Jerry Ewing Interview
Jerry Ewing is a freelance rock writer and author. Regular readers of Metal Hammer and Classic Rock will be very familiar with his work. His most current book is Encyclopaedia Metallica (Chrome Dreams) and his next opus – Encyclopaedia AC/DC – is due out later this year. Both books were co-written with Malcolm Dome.
Can you give me a brief history of your career in music journalism?
I suppose it all started with a fanzine called Court Jester, which was about the prog rock revival of the early ‘80s. That developed out of reading Sounds music weekly, and I kind of carried on writing from there – editing the school magazine and writing a rock column for the University newspaper. After that it was pure luck. I’d been at University with a guy called Dave Shack, who ended up working for Metal Forces magazine and he offered me a job. I stayed with Forces for about four years; set up my own magazine called Cutting Edge and then got offered a job my Metal Hammer. Back then it was owned by Germans, but while I was working for it, Hammer got bought out by Dennis Publishing and I was one of a lucky two people to be offered a job by the new proprietors (the other was my good mate Wag who is now Art Editor of Mojo.) I was Deputy Editor for two years and then devised and set up Classic Rock magazine for Dennis and still write for both that and Metal Hammer (I think it’s been 15 straight years now on the latter in one capacity or other!) I then got offered a job editing Maxim magazine’s website (still at Dennis Publishing) and worked on that for about eight years before realising I had no desire to work in what I guess ended up as senior management. All I ever wanted to do was write and the only writing I was doing was filling in my staff’s holiday forms, so I went freelance – the best decision I ever made.
How many books have you written?
Five I’ll admit to – ha ha ha. The first was a biography on then Liverpool footballer Steve McManaman. Odd given I’m a Chelsea fan and my feelings about Liverpool aren’t printable. But hey, we’ve all got to start somewhere I guess. I redeemed myself with another biography on then Chelsea player Gianfranco Zola. Then I co-wrote a book about Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham with his brother, the late and great Michael Bonham – a seriously lovely bloke. Then it was Encyclopaedia Metallica with Malcolm and now the new AC/DC book.
What is it like writing a book with Malcolm Dome?
A lot easier than it is for him to write a book with me. Malcolm is a great friend who I’ve been lucky enough to work with for about 16 years on all manner of projects. Along with the likes of Geoff Barton and Garry Bushell, Malcolm was one of the writers who made me want to do what I’m fortunate enough to do. I’ve learnt a hell of a lot from Malcolm over the years, mostly what to do, but occasionally not what to do, ho ho. He is a quite inspirational character whose unabashed enthusiasm for music is incredibly infectious. It’s a joy to work with him, not least because he puts up with my “never do today what you can put off until tomorrow” approach to life.
Are you in the music business full-time?
I’m not in the music business. I’m a writer and broadcaster full-time. If you ever heard me try to play guitar you’d realise why I’m not in the music business! But music forms the basis of what I tend to work on.
How does British rock/metal journalism of today compare to the eighties?
Probably a lot more professional. It’s still a great job and one hell of a lot of fun, but the business side of things dictates a lot of what goes on these days – that’s just the way it is. With that a certain amount of creative freedom might have been lost, and a certain sense of fun, if you compare life as a writer today with life as a writer back in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, but it sure as hell beats asking “do you want fries with that?” for a living.
Why do you think bands like Iron Maiden and AC/DC are so popular now…more then ever before?
They rarely take their eye off their own particular ball. They’re not interested in what the next band are doing. And through that, they make it all one hell of a lot of fun. I saw Iron Maiden at Twickenham Stadium this year and they made everyone smile that day. The same when people heard the new AC/DC single. That is a seriously major thing to achieve in the world we live in.
Do you think the next AC/DC tour will actually be the last?
Possibly. I’ve heard rumours it won’t, but you never know with AC/DC. They’ll rarely tell you what they’re thinking or planning. If it is then thanks guys for the last 35 years. If not, let’s rock again. Either way I’m going to enjoy it.
What’s your favourite AC/DC album?
Powerage. Closely followed by Back In Black.
Which artists have given you the most memorable (good and bad) interviews?
The worst was the BulletBoys (an awful late ‘80s hair metal band). Geoff Tate’s a bit full of himself. And Dave Gilmour, my hero from Pink Floyd, was quite an unpleasant character. Alice Cooper and Ronnie Dio are total and enjoyable professionals. Sammy Hagar is great fun too, especially when revealing details about David Lee Roth’s (alleged) various hairpieces. I’ve got on well with Peter Frampton, Ronnie Wood, Ian McNabb. Brian Johnson’s a lovely geezer, as is Dave Grohl. And James Hetfield is as cool as you’d think he is.
Can you name some of the best gigs you’ve attended?
Donington in 1988 was pretty big. 108,000 people I think. I saw Queen at Wembley and Knebworth in 1986. And U2 and Pink Floyd also at Wembley Stadium. They were all pretty big gigs. I’ve been lucky enough to have attended most of the major outdoor rock gigs in the UK for the last 15 years. And seeing Van Halen play an Enormo Dome in Fresno in about 1992 was an eye opener.
What are your 10 Desert Island Discs?
10? Christ, where do I start? The Wall by Pink Floyd. Led Zep IV. Back In Black and Powerage by AC/DC. Hotel California by The Eagles. Ride The Lightning by Metallica. Harvest by Neil Young. Ego Is Not A Dirty Word by Skyhooks. Cold Chisel by Cold Chisel. Escape by Journey.
What are your favourite music books?
You’ve got to go with Hammer Of The Gods. Anything Patrick Humphries writes, like his book on Nick Drake, is going to be worthwhile. Mark Blake’s excellent Pink Floyd book Pigs Might Fly. Stuart Maconie’s Cider With Roadies. Mick Wall’s Paranoid. And John Niven’s Kill Your Friends, which is fiction based on one hell of a lot of fact and is terrific fun.
Who are your favourite music writers?
Malcolm Dome. Geoff Barton. Garry Bushell. Phil Wilding. Mark Blake. Ian Winwood. Dan Silver. Dave Ling. Joel McIver. Alex Milas. Morat. Anne Scanlon. Dom Lawson. Paul Elliott and Dave Everley.
What music magazines do you read?
Metal Hammer. Classic Rock. Mojo. Blender. Rolling Stone. Revolver.
Do you have any other projects in the works?
Indeed. I’m sure there’ll be another Encyclopaedia type book out next year although I can’t let you know who it will be about. Malcolm and I have a couple of other projects at the discussion stage with various publishing houses. And I’m also working on a book that looks behind the scenes of working on metal magazines and setting up Classic Rock.
Interview by Neil Daniels 2008