Stepping into The Neverland Express, Meat Loaf’s band in the early 2000s, guitarist Paul Crook never could have imagined how long he’d work with the larger than life performer. Going on to become his producer, confidant, friend, and longest serving six-stringer, Paul is now proudly flying the flag for the late singer’s incredible legacy. “He was my buddy”, he tells us as we sit down for a chat over Zoom; “I just loved being around him. It was just always a pleasure”. Bringing the officially-endorsed Celebrating Meat Loaf tour to the U.K. in May 2023, there’s clearly plenty to talk about. There’s also the small matters of his time in Anthrax, and the much-mooted John Bush Bushthrax tour, and his involvement. Covering all this and more, we get in depth with Paul Crook. In a zone; Eamon O’Neil.
Hi Paul, how are you doing today?
Yeah, I can't complain. You know, honestly, I have my health, I have my family, I still have my wonderful parents, which is incredible. And, you know, I’ve been playing a lot of guitar. I just picked up these two new guitars. I'm so excited about I don't know if you're familiar with Guthrie Goven?
I am, yeah.
It's mind blowing for me. I just picked up two of his Charvels, and these are his signature model. Mike Tempesta, he's the artist rep over there. I don't know if you know, Mike Tempesta from Powerman 5000? Mike and I were actually roadies together in Anthrax on the ‘Persistence of Time’ tour . Obviously, from there I went to Anthrax, and then went to Meat Loaf, and he went, to Powerman 5000, and then moved to the guitar business. He's was founder anyways, and I wanted to say that because the guitars are so badass.
So you’ve been guitar shopping!
Yeah! Then I picked up a few more guitars. There's a guitar called guitar company called FU-Tone. Adam river. And these guitars are really badass. They're inexpensive too, which is amazing. So guess what I'm trying to say is that life is good.
I was recently rewatching the Anthrax 40 documentary series on YouTube, and actually noticed your killer guitar collection; it’s really impressive.
Thank you very much. Yeah, I love guitars. You know, if you're not a collector is hard to understand. You know; “why do you need so many guitars?” I don't know. I don't need them. It just makes me happy.
How many guitars do you own?
I have abought eighty, which really isn’t that crazy when I when I look at my friends and the guitars they have. I’m conservative!
I noticed the Eddie Van Halen replicas, and I think some BC Rich guitars in there; are they all workhorses, or are there some that you wouldn’t take out on tour?
Yeah, I have a few BC Rich guitars that I don't think I'd be comfortable putting on the road. They were hand signed by Bernie Senior, who's now passed away, and they’re pristine, or mint condition. So I probably wouldn't bring them out. I have no problem with anything else, it’s really just those few guitars.
The Eddie Van Halen models are all handmade by my friend Mark, who passed away unfortunately. So those aren't the commercially available EVH guitars; those are all handmade using a Warmoth parts. They sound amazing; they're all like, really thick Karina. When I pick them up I go right to Van Halen. I usually go to like, ‘Women and Children First’; I love that record. You know, so I'll just I'll dive in on ‘Fools’ or ‘Everybody Wants Some’, you know what I mean? I just it's such a dirty sounding record. I love it.
Do you still have all your guitars, like the ones you recorded ‘Stomp 442’ with, with Anthrax?
Wow, let me think for a second. Actually I do not. I used a scarlet red Paul Reed Smith for ‘Stomp’, and I know where the guitar is. It's a friend of mine, a collector in Luxembourg. His name is Luc Henzig. He has an incredible, incredible guitar museum. He's from Luxembourg. It’s a beautiful museum, and that guitar is there.
We're here to chat about the Celebrating Meat Loaf tour which is coming to the U.K. With your long history with the man, I'm guessing it's both an emotional, and an exciting thing for you.
Correct. We've been doing this for four years. People think that we just started doing this when our boss passed; no. You know, Meat was all in on this. He was a part of it. He passed out on stage in Edmonton, Canada. He dropped, it was 2016, and from there he went on to two back surgeries. And we had to cancel the ‘Braver Than We Are’ tour, which is the record that I produced for him. The whole tour was cancelled, and Meat said to me; “hey Paul, give me like, four months”. I was like; “yeah, no, no problem, boss, you know, get yourself all set up, and then we'll hit it”. And that was like December, and then he goes; “Paul, I need more time”. “No worries, boss!”
