Pro Talk Interview
Q: Do you have any feelings about being the guitar player with arguably two of the most influential vocalists in rock and roll?
Vivian: It's fortunate...I never really dreamed it would happen. I was real young when I first joined Dio. It was pretty much like a dream come true. Prior to that, my ambition or vehicle to succeed in rock and roll was gonna be a band called Sweet Savage and we were very self contained. I was one of the singers in the band and the bass player was the other one. It was really something different to be put in a situation to work with a world class singer like Ronnie Dio. He really is a phenomenal singer. And it's even more fortunate to go from that to working with David Coverdale. It's not something I'm deliberately looking for but I seem to end up working with the world's greatest singers. That's a good thing because it's one of my ambitions to be able to sing, myself. I just recently started getting serious about it and taking lessons. I couldn't ask for better teachers. Indirectly I learn from them, they don't actually sit down and show me anything but...nor do I ask them questions but just by watching them every day in their daily function as a singer...what to do, what not to do, one can learn a lot.
Q: What was Sweet Savage like?
Vivian: Sweet Savage was full of good intentions. It really didn't work out. We were all very, very young at the time when we first started. We went to school together, we lived in the same neighborhood. We were ambitious for a band coming out of Belfast. European bands, particularly a band that comes out of a small town...I guess it works the same way in the States. Say, for example, if a band comes from Boise, Idaho, or Cedar Rapids, and you want to play the local bars, obviously you can't travel hundreds and hundreds of miles on a hundred dollars a night. It doesn't work. So you want to play the local bars but the local bars want to hear you play covers. They don't really encourage original music. We had that problem in Ireland. Not only are there very, very few venues...there's no way you could do it professionally but the venues you could get were reluctant to let a band break out and have an image and a performance and a stage show. We were like the KISS of Ireland. We had the flash pots and the lights...whatever, budget permitting, we could afford, but we spent everything and more that we were making on a show just so that we could make it seem like it was a real thing like a mini concert, like the kind of thing we would see in a city hall when we would go see a band like UFO or whatever. Then we also started to do some of our own material and then over a period of three or four years we turned around our set to become 100% originals. We really got a huge following, we were a four piece band, and the music was a cross between...musically it was along the lines of Thin Lizzy, but it didn't come off that way because we were so young and energetic and so high energy and we wanted to really par out the music more than Thin Lizzy so we became a cross between Motorhead and Thin Lizzy. We had that real raw energy and aggression of Motorhead but we had the songs like Thin Lizzy were we'd have many guitar lines or nice melody vocals. It was a very interesting band. There were some real talented people in it.
Q: Was U2 around at that point in time? Did you ever run into them?
Vivian: Yeah, just in my last eighteen months or two years with Sweet Savage, U2 began to break out of Dublin. In fact, we did a couple shows with them.
Vivian: Yeah, once at Queen's University in Belfast. It was the tour they actually got signed on, all the record companies were coming to see them, specifically at that show in Belfast. And the band that was on tour with them had a breakdown with their truck or something so they needed a band at the last minute. So the social secretary at the University called us up about doing the show cause we were quite popular. I guess they had no idea that Sweet Savage and U2 were completely different things. We went on and two people in the whole place clapped. One was a sound engineer and one was a monitor engineer cause they were metal fans and they later became our sound engineer and monitor guy. They said 'we don't want to work for U2, we want to work for a hard rock band.' But the rest of the people sat there stone faced and just didn't say a word. Then later on, about a year later, after U2 had been signed and released the Boy album, they were co-headliners with Thin Lizzy on a festival called the Slane Festival in Ireland. That was at a castle situation with a big open meadow and it was really, really picturesque and we were opening the bill which was really unbelievable cause we were the only unknown band on a superstar bill. It was quite interesting for us. We went down a lot better there cause Thin Lizzy was headlining and it was a hard rock crowd that was there and that was just about the last show I did with them. I did a couple of more shows spaced out over a few more months. We went through some personnel changes and tried to get management and tried to get the thing off the ground. It didn't work and eventually without even looking for anything, I got the call about the Dio gig and that was it.
Q: How did Ronnie find you? How did anyone know about you?
Vivian: Jimmy Bain. Back to Sweet Savage again, Jimmy was in a band called Wild Horses with ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson. They had released their second record by this stage on EMI Records and they were moderately successful in Europe and quite successful in Japan and they came to Ireland to do six shows and same story, anytime a hard rock band came to Ireland, we were the band that opened for them if they didn't bring their own because we were the popular rock band of Ireland. And so here we were, opening for Wild Horses, it was a real short tour but it was a lot of fun. They were very, very accessible people not like most rock stars, especially Jimmy. So Jimmy and I had a very strong relationship and we kept that up for a while. I used to see him here and there. I was quite friendly with Phil Lynot at the time. And Jimmy and Phil were very good friends and used to write a few songs together and work in the studio a lot. And Phil used to work a lot in Dublin, so being from Ireland he used to spend a lot of time in the studios down there. By chance I was walking into a studio one day when Jimmy was walking out. He had just finished a session with Phil Lynot.