Tag Archives: Lips Turn Blue

Story Behind The Album Cover : Lips Turn Blue & more from Man In The Mountain.

The new album from New York area band LIPS TURN BLUE features an eye catching cover created by artist Martin Kornick, aka Man In The Mountain. Martin has designed numerous album covers over the past 2 decades, notably for prog artists like Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Keith Emerson, and Kinetic Element. Admittedly, when I looked in to Martin’s work intending just to inquire about the LTB cover, I found a lot more of his work that I couldn’t avoid asking about! In this interview Martin details how he created the LTB cover, as well as a few others, such as those by John Wetton & District 97 and Keith Emerson, as well as his lengthy working relationship with Neal Morse. He also shares his background in the business and future plans. I’ve included images of some of Martin’s covers as well as pics of him with a few of those he’s worked for (all provided by Martin). *For more on his work as an artist, and various projects check out Martin’s site – http://www.maninthemountain.com (see more links below)

Can you give me a bit of background as to how you started in doing album covers (aside from your other works)? 

 I got my start doing album covers thanks to Neal Morse back when he was in Spock’s Beard – the ’90’s era progressive rock band that I was quite smitten with upon discovery. Floored really. I couldn’t believe the interweaving keyboards and lush prog arrangements I was hearing spinning “The Doorway” on my stereo. I quickly became obsessed with the band. I distinctly remember getting their newest album Day For Night and being entranced by the cover art by German artist Thomas Ewerhard, which had a strong Pink Floyd Hipgnosis vibe to it. As I examined it further it struck me that Thomas was using a lot of Photoshop techniques that I was already experimenting with in my personal art. I thought, “I can do that! How can I do something like that for Spock’s Beard? I must find a way!” 

Shorty after I was thrilled to see Spock’s Beard were playing at Martyrs’, a Chicago area nightclub. It was such a magical night, as anyone who was anyone in the Chicago prog scene was there in attendance. I truly made several long-lasting friendships with people I met there that night. But what then happened is at the start of the show, Neal Morse ran out on stage with a video camera, then leaned over and gave me (randomly) the camera to continue filming the show. And honestly, I am the most insane prog fan/bootleg collector you could ever give a video camera too. Haha! After the show, I had to somehow get a copy of this concert video. So, I contacted Neal by email to ask for a copy, and we hit off a friendship talking about old Genesis and Gentle Giant Bootlegs. We even traded a few things. During our correspondence over the next few months, I mentioned to Neal that I was a graphic artist and hit him up if needed any art for a CD project. Nothing became of it until one more time I asked and by chance he was working on a fan club CD. He asked me to shoot him some ideas for it. And I ended up working for Neal for the next 20 years. How is that for fate? And of course, led to doing artwork for other bands as well.  

Growing up – what were some of your favorite bands, albums, and album cover artists?  [Any artists influence your own work? ]  

Looking back at my youth, I did have an affinity for bands that had cool artwork and graphics. I easily fell for KISS who were the most graphic art-oriented band ever, from the face paint, the photos, to the album art. KISS were super easy to the draw, and I even made my own KISS comic books. I had a sort of musical awakening when I went to see the movie The Song Remains The Same and watched Jimmy Page make all these otherworldly sounds with a cello bow, while he turned into a wizard and drew an electric rainbow across the sky. My tastes then shifted to Led Zeppelin and bands like RUSH and Styx who also explored more cinematic musical landscapes and science fiction. RUSH used all that dystopian Hugh Syme artwork like A Farewell To KingsPermanent Waves – two of my all-time favs. Bands like Judas Priest started attracting me because they were operatic in style and had gothic album art like a Sad Wings of Destiny and Sin After Sin. Plus the logos… AC/CD, Van Halen, Def Leppard, Styx, Judas Priest, all of them… which sharpened my skills by duplicating the logos all over my high school desk. They didn’t understand, that WAS my schooling! 

After graduating high school in 1981, instead of listening to the popular music of the times, the hair metal and MTV, I fell in love with older music from the ’60’s and all the ’70’s progressive rock music like YES, ELP, Pink Floyd, Genesis, and Rick Wakeman. And certainly, that artwork delved deeper artistically into fantasy, science fiction, and mind-altering photo manipulation from Hipgnosis. Off the top of my head, artwork for albums like Wish You Were HereYessongsThe Myth & Legends of King Arthur, ELP’s Trilogy and Brain Salad Surgery… were among my favorites. It’s a world I’ve been in artistically ever since. Roger Dean made a huge impression on me, and I started covering my apartment walls with his work. All of this was my school, my formative training

Martin w/ the legendary Roger Dean

You’ve done a lot of covers for Neal Morse, as well as Transatlantic and Mike Portnoy. – can you tell me a bit about where ideas come from and how much collaboration [or input] there is from the musical artists when designing a cover? 

 Typically, there is little “idea” input from the musicians, but not in every case. I usually draw from the album title and maybe some lyrics. Sometimes I’m given the raw music to get a feel of what the music sounds like. I’ll listen to it over and over while creating images in my mind. No matter what I am fed at the start, my artwork is always developed organically in a stream of consciousness. I do not create my art in a formally trained manner, as I do not make sketches or roughs. I hit the digital canvas and go where it takes me. I keep fishing about until I see something good forming, and then tighten it up to a viable well developed idea that I can present to the client. 

Collaborating with Neal Morse was fantastic, he has a certain aura about him, that’s hard to explain, it’s a unique energy. We had such a great symbiotic relationship in that we could read each well for any project that came before us. Neal allowed me tons of freedom, letting me develop ideas, but sometimes he suggested ideas too. With Neal becoming a Christian artist, I had to work within a more spiritual mindset, which could take me out of my comfort zone. God spinning the Earth on the cover of Momentum was an idea Neal suggested after he didn’t feel my attempts were hitting it. But how I created the cover from that suggestion, was all from my imagination. So, when talking about collaboration, to me it’s more about listening to the artists and their needs, rather than shooting ideas at each other or watching me every step of the way. It’s important to be responsive with artists and very reliable professionally. At the end of the day, you need to deliver on time, and not have a plethora of errors coming from the printing plant, that’s when you’ll get a call to do more. 

