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March 8, 2021

Remembering My Friend, Jason Slater

By Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton and Jason Slater, August 2019

The rock music world lost many stars in 2020, most notably Rush drummer Neil Peart and Van Halen guitarist Eddie Van Halen. On December 9, 2020, we also lost my good friend, producer, songwriter, and original Third Eye Blind bassist Jason Slater. And while Jason would be the first to tell you he wasn't a “rock star,” he certainly was an unsung hero for Queensryche fans who clamored for the band to return to its metal roots in the mid-2000s.

As a driving creative force behind Operation: Mindcrime II, it was Jason who pushed Geoff Tate hard to make that record heavy. It was Slater who shouldered the songwriting burden for the project—something he hadn't planned on. Whether you liked the album is irrelevant. It was an immediate success and paid for itself quickly once it was released, putting Queensryche back on the charts and on the radar of the industry after years of floundering.

Jason's death hit me hard. We talked at length about writing a book about his involvement with Queensryche. Sadly, we didn't have the chance. Thinking about my friend over these last several months, however, many of his stories came to mind. As a tribute to Jason, I wanted to write about our relationship and share those Queensryche-related anecdotes with everyone.

Jason came into my life in 2005, not long after he was hired by Queensryche to produce the sequel to Operation: Mindcrime. He joined my old discussion forum, The Breakdown Room, and quickly jumped into the fire, dishing out candid answers to tough questions and getting a read on who we were as a community. He fit right in.

After a week or so on the forum, Jason told me privately that he was doing research—finding out what the true fans of Queensryche really wanted from the band, so he could help steer the direction on what would become 2006's Operation: Mindcrime II. Unfortunately, the record didn't resonate with fans as much as Slater hoped it would, but the experience was the start of a 15-year friendship and brotherhood between us that I am forever grateful for.

In mid-2005, Jason and I spent hours on the phone blowing past what was supposed to be a 30-minute interview for an article I was writing on Queensryche. I asked direct questions, he gave blunt answers. A mutual respect and friendship blossomed over talk about Queensryche's metal years, songwriting and going to see Anthrax (there was a mutual devotion to the John Bush-era of the band). That phone call was certainly a precursor of our conversations for years to come. They were always long (hours) and filled with laughs. Once my article was published a few weeks later, we talked regularly throughout the recording process of Operation: Mindcrime II.

A day after he finished the final mixes of Operation: Mindcrime II and sent them off for mastering, Slater invited my wife Staci and I down to his studio, The Annex, in Menlo Park, Calif. It was there that our friendship was cemented. Jason became family to Staci and me. We spent 14 hours in the control room together, bonding further over our love for music, sports, martial arts and so much more. He played Operation: Mindcrime II for us—we were likely the first people to hear the record outside of the musicians who recorded it and label executives. What an incredible thrill.

The day flew by and it was 2:00 a.m. before we finally left to go home. It was a day full of laughs, funny stories and good times. It was also the first time I gave Jason shit over including the “ooh” vocal on “The Hands.” He always argued with me that he and Geoff Tate figured the Beach Boys did it, so they could too. My wife and I reminded him that the Beach Boys are as far away stylistically from Queensryche as possible and that he chose…poorly. It was a running joke between all of us for years. About a year or so before he passed, at our annual family dinner, I brought the liner note booklet from the Operation: MIndcrime II CD for him to sign. He wrote on the bottom of it: “There's no oohs in metal.” After all this time, he finally admitted it.

One of our funnier jokes was about Queensryche's Michael Wilton (don't be mad, Whip!). I'm not sure the humor will translate to the written word like this, but it needs to be told. Slater explained that while the band was on tour in early 2005, he went out with them, to start writing and guiding the record. Since he was there, he pitched in with the crew to help them out. One night, Wilton caught Slater and beckoned him over. He asked Slater to roll up his shirt sleeves for him. Not sure why Wilton wanted that done, Slater said “no, man, get the fuck out of here. I am not rolling up your sleeves for you.” Michael then said to Jason (paraphrasing): “I need to show off my guns man!”

From that point forward, I would always roll up my shirt sleeves whenever I saw Jason. We joked about the incident, but I was never sure if he noticed my sleeves were on my shoulders whenever we got together.

Operation: Mindcrime II Era Stories

Ronnie James Dio and Jason Slater, 2005-2006One of Jason's career highlights was recording Ronnie James Dio as “Dr. X” on Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime II. As Slater explained it, they booked a full day in the studio for Dio. He came in, knocked out his part on “The Chase” in just a couple of takes. Jason said the first take was gold, but Dio wanted to do it one more time, they did, and he was happy and wrapped it up. Geoff Tate said his goodbyes to Dio and left the studio, but Dio's flight wasn't until the end of the day so he stayed and hung out.

