Happy New Year to all! This past week I caught up with Stryper’s Oz Fox to talk about the band’s plans for the new year, about the 30th anniversary tour for ‘To Hell With The Devil’ and to talk about the possibility of a solo album.
Ms. Mishap: Stryper has just wrapped up the 30th anniversary tour for ‘To Hell With The Devil’, which as I understand it had some controversial artwork when it was first released, where did the original artwork come from?
Oz Fox: The original release of that album way back in 1986 we had an artist that painted a rendition of something that was thought up, we all had our input but then the final idea was by Robert Sweet. Basically what the artist did was he created the picture but he did a couple of things different than what Robert had said. The overall depiction was supposed to be four angels, not necessarily any representation that we were angels, but they were angels that were chaining up the devil and throwing him into a pit that was fire-y. One of the things this devil was wearing was a pentagram necklace because back in the 80’s there were these bands that were using the pentagram as a symbol and if you ever studied any kind of occult or kind of satanic symbolism the pentagram actually was used to represent Satan. The real conservative Christians that are opposed to any kind of likeness of Satan that is a real like taboo symbol to have laying around your house or in a picture. So what happened was the original idea for the art cover was that there was supposed to be one of the angels taking that necklace and crushing it in his hands but what the artist did was he took it and he had the angel kind of looked like he had yanked the necklace from the neck of the rock-star, half rock-star half demon, and he threw it instead of crushing it so there was this pentagram thrown, but the symbol was intact and it created a huge kind of a big stir in the Christian distribution world. They saw that symbol on the artwork and they were right away, no way that’s not gonna work you can’t have that in Christian bookstores and there had already been a number of these covers that got created and were released so this turned into a huge deal and the next thing our record label did was they decided to eradicate the artwork and just make a black label with “To Hell With The Devil” in red old English font and that’s how that ended up becoming a second alternative cover and so if you can find the original artwork somewhere in an old record store then you’re pretty fortunate because they’re very rare. I actually have a couple of them myself that I have from the original days. It’s funny how I actually came to Robert and I said, “hey I got this idea and I drew a picture of an angel kind of doing a kick to the face of a satanic rocker dressed up in the garb and I still have that original drawing.
Ms. Mishap: Michael Sweet had said that when it came to bringing out the original costumes for this tour that some of the costumes had to be altered or duplicated, was your costume the real thing or did it need a little work?
Oz Fox: My costume was the only original costume, because all of the other guys had either sold their costumes or they were stolen. I know Michael had all of his stuff in a warehouse at one point and sometime in the 90’s his warehouse got broken into and he got a ton of stuff stolen from him and I know his costumes went bye bye as well so he had to have his remade. I think the other guys had sold all their stuff to collectors and I’m a hoarder by nature so I don’t sell any of my stuff, I keep it all.
Ms. Mishap: Had you held onto it all these years?
Oz Fox: Yea I have all of my original Stryper outfits from back in the day. So the other guys had all of their stuff replicated and I just had mine taken out a little bit. Surprisingly enough it held up pretty well after all these years thanks to Ray Brown who made the original costumes. Ray Brown is a famous rock clothing designer and he’s still doing stuff to this day. He did some of the alterations a few years ago for me when I had to pull that stuff out to play in Japan, but more recently Terry Smith and Yo Pinter, a couple of gals here in Vegas kind of helped me with more alterations.
Ms. Mishap: Are there any differences in touring today versus 30 years ago?
Oz Fox: Mainly that 30 years ago I was 25 years old, and now I’m 55 and it’s not a bed of roses. I mean I get it, touring is an exciting thing. A lot of guys would probably be just amped to go out on the road to tour and to have as many shows and as much success with their shows as we’re having right now. I’m very thankful that we can do it still, that we still have a following, but boy touring takes the life out of me. To have to go day after day be on a bus and be away from home and be away from your family, your wife you know all that stuff is really hard on me now. I’d much rather have a part in some residency here in town where I can go play and come home, sleep in my own bed and that’s because I’m older now. That’s why I love being in the (Sin City) Sinners or playing with Vinyl Tattoo or Let It Rawk. The only other thing that was nice back in the 80’s when we were doing the big arena tours was I basically didn’t have to worry about carrying luggage or my gear or any of that kind of stuff. We always had all of that stuff covered to the point where all I had to do was step onto a plane with my carry on bag.
Ms. Mishap: Was this tour a bus tour or all fly dates?
Oz Fox: This fortunately was a bus tour, 2 months of it was all bus so that made it easier. We were at least able to get the sleep and the rest we needed, but you know we started touring this year back in March so there were a lot of fly dates this year.