So that brought another unexpected delay?
Now we're in May of 2017 or something, and he's not ready. He's in a lot of pain. So I told him; “hey, boss, you know, we're going to lose the band. I got to get out on the road with these guys”. So I just I just put it together. And I said; “I'm going get another singer, and we're going to go out and play. I just want to keep the machine oiled for you so that when you're ready, you can just step in, at any time - you could just get on a plane and join us”. And it would turn into a Meat Loaf show immediately. That was the plan, and he loved it. And that's what we did.
So you went looking a singer and found one.
Luckily we found Caleb Johnson, the American Idol winner who's incredible. And that's how the show started. That was four years ago. So when Meat passed away, on January 20th last year, the first show we did was in Connecticut, about a month later, and that first soundcheck was incredibly emotional.
I can only imagine how it felt for you and the rest of the band.
That first show, alright, I couldn't look at John Miceli [drummer] all night. I even now, during a ‘Two Out of Three’, I can't look at John. For some reason, he's the only one I can't look at. I have no problem looking at Randy [Flowers – guitars, vocals] or Alicia [Avery, vocals] but for some reason with Miceli it just hits me. So yeah, you know, we've done a lot of shows already, and, you know, I feel him there, and I talk to him on stage; if had a bad note, I apologise! [Laughing] At certain parts of songs, you know, he really resonates in me. I hear him talking to me, and yeah, it's emotional.
Playing those songs must be amazing, just from a guitar playing point of view.
I'm very grateful to have such wonderful music to perform. You know, [Jim] Steinmann’s songs are just incredible, and when you're looking at the setlist and we're playing and looking down at the songs going; “oh my god!” Even today, you know, twenty-something years later playing these songs, looking down and seeing you know, ‘You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth”, you know; “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’, for crying out loud, you go; “holy shit, man, the crowd’s going to love this next song!” Here it comes, you know, BAM! It's great, great music.
I don't know if people realise just how intertwined you were Meat Loaf, coming in as a guitar player, and finishing up as a producer and being an integral part of that band. You must have been his longest-serving guitarist.
Yeah, I think I am. Yeah, that's accurate. Obviously that doesn't mean I'm the best, you know, because we got you got you got Pat Thrall in there! Woo! Pat Thrall is a fuckin’ badass!
You and Meat Loaf obviously developed a very close relationship.
It was great. Yeah, he kept me so busy. You know, we even did all the video content for the video wall for our tours we did together too. We did everything together. It was amazing. He was one of my greatest friends in life. We got to a point, later on where I wouldn't even charge him for work. The last show we did together was the Mike Huckabee show, and it was on TV . That took a while to get together. It was difficult to get that show together, and I'm so happy we did it. We spent weeks on that, and just an example, I didn't charge him. I didn't charge Meat Loaf one penny for that show just because he was my buddy. You know, I loved him. He called, and he goes; “Paul, I really want to do this.” You know, so I’m like; “of course, pal. Of course I'll help you do this”. I didn't think of myself as an employee. I always called him ‘boss’ though; I never called them Meat Loaf. It was just always; “hey, boss!” I just loved being around him, and it was just always a pleasure. I'm so fucking honoured just to be on stage with him.
What do you what do you think made it work? What do you think of was that created that longevity that meant you were the guy from that point on?
Yeah, good question. Thank you. Meat Loaf, he said this to me too; he hates complacency. Complacency will get you fired in the Meat Loaf camp.
Just a great question. Thank you. The answer is a little involved. Okay, so we just came out of the Maximum Rock Tour; Anthrax, Motley Crue, Megadeth anthrax, and we were having a hard time with Anthrax - not not on a personal level, it was a business level.
There wasn't any money. And it wasn't their fault. They couldn't they couldn't pay me. They couldn't pay themselves. When we did the Pantera tour in ‘98, for example, we went out there and all they got was per diem for shows. It was it was ridiculous. There was no money, but we had to we had to get it out. I mean, that was ‘Volume 8’ [era], and there was no record label; Ignition, it was all there was right before the labels took a shit. Okay, before I go off on a tangent here, I separated from Anthrax because I needed to buy groceries. I swear to God, it was that bad.
It was Scott Ian who put you in line for the Meat Loaf gig though, wasn’t it?
