Lance Larson is one of the most popular artists to ever take the stage at a Jersey Shore club. An extremely talented singer and songwriter, Lance was the leader of Lord Gunner Group which developed a following from New Jersey to Maine and down to Virginia. The band regularly played local clubs like the Fast Lane and the Stone Pony. They were close to record deals, but something always went wrong. Usually it was due to the “rock and roll lifestyle” of Lance that always seemed to crash and burn at the wrong time.
Lance has been through drug addiction, prison and an incident in which he was nearly beaten to death, but he’s come out of it better than ever. In recent years, Lance has seen the release of his first record, To Make A Long Story Short... He’s opened Lance & Debbie’s, a bar in the former location of the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, and had a pair of his songs featured in the CBS television show “Hack.” I was able to spend some time with Lance at his club where we talked about the wild ride he’s taken through the years.
What were the first bands you had?
My first band was the Spartans. We were basically out of Red Bank. Our guitar player was Vito Genosee’s grandson. That’s Vito Genosee, the Godfather. I remember we always had to have our rehearsals be done by 2 o’clock on Saturdays because the family had to leave to visit their grandfather. It was like a religion. I remember asking my Mother, “Why do they always have to visit his Grandfather, what is he in the hospital?” And my Mom said, “His grandfather is a well known man.”
I was always a solo acoustic guitar player. As far as bands go I had the Spartans, Cahoots, Cold, Blast & Steel, Lord Gunner Group, Lance Larson & the Heat, Travis Larson and Lance Larson & the Power. Travis Larson was a country band I put together. One time our opening act didn’t show up for a club date in Long Branch, so they asked Travis to open. We actually had Travis Larson open up for Lance Larson! That’s when you know you’ve made it. Travis played country songs that I had written. I wound up getting paid twice and, I’ll be honest with you, Travis went over better than Lance!
What do you remember best about the Lord Gunner period?
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I remember it was confusing as shit because we had been in some other local bands but Lord Gunner started getting on the mainstream. We took over the Jukes spot at the Pony and were playing there two days a week, but we were also working seven days a week touring from here to Maine. We started playing places in Maine, West Virginia, Washington, DC. We were touring!
It was confusing. No longer did we just play the Pony one night, wake up the next day and play a gig down the street. We were traveling. We were playing... We changed musicians as we went along whenever we had to. It was like a circus. And it was a circus. But it was a lot of fun and I’d never change any of those days.
How close did Lord Gunner get to making it big?
We were real close. We had big dreams, but I don’t think my writing was... everybody thought I was a good writer and all this bullshit. But I didn’t feel it inside me. I really didn’t. I didn’t feel like I was ready yet. Basically, I think that if you had handed me $200,000 dollars in those days I wouldn’t be sitting here doing this interview. Because I was just a kid. We were enjoying it, I just wish I took what I did then and had more of a business sense. I wish I was more serious about my music... more disciplined. I was only writing because nobody else was doing it. I wasn’t a great writer, I was just the only one who was writing.
One of your “undisciplined” times took place at a recording studio in New York City where you showed up late more than once.
That was with a very big producer. Now you’ve got to understand Sly Stone from Sly & the Family Stone was my roommate after Sly made it. I toured with him and then he moved in with me. Sly was the guy I looked up to and he’s got the worst record of showing up to gigs, so I think the guy who I put on my pedestal was the worst guy in the world for me.
I hooked up with Sly as the opening act at the Fastlane, that’s where I met him. Then we became very good friends. They went out on the road and we kept in touch and every time he came through Jersey he came to my house. We hung out and he did a lot of shows with me. I always respected Sly as a songwriter. He was a phenomenal musician. And I’m saying, “Look at this writer, how talented he is and how uncontrolled he is.” He was a genius when it came to music. And I sort of respected guys like him and Warren Zevon... guys that lived on the edge. It just seemed that I saw eye to eye on things with these guys and they were the guys I respected.
What do you think of your songs from back then when you hear them now?
I hate my old music. A lot of the old stuff I listen to it and it’s like, oh that was nice right there, but then I think I could have done much better with it. I still write. I’m a better writer now. I’m a better singer now. I’m more disciplined.
In a lot of ways it’s rather amazing that you’re still alive today. What do you remember about your accident back in 1993?
I was at a construction job. It was December 2nd, 1993. I was beat up real bad. I literally spent six months to a year in speech therapy. I lost my memory. Had a plate put in my head, I got beat up real bad. I was beat by four guys with my own hammer. The bad thing is getting beat by your own God damn hammer.
To this day, I notice that it’s very frustrating for me to form words. I’m not as fast as I used to be. I’m a better writer now, lyrically and in forming things, but I can’t give you something fast. Back in those days when we did those songs half of the lyrics weren’t written. I made a lot of the stuff up on the spot. I’d have been a great rap writer back then like in that movie 8 Mile. Today, I have a problem with my thoughts. Everything’s got to go a little slower, but then once I’ve got it I’m good. I find myself frustrated because I can’t do what I’m used to doing.
