Interview: David “Rock” Feinstein of The Rods

David “Rock” Feinstein in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

David “Rock” Feinstein made a name for himself in the late 60s and early 70s when he played with his cousin Ronnie James Dio in Elf. He then continued his career with the hard rock band The Rods during the 80s. When The Rods recently came to perform two sets at Spiritual Beast’s Japanese Assault Fest in Tokyo, Roppongi Rocks’ Caroline Misokane sat down with Feinstein to talk about his years in Elf, what led The Rods to stop with music for a while, the band’s first time in Japan and, of course, his cousin Ronnie James Dio.

You first shot to fame as a member of Elf where you played with your cousin Ronnie James Dio. What can you tell us about your years in Elf? “The Elf years were really great because Ronnie asked me to join him. At that time his band was called Ronnie Dio and The Prophets and they were like the best band, although they were local. I was in another one and there were many bands around that area. I was just out of high school and I was the drummer of my band. My best friend was a guitarist, so I knew how to play a few chords. When I went to see Ronnie Dio and The Prophets, I met Ronnie and he said ‘Hey, you know how to play the guitar?’ and I said ‘Yeah, I know about three chords, why?’ He said that their guitar player was leaving the band and asked if I’d be interested in joining them. I hesitated because I was playing drums, but slowly I started being part of it. Ronnie and the other guys were like five years older than me, so I was kind of learning from watching those guys. It was all a learning experience. I could spend hours talking about Elf. We spent a lot of time writing songs for The Prophets. When we wrote our first album, we became The Electric Elves and then Elf. We went for an audition for that album, with Columbia Records, in a rehearsal room in New York City. At the same time, Ian Paice and Roger Glover from Deep Purple were thinking about getting into producing bands and they came to check us and see if they would be interested in producing us. So, we were in this big room with five or six people and then we played our songs and they loved it. We didn’t know that, but in a few days we knew that the label wanted to sign with us and that Roger and Ian wanted to produce us. Then we recorded our first album with them. After that we started touring with Deep Purple because of the association, as in that time they were probably the biggest band in the world. We were playing in arenas with them. It was a great experience, as we started as a bar band, to play in arenas.”

Soon after you left Elf in the mid-70s, the core of the band were invited to join Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. Did you see that as a missed opportunity for you or how did you react to it? “No, actually I left the band before that because I felt I had to do something different, as when I was in the high school I never had any regular job, I was always only a musician. Then it became a career and it got to a point in my life I had to try different things. That’s why I left the band and I thought I’d leave for a while and then come back, but I wanted to try other things. I worked with many other things and during that time Ronnie and the rest of the guys had the opportunity because Ritchie had left Deep Purple to form his own band and he just took the Elf band with him. Their guitarist soon left the band, then the other guys too, but Ronnie stayed with Rainbow until the next step, which was Black Sabbath. I always followed his career. I always followed Ronnie and the band when we weren’t together. I always supported him because Ronnie was such a great talent. He really deserved to reach higher levels. I think if the Elf band had stayed together, we would have reached a greater success, because there was a certain magic about the original line-up of the band. Ronnie was destined to fame because his voice was so amazing. He was so versatile and he could have sang any other style, but he chose heavy metal and he was awesome at what he did.”

David “Rock” Feinstein in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

How would you describe how The Rods’ sound has evolved? Initially it kind of had more of a bluesy 70s hard rock feeling and then became more 80s American metal. “After a while I just felt I had to go back to music, because being a musician is something that stays with you, no matter how much time passes. I wanted to put a band together and play some bars, because I had done some other jobs and I knew I didn’t want to pursue those jobs anymore. But I needed to make some money and I thought if I’d put a band together I could play in some bars and earn some money. That’s how The Rods was formed,“ explains Feinstein how he formed the band together with drummer Carl Canedy. “We had two different bassists until we found Garry Bordonaro, who was the right person for it. Elf was more bluesy, kind of my musical background. I was influenced by people like Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore. Their styles are more of a blues base, and that’s my style. I’m not a technical guitarist, I can’t even play a scale. I don’t know any. When The Rods was formed, we started as a cover band, until Carl started writing songs and we recorded a demo to send to some people to see if someone was interested in signing us. We just started as a bar band, to play and make some money and all of a sudden we were making records and touring all around. So, it kind of happened because we didn’t start thinking about getting this big. The Rods happened to start at the time of the new wave of heavy metal, it was just the beginning of it. Bands like Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax were all friends of us and we played jobs along with Metallica and all those bands back in the days when we started. We kind of led the way for these other bands to carry on. But we got to a point in our career where we had so many bad business dealings with management and record labels, so when we stopped playing it was not for internal problems, as we stayed friends. However, we just got tired of the business and that’s why we stopped for a while. In a general way, we realised that The Rods was the beginning of the new wave of heavy metal. There are so many genres inside of metal, and people call our music classic rock, but in my opinion we are a rock’n’roll band. Our songs are not a commercial thing, it’s more like an AC/DC thing. So, I call us a rock’n’roll band.”

