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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hybrid Ice: On Fire And Going Home (Part One)

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview veteran rock band Hybrid Ice. The following is Part One of that question and answer session. This interview first appeared on This post contains some additional video links so you can enjoy just how good this band continues to be 30+ years later.

“The Most Famous Unknown Band in the World.” is how Hybrid Ice once described themselves. This year, that may change in a big way.

While this Pennsylvania-based band has toured with and supported some of the greatest names in rock history, a deal with a major record company has never materialized. But it isn’t for lack of talent or conviction. Coming up this year, Hybrid Ice will be the support group for such classic rock names as Jimi Jamison, best known as the former frontman for the chart-topping band Survivor, Bobby Kimball (Toto), Joe Lynn Turner (Deep Purple) and Derek St. Holmes (Ted Nugent). The first set of shows will feature Jimi Jamison, including a March 17th date in the hometown of Hybrid Ice…Danville, PA.

Recently, three members of Hybrid Ice answered a few questions about their approach to working as a support band, their 30+ year history and what’s in store for the upcoming shows with Jimi Jamison
(Photo by Patty Smith)

Hybrid Ice is: Rick Klinger (drums/vocals), Bob Richardson (keyboards/vocals), Jason Schaffer (bass), Chris Alburger (vocals/guitar) and Rusty Foulke (lead guitar/vocals).

Kat’s Theory (KT): Hybrid Ice recently announced they will be providing musical support for some of classic rocks finest names. Bobby Kimball, Joe Lynn Turner, Derek St. Holmes and first up, a couple of shows with Jimi Jamison. I’m taking a guess that this booking is through Sally Irwin and SJI Entertainment. Did this all come about before the December cruise with Jimi, Bobby, John Cafferty, Chuck Negron and Mickey Thomas…or was it a result of the success and fun of a full week at sea?

Bob Richardson (BR): You are a good guesser. It was almost like an audition. Sally was probably quite nervous to have Jimi play with a band she had never heard before. Sound check was more of a jam session than a rehearsal. Musicians can tell pretty quickly if it is going to be good or bad. Jimi smiled the whole time so I guess we passed the audition.

Rick Klinger (RK): This whole thing actually happened on the cruise as a result of the show with Jimi. He had given us 14 songs to prepare and we had plenty of time to work on them. We never were the kind of band to just throw something together, so we were ready. I think that we have an energy flowing off stage that crowds feed off of. Anyway, Jimi is not only a monster singer, but quite simply just a great guy. We had a blast, he had a blast, and by the time the ship docked back in Baltimore, both Jimi and Sally said "We have to do more of these shows!" The next cruise will be in February of 2013

KT: As a fan of any artist, I want to hear my favorite songs, but as a music lover, I feel my heart race when I hear those deeper tracks or when a singer does a cover. I always feel those are the songs the artist is more excited to sing on a given night, not just what is expected. Any thoughts on that?

BR: You are not only a good guesser but now you are starting to freak me out. This insight is spot on. I was checking my keyboards for the sound check and started playing “Layla” just as Jimi was walking in. He was really excited to play that song at the show. We spent all of sound check going over this instead of the songs we had rehearsed. You never know what is going to happen, so we had best be on our game.

RK: Hybrid Ice played a pool party on the top deck of the ship. That show was 90% covers. It morphed into a giant jam session. Jimi traded verses of “Separate Ways” with Chris. He also did some Steppenwolf along with Alex Ligertwood (Santana), both the bass player and the keyboard player from Starship did some Toto with us. I won't say that they were excited to do those songs, but I'm sure they all had a rippin' good time.

Jason Shaffer (JS): That is very true. Jimi wanted to throw some old Doors tunes and things like that in. For me personally, some of my favorite tracks to play are the deeper album cuts.

KT: The piano solo from “Layla” can stop anyone in their tracks. What’s interesting to me on several levels is Jimi choosing to sing it. I can think of 100 covers he would knock out of the park, but “Layla” would not have been on that list, and not because he couldn’t do it justice. Here’s why: the vocal runs for 2 minutes, then you have the guitar and keyboard solos, which take your breath away. While they do give the singer a little rest period, most times the breather comes in the middle of the song, the singer then comes back to end the song with a big finish. For a frontman to leave the end of the song to the band tells me two things. He has true admiration for the musicianship of the band and is a man of little ego.

