An Interview with Dave Meniketti of Y&T
By Andrew Daly
After over a decade’s worth of tough luck and a whole lot of perseverance, the boys in Y&T were finally gaining some traction with the success of “Summer Girls.”
The titular track, which kicked off side two of their 1985 record, Down for the Count, has steadily climbed to No. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. What’s more, Y&T had been sharing the stage with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Aerosmith, and an ascending Motley Crue. And as vocalist/guitarist Dave Meniketti puts it: “Y&T was holding their own. Audiences weren’t bored, and they were excited to see us. A real buzz was building.”
A real buzz, indeed. And so, with all that success, which found Meniketti and company reaching what would be the pinnacle of their careers, the news that A&M Records planned to pull all of the monetary and promotional support from under “Summertime Girls” was met with shock and awe.
Yet again,Y&T’s record label had done them dirty, but this one stung. After years spent climbing the ladder through era-perfect studio outings and impeccable lives performances to back them up, the idea that Y&T would once more be kicked in the teeth was a tough pill to swallow.
But swallow it they did, and soon, mega-label Geffen Records came calling, promising riches —hefty amounts of support — untold. But as the ’80s turned over into the ’90s, despite their best efforts across Contagious (1987), and Ten (1990), Y&T soon found that their fate would be similar to that of other Geffen label mates in that the label would be focusing its attention on the likes of David Coverdale and Axl Roses potent brand of machismo-based exhibitionism.
One might think that the defeat at the hands of Geffen would signal a “three strikes; you’re out” scenario, and for a while… it did. But if history has shown us one thing about Y&T, they don’t go down without a fight. And so, beginning in 1995, in the face of grunge, “disrespectful labels” such as “hair metal” and cancer, Y&T is still standing.
Dave Meniketti has seen it all from start to finish, ruddering Y&T’s ship since its earliest hours. After taking some time away to tend to his health after a prostate cancer diagnosis in 2020, Meniketti is back, recently dialing in with Classic Rock History for a conversation.
What moved the needle toward signing with Geffen Records prior to recording Contagious?
Meniketti: We thought Geffen would be able and willing to support us better than London and A&M. Geffen was the big, up-and-coming company at the time, and just before we signed with them, a lot of the big A&R guys were leaving their record companies and going to work for Geffen. A lot of bands wanted to be on Geffen because they thought, ‘Oh, these are the guys; they’re killing it. And it just so happened that John Kalodner —the A&R guy that signed us in Geffen— was the same guy who was responsible for signing Aerosmith to Geffen.
What happened was that John had come out while we were Aerosmith in Texas, and apparently, John had specifically come out just to see Y&T because he had heard that we were looking for a new label. So, after we did the show in Dallas, John met with us backstage and said, “I want you guys. I want to sign you to Geffen Records,” and we were like, “Yes, please!” We were excited because we felt like we had a label that was prepared and knew how to promote heavy rock albums. They had just signed Whitesnake, Guns N’ Roses, so we thought we were with the right label, finally.
But that didn’t end up being the case…
Meniketti: It was business as usual as far as bad luck for Y&T, unfortunately. When we released Contagious, Geffen seemed to be on board, and we did some amazing tours between Contagious and Ten. We were killing it, but as I mentioned, Geffen had signed Whitesnake, and by ’90, Whitesnake had a new record coming out. They also had a new Guns N’ Roses record on the horizon for ’91, so those took precedence over our record.
So, even though we were supporting a brand-new release, and they had us out on the road coheadlining with Ace Frehley, the people in Geffen’s L.A. offices were like, “Man, we’ve got the hot new thing in Whitesnake and Guns N’ Ross to worry about. We can’t bother with Y&T.” So, they put all their attention and funds toward them. And so, when we got through with the tour with Ace Frehley, John Kalodner apologized profusely and said, “We’re not going to do that again; we’re going to do our best for your next release. Take all the time you need to write the material.”
History shows that Geffen didn’t support Ten, either.