Scott Ian called me, I don't know a year or two later. Obviously we were talking before then, but Scott called me goes; “hey, Paul, can I put your name in the hat for Meat Loaf?” I'm like; “yeah, sure. Scott. Thank you very much.” So then I got a phone call from Kasim Sulton, who was Meat Loaf’s music director at the time; “you're interested in auditioning?”, I said; “that'd be great. Thank you”, and he sent me a CD of a recent show, the whole two and a half hour show. And I had to learn ‘Paradise By the Dashboard Light’ and ‘Bat Out of Hell’; those two songs. Okay, so I kind of scroll through it because there's no setlist, and I find them and ‘Paradise’, I'm not even kidding was probably twenty-five minutes long, and ‘Bat Out of Hell’ was probably twelve minutes.
That’s a lot of work for an audition!
I'm listening to it, and I'm going; “holy shit, this is really complex. This is really interesting stuff!” I’d never listened to Meat Loaf that intently before. So now I'm getting pretty excited, and I can hear the challenge; there's a challenge here that's going to take me out of my comfort zone, which I'm really into. I like to live just slightly out of my comfort zone. I think it was David Bowie that said, just always have your feet quiet not touching the ground.
So, on the edge?
You always want to be around people who are better than you; yeah, it's the only it's the only way to grow. You know, so, like, going back to Neverland Express [Meat Loaf’s band], I'm the worst position on the band, you know? This band is crazy, dude, and I like it that way because they keep me on my toes.
Okay, so it took me probably five days to get just those two songs to a point where I could actually play through them. I had about ten days before the audition in New York, and I said; “you know what, I'm going to learn the whole show”. So my audition day comes, I drive into Manhattan, and It's SIR Studios in New York on Lower Manhattan. I get in and the band’s there, and they're all really friendly, and in comes Meat Loaf. He comes in, and he looked great. I'll never forget the way he looked. He was really handsome. He had a full length like pea coat on, and he looked really sharp man. He looked like a fucking rockstar. It was great. It was exciting. It’s fucking Meat Loaf!
That must have been something! What happened next?
He introduced himself, we shook hands and he looks at me and he goes; “okay”, really, really nicely, very politely; “Bad Out of Hell”, and he points to me. Okay. John just goes [counts in the song] come, and we go into it. I got through it, thankfully; it's a complex song, man. And he turned around, and he goes; “good job, Paul. Okay, ‘Paradise”. So we went to do ‘Paradise’, and I fucked up the intro; I missed a string! We finished the song and he turns around and he goes; “good job, Paul. Just do me a favour, just play me the intro”, so I just played the intro, and I hit it - thank God - that time. And then he goes; “good job, Paul!”, and he gave me a thumbs up, and he goes to Kasim [Sulton, bass]; “you know, man, I feel good. I just want to keep singing. Can we can we keep going?” He goes; “thank you very much, Paul”, expecting me to pack up and leave. But there weren't any other guitar players in the room, so I just said loudly; “I know the whole show”. And Meat was at the mic, and he turns around [slowly] goes like this; “go”. John just went right into ‘Life is a Lemon’, and then we did the whole show. Two and a half hours. I did the whole thing without stopping. He turned around at the end, he started clapping, like applauding me, and he goes; “I'll see you in Germany next week”. And he left.
That’s an incredible story!
Well, yeah. Now, to answer your question - that was a long way to get to it - that's what kept me in the band was that attitude; it's not complacency. It's every day, and I swear on the souls of my dogs, I say this every night when I go to sleep; “today, how did I make myself better?” And as long as I took one step forward, if even if it's a baby step, I'm okay. I do that every day, man, I'm telling you. Whether it's, you know, trying to get a good bend in on on the guitar; trying to get something in on production; cueing learning something; becoming more loving as a human being; or even doing a good deed. Like, in my area where my studio is there's there unfortunately a small homeless community developing, so even buying them socks or jacket or dinner, even something as simple as that. It can set your day up perfectly.
That’s a genuinely beautiful attitude to have to life.
Right? So I always try to just, again, better myself, and that's where Meat was too, and that's what kept me as his longest reigning guitar player. I'm telling you; it's hard work, and the reason why I work so hard is, you see these fucking kids on YouTube? Holy shit. Are you kidding me? I mean, just ripping, and they're like , 12 years old, and, you know, they're right around the corner! [Laughing] So it's like; “holy shit, I’d better keep up on my stuff!” So I'm always woodshedding; I am always cranking you know, in the morning, I'm doing my scales, and I'm hearing Zakk Wylde in my head. I love that guy, and he's always practising. He's never not playing, and that's why he's so fucking great.
