“It could have been a small book, but it’s just an interview. An interview with bassist and singer Frigid Bich, Joe Leonard. I know what you most think: “Who are these Frigid Bich that you did and interview with them?”. I understand that nowadays people only read the headlines (and only those that are pompous), there are not going to be many who will devote time to deal with such a lengthy discussion. Let it be so. Although questions were sent by e-mail and there wasn’t possibility of direct conversation, Joe opened to Metal Invader teh book of the memories, answering from the heart, without any boasting and conceit. Wondering why I say this? Quite simply because this man was there while our favorite music born on the other side of the Atlantic and helped for its development.
Would you please introduce Frigid Bich to our readers, let us know when they were created, who the members were and what happened until the band disbanded in 1986.
Sure…I would imagine that alot of your readers have recently found out about Frigid Bich because of Enforcer’s cover version of “Tyrants of a Generation” on their ” Live By Fire ” 2015 release. There is a storied history of the band and I will share it with you and your readers. The band started out in 1979 as a garage band based out of Long Island , NY. From the outset, the band was Al Michel (drums) , Joe Melleby (guitar) and myself playing the bass and singing. In the beginning like any other band , we started out playing cover songs of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Cream and other bands . We were all high school friends and were in our mid-teens when Frigid Bich started out. One of the advantages that we had as a band was that the local club scene in New York , New Jersey and Connecticut (the Tri-State area) was exploding and every night of the week the clubs were jam-packed . The drinking age was 18 which really meant that any 16 year old with fake ID could get into the clubs. There were tons of great bands primarily playing covers and occasionally Aerosmith , Blue Oyster Cult or Mountain would visit the Tri-State clubs. We would go to the clubs several nights a week…not to drink….. but to learn. One of the bands that came from the scene was Twisted Sister. Twisted Sister was playing covers but also added their own material into their set. One of their songs “I’ll never grow up..now” was pressed into a 45 RPM single and sold in record stores.
By late 1979, I was starting to experiment with writing songs for Frigid Bich. We didn’t have a name for the band at that point and had a few names like “White Lightning ” and “Exit” when we played at “Battle of the Bands” shows, usually with a dozen other bands. The band was serious from the start but like any band starting out, it took time to find our theme and sound. I had written 2 songs in late ’79 that we recorded at a studio, “Reign of Steel” and “Savage Lust” . We recorded an 8 track demo tape and duped some cassette copies . It was a good experience for us and we learned about recording studios and the process very early on while we were in our teens. In late 1980, I wrote “Call Us Robinhoods” and “Your no Loser” and felt that the songs were good enough to actually press a 45 RPM like Twisted’s single that they were selling. I started to see the “big picture” and realized that we had a real shot of getting a recording contract even though we were teenagers.
On February 14, 1981 (Valentine’s Day ) , we recorded the 2 songs. It’s hard to believe that “Robinhoods” turns 36 years old in 2017 but here we are still talking about it. Within a few weeks of releasing the single, we were contacted by a talent agent who brought the 45 up to the A & M Records office here in NY. The label replied after a few days and were instantly interested in us. We were all about 16 years old at the time, as you could imagine we did not expect to get discovered that quickly. The people at A&M wanted to hear more material and see a video of us immediately. At that point we were still a 3 piece band and we added our friend Henry Matthies to take over the bass from me so I could just concentrate on being the front man of the group. We knew that A&M would have wanted us to set up as 4 piece with a lead singer so we made the change. Henry added a new dynamic to the group as he was influenced by the NYC Punk scene of the late 70’s . Henry was originally a guitar player who switched over to bass because we needed him to. He learned how to play guitar by going to CBGB’s and standing directly in front of Ross the Boss (the Dictators) , Johnny Ramone and Ritchie Stotts (Plasmatics) .Henry used to frequent all of the NYC clubs during that era and was exposed to many great NY acts. He was a self taught guitar player as opposed to Joe Melleby who was a trained player. Soon after Henry joined Frigid Bich, we quickly had to write some new material for A&M. I had been working on 2 new songs, Teenage Rebels and School Daze. Al Michele was working on a track called Jack the Ripper and Liar. Creatively, I was suffering from “writers block” because I knew that I had to “top” Robinhoods and that A & M was looking at a few other bands so I did not want to miss our shot at getting a contract with them.