Working for Mike Portnoy is always so fun. He’s hilarious and has an M family like I do (all names starting with an M), so we M’s get on great. Seeing my artwork end up on his drumhead is surreal to say the least. Mike is a terrific guy, who is inspiring to work with because he continues to be excited like a child when working on his music projects. He cares a lot about his fans. 

One cover of your’s I really like is the Keith Emerson Band album from 2008. Any recall on creating that and working with Keith? 

 Thank you, that’s nice to hear. Yeah, how much room do you have in this interview? Let’s just say Keith Emerson was extremely excited about this release. He saw it as a return to form after not having any significant output for years. His desire was to have the type of cover artwork he loved from the ’70’s. Detailed enough to keep you looking at a vinyl copy for years. That’s what attracted Keith to my work. I do recall having a bit of a false start on ideas for the album which Keith was initially planning on calling “Ganton 7” about a distant planet. He did however let me do my thing, with Keith explaining that “there was a cow’s arse on the cover of a Pink Floyd album, so anything is possible.” – That’s a direct quote. Marc Bonilla was also involved with the album art, and I had many long conversations with Marc on development.

Eventually, Keith liked a piece I had already completed that was displayed on MySpace (of all places) depicting a Mellotron rusting in the desert under a red sky. Keith suggested changing the Mellotron to a Hammond B3, feeling this image represented the state of his music career, but also somehow wanting to show it as a rebirth. Along with Marc, we batted around a few ideas until I came up with igniting the organ on fire. That was the moment – I had nailed it! If you look closely, the fire is restoring the organ to its former glory. Keith pointed out to me that the opening section of the track “Miles Away” is based on my cover art. He had the art hanging in the studio. If you look at the cover while playing that intro, the synergy is strikingly clear. Keith was an amazing person to work for, with an unarming humbleness that made you feel comfortable to even disagree with him. He also had no problems calling me on the phone to discuss the album, which is rare – most everyone sticks to email. Nothing can top getting an unlisted phone call, picking it up and hearing in a British accent, “Hello Martin, this is Keith!” I miss him so much.  

As a fan of the late John Wetton, can you recall working with him in creating the cover for the live album with District 97? [They are from Chicago!?] Also, were you at that show and have any favorite albums with JW?  

District 97 is a Chicago area prog band that caught my attention with their 2010 debut album “Hybrid Child.” They had a youthful energy and a remarkably proficient singer, Leslie Hunt, that set them apart from most other prog acts at the time. Being local to Chicago, I thought I would introduce myself to the band’s founder & drummer Jonathan Schang and offer my design services.  Jonathan was quick to take me up on that and hired me to design show posters and on-line promotions.  Soon afterwards, John Wetton also became a fan of District 97 and started to collaborate with the band. A tour was then planned to have D97 play the music of King Crimson with none other than John Wetton on vocals. Because I was their tour poster guy, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity make the graphics to accompany the tour, which later turned into a live CD package. I can’t say I worked directly with Wetton, but was Cc’ed among conversations regarding the artwork. I do recall Wetton being indecisive about what photo of him we could use, insisting the CD color be red, and that the title of the album be changed from “One More Red Nightmare” to “One More Red Night.” Which probably was a good call! I didn’t catch the Chicago show that was recorded, but I caught them earlier up in Milwaukee. The CD is fantastic, don’t you think? I might say it’s my favorite Wetton album! I do love the first Asia album, Crimson’s Red, and Night After Night with UK is on top of my list.  “Rendezvous 6:02” is my favorite song featuring John Wetton.   

Your latest cover is the Lips Turn Blue cover, and its real eye catching. How did you wind up with this project? Were you familiar with any of the band?  

Thank you! I was asked to do the project by the band’s manager, Bruce Pilato. Bruce and I have known each other for many years working with The Carl Palmer Band. I’ve designed many of Carl’s t-shirts and DVD covers, as well the “ELP Lives On” logo that Carl uses on the huge stage backdrop. When Bruce asked me about working on LTB, I was familiar with Phil Naro and the band Talas. The other players had strong resumes as well, so it sounded like a hot project to take on. 

Where did the idea for the cover shot come from?  Can you give us details on the photo and how you transformed it into the final piece of art [including the logo and the city scene in the girl’s glasses]? 

 I’m not sure who in the band came up with the idea, but Bruce described in detail what they were looking for. A beautiful female face, similar to those in the Robert Palmer video “Addicted to Love”, with a silver painted face and bright blue lips. That’s very descript. Selecting the particular model and just the right pose, with her hand on her chin, was entirely my call. People see a face, but it’s really about shapes working together in balance, and the selection and framing of those shapes is key to it’s strength. The city lights in the glasses were my way of adding some extra flash and depth to the image – putting the model in a place rather than just a flat image. The logo played off that, with neon lettering. With CD artwork now reduced to tiny icons on the internet, I needed to create a simple bold image to draw attention. The contrasting silver/blue color scheme worked well to that effect. Another interesting part of the development of the cover were instructions to put photos of all the band members at the bottom of the woman’s face. I did that, but then ending up having a disagreement over it. When I removed the band photos, Bruce argued that without them, people would think the woman is the recording artist on the CD. I reminded him that many male bands used a woman on the cover, like The Cars and Roxy Music. So, in that spirit, I guess I won out! I was also told Phil Naro approved the final artwork just before he passed, so that’s quite nice to think my artwork was among his last images on Earth.  

Do you have any favorite tracks from the LTD album? and might we see you work on the next LTB cover?  

