Veteran Session Guitarist TOMMY DENANDER Reflects About Session Work with ACE FREHLEY, Role in ALICE COOPER’s Late Career Revival and the Scope of His Professional Endeavors: “I’m a Very Happy and Humble Servant to My Ultimate Guitar Hero”

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Tommy Denander’s journey in music started like so many before him, dreaming of taking the stage, in front of thousands of screaming fans, while daydreaming to the sweet sounds of KISS. From a young age, Denander knew that his calling was the guitar, and as he dug deeper, absorbing the stylings of Ace Frehley, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Stevens, and Gary Moore, his desire to make the six-string his career grew.

That desire manifested in his debut solo record, under the moniker of Radioactive, which was backed by none other than Toto. Thirty years on, Denander is still making music as Radioactive, fine-tuning his sound, and most importantly, sharing his passion with the world. We recently caught up with the veteran ax-slinger, where, among other things, Tommy and contributor Andrew Daly dug into his origins in music, his early love for KISS, the recording of his debut record with Toto, working with Paul Stanley, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, his newest music, and a whole lot more.

Tommy, I appreciate you taking the time today. How have you been holding up over the last year or so? What have you been up to?

My pleasure! I understood very early in this pandemic that it would be as bad as it became, so I decided to change how I work to stay OK through it, and thankfully, it worked out great! I lowered my normal prices to about half and made a lot of ads about being available for work. It gave me tons of new clients, and I haven’t had a bad month. This, combined with my usual high profile work, like Alice Cooper, and such, has made this crappy pandemic seem like normal times for me at least. Many of my friends haven’t been this lucky.

Before we dive into your professional career, let’s go back a bit. What first got you hooked on music?

My mom played guitar and piano at home, and my uncle always played guitar and sang when he visited. I just absolutely loved the sound of music and playing around with instruments since I was as young as two. When I was five, I started playing on my mom’s big acoustic guitar pretty much every day, as well as playing around on the piano, but when I was seven, I saw a poster of KISS, and at that exact moment, I just knew what I wanted to do with my life.

As a guitarist, who were some of your early influences which you feel affected your style most?

Ace Frehley was my first guitar hero, and KISS, as a band for sure. Being that young, and experiencing that super hero look, show, and sound was just out of this world amazing for millions of us lucky kids at the time. The coolest thing is that I’m working on Ace‘s new album right now with his childhood hero, and my dear friend Peppy Castro, which is the ultimate circle closing in life. After Ace, it was Eddie Van Halen. From 1978 onward, when their first album came out, life would never be the same. [Laughs]. Eddie, Michael Landau, Mark Knopfler, Steve Stevens, and Gary Moore are probably the biggest influences for me.

Can you tell us more about your ongoing work on Ace Frehley’s new record?

I’m a very happy and humble servant to my ultimate guitar hero. Ace, myself and Peppy Castro have been writing a bunch of songs, and Ace is working on them, but he is the boss. If I’m “only” a songwriter on one song in the end, I’ll be super thrilled, and if it becomes more, it’s a great bonus.

Take me through the formation of Radioactive. 

After having been in all kinds of bands since the early 80s, I just got fed up with being the only one who had high goals, and the work ethic needed to make it in music. So, after I quit a band in early 1991, I decided to go solo. I moved to LA in 1987 and quickly became friends with the guys in Toto, and when they played in Sweden during the summer of 1991, I asked them if they would play on my album if I got a record contract, and they all said, “Yes.” By luck, I ran into a friend from Sony Records, who was there, and told him, ”If you sign me Toto will play on the album.” He didn’t really believe me but asked the guys on their flight back, and the band confirmed it, and a few months later, I was doing the first Radioactive album in LA with Jeff Porcaro, Mike Porcaro, Steve Porcaro, and David Paich as my backing band. It was supposed to be a solo album, but after a lot of changes, and work before that first album came out, I was advised to use a band name instead, because it’s easier to sell and market, which was fine with me. I got the name from the opening track on Gene Simmons solo album from 1978.

Let’s talk about recent events. Tell us about Radioactive’s newest album, “Monkey On Our Backs.”

