As I was leaving for work on Friday morning, I thought to myself, “You know, I wonder if Harrison or anybody would feel like going live tonight. Just shoot the shit for an hour. It might be a fun way to be social on a Friday night and it only has to be an hour.”
I messaged Harrison in Australia just as he was tucking in for the night, and he graciously agreed to get up early and join me for an impromptu live stream. Setting his alarm clock, Harrison prepared for our first live show since July!
Grade 8, the 1985-86 year, had to be the worst. It was kicked off by a huge fight with the school bully Steve Hartman, a total piece of shit, but at least I won. Not that it helped. I was teased relentlessly all year for my love of Kiss and Judas Priest. Then I had mono. Incidentally, Catholic school bullies are the worst and the teachers didn’t give a fuck. When one kid, Ian Johnson, got into a fight with another bully, the teachers made them walk around the schoolyard together hand in hand. What was that supposed to do?
The only thing that made life easier that year was beating Hartman in September of ’85. That kept him off my back for the school year, although there were other bullies waiting in the wings. Jeff Brooks, who stuffed snow down my jacket every Thursday after shop class. Kevin Kirby, who copied my homework. Towards the end even Hartman was campaigning for a “rematch”.
My sister used to call that school the “Hell Hole”. She would sing Spinal Tap’s “Hell Hole” when we drove by. This is a little kid in grade 4 calling her school that name.
At the start of the eighth grade, to learn social responsibility, we all had to volunteer for something. There were a limited selection of slots for each role we were offered. I cannot remember all of the duties that were set out on our menu of options. Volunteering at the church was definitely among them, but I volunteered for the one I thought would be the most interesting: security! On a regular basis, we were to walk around the school when it was closed to make sure all was well. Keep an eye out for anything wrong, like vandalism. It was perfect because I was always biking around that direction anyway. It was really the most appealing of all the options to me.
I’m sure you have already guessed they didn’t give me the security assignment. No, I was given something that was supposed to be better, but was actually far worse. It was such a dubious honour. I was Flag Boy.
I wasn’t athletic, I was a skinny kid who openly listened to Judas Priest. No way were they putting me on security. They gave the two open positions to a couple of the athletic kids. I don’t think either of them did any security that year.
As Flag Boy, I was responsible for putting out and bringing in the Maple Leaf at the start and end of every day for the year. It was worst at the start of the day. When announcements were about to commence, I had to get out of my seat and leave the class, which always seemed to amuse them. Then I had to walk down the hallway past the other grade 8 classroom, who always mocked and laughed and pointed at me as I went. They called me “Fag Boy” from day one. What made it even worse were my boots. My dad gave them to me. I thought they were so cool. They didn’t have laces, they had dual zippers. The boots only made me more a “Fag Boy”.
When the first pair of boots wore out, my dad gave me his second identical backup pair. Ironically those boots would be considered so retro and stylish today.
The abuse that year was pretty bad and I faked sick a lot. I faked sick mostly on Thursdays, which was shop class. They bussed us to another school, St. Joseph, which had a woodworking shop. The supervision was minimal and the bus rides were all but intolerable. At one point or another I just decided I couldn’t take it anymore and faked sick as many Thursdays as I could. By the time I got sick with mono for real, I had several incomplete projects in woodworking. I was home for the rest of the term, and I never had to worry about those Thursday bus trips again.
Having mono sucked a lot, but Thursdays on the bus were far worse. I considered it more than a fair trade.
While sick at home for real, I absorbed as many Pepsi Power Hours as I could. I heard Hear N’ Aid for the first time. I became addicted to “Rough Boy” by ZZ Top because of that damn music video. (I guess I learned from an early age that I’m really a leg man.) My heavy metal credentials grew by leaps and bounds and I listened to more and more songs: “Metal on Metal”, “Never Surrender”, “Turbo Lover”, “Rock and Roll Children”. To this day, I associate those songs with my sick time in 1986. Especially Dio’s “Rock and Roll Children”. The surreal music video suited the way I felt physically. It didn’t look like the real world and I didn’t feel like myself.
My association of heavy metal music with relief from the outside world was cemented that year. I had always come home to the comfort of a few Kiss tapes. In 1986, sick with mono, I was safe from the school and surrounded not by bullies but by Ronnie James Dio, Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halford, and Bruce Dickinson. They didn’t call me “Fag Boy”, in fact their lyrics encouraged me to dig for strength. Recovering from my illness, I had built this wall of metal around me. It would be my armour for life.
