Meanwhile, Back in the States…

Iron Maiden. Angel Witch. Tygers of Pan Tang. Saxon. Def Leppard. All great bands. Each contributed at least one genre-defining album to the NWOBHM, a movement that revived and revitalized the lifeless carcass of Heavy Metal after the Punk Rock explosion near the end of the ’70s. Or… were they simply in the right place at the right time?

“NWOBHM was a fiction, really, an invention of Geoff Barton and Sounds. It was a cunning ruse to boost circulation. Having said that, it did represent a lot of bands that were utterly ignored by the mainstream media. Because of that it became real and people got behind it.”
-Bruce Dickinson

Time and place were crucial, as the media-driven music culture of the UK was waiting for the next ‘thing’ after the Punk furor died out in just a few short years (when the look and sound of Punk became a ‘look’ and a ‘sound’, it was already over). So a random sampling of new (and unsigned) Brit metal bands were exposed to the general public in one of the biggest music weeklies on the continent, and a new musical movement was born. Of course, Metal bands had been forming and breaking up all over the world, as they had been for a decade… just not under the white hot spotlight of the British music press.72de789a455668f93acea7ac5ac4cf12

At the same time in America, Circus Magazine published an article entitled ‘Will Heavy Metal Survive the 70’s?’, while Creem Magazine had basically declared Heavy Metal dead just by asking the question, ‘Is Heavy Metal Dead?’ on the cover of their October ’79 issue. Having not yet been clued into the burgeoning NWOBHM, Circus and CREEM surveyed the post-Punk Metal landscape and found it wanting. Zeppelin, Sabbath and Purple were all MIA, and the ‘second wave’ of mostly U.S. bands had just dropped a bunch of duds: Aerosmith with ‘Night in the Ruts’, BOC’s ‘Mirrors’, KISS’ ‘Dynasty’, Nugent’s ‘Weekend Warriors’. Something needed to happen, and quickly… Enter the NWOBHM.

According to the popular media on both sides of the Atlantic, it would appear that the NWOBHM really did save HM. And once the press got the ball rolling, it seemed like something exciting was once again happening in the UK. Young metal bands with a new streamlined sound were popping up all over Britain, breathing life into a tired genre. The US Rock press jumped on board in 1980, further validating the movement as a legit musical phenomenon. NOWBHM bands got some US print exposure, and the young British bands started to gain some notoriety across the pond. Metal’s UK resurgence went global. Day: Saved.

But did it actually need saving? As mentioned previously, most established U.S. stadium-fillers were experiencing a serious slump, although Van Halen and Rush managed to put out successful albums during the NWOBHM years. Where these two bands strong enough to carry the American fire? Was there nothing else metallic happening in the good ole’ USA between 1979 and 1981?

To answer that question, we have to duck under the radar just a bit, and also widen the net to include Canada. Yes, several classic albums (and some worthy obscurities) came out of while the NWOetc monopolized Metal Nation’s attention. Most of these North American bands endured the Punk Era only to find that everyone’s attention had instantly shifted to the UK Metal scene, so let’s all pause for a few to pay them a little attention.

Here ya go: a run-down of 12 notable records released by North American bands during the NWOBHM that you may have missed, by year:

Sammy Hagar / Street Machine 1979
After searching for a solid direction on his first 3 post-Montrose solo albums, Hagar becomes the Red Rocker for real on his 4th studio album ‘Street Machine’. What took him so long? Hagar and band kick into high gear with a set of all-original material (his previous solo efforts were peppered with covers) that showcase his guitar playing, his amazing band, and his ballsy R n’ R attitude. Hagar was clearly on a mission here, as ‘Street Machine’ was the first album of material written and produced solely by Sammy himself. ‘Trans Am (Highway Wonderland)’ and ‘This Planet’s on Fire (Burn in Hell)’ are highlights. Hagar would do one more record in this direction (1980’s uneven ‘Danger Zone’) before signing with Geffen and becoming an AOR star.