BR: With Jimi it is all about the music. I can only imagine that with all of the people he plays with, no one ever thought to do it. I play it all the time as it is a great piano piece. All musicians have egos; some are just more evident than others.

KT: In backing up a group of singers such as those mentioned, of course you need to know all the hits…that’s what most of the fans want to hear, but how far into the artists’ catalogs do you need to rehearse?

BR: It is totally up to the artist. We request a set list and key the artist would like us to play it in. It is not a guarantee that we will play the song in the original recorded key so this is really important. At that time, the ball is in our court and we will learn the song and work out the harmony parts. We have four members who sing, but it is weird to sing the harmonies at practice, without the lead part.

RK: These are very bright guys who are well aware of how to please their audience. They also simply want to have a really good time, singing. That, I'm sure, sometimes includes songs which are a little bit off the beaten track. For example, we learned “Crossroads Moment”, as well as “Layla”, which is one of his (Jamison’s) all time favorites.

JS: We learn what the artists’ current set list is… but with Jimi we realized it’s better to know more than that. He likes throwing in some old goodies!

KT: With the internet making it easy to send song arrangements, I would think actual rehearsal time with the singer is cut down a lot. When doing support for an artist you’ve never worked with before, how long does it take the band itself, to get ready for the first rehearsal with the artist?

BR: There was never a rehearsal with the artist. We received the set list in September, each one learned individual parts on their own and full band rehearsal started in October. It is not that the songs are hard to play, but remembering the arrangement of songs that we were not that familiar with was. Some of the songs had fade outs on the record and we had to come up with endings that sound professional. I have seen it a lot when a band plays a song pretty decent and then botches the intro or the ending. I would estimate each member spent 40 actual hours to get ready.

RK: I met Jimi the day before the show with him on the ship. We did sound check and then played the show. The critical part is making sure everyone is on the same page with the song endings. There are always several endings to choose from. We checked out youtube for the ones we felt he uses most.

J.S: We busted our butts to know these songs inside and out… we wanted to play them better than anyone else… and to make the singer whip around and think “holy crap! This is rocking!” But it is actually a little difficult since we learn these songs without the singers there in the room with us. And, they tend to do their own things after years of doing these songs. So it’s kind of like be prepared for the unexpected.

KT: As a person with no musical training, not having a rehearsal with the artist is astounding to me, and I would think a little unnerving on the first night. Over the years, have there been any oops moments the first time out with an artist?

BR: I have an oops moment every night. I just don't let people know it. Sometimes if I make a mistake I will do it again so everyone will think I meant to do it. This advice was given to me many years ago by one of our talent agents who was also a really good keyboard player. He noticed that when I had made a mistake I would cringe and I was letting everyone know about it. Some of the best advice I ever received. It is best to know your limitations, and just play under that when you are live. Keep practicing and when you feel confident, then throw it in the show. Almost like singing. If you know you can't hit the note, then don't try to sing it and let everyone know you can't hit the note.

KT: Hybrid Ice has been through various lineups over the years and been touring and recording for a very long time. Members come and go, it’s a reality of almost all bands, but most of you guys go way back. Besides a shared musical vision, what’s made it possible to endure all those years on the road?

BR: We have become really good friends. I have only a few other people outside of the band that I can call true friends. You know…someone who will always have your back or do anything for you. It is like a marriage and I have never had to try to get my records back.

RK: One idea is that although we share all things pertaining to music and the party, we keep our noses out of each others personal business. The other possibility is that we all have so much dirt on each other that nobody dares piss anybody off. Then again, it could be that in this rare instance, the whole really is greater that the sum of its parts.

KT: Nicely said.

In Part Two of the interview, Hybrid Ice discusses the band’s long journey, how they reunited, the current line-up and their expectations for the upcoming shows.

Hybrid Ice Interview Part 2

Enjoy a taste or three from Hybrid Ice:

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