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1 ON THE BRINK
ROBB: Walking offstage at the Civic Center at Glens Falls, I punched the air. We'd smoked them. An Aerosmith audience that had come to see their classic rock heroes had been turned over by Anvil, an obscure heavy metal band from Toronto. They'd never even heard of us, but we'd won them 'round. We'd fucking triumphed.
Backstage, a tall slim guy, very Jewish, with big hands, brown eyes and a scrambled way of speaking, was waiting: David Krebs, the man who discovered AC/DC and Aerosmith. The manager of Ted Nugent, Def Leppard and the Scorpions. The man we needed to impress.
"How d'you boys think it went?"
"Amazing, man!" I was stoked. "Fucking unbelievable. The people loved us. We kicked ass."
Krebs appeared blown away. "You were hot, but you might have had good luck tonight. I'm gonna come and see you tomorrow night."
Twenty-four hours to prepare to blow Krebs out of the arena for a second time. Then he might come good on the deal he'd been promising since he first made contact. A fortnight earlier, we'd been working in the studio on Forged In Fire, our third album. I'd taken the call.
"Hey, man, I hear you guys are the real deal."
At the time, I couldn't believe it. David Krebs. Mr. Mega. From New York. Spitting words down the line like a machine gun firing bullets. Fuck.
"I hear you guys are the future of metal."
I turned to Lips, standing beside me, guitar in hand. "Brother, it's the big boy." I cupped the phone. "It's Krebs. Leber and fucking Krebs, man."
Lips's eyes widened. Leber and Krebs was the biggest music management company in New York. "Man...no way."
To say I was stoked to hear from Krebs would be an understatement. I was fucking awed. A powerful big-time manager interested in us? We were Anvil, four young guys from Toronto who were gaining a reputation as the heaviest rockers and hardest party animals on the metal circuit, but to most of the world we were unknown. Maybe our years of playing five sets a night, seven nights a week, in the bars and clubs of Quebec, Ontario and New York would now pay off. Maybe the buzz on the street and our rise over the last year playing the Monsters of Rock festival at Donnington and the Marquee Club in London, blowing Iron Maiden and Motörhead off the stage on support tours had at last caught the attention of a man who could really make it happen on a global scale for us. Maybe.
"I want to see your band. Ross Halfin and Doug Thaler tell me you're the next big thing. They say I should check you guys out. They say you're fucking great."
Ross was a legendary heavy metal photographer and Doug was a well-known manager who had just signed Mötley Crüe. Cool endorsements indeed.
"How can I see you? Where are you playing? I want to meet you guys."
Looking at Lips in the hope he might have an answer, I hissed an urgent request. "Dates?"
Lips shrugged. No luck.
"Mr. Krebs, sir. We don't have any dates lined up."
This didn't sound good. We had no gigs because we had no management and because we were in the middle of recording.
"You know what?" said Krebs. "I'm going to give you guys a week with Aerosmith. You can open for them. And I'll come and see you."
The bad boys from Boston were the biggest band in America. Although on the slide from their 1970s peak, Aerosmith in 1983 were still an amazing live draw with an awesome front man in Steven Tyler. I was blown away.
"You can open for my boys here in America at the Spectrum in Philly and in Canada at the Forum. I want to see you guys on a big stage and then we'll talk."
The line went dead and I told the band Lips, Dave "Squirrely" Allison our rhythm guitarist and Ian "Dix" Dickson our bassist the news. They went mad.
"This is it," said Lips. "Like...fuck."
We'd been building up to this moment for six years with Squirrely and Dix. Lips and I had been playing together for longer, ever since the day more than a decade ago when as young teenagers we'd vowed we'd rock together forever. And now the Big Opportunity had come.
That night we walked onto the stage at the Civic Center in front of thousands of Aerosmith fans. Few of them knew us and even fewer wanted to hear our set. We knew it was going to be tough. These guys had come to see a classic rock band and we were a heavy metal act. Barely a murmur of applause greeted the end of our first song, but at least we hadn't been booed off the stage. Dressed in a bondage harness, Lips worked a storm at the front. Squirrely, the Kevin Bacon of metal, performed his usual role of flaunting his pretty-boy looks and leaving his trousers undone to catch the attention of the chicks. Dix was Dix, reliable and hard-working on his bass. And I was at the back: Robbo, the greatest drummer of my generation.
By the end of our half-hour set, the audience had come around. They didn't love us, but they didn't hate us and we got an awesome cheer as we took our bow. It was enough to convince Krebs we had promise, but he wanted to check tonight's performance wasn't some flash in the pan.
The next night we played the Broome County Arena, a large ice-hockey venue at Binghamton, New York. We were just as good, if not better. Krebs was there again and we smoked him. We were living up to the legend of Anvil.
"You guys could have been lucky again tonight." Krebs was checking us out and he liked what he saw, but guys like him don't make hasty decisions. "I'm gonna come and see you one more time. This time it'll be in Philly."
We played two more dates with Aerosmith. The War Memorial Auditorium at Syracuse went well and the Forum in Montreal was almost a home crowd for us. Then we traveled to Philadelphia, where we had two nights off before the big one at the Spectrum. With two nights to kill, we did what every selfrespecting metal band would do. We partied. Big time.
In those days we had a pretty full entourage. Roadies, friends, a few fans and of course the groupies. Chris Tsangarides, who was producing our album in Toronto when the call came from Krebs, came along for the ride and to help sell our merchandise at the gigs. As usual we were staying in some cheap shithole hotel, all of us squeezed into two double rooms, me and Squirrely in the party room, Lips and Dix in the quiet room. Meanwhile, Aerosmith were jetting in a few hours before the gig and arriving in limos. They were rock stars on a whole other plateau. We were dreaming of becoming them.
I was sitting with CT, drinking, talking and partying in Lips's room with a bunch of people. Every now and then our nice quiet party would be disturbed by a bunch of guys and chicks getting up to go into the other room. We all knew what that meant, but CT was oblivious. He had produced albums for Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy, but he had never been out with a band like Anvil before. This quietly spoken Greek-Cypriot Brit had never seen road antics.
"CT." I got up and gestured at the door. "I am going to show you the shit that happens on the road."
Me and Lips took CT into the other room. It was dark, but we could still kind of see what was going on. Two girls were naked on the bed and there were guys all around, maybe five or six. It was an orgy.
"You like it when I finger you, doncha, bitch," said a male voice from among the heap of bodies.
There was a short pause while the chick in question emptied her mouth. "Yeah...you bet."
Beside me, CT was losing it, giggling uncontrollably because he was so uncomfortable. I took him out into the corridor to cool down.
"I've never seen anything like this before." CT was shaking. "Maybe in the movies, but certainly not in real life."
For Anvil, it was business as usual. The party ended after the sun came up on the next day, when we were scheduled to play the biggest North American gig of our career in front of nearly twenty thousand Aerosmith fans at the Philly Spectrum.
For Aerosmith, it was a return to their heartland. They'd played the same venue a fortnight earlier. Both dates had sold out, but things were not entirely good in the Aerosmith camp. Joe Perry, the founding lead guitarist, known with Tyler as one of the Toxic Twins because of their fondness for stimulants and heroin, had left the band and been replaced with Jimmy Crespo. Brad Whitford, the longtime rhythm guitarist, had recently followed Perry out of the door during the recording of their latest album, Rock In A Hard Place. After ten years of international fame and recognition, Aerosmith's fast-paced life of touring, recording and monumental drug use had caught up with them. Most of the band was pretty distant, but we'd met Tyler when he came to our changing room a couple of times to say hi. Still recovering from a serious motorcycle accident a few years earlier, he didn't look well.
As we made our way to the Spectrum stage, their tour manager took us aside.
"Tonight it's no thirty-five-minute set. You're playing for an hour and a half."
