Where Are They Now? Bassist Phil Soussan of Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Idol, Beggars & Thieves
Phil Soussan is proof that you don’t necessarily have to be a household name to have a stellar music career.
The English bassist has been part of the rock scene since the late ’70s, performing with everyone from Billy Idol and Jimmy Page to Vince Neil and John Waite. But most Noisecreep readers will probably remember Soussan from his work as the bassist in Ozzy Osbourne‘s band during The Ultimate Sin era in the mid-’80s. He is the man behind “Shot in the Dark,” one of the Price of Darkness’ most beloved singles.
Soussan also made a lot of hard rock fans happy with Beggars & Thieves a group he recorded one kickass album with in 1990.
Noisecreep recently caught up with Soussan to talk about his eclectic career as a bassist, songwriter and producer.
Phil, you got your first big break playing with Simon Kirke’s Wildlife project. You featured a member of Bad Company and were signed to Led Zeppelin’s boutique record label. Why didn’t the band end up lasting?
Several different factors: There was a situation with Swan Song and their distributing company, Atlantic Records, where Atlantic were reluctant to promote any recordings without assurance that a Led Zeppelin unreleased recordings record would surface. There was the fact that Simon was not sure if this would be something that would work out for him, with these challenges and, despite doing a great tour in the UK, he decided to move on. We tried to keep the band going for a while after with another drummer but two of the principles in the band wanted to regress it back to a much older line up of the band and I was ousted out in that process.
After Wildlife, you began working with Jimmy Page. I had read that around that period, Jimmy had also been talking with a couple of the guys from Yes about working together. What can you tell us about that period?
I never was aware of him doing anything with Yes. From the get go, and from when Jimmy started playing again after his long hiatus (following the sad passing of John Bonham, RIP), the plan was always to start playing and to put a band together that would feature Paul Rodgers as the singer. We formed a band that we initially called The McGregors around Jimmy, Chris Slade and myself. When Chris went out to tour with David Gilmour we brought in Rat Scabies to fill in. Jimmy loved Rat’s playing; he said that if Bonham had been a punk he would have sounded like Rat! Eventually we began to refer to the band as “The Firm.”
For about a year we rehearsed; we played our favorite songs, everything from Scotty Moore, Johnny Burnette, Yardbirds, Zeppelin of course, Jimmy showed me so much about his tunings, and many new ideas and riffs. In fact one of my riffs that we played around with for a long time became the track “Closer” on the first album of what would eventually become The Firm. At night we would go out on the town around London and Soho, no-one ever recognized Jimmy or believed that it was he as he had always been so reclusive. We loved going to the Whisky in London and to the Funny Farm in Chalk Farm, a crazy musicians only speakeasy run by an eccentric and entertaining Irishman, Frank Coe. I spent many days and nights at both of Jimmy’s houses and spent hours looking through his enormous record and video collection at the house in Windsor. It was a magical time for me. Eventually I got asked to audition for Ozzy and when I was offered the gig I had the dilemma of if whether I wanted to stay with Jimmy or go out with Ozzy. I discussed with Jimmy and he told me that they were still not going out for another year and I decided to go with Ozzy. Jimmy had started to use Tony Franklin on bass and we parted as great friends. In a way I had mixed emotions as I was so fond of Jimmy, but we still speak and it is always great to see him.
You joined Ozzy Obsourne’s band shortly after your time with Page. A lot has been written about him during that time in his life. Was it as crazy as it has been made out to be?
It was not so much crazy as much as a tornado of activity. We went into a routine of rehearsing, recording, press, photo shoots, appearances, and all the while Ozzy kept us completely in stitches! He is hysterically funny, a practical joker and like a big kid. He will do just about anything for a laugh and sometimes that came at our expense! I was in the band with my friend of already three years, Randy Castillo, and we really were having a great time. We worked hard and played hard, we went to clubs, restaurants and just loved the work that we were doing. Eventually when Jake E. Lee left the band we had to find another guitarist. We started holding auditions in L.A. while Ozzy had gone out to promote the Tribute album. After some 400 tapes and countless auditions we found a young Zachary Weilandt, from a recommendation by famed rock ‘n’ roll photographer Mark Weiss. We played with him and he blew Randy and I away. Straight away we knew he was the guy. When Ozzy returned we all held another audition for him and Zakk Wylde was born.
Tell us about “Shot in the Dark.” Is it true that you submitted that song to Ozzy after you had written it years before?
Yes, the original song version and lyrics was what I presented to Ozzy at that time. I have always been a huge Pink Panther fanatic and the title and song subject were written as such. The idea was originally a fast tempo track and Ozzy loved the lyrics. He made some changes to it; added some melody and the part just before the solo. He wanted me to come up with some lyric changes here and there to make it “darker” while keeping the original premise.
The song got a second life in the ’90s when it was included on the Just Say Ozzy live record. You’ve must have made a ton of money off that track alone!
I don’t know about a ton of money [laughs]. Musicians used to do OK and royalties typically were spread out thinly over a long time. It is sad that the whole business has changed now with it being almost impossible to raise money form the sale of music and especially for publishers and writers. When an artist gives away music, while there is a benefit in promo for the artist, there is absolutely no benefit for writers.
