There’s been a lot of anticipation, buzz, and positive feedback surrounding the film Hired Gun: Out of the Shadows, Into the Spotlight, and it’s easy to see why. Hired Gun shares hard truths about the music industry that anyone who’s spent time in it inherently understands, but in a way that’s compelling even to non-musicians.
“Hired Gun tells the story of musicians who get hired by the greatest artists and bands to tour and record,” explains Kenny Aronoff, who in the film explains in grueling detail the pressure he faced in the studio coming up with his part for John Mellencamp’s 1982 megahit “Jack & Diane.” “The film captures the ups and downs of what it’s like being a sideman. It doesn’t glorify the glamour—there’s life and death in this movie.”
Director Fran Strine digs deep in his interviews. You’ll hear emotional accounts of the rollercoaster ride of being a sideman with no guarantees, including tales of band members losing their jobs—and sometimes their lives—in the process. “Hired Gun is about musicians whose DNA is all over the recordings and tours we love,” Strine says, “but whose names or faces we might not know. It’s a music documentary with passion and talent at its core.” Examples of that talent are not just talked about but strewn across the film; the included musical performances feature plenty of shredding guitars and drum solos—and even unique musical pairings. “A highlight for me was playing double drums with [longtime Billy Joel drummer] Liberty DeVitto,” Aronoff says with the enthusiasm of a lifelong fan.
The success of Hired Gun is surely in part down to the fact that it was coproduced by one of its own, guitarist Jason Hook. In the film the journeyman musician shares personal experiences of playing rock ’n’ roll, then suddenly finding himself touring with soft-pop artists Mandy Moore and Hilary Duff, then getting back to heavy music with Alice Cooper, and eventually finding success as a member of the popular groove-metal band Five Finger Death Punch.
“The most important goal in any creative project is to make sure you touch a nerve in the heart of the audience,” Hook tells MD, “and our aim with Hired Gun is to rip the nerve out of your chest and throw it in a blender! We chose to focus on Liberty DeVitto, for instance, because his story is simultaneously triumphant and tragic.”
“Liberty was the first person I reached out to for a interview,” Strine adds. “His story was so compelling that I knew he had to be a focal point in this film. It’ll make heads spin.” And to be sure, DeVitto holds nothing back as he talks about his long association with Billy Joel, including how it came to an unceremonious end after thirty years.
Among the other drummers who get to share their stories and music are Mark Schulman (Pink, Cher, Foreigner), Eric Singer (Lita Ford, Black Sabbath, Kiss), Glen Sobel (Tony MacAlpine, Elliott Yamin, Alice Cooper), and Chris Johnson (Seal, Patti LaBelle, Rihanna). Also represented are non-drummers including Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Whitesnake), Phil X (Triumph, Bon Jovi), Jason Newsted (Voivod, Metallica), Steve Lukather (Toto, Boz Scaggs), and Jay Graydon (Al Jarreau, Steely Dan), as well as famous bandleaders and producers such as Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie, Bob Ezrin, and David Foster.
For the players involved, Hired Gun provided more than just a chance to talk about themselves. “My participation was a great opportunity to give thanks to all of those people who trusted in me and were influential in my career,” Rudy Sarzo says. “Fran Strine was instrumental in getting all the fine details of my story.” And, mirroring Kenny Aronoff’s words above, a highlight for Sarzo was the opportunity to perform with Aronoff and DeVitto: “For a bass player,” he says, “it doesn’t get any better than that.” It’s a neat reminder that for many hired guns, the opportunity to play top-level music far outweighs promises of fame and fortune.
Following a Fathom Events screening in more than 300 theaters across the United States this past June, Hired Gun was released worldwide on video on demand, as well as on DVD and Blu-ray, by Vision Films in association with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The collector’s-edition DVD and Blu-ray versions contain exclusive bonus material. It’s definitely one for your music library. For more, go to hiredgunthefilm.com.