St. Paradise 1979mi0003247544
Put Denny Carmassi, drummer on all 4 Montrose albums and 2 of Sammy Hagar’s solo records, together with Derek St Homes and Bob Grange, half of the band that made Ted Nugent’s first 3 albums, and what do you get? Well… With John Corey on keyboards, this ‘supergroup’ signed to Warner Bros. and recorded a classy, radio-friendly hard rock record… at the worst possible time. It was great to hear St Homes’ voice again (guy should have been a mega-star) and this record is far better than the Whitford/St Homes album from 1981; but nothing, and I mean nothing happened, and the band barely lasted one year. Curiously includes a ‘cover’ of Nugent’s ‘Live it Up’, a song that St. Holmes co-wrote and sang for Ted’s ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ album in 1977. ‘St. Paradise’ is hard to find but worth it.

Pat Travers Band / Live! Go For What You Know 1979
Canadian Pat Travers solidified his backing band in 1977, adding Tommy Aldridge and Pat Thrall, and hit paydirt with the essential ‘Heat in the Street’ in ’78. For ‘Live! Go for What You Know’, recorded in the US during the ‘Heat’ tour, Travers changed his moniker to ‘The Pat Travers Band’, and rightly so; this line-up kicks serious ass. Thrall and Travers were a match made in heaven, raising the late-70s shred game by several notches, all the while backed by a rhythm section unparalleled in 70s Hard Rock. Wisely held to a single album of faves from Travers’ 4 studio albums, it’s a tight, powerful statement by a band that must have been an intimidating opening act. Non-single ‘Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)’ was a welcome blast of amped-up axework on American radio during the summer of 1979.

The Rods/ Rock Hard 1980rods-the-rock-hard
The Rods were a scrappy 3-piece from NYC who played hard-as-nails, meat and potatoes street metal, with the occasional harmony vocal and catchy chorus. In 1980, the band put together some demos and self-released their first LP ‘Rock Hard’, limited to 1,000 copies. Packed with simple, driving hard rock, with bar band chops and dum-dum lyrics, ‘Rock Hard’, um… rocks hard. This is what we’d always hoped the Godz sounded like. (Godz/Rods? Hmmm…) ‘Rock Hard’ was an underground hit, and was picked up by Arista, remixed, re-sequenced and re-released with a Ramones-like cover pic in 1981 as ‘The Rods’. Guitarist/vocalist David ‘Rock’ Feinstein is the cousin of one Ronald Padavona, and played on the first Elf album in 1974.

Gamma / Gamma 2 1980
Montrose (the band) ended after two mediocre post-Hagar records, and after releasing an excellent instrumental solo album (‘Open Fire’), Ronnie Montrose updated his sound with a new band: Gamma. Featuring the very latest in synthesizer technology, Gamma sounded hi-tech and thoroughly modern. Montrose’s guitar sound and playing style had also evolved, and as the techno-flash 80s arrived, Ronnie was ahead of the game. Gamma had achieved the impossible: synthesizer-heavy hard rock. It was a daring move for Montrose, and this new sound worked best on ‘Gamma 2’. Album openers ‘Meanstreak’ and ‘The Four Horsemen’ pack a serious punch, While ‘Cat on a Leash’ and ‘Skin and Bone’ stretch the band’s sound boldly into the future. One of the coolest album covers ever. Rest in Peace, Ronnie.

Blackfoot / Tomcattin’ 1980
Blackfoot had been kickin’ around for a few years before the NWOBHM arrived, releasing albums on Island and Columbia before moving to Atlantic and cranking up the crunch on their third, ‘Strikes’. ‘Strikes’ is probably the ‘go-to’ Blackfoot record for many, as it contains ‘Train, Train’ and ‘Highway Song’, two radio hits that earned the band their first ‘Gold’ record. But ‘Strikes’ at a very short 33 minutes and contains only 5 original tunes… Might I suggest the follow-up, ‘Tomcattin’? A solid southern ass-whoopin’ from start to finish, Rick Medlocke and gang power through what is probably the hardest southern rock album ever, leaving Molly Hatchet and their ilk in the dust. Medlocke leads the way with a confident swagger, and the guitars are 10 feet tall. A much more satisfying record than ‘Strikes’.

