Reporter's Notebook: Sex, Drugs & Awesome Hair
Brian Bart of Dare Force traces Twin Cities hair metal back to some rather astounding sources. Most notably, local 60's garage rock legends the Litter. How does he do that? Two words: Zippy. Caplan.
Zippy Caplan sang in The Litter and later in the hard-rock-teetering-on-heavy metal local act White Lightning. With White Lightning, the hair got longer, the pants a little tighter and the riffs a little heavier.
Another local forerunner to the metal bands featured in my article was Chameleon. Not ringing a bell? Maybe the name of their keyboard player would rattle your memory glands. I'll give you a hint: one name, rhymes with Donny.
Who said there were no surprises in metal?
There were a zillion Twin Cities metal bands in the '80s, as you can see from that slideshow of promo photos. Also check out the City Pages' show advertisements from these bands during that era. For this post, I zeroed in on three groups: Dare Force, Obsession and Slave Raider. Here's a little more on each of them ...
FROM THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR:
Dare Force were, in many ways, pioneers in the Twin Cities. They did the ballrooms, the clubs, and the big opening slots (Van Halen was a big show for them ... Kansas, too). They played Puerto Rico and Venezuela. They played 300 nights a year and had a four-man road crew.
When they opened for Ted Nugent somebody, apparently in the days before auto focus, took this snapshot:
Here is a promo photo of the band. Don't be afraid of the mustache:
And one for the record-buying public: Dare Force's Makin' our own Rules album cover:
Obsession was not the band's first choice for a name. Originally they were the Crash Street Kids. The idea, Arens says, was to bring to the stage only what they could gather on the drive to the gig: blinking hazard lights, traffic cones, trashcans. "The production cost would be unbelievably low, but the production value would be high," says former Obsession guitarist Brynn Arens at a coffee shop on Hiawatha Avenue in South Minneapolis.
The members of the band once appeared together in public with their girlfriends dressed identical to whichever Obsession member they were dating. “We thought that was bad ass,” Arens says. “We had the full-on rock ‘n’ roll blinders going.”
In the band's first days, Arens remembers telling the drummer, Todd McNurlen: "It's gonna be Todd Mac from now on--I'm not going to be in a band with a McNurlen!" Arens pauses and then laughs: "That's how serious I was."
Brynn said the large outlet in the photo below was to make him look small, but admits he kind of blew the whole perspective thing with the beer cans. Or are those just really tiny beer cans?
Here's an ad from a 1984 show opening for Dio. Nothing like hours and hours of metal on a Sunday afternoon.
In 1988, just after signing to JIVE records and on the eve of a trip to London to record another record and play a headlining show at the legendary Marquee Club, Slave Raider appeared on 101 WHMH, a St. Cloud "Power Rock" radio station. A journalist from the influential European metal magazine Kerrang! was at the station with them, working on a cover story. Disc Jockey Randy K took calls for the band. "Anyone who gets on the air with Chainsaw today gets an autographed picture of the band, a copy of their cassette, and your choice of a six-pack of Coke or Mello Yello!"
The first caller was Pat from Little Falls. "Hi, Pat!" Chainsaw growled. Pat's question was simple but phrased awkwardly. He wondered where Slave Raider was playing next, but he asked, "Where is Slave Raider going to go?"
Chainsaw couldn’t resist: "Where are we going?" he howled. "We're going to the top!"
It was exactly the kind of bluster Slave Raider excelled at.
Chainsaw walked on stage at the Marquee with a life-size cutout of British pop star Rick Astley--the pasty redhead behind the international pop hit "Never Gonna Give You Up"--and fired up his saw. As a sort of ritual cleansing for the band’s special brand of heavy metal onslaught, he sliced Rick Astley to the ground like a deranged pirate landscaper.
Back at home, the band bested the other metal bands in town in draw and earnings. They had paid for the recording and release of their debut "Take the World by Storm" themselves. They weren't waiting for a major label deal. Slave Raider guitarist Lance Sabin estimates costs reached into the $30,000 range.