 All the tracks are consistently strong. “Pray For Tomorrow” is quite nice. And I love “Blood Moon”. Probably because it has a prog feel to it with prominent organ and synths, and I’m a synth player myself so I dig that. I’m certainly open to another LTB cover, but I think their current plans are for a tour.  

Any upcoming album art you are working on [or will be] ?  

I’m open for business. So, if Rick Wakeman or Peter Gabriel want to drop me a line, I’m ready and available! I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me, Kevin. There are many modern-day cover artists like myself that don’t get enough recognition because everyone seems fixated on the classic artist. So, good on you and Outsider-Rock for spending the time with me.     







DON MANCUSO – Interview from the Archives [2001]

This is an interview I did via email with Don Mancuso, formerly of Black Sheep in August of 2001 to promote his first solo album Now You See It. The CD featured 14 tracks, all written or co-written by Don, except for a cool cover of Badfinger’s “No Matter What”. His next album would be titled DDrive, and would be the basis for the band that became DDrive and more recently Lips Turn Blue, who’ve just released a new album – LTB.

(08/01) Rochester based guitarist Don Mancuso has been around the upstate New York scene for decades! In his early days he was in BLACK SHEEP with singer Lou Gramm [pre FOREIGNER], and after extensive tours of the US in the 70s supporting numerous classic bands and 2 LPs Black Sheep split before Don went on to form such bands as AURORA, CELTIC FIRE, and the legendary CHEATER!

 Most recently Don has been playing and recording in RED HEART – which features a few ex members of Cheater. Don’s also got his first solo album out titled “Now You See It”; issued independently. Now You See It is a fine mix of rock, along with influences of fusion, southern, and roots rock n roll. It features a number of strong cuts like “Eyes of God”, “Freedom”, the instrumental “Waazzup”, and a decent cover of the Badfinger classic “No Matter What”.

Here Don discusses his career, tells a few Black Sheep tales, and gives the lowdown on his brand new solo album.

Can you give me a Top 10 list of favorite albums?


1) Axis Bold As Love (Hendrix)
2)Guitar Shop (Jeff Beck)
3)Free At Last (Free)
4) Dosage (Collective Soul)
5) White Album (The Beatles)
6) Sergeant Peppers Lonely Heart (The Beatles)
7) Magical Mystery Tour (Beatles)
8)Couldn’t Stand the Rain (SRV)
9) Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (Traffic) I think that’s the title…
10) Goodbye Creame (Creame)

Black Sheep was your first band, with Lou Gramm !? How did you get involved in that band, and what was your early take on Lou? 😉

Actually the bass player Bruce Turgon (who is now with Foreigner) heard me playing outdoors at a dance that I was playing at with a band called Maelstrom. He was at his girlfriend’s house and heard me playing from a half a mile  away. (I must’ve been playing pretty LOUD!) He liked what he heard and had me over for an audition, which of course led to being the first american act signed to Chrysalis Records. (see my bio for details) then to 2 albums with Capital Records. That of course led to him getting into Foreigner.  As far as my take on Lou, I felt that he was a great person, writer and singer and I loved working with him. We were like brothers from 1973- 1976. Didn’t spend much time apart between touring, recording, writing and hanging out together.

Black Sheep released 2 albums. How did those albums do nationally? And how do you think of them in retrospect? [any favorites?] oh…and how did you get signed on to Capitol ?

The first album “Black Sheep” sold well. I heard somewhere around 80-100,000 copies world wide. The second one “Encouraging Words” didn’t do quite as well. Somewhere around 40-50.000 copies.(from what we heard!) not 100% certain that these numbers are it, but that’s what we were told. I think these albums were GREAT! Some of my finest work and definitely a lot of emotion to it. I didn’t quite have the experience, or chops that I do now, but I have learned a lot from “myself” and what I’m capable of doing both writing and playing wise from these albums.(As you do with every project)  I think my favorite one is Encouraging Words though. We had a chance to grow a little before that one and laid out a lot of spontaneous emotion along with some more organized ideas. The way we got signed was through an A&R rep that had heard a demo and quit Columbia Records to pursue his own production company. Stuart Allen Love was his name and between himself, a music lawyer named Barry Platnik and Vincent Romeo a honcho at ICM booking agency in NYC they worked the political magic that gets act signed.

The saying “it’s not what you know, but who!!”. It’s all that and more!

You guys toured with a ton of great 70s bands like Kiss, Argent [Wow! I’m a fan], Manfred Mann, 10 years After…. Any great stories from those tours? Any bands you loved or hated playing with?

I loved playing with all of them! (oh, by the way you forgot Blue Oyster Cult, Ted Nugent, Peter Frampton and Procol Harem) But seriously, they were all my idols,  except for Kiss at the time. I never thought much about them until I witnessed them Live! They were WILD!!

As far as stories I’ll give you the worst and the best. When we were touring with  Kiss the very first show I was standing on the side of the stage after we had finished our set and all of sudden I’m standing in this huge shadow. I turned around to see Gene Simons towering over me in that unbelievable outfit with an axe guitar! He must’ve known what I was thinking by the look on my face. He told me that he had watched our show and he loved the band! I was shocked and honored. Most headliners shit on the opening acts, basically because they need to make them selves look and sound better. These guys did not worry about that! Alvin Lee from Ten Years after was the same way. We got to be great friends and got into lots of trouble together…    The bad story, well we had just finished recording our second album with a new drummer who hadn’t even played out in 5-6 years and was a farmer outside of Rochester N.Y.  We had done some work to get the new show together and accepted a last minute gig at the New York Academy of music in NYC warming up for our hero at the time Peter Frampton. Well Peter hadn’t hit the big time with Alive yet and it turned out he was not the draw for the show either! We were plugged in, in place of a group called Montrose (who were the draw on that show). To try and make a long story short, we came out all psyched and had people screaming for Montrose and throwing shit at us to get us off the stage. If that wasn’t bad enough the power went out on the guitar amps and keyboards so Lou, Bruce and the “new” drummer who never played in front of a crowd larger than 200 people were naked in the wind for the rest of the set! That’s Rock-N-Roll!!

