Sunday Old School: White Lion
It may be a stretch to call an eighties hair band that sold millions of records underrated, but look closely: White Lion fits the profile. Despite going all-in with a glam look and cheese-filled videos, there was actual music being played. Listen to the guitars and drums, and for heaven’s sake, don’t look directly into their eyes!
White Lion was formed in Copenhagen in 1983 by Danish lead singer Mike Tramp and American guitarist Vito Bratta. After recruiting an initial bass player and drummer, they were quickly replaced by Dave Spitz and former Anthrax drummer, Greg D’Angelo. Spitz split for Black Sabbath and was replaced by James LoMenzo. The “classic” lineup of White Lion was set with Tramp, Bratta, D’Angelo, and LoMenzo.
In 1984 the band recorded ‘Fight to Survive’ in Japan via RCA Records. The album charted to 151 on The Billboard 200. It wasn’t until early 1987 when the band was signed by Atlantic Records and their album ‘Pride’ was released. The album and initial single, “Wait”, did not initially draw much of a response. During this time the band toured with Frehley’s Comet, Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne, Stryper, Kiss, and AC/DC. Finally, it was during their tour with AC/DC that “Wait” charted due to heavy video rotation at MTV. The single would eventually hit number 8, the album number 11, and go on to sell over 2 million copies. The second video “Tell Me” was released and then soon after their third single, the heart-string-pulling single “When the Children Cry” was released. The power ballad would make it all the way to number 3 on the charts. In addition to the album success, Vito Bratta received Best New Guitarist awards with both Guitar World and Guitar for the Practicing Musician magazines.
The video for “Wait” starts slowly and in black and white. Is this a ballad? To this day I’m not sure. Slow motion movements, hair tossing, and makeup is at an all time high, still, I’m unable to determine if this was a ballad or “rocker.” Overall, it is VERY difficult to watch this video and listen to the song. Fact: Jean Jacket sales rose 20 percent after this video was aired on TV. (Note: Not actual fact.) For me, the climax of this video is when Tramp is singing into the mirror.
‘Big Game’ was the follow-up album, featuring singles “Little Fighter” and “Cry for Freedom.” White Lion also did a cover of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” that helped the album go gold and support their continued touring.
Whenever a video begins with a high speed car chase, a pub with a pool table, and bikers I’m intrigued. I believe this video was suppose to show an “edgy” and “dirty” side of the band, but they still come off as adorable. Halfway through, the dishwashing girl, gets down and puts on a show for the band. Either she is inspired by the music or she REALLY digs cover bands. It’s pretty intense, just stopping short of giving Tramp a hummer. The video continues with the chase, but do they get away? There really should have been a part two. There is still time! (Note: There is not still time.)
Less than two years later, White Lion released their next album, ‘Mane Attraction.’ The album was heavy on hooks and was initially well received by fans. Then the nineties hit, tanking the album along with the genre as a whole. D’Angelo and LoMenzo left the band soon after. They were replaced; however, the band broke up soon after. As Tramp would later explain, “White Lion was playing the last show and Vito and I just went to the airport, I went to California and he went to New York, and we just said… We didn't even look at each other. And it wasn't that we were fighting. And the interesting thing… [People say] 'Well, why shouldn't you carry on?' [But we got] no call from the record company, no call from the managers, no call from the merchandising company… All these people were making millions of dollars off us. It's like we just disappeared. There was never any closing. So it's taken me many years to really understand what the fuck happened here."
Mike Tramp continued, forming the band Freak of Nature, releasing three albums. After 1998 Tramp went solo and released four albums. James LoMenzo and Greg D’Angelo teamed up with Zakk Wylde and his band, Lynyrd Skynhead, which became the band Pride & Glory. In 2006 LoMenzo would join Megadeth and D’Angelo would join Greg Leon Invasion.
Since their break-up in 1992, Tramp and Bratta have not played nice. Vito Bratta owns the rights to the first four White Lion albums which have led to several legal issues around the name of the band and song ownership. In 1999 Mike Tramp (with all new musicians) released ‘Remembering White Lion.’ The album contained new versions of classic songs. In 2003 Tramp announced a reunion tour; however, this was denied by the other members. With tour dates booked, Tramp pulled together James LoMenzo, Jimmy DeGrasso, and Warren DeMartini (Ratt) to play the shows. Due to legal issues, ‘Remembering White Lion’ was re-released under the title ‘Last Roar’ by the band name Tramp’s White Lion. Tramp continued with Tramp’s White Lion (or White Lion 2) releasing new music and playing classic songs. Since, the game of “He-Said-She-Said” has gotten worse. Bratta and Tramp have repeatedly made reunion promises, made contradicting statements, and called each other out over interviews, resulting in cancellations and reduced fan expectations.
A new White Lion album ‘Return of the Pride’ was released in 2008. The band did a world tour that included packed stadiums in India. In addition to White Lion, Tramp continues to record and release solo music. ‘Cobblestone Street’, released in 2013, is a collection of folk-driven music that is fit for a slow moving pub or coffee shop. The acoustic songs are how Tramp has always created his music, even the tunes that turn into arena rock anthems; it has always started with a simple tune on his guitar.
Looking back on the glam bands from the eighties there are a lot of common issues. Be it naming rights, song ownership, or motivation to create new music, bands that have survived share these problems. White Lion is no exception; however, for their fans, the music still holds up even if their reign was cut short. (Note: “Holds Up” is subjective to the genre and ONLY applies to their fans!)
When The Children Cry
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