Known best for being the lead singer for rock band Great White since 2009, and previously as the vocalist/songwriter for prog-rockers XYZ, it may come as a surprise to music fans to know that while Terry Ilous loves his career as a frontman in the pulse-pounding world of hard rock and metal, he started out in life wanting to be involved in a more gentler, more romantic form of music.
In fact, he wanted to be a crooner, perhaps in the ilk of someone like Michael Buble currently is.
Finally able to marry his passion for a more dulcet, exotic and intimate style of music with his powerhouse vocal prowess, Ilous recently released a cover album of rock and pop classics – but with a very unique twist.
Bringing in some of California’s top Latin and Flamenco musicians, he re-arranged the songs to have a distinctive sound and tone representing those beautifully distinct and exotic musical styles, releasing the album Gypsy Dreams on iTunes at the end of April. Physical copies will be available on May 27.
“As you can tell from my accent, I am from Europe. My mom is French and father was a Spaniard from Barcelona. And when I was growing up my step-dad used to take me to flamenco events to watch the dancers and flamenco guitar players and I fell in love with that sound. I have always loved that sound and I always respected and appreciated musicians who did that kind of music. Eventually I became a rock and roll singer because that was the best way to make a living doing music. But I always said that one day I would mix the two together. And the timing now was perfect because I had recently met some great musicians in Los Angeles and they played flamenco music – they were Spanish-speaking Mexican people and we became friends and decided to make a record,” Ilous said from his home near Los Angeles.
“Actually, I have a confession to make; I never wanted to be a rock and roll singer. I wanted to be a crooner. Believe it or not, my idol was Tom Jones. I wanted to be like him because I wanted to be able to sing to women like he does. But when I came to the U.S. in the 1980s nobody was interested in a crooner. So what else was I going to do but keep singing rock and roll?
“I always loved Frank Sinatra too, and I know that it sounds weird for a guy who made a career from rock and roll, but I really enjoy all kinds of music; my ears are open to everything. I like country music, I like classical music – if a piece of music is beautiful, it’s beautiful. And here’s another reason why I wanted to be a crooner, when you are a singer in a rock and roll band, nobody in the audience can really hear you. When you play a ballad it’s not so bad and all of a sudden people can hear the singer more clearly. So I decided early in my career that someday I want to sing ballads.”
The other musicians on the album include guitarists Luis Villegas, Jose Garcia and Ben Woods, bassists Mike Paganini and Mike Bennett, drummer/percussionists Jesse Stern, Chris Trujillo and Al Velasquez with up and coming singer/songwriter Natalie Gelman providing background vocals. Villegas has been nominated for a Grammy Award, while Trujillo formerly played with Toto and The Black Crowes Bennett has been in backing bands and done studio work for Alicia Keys, Pitbull and Ritchie Kotzen, among others, while Velasquez has performed alongside Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Michael McDonald and Albert Lee.
There are nine covers included on Gypsy Dreams, starting off with a very cool take on the Led Zeppelin classic Whole Lotta Love, as well as two songs that pay tribute to the late great Ronnie James Dio: Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell, and Rainbow’s Kill the King.
“I always wanted to record Heaven and Hell in a flamenco way and the same for the Zeppelin track. If you listen to a lot of Led Zeppelin, you know that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are really into Middle Eastern music and a Spanish vibe. Songs like Kashmir and In the Light are really exotic songs and they were always experimenting with interesting instruments,” Ilous explained.
“And for songs like [Don Henley’s] Boys of Summer and Wicked Game [Chris Isaac], I just love those songs. I don’t know how it is for you and your readers but as a fan of music yourself and for myself, when we listen to a song it brings us back to a certain moment in time; driving on the freeway with a beautiful girl, or sad moments when we lost someone or something. Music brings us back and music brings emotion out of us. For me, it was a no brainer when I started looking for the songs I wanted to cover on this album.
“I know I always loved Ride Like the Wind by Christopher Cross. When I was a kid and that song came out and then Sailing came after it, I thought ‘holy s*** those songs are so good, so well written and so natural for his voice.’ That guy was amazing. So I just wanted to try and recreate that vibe with a Latin twist and I am happy with how our version of Ride Like the Wind came out. My overall philosophy for this whole project was I want to re-record these songs, but respect the artist and the structure of the song, and still give it my own twist.”
When the musicians came together to jam some possible tunes for inclusion on the album, Kill the King was one that shot to the top of everybody’s list as that absolutely needed to be recorded.
