LIPS TURN BLUE – Before PHIL NARO Passed Away, He Asked Us, “Please Make Sure This Album Comes Out”

June 7, 2022, 3 weeks ago

By Aaron Small

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LIPS TURN BLUE – Before PHIL NARO Passed Away, He Asked Us, “Please Make Sure This Album Comes Out”

A year after the passing of vocalist Phil Naro, who died in May 2021 at the age of 63 after a valiant battle with cancer, the debut, self-titled album from Lips Turn Blue, formerly known as DDrive, has been released with Phil Naro singing on all 13 songs. 

Naro, best known as the vocalist for Talas, which featured bassist Billy Sheehan (David Lee Roth, Mr. Big), also worked with KISS drummer Peter Criss, Lee Aaron, Chain Reaction, and Coney Hatch, amongst others. Phil’s legacy lives on throughout the music he created, and with the release of Lips Turn Blue, available now via MIG Music, guitarist Don Mancuso is looking to celebrate the life of his sorely missed friend and bandmate. “That’s what we’re trying to do here, that’s the whole point,” confirms the six-stringer.

“It was a long road,” recalls Mancuso. “Before Phil left us, he made sure to talk to each one of us and asked us to, ‘Please make sure that this album comes out somehow, someway.’ Cause it was some of his best work, and it happened to be his last work, which sucked. But it was some of his best work, and we promised him we would do it. We had a few roadblocks that were set up along the way. After we found a record deal, Phil was actually still here with us when we got the deal and changed the name of the band from DDrive to Lips Turn Blue. He was all part of that. But with his passing, and his estate changing hands, there was a lot of hoops to jump through, lawyers to deal with. We already had all the copyrights and publishing all worked out with Phil. But he was so sick at the end, we never really pushed it to get his signature on anything, and we had to wait. It was his children that inherited the estate, and they were distraught after losing their dad. They weren’t sure what to do, and you can’t blame them. We were like, ‘Remember, your father said he needed this out. We have to get it out. It can’t be ten years later.’”

Naro and Mancuso, along with keyboardist Eric Bieber, bassist Michael Mullane, and drummer Roy Stein recorded the Lips Turn Blue album during the pandemic. “We were all kind of stranded, like everybody else, in their homes, being told not to go out and breathe the air or do anything or socialize with anybody,” recalls Don. “They shut everything down. Phil had a couple friends that were working at a hospital up in Toronto that already had the version of ‘Pray For Tomorrow’ from Straight Up The Middle (released by DDrive in 2007). They said it would be a great idea to do a reissue of that. Re-record it, do it acoustically, do something a little different with it, and dedicate it to all the first responders and health care people that are getting pummeled to death here. So, we decided we were going to do the one song. Basically, did it at our home studios, and sent our parts to Mr. Steven Major. He produced and mixed it for us. We had a video made of it, for the purposes of having it for the healthcare workers, both here in The States and up there (in Canada). Once we put that out, we were like, it doesn’t look like there’s much of an end coming to this (pandemic), why don’t we put together a couple more songs? So, we did a couple more, then a couple more, then a couple more. Hell, let’s just put a whole album together. We thought to get as much as we could done before Phil was not able to sing and do what he does best. We ended up pulling a couple songs from my second solo album, ‘Hey Bulldog’ (by The Beatles), ‘Build My Castle’, and one other that Lou (Gramm, from Foreigner) sang called ‘A Little Outside’.”

When listening to Lips Turn Blue, it doesn’t sound like Phil Naro was fighting cancer, his voice is in top form. “In the beginning when we started working on it, it (the cancer) was just starting to reoccur. Cause Phil had this problem back in DDrive, they treated it holistically, and he had a small surgery on his throat. He came and sang the day after he had the surgery in Rochester for us. He was in good shape until about the last six to eight weeks. I think it was more so from the chemo and radiation that was really knocking him down. I don’t know what’s worse – the disease or the cure? It was hard.”

Don explains the change of band name from DDrive to Lips Turn Blue. “We had the name wrapped up the year I started touring with Lou (Gramm of Foreigner). About three or four years later, this prog instrumental metal band came out of Japan with a really – they’re a great band, and they had this awesome, beautiful girl playing guitar, just shredding. She was amazing. They started to get big cause she was such a good-looking girl and played so well. YouTube – oh yeah! They sewed up the market with the name DDrive over the next four or five years and approached us to sell them the name. And we said no, you can use a hyphen or whatever you’ve got to do. And they did. They acquired like 90,000 followers (online), and when we were approached by MIG Records in Germany to do the deal, they said ‘You absolutely cannot use that name, even though you have a few thousand people out there who know who you are, and they recognize you versus the other band, we just don’t want to compete with that. We need something new.’ So, we got together – new name time. It’s probably just as well. We’ve been through a few lineups, and it’s basically our final DDrive record. The new band is Lips Turn Blue.”

The album begins with an up-tempo song called “Just Push”. Mancuso tells us what made that number the leadoff track and first video. “It had a very positive connotation to it, and at that point, there was only darkness out there on the news. People were becoming like droids. We decided that was a good message – when they tell you not to do something, just push. It also had more of a soulful funk feel, which we thought would be a good way to open up this album.”