Y&T / Earthshaker 198152283045_1
Y&T were the missing link between Montrose and Van Halen; in fact, the mighty VH used to open for them. After two promising albums as Yesterday and Today, the band signed to the majors (A&M), shortened their name to Y&T (A&M… Y&T…!) and finally nailed their sound. Earthshaker roars out of the speakers, a powerhouse of crunchy SoCal party rock honed in countless California dive bars. Earthshaker’s winning balance between power ballad harmonies and scorching hard rock would prove very influential as the 80’s progressed. Y&T broke through to the 80’s Metal mainstream with their next two albums ‘Black Tiger’ and ‘Mean Streak’, but their true breakthrough was ‘Earthshaker’…a record that could only have been made by an American band.

Riot / Fire Down Under 1981
Despite hailing from New York, Riot were awarded ‘honorary’ NWOBHM status due to the UK underground’s embrace of their first two indie albums ‘Rock City’ and ‘Narita’, their frequent appearance on DJ Neal Kay’s metal playlist in ‘Sounds’, and their obvious musical inspiration to many young UK bands of the era. All of this led to their appearance at the first Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donnington, on of the key events in the development of the NWOBHM. But their popularity with the movement was a double-edged sword… The story of ‘Fire Down Under’ is a tragic one, and I’ve written in-depth about the record here: https://wordpress.com/post/mayobat.wordpress.com/726, but if you are inclined to check out any of the records discussed here, start with this one. ‘FDU’ is not only Riot’s finest album, it is one of the greatest American metal albums of all time, with only Montrose’s debut keeping it out of the top slot.

Frank Marino / The Power of Rock and Roll 1981
Yes, this is Marino’s 8th album, it’s also his most straight-ahead metal record. It’s Marino’s first with out the ‘Mahogany Rush’ tag, first with brother Vince on 2nd guitar, and most of the jazz noodling and Hendrix influence, so prevalent on previous albums, is now largely absent. But it’s the presence of one specific track, ‘Ain’t Dead Yet’, that demands attention here; not just because Marino rips through the song with an urgency and fluidity that is seriously scary, but the song’s lyrics answer CREEM Magazine’s ‘Is Heavy Metal Dead?’ headline and encapsulates the frustration and futility felt by many North American bands that survived the Punk era, as well as the hope for a resurgence fueled by the NWOBHM:

All around we hear the sound the voices in our ears
They try to bring our whole world down playin’ on our fears
Designing rules, deciding who, they’re gonna give the chance to
And all the while, the phony smile, they just want to romance you
It’s time that we fight now
The timing is right now
Well did you hear what they said?
They’re tellin’ us rock is dead
Well we ain’t dead yet!’

So there’s your proof! A handful of solid listening from an oft-overlooked time period in American Hard Rock/Heavy Metal history. How do they stack up against the records released at the same time by the young upstarts across the pond? Well… any comparisons wouldn’t be fair, because most of the records highlighted here were made by seasoned veterans; the youthful energy and freshness inherent in the NWOBHM’s best records make them hard to beat. But there’s a lot of worthy music here that has been unfairly ignored and neglected. Frank Marino was right: American Metal wasn’t dead during the NWOBHM… Maybe on life support, but not dead. Tell it, Frank!

The Gift and the Curse of James Marshall Hendrix

Virtually every rock guitarist of the 70s era was influenced somehow or another by Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix defined rock guitar for the ensuing decade, exploring possibilities and expanding its parameters like no one before him. Agreed? Great.

Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth shredder) recently caused a minor stir when he stated that he ‘never got’ Jimi Hendrix, and further stating that he always found Jimi’s music ‘primitive’. He says he ‘grew up really loving Frank Marino, Uli Roth and Robin Trower’, which loosely translates to ‘I like Hendrix-inspired music, but not Hendrix’s music itself’. It’s a generational thing; those who weren’t able to experience the whole Experience experience got to experience it some years later through musicians directly inspired by Jimi. Hendrix left us just as the decade began, but his music was alive and well throughout the 1970’s, interpreted and re-expressed by others. Here’s how Jimi’s spirit survived his passing, threading through the work of three phenomenally gifted musicians…

Robin Trower
As a member of Procul Harum, Robin Trower played several shows opening for Hendrix in 1970, including The Isle of Wight Festival and the Sept. 4 gig in Berlin. Hendrix died two weeks later; when Trower heard the news, he decided to write a song for Jimi. Trower studied Henrdix’s records for a few days, in order to become more acquainted with his playing, and wrote ‘Song for a Dreamer’, which became the final track on Trower’s last album with Procol Harum, ‘Broken Barricades’. Trower had already been a fan, enthralled as he watched Hendrix from the side of the stage each night on tour. But after studying Hendrix’s style for ‘Dreamer’, Trower’s approach to the guitar was changed forever. He traded in his Les Paul for a white Strat and left Procol Harum for a solo career.

