An Interview with Rob DeLuca of Spread Eagle

Images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (Official)

Images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (Official)

From humble east coast origins to the biggest stages in the world, that, in a nutshell, is a brief summarization of the career of veteran bassist, Rob DeLuca. But if we simply boiled it down to those few short turns of phrase, we wouldn’t be giving DeLuca his due.

DeLuca first hit a bustling local Boston rock and metal scene in the late 80s after a chance meeting with guitar virtuoso, Paul DiBartolo, who after bonding over a mutual love of Van Halen, asked the aspiring four-stringer to join his burgeoning act, Bang.

Regional success came quickly for Bang, but acclaim on a grander scale can be hard to come by, and eventually, the members of Bang went their separate ways, with DeLuca, and drummer Tommi Gallo staying behind in Boston, while DiBartlo headed south to NYC in hopes of finding greater success.

Through a combination of shared management and sheer luck, DiBartolo happened upon aspiring frontman and ferocious, attitude-laden singer, Ray West. A musical kinship was readily apparent, and in short order, DiBartolo summoned his old bandmates DeLuca and Gallo, and after several late-night jam sessions, NYC’s favorite sons, street metal legends, Spread Eagle was born.

By 1990, Spread Eagle found themselves on the fast track to superstardom, with a record contract through MCA Records, and a sheer force-driven self-titled debut album poised to define a generation, but a combination of poor management, bad timing, and label indifference left the east coast’s proverbial answer to Guns ‘N Roses left out in the cold.

As the decade rolled on, Spread Eagle’s cult following and strong live shows kept them moving forward long enough to record 1993’s Open to the Public, an album that featured a slight change in direction but is retrospectively thought of as a classic just the same.

Spread Eagle’s first chapter came to an end in 1995, putting an end to an era defined by should have’s, could have’s, and what might have been’s. As for DeLuca, his journey was just beginning. The able bassist’s prowess, nimble fingers, gift for melody-driven songwriting, and voracious rock ‘n’ roll soul kept him moving through murky waters.

As the 2000’s dawned, DeLuca found himself stead gigs with the likes of Sebastian Bach, and legendary hard rock outfit, UFO, and after a few stops and starts, in 2010, Spread Eagle took flight once again, with old friend Ray West, and new members Rik DeLuca on drums, and Ziv Shalev on guitar.

While Spread Eagle may not have taken the world by storm as they might have hoped in the 90s, the band’s rebirth, revitalized lineup, and latest album, Subway to the Stars, shows Spread Eagle to be a band older, wiser, and heavier than ever.

As for DeLuca, he still holds down bass duties for Sebastian Bach, UFO, and most recently, George Lynch, but one thing is clear, Spread Eagle will always be his baby, and while he may not have originally been from NYC, the city holds Rob, and all of Spread Eagle near and dear to its collective heart, and the feeling is clearly mutual.

Spread Eagle, and the mentality of NYC street metal, in general, is about family, friendship, and the collective mentality to bring the vibe and soul of the city stages across the world. NYC adopted Spread Eagle as its own, and it’s a pleasure to watch the members, both new and old, soar once again.

I recently sat down with Rob DeLuca to dig into the history of Spread Eagle, start to finish.

Andrew:
Spread Eagle has origins in a band called Bang, which Paul DiBartolo had put together in Boston, right? Take me through how you came to meet Paul, Tommi, and eventually, join Bang.

Rob:
I moved to Boston to attend Berklee College Of Music, just as Paul had. I meet him in the rock clubs as Bang was becoming popular. I was playing guitar at the time and only planned to temporarily play bass in Bang to have some fun. However, I felt a much closer connection to bass than guitar. I met Tommi later when he replaced our drummer.

Andrew:
What was the sequence of events which led to the end of Bang?

Rob:
We showcased in NYC for practically every major label and they all passed. We simply weren’t good enough in that incarnation. At that point, there was no path to success for Bang. Shortly after that, we had an embarrassing show where the gear was breaking down on stage, which seemed telltale. Paul quit and it was over.

Andrew:
My understanding is Paul headed to NYC and met Ray West, and later, both you and Tommi made the trip to NYC to officially join Spread Eagle. Take me through the formation of Spread Eagle.