After Ozzy, you worked with another crazy Brit in Billy Idol! What sticks out to you most about that period?
Billy and I got to know each other really well in L.A. He was a great friend and we hit it off. Eventually we went on a trip to Tahiti and we came back with the idea that we should do something at some time. During the time that I moved on from Ozzy, Billy had been calling me to offer to work with him and I kept saying “wait …let me see what happens…” I did not want to leave Ozzy but we were having a hard time agreeing on a future publishing deal, and when Sharon told to me that she wanted Bob Daisley to come and write some songs, as he agreed to a better deal, I felt that my time had come.
I don’t think in the long run that I was too impressed with the No Rest for the Wicked album, other than the title, that I had suggested to Ozzy much earlier. I called up Billy and said “..ok, let’s do it”. We started by buying Harleys and the biker band began. We became known around town as the “Rude Dudes.” Not many people had Harleys back then. Eventually, our musician friends also bought bikes and the entourage grew; Mickey Rourke, Billy Duffy Steve Jones, Leif Garrett, Randy Castillo, Bret Michaels, Rikki Rockett and many more. We would always go to hang out with and to see our comedian friend Sam Kinison who Randy and I introduced into the the music community. Eventually we began working on a record, it was going really well, Billy and I were writing, working out and being inspired, however after several months the arrival of some less than desirable hangers-on started to corrupt everything that we were doing. It became a disaster in distractions from what we were supposed to be doing and eventually I had enough and bailed. To this day that was the longest recording project I have ever worked on! Charmed Life came out almost a year later and Billy would get a lot worse before getting better, which I am glad to know he is now. I left to form the band Beggars & Thieves and we released a self-titled album on Atlantic Records.
You’ve also worked with Vince Neil a lot in the past, but there was a lawsuit at some point between you and his camp. Can you give us a quick rundown on what happened?
Many of the songs that I had written for Ozzy, and that I had taken with me, I presented to Vince when he left Motley Crue That day I got a call from him, the same sad day of Sam Kinison’s funeral. Vince, Jack Blades and manager Bruce Bird were on the phone asking me to put a band together for Vince as he and I had been such close friends. I agreed and the first thing that we did was the video for “You’re Invited But Your Friend Can’t Come.” The single shot up the charts! I started working on my songs with Vince, at 9 am every morning, and before we knew it we had about 9 songs for a record. I went with Vince to a meeting at Warner Bros where we nailed down his deal and we started putting the band together: Vik Foxx on drums, Robbie Crane on guitar (he was actually a bass player but was a close friend of ours) myself on bass and Adrian Vandenberg who was to have played guitar.
At the last moment, somehow, Steve Stevens was pulled in to replace Adrian. Steve immediately had a personal issue with not having written the songs and started a lot of friction between everyone. Sadly, Bruce Bird passed away on Halloween night in 1993. At that point all hell and chaos broke loose in the band and I refused to deal with Steve and the producer who he had roped into his drama and I left. After I left, my manager called to show me that Steve had tried to put his name on and remove credit from my own songs; it was stupid – I had all the original demos and titles from back in Ozzy days, I had all the notes written with Vince and demo tapes recorded before Steve was even thought about. There was no way he was going to be able to pull this off, and he didn’t. The whole matter was eventually addressed and legally resolved, but I guess he is still sore about having been caught with his hand in the cookie jar – oh well. Later on I would end up going out with Vince and playing bass on some of his subsequent tours. After Vince I left for France where I spent five years playing and recording with the French “Elvis” – megastar Johnny Hallyday.
It’s obvious to anyone reading this that you’ve had a great career, but what has been the biggest highlight for you?
My friendship and time with Jimmy Page, my first Ozzy show, in Belfast and the first few Ozzy shows in the USA.
Today, you’re the Vice President of the Grammys. What does that job entail?
A lot of work with the Governors, the Board of Trustees and on many committees, we try to come up with great plans for our music community in all aspects of the Grammys; MusicCares for those in need, Advocacy to protect our rights, GrammyU for young music makers, Membership benefits, Archiving and Preservation to protect our heritage and the Awards show, of course!
What else are you up to musically these days?
I recently released my second solo album, No Protection, on Steve Vai‘s Favored Nations label and I have been doing some live shows. I played all the instruments on the record myself, and the album has been getting rave reviews!
I just got back from doing shows with my supergroup Big Noize and we have been featuring Sebastian Bach on vocals; we are trying to plan more shows internationally as we speak.
I am about to leave for my 4th Fantasy Camp in October in Vegas featuring Gene Simmons Vince Neil and Zakk Wylde and I am in the process of putting a much heavier band together with singer Brandon Mitchell.
Outside music I have been editing music for feature films, mixing some of those films and doing a lot of charitable work for the David Lynch Foundation. I donated my own version recording of “Shot in the Dark” to them. The video can be seen on my YouTube channel here and the single can be purchased on iTunes here.
I recently became an “eBay Celebrity” and am in the process of bringing special memorabilia auctions to eBay to benefit different charities – I stay busy!