Erik Buell and the Thunderbolts 'Anthem' Album Review

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

Erik Buell is no stranger to motorcyclists. Known for his innovative concepts used in the production of American-made sport motorcycles, Buell’s world was rocked when parent company Harley-Davidson pulled the plug on his eponymously named company last fall.

Now Erik Buell is ready to do some rocking of his own. He recently released Anthem, a 10-track album by his riff-rock combo, Erik Buell and the Thunderbolts.

“The album happened initially because I had a lot of pent up music and things to say,” Erik Buell tells”The idea of me playing was frowned upon by the big corporation (Harley-Davidson), and so I had been doing very little playing out but was writing song concepts at home. The combination of freedom to do it and having some things to say in lyrics and music kinda kicked it into gear.

Erik Buell has taken advantage of some recent free time (thanks, Harley!) to record Anthem, an album showing Buell’s classic-rock influences and guitar work.

Buell continues: “I was talking with Stoney (Mike Stone, the album’s co-producer and former Queensryche guitarist) about it, and he said ‘I'm off the road for six weeks, if you want to do it fast, I'll record it for you and help finish songs, too’, and that supercharged the process. It was magically good blend for me and Mike to work on this together.”

You’d be forgiven if you might assume this is just a self-indulgent project by an ego-driven amateur musician, but you’d be wrong.

Anthem is a rowdy, blues-infused rock album that is sure to have your head bobbing along with several tracks.

Appreciation of the music is helped if you’re a fan of two-guitar rock music from the 1970s. The many stomping rock tunes are often reminiscent of Kiss’s early work, while other tracks show Buell’s blues influences from bands like the Rolling Stones and ZZ Top.

“I like a lot of music and write and play a number of styles,” Buell explains, “but the idea of this CD was to be pure clean rock and roll, as timeless as we could make it. Now that it is out, we hear all sorts of comparisons from people, but the really good news is that they generally say it reminds them of rock and roll bands they like. And that is right on target with what we wanted. I've heard that it sounds like early ZZ, Petty, Neil Young, Stones, Kiss, etc. Now they don't sound the same, but they are all great rock bands. No guitar hero stuff, no esoteric chords, just right in the heart of rock and roll. Kick-ass drums, rhythms and hooks, vocals and lyrics driven by angst.”

Erik Buell playing live with the Thunderbolts.

Buell’s album is anchored by its opening track, “Anthem X,” a rollicking rocker with a catchy chorus that has reverberations from his business life.

Hey, get a pair! Live your life like it ends tomorrow
Hey, experience what you can’t borrow
Hey, shift up a gear, don’t hold back on your life in fear
Go for it all, and when you fall they’ll remember

“’Anthem X’ is about people who stand out from the crowd because they won't give up, and they won't settle for the comfort of just being part of a crowd,” Buell explains.

And Buell’s not just some name-brand figurehead for the band. All but one song is credited to Buell in music or lyrics or both, and he’s the lead vocalist on all tracks but one. Erik’s voice is appropriately ballsy for this genre, being more convincing in his cleaner style than when trying to growl overzealously.

Adding fuel for Buell on this effort is Mike Stone, the aforementioned ex-Queensryche guitarist who co-produced Anthem with Buell and also co-wrote the music for six tracks. Stone also contributes bass guitar tracks along with usual T-Bolts’ bassist Greg Pekley.

“Mike set the rules,” Buell tells us about the recording process, “and he demanded all the guitars straight into cranked amps with no pedals or effects pre, only a little post ambience reverb and compression. It was done clean – no ProTools or such. Vocals also with no correction; just WFO. It requires a lot more effort, but I think the sound turned out just like Mike wanted it; it sounds live.”

Erik Buell playing a mongrel Fender Telecaster he calls “the Parts-ocaster” with Stone Planet, co-producer Mike Stone's local home band.

Mike Stone’s brother, Dave, is the Thunderbolts’ resident drummer who hammers home a strong, rhythmic punch. He also performs lead vocals on “Landslide,” a tune penned by his brother Mike and underpinned by a catchy guitar hook irresistible to feet tapping, a common theme from Anthem.

But it’s not all straight-ahead rock. Erik and crew show off its diversity in the album’s middle, changing things up with the mid-tempo rocker “Runnin’ Blind” that’s blessed with tasty and melodic twin guitar leads. Next up is “One More Night,” a riff-heavy rocker with a stomping beat worthy of comparison to AC/DC. Next up is “Movin’ Along” and its screaming guitar soloing that will even entertain guitar snobs. “Taken Down Blues” gives Buell an opportunity to show his blues chops, adding some depth to the disc.

Motorcycles and music are a natural combination, according to Buell, who remains involved in preparing and supporting Buell racebikes, logging a 10th-place finish in the recent AMA Superbike race at Road America with rider Geoff May.

“There is a huge crossover between motorcycles and music,” Buell explains. “And for me, especially for rock and roll and racing. My wife jokes that it's because both burn energy and make loud noise, but I say it's just because when done well they are a direct connection between your senses and actions. The final winning lap of Danny Eslick at Mid-Ohio last year or Neil Young doing “Rockin in the Free World” live. You know they delivered with everything they had. Now admittedly you aren't risking your life on stage, but there's still an intensity similarity.”

Anthem belongs in your collection if you like riff-heavy classic-rock-style tunes, even if you’re not a fan of Buell Motorcycles. If you’re one of the many who admire Erik’s determination and innovation, and like to rock out, you should definitely order a copy. Check out Erik Buell Music for sample tracks and more info. The CD retails for $12.95, and $9 extra will get you an Erik Buell Racing t-shirt with the Thunderbolt’s Pegasus logo on back.

Although Harley-Davidson ultimately wasn’t happy with Buell Motorcycles, Erik says his Rat Pack Records label is excited by the early response to this project. “Sales have been fantastic, and we appreciate all the support we have been getting from the race fans, too.”

And with that, we’ll leave you with the closing lyrics from “Anthem X.”

Hey, get on the gas, time slows down when you’re goin’ fast
We’ll do it all, and when we fall they’ll remember
Yeah, they’ll remember

You can check out the band when they play at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin for the Buell Homecoming event on June 19th.

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