To pass the time, they cued up other tracks, and Dio recorded a bunch of alternate vocal takes. Slater remembered “Murderer?” was one of them. I talked to him about those versions, encouraging him to talk to Wendy Dio about releasing them at some point, but he was always concerned about what the Queensryche camp would try to do with them and kept those recordings close to the vest.

Where the files of those recording sessions are now, I don't know. He told me they were on drives that he saved when he moved out of the studio. I do have an .mp3 of an early demo of “Murderer?” But it's Tate on vocals and doesn't have a guitar solo. My guess is, in his last years, when Slater offloaded his gear to make ends meet or between places to live, the extra Dio performances got lost. I hope they resurface someday.

The thing about Slater was his stories were so incredibly outlandish, you had a hard time believing them at first. Staci and I used to drive home from his studio saying to ourselves “there is some truth in there, but we need to take it with a huge lump of salt.” But over the years, almost everything Slater told us, even the craziest stuff, was proven true.

For example, that first time in his studio in 2006, listening to Operation: MIndcrime II, he told us that other than Geoff Tate, the members of Queensryche sparingly played on the record (if you're a Queensryche fan, you know this already). He told us Scott Rockenfield's drums were painstakingly replaced, hit by hit, and another drummer came in and did some live drums as well. When asked why, he said Rockenfield was not interested in flying down to the studio to record, so he just did one pass on each song, at home, and the recording wasn't good enough for the album.

Slater shocked us by saying Michael Wilton was barely represented on the record. He had two riffs—the main ones on “The Hands” and “Murderer?” Jason recalled that he had set up two weeks to record guitars with Michael up in Seattle, but they didn't get much done, spending a lot of time on finding the right tone. Michael came up with those two riffs, but according to Slater, it was he and Mike Stone that wrote and recorded most of the rhythm guitar parts on the album. Slater's assistant at the time, Mitchell Doran, was, and still is, a great guitar player, and he wrote and recorded the guitar solo on “Murderer?” Most of the lead guitar on the album, Slater said, was played by Mike Stone. Although I think I remember Jason saying that Wilton played his half of the harmony solo on “I'm American.”

Eddie Jackson was someone Slater had a lot of praise for. Jason said he was the only one in the band that was a “complete songwriter” and played us one of Eddie's songs that didn't make the grade. I don't recall the name of the tune, but I remember it being reminiscent of Poison's “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” For those who don't know, Eddie has a great singing voice. We all have heard his background vocals. But I've heard him sing lead during soundcheck at Queensryche shows in the past. He's very good. Tate said one time that the only thing holding Eddie back as a vocalist were occasional pitch issues.

Slater said after Eddie heard Slater's bass playing on the Operation: Mindcrime II demos, he wasn't sure he had much to add, encouraging Slater to keep his own takes. That was the thing about Slater—his demos were all produced. Guitars, bass, drums, everything was always complete. But at Jason's insistence, Jackson ultimately played on most of the songs, although there are a few where Slater is playing. It's just uncredited. Jason recalled he had to stop Eddie from “overplaying” a bit, particularly on “Hostage,” which was the only song not co-written by Slater on the album.

Written musically by Jackson and Wilton, with lyrics by Tate, Slater said the original version of “Hostage” was recorded in summer 2003 and was meant for Tribe, but it wasn't finished when the record had to be submitted to the label. So Queensryche held onto it and began playing the song over the PA system after its shows in 2005 as a “preview” for its next album. If you search around YouTube for early 2005 Queensryche, you'll find it. That version of the song was before the band decided to do a sequel to Operation: Mindcrime, and it did not include any of the courtroom sound effects. Wilton had a banger of a guitar solo for the song which heightened the drama of Tate's vocals. In its original form, “Hostage” was more of a social commentary, and Tate sang angrier to match the intensity of the guitar. It really did fit the vibe of Tribe. Personally, the demo version of “Hostage” meant for Tribe remains one of my favorite post-Hear in the Now Frontier tracks Queensryche ever wrote.

When I asked Slater why they didn't just use the original version of the song, call up the Pro Tools sessions and splice in the courtroom drama, he said they couldn't. He explained (which I should have realized) that the drum sound wasn't going to match up with what they had on Operation: Mindcrime II, and if they had to recut the drums, they might as well recut the song.

Unfortunately, when Queensryche went to re-record “Hostage,” Slater said Wilton wasn't there to do the solo, and so Mike Stone came up with a more melodic solo that he doubled and was used on the track. It's such a shame they tried to force the song into the Operation: Mindcrime sequel. The original version had an edge to it that hadn't been heard from Queensryche in quite some time.

Jason also had a lot of great things to say about Mike Stone, who (along with Slater) sat in Tate's basement night after night helping create and refine the songs for Operation: Mindcrime II. “One Foot in Hell” was one of the songs that Stone came in with on his own. Slater called the original Stone demo “a bit too bluesy” for what they were shooting for and worked with Stone to “heavy it up” a bit. Slater also had high praise for Pamela Moore's vocal prowess and professionalism. He said Pammy flew down and knocked her parts out and was great to work with.

