Rolling A Lucky Seven
Chip Z'Nuff is kicked back in the office of his Blue Island digs. Gone are the leather pants, dark glasses and wild shirts and hats of the stage. He's barefoot and looking a little tired — a recent operation sapped some strength from the South Suburbs' most famous rock bassist. But one thing not missing is the ever-charming Z'Nuff determination. He idly spins a CD carrel filled with Enuff Z'Nuff CDs — imports, singles, a live Summerfest performance bootleg.
"It's a good discography so far," he nods. "If we can fill this whole rack, I'm happy."
There aren't too many spaces left.
He gestures from the band's first CD, Enuff Z'Nuff through their latest,
seventh album, Seven. "Right from here to here, that's over a 100
songs. Not bad. But The Beatles put out 214 tunes — now that's a lot of
The Enuff Z'Nuff story goes back to 1989, when the hard rockin' Blue Island
band got signed to Atco Records and scored a true hit single with "Fly
High Michelle," and another contender with "The New Thing." MTV
played 'em, the disc went gold, and the band dug in and produced an even stronger
album in the appropriately titled 1991 album Strength. Rolling Stone
called them the Hot Band of the Year, but radio and MTV were fickle. Two years
later, the band reemerged with another recording contract and their strongest
album yet. Animals With Human Intelligence reeked of the band's Beatles
and Cheap Trick influences and offered what should have been a monster adult
contemporary ballad single in "Innocence." But the label's support
cooled and again, critical acclaim didn't jibe with consumer habits. Since 1994,
Enuff Z'Nuff has recorded for Big Deal/Caroline and Mayhem Records, releasing
four full-length discs in three years: 1985, Tweaked, Peach Fuzz and
The prodigious, high quality output is not lost on Z'nuff.
"With our seventh record, we've put more music out in the last three years than any group in the world," he brags. "Four albums within three years and we have a live album coming in a couple of months on Big Deal/Caroline — it's our Budokan. If that doesn't deserve a mention in the Guiness Book of Records, I don't know what does. We're proud of that, especially in this day and age when it's so hard to get the budget to go into a studio and record."
Enuff Z'Nuff recorded Seven on the tightest budget of its career — the disc cost them about $12,000 last fall in a two-week marathon studio sprint with Chris Shepard, known for working with the likes of Smashing Pumpkins, The Smithereens and KMFDM. And session men like drummer Greg Errico (Sly and the Family Stone) and saxman Mars Williams (Psychedelic Furs) turn up to lend a hand.
"We knew we couldn't afford to pay anybody a half a million bucks to make a record," Z'Nuff says. "So we tried to work around it by being very well rehearsed. When we came into the studio it went like bing, bing, bing. We saved a lot of time, and I'm not so sure we would have taken a different course even if we had had a huge budget. There's something organic about this recording. Everybody played at the same time live in the studio — you don't get that a lot anymore."
The album was originally released in Japan as a duo project of Z'nuff singer/songwriter Donnie Vie. Chip & Donnie: Brothers came out last fall, a move Z'Nuff attributes to the urging of former manager Herbie Herbert (who recently retired from a career managing stadium acts like Roxette and Journey). With Tweaked and Peach Fuzz still current, the band couldn't find anyone willing to release Seven quickly, so they took it overseas. After a few months, Mayhem agreed to release a retitled Brothers in the States with the band name reinstated and three bonus tracks, including a cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy."
While this, no doubt, will enhance the constant Beatle comparisons tossed Enuff Z'Nuff's way, Z'Nuff points out that the band does drink from other wells.
"I don't think Enuff Z'Nuff only has Beatles influences — that's certainly a strong one but not the only one. There's Zeppelin and Queen and Cheap Trick and Aerosmith. There are lots of little bits of flavoring."
The band has taken in recent years to wearing its fans, as well as its musical influences on its sleeve. It all started with Howard Stern providing liner notes to the band's first independent release, 1985. The editor of Creem and Request did the honors for Peach Fuzz, and this time around, Rolling Stone editor David Wild drops his pen into the ring. Or around the CD ring, as it were.
"It's a total honor," Z'Nuff admits. "We've got people coming out of the woodwork now wanting to do them. Liner notes are coming back. What liner notes do is give somebody with tons of credibility in the public eye a chance to promote a group that might not otherwise have been looked at."
With the band now lacking both a manager and a major record deal, Z'Nuff says it has to concentrate more than ever on promoting its music. The band hired its own publicist and radio consultant to push Seven and its first single, "So Sad To See You." And it still is searching for a manager to replace Herbert, who took the band through its first six albums.
"We've been in the situation where the inmates are running the asylum. You always need someone to represent you. But the next manager we take on has got to be the right one. It's important that we find someone who's really focussed and knows how to take these songs and reach people. We've been having a hard time finding that someone."
What's ironic about all of this is, as Enuff Z'Nuff has seemingly reached the lower end of a long rope of descending fame, the band has managed to craft one of its strongest albums ever. Gone are the ornate tour buses, endless blocks of studio time, swanky hotel rooms and...well, money. Z'Nuff now looks ruefully at those days of flagrant spending. What would have happened to the band if it had made its first and second albums the way it made Seven? Z'Nuff has a ready answer.
"Instead of sitting here in Stony Records—one small room with a bunch of posters and paraphenalia—we'd probably be in a house in Burr Ridge right now, that's the only difference. There'd be a recording studio down in the basement. And I'd be producing more local acts, helping them, giving them a break."
Even without the ready cash, Z'Nuff has done his share over the past couple years to help struggling acts. He started an indie label distributed by R.E.D. called Stony Island Records, and produced local act The Twigs. Nationally, he produced the last two Sy Klops Blues Band albums featuring session men from Journey, Steve Miller, Europe, The Tubes and more. And Nelson used two Enuff Z'Nuff songs on its second album on JVC called Imaginator.
"It's so hard now to be successful as a band," Z'Nuff considers. "But success is what you make of it. If a band can go out there and make a record and tour around the country — then you're successful. It's just a matter of how you measure it. I feel that we should be playing 50,000 seaters every night. I can't deny that. And I think that we still can do that. But there needs to be help. There needs to be somebody guiding the band. The music is there, now someone needs to channel it in the right direction."
Publicists, radio promoters and record labels aside, one listen to Seven should be all the guidance any radio programmer needs to channel these songs straight to the rock airwaves.
"This is the strongest and most important of all of our records," Z'Nuff says. "There's no turning back on this one."
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