Sami Yaffa is a bass guitarist, original member of Hanoi Rocks, and former member of The New York Dolls and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. He currently plays with Michael Monroe and Mad Juana.
“I began my bass playing travels in Helsinki, Finland in January 1980 with the now legendary Finnish band Pelle Miljoona OY at the age of 16. With Pelle Miljoona Oy I recorded the album ‘Moottoritie on kuuma‘ which has become part of Finnish R’n’R/Punk history. The album went gold in a matter of weeks and spawned a couple of top 10 singles. In this band I also met my future Hanoi Rocks band mate Andy McCoy and through him Michael Monroe and Nasty Suicide.
In September 1980 the classic line up of Hanoi Rocks was born.
Michael Monroe, Andy McCoy, Nasty Suicide,Gyp Casino and I kick-started the band in Stockholm, Sweden and moved our base later on in 1982 to London. Gyp Casino was soon replaced by Razzle (Nicholas Dingley)
I recorded and toured with Hanoi Rocks for 4 years , creating the albums ‘Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks‘, ‘Oriental Beat‘, ‘Self Destruction Blues‘, ‘Back To Mystery City‘, ‘All Those Wasted Years – Live At The Marquee‘ and ‘Two Steps From The Move‘ as well as scores of singles and EP’s. Our tours took us to Japan, India, Thailand, Hong Kong, USA and Europe leaving behind mayhem and stunned audiences either hating or loving us.
The bitter break up of Hanoi Rocks came after the death of our drummer Razzle who died in a car accident caused by a drunk driving Motley Crue singer Vince Neil in December of 1984.
Hanoi Rocks’ brief existence ended up influencing everybody from Guns & Roses to Motley Crue to Nirvana etc…
After Razzle’s passing, Hanoi’s breakup, and getting clean from my worst vices, 1985 – 1986 turned out to be a quieter period musically and personally. I was making occasional performances with Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan of the New York Dolls/Heartbreakers fame and I recorded an EP with Swedish singer Pelle Almgren in ’86 but mainly concentrated on raising my newborn son.
In April 1987 I packed my bags and moved to Los Angeles after being asked to join the band JetBoy. For the next 3 years I became part of the budding LA music scene. I met and played with some great musicians, hung out on the strip, learned about plastic surgery, had a part in a Tommy Chong movie ‘Far Out Man‘ and got back on my feet. I also acquired a tan…
It was pretty incredible to walk into a club, any day of the week in 1987-88 and be able to witness the ‘new’ bands like Jane’s Addiction , Guns ‘N Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Firehose etc, before they blew up. Great music (some of it, there was also a great deal of crap around) and definitely great times.
In ’88-89 I toured with JetBoy in the US opening for bands like Cheap Trick (which was a great experience) and Stryper (well, not so great, but still an experience to behold). JetBoy recorded two albums for MCA records.
By 1990 I’d had enough of LA and JetBoy and decided to move to NYC to re-connect with my old friend, Hanoi Rocks singer Michael Monroe. The idea was to start a new band with Steve Stevens, Billy Idol’s ex-guitarist and make a no frills, back to the basics, simple R’n’R album. Guess it was not meant to be. The making of the album turned into a giant wank fest and the album became a horrible piece of cock rock shite. The project got the name ‘Jerusalem Slim‘, a name I found in a book I was reading, meaning “Jesus Christ” in 70’s Harlem slang.
In ’92 Michael and I went to Japan to do a promotional tour for the album. We also refused to play a single track off of the aforementioned album. The band consisted of our old brother Nasty Suicide on guitar, Thommy Price on drums and Phil Grande on 2nd guitar.
The shows were cooking as the band was in fine form and the set list included some Hanoi Rocks gems and material from Michael’s first 2 solo albums ‘Nights Are So Long‘ and ‘Not Fakin’ It‘ and some well chosen covers.
Upon returning to NYC we were facing a contractual hassle with the Jerusalem Slim album, which left us unable to do anything musically, in public, for a period of time. While waiting for the dust to settle Michael and I collaborated with Slash from Guns ‘N Roses on a soundtrack for the movie ‘Coneheads‘ featuring Dan Akroyd.
While the lawyers got paid and the managers fought for their piece of the cake Michael and I decided to make the album we set out do with Jerusalem Slim. No frills Rock and Roll, great songs, keep it simple and dirty.
Michael’s old friend Little Steven Van Zandt (Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band) jumped on board to produce and co-write, Jimmy Clark got the drummers seat after we unsuccessfully tried out Rat Scabies of The Damned and Jay Hening from the band Star Star, got the guitarists job.
The band rehearsed in a basement in New York City’s Lower East Side, inhabited by a transvestite and a ten feet long boa constrictor for a couple of weeks & then entered the Power Station Recording Studio uptown and banged out the Punk/R’n’R classic ‘Demolition 23‘ – Another name I picked up by having my nose buried in a book (William S. Burroughs’ The Exterminator).
Demolition 23 ended up touring Scandinavia, UK and Japan but was plagued by troubles with guitarists (what’s new?). First , with Jay Hening (R.I.P) and afterwards with our old bro Nasty. The band broke up after a year and a half. A low down, dirty shame….