Back then, I could be loaded or drugged up but I was still on the ball and everything was under control. A couple of guys have made jokes and said, “Lance, that has nothing to do with your accident it’s all the drugs you took.” No, it was my accident. I didn’t know who anybody was. I didn’t know who my Mom was. Bruce (Springsteen) had been calling me but when the nurses told me I didn’t even know who Bruce was. I was very confused. I didn’t know who my best friends were and I wasn’t allowed to see any friends, although a few snuck up there.
The strangest feeling is not knowing who you are. For so many years, I wanted to get away from who Lance was. I hated Lance because he was such a clown. And then finally when I wasn’t drugging up and when I didn’t know who Lance was, I wanted to know him so bad. I didn’t know who he was and I had to start from scratch. I had to start at the bottom like a baby and it was really frustrating.
Did the memories come back?
Oh yeah, they came back and they told me they were gonna come back, but they didn’t want them to come back too fast. If they come back too fast you can’t reason with it and you can really go into a deep depression. I had psychiatrists and psychologists - the whole nine yards. That’s why they didn’t let my friends talk to me for about a year and a half. They didn’t want anybody to talk about old memories. I didn’t know I played guitar. I didn’t know I was a songwriter. I had no conception about what I even did. The strange thing about it was that while I was in there John Luraschi’s brother, Eddie, was in the hospital. He was brought in because he got badly burned in a fire.
I had been there probably a month and a half when they wheeled me down in a wheelchair and I saw this guy who had bandages all over him. He looked like the “Invisible Man.” And he said, “Lance.” Now everybody’s been calling me Lance for a few weeks so I’m starting to understand that I’m this guy Lance. He says, “Lance, you used to rehearse in my house with my brother Johnny and these other guys like Ricky D and you played keyboards.” (I was a keyboard player back then.) I’m looking at him and he says, “Lance, believe me. I know you... You’re Lance Larson.” They told me to just go along with whatever my Mom said or anybody else said. So, I was just sort of joking with him and said, “Yeah, whatever you say.”
The only person who even spoke to me was Eddie Luraschi. He talked with me every day and he wasn’t supposed to. He’d tell me things like, “Lance, you left your organ and went to Las Vegas one time. You left your organ in my basement for so long that we were going to sell it.” He’s telling me stuff like this and all of a sudden I’m starting to remember. I’m remembering a little bit of Wall Township where we rehearsed back then. Man, that’s weird! It’s a weird feeling and you start getting depressed. And just when I begin to remember Eddie dies. When Eddie died I lost it because he was my memory.
I experienced problems after that too, drug problems, because I was on the pain killers and I had to deal with that. The pain killer was morphine and that didn’t help me because it brought me back into it. You get very dependent on it. That was my life blood. Here I am finally getting my memory back and then I hear things we used to do. I ended up relying on the morphine. So all of a sudden they cut me off of the Percostats and no more morphine. I don’t get to hit the button anymore and get that feeling which mellows me out. I was so confused and when I started seeing the past it worried me and I got so depressed that I needed that drug to help me forget. So here I am, I’m back to drugs and I went back to heroin.
What were you anxious to forget?
I’ll be honest with you. I wanted to forget because I didn’t feel like I was that Lance. I felt that those guys actually killed me. I really felt that I was killed inside. Whatever I had left in me, whatever dreams were inside, whatever I felt in my heart and my writing I didn’t have that feeling anymore. I used to feel I had a connection to writing and I felt they took it away. In my mind, I couldn’t write anymore. I didn’t feel I was that Lance. I lost a big part of me. A victim of a crime is like a rape victim, they take away something from you.
It was a robbery, I believe on my boss. They thought I was him because it was payday and he probably was carrying about $3000. They just hit the wrong guy. It’s not just the idea of getting your ass kicked it’s that I had it kicked and I didn’t get a chance to know who did it or how it was done. I had no idea. The only person who knew that was the old lady who saw it from her apartment four stories up. She called the police and when the police got there I was dead. Asbury Park revived me. The Asbury Park Fire Department saved me because I was dead several times. It’s weird but at times I feel like I did die and this has already happened. I believe that you and me have already done this interview.
Do you think that you’re still on the hospital bed?
No, the hospital bed is just another place. I believe that this is in my mind. I really believe that at times. The only thing that tells me that it’s not is that I think God is showing me all of the good things I can still do. I feel that God has given me a second chance and that I can do some good. I don’t feel like I was doing anything before. Since I’ve come out of this I’ve done benefits for things like drug addiction and I look at life differently. There are times I really feel scared because I think that at any minute I’ll find out that this isn’t real.
The only thing that lets me know that this hasn’t happened is my girlfriend Debbie. She’s been the most understanding person I’ve ever met in my life. That’s why I know that this hasn’t happened because I know I’d remember her more if this already happened. I guess if she wasn’t there I’d still figure I was in some sort of maze. Debbie pulls it all together and then I know that this is really happening.
