When Jess Cox had just quit his gig as guitarist with Wild Willie and the Werewolves, he had no idea that in just a few short months he would be the lead vocalist on a UK Top 20 album. The British music press was hyping a new ‘phenomenon’ they dubbed the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM for short, and Cox’s new band, the Tygers of Pan Tang, had been swept up into the whirlwind and signed to a major label. Suddenly Jess Cox was a pop star. Hopefully he savored every moment…
…Because for Cox, fame was fleeting. Cox was fired in 1981 before he could record a second record with the Tygers, and was replaced by someone who could actually sing. Truth be told, Cox was a godawful vocalist, with a severely limited range, who talk-sang his way through the Tygers’ debut album ‘Wildcat’. Cox’s voice is somehow endearing in all its limitations, and the record did become among the highest charting NWOBHM debut albums (‘Wildcat’ peaked at #18; Iron Maiden beat the Tygers by reaching #4; Angel Witch’s debut, held in much higher regard than the Tygers’, peaked at number 88 that same year). But presumably the band and/or MCA wanted more.
Cox went on to form Lionheart with Dennis Stratton (ex-Iron Maiden) and Frank Noon (ex-Def Leppard). Due to the recent history of most of its members, Lionheart was billed as a NWOBHM supergroup. Perhaps this was a bit of an overstatement, as the band, in its original form, lasted exactly one gig. Lionheart’s 1981 debut performance at the Marquee in London was a disaster. The press absolutely destroyed Cox the following day, and, once again, he was fired and replaced by a proper vocalist. After one gig. He was that bad.
In 1983, Cox returned once again with the boldly-named Jess Cox Band, who released 2 (terrible) singles and one (awful) LP for Neat Records. Neat had released the Tygers’ debut recording in 1979, a 3-song E.P. that is widely acknowledged to be the very first NWOBHM release. Neat Records was NWOBHM’s ground zero, a hugely important element in the origins and development of the genre. Beyond the Tygers’ first release, Many pivotal NWOBHM singles were released on Neat by Venom, Raven, Jaguar, Blitzkrieg, Fist, Persian Risk and many others. It made perfect sense that Cox had found a home at Neat.
But that’s not all he found. After a short-lived attempt at starting a band with ToPT guitarist Rob Weir (Tyger Tyger) went nowhere, Cox retreated from performing completely. But not from the music business… After attending college, Cox planned to become a music journalist, and in 1987 went down to the old familiar Neat offices to interview the new owner of the label. Cox was offered a job as a press agent for Neat, and accepted, and over the next few years, he dedicated himself to learning how the business worked. By 1992, Jess Cox was co-owner of Neat Records.
By the early 90’s, Neat had followed America’s lead and moved into more commercial areas of hard rock. Cox was determined to bring the label back as a heavy metal force, and scoured the Neat archives for unreleased material to jumpstart a new offshoot, owned by Cox himself, called Neat Metal. Unreleased albums by Blitzkrieg, Cronos and Nasty Savage were languishing in the Neat vaults, and Cox polished them up and released them on his new label. Neat Metal also signed (or re-signed) some of the bands that had been part of the NWOBHM heyday, like Holocaust, Savage, and Shy.
Cox continued to expand his own brands, while the original Neat wavered near bankruptcy. He started a black metal label, and a label set up specifically to release archival material from the Tygers of Pan Tang, all the while financially propping-up Neat. All of Cox’s labels were doing better than Neat proper, of which he still co-owner. Cox and his partner finally opted to split up and sell the failing Neat to Sanctuary Records in 1995. Cox retained ownership of all of the labels that he himself had started. The Sanctuary deal sealed it: Cox had reinvented himself as an independent label mogul.
Jess Cox’s true masterstroke, though, was gradually positioning himself into a position to control many of the movement’s most historically important properties. While doing so, he was able to purchase exclusive rights to the entire catalogue by the Scottish NWOBHM band Holocaust. This move turned out to be one of Cox’s biggest triumphs. Why? A Scottish band known only to only the most hardcore NWOBHM aficionados, Holocaust has nonetheless cemented its place in heavy metal history, not through the quality of their records but rather through one of the bands they influenced: Metallica.
In 1987, Metallica covered a track from Holocaust’s 1983 album ‘Live — Hot Curry and Wine’ entitled ‘The Small Hours’ on their ‘The $5.98 E.P.’ Metallica were on the brink of becoming the biggest band on Earth, and every move they made influenced legions of rock fans and other bands worldwide. Cliff Burton alone was responsible for sparking international interest in obscure comic book punk band the Misfits, and thereby providing lead singer Glenn Danzig his entire post-Misfits career, just by appearing in photos wearing Misfits T-shirts. Several bands benefitted from the exposure a Metallica cover version afforded. However, while any Holocaust records still in print probably would have enjoyed an upsurge in sales after Metallica’s E.P. hit, there were no records to be found, and the band’s tiny, self-run label wasn’t able to capitalize on any of the hoopla. When Jess Cox picked up the rights to the Holocaust catalogue, which he purchased “for a few hundred pounds”, the Metallica ship had sailed, and the property was considered worthless.
By 1998, Metallica are the biggest band on Earth. Their ‘5.98 E.P.’, out of print for years, was revamped and expanded into a 2-CD release called ‘Garage Inc.’ ‘Garage Inc.’ hit #2 in the Billboard Hot 100, eventually selling 6 million copies (the original E.P had only sold 1 million copies before falling out of print). Not only did the new version include Holocaust’s ‘The Small Hours’, but also ‘Blitzkrieg’, originally recorded by Neat alums Blitzkrieg, which Metallica had covered in 1984. This time someone was able to reap the benefits of Metallica’s magic touch: Jess Cox, sole owner of Blitzkrieg’s current label, and sole owner of the Holocaust catalogue. When Cox was quoted in the early 2,000s as having made “a quarter of a million pounds” on the Holocaust acquisition, he was referring to the ‘Metallica Effect’. I’m betting all of those bad reviews from the NWOBHM era are a bit easier for Cox to read nowadays.
Today, Cox has consolidated his labels under the Metal Nation banner, and continues to capitalize on his NWOBHM properties. Jess Cox’s main strength was always his belief in the music of the bands who made up the NWOBHM. After all, he was once IN one.
1. I love the Tyger’s debut album, ‘Wildcat’. Coming across as a rough and tumble combo of Status Quo and Sweet, it’s packed with all the youthful exuberance and punk rock energy of the best of the NWOBHM. It’s the only Tygers album I own (everything after this was too polished; too generic), and I consider it to be one of the 3 best debut albums of the NWOBHM.
2. I love the vocals of Jess Cox. When held to ‘rock singer’ standards, Cox fails completely, but his voice has a street-level, average Joe appeal that’s both awkward and charming. Unique and instantly recognizable, Cox’s tuneless drone fit the post-punk, garage-y feel of the Tyger’s early music perfectly. That all adds up to awesome in my book.