By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

In a relatively short time, Greg Prato has built up a resume that would make many a writer/music lover jealous.

Prato with Rob Halford.

Currently based in Long Island, NY, Prato is a regular writer for RollingStone.com, <i>Classic Rock </i> magazine and <i>All Music Guide</i>, among other publications. He’s also the author of several books, including Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, No Schlock, Just Rock, Touched by Magic: The Tommy Bolin Story and A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon.

Obviously, Prato is no stranger to writing about the music industry. He recently released two new books: MTV Ruled the World: The History of Early Music Video and The Eric Carr Story.

Prato recently corresponded with Primary Ignition via email to talk about his new books, his personal memories of MTV, and why it’s important that the world remember Eric Carr.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background, as a writer and otherwise?
I’m from Greenlawn, New York, and went to Harborfields High School (the same high school that Mariah Carey went to…yipee! She was a senior when I was a freshman). I’ve always been a major rock n’ roll fan, and eventually became a writer in 1997. Over the years, I’ve written for quite a few sites/mags (All Music Guide, Rolling Stone.com, Classic Rock Magazine, etc), and started writing books in 2008, my first book being A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon.

You’ve got two new books out: MTV Ruled The World: The Early Years of Music Video and The Eric Carr Story. How long did it take to put these books two books together?
I started both books around the same time – January of 2010, and had them both completed and ready for order by December of 2010! Is completing two books and having them ready for order in less than a year some kind of record? Maybe yes, maybe no…I’m uncertain. I’ll let you decide. But anyway, since both books are mostly based in the 1980′s, I thought it would be a good idea to work on both books at the same time, which was the same thing I did a few years back with Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music and A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other (since both stories took place largely in the 1990′s). I was quite happy with how those two books turned out, so I figured, “Why not try this approach again?”

Let’s start with MTV Ruled The World. What inspired you to write this book, and what can readers expect from it?
I was always a huge fan of MTV early on. It totally changed the way I listened to and viewed music. And early on, MTV’s playlist was not as regimented as it would eventually become. The MTV books that have been written thus far by other writers include some info about the channel’s early years, but to the best of my knowledge, none focused solely on it. In MTV Ruled the World, readers can expect the story of how the channel was formed, what was going on behind the scenes during its formative years, and also, what was going on in rock music in general during this time (the US Festivals, Live Aid, the PMRC, fashion, etc.). And on top of it, you’ll read about the stories behind some of the era’s most popular videos, from quite a few different genres (R&B/hip-hop, punk/new wave, heavy metal, rock, pop rock, and oddities). There’s something for everyone in this book!

You interview a lot of interesting folks in this book (Rick Springfield, Daryl Hall, John Oates, “Weird Al” Yanovic). Which interview were you able to have the most fun with? Which was the most interesting?
Some of the most interesting interviews included Jello Biafra from the Dead Kennedys (although the DK’s weren’t played on MTV, Jello had some interesting points to make), as well as the Police’s Stewart Copeland, Devo’s Gerald Casale, Frank Stallone, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, and Daryl Hall and John Oates. All were honest and full of great stories/observations. Also what was cool was speaking to some of the era’s top video directors, including Pete Angelus (who directed such great Van Halen and David Lee Roth videos as “Hot for Teacher” and “California Girls”), Steve Barron (Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing,” a-ha’s “Take on Me,” etc.) and Bob Giraldi (Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” etc.). And lastly, it was great speaking to such original MTV VJ’s as Nina Blackwood and Alan Hunter, as well as the architects of the channel, Bob Pittman and Les Garland.

The cast of Jersey Shore. Photo from canyon-news.com.

What do you personally remember from those early MTV years? How does it compare with the network we see today? Is it better? Worse?
MTV today is a big goof. I never see music videos on it anymore, only horrible reality shows. I very rarely ever watch it. Actually, one of the chapters in MTV Ruled the World is about what everyone that I interviewed thinks of MTV today…and it ain’t pretty. What I remember about MTV early on were the VJ’s personalities, the interesting fashions/ hairstyles, and the wide variety of music they played. Everything from Joan Jett to Men at Work to Van Halen to Michael Jackson to “Weird Al” Yankovic to Madonna. It was almost like a freeform radio station, to a certain degree. They say “variety is the spice of life,” and I couldn’t agree more – especially when it comes to music.

