"Are you ready, Steve?!"
The call to arms is among the most memorable to open any rock song in history, with vocalist Brian Connolly urging on his bandmates (Steve, Andy and Mick) over the machine-gun drums of Sweet's 1973 hit, "Ballroom Blitz."
These days, Connolly, guitarist Andy Scott and drummer Mick Tucker aren't around to play with bassist Steve Priest; Connolly died (of liver failure) in 1997, Tucker (of leukemia) in 2002, and Scott can be found touring Europe with a U.K.-based version of Sweet.
Although no official deal is in place, North America is the domain of the Sweet band led by Priest, who lives near Los Angeles and talked to the Now prior to his Thursday, June 14 gig at Langley's Cascades Casino (see www.rockitboy. com for show and ticket info).
The mid-1970s were the sweetest years for the band, which epitomized the glam-rock era with a string of hits that included "Fox on the Run," "Little Willy," "Action" and, of course, "Ballroom Blitz" - a raw sound, loud and ahead of its time.
"We've influenced a lot of people, oh yeah," Priest said in a phone interview. "What's his name in KISS said if it weren't for us, KISS wouldn't have existed. That's a quote (from Gene Simmons), I'm not making it up. And Def Leppard did a great cover of 'Action' in concert for years, for starters, and Motley Crue. All of them were inspired by what Sweet did."
As the decade wore on, Connolly began an alcoholism-fueled downward spiral. By 1979, the band had become a trio, with Priest and Scott sharing lead vocals, but that lasted just two years before Sweet disbanded.
Priest moved to America. In the 1980s, he involved himself (or didn't) in various incarnations of Sweet that either existed briefly or failed miserably, including an aborted reunion with Connolly in 1988. By 1994, Priest was able to string together enough tales of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll to release an autobiography called Are You Ready, Steve?
In conversation, Priest doesn't sound like he pines for those glam-rock days.
"Lord no, I don't have any of those old boots and suits," he said, when asked about it all. "You know, people think that the glam era lasted for about 10 years, but it lasted for only 18 months. It was good fun, all Top of the Pops and trying to be more outrageous than the rest of them.- We didn't do too bad in that regard."
I asked Priest about David Bowie, considered the godfather of glam.
"Bowie wasn't outrageous," Priest replied. "I mean, we were a bunch of morons but he was the classy one. I remember sitting next to him once at Top of the Pops. I was just plastered and putting on eye makeup, and he was like, 'Oh no, no, no, you don't do it like that." And I said to him, 'I do.' It was what we did at the time."
In the winter of 2008, after attending an Eric Clapton concert, Priest decided it was time to assemble a new incarnation of Sweet.
"I own the (band) name in America and Andy owns it in Europe," Priest said, "so if I go there I have to call it Steve Priest's Sweet, and if he comes here he has to call it Andy Scott's Sweet."
Priest's version of Sweet includes Stuart Smith, a fellow Brit, on guitar, Richie Onori on drums, Stevie Stuart on keyboards and Joe Retta at the mic.
Accordingly, the opening lyrics of "Ballroom Blitz" are altered on stage, because Andy and Mick are absent.
"I don't really know how Joe does it, to be honest," Priest said, "but he does say, 'Are you ready, Steves?' - because there's two of us in the band (Priest, who also sings some lead vocals, and keyboardist Stewart). So instead of a doing a fiveway, he does that. It's fine, I don't mind."
Priest's version of Sweet is online at www.thesweetband.com.
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