John Macaluso

Drummer extraordinaire John Macaluso is perhaps the hardest working drummer in Rock. John has done session work on over 200 albums and is continually touring with one band or another. This year, John took his musical career in a different direction by coordinating and releasing his first “solo” album entitled The Radio Waves Goodbye. John took time from his latest touring gigs with Doro and Chris Caffery to talk to Metal Express Radio about his new solo effort and his amazing career in general!

Metal Express Radio: Hello John! Thanks for taking the time to speak with Metal Express Radio and your fans.

John Macaluso: I’m on the road with Chris Caffery right now and Doro Pesch and it’s hard to get anything done from a tour bus. Thank you for taking the time to interview me!

MER: Who are or were some of your musical influences?

John: My first musical influence was Keith Moon of The Who. I was on my way to buy a guitar and at the top of my block we a saw a drum set for sale for $20 and we bought that instead. When I got it to my basement, all I did was play it to The Who’s Quadrophenia album! Moon’s style blended technique, madness, and showmanship all in one. I don’t think there has been a drummer that did it like him since. My modern influences: my favorite drummer now, Terry Bozzio. And, as far as music, I still listen to my Pink Floyd albums daily.

MER: Looking at the cover of your new CD, your name seems to be in a smaller font in comparison to “Union Radio” as to emphasize the importance of “Union Radio.” Why’s that?

John: The reason my name is smaller than the Union Radio logo is that Union Radio is a band. When I originally started writing the songs for the record, I had each member in mind to do his part on each song. In other words, James LaBrie I knew was going to sing on “Soul In Your Mind.” Vitalij Kuprij, I knew was going to play on “T-34.” I put all these friends / musicians together because I knew they would all work great together. I am also making plans now to take Union Radio on tour!

MER: What’s the inspiration behind the project’s name, “Union Radio,” and the album’s title, The Radio Waves Goodbye? Why the strong references to “radio” on this solo album?

John: Union Radio is a name I got from a book when I was living in France working on Ark’s third album. I was looking for a book to read for inspiration. Obviously, everything was in French! The one book I found in English was in a marketplace and it was on the Spanish Civil War. The term Union Radio was the rebel radio station where rebels can tune in to find out how to sabotage, what was going on in the war, get orders and directions whatsoever. I also thought the name fit my music because of union — bringing together musicians from all different countries to form a “union” and make a record. In reference to radio, I thought it fit the techno vibe I put down on the record. As far as the title of the album, its kind of a mockery of the radio today — how people are saying goodbye and choosing what they want to listen to through the Internet and other means.

MER: How does this solo release compare to some of your other works music-wise?

John: I’ve recorded over 200 records and being a session musician, most of the time you are not in control of mix and sound, so sometimes you record a record and get it back in the mail and don’t even notice yourself on it because the sound is mixed so awfully! This has happened to me many times in my career. When I started to take more control of the situation, it was on the Ark albums. I find these albums really represent my playing, musically, and sonically. On my new album, I paid close attention to this and wanted to make the best sounding album I could possibly make. This album is my best work, musically, sonically, and artistically. It’s my baby.

MER: Would you be offended if The Radio Waves Goodbye was artistically compared to say a Pink Floyd release? Was this a goal or was it something that just evolved?

John: Compared to a Pink Floyd release, you not only made my day, but my decade! ::laughs:: Floyd is my favorite music and I wanted to do something different with this record, something not so “Metal.” A lot of people expected crunchy guitars and guitar solos, but I went the opposite route using tasty “Gilmour-like” guitar playing and heavy influence on keys and piano. My main influence for this record was Pink Floyd’s Animals – an album that even today can trip me out and send me somewhere to another place. I wanted to make an album that years later would still interest me and send me on a journey, and I think I achieved that.

MER: There are a lot of “guest musicians” on this release, some famous and perhaps some new names for our readers. How did you go about selecting your supporting musicians?

