Public Enemy ready to bum rush the show

Hip-hop legends about to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

By Peter Lindblad

Chuck D. and Public Enemy were itching to unleash Yo! Bum Rush the Show on a world that wasn’t at all
Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of
Millions to Hold us Back
prepared for its incendiary political and social commentary or its revolutionary sound collages. In 1986, however, their record company had different priorities.

While working at the radio station WBAU, the emcee with the powerful, hard-hitting delivery and a keen intellect had already rapped on the Public Enemy #1 tape put together by PE’s sonic mastermind Hank Shocklee.  

As Chuck D. recalls, “It actually was a demo for radio promo in 1984 that created a lot of havoc,” and it was passed around from “Yo! MTV Raps” host Doctor Dre and then “… to [Run DMC’s] Jam Master Jay and then [Def Jam Recordings founder/record producer] Rick Rubin and the Beastie Boys as well. It was my first record, and it was actually supposed to come out in ‘86, but because it was in the CBS system … [Bruce] Springsteen pushed back the Beastie Boys and pushed back us, so we got caught up into releasing our first record in ’87 instead of ’86. By that time, a lot of the terrain of hip-hop and rap music had changed, and [Public Enemy #1] would have been groundbreaking if it had come out in ’86, but it’s interesting at least.” 

Coming off the massive success of Born in the U.S.A., Springsteen was about to unveil the five-CD box set Live/1975-85, and the music industry was abuzz with anticipation. Hip-hop wasn’t the proven cash cow it would become, and Public Enemy was put on the back burner.

However, their time would come, and when Public Enemy arrived, emcee Chuck D., hype man Flava Flav, the Bomb Squad production team, DJ Terminator X and the Professor Grif-led, fake Uzi-toting Security of the First World dance team turned hip-pop – and popular music, as well – on its collective ear. Touted as the “Black CNN,” Public Enemy addressed subjects important to African-Americans that white America was too scared, too apathetic or too bigoted to confront.

Against a backdrop of sirens, a crazy mix of samples, hard funk rhythms and minimalist beats, Chuck D. voiced his truth with all the subtlety of a howitzer, while Flava Flav – sporting his trademark big clocks – played the court jester. What they had to say was vitally important, as was how the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees said it.

Born Carlton Ridenhour, Chuck D. attended Adelphi University on Long Island in the early ‘80s. While studying graphic design, Chuck D. worked as a DJ at the school’s radio station, WBAU, where he met Shocklee and Bill Stephney. Sharing an interest in politics and hip-hop, the three bonded, and Ridenhour began appearing on Stephney’s radio show as Chuck D.

As for Flav, he grew up as a self-trained musical prodigy in Roosevelt, N.Y., playing multiple instruments. His teenage years were troubled ones, however, as he found himself in hot water with the law on numerous occasions and eventually dropped out of high school. Around that time, Flav and Chuck D. began hosting their own college radio show, while also working for Chuck D.’s father’s delivery service.

Soon, the various components that made up Public Enemy coalesced, with Chuck D. and Flava Flav out in front. Featuring Hank and Keith Shocklee, Eric “Vietnam” Sadler, Gary G-Wiz and Kerwin Young, the Bomb Squad was assembled, stacking a wide-ranging variety of samples on top of one another in a single track with an innovative cut-and-paste approach and avant-garde sensibilities. Whipping up a frenzied racket, with the noisy scratchings of Terminator X adding to the sonic mix, Public Enemy drew the attention of Rubin, who wanted them for his Def Jam label.

Though known for his production work with the likes of thrash-metal titans Slayer, Rubin took a hands-off approach with Public Enemy.

“Truthfully speaking, we never really worked hand-in-hand with Rick,” says Chuck D. “It was probably the first time he let something be autonomous, and we wanted to be autonomous. But at the same time, we welcomed Rick to add in whatever he wanted to add in. And I think he’s proud of that fact.”

Still, with Rubin around, the Run DMC-influenced Public Enemy assimilated elements of heavy rock, pushing guitars to the fore on their raw debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show in startlingly original fashion. Further on down the road, they would take it to another level. “I should say the first time we went into a rock-rap was Vernon Reid [Living Color guitarist] playing on ‘Sophisticated Bitch’ on Yo, Bum Rush the Show, and then on the second album, we had that Slayer sample [‘Angel of Death’] on ‘She Watches Channel Zero,’” recalls Chuck D., who says that Rubin did the mix for “She Watches Channel Zero” and loved the results.

While Yo! Bum Rush the Show finds Public Enemy in its developmental phase, 1988’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was a fully realized vision of radical sociopolitical diatribes set to the Bomb Squad’s game-changing, wildly original aural murals of stomping funk, free-jazz insanity and slamming hard rock. Doors didn’t just open for them. They kicked them down and rushed in, demanding everyone’s attention with irrepressible singles “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Bring the Noise.”

Anthrax was among those who were already listening. Drummer Charlie Benante and guitarist Scott Ian were Public Enemy’s biggest ambassadors among the thrash-metal community, and in 1991, they asked Chuck D. about doing a thrash-metal remake “Bring the Noise,” who wasn’t interested initially.

“Scottie Ian was a fan from the jump, man,” says Chuck D. “Charlie and him thought it was cool to wear our t-shirts in front of a hundred thousand people at the Monsters of Rock gig. People were asking, ‘Ooooh, who’s Public Enemy?’ So, he was our first guy, man (laughs).”

With Ian in their corner, Public Enemy suddenly had crossover potential, and to show how much he thought of Anthrax, Chuck D. invoked the name of New York City’s most aggressive thrash-metal street gang in the fiery original version of “Bring the Noise.”

“That was what made me name check them in the song, ‘Bring the Noise,’” says Chuck D. “I was telling ‘em that music is all the same – ‘Wax is for Anthrax.’ And so I’m name checking everybody from Eric B. to Sonny Bono and Yoko Ono and Anthrax – imagine (laughs)? So Charlie and Scott came back and said, ‘Look, we want to do a thrash version, Chuck. Let’s get on it.’ And I was like, at that time, ‘Well, I mean, I already did the song. You guys cover it.’ They said, ‘But we want you on it.’ And they just went ahead and did it, and I got on and we did the video, and we did the tour and Charlie and Scott made history.”

So did Public Enemy, releasing a series of powerful and oftentimes controversial records like 1990’s Fear
Public Enemy - Fear of a Black Planet
of a Black Planet
– their most successful album, with singles such as “911 is a Joke” and the blazing anthem “Fight the Power,” a track which figured prominently in the Spike Lee film “Do the Right Thing” – and Apocalypse ’91 … The Enemy Strikes Black. Even as they endured Flav’s drug problems and a media firestorm over Grif’s alleged anti-Semitic remarks in the press, with each LP, Public Enemy pushed the envelope.

“The whole key was to make them totally different,” explains Chuck D. “The whole thing about rock is to never repeat yourself … over the course of a catalog, you should be able to say, ‘Okay, wow! Now there’s something different,’ but you’re not going to not sound like yourself. But you can actually say that we went over here, and we knew that people wanted this particular sound, and we went the opposite way.”