As his friend, the thing that bothers me the most about Operation: Mindcrime II was how heartbreaking the experience was for Slater. He was a Queensryche fan who loved the early metal albums from them. After his relationship with Tate was over, Slater told me how excited he was at first to work with them, particularly Tate: “Dude, it was fucking Queensryche,” he said to me. I think most fans who truly know the impact Queensryche had in the 1980s and 1990s understand that sentiment. Sadly, it was the mid-2000s and he didn't know what he was getting into. As most fans know now, the band had started its slow-burn implosion and weren't on the same creative page. Creating the bulk of the album in Tate's basement with guitarist Mike Stone gave Slater some cool stories, but it crushed him that the band didn't put forth, in his opinion, the same type of effort and enthusiasm for the project that he had.

I get the question all the time asking why Slater continued to work on subsequent projects with Tate and Queensryche if he was so frustrated. He and I had so many phone calls about that very thing. I kept telling him to bail (he had some incredible opportunities he passed on, including some potential work with Lucasfilm) but he was determined to create what he hoped would be a killer record with Tate. Slater was a musician's musician. He lived for making records. Even when not getting paid what he believed he was owed, he stuck it out, in the hopes they'd hit on something that made a timeless album.

Things like the live version of “Circles” on Mindcrime at the Moore got Slater annoyed. He thought the live version of the song, which features a beautiful harmonized solo between Wilton and Stone was great. Jason just shook his head at why the effort wasn't made during the writing process to come up with stuff like that.

Three Tremors

There was a time following Operation: Mindcrime II that Slater was trying to resurrect the ill-fated “Three Tremors” or “Trinity” project featuring Tate and two other vocalists. Slater called it “The Three Tenors of Metal.” He said it wouldn't have been with Bruce Dickinson, but he spoke of Klaus Meine of the Scorpions, Ronnie James Dio, and Rob Halford as other potential voices for the project. I don't think it got to the point where he reached out to them, but the project was certainly being worked on. I heard a few of Jason's instrumental tracks he was working on at the time. Some of them, such as “Metal Shoes” (working title) were leftover pieces from the Operation: Mindcrime II sessions.

Frank Hannon was one of the guitar players he had in mind for the group, and I remember going to one of the guitarist's solo shows with Slater at The Boardwalk, in Orangevale, Calif., just outside of Sacramento. If memory serves, it was my wife and I, Slater and his wife Erin, and one other person. Jason disappeared backstage and we didn't see him again until Frank was ready to play. Slater never brought it up again, so I imagine his pitch to Hannon never panned out. In addition, Craig Locicero (ex-Forbidden) was contacted by Jason to play guitar on the project, but declined. (Craig was trying to establish his new band, SpiralArms, at the time.)

Jason and I also talked about Ty Tabor of King's X. I'm not sure I have the timing right, because there were two separate times that we talked about the legendary King's X guitarist. The first was for this so-called “Tremors” project. The next time Ty was involved with something Queensryche-related was Tate's ill-fated Frequency Unknown Queensryche album (that short period of time two Queensryches existed). Slater and I weren't speaking then (I'll get to that later), so I don't have many stories from that time. But he did tell me when we reconnected years later that it was one of most regretful things he had to do—recruiting Ty Tabor for Geoff Tate's Queensryche album.

Slater was a huge King's X fan (one of the things we bonded on was our love of the group). If I recall correctly, Slater reached out initially to Ty Tabor in 2007/2008 about the Tremors possibility, but I'm not sure Tabor was interested in it at the time. King's X had just released or finished up recording XV, and embarked on a 2008 tour to support it. The back and forth between Tabor and Slater could have dragged into late 2008/early 2009, because I do recall Slater telling me that he contacted Tabor about joining Queensryche after Stone left. From what Slater said, Tabor was incredibly honored to be asked, but was loyal to King's X and declined.

But the second (or third) time Slater reached out to Tabor was in 2012/2013. As Slater told it, Geoff and Susan Tate wanted Tabor to play a solo or two on Frequency Unknown (the album features a host of famous guest guitar players). They asked Slater to reach out to Tabor, who agreed to do the solos if they were for a Tate solo project and not “Queensryche.” Slater tried to sidestep the question about it as best he could, Tabor did the solos, and ultimately, it was put on Tate's Queensryche release. Tabor appears on “In the Hands of God” and “Everything.”

Slater felt horrible about it for years. Thankfully, in the last few years, he reconnected with Tabor and explained the position he was put in and how much he regretted it. Graciously, Tabor waived off the incident. I can tell you that was a huge relief for Jason. Tabor was one of his favorite guitarists.

Mindcrime at the Moore & Take Cover

Following Operation: Mindcrime II, Queensryche had two other projects before they got to an all new studio album of original material. The first was the previously mentioned Mindcrime at the Moore, the band's live set documenting the three-night stay in November 2006, at the Moore Theater in Seattle, Wash. I don't really have any good stories behind this. I do know, however, that Slater was pissed as all hell he had to get involved.

