Enuff Z’Nuff

They were the band of the mo­ment, poised to write their name in the bright­est lights. Then they hit the self-de­struct but­ton. Since then Enuff Z’Nuff have con­tin­ued to try to fly high again.

Classic Rock - - Contents - Words: Dave Ev­er­ley

They were the band of the mo­ment, fly­ing high, poised to write their name in the bright­est lights. Then they hit the self-de­struct but­ton.

There have been times when Chip Z’Nuff could have rolled over and given up, and no­body would have blamed him. Dur­ing the glory days of the late 1980s, his band Enuff Z’Nuff were fêted as rock’s Next Big Thing. They were power-pop princes in glam-metal cloth­ing – The Bea­tles and Cheap Trick rein­vented for the lip gloss-’n’-hair-spray set.

Bassist Z’Nuff and singer/gui­tarist Don­nie Vie were one of the great dou­ble acts of the era. They were blood broth­ers, as close a pair­ing as you’ll find, and to­gether they had the drive, the am­bi­tion and the songs to be­come stars.

Un­for­tu­nately, they also had a su­per­hu­man ca­pac­ity to snatch de­feat from the jaws of vic­tory, which they pro­ceeded to do at every step along the way. For all the great mu­sic they have made, Enuff Z’Nuff’s ca­reer has been punc­tu­ated by drug-in­duced self-sab­o­tage, in­glo­ri­ous fail­ure, pre­ma­ture death, bankruptcy, a con­stant churn of record la­bels and personnel, and ul­ti­mately the ac­ri­mo­nious dis­so­lu­tion of the broth­er­hood be­tween the two men at the heart of it. As Z’Nuff, a man not prone to un­der-ex­ag­ger­a­tion, puts it: “It’s been ten steps for­ward and thirty steps back.”

But quit­ting has never been Chip Z’Nuff’s style. Al­most 30 years af­ter Enuff Z’Nuff’s de­but al­bum, he’s still fly­ing the flag for the band that shares his name. Their new record, the iri­des­cent Di­a­mond Boy, is as good as any­thing they’ve re­leased since their late-80s/early-90s hey­day.

It’s also the first record Z’Nuff has made with­out Vie; Z’Nuff han­dles vo­cals, although the spec­tre of his for­mer band­mate haunts songs like Dopesick and Down On Luck. ‘I’m liv­ing in a world of pain and mix­ing it with cheap co­caine,’ Z’Nuff sings on the lat­ter, a barely dis­guised ref­er­ence to his old friend­turned-un­will­ing an­tag­o­nist.

“I put the band to­gether back in the eight­ies and I didn’t wanna give it up,” Z’Nuff says proudly. “The choo-choo train still has some fuckin’ coal in it.”

Chip Z’Nuff is a nat­u­ral-born op­ti­mist. “There’s not a lot of pes­simism in my life,” ad­mits the man born Greg Ry­barski in Blue Island, Chicago around the time The Bea­tles got to­gether. He talks with an ac­cent as wide as the Lake Michigan wa­ter­front and a rasp like a mal­func­tion­ing hair dryer. “Although the mu­sic busi­ness will bring the worst out in you.”

He’s an in­vet­er­ate net­worker, too. Dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tion he drops in the names of var­i­ous peo­ple he’s crossed paths with, from leg­endary mu­sic mogul Clive Davis, who signed Enuff Z’Nuff to his la­bel, Arista, in the early 1990s, to fel­low Chicagoan Kanye West; Z’Nuff worked with the rap­per in 2007 on an al­bum by West’s pro­tégé, Ma­lik Yusuf. “I thought it would show peo­ple that we weren’t just rock mu­si­cians, that we were six­trick ponies,” he says, and then laughs a throaty laugh. “Ob­vi­ously that failed mis­er­ably.”

It’s this en­thu­si­asm for life that has kept Enuff Z’Nuff afloat through their tur­bu­lent ca­reer, and got them off the ground in the first place. “There were a lot of ob­sta­cles back then,” he says of the band’s be­gin­nings in Chicago in 1983. “There were a ton of groups out here who were kick­ing ass but just couldn’t get ar­rested.”

He’d put the band to­gether with Don­nie Vie, a wild kid from a bro­ken home. Z’Nuff, five years older, took Vie un­der his wing. “The bond was un­break­able,” he says. “The task as hand was: ‘Let’s write some great songs.’”

