June 25, 2009
Eric Ragno of China Blue talks to All Access Magazine
Twilight of Destiny
By The Atomic Chaser and The Rocker
In the history of rock and roll music there has been a number of keyboard players that have amazed their fans with their mind blowing talent. Rick Wakeman of Yes, Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Jon Lord of Deep Purple and Geoff Downes of Asia come to our minds immediately. Sometimes though the keyboard player, unless it's his own band, gets overlooked at times. They get lost in the shuffle if you will. So what does a keyboard player has to do to get any respect or recognition? Well, he has to form his own band. Geoff Downes did it with Asia and Gregg Guiffria did it with Guiffria. Then you have Darren Wharton who played keyboards in Thin Lizzy forming his own band Dare. We know there are a number of other great keyboard players that have followed suit and all have enjoyed great Success.
The Rocker and I would like to introduce to a keyboard player that is determined to achieve that success. His name, Eric Ragno. Eric Ragno is truly one of the most talent musicians and songwriters in the Present scene. Just in case, here a brief history of Eric Ragno for those who may not be familiar with his work. In the eighties Eric formed his band called China Blue with his friend Tom Gasbarro. Eric wrote the music and Tom was the lyrical engineer. China Blue's debut release, 'Twilight Of Destiny' was born. Now, the songs written at the time were used to explore those avenues of defining moments. Decisions that were made in the making of “Twilight of Destiny”. as Eric told us, “It is where you either won the girl or lost it all in a sea of regret; the pivotal epiphany that the thing you love most just got away. We did things on our own terms and even after Tom moved on, I swore I would pick it up again one day”. While Eric waited for that day to come his career gained momentum with bands like Vox Tempus and moved in different directions until he played some of the old China Blue demos to his friend Michael Riesenbeck.
Michael encouraged Eric to take the best of the songs and add new material to round out a complete album. Michael and Eric co-wrote some great songs together and he pushed Eric to start the job to put together a recording line-up for the album and just go out and do his own thing. Thank you, Michael.
On vocals, Eric called upon none other than the new TNT and former Shy/Siam vocalist Tony Mills, a legendary voice that added a special touch to the recording. As soon as Riesenbeck stepped out of the project, Josh Ramos (of The Storm/Hardline) immediately took the chance to be part of the project. Eric and Josh had already worked on a number of projects together, Ramos, Los Angles, From The Inside and the pair spent several weeks together writing in San Francisco. Zane Petersen (Malicious, Conditioned Response) was a long-time friend of Eric's who helped him in various career circumstances and was the perfect choice with his powerful drumming. The final piece of the puzzle was Doug Odell on bass, he came about at the MelodicRock.com festival in Chicago during 2008 when he and Eric played in front of an amazing crowd with the “Melodic Rock All Stars” band. Additional musicians Ronny Smith on guitar, Pete Newdeck on drums and Fabrizio Grossi on bass appear as special guests, offering their incredible performances on this fabulous debut album. “Twilight of Destiny” was produced by Eric, mixed by JK Northrup and took shape as a true Melodic Rock masterpiece during 2008 under the direction of executive producer and manager Ron Vining. This record is absolute delight for all fans of classic Shy, Journey and The Storm music with a Progressive vibe.
The Rocker and I had a chance to chat with Eric about his band, China Blue and their debut release, 'Twilight Of Destiny'. Here is what Eric shared with us.
All Access Magazine (AAM): Eric, thanks so much for taking time in chatting with us. How are you doing?
Eric Ragno: Wow, I have to say I am impressed. You guys called right on time. You said 3:00 pm and you kept your promise. Doing fine guys, and thanks helping me get the word out on my band China Blue.
AAM: Talk to us about the record.
ER: This China Blue record has truly been a journey for all involved. We hope the music touches you in some way as it helped us explore who we are, when we faced those defining moments in life.
AAM: There is an interesting story behind the making of your record. Can you talk about that? China Blue was put on hold for time there, right?
ER: Yeah, that is true, but it was always something I always wanted to get back to. What was my friend, Tom Gasbarro & I put together the first version of China Blue when our band Crucible broke up. We were fed up with the metal scene in the 80's. You know the imagery and the typical songs about castles, dragons and death! We started writing songs in my basement, songs about life, love and the human condition. Our jams turned into parties, and created a vibe that attracted label attention.
AAM: So, why did you wait until now, 2009 to release the album?
ER: Well Tom left to get married, so I was left with dozens of songs from that period. I moved to Los Angeles to start over, and once Vox Tempus went on hiatus I had more songs left over, and decided it was time to start writing for myself again.
AAM: Moving to L.A. to start over, As a musician, what was that like?
ER: Man, I was ready to come out to Los Angeles man! I am originally from New Jersey. As a musician coming to Los Angeles, you have to be focused and have lots of patience. I remember the first time I visited Los Angeles, especially walking down the Sunset strip. Man, things have truly changed. People passing out flyers, the night life blew me away. There was a show going on at every bar on the strip. I told myself, 'Man, this is where it’s at! Today things the scene on the strip has changed. It’s nothing like before.
