Spine of Overkill, by Woody High

Posted in Columns on April 15th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

Fact: Every time Mighty High guitarist/vocalist Chris “Woody High” MacDermott turns in a new Spine of Overkill column, it makes my damn day. It’s the last remnant in an experiment a couple years back with having outside contributors turn in specialized columns based on things they’re passionate about — in Woody‘s case, classic rock and metal — and it never fails to entertain. This time around, Woody makes the most of the season and recounts celebrating 4/20 30 years ago in Brooklyn by watching Twisted Sister at the renowned L’Amours club while on mescaline because, as he puts it, “We wanted to make it extra special.”

Enjoy:

Spine of Overkill – 4/20/84

This is gonna be a hazy one. 30 years ago on 4/20/84 I got my face melted at close range by Twisted Sister at L’Amour in Brooklyn. Back then 4/20 wasn’t an official day to celebrate marijuana, but I’ve always been ahead of the pack. On this particular 4/20, however, I got a lot more than I bargained for.

I made my first pilgrimage to L’Amour in July of 1983 to see Motörhead and returned in November with my friend Wayne to see Twisted Sister. The show was on a Friday and we went space truckin’ to Brooklyn from Pelham right after school let out. We got to the club around 4:30 in the afternoon. For some reason we felt it was important to be the very first on line so we could grab primo spots right in front of the stage. As we were sitting on the wall smoking a joint this dude that looked just like Damon, the ticket scalper from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, magically appeared and helped himself to our supply. He informed us the club wouldn’t be opening their doors for about five hours and that Twisted Sister would be going on around 1:30 or 2 in the morning. Not knowing what to do in a desolate, industrial wasteland we went searching for food but found only a Carvel.

After chowing down on some flying saucers we just went back to L’Amour and sat on the wall for a few hours. We did get to see Jay Jay French show up and go through the backstage door. I think we might have seen Mark “The Animal” Mendoza’s arrival, too. Eventually the club opened up, we got in with our fake ID’s (we were 16 at the time) and ordered some Jack & Cokes from a hot waitress named Dizzy. Being inside L’Amour was so awesome. Killer metal was blasting over the P.A. and the place was filling up with rowdy headbangers. We were easily the youngest there but no one bothered us. The show itself was incredible. Twisted Sister in 1983 was completely ferocious and really, really loud. The Animal’s bass was so loud it felt like I was going to puke. Dee would get right in our faces and scream the lyrics at us. It was close to 4AM when we finally left the club and had to figure out what to do next. I had told my mother I was sleeping over at someone’s house so she wasn’t expecting me home for hours. We took a slow ride on the B train back into Manhattan and killed time in a hotel lobby before Grand Central opened up. Arriving back in Pelham around 6AM we snoozed for a bit in the laundry room of an apartment building before heading home. The trip was such a success we couldn’t wait to do it all over again.

It wasn’t until Good Friday April 20, 1984, that we were able to repeat the process. We took a later train into the city but knew we would still get to the club really early. Sitting on a wall in Brooklyn was better than doing anything in Pelham. We also came up with the brilliant idea of taking mescaline for the show. Weed, Bud talls and Jack Daniels were standard issue party supplies but we wanted to make it extra special. Mesc was loaded with speed back then so we figured it would help keep us jacked up all night for maximum headbanging.

Here’s where things get a little hazy. I really have no recollection of what we did before getting inside the club. We probably went to the same Carvel for dinner. I’m not sure if we took the mescaline outside or inside the club. Either way I’m sure it was washed down with Jack & Coke. Once inside we saw Eddie “Fingers” Ojeda hanging out at one of the bars. We couldn’t believe it! Wayne had made a Twisted Sister vest and he went up and got him to sign it. The whole band was hanging out, except for Dee. Jay Jay was preoccupied with playing Pac Man but everyone signed the vest and either Eddie or AJ brought it backstage for Dee to sign. We were fuckin’ stoked.

