Red Reign – Sammy Lee

By: Lori Smerilson Carson

It is well noted that the eighties spawned skillfully written songs that have spanned the test of time. Rock band Red Reign, have taken this magical element and created music containing some of that decade’s components, but with a new twist and flair. This extraordinarily talented band first displayed their abilities on their self-titled debut EP in 2021, and have just released their full-length album DON’T LOOK BACK on October 27th.

Catching up with Drummer Sammy Lee just prior to their album release, he revealed some details about the new LP, several of their new singles and songs, a bit about their past, and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: What was the inspiration for the new album DON’T LOOK BACK?
Sammy Lee: The album was written over the COVID period, and so our Lead Singer Bubba McMichael writes all the lyrics to our songs and sort of gathered these songs around life you know, when life had kind of halted. Not all the songs, but most of the songs have the meaning of what life was like during COVID. So, it’s not a COVID album. It was more about what life was like.

SFL Music: I can hear that in songs like “Here I Am” and I saw the video where its referencing mental health and being very inspirational. How did this song come about?
Lee: So really, DON’T LOOK BACK in general was about I guess, life had come to a halt you know, when you had time to reflect on your life. I’m gonna start there and I’ll move into “Here I Am”. When you reflect on your life about some of the things that maybe you would change or some of the negativity, it’s basically looking back and saying, ok. You know what? I did this. I’m a little bit older. I’m gonna move forward and make some new positive memories or just make life better and so on. That’s really the generalization of what DON’T LOOK BACK, the album and the song is. Where “Here I Am” came about was yes, when life comes to a halt which it did, and people are at home and can’t go out and do anything, and life has just changed from sixty miles an hour to zero. There are people out there anyway who have some depression. Military with PTSD. Law enforcement depression and firefighters, rescue and then every day, general people. The song was basically written for like listen, we don’t know what people think and we don’t know what people go through, but we’re asking you, like look. There’s a different way than just saying it’s over and try to reach out to a friend. So, yes. That was sort of right over that COVID period where if you’re in trouble, there’s always somebody there to help you. You’re never alone.

SFL Music: I love how the video enhanced that song. In regards to the song “Don’t Look Back”, that one has a feature with George Lynch. How did that come about? I read it was a mutual friend?
Lee: Yes, it was a mutual friend. We’ve had two sort of cheer leaders for Red Reign ever since we started which was Neeley and Chris Akin from The Classic Metal Show. I’ve known Neeley since 1998 and Chris for ten plus years as well, but they have been real champions of the band and have helped us every way, both of them. Both of them, but more of Neeley. Neeley is very close with the Dokken camp. I know he’s very close with Don Dokken in general. When we were getting ready to do the album, I had this idea, like I need to make a splash. I didn’t even tell the guys in the band this, and I didn’t even tell Chip (Ruggieri). I didn’t tell anybody. I’m like, I got to make a splash. So, the first call I made was to Neeley and asked him for a favor, and he said it would be done. He somehow convinced George to play on our song and we were so grateful for that. I’m not the kind of guy that likes to you know, I don’t want to use a friendship, but Neeley, I’m really close with him and we talked about it. So, that’s how it came about, and it’s worked out very well for us.

SFL Music: The production on the album for both your debut and the upcoming DON’T LOOK BACK LP, you worked with David Ivory (multi-platinum and Grammy nominated producer). How did that come about and what would you say he adds to the band?
Lee: So, David came about on the first EP right after we had been picked up by Chipster PR. I do all the business work for the band even though I’m the drummer. I do most of the business work, and so after meeting Chip and Chip and I had a conversation, we signed with Chipster PR, and then Chip and I sort of navigate a lot of stuff to get where we’re going. One thing he suggested when we were looking at producers, was David Ivory. We talked to him on the phone and then we went up and met him. It was a great fit, and David did such a wonderful job on the EP that it was a no brainer to go back to him. We’ve got to know David so well, but what makes it so special and what he did for us was, he never changed the initial idea of the song and he didn’t really change the direction of the song. He just made the song flow better with pieces he either added or subtracted and bridges that weren’t there or that were there and needed to be taken out. A couple of chord changes on the verses and the choruses. Stuff like that, but it never changed the original idea of the song which I think is very important. I can’t speak for Bubba because I don’t write songs, but I know Bubba and I discussed it, and he’s really thankful for that because songwriters, they have that idea in their head of what they want to say. So, I think that’s very important.

