Hailing from Australia and with years of guitar playing under his belt, I only heard Jimmy Petkoff’s band RAVEN BLACK NIGHT a couple of years back, and thought they were that perfect combination of rough around the edges, but very likeable ( a bit like my best friends ) and after grabbing the Barbarian Winter CD on Metal Blade, the songs quickly revealed themselves to be something special. If you are inspired by massive doom riffs, great songwriting, clean vibrato singing and cool guitar solos, but you don’t mind your music having a bit of an edge, a bit of realism, then read on. If your friends go to Toni and Guy for haircuts, then you may as well not. But let’s face it, I’ll have already filtered your asses out by the very existence of the picture above.
After our review of 2013’s Barbarian Winter here, I was really pleased that Jimmy agreed to an interview with OldMan’sMettle. A man with a plan is always interesting – the lion is most handsome when looking for food after all – and there is something reassuringly honest about Jimmy and his flowing responses to these questions, so sit back, get yourself a beer, and let him restore your faith in rock and roll.
OMM: Hi Jimmy, thanks for looking at these questions. First off, and for the benefit of those who don’t know you, can you give us a brief description of your background as a guitarist, songwriter, and performer?
JP: Greetings to all music brothers and sisters, yes I having been playing guitar and singing and recording for at least 30 years, I started playing blues rock in 1989 – Cream, Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn and a lot of Chicago and English blues in 1989, still going but never released any official recording, from that in 1991 stemmed a Jimi Hendrix tribute Third Stone I do occasionally. In 1994 me and my brother Tom started The Loving Tongue that has released four cds. In 1999 I started Raven Black Night with Rino Amorino and released our first cd If You Choose The Dark with Matt Spencer on bass/vox and Joe Toscano on drums in 2005, since then we have had various rhythm sections to the present coming to Europe twice and releasing Barbarian Winter on Metal Blade records, I also have a psychedelic acid rock project called The Caterpillar Explosion, no official releases. Somewhere I find time to sing in a Iron Maiden band called Children of the Damned – no rest for the wicked they say.
OMM: Raven Black Night is such a great band. Did you have a plan when you created the act – rehearsing, gigs, touring, recordings etc. – and has it worked out as expected?
JP: When I first met fellow guitar player Rino we just wanted to play really heavy doomy music with some gothic atmosphere and a real black Sabbath hard rock attitude. Rino knew Matt Spencer who plays in a death metal experimental band called One Step Beyond, he was looking to groove a bit more from his other band. After our first drummer One Step Beyond guitar player Jeremy Lamas left I bought Joe Toscano in from The Loving Tongue – he came from a more progressive rock background. With that line up we always rehearsed drunk!!!!! and played as many shows as we could in Adelaide. South Australia at that time had no hard rock bands left, many of them broke up – lack of opportunity – it was all death, black metal nu metal or indie and there was a underground gothic scene we didn’t fit or care. For some reason things came to us – interest from Europe, other parts of Australia, we released two demos Raven Black Night self-titled in 2000 and Morbid Gladiator demo – two songs in 2002. We then went to the bigger cites in Australia, Sydney and Melbourne and slowly built up followings there. We finally released If You Choose the Dark independently, we sold out three pressings and had a lot of great reviews from Europe, Australia and America, by then we got offered to play Head Bangers Open Air in 2006 – tension, lack of communication saw Matt and Joe leave so we finally got to play there in 2007 with bands such as Candlemass, Bullet, Rage and many others with a rhythm section from Adelaide’s death metal scene. Unfortunately there was many ego problems with them but the shows we did including the after show at the ballroom were great. With Rino’s blessing I did two extra shows – Hells Pleasure and Hard and Heavy Summer Nights with my brother on bass/vox and Dimitrios on drums from Greek metal bands Zemial and Agatus we also played a few Loving Tongue numbers. The shows went great as well considering Hells Pleasure was extreme festival we got the crowd singing along and Hard and Heavy Summer Nights had the upcoming Sabaton playing. After that me and Rino played around Australia, my brother on bass or Chris [Agatus] when he was available ( he lived in Australia at that time ) and various drummers and we got to recording the Barbarian Winter album with drummer Matt Enright. To our surprise Allen from Metal Blade and Primordial and European arm of Metal Blade expressed interest in it, and we got a world wide release in 2013 and it got got some really good reviews ,some not so good some ridicules ones to amazing ones – at least we polarised opinion. And it’s still selling. There was a real low key compilation cd of our first album in 2016 and unreleased demos and a few out takes on Barbarian Winter on a double cd called Return of the Metal Martyrs on Blood and Iron records, we also have a few tracks on metal or death vinyl killer metal records released 2010. The last 5 or so years we have worked on new songs, rehearsed a lot, occasionally perform which led us to play Up the Hammers in Athens Greece this year. We have nearly finished the demo of 20 songs and pick the best to finally record a follow up to Barbarian Winter. As you can see been a wild ride that continues to fly – the raven gets restless, I never could have scripted anything its like there is a secret member or force guiding us!!!!!!.
