any talented rock band to stay alive throughout such a vicious backlash
that was the rock world in the Nineties is a commendable task. To
do it by releasing 10 albums in 11 years, touring constantly without major
label support, and all while keeping the main core and body of the band
and its music intact is almost unheard of. Chicagoans by birth, and
most likely, eventually by death, but most decidedly British at heart,
Enuff Z’Nuff have consistently been a rock and roll factory since 1989,
gaining their share of hard luck stories. Mixing power pop
savvy with unavoidably foot tapping Beatlesque hard driving rhythms, their
soaring consistency has continually won over even the most jaded of critics
and fans from all walks of life.
Anchored by Chicago’s very own “Odd Couple”
of rock, Donnie Vie and Chip Z’Nuff, Enuff Z’Nuff have painstakingly carved
their niche in the music world over the last 11 years. They have
done so by becoming brothers with a do or die tenacity. As with all
good teams, they have learned to roll with the punches by exploiting their
strengths, while constantly trying to at least round each other’s weaknesses.
They seem to be constantly playing an almost comedic “good cop, bad cop”
routine while keeping an eye and a true rein on each other like the siblings
they have grown to be. They continually have exuded a sense of deep
love of working together over the years no matter how deep the lows were,
or how blurry some of the highs seemed.
With Chip’s almost fatherly—if your father
happened to be Keith Richards—laidback attitude, he has always been more
than happy to be the band’s PR man. One, however, gets the
feeling when talking and dealing with him that he’s sincere, and has seemed
to have long dropped any act that you seem to find with younger bands.
A true love of what he does combined with a wisdom from experience really
seem to emanate from him. Always quick with a warm genuine smile,
even when he’s hurried, and always a few minutes to chat with any fan,
who often refer to Chip’s speaking voice as legendary. He strives
hard to constantly make sure the band is giving back a bit to the fans,
handling the business for the band from his home, which lends him the air
of being the more stable one in the band. He does let loose once
in a while with a penchant for shocking people, although in a mild, mostly
non offending way. (He has been known to show up on occasion in a
dress, for example, or wearing odd feather boas and different looking hats.)
Everyone gets the message that he’s just having fun, and being, well, Chip.
Donnie, however, tends to be somewhat of
an enigma. Sharing Chip’s penchant to shock people, Donnie’s casual
offhanded, sometimes biting remarks repeatedly unflap the unflappable,
yet he always leaves the group surrounding him laughing, usually after
turning the joke on himself. Exit Donnie, stage left. He is
a rock star, and will not let you forget it. Spend a minute alone
with him, somewhat away from the music and the industry, though, and you
see that an entirely different Donnie is always lurking just beneath the
surface of that clownish stage persona of his. An uncharacteristic
shyness seems to envelope him at times. Glimmers of the man who writes
those soul wrenching love songs, blistering harmonies, and genius sharp
tongued commentary peep out at you, catching you always when you least
His songwriting genius lay in his ability
to step into others’ shoes and write from original and intelligent viewpoints
consistently. The constant insecurity and anger that is a foundation
of his frantically paced songwriting and determined drive partially stems
from the fact that even after eleven years, and ten albums, and more accolades
than you can shake a stick at, he and his bandmates can barely get arrested
in the blue collar neighborhood the band grew up and still reside in.
Ignoring the neighbors and plowing forth, while being lauded as the songwriting
masters of crunchy pop rock/metal, the blue collar duo have over time played
each other’s differing personalities, playing “good cop, bad cop” to the
hilt, pushing ever onward with a dizzying pace of a discography and smoking
In a world nowadays with all of the blaringly
dominant American commercialization and constant loops and samples in music,
listening to Enuff Z’Nuff’s music, from the pumping melodic guitar driven
rock to its melancholy wistful
piano, both always coupled with brilliant beautifully harmonized beautifully
sung lyrics, is a completely fresh breath of air. Throughout the
last decade, they have continued to make music driven by both their frustration
and their undying belief in their own talent. Their music constantly
draws on their own experience along with images and sounds past, combining
the thrilling pop harmonies of the Beatles and Queen with the crunch of
their hometown heroes Cheap Trick and even borrowing a thing or two from
David Bowie and Sweet, among others. Songwriter Vie’s always relevant,
emotionally charged lyrics and inspired piano playing reminiscent of Burt
Bacharach and Elton John, coupled with bassist Z’Nuff’s solid trademarked
bounce reminiscent of a guy named Paul on the 4, 8 and 12 string bass have
kept this band up and running throughout the Nineties. With
trends changing practically minute by minute in this instant gratification
world, this is a band that has stuck to its guns, thumbing their noses
at anyone who dare dismiss them.