The first single is called ”Monkey On Our Backs” but the album that is coming in March is called “X.X.X,” which stands for thirty since it’s thirty years since I started this project. The single has only been out for a few days, and it already has about 65,000 views on YouTube, and the feedback all over the world has been amazing. It’s also the very first full video that I have done myself. I’ve always loved photography and video making, and there will be a total of five singles with videos from the album. As always, I used several singers on the album, including Jerome Mazza, who sings the single, and two more songs. I also used Robin McAuley, Robbie LaBlanc, Clif Magness, Christian Ingebrigtsen, and Daniel Byrne. I’m also deeply blessed to have co-written two songs with my dear friend, and in so many ways, my mentor, Mutt Lange, who sings some backing vocals on a few songs. Also, dear friends, Andreas Carlsson, and Tommy Henriksen help with backing vocals. The legend, Olle Romö, co-wrote, played drums, and mixed the album. The amazing Jeremy Rubolino did the strings, and it’s absolutely the best album I’ve done so far. I think I’ve finally found my sound — a more Classic Rock style — that mixes late 70s and early 80s Rock, with strong hooks.

What themes are you exploring with your new music? How has your background brought you to this point in your musical journey?

I’m turning fifty-four in March, and I’ve worked full-time in music for almost forty years now, so I finally feel that I know how to do this well, know who I am, know what I wanna say, and what I wanna sound like. I never really wrote lyrics in the past because I’m not a singer, but in the last couple of years, I’ve gotten pretty good at it because, apparently, I have things to say at this point in life. [Laughs]. I wrote almost all lyrics on the album except a couple that Mutt wrote. I have signed with Frontiers Records for my albums, but also to be an in-house producer, and songwriter, so I’m very excited about the coming years, and all the fun things we are planning.

How about the production side of things? Did the band self-produce, or do you bring in outside voices?

Radioactive is one hundred percent my project, where I make all the decisions. It’s never been a band, and never will be, which is why you won’t see it play live. On these five albums I’ve done, there are some fifty to sixty legendary stars, who have guested, so it’s impossible to do it justice live for that reason as well. The coolest situation was, of course, the first recording in 1991, because I was twenty-three years old, and telling the legends in Toto what to play. [Laughs].

Going back a bit now. You played guitar on several tracks for Paul Stanley’s Live To Win album. Walk me through that experience. How did you come to work with Paul?

Of course, one of the coolest albums I’ve ever played on! KISS is the reason I play, and the reason I have a career in music, so when my long-time friend and legendary hitmaker, Andreas Carlsson, got the gig to do Paul’s album, I happened to be in LA to record the Frederiksen-Denander album with Fergie from Toto. I was asked to come and play on the song, ”Wake Up Screaming.” The stunning feeling of hearing Paul’s voice through the big speakers when we started was fantastic. They loved what I did, and Paul asked if I would come back and play on the title track, ”Live To Win,” a few days later. We did that song in Desmond Child’s studio on Sunset Blvd, and it was the first time I had met him. After that, I’ve played on many huge albums for Desmond, and Andreas, including Alice Cooper, Ricky Martin, Tokio Hotel in the Alice In Wonderland movie, David Archuleta, etc.

You played a huge role in co-writing and co-producing Alice Coopers 2017 album, “Paranormal,” and you also played most of the guitars. What do you recall regarding the sessions and the overall making of that record? How did you get the gig?

By far one of the greatest moments of my career! Because I did a great job for Desmond, and Bob Ezrin on the “Welcome 2 My Nightmare” album, I later got an email from Bob asking if I had any songs for a new Alice album. Of all the artists in the world I’ve known since the mid-80s, I always hoped that I would someday end up working with Alice… very strange but true! So, I just jumped on the chance and kept sending them one or even two killer ideas every single day for a week. [Laughs]. Alice said to Bob, ”Damn…we have an album already.” So, they started flying me to Nashville, and the three of us would spend five or six days each time working on the songs, and later, Tommy Henriksen got involved as well. Me and Tommy co-produced it with Bob, who had the final say, of course. We spent a week at Johnny Depp’s place in LA before going to Oceanway Studio in Nashville to record it with Larry Mullen Jr. from U2 on drums. Dennis Dunaway played bass on a couple of songs that he had co-written, Bob played some Hammond organ, and me and Tommy were on guitars. Billy Gibbons played the solo on my co-written song, ”Fallen In Love,” that they still play live every night. The album became Alice’s biggest chart success in thirty-nine years, and the first two singles were my co-writes, so I’m deeply proud of this album.