I wasn’t really happy with Teenage Rebels & Jack the Ripper. Although today they are classics in the Heavy Metal underground, I feared that those songs were not of the caliber of “Robinhoods” and “Your No Loser”. Regardless, we didn’t have much time so we recorded Teenage Rebels, Jack the Ripper & Liar and a video was arranged for A&M for Rebels & Jack the Ripper. We waited for many months for A&M’s decision . While we were waiting we were contacted by Millennium Records who had The Godz on their label and were part of Casblanca (Kiss). The label owner was a guy named Jimmy Ienner. Jimmy had produced a few Kiss songs and many other well known rock acts. Jimmy became very interested in us and around that time, we recorded a new song called “Fight for Rock and Roll”, a re-worked version of “Liar” and an acoustic track called “Poor Mans Fortune” . Soon after, we recorded these songs, A&M passed on us and signed Y&T from San Francisco. To make matters worse, Millennium got pulled into the Casablanca bankruptcy and they no longer could sign new acts.
The original band members, Joe , Al, Henry and myself disbanded out of disappointment. Joe and Al started a new band with a different direction and Henry and I went back to the “drawing board” . In late 1982, we re-formed Frigid Bich with my brother Mike and Chris Meyer (who were now 16 years old). At the time of the original Frigid Bich recordings, the NWOBHM had not really been exposed to the USA. The news of the movement started to “hit the shores” around late 82-83′ . News of Motorhead, Iron Maiden, early Def Leppard, Saxon and everything else happened around that time. Creatively, things began to explode across the USA, and I knew that we were now in the right place at the right time. The new Frigid Bich of late 1982 was a lot different from the original in that now Henry way playing the guitar and my writing style was starting to develop. The way songs were written for the first band, was pretty much a solo effort on my part. I would write the songs and show it to the guys. In the case of Al stepping in to write, the roles would be reversed and he would construct the song. I usually wrote the lyrics or re-wrote Al’s. The new band was different. I would usually write the chorus part first and then show it to the guys. We would then write around that and come to a critical mass as a band.
Another issue was that the new Frigid concentrated on playing out in clubs. As I was saying earlier, Long Island had a very active club scene in the 1980’s. The scene was built by Twisted Sister and Zebra. There were a lot of other bands as well but those 2 really carried the scene for many years. In order to get into the clubs as soon as possible, we needed to get together at least a set of music to play in the clubs. That meant that we needed at least an hour of music. We wrote “We Rule The Night ” at our first band practice but needed at least 9 more songs to even attempt playing out live at a club in front of paying customers. The quickest solution to the problem was to play cover versions of songs that we liked and by groups like Motorhead, The Rods, The Plasmatics and other bands. The NY club scene cover bands usually played AC/DC, Van Halen, Black Sabbath, etc… . When we hit the scene we were different than every other band that was in the circuit. We also got lucky right at the start when we played our first pro gig opening up for an all girl outfit named Poison Dollies. At our gig, we were approached by Kick Ass Monthly Magazine owner Bob Muldowney shortly after we got finished playing our set. Bob was responsible for helping out Metallica distribute the original “No Life Til Leather” tape and was the driving force behind Metallica getting their record deal with Megaforce. Bob was a major figure in the metal movement here in NY and even across the USA. Most of the demo tape trading was going through him and his magazine had become the main US underground magazine and everyone relied on him for information. I don’t think that he ever slept back then. He was on the phone late hours here in NY with European bands and then during the day here he was involved with arranging gigs for bands and writing new articles. His weekends were spent interviewing every band that played in NY, and especially at L’amour in Brooklyn. L’amour was the premier club here in NY and was legendary. Everyone who meant anything played at L’amour. Motorhead, Manowar, Metallica, Raven, Anthrax, Twisted Sister, Overkill, Carnivore, Nuclear Assault, Slayer, Exodus, Megadeth, White Lion, Cities, King Diamond, Iron Maiden, Saxon, and tons of other metal bands from that era played there. It was the place to play. Bob was L’amour and L’amour was Bob.
After the Dollies gig, Bob became our manager . He began booking us throughout the tri-state area (NY,NJ,CT). As the scene began to explode here in NY, we began to write new songs after “We Rule The Night”. The second song that we wrote was “No Guts No Glory” and we were starting to really develop our sound. One of our early gigs was with THOR. THOR was a novelty act and we were slotted to open up for him at famous NY club called Cheers. The gig was promoted by a heavy metal radio show and originally the gig line up was supposed to be THOR, Virgin Steele and Frigid Bich. We were originally only to open the show in a 20 minute set, but Virgin Steele cancelled at the last minute. THOR’s manager watched our sound check and decided that THOR should open for us at around 10pm. The club was packed and THOR played from 10-11pm that night. The crowd stayed and waited for us to go on at midnight and we blew the place away. The club owners were so impressed that they wanted us back every month to do the metal show and offered us weekly gigs there on Sunday nights because TT Quick ( Mark Tornillo- Accept) was going to be doing L’amour on Sundays and they needed a metal band to fill the slot. They picked us out of dozens of NY bands. Bear in mind that Mike and Chris were only 16 years old and not even legally allowed into the club let alone play there ! .
