‘Unfinished business’ – two words that in the long history of rock music have been massively over-used, though there’s no doubting Adrian Vandenberg’s attachment to the group that bears his surname.
The Dutchman formed Vandenberg (the band) at the start of the 1980s, forging a strong reputation with three albums of classy, melodic hard rock. However, after sacking the group’s lead singer due to what he calls “completely unreliable behaviour” Geffen Records A&R man John Kalodner put forward a double-pronged proposal. The guitarist could hire a completely new line-up to reboot the Vandenberg brand or consider joining Whitesnake. The latter was an offer that David Coverdale had already brokered once before, politely declined due to the guitarist’s belief in his own music.
“Vandenberg had hit a ceiling, and it was clear that I would never find a singer of Coverdale’s quality [for my own group] so it was an easy decision,” explains Adrian now.
Membership of Whitesnake brought a priceless introduction to the world stage, but after sustaining a serious wrist injury Vandenberg reluctantly stepped away, helping Coverdale to select Steve Vai as his successor for the album Slip Of The Tongue. Though he continued to slide in and out of the Whitesnake story for several more years and briefly formed the band Manic Eden during the mid-1990s, a devotion to parenthood ensured that little was heard of Adrian until the arrival of Vandenberg’s MoonKings in 2013.
With MoonKings now placed on ice – Adrian doesn’t rule out further live gigs – the return of Vandenberg (the band) was only a matter of time. In this case, ‘unfinished business’ is no mere cliché.
“No, I think that’s justifiable here,” he laughs, “especially for anyone familiar with the early material and also the legal stuff that went on between me and the former band members. Those guys tried to kidnap my name and to prevent me from using it. This is the perfect opportunity to flush away the bad taste that left in my mouth.”
2020, Vandenberg’s reunion album, is their first in 35 years. It features Ronnie Romero, the talented Chilean singer thrust to fame as part of Ritchie Blackmore’s rejuvenated Rainbow. Such a demanding gig was not for the faint-hearted and having seen some live YouTube footage, a whim saw an impressed Vandenberg fire off a congratulatory email.
“I didn’t know Ronnie and we had never spoken before but he replied right away saying that he was a fan of my work,” Vandenburg says. “He told me the reason that he became a singer was the Starkers In Tokyo acoustic album I did with David Coverdale [in 1997].”
Years later, hiring a singer for a new incarnation of Vandenberg, Romero’s name sat right at the top of the list. “When Ronnie told me he had time to become involved I was thrilled because he is a truly amazing singer – he will blow everyone away,” Vandenberg states.
The album was recorded in Los Angeles at the studio of its producer Bob Marlette, with the help of Rudy Sarzo on bass and Brian Tichy on drums. Marlette has worked with acts as diverse as Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie. Since completion of the recordings, a permanent rhythm section of Randy van der Elsenon, formerly of Tank, and Koen Herfst, has been hired.
“Koen was voted the best drummer of the Benelux six times in a row – by his peers,” explains an impressed-sounding Vandenberg. “Randy is only 20 years old but has a great, growling style of bass-playing.”
Stylistically speaking, 2020 is a sleek, powerful album, brimming full of tunes with hummable choruses. Freight Train, for example, races along just like its title.
“That’s one of my favourites, too,” Vandenberg agrees. “If it can be said that some of the others sound like Rainbow, Whitesnake or Led Zeppelin, that one’s more difficult to compare to anybody. It has a real groove.”
Having been selected by Blackmore for an ability to interpret Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet and Joe Lynn Turner, Romero adds a Dio-style twist to songs like Hell And High Water and Ride Like The Wind, counteracted by some very cool Blackmore-flavoured licks.
“That’s a huge compliment,” Vandenberg beams. “Ritchie was among my earliest guitar influences. The way that Ronnie [Romero] sings on this record brings back happy memories of some of my favourite music. I’m not a musician that denies his influences; I wear them proudly on my sleeve.”
Obviously, the Coronavirus pandemic rules concerts out for now, but Vandenberg insists that, when possible, hitting the road is his number one priority.
“I want to tour my ass off with this band,” he concludes. “I hope that it will happen in September or October. Of course the UK will definitely be in our plans.”
2020 is available now via Mascot Records