Going back to earlier in your career, and how did you land the Anthrax gig?
At this time in Anthrax’s career, this was right after ‘[Sound of] White Noise’ , right. I'm still really tight with the guys, like I was a roadie for ‘Persistence’ into ‘Killer Bees’, and then I went out teching for Slayer on ‘Seasons in the Abyss’, and then I was teching for Michael Schenker. Then I wanted to do my own thing, so I left the road and was just slugging it out in the clubs. In through that whole time, I was still really tight with the guys, especially Charlie.
So you and Charlie Benante were particularly close?
Yeah. Charlie and I early on, clicked right away. I don't know why. I don't know what it was, but for some reason, he and I just got on. Don't get me wrong; god, all the guys are fucking great, but for some reason, Charlie and I talked all the time. So at that time, my parents were living in New Hampshire, and I was in Jersey, so there was a road to get up to New Hampshire and I'd have to pass the Anthrax studio every time. And every time I took that road trip, I’d always stop in. This time was on the way back; I called Charlie, he was there – he's always there. He was always working, Charlie. Charlie's one of these guys; he's an artist. He's always playing. He's never not playing. If he's not playing drums, he's playing guitar; if he's not playing guitar, he's playing piano; if he's not playing piano, he's drawing. He's just he's just a creative guy. He's incredibly talented.
So you call into the studio where they’re demoing ‘Stomp’?
I stopped there, and he's at the eight track, like a Fostex cassette eight track, and he's playing me a new song, and it was fucking badass! Yeah. And he goes; “hey, man, do you hear a solo here?” I said; “yeah”, and he goes; “can you put a solo down?” I'm like; “yeah, sure”. So I just start jamming and put a solo down. Okay. Here comes another one. For the life of me. I can't remember the songs. And he goes; “how about this one?” and I said; “yeah, sure”. Solo. Alright. We had fun. Then I went home. About a month later, I get a phone call from Charlie, and he's like; “Paul, can you come down to the studio?” They're in a place called Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, which is about an hour from me. I said; “yeah, what's up, buddy?” He goes; “yeah, Danny's out. We need you to play guitar”, and I was like; “holy shit!”
So that’s when you learned that Dan Spitz was out of Anthrax?
Obviously I was kind of conflicted because I love Danny. At that time, Danny didn't piss me off. I mean, he pisses me off now once a while when I talk to him, you know?! Danny and I, we get along fine, but it's funny; we have words every once in a while! But I felt bad! Because I love Danny! So anyway, then I'm excited, and I call my brother who's my biggest fan. He's like; “holy shit!”, so I packed up my I pick up my Paul Reed Smith and that's it; that's all I took; just my Paul Reed Smith.
The first time I ever heard you on an album, was the opening track on ‘Stomp 442’, and that’s such a killer solo on ‘Random Acts of Senseless Violence’.
Thank you very much. The first song I recorded was ‘Random Acts’. That solo was a that was a joint venture. This is how it happened. We get in, and Charlie plays it for me and I'm like; “wow, this is fucking cool, this is fucking heavy!” Okay, so here's a solo section and it's me, Charlie and Scott. Frankie [Bello] was home, and John [Bush] wasn't there either. So we're just kind of jamming and trying to find stuff and the Charlie goes; “hey, can you do [whammy bar part]”; that was Charlie’s idea. And I said; “yeah, fuckin’ Jeff Hanneman, like that!”, right? And Scott Ian goes; “no, K.K. fucking Downing!”, and he was right. It's [Judas Priest's] ‘Sinner’! I'm thinking like, ‘Raining Blood’ live, you know, you know, but Scott goes right to ‘Sinner’, which is totally correct because obviously Jeff and Kerry [King] got that from K.K. Downing.
So they gave you the direction for the opening of that solo?
Yeah. So that's it; those opening, stabs, that's Charlie Benante. Then that quick riff, that's me; that was my lick, and then coming back into Charlie's idea. So that that was it. That's how that happened.
I interviewed John Bush a few of years ago and this was actually my fault; I said to him; “Have you thought about going out and doing some of those Anthrax songs on a tour as ‘John Bush – Only’, or ‘Sound Of White Noise’?”; the idea seems to have picked up momentum, and John has said he’d like to see you involved. How do you feel about that?
