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Nita Strauss living her dream as new touring guitarist for king of the nightmare

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To say that Nita Strauss is on a Rock N' Roll high these days wouldn't begin to tell her story. Known for her work in the Iron Maiden tribute band The Iron Maidens, Strauss is part of '80s group Femme Fatale, which vocalist Lorraine Lewis has rebuilt with all-female players.

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But Strauss can hardly be described as a one-dimensional type of musician. She also is the in-house guitarist for Arena Football League franchise L.A. KISS, the team owned by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons which is in its inaugural season and will play host to the San Antonio Talons on July 19 (watch her here). Not to be outdone, Strauss is part of a video-game ensemble supergroup entitled Critical Hit (watch here).

Strauss' latest endeavor is her biggest. She was named earlier this month as the new touring guitarist for Alice Cooper, who will be opening for Motley Crue's "final" trek on the "All Bad Things Must Come to an End" tour. That journey kicks off July 2, with the closest San Antonio stop coming July 15 at the Cedar Park Center in Cedar Park, just north of Austin (details and tickets at bottom). The other Texas dates are July 16 in Dallas and Oct. 11 at The Woodlands.

Strauss has been playing guitar nearly half her life -- and she's only 27. As one of Guitar World's "10 Female Guitar Players You Should Know" who happens to be the July 2014 pin-up for Revolver Magazine's "Hottest Chicks in Hard Rock" calendar (see slideshow above), you might be surprised to learn with whom else Strauss has shared the stage.

On the eve of the first of three Cooper warm-up gigs for the big tour, Strauss phoned me from Manistee, Mich., to discuss how her life has been turned upside down -- in a shock-rocking kind of way:

SAMME: Hello, Nita! Thank you for calling and taking the time to do this.
NITA: Oh, absolutely! Thank you for having me.
SAMME: It's a pleasure to talk to you. I want to offer my congratulations on landing the gig with Alice. I know you're probably still pinching yourself . . .
NITA: I am completely still pinching myself, thank you so much! I still can't believe -- I'm pacing around my hotel room.
SAMME: Can you summarize how it all came about?
NITA:
I was recommended to them the day the word came through the grapevine that they were looking for someone, to his manager Shep Gordon and Bob Ezrin, the long-time producer. So I got in touch with them, and they met me in L.A. Next thing I know, I'm here in Michigan. We actually just had the first rehearsal with Alice yesterday. It was so incredible, so surreal.

SAMME: Take me into that rehearsal room a bit. What was it like getting acclimated with everybody and getting situated?
NITA:
The day before yesterday, we had a full, 13-hour day of just the band. We did the first half of the day, just guitarists -- Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen, the other two guitar players. They sat down with me and deconstructed the whole set. Like, everything, part by part, and we made sure that I was playing all the right notes. Nothing extra, nothing to shift the balance. They've got the three-guitar wall of sound going, so everybody's gotta be playing what they're supposed to be playing. So we did that, and then we went through the full headline set with just the band members, with Glen Sobel on drums, for the second half. And then yesterday, we got there bright and early, the band did, and then Alice came in, and we ran first the long set, and then the shorter set that we're going to be doing on the Crue tour. And Alice still sounds incredible. Even in rehearsals, the guy is a machine. He's inspirational to us to play harder.
SAMME: It's weird because back in February, I was at the Phoenix Coyotes hockey game when they were honoring the 1980 Miracle on Ice team, and between periods, Alice performed for the crowd (SAMME coverage in blue at bottom).
NITA:
Really? How cool!
SAMME: So yeah, you can tell Alice you were interviewed by a guy who saw him at a hockey game in February.
NITA:
I will, I'm sure he'll get a kick out of that.

SAMME: How much of an influence was he on you growing up musically?
NITA:
Alice Cooper, I think, transcends anybody's influence. The cool thing about him is that even today, there's not that many artists from that generation that are still so relevant and touring so much. Alice now tours with Iron Maiden and Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie. He's touring with these artists that are a little bit newer. And definitely also, Steve Hunter was of course a huge influence on me as a guitarist as well. I think their influences are more far-reaching than any of us really know.