Meniketti: That’s right. So, we spent about a year and a half writing, which was unheard of then, and we gave them the goods. But unfortunately, the first single was released before the video. And then, before we even went on the road, Geffen said, “We’re not going to release a second one, by the way. Also, we’re done with you guys.” We were shocked. Once again, we’ve got yet another album coming out, and it’s dead in the water.
At the time, it sucked, but looking back, I believe it happened because Geffen felt like they had too many irons in the fire when it came to our style of music. They also had guys that they felt were more popular than we, and those guys were selling way more records. The end result was Geffen got rid of bands like us and focused on the bigger ones.
Is that what led to the decision to disband Y&T in ’91?
Meniketti: Pretty much. At that point, I talked to the rest of the guys and said, “Look, we’ve had a great career. There’s no regrets. We’ve had some issues, but we’ve done good things, written great songs, and have a fan base out there. But maybe it’s time we stop banging our heads against this brick wall and move on to something else.” They agreed, so we literally did a ‘farewell’ West Coast tour, and we really did think that was it. But it wasn’t. I guess we’re just like boxers… musicians always say they’re gonna retire but never do [Laughs].
Did the proposed “supergroup” with Peter Frampton come into play when you decided to end Y&T?
Meniketti: No, that came after we wrapped things up with Y&T. The thing was, though, Geffen Records and John Kalodner were apparently big fans of Dave Meniketti, I guess. John felt pretty bad about how things went down with Y&T and wanted to do something for me. Well, at the time, he was doing his thing where he was putting supergroups together with all these different people. He thought putting Peter Frampton and Dave Meniketti together was a brilliant idea and liked the idea of two lead guitarists and two singers from different angles.
He knew I was into writing material that was not only rock but also had melody, and obviously, Peter Frampton is melodic as hell. It turns out that Geffen was ready to sign us up for a multi-million-dollar contract before we even got together. They were dangling that in front of my face, but I had literally just broken up Y&T, which was my band for the last seventeen years. In the end, it was too much, too soon for me. I wasn’t sure about the whole thing, so I talked with Peter Frampton on the phone about it; I just told him, “Man, it sounds great, and I love you as an artist, but I don’t think I’m ready yet. I’m sorry.” I gave up on it, Peter totally understood, and life went on.
Do you regret not taking the deal? It could have been life-changing…
Meniketti: You know… at the time, I didn’t. My heart was still with Y&T at that point. I just couldn’t do it. But I could have had it if I wanted it. But years later, I ended up running into Peter backstage for a local show when he was in our area, and I said to him, “You know, I kind of regret not doing that… it would have been fun.” And it’s not because I regret continuing with Y&T, but because he’s Peter Frampton, and we could have come up with some killer stuff.
How big of an obstacle was the grunge movement for Y&T after reuniting in ’95?
Meniketti: Once the grunge thing happened, everything changed. All our mindsets needed to change in terms of expectations, which helped. It was obvious to all these bands playing in the ’70s and ’80s that things would get tougher. It became hard as hell to secure gigs, get tours, and keep the press talking about us. And if they did talk about us, it was usually negative, like, “Oh, those old hair metal guys, they’re washed up.” They’d lump everybody together as “hair metal,” essentially just a way of insulting everyone who came out before the ’90s. We truly did feel disrespected. I even stopped going to NAMM shows because I hated seeing all my buddies there telling me how much it all sucked. It got too negative and really did make things complicated.
When did the tide begin to turn?
Meniketti: I kept my head down and said, “No, I don’t want to be involved with all of that. I don’t want to hear it; it’s too negative.” I chose to keep going, keep writing, and get out there with the guys and play anywhere we could. We played a couple of Japan tours and came out with a couple of independent records. But I won’t lie; we wallowed there until around 2003. That’s when everything changed for us.
After a bunch of years of not going back to Europe, a promoter for the Sweden Rock Festival called our manager and said, “We’d love to have Y&T come back to Sweden Rock Festival; we hear they’re still out there playing….” So, we decided to do it, got back out there, played the show, and it was a major success for us. It was critical to us getting our name back out there and realizing that even though we had not gone back to Europe since the ’80s, they didn’t forget about us. We went from playing ten or twenty shows yearly to touring like crazy for years afterward.