As Bob was booking us all over the circuit, Metallica had really exploded in the NY scene. Although they were in from California, they were living in NY, sleeping in a rehearsal room and spending a lot of time playing in NY, NJ and Connecticut. Around that time we got offered a spot on the NY Metal album . The NY Metal album was originally supposed to come out in 1983 but got bumped a year into 1984. We recorded “We Rule The Night” and “No Guts No Glory” in early 1983 . We agreed to have “We Rule The Night” included on the NY Metal album provided that it was the last track on side B of the record. It was around this time, strictly by accident , I landed a day job at a record company called Important Record Distributors. Important was the biggest independent record distributor in the US at the time and was located right outside of JFK Airport. The company was co-owned by a UK company called Windsong International and Windsong also owned Secret Records (who later became Music For Nations) . Windsong also had a very close connection to Roadrunner/ Roadracer in Holland. A lion’s share of almost every NWOBHM release was imported and distributed throughout the US because of this set-up as well as export of the exploding US Metal scene releases back to Europe. Right in the middle of Frigid Bich’s up and coming success, I landed right in the middle of the epicenter of the entire Heavy Metal universe. During the day , I helped build the “train tracks” of the heavy metal world and at night I screamed my head fronting Frigid Bich. It was an incredible time.
Around this time, we started to expand our writing and wrote “The Kids Are Gonna Fight”, “Metal On Denim On Leather” and “Tyrants Of A Generation” .We recorded a demo of the tracks right off the Cheers soundboard one evening for Bob Muldowney. Shortly afterwards, we were offered a multi-album deal from Metal Blade and Bob Muldowney was sending the “Tyrants” demo tape all over the US and the world. Frigid was very busy playing during that time and we began to play large halls and theaters . The stage show had expanded to the point where Henry would light a guitar on fire at the end of the show and smash it as pyrotechnics exploded after “We Rule The Night”. After Metallica released “Kill Em All” , my day job at Important became more than just a day job. The company was growing leaps and bounds and I was promoted within the company to co-run the Combat Record label. I was also handling all of the releases from Megaforce (Metallica, Raven, Manowar, Exciter, Mercyful Fate, SOD, Anthrax, etc…) , Noise (Celtic Frost, Voi Vod, Helloween, etc..) , and many other labels that the company was distributing. I was the project manager, and for the most part every release had to pass through me as well as all of the Combat projects that were then released in Europe through Music For Nations and Roadrunner…even Shinko and King Records in Japan as well as Banzai in Canada and A& M in Canada. The Combat releases included Megadeth, Nuclear Assault , Dark Angel, Agnostic Front, etc… . There were also other labels…too many to mention . To say the least, I did not sleep. Once Metallica got placed with Elektra things went into hyper-drive. By mid 1985, I could no longer dedicate the time to Frigid Bich…it was impossible. Combat had become an almost 24-7 life for me and I could not be 2 places at once. Many people and bands were relying on me and I was in a very unique situation. Ultimately, Frigid Bich was something that had to stop because of a multitude of reasons that I never foresaw when I started at the label. The band played its final show at L’amour in 1986 opening for Nuclear Assault in front of a packed crowd.
A reasonable question would be, since you were involved with so many record labels that dominated the metal scene during the 80’s, how come you didn’t pursue a recording contract for Frigid Bich.
Very reasonable question…I have been asked that question for 30 years. I was hired into the music business for one reason and for one reason only…because of my “gut instincts” . My “gut instincts” were from my days as a youngster and as a teenager in Frigid Bich.
Obviously, while I was at Combat, I was in Frigid Bich. Frigid was also on the NY Metal 84 album that was also under my control. I could have signed Frigid to a contract with Combat or any other label that I wanted to. Steve gave me whatever power I needed to have early on and I was also in charge of all production as well. The problem was that if I signed Frigid to a contract with Combat it could have interfered with the other bands. If I sought a contract with another label, it could have interfered with Combat. There was no way around it. The only way around it was if Frigid signed with a Major company and that would not happen off a demo tape. Frigid would of needed to release an independent release first, prove sales over 10k and get some nationwide press. There was a legal issue known as a “conflict of interest” and this really is the reason that we could not move the band forward to a label back then.
