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Biff Byford of Saxon

Saxon

An Interview with Biff Byford of Saxon
by Jeff Muendel
November 2013

Maximum Ink: I want to introduce you to Maximum Ink and Max Ink Radio and let everyone know about the band.  I’d like to briefly touch on the history of the band.  Obviously, you guys are considered to be a part of the new wave of heavy metal that included not only Saxon, but Iron Maiden and Def Leppard as the biggest bands… How do you feel about having that label?
Biff Byford: Yeah, it’s ok, it’s not a bad label, really, I mean, it probably means more in Europe than it does in America.  It’s a good label, I don’t mind it, I think Def Leppard doesn’t like to use it.  But I think Maiden are okay with it, y’know. But yeah, it just appeared in time from 1980 until about 1986, ’86 when all that music was coming out of England.

MI: It’s interesting, probably because Def Leppard’s the band that moved away from heavy metal altogether and maybe became a little bit more of a pop band.
BB: I suppose they’re a little more rock n’ roll like we were in the early days and somebody coined the phrase, “new wave of British heavy metal”, which meant we weren’t really Sabbath or Zeppelin, or Purple.  We were a new generation of bands.  Obviously, we were heavily influenced by these bands but I just think some journalist picked a point that we were the newer generation.


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Ronnie James Dio

Ronnie James Dio

Six Decades of Ronnie James Dio
by Jeff Muendel
June 2010

Six decades. That is the span through which Ronnie James Dio (born Ronald James Padavona) was a rock‘n’ roll professional. With his death last month on May 16, an incredible music career ended. Dio was best known for his work in heavy metal, and in fact he became a cultural icon – one often steeped in humor – for the exaggerated posturing and fantastical lyrics that are a rich part of the genre. His introduction of the “metal horns” hand sign cemented it. To be sure, Dio immersed himself in such things, but it’s interesting to note that his musical career actually took him through several rock‘n’roll genres.

In 1958, a band from upstate New York called Ronnie And The Red Caps released their first 7-inch single on a small label called Reb Records. They could be described as a doo-wop group. Ronnie James Dio was the singer of that band, and the vinyl single began his professional recording career. Dio went on to form a group called Elf that also garnered a recording deal. That band, which had their first release in the late sixties, could be best described as boogie rock. But Dio’s strong voice set the group apart from many of the hippie bands of the time, lending a power to the band that was unusual.

Elf got a big break by landing opening slots for Deep Purple


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W.A.S.P. - artwork by Ian Chalgren

W.A.S.P.

by Jeff Muendel
February 2010

Those who have encountered the band W.A.S.P. are not likely to forget the experience. Like them or hate them, their stage antics tend to be memorable. The group almost literally clawed their way out of the early eighties Los Angeles heavy metal scene the same fertile ground that produced the likes of Mötley Crüe, L.A. Guns, and Ratt. These groups paved the way for many more hair bands to come, but W.A.S.P. was a little bit different. While many of the other groups from that era focused on a cross-dressing, bad-boy image, W.A.S.P. was just plain twisted and scary; the group was more Alice Cooper than Rolling Stones. Band members had circular saws sewn into the crotch of their trousers. Raw meat was cut up and thrown into the audience. Blood was a common stage prop. All of this accompanied aggressively sexual lyrics, buzz saw guitar riffs, and pumping double-bass drums.

At the heart of the group, then and now, was Blackie Lawless. In fact, he is the only remaining original member, and for all intents and purposes, W.A.S.P. is his artistic vehicle. Lawless was born Steven Duren on Staten Island, New York. Famously, or perhaps infamously, he got his first break playing with the legendary New York Dolls. The group was in its final death throes, but it introduced Lawless to New York Doll’s guitarist Arthur Kane. After the New York Dolls finally split, Lawless followed Kane to Los Angeles.


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Don Airey - keybordist for Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Rainbow, Ozzy, Whitesnake and more!

Don Airey

by Jeff Muendel
December 2008

Don Airey isn’t a name that many people know well, but his keyboards have been heard by most anyone listening to American radio in the last twenty-some years. The pipe organ intro to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mr. Crowley?” That’s him. The slick strings in Whitesnake’s “Still of the Night” or the glassy electric piano on “Here I Go Again?” That’s him, too. How about the freaky synthesizers on Black Sabbaths’ Never Say Die album? Yeah, that’s Don Airey again.