Why has Y&T remained dormant from a studio standpoint since 2010’s Facemelter?
Meniketti: Part of it is that we chose to keep our focus on going on the road. We were killing it for so many years there, and that’s what made sense. But the other major issue is that our bass player, Phil Kennemore, was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer just as we were heading out on tour after we released Facemelter. That threw a huge wrench in the entire thing because me and Phil were the principal songwriters for Y&T and had been since the early ’80s. We were kind of like the Lennon and McCartney of Y&T.
So, you’re uncomfortable making an album without Phil?
Meniketti: Not uncomfortable per se. It was more a case of not being ready. I mean… I was faced with my best friend and writing partner being sick, and eventually, he passed away nine months after the diagnosis. That put us in a situation where now we had a new member and had to keep things going. Had Phil not passed away, I’m sure we would have made another record. But I wasn’t into it and needed time to move on from that.
Considering you’ve recently overcome your own illness, how has your outlook on music and life changed?
Meniketti: Yeah… once again, we were all thrown for a loop with the pandemic happening in March of 2020, and then a couple of months later, I found out that I had prostate cancer. So, there were a lot of things going on that were distracting, and that gave us pause. It was a situation where I really had to take the time to sit down, be honest, and say, “What’s the future look like here? How do I really feel about the last eighteen years of constant touring? Can I keep that pace?” All those types of feelings began to hit me. Certainly, it was because of the cancer, but it was also because of having time off for the first time in decades, literally. I mean… if I ever wanted to know what it would be like to retire possibly, 2020 was the year to give me an idea of what that was going to be like.
What was the outcome of that self-reflection?
Meniketti: Well, that kind of stuff is a lot to sift through as a musician. But what I found is that I still love what I do. And I think I’m still really good at doing it. I haven’t lost my chops; I haven’t lost my singing or guitar chops. Even though I’m 69, I can still do this at a high level. The truth is that there’s a lot of guys that have lost their high end and lost their voices along the way. Some of them are a lot younger than me, but I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t.
I’m singing and playing as well as I ever have. So, I don’t see a reason to stop at this point. All that happened has undoubtedly given me pause to think about things, but at this point, I just want to keep playing. I may not want to tour as much as I used to; I don’t know, we’ll see. That intense schedule is going to come to a head at some point. It has to. So, I think that after next year, we’ll go for it and try to do a full tour, which will answer that question. But it’s going to be Y&T’s 50th anniversary, so what better time?
Will Y&T make another record?
Meniketti: Along the way, we finally started writing some new material, which began about five or six years after Facemelter. But in that moment, we weren’t feeling it, well… I wasn’t feeling it, to be totally honest. It stayed that way for a while; I had to be ready. And the truth is that I know we’re not going to make a ton of money from a record. That’s the reality of the music business today. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to make a new record because we do. We’ve got some material that stands up to what we’ve done, and I’m feeling ready to do it. There will probably be a new Y&T record within the next year or so. That’s what’s been floating around as I look forward to the next six, seven, or eight months.
Considering all you’ve been through, what lens do you view the legacy of Y&T?
Meniketti: I’m very proud of what this band has done. There have been a lot of negative things that happened along the way to Y&T, but I choose not to focus on those. It was tough in the moment, but I got to a point where I could take those things and throw them away. I got so tired of people coming up to me and saying, “Oh, you guys should have been huge.” When I hear that, it means nothing. I don’t care. What should have or could have been doesn’t matter to me. Not anymore.
All it matters to me is what we’re doing now. I’m enjoying life now as much as I did back then, and that allows me to look back on it all with nothing but pride for what we’ve done. I look back at our catalog of material we’ve written over nearly 50 years, and we’ve got good material. Maybe there’s a couple of songs that weren’t the greatest, but we had a whole lot of damn good songs. At the end of the day, it was our commitment to our music, our songwriting, and the fact that we could bring it live. And we still bring it live. I’m a positive-thinking person, and when I think about the journey of Y&T, I feel and see nothing but the positive.
Dave Meniketti of Y&T: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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