By Peter Lindblad
|Greg Prato's "Iron Maiden '80-'81" 2015|
Still packing arenas and stadiums across the world, jet-setting to far-flung locales that embrace them as visiting royalty, the metal legends show no signs of slowing down, especially with singer Bruce Dickinson at the controls of Ed Force One.
There was a time, however, when a very different Iron Maiden was ravaging England with a vicious "punk metal" assault that spearheaded the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
This was before Dickinson, before Nicko McBrain and the most well-known Maiden lineup. This was the era of lead vocalist Paul Di'Anno – as well as guitarist Dennis Stratton and drummer Clive Burr – and theirs was a raw, visceral sound that generated two classic albums (Iron Maiden and Killers) and eventually gave way to the more melodic and complex "prog metal" that made Maiden famous.
A new book by noted author Greg Prato chronicles Maiden's Di'Anno years in "Iron Maiden '80-'81," an oral history of the period composed through tons of insightful interviews with producers, band members – including a very candid and forthright Di'Anno – and other metal musicians. In some ways, it's also a history of NWOBHM, with a detailed look at the making of those first two Maiden albums and insider perspectives on why this lineup didn't last.
Prato recently took some time to answer some questions about his book and this volatile time in the life of Iron Maiden. Ordering information is included at the end of our Q&A.
Why did you decide to do a book on the early years of Iron Maiden? Did you feel in some way that it was an era that’s been somewhat forgotten?
Greg Prato: I was a huge Maiden fan growing up, lost track of them for most of the '90s, and then reconnected with their classic albums in the late '90s/early 21st century. And I found myself enjoying their first two albums (with Paul Di'Anno on vocals) the most of the bunch. I started reading up once more on the band's history, and noticed there was no book that focused solely on the "Di'Anno era" of Maiden. Like all the books I've done up to this point, it's a subject that I wanted to read about, but there wasn't a book on the marketplace, so I decided to stand up and do the bloody thing myself. To answer your other part of the question, early Maiden isn't necessarily forgotten (it seems like if you ask the average headbanger what their favorite two Maiden albums are, it's usually The Number of the Beast and Killers, the latter being Di'Anno's last album with Maiden) – I just wanted to read/learn more about it!
You talked about in the introduction how those early albums are the ones you enjoy the most, even though you were introduced to the band during the Bruce Dickinson era. It’s interesting that Mike Portnoy said basically the same thing. What makes those albums so exciting for you?
GP: Two of my favorite rock styles are probably vintage heavy metal and vintage punk rock, and to the best of my knowledge, Maiden was one of the first bands to merge both together (specifically on their first two albums) – Motörhead being the other band. And this style later served as the template for what became thrash metal. I also always dug Di'Anno's vocals – while I certainly appreciate singers whose voices border on the operatic (Freddie Mercury, Rob Halford, and Ronnie James Dio are some of my all time favorites), it seems like my favorite rock singers are those who don't sound like they're classically trained, but have a lot of personality in their voices (Di'Anno, Paul Stanley, Alice Cooper, Joey Ramone, Mick Jagger, etc.).
|Author Greg Prato|
GP: Not many were difficult to secure, but perhaps the most interesting way an interview was conducted was with ex-Maiden guitarist Dennis Stratton. I got in touch with a gentleman through Stratton's website, who explained that Dennis now lives in a remote location and doesn't do email or phone interviews, but what he could do is if I emailed my questions, he would get them to Dennis, who would then record his responses as a sound file, and I would then get it sent back to me! Mr. Stratton was kind enough to answer two rounds of questions that way.
Tell me about talking to Paul Di’Anno. He’s such a big part of this story, obviously. What did you learn about him and his relationships with his band mates from your interviews that you didn’t know beforehand?
GP: It was great speaking to Mr. Di'Anno (who also was kind enough to grant me two interviews, as more questions came up after first round). I wasn't sure how he was going to be going in, because I had read his autobiography, 'The Beast," which includes some pretty darn wild and dangerous stories. But he was a very kind and talkative chap. As far as his relationship with his former Maiden mates, it sounds like he doesn't harbor any ill will towards them, and that he recently had a humorous run-in at an airport with longtime Maiden manager Rod Smallwood, which he recounts in the book.
There’s such a wide range of opinions about him as a singer. Do you think he gets the credit he deserves from not only the fans, but also his colleagues in the business?
GP: Yes and no. Any serious heavy metal fan I would think is well aware of Di'Anno's vocal contributions and importance towards Maiden's early albums and sound. But perhaps to newer fans who may just be discovering Maiden and other veteran metal acts, maybe not – since they've probably only been exposed to Bruce Dickinson-era Maiden. But as you read in the book, just about everybody interviewed has very complimentary things to say about Di'Anno's vocals on those Maiden discs.
Is Paul right, do you think, that the New Wave of British Heavy Metal started and ended with Iron Maiden? And with this story, did you want to tell the story of NWOBHM as well?