Ms. Mishap: Going back to the early days, who’s idea was it originally to toss bibles out to the crowd during shows and when did it start?
Oz Fox: Well it started back in the club days. When we were playing in Hollywood back to 1984. We thought a lot of bands threw out their stuff, their scarves or their picks and people would be happy to grab that from their favorite band so we started throwing out bibles and originally we would put a sticker on the bible with our logo on it. For us it was cool because we were giving out something that was gonna maybe provoke them to open up a bible and read something about God or Jesus. I’m not real sure who came up with the idea, but it might have been Robert. We still do it to this day and on this last tour we actually had a bible company make 30th anniversary bibles with our logo on it.
Ms. Mishap: Now as I understand it, Stryper is going on a little bit of a break starting in the new year. Michael Sweet had hinted at some trouble within the band in his last interview, is this a reason for the time off?
Oz Fox: Well it’s a number of things. A lot of it is Michael has a lot projects coming up that he wants to take time off to do which is fine by me because I’ve got a lot of stuff going on here in town and as I get older in age I kind of want to set myself up so that I’ll have more opportunities here in Vegas so that someday if I ever stop touring with Stryper I can maybe stay here and work as a musician. He (Michael) definitely is going to be doing a second album with George Lynch and he also just released a solo album and he wants to go out and tour that album a little bit and we (Stryper) are going to be playing on the Monsters of Rock Cruise the first week of February.
Ms. Mishap: Does that mean it will be the original lineup playing the Monsters of Rock Cruise come February?
Oz Fox: As far as I know yes, but Tim our bass player is going through some personal issues and were trying to let him work all of that stuff out. It’s no secret anymore, but he’s going through a divorce so we’re giving him time to work those things out and as far as I know he’s looking like he’s on his way to making all of that stuff in his life correct and fixed and then we’ll see where he stands after he’s all done with that and I know he wants to keep touring. It’s a very difficult thing to go through a divorce, it’s difficult for everybody. We’re very close to him and his wife so it hurts us as much as it hurts them and these things do happen in the Christian world and I want to reference back to a lot of those really hardcore conservative Christians; it’s very taboo to see somebody, especially in the lime light, going through that kind of thing and so a divorce is one of those kind of bad words. Now there are a lot of Christians who understand. I understand the situation because I went through a divorce myself in 2006 with my first wife. It’s very difficult it really is, but we’re going to give him time to do that and go through and deal with his issues and as far as I know he’s going to be on the cruise with us and then the only other thing I can say after that is there are plans to do another Stryper album so well see how that goes later on.
Ms Mishap: Do you think any of this will delay that new album?
Oz Fox: I think there were plans to possibly get on it in January, it hadn’t been booked or anything, but once this whole thing started happening with Tim we thought it was a better idea to just postpone everything. We decided to maybe wait until later on in the year. I think it’s good for us to just give him time to do his thing and deal with his issues and then later on we can come back together and after everything is already healed over have a solid time of being able to work together.
Ms. Mishap: Have you found a direction to go with for the new album?
Oz Fox: No I don’t think there is really anything, at least I haven’t been notified of any particular direction. Michael has creative control and what ever he feels is the way to go is what we’ll do so we’re waiting on that and hopefully I’ll be able to participate in some of the direction.
Ms. Mishap: How do you as a guitarist continue to find the inspiration to write?
Oz Fox: As a guitar player I come up with ideas all the time just by plucking around on my strings while I’m going through all of my exploration of scales and riffs. I spend a lot of time learning music for bands like the Sinners and Let It Rawk and whatnot so I have to really spend more time focusing on that than I do actually writing, but then when I want to find the time to write music I’ll sit down and I’ll just kind of think of something in my head that is different and unique. With Stryper I try to write stuff that sounds like Stryper because there definitely is a format that you have to follow and that is something that I’m pretty well familiar with. It’s not that difficult to come up with Stryper sounding riffs because I know it very well so all I have to do is sit down with my guitar come up with a few riffs that work and I can start kind of surrounding it with verses, choruses, whatever and make it happen. It’s just a matter of me sitting down and finding the time to do it.
Ms. Mishap: Is writing with the band the same as it was when lets say when Soldiers was written?
Oz Fox: It’s a little bit different now because we live in different places. Michael and I back in the early days we would write a lot. There were times when he would come in with an idea and then I’d listen to it and I would say “well that sounds like it could use this” and I’d play something for him that might work and he’d listen to it and yea okay that works or he’d modify. So there were a lot of times that we’d work together that way because we lived so close to each other in Southern California. Now it’s, he’ll ask me for an idea or some ideas and I’ll send them over to him and then all of a sudden he’ll either have all of the lyrics written and melodies for it or he’ll say “I just used this much of it and created this other song” you know, and that’s kind of how it is now just because there’s not really a lot of time to sit down with each other.