I don’t know if those kids remember calling me “Fag Boy”, or if they would admit it. I know I wouldn’t recognize Hartman if I saw him today. They used to talk about forgiveness a lot in Catholic school. You can forgive, but you never forget.
Holy Diver, You’ve been down too long in the midnight sea, Oh what’s becoming of me.
Ride the tiger, You can see his stripes but you know he’s clean, Oh don’t you see what I mean.
I can’t believe it has been this long. 20 frickin’ years ago I started talking to a metalhead in England named Dan Slessor, from Brighton. He has since deleted his social media and I’m no longer in touch with him. Hi Dan! I hope you are well. Drop me a line.
I was very happy for him when Dan told me had started writing for Kerrang! (I still have an issue with one of his articles, and Josh Homme on the cover.) He had achieved the Dream. Best of all, he got to interview rock stars for the magazine: Tom Araya, David Coverdale, Joe Elliott….
And Ronnie James goddamn Dio!
One of Dan’s signature moves was to ask bands a joke question, in hope that they have a sense of humour and it would loosen things up. It worked with Tom Araya when Dan asked him if Slayer ever killed time on the tour bus by seeing how many pencils they could stuff in their pubes.
I recently dug up an old message from Dan. It was just after he interviewed Dio. And folks, I can testify that in May 2008, Dan did ask Dio if he had ever ridden a tiger.
Dan told me that while Ronnie did answer in the negative, “Dio was awesome dude – and judging by his amusement, I think I’m the first person to ever ask him if he’d actually ridden a tiger….”
Ronnie passed away only two years after that interview. You gotta give Dan credit for that one! I don’t know anyone else who has asked Dio that question.
Dan, I hope you are doing well and if you stumble upon this, please drop me a line, I’d love to catch up!
DIO – Live In London – Hammersmith Apollo 1993 (2014 Eagle)
The only good thing that came from Ronnie Dio’s death is the number of reissues and live albums we’ve gotten since. One of the more overlooked eras of Dio was the “Tracy G” era, Strange Highways and Angry Machines. Dio had just reunited in the middle of the grunge movement. Tracy G (ex-WWIII) was not to everybody’s taste. While he could indeed shred, he also utilized shrill noise and harmonics in his guitar work which isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. He could, however, lend Dio a heavier edge necessary in 1993. Add in bassist Jeff Pilson from Dokken and veteran drummer Vinnie Appice and you have one hell of a lineup.
Dio assembled a setlist with his best material, but ignoring a couple albums. Lock Up the Wolves and Dream Evil were considered disappointments when they were new. Even Sacred Heart is skipped over on this live album, in favour of old classics and a healthy serving of new songs. Sabbath and Rainbow only get a song a piece.
The sound is bloody perfect, as if they meant to release a double live album all along. Having Pilson on bass lends a heavy, low grumble and immaculate backing vocals. Tracy G might be an acquired taste on guitar but there’s no question he could do the job. He gets an extended solo on “Pain” that displays shredding, noise and musicality. Vinnie Appice gets a long solo too, as part of a “Heaven and Hell” / “Man on the Silver Mountain” medley. Eventually the band returns and they pound out a machine gun riff with monstrous Pilson bass licks. Incidentally, it’s Jeff Pilson that captures that old Black Sabbath/Geezer Butler groove better than any other bassist Dio has had.
This is a phenomenal live album. Sure, you can buy live Dio with better known lineups and songs. You can get live stuff with Vivian Campbell or Craig Goldy. This setlist is considerably different from those, and the sound is heavy as hell!
Vocalist extraordinaire Jim Crean is back with two new solo albums. Not only is there a 16 track covers album called Gotcha Covered, but also The London Fog, a new original CD. As usual, Crean boasts a killer hitlist of special guests, including Carmine & Vinny Appice, Mike Tramp, Rudy Sarzo, Chris Holmes, Steph Honde and plenty more. Buckle up — it’s a heavy duty trip.