After I picked up a guitar and started writing again, I couldn’t put everything together. But I felt I became a better writer. It was so easy. The puzzle was much easier for me. I now have control of that guy inside of me. It seemed like he needed to get the ass kicked out of him for me to control him.
What was it like when after all these years you finally had a Lance Larson record in your hands?
If felt real good. To me, it felt great to finally get something out. After so many years between Lord Gunner and playing. I was always so protective of my music. I always wanted to make sure that it was released by the right people because I know how this business can be. Then I heard about how you could put it on the computer and sell it through the website. I said to myself, hell I don’t need a record company, I’ll do it myself. And that’s basically why I did it.
How did you choose which songs you were going to use?
That’s a good question. I guess I wanted to give a variety of stuff. We recorded a lot of songs. I had so many from years of recording. I mean, there’s so many Lord Gunner songs like “Soldier,” and “The Way She Makes Me Feel,” and “Passion and Pain” - these were the songs we were remembered for. And after Lord Gunner I did a lot of new stuff, but none of those are on this and everybody’s asking me where’s “Angel of Broken Wings” and others. Where are all the songs that I was pretty well known for as an original writer?
I wanted to show the other side of me, a different side of my writing which I did a few years after that along with things up to the current time. So, I want to release another one and bring back a lot of the older stuff. Just for the fans to have it, for the old Lord Gunner fans and everybody to have a piece of that music. That’s my next record and I’ve got them in the can. It’s just a matter of going into the studio and remixing them a bit.
One of the songs will be on the television show “Hack” on CBS on April 4th. It’s the one with me and Bon Jovi called, “Listen To Your Heartbeat.” And what’s great about it is that they didn’t pick it because of Bon Jovi, they picked it because of the writing. They didn’t even know Bon Jovi was on it! I had to tell them that. So, that was nice. I left Jon a phone message two days ago. I told him as a joke, “Hey buddy, the things I’ve got to do for you to get you discovered!” Because I used to take him on as our opening act. It’s always been a joke. In fact, when Tico left the band and told me that he was gonna go take a shot with Jon I said, “Good luck, but I think you’re making a big mistake. We’ve been together for two years, don’t leave right now because we’re on the verge of it. You’re making a big mistake.” A few years later when they were playing in Miami, I saw Tico and the guys and they were all busting my chops. They were like, “Oh yeah, you made a big mistake Tico!”
Those guys turned out to be very supportive of me. They were my opening act and when Jon made it he came back and said, “Lance, what can we do for you?” Anything I wanted they’d be in there to help me musically. They’re the greatest guys in the world. They never forgot about the home guys... no doubt about it.
I heard you once tried an interesting approach to getting a record deal and it kind of backfired...
Bon Jovi and Tico and the guys were always telling me how I should go down to Nashville. The Bon Jovi Band was in Nashville once and they saw how the publishers were all down there. They said, “Lance you’d be great down there.”
I said, “I ain’t got the money to go to Nashville.” So what do I do? I look across the street from my house and I know those people are gone each winter. So, I say I’m gonna apply for a credit card and send it to their address. I applied for a card and they gave me one with a $10,000 limit. I applied under a false name and it was sent to the place across the street where I took it. I said, man this is easy... Two weeks later I got $20,000, then $30,000 then $40,000. I got all these credit cards under different names. I’m flying all over the country. I’m going everywhere flying first class and staying at the best hotels. I went down to Nashville and tried selling my songs. I actually tried getting myself discovered on a stolen credit card!
Then I got caught. The one thing is that I did a lot to help society when I came back. They held me for four months at Monmouth County and I got 3-5 years in a federal penitentiary but they released me. They didn’t send me away because I told them how I did it and I paid full restitution. Westwood Music came in and gave me a publishing deal. I paid restitution for exactly what I spent and I never had to serve my time. I served my time by doing good things for society and that’s better than being put in a prison cell. I learned from my mistakes. Between that happening and everything else it certainly gave me more to write about.
Since that happened and we’ve been doing benefits for Jersey Shore Addiction Services for other addicts, I’ve been clean and I feel great. I feel real good about myself. We still keep a night open for them at the club and it was packed last week. And these are the guys that I grew up with who were cocaine addicts and alcoholics. I’m looking around the room and seeing everybody feeling normal again. So, it’s good that I didn’t die. It’s good to give back... and that is a reward to me. That’s worth more to me than any dollar. It’s living every day, living day to day and keeping myself as straight as possible and trying to do good. And I know my hits are right around the corner.
How would you like to be remembered?
Woulda, coulda, shoulda... did! I’d like to be remembered not for what other people remember me by - don’t forget I’ve had this accident - I want to be remembered for what I can remember. I’m not concerned with what other people remember. But as far as for me, I want to remember that you’ve got to have your dream. With all of the woulda, coulda, shouldas there’s always an “I did it.”
From the book Beyond The Palace by Gary Wien
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace
(the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists
. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station Asbury Music
. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org