Interview with Ross “The Boss” Friedman (Ross The Boss, The Dictators, Manowar, Death Dealer)

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Guitarist Ross the Boss’ stature in the history of hard rock and heavy metal has been well-solidified for decades by this point – with a resume including some of the most influential and hardest-hitting bands of all-time, particularly both The Dictators and Manowar. And he continues to rock – as a member of the group DeathDealer, and also, as the leader of his own solo outfit, which has issued such two previous releases as Hailstorm and New Metal Leader, he is joined by Marc Lopes on vocals and keys, Mike LePond on bass, and Lance Barnewold on drums in a brand new album entitled By Blood Sworn which will be released on April 20th via AFM Records. Author and contributor Eric Woody recently had the opportunity to talk to Ross about several topics of his professional career. 

So, how’s it going Ross?

I’m good, thank you for doing this!

First and foremost, I wanted go ahead and say thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak with us today, I really do appreciate it.

No problem it’s a pleasure!

Alright well let’s cut to the chase! You’re going to be opening the 19th edition of ProgPower USA this year. Has the festival always been on your radar?

Actually yes! It’s a hot gig, we’ve always wanted to play it, the promoter finally hooked us up there and we’re ready to go! Can’t wait for ProgPower in Atlanta!

By the time you’re playing ProgPower, you’ll be in the middle of promoting your new album “By Blood Sworn,” but you’ll be playing an all Manowar setlist. Do you think it would be challenging for you and your band to rehearse songs from two different bands?

Well, we’ve done this before, actually last year we played an all Manowar set. Technically our new record comes out April 20th and it’s the beginning of April now. But we’ll have plenty of time to rehearse during sound check and stuff like that. We’ll be ready to go! With the new record, it’s just a matter of arranging it, but I like to change things up and not play the same stuff over and over.

Alright and with your new album your band underwent a massive lineup change. Can you elaborate how the new line up came to be?

Sure! Well things got started at a festival two or three years ago and it was really successful! Super successful! And we were thinking of going on tour. But then I go to the band and they say “Well, we don’t wanna tour. We don’t wanna tour, we don’t wanna go away. We’ll do some weekend shows so we can go home,” blah blah blah… So I said sorry guys, I’m a touring guy and if you don’t wanna tour, there’s a problem!” So basically, we parted ways and I got a new band. And I got Mike LePond on bass, he’s one of the greatest bass players in the world right now. And I got Marc, who was singing in a band that was opening for us and I just noticed how great he was. And I got Lance on drums from Death Dealer and Into Eternity. Basically, I have an incredible band of amazing musicians and an incredible singer and that’s what’s on the album. So, we’re happy!

Speaking of Mike LePond, he also helped you during compositional sessions for your new album. How was the experience of working with him at that level?

Mike was incredible! I said, “Mike we got these riffs, let’s start doing some writing sessions.” And he came every night, we put our heads together and we started putting together demos, really high-quality demos of the new tunes. Once we got around ten or twelve of them, we sent them to Marc and that’s how it started. And there ya go! We started building them up from there. And Mike was amazing. He also wrote two songs on the record, “Devil’s Day” and “Fistful of Hate,” the music, and Marc wrote the lyrics. I’m very proud of them! I proud of the band.

You said Marc wrote the lyrics for those songs. One of the things I noticed is that Marc has a very impressive vocal range, one that seems to be very well utilized on the new record. Does he write the lyrics for the rest of the songs? Or were they written by you and Mike?

No, Marc wrote his own lyrics. He really did an amazing job. I’m just really pleased with result of his work. He is a terrific addition to this band, he fits like a glove. I mean if you listen to the record, you can hear it. Ya know, it’s all there.

Now if we compare the recording and creative process of your new album to its predecessor, “Hailstorm…” What would you say went down the same and what happened radically different?

Well this record was done a bit different, more like the first one. We played it live in the studio, we played live tracks. Hailstorm was done back when the band was together in the same studio. By Blood Sworn is a more organic record. It was conceived totally old-school style, created like in the old days.

Your other well-known band, The Dictators, is a punk rock band. There’s one particular song on the “By Blood Sworn” album titled “Lilith” that has a punk feel to it. Is there some sort of an inadvertently connection between both bands expressed in that tune?

I mean I never thought that. I would say “Circle of Damnation” has more of a punk feel to it in my opinion. But there are definitely influences throughout the record, I wear them on my sleeve. You have your Manowar gallops and you have definitely a few Dictator riffs in there, sure no doubt about it.

You are mostly known as a heavy metal player all due to your tenure with Manowar, however your tenure with The Dictators goes back in time way before Manowar even existed. How do you manage to go back and forth between both worlds and maintain a level of compositional originality when both genres have been around for so long?

That’s a good question. I mean I played professional since 1975, I had other bands too. One was a blues rock band. One thing that I can say, is I play hard! I play equally hard and melodic with all the bands. And I might change the modes up. I might change my modes in my soloing and my songwriting but that’s just the way it is. I mean I have absolutely zero trouble switching genres. Zero. And people can’t believe that I have switched genres. I mean “This guy from the Dictators. That’s the same guy that invented Manowar?” They can’t believe that! Yes it’s true, it’s incredible but it’s true. I can’t put my finger on it. Joey and I started the band because we wanted to make the heaviest band possible. Like Cream, or Black Sabbath or Grand Funk Railroad, The Jimmy Hendrix Experience, that kind of a thing. And Manowar was what we got. But I do switch genres up all the time. I find it very easy.

