A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Thrash Incorporated with Metallica, Anthrax And Raven

In August 1984 Metallica, Anthrax and Raven played New York’s Roseland Ballroom. Anthrax opened the show, then came Metallica and the headliners were Raven. Jon Zazula was the promoter of the show, forming Megaforce Records to sign and promote all three bands. He sure did his homework/promotions and over 3,000 people attended the show, along with a lot of major label executives.

For Raven, it was an accumulation of ten years hard work to get to this point. They built up their career by playing all the tough and confrontational workingman clubs in Northern England.

As was the norm for bands of that era, early albums on smaller independent labels led to major label contracts. Raven was no exception and a major label deal with Atlantic Records followed after. The pressures to deliver a more commercial sounding album that could cross over, alienated the original fans and didn’t really gain any new fans.

Today, Raven is more or less forgotten. Spotify stats are under 20,000 streams. YouTube has the song “On And On” at 211,697 views and “Lay Down The Law” has 171,772 views. No one is listening to them.

For Metallica, that show was the biggest show for the band up to that point. Michael Alago former A&R, at Elektra Records was there in attendance and he wanted to sign to Metallica to the label.

Today, “Enter Sandman” has 31,205,811 streams on Spotify and the official video on YouTube has 40,758,247 views, while a live version has 72,499,306 views. “Nothing Else Matters” has 27,925,987 streams on Spotify and the official video on YouTube has 62,987,299 views while a live version has 40,884,893 views. “One” has 86,077,668 views on YouTube and 13,304,900 streams on Spotify.

For Anthrax the show was a combination of three years hard work to that point for the band. The band wouldn’t get a major label deal until after “Persistence Of Time” when Elektra came knocking. On Spotify, “Madhouse” has been streamed 1,716,342 times. On YouTube the same song has been viewed 6,986,320 times. “Indians” has 4,279,543 views on YouTube and 732,107 streams on Spotify. “Got The Time” has 3,606,042 views on YouTube and 1,442.115 streams on Spotify.

Clearly the opening bands went on to great achievements compared to the headliners. The record labels that signed them would be flush with cash from the sales of records.

Elektra struck big with Metallica.With each album release Metallica kept on getting bigger and bigger.

Megaforce kept Anthrax up for about 8 years before Elektra came in circa 1992 (for the John Bush-era)

Meanwhile Atlantic didn’t get the results they wanted from Raven. After three disappointing albums (the first one was the strongest of all three), Atlantic dropped them.

It’s funny how the music business works.

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Music

In This Moment and Atlantic

“In This Moment” will regret signing with Atlantic Records. Atlantic Records under the reign of the departed Ahmet Ertegun were well known for not paying their artists. Throughout the Eighties, Atlantic capitalised big time on the success of the metal and rock bands, and once those bands dad a drop in sales, Atlantic started dropping the bands left, right and centre and moved on to the next thing that could make them money.

Let’s look at some of the bands that Atlantic have signed;

The story of the band “Bush” is very similar to “In This Moment”. After three successful releases on a smaller label, “Bush” signed with Atlantic for their fourth release and in return they had their least successful album. So with no mainstream success and a lack of label support, “Bush” called it quits. Which is a shame as the band was coming of three great albums.

“Winger” was signed by Atlantic and they had success with Atlantic Records, there is no doubt about that. However, Atlantic signed a band that had musicians already developed and experienced. There was no artist and development costs associated with “Winger”. With that experience Atlantic reaped in millions from the first two “Winger” albums. After “Winger” delivered their best album “Down Icognito”, “Beavis and Butthead” also happened, and after hanging a Winger loving family in one of their episodes, Atlantic Records suddenly developed amnesia and claimed that they had never heard of “Winger”.

“Collective Soul” already had a demo version of their massive hit “Shine” doing the rounds on radio for about six months before Atlantic picked them up and re-released the same demo album under the Atlantic brand. What an artist and development program at Atlantic. While the band kept selling, Atlantic loved them. Then when the sales started to decline (although still great numbers compared to other bands), the label started to lose interest and after 7 years of making Atlantic wealthy, once their contract ended, it wasn’t renewed.