The only snag in my plan was that my mother said I could go out but I couldn’t stay overnight at my friend’s. She was expecting me home around midnight. At some point I went out to a pay phone in the lobby and had the unpleasant task of calling her to tell her I wasn’t going to be home anytime soon. She freaked. It probably helped that I was tripping because I just kept repeating slowly and calmly that I was fine and I would see her around 6AM. It didn’t go over well but I had come too far and retreat was not an option.

At some point during the long wait for Twisted’s set I realized that I wasn’t really enjoying my trip. I felt super uneasy and paranoid. They were showing this horror film called Mother’s Day on the screen while they were blasting Mercyful Fate, Accept and Iron Maiden over the P.A. I was getting pretty freaked. Later on I calmed down when they were playing “Symptom of the Universe” by Black Sabbath. Right when the acoustic part of the song kicked in the video screen started showing a clip of a Tom & Jerry cartoon with them playing acoustic guitars. I laughed about that for a very long time that night.

The opening act was a band called Takashi. I had bought their debut EP, Kamikaze Killers, at the New Rochelle mall. They never carried much heavy stuff so I would buy anything remotely metal that they had in stock. Takashi also got a lot of airplay on Long Island college radio station WCWP during their “Rock ‘N’ Roll Weekend” programming. I wasn’t that impressed with the EP but was hoping they’d be heavier in concert. At one point early in the evening Wayne and I went into the mens room to find lead singer Danny Stanton blow-drying his hair. Never a good sign. Takashi’s set was pretty lame, very Ratt/Crüe. For their big finale they played their song “Kamikaze” and had a big Japanese guy come out and wave around a Japanese flag. A bunch of headbangers in the front row ripped it out of his hands and wouldn’t give it back. Even if I wasn’t tripping, the entire situation would have been totally bizarre.

As always, AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top” signaled that Twisted was about to take it to the stage. Immediately there was a surge of people towards the front. We had a big joint and a little joint left. We debated which one to light up and some huge biker guy ordered us to go for the big one. We respected our metal elders and did as told. When Twisted hit the stage with their usual opener “What You Don’t Know (Sure Can Hurt You)” we noticed they had on brand new costumes. After the first few songs Dee told us they were about to release a new album and wanted to try out some of the new songs in front of a raunchy club crowd. It was very cool hearing songs like “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “I Wanna Rock” and “Burn in Hell” for the first time blasting through triple stacks and with Dee in full force. Towards the end of the set Dee said that he had a special song for us called “S.M.F.” Back then S.M.F. was a phrase known only amongst rabid metal maniacs. The place went nuts singing “sick mother fucker” on the chorus. The rest of the show was typical Twisted insanity — “Under the Blade,” “Shoot ‘tm Down,” “You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll,” their frenzied version of “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll,” and many more. As it turns out this was a really important show in Twisted history. Not long after, they would become a huge band via MTV and leave the Tri-State bar scene. Also not long after, the drinking age was raised to 21 and the entire nightclub landscape changed.

I kept my word and got home promptly at 6AM to face the wrath of my wide-awake mother. She was beyond pissed. My poor grandmother was already up and toiling in the kitchen, preparing the Easter feast for the following day, and had to sit through all that screaming while trying to fry meatballs. I was still tripping. I went up to my room and tried to sleep for an hour before leaving for work. It was a long day. I’ve had a lot of fun playing shows on 4/20 the past decade but nothing will come close to topping that night from 30 years ago.

Twisted Sister, “The Kids are Back” Live 1984

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Spine of Overkill, by Chris “Woody High” MacDermott

Posted in Columns on August 29th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Epic! No other word will do to describe the latest Spine of Overkill column by Woody High. Dude has outdone himself, speaking from both personal experience and critical expertise about the Big 4 before the Big 4. All metal, no marketing. Cheers to Woody and dig this if you dare:

The Big 4 (Before The Big 4)

The past few years there’s been all this hoopla about “the Big Four of Thrash Metal” and who’s in it, who’s not, who should be, etc. Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth are certainly the biggest four bands to have emerged out of the 1980s thrash heap and all of ’em put out big albums in 1986-‘87. Exodus and Overkill predate some of those bands and paid the price for being a little too early to the party, doing too many whippets and passing out before everyone showed up. Exciter never gets mentioned in the discussion even though their landmark debut Heavy Metal Maniac was recorded in 1982 and released in January ‘83.