Who else was in Black Sheep? Any recordings past Lou Gramm’s time with the band?

The only people that were in Black Sheep during 1973 through  1978 when we broke up were myself, Lou, Ron Rocco (first drummer), Bruce Turgon, Larry Crozier and Mike Bonnafiedie (the second drummer) that was it. Everything we recorded was released on either Chysalis, or Capital.

What can you tell me such band’s as Aurora and Celtic Fire? [who else was in them, any recordings, tours…] ?

Well, Aurora was a fusion band that I was in for 2 years after BS. We didn’t do any national touring, but did a lot of TV shows and club dates. Linda Rutherford & Celtic Fire was a Celtic Rock band that did a good amount of touring and had 2 CD’s out on their own label. I was the guitarist on the second one only “Flames of Eviction”. Great Stuff and Linda and her family are some incredibly talented and creative musicians. Our claim to fame was playing at Woodstock 99 on the “Emerging Artist Stage” It just so happened that both the main stages were down when we played, so they broad casted us over the whole network of media equipment over the 5 mile coverage!  More people saw me play guitar that day than on 4 dates combined on the Kiss tour. Not bad! You know the story on Cheater, we had an EP out and toured nationally and were like the Beatles of upstate NY when we disbanded.

Cheater was a fairly popular band in the Buffalo area for years. What are your fondest memories of this band, and the scene back then? Buffalo had a big HR scene in the 80s. Did Cheater have much success or following outside of the region?

Yes Cheater was huge in the area of upstate NY, Ohio, Florida and one, or two other places in the country. It was mostly from people that lived in NY had the EP and would turn people onto it where ever they happened to move. We had fans in Texas, Calif, Tennessee and who knows where else. Not millions, but 100’s. My fondest memories are of the people & the music that band created. We were actually supposed to be sign after spending $60,000 on the Cheater Album, which was produced by an assistant of Mutt Langs, Nick Blagona.  Just before they signed us and heard the record they decided that our singer Jeff Cosco sounded too much like Steve Perry of Journey and for them to release it, we would need to get a new singer. Well, being the people we were there was no way we were going kick out the singer we loved working with and that helped create these songs, so we allowed ourselves to get dumped and ate the cost of the record. Only recently we finally got the masters back and are going to have them re mastered for release!

What’s the deal with the Cheater CD coming out of previously unreleased recordings? What can you tell us about those? BTW, aside from originals did Cheater play many covers? [if so, anything in particular?]

See above! Cheater did play covers like Zeppelin, Humble Pie , Journey (of course).

You also did some sessions with Ian Lloyd. What project was this for?

The thing with Ian Lloyd was a demo that Bruce Turgon was doing for his solo thing. We did it at the Hit Factory in NYC.

Wish I had a copy of that! Someday I’ll have to nail Bruce down and get one. It was wild working with him he was one of the lesser known staff writers for Foreigner from what I heard. Great voice, it just took him a while to work into it in the studio.  (He said it was blowing himself out on the road with Stories after Brother Louie)

In recent years you put together Red Heart [w/ Jeff Cosco, also of Cheater]. What can you tell me about this band?  How is the CD you guys recorded? And what are you currently up to with them?

Red Heart is basically a Modern rock band with a classic rock edge to it. We have the original drummer from Black Sheep (Ron Rocco) and between myself Jeff and Ron we wrote all the material on it. It’s got some great songs on it and it was recorded and produced by Jeff Cosco at his 8trk studio. We play a lot of clubs, festivals and so forth in the Northeast part of the country. A couple of our songs from the Bridge CD are being considered for movie soundtracks. We’re doing warm up dates for some national acts like Kim Mitchell. (Who is another one of my idols by the way!) We’re also working on the next CD.

When did you decide to do a solo disc? Is it safe to assume this was done over a long period of time?

I decided to do a solo disk about 2 years ago. Yes, it did take all 2 years and then some to complete. Way more than I had hoped..

Now You See It features a wide range of rock songs, jazz and southern influences, etc… What can you tell me about how the process of putting together such an album? 😉

I took all the ideas out of a library that I keep at home of all the original pieces of music that I’ve recorded over the years. Some are even original demo’s of the Celtic Fire cd that I really thought came out cool and left it just the way it was.  Most people don’t recognize it as being Celtic Fire of course because it’s me doing everything and it sounds much  heavier. As far as the different types music on it, I did that intentionally. I love everything from R&B to soul, to Punk, to classical, to Celtic, to Reggae. I love anything that has an edge to it. You have to understand that many people have used me as a hired gun guitarist/writer and all they know me for is hard rock, which I love and can do very well, but I needed to show people that there are another couple of sides to Don Mancuso.

You used a number of singers, but don’t do any vocals yourself, why? And aside from Jeff, what can you tell me about a few of the others?

I don’t like the sound of my voice unless it’s used for texture, or harmonies. I’m not a great singer and I didn’t want to settle for doing it myself just because I could. There’s a lot of my voice on there, but it’s disguised. Maybe someday I’ll find a song that I like the way I sound on and do it then! The other singers.. First there Garrett Crumb who co- wrote and sang the first cut Alota Nerve and the tenth cut Black-N-Dizease, which is getting some airplay in Germany on the Lord Litter’s Radio Show. The other main singer writer on is Pat Petrone. We go back to high school together and have done many bands. He has the most incredible Ballad voice.  sounds kind of like Steve Winwood. That’s what prompted me to do a lot of the mellower stuff on there. It just complimented his voice very well. He also sings on Eye’s of God, which is definitely the heaviest cut though! I also had a friend that I wanted to do some writing with that is on their, Dawn Sherman. She has a wonderful voice and a real feel for writing in that country/rock type of vein. So that’s why Freedom is in there. (Besides the fact that I LOVE the performance and sound of the guitar solo!!) It’s one of those things that only will happen once!