GP: Tough to say – before Di'Anno told me that for the book, I would have said that there were other important contributors to the NWOBHM, tops being Def Leppard, Saxon, and Diamond Head (while a few veteran acts that were gaining steam at the time seemed to be lumped into NWOBHM at the time – namely Motörhead and Judas Priest). But after Di'Anno's quote, I can kind of see his point – think "NWOBHM," and Maiden is really the band that automatically comes to mind. And out of all the NWOBHM bands, Maiden probably stuck to their stylistic guns the most, and didn't soften their sound further down the line (not to take anything away from Def Leppard, who I think did the right move with the direction they went with on Pyromania and Hysteria).
Reading about Iron Maiden’s evolution in this book, it seems like Paul’s time had an expiration date from the very start. Was his departure almost preordained?
GP: Another tough-to-answer question – you're hitting me hard with these questions! It seems like Di'Anno and the rest of the band were going in two different directions regarding what they thought Maiden should sound like, Di'Anno wanting to stick with the "punk metal" sound, while Steve Harris and the others wanting to open up their sound (which eventually shifted towards a more "prog metal" approach). It would have been interesting to hear what Mr. Di'Anno would have done on The Number of the Beast material, though.
Who, besides Paul, is the most interesting character or interview in the story of Iron Maiden’s rise? Maybe Dennis Stratton, whose relationship with Paul was pretty frosty? They definitely have different views on Rod Smallwood, the band’s longtime manager.
GP: Tony Platt, who produced the "Women in Uniform" single (as well as engineered AC/DC's Highway to Hell and Back in Black) had some interesting things to say about what really happened behind the scenes at the recording session for that song (it was a cover song that supposedly the band was forced to record against their wishes, in hopes of scoring a hit single). And interviewing the producer of Maiden's first album, Wil Malone, was very cool – to the best of my knowledge, I don’t think he has ever been interviewed before about his memories of working with the band.
There seem to be disagreements over what went on in the studio during the making of the first album, at least between Wil Malone and the band. Does he get an unfair rap for the production of that record?
GP: I personally like the sound of the first record! Raw and live – the way most of my favorite all-time rock n' roll recordings are. I admit that the sound of Killers is better, but the sonics of Iron Maiden get a bad rap, in my opinion. That album still holds up well – both sonically and musically.
Whose reaction to hearing that first album or memory of making it surprised you the most?
GP: Well, obviously Di'Anno's, who holds nothing back in voicing his disapproval of Malone's production!
In talking to everyone, did you come away with a new appreciation for that first album that you didn’t have before? Did what someone said about it make you look at it differently?
GP: No, my three favorite all-time Maiden albums are Iron Maiden, Killers, and Number of the Beast, so I've appreciated those early releases for a very long time. I thought it was interesting that Mr. Malone explains that he was consciously going for a "punk meets metal" sound on the album – so it may not have been solely the band's doing.
What was the best Iron Maiden touring story you heard from your interviews?
GP: The late/great Clive Burr filling Di'Anno's shoes with shaving cream right before going on stage, Stratton going out for his birthday with Kiss' Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, an interesting story by Raven's John Gallagher about getting ripped off opening for Maiden, and Tygers of Pan Tang's Robb Weir almost falling off the stage backwards opening for Maiden…but being saved at the last second!
Everybody talks about the production of that second album, Killers. Was that the main difference between those first two records, or was there more to it than that? It seems as if there was a real sea change in the direction of the band in the aftermath of that first record.
GP: The sonics have a lot to do with the difference between the two. As far as the material, both albums are great from start to finish. But there is something about Killers – if I really had to choose a favorite Maiden album, I'd probably go with that one. Perhaps because there are so many songs on it that have either been forgotten or are seldom played live anymore by Maiden (namely, a song that I always thought could have been a rock radio hit at the time – "Prodigal Son").
What do you think set Maiden apart from the other NWOBHM bands? And do you think the other bands from that era were aware of the differences?
GP: As I said earlier, they appeared to be one of the first bands bold enough to merge punk and metal, and the fact that they became a global success by not shifting their approach towards a more pop direction. Not sure if the other bands were aware of the differences, as most NWOBHM bands followed a similar "punk metal" sound on their debut albums.
What would you like Iron Maiden fans to come away with after reading this book?
GP: With all my books, I make sure the main story is included, but also, I always try and include a few facts or stories that have never been recounted anywhere before. Ever wonder if Di'Anno was presented The Number of the Beast material before he left? What was Maiden up to when they learned of John Lennon's murder? What are Di'Anno's two favorite rock concerts he ever attended? All are included in "Iron Maiden: '80-'81," dear friends!
To read a sample chapter of 'Iron Maiden: '80-'81,' go to: http://www.songfacts.com/blog/writing/iron_maiden_80_81/
For ordering info (and to view Greg's other books), go to: