John Payne & David Kershenbaum: Raiding The Rock Vault

John Payne is best known as a vocalist in the band ASIA. David Kershenbaum is a famous record producer. The two men have created an amazing show called Raiding the Rock Vault that celebrates the history of classic rock and how it has affected our world. As music fans, this is a nostalgic trip down memory lane, helping us to remember rock and roll when it was more than a disposable and downloadable product. Music, then, was magic. And now, with Raiding the Rock Vault that magic comes to life.

Read on to discover how it all came to be and how the team signed up many real life rock stars to be a part of the show.


Jeb: How did this idea first come to be? 

David: John Payne had been working with Sir Harry Cowell on the musical concept for a few years. Paul Leighton heard about it from them and thought it could make a great musical production. He brought me in at that point and John and I worked the script and acted as creative directors.

John: Two years ago Sir Harry Cowell came to me with the idea that Simon Napier-Bell had to set up  a Classic Rock band comprising of members of well know rock groups. This band was to play an ultimate set of the most well know classic rock songs.

Jeb: Tell me about the long did it take you to take this from an idea to having it ready to go?

David: It happened rather fast. About the time the venue was confirmed at the Mayan John and I started laying out the show and then writing the script. I think the whole thing was done in less than 8 weeks.

John: In January of 2012 Sir Harry got back to me and said he had a budget to record thirty three of the coolest rock songs and would I produce it. He had done some groundwork by talking to my good friend and monster drummer Simon Phillips. Simon has a superb studio here in the LA Valley with a vintage Neve desk, plus he had got a team of top players on hold to do the backing tracks. This made it a very exciting project. Lee Sklar, Tim Pierce and Roger Manning are pretty much tops in my book. We did 33 tracks in 11 days. Many first or second take. Much detail was taken on drum and guitar sounds to do a faithful but hi-fi version of the original.

It was then my task to take this back to my studio add the vocalists and mix. I got in Robin McAuley, Andrew Freeman, Bobby Kimball, Alex Ligertwood, Paul Shortino and Joe Lynn Turner. To say it was and is a blast is an understatement.

Sir Harry and I went to see some of the most powerful people in the business to arrange a tour touting it as Rock Vault "The Greatest Set List Ever. We had great interest but to tour it the way we wanted, as a big show, was becoming clearly difficult. There had been 'The Voices of Classic Rock', 'Camp Freddy' etc but somehow we needed to find more. At this point we felt a bit deflated but Sir H and I are tenacious buggers. I went back to the studio and continued with the project and the touring idea just coasted.

About seven months ago, I was at a bar telling a friend about how much fun I had a few years ago playing Phil Lynott's part in the musical production Jeff Wayne's, The War of the Worlds' and wham, it felt like I was hit by a train: a “eureka” moment. That was it. Let's make it a theatrical production but still keep it a rock concert.

For the next two days I didn't sleep and sketched out the skeleton of what was to be, the chronological story of the history of classic rock told through a superb band, a narrator, a DJ, actors, dancers, two stunning sets and incredible  multi media visuals.

I then took this script outline to my good friend Grammy winning musical entrepreneur, David Kershenbaum. Â Without his involvement, ideas drive and detail it would never have reached its full potential. I could not have wished for a more knowledgeable co-writer and co-creative director. We had a wonderful time researching not just music, but social and political landmarks throughout our history. It has been such a great lesson to see how music shaped our world since the ‘50's.

Jeb: Did you guys know each other before this project?  What was your history?

David: John and I have known each other for a few years and worked together in the studio on the record side on numerous projects.

John: I feel like I've known him all my life. This is the start of many projects together. I first got to work with him singing some backing vocals on one of his productions. We, then, have done several projects together where I have sung, engineered or played bass. I am so lucky to be working with such a talented chap.

Jeb: How did you decide on the set list?  That would be a daunting task...

David: Before I got together with John on the project he had already recorded a number of songs for an album. John and I, then, looked at the news events in each of the decades and revised the list. Probably only added a few songs to the original list.

John: Well, as it was chronological, we looked at each year and tried to find the songs that had a substantial impact. However, I believe in future shows we may play different sets or change up a song or two. It's been quite funny with press and public alike everyone has their own preferred set. It's like we have started a big discussion or argument.

Jeb: What songs nearly made the cut but were left out?

David: There were many on the list. Some that I remember were “Roxanne,” “American Girl,” ”Layla,” “Let's Dance” and “In the Air Tonight.”

John: “Back in Black,” “Separate Ways” and “More Than a Feeling.”
We just didn't have the right singer for those songs. We do now......

Jeb: Before going guys keep the tickets to ten bucks.  That is unheard of these days.  How were you able to keep this so affordable?  Are Joe Lynn and Howard working for food? 

David: This is really a question for Sir Harry. The idea, however, was to get people to see the show and be present for the video that was being made and the ticket price was low to make that possible for as many as wanted to see the show.