SFL Music: There is a variety of the music. It’s got great vocals, riffs and the drummer is pretty good too.
Lee: He’s not bad. He’s not a bad guy. I won’t champion him right now. We’ll talk about him later. No, just kidding. Thank you. I appreciate that, but the guys in the band, all three of the guys are just, we’re very close. I’m very close with Bubba. Bubba and I have known each other thirty some years. We were very fortunate to bring in Larry Moore, our bass player. Great working with Larry, and then we brought in Stevie Shred (guitarist) from another band and Stevie’s just a great fit, and it just works. We love playing live and we enjoy playing live onstage with each other and so yeah, couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to be with.

SFL Music: That’s definitely reflected on the album. I just heard “No Peace, No Love”. Great song! It sticks in your head. I love how it starts out with the harmony. What inspired it?
Lee: So, people ask me this. Again, I can only tell you what Bubba told me, so wink, wink. It’s happy wife, happy life, if you understand what I’m saying. Or it could be happy boyfriend, happy life. Either way, I don’t want to sound like it’s just about a woman. It could be a man too, but in order to get to the quote, unquote, intimacy part, everybody has to be on the same page and happy. It’s a little tongue in cheek song. Now, see that’s a perfect song, to be a little honest and straight forward. That’s a song Bubba came in with, David changed a couple parts and really made that song pop. Not that it was bad, but the parts that he added really, really made the song pop.

SFL Music: As founder of the band, what inspired you to start Red Reign?
Lee: I had the idea, but Bubba and I both started it. So, Bubba and I were in another band in Richmond and well, let me go back. Everybody you talk to has been in cover bands and so on, and I had an incident one time. I was playing a show in this little bar, and this was another band. This wasn’t anybody in Red Reign. We were playing “Flying High (Again)” by Ozzy (Osbourne). The guitar player at that time, I had been playing with for ten years. Great guitar player. We played this bar with like two hundred people, and this guy and his wife came up to me. They were like, “hey you guys did a great job!” I was like, thank you very much “but in the third chorus, you missed this, and Tommy Aldridge keeps a beat here and you do this” and I’m going well, it’s an interpretation. I’m not Ozzy. I’m not his band, but that always sat with me because when you play covers, I think you’re judged more, and bar bands really, it’s an interpretation. Its them doing it. You want to do it as good as possible, but from that point on. I wanted to play originals. Bubba and I were in a band that did half originals and half covers. Actually, more originals. Probably eighty/twenty. When that band broke up, Bubba had written a song that I just couldn’t get out of my head. He had to move on to do some other things, so it took a little while, but I got to him and said, look, we got to do this. We’ve got to record this song. That’s really how it started, and that song ended up being two songs on the EP. That song was split off into “Red Reign” the title track and it was split off into “Not That Way” which is on the original EP. So yeah, that’s how it started. Then from that point on, when I went to Bubba with the idea of whatever the band was gonna be which is now Red Reign, at the time we didn’t know, but no covers. This is all original. We’re either gonna live and die by our own sword, and so far, we’ve been very fortunate to stay alive in the music industry with just playing all originals.

SFL Music: The originals have that eighties rock and metal. One of the songs opens softer, “Open Spaces”.
Lee: Yes.

SFL Music: Tell me about that song.
Lee: You know what’s funny about that song? Bubba came in with that song. He had written that; I don’t know how long ago he wrote that. That’s kind of an older song that he had written. He brought it to band. He was playing it and we were like, well, can we make a song out of this? We actually tried to make a song out of it and it just didn’t work. We had about twenty songs for David to pick from for the album. You know, we got all these demos and they just weren’t resonating with him, outside the ones that we did, and so I came up with the idea. I went to Bubba and said, what do you think about you finishing this album with you just playing acoustic? I asked David what he thought. David kind of liked the idea and Bubba liked the idea. That’s really how it came out, but that’s one of Bubba’s older songs. I’m putting a time, that’s probably five, seven, maybe eight years old. David added the violin. Obviously, in our band there’s no violinist, so that was a great add (he laughed). I remember David calling me and said, “hey man, I’m sending you the track.” And I won’t use the language, but it was, “you better keep an open mind” because I am a little closed minded, I will admit. I like just rock and roll. I like bass, drums, guitar, but it really was just a wonderful surprise to hear how it turned out.

SFL Music: What would you say influenced you to become a musician, a drummer?
Lee: The guys in the band get tired of hearing this, but Van Halen. I’m a monster Van Halen fan, original. David Lee Roth, Van Halen fan. Alex Van Halen. Looking at that monster drum set in the late seventies, early eighties. Yeah, that was it. Even though I’m a drummer, I migrated more towards David Lee Roth because of the attitude. He just had a swagger about him and I thought that was cool, and I was like, that’s what I want to do!

