#589: Metal 101 – Learning the Basics in the Original School of Rock (Circa 1984-86)

Metal 101 – Learning the Basics in the Original School of Rock (Circa 1984-86)

I started getting really serious about rock and roll in the mid-80s. I was 12. Much Music had arrived. I had instant access to so many great bands. Thanks to the Power Hour, I had an hour dedicated to heavy metal every week.  I also had friends like Bob and George who were willing to let me tape things from their collections.  I started buying rock magazines.  But there was a learning curve.

Take Van Halen, for example.  All I knew of them were a couple singles from 1984.  I had seen the video for “Jump”.  I had also learned from my friends that Eddie Van Halen was the greatest guitar player alive.  Since I didn’t know the difference between a guitar and a bass, I assumed Michael Anthony was Eddie Van Halen.  I don’t know why I assumed that, except I probably liked Michael’s beard.  Bob and George corrected me, but I wondered, “How can you tell a guitar from a bass guitar?”

“A bass only has four strings”, they told me.  And you could tell the number of strings by the tuning pegs.  I got it!  Soon I was able to start piecing the rest together.  George bought a bass a few months later.  There is a local musical legend that lived on our street named Rob Szabo.  He is a very talented player, singer and songwriter.  He was starting to put together his own band, and all he needed was a bassist.  George was adamant that he was that bassist.  He decided this before he even bought a bass.  Rob was too nice a guy to tell George that they wanted someone else with more experience.  He didn’t expect George to buy a bass because of the vacancy in the band.  To his horror, that is exactly what George did.  I think he jammed with them once or twice before they let him go.  Maybe not even once.

Undeterred, George learned the instrument by playing along to records.  He put together a couple bands of his own, like Asylum and Zephyr.  His singing was shit, but his bass playing wasn’t bad at all.  He got pretty good at it.  But sadly, in our neighborhood, George might be best remembered for his attempts at singing.

George’s bedroom window was right next to our front step where I hung out a lot as a kid.  Bob and I would be up there listening to music, or even playing GI Joes on the lawn.  Sometimes we’d sit there in just listen to George.  You’d hear him put on a record, start playing along on bass, and when he got singing you’d think a cat was being tortured up there.  It was horrendous, but he seemed to have no idea how awful his singing really was.

George worked at Long John Silver’s which was about a 20 or 30 minute walk.  In the early hours of the morning, I saw George walking down the street alone with his headphones on, heading for work.  Suddenly he burst out:  “ALRIGHT! LOVE GUN!”  Then came the barely recognizable chorus of one of my favourite Kiss songs.  It was the kind of scene that you’d make sure you got on video today.  Another time, he was singing Judas Priest.  We ran into him that time and asked him what’s up?  “It’s Priest Week,” he answered.  He was only listening to Judas Priest that week, it seems.

One time George was over playing his bass, and he asked me if I knew how to pick out a bass line in a song.  I actually did, and I learned it by hearing him play bass along with his records.

Besides Kiss, Priest, and Van Halen, I was learning about bands such as Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath.  Bob had a Black Sabbath tape with a baby devil on the cover.  He brought it over one time, raving about a song called “Zero the Hero”.  We listened to it and it was cool.  I especially liked the spooky music between songs.  That was my first taste of Black Sabbath.  I knew who Ozzy Osbourne was, but I didn’t know he was in Black Sabbath before.  All I knew was the singer of Black Sabbath had long black hair and looked really evil.  Ian Gillan was my first Black Sabbath singer.

George was really cool about letting me tape his stuff, to the point that he’d bring his VCR over so I could even record his videos.  We did this on about two or three occasions, as he had quite a collection of taped videos.  I was interested in getting some more Dio.  I had heard “Holy Diver” and wanted some more, so I got the video for “The Last in Line”.  The clip was a trip to a hellish underworld of monsters and musical vigilantes.  A bit later, we got to a Black Sabbath video for “Neon Nights”.  I recognized the two moustache guys.  But who was that singer?

I timidly asked George, “Hey…did Dio ever have anything to do with Black Sabbath?”

“Yeah, that’s him.”

No way!  My brain expanded about six levels that afternoon.

Sabbath had a singer before the long black haired guy.  Unreal.  George told me that guy (Ian Gillan) was the singer from Deep Purple.  Holy shit!

A few months after that, we were in the park listening to Sabbath’s Paranoid on cassette.  “That’s Ozzy singing!” shouted Bob above the music.  I simply could not believe it.  And not long after that, I was watching Much Music again when they debuted a brand new Sabbath video with yet another singer!  A bearded guy!  Some guy named Glenn Hughes?  Never heard of him before.  He had a beard and a suit.  Not really very rock and roll.  Could you imagine my reaction if I knew at that time that Glenn Hughes was also a singer in Deep Purple?

The circle was becoming complete.  This kind of trivia was like candy to me.  I ate it up, every last morsel that I could absorb.  Band “A” led me to Band “B” and Band “C” via these kinds of connections.  Ozzy even connected back to Quiet Riot, the first “metal” tape I ever bought, via original guitarist Randy Rhoads.  He was about the only guy who could rival Eddie Van Halen in the guitar stakes, according to my friends.  But there was a new up-and-comer that Much Music kept talking about, named Yngwie Malmsteen.

