Some artists hem and haw when trying to pinpoint the reason for their longevity. Not Dave Meniketti. He’s as surprised as the next guy about the four-decade career longevity of his Bay Area metal outfit Y&T, nee Yesterday and Today. They’ve survived because they’ve deserved to, a modern exercise in Darwinian natural selection. “We’ve honestly recorded hundreds and hundreds of songs, and we’ve got this loyal following that keeps going and I just never saw any reason to stop because I enjoy playing,” says the guitarist/vocalist, who also moonlights as a solo artist and runs a family winery with his wife, Jill. “But it’s gotten under my skin after this many years — we’re coming up on our 45th anniversary this month.”
He believes he’s singing and playing better than he ever has, that newer members have fit in seamlessly, and catalog classics like “In Rock We Trust’ sound just as relevant today. Ergo, Y&T’s innate value has grown exponentially in the process. “We’re real proud of the fact that we’ve still got it,” he says.
IE: I can’t recall ever reading any trashy drugs/booze stories about Y&T. How did you avoid those pitfalls?
Dave Meniketti: Well, in the ‘70s and the ‘80s, there was a lot of drug use going on, and a couple of the guys in the band were heavy into it. Meaning simply, that we couldn’t keep going with them doing that, year after year — we had to replace them. But I was the one staple guy that didn’t do it. I did drugs when I was in high school — 16 to 18 years old, I did every frigging drug outside of heroin. But that’s when I first started playing guitar, as well. At 18 years old, I just said, “You know what? I’m not playing as well as I did just last week — I’ve got to cool it.” Now I’m the sole surviving member of that original band — everyone else has passed. So I guess I just lived a pretty clean life. I didn’t start drinking alcohol until I was 50, and I’m 65 now.
IE: Well, you do have annual wine vintages to taste…
DM: We got into wine 15 years ago, and it became a passion after a while for us. So we just started doing more wine tastings, going out with friends, learning all about the growing of the grapes, everything — all the dirty technical stuff that most people don’t care about. But I guess I developed a really good palate, and a lot of people who I’d become friends with [with]in the industry started telling me the same thing — “Dave, you should put your own wine out because your palate is great.” And I said, “Ehh, I dunno.” I resisted it for a few years and finally said, “Why not?”
IE: What’s been the most surprising thing you learned about wine?
DM: People had told me how crippling the business side could be, with all its rules and regulations. There’s so much paperwork, it’s unbelievable.
IE: You’ve written so many songs, and you can keep releasing acoustic versions of your classics. Do you even feel compelled to write new songs anymore?
DM: Motivation for me, it’s more about a time frame. Jill keeps us on the road pretty consistently — we play anywhere from 70 to 80 shows a year around the world. So when we have a block of time that we can say is ours – and make no mistake, she’s got to carve out the time, carve out two or three consecutive months where we’re at home, in order to make that work because I’m not the kind of guy who likes to write on the road. When I’m on the road, I’m pretty much busy every waking hour, so I’m not the guy who’s gonna bring a recorder and sit down and start putting songs together. I’ll just sit at home and carve the time out and get into it that way. And that’s been difficult for these last few years because we’re on the road constantly. So that’s my long answer to what’s gonna happen with the next project. Are we gonna keep writing? Yes, we are. But I just have to fit it into the schedule to have it make sense. Even though I’ve been doing it this many years, I still enjoy the creative process. And for us to go out and play 70 or 80 shows a year and play two hours a night? We play a lot of material. We put 16 to 18 songs in the set and play a double or triple encore some nights, so we’re laying it down. Twenty-one songs a night? That’s a lot of material. And we keep it fresh, every time we go out. We always add four or five songs to the set, and we still have so many songs we’ve never played before. So it keeps it fresh. Keeps it fresh for everybody. So the fans know that they’re gonna hear the classics that they wanna hear, but they’re also gonna hear some deep tracks, or some stuff that they’ve always liked that they wondered if we were ever gonna play. And that’s all great. But it’s really cool when you come up with new tunes and can throw one or two into a set. That really energizes the band.
IE: Like a comic book “origin” issue, do you remember the exact moment that Yesterday & Today became the acronym Y&T?
DM: I do remember. Our original drummer Leonard penned the name Yesterday & Today, simply because the band had just gotten its first gig, and we’d never talked about having a name for the band. And he struggled to think of something as he was on the phone with the promoter, and he was like, “Uh..Uh…’” So it was never a favorite thing of ours, to be called Yesterday & Today. So when we changed record labels, from London to A&M back in 1981, we thought, “hey — now’s the perfect time!” But of course, we’d already had a couple of records out and done some tours, so we were afraid that we were gonna confuse the hell out of people.” Then somebody said, “Well, they shout ‘Y&T! Y&T!’ at the encores — why don’t we just abbreviate it? Then people will surely figure it out.” So, that’s as simple as it was.
IE: Well, you’ve demystified all of rock and roll for me!
DM: You know what? It’s never quite as amazing as you think it’s gonna be, ya know? It’s just down to the simple brass tacks, like, ‘What makes sense here? I dunno. So let’s just throw all this together!’ But it’s all about the songs – if you write a good song. Because the band can theoretically survive, but if your songs suck, chances are you’re not gonna be able to keep playing for 45 years. So it all comes down to that. And a good song written 45, 60 years ago is still good today.
– Tom Lanham
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