Decent cover of Badfinger’s ‘No Matter What! Why did you do this track [being a trademark tune of their’s] ? And are you a big BF fan?

Thank you for the compliment on the choice. I loved Badfinger and had this version of No Matter What that I  had done with another band that I liked, so I had just got a deal on a used Leslie 122 tone cabinet, which I needed to finish it and whaallaa!  By the way the singer on that one’s name is Vince Guarnerie. Forgot to mention him in question 12  He’s a good friend and the only guy I know right now that can hit those high notes!

Can you give me a few words about some of your personal faves [or stronger tracks] from Now You See It? Are there any tracks you’ve been [or will be] pushing to local radio stations?

Every song on the Now You See It CD is my personal fave. I had plenty of ideas to pick from and these were all the A cuts. It depends on what type of music you like or are interested in playing on a radio station. For hard rock I really like Little Tail and

Black-N-Dizease, for more current sounding stuff I like Eye’s Of God.. (Very Heavy)  For Pop I recommend Lonely Look!  And for soulful rock I’d say Waaazzup. (I even have trouble recreating that one live!) If you like more of a classical edge then I Fly. Well as you can see I’m going to mention every song on there because I love them all, so I’ll stop here and let your readers decided. It’s interpretation anyway.

How has response been thus far to the CD? What promo / marketing plans are you undertaking? & Will the disc be mainly available at your web site, or will it be in [local?] shops? Any plans to promote it live?

The response has been GREAT! It’s the first project that I’ve done to date outside of Black Sheep that’s in the Black after only 4 months. The promo right now is just word of mouth, internet, and talking to anybody and everybody I can about it. I have Phil Naro (who might possibly sing, co-write and help produce the next one!) shopping it overseas in Canada and the US. I very little to nothing about marketing and promo, so can’t imagine how well I would be doing if I had that end together! I have hired a personal manager though to help try and get this done as well as book live performances for the show.

I’ve only played one show so far in my own home town, so I’m looking for opportunities to get into other areas and see if it does as well there as it does here. We’re trying to get airplay in Buff. and go there to play. At this point I’ll do whatever it takes to get this disc into peoples hands that would dig it as much as the hundreds that already have it. It is availible on the web site and also in Rochester at Media Play, The Record Archieve, the Bop Shop and the House of Guitars. I sell a lot of them at live shows, but the shows are with Red Heart and the Park Ave Band (R&B/rock/reggae/fusion) in the tri state area that we play in. I’m pretty sure that Red Heart will be doing a couple of songs off of the Now You See It disk in their show and the Park Ave Band is the main band that is with me for the Now You See It show’s. We just add the violin, chello, sax and all the vocalists (along with an extra guitarist or 2) and it’s the Now You See It show!

What other projects are involved in at this time? any plans?

See above! I think I mentioned everything I’m involved with except I am producing albums for a few friends out of my studio in Rochester NY. It’s great because I get to play on a lot of different stuff and help someone else live their dream!

What’s your association with Phil Naro? Any comments on him?

Yep, Phil’s a great singer and song writer. We’ve been in a few different projects together and we’re even toying with the idea of having him Co-produce the next CD and have him doing some writing and vocals on it.

What sort of music do you listen to these days? any current faves? 

I listen to Aerosmith, Collective Soul, Jeff Beck, Hendrix, Incubas, Just about  anything with any heart & soul in it!

Ever open for or familiar with Uriah Heep?

Nope, but I did love seeing them live and listening to them. Saw them in Rochester at the Dome arena [1972]. Great show, but as far as favorite songs I loved almost every song that they wrote!… Demon’s and Wizards!!

Interview: KJJ, Aug, ‘2001




An Interview with Ron Rocco of Black Sheep

LIPS TURN BLUE – An interview with DON MANCUSO

DON MANCUSO is the guitarist and a major songwriter in the band LIPS TURN BLUE. The band started out as DDRIVE years ago, which had originally taken the name of Don’s second solo album DDrive, from 2004. Upon starting the band’s new album the band decided to change the name due to the name D_Drive also being used by a young prog-metal band from Tokyo. In the ’70s Don was part of the legendary band Black Sheep, along with singer Lou Grammatico – who went on to Foreigner. Black Sheep released 2 classic albums on Capitol Records. Don went on to various bands including Cheater, Red Heart, as well The Lou Gramm Band (see their 2009 self-titled album).

In this interview Don discusses the new Lips Turn Blue album – the making of it, the songs, the late Phil Naro, LTB’s current happenings, as well a bit on Black Sheep, and what else he has on the go.

For more, check out all the links below!

How much of the album was done when Phil was still with you?

Probably 90 per cent of it was done while Phil was still with us. He couldn’t sing after he went through the 2nd round of the chemo and therapy he was doing, trying to beat it, but he was in on what songs we were going to pull from earlier albums. You know, we ended up using a couple of songs, where he couldn’t sing, we had to go back in the catalogue and we picked up a couple of DDrive songs and we re-did those around his vocals.

You co-wrote most of the songs with Phil. Were the lyrics his and it was all put together from that?

It was a group effort – Phil and I wrote a couple of songs, and Phil and I and the keyboard player, Eric Beiber wrote. We all contributed with music, words, ideas, melodies. And there was a couple that Eric wrote with just Phil and Steve Major, the producer up in Toronto.

Can we talk about some of the songs? I just saw the new video for “Pray For Tomorrow”.

That was a total remake. That’s what started the album going. Phil had some friends during the pandemic that said it would be a great idea to do an acoustic version of it, and we said ‘it’s a good idea – we’re sitting around anyway.’ We all kinda chipped in at our home studios and we got that rendition of it.