SAMME: You got involved with guitar playing as an early teen. Which artists and type of music were you listening to at that time that shaped your desire to play?
NITA:
I started guitar when I was 13, and I started with Steve Vai. I wasn't really playing the Vai stuff at that age. I was listening to Guns N' Roses, of course, and some heavier stuff. And then in my teens, when I got a little better at playing guitar, I got into Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci -- that stuff has always been my driving force to get better and to keep practicing.

SAMME: In a twist of irony of sorts, you're replacing Orianthi in Alice's band. She was to be Michael Jackson's guitarist on the sold-out tour of England right before he passed. You have played with Jermaine, who a lot of people probably aren't even aware he still makes music.
NITA:
Yes! (laughs)
SAMME: Coupled with your works in Critical Hit, what's it like for you to go from metal to R&B to orchestral arrangements, and do you prefer one style over another?
NITA:
It's so much fun. I think I'll always be a rocker chick at heart. I'll always love getting on stage with a rock band and playing rock songs. But I also love challenging myself, and I'm pretty stubborn. When I went into my first rehearsal with Jermaine Jackson, I had never played his songs before. I don't know if I actually said this, but I was thinking to myself: Are you sure you want me? Because I'm from Santa Monica and probably the least funky guitar player in the whole world. But Mike Scott, the other guitar player, he luckily is the most funky guitar player -- or one of the most -- in the whole world. So I got to work with him on the Jermaine tour, and I have learned so much. Same thing with Critical Hit, working with classical musicians (cellist) Tina Guo and (violinist) Taylor Davis. These incredible musicians. You learn so much just from being on stage and in rehearsals with people from different genres. I mean, I guess rock would be where my heart is, but the challenge is another part that's great.

SAMME: And I'm sure you know that Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme has played, and I think still plays, with Rihanna in her band. Have you crossed paths with him or compared notes?
NITA:
We crossed paths at the M3 Festival. I was watching a set at the side of the stage, and I was standing about 3 feet away from him while he was warming up. But I didn't want to bother him because he's such a hero of mine. Watching him from the side of the stage was definitely one of the highlights of my guitar life.
SAMME: I was just wondering if maybe you had compared notes with him as far as crossing over genres or any different stylistic types of things.
NITA:
I haven't, but I'd like to (laughs). Another person I met at M3 who would be good talking about this is Reb Beach, who has played with Alice and so many different artists (Winger, Dokken, Whitesnake). That would definitely be a great conversation to have!

SAMME: Having been in all-female bands The Iron Maidens and with the revamped Femme Fatale, your talent speaks for itself. But do you find yourself sometimes battling within some circles of the music industry to get people to focus on your guitar playing and musicianship. Or is it a case of, "Hey, the sex appeal doesn't hurt the cause?"
NITA:
I think it's always going to be a give-and-take with the image thing. I had an interesting conversation yesterday about dressing to avoid people talking about your image and only focus on the guitar playing versus dressing to use your image as an asset. And I don't really see myself as doing either/or. Because first of all, I'm not going to dress myself; other people dress . . . (laughs). I'm a total tomboy at heart. If I don't have to be on stage or doing anything that day, I'm always in band T-shirt and yoga pants and sneakers. But at the end of the day, I'm a girl. I'm from Santa Monica. I'm going to look how I want to look and play how I want to play, and if people don't like it, then they don't like it. The awesome thing about this great country of America that we live in is that they're absolutely free to not like it. But I like it. If I go on stage and I think I look cool and I think I'm playing well, that's what it's all about, I think.

