closer to making a record, because you're continuously writing, and then, when everyone is sitting there, like the Doc McGhees and the Jon and Richies of the world, whomever else, sitting there saying, 'Yeah, I think maybe we should start showcasing now.' There's a point where you don't have management, and you're seeking the advice of those who are much wiser and have done this."

On Doc McGhee:

Snake: "I knew about Doc, because I read the back of every album that I loved, and I wanted to work with the people who helped create those records, and Doc's name was on the back of 'Too Fast For Love' and 'Shout At The Devil'. That's how I knew him, and when Jon started being managed by Doc, Jon calls me up and says, 'You've got to come up the street and meet my new manager.' I'm like, 'Oh really, who?' He's like, 'This guy Doc McGhee.' I go, 'I know who that is — he manages MÖTLEY CRÜE.' He's, like, 'Yeah. We're at my mom's house. Come on up,' which was right up the street from my mom's house. I was 19. I'm just sitting there, I'm keeping my mouth shut, I'm in awe. We're just hanging out by the pool shooting the shit, and then all of a sudden, everybody kind of walks inside the house, and it's just Doc on a lounge chair and me. I go, 'Okay, here's your moment, kid. Lay it out there.' I was, like, 'I'm the best guitar player in the world. I'm going to be the biggest star in the world. I'm the greatest thing in the world, and you're going to manage me one day,' blah blah blah. I didn't even have a band at this point. This is before SKID ROW. 'Yeah, you're going to manage me, and I'm going to be blah-blah-blah this and that' — everything I could throw. Everything a 19-year-old, every line of crap, B.S. I could throw at him. I love Doc. He indulged me for at least 10 minutes. It probably seemed like an hour to him. He sat there and looked at me for, like, 10 minutes. Finally, he just goes, 'Are you done?' I'm, like, 'Yeah.' He goes, 'That's great. Now can you go inside and get me a beer?' I was, like, 'Wow.' Cut to three years later... all of a sudden, you're at your buddy's house, and Doc basically sits down to Rachel [Bolan, SKID ROW bassist] and me and goes, 'Okay, so this is what we're going to do,' and starts mapping out a game plan, and we're kind of looking at each other, Rachel and I, going, 'What's going on right now?' Then finally, after, like, 10 or 15 minutes going, 'Are you managing us now?' He's like, 'Well, yeah. I manage the band now.' We're like, 'Oh my god — how did that happen?' That was really the story — that's what happened. We were at Jon's house in New Jersey, and we were just talking about songs and stuff like that, and Doc goes, 'Okay, so this is what we're going to do.' We're like, 'What?' We had no idea. We were really confused. That's when we said, 'Does that mean that you're managing us?' He's like, 'Yeah. I'm your manager now.' We're like, 'Holy crap. This is not happening. This is crazy.'"

On signing with Atlantic Records:

Snake: "It's funny, because I look back it on it now, and I remember it was like it was yesterday. I remember a lot of those feelings — the excitement and the abject disappointment and despair. Every emotion that you could go through, you go through. From showcasing at SIR Studios in Manhattan for Geffen Records, playing 19 songs, and having the A&R guy go, 'Well, I hear two songs.' We're like, 'What?' Walking away from that going, 'Uhh, wow. Out of 19 songs, the guy — a very well-respected man — only thought we had two good songs.' And then going back and being told that, 'Yeah, Geffen's going to sign you,' and being so disappointed, because we were like, 'We don't want to be there. They don't even think we've got songs. They're just doing that so they can be working with Doc on something,' not because they believed in the band, because they didn't at all. But they had worked with Doc on stuff before, these people, and they wanted to continue working with him. They wanted to be in that business, and I get that — that's fine. But they had no idea what we were about. I remember Doc calling us up, and I was on the phone with Doc down at Rachel's house, and had everybody around the phone, and Doc going, 'Congratulations. You guys just signed a record deal.' We're like, 'Awesome! Awesome! With who?' They were like, 'Geffen,' and we were like, 'Uhh...' It was the absolute antithesis of what we all thought that moment would be like, because Atlantic Records... there were a bunch of different labels, but it came down to Atlantic and Geffen. We thought for sure it was going to be Atlantic. To [Atlantic A&R rep] Jason Flom's credit, he went to every show, and was calling us up and tracking us down. He was really, really persistent, and it was nonstop. I guess Geffen put together this deal that was a just-can't-say-no type of deal. We got off the phone with Doc and we all looked at each other. We were, like, 'This feels so wrong. This feels terrible,' but again, you work your life to get that record deal, and then all of a sudden, it's a letdown. I'm hearing myself say that right now, and it's just so funny, because you'll do anything for a record deal at that point, and then you're offered one, and you're bummed out about it. So, that's just a case of trusting your gut. We sat there for about a half an hour and called Doc back and go, 'Doc, we just talked. This is wrong. This doesn't feel right. They only think we've got two songs. Atlantic has been all over us. We can't do this. This is the wrong move.' He's, like, 'Okay. Let's think about this and let's talk about it.' Sure enough, he got together with [Atlantic president] Ahmet Eretgun in L.A., and Ahmet was like, 'Okay. What's it going to take to get SKID ROW?' There was that political back-and-forth that was going on between Ahmet and [Geffen owner] David Geffen at the time. They were at odds with one another, so Ahmet wanted to do whatever he can to put it to David Geffen, and vice versa. It wasn't even — at least from Geffen's standpoint, and maybe even Ahmet's standpoint — about the band as an artist, more as the band as a token prize. It was Jason and [A&R rep] Dorothy Carvello who were the ones who were all about the band. Credit Jason and Dorothy, because they were the ones that were driving all over the place, that got Ahmet and [Atlantic executive] Doug Morris in a helicopter to fly out to a roller rink in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to see us play. It was Ahmet and Doug and and Dorothy and Jason. Might have been a couple others, I don't know. But credit them, because they were relentless and unwavering in their support and their desire to sign SKID ROW to Atlantic Records. Conversely, Geffen had sent down a local New York guy who, ironically, was a good friend of mine. But that was their representation to come see us at the Birch Hill nightclub in New Jersey, whereas Jason and Dorothy were at Studio One, Park Villa, Birch Hill, Stone Pony, Rareton Manor, the roller rink in Bethlehem — anywhere we played. Wherever we were at, they were there. When Ahmet came in and said, 'Whatever it takes to get the band, we're going to do,' and Doc was able to pull it off, we were ecstatic. That was the point where it felt like you thought it would feel like to get a record deal."

"Skid Row" was released on January 24, 1989 via Atlantic Records. Six years later, the album — which yielded the hit singles "18 And Life", "Piece Of Me", "Youth Gone Wild" and "I Remember You" — was certified quintuple-platinum by the Recording Industry Association Of America (RIAA) for shipments in excess of five million copies in the United States.

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