“Just Push” was the first single. Can you tell me anything about that song?

That was an idea Phil brought to the table, and him and I worked on it actually til we completed the song. It was during the pandemic, so we couldn’t actually work face to face. We were working on the internet, doing tracks with the other guys, and the producer coordinated it, sending all the tracks up to Toronto to have them mixed. It was our first take on the pandemic.

I like “Build My Castle”, that’s a great one. and I like Phil’s intro to that, it’s kind of a different approach.

Steve came up with. It’s actually off my 2nd solo album with Phil. And he wanted to re-do it in a different light, so we added keyboard passages, and melodies with keyboards, and changed the solos around a little bit, and he did the thing with intro and the chant in the breakdown in the middle, also. A great song. That was actually getting some airplay in Pittsburgh.

“Better Than I Used To Be” ?

Yes. That’s one of my favorites. That one is close to my heart. I actually wrote the basic hook part, and most of the lyrics on it – with Phil’s help. And Eric Beiber contributed, I think he wrote the solo section. That’s a good one. It’s the story of my life – haha – ‘I may not be perfect, but I’m always better than I used to be.’

There’s a couple of things on here that have kinda reflective lyrics, and I’m wondering if those are things that Phil wrote – “No Need For You To Call” and “Life’s Crazy Ride”

“No Need To Call” was one that I helped him with. He had just had a falling out with his fiancé, and I had a new girlfriend, and we kind of wrote that one. And the other one – that was basically how he summed up his life before it was over — for everybody, not just for him, for all of us.

Was he well aware of his situation when he wrote that stuff?

Oh God yeah. He was in the middle of wondering how long it was going to be. It was tough.

What stands out for you on the album – what are you happiest with?

I think “Sit Up” is one of my more .. .I mean even though it’s a real R & B metal tune, it’s got a great hook to it, and it’s one of those ones that makes you want to move. That one, and “Better Than I Used To Be”. There’s a couple of Eric’s that I really like, that are really amazing.

“Chain On Me”?

That was one that Lou and I wrote with Bruce (Turgon). We re-did it from the Black Sheep days; it was on the Encouraging Words album. That was Phil’s last request, he said ‘I always wanted to do that song.’ And I was like – ‘you got it – let’s do it!’. And he did it, he pulled it off great.

The last cut on the album Lou sings on.

Yes. That’s from my 2nd solo album. And we decided to add that in to the que when Phil really couldn’t do any more. And we didn’t want to put anything out that was half-baked. So we took a song that Phil and I wrote from my 2nd solo album, and had the new guys play on it. The only other original guy we left on it was Joe Lana, he also passed away 5-6 years ago.

Who’s idea was it to do the Beatles’ cover? It’s an interesting choice.

That was mine and Phil’s. That was another one originally off of my 2nd solo album that we always loved, so we said ‘let’s re-do this one too!’

Now when I see the album – I love the cover, but I see there is no vinyl option of it , yet. When I look on Discogs and on Amazon I only see the CD.

No? I thought they were going to do that, I heard they were going to do it. I know I want vinyl.

Now you guys have moved on, and you have Iggy Marino as your new frontman. How many shows have you done?

We’ve done 2 shows so far, one in Rochester, and one in Phoenix, Arizona.

So you are part way or mostly done a new album as well?

Yes, about half way. We’ve got a lot of it in the can.

Will we still see Phil in any of the credits?

Oh yeah, he’ll be on 2 or 3 of them, I think, as far as credits. He wasn’t able to sing on them, but he was part of writing them, And I think we did have some vocal parts that are still usable that we’ll probably slip in here or there, I’m sure.

Is there a projected date for the next album?

No. We’re just trying to put together a tour, and get out and promote the Hell out of this one. It’s going to take time, I mean we’re not a super huge classic rock band or anything, so we’re going to be toughing it out for probably the next 6 months to a year to try and get that out there. And in the interim we’ll slowly widdle away at the next album.

Are you still working with Lou at all, on the side?

No. I still play with him periodically when he needs me, and he calls me up and says ‘I’m in trouble I need a guitar player and a band.’ But he’s actually retired, but he’s been doing these guest spots with other groups who want to bring him in to the fold just for a few gigs, or special shows, kind of ‘all-star’ band stuff.

I just want to ask about Black Sheep. Is there anything in the vaults that would interest you guys in putting them out as reissued with anything extra?

No, probably not. Lou was actually thinking about that a few years ago and tried to check in to who owned it, and it was like a circle-jerk, no one could really nail it down as to who owned it. So to do something like that might be a lawsuit in the making. I’ve got digital copies of the mastered albums that I just turn friends on to, and give it to them if they want it.

That’s a shame there’s not newer pressings of them out there because they’re hard to find and they’re albums.

Oh they are! That’s why I’m glad I’ve got the digital remaster of it. I was really fortunate because it’s a cut-out in the catalogue now, and luckily a DJ who happened to get a copy of it before they burned them all, he sent them to me, and I was ‘Oh thank you – you’re my hero!’

Did Black Sheep have any regional hot spots, aside from where you guys were from in Rochester and New York – any places where you guys got a lot of air-play or had a hit?

Yeah, we had a hit in Knoxville, Tennessee. We had a hit in Japan. And I think in Europe there were a couple of classic rock stations that were giving us a lot of air-play – like in Germany, Switzerland, Austria.

Was that back when the albums came out?

Yes, when the albums were out and we were touring with Kiss, Hall & Oats, and Ten Years After, and all that.

What else are you working on now?