AAM: We have to say, it looks like your patience has paid off, you have to be one of the busiest musicians we know.
ER: I just love playing and love making music. My career picked up momentum, and I started writing for people like Josh Ramos, Danny Vaughn & others. Meanwhile I had this completed album at home just waiting to be finished. It is extremely rewarding that people like what I do. It’s nice to have well-known artists approach me about adding my uniqueness to their sound. It feels like I got something right here, so I stick with it. I suppose the low point is that some people might look at my resume and assume I must be restless or difficult to work with. The truth is, I love this music and I like helping others to raise the level of their sound. Some people work a nice office job, or spend their hours watching TV. I spend my time working on rock records – not just AOR but metal, prog, etc. Until I find a full-time band that can keep me busy, I intend to do it all. You can always read about the latest news on my website at www.keyboardplayer.net
AAM: That is amazing man! Back to the record. Talk to us about musicians you put together for this recording.
ER: I began work on the album in 2005 with a Dutch guitarist named Michael Riesenbeck. The demos created a buzz, and we put together a recording line-up. Tony Mills came to us through our friends at Melodic Rock.com. I could tell from his earliest demos that the record would sound incredible with him at the microphone. But it was hard to maintain a stable line-up – all of the players had busy careers outside of the band, and eventually moved on. Even Michael. It was hard at times, but I kept working on it in my spare time. By the time I became friends with Fabrizio Grossi, I had finished most of the groundwork. He showed me what I needed to do to finish this record – I couldn’t have done it without him. So I recruited some talented friends who I enjoyed working with in the past, and invited them to aboard. If you look at the album credits, I’ve done records with almost every one of these guys previously.
AAM: What about working with Josh Ramos and the other guys in the band?
ER: He really is great at what he does. I recorded Josh Ramos at my house last year during the Christmas holiday – he stayed here for a week and we had a lot of nice dinners together. I flew to New Jersey to hear some of Ronny Smith’s ideas for rhythm guitar layers. I flew to Minneapolis for the initial drum recording with Zane Petersen, and I worked with Pete Newdeck in England in his drum studio before he finished the balance of the drums on the record. We had a lot of fun doing this, and I believe it shows.
AAM: What about working with Jeff Northrup?
ER: I was a big fan of JK’s previous work with Paul Shortino, and he played some guitar solos on the Solna record that I worked on this year. But he didn’t play on this one. By the time JK became involved with the album it was completely finished. I brought him in to mix because I loved what he did with my keyboards on Ted Poley’s Smile album. JK has a great melodic ear and he knew exactly what was needed. So I hope to work with him more in the future.
AAM: Did you guys record together in the studio or did you guys do it separately? The old school way of recording has truly evolved, hasn't it?
ER: I know exactly what you mean, and I’ve done several projects like that. There were certainly times on this record when the players sent the parts in to me – that is natural today - but I wanted it to have a more cohesive band sound. So I travelled to each of their homes and discussed the album while having dinner with their families. And when it came time to record, I was also very involved.
AAM: How has the internet help get the word out on China Blue?
ER: I feel that the Internet has helped this a great deal, as it have given many rock fans have a place to meet and learn about new artists. I have been lucky to work with some of these legendary artists on their new records. I try very hard to do my part to keep this music alive! I am a huge AOR fan and I know what I like to hear on an album, so I try to deliver it, especially on the China Blue record.
AAM: Who are some of your musical influences?
ER: I grew up as a big fan of bands like Journey, Foreigner, Asia, etc. So I love players like Jonathan Cain, Geoff Downes, and Kevin Moore from Dream Theatre. But I will listen to anything that has some sort of melody or keyboards in it. Prog rock has opened up a lot of doors for keyboard players, and I’ve done a few prog and metal albums as well. I like Queensryche, early Dream Theater, I love it all! My job is to add texture and shade to whatever I am working on, so I soak up new ideas like a sponge.
AAM: It's obvious listening to the record and the other projects you have recorded with, you really love making music. Would that be a fair statement?
ER: Music is my life and if I’m not making music then I’m miserable. And free time gets me into too much trouble! I don’t like vacations very much, although I do seem to travel a lot. I’ve got a wife and two great sons, and they like that I am home making music.
AAM: You have new project in the works called, Savage Paradise. Can you give us the lowdown on that project?
ER: Savage Paradise is the new studio project put together by guitarist Mario Parga (Mario Parga/Forcefield/Cozy Powell) the project also includes Graham Bonnet: vocals (Rainbow/MSG/Alcatrazz), myself on keyboards, Tim Luce: bass (Alcatrazz) and Kevin Valentine: drums (Kiss/Cinderella/Lou Gramm).We are currently in the studio recording the album which is scheduled for release this Summer.
AAM: Eric what can we say man? Your talent amazes us and the music you created on 'Twilight Of Destiny' blew us away! We can't wait to hear what you come up with next! All we can say to is, BRING IT ON! Thanks again so much Eric!
ER: Thank you guys! On behalf of The Rocker and I along with All Access Magazine, a big THANK YOU to Eric Ragno for sharing his time with us!
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