Bassist and producer Jeff Pilson is best known for playing with DOKKEN and FOREIGNER, but he also toured with DIO in the 1990s and performed on three of the group's albums — "Strange Highways" (1993), "Angry Machines" (1996) and the group's tenth and final studio release, "Master Of The Moon" (2004).
He was therefore a natural choice to produce "Heavy Crown", the debut album by LAST IN LINE, the group formed in 2012 by former members of the original DIO band — drummer Vinny Appice, bassist Jimmy Bain and guitarist Vivian Campbell. (Vocalist Andrew Freeman, formerly of HURRICANE and LYNCH MOB, rounded out the lineup.)
In January of 2016 — just weeks before "Heavy Crown" was released — Bain passed away during DEF LEPPARD's "Hysteria On The High Seas" concert cruise, where LAST IN LINE had been invited to perform. In a recent interview with writer Clay Marshall, Pilson reflected on Bain's final recording.
"The entire recording of the first LAST IN LINE record, there's an emotional resonance because it was Jimmy's last record," Pilson said. "Jimmy was a dear friend, and losing him was really, really horrible, but I know how much Jimmy loved that record and how excited he was about it, so there's somewhere in me that feels very complete knowing that I was part of a team that came out with Jimmy's last record and that it was one he was very passionate and excited about. For me, there's a lot of satisfaction there, both as Jimmy's friend and as somebody that respected Jimmy as a player and a musician. When you feel that close to somebody, you feel a little bit responsible, almost like parental or familial. You want him to go out in a way that he's happy. I know in my heart, he went out musically happy, and that means a lot to me."
Pilson also produced the group's second album, which is expected to surface in early 2019 via Frontiers Music Srl. "It's going to be outstanding," he said. "There's a lot of good friendship and a lot of good collaboration and a lot of good chemistry in there, and I don't take any of that for granted."
Although his commitments with FOREIGNER prevented him from succeeding Bain in LAST IN LINE — a role that has since been filled by Phil Soussan — Pilson said he's just as excited to produce the group's albums as he would be if he was performing on them. "Producing is my passion," he said. "That's why I do so much of it, because I really, really love to do it. I have an amazing studio connected to my house, and I'm very fortunate to have that, and I just love doing it. I love doing it whether I'm performing or not. It's not like there's a preference of one or the other. If I'm working with a band that I don't need to play in, I'm just as passionate about that. It's really down to the music and whatever serves the music best. If I'm doing it, it means I'm passionate about it anyway. Just the joy of writing and/or arranging and taking music from people playing together into the part where someone hears it as a finished product as a recording, to me, it's always been fascinating to me, since I was a little kid. I adore doing it; it is my passion in whatever incarnation it may be."
Similar to how he's kept one foot in the DOKKEN world since joining FOREIGNER, working with LAST IN LINE has allowed Pilson to continue his DIO bloodline. He says he has fond memories of his years with the band and a continued respect for the group's late vocalist. "The thing about Ronnie, everybody knows what a great singer he was — one of the best ever. I just don't know if everybody appreciates what a great overall musician he was, and what a tremendous bandleader he was in how he encouraged everybody," Pilson said. "He never put the thumb down and pushed people down; he lifted you up. Never have I met a guy who was more aware of every facet of a band. I learned a lot from him. Honestly, every day that we're out here on the road, he goes through my mind, because there's a lot of little logistics that go on in a headlining tour — a lot. Watching him and being with him was such a learning experience because he knew everything that's going on. He could tell you exactly where the lighting truss was and where it was supposed to be. He was so on top of it. He'd done it a million times, but he was so good at it. I just don't think people realize how overall great he was in everything he did. It's so much more than the singing or even the songwriting. It was everything. Very rarely is there a day when I don't think of him at some point. The way he knew and had control of a tour was remarkable. I've never known anybody like him ever since."
Pilson is currently on tour with FOREIGNER, whose "Juke Box Heroes" summer tour with WHITESNAKE and JASON BONHAM'S LED ZEPPELIN EVENING wraps up August 1 in Irvine, California.