Early Trower channeled the blues/funk/soul elements of Hendrix’s sound. He often drenched his lead playing in effects, but never lost that raw, emotive Strat tone. Check out the intro to ‘Victims of the Fury’, from the 1979 album of the same name, for a sublime example of the kind of atmosphere Trower can summon with his artistic use of effects. His solos can achieve the timbre and cadence of the human voice, meandering in and out of time while searching for hidden microtones. When Eddie Van Halen arrived in 1978, quickly overshadowing the previous generation of guitar heroes, someone wrote to Guitar Player magazine defending the old school, stating (I’m paraphrasing) ‘These new hot shots need a million notes to say what Robin Trower can say with just one’. True dat.

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Trower’s Hendrix leanings were both a blessing and a curse. Comparisons in the press were seldom favorable, with words like ‘mimic’ and ‘clone’ used often. But those searching for more ‘Hendrix music’ found it here. Trower’s writing and playing effectively carried Jimi’s sound forward into the world of early 1970s hard rock. In the UK, Robin Trower was hailed as the second coming; in the U.S. his 2nd LP, ‘Bridge of Sighs’ went Gold in 1974, and spent 31 weeks in the Top 100. But Trower can’t be dismissed as a mere copyist; no mere ‘clone’ could ever deliver the emotional content and depth of feeling infused within Trower’s lead playing.

‘Bridge of Sighs’ is perhaps the obvious choice of album to recommend, so I’m going to go left field and suggest ‘King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents Robin Trower’, a live recording from 1977. While most of the KBFH releases are junk, I’d rate this release as the best live RT album ever. Recorded in Connecticut on the ‘In City Dreams’ tour, it features all of Trower’s strongest material to date, the production is mint, and the performances are sublime. Long out of print, but well worth hunting down. Bonus Points: Best guitar-face ever. Oh, and Robert Fripp once took lessons from him. For realz.

Uli Jon Roth
Uli Roth plays like Hendrix… If Jimi Hendrix was a vampire from Mars. Roth’s playing reimagines Hendrix as a neo-classical shredder with a psychedelic streak and technique to burn. A classically trained musician, Roth joined Germany’s Scorpions in 1974, and played up the Hendrixisms to the hilt. Roth borrowed the Aeolian mode from Ritchie Blackmore, married it to the acid rock freak-out of Jimi at his most experimental, and came up with a truly monstrous sound and style that was deeply indebted to Hendrix but also light years ahead of its time.

The four studio albums Roth recorded with Scorpions are, to this day, untouchable rock guitar showcases, thanks to Roth’s fiery playing and forward-thinking creativity. I’ll recommend ‘In Trance’ here, which showcases Uli Roth at his most face-meltingly obnoxious. No doubt this album resulted in many heads exploding back in 1975 (I can guaran-fucking-tee you that Eddie Van Halen had a few Uli Scorps albums as a teen). But over the course of the four Roth-Era studio albums, the Scorpions sound began to split into two ever-more distinct styles: the melodic but crunchy Schenker/Meine material and the Uli Roth-does-Hendrix songs; a divide most evident on Roth’s final studio album with Scorps, ‘Taken by Force’.

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Roth left Scorpions after ‘Force’ and formed Electric Sun, where he let his Hendrix flag fly. All three Electric Sun albums feature heavily orchestrated guitars, ambitious arrangements, and absolutely horrible lead vocals, all sung by the maestro himself. It must be stated here that Electric Sun’s second album, ‘Fire Wind’, contains the worst lead vocals on any rock record in my collection, often achieving extreme levels of unintentional hilarity. His occasional lead vox on Scorps albums were a tough listen, but here they come close to overshadowing Roth’s otherworldly guitaring.