Starting with their debut eponymous album
released by Atco in 1989, the critics stood up and took notice. As
David Wild said it best in Rolling Stone, the album’s catchy lyrics and
pop metal sensibilities dared to ask the question,
“What if the Beatles were a horny, hard partying hair band?” Despite
the acclaim and some commercial and MTV success, their glam rock look belied
the amazing dynamics of their sound, and many people made the mistake of
lumping them with other bands of the day. Sales weren’t disastrous,
but were not what Atco had hoped for.
In 1991 their follow up album “Strength”
was almost a double album, weighing in with 18 tracks, that really showcased
the band’s burgeoning abilities.
Powerfully produced and beautifully well
rounded, it seemed the band had toned down their glam style and enjoyed
some success again with touring and radio play of their singles “Baby Loves
You” and “Mother’s Eyes”. Rolling Stone once again gave them a nod
and proclaimed them Best New Artist of 1991. The album’s thunderous
critical acclaim, however, wasn’t enough to satisfy the higher up executives
at Atco. With the proliferation of grunge running rampant in the
industry, sales were not what the label had expected once again, and amidst
a company shake-up, Enuff Z’Nuff was dropped from the label. With
so much chaos surrounding the band, personalities began to erupt.
The cliched rigors of rock and roll were starting to take their tolls and
cracks were starting to emerge within the band.
It was during this turmoil that they were
knocked by the blow of losing their drummer, Vikki Fox, who jumped ship
in 1993 to join forces with Vince Neil’s short lived solo band. The
band quickly joined forces with a new drummer, the charismatic and solid
drummer Ricky Parent, the band embarked on a short lived deal with Clive
Davis and Arista as their next label. Their next album “Animals
Intelligence” was once again applauded, and was often referred to “criminally
underrated” by many members of the press and the band’s colleagues alike.
The psychedelic crunchy album garnered many fans, such as Slash, then still
with Guns and Roses, making an uncredited appearance on the album, playing
sitar on the stoner track, “Takin’ A Ride”. Robert Plant even spoke
up and told MTV at the time that he thought Enuff Z’Nuff was the perfect
blending of pop and metal. The album, however, had no virtually airplay,
crucial mistakes in the marketing plan were made during a time when airwaves
were clogged with grunge and pop acts. At the time, the single “Right
By Your Side” sounded out of place, although a powerful and moving song.
Enuff Z’Nuff, in complete disgust with the whole industry, asked to be
released from their contract. Arista willingly let them go, seemingly
glad to be rid of them. Now, it seemed, there was no place anywhere
for Enuff Z’Nuff in any scene, as in 1994, whiz kid guitarist Derek Frigo,
son of the respected jazz violinist Johnny Frigo, also left the band amongst
strife and rampant drug use. Once again faced with having to look
for a new member and a new record deal at the same time, and with rock
being declared dead at every door they knocked on, Vie and Z’Nuff struggled
to comprehend and come to grips with what had happened to them over those
short turbulent years.
The frustration was spilling over to their
personal lives, and amidst divorces and addictions, they somehow managed
to release “1985”, a collection of old songs they had recorded years earlier.
The album had a decidedly different flavor this time around, calling on
good Sixties’ Motown. Again, to the angst this time of the fans and
the band, more good reviews, but lacking sales. Distributed through
indie label Caroline, and released on their own label, Z’Nuff was getting
more savvy in their industry ways. Having been demoted from the majors,
the Z’Nuff camp, who were now joined by old friend Geno Martino on guitar,
hankered down in the studio. Then in 1995, driven by their frustration,
and throwing themselves into their music to chase away the demons, the
band seemed to start to come out of the fog that had surrounded them for
so many years. Donnie locked himself away in the studio for days
and weeks on end, honing his craft, concurrently suffering from a
deep depression of sorts over the worrisome fate of his band.
From this depression, creative spurt, call it what you will, exploded the
dark recesses and crunchy deeper vein of “Tweaked” that only had been glimpsed
in brief shining moments in the band’s repetoire up until that point.
The album was the first with the indie label, Mayhem. The press and
the fans were wowed by the gritty, stripped down steeliness of the album.
The bouncy “It’s Alright” balanced by the plaintive “Has Jesus Closed His
Eyes”, the whole album’s different feel convinced the fans to be patient,
as there was now clearly more in store for them ahead. If there was
ever a question about Enuff Z’Nuff sticking around at that point, the band
was now sending out a resounding “HELL, YES!” as their answer.
to Part II