Rob:
Yes, that’s true. Paul’s girlfriend moved from Boston to NYC to attend NYU. He followed her down shortly after. Paul joined Ray’s band, Foxhunt, but didn’t enjoy being in a two-guitar band. I originally moved down to be the singer in this new, unnamed band, but I didn’t have the lead vocal magic. [Laughs]. So, we got Ray from Foxhunt, and the rest is infamy!

Images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (Official)

Andrew:
Your introduction to frontman, Ray West, was through Spread Eagle, right? Ray is an incredible talent. What were your first impressions?

Rob:
He was a bit cocky, but that seemed to be the NYC way. It was a dog-eat-dog life here, but his vocal tone was absolutely undeniable.

Andrew:
Spread Eagle formed in late ’89, and by 1990, the band already had its debut record out. How were things able to come together so quickly? What do you recall about the band’s signing to MCA Records?

Rob:
Paul, Tommi, and I had been showcasing for major labels regularly, so we were poised, rehearsed, ready and hungry. We just needed Ray. Spread formed in the Spring of 1989, probably in March. The stories of getting signed in a basement NYC rehearsal room (called Loho), before our first gig, are 100% true.

Andrew:
What do you recall about Spread Eagle’s first gig? Paint a picture of the scene for me. What were the early days for the band like?

Rob:
We were like unleashed wild dogs every time we went out in general, especially when we played. We were usually much more animated than the other bands we played with. I don’t remember the first gig much, but an early one of note was at The Deck House in Asbury Park, NJ. Brian Rademacher from Rockeyez Magazine was there and took some great pictures. 

Images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (Official)

Andrew:
Spread Eagle’s self-titled debut is retrospectively considered a genre breaker. There’s no denying that it’s a monster of a record. How did those songs come together? Take me through the writing, and recording of the debut album.

Rob:
When we got signed, we knew it was time to move into a bigger rehearsal room, so we shared a room in the Music Building on 38th and 8th in Manhattan. Unfortunately, we were sharing it with junkies, and one of my basses was stolen, then later recovered. We did preproduction there, probably five to six days a week. Some days, we did both a rhythm section rehearsal, then a band rehearsal after. We had been on that intense rehearsal schedule for years, since Boston. Paul would write the guitar music, then Ray and/or I would write lyrics and vocal melodies. We then moved about ten blocks uptown to The Record Plant studio to record. We were the last band to ever record there.

Andrew:
Switchblade Serenade” has come to be one of the band’s most beloved songs, and with good reason. In regards to this song specifically, take me through its inception and recording.

Rob:
Paul had written the guitar music previously in Boston. Every day was a struggle, I thought of the song title on East 9th Street, and we built our own City story around it. I still think it’s quite profound. There’s even a band called Switchblade Serenade now!

Andrew:
The music video for “Switchblade” (found on YouTube) features what appears to be a different version of the song. What went into that decision? I asked Paul, and he has no recollection and was surprised to find this out, but if you listen back, it’s clearly different.

Rob:
That is a great video directed by our other manager, Scott Kalvert (RIP)! MCA wanted an extra (first) chorus added to the song. I believe we tried to or wanted to edit the recording tape, but the edit wouldn’t work due to the riffs. So, we recorded a completely new version, with the added chorus at The Record Plant.

Images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (Official)

Andrew:
Spread Eagle is known as the “Ultimate NYC Street Metal Band,” and in that vein, “Broken City,” is something of an anthem. Would you agree? Dig into the origins of that track for me.

Rob:
I agree. Paul wrote the guitar music at the Music Building. He had been there all day working. Tommi and I were scheduled to come in and work with him through the evening. I remember walking in and hearing it. I didn’t 100% understand it right away, but I knew it was powerful and incredible! 

It’s hard to believe this now but The East Village had probably 25% or more housing vacancies, due to burned-out buildings, and crack houses. I thought it should be a “story” song, and describe our surroundings, our “Broken City.”

Andrew:
Spread Eagle hit the road and toured relentlessly for nearly three years before finally releasing 1993’s Open to the Public. By that time, the debut had gained certain cult status, so, what went into the decision to wait so long? Do you regret that at all?