Where did the name Frigid Bich come from and what does it mean exactly? Does “Bich” originates from the guitar brand or is it just a masked version of “Bitch”? I am asking because you were billed as “Frigid Bitch” on the poster ads for the live show you did with Overkill back in the day.
Originally when I was first toying with names in the early 80’s, I was going to call the band Cold Complaint. I was a big fan of MC5 and I liked their anti-establishment message. Cold Complaint wasn’t very remember able so I went back to the drawing board. Joe Melleby had just got a BC Rich Mockingbird guitar and I liked the way BC Rich was marketing the BC Rich Bich guitar. I then paired the words Frigid and Bich together…. Frigid Bich. I think that the billing poster was a misspelling that you are referring to.
The name of Frigid Bich surfaced in an unusual way, since many people heard about you from an Enforcer’s cover of your classic song “Tyrants of generation”. What did it feel like listening to their cover and how much do you think Enforcer helped at revealing a well hidden treasure from the dawn of metal?
I think that a new generation of fans are discovering Frigid Bich for the first time due to Enforcer. I received a text message from Mike Keller of Sacrificial Blood a few weeks after “Live By Fire” was released informing me of the cover version of “Tyrants”. It was great to hear Enforcers version of the song. They did a great job and are introducing tens of thousands of fans to it worldwide. I think that the guys in the band were more surprised than I was. I always knew that our music would get discovered by other bands and covered. I knew it from being the business. I know how things go in cycles and now the early 80’s metal bands are on the “radar” so to speak. You are correct , Frigid Bich was one of those “hidden treasures” from that era.
Throughout history this type of thing has happened before. A great example is the “acid rock” bands from San Francisco of the late 60’s. There were some great bands from back then that got “lost in the shuffle” as genre’s changed and developed . “Acid” (post Iron Butterfly) went out of style and was replaced by “hard rock” ie; Deep Purple. There were many other “Iron Butterflies” that had records out back then but the tide of time washed them away. In the case of Frigid it is a little different because of the internet and the archiving that goes on….it’s like a family tree. Somewhere in that tree, Frigid Bich has its own branch. Frigid was not a 100% Thrash Band…not a Traditional Metal Band and had a small degree of Punk in it. A writer by the name of Lino Rica called us the founders of the “Street Metal” genre .
I will leave it up to the writers and media people to place us where they want to. In plain speak, I will say to you that listening to Olof imitating me brought a smile to my face. He really understood what the song was all about and he wanted to share it with his generation and that is Ok with me.
I read that you attended an Enforcer show recently, and that you met up with Olof Wikstrad. My guess is that there were a lot of things he wanted to know about Frigid Bich and i bet you were just as curious about how the hell they found out about you?
Yes…great to meet with him. Tall guy. Henry Matthies flew up from Florida to join me and meet with Enforcer at the Gramercy Theatre . We met with Olof for about an hour and he told me that he originally heard “Tyrants” at an afterhours party in Athens after a gig. He heard the song and asked the DJ who it was. He said that it reminded him of something that he wrote himself and got very curious. He then did some research on us and kept the idea of recording “Tyrants” for 2 years. He told me that he couldn’t stop thinking about it and finally decided to record it for the Enforcer “Speak the Tounge of Heathen Gods” Ep. One of the first things he asked me was could he see us play. Believe it or not, this shocked me. I was not shocked that a band covered our song but I was really shocked that there was interest in seeing us play live. Olof suggested that we consider doing some European festivals like Keep it True. I had never even considered anything like that. Olof was also surprised that we had never played in Europe in the early 80’s. I tried explaining that world was a much different place in the early 80s’ and we were really a NY band that played the east coast scene. Fascinating conversation.
In the past i’ve done a review on Lucifer Was?, who released, if i remember correctly, their first album 27 years after their first demo. I thought nobody would be able to break that record, until i heard about Frigid Bich…Could it be the right time now, 37 years later, to release a complete album? Do you think there’s a chance for a reunion?
Yes…we have already began rehearsing and filmed a video for “Tyrants of a/ our Generation” . We have been working on possibly doing some shows here in NY and we are writing new material. There will be some recordings released in the not too distant future. We are trying to work all of this out and I guess if you watch the video , you can see where we are at. As of this writing, we have been contacted by promoters here in NY and also have been invited to play the Defenders Festival in Brooklyn (June 16 ,17 &18, 2017) . It would be our first live show since L’amour, Brooklyn in 1986 and we have also been speaking with another promoter about other NY shows. You next question would be…what about Europe ? We are speaking about all of this stuff. That is about all I can say at this point.