Basically, right now my main focus for original acts is Lips Turn Blue because we’ve got the deal with MIG Records over in Germany, and the record’s doing good. Then I’m still working with Tony Carbone and Derek Crom in Johnny Smoke. We’re going to be coming to Buffalo in January, I think, at The Rock. And I’m still working with Lisa Gee, from Chicago, who’s last albums and EPs were done with a different drummer, he’s a session drummer out in California, but now I’ve been working with Carmine Appice on her new stuff. We’ve got 5 songs in the can; she’s going to be releasing an EP, and she’s got 1 song we’re still finishing up, it’ll be a separate single with Carmine. (ed: single premiers June 18)

I interviewed Carmine a few months ago. A busy guy.

Yeah he is. Great musician, I love working with him.

Do you know the name Mike Marconi?

Oh God yes! I used to go watch him when I was in Black Sheep just to learn new licks and get my sound down. He was one of the guys – him and Mike Nicoles were my local heros. He’s a good guy, great guitar player. He was in a band called Wale here. They were a good band. They were the one voted ‘most likely to succeed’ over Black Sheep. haha. We fooled them.

Can you give me a bit of insight in to Phil as a writing partner, bandmember, and person, how you got along with him and that?

We got along great because we loved writing together, and playing together. Every opportunity we would get we would both work at it, but we were always involved in other projects to keep moving forward, learn more stuff, and hopefully grab more contacts.

Anything else you can add in about the album..

It was the biggest labor of love any of us have ever done. It was like pulling teeth to get it out. Luckily we were blessed with a guy that got behind us – Bruce Pilato, he manages the band and he kind of tied up all the lose ends and got it to a point where we can get it out to people. So, you gotta hand it to him.

Are you guys going to be adding a store to the website to order CDs and merchandise directly?

Yeah. We want to. Because I mean with the gigs we played we probably could’ve sold hundreds of those t-shirts with the cover art on them.

Do you know much about it (the cover)?

Yes. It was done by a gentleman in the mid-west who’s referred to as ‘Man In The Mountain’ , and he does all graphic art covers, a lot of CD stuff, and big time artwork.










LIPS TURN BLUE – LTB album out now (a review)

LIPS TURN BLUE is the band formerly known as DDrive, which features guitarist Don Mancuso [ex Black Sheep], and the late Phil Naro on vocals & guitar. this album also features keyboardist Eric Beiber, bass player Mike Mullane, as well as a few drummers (Roy Stein is the band’s permanent drummer), backing singers, and guests – most notably Lou Gramm! Producer Steve Major also adds guitar and percussion. Most songs here co-written by Naro & Mancuso, with a few others adding to variety of tracks here.

First off is the awesome cover shot by Martin Kornick / Man In the Mountain ! Love the photo and the blue. Makes me wonder why no one issued this on blue vinyl!?

LTB features 13 tracks, a few of which have been re-worked from previous releases, most notably a cool remake of Black Sheep’s “Chain On Me” (the 70s band that featured Mancuso and Lou Gramm, as well as co-writer Bruce Turgon) – love that piano intro and Hammond organ! The band also revisit their own “Pray For Tomorrow”, which is a timely and memorable; a song of hope featuring a fine vocal from Naro, as well as acoustic guitar and mandolin from Mancuso. “Pray For Tomorrow” has been made in to the 2nd video from the album, with the band also offering the video in efforts to raise money for the people of Ukraine.

There are a few tracks reworked here from Mancuso’s 2nd solo album, titled DDrive – the upbeat (and a favorite here) “Build My Castle”, and though the original was good this is a great production, adding a vocal intro and love the keyboard & guitar exchange here, as well as the solo – this track sounds like it would be an exciting in the live set. As well there’s Lou Gramm singing the Mancuso / Naro penned “A Little Outside” (a nice close to the album), and a cover of Beatles’ favorite “Hey Bulldog”. Favorite tracks here also include the opener (lead single) “Just Push” and “Better Than I Used To Be” (great AOR rocker – love the keyboard runs in this one from Eric Beiber) – actually the first 5 songs here make this worth getting! A couple of excellent ballads included here as well, “No Need For You To Call” and “Life’s Crazy Ride”, both reflective, and one of Phil’s best vocal performances on the latter.

Lips Turn Blue is one of two albums Phil Naro completed before his passing. LTD will appeal to fans of melodic rock, classic AOR, and anyone familiar with Phil’s vocals (the guy did a lot in his career!). Cheers to Don Mancuso and the band and producer Steve Major for getting this album done and out. Lips Turn Blue are currently working on a 2nd album and live dates with new singer Iggy Marino.




LIPS TURN BLUE, formerly DDrive, Sign Worldwide Record Deal with MIG RECORDS

New York rockers turn tragedy into triumph; 
after the passing of legendary lead vocalist Phil Naro, band releases brilliant debut album and adds new singer/ musician, Iggy Marino.  

LIPS TURN BLUE, formerly known in the Upstate New York region as the popular club act, DDRIVE, has regrouped and returned with a new name, a brilliant debut album, a world-wide record contract, and a new member in singer/musician Iggy  Marino. The band (nicknamed LTB) which also includes guitarist Don Mancuso, keyboardist Eric Bieber, bassist Mike Mullane, and drummer Roy Stein are currently preparing for the release of its new album and some select concert dates.  

Pre-orders / pre saves available here:  https://lipsturnblue.lnk.to/justpushThe group’s first single, “Just Push” will be released March 23rd. That will be  followed by other singles: “Pray For Tomorrow,” an ode to the turbulent times much of  the world is experiencing; “Blood Moon,” and “Crazy In Love.” The debut album, LIPS  TURN BLUE will have its worldwide release this coming May 4th., to coincide with the one year anniversary of the week he passed away. 

When the band’s lead vocalist and co-songwriter Phil Naro sadly passed away after a valiant battle against cancer the group’s future was in doubt. Naro and the other band members had just secured a worldwide record deal with the European-based label, MIG RECORDS, and had put the finishing touches on the album when his illness returned, and tragedy struck.  