Much was an advantage my neighbors didn’t have.  Neither Bob, nor George, nor Rob Szabo had the channel.  I began growing and developing tastes of my own, though still heavily influenced by my friends.  On my own, I found White Wolf, Sammy Hagar, Savatage, Queensryche, Aerosmith…and Spinal Tap.

Yes, Spinal Tap.  “Hell Hole” became one of my favourite songs during the summer of ’86.  My sister liked it.  She hated her Catholic school, and as we’d drive by, she’d sing “Don’t wanna stay in this Hell Hole!”  That school was a indeed a “hell hole”.  Shitty teachers and shittier bullies who did not like heavy metal.

It’s true that the teachers gave me hell for wearing a Judas Priest T-shirt.  It is also true that we went to a retreat for a week, where music T-shirts and players were forbidden.  I have always been drawn to music since my earliest memories.  What did these teachers have against music?  I knew.  It was the old myth that these groups were “Satanic” and would drive us to all do drugs and die.  What those teachers didn’t know was that the music made me feel good without drugs.  I was even expanding my vocabulary.  Bands like Judas Priest and Black Sabbath were not simplistic with their lyrics.  I learned words such as “pyre” and “pneumatic”.  Through Iron Maiden, I was learning about literature and history.  I knew stuff that they weren’t even teaching in school, about Alexander the Great, the Gordian Knot, and the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  How could that be bad?

Fuck ’em.  I trusted myself.  I was smart enough to know better than they did.

I look back at these early days, and I’m not surprised that it’s these bands that the core of my tastes are built around today.  Long live rock and roll.




  1. I got into metal serious like in 1983. My first Sabbath show as a fan was Seventh Star tour, Glenn Hughes lAstaroth show. He was struggling bad. The stage set was awesome though. Very Maiden like ( saw them same year Somewhere on Tour) giant evil city set. Anthrax opened. Your initiation was similar to mine. No brothers just friends, magazines and MTV (and its metal show) as guide. Also some college station on Suday nights.
    We must be around same age. I’m June 71.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. At summer camp our counselor played bunch of us kids tapes of metal music. I remember hearing Zeppelin, Sabbath and Rainbow. That’s what kick started us into being metalheads.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Never been to summer camp, but if all summer camps were like that, not so bad!

      You’ll notice from these stories I didn’t hear Rainbow and Zeppelin when I was a kid. That came later. Zeppelin took a while to “get”.


    1. Somebody told me, “You’d like ZZ Top. They’re like Quiet Riot!”

      We were kids…I forgive her…

      Queen though, they were always “around”, and I knew “of” them, but little more. I became more aware of them when I Want It All came out. I didn’t like it because I considered it a Europe rip-off. LOL…oh boy!


    1. You are well aware of my history with Nirvana! They were the anti-rock to me. LOL

      GNR was a band whose music I always loved, but their antics always bugged me. I’m glad they’re stable now!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I like that idea of the flowchart, band A – B – C, it would be a fun exercise to retrace the steps of how I arrived at certain bands.
    Nice post – long live rock &/or roll indeed!


  4. I love how people our age and older are able to connect over music and maybe old movies but how do kids today relate to each other? Back in the day a kid was considered cool by which music he listened to and if he/she wore a shirt of a cool band but these days? Anyone have any idea? Is it video or mobilegames for them or what?


    1. I have a 17 year old daughter. Yesterday we were driving and she saw a young guy on the sidewalk. She said “Did you see that guy? He looks like he’s from the 90’s or something.”
      I said “I guess he likes what people dressed like in the 90’s. I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
      I remember being in high school in the 80’s and seeing a few 60’s flower children around.
      I had long hair and wore band t shirts, but in my school the popular kids were preppies and wavers.
      I know through my niece and daughter that band shirts can be “in” or part of the outcast depending on the rest of the outfit, hair, piercings, which band is on the shirt, etc.
      I think posers like the Kardashians have brought wearing band shirts back.
      My daughter listens to pop music and used to wear One Direction shirts, but now she wears a Nirvana t shirt because it’s cool.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I got a lot of crap off people in the mid 80s for having long hair and wearing Native American moccasin boots, especially from the preppies. In fact that was another thing that inspired me to write my book Rock and Roll Children. (Shameless plug)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Plug away.

          One of my favourite memories was after Born In The USA came out.
          A rocker dude I knew was in the stairwell and a preppy poser said “nice shirt” to him (he was wearing a Springsteen shirt).
          The guy replied “I’m wearing this shirt because I like his music, not because it’s the in thing to do.”
          I remember that like it happened yesterday.


  5. Fantastic. Absolutely one band leads to another and to another… crazy how we learn off friends too. I heard about Beastie Boys and Bruce Springsteen from the kid across the street…

    You got cable and Much well before we did, you city kid, you. I was maybe 15 when we got cable and by then I was coming out of my 80s pop and well into jazz. Ah well.

    And man oh man, I remember those Long John Silvers places. What a flashback.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t been to an LJS since the early 80s or even late 70s!

      I was really fortunate to have Much. None of my friends did until it went “free” in 1988-ish. So I was always up on all the newest rock bands, and I was also starting to buy the rock magazines. Man it was like…I dunno, it was like discovering a whole new world to explore!


Rock a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s