The London Fog goes wide open from the start, with the two new songs Crean released on last year’s Greatest Hits: the excellent “Scream Taker” (tribute to Ronnie James Dio) and the riffy “Conflicted”. “Scream Taker” features Dio alumni Vinny Appice and Rudy Sarzo. These tracks follow the traditional blueprints of classic 80s metal, particularly “Conflicted”. (The dexterous bassist that I initially mistook for Billy Sheehan is actually A.D. Zimmer.)
Want more riffs? Then get “Broken”! There’s a great chorus here: Melody and power, with some tasty licks from Steph Honde. “Aphrodisiac” takes things to a more nocturnal place, but more menacing. Still, there’s always room for some dirty rock, and that would be “Lady Beware”. If Dokken’s classic lineup released another song today, it would probably sound a lot like “Lady Beware”. This is the kind of rock we all miss, and have a hard time finding today.
Jim Crean is equally at home on rockers and ballads. “Let It Go” (with Honde on piano and keyboards) has an epic quality for a ballad. It might be a bit Scorpions, Whitesnake (circa 1987) or Guns N’ Roses…the comparisons are up to the listener. The keyboard solo is a cool touch. Then heavy sounds circulate on “Loaded” (more Zimmer on bass), but yet Crean maintains a knack for melody.
A familiar voice welcomes you on “Candle”, a Mike Tramp (Freaks of Nature) cover featuring Tramp in a duet. The song is new to these ears, and I like how the parts shift and change moods. A riff for the ages follows, on an original track called “1981”. Again I’m reminded of Dokken, the classic era. It’s hard to recapture a time period with such clarity, but Jim Crean has a talent for writing that way. Some of his originals could very well be from another time. (Drummer Colleen Mastrocovo gives “1981” a serious kick.)
Another obscure cover: Robin Zander’s 1993 solo track “Time Will Let You Know”, a classy ballad from an underrated album. Jim doesn’t try to sound like Robin Zander, but does it justice. Then it’s Rod Stewart’s dance classic “Passion”. Very few singers have the right rasp to do Rod Stewart justice, but Jim Crean is one of them. That’s the always slick Tony Franklin on bass. And get this! Franklin’s Blue Murder bandmate Carmine Appice, the same guy who played on the the original “Passion”, also plays on this cover. He approaches both versions very differently. Rod’s version is slick dance rock, and this is more like metal that you can dance to. Same song; familiar but a completely different arrangement. If John Sykes ever played with Rod Stewart, maybe this is what they could have sounded like.
“Passion” could have closed the album and you’d be completely satisfied, but there’s more. A funky “Fool” sounds like Aerosmith, and who’s that on guitar? Ray Tabano, the original Aerosmith guitarist before Brad Whitford joined the band! This song is more Aerosmith than anything that band has recorded since 1993! Then it’s another lesser-known cover and duet: Angel’s “Don’t Take Your Love” featuring original Angel singer Frank DiMino. Great melodic rock songs are always welcome, and this one is truly great.
Finally comes the metallic closer “Tears” featuring Chris Holmes (W.A.S.P.). The contrast between the heavy riffs and Jim’s melodic vocals is what makes this style work so well for him. The riff has a W.A.S.P. vibe, but Crean takes it in a totally different direction.
Another fine album from Jim Crean and friends. Fans of hard rock “the way they used to make it” will thoroughly enjoy.
Check back for a look at Gotcha Covered, coming soon.
Mrs. LeBrain and I have been downsizing of late, and getting rid of old stuff we don’t need anymore. In the process we have discovered lots of cool treasures we have been hanging onto. In the last few months I’ve shown you a treasure trove of cassette and VHS rediscoveries, and things keep turning up all the time. The lady that helped us downsize, Elanda, didn’t understand why I needed to hang onto old yearbooks and CDs. This kind of thing is important to me. I’ve built an entire series of stories on nostalgia! Preserving this stuff, to me, is preserving musical history. It’s a part of the extended story of these bands. It’s my autobiography.
Another great place to find old treasures is the parents’ basement. I didn’t realize they hung on to some of my old, beat up highschool notebooks. The covers are falling off, but like an archaeologist, I have to preserve this stuff for posterity. Look what I found!
I didn’t just scribble band logos on my notebooks. I painted them on. My mother had a basement full of paints for her ceramics classes. I had access to all the brushes, colours and textures you could ask for. Most of the paints I used were water soluble, so I probably sprayed this binder with a clear coat to protect the paint. 30 years later, my artwork is still about 90% intact.