They bought a drum ma­chine, moved into a flop­house and be­gan writ­ing those songs. They played any­where that would have them, pass­ing their tapes on to any­one who would lis­ten. “We were full of piss and vine­gar,” says Z’Nuff. “We knew we had a good sound. We were very flam­boy­ant, very colour­ful, we looked great.”

They were op­por­tunists, too. They recorded a demo at a stu­dio in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. “We’d sneak in the stu­dio at two o’clock in the morn­ing when ev­ery­body was done and record th­ese songs,” says Z’Nuff. “We’d get an ounce of co­caine and a cou­ple of bot­tles of Jack Daniel’s and go for it.

One of the pe­cu­liar­i­ties of talk­ing to Z’Nuff is that he fre­quently uses the word ‘we’ when re­fer­ring to his band’s ill-starred nar­cotic his­tory, de­spite in­sist­ing that he never in­dulged in any­thing stronger than pot.

“I never fell into the drugs,” he says. “I knew we couldn’t do any busi­ness if we were all fucked up. But you are the com­pany you keep. If you’re hang­ing out with some­body who’s all fucked up on the hard stuff, well guess what – you’re fucked up as well. I in­clude my­self, cos that’s my team.”

The hard stuff was the pro­vi­sion of Vie and gui­tarist Derek Frigo, a lo­cal hot­shot who joined Enuff Z’Nuff in 1988, a year be­fore they recorded their self-ti­tled de­but al­bum. The pair’s chem­i­cal pro­cliv­i­ties of­ten came close to un­do­ing what Z’Nuff was try­ing to build.

“Ev­ery­one was fairly jacked up,” says Z’Nuff. “I found my­self al­ways try­ing to break up fights, try­ing to keep the drug deal­ers away from the band. I tried to make the road a lit­tle bit smoother for us. It never was, it was con­stantly bumpy.”

Bumpy or not, the road even­tu­ally led them to Atco Records, who threw their weight be­hind the band. All the signs pointed to star­dom. They looked like part – psy­che­delic glam­metal gyp­sies in bil­low­ing shirts and pur­ple-tinted granny glasses. MTV em­braced the Bea­tles-y sin­gles New Thing and Fly High Michelle. Their sparkling self-ti­tled de­but al­bum sold half a mil­lion copies – not Guns N’ Roses num­bers, but cer­tainly re­spectable. Then the la­bel dropped a bomb­shell.

“They came to us with a bill for $775,000 and said: ‘That’s what you owe us,’” says Z’Nuff. “We said: ‘We sold half a mil­lion records and we still owe three quar­ters of a mil­lion dol­lars?’”

Un­de­terred, they recorded a fol­low-up, the mag­nif­i­cent Strength. It matched its pre­de­ces­sor sales-wise, and even Rolling Stone took no­tice, declar­ing Enuff Z’Nuff to be the hottest rock band of the year. But their debts were mount­ing.

“Here we are, mak­ing great records, tour­ing the coun­try,” says Z’Nuff. “It was ev­ery­thing we wished for, yet we’ve got no dough. On top of that,

“We knew we had a good sound. We were very flam­boy­ant, very colour­ful, we looked great.” Chip Z’Nuff on their 80s be­gin­nings

be­cause of our prob­lems with sub­stance abuse we weren’t fo­cus­ing on the shit that was all around us busi­ness-wise.”

Z’Nuff de­cided to hit the nu­clear but­ton: he filed for Chap­ter 7 bankruptcy on be­half of the band. It was a risky gam­ble, one that could have turned Enuff Z’Nuff from bright young things into mu­sic in­dus­try pari­ahs. But it paid off when Clive Davis – the man who built the ca­reers of an im­pres­sive list of artists in­clud­ing Aero­smith and Whit­ney Hous­ton – of­fered them a deal with Arista.

“Clive knew when he signed the band that we had a few is­sues, but he was un­aware of just how bad they were,” says Z’Nuff, who claims that Vie was ar­rested for drug pos­ses­sion the night be­fore a cru­cial meet­ing with the la­bel. “But he went with us. He said: ‘I don’t care what it takes to get that vo­cal out of your brother, make it hap­pen.’”

He wran­gled the vo­cal from Vie, but that was pretty much all he got out of their time with the la­bel. Enuff Z’Nuff’s third al­bum, 1993’s An­i­mals With Hu­man In­tel­li­gence, was re­leased just as the grunge wave crested. The band re­mained stuck in the traps. Within a year they were off Arista. “We were never fired, we were never dropped,” says Z’Nuff. “But we found our­selves in debt again.”