Do you still keep in touch with your old band mates? I was wondering if they’re still making music or if they’ve followed different paths in their lives.
I guess the last question answers this question but a few things are worth speaking about and your readers may find some of this interesting. Henry lives in Florida and used to have a rehearsal studio . Nicko Mcbrain from Iron Maiden used to rehearse there when off tour. Henry plays the same Ice-White BC Rich guitar from the club days and he still sounds ferocious. Chris Meyer plays in a band called Mother Psychosis and my brother Mike is a guitar teacher. The guys had bands after Frigid. Mike and Chris were in Damaged and Henry had other bands that played clubs after Frigid. I am still active in the music business behind the scenes and self employed for over 25 years in the business. I am a business and legal consultant in the industry and I am in touch with companies all over the world.
Even on your Facebook page things are a bit confusing. People are asking each other who is the admin of the page and no one seems to be able to figure anything out. Is it your official page or just a fan page made by the bands friends?
Started off as a fan page set up by the guys in Sacrificial Blood. Chris Meyer is the administrator as well as Mike Keller. Those guys usually respond to questions pretty quickly.
Besides participating in the “New York Metal” album in ’84, there has been an EP with six songs that was released in 2003, named “Anger, Attitude, Anarchy” and a compilation named “Tyrants of a Generation”, that included studio and live recordings of yours, along with 4 covers. Are there any more songs that were never released, or songs that you were working on but remain unfinished?
Not really. The last song we ever recorded was “Louder Than Loud” in 1986. “Wild In The Streets” was finished but needed to be re-worked, and still needs to be re-worked. Other than that I have an old notebook with various writings…one in particular is “The Enemy Of My Enemy” which is almost now complete and will be recorded soon.
The “Anger/ Attitude” material is A& M stuff with Joe, Al, Henry and myself. There were some unfinished early days songs..namely a track called “School Daze”. A live recording , the only live recording of the original group does exist, but the quality is not good enough to release. We tried to use the live track of “School Daze” from the recording for a bonus on the Anger release but the sound engineer could not do anything with its poor quality. Possibly, we may put it up on Youtube in the future for history sake. I have to listen to it again.
If you were to release an album today, would you rather re-record old material or work on something new?
Believe it or not, Henry , Chris and I got together in 2011 with the intention of recording all new material. This was after the release of the Stormbinger edition of Tyrants. We started working on the “Enemy Of My Enemy” and put the idea aside. Recently, when Enforcer happened, I came to the conclusion that we should incorporate everything and rework it a bit just to give it a “today” feel. I think by doing the “Tyrants” video we may have accomplished that very delicate task…its a really thin line that we are walking. When I started speaking to Henry about the possibility of new material in 2011, I knew that we needed to find a common denominator to bring the past to the present. Even as recent as 2011, I could not foresee the recent resurgence over the last 2 years of the interest in “Kill Em All” era Metal. Even Metallica doesn’t see it…they are still confused and stuck on reinventing “Death Magnetic” rather than “Kill Em All ” . Don’t get me wrong….it doesn’t surprise me but sometimes it is hard to see things that are right in front of your face.
11- I would like now to open your treasure chest of memories. You’ve been witness to the birth and development of American Heavy Metal. In the past, you’ve worked with none too few bands that later achieved monstrous success (Megadeth, Possesed, Nuclear Assault, etc), you’ve worked on Metallica’s two first albums, you’ve been a part of many projects and you were involved in some of the most important releases in the history of metal, you had a key position in many record labels, distribution labels and who knows what else. I’m pretty sure that everyone that’s reading this interview right now is expecting to hear details that never made it to the public ear, so what do you think, should we start on metallica?
I was in charge of all of the production and manufacturing of all of the labels and releases that Important Records released and distributed from 1983-1987. Everything went through me. Nothing moved without my say so. I was 21 years old and had complete control over all of it. The releases were selling in huge numbers, Metallica, “Kill Em All” for example had sold over 350,000 cassette tapes out of the Important Records warehouse in less than 2 years. “Ride The Lightning” was released as well and shortly after, Elektra bought out the remainder of Metallica’s contract from Megaforce and we had to stop pressing “Ride The Lightning”. We still had “Kill Em All” and Music for Nations was exporting the “Jump In The Fire” b/w “Creeping Death” 12′ back to Important as well as a cassette version of it that we were shipping truckloads of out to shops across the US. Many “uncertified” Gold albums were manufactured and sold there. New acts or new labels were signed almost weekly, album covers were created on our desks or the floor sometimes due to having little space to do it….no Photoshop back then. It was cut and paste for real. Recording studios, mastering studios, lawyers, band mangers, accountants, magazine writers, videotaping, photographers, and every aspect of record, tape and CD publishing. No computers back then either.