The Van Halen, Def Leppard, Dio, and Van Halen logos are self explanatory. Look a little further. I took the trouble of drawing Ratt’s titular mascot using three colours, including silver for his sunglasses. The lightning bolts here are there are meant to be a reference to Frehley’s Comet. (From looking over my homework inside, it seems I also signed my name with a lightning bolt.) In the bottom front corner of the binder, “Dawn Was Here” was written on there by one of my sister’s annoying friends who took ceramics class at our house.
Digging inside, I discovered that I clearly put more effort into the front covers than my English homework.
Next to the very bored notes about American literature are more logos, more lightning bolts, a few grim reapers, and designs for multi-neck guitars. More rats! Cartoon portraits of Gene Simmons (no makeup; it was 1988) and Rob Halford.
Judging by my careless scribbles, it seems I was not a fan of Huck Finn. The notes in English class are not legible and it looks like I didn’t do much homework. That’s not to say I wasn’t working hard in class. Some of the best sketches came from English class. I obviously spent a lot of time on some of them. A page called “Scenes of Death” looks alarming at first, until you look a little closer and notice that one guy is getting jumped by a giant Schnauzer.
GETTING MORE TALE #747: Top 11 Rock Songs About Aliens
UFOs, life on other planets, first contact…these are subjects rarely explored in lyrics, right? If you start digging, there are actually more songs about it than you know. Make a list of songs about aliens, not human astronauts like “Space Oddity” or “Rocket Man”. (Both great tracks indeed, but not about alien intelligence.)
I also left off “Hanger 18” by Megadeth, even though the video is a landmark for aliens in rock music. The lyrics deal mostly with Area 51, a military base, with only a few lines about aliens. “Foreign life forms inventory, suspended state of cryogenics.”
Do you have a favourite alien song? Check out the list below. You’ll find one alien-related subject among them that dominates the rest. Can you guess what it is?
11. Judas Priest – “Abductors”
Key lyric: “They come at night and they infiltrate you, they paralyse and they mentally rape you.”
When Rob Halford left Priest, Glenn Tipton took over writing the lyrics. Tipton is…well, he’s not a poet. “Abductors” is at the bottom of this list because the words are just a list of metaphors for maiming someone. That the maiming is done in an alien abduction seems secondary.
10. Van Halen – “Love Walks In”
Key lyric: “Some kind of alien, waits for the opening.”
This one has a tenuous connection with aliens at best, but I wanted to include it because it’s such a well known song. Sammy Hagar believes he has been abducted by aliens. That alone makes this song a significant entry. The lyric “Contact, asleep or awake,” can easily be interpreted as being about alien contact.
9. Dio – Magica(album)
Key lyric: “Now we understand. All traces of Magica must be eliminated. Infection. Infection. Delete, delete…”
Ronnie James Dio only lived long enough to make one concept album of a planned trilogy. It was a sci-fi fantasy epic called Magica. The saga takes place on another planet called Blessing, which is visited by alien explorers centuries later. The fantasy elements are dominant, while the alien setting serves more as a bookend.
8. Fu Manchu – “King of the Road”
Key lyric: “Under forty over is UFO, hell bent stacked in rows, the galaxy is lined with hundreds more, small town you bet we’re sure.”
“King of the Road says you move too slow!” goes the panicked chorus. Fu Manchu’s lyrics are usually vague, and more about setting a scene. This one involves a chase and a repeat abduction. “All through my head it’s happenin’ over again.”
7. Bruce Dickinson – “Abduction”
Key lyric: “Are you the truth to sit in judgement on my sins? Evil laser gadgets come to penetrate my skin.”
Bruce Dickinson makes the impression of a well-read science fiction fan. “Abduction” is one of his most blatant lyrics on the subject. He does a considerably better job of it than Judas Priest.
6. Helix – “Billy Oxygen”
Key lyric: “The ship’s landing gear was down, people started to gather round. The door slowly started to open, people were ready to listen. He said my name is Billy Oxygen, and I am the mission commander.”