“We sat own and started hammering through them and sometimes it was like, ‘nah, this one doesn’t work.’ And some songs were like, ‘holy ***t it works!’ When we did Kill the King, who would have known that song could be done in a flamenco way? But you know what, it worked and I am going to send Ritchie Blackmore the track and he is going to say, ‘are you kidding me?’ And then he is going to hear the amazing guitar playing and I know then he is going to like it. He should like our guitar players because they are real, authentic flamenco players and I know he likes a lot of older, medieval and exotic sounds,” Ilous said, adding that it was at the behest of a former manager that he first went to see some of the musicians who ended up collaborating with him on Gypsy Dreams.
“He said that I needed to check out these flamenco guitar players who were doing renditions of some heavy metal songs. So I went to see them and I thought they were amazing. They were really respecting the integrity of the songs, but they didn’t have a vocalist. They were doing the songs the way they were written instrumentally but using flamenco instruments. I thought it was exactly what I was looking for and started jamming with them
“We then put together a little concert and I really felt something special in the crowd. I wouldn’t say they were mesmerized because that would be pretentious, but I would say that the crowd was really surprised and their response was amazing. I knew at that particular moment that I had something special. It’s rock music, but it gives the audience something different and something special. Right after that show we put together a budget to get the album done.”
Ilous said he is anxious to play some shows with his flamenco backing band and has already played some private and corporate shows, with the hopes of going over to Europe and perhaps to Canada later in the year.
“We will come to Canada because I am a big fan of your country. The thing about Canada is it’s a very eclectic crowds – there are all kinds of different people. People come from all over the world to live in Canada and Canadians have this tendency to love and respect all kinds of religions, all kinds of cultures and everything. So I am looking forward to playing in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary – wherever I can,” he said, continuing to extol the virtues of the Great White North.
“In America, people have a tendency to not want to try something different. They usually hold back, whereas in Canada they are quick to accept different things, different cultures, different music, different food, because you are so multicultural. You are almost European. To me, Canada is a mix of the U.S. and Europe and you have taken the best of both worlds. I was in Canada with Great White very recently and it went very well.”
Ilous joined Great White first as a fill-in singer for long-time vocalist Jack Russell in 2009. When Russell went on to form his own version of the band, Ilous was dubbed as the full time, permanent singer.
“It’s been a great experience being with Great White, and we are so excited because we are releasing a new album Full Circle on June 2. It was produced by Michael Wagener, who is a wonderful producer who has worked with Extreme, Skid Row, Metallica, Ozzy and so many other great bands. It was a wonderful experience, a positive experience and a very humbling experience to work with somebody who is such a big name. And it’s really bluesy, this album; it’s back to being dirty and raunchy and slow. I am really proud of this Great White album and I hope that the fans like it and give it a chance,” he said, and said he has been pleased with how fans have embraced him since joining the fold. In 2012 the band recorded their first album with him as singer, Elation, which garnered a top-10 hit with the song Hard to Say Goodbye.
“I would say for a majority of fans, they have accepted me because we have toured the same places many times and they keep coming to the shows and having a great time. The first time I got onstage, and this is a funny story, the people did not expect me. The people expected the previous singer; they didn’t know that he didn’t show up because he was ill. So I got up on stage and started singing and at the end of the first song there was complete silence. Imagine that: the venue holds thousands of people and we’re done playing and there’s complete silence. Then suddenly someone shouted out, ‘hey man, that’s Al Pacino on stage’ because I wear sunglasses on stage because I am shy. And in between each song people were shouting out, ‘hey man, what’s your name?’ I had to tell people I was from XYZ and just replacing Jack for a couple of shows. And the crowd was okay with that.
“Some fans, I understand, will never accept me and I am okay with that. Some fans will always love the old Great White with the old singer. And I don’t blame them, by the way, I don’t. I respect that. But a band is a business, that’s why it’s called the music business. People need to understand that the other guys wanted to go on because they need to make a living. And whatever happened between the previous singer and the other guys in the band, I won’t talk about because it has nothing to do with me. I would say more than 80 per cent of the band’s fans have totally accepted me because we so far have given great performances and played our asses off for hundreds of thousands of people since 2009.”
Besides Ilous, Great White is comprised of lead guitarist Mark Kendall, who co-founded the band with Russell in 1977, long-time drummer Audie Desbrow who is on his third extended tour with the band since first joining in 1985, much like multi-instrumentalist Michael Lardie, who is also in his third lengthy stint with the band since 1985. Bassist Scott Snyder joined in 2008.
Once Full Circle is out, Great White will be doing between 60 and 70 dates for the remainder of the year.
“It’s been a perfect fit because I am a blues/rock singer and Great White is a blues/rock band and we all get along so well. I am happy to go on stage with this band every night. Every time I do I thank God for giving me this wonderful opportunity to sing for these fans and to do my job well. I am really, really blessed.”
For more information on Great White, visit http://officialgreatwhite.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at email@example.com.