Heavy F…. Metal.
In 2018, it will be 50 years from when Steppenwolf, screamed the words, “Heavy Metal Thunder” in their iconic “Born To Be Wild” song. And while the reference to “heavy metal thunder” was the loud sound of the motorbike, it seemed to stick for a style of music that was just around the corner.
But heavy metal goes back a bit further than that. You see, in the 1930’s there was a guitarist called Django Reinhardt.
He was a jazz shredder who passed away in 1953, well before heavy metal became a tour de force. But to become a shredder, wasn’t easy for Django. You see, a fire in the late 20’s extensively burned his left hand and other areas of his body. His right leg was paralysed and his fourth and fifth fingers on his left hand were badly burned. The Doctors told him that he will never play guitar again and they wanted to cut his leg off. Django refused the surgery and within a year, learned to how walk again with the help of a cane. But his two fingers remained paralysed. So Django had to relearn how to play the guitar by using his thumb and two fingers.
Fast forward to the 60’s and an unknown Birmingham guitarist tore off the tips off his middle fingers in a freak factory accident. A visit from the company foreman, alerted Tony Iommi to Reinhardt.
“It really inspired me to really get on with it, and start trying to play.”
Tony Iommi VH1 in 2015.
Although Iommi’s problems weren’t as severe as Django, he still had to do things a bit differently. While Django had to relearn how to play the guitar from scratch using less fingers, Iommi just needed to innovate. The first innovation was the creation of the plastic finger tips. The second was the down tuning of the guitar from standard pitch to accommodate the plastic finger tips.
And while Sabbath are seen as the forefathers of heavy metal, metal in general was more than just Sabbath. It was the attitude, the rebellion, the free-spirited nature, the community and gang-like mentality. And this attitude goes back to the early 60’s. In 1964, Beatles records accounted for 60% of all music sales in the U.S. according to Billboard magazine. Rock became a commercial force, priming the U.S kids for the more abrasive, distorted version of rock would enter in a few years’ time.
But to understand the Beatles, you need to go back to Chuck Berry, the father of rock and roll. The Beatles covered “Rock And Roll Music” and “Roll Over Beethoven”. John Lennon ripped off Chuck Berry for “Come Together”.
Hell, the Beach Boys ripped “Sweet Little Sixteen” from Chuck Berry and called it “Surfin’ U.S.A.”.
ELO’s career was jump-started when they covered “Roll Over Beethoven”.
Let’s not forget “Johnny B. Goode”, a hit when it came out, and in 1977 the song was launched into space with the Voyager I and II spacecraft to await discovery. Chuck Berry was a metal head before metal was even around. He sang about fast cars, women and teenage rebellion. In other songs, he questioned the status quo. And since those days, metal has grown worldwide. It’s the new world music. As an article in the Wall Street Journal states;
“Today’s “world music” isn’t Peruvian pan flutes or African talking drums. It’s loud guitars, growling vocals and ultrafast “blast” beats.”
The internet and mp3 sharing has spread heavy metal music to all corners of the world. Music in general was locked up, behind gates, but now we can hear every song ever recorded online, even the songs from “out of print” albums. People from oppressive countries who wouldn’t normally have access to metal music suddenly had access via their fingertips. Metal music is a lifestyle. You live the way you look and look the way you live. There are no pretensions. And you can’t get more metal and no bullshit than Ginger Baker, a person who inspired future metal drummers going on record detesting the style. That’s exactly the free-spirit of a metaller.
“I’ve seen where Cream is sort of held responsible for the birth of heavy metal. Well, I would definitely go for aborting. I loathe and detest heavy metal. I think it is an abortion.”
Ginger Baker – Cream