Phil Soussan is the bassist for heavy-metal outfit Last in Line. But he will be the first to tell you how excited he is to be working with the former members of influential genre titans Dio.
Last in Line is touring in support of their debut album, Heavy Crown, which dropped last year. The group performs tonight at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg.
"What we've been experiencing in recent shows from both sides, from the fan side and our sides... it's just incredible amounts of energy. It's been great," Soussan said Thursday during a phone interview. "Material-wise, we're obviously pulling songs from Heavy Crown, as well as playing some old-time favorites to keep everybody happy."
Last in Line is rounded out by guitarist Vivian Campbell, drummer Vinny Apice, keyboardist Erik Norlander and vocalist Andrew Freeman. The group began playing shows in 2013 as a tribute to late Dio front-man Ronnie James Dio, who died in 2010. (Norlander replaced founding keyboardist Claude Schnell in early 2016.)
Campbell, Apice and Ronnie James Dio formed Dio in 1982 following the latter two musician's exit from Black Sabbath. The trio recruited Soussan's friend, bassist Jimmy Bain and, later, Schnell to complete the lineup.
Dio released their critically-acclaimed, platinum-selling debut album, Holy Diver, in 1983. The album spawned the heavy-metal classics "Rainbow in the Dark" and the title track. The quintet followed up that effort with The Last in Line and The Sacred Heart in 1984 and 1985, respectively. (Campbell was given the boot from Dio in 1986 and would later go on to join Def Leppard; Appice, Bain and Schnell followed suit and left the band in 1987.)
While Dio was burning up the rock charts and creating their own identity within the metal world, Soussan was busy in the studio with Ozzy Osbourne, recording bass for Osbourne's The Ultimate Sin album. Those sessions yielded the hit single "Shot in the Dark," which Soussan co-wrote.
"I think Ozzy, at heart, is very kind of childish and I mean that in a nice way. He's very slapstick," Soussan said. "Offstage, he's a prankster. He laughs a lot, he cracks himself up all the time. We got to know each other that way. I always got on great with Ozzy. Back then he hadn't become the icon he is today."
Soussan recalled going through weeks of production and rehearsals with drummer Randy Castillo before any of the tracks were laid down. He said the process of fine-tuning material before it was time to record worked in their favor and inevitably helped the overall recording.
"It allowed us to focus and build a really solid canvas. It also established a road map," Soussan said. "By the time we got into the studio, we were on fire. The only thing we had to focus on was purely how we were playing and not what we were playing. I still like to do it that way to this very day."
In addition to his tenure with Osbourne, Soussan has collaborated with a who's-who of hard rock and heavy-metal giants: Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, Billy Idol, Vince Neil, Edgar Winter and Toto's Steve Lukather, among them.
"The way I look at it, it's a very retrospective thing. I never really thought I made it," Soussan mused. "When you look back and see a body of work, you think, 'Oh my gosh, I did all this stuff.' But everything I get into, all of a sudden I'm excited about."
Soussan came aboard Last in Line in 2016 following the sudden death of Bain. He remembered watching his and Bain's career trajectory move in similar fashion throughout the 1980s.
"I was really thrilled for him. We were friends and got to know each other very well," Soussan said of Bain. "We were counterparts. He played with Ronnie, I played with Ozzy."
The minute he started jamming with the rest of the group, Soussan felt the chemistry click and lock in place. Soussan said he has been having a blast performing with Last in Line and is particularly proud of how Heavy Crown is winning over fans.
"I like the fact that it is just very to the point. A lot of material that's out there gets really complicated. This is an album which sounds simple. It's not simple to play by any means, but sounds very well focused," he said. "The sound of the record is just tremendous. In essence, it's a power trio. That kind of speaks to me as a Brit; I've always loved that format."
Soussan went on to compliment Campbell's guitar work. "One of the great things about (Campbell) is his sound is very raw and big. He doesn't use effects pedals... He just takes a Les Paul and plugs it in and turns it up until its loud," Soussan said. "When I'm playing with Viv, I feel the air move in the room. That's the best way to describe it."
As for Apice, Soussan described the veteran stickman as one of the loudest and "most powerful drummers I've ever played with."
"He keeps me on my toes," Soussan said, chuckling.
Soussan said it was his goal to do Bain and the music of Ronnie James Dio justice upon joining Last in Line. (In addition to Dio and Black Sabbath, Ronnie James Dio fronted Rainbow from 1975 to 1979.) "Rainbow Rising is one of the greatest albums ever. There was nobody like that," Soussan said. "Of course there are other really great singers, but they were different. He was a little guy with the biggest voice in the world."
Soussan said songs are already being written for the follow-up to Heavy Crown. He said the band is about halfway through crafting the album. "We all come into the room with no ideas, plug in and play around and see what starts to come out," he said. "The way this is coming together I think is terrific."
Last in Line performs 8 tonight at the Sherman Theater, 524 Main St., Stroudsburg. Tickets cost $27.