Roth let his worship of Jimi Hendrix spill outside of mere guitar playing. He dressed like Jimi, and even dated Monica Danneman, who was also Hendrix’s girlfriend at the time of his death. Roth wrote several songs with Danneman, notable the outstanding ‘We’ll Burn the Sky’ from the aforementioned ‘Taken by Force’. Danneman committed suicide while living with Roth; perhaps he sings in his sleep.

Frank Marino
Frank Marino’s tale at once comic and tragic. At the age of 14, the Montreal-born Marino was hospitalized for an LSD overdose and admitted to the hospital for several weeks, with only a guitar to keep him occupied. He taught himself how to play the instrument, and at 15, started a band called Mahogany Rush. He turned 17 while in the studio recording the first MR album ‘Maxoom’. These are the elements of the story that Marino maintains are true to this very day. But back in 1972, the story was quite different…

Someone on Frank’s team; manager, agent, or perhaps the young Marino himself (although he denies this) concocted the story that Marino, while recovering from his bad trip, was visited by the spirit of Jimi Hendrix, after which Marino suddenly became a prodigy on the instrument. This myth has morphed and mutated; the version I read (in Creem Magazine!) stated that Marino ‘claimed’ that he was in a car crash and was visited by Hendrix’s ‘ghost’ while in a coma, and that Marino claimed to be ‘possessed’ by Jimi’s spirit. Even as a kid, I knew this was total horseshit. This stunt would haunt Marino and his band throughout the 70s, preventing him from being taken seriously as a musician by the mainstream press.

All of that ‘spirit’ nonsense may have garnered the young guitarist some valuable attention early on; his 2nd and 3rd LPs, ‘Child of the Novelty’ and ‘Strange Universe’, both released on Canadian indie labels, achieved his highest-ever chart placings in the U.S. But when MR was picked up by CBS, both Marino’s music and his unfortunate mythology went worldwide. The backlash came quickly. CBS hooked MR up with hard rock kings Leber-Krebs Management (Aerosmith, Ted Nugent) and secured them opening slots on many primo mid-70s tours and high profile festivals (Cal Jam II in ’78, A Day on the Green in ’79), but Marino couldn’t shake off the bad vibes from that early publicity ploy.

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Sometimes Marino was his own worst enemy. Early on, he dedicated the ‘Maxoom’ album to Hendrix and included a tribute song to Jimi (‘Buddy’), but also years later while on CBS, Frank made Jimi’s ‘Purple Haze’ and a section of ‘Machine Gun’ (retitled ‘Electric Reflections of War’) permanent parts of his live show. Moves like this didn’t make it any easier for Marino to break free of the Hendrix comparisons even as his music gradually evolved away from Jimi’s sound. By the time of 1980’s ‘What’s Next?’, the band had become a jazz-inflected heavy metal monster. The label dropped the ‘Mahogany Rush’ name and their last 2 CBS albums were released as ‘Frank Marino’ solo albums. It didn’t help sales. The ghost of Jimi still haunted.

Several generations of guitar freaks and rock critics have now come and gone, and Marino is just now starting to achieve the recognition he’s deserved for decades. Frank Marino is an absolute master of the instrument, and those who leave him out of discussions of the Great Guitar Gods of the 1970s are either woefully mistaken or willfully ignorant. As much jazz-informed as it is blues-based, Marino’s playing can be astonishingly fast and fluid, while managing somehow to be both unrelentingly fierce and impeccably tasteful. He wears his Hendrix on his sleeve, but a unique voice emerges through his stunning fluency in several different styles of guitar playing. Pick up either ‘Strange Universe’, for the prog-psych Jimi-esque side of Marino’s work, or ‘Juggernaut’, for a sample of his later, shred-tasticly metallic period.

Such is was love of Jimi Hendrix’s music and the grief over his loss that anyone stylistically similar was immediately branded a rip-off, unworthy of our respect and attention. To be sure, Trower, Roth, and Marino flew a little two close to the sun, and each of them paid a price. But by keeping the Hendrix sound alive as a genre all its own, these three were able to influence the Marty Freedman generation with their own Hendrix-infused music, which in turn speaks to the enormity of the Hendrix legacy, and of the depth and power of Jimi’s music. Hopefully Marty Friedman understands that, even if he doesn’t ‘get’ Jimi’s music, he’s been influenced by it all the same, via three gifted and creative guitarists who stood on the shoulders of a giant.