SFL Music: What would you recommend to a new musician, a new band?
Lee: My recommendation, and to be honest, I don’t think anybody really cares what I recommend, but I will say how I feel which is, stick true to what you’re doing. Listen, music is a very subjective subject anyway. What you think is gonna be the greatest song that you love, might not be mine and so on and so forth. Who started rock and roll? Was it Elvis? Was it Chuck Berry? Was it Little Richard? Its subjective. Elvis is the king of rock and roll and so on and so on. Is The Beatles the greatest band? For me, Van Halen’s the greatest band. So, what I would tell people is, stick to the truth. Stick to what you want to do. If you really believe in what you’re doing and you really believe in your songs, then continue just to shove it down people’s throats. Not everybody is going to like it, and that was one thing that I think we had to learn. We’d been on tour. We’d been playing shows, but if you get up there and sell it and you believe in it, then people will like it. I’m learning that more and more. So, I would just say, stick to your beliefs and continue to write more songs. I’m more the original thing. I know people want to play different covers. I don’t. Just follow your heart, which is a song on the album.

SFL Music: Was that the inspiration for that song, “Follow Your Heart”?
Lee: Um, I don’t think so. Now, I never really asked Bubba about that one, but yeah, probably. I think it is about follow your heart in anything in life. I don’t think it is about being a musician. I guess for press, yes. Follow your heart at any dream you want to do.

SFL Music: That’s great advise.
Lee: Ok. Well, I appreciate it. I don’t get this from anybody else, so this is nice because most people don’t listen to what I have to say (he laughed).

SFL Music: You guys have played with Dokken, Extreme, Jackyl, Lita Ford. What would you say you took away from those experiences?
Lee: Well, each and every one of them are such a wonderful experience, but one of the highlights was when we went on our first tour which was with Tesla in 2017. I’m a Tesla fan, but we started out in the Midwest and we went up a little more north, and then we came back down towards Virgina. We’re in Virgina, so we came back towards our area. I learned that A, its hard work. I’m not a rock star. I don’t claim to be, but to watch these guys who had been doing it who are considered rock stars, the hard work they put into it. Everybody thinks it’s just sex, drugs and rock and roll which is what it used to be in the eighties and sort of early nineties. It’s just not. Its work, work, work and then, there’s probably some play time in there, but for a band like us who is the opening band, its work, work, work, work, play, load up and start driving to the next city. So, I learned that much which is awesome. It keeps you motivated. Great people. Everybody was super nice to us and all the bands we played with, no bad experiences. So, we’re very lucky.

SFL Music: Are you guys going to tour?
Lee: Touring is a tricky situation because obviously, we’re a little older, and so we all have families and we all have jobs, and rock and roll music doesn’t pay the bills. I think that’s widely known. So, in saying that, the goal was, and talking to the team, let’s get the album out. Let’s punch out the singles. Let’s punch out the album. Let’s do a wide net to as many people as we can to get this out and then once we do that, and the record comes out in two weeks, we’ll start planning maybe for 2024 a tour or shows. That’s next on the list, but that took a back seat to all the promotion and prep to get the album out.

SFL Music: Any new videos coming out?
Lee: So, we have the three videos out. We have “Don’t Look Back” which is the one featuring George Lynch. We have “Here I Am” which is the one we spoke about, and then “No Peace, No Love” is out. As of right now, that’s it for videos. The album will be released two weeks from tomorrow which is October 27th. We’re working on some behind the scene things to continue to like I said, throw a wide net, not only in the United States, but globally to get the music out. Then we’ll sit down probably sooner than later and try to map out some either one-off shows or a tour or something. So yeah, that’s really what the plan is. That’s where it sits right at the moment.

SFL Music: Was there anything else you want people to know?
Lee: I leave every interview the same like hey, if you are listening to this, give us a chance. You might not like it, you may love it, but I continue to hear from a lot of people, oh there’s no good new music out there. There is a lot of great music out there. We feel like we’re one of ‘em obviously and that’s a little bragging, but not just us. We’ve been on tour with some bands that we were the opening, opening act, and then and we were on tour where we were the direct support of the main act and somebody opened the show, and we’ve run onto a lot of bands with some great music. So, I would just say, go out and experience some of these newer bands coming up because unfortunately, and God forbid, I don’t wish anything on anybody, but some of our rock heroes are sort of getting ready to retire, and so somebody’s got to take the rein.

SFL Music: So, Red Reign will be the ones to take the reins, right?
Lee: Well, you said it. I didn’t, but yes. We would love that! If somebody made that happen, we’re not gonna complain about it. I can tell you that.

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