SAMME: You recently did an interview for Playboy Radio, so I'd be remiss if I didn't ask -- did they offer you a pictorial?
NITA:
They joked about it a lot. They didn't put an official offer on the table. But they definitely threw it out there. My joking response was, "Maybe with a strategically placed guitar" (laughs). I don't think it's actually in the future, but it's fun to joke about.
SAMME: Well, if you did something like that -- with a strategically placed guitar -- that wouldn't be too different from the Revolver "Hottest Chicks" type of thing, would it?
NITA:
Yeah. You know, for photos, we talk about the word "objectify." And, you know, it's subjective. If you want to look at the photos in Revolver and think, "This girl's trying to get attention because she looks the way she does," then that's fine. I'm still going to do my same practice regimen, and I'm still going to get on stage and do all my guitar set-ups and swap out my own pickups. I'm still going to do all that stuff too. People are always going to talk.

SAMME: What's the one thing you'll always take from being on the Monsters of Rock cruise?
NITA:
Well, I learned a great new drink (laughs). Actually, you know what, Courtney (Cox of The Iron Maidens and Femme Fatale) is the one that knows it. There are all these drinks called the Perfect Storm that definitely make for the perfect storm. I guess the cruise itself -- that's a great question, by the way -- a lot of it is being around fans all the time. The cruise is really a chance for people from all over the world to come and hang out with their favorite bands all the time. It's constant interaction. It's a great thing to go in and interact with people in ways you wouldn't normally get to.
SAMME: Yeah, I hear what you're saying because I covered the first two 70000 Tons of Metal cruises in 2011 and 2012. It was one of the best times of my life.
NITA:
Oh, totally! You're eating breakfast and you look over, and you're like, oh! That's Reb Beach! I guess that's where I saw him -- on the cruise, not at M3. You look over, and you're like, "Oh, this is kinda rad." Sitting next to band people, the guys in Loudness. It was really cool.

SAMME: As far as L.A. KISS, are you performing at all the home games, but obviously not while you're on this tour?
NITA:
I did all the home games up until I left for this tour. Courtney will be doing my parts. And there wasn't actually an audition process. Harlan Hendrickson, who does the Monsters of Rock cruise, saw me play on that and knows what a big NFL fan I am. I'm not sure what his job title is for the L.A. KISS, but I just call him the mastermind. He oversees all the aspects of the extravaganza that is L.A. KISS. He called me up and asked if I'd be interested in playing at the games, and I jumped at the chance.

SAMME: Will there be a new Femme Fatale album?
NITA
: That would be a Lorraine question. I know we have some material. We actually just performed a song called "Lady In Waiting" that is unreleased Femme Fatale material, so I know she's got something up her sleeve. And I believe that she . . . that's a Lorraine question. I'm not sure exactly the gist of that.
SAMME: I thought you might have a little insight into that (laughs).
NITA:
Yeah. Yeah, I am so single-mindedly on this gig. I believe she'll have something in the future.

SAMME: After this tour -- I know it's just getting started -- what's next for you?
NITA:
I've been so focused on this, I don't know. I don't even know what's going to happen the day after I get home. All my focus has been on this set and this tour. After this, I guess we'll see. Hopefully something good!

SAMME: What's your favorite Alice song that you're going to be playing on this tour?
NITA:
That's such a hard question. I love playing " Feed My Frankenstein" because that's just a big production of a song, and I get to do the Steve Vai solo, which -- my hero. It's great to get to play something that he played. And I get to be off stage and see the full production. But I also love the older stuff too. I love "Welcome to My Nightmare" and some of the older stuff that I'm not sure we're going to be doing on this tour. There's such a huge catalog of Alice Cooper material. It's all good!

SAMME: Are there other endeavors or projects you're involved in that you would like my readers or fans to be aware of?
NITA:
Right now, just come see us on the Crue tour (laughs). That's really it.

SAMME: Well, Nita, I sincerely congratulate you and wish you the best of luck on tour. Safe travels.
NITA: Thank you so much.

For related SAMME coverage, see links in blue below.

  • WHO: Motley Crue, Alice Cooper and The Raskins
  • WHEN: 7 p.m., Tues. July 15
  • WHERE: Cedar Park Center in Cedar Park, Tx.
  • TICKETS: Buy here; VIP here

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