Whatever Slave Raider had, it earned. They worked constantly. Not just every night but every day. Making their debut record, Sabin says, went something like this: "We'd play some club and then arrive at Metro Studios on Washington Avenue at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. We'd try to wipe the makeup from our face and we'd record until 7:00 or 8:00, when the studio's commercial clients would start showing up. I'd always beg: Just one more guitar solo!"
It was this kind of pathological discipline that had the metal bands always at odds with the punk bands. Sabin remembers playing a show with his pre-Slave Raider band Keystone. He went to the bass player of the headlining act (he swears it was the Replacements but questions his memory ever so slightly) who was sound-checking with a badly out-of-tune bass. He offered the guy his guitar tuner--a device you plug into for tuning assistance. The bass player spun a tuning key a couple of times and banged the headstock against the wall. "There," he said. "That ought to do it."
Have a look at the spectacle that was Slave Raider:
Make Some Noise.
This one was filmed in Minneapolis and begins with an intro from Chainsaw Caine, a man who clearly could have made a few extra bucks on the pro wrestling circuit...
Rock You Again
This one is really just a Slave Raider cameo. The guys in Whodini were Slave Raider's label mates.
This video is from the early days of Slave Raider. Watch carefully and you'll see some choreography.
Slave Raider was the last Twin Cities metal band of the era to know some measure of success (if only for a short time). And while local music writers were largely ignoring even the bands as popular as Slave Raider, heavy metal was making national headlines--putting Twisted Sister front man Dee Snider in front of a panel of U.S. Senators will do that...
METAL GOES TO WASHINGTON:
If it were possible to back-pedal through space and time and onto a heavy metal stage to see the phenomenon with 21st Century eyes, the theatrics, costumes and choreography might well appear no more threatening than a Broadway production. Or not. The theater of it all--and the outrageous, often misogynistic lyrics--were singled out in 1985 Senate hearings on the lyrics and images in the popular music of the day. Pamela Hower of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) brought to the hearings a stack of heavy metal record covers and lyric sheets a took a seat next to PMRC treasurer and the public face of the organization, Tipper Gore.
In an exhaustive presentation, Hower singled out the heavy metal band W.A.S.P., who had just signed a $1.5 million contract with Capital Records to release their debut record: “The Torture Never Stops.” “Violence permeates the album as well as their stage show,” Howar told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, “which has included chopping up and throwing raw meat into the audience, drinking blood from a skull, and the simulated rape and murder of a half-nude woman.”
The hearings resulted in the “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” sticker consumers find on their compact discs to this day.
Simulated rape, which was not altogether uncommon in videos and stage shows of the era, was the exception. Mostly, heavy metal theater was the Vegas or Radio City variety: Fireworks, props and synchronized kicking.
The PMRC put together something they called the "Filthy Fifteen"--a list of the songs they found most offensive. Prince's "Darling NIkki" won the top slot. But about half of the songs on the list were heavy metal songs:
#3: Judas Priest "Eat Me Alive"
#5: Mötley Crüe "Bastard"
#7: Twisted Sister "We're Not Gonna Take It"
#9: W.A.S.P. "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)"
#10: Def Leppard "High 'n' Dry (Saturday Night)"
#11: Mercyful Fate "Into the Coven"
#12: Black Sabbath "Trashed"
#14: Venom "Possessed"
SAINTS OR SINNERS?
Why not end things on a high note? There exists on YouTube archaeological evidence that the international heavy metal community, under all the leather and spandex and chest hair, had a heart of gold. Witness this incredible survey of the '80s metal pantheon produced for the Hear 'n Aid benefit project in 1985. The whole thing was organized by Ronnie James Dio and it raised somewhere in the neighborhood of one million dollars for charity...
OH, WE MUSTN'T FORGET HAIRBALL
Here are Hairball singers Kris Vox and Rockstar Bob packing up their costumes after their City Pages photo shoot. A fitting end to a riveting saga...