Eventually, Public Enemy, hugely influential in bringing about a golden age of rap during the 1980s and 1990s, left Def Jam to go independent. In the years since, Public Enemy has resurfaced numerous times to challenge the status quo, experiencing a surprise revival in England with the hit “Harder Than You Think” off 2007’s 20th anniversary LP How Do You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul? It was their highest-charting single ever in the country. They even returned to tour in 2012 and 2013 on the strength of two 2012 albums – Most of My Heroes Don’t Appear on No Stamp and Evil Empire of Everything, made with full instrumental bands and Terminator X’s late ‘90s replacement, DJ Lord. Tech savvy, Chuck D. was all in early on in embracing the possibilities of digitization and the Internet, and he’s been instrumental in establishing the first-ever Classic Tourfest Revue, featuring Public Enemy and a revolving lineup of rap artists from the golden age of hip-hop.

“I was really impressed with what they did, over the years, with classic rock, how they separated classic rock from the mainstream – I guess [I wanted to do the same for] the pioneering, golden era and spirit of rap and what was happening in the mainstream, contemporary, major record industry. We need to take care of it,” says Chuck D.

Swag Auction Puts Vintage Concert T-Shirts, Jackets and Backstage Passes In The Spotlight

By Susan Sliwicki
Goldmine Magazine

These days, it's almost unthinkable to go see your favorite band in concert or hang out at a music festival without taking at least a little bit of the show home with you, be it a T-shirt or a baseball cap. But the items we see today in artists' online shops and at their merch tables weren't always so readily available.

That's part of the reason why Backstage Auctions chose to put the spotlight on concert-related collectibles at its Vintage Concert Swag Auction, which is slated run from April 6 thru April 14. The event will offer over 300 lots, which are dominated by concert and promotional T-shirts but also include jackets, programs, backstage passes and tickets for various artists mostly from the 1970s-1980s. A special auction preview will go live on Backstage Auctions' website beginning March 28th.

"People buy these shirts for two reasons. You've got one big group that buys them purely as a collectible, and as soon as they get the shirt, they neatly fold it and put it in a plastic bag and preserve it together with the other T-shirts they have. And, you have people that buy them to wear them as a simple fashion statement," says Jacques van Gool, owner of Backstage Auctions.

van Gool falls in the second camp, with baseball-style jerseys being a personal favorite. Concert tees often serve as a conversation starter, he said.

"I love them for their design," he said. "I think concert shirts are great, and they're meant to be worn." 

Of course, if you want to wear your band loyalty on your sleeve, so to speak, it can be a little tougher to do with vintage garments, which often tend to surface in smaller sizes.

"On the crew, you're hardly ever gonna find somebody in a size small. For the most part, these were manual laborers who were big, beefy, burly guys, who at minimum needed a large or an extra large," he said. And all the shirts from the 1970s and '80s, they are by definition smaller than today's shirts, because people were smaller 20, 30, 40 years ago. A shirt that is labeled large in the 1970s is comparable to a small today."

Although there's no official scale when it comes to grading concert and promo T-shirts, the concept is much the same as it is with vinyl records - right down to the idea it's highly unlikely you'll ever see a T-shirt in Mint condition.

"If you've got a shirt that is spotless, stainless, no damage of any kind, then that usually is or should be graded Excellent. Most shirts are probably graded anywhere between Good and Very Good. When you've got a shirt that's 30 to 40 years old, there's gonna be a flaw," he said. "When a shirt comes off the press, it doesn't get sealed or anything, so there's a lot of human hands touching it, and it's always going to be exposed to some degree of the elements."

It's very common to find tiny holes; small food, beverage or even pit stains; or some other degree of wear on these garments.

"But when you're talking about shirts that are severely stained, or have the arms cut off and the neck cut out - something that was popular in the '80s - anything along those lines should be graded fair or poor," he said.

Unless, of course, the shirt was worn by an artist, such as the David Lee Roth-worn T-shirt Backstage offered in a recent auction.

"We had photos of him wearing the shirt, and he was known for cutting not only the sleeves off, but cutting a sizable portion of the flank off the shirt, and cut the neck out. Essentially, it was a rag, just hanging off his neck," van Gool said. "If you or I would've done it, the value would've dropped to 25 cents. Since he did it, it ended up selling for $600 or $700."

Just because a shirt may be in well-loved, fragile condition, doesn't mean it lacks value.

"There are shirts, especially from the late '60s and all the way into the '70s, that are so exceptionally rare that you want to have that shirt regardless of condition," he said.

While condition is a factor in value, rarity plays into the mix, too. And determining rarity comes down to where, when and how the shirts were offered. At the bottom of the value pyramid are the mass-produced, official merchandise shirts offered for sale at concerts, and, in the case of today's acts, online. But if an artist prints up a shirt exclusive to one particular venue and offers that shirt only at the event, its rarity increases.

"In the '70s, people didn't necessarily buy merchandise at a concert. It may have been there, but it was an exception rather than the norm to buy a shirt," van Gool said. "As a result, concert shirts from the '70s obviously should be a lot more valuable than shirts from the '80s, which are in turn more valuable than those from the '90s and so on."

Next up in value: promotional shirts that were distributed by record companies from the 1970s into the 1990s.

"Record companies spent a lot of money on promotional shirts, and they were made in varying quantities, but some shirts were made a lot more than others," he said.

For instance, a variety of promo shirts were made for Bruce Springsteen's "Born In the U.S.A." album, and as a result, those shirts are more commonly available than others. But they still are rarer than a concert T-shirt from that same album and era, he said.

At the top of the rarity heap are promoter shirts and jackets, which were around mostly in the 1970s and 1980s and typically handed out to people working for the promotional company, at the venue, or, on occasion, to the band. A combination of factors make promo T-shirts incredibly desirable among collectors, he said.

"They were never made for commercial purposes, so they only made 50 or 100 of those shirts," van Gool said. "And second, they're great because the design is unique to the promoter, and the promoter more or less had free rein to decide how fancy (or not fancy) to make their shirts. Third, they're unique, because typically on the back of the shirts, it would print a couple of dates from that tour."

More than 100 such rare shirts from Bill Graham Presents events in the 1970s will be featured in the Vintage Concert Swag Auction. "There are some home-run shirts in there, like there's a Led Zeppelin jacket from 1977, and a couple of Pink Floyd shirts from 1977, and there are various Rolling Stones shirts from concerts and events, all from the 1970s," he said.

van Gool expects shirts from the Graham collection will be among the auction's top attractions, and he anticipates that some of the Stones and Grateful Dead T-shirts will break the three-digit barrier for bids.

If your budget isn't big enough to afford a major rarity, never fear.

There are plenty of lots with an opening bid of $25 or less, including unused silk (aka stick-on) and laminated backstage passes in phenomenal condition. Featured artists include Metallica, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Stevie Ray Vaughan, KISS, Queen and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and some passes are autographed, van Gool said.

The phrase "backstage pass" today tends to bring to mind an image of a laminated pass on a lanyard, a format that is both durable and prestigious, because it typically identifies the wearer as someone with access to the artist. Stick-on passes have their own appeal, because they were used for a specific date or venue, which can put them in demand if they were from an artist's final performance, or if something historic happened during that event.