As a record label executive, which bands did you help become famous, or did you discover? Also, were there any bands that should have become famous, but never did and remain to this day unknown?
I was not really an A&R guy. As I was describing before, I wore many hats so to speak. We had A&R people who worked at the company but the decisions as to who we would sign were made on Friday mornings on what we used to call the “Power Hour”. We would have a meeting with the promotional people and some of the sales people at Important were also invited in to the meeting. We would pour some coffee, eat donuts and blast demo tapes. Death came from one of those meetings. A tape was sent into me from Chuck Schuldiner and I introduced it at the meeting.
I used to take the time and listen to as many tapes as I could. If there was no interest, I would write letters back to the bands and return their tape to them. I felt really strong about that because I knew about waiting for the “phone to ring” and how bands feel about wanting to know if they are in the right direction or not. The unknown sucks.
As far as bands that “slipped through the cracks”…one that comes to mind is Zoetrope. Really great guys and could really play. They were from Chicago and back then Chicago was overshadowed by NY & LA. We tried but we could not break them. One of the guys Louis Svitek went on to other bands and is still active. The drummer and singer Barry Stern died years later in 2005 which is very unfortunate….he was really great guy and always very positive about his band.
You were there to witness the upsurge of Thrash Metal. Can you tell us a little bit more about that era?
Sure…I was there before there was even a name for it. I have my own opinion about how this evolved because being from New York and Long Island, our musical eco-system revolved around The Ramones, Twisted Sister, The Dictators, The Plasmatics, and the touring bands that would come through the scene like Blue Oyster Cult , Aerosmith and Van Halen. Out of all of the groups that I just mentioned, The Plasmatics were by far the most inventive group to be on the scene at that time. What is interesting about them is that they played in every state and did frequent late night TV shows where they would blow up cars…it was like a circus. Their music was considered punk but eventually they evolved into metal. They were a big influence on us as we were able to see them up close many times. I think that the common denominator or gateway from the NWOBHM to the “Thrash Era” evolved from The Plasmatics. Because they needed to get exposure on the late night TV shows, they needed to “slow down” their punk based songs. I think the collision of Punk and the NWOBHM created “Thrash”. I can tell you that during that time period (circa 80-82) there were many avenues that metal was growing from. From LA, glam was starting with Motley Crue and Ratt, NY had Twisted Sister , Riot and The Rods, and the US tour circuit of dinosaur bands like Van Halen was about to give way to Iron Maiden, Ozzy, AC/DC and Def Leppard. This opened the door for the “Thrash Era” on the local scenes here in NY and across the country in LA. The Plasmatics proved that a band did not have to be like “Foreigner” or “Journey” to get publicity , get on TV, sell records in order to tour. They also proved that radio play was not necessary to get known. I think that is their real contribution to “Thrash Metal” . Sure, “Thrash” evolved from NWHOBHM bands and particularly out of San Francisco. However, we were creating something very similar to it here in NY without even knowing that San Francisco was happening. Also, out of Europe, Venom , had invented a form of “Dramatic Performance Thrash” . Motorhead really invented this criss-cross of punk and metal in late 1979. The Plasmatics took some of that into 1979-1981 and I believe they were kind of like unofficial ambassadors that traveled from state to state unknowingly setting the stage for Thrash. After “Kill Em All” was released, many bands began to quickly move into that direction but I believe as I was there for all of this that the stage had been set prior to “Kill Em All”. The people were ready for something new and exciting. The early days of the movement was pretty much a coming of age for all of us who were there. The door opened and an entire generation rushed into it…denim vests on , head banging and stage diving. Pretty amazing times. I wish that all of the young metal fans of today could feel that unity that we had back then. It was “us against them” and “we” were a fucking army of tens of thousands of angry young guys. There is a great video on Youtube of a L’amour TV commercial circa 1986. Watch it….it says it all.
When I met with Olof, he was asking me questions about this and I tried to explain it to him. You had to be there at that time and era…that is the best way to describe it.
Do you stay in touch with the bands you worked with in the 80’s, bands like Megadeth, Nuclear Assault etc?