You’ve continued to work with Alice on his recent effort, “Detroit Stories.” Will we see you teaming up with Bob Ezrin and Alice Cooper again in the future?

Yeah, the family gang got together for more music, even though this album was different because it was a tribute to Detroit, and mostly featured old legends from that era and city. Once again, I’m just so honored to be part of these huge legends work and for the second time, we had a number one album on Billboard! I do play guitars on something pretty cool with Alice that will be official fairly soon, and I know that he has talked more than once about putting together the team from “Paranormal” to do another album. Fingers crossed that it happens.

Tell us about working with Jeff Beck on the track, “Welcome To Bushwackers.”

It was crazy to hear a song that I co-wrote with Alice, Johny Depp, Joe Perry, Tommy Henriksen. And the maestro, Jeff Beck plays brilliant guitar solos on top of my, Johnny and Joe’s guitars. Sadly, I wasn’t in the studio when Jeff recorded, but it’s one of those ”I’m not worthy” moments in life for sure. [Laughs].

You worked with The Hollywood Vampires on their 2019 album, “Rise.” Take me through that experience.

Such a cool album and project. Tommy Henriksen and Johnny Depp were in charge of the album this time, and I often work with Tommy on stuff, so it was logical that we would write for it. The song ”Welcome To Bushwackers” was actually written for “Paranormal,” because Bob Ezrin asked me to come up with a Rockabilly style of a rocker. It didn’t fit there but was perfect for Hollywood Vampires, who also play it live on their tours. I also ended up doing keyboards, strings, and some guitars on the great song ”Mr Spiders” on that album. I love that song. I hope we get to do another album eventually.

What type of supporting role did you play with Deep Purple when working with them on their album “Infinite”

I look at my wall here in the studio and see a bunch of gold records for having worked with Deep Purple. I wish I knew that would happen when I was a kid in the 70s. [Laughs]. Bob Ezrin produced it and called me one day to ask if I could help them record the vocals with Ian Gillan for a song while the band was in my hometown, Stockholm. Talk about a surreal gig. So, we did all vocals for the song, ”On Top Of The World,” together with Roger Glover, and then, Don Airey came over to add some extra keyboards as well. But the craziest part is that Roger says, ”We are missing one guitar chord in this place,” and Roger and Bob said, “You’re a great guitarist, so could you help us fix it?” My mind went blank. [Laughs]. I said to myself, “Did Roger Glover just ask me to play one chord on a Deep Purple album?” So, I did, and even though I didn’t get credit for that little thing, it’s just the coolest ”session” I’ve ever done.

What other passions do you have? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?

Nothing is better, or more important than my beautiful six-year-old daughter, Hollie. Being a dad is what life is all about, so she is what everything is about. And besides that, I’m just blessed with having almost more work than I can manage all the time, despite this world being quite crazy these days.

Are you still using VGS Guitars? If so, tell us more about your signature model. What other equipment are you using these days live vs. in the studio?

I play my red model with Evertune and True Temperment frets pretty much every single day, and even though it’s eleven years old, I still haven’t had to service it once. It’s by far the best guitar I’ve played in my whole life, and it became a big success. Sadly, the company that owns VGS didn’t see the big money in making guitars compared to their other products, so they stopped making them. It was my idea to combine Evertune with True Temperment, and this was the first guitar in the world with both systems, and to be sold on the market. Back then, it was hard to make people and other guitar companies see how brilliant it is, but now, almost all companies are doing it. I have Strats, Teles, Les Paul’s, etc. with both systems as well. and I just got a EVH Frankenstein to honor dear Eddie. plus it’s a really good guitar. I also just bought a Malcolm Young, Gretsch Malcolm that is really cool. My main amps are Kemper and Line6 Helix rack.

Since you’re a KISS fan, what is your favorite KISS album and why?

It’s hard to pick one, since all albums they made in the 70s are amazing, but “Destroyer” is just a classic that I never get tired of. Bob Ezrin pushed the song writing up to a magic level, and he created a sound, and production that enhanced the whole concept of what KISS was about at that time. For me, KISS are larger than life, super heroes, and god’s of Rock and thunder.

Last one. What’s next on your docket, Tommy?

Being the best dad possible is always the priority. After that, I’m just very excited about working with Frontiers on many cool new projects. So be prepared for a lot coming!

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