Interviewed by Mark Balogh
Date: October 2008
Mark Balogh: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me Gary. The debut WHITE SISTER album is considered by some (myself included) to be a classic release in the AOR/melodic rock genre. How would describe the band’s sound for those not familiar with it?
Gary Brandon: I guess the best way to describe it would be to say our sound is a mixture of heavy guitars, huge drums, keyboards/synthesizers and big three-part harmonies.
Mark Balogh: When did the band first form and who was involved in it? Was the original band the four of you that were on the debut album?
Gary Brandon: No, it was three out of the four guys on the debut. Basically we all met out of high school and began playing backyard parties in Burbank, CA. WHITE SISTER itself was formed around 1980. We played our first gig at the Ice House in Pasadena, CA and then moved to bigger gigs in Hollywood, which was our “home” for the next several years. When our original drummer left the group Rich Wright, who rounded out the line-up for the first album, replaced him.
Mark Balogh: What were the early days like back on the Sunset Strip? Any cool stories you can share?
Gary Brandon: Our stories could fill up a book, but it was just an awesome time to be involved in the local rock and roll scene. Hollywood was alive with new bands and plenty of enthusiastic fans to support them all. Our peers at the time were Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Great White, Rough Cutt, etc. We played quite a few shows with all of them. Eventually the Hollywood buzz excited the major labels and all these bands, including ourselves, started to get signed.
Mark Balogh: You and Dennis Churchill shared the lead vocal duties equally on the debut album. Were you originally a singer or keyboard player when you started out playing in bands?
Gary Brandon: I got into music to sing. Keyboards were secondary in my mind. But if I was going to play keys I liked the way Dennis DeYoung and Steve Walsh would play and then jump out front to sing lead. So that’s what I did when I started playing. When WHITE SISTER first began playing gigs in Hollywood I sang almost all of the songs. As time went on Dennis began to sing more, which was fine with me. I was willing to share the spotlight.
Mark Balogh: Back to your early days for a moment. Where you involved in any other bands prior to WHITE SISTER and in what capacity—as a singer or keyboardist?
Gary Brandon: Not really. I jammed with friends here and there but only locked up in garages, never playing out live. Then I met Rick through a high school friend and soon after Dennis came into the fold. It was with them that my first experiences in a proper band took place.
Mark Balogh: Who would you say some of your personal influences were in the early days from both a singing and keyboard-playing standpoint?
Gary Brandon: Other than those already mentioned… from a keyboard standpoint… I have a friend who was constantly trying to get me into progressive rock and jazz-fusion. I used to borrow his Mini Moog synth, so every time I would go over to his house to get it he would sit me down in this chair that faced two massive speaker cabinets, and he would blast Yes, E.L.P., Brand X, the Dixie Dregs and Return to Forever till my ears were ringing!
Remember the old Maxell (cassette) ad (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DP89iMe0BY) with the guy sitting in a chair, listening to music and his hair was being blown back by the sound? It was exactly like that but the speaker cabinets were 4 times as big as the ones in the ad! Needless to say, I learned to really appreciate the phenomenal musicianship these bands offered but could not bring much of that influence into writing sessions with the WHITE SISTER guys. I still love listening to stuff like that though.
Mark Balogh: I think I remember reading a story on the Internet once about how the band hooked up with the producer of the 1st record (Gregg Giuffria). Can you share the story of how you came to work together?
Gary Brandon: Believe it or not we met Gregg in a gas station one night! We asked him right then and there if he would work with us. For some reason he said yes and soon after he was listening to our songs and guiding us with our songwriting. He really helped us take songs that were kind of all over the place and organize them so they were more accessible to a mainstream audience. Not that we were progressive or anything, it’s just that listening back to our early stuff we find now that we had 2 or 3 songs shoved into each song!
Mark Balogh: You left the band after the 1st album and the group continued on for one more record before transforming into the band TATTOO RODEO (Atlantic Records 1991). Can you share what led to your departure from the band after the debut?
Gary Brandon: I left the group to find my way back to being a lead singer. One night I was told by our manager that I was to concentrate on keyboards and step back from virtually all of my lead vocal duties. Keyboards were not (and still aren’t) my main interest at all. The unfortunate part is that the other guys were caught in the middle of an extremely difficult situation. We are all glad those days are over!
(Editor’s note: Since Gary left the band after the debut release, the other original members of the band, Rick & Dennis, were nice enough to take a minute out of rehearsals for Firefest to answer a few questions about the time period after Gary left. Here are those questions and answers.)
Mark Balogh: There was four years between the release of the debut and the 2nd record “Fashion By Passion”. There was also a change in record labels for the band. What were the reasons for those changes?
Dennis Churchill: We had some interest in Europe and the UK. Due to EMI not picking up the second record option, we ended up (going) with FM Revolver.
Mark Balogh: After signing with FM Revolver for that 2nd record, the band did a UK tour with British AOR act FM. How did that tour go and what were your experiences like playing for the European audiences?
Rick Chadock: We had the time of our lives! FM was more than gracious on the tour and great hosts all along the way. The fans were phenomenal and the response to our music was a bit overwhelming!
Mark Balogh: Several years after the release of “Fashion By Passion” the band evolved into TATTOO RODEO and signed with Atlantic Records. Along with the name change, a blusier style was also introduced. What was the reason for the change in direction sound-wise?
