ROSS VALORY – The VU, The Sy Klopps Blues Band etc. [Reissues]


Release date: May 17, 2006

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To most people, Ross Valory has for the best part of 30 years been the bass player for the Melodic Rock giants, Journey. A man who has played on some of the finest albums and songs in the genre’s history. Not content for one moment to rest on his laurels, Valory has been busy on a variety of projects over the years, which are now available from his website.

First up is the reissue of The VU (pronounced The View) which although originally released in 2000 under the title of Phoenix Rising was conceived back in 1985 and remained in the vaults until its eventual unveiling 15 years later.

Now, this is akin to opening up a time capsule, that when opened, reveals an album, which although was released at the turn of the millennium, has a sound and style cast in the halcyon days of AOR by Valory along with former 707 singer Kevin Chalfant, original Journey sticksman Prairie Prince, and Stef Burns of Alice Cooper and Y&T fame on guitar, along with keyboardist Tim Gorman from The Who.

With a lineup with such a pedigree, you would expect a quality release. Well, The VU don’t disappoint on that front. Boasting a glossy, smooth melodic sound, bordering on the lighter side of the Melodic Rock scale, the band crafted an album by mixing up-tempo rockers and laid back ballads, with openers “Who You Gonna Believe” and “Keys To The City” boasting hooks as big as they come, begging the question: “Why on earth was this not released at the time it was recorded?” Surely this would have been a major seller in 1985. Chalfant, in particular, is given the room to shine and show his impressive range to the limit.

Fortunately, not all of the tracks were left hidden in the vaults, as Cher and Starship both plundered the disc to have hits with “Who You Gonna Believe” and “Keys To The City,” respectively, only now you can finally hear the superior versions as they were originally intended.

Next up is something a little different and much more organic by The Sy Klopps Blues Band. Again, Valory is surrounded by an even more impressive list of top-class musicians in the shape of, take a breath now… Neal Schon (Journey), Gregg Rolie (ex-Journey), Prairie Prince (ex-Journey), Kee Marcello (Europe), Chip Z’Nuff and Donnie Vie (Enuff Z’Nuff). Fronting this fine ensemble of musicians is the mysterious Sy Klopps, who for many years was rumoured to be Steve Miller, but in fact turned out to be Herbie Herbert, the original manager of Journey who put the project together as a trick against booking agents back in the early 90s.

The “trick” soon developed into a full blown hard rocking Blues band, pumping out a potent mix of original material and Blues classics from the pens of veritable legends such as ZZ Top, Booker T, and Jimmy Reed on the debut release Walter Ego, which was unleashed on the world in 1993.

Kicking off with the Steve Miller/Boz Scaggs penned “Going to Mexico,” which sets the tone for the album, and featuring whiskey soaked vocals, sleazy slide guitar, and a spanking, soaring solo from Marcello, all underpinned by a cooler than cool band.

Norton Buffalo contributes some sterling harp work during the following track “Fanny Mae.” Listen to that mutha screaaaaaaammmmmm!!! There’s nothing quite like a Blues harp in full flow, and this is not so much as a flow but a torrent!!!

It’s not all full on in-your-face Blues, though, as Sy Klopps does take things down a notch or two. The smokey “Key To The Highway” is as laid back as you can get. Schon takes his turn at showing what a fine Blues player he is with some dexterous fingerwork throughout, which he takes even further on their cover of “Born Under a Bad Sign.”

“You’re So Fine” is a romp and half through this Blues standard, with Rolie driving the whole piece forward with some great Honky Tonk piano work, providing the perfect platform for Sy Klopps to show what he can do on lead guitar.

Following hot on the heels of the debut comes 1995’s Old Blue Eye Is Back, which again features Valory, Schon, and Chip Z’Nuff providing the music to Sy Klopps’ husky tones.

Opening with the sassy, brass-driven “Living on the Highway,” and calling out such illustrious classics as Howlin Wolfs “Killing Floor” and Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon penned “Hoochie Coochie Man” along the way. This album treads a similar path as the first with more in the brass department from the excellent The Cats, giving the overall sound a bolder brighter tone along the lines of the great B.B King and his band.

What is so enjoyable about these two Sy Klopps releases is that they are the sound of a group of mates having fun playing music that is close to their hearts. That sense of camaraderie really rubs off on the music and their enjoyment spills over into their exuberant performances.

You can bet your bottom dollar that they would go down a storm in a smokey, small Blues club from downtown Chicago, right across to the sweaty halls of Europe and beyond. To bring this round of releases to a close is something totally different than anything Ross Valory has been involved in before in the past. Cinema by VTR is an intriguing audio experience.

Recorded over a period of seven years with original Journey guitarist George Tickner, together with Stevie Roseman on keyboards, this latest project of Valory is an instrumental expedition through Americana, Latin, and Jazz territory.

Opening proceedings with ”Trail of Tears,” a haunting, atmospheric keyboard and a delicate acoustic guitar rhythm, backed by a dreamy guitar melody from Tickner, and the tune whisks the listener away to another continent.

The beautiful melodies so prevalent on this album come to fore on “Carmelita Bonita,” again featuring some wonderful acoustic playing from Tickner, and some fine ever-so-laid back stand-up bass from Valory. Added spice is mixed into the pot by the muted trumpet accompaniment. You can almost see the matching dinner jackets of the band as they play to a sophisticated audience in an exclusive cocktail bar.

“Pasa Amour” takes you right out of the cocktail bar to the sun-drenched beaches of the Caribbean, with this lively Reggae/Ska beat full of blasting brass and exotic rhythms, before returning to the sunny climes of South America with the Spanish guitar driven “Rio Azul.”

The final section of the album is a more laid back Jazz affair. Try “Nightflower” for some fine rasping saxophone from Bobby Strickland, and a cultured display on the fretless bass by Valory … all backed up by his former Journey partner in rhythm, Steve Smith.

This is not the type of album to put on before you hit the town on a Friday night, but more of one to chill out to after a hard day at work, or maybe one to put on with soft lights when you are “entertaining.”

Although this may not be to everyone’s taste, and some may be put off by the distinct lack of “Rock” on offer, those with a broad mind and varied tastes who won’t fear to jump aboard, they can relax and let the songs take them on a musical journey.

The releases reviewed here are varied and highly entertaining, covering much ground musically and showing what a versatile musician Ross Valory is. Whatever your tastes, there is something for everyone. With more releases to follow, including the reissues of the two classic The Storm albums, things are certainly getting busy in the Ross Valory camp.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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