As his illness progressed the band members assured Naro the record would be released, and they would continue to pursue his artistic vision for the material he felt was his best work as a songwriter and vocalist. Now, with the record deal signed, a  release date set and a dynamic new vocalist in place, their promise to their fallen musical comrade can finally be fulfilled.

Iggy Marino came to the band after an extensive search for a new vocalist. He is a recent Nazareth College graduate whose instructors at the school included LTB  drummer Roy Stein and its manager, Bruce Pilato, who both teach music-industry courses there. 

“We feel we have a great singer and fellow musician in place that the music touches and motivates,” says Don Mancuso. “We want to get this amazing music out there. It needs to be played to as many music fans as possible. After our period of  mourning Phil’s loss, we now have the drive and experience to take this music on the  road and finish our next album, which is already well in the works.” 

Adds Eric Bieber, who, in addition to his skill has a classically trained keyboardist and longtime professional performing musician, recently retired as a physician and hospital executive administrator. “Phil was passionate in his desire to have this music heard and performed. We are honored to be able to carry on his legacy by doing just that. Iggy Marino is a remarkable young musician who will take the band in yet another direction with some of the new material. He is also a fan of the existing album and will  be faithful to Phil’s vision.” 

Lou Gramm, founding member and former lead vocalist of FOREIGNER,  appears on the album’s final track, “A Little Outside.” 

“We believe this is one of the strongest debut albums we have heard in many years,” says Bernd Ramien, A&R & Director of Catalog Marketing for MIG (Made-In Germany-Music GmbH), which signed the band soon after only hearing a few tracks from the debut album. “We had thought and hoped Phil would overcome his illness, but when he sadly left us, we were determined to make sure this album and band could  carry on.” 

At the moment, MIG has plans to release three singles by the time the full album is available this coming April. The group is currently booking tour dates to coincide with the album’s release. Based in Hannover, Germany but distributed worldwide, MIG  Music has released albums by an extraordinary roster of acts that includes: Joe  Jackson, Sheila E, Jack Bruce of Cream, Roger McGuinn, Ron Wood, Muddy Waters,  Pee Wee Ellis, Maceo Parker, Weather Report, Nash Albert, Pat Travers Band, Vanilla  Fudge, Richard Thompson, George Thorogood, Public Image Ltd, and many others. For All Things LIPS TURN BLUE, please visit:

WEBSITE: www.Lipsturnblue.com
FACEBOOK  https://m.facebook.com/Lips-Turn-Blue 
INSTAGRAM @ lipsturnblueband 
TWITTER  https://mobile.twitter.com/LipsTurn 

PHIL NARO – 2 Bands, 2 New singles debut in past week

Rochester born singer Phil Naro had a very busy and successful career fronting a number of bands, notably Talas. Sadly Phil passed last May after battling cancer. Phil also was a part of a number of tribute acts, such as Ozone Baby (Led Zeppelin), as well as worked with Classic Albums Live and the Platinum Rock All-Stars. In 2009 Phil won a Daytime Emmy Award for his performance of the theme song to the animated TV show “6Teen”. Phil kept busy right til the end, finishing 2 albums. Phil was a great talent and a classy guy, who was always friendly and just seemed happy performing. Billy Sheehan once described Phil as “the best attitude singer” he knew.

Sheehan would reform Talas with Phil 5 years ago, and play a number of shows. They would also sign a record deal with Metal Blade Records and record a new Talas studio album just prior to Phil’s passing. It is the first Talas studio album since 1982. Phil joined Talas after that, singing on the band’s 1984 Live Speed On Ice, before eventually moving on to numerous short lived gigs like Coney Hatch, Naro, Blood Red Flower, 24K,…. The first single from the forthcoming Talas album is “Inner Mounting Flame”; a thundering hard rocker in classic Talas form which Sheehan describes as – “a bombastic, high-speed chaos of adrenaline that we would often use as our opening song at the live TALAS shows in 1985. We stayed close to the original arrangement – this was such a blast to record, and Phil sang his ass off on it. The song title came from a very famous fusion bands album title (The Mahavishnu Orchestra – Inner Mounting Flame), and was our take on what that flame might be about.” The song is produced by Billy Sheehan, Russ Mackay, Scott Bush and Talas – which also consists of drummer Mark Miller, and new addition Kire Najdovski on guitar. As a fan of Talas, this track simply an amazing surprise – not just getting to finally hear it, but the fact that it is so energetic, and so well performed and produced. Phil sounds better than ever on it, so I am really looking forward to the rest of the album. There should be more news soon. Check out the Talas V2 Facebook group for updates – https://www.facebook.com/talasv2

Within days of watching the new Talas clip repeatedly there came a press release and Another video release featuring Phil Naro for the first single from the forthcoming LIPS TURN BLUE album. Lips Turn Blue is the band formerly known as DDRIVE, along with former Black Sheep / Lou Gramm guitarist Don Mancuso, as well as keyboardist Eric Bieber, bassist Mike Mullane, and drummer Roy Stein. DDrive had released 2 full albums plus a mini-album over the years but changed the name for this newest recording (see Japanese metal band D_Drive).

The first single is “Just Push”, an easily likeable aor rock track, with a great chorus, a bit of funky guitar, and well placed keys. Phil sounds excellent on this one too. It’s a fun upbeat tune, and is the first of a few singles from LTB’s album, The band signed to MIG Records (Europe), who will release the album in May, a year after Phil Naro’s passing. as well as LTB’s next one that has already been started, and will feature new singer Iggy Marino.  https://m.facebook.com/Lips-Turn-Blue

More on Lips Turn Blue in a future post…. But check out Mitch Lafon’s interview with Don Mancuso [below] for some insight and news.  www.Lipsturnblue.com

Phil can also be heard on Cactus’ Tightrope album from 2021, as he co-wrote and sang on the track “Wear It Out”. One can spend hours going through Youtube checking out all the albums and projects Phil was a part of, some great stuff to be discovered there.