Rock inspired the wrestler's in-ring persona, and with the hard rock band he brings it back to the stage.
[Updated] “This is Jericho.”
Chris Jericho’s tone of voice made me think the questions I’d planned to ask about his wrestling career were off the table. We were scheduled to talk about Fozzy, his hard rock band, which plays the House of Blues’ Parish Thursday night, though by itself it’s the least compelling part of Jericho’s career. The band’s name is one that seemed comically irreverent when guitarist Rich Ward came up with it—Fozzy Osborne—that outlived the joke but lasted too long to shed. Jericho described the band accurately, saying, “If Metallica and Journey had a bastard child, it would be Fozzy.”
But as a part of the larger Chris Jericho story, Fozzy’s a compelling chapter. He has been a part of it since 2000, and because of the checkered tradition of actors, writers, and artists dabbling awkwardly and winkingly into rock ’n’ roll waters, it was easy to be skeptical. And The band’s name didn’t help, nor did his start in it, when he performed under the name Mongoose McQueen with the band during an injury hiatus from the WWE. When he returned to wrestling, it was tempting to see the then-unknown band and the standard wrestling identity games as more persona-related silliness.
Jericho stuck with Fozzy though, and like many dubious wrestling gimmicks, the McQueen persona went by the wayside. He hasn’t only been around for the good times either. Fozzy is a working band that is still finding its audience in markets, and he is there for the smaller gigs as well as the higher profile, prestigious ones. And unlike many who achieved fame in other arenas, Jericho’s not out of his league fronting a rock band. He’s a charismatic lead singer and gives the songs personality, as this year’s Do You Want to Start a War demonstrates.
“Whether it’s wrestling or music or Dancing with the Stars or a Shakespearian play or a stand-up comic, anything where you’re in front of a live crowd,” he says. “You have to establish that connection and relationship with the crowd. If you can do that, you’ll always have a good show.”
For much of Jericho’s WWE career, the nickname “Y2J” identified him as a character who, like the turn of the century computer catastrophe that never manifested, was more hype than substance. The joke wasn’t entirely a joke though. Jericho was the first real 21st Century wrestler—a headliner smaller than the bigger, bulkier stars who dominated the WWE, and he built himself as a brand. Fozzy is part of that, along with his podcast Talk is Jericho, and his faux-reality comedy web series But I’m Chris Jericho!, which features a post-wrestling Jericho trying to start a career after wrestling.
Collectively, they offer him a more dignified later phase of his wrestling career that makes him less reliant on corny gimmicks to stay relevant, and present him alternatives to hobbling through matches with bad knees and a bad back, relying on the audience’s good will and game opponents to carry him through matches. It’s not a retirement project, but Fozzy also guarantees him the rush of an audience’s love whether he’s wrestling or not.
Fozzy isn’t a side project, either. “It depends on what’s going on, but we did 160, 165 dates in the last tour cycle,” he says. Years of working the WWE’s legendarily grueling schedule have hardened Jericho for the road experience. “I don’t ever need a break,” he says. “We’ll do three weeks at a time if we’re overseas, or four weeks if we’re in the States. For family reasons and stuff like that. It’s my job; I’ve been on the road since I was 19 years old. Being on the road is what I do.”
Years on the road have taught him to approach touring as part of the business. He travels light—a bag or two, just necessities—and he takes care of himself so that his voice holds up when out with Fozzy. It’s a rock band, but “that sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll stuff doesn’t fly,” Jericho says. “A lot of times you don’t talk that much and hang out by yourself. It’s not that you’re antisocial; it’s because you’ve got to protect the instrument. That’s the reality. If a guitar player breaks a string, he can replace it. I have a very durable voice, a very powerful voice, but I have to protect it.”
There were times in Fozzy’s early days that were harder on his voice because he strained it trying to hear himself over the band, even with monitors. These days, that situation has improved. “I wear in-ear monitors onstage, which means you don’t have to sing as loud to hear yourself.”
Fozzy’s current tour takes the band primarily to clubs and smaller theaters, but they’ve played to as many as 75,000 people at a festival England. But those numbers don’t necessarily translate to having all eyes on you.
“When you play a festival, you have thousands of people who know who you are and thousands who have never heard the music and aren’t fans,” Jericho says. “Those are the ones you have to play to. You find people in the crowd that are your fans and vibe on them, but you want to do everything you can to make that vibe spread. It’s hard to take your vibe and throw it all the way to the last row.”
Jericho’s demeanor, whether cutting promos in the ring in the WWE or performing with Fozzy, carries an air of underdog confrontation—not simple belligerence, more smartass challenge. He does what he can to make performances personal.
“If there’s someone in the front row who’s really got the I don’t give a fuck face, I’ll go straight in the crowd sometimes to wear him down,” Jericho says. “It becomes a challenge. If this guy’s so over-the-top not having a good time, that bothers me.” It’s something he runs into with Fozzy, particularly when the band is playing an opening slot. Sometimes the headliner’s fans will make a point of visibly and theatrically not connecting with Fozzy during its set. “It becomes a game to play. How will this guy go to not like the band? How much can I do to make him like this band?
“It’s just being a showman. Everything I started doing in wrestling came from rock ’n’ roll. I wanted to be the ultimate front man in the wrestling world. To be the Paul Stanley of wrestling, the David Lee Roth of wrestling. When Fozzy came along, I took along the same traits that I was using in wrestling from rock ’n’ roll and put them back into rock ’n’ roll. When we’re onstage, our attitude is Van Halen 1979. You watch those old videos and everybody’s having a great time.”
Updated 6:12 p.m.
The show is Thursday night, not Friday night. The text has been changed to reflect that. The photo has also been updated.