Ms. Mishap: How does writing between two lead guitarists take place, do you switch off writing solos?
Oz Fox: It’s been the format, I should say of all Stryper albums, for us to split up the solos evenly or maybe have a few song where we switch off, 4 measures of me 4 measures of him and then 4 measures of us dueling a harmony together. If you listen to the song pride off the fallen album that whole solo is him doing the lower part and me doing the harmony. There was a time when we would sit down and hash those things out together too, but now it’s either me making it and him harmonizing to me or him making it and I’m harmonizing to him depending on what the situation is or who has the better vibe.
Ms. Mishap: When it comes to guitars, What made you switch to playing GMWs rather than sticking with Jacksons?
Oz Fox: The GMWs was more of a thing where I actually had a friend who gave me one and so I started playing it. There’s a lot of old pictures of this on particular Jackson guitar where it was painted in these kind of geometrical lines and within the lines there were these symbols. The original design of that particular Jackson disappeared because there was a point were Jackson got taken over by another company and Grover Jackson no longer owned it and so I couldn’t get anymore free guitars. Fortunately I still knew the CEO which was Joanne and I knew her well enough to go in and ask if she would at least repaint one of my guitars. This happened in 1990 when our album ‘Against The Law’ came out and I needed a new guitar for some videos. That guitar ended up being a kind of silver sparkle chevron, but I missed having the original design and I told that to a friend of mine, Ian Lee. I met Ian at a NAMM show (where) he was working with GMW Guitarworks and he had a whole bunch of guitars replicated. So Ian asked Lee Garber (the owner of GMW) to make a replica of that original guitar for me and I didn’t know he was doing that and then one day probably around 2010 (Ian) came to New York and handed me the guitar. It was an amazing surprise for me to all of a sudden have this guitar that was a replicated design of my original Jackson and it played great coming right out of the case. After that I decided to have him make another replica of one of my old explorer shapes and I ended up having these two really nice GMW guitars so I decided to start using those for most of the Stryper gigs because they matched very well. I still play my Jacksons, if you come to see me play in Vegas I still have those original Jacksons and I bring them out to play. The one I play most of the time here in town it’s got a bangle tiger design on it that’s the original Jackson that was on the cover of the ‘To Hell With The Devil’ album. It definitely has a lot of Stryper history so I try not to take it out anywhere I gotta fly because it could get damaged. Playing with the GMWs has been a nice alternative to having the Jacksons because they’re great guitars, they sound great, and they look great. The only other guitar I’ve used in the Styrper touring in recent years is my GJ2 guitar. I got that a couple of years ago from him (Grover Jackson) when he first came out with his new line of guitars and they’re awesome.
Ms. Mishap: So what is next for you in 2017?
Oz Fox: At this point I’ve got a few things that are kind of in the works. I’ve got Chaotic Resemblance, they want to do some more recording, I recorded an album with them in 2014 called ‘Get The Hell Out’ and it was a nice start for them. Now they want to do some more recording this year and I’m going into the studio with them on the 24th of January and we’re going to kick out a couple of more tunes and they’re going to try to come up with an album. I’m looking forward to hearing how that’s going to turn out. I mentioned the Monsters of Rock Cruise that Stryper’s doing in February and also the new Stryper album whenever that gets scheduled. Aside from that I love playing with the Sinners it’s fun, Jason’s got a lot of dates booked which I’m really happy about and I’m going to do as many shows with the Sinners as I can. I also have a Let It Rawk date coming up on January 14th. In any situation the Sinners, Let It Rawk or Vinyl Tattoo it’s always about playing with great guys and creating a mood and that’s kind of been the situation in town with a lot of guys. I really love going and hearing guys like Stoney Curtis play or Counts 77, Smashing Alice, Tinnitus, all these great bands and I still have to go see the Queens Of Noise, that’s my next one to check out.
The sky’s the limit. I might start working on some ideas for a solo album this year if I can find the time. That’s really what I would like to do and I’ve been working on learning and studying jazz guitar so that would be kind of a thing I would want to incorporate into a new solo album for myself. That would be interesting to go in a different direction and do something new, something that no one would expect.
Don’t forget to check out Oz Fox January 14th at Count’s Vamp’d with Let It Rawk and catch him regularly with the Sin City Sinners here in Las Vegas.