Silk and laminated passes aren't the only ways that artists, managers and crew members kept track of who belonged where.
"In the '70s, they all looked so different, and it could be that you had almost looked like a business card with something written on it," van Gool said. "In some cases, they even used buttons as backstage passes."

The Vintage Concert Swag Auction will preview the entire catalog online beginning on March 28, 2013 then the bidding will go live on April 6th and run for one week.

For additional information and to register for the auction click here: Vintage Concert Swag Auction

CD Review: Saxon – Sacrifice

CD Review: Saxon  – Sacrifice
All Access Review: A-

Saxon - Sacrifice 2013
James Cameron’s “Titantic” had star power, amazing special effects and a budget that rivaled the gross national product of some small countries. “Made in Belfast,” Saxon’s blue-collar tribute to those who put their blood, sweat and tears into building the doomed luxury liner, was recorded for their rampaging new album Sacrifice with considerably less money and a leading man in Biff Byford who looks more like a motorcycle club president than Leonardo DiCaprio. And yet, it’s “Made in Belfast” that’s more deserving of an Oscar.

In comparison, Cameron’s interminably long film has nothing on the widescreen epic that serves as the awe-inspiring centerpiece of Sacrifice, Saxon’s third killer album in a row out now on the UDR label. As good a place to start with Sacrifice as any, “Made in Belfast” is an interesting anomaly for Saxon. Dramatic and devastatingly heavy at times, with a crushing, knee-buckling chorus as damaging as the iceberg that tore a gigantic hole into Titanic’s supposedly indestructible hull, “Made in Belfast” also sweeps across the Irish countryside on wheeling Celtic mandolin courtesy of Paul Quinn. And the aural landscape Saxon paints is breathtaking.

An experiment that works astonishingly well, against all odds, the contrast of punishing heavy-metal riffs, soaring twin-guitar helixes, and lovely folk accents is a refreshing change for Saxon, but don’t expect them to make a habit of it. Fascinated by history, just as Saxon was when they penned their own examination of the Kennedy assassination in “Dallas 1 p.m.” some thirty years ago, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal vanguards go old school and burn up the asphalt on “Warriors of the Road,” a fireball of delirious metal energy that’s a throwback to Saxon’s early ‘80s work. The bruising, hard-nosed contemplation of modern-day frustration that is “Standing in a Queue” is just as nostalgic, although it seems to pine just as much for the simple, but brutally effective, hooks of Bon Scott-era AC/DC as it does for their NWOBHM heyday.

Still hungry for new adventures, however, Saxon displays how enamored they are with the explosive, riotous sound of thrash on Sacrifice by raining down torrents of serrated guitar noise – designed by Quinn and his partner in crime Doug Scarratt – in the violent, feverish mosh pit of a title track. And they seethe with rage on the menacing “Wheels of Terror,” but Saxon hasn’t given up on melody, a crucial element of the classic Saxon sound found on “Guardians of the Tomb,” the bruising workingman anthem “Walk the Steel” and “Stand Up and Fight,” all of which feed on the raw fury and searing speed of Exodus or Testament.

The limited deluxe edition of Sacrifice is paired with a bonus disc of extras that find Saxon re-imagining a handful of their most revered classic songs – among them, a majestically orchestrated version of “Crusader,” lush acoustic takes on “Requiem” and “Frozen Rainbow,” and a frenzied “Forever Free.” Still, it’s the hot, molten core of Sacrifice and its brazen “go for the throat” attitude that ought to send old fans and new converts alike into paroxysms of rock ‘n’ roll ecstasy. Saxon's not dead yet. In fact, they seem to found metal’s fountain of youth, as Sacrifice burns with a relentless intensity – no ballads were allowed here – that belies their age.
    Peter Lindblad 

CD Review: Clutch – Earth Rocker

CD Review: Clutch – Earth Rocker
Weathermaker Music
All Access Review: A

Clutch - Earth Rocker 2013
Having a fast machine is more important to Neil Fallon than just about anything. Well-meaning people keep telling the Clutch front man he has to change his evil ways on the track “Crucial Velocity” from the groove-metal champions’ newest flaming chunk of blistering, no bullshit rock ‘n’ roll Earth Rocker, that deceit leads to jail time and cheating everyone is going to get him into hot water one day.

Fallon isn’t worried about it. He can always jump into his “Rocket 88, the fastest in the land” and drive away. They’ll never catch him, not with the slightly fuzzed-out, turbo-charged “Crucial Velocity” on the radio, at least. One of the best driving songs since Fu Manchu’s “Mongoose,” it practically demands that you step on the gas, even if your radar detector advises you shouldn’t. So does “Unto the Breach,” another satisfying, hell-on-wheels riff fest that turns on the afterburners and squeals its smoking tires before racing down the straightaway at unsafe speeds.

And that’s the direction on Clutch’s GPS for Earth Rocker, out on the Weathermaker Music label. It is always pointed straight ahead, and there are very few detours, aside from the cosmically soulful “Gone Cold” Clutch roasts slowly on a spit over some cowboy’s campfire on a cold desert night. Trimming the blues fat from their most recent releases, Clutch adopts a leaner, more aggressive stance on Earth Rocker, even if the Texas two-stepping boogie and outlaw attitude of the revenge fantasy “Book, Saddle & Go” rolls up a fatty of Tres Hombres-era ZZ Top and inhales deeply.

Tempos vary on Earth Rocker, as the stoner-metal heaviness, funk grooves and wah-wah radiance of “The Face” and “Mr. Freedom” – gurgling like a bong – chug along with brutal, calculating precision, organically growing ever more powerful and seductive, while “Cyborg Bette” sounds like Canned Heat on amphetamines and the full-throated roar of the title track takes full advantage of Clutch’s limitless horsepower. Primal and loud, these witches’ brews of chemically-induced mayhem mix screamingly efficient guitar solos from Tim Sult, forceful vocals, hammering riffs and diverse rhythms to make potent magic.

Lyrically vicious, defiant and unapologetic about anything, Earth Rocker is the voice of a modern-day warrior battling the forces of conformity and complacency and doing so while firing up a musical vehicle that is built not only for speed, but also for effortless and subtle shifts in dynamics. Get in and go for a ride. There is plenty of room in this Rocket 88. (
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: David Bowie – The Next Day

CD Review: David Bowie – The Next Day
All Access Review: B+

David Bowie - The Next Day 2013
Nobody knows what The Next Day will bring, especially for the unpredictable David Bowie. His future uncertain, having turned 65 in January, Bowie has been adamant that his days of touring are behind him. And having reached retirement age, it begs the question: Is this Bowie’s last hurrah? From the title of his latest LP, it appears even Bowie has no idea. There is, after all, an incredible amount of ambiguity in those three little words.

Does it mean he plans on doing more recording and that he’s going back to work … well, The Next Day? Or, does it mean he’s moving on to another chapter in his life, one that doesn’t involve music at all? It could be he’s confronting his own mortality and wondering just how many “next days” he has left. Then again, maybe it’s simply a more artful and humanistic expression of that old Yiddish proverb that, when translated, says, “Man plans and God laughs.”