"What?" Lips was freaking out. Nearly twenty thousand Aerosmith fans were waiting to see their idols. They'd tolerate us for half an hour at most, but then the trouble would start. "An hour and a half? You must be fucking joking."
The tour manager said Tyler was in a bad way because of his motorcycle accident. He was on painkillers and they couldn't get him up. "Aerosmith can't make it on time and Steven can only do a shorter show tonight. You're playing for ninety minutes."
So we went out and we kicked ass. We had more than enough material to play for longer and the extra time on stage gave us a chance to win the crowd over. I could tell they were wondering what the fuck had happened to Aerosmith, but we put on a good enough show to make an arena full of Aerosmith fans stop yelling for their band. Fortunately they hadn't noticed Squirrely, who as always had partied harder than anyone else, puking behind the Marshalls between songs. And the rest of us had put on a smoking show. We'd pulled it off. It felt awesome.
When we came off stage Krebs was waiting with his wife and Dee Snider, front man of Twisted Sister. He wasted no time in getting to the point.
"What we gotta do is get your stuff out down here in the United States. Get people aware of your music. We gotta get you a global record deal."
Our first two albums, Hard'N'Heavy and Metal On Metal, had been released by Attic, a Canadian heavy metal label. Elsewhere they were available only as imports. A global deal would change our fortunes dramatically. At last we might get the recognition we deserved and make some money from our recordings.
Krebs turned to Lips. "You're like Ted Nugent, but even more fucking metal, man. Sign with me and your band will go all the way to the top."
The break we'd been hoping for had finally come. We'd got a manager. And not some little guy, but the biggest of the biggest. He hardly knew our music and he'd seen us perform only three times, but he could see we were the future of metal. The fucking real deal. The next big thing. Everything I'd dreamed of was about to happen recognition, fame, wealth and adoration and it could only get better.
LIPS: A few months later, we'd signed with Krebs and we were booked to support Motörhead on a six-week tour of Britain. But on May 21, a week before the Motörhead tour, we traveled to Bruges in Belgium to play the Heavy Sounds festival.
Gary Moore was headlining and there were eight other bands on the bill including Uriah Heap, Ostrogoth and "Surprise." That surprise was Anvil. No one in the crowd of ten thousand knew we were playing.
We'd been to Europe before. In 1982 we played the Monsters of Rock festival at Donnington, followed by two nights at the Marquee Club in London at which we'd staked our reputation as one of the heaviest, fastest metal bands around. But this was our first time on the European mainland and we were still relatively unknown outside the community of hardcore headbangers in Canada and New York. We'd have to work very hard to win over this crowd.
The festival was being held in a dilapidated old football stadium. It was damp and overcast and we were exhausted. Money was too tight for hotels, so we'd traveled all night in a beat-up old van with our equipment. Any hope of catching up on sleep disappeared when we arrived at the stadium. Our accommodation was a trashed changing room, but the biggest obstacle to rest and recuperation was a rock star flying in a hot air balloon over the festival. Lemmy, lead singer and founder of Motörhead with a legendary appetite for doing speed and playing loud, was throwing towels down to the crowd.
We'd supported Motörhead in Canada in 1981 and I'd met Lemmy several times since then. A few months earlier, at about the same time Krebs called us in the studio, Motörhead's manager, Doug Smith, had contacted me.
"Can you come and play for Motörhead? We need a guitar player. Our guy's gonna walk out."
"Fast" Eddie Clarke had quit in a hissy fit when Lemmy had proposed recording a cover of Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man." He thought it went totally against Motörhead principles.
Most metal guitarists would have grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Motörhead was one of the best bands in the business. Ace Of Spades, their recent album and single, was a headbanger classic. But we were in the middle of writing and ready to go into the studio. I had a simple answer.
"What you saying, man? We gotta go and record Forged In Fire. I gotta stick with my brothers. No. Can't do it, man. Not possible."
