Anthrax on the verge

Changing singers on the fly in hopes of 'Spreading The Disease'
By Peter Lindblad

Anthrax's "Spreading The Disease"
Neil Turbin's days with thrash-metal titans Anthrax were tumultuous to say the least.

Tensions between the band and its lead singer in the early- to mid-'80s were always simmering and threatening to boil over. In late summer 1984, the divorce was finalized, leading to a search for a new vocalist.

For a brief time, Anthrax hitched its wagon to former Skid Row singer Matt Fallon. Carl Canedy knew the shotgun marriage wasn't going to work.

"After a week of working with him, he just wasn’t cutting it," said Canedy, drummer for '80s metal hellions The Rods and an executive producer on Anthrax's Armed and Dangerous EP, as well as their classic Spreading The Disease album. "He wasn’t the right fit for the band. And I told the band to get to this next level, this isn’t the guy who’s going to take you there."

Most recently, Canedy was involved in overseeing an archival release of material from his overlooked, pre-Rods band Kelakos called "Uncorked: Rare Tracks From a Vintage '70s Band." An East Coast '70s act whose classic-rock sound had more in common with Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Santana and the Allman Brothers than the Judas Priests and Black Sabbaths of the world, Kelakos wouldn't survive long, their music perhaps too diverse for a major label to stomach.

In the mid-'80s, Canedy was part of a team trying to shepherd Anthrax into major-label stardom. He believed it was only a matter of time before they broke it big.

"Having worked with a lot of bands, and having gone through the process of wanting to be signed to a major label and what it takes and how focused you have to be, I saw that in spades with them," said Canedy. "Those guys were laser focused and super talented. I remember telling (drummer) Charlie (Benante), 'You’re going to be a Modern Drummer guy. People are going to fall in love with your playing."

Anthrax had a lot going for them, especially with manager Jon Zazula, aka Jonny Z, in their corner. The founder of Megaforce Records, Zazula was consulted about the issue with the lead vocalist. Quickly and decisively, a decision was made.

"I told the band, and they said, 'Get Johnny on the phone,' and I called Johnny Z, their manager and record label [guy], and I told Johnny what was up, and he said, 'Put the band on the phone,'" recalls Canedy. "And they went into the conference room, and five minutes later, they put me back on the phone with Johnny, and he said, 'He’s over.' He said, 'I’m putting him on the bus.' And that was it, and they made that decision. They were doing their third record, and there was no singer. It was incredible … it was as brave a move as I’ve ever seen, but they knew. They understood what I was saying, and they did it."

Through friends, Canedy was able to help Anthrax find Joey Belladonna, and the rest was history. "And he came in and it was just a great fit," said Canedy. "I mean, we knew right away he was the guy."

Anthrax - Armed and Dangerous
Still, the Anthrax camp didn't want to throw Belladonna into the deep end right away, according to Canedy. "Well, Armed and Dangerous was really an EP, and it was done rather quickly and for product for them," remembers Canedy. "And so it was kind of a transition record with Joey in the band. It was them trying to gel. It kind of got them a sense of who they were with Joey, so they could make the album, Spreading the Disease."

To Canedy, the die was cast. Anthrax was well on its way to becoming part of thrash's so-called Big Four, and Spreading The Disease put them over the top. Canedy could feel it was Anthrax's time to go to the next level.

"Absolutely. Yeah, we were seeing things happen," said Canedy. "Major labels were paying attention. Jonny had, by that time, Metallica, who was doing very well. Anthrax had already done very well. And then, it was just clear that this was the album that was going to get them to a major label. And we knew that. We were focused on that. We were focused on making sure we were going to get them to that major label."

Mission accomplished, as Spreading The Disease was released on Oct. 30, 1985, through Megaforce Worldwide/Island Records, and the unhinged single "Madhouse" was unleashed. Belladonna wasn't the only newcomer, as Anthrax also brought bassist Frank Bello onboard to replace Dan Lilker. Anthrax's classic lineup was born, and soon they'd break free of the thrash-metal underground.

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