Chip Z’Nuff be­ing Chip Z’Nuff, he wasn’t about to let ev­ery­thing he’d built fall to pieces. The bassist hus­tled and ca­joled his way through the next few years, re­leas­ing a string of al­bums on as­sorted in­de­pen­dent la­bels. He still had enough charm to per­suade the likes of Cheap

Trick’s Rick Nielsen, Styx gui­tarist James ‘JY’ Young and the Smash­ing Pump­kins’ Billy

Cor­gan to ap­pear on the band’s 1999 al­bum Para­pher­na­lia.

“I met Billy at a fu­neral, and said: ‘Are you aware of my band, Enuff Z’Nuff?’” he says. “He goes: ‘Are you kid­ding? I got the Strength al­bum in my car right now.’ I thought maybe if I get some of the mu­si­cians in Chicago to come in and cameo on the record it would help el­e­vate Enuff Z’Nuff’s name.”

It didn’t. The bumps in the road got big­ger and more fre­quent. Enuff Z’Nuff cy­cled through a steady stream of band mem­bers and man­agers. In 2007, drum­mer Ricky Par­ent lost his bat­tle with cancer. Three years ear­lier, for­mer gui­tarist Derek Frigo, who had been fired in 1993, had died of a heroin over­dose; for a while it looked like Don­nie Vie would fol­low him.

“I was there for my brother all the way,” says Z’Nuff. “How­ever, if I said there wasn’t any stress and ag­gra­va­tion, that wouldn’t be true.”

The cause of that stress and ag­gra­va­tion was hav­ing prob­lems of his own. Since the be­gin­ning of Enuff Z’Nuff, Don­nie Vie had been get­ting fucked up. And the only way he knew how to deal with that was by get­ting even more fucked up.

For a man who has spent a large chunk of the past 30 years in a bad place, Don­nie Vie hasn’t lost his sense hu­mour. “A bad place? Ya think so?” he says drily.

Vie cur­rently lives in Cal­i­for­nia. He’s two thirds of the way through record­ing a new solo al­bum, the fol­low-up to 2014’s The White Al­bum re­leased soon af­ter he quit Enuff Z’Nuff for the sec­ond and fi­nal time.

“I should have done it a long time be­fore that. I just wasn’t ready,” he says of his de­par­ture. “I’ve just out­grown it. It’s not that big a deal.”

Ex­cept it is. Whether he likes it or not, Vie is still in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked with the group he joined as a teenager 35 years ago. But any pride he takes in be­ing part of Enuff Z’Nuff for so long is over­shad­owed by a mix­ture of am­biva­lence and frus­tra­tion.

“I made I don’t know how many records, and wrote all the songs and sang ’em, and nearly killed my­self do­ing it,” he says. “It’s part of my his­tory. But that’s what it is: his­tory.”

He was a kid named Don­ald Van­de­velde when he met Chip Z’Nuff back in the 80s. “Fucked up, came from a dys­func­tional home, manic de­pres­sion, ADHD, bi-po­lar, all of that shit,” he says. “Like any­one in that sit­u­a­tion, as soon as you can you find some­thing to drink or smoke so you don’t feel like this de­pressed, in­se­cure piece of shit.”

Asked what his poi­son of choice was, he laughs. “It would be eas­ier to say what it wasn’t. I didn’t like acid. I was a great lover of the stim­u­lants, but then comes the stress and you need some­thing to equalise it, and be­fore you know it you’re in a vi­cious loop. You be­come this mon­ster.”

Vie’s re­la­tion­ship with Chip Z’Nuff was com­plex even back then. He cred­its the bassist with help­ing

“I found my­self al­ways try­ing to break up fights, try­ing to keep the drug deal­ers away from the band.” Chip Z’Nuff

turn him from feral street kid into a proper mu­si­cian and song­writer, and doesn’t deny that Z’Nuff’s drive was the thing that got Enuff Z’Nuff where they did. But he’s dis­mis­sive about their per­ceived roles in the band.

“He had a prob­lem with be­ing up­staged,” says Vie. “To this day he goes around claim­ing he wrote all the songs. He re­ally didn’t. He made a very min­i­mal con­tri­bu­tion. Chip was a great player and a star, but he wasn’t an artist.”

Vie was un­com­fort­able at be­ing bun­dled into the glam-metal move­ment, but he was too messed up to do any­thing other than go along with it. “There was a lot of drink­ing, a lot of drugs, a lot of girls,” he says. “The mu­sic and the shows was ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar to the party. It was like a car­ni­val ride. This thing was spin­ning so fast. And once that car­ni­val ride is rolling there’s no way you can get off.”