As far as the planning for The Next Day goes, Bowie and his co-conspirators had to chuckle at how successful they were in keeping word of this new record under wraps. The Conclave of Cardinals was conducted with less secrecy. When news arrived that a fresh Bowie record was imminent, it was met with expressions of shock and surprise. That it could possibly contain his most inspired work in ages was even more stunning, considering the parade of lackluster and unnecessarily difficult albums he’d released since Let’s Dance or Scary Monsters, the LP that seems to have provided the template of experimental accessibility for The Next Day.

Coming 10 years after 2003’s Reality – the successor to 2002’s HeathenThe Next Day finds Bowie as open and revealing about himself as he’s ever been, and that, in and of itself, is noteworthy for a man whose multiple personalities and masquerades – from that of the Thin White Duke to Ziggy Stardust – have played out on very public stages over the years. It should come as no surprise then that, amid the treatises on loneliness, regret and wrenching heartache, questions of identity should arise in the alien soundscape “Heat,” with its quiet, martial drums, mournful strings and melancholic acoustic guitar strum marching gently under wraiths of lightly corrosive feedback. Here, Bowie’s weary, confessional expression of confusion and despair mesmerizes, just as it does in the elegant, smoky torch song “Where Are We Now?” Gorgeously rendered with dark, lush piano and watery pools of electric guitar, it’s a number that’s wide awake at 3 a.m. contemplating the erosion of time and life’s little mysteries. Sleep is overrated anyway.

Darker and even more stylish, with seductive, irresistibly melodic contours and a streaming pace pushed along by smooth, taut bass, “The Stars (Are out Tonight)” shimmers like a glassy city harbor in the clear moonlight. And Bowie’s increasingly urgent vocals and voyeuristic, unsettling poetry heighten the drama and paranoia of an absolutely intoxicating song that could rank among his best, even if it does bear an uncanny resemblance to “China Girl.” Even Iggy Pop, however, would forgive the likeness. Like Scary Monsters, though, the classy, well-manicured The Next Day spikes its arty pop-rock punch bowl with the slightest traces of intriguing discord, the off-kilter vocalizing in “How Does the Grass Grow?” being one example and the slashing guitar playing off the melodic buoyancy of the title track being another. In “If You Can See Me” the track’s compelling stop-start funk movements and dizzying array of beats – straight out of Radiohead’s playbook – dive right into a rushing sonic flood, as Bowie’s delivery shifts from robotic malfunction and threatening aspect to an all-too-human pleading for salvation and recognition.

Rather clunky and clumsily executed, “Dirty Boys” and the dull, thudding “Love is Lost” are minor missteps, as is “Boss of Me,” with its sleazy saxophones and alarmingly low energy levels. The interminable sameness of “Dancing Out in Space” is hard to get though, as well. Nevertheless, even these flawed pieces have qualities that make them compelling. Essentially, The Next Day is a tour of some of the most interesting and exquisitely detailed aural architecture Bowie has designed in recent years, and when the serrated edge, swirling beauty and propulsive drive of “(You Will) Set the World on Fire” breaks through the door Bowie is redeemed. Bowie is fighting against the dying of the light, and he’s winning, despite any doubts he may have.
–  Peter Lindblad

Saxon’s wheels of steel keep turning

NWOBHM legends return with a new LP 'Sacrifice'

By Peter Lindblad

Saxon's current lineup includes Nibbs Carter, Nigel Glockler,
Biff Byford, Doug Scarratt and Paul Quinn (Photo by Kai Swillus)
Dodging flying beer bottles and sidestepping brawling hooligans isn’t everybody’s idea of fun.

Biff Byford and the boys of Son of a Bitch, precursors to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal legends Saxon, always found trouble in one particular live venue in the northeast of England – in the industrial town of Burnley – called the Bank Hall Miners Club, but that didn’t stop them from playing there as often as they could in the early days.

As the lanky Saxon front man recalls, “The money was good.” And it had to be, because there was a real possibility that one or all of them could wind up in the hospital after the gig.

“It was a club for miners, as the miners had their own club,” says Byford. “That was pretty hard actually. That was a pretty hard place. There used to be fights there every time we played – not because of the band, but because there were two gangs that used to stand across each side of the room looking at each other, and then at some point, they’d all charge at each other and that would be the end of the concert. So yeah, it was a bit rough. It was like ‘The Blues Brothers,’ where they’re throwing pots and bits of beer at the band and things.”

Even for young men craving rock ‘n’ roll excitement and even danger, the violence of the Bank Hall Miners Club in the late 1970s was a bit much for Byford and Son of a Bitch. They had to make a buck, though. And, regardless of the trials and tribulations of barnstorming England in a cramped van and performing at clubs and bars where many of the patrons might want to take a swing at them, it beat the hell out of working in the mines.

“When I was 17 or 18, I was working in the coal mines,” says Byford. “It was difficult. It was really hard work. When you’re that young, you’ve got mates in there, and I wasn’t in there for very long. It was a dangerous place. But, yeah, I know what it’s like to work hard for everything.”

Perhaps that’s why Son of a Bitch, and later Saxon, originally had such a large following in working-class communities in the north of England and in South Wales, landscapes once dominated by factories and “cut off from the south,” the more pastoral area of Britain, as Byford says.

“I suppose people just wanted to go out on a Friday or Saturday night and have a great time and just watch a great band,” says Byford. “All these little villages or towns had clubs or bars, and we used to play them. You could play one every night for a month. And that’s what we did.”

The song “Stand Up and Fight,” off Saxon’s newest LP Sacrifice (a video of the making of the album is shown above), out on the UDR label, speaks to the struggles they encountered before the tsunami known as NWOBHM swept through the U.K. If the raging thrash and thundering traditional metal of Sacrifice – as well as other recent efforts like 2011’s Call to Arms, 2009’s Into the Labyrinth and 2007’s Inner Sanctum – is any indication, the indestructible Saxon has rediscovered the passionate intensity and raw energy that made their early ‘80s albums such classics.

Making a ‘Sacrifice’
Saxon - Sacrifice 2013
Sacrifice is Saxon’s 20th album, and for the occasion, Byford decided to take the con. Or, in other words, he assumed the role of producer, and he wasn’t shy about giving out orders.

“I just really wanted to make an album that I liked and not be beholden to the people who are not doing it,” says Byford. “The fans are quite happy with that, so that was good … there are no ballads, just good rock music, just good metal music. That’s what I wanted to do.”

The plan was to revisit Saxon’s most revered albums – the early ‘80s holy trinity of Wheels of Steel, Strong Arm of the Law and Denim and Leather – for inspiration, while incorporating the balls-out, crash-and-burn mayhem of the thrash-metal titans of today who were weaned on the NWOBHM sound Saxon helped establish.

“I mean, we went back to the ‘80s a little bit for two or three of the songs, just to figure out what made us great,” explains Byford. “I think ‘Warriors of the Road’ and ‘Stand Up and Fight’ are sort of thrash-metal-y like the ‘80s were, and yeah, I just wanted to play with Marshalls and Gibsons really, and just play and not rely too much on too many digital tricks and just play like it is really. Some of the stuff is quite modern, like ‘Made in Belfast’ is a really heavy song, with the Celtic sort of style. We were experimenting as well, but yeah, I wanted the songs to have that kind of push like it was just recorded yesterday, but still have that one foot in the past.”