Rob:
We didn’t wait. We were working all that time. Making records can be difficult, and that’s simply how long it took to make Open to the Public. I credit Paul and Charlie Gambetta for never giving up on that album because those were not easy times. Grunge and hard drugs had set in, along with our continued poverty. It was sometimes hard to stay hopeful.

Andrew:
Open To The Public is also classic, but does seem to take on a less sleazy vibe than the debut, and overall, is a bit less edgy, and perhaps is touched a bit by the Alt/Grunge movement that was sweeping the country, but it’s still a great record. What do you recall about the sessions, as well as the slight sonic shift?

Rob:
We tried doing it at a studio we built in Stamford, CT which didn’t work out. Then, we tried at a studio in Jersey City called Quantum Sound. Finally, we set up camp at Planet Sound on 30th St in Manhattan.

The album is incredibly musical and interesting, however, in hindsight, I wish we stayed on our original Street Metal course for longer. I’m as much to blame as anyone else for changing. We were doing the best we could, making the best decisions at the time in the face of adversity. Ironically, heavier music started being accepted in the mainstream (Cowboys From Hell, Slave to the Grind, etc.) just as we got a bit lighter.

Images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (Official)

Andrew:
Original drummer, Tommi Gallo, exited the band in 1992, which led to John Macaluso, and Tommy Price sharing drum duties on Open to the Public. What led to the fracture? The drums do appear to have a different feel to them on the record. Do you feel the drum sound was lacking at all without Tommi?

Rob:
Tommi was a huge part of our gang sound. Of course, if you take anything out of the equation, it will change. Those were tough times. Tommi was out of the band, then, back in again. When he came back, his mood seemed slightly different. Maybe he was a bit less trusting? Anyway, at the end of an East Coast run down to Florida, he decided to quit, and live down there with his girlfriend.

Andrew:
From a songwriting perspective, how had things changed for the band by the time Open to the Public was released? Paul is on the record as saying he was losing interest a bit. Did you feel that at the time at all?

Rob:
Absolutely not! I never lost interest in Spread Eagle. Ray wrote more of the lyrics and melodies on the second album. We had people talking in our ear that the first album didn’t sell enough, and we needed hits and ballads. Again, I accept equal blame for listening to them. We were making the best decisions we could.

Andrew:
Given its talent, and songsmith, Spread Eagle probably should have reached greater heights, but a combination of label indifference from MCA and the Grunge movement seemed to hurt the band. Why do you feel MCA didn’t back the band as they should have? How great of an effect did Grunge
have on the fortunes of Spread Eagle?

Rob:
MCA simply didn’t know what great Rock music was back then. They were a big Rock label in the 1970s, that became a big urban label in the 1980s. The Metal explosion prompted old men who knew nothing about Hard Rock to jump on the bandwagon. We probably all sounded the same to them. [Laughs]. So, priority was decided by album sales only.

Grunge had very little negative effect on Spread Eagle. What did have a detrimental effect was the mindset at the time that anything that wasn’t Grunge couldn’t possibly be good music. I’ve never seen anything more moronic than that mentality!

Image credit: Brian Rademacher Photography/Images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (Official)

Andrew:
Ultimately, Spread Eagle disbanded in 1995. What led to that decision at the time? Was it unanimous, and retrospectively, do you regret it at all?

Rob:
I never quit Spread Eagle, so I have no regrets. Tommi was already gone. Then, later on, Ray quit. We discussed trying to replace him, but he’s irreplaceable. So, Paul quit a short time after. It was only me, one of our managers, Charlie Gambetta, and the touring drummer, Dave Femia, left.

Andrew:
Fast forward to 2006, take me through the initial reformation of the band. At that time, you, and Ray hit the road with John Macaluso on drums and Chris Caffrey on guitar. Where Tommi and Paul asked to rejoin? If so, why did they decline?

Rob:
Yes, I’ve asked Paul to rejoin every time we were looking for a guitarist. Tommi was off the grid. Our lives had changed. That touring band was put together by our tour manager at the time, Ray Freeman Jr. It got us a taste of what was to come.

