When it comes to memories, songs can act like time machines. A killer riff, a haunting intro, an anthemic chorus: All of these can transport us back to a time and place when we were young and wild and free.
Nobody understands the power of music more than a musician, so who better to bring those memories back to life than the stars who wrote the soundtrack for a generation? Good friends Gunnar Nelson and Mark Slaughter, both singers and guitar players whose eponymous hard rock bands went double-platinum just before grunge rock took over the airwaves, knew there were fans who wanted to take that trip down memory lane but didn’t necessarily want to hear the lesser-known songs from their favorite bands.
Ten years ago the two had an epiphany that led to the formation of Scrap Metal, a hard rock “rat pack” with an ever-evolving cast of singers from some of the most well-known arena rock bands from the roughly 10-year period spanning the early 1980s to early 1990s. The band’s current incarnation is Gunnar and Matthew Nelson, Mark Slaughter, and friends Kip Winger, Lita Ford and Jack Russell. They were scheduled to play The Blue Loon on Saturday but that plan went awry when the much-loved Fairbanks nightclub was gutted by fire on May 16. Undeterred, the concert’s promoters moved the show to the Tanana Valley Fairgrounds, the only other venue in Fairbanks able to hold an outdoor concert of that size.
Gunnar Nelson discussed the upcoming concert and the magic that is Scrap Metal by phone last week from his Nashville, Tennessee, home.
“I can’t take credit for coming up with the idea by myself, but I definitely am the one who was crazy enough to implement the idea. Mark Slaughter and I shared the vision for this,” Nelson said, explaining a conversation he and Slaughter had while driving the back roads of Kentucky on the way to a concert. The two got to talking about a Night Ranger show Nelson had recently seen, and his realization that, though he’s a big fan of the group, there were only about four songs that he knew well enough to sing along with.
“And I just kind of thought, well, this was really nice, but wouldn’t it be even nicer if, as an audience member, you could go and see a show that was all killer, no filler?” Nelson said. “Nothing but the hits — just songs sung by the original front people. And they’re all songs that you know all of the words to, that define that time in your life.”
The first Scrap Metal concert took place about a month after that conversation, and in the last 10 years has grown into a “legitimate festival act,” according to Nelson.
“When we put this whole thing together, one of the things Mark and I did was, the hard and fast rule is, we don’t work with jerks. The juice is not worth the squeeze. You gotta have fun with people who really care about the music. If we have one bad apple it ruins everything,” Nelson said.
“The concept is very sound — we only work with our friends. And this is by far the best cast, in my opinion, that we’ve ever put together. We have Mark, and Kip, and Jack, and Lita,” Nelson said. “And it’s really cool because it’s gonna give people two hours of songs they really, really know and love. This is not a cover band. Well, actually, it kind of is, but the one difference is we’re actually the guys. And girl.”
An onslaught of hits
Kip Winger was the lead singer and bass player in his band Winger, which had hits such as “Seventeen” and “Miles Away.” Guitarist and singer Lita Ford was a member of the all-girl ’70s band The Runaways, and her solo career included hits such as “Kiss Me Deadly” and “Close My Eyes Forever.” Jack Russell was the lead singer for “Great White,” a fixture in the early ’80s Hollywood metal scene whose hits include “Once Bitten Twice Shy” and “Rock Me.” Mark Slaughter’s band, Slaughter, had hits including “Up All Night” and “Fly to the Angels.” Gunnar Nelson and twin brother Matthew Nelson’s band, Nelson, had hits such as “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection” and “After the Rain.”
Nelson said the beauty of the Scrap Metal concept is that it takes away all of the down time that is usually associated with seeing an ’80s rock-themed show, which usually has two or three acts on one bill. The concertgoer has to sit through bands they might not know well, and wait while the road crew breaks down and sets up each band’s equipment in between sets.
“Scrap Metal completely does away with all of set up and tear down time in between. We’re all on stage at the same time, because we actually are the band. It’s a relentless onslaught of hit songs,” Nelson said. “It’s kind of like a live version of a mix tape. It keeps it fresh without having to subject the audience to songs they’ve never heard before.”
Slaughter, who also lives in Tennessee, said the changing lineup of musicians can make a Scrap Metal tour feel like a high school reunion.
“We’re all friends. Jack is new this year, and I’ve known Jack for years. Making music is really about that camaraderie. No one person is trying to outdo the others. It’s a lot of fun, and we really enjoy it,” Slaughter said. “Ultimately you still have to love to do it. And you can’t just clock it in, because you’re having to play other people’s music, and they’re playing it with you.”
Nelson said Scrap Metal plans to step up its internet marketing to bring its message to the masses.
“The biggest challenge for us is people hear what we’re bringing to town and they think it’s too good to be true. And I don’t blame them.” Nelson said. “I promise you, we’re going to make it worth everybody’s while to get that sitter, to play hooky from work, to come on down to the show and have a really good time.”
Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7582. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/FDNMcrime.
If You Go
What:Scrap Metal Tour, with Jack Russel of Great White, Mark Slaughter of Slaughter, Lita Ford, Matt and Gunnar Nelson, and Kip Winger of Winger.
Where: Tanana Valley Fairgrounds, 1800 College Road
When: Saturday, June 1; gates open at 5 p.m.
Tickets: Available online at bit.ly/2VYp3nZ.
FYI: This is an all-ages outdoor show that will go on rain or shine. Kids ages 10 and younger are admitted free. The grounds will host a beer garden and food trucks, according to promoters. Chairs are allowed in. Song songs may contain adult content and lyrics. More information can be found at www.facebook.com/scrapmetalmusic.