The list if bands that Airey has either recorded with or been a member of is long, but includes (besides those already mentioned) Jethro Tull, Judas Priest, Gary Moore, The Michael Schenker Group, Rainbow, Thin Lizzy, and UFO.  He has come to be the most prolific keyboardist in hard rock. He is also the current organist in Deep Purple, perhaps one of the most keyboard-intensive bands in the history of rock.


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Uriah Heep's Mick Box

Uriah Heep - Mick Box

by Jeff Muendel
November 2008

Mick Box has been the lead guitarist of Uriah Heep since the band’s founding in 1969. If my math is correct, that’s 39 years ago. The group, rightfully referred to as both classic rock and heavy metal pioneers, was one of the first to use overdriven Hammond organ as part of their big sound. Box’s guitar was the heaviness on the other side of the stage, however, and mixed with singer David Byron’s distinctive lyrics celebrating all things wizards and unicorns, the group attracted a large audience quickly.

Despite Uriah Heep’s progressive rock experiments, the group is perhaps best known today for the song “Easy Livin,” a straight-up hard rock song that became a biker anthem in the United States. The band (whose name, by the way, was taken from a Charles Dickens character in the book David Copperfield) has never ceased being in existence despite the death of David Byron and many lineup changes along the way. Now, almost 40 years later, the group has released its twenty-first studio album entitled Wake The Sleeper. It is true to its musical roots with chunky Hammond organ riffs, loud guitars, and fanciful lyrics. Maximum Ink recently spoke to Mick Box about the album and all things Uriah Heep:


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Germany's Kraftwerk in Maximum Ink in April 2008

Kraftwerk

by Jeff Muendel
April 2008

The history of Kraftwerk begins in 1970 when Florian Schneider-Esleben and Ralf Hütter, the founding members of the band, formed a group called Organisation. The Oranisation’s only album, Tone Float, was a mixture of tape loops, electronic feedback, and clanking rhythms. It was decidedly experimental compared to what the rest of the musical world was doing, and while a German record contract was landed, the LP did very little in the way of sales. By the end of that same year, however, the group had morphed into Kraftwerk.


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Heaven and Hell - Black Sabbath with Dio on the cover of Maximum Ink April 2007 - photo by Mick Huston

Heaven And Hell

an interview with Geezer Butler
by Jeff Muendel
April 2007

Ah, the sordid and storied life of a rock and roll band; make it a heavy metal group, and the drama is always, for lack of a better term, amplified. Sometimes, it’s hard to even know where to begin. In this case, the beginning is somewhere in the middle…

When Ozzy Osbourne left Black Sabbath in 1979 (or was asked to leave, depending upon who you ask), the group replaced him with veteran vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Having recently parted ways with Rainbow, Dio was not only available, but also a known commodity, and his addition to the Black Sabbath ranks made it a sort of metal supergroup. Dio and original members Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward went to work writing new material.

The resulting album was “Heaven and Hell,” both an instant classic and a return for Black Sabbath to the core of their musical style, a mode from which they had drifted significantly in their last years with Osbourne. Through heavy touring and the success of the album, Black Sabbath managed to avoid the drop in popularity that almost always follows the departure of a charismatic lead singer. If anything, their popularity grew.

Drummer Bill Ward left the band due to health problems after the “Heaven and Hell” tour, but Black Sabbath soldiered on and produced another amazing album, “Mob Rules.” The group toured again (with Vinny Appice behind the kit) and simultaneously recorded a live album on the tour. During the mixing of that recording, which would eventually be deemed “Live Evil,” problems began to grow amongst the band members. There were accusations between the new guys (Dio and Appice) and the remaining founding members (bassist Geezer Butler and guitarist Tony Iommi). Within months of the live album’s release, both Dio and Appice had left the group.

Ronnie James Dio went on to form his own band called, quite simply, Dio. Simultaneously, Geezer Butler left Black Sabbath to pursue other paths while Tony Iommi kept the Black Sabbath name alive with various and ever-changing lineups of musicians.

In 1992, Iommi moved to reunite the Dio lineup of Black Sabbath; Butler, Appice, and Dio joined the guitarist once again to record a new album called “Dehumanizer.” They hit the road again, finding themselves in front of huge audiences throughout the world, but it wouldn’t last long.

