When it blasted out of Los Angeles over 13 years ago, Buckcherry exemplified – glorified, might be a better term – everything that was ripe and outrageous about rock ‘n’ roll.
In an era set in stylistic ice by the mainstream acceptance of post-grunge music, tattooed frontman Josh Todd and his guitar buddy Keith Nelson sought a shock to the system. They cranked up the volume and vocal howls, penned celebratory and almost purposely adolescent rock anthems like Lit Up and Check Your Head and watched rock music, in all its unrefined glory, become fun again.
And then, in a puff of predictable rock ‘n’ roll smoke, everything crashed. Buckcherry’s second album was shrugged off by fans and critics alike, three band members quit and, in 2002, Todd bolted – effectively nailing shut an impossibly brief career.
Of course, in what also could also pass for a scripted sequel to the adventure, Todd and Nelson found common ground again. They formed a new Buckcherry band and released a platinum-selling comeback album in 2006 called 15. And what was once the quintessential rock club band is now playing arenas and selling truckloads of an even newer album called Black Butterfly.
“With 15, it was like nobody was even looking at us,” Todd said in a phone interview last week. “No one was wondering what Buckcherry was doing. So we had to really dig deep and write the record of our career. So that’s what we did.
“We have always believed in ourselves and always, to be honest, put on lot of pressure on ourselves. We just knew we had to write and make a really good record in order to get back in the game. Now, with Black Butterfly, it’s like, ‘We’ve made a comeback. We had a successful record. Now everybody’s looking at us.’ So that’s a whole new box of pressure. But once we get down to writing, we cast all that aside. We just wanted to make a great rock ‘n’ roll record from beginning to end. That’s always been our goal. Nothing’s changed.”
The Buckcherry story began in 1995 when Todd was introduced to Nelson not through a fellow musician, but a tattoo artist.
“Keith worked across the street from the guy’s studio,” Todd said. “He came over one day while I was getting tattooed.
“We were kind of leery about each other at first. We didn’t know if we would quite like each other. Then we started writing songs together and figured out we had this really cool chemistry, which developed into a great friendship. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, peaks and valleys, since then. But we’ve stayed together all these years. It’s like a marriage, really. I see Keith more than I see my wife because we’re out on the road so much.”
And, like more than few marriages, there was a separation. While Buckcherry’s 2001 sophomore album Time Bomb actually charted higher than its 1999 self-titled record, it sold far less. Critics hated it. By the time writing sessions for a third album commenced, everyone except Todd and Nelson had quit the band. Exhausted and disheartened with Buckcherry’s tailspin, Todd walked away in 2002.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen, actually. I just knew, at that point in time, I was tired. Keith was tired. We just had to go our separate ways. We never really wanted Buckcherry to go out the way that it did at the time, but we couldn’t really control it. We had to step back. In retrospect, that was the best thing that could have happened.”
After his 2004 solo album You Made Me stalled, Todd reconnected with Nelson. First came short-lived sessions with Guns N’ Roses alumni rockers Slash, Duff McKagen and Matt Sorum in a band that would later become Velvet Revolver. But by 2005, Todd and Nelson had their sights set on a new Buckcherry brigade. The first three players they auditioned – guitarist Stevie D., bassist Jimmy Ashhurst and drummer Xavier Muriel – were quickly accepted into the lineup and the race was on to 15.
Alternately looser, harder and louder than its two previous albums – like latter day Aerosmith crossed with vintage Motorhead – 15 turned Buckcherry into the hit it only hinted at in the ‘90s. Singles from the album – Everything, Next 2 You and Broken Glass – were welcomed by rock radio. Another, the unexpectedly reflective and repentant Sorry, became a Top 10 hit.
Having performed more than 300 concerts to cement the album’s success, 15 hit platinum. Black Butterfly climbed to No. 8 upon its release last September setting the stage for a co-headlining tour with fellow Southern California rock troupe Avenged Sevenfold that brings Buckcherry to Rupp Arena on Friday.
Who would have conceived it? The band that seemed custom designed for busting up a club is now playing the big house.
“We got everything we wanted – a platinum record, a catalog of music, arena rock shows and a great, great career. And then we get to go onstage and see everyone react to our music. I mean, this is what you dream about.”
Buckcherry, Avenged Sevenfold and Papa Roach perform at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Rupp Arena. Tickets are $39. 75. Call: (859) 233-3535, (800) 745-3000.