Kramer legend and guitarist extraordinaire Gina Stile has been one of the great names in heavy metal guitar for over three decades since her first all-girl band, the Poison Dollys, toured with Aerosmith when Stile was only 19. A short time later Stile recorded her first major label release with Envy, Ain’t It A Sin, produced by longtime friend Dee Snider. In those days, she was also one of Kramer’s youngest endorsees. But Ms. Stile is perhaps best known for her long friendship with Vixen and her contributions as a writer and guitarist for the band over the last 20 years. Vixen are still kicking ass at festivals around the USA with Stile favoring her Kramer Assault Plus. But if Gina wasn’t already cool enough, in between festivals she’s also one of the top cosmetics chemists on the east coast (“I go from making nail polishes, skin care treatments—pretty big stuff—and then I go be a rock star for three days”). As formidable as she is on stage, like so many Kramer greats in conversation Ms. Stile is also funny, modest, but forthright about what makes great rock and roll.
You have a long history with Kramer and you even designed a Kramer, right?
I had a guitar coming out and what happened unfortunately is that they went out of business. They would pick me up in a limo—‘cause they spent a lot of money back then (laughs). That’s probably why they went out of business—picking up me. Only kidding!
Anyway, the idea back then is they didn’t have any smaller guitars for young kids or girls and Dee Snider said ‘ your guitar is too big for your body.’ He was my producer at the time. So I was designing a smaller body with the same neck, the same 24 fret neck. It came out really nice. I have one—it’s hanging on my wall and the paint is chipping off. But it was a great guitar and then boom!--they just fell off the face of the Earth.
What was your main guitar back then?
I was playing a Baretta—I had so many. I originally got my Kramer endorsement when I was in a band called the Poison Dollys. I was about 18, 19 years old. It was a thrill because at the time I was playing a Telecaster and a Charvel. And then I sold my beautiful Telecaster so I could get a Floyd Rose and then I get a Kramer endorsement six months later (laughs). And I swear to God, to this day I wish I had that 1968 Telecaster--it would probably be worth a fortune. And I was just a dumb kid. ‘Cause I just wanted to get the Floyd Rose, you see? So now I don’t sell anything and my basement is full of everything because of that one big mistake! (Laughs)
How’s Vixen? You are keeping a steady schedule.
Yeah. We played with the Ohio State Fair with Lynch Mob we’re playing the Monsters of Rock Cruise in October so the Kramer Assault Plus has been getting a lot of exposure and everyone loves it. And the sound of it is—wow! I played with the Doobie Brothers about a month ago and the Doobie Brothers’ technical people said ‘your sound is amazing!’ They had nothing but questions about what my guitar was. So I call the Kramer Assault a Les Paul on steroids. It’s just awesome. I play it through my Boogie Triple Rectifier and it’s huge.
I want to do another guitar--something similar to the Kramer Assault but with a thinner neck. I play it well but my hands are small. And put a single coil on top. Something customized for how I play. That’s my dream. But I love the sound. It just works.
Do find that your Vixen’s long history together makes for more intense shows now? We’re getting along great. My history with Vixen goes back to 1995. Roxy Petrucci called me and had heard of me and she said ‘Can you just jam on something and send it to me?’ So I played along to something on a drum machine, send it to her, and she said ‘ok, that works’
So we started a band with a girl singer from Ohio and it didn’t work out with her. Roxy had sent my songs to Janet Gardner. So Janet came over to my house in 1996 and we just started to write and we really clicked. That whole Tangerine (1998) record--I wrote that in my basement with her. And it wasn’t supposed to be a Vixen record it was just what we were writing. It’s a lot darker and deeper than Vixen. And we made the mistake of calling it Vixen. We should have called it something else. But whatever—so we did that and I’d been friends and playing with Vixen for 20 years. And we started doing this line up about 2 years ago. Jan, the original guitar player, didn’t want to play with them so we started this thing called JSRG. What happened was, as JSRG we started to play the cruise ships and then Jan wanted to come back in the band. But sadly she passed away from ovarian cancer.
Has Vixen been recording?
We have been recording a new record and it going to take a little time as Janet and I actually work. But we fly into Detroit where Roxy is. And we have about six songs so far and it’s really cool because it’s almost like the old Vixen and a little bit of Tangerine-ish because that’s just the way I write. There are some intricate things but a lot of simple songs that are really catchy. So it’s in the works.
What have you been listening to for inspiration?
I don’t listen to too much lately. I was in a band called Thunderbox and we played Seasons of the Abyss, we played Slayer, we played Anthrax, Metallica. I love the Foo Fighters—I like everything. There’s a not a genre that I don’t like. I love to play the aggressive stuff but I love to play Madonna or old Donna Summer, too you know?
What drew you to rock and roll?
My father was in a rock and roll band—he played guitar and my uncle played bass and they would have band practice in my house when I was 3,4,5 years old and they would play Grand Funk, Black Sabbath or Les Zeppelin. So I think it was that. My first favorite guitar player was Carlos Santana and then Rhandy Rhodes. But if you really listen to my songs I’m not that heavy. I just like every kind of music. But my father’s band is what drew me to play every style. I got into classical when I was 21 because I became a teacher. I actually got better when I was in my 20s. But I still have that Carlos Santana- thing going. So I could play very intricate but raw in a way.
That’s what I like. I really like the guitar player from Pantera—Dimebag Darrell. If there was the epitome of a guitar player, I think it’s him. Because he could play classical or nasty. But he could play pretty too. Or Brian May. Those are the guitar players I like.
I don’t like anybody without any soul. You have to have emotion when you play.
You ever see my face when I play? It’s horrible! (Laughs) I can’t take it. I just want a new face to play. I actually practice playing without making a face and I can’t because once I’m on stage, these faces come out. Because you can’t help it. That’s what I like about Stevie Ray Vaughan—those faces. I think if you don’t do that and you just stand there, then you’re not a musician.