INTERVJU: Sami Yaffa från Michael Monroe

Sami minns sin gode vän tv-kocken Anthony Bourdain, hur otroligt seriös Joan Jett var, vänskapen med Johnny Thunders och så det där gänget från LA:

The first time I met Slash was at the Cathouse and I was sitting at the bar ordering a drink and there´s this fucking guy doing cartwheels with no shirt on, no shoes and just leather pants and a fucking top hat. I was like “How does the top hat stay on his fucking head?” He was doing cartwheels and he comes over and says “Hey man, how are you doing? I´m Slash.” and he was fucking strung out of his mind. It was interesting. Izzy, Slash and then there´s Duff? It was really funny. It was like a cartoon or something.

How did you come to strike up a friendship with the late Anthony Bourdain?

Well, I lived in New York for 27 years or something like that and one of my favorite local hang outs was this small club called Otto´s Shrunken Head on 14th Street and Avenue B and I knew the owners Nell (Mellon) and Steve (Pang) and they were friends with one of Anthony´s production teams and they had asked Nell if she knew any Fins in New York and she said “Yeah, Sami from New York Dolls is a fin.” and they were like “What?” I went out for a lunch with them and they just wanted to pick my brain about Finnish food culture and I said I was the wrong guy because I moved away when I was 16 and that I had no idea. I go there in the summers to play shows, but that´s about it. Then I told them my view on Finland and they seemed to like it a lot, but not all the weird stuff about the knives and all that. David Johansen calls the Fins “the Puerto Ricans of Scandinavia” I asked him why and he was like “Well, they like to carry knives.” (laughs) We had a second meeting with them, because they didn´t want to do any kind of like nice, white tablecloth. They wanted to go kind of underneath. I know some people from the Romani community, so I said we could do something with them and see what the fucking eat. Then they suggested that I´d be on camera and I asked when that was going to happen and they said it was right aromanfter New Years. I was playing a gig with Michael (Monroe) on New Years so I said “If you pay me for a hotel and so I can eat, I´ll be on camera.” It turned into one week of fucking madness with Anthony. He was really, really amazing and I loved the guy right off the bat. We went to a Helsinki radio station, Radio Rock, to do an interview at eight o´clock in the morning and they offered us these shots of licorice vodka and he said “Great!” Then they asked him to do a top ten list and it could literally have been my list. It was the Stooges, Alice Cooper, Dead Boys, the Stones and it was all the same stuff and I was like “Fuck man, that´s my list!” We got along really well and it was really a fucking amazing week.

He seemed like a really cool guy and his tv-shows were killer.

That was literally one of the only programs I fucking bothered watching and that kind of inspired me to do my own show “Sound Tracker” After I was done filming Anthony´s show I was like “Why hasn´t anybody done a music version of this?” It also tells a lot about people´s cultures and all that. It´s funny when shit collides. It´s meant to happen and nothing was forced.

A totally different thing and I´ve talked to Michael about this. Do you remember Izzy Stradlin going to see you guys in New York the first time Hanoi Rocks played there?

Yeah, but I don´t think it was New York. I think it was Boston. I remember getting mail from him to our office in London and first we were like “Indiana? What the fuck? Lafayette?” and the guy´s name was Izzy and we´d never heard of a guy named Izzy from Indiana, so it was kind of weird. I moved to LA in April 1987 and it was before “Appetite for destruction” came out and they were still playing clubs and I joined the band Jetboy and we played a lot of the same clubs and we were kind of surfing the same scene. At that point Izzy was already really good friends with Timo Kaltio who played with Cherry Bombz. Suddenly I was hanging out with Izzy and I would see GNR when they played small clubs and it was fucking badass. It was really amazing. The first time I met Slash was at the Cathouse and I was sitting at the bar ordering a drink and there´s this fucking guy doing cartwheels with no shirt on, no shoes and just leather pants and a fucking top hat. I was like “How does the top hat stay on his fucking head?” He was doing cartwheels and he comes over and says “Hey man, how are you doing? I´m Slash.” and he was fucking strung out of his mind. It was interesting. Izzy, Slash and then there´s Duff? It was really funny. It was like a cartoon or something.

How would you describe Los Angeles at that time with all the bands playing the clubs and competing with each other?

I had no idea. This was two years after Hanoi Rocks split up and I wasn´t doing much music. I was just getting my head straight and when I went over there I had no idea about the scene. I think it was like the second or third night that the guys took me to the Cathouse and it was like fucking 500 people who were all fucking Hanoi Rocks look-alikes. I was like “Well, there´s five Michaels, three Andys and a couple of Nastys.” It was fucking weird and I was like “Wow, what´s going on here?” But there was the Hollywood scene and then there was the downtown scene with the Scream club and Jane´s Addiction, so there were two really fucking interesting scenes happening at the same time. I was literally out every night. Burning Tree and Broken Home and a ton of great bands. It was cool, it really was. It was very stripper driven. Every broke musician seemed to be living with a stripper and I found that really odd. It was weird, man. It was a fucking funny scene. I really enjoyed it, but it was really business. New York is different business wise, but LA is just business. All these lawyers and managers promising you fucking Lamborghinis. When I moved there, I came there on like a Tuesday or something and they wanted to throw me a party. We went out Friday, Saturday and Sunday and they asked me where I wanted to go for a picknick and I didn´t know anything about LA, except for the horrible and tragic thing that happened to Razzle, but the Stones in “Some girls” sing about “Suma Beach”, so I said I wanted to go there and they were like “Suma? Why?” and I said “Because the Stones sing about it!” It was really far and we drove for fucking two hours and there´s nothing there. It´s beautiful, but we ended up there because of the Stones song.

