In 2014, New England’s favorite horror/metal convention, Rock and Shock, featured a musical act called The Rocking Dead, a supergroup of rockers from various punk/metal bands. Faster Pussycat’s Ace Von Johnson was a big part of it, and he’s returning to do it again.
Last year’s lineup for The Rocking Dead at Rock and Shock horror/metal convention in Worcester, MA, featured Ace Von Johnson, Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein from The Misfits, Randy Blythe from Lamb of God, Wednesday 13 of the Murderdolls, and Alan Robert from Life of Agony, among others.
This year, The Rocking Dead will be playing on Saturday night, October 17, at The Palladium in Worcester, MA, for Rock and Shock (October 16-18). The Rocking Dead will be sharing the stage that night with Phil Anselmo’s Superjoint and the legendary Danzig. The Rocking Dead will feature previous favorites and some new members. Ace Von Johnson recently sat down with Dread Central to discuss the event.
Ace began by remembering his appearance with The Rocking Dead at the 2014 event. “As far as last year goes, it was incredible,” Von Johnson said. “It was the perfect blend of playing with my friends and peers, as well as some people I genuinely look up to. I’ve been a fan of The Misfits since I was about 12 years old, so to get to perform an entire set of Misfits classics with Doyle was totally exhilarating. Initially, I could tell the crowd was kinda unsure about what was going to happen as we were getting onstage, but once things got swinging, they were totally enthralled by it. The entire front row was singing along for the duration of the set. For as far as I could see, it was fists in the air and a circle pit here and there. Especially once we brought up Randy Blythe and Wednesday 13 to sing, the crowd was eating it up. It was a total honor to be a part of it.”
As fantastic as the 2014 performance was, Ace is really looking forward to raising the bar this year. “The thing that I’m anticipating most this year is having a more diverse setlist as well as throwing in a few more surprise guests,” Von Johnson said. “Last year, due to time restraints, we were pretty much limited to doing a 10-song Misfits set, all with three guitarists, Doyle, myself, and Virus (from Dope and Device), along with Alan Robert from Life of Agony on bass, Kriz DK from The Genitorturers on drums, plus vocalists Randy Blythe, Wednesday, and Alex Story (Doyle’s frontman) taking turns sharing the mic. This year, however, we have a lot more guest singers joining us, and it’ll retain the same vibe: classic punk and rock covers with some amazing musicians who all have one common bond aside from the music, and that’s a love of horror!”
And the new lineup for The Rocking Dead for Rock and Shock 2015 is sure to have fans thrilled. Von Johnson gave us the scoop on who could be joining him on the stage at The Palladium on October 17. “This year’s core will be much different from last year’s,” Von Johnson said. “It’s still a little too early to say who will be appearing definitively, but the main players will be myself on guitar; Acey Slade from The Murderdolls and Joan Jett and The Blackhearts on bass; and from the Wednesday 13 band, Kyle Castronovo on drums. These guys are seasoned professionals and will bring a lot of energy with them. I’m positive that there will be some guests stepping into those two roles as well from the long list of acts also appearing at the festival. Plus we have the vocal talents of Ash Costello from New Year’s Day, Bret Von Dehl from The Relapse Symphony, who are two of the younger bands appearing, both of whom have a great appreciation for horror and are incredibly talented. Also joining will be Taime Downe, my singer in Faster Pussycat, as well as last year’s alumnus, Wednesday 13… and I believe Alex Story from Doyle’s band as well. Additionally, we’ll have Virus from Dope, Nikki Misery from New Year’s Day, and the man of few words, who needs no introduction, Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein. All of them will be taking turns playing guitar throughout the set. Plus, I anticipate a few more guest guitarists and singers, but I can’t say just yet.” As of press time, all the performers mentioned by Ace have been confirmed to be performing with The Rocking Dead on October 17 in Worcester, MA.