John: The musicians on the record are people who are all great friends and most of them I have been on tour with around the world, so we knew each other very well. I knew their strengths and weaknesses, so if I needed a certain sound on a song, I knew who to put on that track. We have all been through a lot together, the members of Union Radio. A saying I use a lot is “You know who your friends are when you’re moving and when you’re making a solo record” ::laughs:: All the members have come through for me on this record and shined.

MER: Are you credited with all the writing on The Radio Waves Goodbye?

John: The Radio Waves Goodbye was written with the drums being recorded first. This is not a common way to make an album because the songs were not written yet! I had titles and vibes in mind when I recorded the drum tracks. I then took the tracks around the world to write and record the music. Some musicians came to the studio in New York and sometimes I had to travel to Italy, France, and other places. As far as the writing, I arranged, wrote all the vocal melodies, the lyrics, and co-wrote the music. I have limited musical training, so I do not know what an A flat or a B would be. So by working with extremely talented musicians, I could sing an idea to them and they could decipher it to help make a song. This is how this album is recorded. Surround yourself with great people, and you’ll sound great yourself! ::laughs::

MER: Is there by a chance a follow-up release in Union Radio’s future?

John: Yes, there will be many Union Radio albums in the future. I’m addicted to it now. I have ideas already for new songs and I will pretty much use the same line-up as The Radio Waves Goodbye.

MER: You stated it took 18 months to complete this project. What are the reasons behind that? Was this project low priority compared to your other projects?

John: Yes, it took 18 months to record this album due to me being a perfectionist and a nutcase when it comes to my music! I knew I had to make something special. Without offending anybody, if the guitar take or vocal take was not right, there was just no question, it had to be redone by them or somebody else. Usually everything went smoothly, but writing an album from drums to vocals (last), you could run into situations. In the end, I loved the result. Also, timing was an issue. I wanted certain people on the record, and I wouldn’t settle – they had to be the ones! So I had to wait until they got off tour, etc. This project was my highest priority. I did not tour for a year and a half. I stayed in the studio and wrote and worked. It’s good to be back playing drums again and touring! I feel like myself again.

MER: One interesting release you played on in 2006 was Magni Animi Viri’s Heroes Temporis, which was a unique “Rock Opera.” How did you get involved with that project and was it interesting to play such a different musical format from typical Hard Rock/Metal?

John: Yes, the M.A.V. project was a brilliant experience. Marco Sfogli I met on the James Labrie tour, and we always planned to work together in the future. Marco called me and told me about M.A.V. They flew me to Italy and I recorded the “Rock Opera.” This was incredible because I got to work with Opera singers, a string section, and very talented musicians. It was also a very dynamic record. I couldn’t just bash away. I had to really play with the vocals and flow with the music. In the end, I loved this record.

MER: You recently authored a drum method book entitled Repercussions. What was the inspiration behind doing such a project?

John: I started writing this book, believe it or not, in 1987. I was going to California’s P.I.T. and studying with Ralph Humphrey of Frank Zappa. Ralf taught me a system of odd time playing and odd phrasings. I was so inspired by this! It changed my life and my drumming. For years I would write my own patterns. Finally, I decided to put it all together and make a book that was not only drumbeats, but a book on drumming as a lifestyle. In the book, I have included a CD, with all the examples of beats and fills used. I also have hand drawn graphics on technique, etc. The book deals with double bass, odd timing, recording and much, much more. I also have stories of things that have changed my life musically and professionally. The book is a well-rounded system and can be useful to other musicians as well as drummers. This book is different because instead of just being a talking head playing drum beats, it’s an actual real life book with stories and experiences as well as examples to the reader.

MER: Was writing a book any more challenging than say writing music? Were you intimidated at all with this endeavor?