Mancuso had previously stated that “Sit Up” and “Better Than It Used To Be” are two of his favorite songs from Lips Turn Blue. “They’re more of a positive twist on the record, as far as being upbeat, with kind of a grey area message that can go both ways. When Phil and I wrote those, we were kind of at a loss with ‘Sit Up’. It was something a little bit different, kind of more on the metal side of things. We wanted to make it into an anthem song, and Phil came up with the freaking hook! During the pandemic, we were trying to get people to pay attention. That was our effort of having people look around, don’t close yourself off and believe what you’re being told. Go out and witness something and talk.”

“The other one is close to my heart, it’s actually written about my youngest son who got tangled up in the opioid crisis for about four or five years, and we almost lost him. It was a tough time, and he came through the other side. He’s better than he used to be, and he’s doing great now. He seems to be right on track. He realizes now he probably ruined all the work he put in growing up, schooling, all the things you work hard for. It set him back in time five or ten years. He’s looking to get back in the saddle and wants to get on with his life, which is a wonderful thing.”

LTB’s cover of “Hey Bulldog” by The Beatles is certainly an album highlight. “Well, Phil and I wanted to do a Beatles remake, and we didn’t want to do one of their bigger hits, or even an album cut that got a ton of airplay,” elaborates Mancuso. “We wanted to do something they had written that was unique, that was different, that people might not have really heard before. I don’t even think it was on an album; it was the B-side of a single actually, and that was why we decided to do that song in particular. The approach on it is pretty much, we’re not The Beatles, we’re DDrive, how do we do it? The same way we do everything else. We do what we know how to do best, and that was what came out of it.”

The initial working title of the Lips Turn Blue album was Blood Moon. “Yes, that’s one of the dirgier, heavier songs that I really like off the album. That was one of the first songs coming out of doing the acoustic version of ‘Pray For Tomorrow’, and a couple of the ballads that our keyboard player Eric Bieber wrote; they’re great songs! With the addition of Eric, we’ve been able to actually expand our horizons four-fold. He’s really into classical arrangements, more progressive than melodic type stuff which is cool, cause Phil and I have always been into that. We’ve even worked at writing songs that were borderline Yes material, that direction. We have two or three in the can which I think we’re going to finish for this next album and carry on more of Phil’s legacy.”

The aforementioned next album will feature new Lips Turn Blue singer, Iggy Marino. Don reveals how Iggy came to replace Phil Naro. “We went through two or three singers auditioning, doing demos back and forth. Personalities clashed; musical direction didn’t work. Location, location, location. Finally, our drummer, Roy Stein – he came into the band later after we were getting together and the pandemic was ending, he’s a great writer in his own right. That’s another asset we’ve acquired. Roy is a professor of music law at Nazareth College here in Rochester. One of his students that he befriended and became very close to, and even wrote some songs with; he suggested Iggy. A 25-year-old? Is he going to want to play with a bunch of old guys? Most kids that age are interested in whatever draws the girls. So, we auditioned Iggy. We gave him three songs that we felt real strong about to see if he could do them his own way, and still hold true to what Phil had put into the melodies, he’d be the guy. We knew after the first verse and chorus Iggy sang. We looked at each other and went, ‘Holy God! What are the odds that he lives right in our own hometown?’ Plus, he plays sax, he plays keyboards, he plays guitar. He’s a well-rounded musician. Phil would be more than proud looking at us. He’d say, ‘I can see why you want to go forward with it now.’”

The song “Life’s Crazy Ride” is reminiscent of Peter Cetera and Chicago. It contains a poignant set of lyrics, coupled with a beautiful melody. “Oh yeah. That’s not my doing. I’ll credit Eric Bieber, our keyboard player, Phil, Steve Major. I definitely played more to that type of music, cause that’s what it called for. It’s a great song. It was a tough one. I think I was in tears the first time we played it out. That basically is about the whole deal that Phil went through that last year. It sums it all up in one song. It was hard.”

Lou Gramm from Foreigner appears on the Lips Turn Blue album as well. That’s much more than a footnote, but you don’t want it to steal the thunder either. Lou sings with Phil on “A Little Outside”. “We took those vocal tracks from the original recording of my second solo album, DDrive. That’s where we got the name, was my second solo album. Lou and Phil were in the same room, singing that song. They were attached at the hip, and Lou was excited, cause he loved the song. What we did was, we took the original vocal track from the original record, and the original drummer who passed away, Joe Lana. We left those tracks intact, and we replaced all the rest of it with the new guys in the band.”

Lips Turn Blue also remade the Black Sheep song, “Chain On Me”, which was written with Lou Gramm.

“Yeah, that was written with myself, Lou Gramm, and Bruce Turgon from Black Sheep. That was Phil’s last wish. He wanted to remake a Black Sheep song. We had already done a version of ‘Paying Your Dues’ on a private release that never really went anywhere. And it wasn’t a great recording. He didn’t want to do that again, that was the hit off the record. Phil wanted to do ‘Chain On Me’ – good choice!”

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