OMM: I don’t want to leave out the rest of your band – they are an interesting looking bunch. How much are they involved in the music creation? Do they have their own musical projects? Can you tell us a bit about them?
JP: Well past recording members Matt Spencer and Joe Toscano that played on If You Choose the Dark album had a strong input, Matt even wrote a few songs and contributed riffs and ideas of arrangements to others and was involved in the studio.J oe went back to playing some progressive rock and till recently was involved in a progressive album involving musicians around the globe, He recently came back to The Loving Tongue – we are currently writing and rehearsing for a new album. With the recording members of Barbarian Winter Chris Dorian who played bass returned to Europe and has been recording and touring with Agatus and various projects with his brother Dimitrios Zemial Chris was great in suggesting some musical arrangements we also did demos in his home studio, Matt Enright had one rehearsal and one day in the studio with us – great drummer, he was playing with a band called Black Orchid a Nightwish type band and recorded with Chalice and a epic band called Virgin Black he also toured. We have had some interesting members and experiences in between – this band does things to people it certainly sorts out the men from the boys!!!!!!
OMM: How was the recording for Barbarian Winter? You got such a good sound with it.
JP: It became a way of life I worked on it for nearly a year Me and Rino recorded the bed tracks with Chris Dorian on bass and some guitar before he went to live in Europe and as I mentioned drummer Matt Enright had one rehearsal and one day recording it on a 40 degree plus day. It was at a studio called Against the Grain that has since moved – it was in a old 18th century incinerator, heritage listed, only two in the southern hemisphere, it sometimes has a creepy but exhilarating feel in there. After Rino layed down his parts I got lost for a while re doing vocals and guitars and drinking many beers. To Andy’s credit the engineer he stuck with all my bizarre ideas and we mixed it. When I mastered it the Metal Blade deal came, it was such a relief – many thought, at least in our home town, the band was done, we came back with a almighty punch and started playing shows and doing some great support slots including Uriah Heep and Gus G’s Firewind along the way. We tried but could not get any offers to come back to Europe in that time until Athens this year. A lot of time was spent on the recording, blood sweat and tears. Funny enough I just spent a year on our new demo at the same place called Wundenberg studios – yeas it it still has other worldly vibes there.
OMM: I watched some of your live videos over the years and the frontline is a humbucker rhythm guitar and you play a single coil strat – was it always that way, or did you experiment to get the right sound?
JP: Yes it has always been like that, Rino coming from the more extreme things like slayer, but massive Kiss fans love humbuckers, me coming from the Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore school it has been single coil strats but if money allows love to get a flying v and a telecaster. We both just follow our ears, or what’s left of them ha!!!!!!.
OMM: How many guitars do you have in your life? If it’s a lot – do you have anyone who complains about the amount of equipment you have?
JP: No in that way been very humble, had my red fender Stratocaster since 1987 I got after fender took my sunburst for repair and sent me this new one and never asked for it back – was meant to be!!!!!.When I went to America in 1999 I bought a 1963 reissue start there, my main guitars for all these years. I also have my first strat copy, a profile I play slide guitar on and harmony guitar I bought while on the road in America, a few acoustics… that’s it, love playing brothers old acoustic as well. My parents god bless them were very understanding. A few girlfriends learned to love and hate them at the same time – oh well you would expect that ha!!!!!