As he told it, after the recording on night one got botched, he flew up to make sure Queensryche got things recorded on the final two nights. (Ironically, Staci and I attended the second and third shows, but had no idea Slater was there until after the fact.) Slater also said a few things had to be touched up in the studio. I distinctly remember hearing Wilton's isolated rhythm guitar being played over the monitors in his studio. I don't remember if that was what was touched up, but it was playing when I walked in the control room. I recall saying to Staci it sounded like Tate was sick with a bad cold, but in all honesty, I don't have the specifics on what kind of doctoring was done in the studio.

Take Cover, Queensryche's album over cover songs, was an interesting period in the band's history. There was a lot of talk at the time of each member of Queensryche choosing what songs they wanted to cover. My recollection, based on my conversations and visits with Slater, was that it was he and Geoff who selected the songs. I remember a phone conversation in front of my office building one day, asking Slater why Queensryche wasn't covering any Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, considering that historically, The Mob (Queensryche's early name before they changed it) played songs such as “Wrathchild” and “Dissident Aggressor,” respectively, in their prehistoric era.

Slater said Queensryche didn't want to go that direction, because they considered those bands to be peers and proceeded to tell me about the songs chosen. I remember he was adamant how much better he loved his own demo of Queen's “Innuendo” for the project as opposed to the final version. Personally, I like them both, but Slater did indeed mock-up his own demos of the songs that the Queensryche guys basically followed and put their own stamp on.

Jason Slater and Brian Heaton, February 2008One of our funny stories from that era concerned Queensryche's vocal “contest” where fans could submit entries of themselves singing over parts of Queensryche's versions of Pink Floyd's “Welcome to the Machine,” Black Sabbath's “Neon Knights,” or The Police's “Synchronicity II.” The way the contest worked, fans could submit their best entry for the show(s) that they would be attending, and the top-three (as selected by “the band,” although in reality I think it was Susan Tate) would do a pre-show “sing-off” in front of fans, who would ultimately pick the winner. That winner would then perform the song with Queensryche during the concert.

The Tates were not fans (to put it mildly) of me or my wife during this time. The Breakdown Room was very popular and a steady stream of fans were using the forum to express their discontent with the direction the Tates were seemingly steering Queensryche. (Which made it downright comical when Slater would post on the forum.) My wife Staci, being an excellent singer, decided to record an entry for their Take Cover singing contents—produced by none other than Jason Slater himself.

We hatched a plan with Jason to come down to his studio and record Staci singing “Neon Knights.” She knocked it out of the park, with both Jason and his new assistant, Leo Larsen, engineering. Susan Tate likely screened the entries, and we're pretty sure she caught Staci's and just eliminated her entirely (she obviously knew her name). But Staci, Jason and I always got a great kick out of imagining Susan's look when she saw who it was…and who engineered the session.

Around this time, Slater was tasked with something vitally important to Queensryche—the master recordings of the band's EMI/Capitol albums. They needed to digitize the masters (which were on tape) before they oxidized. So Queensryche had the label ship the masters to him, and he “baked” them so that the integrity of the reel would hold up as he digitized each of them.

I wasn't present for the actual work. But I was, to my knowledge, the only person to hear Slater's personal remix of “Jet City Woman.” He remixed the song with more modern production, bringing the bass up (naturally, given he was a bassist). Eddie Jackson never sounded more “in your face” than on that day. Ha ha! Slater kept a copy of the digitized masters for himself (not sure the band realized that), and each band member got one.

Not too long after, he was up at the Tate's house, starting the writing for what would eventually become American Soldier. He arrives to their house, and sitting, rain-logged near the mailbox, is a big box, halfway open. Jason sees it looks familiar, peeks, and it was the master reels he had transferred. Yep, Queensryche's master tapes lay rotting at the Tate's doorstep. Slater said it looked like they had been sitting there for days. He brought them inside—who knows where they are now.

American Soldier

American Soldier was a crazy record for Slater to work on. Writing for it commenced in 2008, with Slater signed up to both write songs and engineer/produce the album. But the Tates threw Slater a curveball, insisting that former Queensryche guitarist Kelly Gray work with Slater on the project. This didn't sit well with Slater. Most of the songs for the album were Slater's and he said more than once he didn't want Gray messing with his tunes or recording them. Jason said that he and Gray have a different approach to recording and mixing and since Slater wrote the songs, he wanted to engineer and produce them.

I understood his perspective. Jason always said repeatedly that he didn't get into music to be a songwriter for other bands. He just contributed songs as needed to get a project done. And here he was, having to acquiesce and let someone he didn't know engineer the recording sessions of his tunes. I wouldn't have been happy either. In the end, Slater just left Seattle, leaving Gray to handle the sessions. The band took the songs, modified them to sound more like “Queensryche” and American Soldier was born.

