Deen Castronovo's Revolution Saints Flying High
The veteran Journey/Bad English drummer is front and center on the new Revolution Saints album, "Eagle Flight."
Thank you for spending part of your day with Michael’s Record Collection, and thanks for your patience over the last few weeks. It’s been a busy time for me with other work-related stuff and I hated to put my favorite hobby on the back burner, but it was unavoidable if I wanted to sleep at any point (and I did want to do that). There is still a lot to do on that front but I will try not to let it interfere with MRC again in the way that it has.
Say, did you know that Journey drummer Deen Castronovo (center in the above picture) was the lead singer of another band? He is, and that group, Revolution Saints, just released its fourth album. I spoke with Deen about it (and other topics) and my review is below. But you can see the entire interview in the embedded video below.
Let’s get to that story.
Deen Castronovo certainly isn’t the first drummer to hop out from behind the kit and become a lead singer. But he might be on a short list of guys to do it for a supergroup while remaining the drummer for one of rock music’s biggest bands ever.
Castronovo is the longest tenured drummer in the history of Journey, a former member of the supergroup Bad English, and both the drummer and lead vocalist for Revolution Saints. He’s played with Ozzy Osbourne, Paul Rodgers, Steve Vai, and Black Sabbath legend Geezer Butler.
Deen’s journey (see what I did there?) as a drummer began when he was given a Mickey Mouse kid’s drum set to give him an outlet for hyperactive behavior. His mother had taken him off Ritalin, which his doctor prescribed for him to combat ADHD symptoms. He said the drug turned him into a zombie and he wasn’t himself. His mother didn’t like how it transformed him and had him stop taking it.
Castronovo eventually graduated from that Mickey Mouse kit. He took formal drum lessons for about six months, but didn’t have much interest in learning to read music. He then found someone who also tried to teach him that way but who eventually ended up just having him learn by playing songs — that teacher was Mel Brown, who had played with Diana Ross and the Supremes.
The aspiring drummer then honed his craft while playing along with KISS and Rush records.
In the 1980s, Castronovo was with the band Wild Dogs, touring up and down the West Coast. During that time, he met multi-instrumentalist and composer Tony MacAlpine. While visiting MacAlpine’s rehearsal studio one day, he met and jammed with Journey guitarist Neal Schon. That chance meeting led to Schon recruiting Castronovo to work with him on an upcoming solo album.
Schon’s solo album plans got scrapped because he was joining forces with Jonathan Cain, John Waite, and Ricky Phillips in a new band. Schon brought Castronovo with him, and the five-piece band became Bad English. The band went on to record a couple of albums that produced multiple Top 40 hits, including No. 1 single “When I See You Smile” in 1989.
When Bad English broke up, Schon and Castronovo joined Harline and later Schon brought Castronovo into Journey. In between, Castronovo played with Ozzy. Castronovo is still grateful for his meeting with Schon and where that led.
“Everywhere (Schon’s) gone, he’s taken me with him and I owe him a huge debt of grattitude,” Castronovo said. “If it wasn’t for him, I’d have no career. I owe him a lot.”
Conceptualized by Frontiers Music President Serafino Perugino, Revolution Saints began in 2014 with Castronovo, bassist/vocalist Jack Blades (Night Ranger, Damn Yankees, Shaw Blades), and guitarist Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake, Dio, House of Lords). The band released three top-notch albums from 2015 to 2020, but never reached the level of popularity that it deserved. The band’s songs were melodic, well-written, and performed beautifully.
This year sees a fourth release under the Revolution Saints name, Eagle Flight, but the band has undergone a “Mark II” refresh, with Blades and Aldrich departing. While it would normally hurt to lose two such monster musicians, Revolution Saints simply traded a couple of legends for two new ones. Guitarist Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, ex-Night Ranger) and bassist Jeff Pilson (Foreigner, Black Swan, ex-Dokken, ex-Dio) join Castronovo in the new lineup.
One of the world’s busiest musicians and producers, Alessandro Del Vecchio, is back for the fourth time as Revolution Saints producer, adding keyboards and backing vocals. He’s also the primary songwriter, although the guys in the band add their unique flavors and textures that make them Revolution Saints songs.
The addition of Hoekstra and Pilson gives Revolution Saints more punch while not sacrificing melody. As a vocalist, Castronovo manages to land somewhere on the spectrum between past and present Journey singers. To me, he’s somewhere on a spectrum between the Arnel Pineda / former Steve Perry sound and Jeff Scott Soto. He sounds like Deen Castronovo, while somehow simultaneously echoing all of those other guys.
Castronovo said his three favorite vocalists are Perry, Ronnie James Dio, and Paul Stanley of KISS, and he tries to borrow something from each. You can hear that if you try, but for me it’s buried beneath the Journey style of Revolution Saints’ songs.
