With Play Yard Blues out on Monday and Europe hitting Sonisphere this summer we felt it was high time one of the finest guitar heroes of the 80s featured right here.
So get ready to read about the world of blues rock – and that song – from the perspective of honest John.
rushonrock: Last Look At Eden is one of Europe’s bluesiest records to date but did you feel the need to go even further?
John Norum: In many ways Play Yard Blues is very similar to Last Look At Eden. Certainly the bluesier material on Europe’s last record wouldn’t seem out of place on my new album. But I admit that this record is even more influenced by the likes of Hendrix, Mountain and Mahogany Rush. It’s exciting for me that Europe is interested in doing a lot of the bluesier stuff because that’s what I like. But even on Play Yard Blues there are some typically Europe hard rock moments, even some songs in a the style of heavy metal! And my old mate Mic Michaeli features on seven or eight of the songs – there’s not so many snyths but there’s a Hammond organ flavour to a lot of the tracks in the style of Jon Lord.
rushonrock: As a songwriter do you know when something won’t be the right fit for Europe and is that the case with some of the material on the solo album?
JN: Normally I come up with a bunch of riffs and I send everything to Joey [Tempest, Europe singer]. He takes the stuff that he likes and adds the melody and the lyrics and then he starts arranging the music. Whatever the band and Joey like they take and the rest of the stuff finds it way back to me. It might be too heavy or too bluesy or they might just think it’s rubbish! But I often choose to do those songs myself and see where I can take them. It’s five years since the last solo release but we’ve been working so hard I haven’t had time to release anything since Optimus. And my son’s mother passed away during that time so I’m a single parent to Jake. That limits what I can do once I’ve spent time working with Europe.
rushonrock: Is that Jake on the front of the album?
JN: That’s him. He pays guitar already and he got his musical talent from both his mum and his dad. He loves to sing a lot and he has a very loud voice. That definitely comes from his mum! It’s very exciting for me seeing him enjoy music. I haven’t pushed him into it but I suppose it’s just a part of him. His tastes vary from Thin Lizzy to Lady GaGa and that’s great as far as I’m concerned.
rushonrock: Have you always been a fan of the blues of is it something you’ve grown to appreciate with time?
JN: I’ve always been a huge fans of the blues and that’s where it all started for me really. I was very lucky because, from a young age, my mum was with a guy who owned a record company. He loved John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and could see I was interested. I was very ambitious as a kid and I wanted to play Peter Green, Hendrix and Queen as soon as I could. After that I started listening to hard rock – the likes of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple – and now I’ve gone full circle listening to the blues. Perhaps it has something to do with age. Maybe when people get older they gravitate towards the blues…
rushonrock: Who are your blues heroes?
JN: Well Joe Bonamassa has been great. He’s totally brought the blues back into the spotlight and I’ve got all of his records. It just so happens we’re on the same label but, in all seriousness, he’s a very exciting player. He is, without doubt, the best blues rock guitarist to have emerged in the last few years and we need a new generation. He’s just the tip of the iceberg and that’s got to be good news for the blues. There are kids who can relate to Joe and they don’t simply have to leaf through their dad’s old stuff. It’s so exciting that people like Joe are bringing the genre back in a big way. It doesn’t have to be sleepy or boring or old.
rushonrock: Can we expect any live solo dates?
JN: Hopefully I’ll be able to do something after the summer. My commitments with Europe take me through the summer which I’m not complaining about. But I’ll be very busy for the foreseeable future. Europe is my priority and it has to be. It’s my day job and I love it. I really enjoy the festivals and we can’t wait to play Sonisphere with Alice Cooper. We’re playing festivals in Poland, Scandinavia – all over the place. It’s great that Europe are so in demand right now!
rushonrock: It’s 23 years since you released your debut solo album Total Control – was that the best record you could make at the time?
JN: I think so. Looking back the production is pretty awful but everything was very soupy back in the late 80s. The artwork is awful too – the photo they used was supposed to be for some fashion magazine and I had a totally different idea for the album sleeve. Sadly the record company had other ideas. I’m wearing a tie and a suit – that’s not really rock and roll. Some of the stuff on there is quite soft and I made a conscious effort to make a heavier second album. But I suppose the record label wanted me to make another Final Countdown – that’s not what I wanted! It was a big hit and it turned out OK in the end but if I’m honest I switch the radio off whenever I hear it now!
rushonrock: Are you surprised at how successful Europe have become again?
JN: It’s taken five or six years to get the recognition I feel our new work deserves. But when LLAE went gold in Sweden and topped the album charts I think people realized we were back in a big way. The last three albums have been more like the kind of records I wanted the band to make after The Final Countdown but back then nobody wanted to listen. I was told that this is what the trend for rock is right now and this is the way that Bon Jovi sound. There was lots of silly stuff going on around the time I quit the band. A lot of people were getting very big heads and our manager was taking off with lots of money. For me it just wasn’t fun any more. I felt we were turning into a hair metal Osmonds or something. We were on the cover of every teem magazine and the music became an afterthought.