Infused with Irish folk accents, “Made in Belfast” certainly has historical significance.

“It was originally just a heavy riff and a melodic turn,” says Byford, referring to how the song was constructed. “I wanted it to have a Celtic feel to it, so we went and Paul Quinn wrote the more Celtic part of the beginning and we put it in the song. We liked it that much and it’s in all the bridges of the song. And in Belfast, not the song but the city, I went to see the museum, the Titanic museum. And I just thought it would be nice to write a song for the people that worked on the ships really, rather than those who were [passengers] on the Titanic.”

“Walking the Steel” also expresses empathy for the plight of the working man, although this time it’s the construction being done on One World Trade Center – one of the new towers being built on the old site of the former World Trade Center, which was destroyed by the 9/11 terrorists – that stirred Byford’s imagination.

“I went to Ground Zero in 2011, and we saw the progress being made on the towers, and we were talking to a couple of guys there,” says Byford. “And they called it ‘walking the steel,’ when they worked up there in the clouds.”

Available as a standard jewel case CD, a limited-edition deluxe digibook, a vinyl picture disc, a digital download that comes with a bonus song or in a direct-to-consumer fan package, Sacrifice was mastered by in-demand producer Andy Sneap, who has worked on a number of recent high-profile metal releases.

“We’ve known him for quite some time, and we wanted to work together a little bit last year, or the year before, but couldn’t get to it. He had a little bit of time free ‘cause the Killswitch [Engage] album was delayed a few weeks. So, I asked him if he wanted to mix the album, and he said he’d love to mix the album. So, that’s how it happened really, just over e-mail. He came down to the studio to talk a couple of times, while I was recording the band, and we came up with a plan.”

Giving Sacrifice that contemporary feel was important for Byford, as songs like the title track have the heaviness and raw power he imagined it would, while retaining that classic Saxon sound.

“I’m a bit mixed really. I love the melodic stuff, but I also love the heavy stuff as well,” admits Byford. “I guess I’m a bit of a hybrid really. I love the melodic stuff – ‘747’ from the early albums – but I also like ‘Motorcycle Man’ and ‘Princess of the Night,’ so I’m a bit of a sucker for it all really.”

And he’s in absolute awe of the guitar work of Quinn and Doug Scarratt on the latest record, as well as the performances of the band as a whole.

“The musicianship of this band is great,” says Byford. “So it’s a lot easier to go to different places with this band than it was with any other band. So, yeah, it’s great this time. It’s really inspirational.”

Road tested
Back in the 1970s, Byford only had to witness the tough lives of his fellow miners to give himself the push he needed to make it as a musician.

In 1976, Byford, guitarists Quinn and Graham Oliver, bassist Steve “Dobby” Dawson and drummer David Ward – who would soon be replaced by Pete Gill – formed what would become Saxon in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, only they started out as Son of a Bitch. They toured England relentlessly, as is recounted in the 2012 Saxon documentary film “Heavy Metal Thunder.” The venues weren’t exactly posh settings.

“We played a lot of clubs and bars,” says Byford. “Yeah, we thought it was great fun, although they were very rough. There were a lot of fights and things.”

Part of the excitement involved having copious amounts of sex with groupies in the band’s van – which also housed their gear – after a gig. Their one-night stands occasionally got them into hot water.

“You had to have a good pair of running shoes to get out of the way,” jokes Byford. “There was always somebody’s girlfriend that liked one of the band members, and you had to get out pretty quickly.”
While the U.K. club circuit provided Saxon, who ditched the name Son of a Bitch fairly early on, all the thrills and excitement they could stand, they had bigger dreams. And they had no intention of being just a covers band, which only served to rile audiences.

“In the early days, we used to do like three sets,” recalls Byford. “We used to stop and have a break and then start again. And usually by the end of the set, all of them were pretty rough actually. And we really didn’t do cover songs back then. So a lot of people used to ask for ‘Smoke on the Water’ and all (laughs). And we said, ‘We don’t play that.’ And then they’d usually riot, you know what I mean? After a while, people would come to see us because we were a good band then, so we actually got on a little bit easier as time went on.”

Securing support spots on tours with bigger bands, including Motorhead, gained them much-needed exposure and expanded their fan base.

“It was our first tour,” says Byford, referring to Saxon’s opening gigs with Motorhead. “I mean, they were pretty big then in the U.K. at the time. So, yeah, we jumped on their tour. It was great actually. They helped us out a lot – telling fans to buy our records and things. They were really cool about it. They were great.”

Gaining momentum, Saxon got signed to the French record label Carrere, which put out their self-titled debut in 1979. Carrere, however, would experience financial difficulties, and when the label went under, Saxon was homeless. It wouldn’t take them long to find another label, and in 1980, they released Wheels of Steel, which yielded the singles “747,” the title track and “Suzie Hold On.”

So began a period of intense creativity and ceaseless touring, with Saxon appearing at the very first Monsters of Rock concert on Aug. 16, 1980.

Saxon - Wheels of Steel 1980
“We’d just gotten Wheels of Steel in the charts,” says Byford. “I think it had just gone gold in the U.K. So we went onstage … and it just was crazy, with 80,000 people going nuts, singing all the songs. Yeah, it was great. It was quite emotional for us. It was the first time we played to more than 2,000 people.”

On the road, Saxon encountered larger audiences and they were frothing at the mouth for something different. Much to their surprise, Saxon found itself at the vanguard of a burgeoning movement. NWOBHM was happening, and Saxon was taking notice “straight away really,” says Byford.

“It’s not like the U.S. It’s not like a massive country,” he adds. “In the U.K., it happened pretty quickly for us – two or three big magazines got a hold of it and gave us some fantastic reviews. You know, we played quite a few shows in the early days of Maiden, like at Manchester University and places like that. And yeah, it was a bit of a melting pot of bands really. I remember we played with a band called Samson back then. Bruce Dickinson was their singer, so I got to meet Bruce fairly early on as well.”

This conflagration of heavy metal and punk rock, combining speed and all-out aggression, was sweeping across England, as Saxon’s compatriots like Diamond Head, Budgie, Angel Witch, Girlschool, Motorhead, Tygers of Pan Tang and, of course, Iron Maiden blew the doors off the entire country.

“There was definitely a massive change in the size of audiences that had interest in the band,” says Byford. “I really think the magazines were a bit fed up with this punk thing. I just think they wanted something new to write about. And we were in the right place at the right time with some great songs.”

Humility aside, Saxon posted four albums in the U.K. Top 10 in the 1980s and had numerous Top 20 singles there and in Japan, at least in part, because of their insane work ethic. Striking while the iron was as hot as it could ever be, Saxon took whatever studio time they could get when they weren’t on the road. While Wheels of Steel was still going strong, Saxon released perhaps its finest recording, Strong Arm of the Law, which featured the title track and “Dallas 1 p.m.,” a song about John F. Kennedy.