John: It's called blackmail! Joe Lynn, Howard, plus in fact all the cast had scripts first. On top of this, just look at the stage sets. It cost a pretty penny; quite frightening actually.

Jeb: You are going into dangerous territory in some ways.  Other types of things have been done but not by rock fans and they make it too goofy and commercial.  You know what I mean, like stars on ice and stuff.  Being real rock fans how important was it for you to make this show cool?

David: Always in mind, but with John Payne directing the music and us both collaborating on the script, I believe we stayed true to form.

John: Very important. Having a serious storyline, a great Production designer in Paul Dexter, whose done sets for everyone from Elton John to Ozzy, and a superb cast—I’ve been so lucky and shot for the best and got it. This project took on a life of its own and grew and grew.

Jeb: How did you get Richard Malmos involved?

David: He was someone John had worked with in the past and he is a real winner.

John: Rick has worked with me before doing voice over stuff for ASIA FJP. Plus he has been a ten year long time friend, a consummate and talented chap. His work is faultless.

Jeb: For those who are not sure what to expect give me a synopsis of what this show is.

David: It's the story of classic rock from the mid 60's through the beginning of the nineties. There are visual effects, video and still pictures from each time period as well as actors and dancers who tell the story.

Jeb: What is your favorite part of the show?

David: Paul Dexter did a remarkable job on lighting and visuals so it's hard to isolate. However, the band playing those great songs all at the same time with amazing singers sends chills up the spine.

John: Honestly, all of it. However the narrative and visuals at the beginning set in 3012 still give me goose bumps.

Jeb: Is this a family affair or is there a section on groupies and boob flashes?

David: We would like parents to share with the kids. There are a very few "harder" words but no skin revealed

John: I prefer the latter, but to those who have lived it, it's a walk down nostalgia lane. For those who are too young, it's an education of what was music in a time period that can never be repeated. 

Jeb: Howard Leese is a friend and a hell of a player.  Tell me, how did you reach out to him?

John: Â Robin McAuley did the original reach out as they had worked together. I sent Howard a script and he was in. I've always loved his playing but have even more appreciation of him. He's so accurate, disciplined, detailed and a hell of a nice chap. I hope we will be friends for a long time.

Jeb: Joe Lynn Turner is a buddy even though he is a Giants fan.  Why did you pick JLT?

John: Deep Purple and Rainbow were pretty much my favorite bands growing up. Gillan, Dio, Bonnet and Joe Lynn influenced me so much as a singer. I just love his voice. I knew him, called him and he was in. I know his voice so well I just knew what he would exceed at.

Jeb:  I am a big fan of Robin McAuley as well. 

John: Robin still has it. He is so dedicated and essential to RTRV.

Just listen to his work with MSG. He is also my rock brother. You have to love him.

Jeb: Tell me about the rest of the band and what impresses you about them.

David: Their versatility and ability to really entertain at the show shows they are seasoned pros who really know how to work and please an audience.

John: Jay Shellen has been my drummer in ASIA and ASIA FJP for 8 years. Jay is so detailed and accurate that it's annoying. He’s great to play bass with and is on every night. Michael T Ross is a virtuoso keyboard player. I was very impressed with him at the 2010 NAMM show where he performed for my friends company Arturia, He also has wonderful curly black hair. Tracii Gunns. What a great guy, what a player and a true rock star performer; a wicked sense of humor and the real deal. Andrew Freeman is probably our secret weapon; man he can sing, both live and in the studio, he nails it. Paul Shortino has great tone and attitude where velvet meets gravel. I must not forget Lorraine Lewis, A real sweetheart, great singer and superb performer.

Jeb: Why is documenting these songs so important?

David: Songs are benchmarks on the timeline of our lives. We tried to bring the flavor of each decade with music, visuals and dramatic segments.

John: As much as we hope, music of this depth will never be written again. We try, but we are only copying. Our research on this period of music made it so clear that what was happening in history and the rapid growth of our culture form the ‘50's created a unique unrepeatable moment in time.

Jeb: What is the future of this event?  Will it travel around the USA and Europe?

David: We are looking at a number of options and of course travel is one of them. The reaction has been overwhelming.

John: Â As with so far RTRV will follow the lead presented to it. It is equally at home on tour or parked in a theatre anywhere in the world.

Jeb:  Last one: Each of you share a tale from one of the songs in the show and how it pertains to your life. Pick one song and share a favorite memory of how that song touched your life. 

David: Hard to pick just one because each one floods my memories. It would have to be Bryan Adams "Run to You." I signed him at A&M and remember the first demo of "Run to You" that he played me in my office.

John: I felt so blessed to have the opportunity to sing "All Along the Watchtower." I remember listening to the radio as a kid and hearing Hendrix playing guitar and wanting to do what he did. I can close my eyes and see the radio by my bed and me, playing guitar along with it. I eventually started a three-piece, got a Flying V, a Marshall and a wah-wah. I even wore some hippie flowing shirt called a Kurta.