“White Lion” also experienced a similar fate to “Winger”. When the band was signed, they already had seven years under their belts, plus an independent release. What an artist and development program at Atlantic. So when “Pride” broke out, Atlantic pushed them to write more hit singles. This added pressure to create “hit songs” caused a conflicted Vito Bratta even more conflict and when the record label advice failed to provide an increase in sales for “Big Game”, the label just stopped caring. As a last resort, they gave them a lot of money for the “Mane Attraction” album and while “White Lion” was out of the music scene recording that album, their label had already moved on. So it was no surprise when the album was released with no marketing budget and within 5 months of the album being released the band was over. No one from the label called them and it just ended.

“Twisted Sister” had a huge local following, however US labels just kept on rejecting them. Eventually, they went looking for a deal in Europe and after a false start with Secret Records, they ended up getting signed to Atlantic Europe. Then they started to get traction in the US with “You Cant Stop Rock N Roll”. As an import album, it was selling like hot cakes in the US. So of course, Atlantic US came knocking, signed them (even though they ignored and rejected them for ten years prior to that), made a huge amount of money of the “Stay Hungry” album and then dropped them three years later. Again, what an artist and development program at Atlantic.

“Zebra” had a huge local following before they got signed with Atlantic Records. Then the “Zebra” debut album became one of the fastest selling releases on the Atlantic roster. Again, what an artist and development program at Atlantic. Not one of the bands that I have mentioned above got signed and developed. They where all developed. Three years later, Atlantic dropped the band, however they kept an option open on Randy Jackson. Randy Jackson finished the “China Rain” record in 1990 and Atlantic Records decided not to release it. Sound familiar. Gatekeepers controlling the fate of musicians. Dee Snider suffered the same fate with his “Desperado” project after experiencing the same shafting when he was in “Twisted Sister”.

“Badlands” was signed by Atlantic. The self-titled debut came out and it achieved cult like status among the jaded metal community. “Voodoo Highway” came next however Atlantic was not impressed with what “Badlands” delivered. It was during the making of “Voodoo Highway” that Lee and Gillen started to disagree over the direction the band was taking. The label wanted hit songs. The label wanted songs written to a strict radio formula. Ray Gillen apparently had songs that suited what the label was looking for. Those frustrations came to a head when Jake E. Lee accused Ray Gillen of going behind his back to the record company in a revealing Kerrang interview. In the end, Atlantic broke the band up and then dropped them when they went chasing the grunge dollars.

Atlantic has a history of extorting hard rock and metal bands. Testament, Skid Row, P.O.D, Mr Big, Taproot, Savatage, The Cult, Kix, Kings X and Queensryche are other bands that come to mind.

“In This Moment” will be next. Their music is a niche style and that style has a niche audience. For them to cross over, they really need to diverge from their style. Their most recent album “Blood” has moved over 250,000 units. For a metal band, that is a great result. For Century Media that is a great result. For Atlantic, that is not a great result, especially when you are on a label that has Bruno Mars, who has sold over 58 million singles. Especially when you are on a label that has Shinedown who are a multi-platinum selling band.

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Music

Randy Jackson from Zebra

No, not the American Idol judge. Randy Jackson from the band Zebra. He does Robert Plant better than Robert Plant!

It was Dream Theater’s cover of their song “Take Your Fingers From My Hair” in 2009 that re-awakened my interest in Zebra. Isn’t it funny how a cover song brings back the original song and the band into the psyche. Something that Jon Bon Jovi doesn’t have the foresight for, as he thought tooth and nail to stop Shinedown covering “Wanted Dead or Alive”, believing that Shinedown’s cover song would take away income from the Bon Jovi original.

In an interview with The Great Southern Brainfart Randy Jackson was asked how did he feel about Dream Theater’s version and has Zebra seen a new horde of young fans because of it.

“Certainly. A lot of people who were unaware of Zebra were definitely made aware of us by Dream Theater doing that cover. We were really flattered that they did it. They stuck to the original version but added their own touch to it so I thought they did a great job with the song. I really liked it.”

Jackson founded Zebra in 1975. They had a very large following before their first record ever came out in 1983 on Atlantic Records. Like most bands in the later part of the Seventies and the early part of their Eighties, most of their fan base had been developed from their live shows.

In addition, the majority of the bands had been slugging it out for a decent time in the clubs before getting their recording contract. Look at Twisted Sister. How many artists today are prepared to put in 8 years of hard work before they actually get a chance to record. The answer is NONE. Artists today record straight away, release it and expect something to happen. They might do it that for a few years and when nothing happens 90% of those artists would walk away. The 10% that continue are the ones that become lifers.