Did you ever talk to the GNR guys in those early days about how they kind of looked like you guys in Hanoi Rocks?

I think it was just right at the beginning. Axl teased up his hair and I think “Welcome to the jungle” was the only thing, but I thought they really had their own thing going. Steven Adler was like a surfer dude and Slash was his own fucking character. They had their own thing right from the beginning. It was them and Jane´s Addiction, they were two fucking great bands. There was a lot of mediocrity and it ended up selling well. I thought “Maybe I should just concentrate on mediocrity and actually become rich that way?” (laughs)

Do you remember a band called The Joneses in LA?

Yeah, Jeff Drake! I remember those guys. They were bad news, man. It was the same with Jane´s Addiction. I don´t want to talk too much about drugs, but we had our own problems in Hanoi and I´d gotten over all that and then I sensed the vibe from those two bands and I was like “I´m not getting close to those guys.” Not a healthy thing, but they were good.

They kind of looked like Hanoi Rocks as well.

When we went to England in 82 for the first time and then when we came back, there was already look alike bands and it´s a form of flattery and it´s really cool. It´s a weird thing, man. When we did our thing, we didn´t get noticed that much and then to come out of that and kind of get back into the business, it was really weird that suddenly everything we did and went through and played every shit hole in Scandinavia and in the UK, was suddenly this whole fucking culture. It was cool.

When you were a kid, what made you decide to become a musician and then just go for it? Was there a band or a record?

My brother was a musician and still is. He´s a sax player, but it´s like avantgarde jazz. Hardcore. I always had like an onslaught of all kinds of music. My brother´s eight years older than me, so he hated everything I listened to like Sweet, Slade and Alice Cooper and said “Do I really have to listen to School´s out a thousand times?” He was fucking dying. He influenced me in a way that I noticed how serious he was and he practiced eight hours a day and I found something really fascinating about that. A lot of friends in school played piano, drums or guitar or whatever and I was like “What the fuck am I going to play?” My brother did this kind of test for me when I was 12 or 13 and he put on some music and said “Hum what you hear!” and I always started humming the fucking bass line, so I thought maybe that was my fucking instrument. I asked my dad if he could buy me a bass. He said “I´ll give you half the money.” and I said “I´m 13, where am I going to get the other half?” and he pointed at my record collection, which was like the apple of my fucking eye, baby. He said “If you sell that, I know you mean business.” It was kind of a cool thing. The same day I sold my record collection at a secondhand record store and there was a secondhand music store next to it, so I went in and I bought an Aria Diamond. I was really into prog stuff in the beginning. The next day fucking Weather Report came to Finland and my brother bought tickets. It fucking blew my head off. At the same time I realized I could never do that. Half a year later Sex Pistols came on TV and the rest is history. I finally found my own fucking music. Next day in school my friends were like “Did you fucking see that?” and everybody went out and got “Never mind the bollocks” and that´s where we went from and it turned into a punk community in Helsinki. That´s where I went. That´s the basis of it, but I´m glad I learned the diddlydoo first.

You´ve done a lot of cool shit. Hanoi Rocks, Jetboy, Johnny Thunders, New York Dolls and now playing with Michael Monroe…

Yeah, and Joan Jett for two and a half years. She´s a badass. She´s the true thing and I can´t say anything bad about her, it´s just the organization that is too rigid and weird for my taste, but it was a fucking pleasure playing with her. I learned a lot, because they were really hardcore about backing vocals, super hardcore. If you sang one fucking note flat, you´d hear about it right after the gig. I was like “Are you serious? Fucking relax, man!” but at the same time, that´s the way you learn. It was a trip, but it was a lot of work. She´s a fucking work horse. Every fucking week. Wednesday out, home on Sunday, relax on Monday and Tuesday and then Wednesday out again for two and a half years. I got to play all those classic songs and she´s also one of the baddest rhythm guitar players. She´s so fucking laid back. I come from the punk so I tend to lean forward and then I saw them and I had to take a breath and lean back. You learn from everything.

Did you learn anything from Johnny Thunders?

Watch out what you do man! (laughs) He was a sweetheart and I loved the guy. He moved to Stockholm and married a Swedish girl, him and Jerry Nolan and they literally lived like two subway stations away from me, so we hung out a lot. Johnny would be playing cards with my kid and then watching some gangster movies in the afternoon. He was a friend. He asked me to play a couple of shows with him in Sweden and every time he would pop up in LA in 87-89, he would never announce it ahead of time. It was always “Hey, want to make some money?”  and I would say “Yeah, what are we going to play?” and he´d go “What do you think?”

And the Dolls?

Super amazing guys. When I did the audition at Steve´s studio in New York, Sylvain told me to learn like three songs and then we ended up playing the whole first record. At that point I was like “I don´t care if I get the fucking gig, I got to do this.” I don´t know how many other even people got to this, playing the first New York Dolls album from top to bottom. They called me a couple of days later and told me I got the gig and off we went. It was the best fucking six years. It was fucking amazing and it was creative. It wasn´t just rehashing the old stuff, it was coming up with new stuff too and every time we went on the road it was great. Never a bad vibe. A lot of love and laughter and great fucking insane gigs.

Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen

Foto: GNR av Jack Lue, Sami Yaffa (RS) av Erik Larsson