Big In Japan: Our Interview With Terry Ilous

Show of hands: how many of you think most rock stars are self-centered jerks? I've got someone today who will change your mind.

Terry Illous has always been the lead singer of XYZ and is also the current lead singer of Great White. He's also a badass because he's enlisted the help of some major hard rock players (members of Guns N' Roses, AC/DC, Dokken, Whitesnake, Sabbath,etc.) to put on a charity benefit and record a charity single for the American Red Cross Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Relief efforts. How cool is that?

And to prove how charitable he is, Terry was kind enough to sit down and talk with us about the benefit concert and single, the glory days, fronting someone else's band, and whether or not hair bands are making a comeback.

The following is an edited transcript of our conversation:

How are you doing today?
Today's a great day so far. How about yours?

Can't complain. Tell me about '80s Rockers For Japan.
'80s Rockers For Japan started when I was watching the news on the Internet. Basically, I was touched by what was happening over there: a lot of kids without parents, a lot of people in disarray. I saw a little kid that kind of reminded me of my daughter because my daughter is Asian. She was looking for her Dad, for her family. It touched me really deeply because I thought about my own daughter and I said, "Wow. This is so sad. What can I do to help?" I thought, "Well, I can send a little bit of money." Which is a good thing, you know? And then I said, "What else can I do?"

Well, I can sing and I have a lot of friends so maybe I can organize a little get-together and can do a benefit. So I called a few friends and said, "Hey you guys wanna play?" Most everyone said yes right away. I found a club, a small club [Harper's] that would do that. The club owner said, "Yeah, we can give 100% of the door. No problem."

That's great.
Yeah, and we contacted the Red Cross and said, "Look, I don't want to deal with any money because I don't want to pay taxes and I want to make sure the money goes to you. Can you send someone to actually be at the door that night and just collect the money directly?" They decided to send someone from the Red Cross to collect the money. At the same time, I said, "What else can I do?"

So I said, "Maybe I should write a song." So I called a friend of mine, Jeff Paris, who's a really well-known songwriter who has written many big hits for a lot of '80s and '90s rockers. I said, "Jeff, why don't we write a song about it and give the proceeds to Japan?" He said, "That's a really good idea." We wrote a song and I said, "What else can we do?"

So I decided to call a few friends of mine. I called Don Dokken, placed an email with Lita Ford, Richie Kotzen from Poison, who's really big in Japan and said, "Of course, I will play guitar and sing as well." I got members of Whitesnake, former members of AC/DC, Black Sabbath, everybody said, "Dude, whatever you need, I'll be there for you." And all of the sudden, this little tiny idea, this little concept snowballed and I have this thing that I'm trying to handle.

On top of that, what I've decided to do is a live streaming video event. People will be able to watch the show online for free. All I'm asking is you give a few dollars if you want or just do a prayer. If you can do a prayer, I'll be happy.

That's cool. How's the concert going to work? It seems like you've got a guitarist from this band, a bassist from this band, a drummer. Are they just going to go up in groups of five? How's the concert going to work?
We've known each other for years. We've done benefits together. Because we have jammed together, we pretty much know which songs we should do. For example, I'm doing a song with Simon Wright, who was the drummer for AC/DC, and another one with Chris Slade, also of AC/DC. Because I have played with those guys, I know what song we will do. Someone else is going to do a song with Vinny Appice from Black Sabbath. I know Steven Adler from Guns N' Roses is going to be playing with Dizzy [Reed] from Guns N' Roses also.

I have a little kid named Dylan. The kid is twelve years old and just got a record deal with Capitol Records, I'm not sure. He will be singing with Steven Adler and Dizzy Reed! He's actually a web sensation, a little singer, a monster singer. He's doing "Sweet Child O' Mine."

What can you tell me about the charity single? What's it called?
The charity single was written by Jeff Paris and I and it's called "One Family." It basically says we're all one family. The first line of song is, "Lean on me, you're not alone" because the truth is, in times of darkness, we always feel like no one's around us. We feel alone. The fact is there is always someone you can call whether it's a friend, your cousin, your mom, even sometimes a stranger.

It's a pop song. It's not a heavy metal song at all.

Is it like a ballad?
It's a ballad. A power ballad. When people read the lyrics and hear the song, they'll get emotional because it reminds them of times of darkness when we all feel like we're alone and no one loves us anymore.

Like you said, you just got Steven Adler and Dizzy Reed from Guns N' Roses to join the project. Was there anyone you really wanted but they couldn't do it for one reason or another?
(Laughs) You want controversy! You want the dirt, right?

