Sounds - Usa September- 1984
Interview taken by Sandy Robertson
The hit movie of the summer in the USA has been Gremlins, a Spielberg production about a small furry creature that reveals hidden brutalities throbbing 'neath its cute exterior. Watching it in the sleazoid depths of a times Square pit in the heart of New York I mused on the possibility that I might profitably mention that Manowar, the band I was there to interrogate, sweet-talk or just plain hang-out with, are kinda like them gremlins in reverse: brutal boys with hearts of fur; nice guys with the humour (oft missed by crits) and the chops to deliver what the fans, rather than the hacks or the media, desire in their fevered dreams. Well there, I said it! Like it or lump it, Manowar's claims about being real HM-ers who don't fool with that ersatz trash are true. And as Alice said, you're all humanary stew, if you don't pledge allegiance too... I've known all that saw 'em devastate a small but wild audience in our own Brum some time back. Hard to please, those punters. So here I am on the corner of an upmarket part of Manhattan. Madison Avenue, is it? Ross The Boss, he of The Dictators and Shakin' Street and the fast-fingered frets, is lounging on a hydrant awaiting my arrival, looking slim. Say, didn't ya useta be ... er, plump?
"Husky, Sandy," he chuckles, "just husky."
And up the stairs to the devastated ruin of one of the most exclusive leather stores in the city. Somebody up above likes Manowar; their new stage clothes were among the few items missed by the fire and the foam. Bassist Joey DeMaio is standing barefoot amid dirt, dust, glass and sadly ravaged whole leopard skins as the French proprietor flits around in an effort to perfect one of his outfits.
"How do you like it?." he smirks, twirling to reveal that his patchwork chaps expose mucho flesh at the rear, especially two bulging blips of meat protruding under his glistening skin panties. Being a plain old hetero male, I'm not sure what to say, but I guess the myth that HM bands don't cater for the femme fans is about to be dispelled. As is the one about Manowar being small-time stuff; big bucks (both meanings, wimmen!) are at work here, the cost of flights in order that the group might have proper fittings probably exceeding a lot of groups' gear budgets. Y'see, Manowar are now on 10 Records, Virgin's new ace. N'yah to all those who said they'd never make it. Manowar knew… And yet they're so nice! Perhaps mindful of a rep for being boastful and verbose (I thought that's what HM groups were meant to be like?, Joey, Ross, vocaliser Eric Adams and quiet man-of-drums Scott Columbus aren't keen to do formal interview stuff. Still, they shoot lines faster than Richard Pryor so a few nudges and notes seem in order. I suppose you musically-minded types wanna hear about the new LP, 'Sign Of The Hammer'? They're pleased with it! To those outside the realms of HM it may all seem like pure mind-rot, but Manowar are perfectionists within the parameters of the genre, seeking a return to the 'golden age', pre-instant-smash/blandola-cover-version heavy rock. With these ideals, their producer Jack Richardson is perfect.
"He's not so fashion conscious," says Joey. "He's an older guy, so he knows what we want. It's hard to capture our sound on record, and up until now we haven't bothered so much about the albums, we're a live band. I have the biggest bass rig in the universe," he avows with only a hint of irony. "How do you get all that through a little needle? But this time I think we come close!"
AN AMUSING sidelight (one among many - dig 'Guyana-Cult Of The Damned' for fab Jim Jones rock vibes) is the song 'All Men Play On 10''. I'd initially thought it was a joke reference to their new label rather than a hint at volume excess. After all, Spinal Tap played on 11! Joey guffaws:
"That song was written ten years ago! We didn't think about it until we'd done it. In fact, a lot of this album was recorded when we did the last record, then we did the single with Tony Platt. A lot of people say, 'what are these guys doing making two records at the same time?', but we do things the way we want."
That aside the '10' anthem is : a churn-rock ditty worthy of Ross's old Dictators daze. But heavier. Of course. A lot of groups appear to resent Manowar's dogged determination to succeed. The Rods, as Joey tells it, wimped out of a physical confrontation after they'd thrown some insults, and the infamous King Diamond of Mercyful fate has never stopped slagging 'em since they ducked out of supporting the war-mongers last UK tour. Joey laughs at the memory.
"King Diamond is supposed to be into the occult, but he didn't even know who Aleister Crowley was! He told a reporter he'd put a curse on us! I said I wished he'd keep it up 'cause this has been a great year for us!" Seriously, though..."
Why the aggro, especially here? DeMaio looks thoughtful…
"We were on EMI for about five minutes here. They said we were too heavy for the heavy metal stations, can you believe that? They thought we were acid rock! America doesn't like us, the music here is neither heavy nor is it metal, it's pop music termed as heavy metal. People here think we're an English band 'cause our records come in on import."
Ross adds: "Nothing lasts here in America, either, but we have a following in the USA that's quite fanatic."
Small ones are juicier, as the poster says ... To make it against the odds requires a philosophy, and Manowar have one. Copping to the fact that "the music industry in America is messed up" (Ross), Manowar made England (or the UK, to be exact) their spiritual home.
"You have to wimp-out to be a success everywhere," says Joey. "A lot of groups make the mistake of trying to be worldwide sensations. The saddest thing is seeing people who can't play having the nerve to strap on a guitar. There are no great players coming up anymore."