For the record, years later, Slater softened on his criticism of Gray and gave him a lot of credit for his hard work on the project. But at the time, the insistence of using Gray was certainly an issue that drove a wedge between Slater and the Tates.

Unlike Operation: Mindcrime II, which had a couple of songs at least partially written by band members, American Soldier was composed (other than Tate's lyrics and melodies) entirely by outside writers. Although there were two leftover tracks (“Home Again” and “Middle of Hell”) from Slave to the System (Scott Rockenfield's side project with Kelly Gray) that had Rockenfield as a co-writer, the album (musically) was written by Slater, with a couple of songs by Gray. One of those latter tracks was “Man Down!” which was released as a single. Slater was adamant that the song was written by him, and Gray was given credit for it. As Jason said, he figured it was “throwing Kelly a bone,” as he thought Gray probably never got paid for his work. Honestly, I don't know what the truth is, but to my ear, it sounds like they both were involved.

As Slater told it, the official story behind he and Gray being a part of the project was that Geoff liked Slater's songs, but the band was more comfortable recording with Gray. And unlike Operation: Mindcrime II, which had very little of Rockenfield and Wilton on it, American Soldier was indeed, as mentioned above, recorded by the members of Queensryche. The drums were entirely done by Rockenfield, most of the guitars, including the solos, were Wilton (Gray did a couple of small things) and Jackson did the bass. Overall, in my opinion, most of American Soldier sounded like a Queensryche album. It had the right tone, the guitars sounded like Wilton, Rockenfield's style was prominent, etc. I thought Slater was finally starting to capture the band's style, especially on tracks such as “At 30,000 Feet,” “A Dead Man's Words” and “The Killer.”

Story-wise, one of the funnier ones from that era was in August 2008. Slater was up at the Tate's house writing for the album. My wife and I were headed up to Seattle for the Pain in the Grass festival, at which Queensryche was headlining, and featured another favorite band of ours, Sevendust. I called up Slater, and he said he'd meet us there and we'd hang out. We get up there, I call Slater, and he says (paraphrasing) “Hey, I've got a problem. I'm stuck at the Tate compound out in the sticks.” He explained that the Tates up and left the house without him and he has no way to get to the show. (Remember, this was before ridesharing apps were a thing.) My friends who lived reasonably close to where the Tates resided were at the festival with me, and a taxi ride would have been too expensive. So, he was out.

But Slater called me back a little while later anyway, desperate to get out of the Tate house. I won't name names, but a person who worked for the Tates, according to Slater, had the hots for him, and kept being creepy and hitting on him the entire time. Slater was married, or close to being married at the time, and the advances were overt and trust me, very unwelcome! Ha ha! I can't get too specific, but let's just say the person wasn't Slater's type.

In fact, Slater called me a couple days (a week?) later, with the same issue—the Tate's left him without a car, and he had no way to get anywhere. My buddy Jeff picked him up. I'm not sure if he took him to the store, or to the airport (memory is fuzzy on this), but Slater had to get the hell out of there. It could have been the time I mentioned above where Slater just packed it all up and headed home.

As the writing for American Soldier wrapped up, Jason and I talked about the songs. He was extremely fond of “The Voice,” the closing track on the record. Yes, it's inspired by Led Zeppelin's “Kashmir,” but it's also very much Slater's writing style. He was very proud of that tune.

Another that Slater liked a lot was the lead track, “Sliver.” He may have liked it even more than “The Voice,” except he wasn't fond of the added “boot camp drill sergeant” vocals on the track. Not that he disliked A.J. Fratto's performance (that wasn't what Slater was saying), just that he wished a lot of the added commentary and stuff wasn't on there, as he felt it took away from the song. He loved the intro and then the clean verses he came up with on the track.

One of the songs I always asked about was “Unafraid.” If I pieced the timeline together on this song properly, this was a demo Slater wrote that went unused during the Operation: Mindcrime II sessions. I have a version of the demo that Jason shared with me that contains lyrics with Geoff Tate singing. It differs from the version that Slater's former assistant, Mitchell Doran, whom I mentioned previously, posted years ago and claimed that he wrote. Jason and Mitch were at odds for a time, so quite honestly, I'm not sure who to believe. What I do know is that to my ears, the song was very clearly written by Slater, and the solo on the demo version I have, sounds like Mitch.

I asked Slater about Tate's decision not to include lyrics in the verses of “Unafraid” on the final version of the song. “Unafraid” has a powerful, melodic chorus, and the song could have been a big single for Queensryche. The problem is that the verses contain spoken word clips from interviews Tate did with soldiers. Because of that, it doesn't really work as a “single,” per se. Slater told me that Tate wanted to get artistic with the song, despite the huge chorus. He added that the lyrics Tate had were also partially from a song called “King for a Day” that he had previously worked on with Chris DeGarmo (I have nothing to back that on, just what Jason told me).