“We were just very, very sort of inspired really,” says Byford. “We were just writing the first things that came into our heads. You know, they were great really. We had to work on the songs and get them sounding great – you know, with the arrangements. But generally, we’d have an idea and carry on with it and it worked out to be a fantastic idea – like ‘Dallas 1 p.m.,’ you know, I just sat down and wrote it. I said to the guys, ‘I’ve got this idea about writing a song about the Kennedy assassination and about when he was younger.’ And they were like, ‘Yeah.’ And we had this riff flying around, and we put the two together and it worked fantastically. So, I think that song probably took about two hours, from the original idea to the finished song.”

Not every song came together as fast as that one for Saxon, but with their touring schedule having expanded worldwide, having a hit in Japan with “Motorcycle Man,” there was less and less time for recording. Saxon didn’t mind the work.

“We’d actually not been out of the country before 1980, and most of us had never been on a plane,” says Byford.

Though they were spending more time on the road and in the air, Saxon didn’t do much songwriting away from the studio.

“Not many. Not many. I think we probably wrote ‘Princess of the Night’ on the road,” says Byford. “I can’t really remember many that we wrote. I got a lot of ideas for lyrics on the road, but I can’t remember writing one song on the road really. The guitarist might try something at sound check, and it would come out way too long, but generally, we just went into the room on Day 1 and started writing the album.”

Saxon - Denim and Leather 2013
With an ever-shrinking window to record, Saxon banged out another seminal record in 1981 with the fan favorite Denim and Leather, the title track of which has been a rallying cry for many metal fans ever since then. “Princess of the Night” was on Denim and Leather, and it was one of the band’s most successful singles, but in the aftermath, Saxon’s united front started to crack, as Gill departed and was replaced by Nigel Glockler for an upcoming tour.

Still formidable, Saxon kept their foot on the gas, releasing one of metal’s greatest live albums in The Eagle Has Landed. They were headlining tours of their own and supporting superstars like Ozzy Osbourne. And they brought down the house at 1982’s Monsters of Rock Festival. The tide, however, was turning ever so slowly against Saxon, as the glam-metal outbreak spread and NWOBHM started to fade.

Despite it all, Saxon released Power & the Glory in 1983, and it surpassed their previous best in sales. What nobody knew then was that Saxon was about to undergo earthshaking changes.

‘Crusader’ for truth
1984 saw Saxon sign with EMI Records, and they kicked off their relationship with a new album in Crusader, a record that critics found a bit commercial but Byford never saw it that way. And the title track is still beloved by fans.

“It was a song [written] from the point of view of a young lad watching the soldiers go off to war,” says Byford. “And yeah, it’s just a historic song, and other people have all sorts of different interpretations, but it’s just a history song, like ‘Dallas 1 p.m.’ or ‘Made in Belfast.’”

There would be other new releases in the ‘80s, including 1985’s Innocence is No Excuse and 1986’s Rock the Nations, although they lost Dawson in the process. Paul Johnson was hired as Dawson’s replacement, but Saxon was growing weary of touring. In 1988, they released the commercial disappointment Destiny, and EMI dropped the band.

Not willing to give up the ghost, Saxon continued on into the ‘90s, signing with Virgin Records. But after recording Dogs of War in 1994, Oliver was dismissed for trying to sell recording of Saxon’s 1980 Donnington performance without the permission of the rest of the band. To this day, Oliver and Dawson haven’t been welcomed back to Saxon, although Byford has left the door open for reconciliation.
“I mean, never say never – we’ll see how it goes really,” says Byford.

These days, Saxon’s lineup includes Byford, Quinn, Glockler, Scarratt and Nibbs Carter, who replaced Johnson way back in 1988. And this version of the band has been on an incredible roll, with each succeeding album since The Inner Sanctum receiving ever-increasing critical acclaim. Sacrifice might be the best of the lot, and it’s going to give the Saxon fans in Metallica and Megadeth reason to up their game.

“I think those guys were really into the old attitude and concept of our albums then,” says Byford. “They were very sort of … no particular style, just great songs played full bore – you know, no holding back. So I think that’s what those bands from the U.S. sort of liked about us, that metal/punk sort of stuff. So, yeah, definitely – and I’m sure a lot of them will like two or three songs of this album.”

Odds are, they will.

CD Review: Orange Goblin – A Eulogy for the Fans – Orange Goblin Live 2012

CD Review: Orange Goblin – A Eulogy for the Fans – Orange Goblin Live 2012
Candlelight Records
All Access Review: A

Orange Goblin - A Eulogy for
the Fans - Orange Goblin Live 2012
If the Hell’s Angels ever need a house band, they could do worse than Orange Goblin. These beer drinkers and hell raisers from Britain emit a gnarly heavy-metal roar as loud and smoky as the dirty exhaust pipes of an old chopper. And in all probability, like their brothers in denim and leather, they haven’t showered in months.

Or at least they probably hadn’t by the time they played Bloodstock and Hellfest in 2012, while out on the road supporting their late 2011 album, A Eulogy for the Damned. Welcomed with open arms by the great unwashed, the record knifed its way into the U.K. Top 200 upon its release and motored all the way up to No. 38 on the Billboard Heat Seeker’s chart. Taking no prisoners, A Eulogy for the Damned also conquered CMJ’s Loud Rock album listings by eventually grabbing the top spot. Still, as devastating and sonically brutal as A Eulogy for the Damned was, Orange Goblin’s studio LPs have never quite replicated the manly musk and hairy, brawling energy of the Orange Goblin live experience.

New from Candlelight RecordsA Eulogy for the Fans – Orange Goblin Live 2012, comprised of thrilling performance recordings from both of those festivals of mayhem with videos and documentaries packed into a lively DVD, fills that void and then some. From the first squeal of feedback, Orange Goblin and their grizzly bear of a lead vocalist in Ben Ward set out to pillage and plunder, with churning, furious riffage born of ‘70s proto-metal and a healthy respect for doom rock, thrash and heavy, psychedelic blues that comes alive in the raging maelstroms of “Red Tide Rising,” “Quincy the Pigboy” and “Scorpionica.”

Relentless and punishing, Orange Goblin – established in 1995 – skillfully and dementedly handle twisting, crushing shifts in binge-and-purge dynamics with teeth-gnashing glee, sending the recent single “The Filthy & the Few” speeding into oblivion, bulldozing their way through “Acid Trial,” and then mauling “The Ballad of Solomon Eagle” and “Some You Win, Some You Lose” in beastly fashion. Whether he’s beating a meaty, menacing riff to death or flying straight into the sun on unpredictably wild solos, guitarist Joe Hoare maneuvers his way through the carnage like some crazed motocross rider. Hoare tears the guts out of the zombie-movie tribute “They Come Back” and the sprawling, Black Sabbath-like horror of “The Fog,” as Ward, Orange Goblin’s Rasputin of a singer, treats chilling lyrics in a gruff and malevolent manner that puts the fear of God into anybody who hears it. And that rhythm section, heaving to and fro while seeming so certain of its direction and drive, doesn’t shy away from a good bashing either.

