As the legend goes, Robert Johnson infamously started his career by meeting the Devil at the crossroads. By the same token, you could say Apocalypse Blues Revue began playing at the end of the world. Co-founded by Godsmack drummer Shannon Larkin and guitarist Tony Rombola and featuring vocalist Ray “Rafer John” Cerbone and bassist Brian Carpenter, the quartet honors blues traditions, while etching their stamp on the genre in blood.
“As far as blues goes, Apocalypse Blues Revue is a little heavier, a little darker, and has some punk rock attitude in the lyrics,” affirms Shannon. “We wanted to make something deep that will provoke thought. It had to be evil though. We’re not trying to make it happy. It’s called blues for a reason! It was also an opportunity to show the world what a phenomenal guitar player Tony is.”
Shannon witnessed Tony’s knack for the style firsthand, while writing together for Godsmack’s 2010 offering The Oracle. Burnt out on metal and hard rock, the pair would loosely jam without boundaries. During one impromptu session in their Southwest Florida rehearsal spot, the drummer laid down a slow, simmering groove, and another side of the guitar player reared its head.
“I couldn’t believe it,” smiles Shannon. “I didn’t even know he was into blues or could play the way he does. My reaction was immediate. We had to officially start a blues band.”
“There’s always been some blues in my playing,” adds Tony. “It came from classic rock like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and AC/DC. Then, I got into guys like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Gales. We decided to mix it up, merging traditional blues and heavier elements.”
In between breaks from their rigorous Godsmack touring schedule, the duo amassed countless ideas and decided to begin creating songs. Impressed by his Jim Morrison-esque baritone, they welcomed Rafer—who Shannon appropriately met at a biker bar—into the fold. 2013 saw Brian join after the drummer judged a local radio contest he won. With the lineup locked and a slew of shows under their collective belt, the boys cut a demo of “The Devil In Me.” It landed in the hands of Mascot Records who offered them a deal immediately during late 2015, and it also served as the perfect introduction to the group.
“It’s that dark blues man,” says Shannon. “It’s a good snapshot of everything we are.”
In February 2016, Apocalypse Blues Revue entered The Vibe Recording Studio and cut their self-titled debut in just nine days. Mixed by Dave Fortman, the music conjures up swampy soul colored by gusts of rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly over the course of 12 tracks. “The Blues Are Falling from the Sky” shuffles along on a powerful beat as the six-string wails in tandem with smoky vocals.
“I wrote that when we were on tour in Australia with Godsmack,” recalls Shannon. “I was really hungover, missing my family, studio, bed, and pillow. It was raining outside that day, and I came up with the melody and lyric. I ran to Tony’s room and sang it to him. He picked up the guitar and instantly started writing the riff. It’s my favorite song we’ve ever written.”
“It had some really cool off-time signatures,” Tony describes. “I just let the strat speak!”
“Devil Plays A Strat” grinds on a lead guitar screech, wah-wah cry, ominous groove, and heavy stomp. “I love the story,” he smiles. “A guy walks in to this bar with a Les Paul, and he’s going up against Satan on a Stratocaster. It nods to Charlie Daniels Band’s ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia.’”
Elsewhere on the record, slow scorcher “The Tower” features a guest solo from one of Tony’s heroes modern blues icon: Eric Gales.
“I wrote that one the same day I came up with ‘The Blues Are Falling From The Sky,’” Shannon recalls. “I just remember I was staying on one of the top floors in this hotel. I stared out the window, and I could see everybody down below. It was literally a ‘Tower.’”
“Evil Is As Evil Does” kicks off the record with a simmering Southern-style stomp, painting a picture of evil in the world. Ray smiles. “That’s deep heavy blues. It’s got real dark crossroads lyrics, and I gave everything I had right from my gut!”
“Junkie Hell” paints a picture of addiction’s demonic grip. “That one comes from within as well as some things I’ve seen firsthand,” Ray admits. “You’re watching someone go down. However, you wake up one morning, figure it out, and move on. It was powerful.”
Then, there’s “I Think Not,” which stops an antagonist dead in his tracks with Ray’s howl. He adds, “I was on an acoustic guitar, and I was around someone who was trying to hurt me in many ways. I got angry about it. I’ll tell you this, ‘You don’t want to piss off a songwriter and make them personally angry with you. You can end up getting ripped! It’s a true story.”
The ominous “Crossed Over” details as Shannon puts it, “Crossing over to the side. It’s that last big ride.”
“Whiskey In My Coffee” speaks to facing the day—but needing that liquid courage. Its push-and-pull is mirrored in the guitar and vocal tension, ultimately espousing a different escape than downing a bottle.
“Work In Progress” encapsulates the journey that Shannon, Tony, Ray, and Brian have collectively embarked upon together. “This is a work in progress,” says the drummer. “It’s all coming together one step at a time, and we’re rolling with it.”
Meanwhile, “Blue Cross” materialized on a day Shannon showed up to the studio rocking some blue suede shoes. They just started jamming, and the song came to life. “It was about that day,” smiles the singer. “Everybody put their touch on it, and we really gave the song a pair of balls. When Shannon hit that kick drum in those shoes, it’s awesome!”
Everything culminates on their interpretation of The Doors’ “When The Music’s Over.” “We all love The Doors,” he continues. “We end the show with the song, killing the lights and just getting into it. We wanted to play the song our way, and that’s it. All of the changes are subtle. This could be a tradition with doing one The Doors song an album!”
The songs thread together the record’s themes reflected in the name.
“Back in the day, I was in a punk band called Amen,” says Shannon. “I got the nickname ‘Apocalypse’ on tour. It stuck with me, and I got it tattooed on my right forearm. Tony and I came up with the band name together. I connected it to the Blues Brothers, because at the end of the movie they do The Blues Brothers Blues Revue. Hence, the Apocalypse Blues Revue.”
Tony and Shannon’s creative union grows stronger by the gig. It traces back to 2001 when Shannon joined Godsmack. Selling 20 million records worldwide and garnering four GRAMMY® Award nominations, the juggernaut remains a hard rock institution. In 2007, Tony and Shannon would also co-found rock outfit Another Animal together. However, Apocalypse Blues Revue holds a special place in both of their hearts.
“I want people to walk away with our songs stuck in their heads,” Shannon leaves off. “The music speaks for itself on this record.”
“It’s back to basics,” concludes Tony. “I wanted to be able to go to a gig with no production—just an amp, a pedal board, and a guitar—and play.”