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Interview: Larry Greene "Fortune"

This self-titled album from the Los Angeles based Fortune has long been considered by AOR aficionados to be a demonstration of just how good melodic rock can be when it's delivered by a team of professionals at the very top of their game. I've seen more than a few postings on the internet over the last few years proclaiming this to be the best AOR album of all-time. That is, of course, very much open to debate, but the facts are that whatever the quality of the material the problem was that, at the time of release, the band's record was rather overwhelmed in a competitive, cut throat business by a huge array of other like-minded acts forging a similar path. Either through bigger budgets or more promotion (even those, like Giuffria and Night Ranger, who were signed to the same label) the sad fact is that other groups thrived whilst Fortune rather got swamped.

Fortune Album Cover

Still, Fortune's vocalist, Larry "L.A." Greene, is immensely proud of the album they released back in 1985. Indeed, so much so that the original CD release of this album emerged a few years ago on the band's Gypsy Rock imprint to celebrate its 20th anniversary complete with bonus tracks - including three captured live opening for Fleetwood Mac - and a clever update in the booklet on the photo that adorned the back cover of the original LP release of the band pictured inside a bank vault.

The seeds of Fortune were planted by brothers Richard and Mick Fortune who came from a family of professional musicians; their mother was a singer and their father a bassist. However, Richard didn't start playing the guitar until he was 16, whilst Mick started out as a keyboard player before switching to drums. The brothers cut an album, "Fortune", on Warner Brothers in 1978,, but by 1982 had totally revamped the group with a key acquisition being the recruitment of Roger Scott Craig. A classically trained pianist from the age of 8, the Irish born keyboard player was, even then, the most well known member of Fortune having spent a successful stint with Scouse pop group Liverpool Express in the 70's.

Detroit born bassist Bob Birch had cut his musical teeth playing in jazz bands in Motor City lounge bars, but was a man who had an appreciation for more harder sounds from the likes of the Doobie Brothers and REO Speedwagon, both bands he had encountered on numerous occasions over the years as they would often be staying in the same hotels his bands were playing in.

As for Chicago native Larry (his father, Brian Greene, was a blues guitarist but is now a well known character actor), the singer had relocated to Los Angeles where he played and recorded in a number of long lost groups as well as earning some dough singing on commercials for products such as Schlitz Beer. He was seemingly the sixtieth singer to have auditioned for Fortune.

"I was in a band on RCA called Teaser at the time I met Allen Mostow, Fortune's manager," recalls Larry. "He put me together with Richard and Mick who had just hired Roger. Roger and I hit it off as songwriters right away. In actual fact, the first song we wrote was for the Tom Cruise film "All the Right Moves". We've written a lot of songs since then! Richard and I have as well."

"In terms of my past, I could go into a long history of recordings and tours from back in school days, but it's kind of like looking into a ghost-life, if you can imagine that. I did do a tour with Steppenwolf for a little over a year when I was a kid in the late 70's. That was just as crazy as you can possibly imagine it to be - Hells Angels and all!"

There were no problems in continuing with the Fortune brothers' surname as the band moniker: "I never really thought much about Fortune being Richard and Mick's last name. Now that you bring it up, I think they owe me. There are still plenty of alternatives - Doomsday Daiquiri, Cigar Soup, Penguin Dust. The Toxic Sloths was a good one too!"

It would take the band some time to get noticed by record labels, but by that point they had really established themselves on the L.A. club scene as one of the regular bar bands in town. "We played around the L.A. scene for a couple of years before the guys at Camel Records noticed us," Larry acknowledges. "There were other labels interested, but I don't think Camel had as much influence in signing us to MCA as Kevin Beamish did who produced the LP. I had played with the Beckmeier Brothers who were signed to Casablanca (their best known song, "Rock & Roll Dancin", featured in the "Foxes" movie starring Cherie Currie and Jodie Foster), so I knew who (Camel boss and former Casablanca executive) Bruce Bird was, as well as few of the other guys who ran labels back then, Scotti Brothers included. I never told anyone that until now. It was really shady back then. I'm not going to mention names, but if you're reading this, and I did anything to piss you off, it's all Roger's fault!"

"It was the manager, Allen, who had contacted Kevin Beamish. He liked the songs, and the band, and we in turn liked what he did with REO Speedwagon on the "Hi-Infidelity" album. I think we all thought that big, multi-layered sound was good for us. Songs like "Smoke From a Gun", "Dearborn Station" and "98 in the Shade" were his forte.

"We started the album at Sound City when Joe Walsh was recording there. He had a trailer parked in the parking lot, so I guess he wouldn't have to drive home. He'd come out at about two in the afternoon, wrapped in an Indian blanket, engulfed in a cloud of smoke. Mick Fleetwood was there as well, with the Mac. I think they were all part-owners or something like that. We spent about three months recording and mixing in total. We'd been playing live steadily, so we knew all of the songs pretty well. We probably could have finished quicker, but that was right at the heyday of the L.A. party scene. The wolf got a hold of the sheep, and it made for a long night - if you know what I mean. In the end, we had to go on total lock down, just to cut back on all the buffers hanging around."