The follow-up album “No Tellin Lies” in 1984 stalled in the U.S and by 1986, their 3.V album wasn’t even noticed and Atlantic dropped them.

Zebra should have toured Europe after the second record got released, instead they stayed in the U.S and as Randy has said in a few interviews, it was probably their worst decision ever made. Maybe they never should have released the second album. As with all things in the music business, once a band has an unexpected hit, they are put under serious pressure to release a follow-up.

Zebra fell into this category, pressured and rushed to get album number 2 out. The label also didn’t ball in the promotion game. The fan base of Zebra was still in New York and Louisiana and that is where the promotion efforts should have been focused on. A lot of Zebra’s hard core fans didn’t even know that they had album number 2 out. .

As history would have it, they put out their second album and went on tour with “REO Speedwagon” and “Sammy Hagar” during 1984. Air play for the new album was not a lot compared to the self-titled album, so after the US tours, the band had to go back in and record album number 3.

This was February 1985. As Randy Jackson was writing the third album they also looked for a producer. The band couldn’t come up with anybody. For five months the band was in limbo. It wasn’t until December 1985 that the band hit the studio for album number 3. That was a false start and the band went back into pre-production to work on the material. Finally in February 1986 they went into the studio and stayed there until August of the same year. By then it was all over.

If Atlantic was hanging out Twisted Sister to dry, what did that mean for a band like Zebra?

The album “3.V” just died. Radio ignored it. The week that it was released was the same week that Bruce Springsteen released his live box set. Three months earlier, Bon Jovi released “Slippery When Wet” and that album was picking up some serious momentum by November 1986, Europe’s “The Final Countdown” had broken world-wide as well. Radio put them in constant circulation.

The press didn’t want to give Zebra the time of day as “The Boss”, Bon Jovi and Europe became the darlings at that time. At this time as well, a lot of the radio program directors weren’t in charge of the play lists anymore and this really Zebra because back in 1986, bands really need airplay in order to get record sales. In addition, another program called MTV also ignored the band.

While most people would know Zebra by the songs “Tell Me What You Want” which Randy wrote it 1978 at 6:30 am after a gig at “Speaks” (New York) and “Who’s Behind the Door” that deal with the big questions about life there are other songs to sink your teeth into. There is the “Yes” inspired “The La-La Song”, “Take Your Fingers From My Hair”, “Lullaby”, “Time”, “Hard Living Without You”, “But No More” and “One More Chance”.

Then it was over. China Rain never got a fair shake. Randy Jackson finished the China Rain record in 1990 and Atlantic Records decided not to release it. Sound familiar. Gatekeepers controlling the fate of musicians. Dee Snider suffered the same fate with his “Desperado” project.

From 1992 to 1996, Randy was involved in the development of an interactive musical instrument called “The Key”. The instrument allowed anyone to play a guitar-like instrument (The Key) along with videos or CDs.

“Zebra IV” started recording in 1996. The drums were done in a week in 1996 and the rest of the album was done sporadically after that. In a MelodicRock.com interview, Randy said it was “a good 9 months of actual studio time but spread over a period of 7 years”.

The album didn’t see the light of day until 2003.

Throughout the Nineties, Randy built up his acoustic shows. Nobody wanted to book him in the beginning, even his trusted agents in New Orleans who had booked Zebra for 20 years rejected him. Now he is playing places like Japan and criss crossing the US and he hasn’t even put out a recording of the acoustic project. Yep, while labels and artist still believe it is about the album, here is Randy Jackson delivering a show that is spreading via word of mouth.

The same major labels who have been scared to search out and develop new music and bands. The rock that kids listen to today is the rock that we listened to growing up. Record execs are so afraid of losing their jobs that they wouldn’t think of trying something new. All they want is for their profits to sustain or get better, because in the corporate world that we live in today, everyone is replaceable.

In between Randy did “The Sign”, a melodic rock supergroup. He also handles the vocals for the wildly successful Symphonic Music shows of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Eagles performing to packed houses across the country (from 1996).

He is a lifer in the music business. Prepared to do what he needs to do to get. He is 38 years deep in his music career. He didn’t get the fame that other bands did, however it didn’t mean he didn’t have success.

http://www.famousinterview.ca/interviews/randy_jackson.htm
http://thegreatsouthernbrainfart.com/?p=7752

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