Not too much. Dave sent me a Platinum “Peace Sells” Record award some years back and a friend of mine is close with Danny Lilker so we send kind regards back and forth. After I left Combat/ Relativity in late 1987, I went to work at Arista/ BMG here in NY. I lost touch with a lot of the guys around that time….we are talking about almost 3 decades of time past. Not that I wanted to lose touch with those guys…I didn’t. It was just changing times and I was involved in the business on different levels. I had been involved since I was 16 years old and I had some opportunities in the business that I wanted to take advantage of. The big companies wanted me and things were changing at Combat. After Arista, I was offered to be the President of SPV USA/ Steamhammer. I released Sodom “Persecution Mania” and Destruction’s “Mad Butcher” as well as many other releases. After my stint at SPV , I started my own distribution company here and eventually owned my own CD pressing plant here in NY with a partner who was an old friend from Important. Metal wise, I also owned a label in the early 90’s. We had Winter “Into Darkness” as well as releasing Bolt Thrower “In Battle There Is No Law”, Cancer “To The Gory End” , and Godflesh “S/T”. So many other records, I can’t even remember.
Would you like to share any interesting stories from recordings, tours or anything really, that comes to mind?
I was really fortunate to be at the right place at the right time. I could probably tell you hours of stories from back then. I think that I worked alongside of some really great people over the years and some great people have worked for me not only as an executive , but as an owner/employer myself. Making records is like being a magician. Everybody can’t wait to see the magic trick and say “wow”. Believe it or not one thing that comes to mind is the new Megadeth record “Distoria”. It’s a long way from “Killing Is My Business” to “Distoria”. Dave has a real shot of a Grammy Award here in the states with this album. To me , that means a lot even though I have not been involved with them for years. Megadeth was obviously something that I was involved in back in the “beginning” . Dave has been up for a Grammy many times but has never gotten one. I am rooting for him…he paid his dues and then some.
After the end of the Frigid Bich chapter in 1986, have you participated in any other projects?
Other than singing “Happy Birthday” to my wife and son every year….No.
The last hurrah of your live shows, was your appearance with Nuclear Assault. Had you already decided that this would be your last show where you said your goodbyes, or was this decision taken afterwards?
I pretty much knew that the final show at L’amour would probably be our last. I was not 100% sure that night but a few weeks later, I decided that it was no longer fair to the guys to keep them on the “hook”. The one thing I remember saying to myself onstage that night was how good the guys in the band were. Over the years we used to rehearse almost 7 days a week . Holidays, weekends, it did not matter….Frigid came first. I knew that the guys could go on without me. It was in their best interest that the band stopped playing so they could move on. They all moved on and became even better players over the years. Check out the new video that we filmed for “Tyrants” . 30 years later and only 7 hours of practice. That is a testament to how good the guys are as players.
In your opinion are there any other undiscovered treasures like Frigid Bich from the early American Metal era?
Sure….my brother Mike and Chris’s band Damaged. Check out Metal-Archives.com
Do you regret not having signed the proposed contract with Metal Blade records in 1984? Do you ever think about where that contract could have lead had you agreed to sign it back then?
No regrets whatsoever. We own all of rights of all of the songs to this day and the trademark to the name. I could have signed us to Combat if I wanted. Metal Blade was being distributed through Important/ Combat anyway so there was no advantage signing with Metal Blade. We would have signed with a major though, and now after all of these years Enforcers cover of “Tyrants” is being distributed via Sony in the states and Universal worldwide.
When you are really passionate about something, the passage of time matters little. Joe Leonard, 30 years later, has anything changed about his love for this kind of music?
Over the years, my passion for music has broadened to all kinds of genres. I have traveled the entire world due to the business and recently really developed a love for early Jazz music as well as ethnic music from many countries. As far as metal goes, I still have the same feeling that I had as a kid for it. I still listen to a lot of metal…new and older. What I think is great is that metal is growing worldwide into geographic areas that I never dreamed would be possible. Metal is an international language.
Are you working on something at the moment?
Always working. I am involved with different aspects of the business. I am not involved with metal but I have many friends involved with metal. I am considering becoming a music business attorney though.
Which new bands stand out to you the most?
Lots of great new bands. I like Holy Grail and I saw Cauldron when they opened for Enforcer here in NY. Evil Invaders are pretty good and I like their Exciter cover. Mike Keller, who started our Facebook page, has a band called Sacrificial Blood that is worth a mention. I think that Enforcer seems to be at the top of the heap of the Euro bands that are riding the NWOTHM.