Dennis Churchill: We went back into the studio and demoed up a few songs but with Gary missing we realized it just wasn’t the same. We decided to go in a totally different direction and leave WHITE SISTER what it was. The name change was a better fit for the new music style.
Mark Balogh: There were demos for what was to be a 3rd WHITE SISTER album floating around back in the day if I remember correctly. Whatever became of that planned release?
Rick Chadock: That was during the period of transition to TATTOO RODEO and most of those demos were shelved.
Mark Balogh: That band continued on for a few more years, releasing a 2nd album titled “Skin”. What happened with TATTOO RODEO after the release of that record?
Rick Chadock: We had moderate success getting a lot of airplay in the US and did a successful tour with BAD COMPANY and DAMN YANKEES but after a couple years it became another victim of the Seattle grunge movement.
(Editors note: now back to the interview with Gary)
Mark Balogh: Does the band have any live video footage lying around from the early days and if so, would you considered a DVD release of sorts?
Gary Brandon: There is not much at all, and none of it is of the quality that we would agree to release. Kieran’s camera crew at Firefest may end up taping our show in 2 weeks, but all the details are not ironed out yet, so its still up in the air.
Mark Balogh: After you left the band following the debut album, did you continue with any other musical projects?
Gary Brandon: Not at first. Ironically, I desperately needed income since I was no longer on the WHITE SISTER payroll so I took a keyboard gig. My roommate was in A&R at Atlantic Records and he got me a gig doing TV with John Parr (Solid Gold, American Bandstand, etc.). One thing led to another and I found myself on tour with John supporting TINA (TURNER) during her “Private Dancer” tour. It was only after that gig died out that I started my first original project back in L.A. circa 1990. That band was called Radioux City and was a funk rock outfit. It was also at that time that I abandoned playing keyboards completely and sang lead vocals exclusively. It would not be until preparations for this year’s Firefest show began in earnest that I really started to practice up on my keyboard skills again!
Radioux City recorded a few songs, but never released an album. We played around the Southwest US for a while until it fizzled out.
Mark Balogh: A few years back there was talk of a project you put together named FAST MACHINE. Can you tell us a little about that and what became of it?
Gary Brandon: FAST MACHINE is a work in progress. I won’t really cross-promote it directly to WHITE SISTER fans though because the music style, even though still rock, is a bit different than what they‘d naturally expect. We have plans to record some new demos when the Firefest trip is completed. The nice thing about FAST MACHINE is that it affords me the opportunity to play rhythm guitar, which is something I have always wanted to do! Another interesting note is that WHITE SISTER’s original drummer, Gus Moratinos, is playing drums in the band.
Mark Balogh: At the end of the 90’s I seem to recall talk of a new WHITE SISTER record being in the works. Is that something the band is still considering doing at some point?
Gary Brandon: Sure, we are considering it. There are so many factors involved with how that all comes together so we are taking things one-step at a time to see how it all pans out.
Mark Balogh: You’ll be getting back together for the first WHITE SISTER show in many years in a couple shorts weeks when you play the Firefest show in England. How was it that the group got back together to finally get back on stage for this show?
Gary Brandon: We had been entertaining the idea since 2000, but one thing or another just kept it from happening. TATTOO RODEO played a re-union show in January 2006 (which I attended) and we all started talking more seriously about the idea backstage. When Kieran’s offer came in to play Firefest V in late 2007, it all just came together quickly from there.
Mark Balogh: The Firefest show will feature yourself, Dennis & Rick together (some may or may not be aware, but sadly original WHITE SISTER member Richard Wright passed away several years ago). Can you tell us about who else will be playing with the band at Firefest?
Gary Brandon: A couple great friends will join us on-stage… Kyle Frost on keyboards and backing vocals and Jason Montgomery on drums. The 3 of us would like to thank them both for all the time and effort they have put in so far helping us get ready for this show!
Mark Balogh: Is it safe to say the group is back in at least some capacity in 2008 and beyond and what can we expect from the WHITE SISTER camp in the near future?
Gary Brandon: Once we have the Firefest show behind us we will decide what to do next. We do hope to continue to play out and possibly even record again too. It all really depends on interest levels ... so all that remains to be seen.
Mark Balogh: Can you give us an idea of the songs fans can expect to hear in the WHITE SISTER Firefest set list?
Gary Brandon: We’d like to leave some of it as a surprise… but I can say we will concentrate more on the debut album this time. "Don’t Say That You’re Mine", "Straight from the Heart", "Promises" and "Love Don‘t Make it Right" are a sure bet!
Mark Balogh: So how have rehearsals been going in preparation for the show at Firefest?
Gary Brandon: Rehearsals have been great. It’s been a lot of work though since it’s been so long since we have played any of these songs. We have been rehearsing in Kyle’s studio in Burbank. And yes the cops really did come to shut us down once! We got a big kick out of that. We are moving into a larger facility for the final two weeks.
Mark Balogh: A message on your myspace site recently indicated the band “worked up something special for the show in Nottingham”. Can you let fans in on the secret???
Gary Brandon: We will be playing one song pulled from our very early archive … we are really looking forward to sharing that one with the fans. It really rocks!
Mark Balogh: Thanks again for talking with us Gary. Is there anything you’d like to add before we let you go?
Gary Brandon: Just to thank everyone, including yourself, for all the kind words of encouragement and genuine enthusiasm regarding our re-union. We really could not ask for more and are very much looking forward to this years Firefest show!!