Andrew:
Why did the revised lineup featuring John Macaluso and Chris Caffrey ultimately not work? Which leads me to how did your cousin, and drummer, Rik DeLuca, and guitarist Ziv Shalev enter the picture?

Rob:
A musical fit is more important than anything when it comes to being in a band. No slight on anyone, but it just never felt like Spread Eagle until Rik and Ziv joined. Rik De Luca is an incredible drummer, and it was time for us to do something together. Rik brought in Ziv from a previous band they were in.

Image credit: Pete Key/Images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (Official)

Andrew:
Spread Eagle’s original lineup was formidable and based on special chemistry. It seems yourself, Rik, Ray, and Ziv have managed to recapture that. Would you agree? Can you further elaborate?

Rob:
It’s very difficult to compare kids to grown men. The original band was literally a street gang. The current band has a lifetime of musical experience, and commitment to rely on. Both have incredible strengths, and dedication that work great for Spread Eagle.

Andrew:
We know that Paul DiBortolo was a special talent on guitar, but Ziv Shalev has really risen to the occasion and matched him. In writing with both Paul and Ziv, how do they compare as players and songwriters?

Rob:
Paul was, and is an incredible force of talent. He worked so hard back in the day, every day, on his gear, tone, and songwriting. It was inspiring.

Ziv also works incredibly hard, but there’s something about him that always makes it seem, and look so damn easy! His command of the fretboard, harmonic creativity, and natural touch blows me away. I’m amazed at what he comes up with! We have a great working relationship as evidenced by Subway To The Stars and are truly friends.

Andrew:
Why did it take Spread Eagle so long to finally hit the studio? On that note, take me through signing with Frontier Records, and the subsequent writing, recording, and reception of Subway to the Stars?

Rob:
I never left the biz but transitioned into being a hired bassist. I always had an original NYC band that I was playing, and writing in but hadn’t gotten one signed to a major label since Spread. So, I lost many of my industry connections. When we put Spread back together in 2006, we just wanted to play and have fun. Again, when Rik and Ziv solidified the lineup, it felt vital again. We then got serious about raising our industry profile, we toured Europe, and I got an email from Frontiers. We wrote for a few months, did pre-production at (the very same) Music Building on 38th and 8th, and recorded on a vintage Neve console at Studio E (Grammylicious) in Brooklyn. Subway to the Stars has gotten the most positive critical reception, and press of all our albums, so far!

Image credit: Pete Key/Images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (Official)

Andrew:
How does the band dynamic today compare to that of your early days? What’s changed? What’s the same?

Rob:
Again, it’s very difficult to compare kids to grown men. We’re at completely different periods of our lives. What’s the same is the desire to have our own recognizable voice within the Hard Rock genre, to push until it succeeds, no matter what, and to take Hard Rock to a place other bands haven’t gone to.

Andrew:
Are you still in touch with Tommi and Paul? Is there a chance we see the original Spread Eagle together again? Even for just one show?

Rob:
Of course, we talk often and are great friends. We went to war together, so I’ll always love them.

The current incarnation of the band has been together for more than a decade. We’ve hung in there, even before things started to look brighter. I’ll never forget that.

Also, I still believe the old-school way of being in a band produces the best results. To be in the same city (or close), and get together in the same room to rehearse, and do pre-production. The original band is spread out (pun intended!) worldwide, so it would be impossible to do old school.

Andrew:
Looking back, how do you view Spread Eagle’s legacy and accomplishments? What’s next for Spread Eagle, Rob?

Rob:
I feel we’re making important music, and will find our own successful place in the Hard Rock world. How will we get there? Well, next up is album number four, which is currently in process!

Lastly, Request Spread Eagle “Switchblade Serenade” on Sirius XM’s Hair Nation, which you can visit at https://www.facebook.com/siriusxmhairnation/ or at https://twitter.com/SXMHairnation, and of course, during Eddie Trunk’s show via his request line at 866-315-2663.

Images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (Official)

Interested in diving into Spread Eagles’ new record, Subway To The Stars? Check out the link below:

Be sure to check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
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