Toward the end of the “Dehumanizer” tour, Ozzy Osbourne – hugely successful as a solo artist –  announced that he was retiring from rock and roll (that didn’t last long, either) and asked Black Sabbath to join the bill for his last two solo concerts in California. Dio refused to participate because he felt Black Sabbath shouldn’t be reduced to an opening act for Ozzy. The others disagreed, however, and appeared without him, recruiting Rob Halford of Judas Priest to sing. Ozzy ended up joining his old Sabbath mates on stage, and the four original Black Sabbath members decided to reunite. Dio , head held high, regrouped his solo band.

So, it is from this rich history that the Dio-era Black Sabbath now returns, some 15 years later, with a new album and a new tour under the band name Heaven and Hell. Maximum Ink recently had the chance to speak to bassist Geezer Butler about this latest incarnation of the band and get his take on all things Black Sabbath:

MAXIMUM INK: Back in 1979, when Black Sabbath first auditioned Ronnie James Dio, is it true that “Children of the Sea” was written in the first rehearsal?
GEEZER BUTLER: I think so, what I can remember of it, at least. Tony Iommi met Dio at a party and they originally talked about doing something together, you know, another project. They might have jammed some, but then Ozzy left the band. So Dio started to jam with us [Black Sabbath], and I think in one of those early jams, perhaps the first one, “Children of the Sea” came together.


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Anthrax with singer John Bush - photo by Buchanon

Anthrax

by Jeff Muendel
October 2004

Throughout their infamous 20 year career, the mighty ANTHRAX has always prided themselves on being a band of the people, for the people and by the people. This being said and with 2004 being an election year, ANTHRAX have taken that ideal one step further with their upcoming release, THE GREATER OF TWO EVILS, an all out assault on their history with each song being voted on by their fans via the Internet.

Recorded “live” in the studio over the course of two days, THE GREATER OF TWO EVILS stands out, as guitarist Scott Ian puts it, “As a raw, balls out, and in your face representation of how brutal this band is, was, and will always be.”


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Judas Priest on the cover of Maximum Ink in August 2004 - photo by Craig Gieck

Judas Priest

by Jeff Muendel
August 2004

In 1969, while hippies pranced about the farm fields of Woodstock, New York with flowers in their hair, Birmingham, England was giving birth to a monstrous new musical genre that came to be known as heavy metal. A group called Black Sabbath released its first album that year, and while others both in the United States and England were flirting with the heavier side of rock ‘n’ roll, it was that band that nailed metal squarely between the eyes.

Five years later, Birmingham’s fertile musical loins produced another heavy metal monster, one that came to rise just as high as the first, and perhaps, at times, was even more nimble. The vocals soared over others, the songs galloped faster, and two lead guitarists were used rather than one. That band was Judas Priest.

Amazingly, both Birmingham groups have reformed after varying hiatuses and are touring together this summer with Ozzfest, still playing the aggressive, distortion-heavy songs they wrote decades ago in front of fanatical, sellout crowds around the world. Recently, Rob Halford, the outspoken lead singer of Judas Priest, was kind enough to talk with Maximum Ink about his recently reunited band as well as the resulting tour and musical releases.


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The Pimps (Goodyear Pimps)

by Jeff Muendel
March 2000

The Pimps from Rockford on the cover of Maximum Ink in March 2000.

When rock music and Rockford, Illinois are mentioned in the same breath, the only thing that comes to mind is Cheap Trick . Rockford is not known as a musical mecca, but as in any city, there are always at least four or five punk kids who come together, form a band, and create something worthwhile. It is now Rockford’s turn again to offer a group that demands attention on a national level, and this time the entity is called The Pimps. Originally christened The Good Year Pimps , the band was forced to drop half their name because the mighty tire company that has become synonymous with blimps didn’t like the quintet’s little word play. While this was a disappointment to the group, they realized that good rock and roll is about the, not the name. Indeed, the Beatles were once the Silver Beatles, Grand Funk were once music Grand Funk Railroad, and Chicago were once Chicago Transit Authority. On top of the historical justification, “The Pimps” is easier to remember, shorter to type, and has a bit more of a sting to it.


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