OMM: Are you an amp distortion guy, or do you like your pedals? If so, which do you use? Any you’d avoid?
JP: I used to do both. Rino till recently used amp distortion. I prefer a good clean warm sound direct from the amp and then I use my different distortions my main one being a early 70s big muff or my Bee jee distortion with a few compression pedals I like Ibanez for the that or any interesting ones I find with added delay chorus wah wah pedals etc.
OMM: Have you tried one of those Kempers ( amp simulators ) yet?
JP: No sorry I am so old school I just had to google that ha!!!!!!,I did buy a early line 6 in 1999 when I did some gigs in America with The Loving Tongue – haven’t used it much even in the studio haven’t like simulators much maybe vocals at times but it is probably a individual thing.
OMM: How has touring and promotion of your releases been over the years? Any low / high points? Did you enjoy the Athens gig this year?
JP: You know when we play around Australia over the years most gigs we were very fortunate with having a crowd to play to, Australia is big and true heavy metal is supported by mainly local fans that are committed the mainstream metal crowd mainly goes to international acts but I can easily get saturated here. With our European gigs even though only a handful we have gone down amazing and the fans have loved we came so far and play what we play coming from down under. In 2007 on our German dates we ran out of all our merchandise cds, t-shirts, hats – we didn’t have enough. With Up The Hammers this year in Athens this year me and founding member Rino fell in love with Athens – we came for just under two weeks so we could rehearse with Nikos Papakostas on bass and William v Baldo on drums who learned a set of Raven Black Night songs to perform at the Up The Hammers warm up show. They were a pleasure to work with, me and Rino consider them brothers we thank Manolis from Up the Hammers and dexter jones for hooking us up we are eternally grateful. We loved the vibe of Athens, the history and food and the cats!!!!, also attending the festival I met people from Malta, Romania, China, Germany and of course Greece that loved our set and were aware of Raven Black Night for many years. It really felt like a new home for us, we hope to return and do more work with the boys and play more shows in Greece/ Europe. High points are achieving what we do with very limited funds and that also is a low point when we can’t record / tour because of money and how far we live away, we hope to change that in the coming years, always good to play rock and roll.
OMM: You play in at least one other band – care to tell us about The Loving Tongue?
JP: Yes The Loving Tongue started in 1994 with me Jim Petkoff and my brother Tom – our first two albums Is Anyone Listening and Sea of lights[1995,1997] were hard rock/funk/Hendrix, Santana type songs with bizarre moments throwing in metal, punk freak out you name it – people thought we listened to frank Zappa. Our next two releases Distant Dreams a double cd and Shadows [2003,2009] were a hard rock epic metal approach with some progressive and world music influences in there, as I mentioned Joe Toscano who played on Raven Black Night’s Choose The Dark and the Loving Tongues Shadows of Innocence Has Returned we are currently rehearsing to record. Killer metal records put out Temple of Love a few years back – a compilation of tracks from the Distant Dreams and Shadows of Innocence. The Loving Tongue sort of went on hold as I was busy doing Raven Black Night ,But I hope to record and play live and tour it again if there was a family tree it certainly features in Raven Black Nights story but a band on its own, a story for another time.
I didn’t realise how many videos you made for Loving Tongue! And plans to make more?Who is the Lady in Black? And how about the wizard on the flute?