Now, making my way towards our changing room, I was passing a trailer when I felt somebody attempt to snatch the scruff of my neck from behind. Ready to punch whoever had grabbed me, I turned around. Lemmy was standing in the doorway of a trailer, grinning and holding the collar of my jacket.
"Get the fuck in here. I want to have a word with you."
Oh no. Even without his gravelly voice, mutton chops and moles, Lemmy could be a fright. Everything about him said one thing: Don't mess with me.
"I want you to listen to this." Lemmy passed me the headphones to his Walkman. "This is the album you should have done."
I listened. It was very good.
"Why didn't you do it?"
"Lemmy, I had to record our own album. I've got my band and I've got to try to make it with them. It wouldn't have been right."
"I can respect that. That's all right." Lemmy nodded. With him, that was as good as a smile. "Have a listen and tell me what you think."
I listened for a while. "Fucking cool, man. I like it." I really did. And I still do.
"You take care," said Lemmy. "I'll see you next week."
We were the next act due on stage and we needed to get ready, so I left Lemmy's trailer and headed down to the cesspit of our changing room, where I washed my hair in a cracked sink. Then I heard it.
"Anvil! Anvil! Anvil!"
It was the crowd. How did they know we were here? We weren't even named on the bill, yet they were yelling for us. No one ever chanted like that for Anvil. Maybe a few tens of people in a club in Toronto, but not ten thousand voices shouting as one.
"What the fuck is going on?" It was Dix. His bewildered look summed up all our feelings.
Robb, Squirrely, Dix and I walked up to the stage. We could see the crowd and they were freaking out. The roadies had uncovered Robb's drum kit and the crowd could see the Anvil logo on the front of each of his two bass drums. Presumably that had set them off. A few months earlier we'd played in front of thousands of Aerosmith fans, few if any of whom had known who we were even though we were close to home. Now we were thousands of miles away in the middle of Belgium, for fuck's sake and thousands of headbangers were demanding we come on stage. Win the crowd over? What?
It was a real shock.
We ran on stage and the audience went wild. I felt the fire. Catching Robb's eye, I knew what he was thinking: Let's go! Fucking yeah. We kicked into the first number and the place went nuts. I mean it went fucking nuts.
A cold shiver went down my back as I realized we'd found our audience. I'd dreamed of the show when everyone was chanting our name and now, about to release our third album and go on tour with Motörhead, it had actually happened for us. The crowd wanted one thing and one thing only Anvil and that afternoon they got it full fucking blast.
We were going over. We were rocking. And the people were loving it. They were flipping out totally. At the end of the set we got encored. As we came off stage I knew we'd taken the show. Backstage we were the sensation of the festival. Everybody was talking about Anvil. This day would go down in heavy metal legend.
That night I got back to my hotel room, sat down and wrote a letter to Lee, my girlfriend in Toronto. I tried to put into words what had happened that day, how I was so blown away by the response we'd got from the crowd.
My future is assured, I wrote. There's no doubt in my mind that I can now do this for the rest of my life because today I saw my fan base. It is real. It's not just hoping. It's actually there.
Today I made a difference and the people who saw me revered me as something very special. Now I know I will always have an audience. I didn't have to win them over today. They were already there. They've got our albums and they know who we are. We have a future.
It was a turning point in the rise of Anvil. For the first time I felt confident that I was going to be able to make music forever. The fans had shown me. I'd reached the heartland of metal in Europe and struck an almighty chord.
Robb believed that a mega-manager was the vital cog in the machine. Without a manager, Anvil would always struggle, he said. But I didn't agree. I felt the people were the key. And I knew that day that this part of the world was my stronghold. Every metal musician knew in their heart of hearts that Europe was the secret to long-term success because it wasn't a place of trends. Fans there were fans until the day they died. That simple fact was going to make my career go on for as long as I wanted it. These people would venerate me as an important commodity. I'd seen it in their eyes and now I felt it in my soul.
Copyright © 2009 by Steve Kudlow and Robb Reiner