Do you have a favorite music video?
A few videos stick out from the time. All of Men at Work’s from Business as Usual are classic (“Who Can It Be Now,” “Down Under,” “Be Good Johnny”), as well as Van Halen and David Lee Roth (“Hot for Teacher,” “California Girls,” “Goin’ Crazy”), and Michael Jackson’s videos from Thriller (“Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and especially, the title track) certainly raised the bar with music video making. Also what was great were the quirky/odd videos that MTV would play early on, namely Barnes & Barnes’ “Fish Heads,” Utopia’s “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” Devo’s “Peek-A-Boo,” and “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Eat It.” And it just so happens that all of the stories behind all of these aforementioned videos are included in MTV Ruled the World!

Shifting to The Eric Carr Story, are you a KISS fan, Greg?
You can definitely say I’m a KISS fan. That said, I don’t like everything they’ve ever put out, but there are a select few bands in rock history that I can say I loved everything they did from beginning to end. I first discovered KISS as a young man (in kindergarten!), and was lucky to see them on the Dynasty tour in ’79, when my father was kind enough to take his seven-year-old son to see them at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island (with Judas Priest opening). That certainly set me on my way.

This book marks the first time that Carr (one of the drummers for KISS) has been profiled in a book. Why do you think that is?
There have certainly been enough KISS-related books written over the years, so you’d think that there would have been one by now, right? Perhaps because Eric wasn’t an original band member, and because Gene and Paul got all the spotlight when he was a member throughout the 1980′s, his profile was a bit lower. But fans knew the truth, that his drumming and drum sound were a MAJOR reason for the album Creatures of the Night turning out as great as it did. That album can be pinpointed as putting the band back on track musically, after a few years of floundering around.

Photo from drumchat.com.

Based on your observations, what is it about Carr’s story that makes it unique? Obviously being in KISS makes you unique by default. But what is it about Carr that makes his story a good one?
I know what made me always relate to Eric was the fact that he was an unknown drummer who was given the opportunity of a lifetime – to join one of hard rock/heavy metal’s all time great bands. So I think that type of “cinderella story” shows others that anything is possible in life. Also what makes The Eric Carr Story unique is that it focuses a lot on KISS’ non-make-up years, which is something that the majority of the KISS books written since the mid-late 1990′s have not done. So this book doubles as Eric’s story, as well as a focus on this aforementioned KISS era.

The book also doubles as a look at the band in the 1980s. What can fans expect to see from that aspect of the book?

You’ll be able to find out (for the first time, to the best of my knowledge) just what the heck the storyline to KISS’ bombastic concept album, (Music From) The Elder was all about, via an interview I conducted with the album’s producer, Bob Ezrin. You’ll also get the inside stories behind the sessions for all the KISS albums Eric played on, as well as the album’s supporting tours. Also, the book includes quite a few rarely seen or never before published photos of Eric and KISS, that I’m sure fans will get a kick out of.

What’s on the horizon for Greg Prato? Any new projects fans can look forward to?

Yes, I always like to stay busy with projects. The summer of 2011 will see the release of a book about the 1980′s era New York Jets football team, which will come out via ECW Press (the same publisher that put out one of my earlier books,Grunge is Dead). I interviewed many of the top Jets players from that era (Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau, Wesley Walker, etc.), as well as members from teams the Jets played against. You can check ECW’s website, for updates regarding its release date. Also, I am working on the autobiography of one of rock’s all-time great drummers, Carmine Appice. This book will most certainly knock your socks off, as Carmine is holding nothing back with his memories about recording/touring with the likes of Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, etc., and all the friendships he made along the way (Led Zeppelin, KISS, etc.). Check Carmine’s official website for info about its progress and release date. And lastly, you can always check out many of previous books via this link - http://stores.lulu.com/gregprato – which includes ordering info and sample chapters you can read before purchasing.

Book covers courtesy of Greg Prato.
Front page image from burnwoodtonite.blogspot.com.

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