But the road all these bands traveled on were paved by what I like to call “The Big 4 Before The Big 4” – Anvil, The Rods, Riot and Twisted Sister. These bands were all on the wrong continent to be part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal but helped inspire the first wave of thrash and rabid metal mongers in search of faster and louder. If 1986 is looked at as the pinnacle of thrash, then 1982 can be seen as the peak of the underground street metal era.

Anvil

By now everyone’s seen the Anvil movie and there’s even been a bit of a backlash against them because they’re sort of popular. Whatever. The fact remains that their second album, Metal on Metal, came out in April 1982 and kicked major ass. I read about Anvil in the pages of my favorite zine, Kick*Ass, and knew right away I had to check this band out. Anvil took their Ted Nugent, Deep Purple and Motörhead influences and mixed them with potent Canadian beer to form a speedy new hybrid. Metal on Metal contains many classics like the anthemic title-track, “Mothra,” “666” and the killer instrumental “March of the Crabs.” I was thrilled by the dirty lyrics of “Jackhammer,” “Tease Me, Please Me,” “Tag Team,” “Heatsink,” and “Scenery.” The only song that I was not that into was “Stop Me,” sung by pretty boy rhythm guitarist Dave Allison. Back in 1982, you usually had to put up with one kinda wimpy song that you know the record company made them do to try and get on the radio. Lips‘ lead guitar playing is killer on the entire album. He combined a fancy Michael Schenker/Ritchie Blackmore Euro style with a full on gonzo Nugent malicious intent that’s quite impressive. Robb Reiner‘s drumming took inspiration from Carmine Appice and Tommy Aldridge but he was also smart enough to get hip to the swinging approach from Louis Bellson, an early double bass drummer in the jazz world. (Check out Bellson‘s classic drum solo piece “Skin Deep” if you don’t believe me.)

I never got to see Anvil at their peak in ‘82 or ‘83 when they were deafening everyone at L’Amours and in New Jersey clubs but I caught them a few years later in Rochester, NY. It was either 1987 or ‘88 when they played a club called Backstreets (the radio ads said, “Backstreets is HUUUUUUUUUGE!”) on a frigid, rainy, snowy night in the middle of the week. There was hardly anyone in the place. The guy who I had convinced to drive wanted to leave before they even played when he saw all the gear on stage. Back then, Lips would have three Fender Twin amps sitting on top of three extension cabinets. Bassist Ian Dickson had a pair of Ampeg SVT stacks and Dave had double Marshall stacks. Robb‘s drum kit was enormous with a giant anvil in between the bass drums. There was no way I was going to split so I had to promise I’d buy him a garbage plate from Nick Tahou‘s after the show to get him to stick around. I’d seen bands play to small crowds and it was obvious they weren’t into it. Anvil came out blasting at full volume and went completely nuts on stage like they were headlining a stadium. They really pulled out all the stops. When Lips busted out the vibrator for the solo on “Bondage” he stuck it in some girl’s drink to stir it up for her. I’m sure it must have improved the flavor greatly. Before playing the song “Mad Dog,” Lips pulled his bulldog onstage and showed the crowd the dog’s balls. Classy and classic.

Anvil – “March of the Crabs” and “666” Live in Japan 1983
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tvaYnlk1X8

The Rods

The Rods traveled a similar path to Anvil. Hailing from upstate NY but making a name for themselves in the clubs of outer borough NYC and New Jersey, The Rods were another deafening live act. The Rods took inspiration from late ‘60s loud power trios like Cream, Hedrix, James Gang, Blue Cheer and sped it up. Playing Led Zep covers in Jersey dumps to underage drinkers requires desperate measures to get their attention. Their independently released debut Rock Hard came out in 1980 but was picked up and repackaged as The Rods in 1981 by Arista. The Rods were getting a lot of attention in the UK newspaper Sounds and toured over there with Iron Maiden. It didn’t hurt that guitarist David “Rock” Feinstein was the cousin of Ronnie James Dio and played with him in his pre-Rainbow band Elf.