I noticed you brought up the blues genre and I was wondering… Have you ever considered to put out an album with a radically opposed version of Ross The Boss? Like a blues album for example?

Since you ask, I am a blues guitar player. I started as a blues guitar player and that’s the guiding line between all my playing. BB King is my favorite guitar player. And if you noticed, most of my solos are not very quick. My notes are a lot more selective than most other metal guitar players and especially shredders, who I have nothing in common with. I play more like Angus Young. We have pretty much the same influences in music. A blues album is definitely down the road for me. I am certainly going to record one.There’s no doubt about it.

Since a blues album is in your future, do you have any ideas as to who you would want your line up to be on that album? Do you think you will write everything yourself or maybe will have the singer write the lyrics?

No, not at the moment. It’ll hit me though. I will know it when I see it. Obviously, I’ll need a great singer, of course. I want to play power blues, super power blues. I really want to do it, but I don’t know when I’ll do it just yet. We’ll probably do a couple of demos and some covers and some standards of what I want to do. I would love to play some BB King and stuff I listened to while growing up. But if I’m going to put my songs next to BB King‘s songs, they’re must be special. Because BB King was one of the greatest men ever. You probably know what I’m saying. I’m will have to come up with something really special. And I will!

Are you writing songs for your blues album as we speak? Or is it something you’re going to do whenever the time comes to it?

I have a lot of ideas. Blues forms that I’ve always has in my head. I don’t have any specific things written right now. But if I had to do them I could write them quick. I’ve been playing this music all my life so it comes easy to me.

The opener track and title track of the album could probably be for many ears the best Manowar song they have never written, and it’s not surprising as you were an integral part in the evolution of those Manowar’s anthems, especially in the first two albums. Do you believe you have a knack for penning bombastic and hook-heavy songs like this one? Does it come to you naturally?

By Blood Sworn? Yeah. That’s what I’m looking for all the time, the hooks and great changes but not to where it’s too much. My songs are three to four chords at best. And Marc comes up with these great lyrics and that’s what we’re getting. I mean I don’t know I guess I just have a knack of doing it. Which it pleases me, it pleases my ear, the boys know what was right. We all had a hand in that first song. We’re quite proud of it and the video, we just finished it and it’s amazing so hopefully everyone likes it!

You are a man of many hats and at this point of your career you have been involved with many different projects. What’s the status of your other band DeathDealer at this point?

Ok well, the third record is in the process of being written. Marshall down in Australia has another band and his band will be opening all our shows down there. The whole tour we have four shows in Australia. So I’ll be down there working on the record. We’ll have a day or two off and I’ll just stay in his house and the third DeathDealer record will sooner or later come out. But Ross The Boss has all the room now because it has a life of its own and were gonna push it as hard as we can. But DeathDealer will come at a later point.

With the coming of the digital era and the unrelenting thriving of the stream services like Spotify and Bandcamp the physical album sales have suffered a notable decline. Up to what point this is something that worries you as a musician, and what’s your personal view about the status of the music business nowadays?

Well I think it’s a darn tragedy with people stealing music. I mean how would you feel if someone had stolen your way of living? It’s completely taken out a whole way of paying an income stream from us. And at the same time, Spotify doesn’t pay us. It’s pure unadulterated robbery as far as I’m concerned. The internet has definitely helped us in a way. I can work with Marshall while he’s in Australia and I’m in Queens. I can work with him every single day. That part of the whole thing is good. But it just persuades younger bands from starting up and I can’t blame them. Because who would want to do it? There’s no money in it. There’s no future in it. I mean you’d have to be the luckiest guy in the world.

Out of the tons of records you’ve been part of during the last decades, which one would you say characterizes you as a person and as a musician to a higher degree?

Well it would have to be something like Battle Hymns. It started the band that opened-up a genre. That was one of the most satisfying records of my entire career. That one came out and it changed everything I think, especially in American metal. I mean when it first came people saw it as a joke. But as time goes by, we know it’s not a joke and it’s hanging in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.

Last year you were inducted into the Hall of Heavy Metal History for your contributions to the speed metal genre while in Manowar. Did that recognition filled you with a sense of pride? Does it feel like a life-achievement, one you worked towards?

I still can’t believe it. It’s amazing. I mean, to be in there with Lemmy, and Randy Rhoads. It was a great honor. I still can’t get over it.

Do you keep in touch with your former Manowar band-mates?

I don’t really. I haven’t spoken with Eric or Joey in a while, probably since 2005.

Thirteen years ago, in 2005 to be precise, you and other past members joined Manowar on stage at a festival appearance, event of which your fans speak about to this day. If you were asked to do it again, would you consider it?

Of course why not? But they’re gonna have to let me play a little longer. It just wasn’t enough, but it was cool. Really cool.

Well the clock is running against us and we are almost out of time. I just wanna say again thank you for talking with us.

This has been a great interview! You got a lot on tape and I hope it really comes out well and I want to thank you for your support and thank you for all the insightful questions. And hopefully we’ll see ya down the road. Maybe at ProgPower.

Yeah I’ll be attending ProgPower and I cannot wait for y’all’s show.

Well thank you very much. We’ll have a good time and I hope to see you there!

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