Yeah that was a great period of The Loving Tongue we literally came back a bit wounded but educated from our USA experience in 1999 – we were in between going from the early acid rock Jimi Hendrix buzz into some kind of of epic hard rock metal band, when we started distant dreams in late 1999 when we came back, then we switched studios and found Gavin O’Loglhen from Locrian Studios to overdub and mix our double CD Distant Dreams. I wanted it to be a grand statement of mystical hard rock with progressive and world music elements – he was our guy, he could play celtic instruments, tin whistles, flute, had keyboards like the prophet, a old axe. I spent at least 5 years going up driving to the beautiful Adelaide hills to his studio, he was into older progressive bands like Yes, King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator etc,so once we finished the CD we went and made around three to four videos with him. He also had theatre experience, he would script, a story around the songs I had written. I was aiming for that ancient/mystical king Arthur type lyrics, again, as I mentioned – metaphors for real life experiences I had. The first video Lady In Black was great, the lady in question was friend from the metal goth scene Andrea she nailed it and I wanted to do some ‘Song Remains The Same’ type shots – on budget of course – by the time we did one for Queen of the Night the girl I bought up and Gavin didn’t click, then by the third, fourth one for Loving Ways Today and Universal Love we started growing a bit apart in this stage. We recorded Shadows of Innocence with him and did the first attempt at recording Barbarian Winter, that we shelved ,unfortunately we grew apart in the vision, I wanted the next record to be more heavy in direction etc ,but I must look him up to say hello and have a cup of herbal tea!!!!!!! I live near the sea and miss the hills.
OMM: I am impressed with the feel of your guitar soloing, as well as your composition. Have you had any formal music training, or is it all from playing in bands? I’m guessing there is a blues influence?
JP: I first learned some chords from my brother who had a big record cd collection, I went to a two good teachers for a year, I just mainly learned myself learning Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughn I also loved English blues rock like Cream, early Fleetwood Mac and blues players like Otis rush, Freddie b.b and Albert King as well as Rory Gallagher, ZZ Top and the Allman Brothers – too many to mention. My hard rock playing was guided by Jimmy Page, I love led zeppelin, Ritchie Blackmore ( more so in Rainbow I lose it over that band especially when Ronnie James Dio was in it of course ) Toni Iommi and Black Sabbath. I feel not enough credit goes to those guys including Jimi for their song writing. I also listen to any type of music, I love a lot of hard metal players like Van Halen ,Gary Moore, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen. I grew up in the 80s, I let my heart guide me a lot in writing songs, they come to me somehow through a universal channel maybe!!!! Thanks for your kind words.
OMM: You have a big vocal range and can hit some high notes in falsetto. Did you sing early on in your life, in choirs perhaps?
JP: I always loved singing. But when no one would join our blue rock band because my solos were too long, my brother Tom and drummer did hundreds of bars and shows in Adelaide, sometimes three in a night. When I wanted to sing hard rock as the Loving Tongue was changing, I listened to and sang along to Robert plant, David Byron, Ian Gillian, Rob Halford, and of course Ronnie James Dio. Early on I got a nodule, so I went to a classical teacher I still go to named Malcom Potter – he taught me through exercise and singing classical and opera songs to hit the notes I dreamed of in hard rock. He is in his eighties now, still singing. Also I always drive around singing, recently singing in a iron Maiden band I am amazed at Bruce’s voice and also Paul Diannos. I am always a student of music.
OMM: Lyrically what interests you? I really like the directness of the words on the chorus of Barbarian Winter, but there is a bit of fantasy reference too?
JP: A lot of my lyrics are based on personal life experiences, sometimes I use fantasy as metaphors to disguise them, I love the way Jim Morrison from the Doors wrote and especially Ronnie james Dio. Again it seems like words come to me I write them down like a channel is beaming them to me I have hundreds of pages of words that come to me.I have been criticised at times for singing about princesses,warriors, human feelings etc, but I can’t sing songs or lyrics I don’t feel, like abusing goats, ha!!!!!!!!!!
OMM: The songs are riff heavy – is that always the starting point for writing, or do you sometimes flesh songs out afterwards?
JP: Usually me or Rino or my brother have a few ideas we bounce of each other and the song seems to play itself, in the case of Raven we rehearse all the time and by the time people hear the songs they go through changes, many natural, and sometimes I come in with the whole song, sometimes I dreamt when sleeping and I quickly write it down, it is what ever works.
OMM: The opening phrase for If You See The Dark goes 4,4,4,5 beats. Was that always the intention, or did you accidentally add a beat and then thought it sounded cool? It’s such a great song by the way!