David “Rock” Feinstein in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

The Rods was formed back in 1980. What motivates you to perform with the band in 2017? “I started playing again because, like I said, music is in my blood. I recorded a couple of solo albums released by a German label called SPV. Then I got a call from Carl saying he listened to my stuff and that he liked it a lot and made him want to play together again. We had not seen each other in a long time and he proposed a reunion of the band. Then we played two shows, one in a bar in my hometown and another in Garry’s hometown. Today it’s all because of the internet, that’s how people notice you nowadays, and they come to the shows. We did not have any idea that people still cared about us and then they were there watching us again, bringing their old albums for us to sign. Thus we realised that people still remembered us. It’s been ten years now since then and we have been playing eight to ten shows a year; most of these shows happen when people contact us asking if we could play in their town. We don’t have a booking agency or a management, it’s all directly with us. We try to keep playing only a few shows a year, but sometimes it happens to be more, like in 2011 when we did a European tour supporting Dio Disciples. In these last ten years we have been in places we have never visited before, like Brazil, and now Japan. It’s our first time here and we always wanted to come to Japan. Because of the internet we know now that we have fans all around the world, in places we have never thought our music would reach.”

Your last studio album came out six years ago. Do you have any plans for new albums? “We will record a new album as soon as we come home after this tour. The songs are all written and we hope to release it in the first half of 2018. Personally I think these are the best songs we have written in our career, so it’s going to be a great record.”

Ronnie James Dio reunited with you on the fabulous The Rods’ song “The Code”. What brought that about? “This was a song written by Carl and at the same time it was a song written by someone in the band. It sounded totally different from what we are used to do. Me and Garry are the singers and we write more energetic songs, which are the styles we can sing and also songs that fit into our singing style. So, when we had a song like that we knew we couldn’t do it, we are not capable of singing that type of song. When Carl came with ‘The Code’ we were recording a new album and thought that it was a great song, but not for me or Garry, and it coincided with when I wrote ‘Metal Will Never Die’, which was more The Rods style, but not that much. Also, me and Ronnie were talking about making an Elf reunion album and then he offered himself to sing on a The Rods song. We gave him these two songs, because I knew they needed a really good vocalist, they were very different from what we are used to. We recorded those two songs three or four years before Ronnie passed away. He probably didn’t even know he was sick and it ended that ‘The Code’ featured on a The Rods album and ‘Metal Will Never Die’ made up part of a Dio album.”

You are now playing Japan for the very first time. How does it feel being here and what are your expectations? “It’s been so great being here. We have been here for a couple of days and we have been walking around, checking around, meeting some fans at the hotel and on the streets, people are so nice. Everything we have seen is so clean. The hotel accommodations are the best we have seen in years. We don’t have any expectation of what it’s going to be, no matter where we play. We just do the same thing if we are playing for ten people or ten thousand, it does not matter. We will hit the stage tonight and do our thing. I think people like us here. We’ve met many fans, they greeted us very well. We are loving being in Japan. People are very nice here and we hope that after this weekend we will be able to come back soon.”

Last year at Wacken Open Air, Dio Disciples played with a hologram of Ronnie James Dio and Wendy Dio has already announced a world tour for the hologram show. What do you think about it? Would you be part of it if invited? “For me there’s two different sides of it. I think it’s a great thing because of the technology evolved to make it happen and I want to go and see it live. I know there are a lot of controversy. Even not being too much on the internet to see all the comments, I know there are a lot of people who are against it. But I think no matter what you do, in anything in your life, there will be people against it and people for it. I just hope that when the band will go out on tour, they be well received by the fans. I hope that people understand what it is. Many bands are doing it and not only bands, but people like Michael Jackson performed as a hologram and it was really cool. I know many other bands will do the same in the future. It’s technology, something new. Personally I think it is a cool thing. I’m looking forward to seeing it. I would be part of it and that’s the way I feel about it.”

This year marked the tenth anniversary of the last time Ronnie James Dio sang in Japan (the Black Sabbath/Heaven & Hell tour of 2007). What are your greatest memories of him? “I could talk about it for five or six hours. Haha! I got asked the same question many times. It’s probably because of the beginning, before he was famous, when we started in a band and there are a lot of memories from that time. Also, I have so many memories from his last ten years, where we spent so much time together, with him visiting me in Cortland, where his parents live too. Ronnie was a very funny person. The thing I miss the most about him is that when you were around him, he was making you laugh. He was a naturally funny person. And he lived for his fans. They came first, always. I have seen him very ill, coughing, breathless and going to the stage and singing for two hours, like nothing was wrong. And after that going out to hang out with the fans, take pictures, give them autographs. He could spend hours signing things for the fans. He would never cancel a show, he would never disappoint the fans. He lived for them, it’s a very honourable thing to do. He knew how much he mattered to those people and how much they meant to him. In general, he was a very modest person, for being a superstar. Of course, he lived in a beautiful house, but he was a simple person, just like you and me. He was a very brilliant man, with a great mind, a great vocabulary. That’s why his lyrics are the way they are. He had a huge imagination, so when you hear his lyrics, you can clearly see where he was at the moment he wrote it. I miss many things about him. I miss being around him, but I guess I must stop now because I could spend a lifetime just to tell you about him. Haha!”

David “Rock” Feinstein in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

What’s next for The Rods? “One step at a time. Haha! Like I said, as soon as we get back to the United States we will start recording a new album, which we hopefully will release by the first half of 2018. We want to play more next year. We want to play at bigger festivals in the summer. But we take it easy, we take one day at a time. Also, we really hope to come back to Japan very soon.”