Written by guitarist Brent Doerner, this Helix song was a little different than the usual rock fare. Yes, Helix are known for writing about “Women, Whiskey & Sin”, but sometimes aliens too! Billy Oxygen is the commander of the ES-335 (actually the model number of a Gibson guitar), and all he really wants to do is get high with some aliens. Why not? But he’s only got 14 days to fly!
5. Blue Oyster Cult – “Take Me Away”
Key lyric: “Strange shapes light up the night, I’ve never seen ’em though I hope I might. Don’t ask if they are real, the men in black, their lips are sealed.”
Blue Oyster Cult get major points for singing about the men in black, long before Will Smith was doing it. Clearly the B.O.C. guys (or at least Eric Bloom) know their conspiracy theories. An earlier version with lyrics by Aldo Nova was called “Psycho Ward”.
4. Ace Frehley – “Remember Me”
Key lyric: “Well I’m staring down from Venus in the dead of night, my mind is thinking back to when the world was right.”
Of course, Ace has quite a few songs about space, but they’re mostly double entendres like “Rocket Ride” (by Kiss). “Remember Me” is a little more thoughtful. An alien is watching from nearby Venus, a common theme from the golden age of science fiction. He laments that Earthlings continue to wage war instead of feeding the starving. The alien goes to Earth with a message: make peace, or you’re not gonna last! Very similar to Klaatu’s message in The Day the Earth Stood Still.
3. Steve Vai – “Little Green Men”
Key Lyric: “You look-a real keen, even though you are green, With those big, large heads, something off of the movie screen.”
Steve has a few titles about aliens, but some are instrumental. “Little Green Men” is a comical song that quotes the musical theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind! Thank you, John Williams.
2. Barstool Prophets – “Thrusters”
Key lyric: “Just as I rise to leave, I hear the old familiar sound, of thrusters pounding atmosphere.”
There’s a loner out there in a field looking up at the sky, waiting to see something — anything. “I have spent many nights, Staring at the sky, All the distant stars that shine, How I’ve longed to make them mine.” Then he finally hears the sound of the ships returning. “I knew that they’d come back for me.”
1. Blue Rodeo – “Cynthia”
Key lyric: “And you stood in their beam of light, and they showed you the bones on the moon, Well I hope I get to go there, With you real soon.”
Here’s a real curve ball for #1. Did you expect Blue Rodeo to be on the list?
Greg Keelor is in love with Cynthia, who tells him stories of being abducted by aliens. “So you saw that Fire in the Sky, well I think that’s so cool,” says Greg, referencing the film. He doesn’t think she’s crazy. “You are nobody’s fool,” he sings. “Cynthia” is unusually upbeat and happy song about aliens, though really it’s just about that crush of new love. Greg’s so head over heels, he’d follow her anywhere. “Cynthia won’t you take me to Pyramid Lake with you. We could watch the space ships, Maybe they’d take us on a trip, to that never ending sky.” Incidentally, Pyramid Lake is near Jasper, Alberta, and lakes are common areas for UFO sightings. One wonders if “Cynthia” is based on a real person that Greg may have met.
At least six of these songs are about being abducted by aliens, using the word “abducted” in a broad sense, even if the person goes willingly. “King of the Road” is open to interpretation. Ace Frehley’s is surprisingly one of the more thoughtful songs, with its classic message of “make love not war” brought by an alien intelligence.
It’s Blue Rodeo who have the best tune about aliens. By framing it in a love story and using vibrant lyrics, “Cynthia” is the winner.
This one goes out to good pals Mars and Sarca Sim! I know they love the nostalgia of old MuchMusic bumpers. Here’s a collection of them that I assembled into one mega-bumper!
The bumpers are generally somebody saying, “Hi, I’m [insert name] from [insert band], and you’re watching the Power Hour on MuchMusic!” Some flub their lines (Craig Goldy), some put in that extra 10% (Poison) and some do both (Anvil).
It’s either they got only one take, or these are the best ones!
Check out these hilarious rock star ads below, including (in order): Mark Metcalf, Motorhead, Poison, Lita Ford, Anvil, Dio, Rik Emmett, David Coverdale and a couple surprises.
The one VHS tape I’m working on currently spans a period of recordings from about July 1986 to September 1987. This Hear N’ Aid special features a MuchMusic interview conducted by J.D. (John) Roberts. There’s lots of exclusive information in this valuable video, including a tidbit on bands who refused to be in the same project as Spinal Tap!