JP: You have a great ear I must say, that is a song many people love, that song – every drummer including Joe who recorded it had trouble with it, sometimes depending on the drummer we didn’t play it. Recently, in Athens, William couldn’t wait to play it, he nailed it perfectly. I was strumming the beginning trying to have a Keith Richards/Ronnie Wood feel, then I tried to add a Iron Maiden feel in the chorus somehow it worked – I told you my mind is bizarre ha!!!!
After guitaring in a few bands with drummers who didn’t ‘get it’, I started up drums myself, and what a humbling experience it was. Have you ever swapped instruments around? Do you reckon the best drummers can already play a bit of guitar?
I can keep a basic beat, do some percussion, bluff a few keyboard lines, and play bass like a guitar player ha!!!!!! But ye guitar and vocals is cool for me, I think drummers that listen to melodies, like our first Loving Tongue drummer are so much more exciting – it definitely helps in song writing, even though he didn’t play guitar. When I hear John Bonham it’s like a separate song, so melodic and trance like.
OMM: Lips of Desire is also a great track – did you consider aiming for heavy metal chart success ( if that exists ) when you wrote it?
JP: That song became our life for a good six months, I wrote it – we knew it had a catchy feel. I would joke ‘Bruce Springsteen or Bryan Adams meets Black Sabbath doom metal’, Rino always say it should be a hit song, recorded a slow version at Chris’ home studio that is on the Metal Martyr cd. I hope one day it gets used in a movie or someone covers it and brings it to the main stream, would be great.
OMM: Back on the subject of lyrics – can there ever be enough love songs in the world?
JP: Hey the world revolves and depends on love to exist through mankind’s darker moments – the Beatles said all you need is love!!!!!!! There is many sides of love you write about too.
OMM: How have you gone down in the Australian market? What are the crowds like when you play live? Is there a healthy scene where you live?
JP: As I mentioned before It is tough here being such a big country, in every city there is a dedicated core of heavy metal fans, we are always grateful who comes, Europe is definitely more healthy, but it is getting stronger here. The scene where I live has steadily grown with more bands playing overseas and releasing music, we don’t play live at present much in our home town, we hope to do some shows soon, also in a small city like ours when one gets some success a lit bit of jealousy or negativity can creep in, it isn’t all roses we have seen and heard it all, we just stay positive and be honest and true with the music.
OMM: Do you make any kind of a living from music?
JP: When I first started you could make great money playing covers even of music you like, it has always been very hard to play original metal in Australia with a band on our level, but the adventures we have especially coming to Europe and playing heavy metal makes up for it, we love it. I hope we can get more funds to tour and record though.
OMM: What have been your absolute favourite gigs over the years?
JP: All the ones in Europe were amazing and festivals we did in Australia we just seem to play really well in a festival setting, the music is made for arenas!!!!!!!!!!!
OMM: How do different countries react to your music? I only ask because I think there is a slight rawness to it, an ‘edge’ that I really like, but some metal scenes see that as negative ( incorrectly imo ).
JP: Coming from the land of AC/DC and Rose Tattoo, the pub rock scene of Australia was tough and hard, that rubs off on you and Rino loves punk like the Exploited we both love Motorhead and in Raven Black Night there is a simplicity and rawness to it, most parts of Europe have been cool – Germany has been good, we are also now getting interest from France ,Greece etc, at Up The Hammers met metal heads from all over who liked us. We did get a few damning reviews from a few countries but what do you do… we also had good reviews from there as well, everyone has their view. I hope with more touring people will see us live and hear it from a different perspective.
My mate Swag reckons that every baby at some point in their development looks like Angry Anderson of Rose Tattoo. Speaking of pub rock, does your scene ever overlap with bands like the Cosmic Psychos?
You know we absolutely love the Cosmic Psychos, before I went into the metal scene me and my brother went to see them and Rino from Raven Black Night loves them too, when we were in Germany people asked about them and the Hard Ons when we were in Athens anther great punk type at times a ferocious pop band, Australia had a really strong garage punk trash scene for a time and still does. We play with anyone – our last shows in our home town were with a few punk bands that don’t mind our take on metal and our attitude etc, I would love to see more crossover, too many metal bands in Australia at least in our hometown stay safe in their own scene.