Ace then discussed some of the highlights of his career. “I try to keep myself as busy as I can at all times and have done my best to not get pigeon-holed within one genre or group,” he said. “But besides playing for Faster Pussycat for as long as I have, I am definitely proud of The Rocking Dead set, but that’s almost from my perspective as a fan. Mostly, I would have to say the Michael Jackson recording I did a few years back. It’s a lengthy story, but in late 2010, I was invited by my dear friend, engineer James Murray, to come check out some mixes he was working on with Grammy-winning producer Ron “Neff-U” Feemster for the first posthumous Michael Jackson album. After a few drinks, we decided I should jam along just to see if I could come up with anything that might complement a specific track. The next day Neff-U came in [and] liked what he heard. They had me come back again to rework the guitar solo, as the project manager was looking for a “Beat It” vibe solo-wise. Neff-U was hearing something else, and James told me to go in a completely different direction. I did my best to accommodate them all. My version of the track “Hollywood Tonight” was intended to be included on the album Michael. I’ll spare you all the details, but the finished version that we did was cut at the last minute, in favor of a less rock, more pop version of the same song, by a different producer. It’s now fairly sought after by some diehard MJ fans. And eventually I leaked the track myself, and it seemed to grow legs. It was kind of a bummer at the time, but more recently seeing some of his fans become interested in what I’m doing, generated by that alternate mix, has been great. Maybe it’ll see the light of day eventually, but if you look for it hard enough, you can find it online. Either way, it was a big deal for me and still a highlight in my career.”
Knowing Ace’s love of horror, we had to hear about some of his favorite films. “I will try to keep my answer as short as possible here… but I have to summarize,” he said, excited to talk about the genre he loves. “I was raised on horror films. My earliest memories with my dad were watching all the classics, from The Creature From the Black Lagoon to Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein to Angry Red Planet and so on. He actually lived down the street from director William Castle as a boy, and he got to see House on Haunted Hill at the director’s home before it was released in theaters with all the neighborhood kids. I have a cousin who has directed some horror films, Mark Lester, and I remember seeing his film Firestarter as a kid and loving it and being on-set for his sci-fi cult film Class of 1999 as a child as well. I could keep going, but basically this stuff is ingrained in who I am. My favorite horror movies… depends on the time frame and genre of course! I like visceral movies that fuck with your mind, like The Shining and Suspiria. I love the classic Universal and Hammer films, and mostly I have a soft spot for all the 80’s horror films I grew up with: Creepshow, Return of the Living Dead, TerrorVision, Critters, and so on. A large portion of my tattoos are horror-related. And as far as television goes, there have been a lot of great dark/horror-related things done as of lately. I like “American Horror Story,” although I think their first season was still the strongest; “The Walking Dead”; “The Strain”; and “Sleepy Hollow”. As far as stuff that isn’t airing anymore, I really loved “Six Feet Under,” which isn’t really horror but dark enough, I suppose; “Tales from the Crypt”; “Monsters”; “Tales from the Dark Side”; “The Twilight Zone”; “The Outer Limits”; “The Munsters”; and so on. Outside of playing music, horror is definitely something I am incredibly passionate about.”
Wow! The man loves horror… and he obviously knows his shit!
Finally, Ace discussed the fact that fans of horror are often fans of metal music as well. “I think the reason that heavy metal/hard rock music has a tendency to go hand-in-hand with horror movies is that they both lean heavily on those dark elements that some people are just genuinely attracted to,” Von Johnson said. “They play on the dark side of the mind, and most people who enjoy being scared seem to also be attracted to this kind of music. And when I think of some of the biggest and hardest names in arenas of rock and metal, you get all of these obvious nods to horror (whether it’s film, written, or just lyrical content). Classic rock bands like Black Sabbath, who took their name from the Bava film starring Boris Karloff; Deep Purple’s newest single was entitled “Vincent Price”; to heavier bands like Metallica with The Call of Ktulu or Slayer and Cannibal Corpse, whose lyrics might not be derived from horror movies directly but still paint a macabre picture. Artists like Glenn Danzig and Alice Cooper, who are household names, both of which have made a career singing about nightmares, the devil, and horror films alike. It’s basically the perfect soundtrack to any sort of haunted house or a murder spree or anything like that. And both the music and horror have both been at times considered taboo and, incidentally, aren’t for everyone. It takes a certain type of person to be attracted to that, and more often than not, it’s the same type of people.”
He continued, “There is actually an amazing documentary in production right now that I had done an interview for called The History of Horror and Metal, which examines this very idea,” Von Johnson said. “It’s got a ton of huge names in it, from musicians like Corey Taylor, Alice Cooper, Kirk Hammett, Doyle, all the way to horror icons like Tom Savini, Doug Bradley, Sid Haig, and Gunnar Hansen. It goes into great detail as to why they’re so interconnected and examines all the common ground that both categories share. You can find out more information on The History of Metal and Horror at MetalHorror.com.”