By the time they got around to recording their second album Wild Dogs in 1982 it looked like they were going to be a really big band. Wild Dogs is a bombastic, belligerent collection of songs that belonged in the tape deck of every Trans Am in the Tri-State and beyond. Still does as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t matter where I am but as long as it’s warm enough to have all the windows of my car rolled down I’m cranking “Too Hot to Stop” and I don’t give a fuck who doesn’t like it. The opening riff is one of the best that AC/DC didn’t write and the lyrics “I’m low down and dirty/I’m a nasty man” are great to yell at some uptight broad in the car next to you at the red light. And when you’re burning rubber and she’s choking on your smoke everyone knows that you are indeed “Too Hot to Stop.” Unless you’re pulling up to the liquor store, of course. Then it’s okay to stop. But when you get back in there are plenty more kickass jams to blast. There are so many great lyrics on Wild Dogs. “Rockin’ ‘n’ Rollin’ Again” has some of the best like, “Red hot women, snortin’ cocaine/Line ’em up I wanna hit ’em again!” The Rods love rock ‘n’ roll and love writing songs about rock ‘n’ roll like, “The Night Lives to Rock” and sleazy road-life-inspired, gonorrhea-drenched love songs like “Violation” (“I didn’t know she was only 17!”) and “No Sweet Talk, Honey.” Their attempt at getting on the radio was with a cover of a cover. Vanilla Fudge had a hit in the ‘60s with a slowed down version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by The Supremes. The Rods’ version is shorter and a bit faster but didn’t give them a hit.

It is to my eternal regret that I have never once seen The Rods, one of my all-time favorite bands. They’re back in action again and put out a new album last year called Vengeance that was pretty good. I’m hoping they play New York someday and bring down those custom speaker cabinets that Rock and bassist Gary Bordonaro used to play through. The back cover of their Live album shows TWELVE cabinets on either side of Carl Canedy‘s giant, shiny double bass drum kit. Back in the pre-Dave Lombardo days, Carl was the only guy to rival Robb Reiner in the double bass wars. Phil Taylor was too Keith Moon-ish to compete with the accuracy of Carl and Robb. For those who don’t know, Carl plays drums on the first Manowar demo and produced a lot of bands for Combat Records including Overkill, Anthrax, Exciter and Possessed.

The Rods – “Power Lover” live in NY 1983

Riot

If ever a band deserved the two-hour Behind The Music treatment, it’s Brooklyn’s own Riot. Founding member Mark Reale started the band in 1975 and sadly passed away earlier this year. There’s a box set titled A Study in Frustration of swing-era band leader Fletcher Henderson. That same title could be used if they ever decide to make a movie about Riot. The new issue of Classic Rock Magazine has a great article about Riot‘s formation and career struggles through the 1980s that will tell you everything you need to know. If ever a band deserved more success it was them. Bands like Anvil and The Rods were ultimately too heavy and wild for an AC/DC mainstream hard rock crowd in 1982, but Riot could have gone the distance. 1981’s Fire Down Under is an undeniable classic. Heavy enough for a metal crowd, melodic enough for normal people and great playing for the musicianly types. Plus, singer Guy Speranza had a killer afro to rival Handsome Dick Manitoba or Don Brewer.

When Guy decided to cut his ‘fro and quit the band, they came up with a winner in his replacement Rhett Forrester. Rhett had poofy blonde hair, a lot of charisma and a great bluesy voice. The album Restless Breed is another classic. Some purists say Fire Down Under is better but I’ve always put them on equal footing. The only drawback Riot really had was their goofy half-man/half-seal mascot and some people never took them seriously because of the album covers. Their loss. Restless Breed has some of the heaviest songs they ever did like “Hard Lovin’ Man” (not the Deep Purple song), “CIA,” “Violent Crimes,” and “Loanshark.” Backing up Rhett was the powerhouse rhythm section of bassist Kip Lemming and drummer Sandy Slavin and the excellent guitar team of Mark Reale and Rick Ventura. The title-track is a moody slow burn that should have become an afternoon drive time anthem alongside Blackfoot‘s “Highway Song.” If you ever need a song to go riding off into the sunset with, this is it. “Loved by You” could have easily won over Van Halen fans but David Lee Roth always maintained a “no blonde singer” policy for his opening acts. If you had a girlfriend in 1982, she probably would have liked “Over to You” (not the Black Sabbath song), “Showdown” and “Dream Away.” Riot‘s attempt at getting on the radio with a cover of “When I was Young” by The Animals could have worked in getting some older classic rock fans to check them out. Both Guy and Rhett died way too young and under tragic circumstances. It’s sad that Mark‘s passing has made more people aware of Riot‘s classic albums but it would be even sadder if they were totally ignored.

