Seven years ago, Chris Jericho was nearing age 40 with a tight grasp on reality: He couldn't wrestle forever. He didn't want to wrestle forever. Nor did he need he wrestle forever. So the WWE superstar made a decision: He would stay in wrestling for a while, but his top priority would become rock-metal band Fozzy.
Notice that didn't say his band. Jericho is clear on this point: Fozzy, which comes to Niagara Falls Oct. 3 for a tour stop at Rapids Theatre, is not "a Chris Jericho vanity project." As a vocalist, he is out front, but so is guitarist Rich Ward. The band also includes guitarist Billy Grey, bassist Paul DiLeo and drummer Frank Fontsere.
Their new single "Judas" is lodged high on the Billboard, iTunes and satellite charts, giving charge to the group's seventh album, also called "Judas," which drops Oct. 13.
Jericho, who also hosts a podcast ("Talk is Jericho") and writes books, recently finished a run on WWE and is on full-time Fozzy duty. Here are edited excerpts from our recent phone interview.
Question: How did you decide to make Fozzy your top priority?
Answer: I had been wrestling for such a long time, and Fozzy was something I did on the side. Rich and I sat down in 2009 and said, “We have a really special thing here — a great band, great chemistry. We really should take this as far as it can go and not do it as a part-time thing.”
That was the decision we made, knowing I didn’t want to wrestle forever, and the band was something I really felt was deserving of a full-time commitment. Here we are with a No. 1 song for five, six weeks now on satellite radio, and Top 20 on the Billboard charts, and almost 9 million views of the “Judas” video. I think we made the right decision.
It takes that long to build the brand, and now we have. To see it really taking off with one song, it puts everything on a different level.
Q: Speaking of media buzz, lately it seems people are talking about Fozzy and “Judas,” and not focusing on the celebrity Chris Jericho being part of Fozzy. Have you noticed that difference in the conversation?
A: It’s a been a conscious effort. This is a band filled with five rock stars. It’s never been a Chris Jericho vanity project. People probably assume that, obviously, because I’m in the band. But it is a band.
I think the difference now with "Judas," and the reasons it's popped so big, is it’s an amazing song. There’s hook upon hook upon hook. We also have a lot of goodwill toward our band from the last six, seven years from other bands, from fans, from all the festivals we’ve played. This is not egotistical, but we’ve surprised and been able to steal a show with a lot of festivals we’ve played. Fans [will say], “We came to see this band, but Fozzy was amazing! Where’d they come from?”
Also, a lot of people who were fans of mine from WWE said, “OK, Jericho just had one of the biggest runs of his career, and he’s leaving again to do Fozzy. Let’s give this a try. There must be a reason he’s doing this.”
So they finally check out Fozzy for the first time, they hear the best song we’ve ever done and go, “This is the real deal. This is amazing.”
Q: On your "Talk is Jericho" podcast you recently interviewed the wrestler Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer, who lives outside Buffalo. What were your big takeaways from that conversation?
A: At 87 years old, he’s not my oldest guest, but he’s my second-oldest guest. My oldest, I think, is Bob Barker. I love talking to guys from that era. That’s like talking to Jerry Lee Lewis or Fats Domino if you’re a rock and roll fan.
You’ll never see a guy like Dick Beyer again. When you get a chance to talk to someone like that, it’s this whole wealth of experience, and stories you’re never going to hear again. When I talked to Bruno Sammartino, same thing: This is the way the business used to be.
The one thing that stands out to me the most is that he was kind of a reluctant mask man. They made him put on a mask, and it wasn’t like you could go online (to get one). Back then, how do you get a wrestling mask? He went to a department store and bought a women’s girdle and stitched up the top, stuck it over his head, and cut out eyeholes.
What a great story: One of the most famous masks in wrestling history started out as a girdle.
Q: In your book “No is a Four Letter Word” you have a chapter devoted to lessons from the talent manager Shep Gordon. Shep is a University at Buffalo grad, and I spent a great day with him a year ago in New York City when his book came out. What did you learn from Shep?
A: The Shep Gordon principle is “you never know who’s watching.” I met Shep at a Grammy party that I went to with Paul Stanley (from Kiss). We sat at a table together, hung out for about an hour, and had the best time ever. I mentioned that I was going to Hawaii, and he invited me to stay at his place.
I spent a week there at his beautiful place in Maui, and ended up having him on my podcast. At the end of it, he told me, “I’m really excited to have you here. I’m a big fan.”
I said, “You’re a big fan of mine? From what? You’re not a wrestling guy.”
He said he saw me host an awards show in L.A., the (Revolver) Golden Gods. He said, “I thought you did a tremendous job. I really enjoyed your work.”
I think that’s one of the reasons he was so attuned, and so accommodating, in having me stay there. He actually had seen my work and knew what I was all about. And I had no idea.
That’s a perfect example of you never know who’s watching, so do your best with anything that you’re given, no matter how big or small. It can lead to something else if someone is watching.
Q: Treat everyone the same.
A: Yeah. Treat everybody well. You never know who might end up somewhere. That happens to me all the time. I’ll meet a program director at a rock station or somebody in a band, or a comedian or an actor, and they’ll be like, “Man, I’m such a big fan. I met you when I was 15. You were so nice, and went out of your way.”
All that stuff works out in the end. You never know who’s watching. You never know who’s going to end up in an influential position.
Fozzy, with Gemini Syndrome and The Stir
7 p.m. Oct. 3 at Rapids Theatre, 1711 Main St., Niagara Falls. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $18 advance, $23 day of show. rapidstheatre.com