Eagle Flight’s 10 songs are catchy, melodic rock songs with plenty of Journey influence but with a lot more double kick drum, giving the songs more heft without entering the heavy metal sphere. Although I liked most of Journey’s 2022 Freedom album (though it should have had some of the fat trimmed), this album just flat out kicks its ass, in my view.
But yeah, there’s a ton of Journey influence in this record.
“My voice is very similar to (Steve) Perry's — I mean, nobody touches Perry, but it's close enough to where I can pull off some of the songs,” Castronovo said. “And (Serafino) wanted us to go in like a harder Journey direction. I think with this new record, though, with Joel and Jeff in it, it’s gone — I hate to say a little darker and heavier, but it is. It’s a little darker and heavier. And actually I'm starting to find myself as a singer now.”
When I go through these songs, I’m going to talk a lot about Castronovo and Hoekstra, but I want to say up front that Pilson is vital to this album. Not only is he a fantastic bass player, who favors feel over flash, but he’s a master when it comes to filling out sound. He is, after all, not just Foreigner’s bassist but also their musical director.
The album opens with the title track and first single “Eagle Flight,” and provides a bit of a head fake, beginning as if it’s going to be a majestic ballad. It turns very Journey-esque, except for a bit heavier drumming at times, and Hoekstra’s melodic solo doesn’t mimic Neal Schon. Both guitarists are legends for good reason, and can probably play each others parts with no issues, but their tones are different. There are times on this record when it sounds as if Hoekstra tries to emulate the Schon guitar tone but his playing is distinctive enough to set it apart.
Second track, “Talking Like Strangers,” was the album’s third single and it sounds like a single. It could have been a Raised on Radio-era Journey song, only with Hoekstra’s tone/phrasing replacing Schon’s.
“Need Each Other” is a mid-tempo pop/rock masterpiece that shows the high end of Castronovo’s range. It was the second single and features an amazing Hoekstra solo (OK, that last bit is something you can probably say about most of this record).
Aside from the vocals, “Kids Will Be Kids” tones down some of the Journey influence and Hoekstra adds a scorching solo.
“I’ll Cry for You Tonight” is a crunchy power ballad that allows Castronovo to sing more expressively. Hoekstra’s solo begins in line with the mood of the song but climbs to dizzying heights near the end.
The mid-tempo “Crime of the Century” is the fourth single from the record and it’s a mid-tempo rocker. Apart from the vocals, this one takes me back to early Dokken. While Hoekstra’s guitar tone differs from George Lynch’s, I got a strong Dokken vibe from it musically.
“I love ‘Eagle Flight,’” Castronovo said when I asked him which tracks were his favorites. “And honestly, probably my favorite of all of them is ‘Crime of the Century.’ There's just something about that one.”
While not a bad song, “Set Yourself Free” is the first on the record where I’m just kind of OK with it. It’s not a skipper, but I struggle to remember how it goes when I look at the tracklist, so something about it isn’t quite sticking with me.
“Sacred” almost has Hoekstra channeling some Schon. Stylistically, this is a classic Journey song in all aspects except perhaps the chorus structure. “Once More” is a gorgeous mid-tempo ballad with added weight from Revolution Saints’ heavy-handed rhythm section.
The album ends on a high note with “Save It All.” It’s faster than a few of the songs on the record’s back half and Castronovo belts out the vocals. It’s a highlight of the second half of the album, as is a short but fiery solo by Hoekstra.
Fans of melodic rock bands like Journey, Bad English, and Night Ranger will find a lot to like on all of the Revolution Saints releases. I think the new one might be my favorite of the four, despite my love of just about anything Jack Blades does musically. I liked the Revolution Saints debut album quite a bit, but Eagle Flight is a strong record. I suspect that’s Pilson’s influence on the songs and this will probably end up as one of my favorite melodic rock releases of the calendar year.
The great news is that Castronovo said that the band will do some live shows, adding a touring drummer so that Deen can concentrate on being the lead singer and front man. He also said that he recorded the next album’s worth of songs in the same sessions as the songs from Eagle Flight.
Frontiers Music released Eagle Flight on April 21, and there will be a vinyl release in early August.
For more information about Revolution Saints, visit their Facebook page.
Talking Like Strangers
Need Each Other
Kids Will Be Kids
I’ll Cry for You Tonight
Crime of the Century
Set Yourself Free
Save it All
For my full interview with Deen Castronovo, see the video below, or listen to Episode 106 of the Michael’s Record Collection podcast — it includes some song clips from the new album. Deen and I also talked about his musical beginnings, joining Bad English and Journey, how he met Paul Stanley of KISS, and more.
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