I’m familiar with the fact that from on mother’s side, you are Greek, and that you also chose Santorini as your honey moon destination. Are you keeping an eye on the Greek scene? Have you even received any demos from Greek bands seeking a record label?
Wonderful country and really great people there. I miss the iced Nescafe coffee…really great stuff. Yes…I am part Greek on my mother’s side. We stayed in Athens, Rhodes and Santorini (Oia) . When I was there in 1991, I did not visit any clubs in Athens. I did go to a few record shops in Athens though and I noticed that metal was pretty big there..even back then. Lots of German/ SPV imports in the shops from what I remember. As far as demos from bands, no I have never been sent any demos. I know about the “Up The Hammers Fest” and the metal venues there so I would imagine that there is a scene.
Would you go on stage to sing “tyrants of a generation” with Enforcer?
Sure….Olof plays it in F# . I wrote it in open E so I would have to adjust. Frigid Bich has an open offer to Olof to join us on stage anytime he wants as well.
Have you ever thought of publishing a book of your memoirs?
My wife has been after me for years to start. Dave Mustaine wrote his and so did Danny Lilker. I know Eddie Trunk from the Megaforce days, and he is from the business. His book did okay from what I know. There is a book on L’amour and many other books out there. I think that the story may not be finished for me yet so I am dragging my feet a bit.
Let’s end this interview with a closing medley of thoughts and ideas. Your subject would be “Heavy metal from the 80’s up until 2016, what has changed, what has remained the same, what went wrong and what’s keeping the genre alive and kicking? You have all the room you want to express your opinions on this subject.
This subject is a book in itself. I have been involved with this stuff since 1979 so I have seen the rise, the fall, the awakening and the new rise. People like to concentrate on faults of things in order to explain failures. This is normal and natural. People however take success for granted or think that some kind of divine intervention makes success happen. Fire for example needs certain elements in order for it to start. You need dry wood, still air, friction and force to make the wood start to smoke. You need certain elements for it to exist.
In the 1980’s we had a perfect storm here in the states. Ozzy had left Black Sabbath and started his new band with Randy Rhoads. Randy changed everything. Randy was the alternative to Eddie Van Halen. Van Halen had a monopoly on the US tour circuit and every new band wanted to be “Van Halen”. The “Blizzard of Oz” took away a lot of Van Halen’s thunder and set the stage for the NWOBHM hitting the US shores. Ozzy introduced 17 year old Def Leppard to the US in late 1981 and brought over UFO as well. Motorhead came shortly after and things started to spread. As I was saying before, I firmly believe that The Plasmatics had a huge impact as well because they went into areas never explored by rock acts before. Then Black Sabbath came back to the USA with Ronnie James Dio and “Neon Knights” was the song that opened everyone’s ears and minds to “fast metal”. “Fast as a Shark” from Accept happened a few years later. AC/DC was also a big help with their tours as well and radio played “You Shook Me All Night Long” . You laugh about it now (“You Shook Me All Night Long” ) but back then, that track was a major blow to the radio here in the states. It changed the mindset here. Then slowly but surely things began to happen. Kiss released “Creatures of the Night” . Judas Priest, Scorpions, Iron Maiden, etc…. Los Angeles started to happen. Europe sent Raven, Witchfinder General, Tank ,Saxon, Venom, Mercyful Fate, etc… . By mid-late 1982 the foundation was laid here and a perfect storm was brewing for Heavy Metal and for all of the sub genre’s that still grow even til today.
Recording technologies changed in the late 70’s and 24 track recording that was only available to huge budget albums was now available at a reasonable rate to independent companies. More importantly, the vinyl record had a companion configuration …the cassette tape. Cassettes and car stereos were the gas to fire of the heavy metal movement of the 1980’s here in the states. In the late 80’s the CD came to market and changed the business forever. Labels poured money into development of bands and great albums were being made. Money helps boost creativity. Things grow vertically because of money otherwise it’s hard for things to grow. Labels were like special “banks” that made very risky investments in unknown values. Some worked out great and some did not. Metal was always a “safe bet” though.
Today because of the “horizontal” nature of the internet, the “edge” has been taken off the growth of metal and music in general. It takes a backseat to gadgets and technology. Nothing gets “hot” and if it does…it gets “cold” very fast because of the instant availability. “Word of mouth” does not exist anymore and things don’t grow naturally. Still I am an optimist. I believe that there are 4 guys in a garage somewhere ready to write some great and unique stuff and will make a difference.
Things always change and sometimes like an old friend…things return.
Hope that I answered your questions.