In 1995 Michael had had enough of NYC, which was sadly and rapidly yuppiefying, and moved back to Finland. I hung in there in the East Village for a few more months but needed a change as well and moved to Spain.
1995 – 1997 was spent in Spain, in Mallorca and Barcelona and saw the birth of the band Mad Juana with my then girlfriend Karmen Guy. I had become tired of the same old, same old and wanted to destroy all concepts of previously learned R’n’R habits. Karmen and I wanted to create a new and unique sound and outlook on music, have no rules instrumentally or stylistically, use different musical scales , experiment with Dub etc etc….
Mad Juana has released 5 albums so far: ‘Skin Of My Teeth‘ (1997), ‘In Your Blood‘(2001), ‘Acoustic Voodoo‘ (2002), ‘Bruja On The Corner‘ (2006) and ‘Kumpania‘ (2010)
In 1997 the decision was made to move back to NYC and continue on with Mad Juana. New York City has long tentacles …
After a few years break from rock music my thirst for extremely loud music returned and I started to look for people to play with.
In 2002 I joined the infamous NYC Hardcore punk group Murphy’s Law for a half year of chaotic and cataclysmic performances, touring Japan and US.
In 2002, after the Murphy’s Law experience I joined the legendary Joan Jett &The Blackhearts ,after running into my drummer friend Thommy Price at Don Hills, a NYC rock club. Thommy has been drumming for Joan since the late 80’s. For the next 2 years I toured, toured and toured with the hardest working lady in show biz. Thanks Joan, Thommy, Dougie, Enzo and Billy.
In June 2004 after my stint with the Blackhearts ended, I received a call from a friend who informed me that Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls was trying to get hold of me. I’d met Syl a few times before and loved the man.
Arthur ‘Killer’ Kane, the bassist, had passed away from advanced leukemia after only 2 shows with the regrouped Dolls. Sylvain Sylvain and David Johansen asked me to fill in for a few contractually binding shows, one of them being the Little Steven Underground Garage Festival in NYC plus a tour of Japan.
The few shows turned into 5 years of touring and recording with the Dolls, some of the best times in my life as I had always loved their music and also had had a connection with the ex-Dolls Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan.
The original New York Dolls’ influence on R’n’R is undeniably enormous. Influencing the likes of The Clash, Sex Pistols, Morrissey, Ramones, Guns ‘N Roses etc etc etc and it was an honour to share the stage with David and Syl for those 5 years.
With The New York Dolls I was part of the creation of 2 critically acclaimed albums: ‘One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This‘ (2006) and ‘Cause I Sez So‘ (2009)
During my time with the Dolls I also did some playing with Jesse Malin. We recorded the album ‘Glitter In The Gutter‘ (2007) which featured appearances from Bruce Springsteen, Josh Homme, Ryan Adams and a bunch more.
In 2009 while on tour in Finland with The Dolls I met up with Michael Monroe again. Over a couple of drinks the discussion turned into possibly working together again. We both felt that we still had some unfinished business to do together after Demolition 23. The Dolls were slowing down in a big way and Michael had just put Hanoi Rocks Part 2 in the ground.
We always had had chemistry and thought along the same lines when it comes to creating R’n’R. After a couple of line up changes the band ended up being Ginger Wildheart and my old friend from the NY Dolls, Steve Conte on guitars and Karl Rockfist of Danzig on drums.
In summer 2011 Ginger was replaced by the Backyard Babies wild man Dregen after Ginger decided to return to his solo career . Dregen, who was our first choice as a guitarist in the beginning, couldn’t commit back then due to his other commitments but this time around the timing was perfect and the band gathered new steam on stage.
In 2011 Universal Records Released the album ‘Sensory Overdrive‘which received Album Of The Year honours at the UK’s Classic Rock Magazine Awards. The first single from the album ‘78‘ was chosen as the Rock Song Of The Year by iTunes USA and Little Steven’s Underground Garage Radio Shows listeners voted ‘Trick Of The Wrist‘ the Coolest Song Of The Year.
Also in 2011 I joined the NYC band Compulsions on my off time in NYC. The band includes Richard Fortus and Frank Ferrer of Guns ‘N Roses on guitar and drums and Rob Carlyle who is the brains behind the group on guitar and vocals. The new album “Beat The Devil” is available thru iTunes.
2012 has so far kept me busy playing bass on Finnish Rap Band Notkea Rotta‘s new album ‘Takaisin Betoniin‘, contributing a re-mix for gypsy band GG Caravans vinyl release and mixing an album for my friends The Threads from LES NYC. I also hosted an episode of the Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations TV show on the Travel Channel which first aired in May 2012. Finally, Mad Juana is writing new material and gearing up for recording sessions in the fall.
I’m also learning hat making – a line of hats is in the works as is a collection of paintings and an autobiography to be released in 2013 if the earth is still here…
Currently Michael Monroe Band is in the process of writing a new album and embarking on a summer tour that will take us to the United States, South America and a whole season of festivals in Europe.
Thanks for your time for reading this.”
– Sami Yaffa