Yeah! Any time you're around John Bush, it's a blessing; whether it's musically, or just hanging out, having a drink, the guy is one of the greatest human beings that's ever walked the earth. Honestly, I can't say enough positive reinforcement about this man. Now vocally, he's one of the greatest ever recorded in metal. We know this. So the thought of sharing your stage with him, obviously, is incredibly, you know, I’m so honoured with the thought of that. Now, and then playing those songs?! You know, I love ‘White Noise’, you know, I love those records so much, so I'm really excited about this. And, you know, John and I, we talk about it. We’ve talked about it several times already, you know. John and I are texting a lot. We do a lot of texting, and, yeah, it's still very much alive. This all still, could very much happen.
I love to hear that!
Yeah, we have a band idea too. There is a band line-up. I'm not going to mention that, because that's John's thing, this is John's territory. But I'm letting you know that when this when this does happen - it's going to happen - it's going to be fucking badass.
We’ve not even talked about the album you produced yet, ‘Volume 8’.
I love that record. Yeah. ‘Catharsis’ is so incredible. What a shame that was never a hit. That guitar part, that's Charlie playing guitar on the intro. He brought in a sunburst [Gibson] Les Paul, for that part. I remember what Charlie brought in, like, two dozen guitars for that session because his home was maybe five minutes around the corner. So every day, he's bringing a different guitar! And when he put that Les Paul on, ah it was great. Perfect for that track.
You actually played very little guitar on the album; what was it like producing the band only?
Yeah, Charlie was playing a lot of guitar on it. Obviously, I was there for anything that needed me to do. I mean, my ego wanted to play, very badly, but being on the creative, producer side, obviously, you want the artist to expand and spread, and Charlie needed to do that. Charlie, at that time, his guitar playing was getting very proficient, and you could see the confidence in his hands, so I wasn't going to take that away from him. I'm not going to go; “hey, I want to play a solo here”; I'm not going to do that to him. You know, this is his band. Who the fuck am I? You know? So when that whenever Charlie said; “I don't know what to do here”, I would then step in. That’s how that worked.
Dimebag Darrell also contributed solos to that album, as well as ‘Stomp 442’.
Obviously, you’ve got to call Dimebag. You’ve got to bring Dimebag in, you know? You can’t say; “no, Dimebag can’t play!” [Laughing]
Did you work directly with Dimebag in the studio?
No. What we did was I just put together a stereo set a mix, I sent it down to Sterling [Winfield, producer], and Sterling put it up on the studio, and then Dimebag just tracked to it, and then sent his parts back. And then we just dropped it in, you know. And then with Phil [Anselmo]'s parts [on the song ‘Killing Box’], we were out on tour with Pantera and I brought an ADAT and a mixing console and a 57 [Shure SM57 microphone] and set it up in the dressing room, and Phil just grabbed the 57 and just screamed into the mic. And that's how we tracked him.
‘Volume 8’ is probably the least talked about Anthrax record, but it probably has one of the best productions of the Bush era.
And we recorded that for under $20,000. Well, think about that! There was no money, man. We did it on four ADATs and a Mackie console, that's it, in Krusty’s Fun House, which was the Anthrax rehearsal studio. Very minimal.
Back to the present, and tell me about the upcoming U.K. dates for Celebrating Meat Loaf.
We are so excited about this. We've been waiting patiently to get over there, and this is the time. This is our window, and we're going to take advantage of it. The fans have been asking, and we can't wait to get there. We've always said U.K. is our family. There's something about the U.K. that Meat Loaf just resonated with. He loved being there. We are beyond excited to bring this there, and I am so excited to have people heat Caleb with these songs, because he doesn't he performs them beautifully. The band is in top shape, and we have some beautiful venues we're doing. It’s been too long. We’ve got to see you guys!
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Celebrating Meat Loaf featuring The Neverland Express play the U.K. in May. For tickets, click HERE.
Sat 20th OXFORD – New Theatre
Sun 21st BIRMINGHAM – Symphony Hall
Tues 23rd GLASGOW – Royal Concert Hall
Thurs 25th GATESHEAD – Sage
Fri 26th MANCHESTER – Bridgewater Hall
Sat 27th LONDON – Indigo At The O2