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A fuckin ICON logo Another fuckin ICON logo
Coinciding with the release of the Icon 1984 Live Bootleg CD and video, the band's lead guitarist and main songwriter Dan Wexler did an exclusive interview for Phoenix Rising. With the help of the band's executive producer Stephen Wilkinson, I asked Wexler some in-depth questions about the history of Icon. Dan provided us with very extensive answers and clarified quite a few things for the die-hard Icon fans.

But before we plunge into the mysteries of Icon, here's the story behind the 1984 Live Bootleg release..

"This is the only thing in total that had Steve as a singer and had songs that were not released yet- Pre, 85, this was 84 and we had like half the songs on the 2nd record but we hadn't done the 2nd record yet. Such as Danger Calling, which was Dancing With Danger, which got changed, that's a song that got changed midstream. So it had a lot of things that I think people wanted and certainly my friend Steve had given me the gist of the clamouring of people wanting things like the 1984 video and CD. "

But, this record may never have seen the light of day as the master video was once more or less stolen from Dan. Dan explains what happened:

 "In 1989 I lent this video to a friend, or whom I thought to be a friend, a fan who was gonna make a copy and then return it to us. He never returned it to me so a buddy of mine, Steve, ended up chasing around Denver, (he's) the guy who worked on this video. He tracked it down and kind of rounded it up and brought it home so we could at least view it and debate whether or not it was worth doing, because we never had any archive storage of any kind regarding Icon.

So the band waited for an audience recording to be recovered for the release of their official live album rather than dig out a professional quality live tape and press it on CD?

"It had all the necessary ingredients except quality. If it had quality then it would have been killer. I spent the better part of a year trying to make this sound decent within the boundaries of audio off a VHS tape. So we did the very best we could and I hope you like it."

"We had very few live tapes, very few videos, if they were they were really crappy, they didn't look very well or it wasn't a really good performance of the band. Awkward situations, you know opening act, something like that, where it wasn't a show that wasn't worth releasing or there wasn't any audio content on it that was worth listening to. Or it was just a bad video too,
so there was a bunch of different things that made any sort of release with regards to a live thing out of the question. This was the only thing we had so it is what you get. "

The concert was recorded in 1984, and first released now, fifteen years later and eight years after the band split up. Why not when the band was still going strong and touring in the late 80s/early 90s?

"Because if we'll check our notes we'll look back and know that in 89 we replaced Steven and we got another record deal so we were concentrating really on that Icon thing and not this Icon thing.  Now years after the fact, out of all Icon things we now can go back and pick out, just like we did with A More Perfect Union. (We can) release that stuff, put it together
as a package which people wanted, and which was stuff that we had and was able to release for ourselves as well. Just so we can archive it and have something with regards to Jerry in total."

This Albuquerque show was one of the very last the band did with original vocalist Stephen Clifford. There was a rumour, even cited in certain metal magazines, that Clifford left the band during a video shoot. So, did the band ever shoot any video for a song off the NOTC album? Wexler finally puts the long-standing rumour to rest:

"Steve didn't leave when we were doing a video shoot. We never shot a video for NOTC. He left while I was finishing the mastering of the NOTC record. I was in LA with Ron Nevison. When I got home I found out. You know, it was like news to me that he wanted to quit. And that was that, there was no other footage or anything so there is no video either. "

Around the release of RBTE, Dan Wexler was quite critical to Stephen, the way he left the band and the fact that he became a born-again Christian and turned his back on music. Only a few years later, Stephen returned to rock music and recorded a solo album with Christian lyrics. Dan Wexler played and co-produced half of it. What is the full story behind that?

 "I don't know, did I say negative things about him and his beliefs? Everybody is entitled to have their beliefs. I'm sure they were his beliefs before when we were playing music and through them he had this effect on the rest of the people. I know he's alive, I know he did have some serious problems and he's alive. It's better than he is alive than dead in that respect.

I don't have any negativity on beliefs, I have negativity on what happens to other people around him. If he's concerned about the well being of people who have given up, you know over half their life and you know he's done the same for them. There would have been little more thoughtful or there would have been some sort of other transition of some sort or other than just "see you later" after I grew up with the guy since 5th grade, that's when I met him. In 7th or 8th grade we were playing music together, we were playing together a long time. Not that everybody owes you something all the time but consideration would have been a pleasant thought.

As far as doing music goes, I told him when he quit that he would be back in music cos he's good. A great singer, you know he's a talented guy. His dad was a player, his brothers were musicians, and they still are. He had music in his blood, in his family. There is no way he could just walk away from it and close the door on it. It would come back and now he's back in music.