My guess is, whatever song “King for a Day” is, part of the lyrics were likely on that demo version of “Unafraid,” and probably originated from the Tribe sessions that DeGarmo was a part of, or when Chris finished “Justified” in late-2006/early-2007, which was meant for Tribe (but went unfinished in 2003) ended up on the Sign of the Times The Best of Queensryche compilation in 2007. But the only ones who know for sure are Tate and DeGarmo.

Since Slater didn't record the band's sessions for American Soldier, I don't really have much else that I can remember he told me from that record cycle. I'm not sure of the timeframe, but whenever Tate did a solo tour of wineries, he asked Slater to be his bass player. Jason said no. Repeatedly. As Slater told it, Tate eventually brought on another bassist, who just couldn't keep up. So, without any rehearsal (despite being sent the setlist – I do remember him texting me a photo of it), Jason flew up to do the tour. But in typical Slater fashion, he never bothered to learn the songs because he didn't want to do it in the first place. So, he charted out the songs, put up a sheet music stand, and played with it on stage. Slater said Tate demanded he take it down, and Jason refused. He got a huge kick out of the whole thing.

Dedicated to Chaos

The writing and recording sessions for what was to be Queensryche's Dedicated to Chaos were comical. The whole thing was quite sad, honestly. As most fans of the band know, originally, the record was supposed to be just the band members writing and recording the album. But ultimately, as he knew would happen, Slater got a call from the Tates. According to Jason, they didn't want him to engineer or produce, but simply write the songs for them. At first, Slater said no, but he ultimately relented (I remember one of our phone conversations yelling at him about it – ha ha). Again, he had this vision of being part of a great record.

I won't bore everyone reading this with a detailed rehash of that whole sad project. Suffice it to say, Slater, Kelly Gray and Randy “Random Damage” Gane wrote a bulk of the material, with Scott Rockenfield and Eddie Jackson contributing. The result was a hodgepodge of different types of music—the “chaos” part of the title.

When I asked Slater how the writing process differed this time, he said that Tate literally just went through all his old songs written in the 90s and pulled out things he liked. Jason sent me a bunch of tracks with Tate's voice on them. Cuts such as “Miss America” and “Princess,” were (thankfully) left on the cutting room floor. His demos to “Big Noize,” “At the Edge,” “Drive” and other songs are also in the file he gave me. The highlight for me, however, are some nice unreleased songs. There's a demo titled “Can't Have My Money” that has some great potential. It sounds like the title should be “Take Me,” or “Take Me Down,” but I can't find anything similar in the Queensryche, Geoff Tate, or Operation: Mindcrime catalogs, so I assume it was never used.

There are a few instrumental gems in this stash of demos as well. One of them, simply titled “QR_Song_2” and has an epic feel to it ala “Anybody Listening?” or “The Art of Life.” The verses are open for vocals and it really could have been something. There's another one called “Turbo Knee Grow 3” that is a little chunkier and has a quicker pace.

“Moon is Bleeding” is another track from Slater's hard drives that was considered for the sessions. Tate's vocal isn't on it, and it was recorded in 1994, so I am guessing he passed on it entirely. The tune and vocal style of whoever sang it reminds me of the theme song from The Sopranos.

One song that Slater wouldn't give Tate was “Shine.” “Hell no, he's not getting that one,” Slater said to me. He absolutely loved that tune and was one of his favorites that he ever wrote. He told me he wrote and cut the track in the 1990s. I'm not sure who the vocalist is (he did tell me, I just don't remember), but the song is very inspired by David Gilmour and Pink Floyd.

Of course, once Dedicated to Chaos was released, all hell broke loose in the Queensryche camp. Michael Wilton thanked folks on social media for appreciating his “parts on the record,” and Eddie Jackson wasn't very supportive of it either. Ultimately, the two retracted their comments, but it set the stage, sadly, for Queensryche's implosion in the year to come.

The Aftermath

Unfortunately, not too long after, my relationship with Jason took a detour. During 2011, my family and I became friends with the Wiltons. Michael's then-wife, Kerrie Lynn Wilton, joined The Breakdown Room, and we struck up a conversation. I had interviewed Michael on and off over the years—of note is the Tribe-era piece where Michael was concerned about the direction Queensryche was taking. I started understanding the Wiltons' position with all the Queensryche drama over those years, appreciating the stance Michael was trying to take.

All was well until I received a phone call from Slater in December 2011. He told me that Geoff was in negotiations to sell the movie rights for Operation: Mindcrime for a financial windfall right out from under the nose of his Queensryche bandmates. His plan, according to Slater, was to do that and do one big 25th anniversary tour of the original album in 2013 and walk away at the end of the tour, leaving his bandmates high and dry. I wasn't surprised, but you can imagine the awkward position I was in when Jason asked me not to say anything to Wilton.

