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Sully Erna: ‘When It Happens, You Realize It’s Special’

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LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 29: Godsmack frontman Sully Erna performs at The Pearl concert theater at the Palms Casino Resort April 29, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Godsmack (Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Scott Ferrall didn’t spend his Tuesday evening watching the Stanley Cup Finals (mainly because there was no game on). He also didn’t spend his Tuesday evening watching the NBA Finals (mainly because the game was over in the first half – San Antonio led MIami by 25 points in the second quarter and won, 111-92).

No, Ferrall spent his Tuesday evening at a jam session in midtown Manhattan, as Godsmack played six cuts off its new album, 1000hp.

Afterward, Godsmack frontman Sully Erna and drummer Shannon Larkin dropped by Ferrall on the Bench to discuss their band, their love of music and their love of sports.

Erna, 46, actually began his career as a drummer before transitioning to frontman.

“You know what it was?” Erna asked. “I was just tired of feeling like I was failing band after band because I was always under the control of whoever was the lead singer or the leader of the band. I started to play more guitar and write my own songs and at one point, I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to do this my way instead of trusting someone else’s lead and continuously not getting to where I wanted to go.’ And that’s when I made the decision to try singing.”

That was a pretty good decision. Godsmack is one of the highest-grossing artists in the United States.

Erna, who is from Lawrence, Mass., also dabbles in poker – as in, the World Series of Poker.

“I haven’t been able to play in a couple of years, but this year I’m going to really make an effort to get there,” Erna said. “I’ve carved out some time, and I really, really want to get to the main event. But I miss it. It’s definitely a passion of mine.”

Erna began playing poker with friends back home, which evolved into playing in smaller tournaments, which evolved into playing in bigger tournaments, which evolved into the main event.

“I went out and started playing and actually met some (guys who) really turned out to be great friends of mine – and they’re poker legends,” Erna said. “I’m great friends with Phil Hellmuth and Phil Laak and Antonio Esfandiari – some of the great poker players out there. Even Annie Duke. I actually sat with her. They’ve all showed me things along the way and helped polish my game.”

Larkin, meanwhile, was born in Chicago but grew up in West Virginia.

“If you look at the state of West Virginia, it looks like a middle finger,” he said. “I lived on the thumb, the eastern panhandle, Martinsburg.”

Larkin, 47, has played the drums his entire life and has known Erna for 25 years. They met one night in North Carolina when their bands wound up playing together.

“We ended up hanging out all night at my hotel room and exchanged numbers,” Larkin recalled. “And for the next 10 years, every time I’d come to Boston, I’d call him and he would come out and see my band. It’s funny because he had called me when Godsmack was rising and they had a record deal going on, and I happened to already be with a band in L.A. at the time and (had) signed and I couldn’t do it. My band put a record out and sold 5,000 records, and Godsmack put one out and sold five million. And I was like, damn!”

The band was a punk band called Amen.

“I’m a dog,” Larkin said. “I’m a loyal dog. I didn’t leave and go to the big guys.”

But two years later, Larkin had left the band and was wondering what his next move would be.

“I’m standing in my kitchen in California,” Larkin said, “and I got the call from Sully.”

The rest, of course, is history.

It’s been quite a ride for Godsmack, whose new album comes out in August. Erna has vivid memories of the band’s rough beginnings – of playing in small bars in front of no one. That never mattered, though. Godsmack did its thing anyway.

And then it just grew and grew and grew.

“I don’t think anyone can predict that,” Erna said. “You always dream and hope for it, but you can’t predict that kind of thing. And when you’re in the thick of it, there was even a point where the band started to catch a really good buzz in the area. We were just trying to keep up with printing more CDs, printing more T-shirts. They’re selling out quicker and quicker. But you don’t realize that, oh wow, you’re the band in the area that’s kind of blowing up. So you don’t really realize it when it’s happening.”

“It’s one of those things that’s very surreal,” Erna continued, “because you’ve heard no so many times in your life (that) when it finally happens, (you realize you’ve done something special).”

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