John: No, because drumming is something I’ve done every day since I was 11 years old. It comes naturally to me. But songwriting, writing the song the whole way through, was a very new experience. On the Ark albums, I collaborated musically and lyrically, but this record I had to be the driving force and complete songs from beginning to end. A very new experience for me, but now I’m hooked and there will be many more records. Intimidated? No. Excited? Yes. But, getting started was a bit of a problem. I was with Marco Sfogli in Italy writing guitar tracks for the songs “Shimmering Gray” and “Starring Pain.” Marco asked me “So what do you want me to play?”. All I had was a drum track and a song title. I didn’t want him to write the parts all by himself. I would have felt like I was cheating. I wanted to collaborate with him, so I took a break, went into another room and thought to myself, “What am I gonna do now?”. It was amazing because the guitar riff and melody for “Starring Pain” came to me. I went outside and sang it to Marco. He immediately jumped on it and had something brilliant. That’s how we started the record. It was a great experience and an inspiration to write with Marco, especially because looking out his bedroom window, you can see the volcano, Mt. Vesuvius, in Pompei. Everything flowed easily from there. No volcano pun intended!

MER: Randy Coven plays some bass on “The Radio Waves Goodbye.” It seems like the two of you do a lot of projects together, is it safe to say that you guys are good friends? Do you guys look out for projects for one another?

John: Yes, me and Randy Coven are great friends. We met on tour with Yngwie Malmsteen and have been very close friends ever since. He’s a goofball, I love him! And now, we play telepathically and know where each one is going. Yes, we usually try to get each other on different projects.

MER: You’ve played with an amazing list of talented musicians. Are there any moments that stand out for you that you’d like to share?

John: Yes. Playing with Yngwie Malmsteen in Japan. I had an idea that me and Yngwie would do double drum solos. I saw this done with Metallica. Yngwie plays a little bit of drums, only Cozy Powell licks. We got a replica drum kit of mine in Japan and put it on a wheeling riser. After my solo, I gave a signal and about 10 Japanese guys wheeled out Malmsteen. I’ll never forget the first time I saw this! It was hilarious. We would trade fours, and then just go crazy at the end. It was funny because in a Japanese drum magazine I saw a huge picture of Yngwie behind the drums and at the bottom of the page, a two-inch picture of me. Rock ‘N’ Roll!

MER: Is there anyone you’ve not performed/recorded with that you’d love to one day or perhaps someone no longer alive that you wished you had the chance to perform/record with?

John: There are two musicians I would love to work with in the future. It might be a long shot, but stranger things have happened in my life. One, of course, would be Pete Townsend of The Who. He would probably hate me, but I could do a good Moon on and off the kit. The next one would be Peter Gabriel. I think he’s brilliant and groundbreaking. I feel I would learn an amazing amount from him and it would be great to experiment and play his dynamic music. Hook us up, please! ::laughs:: As far as idols that are not around anymore, the great Frank Zappa. The reason I learned to read music was because I heard that Frank would chart everything out and audition you by sight-reading. This has always been one of my dreams to play for Frank because all my favorite drummers have come from his band. It’s like a school for the brilliant players. God rest his soul.

MER: Is there anyone you performed/recorded with that you were “blown away” by?

John: Marco Sfogli, who to me, was an unknown before I toured with James LaBrie. Now he’s my favorite player. The groove is relentless and that’s what a lot of guitar players lack. Versatility-wise, there are not many out there who can do what he does. His soloing is as tasty as it gets. And, of course, he’s a fellow Italian! Check out his playing on my record — “Shimmering Gray,” “T-34,” “Starring Pain.”

MER: What’s next for John Macaluso?

John: Next I’m going to take Union Radio on tour. First, I’m planning a drum clinic tour where I will be playing along to my record, minus drums, with multimedia video screens and crazy videos synced up to my songs. Then, I plan to bring the band out on tour. So far, it looks like the members would be Marco Sfogli, Adrian Holtz, Vitalij Kuprij, Zay Gray, Dimuti. Come check us out. It’ll be a psychotic show.

MER: In closing, any last words for your fans?

John: Thanks for listening.


  • Scott Jeslis

    Scott is one of the partners at Metal Express Radio. He handles a lot of Metal Express Radio's public relations, screening of new music and radio scheduling. On occasion, he also does reviews and interviews. He has been a proud member of the Metal Express Radio crew since 2004.

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