He asked me to help him and I did. That's simple, really music is music to me, I don't care what it is as long as it's not opposed to what I stand for. It can be pro-God, pro-this, pro-whatever. If it's just music and it's not preaching, then that's fine. When music is used as a tool to preach, I think that you lose sight of what music is all about. It's supposed to be a release, not a tool of brainwash."

Guitarist John D. Aquilino said the following about Icon's writing and recording habits when I asked him via email a while ago:
"For each album we released, we wrote in excess of 50 songs and demoed most all of them. There's a shitload of songs written and recorded (some demoed, some finished masters) for the records we did. We had a knack for writing more material than we needed for the albums."

Ken Hammer of Pretty Maids has frequently talked about a pre-production demo of Night of the Crime, from where he got the ideas of using producer Eddie Kramer for and recording a cover of Icon's "Hang Tough". Are some of the unreleased songs on this somewhat famous demo?

"No, the only song that they included was Hang Tough. " Wexler says. "That's where Ken heard it. Those mixes were mixes that Eddie Kramer and I did, they were much rawer sounding, like the 1st record. Kind of much tighter.

We had different visions, ultimately NOTC had the sound that Ron Nevison gave it. It might not have been the sound that we envisioned, but he gave it a sound and it was not like the first record. The roughs that we finished, Eddie and I did, they sounded like the 1st record and we didn't want to do something like the 1st record.

Why do the 1st record when we already did the best 1st record we could have done, so we were looking to get a different sound and that's the difference between the Ron Nevison mixes and the Eddie mixes, the roughs that we did together."

It would be very interesting to hear a radically different interpretation of the same recording. Even without any more unreleased songs, it's high on the priority list for serious Icon fans.

So was it Dan's idea to let (Ozzy, UFO, MSG, Heart) producer Ron Nevison remix the entire album, or the record company's, or someone else's?

"The unique thing about Icon, everyone had different musical tastes and listened to different kinds of music and had different inputs on things that they wanted the record to sound like. They were not conflicting I'd say but they were non-linear I'd say and that was a good thing as it pushed us to do NOTC. "

NOTC also marked the arrival of Christian AOR songsmith Bob Halligan Jr. , the man who wrote hits for Cher, Judas Priest, Kix and Helix and now has his own quite successful Irish-influenced rock band Ceili Rain. His presence influenced the record quite a lot as he is credited on six out of ten songs.Dan feels Halligan only added to the band's vision of the album:

"He was a dark, minor-y kind of writer and that's the kind of band that we were so he fit right with the program. He could take the progressions a step further than we were able to on our own and that's why he worked out so well, cos he was right up our alley so to speak, what we were about and where we wanted to go.

I've said it so many times before and I say it again, we wowed to never repeat the same thing we just did. The 1st Icon record was the best record that that record could sound like. Make another one that was just like it with a bunch of other songs that were kind of like that and written around that premise would have ended up given you just another, part 2of the 1st record and we wanted to do something different. "

"We hooked up with Halligan as he wrote something else for somebody on Capitol, a Helix tune or something. He wrote Rock You, that wasn't as big of an influence as the Priest stuff was, as that was what we really were into. We liked Priest and from Hell Bent for Leather and before that, that was the stuff we listened to a lot, and played a lot of, and liked it. "

On behalf of Michael from Halligan's web site, I asked Dan if Icon did write and record any more tunes with Halligan than those on NOTC. Dan:
"I don't think there are any Halligan songs that didn't make the record. Every song that we wrote together ended up on the record, and then some."

Dan Wexler's music has made a big impact on the melodic rock genre and Pretty Maids is far from the only band to mention Icon as influence. NOTC made Kerrang!'s Top Three albums in 1989, the list of reissues of the first 2 albums is almost endless, etc etc. But what inspired Dan to become a musician and create this music?

"I had no inspirations, they were perspiration's. That's what it was. " jokes Wexler and then becomes more serious: "My inspirations were the same as they are today. I still like Black Sabbath, I still like ZZ Top, I still like Deep Purple, I still like Todd Rundgren, I still like Steely Dan, I still like Mott the Hoople, I still like all that stuff, Judas Priest, Aerosmith, Kiss, Alice Cooper - major one. My first record I think I had was Alice Cooper - Killer."

