It isn’t often that a band loves a song so much that it releases two versions on the same record.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra is best known for its Christmas-themed rock operas that out-fog San Francisco, have more lasers than a Death Star full of Stormtroopers and more explosions than a Michael Bay film.
But when it released its new album “Letters from the Labyrinth” last November, the all-American band with the Slavic surname eschewed the rock opera form for the first time. “Letters” is instead a thematically diverse collection of 15 lighter-launching songs including the power ballad “Forget About the Blame” written by New York City Local 3 member Johnny Green.
|New York City Local 3 member Johnny Green wrote a song that appears twice on Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s new album Letters From the Labyrinth.
The album debuted at the top of Billboard’s rock chart and the song was performed in front of millions on their tour last fall. The song is played every day on more than 100 radio stations across the U.S.
“I could not be happier,” Green said from his home in Hackensack, N.J. “God has blessed me. [In 2015] I got a No. 1 song, and same year my wife gave birth to our baby girl.”
TSO founder Paul O’Neill liked the song so much, it appears twice on the album, the first time fronted by TSO’s male singer Robin Borneman and seven songs later with female hard-rocker Lzzy Hale of Halestorm straddling the microphone.
Green was organized into the IBEW 15 years ago when the nonunion Bronx-based electrical construction shop where he worked was bought by signatory contractor Polo Electric.
Green is not an overnight success, he is an over-decades success. He came to New York City in 1997 after a decade as a union painter at the Bath Ironworks shipyards in his home state of Maine.
He was newly remarried with three girls from his first marriage on his way to New York. He was going to be singing on a new album with a new band and writing commercial music to smooth out the highs and lows.
“I was bragging to my new wife that I was going to be a big star, that the music business in New York was waiting for me to get there,” Green said. “It all fell to nothing. ”
Within a few months, Green says he was driving a van 70 hours a week delivering recording equipment to studios.
“Driving that van was a slim connection to the music business, but I didn’t want to go back to Maine. I didn’t have the money to go back if I did,” Green said.
In 1997, Green gave a demo of a song to a co-founder of Soundtrack Studios in New York, John Keihl, who liked what he heard. Keihl gave it to Paul O’Neill, the one-time manager of Aerosmith, Joan Jett, AC/DC and the Scorpions. O’Neill had just launched TSO, backed by Atlantic Records, to combine hair metal and holiday classics. And O’Neill liked the demo. But he wanted something else from Green. Something better.
“That inspired me. I needed to write something that would knock everyone on their ass,” Green said. “And I was desperate.”
He did what he always did. He took everything his life had given him and put it down into music. He stayed up late, quietly playing his guitar in bed, trying not to wake up his wife. First a chorus came. Then a verse. Then another. He recorded a demo and handed it over.
O’Neill loved the song, bought the rights to it. Green thought it was his moment. It was going to be on a special album. A single. The next album.
For nearly 20 years this went on. TSO would sell millions of records, becoming one of the most successful touring bands between 2000 and 2010, according to Billboard. So popular that O’Neill created two versions, one touring on the East Coast, one on the West Coast. In 2015 they performed a combined 96 shows in 43 days in 60 cities, grossing more than $50 million.
But for Green, nothing. Rent was still due. So he stopped performing, kept on writing and playing, but he did what grown-ups with three daughters and a new wife do. He put them first. He found a small electricians shop that was hiring and he went back to work. A few months later, his shop was bought out by a Local 3 signatory and he joined the union.
And music was no longer what he did, it was what else he did. It was what he made money for, squeezed in around over time and second shifts and driving his girls to dance practice and soccer practice and making a marriage work. Green now has six daughters, ages 33 to six months, and five grandchildren.
Green said that the security of a good income, retirement, and knowing his girls were taken care of is something he never had in his life before joining Local 3.
Over time O’Neill stopped checking in as often. For three years, Green heard nothing.
Then he got a call on his mobile phone, at work, from a number he didn’t recognize. It was O’Neill.
O’Neill said he was tired of calling with bad news and wanted to wait until he was “99.999 percent sure we are 100 percent” they were recording the song on the next album.
“Then he called me back to say he wanted to use it twice,” Green said. “I was ecstatic.”
For now it is a happy time, but strange.
“I have a song on the radio and you dream all your life of that, and I’m still getting up every morning at 4:30. It isn’t what you see in movies,” Green said. “Yet.”
Green said O’Neill has already committed to using another of his songs on the next TSO album, due out in the next year or so.
“I may be going to work in a year. I may not,” he said. “Only time will tell.”