Through his nar­cotic haze, Vie watched his band’s ini­tial prom­ise dis­si­pate. He wasn’t un­aware of the prob­lems, just numb to them.

“Oh, it’s my fault that I wasn’t in any kind of men­tal shape to say this is wrong, that’s wrong,” he says. “When it came to that kind of de­ci­sion mak­ing, I’d just dis­ap­pear.”

More than once, he says, he tried to make a solo al­bum, only for “other peo­ple” to mus­cle in and co-opt it as an Enuff Z’Nuff record. “Next thing you know, you’ve got a deal, you’re play­ing shows, you got money and you’re back on the car­ni­val ride. I kept fool­ing my­self, think­ing: ‘This time it will be dif­fer­ent.’”

It wasn’t. Vie quit Enuff Z’Nuff for the first time in 2003, only to find him­self pulled back in a few years later. It looked like he had as much trou­ble break­ing his ad­dic­tion to the band as he did to nar­cotics.

He left Enuff Z’Nuff in 2013. It would be an­other cou­ple of years be­fore he quit drugs. The tip­ping point came when he re­turned from a Euro­pean tour and was pulled off the plane by the po­lice for an out­stand­ing drug war­rant. He could have gone to pri­son for a long time, but in­stead the court of­fered him the op­tion of un­der­go­ing a pro­gramme to get clean. He seized the

“I made I don’t know how many records and wrote all the songs and sang ’em, and nearly killed my­self do­ing it.” Don­nie Vie

op­por­tu­nity. “It was time to stop the ride,” he says.

It worked. Vie says he’s been clean for more than two and a half years. The pro­gramme helped him deal with an ar­ray of health is­sues, rang­ing from rot­ten teeth to hep­ati­tis C (a dis­ease com­mon among in­tra­venous drug users).

“I have a lot more days where I’m not not happy, where I’m not all strung out,” he says. “It’s great that I know I’m not go­ing to be in the stu­dio for the next thirty-six hours be­cause I’m all fucked up, afraid of the sun. There’s a lot of things I don’t miss about those days.”

One of those things, ap­par­ently, is Chip Z’Nuff. Vie hasn’t spo­ken to his for­mer band­mate in four years, and shows no signs of want­ing to change that any time soon.

“There’s no real rea­son to do that,” he says. “I could never func­tion in that band the way he has it or­ches­trated with­out be­ing med­i­cated. There’s no way I could deal with that…” He searches for

the word. “Buf­foon­ery.”

And so here we are in 2018. Chip Z’Nuff and Don­nie Vie have sep­a­rate lives, sep­a­rate ca­reers. De­spite his up­beat de­meanour, Z’Nuff can’t quite keep the dis­ap­point­ment out of his voice when he talks about his for­mer col­league and friend.

“The only time we talk is when it has to do with money, and it’s al­ways through his man­ager, who is his brother-in-law,” says Z’Nuff. “I love the guy, but I don’t feel that love is re­cip­ro­cated.”

Z’Nuff says that Derek Shul­man, the man who signed them to Atco Records all those years ago, at­tempted to bro­ker a rap­proche­ment in 2016 with a view to get­ting the pair back to­gether to make a new al­bum. Ac­cord­ing to Z’Nuff, Vie wasn’t in­ter­ested in the songs he’d writ­ten.

“That’s why I’m singing on the new al­bum,” he says. “Lis­ten, Don­nie and I did a lot of stuff to­gether. But when you don’t have your part­ner with you it’s swim or fuckin’ drown. And that’s what I did, I swam.”

Vie says he hasn’t heard the lat­est Enuff Z’Nuff record. Nor does he sound like he wants to. “I’ve moved on,” he says. “All that shit’s in the past.”

There’s no fairy-tale end­ing in sight for Enuff Z’Nuff, but then there wasn’t much of a fairy tale be­gin­ning either, the broth­erly bond stronger in the­ory than in re­al­ity. But as long as Chip Z’Nuff has air in his lungs and there’s coal in the en­gine, that choo-choo train will keep on rolling.

Enuff Z’Nuff’s lat­est al­bum Di­a­mond Boy is out now via Fron­tiers.

High on a new thing: Chip Z’Nuff in 1989.

See­ing the world through rose-tinted spec­ta­cles? Chip Z’Nuff with the2018 ver­sion of Enuff Z’Nuff.

Don­nie Vie (left) and Chip Z’Nuff with Enuff Z’Nuff at Hard RockHell, De­cem­ber 2010.

Don­nie Vie in 2018.

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