Hired Gun: Out of the Shadows, Into the Spotlight

By Alison "MetalBabe" Cohen

Photo By Matt Doheny

Hired Gun: Out of the Shadows, Into the Spotlight

Written by Alison “MetalBabe” Cohen

Hired Gun is a very insightful ninety-minute documentary that shows the ups and downs of being a “hired gun” in the music industry. Dozens of musicians shared their stories, including Alice Cooper, Jason Hook, Jason Newsted, John 5, Dave Ellefson, Nita Strauss, Aaron Lewis, Mike Mushok, Phil X, Liberty DeVitto, Kenny Arnoff, Justin Derrico, Ray Parker Jr, Derek St. Holmes, Glen Sobel, Brad Gillis, and more.

I attended the Hired Gun screening at The London Hotel on May 25th where members of the cast were present for the screening, in addition to being available for interviews, a Q & A, and reception. Hired Gun was directed by Fran Strine, and produced by Fran Strine, Tim Calandrello, Todd Poulson, and Jason Hook.

The bottom line is that the “hired gun” gets the gig because they are “The Assassin”… The elite player. As Nita Strauss (Alice Cooper/Iron Maidens) stated, you have to be “on point all the time.” And as Phil X (Bon Jovi/The Drills) said, “you have to be damn sure that you know what the artist needs, and do it. There’s no room for a B Game. You gotta bring A and just knock it out.”

A “hired gun” never really knows what they get into when they accept a gig. They just know they are going to give it their all and hope that it’s a fit. Jason Hook looks at being a “hired gun” like he is “just the rented guitar player,” and knows there is no job security. When Kenny Arnoff (John Cougar Mellencamp/BoDeans/John Fogerty) joined John Cougar Mellencamp John said, “Welcome to hell.”  

Steve Lukather (Toto) laughed (during the Q&A) because he said that if “Africa” was a hit that he’d run naked down Hollywood Blvd. “Africa” ended up reaching number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart on February 5, 1983, so he’s lucky that no one has held him to it yet.

Justin Derrico’s (P!NK/The Voice) part in the film began with him shredding on the guitar before he talked about how he really likes that Pink lets the band be themselves, and that she really wants it to be a family environment.

Sometimes, as an outsider, we don’t even know about the “hired gun,” or what they are doing “behind the scenes.” For example, Derek St. Holmes (Ted Nugent) actually sings the lead vocals on quite a few of Ted Nugent’s songs, including “Stranglehold,” “Just What the Doctor Ordered,” “Cat Scratch Fever,” “Hey Baby,” and more.  

Another challenge that “hired guns” have is gaining fan/audience respect when replacing a former member, especially if that member has passed away. Brad Gillis (Night Ranger) told the story about filling in for Randy Rhoads in Ozzy Osbourne’s band after Randy was tragically killed in April of 1982. It was really tough for him from the start, but he did what he had to do to get through the first tour.

Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot/Ozzy Osbourne/Whitesnake) discussed the tragedy and said that it was the worst experience of his entire life. Rudy believes that you have to gain something from every tragedy, and because of that fateful crash, Rudy lives and plays like there is no tomorrow. Rudy appreciates that Brad did such an incredible job and was so graceful.

When Jason Newstead first joined Metallica (in 1986 after Cliff Burton’s tragic and untimely death) he was getting paid $500 a week. He was happy to be making that much, and joked that he “would have done it for a sandwich.”  

Liberty DeVitto (Billy Joel/ NYC Hit Squad) talked a bit about when he played drums for
Billy Joel. He learned the hard way that he wasn’t a friend, and that he was just hired to do the next thing… Until it ended.  

I know personally from working with bands in the music industry that it is extremely difficult to find that perfect fit when looking for a member. I really like how Rob Zombie laid out the three main qualities needed when hiring someone for his band. They must be:

1. An excellent musician
2. Really cool
3. Someone you can stand to be around 24/7

After seeing this film, people will have a greater appreciation for all the hard work and dedication that goes into being a ‘hired gun.’ It was really great to hear the heartfelt trials and tribulations of what goes on behind the scenes. I’m happy to see that most of the musicians in this film seemed to have a positive experience working as a “hired gun” and continue to do so, although there are definitely some negatives as well. Make sure to catch Hired Gun in the theater on June 29th, 2017.

For more information visit: http://www.hiredgunthefilm.com/

Alison "MetalBabe" Cohen