There’s a little bit of cowboy in Orange Goblin, as the psychotic, mesmerizing grind of the irrepressible “Round up the Horses” so aptly illustrates, and this live effort comes off like a never-ending bull ride that tosses its audience around like rag dolls. Summoning the ugly power and raw, massive muscle of originators like Blue Cheer, Mountain and Vanilla Fudge, Orange Goblin claws through the tattered Southern rock glory of “Time Travelling Blues” and the rest of this set list violently, sending the frenzied crowd into paroxysms of metal madness. Those who were there are probably still talking about as one of the best nights of their lives.
-            Peter Lindblad 

CD Review: Justin Hayward – Spirits of the Western Sky

CD Review: Justin Hayward  Spirits of the Western Sky
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Review: B

Justin Hayward - Spirits of the Western Sky 2013
Justin Hayward hasn’t completely gone country. Only part of Spirits of the Western Sky, Hayward’s first solo album since 1996’s The View from the Hill, was recorded in Nashville, and it doesn’t take an Earl Scruggs or an Emmylou Harris to figure out which songs he did in Music City.

Accented with plucked banjo, some light fiddle and mandolin, the gorgeously rendered, heartfelt acoustic sketches “It’s Cold Outside of Your Heart,” “What You Resist Persists” and “Broken Dream” roll around in down-home bluegrass and glow incandescently, like fireflies trapped in a Mason jar. And the breezy pop touch of “Captivated by You,” seemingly spun from pure ‘70s soft-rock gold, could easily have taken inspiration from some of country’s best songwriters – that is if the choruses weren’t so lushly orchestrated. 

Concerned as always with matters of the heart and spirituality, the Moody Blues’ lead vocalist and guitarist also spent time recording in Genoa, Italy, and there’s a sophisticated pop sensibility at work here that takes advantage of Academy Award-winning composer Anne Dudley’s much-ballyhooed skills. Always willing to flesh out skeletal arrangements with orchestral flourishes, as the Moody Blues have often done, Hayward strums his acoustic guitar so lightly that it’s almost whispering as he puts Dudley’s talents to work on such dreamy, string-laden fare as “One Day, Someday,” “The Eastern Sun” and “The Western Sky.” None of them are quite as intoxicating as the melodic cocktails served by Burt Bacharach or as mysterious and bruised as the soul of Nick Drake, but Hayward is getting close.

What sinks Spirits of the Western Sky is how drenched in heavy-handed sentimentality – both musically and lyrically – the record is, as the always-earnest Hayward just can’t help but go overboard on “In Your Blue Eyes” and whitewash “On the Road to Love” in utter pop blandness. A romantic at heart, Hayward is always going to go for the grand heartfelt gesture, and sometimes it’s truly gorgeous and sometimes it’s the wan, sickly “Lazy Afternoon” that comes through the door. And then there’s the matter of the two remixed electronic dance versions of the Moody Blues favorite “Out There Somewhere” that close Spirits of the Western Sky. Surprisingly contemporary sounding – unlike that dated, cringe-worthy album cover – and hypnotic, they still feel as completely out of place as … well, Justin Hayward at a rave.

-          Peter Lindblad

CD Reviews: U.D.O. – Mean Machine and Man and Machine

Mean Machine: Anniversary Edition
AFM Records
All Access Review: A-

Man and Machine: Anniversary Edition
AFM Records
All Access Review: B+

U.D.O. - Mean Machine Anniversary Edition 2013
Cutting the cord with Accept proved to be more difficult than Udo Dirkschneider imagined. In 1987, this short, stocky, powder keg of a singer announced his separation from a metal band that’s always been “balls to the wall.” Intending to go solo, he assembled a band of mercenary gunslingers to make his new project, U.D.O., the scourge of true German heavy metal.

Parting ways on the friendliest of terms, the two parties divorced. Only Udo wasn’t quite prepared to go it alone right away with his new playmates, seeing as how his former Accept songwriting partners created and crafted the content for U.D.O.’s debut LP, Animal House, which sounded a lot like classic Accept – intense, aggressive, engorged with testosterone and defiant, with just a hint of melody to sweeten the deal and hooks galore.

Interestingly, by the time U.D.O. set about recording their sophomore outing, Mean Machine, Dirkschneider had sent packing three-fourths of the original U.D.O., leaving only guitarist Mathias Dieth to forge ahead with Dirkschneider and newcomers Andy Susemihl on guitar, Stefan Schwarzmann on drums and Thomas Smuszynski on bass. This time, the remaining members of Accept stayed out of it. With fresh troops having arrived, U.D.O. was ready was battle.

U.D.O. - Man and Machine Anniversary Edition 2013
Their first salvo was 1988’s Mean Machine, a solid, workmanlike effort propelled by brawny riffs, searing guitar solos, hard-nosed, pulverizing rhythms, shouted backing vocals and Udo’s menacing wildcat howl. Part of a massive 2013 reissue campaign initiated by AFM Records to unearth U.D.O.’s entire back catalog – meant to coincide with U.D.O.’s 25th anniversary – Mean Machine was included in the second wave of re-releases that hit U.S. shores on Feb. 12, along with Animal House, Faceless World and Timebomb. And it may be the best of the bunch.

Forging straight ahead, with the emphasis on power, violence and excitement, Mean Machine practically spits nails, offering a series of vicious, bloody-knuckled traditional metal attacks like the electrifying “Don’t Look Back,” “Dirty Boys” and “Break the Rules” – these brawls of blistering hard rock, where lead pipes and chains are perfectly acceptable weapons and Udo is orchestrating the fighting with his feral utterances and ferocious delivery. Simmering with tension, “Streets of Fire” explodes into thunderous choruses, while “We’re History” goes on a curb-stomping spree of metal riffage that effectively, and in no uncertain terms, ends a relationship built on lies. A dark, melancholic ballad, “Sweet Little Child” floats in on tendrils of piano and makes for wonderful, almost Gothic drama, but it’s only a short layover of tenderness and mercy before the sonic crunch of “Catch My Fall” bites down hard.

Like the rest of them, Mean Machine gets a graphic makeover and comes with a bit of bonus material. In this case, it is packaged with a live version of “Break the Rules” that is meaner and nastier than the original, plus the video for the song of the same title. Meanwhile, Man and Machine, initially put out in 2002, is not nearly as raw as Mean Machine, but it is a more polished, if less consistent, piece of work. Augmented by a punishing concert version of the title track and a remix of Udo’s original duet with Doro Pesch on the dream-like “Dancing with an Angel,” this cringe-inducing astral projection of softly melodic incandescence, Man and Machine begins with the pummeling, dystopian industrial nightmare of a title track and and its high points are more glorious than those of Mean Machine.

Sweeping epics “Like a Lion,” “Animal Instinct” and the exotic “Unknown Traveller” build on the instrumental grandeur of Led Zeppelin and the roaring emotions of power metal, while a churning, meaty “The Dawn of the Gods” growls and snarls with primal, animalistic fervor. Along with Solid, No Limits, and Holy, the re-released Man and Machine arrived in late January in the first batch of reissues, representing U.D.O.’s later period. Why some of these anniversary editions feature more bonus tracks than others is puzzling, and you wish each album would include liner notes that might shed additional light on the inner workings and history of U.D.O., although at least Man and Machine has a plethora of behind-the-scenes, studio photos of bassist Fitty Weinhold, drummer Lorenzo Milani, and guitarists Igor Gianola and Stefan Kaufmann, both of whom recently announced their departures from U.D.O.