Camel/MCA opted to go with "Stacy" as the first (and, it appears, only) single. "We never wanted the label to release "Stacy" as our first single," states Larry somewhat surprisingly. "We were a hard rock band. Having a ballad as a first impression didn't seem like a good idea, but it was easy to get airplay with that song, so they did it against our objections. We played a few gigs after the release, but as far as promotion was concerned, there wasn't any, and that was our biggest problem. Just a lot of broken promises, and that eventually split us up."

Interestingly, by this point Larry had garnered a good deal of success on his own by way of his contribution ("Through the Fire") to the massive hit "Top Gun" soundtrack album and continued to do so after Fortune on another soundtrack album for the Sylvester Stallone movie "Over the Top" on which he contributed "Mind Over Matter" and "Take it Higher".

"I had met (producer) Giorgio Moroder during the 1984 Summer Olympics here in L.A. I sang the song "Reach Out for the Medal" that he wrote for the games. After the Fortune album was released, the chance to do "Top Gun" came along, and as I was still signed with Camel/MCA, we thought it might help to promote the Fortune album. I don't think any of us who worked on that film thought it would be as big as it was, and still is. Giorgio Moroder wrote most all of the songs on that record, although Harold Faltermeyer wrote the theme, along with Steve Stevens from Billy Idol's band. My old friend Tom Whitlock got to do the lyrics, and then some of the artists, Kenny Loggins, and a few others got involved. I had worked with Richie Zito before "Top Gun" on a band project called Renegade with the guitarist/producer Ron Aniello. We worked well together, and because Giorgio was so busy I lobbied to have Richie produce me. I think that was his first real producing credit. He went on to produce some great albums - Eddie Money, and Heart - to name a few."

""Over the Top" came my way after Fortune had split up," he continues. "Working on that was a lot of fun, but the film wasn't up to the soundtrack, in my opinion. I also had a song on the film "Mystic Pizza", which was Julia Robert's first. That came after "Over the Top" and was a real kick to work on, especially with Barry Mann."

Despite his soundtrack success, Fortune was the itch that wouldn't go away, so Larry eventually reconnected with Roger Scott Craig to put a new version of the band together having first begun operating as a trio with two other musicians using the new band name of Big City. "I met with drummer Rich Onori, and bassist Brian Peters a few years after Fortune split up. The three of us formed the band Big City using some of the songs Roger and I had written that weren't on the Fortune album. I wrote a few songs with Tom Whitlock and Steve Porcaro that we used as well. We played a few gigs, and it just sort of clicked."

However, by this point it was becoming increasingly harder for a band like Big City to attract that same kind of attention from record labels as they had previously. It was a frustrating time for melodic rock groups, although Larry has an interesting perspective on this particular period. "I don't think I know any serious musicians who think much about going in or out of style. You kind of do what you do the best, and if it's honest, someone in a position to help you usually shows up. I think I've remained well tethered in my music and without much bloodshed."

Luckily, AOR guru Magnus Soderkvist, then at MTM Records came to the rescue. "Magnus is one of those guys with a love for music that makes him a pleasure, and a privilege, to work with," Larry acknowledges. "I changed the name from Big City to Harlan Cage when Roger committed to the band. I thought the name Big City was too generic, and pedestrian to get properly noticed. Besides, it just seemed like a good idea at the time."

Intriguingly, Larry and Roger offered new versions of Fortune songs with Harlan Cage. "98 in the Shade" appeared on the self-titled debut in 1996, "Dearborn Station" on 1998's "Double Medication Tuesday", "Thrill of it All" on the third album "Forbidden Colors" and "Deep in the Heart" on the fourth and last album "Temple of Tears" in 2002. Was that because they still believed that the music had been overlooked and was too strong to remain ignored or rather to give reference points to fans of the old band?

"We honestly didn't know there were people outside the U.S. that had heard any of our songs. We were surprised to hear they had. According to our record company, very few albums sold there. Looking back, it was probably just a way not to pay us. It's hard not to still think about that, but you learn to stop letting it show."

As Roger Scott Craig took the Harlan Cage template even further with the equally critically acclaimed 101 South, Larry has been keeping himself just as busy. "I still get to work in films," he notes. "It's mostly credit songs, and with young artists trying to promote themselves. Thankfully there's been a broadening into television, which has been a real blessing. I write with Peter Antansoff, who you probably know from Tito and Tarantula's, and Ricky Lee. I also work with Ron Aniello, who's with Springsteen now, as well as Steve Porcaro every now and again."

The Fortune guys have remained in touch. Indeed, Larry reunited with them on May 7, 2011 at the Arena in San Fernando Valley. "It's the first live performance we've done together in may years. Don't look now, but I think someone left the window open at the asylum! I can't predict whether there will be another Fortune or Harlan Cage CD, but the dice that bear the numbers of our lives are pretty much our to roll, if you know what I mean. I've learned to never, say never."

-- Dave Reynolds, May 2011