After I slept on it, knowing I was going to lose a friend (Slater), but trying to make sure the career of another friend (Wilton) was saved, I decided to tell Michael. He appreciated me letting him know and that he'd talk with Rockenfield and Jackson. Everyone knows what happened after that and the split of Queensryche that followed. There were two Queensryches, an ugly lawsuit I was involved in as a witness, a settlement in 2014, and life went on.

What was the most difficult thing for me, however, was a phone call I got from Slater in late-April 2012 (a couple weeks after the well-publicized “Brazil Incident” when Tate attacked Wilton and Rockenfield for firing his wife as manager of the band). My family and I were on vacation in Southern California, and after some innocuous chit chat, Jason asked me: “Did you tell Wilton what I told you about Tate's plan for Mindcrime?” I admitted that I did, and you could tell on the other end of the phone how crushed he was. I'll never forget it. I explained to Jason that I was in a tough spot—had I not said anything, the Wiltons would have their livelihood destroyed. But if I did say something, which I did, I knew it would break our trust and destroy our friendship. Slater understood, but said he was disappointed. I knew I did the “right thing.” But it was little comfort, knowing I had lost a friend.

My relationship with Wilton and Queensryche, The Breakdown Room's shift from a neutral platform to supporting one side of the Queensryche split, and where that went from 2012-2015 is a story for another time. For now, it's enough to know that I closed The Breakdown Room for good in December 2016 and in the months that followed, started contacting people to heal wounds. Slater was the first person I reached out to, in March 2017.

Forgiveness and Reconnecting

A lot had changed with the both of us in the almost five years since we had last spoken. I emailed him saying I regretted what went down between us and that while I still felt I made the right decision in telling the Wiltons, I felt horrible about the fallout and the impact I had on him. Here was his response:

“Brian!!!! I've been waiting for this day bro. I thought about the situation you were in when all that was happening, and I knew you were in a tough spot. You did the thing that I admire in you the most, you followed you[r] moral compass and didn't play the fence. It hurt, you['re] a brother, but I knew that eventually that same compass would sort things out. There was no betrayal, you stayed true to yourself, I couldn't be angry, just really bummed. Then the light started illuminating the darkness that was hidden in all things QR/ST/GT related, it became all too clear that all of them will do ANYTHING to make $. I got phone calls from people that publicly have talked about how much they didn't like me, acting like we were best friends because I was in a position to help make them some money. Then, the people I cared about and I thought cared about me turned their back when I was in the hospital and wasn't in a position of value to them. I've spoken no one from either camp in a couple years. They are all people without a code, that have spent so long look for the angles, standing for nothing and doing anything for money.......there is no helping/changing them. There is so much that just disgusts me, I'm not going to bore you with it, I'll save it for the book haha. Other than the good people I met (mostly fans), I almost wish I hadn't wasted so much of my life in the service of QR. More importantly I am happy we met, things happen, to me they are resolved, and I hope we can pick up where we left off, you've always been a good friend to me, and you can never have too many of those. I hope everything is well with you and the family and that this email finds you happy and well brother,
                       J”

From there, Jason and I did pick up right where we left off. My family and I went down to Southern California that May on vacation and saw Jason for the first time in years. He had been severely ill from a blood infection that wreaked havoc on his body. He told us how bad the infection was, how destroyed his kidneys were, and how he was lucky to even be alive. I'll be frank—he looked horrible. To the point where we thought he had weeks to live. Staci and I weren't sure we'd ever see him again. We helped him as best we could in the months that followed, both financially and morally. We did what friends do. He made a miraculous recovery, but he was certainly different coming out on the other side of that ordeal.

Many of his friends had bailed on him. For a time, some would give him a place to live. Other times, he lived out of a beat-up old car he had. As he alluded to in the email above and told me later, he felt very strongly that he was owed a LOT of money by the Tates. I've seen the royalty statements. The math seemed odd to me, but there's a lot to it that I've only been privy to one side of and at the end of the day, it's none of my business.

Outside of that monetary frustration, which affected his ability to help his daughter, Alyssa, and to put a roof over his head, Jason wasn't concerned too much with making money any longer. He wanted to enjoy life. And he did. He moved back up to the Bay Area. A friend rented out his pool house to Slater, where he lived for most of the rest of his life. To make ends meet, he did a variety of jobs, including working as a laborer picking strawberries. He never complained about his lot in life. He was grateful to be alive and loved the friends that stuck with him. He called me many a night just laying outside being all hippy-like staring out at the stars.

The next few years were an adventure for Jason. He decided to try and live cheap in North Carolina, partnering with a female singer/songwriter whose name I can't recall. It never worked out, but he got the road trip of a lifetime headed out there and back again. (I am not sure I can even give the details correctly, but in short, what was promised to him—a roof over his head and a string of live gigs—fell through, and he ended up living in a tent in someone's backyard for a while.) On his way back home to Palo Alto and the pool house, he stopped in Texas to see friends, stopped by the compound of Tool singer Maynard James Keenan, specifically, Puscifer – The Store, in Jerome, Ariz. After months of a beard, he got a badly needed cut, made friends the way he makes friends, and headed back home.

