CRIMSON GLORY - Living After Midnight: New Blood

July 9, 2010, 10 years ago

Special report by Carl Begai

feature crimson glory

Crimson Glory died the day they lost Midnight. That’s how the story was supposed to end, at any rate.

Fans argued for years that the band had brought themselves to a premature end with the release of Strange And Beautiful in 1991, a confusing turn into the realms of commercial hippie rock with pop-like tendencies. Others claimed it was Crimson Glory’s 1999 comeback album, Astronomica, featuring new vocalist Wade Black that snuffed them out in spite of the band’s return to metal. When original singer John Patrick McDonald Jr. – known the world over as Midnight – passed away on July 8th, 2009 due to kidney and liver failure, the whys and wherefores of the band’s fall from grace slammed to a halt. Crimson Glory’s one and only voice was gone and their legendary sound died with him. Thus, when founding guitarist Jon Drenning made an official announcement in May 2010 that the band had found a new singer, the vast majority of followers dismissed their decision to continue without Midnight as ill-conceived bordering on stupid. Until they heard the new vocalist sing.

As evidence that the Crimson Glory camp was mentally sound, they issued audio clips via YouTube featuring one Todd La Torre singing Midnight’s parts over the original instrumental tracks of a few of their classics. The ball was officially rolling and fan reactions suggest nobody was in a hurry to make it stop.

“Todd did those YouTube clips at my request because I wanted to show the fans that Todd really understands Crimson Glory and Midnight,” says Drenning. “He realized what it meant to be in the band, and he knew that he’d have to emulate Midnight to do the old songs and do it well in order for the fans to appreciate it. The thing is, when Todd does his own material or our new songs, the similarities to Midnight are still there but you hear Todd. But, when we do the old stuff Todd is able to do the songs exactly the way they were meant to be.”
“Unbelievable” has been a popular word used to describe the similarities between La Torre’s voice and Midnight’s. The band is too old school to even consider trying to fake out their fanbase with technological smoke and mirrors, making the discovery of La Torre’s talents nothing short of astounding. Drenning agrees.

“I was shocked, yeah. It came as a complete surprise because we were preparing for the ProgPower X tribute show to Midnight, organizing these metal singers from around the world who had graciously offered their time and talent, so we really didn’t need another singer. Matt Laporte from Jon Oliva’s Pain dedicated his time as well to play guitar and dulcimer on the night because he and Midnight had been good friends, and he mentioned to me that he knew a drummer who was an aspiring singer. He said ‘I think he might be your guy.’ I told Matt there was no way. There were people from all over the world interested in auditioning, there was no way I was going to find a singer for Crimson Glory in my own backyard. Finding one Midnight was special enough. Finding another singer with those qualities in my own backyard again… what are the chances of that?”

Performing with Crimson Glory @ ProgPower X Festival

“I blew it off and decided I wasn’t going to waste my time but Matt kept pushing me to check Todd out. Wade Black and my wife Danae were helping the band rehearse, but Wade wasn’t able to make rehearsals one night so I told Matt to call his guy. He did, but Todd didn’t know any of our music. He’d heard of Crimson Glory but he didn’t know the songs, had never heard one of our albums, and had no idea who I was. He downloaded a couple songs and learned them in the car driving over, so when he showed up he knew the songs half way, but he did a great job. Todd came in, this scrawny guy no bigger than Midnight, but he sounded great. Even more important, though, was he had a similar emotional quality to his voice that Midnight had. I was looking at the other guys in the band wondering if they were hearing what I was hearing.”
“We did ‘Queen Of The Masquerade’ and ‘Azrael’, and he really got the attitude and the high notes. Todd was nervous but it sounded great. I asked him to learn a few more songs and come back the next night. That second night we did ‘Valhalla’, ‘In Dark Places’, ‘Masque Of The Red Death’, ‘Mayday’, and we were blown away.”

La Torre was asked to join Crimson Glory following the ProgPower tribute to Midnight, when he stepped in to replace Circle II Circle / ex-Savatage frontman Zak Stevens at the last minute. An unexpected development for those on the outside, as Wade Black was the obvious – and easiest – choice given his decade long history with the band. For Drenning the decision was a no-brainer.

“Wade’s been waiting in the wings for a long time and it’s been 10 years since the last album, so he’s gone on to work with other bands. I took him aside and told him that we wanted to somebody who could evoke the same emotion that Midnight had. Wade is a great singer but he’s more of a full-on metal singer, and Todd has the same versatility that Midnight had. The more I work with Todd the more I feel like I’m working with Midnight.”
“For me it’s been great,” he says of getting to know and work with La Torre. “I’m blessed to have a wife who is a great singer and songwriter and brings a lot of joy in to my life, and now Todd comes in and I’m able to do the same things that I did with Midnight, which is fantastic. We work together, we talk all the time about everything. The other guys in the band feel blessed that we were given someone like Todd. Midnight so desperately wanted to do another record with us but he was never in the right state of health or frame of mind. Todd is like a healthy, young Midnight in some ways.”
“Todd was born in the same hospital where Midnight passed away” Drenning adds. “The day that we actually hired him was Midnight’s birthday. It really is strange (laughs).”

Jon Drenning Wade and I on "Eternal World"

Performing with Crimson Glory @ ProgPower X Festival Ben Jackson and Jeff Lords of CG

Asked if he sees La Torre’s entrance as being a case of divine influence rather than blind luck, Drenning has no problem accepting the idea of an otherworldly force in the driver’s seat.

“I believe in that stuff very strongly, and I know Midnight has a part in this whole thing,” he says without missing a beat. “We talked about this before, that the Transcendence album is about life after life on earth, about karma, about spirituality. I know that in some way Midnight had a hand in sending Todd to us because the timing is just too perfect and we wouldn’t be doing what we are now without him. But, at the end of the day Todd is Todd. He plays guitar, he’s an excellent songwriter, he’s a great lyricist and has a great sense of melody. All that is very important to us after working with Midnight.”

La Torre’s involvement has also proven to be therapeutic for Drenning and his bandmates, who marked one year since Midnight’s passing around the time of this interview.

“Midnight’s death was very sad for us. It wasn’t completely unexpected because we’d been worrying about him for some time prior to his passing. But, we’ve been given the chance now to record a new album with someone that Midnight would endorse. If I’d gone out and gotten a name singer that sings in multiple bands or is known from another band, Midnight would have been insulted by that. The fact that we were able to find a singer, completely unknown just like Midnight was when we first started and just as good, is a gift.”
“The next record, we’re planning it right now, and it’s our first real concept record,” he adds. “The whole album is based on Midnight’s life and his transcendence. It’s based around Midnight, it’s our tribute to him. It’s going to have the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of his life, there’ll be the spiritual part of it. We’re taking the listeners on a great journey through his life to his passing.”


Todd La Torre

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