Except you guys?
Ross: "We grew up with groups like Cream and Mountain, but nowadays they can't thrill a crowd with music, they do it with clothes. People say we wear outfits, but the main thing people come for is our music and personality. We have image, but it isn't the only thing we have!"
Joey sighs: "Once again we're stuck with amps, power and metal. Everyone was out of Egyptian stage- sets this year!"
Oh yes, the philosophy. Noting that all the modern HM acts sound the same from playing with the standard axes/amps, etc, Manowar thought to battle the zero talent mob. Ross was with Shakin' Street supporting Sabbath, where he met road crew pyro boy Joey. Road boss Paul Clarke came from the Sabs, and with no manager (but a great lawyer) they're now on the way.
Joey: "We never set out to have a Cadillac or this or that. We came together in the hate of creeps, all we want to do is get out onstage and destroy and deliver hatred. We said ' Let's find two other guys who fill like this'. We formed Manowar on the bond of hate for bozos and love of music! We have so much gear now it doesn't matter if they shut the PA off on us! We set out to be heavier, harder and more animalistic than the guys who claim to be true metal. We believe the stage is like ancient Rome. We're gladiators."
On the way up, things were tuff.
Ross: "No-one would let us open for them!"
Joey jumps in again: "That's why we treat our opening acts so well, 'cause we have no fear of anyone. We let 'em use the PA and the stage and say do what you want. We can be friends, but" he snarls, eyes twinkling merrily, "but onstage we're out to drink their blood! See, recording is a hoax - the worst band in the world can be made to sound great. Live is where it's at.".
EVEN BEFORE Manowar, these heavy heroes were paying dues. Eric, scholarly in offstage 'spex, played the World's Fair in a band dubbed The Kids, pre-teen. Then the hotel circuit beckoned.
Joey: "This is how 'All Men Play On 10' came about. Eric and I tried to play in a Holiday Inn band and got fired. After three weeks I said this is the end, I'm never gonna cut my hair or turn down or play on small gear again! As I said, we were fired anyway. For some reason the patrons could not dig bass solos during dinner! A lotta people think there's a short cut in this business, but there's no easy way...That's why we scream 'F*** the world at the end of every show," he smiles.
And Ross codas: "And that's why we hold feedback for a minute..."
It's oft been said that rock touring is akin to a military campaign. Well, the Manowar boys look healthy enough.
Eric explains: "We're doing this thing, under advice from a champion bodybuilder, called 'carbohydrate loading'. A lot of people think energy comes from protein, like steak, but it really comes from things like potatoes. So you do without those things for awhile and your body feeds on its reserves ... Then you load up on them and your muscles swell up with the input. It's very complicated, but we'll look great onstage and in pictures. It's like pumping iron ..."
Joey: "If we're gonna wear this gear onstage the least we can do is make the effort to look good in it!"
Eric, in fact, is one of those great outdoors chaps who kills his own meat with bow and arrow. Roll over Ted Nugent and tell the RSPCA the news!
"I used to be a meat cutter, y'know. There's nothing wrong with hunting to get a wall-hanger either, but when those big brown eyes look up at me all I sea is a candlestick, a plate and a bottle of wine!"
With this hairy stance in mind, the band have been taking riding lessons with a future video in view to outwit what Ross calls the "Nazi mind control of MTV"..Oh, the ruffians! They're being trained by a polo champ! Rock is hard graft these days.
"These horses will play games if you're not an expert rider. You have to give 'em a good boot...," says Joey good-naturedly.
It is the day of my flight home. Walking along in the depths of Manhattan, Joey DeMaio bemoans the fact that he has little time to read and relax. For the time being these rocky rollers, these renaissance men of HM, must devote themselves to the task at hand. As if to emphasise that point, a crazed kid runs up waving a new import copy of the Manowar 12" single. He cannot believe his luck. Joey and Eric chat and sign the record. And you thought there were no Manowar fans in America, huh? Did 1 mention dues? I flash back to the previous night's late-late drink session. Joey was remembering the days of his youth, when he had to back Dion's legendary Belmont's at some scuzzy club.
I couldn't believe it! They expected us to play our own set and then to back them! They turned up a few minutes before they were due onstage, in a beat up Cadillac with no springs, these old guys.
They said, 'You know 'In The Still Of The Nigh?' I was just a kid, I said 'Whaaat?'... So there they are doing these little set dance steps and I just went mad on the bass! After a moment of amazement they went, 'Hey, let's hear it for, er, what's yer name? ... He plays bass like it was a guitar! I just shook my head and walked off. . . "
Anyone who did that and locked Chubby Checker out of a club in retaliation for grabbing the dressing room has got to have class, too true!
Anyway, he tried to pull the girl I was with ...Let us end as we began, with a movie. If any further proof were needed that Manowar have a certain pizzazz, surely the fact that Joey DeMaio is a selective movie buff should suffice? All men sit in row ten, eh? Hating Ghostbusters, the abysmal jungle flick Sheena and the new Eastwood, Joey is describing the segment of censored chainsaw murder from Al Pacino's hit Scarface ...
"The guy holds up the chainsaw and says, 'First, we start with the head', and the blood goes pssshhhtttt'!"
Just like a Manowar gig