Speaking of Maynard, that was another funny story. Slater told Staci and I that he used to call Maynard “weenie boy” because the Tool singer used to dress up in a hot dog suit for the band Green Jelly to do the song “Three Little Pigs.” According to Jason, Maynard was really embarrassed and asked them to stop, which of course, Slater didn't. I don't have any pictures or videos to back up what Slater said, but I believe him. It must have been hysterical to seen Maynard in that costume and even more to see him get riled up at being called “weenie boy.”

Brian Heaton and Jason Slater, April 2018Staci and I made a pact with Jason in May 2017 that we would have dinner every year with him, no matter where we were at. We were able to keep that up in 2018 and 2019, having hours-long meals with him at Buca di beppo in Palo Alto. He was so proud of how our daughter was growing up and loved hearing stories about our careers. Jason sincerely cared about what was going on in our lives. He listened intently and asked intelligent questions. It wasn't just conversation with him—if it was important to you, it was important to him. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 lockdown took away our chance to see him in 2020. He spent most of summer 2020 cooking meals for neighbors and leaving them on their doorsteps. That's just the guy Jason was.

Other than improving his culinary skills, Jason was also assisting his good friend Craig Locicero (ex-Forbidden) engineer sessions for Craig's new band, Dress the Dead. I was so happy to see Jason back doing some of the work he loved to do. He did it all basically for free. I asked him about that, and not repeating the same mistakes made with Queensryche, and he said that it didn't matter to him. He said he loved helping his friends and could care less if he got credit or money. He just wanted to be there and help. He was so excited about Dress the Dead and felt like they were on the cusp of something special. I have no doubt Craig will give that band everything he has and honor Jason's memory along the way.

Looking back at it all, I think Jason knew he was sick and that the end was coming. We always talked a lot, but 2020 was way more than usual, and not because of the pandemic. He called me in early September wanting my advice on something. His tenure at the pool house in Palo Alto was coming to an end. He could either go down to Los Angeles again, crash at a friend's house and figure some things out, or he had an opportunity to move to Hawaii and disconnect from music and basically work as a housing manager. (As Slater told it, a friend was building some homes that they would rent and would build a small one for Jason if he managed the rental properties.) Knowing Los Angeles was probably way too unstable, I said there were worse places than paradise to live in. He agreed and Hawaii it was.

We talked briefly, for 27 minutes, 27 seconds on September 23. A couple weeks before he left for Hawaii. It was a quick call on a Wednesday morning. I don't even remember what we talked about honestly. But knowing how long our chats could go (27 minutes may have been the shortest real conversation we ever had - lol), and I was working, I sort of cut him off and told him to be safe and I'd talk to him soon and that I loved him. "Love you too brother" was his reply, and that was it. You could tell he wanted to say more. I feel bad I cut him off, but again, if you knew the man, you sort of had to at times.

I never spoke to him again.

You may think that odd, but remember, while odd for most, there were stretches of time that he disappeared. Months even. I didn't think much of it, especially after seeing a photo on Facebook showing that he landed in Hawaii. I honestly figured about mid-October, he was just enjoying life and I'd talk to him over the holidays. A couple more weeks went by, and I thought it odd he didn't call around my daughter's birthday. My wife and I nervously laughed it off, even though we had a weird feeling something bad may be going on. Honestly, I figured he was probably doing a bit too much partying.

Little did I know he was likely hiding being sick. His daughter Alyssa apparently didn't even know until some point in late November 2020. I reached out via text to Jason on Thanksgiving. I got back a response that was gibberish. I replied "What?" and got more gibberish. Apparently, he had been admitted to hospice and wasn't coherent. He was likely trying to text me back, but not able to do it. But I had no idea at the time and figured (because he'd done it before) he had lost his phone and some moron in Hawaii was messing with it. It didn't feel right, particularly since he was off social media and didn't respond to those messages either, but there wasn't anything I could do. I would have called. I SHOULD have called. But I honestly thought his phone had been stolen. Jason passed a week or so later due to liver and kidney failure. According to Alyssa, he passed peacefully. She lost her pop, I lost one of the biggest characters and loving friends I'll ever have in my life.

I share some of these Queensryche stories and memories on this day, because today would have been Jason's 50th birthday. Something we talked about getting together for. I was really looking forward to it. I hope those of you who are Queensryche fans have enjoyed this trip down memory lane and learned a bit more about my brother. He was just like us, a fan. But he had an opportunity to add to the legacy of a great band. Things didn't pan out—it happens. But in the end, I'm thankful he agreed to work with Queensryche. It led to our friendship and I'll always treasure it.

Rest easy, J. I love you brother. And remember, there's no “oohs” in metal.

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