"Anyway so, yeah I mean those were my influences and I still listen to those records. I like Soundgarden, I like AC/DC, brilliant you know. They were a later influence like, you know, Def Leppard, later influence. But the early influences were like ZZ Top and Van Halen for sure, any guitar player of this century, or this decade, or last two decades, who says Van Halen wasn't an influence, is lying. Because there is just no way, those guitar players just come around once every 50 years, Hendrix, Page being the other ones that changed around the way people thought and certainly Van Halen was gonna be the next guy in line. "

After Icon split up, Dan was in a band called The Tomcats, with former Schoolboyz/King Kobra/Lizzy Borden guitarist David Michael Phillips a k a Dave Henzerling. But, there was also some talk of Dan Wexler joining Dio in 93. Dan confirms this when asked, but he declined by his own choice.

"Yeah but I was in the middle of doing the Alice thing. My head was not even close to being where I needed to be for that. Yeah, he (Ronnie James Dio) called me but I was in the middle of doing that Alice record, we were recording right then. My head wasn't there for that thing. It would have been an interesting experience because Ronnie James Dio is a great singer, I was trying to keep all my brains in my eggs and all my eggs in my head and all that was in Alice at the time."

The Alice record (The Last Temptation) came out excellent, it may not have been Cooper's most commercially successful but musically it came close to the classic 70s records of the original Alice Cooper Band. Dan Wexler co-wrote 4 out of 10 songs. And Dio? As you may remember he settled for former World War III guitarist Tracy G, who never was a big favorite among
Dio fans. Wonder what those albums would have been like with Wexler's guitar and songwriting talent on board..
Finally some questions about bands and artists Dan Wexler has been associated with over the years.


"I just did it to help her out, I never heard the music before. I just knew her, actually the engineer I worked with, Steve Escallier I did that to help him out. Chaton Studios in Scottsdale where we recorded several demos for the 2nd record, and the intro for Out for Blood ended up on the 2nd record. We recorded that at Chaton's, it's a great little studio. So she was working
there with the engineer I was working with since the 80s, I mean 1980. He said "Hey would you guys be interesting in playing on it?".

So I con basically reunited for the Lydian album?

"The band was together when we did the Lydian thing so there was no reuniting. And Clifford.. he wasn't in music then he was in Scottsdale and he was not going to do anything, he wasn't in music then. So your call is the Randy Baker thing."

(Randy Baker is a hard rock artist whose 1994 demo features Wexler, Dixon, Wallach and Stoller. )

Surgical Steel?
" There was a demo I helped them mix, that's when Dan Pool was managing the band, would have been in 1984-985. I just mixed a couple songs for them and that was pretty cool, that was stuff they were working on with Halford, when
Halford was really involved in helping them and recording with them. Then I did another Surgical Steel, a whole album, but that was another Surgical Steel, different members."

Rob Halford?

"I never worked with Halford, his parts were already done. All I did was do some vocals with Jeff I think, and mix some stuff. "

Picture Perfect?
"(I was) Not very much involved, don't know who they are. I got to know the band through Dave Tedder (publicist). I mixed some tracks that were ultimately re-mixed again and again so I don't think I had very much involvement on that at all for the most part except it. It was a good band or seemed to be, I don't think they are together anymore. They were recorded
on multi track A-DAT . I really wish it sells 50,000 or so. Say it'll sell 50,000."

Any other artists you would like to mention?
"Yeah, Dave Pratt, Working With Dave on his Fish Squad Rip tape. I played on Working With Dave (sings). That's one, see? That's a KUPD record, Dave Pratt 's a KUPD thing. He's great, wonderful, and really fun. I don't know, there's probably other discs. I can't give them right now. If I can I'll tell them to Steve and we'll post them on the site. "

(Stephen Wilkinson explains: Dave Pratt's a DJ here in the Valley. He's been on the air for about 18 years, the morning guy, he's very popular and he recorded lots of parody songs. Great guy)

The new album captures a lot of the band's energy and the accompanying video brings us even closer to the Icon live experience, but many fans feel the ultimate Icon experience would be a reunion show. So, will they or won't they? Dan sounds positive at first, then laughs the whole thing off:

"Yeah, Wembley stadium, we'll be reuniting for that show. It'll be, you know, the eve of the millennium. I think Spinal Tap will be opening.. and a puppet show."

That's it, no Icon reunion. Just like it was written in the An even  More Perfect union booklet. But more recorded material may be on its way.. I asked Dan and here's what he had to say, in a dramatic voice:

 "That's for me to know and you to find out" and then continued: "Yes there's more music. It's not all really Icon music though, it's earlier recordings and it's not complete, this would have to be gone through, searched and screwed with etc. So that may or may not happen, we'll see how this thing sells and what it brings us, and if it warrants going farther into the Icon vault, then we will."

Knowing Dan's dedication to the band and the fans, I think there will be another chapter added to the Icon story in the not too distant future.

Maciej Stoinski,