OMM: Do you have a desert island disc list? How about five albums from your favourite genre(s)?
I would have to say Led Zeppelin four – Led Zeppelin
Electric Ladyland – Jimi Hendrix
Rainbow’s Live on Stage, or Rising….how do I choose!!!!!
Volume Four – Black Sabbath
Sacred Heart – Dio
That is a hard question!!!!!!
OMM: As an older guy, what is wisdom in your view?
JP: To acknowledge other people’s views, the quest for inner peace with the world around us the animals and nature, like Cree said – money can’t be eaten, To accept failures as success because you tried and to be respectful of any one race/colour/gender/religion and to try spread a little love in the world.
OMM: They say that youth is wasted on the young, but paradoxically the naïvety and ( undeserved ) self belief we have when young does sometimes pay off. Can you think of any stupid things you did when young, that worked out well? Or not so well!
JP: Many would say playing rock and roll!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It is a way of life, you learn moderation of other activities around it as you grow,I have a book full of adventures to write about it scares me to think of them.
OMM: Do you suspend your good judgement sometimes and take reckless risks, for old times sake? If so, when was the last time?
JP: I must say in a different way if I believe in the cause, my life is based on music and spirituality I guess getting older mortality comes into the piture.
OMM: Do you have any particular philosophy in life, or religion?
JP: As I mentioned before I am more of a spiritual person I do have a belief of god and a higher existence, I believe all living things are born equal I strive to respect all before me and learn from the universe as time goes by.
OMM: Do you have any other pastimes other than the obvious music related ones?( apologies if you’ve already answered this earlier)
Yes I love reading ,walking going out to see bands, movies, performances good food and wine a bit of a gamble now and again you win some lose some the ace of spades!!!!!! ,my parents were farmers like a bit of that to in my blood.
OMM: You strike me as someone who has commited to music. Would you go back and do anything differently, as regards that path?
JP: I sometimes do think about the sacrifice at times of playing and the hard ship money wise at times but I couldn’t stop playing I believe god has gave me a gift to share so mybe that is my path a earthly warrior till the end if anything would have went hard younger.
OMM: How are things down-under right now? Is Australia still a great place to live?
JP: Depends on a few things we are very lucky here in way of life being isolated with no borders, but we are controlled especially in my home town almost a police state so many rules regulations for everything music suffers for it . But different parts of Australia are different some beautiful places here, but is seems people work to pay bills here in Europe it seems people live a bit more and enjoy things day to day.
OMM: Here in England, all blokes my age still fancy Kylie Minogue – is it the same there?
JP: Good old Kylie and Danni yes I thinks guys who grew up in the 80s had a crush on her I would go to dinner with her if she shouts me ha!!!!!! Or Elle McPherson.
OMM: Do you have any younger family? Any advice for the youth of today?
JP: I never married or have had children, been in a few long term things, but I love young people and older people I am very protective of them. Advice for youth would be don’t be afraid stay strong don’t be scared to be different be true and free .the great Ronnie James Dio said listen to fools, the mob rules, blaze your own path if it is true.
OMM: What are your plans for the future regarding recording, touring and releasing music?
JP: I want to record as much as I can in every type of music I play heavy metal, blues, rock,world funk psychedelic you name it and would love to play festivals all around the world as long as my body allows it. I hope to have new Raven Black Night and the Loving Tongue cds out in the next year.
OMM: How do you see your last years on this earth? Do you have a bombproof retirement plan? Or are you just going to keep rocking as long as possible?
JP: No rock and roll forever forever rock and roll till the good lord calls
OMM: What Aussie bands should we look out for ( any genre )?
JP: Airbourne you would have heard of great rock and roll band, in metal Basterdizer from Sydney, they have a real Motorhead, Celtic Frost feel, King Lizard the Gizzard, very bizarre, I guess I still listen to what I grew up on. I like a lot of overseas music but my ears always open.
OMM: Jim, thanks for doing this interview, I shall leave the last words to you….
JP: Thank you for having me I hope to see everyone on the road rock free forever be good jim