Some of these records have been out of print for a while now, and while U.D.O. hasn’t really distinguished itself from Accept over the years in any meaningful way, it’s nice to have them back. Still, had more thought been put into the packaging of each reissue, the word “essential” might apply here. (
      Peter Lindblad

Ace Frehley goes all in

Lydia Criss has more KISS stories to tell in the second printing of "Sealed with a KISS"

By Peter Lindblad

Sealed with a KISS - Lydia Criss 2013
As the ex-wife of one of the most recognizable drummers in the world in Peter Criss, Lydia Criss has plenty of stories to tell about her days with the “hottest band in the world. Interviewed at length recently, Lydia has a lot to say about Peter, KISS and all who had a hand in helping drive KISS to the top, and we’ll have a much more expansive Q&A with her in future postings.

As a teaser, however, Lydia provided a couple of her own Ace Frehley anecdotes.

By now, everyone knows how Frehley walked into his audition for Wicked Lester wearing one orange sneaker and one red one. Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Peter Criss – the group’s newest recruit – could only stare as the long-haired Frehley strolled confidently past them to plug in and play.

As they have all expressed in interviews over the years, none of the three expected much from Frehley, given how he looked. Against all odds, however, the mercurial Frehley impressed them with his prowess on the guitar, and the rest is KISStory, as they say.

Lydia Criss knows the story of Frehley’s odd introduction to his future band mates well. She writes about it in her book,“Sealed with a Kiss,” which is now in it's second printing with additional stories and photos. The book can be purchased by going to

For Lydia, Ace “is a story in himself.” This is, after all, the man who brought a smoking flute onto the set of VH1’s “That Metal Show.”

“He’s a character,” she adds.

One of the tales she could tell about Ace – which is included in her recently revived and expanded biography “Sealed with a Kiss” – does get rather blue and involves a hotel balcony and a female companion. You’ll have to get the book to read that one. We’re not going to spoil it for you.

There are others, though … many others.

KISS - Ace Frehley 
I’ve got a story about Ace. I probably don’t have it in the book. Okay … well, maybe I do. I’m not sure,” says the Brooklyn-born Lydia, the former Lydia Di Leonardo, who was married to Peter Criss from 1970 to 1979. “Anyway, Ace is here one day. He’s at my apartment, and he’s going over to see this girl Linda, who lives on 72nd. I’m like a couple of blocks away from there. A few blocks from the Dakota. So he’s going over to see Linda, and he goes, ‘Lydia, could you lend me $20?’ I said, ‘$20? What the hell are you going to do with $20?’ And he says, ‘Oh, you know, just in case I need $20.’ I said, ‘Ace, I’ll give you $50.’ So I went over the safe and got $50 out of the safe and I gave him $50, and he goes, ‘Hey, you got a lot of money?’ And I said, ‘No, but I’ve got money.’ And he goes, ‘Will you marry me?’ Needless to say, I never got the $50 back (laughs).”

Matrimony wasn’t in the cards for Lydia and Ace, but he would get the chance to win back that $50 for Lydia.

“He loves to gamble. I was at his apartment once. It was me and [Frehley’s ex-wife] Jeanette Trerotola,” recalls Lydia. “We were at the apartment, and he took a Lear jet to Atlantic City, and he called up Jeanette. And he says, ‘Jeanette, I’m not coming home tonight.’ She goes, ‘What do you mean?’ We were in his Manhattan apartment. He had a house at that point I think it was up in Irvington, New York. It was just a rental. Or maybe he owned it. I’m not sure. He might have owned it. I’m not sure, but it wasn’t the big house that he bought in Wilson, N.Y. He goes, ‘I’m not coming home.’ And she goes, ‘Why not?’ And he says, ‘Because I’m winning $40,000. I’m up $40,000. And I’m not coming home. We’re rained in.’ And she goes, ‘Okay, fine.’ The next day he takes the plane out and comes home with $25,000. She goes, ‘What happened to the other $15,000?’ And he goes, ‘Well, I lost it. And I also bought you a mink coat (laughs).’ He’s hysterical.”

There are plenty of funny and touching moments in Lydia’s book, which is jam-packed with KISS photos taken by Lydia and a treasure trove of KISS memorabilia. Riding a rollercoaster of emotions, Lydia’s book tells the story of KISS’s rise to fame through the eyes of someone who was there, experiencing all the highs and lows the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle has to offer.

We’ll have a much more expansive Q&A with her in future postings.

CD Review: W.E.T. – Rise Up

CD Review: W.E.T.  Rise Up
Frontiers Records
All Access Review: B

W.E.T. - Rise Up 2013
The “T” stands for Talisman, Jeff Scott Soto’s old band. The singer has been one-third of W.E.T. since 2009, the year Marcel Jacob, bassist and founding member of Talisman, committed suicide after struggling with debilitating health problems. As for the “W” and “E,” they represent Work of Art and Eclipse, the two Swedish melodic rock bands that feature the multi-instrumental work of Robert Sall and Erik Martensson, respectively.

Introductions are necessary, because besides Soto, who has performed with the likes of Journey, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Yngwie Malmsteen, the rest of this “super group” is virtually unknown outside of Europe. Their sophomore LP, Rise Up, may change all that. Pregnant with huge, sing-along choruses, unexpectedly heavy guitars, voluminous keyboards and earnest, bighearted melodies, Rise Up is intentionally and completely out of step with the times, flooded with powerful adrenaline rushes like “Bad Boy” and “On the Run” that wish it was the ‘80s all over again.

Not at all subtle, Rise Up doesn’t want to be a record that grows on you. Immediacy is what W.E.T. is after, and though there are layers of instrumentation to excavate, Rise Up would rather go for the early knockout, with songs that are easy – almost too easy – to like and technically brilliant playing to boot. Vibrant and inspiring, this is a record with a bumper crop of singles, chock full of uplifting, three- to four-minute songs – like the inspiring title track, the life-affirming “Learn to Live Again” and the surging “Walk Away” – awash in slick, beefed-up production values and bursting at the seams with the kind of strong pop-metal hooks and dramatic currents Def Leppard wishes they could still write.

Rise Up should come with a warning, though, as miserable cynics and other cold, dark, unfeeling bastards might choke on their own bile while trying to swallow the defiant optimism found in hopeful anthems “What You Want,” “Broken Wings,” and “Still Unbroken.” And the amount of sickly treacle spilling out of the overwrought ballad “Love Heals” could induce vomiting. Riddled with rock-and-roll clich├ęs, Rise Up amazingly still somehow manages to sound fresh and alive – perhaps because the sparkling production, though polished to a shiny sheen, has a contemporary edge and feel to it. Then there’s the guitar riffage, impressively muscular and dramatic, while Sall and Martensson prove themselves capable of producing fireworks displays of soloing that could light up the sky. Another more likely reason: the songwriting is that good, even if Rise Up has one foot in the ‘80s and another in the new millennium. (
                Peter Lindblad