Yeah, sure. Why not?
I can't do that. I'd be very tempted to say it because I am so hurt. Some people didn't even bother returning the phone call. Some people are like, "I've got things to do. I've got to go on vacation." I'm like, "Dude, all I'm asking is can you sing two lines? It'll take maybe ten minutes." But I think it's important to thank the ones that are doing it and concentrate on the positive because I am a Buddhist.

Is the song going to be like "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and "We Are The World" where one guy does two lines, and then another guy comes in?
Yes. It's the same concept except with '80s rockers. We're all going to sing a couple of lines.

Let's go back in time for a bit. What are your feelings when you hear the phrase hair band? Are you cool with that?
Yeah, I'm cool with that. We all had long hair and lots of hairspray and stuff. It's part of our generation. I don't know how old you are and if you were part of that.

I was. I was 18 in '88 so this music was a big part of growing up.
So you were wearing the spandex as well, with the long hair, trying to get the chicks, right?

That's right.
Listening to Ratt, "Round And Round," going to parties and hoping to get laid like everybody else. It was so cool. It's part of who we are and that's not going to change. We used to have long hair, hairspray, spandex, all that stuff but we don't have that any more because most of us are too fat. But you know what? The spirit is alive! I don't care what people say.

I go to rock concerts all the time because I still perform a lot and I see people, they may be fifty years old, but they still have the spirit. They don't have hair anymore, but it doesn't matter.

With the success of Rocklahoma and the Motley Crue/Poison tour this summer, do you think this music's headed for a comeback?
Oh yeah, especially right now. There are so many tours and '80s events. For example, I'm the lead singer of the band XYZ but I'm also touring right now Great White. The singer is ill and I've been replacing Jack [Russell] until he gets better. Whenever we do shows with other bands -- we're doing a festival coming up with Whitesnake, Tesla, Mr. Big, Skid Row, all these bands -- there's already 30,000 tickets sold. Yes, it's huge. I think what's happening is as we get older, we don't want to let go of our youth.

What are the fans' reactions seeing you onstage with Great White?
Really good because I'm not pretending to be Jack. I have a tremendous respect for Jack and I always thank him every night. The first thing I do when I play is say, "People, I want you to say, 'Jack, get well.'" Every night. That's his band. He's the voice. I have no intention of taking over. I respect the fans. I give them the best that I have. I sing my ass off every night.

The reaction so far is tremendous from the fans. You always have one guy or two telling you, "I like Jack better." Well, good for you. Jack is not here tonight and I'm here to sing the songs.

Do you get to do any XYZ songs with the band?
No. I try not to. I'm there for Great White. I will do whatever Great White asks me to do. As a performer, I respect the band and have tremendous respect for the singer. I think it would be disrespectful. If they want to hear XYZ, then they can come to an XYZ show. But yet I do get requests, let's face it. "Can you do an XYZ song?" Nope.

I understand that. Besides Great White and the benefit, what are you up to nowadays?
I produced a French artist. You know I'm French Spanish?

Yeah, you didn't sound like you were from North Carolina.
(Laughter) Really? You thought I was from Texas, right?

I'm actually French Spanish. I was born in Spain and the rest of my youth I grew up in France. I produced an artist named Cindy Sander. I did a reality TV show that became the #1 TV show in France, Belgium, Switzerland. Huge, huge TV show. I had no idea this would happen. The song is really big over there right now.

What is it?
"Les Mots d'Amour." It's a hit over there.

I read that you were an actor on Passions. Do you still do any acting?
I still do acting. Mostly voiceovers. In fact, I just scored the new Toyota jingle. I do lots of jingles. I do cartoons, lots of cartoons because I love kids. I've done the Rug Rats, Stuart Little, all that stuff.

Ok. I won't keep you much longer. We've got three questions we ask every guest. They're our CB3. Michael Jackson or Prince?

Debbie Gibson or Tiffany?
You mean to sleep with?

Your choice.
Debbie Gibson. Not to sleep with. I was joking. On a real level, Debbie Gibson, I think.

Pretty In Pink or Sixteen Candles?
You know what, I don't even know what that is. Is that a show?

They're movies.
Movies? Oh yes! Sixteen Candles.

That's it and thanks for taking the time to talk with us today and I wish you the best of luck with '80s Rockers For Japan.
Thank you! And thank you so much for the phone call. I really appreciate it.

The '80s Rockers For Japan benefit concert is an all-ages show that will be held on April 16th, 2011 at Harper's in Tarzana, California. If you are unable to make it out to see the show in person, you can watch a live streaming broadcast provided by Front Row Entertainment. Proceeds from the show will be donated to the American Red Cross.

For more information about Terry Ilous, visit his website, follow him on Twitter, or check out the official XYZ site.

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