Riot – “Restless Breed” live

Twisted Sister

Rounding out this class of 1982 is Long Island’s own Twisted Fuckin’ Sister. Everybody’s aware of their huge MTV video hits but hardcore metal freaks like me still cling to their early singles, EPs and live tapes. By 1982, Twisted Sister had created a huge following in the NY/NJ/CT area by blasting out a couple sets a night four or five times a week. The drinking age was 18 and fake IDs were very easy to get. When underage girls are at a show that guarantees a ton of guys are going to be there trying to get in their pants. Twisted Sister were loved by blue collar suburban metalheads but looked at as a joke by the industry and hipsters in NYC. They couldn’t get a record deal and rarely ever played in Manhattan. They’d rent out the Palladium and sell it out but would get no media attention. Other bar bands like The Good Rats or Zebra had big followings but Twisted Sister crowds were the rowdiest. They’d rile everyone up with smokin’ versions of “Draw the Line” by Aerosmith, “Sin City” by AC/DC and “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Rainbow before pulling out their originals. As a kid I heard their name all the time on the local rock radio stations concert listings and seen some of the older burnouts in school wearing their shirts. In early 1982 I saw them play live on a tv show and they totally blew my mind. I stayed up late to watch a show hosted by Flo & Eddie from The Turtles but I was a big fan of their work with Frank Zappa. They introduced this bunch of freaks that all looked like Alice Cooper (who I’ve always been a huge fan of) and then they blasted into “Under the Blade.” You can bet when they finally released their debut album, also called Under the Blade, I picked it up the day it came out.

In recent years, Twisted Sister has been acknowledging their early days more often and have answered some demands from fans. One of them was to finally re-release Under the Blade as it originally came out (they remixed it at some point in the ‘80s and Atlantic reissued it) alongside the Ruff Kuts EP. Last year they did just that and packaged it with an unbelievable DVD from their set at the Reading Festival right after they recorded the album. They also put out an incredible DVD of a full show from earlier that summer right before they took off for England to go into the studio with Pete Way of UFO as producer. “What You Don’t Know (Sure Can Hurt You)” is one of the best opening fuck-you songs of all time. Very Alice Cooper influenced, it tells lays it down that if you’re not into this then you’re lame and get the fuck out. Twisted Sister often get compared to KISS and there are a lot of similarities, but they always had more in common with Alice‘s blend of anthemic hard rock and theatrics. “Shoot ’em Down” and “Bad Boys (of Rock ‘n’ Roll)” are classic Bon Scott-era influenced AC/DC songs and “Sin After Sin” is a great Judas Priest song mixed with “1969” by The Stooges.” “Tear It Loose” is pure Motörhead and “Day of the Rocker” is a great Rose Tattoo tribute. “Run For Your Life” and “Destroyer” are so fuckin heavy but the title track is the real highlight of the album. So creepy and heavy at the same time. If you can’t headbang to this song then you must have been born without a neck. I was lucky enough to catch Twisted Sister a few times in their pre-fame club daze and they remain one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. If you don’t believe me, there’s plenty of evidence out there to confirm it. A friend of mine’s been hooking me up with some vintage live tapes the past few years. Anyone who wants to check ’em out, get in touch and I’ll be glad to hook you up.

Twisted Sister – “Under The Blade” live 1982

I recently turned 45 years old, which means I’ve been listening to these records for 30 years. Jesus, that’s a long fucking time. Each year some new aches and pains seem to come out of nowhere but I can accurately pinpoint the beginning of my hearing loss.

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