have an impressive body of work to your credit
- what first inspired you to write, and how did
your very first book (Riff Kills Man!) go from
being an idea in your head to a hard-copy product
on sale worldwide?
It was much like it is for the rest of my books,
i.e. my head is cluttered up with loads of trivia
that needs to be put to good use! At the time
of my first book I was a print broker, with a
business partner who did desktop publishing -
or 'layout' as it was called back then - and we
would constantly be sourcing print jobs, getting
prices etc, so I was immersed in that world. The
idea of producing and self-publishing a book wasn't
all that scary to me - except on the day when
2000 books showed up at my door, and then I had
to work at getting rid of them all! But yes, it
started out as an idea to review everything in
my collection. As soon as you do something like
that, you have enough knowledge to realize that
you don't know anything! So, for book #1 the writing
was hideous, and it was so woefully incomplete
that the entire thing is a huge embarrassment
to me now! I just think back and shake my head.
I had an MBA, an undergrad in English, and was
around 30 years old, so you'd think I could be
a half-decent writer! Wrong! But yes, it was fun
packaging the books into consignments and driving
all over Ontario and New York with them. Eventually
they did all get sold or traded - I had an $8000
print bill which I needed to re-coup on!
than a straightforward 'biography' your books
on UFO, Sabbath etc., are in a format whereby
each chapter relates to one particular album,
and covers the events that happened around that
time. It's still chronological but each section
is almost a stand-alone book in its own right.
How did you come up with this format, and why
do you think it works so well?
Yes, all seven of the rock bios I've done have
album titles for each chapter, and are written
song by song - because the music, lyrics, album
covers, production and all of that is what I personally
care about the most. Plus it provides structure.
I figure that for most of us as fans, our main
interaction with the band is with the records
and CDs they paid hard-earned cash for. So the
idea is to raise appreciation for those everlasting
artworks that you bought for pleasure, to make
your life incrementally more enjoyable. So yes,
my favourite response from readers is that they
ran over to their collection and snatched out
that dusty record or CD that they hadn't considered
for a while, and used it as a soundtrack to that
chapter. Hell, that's the way I love reading rock
bios! So yeah, there's not a lot of personal stuff
in these books. It's more about the music that
we all have and know and recognize, and hopefully
in chatting with these guys, they throw out many
little trivia jewels and such to make you, y'know,
listen to the fade-out real loud for the very
first time and hear that cough or in-joke or something.
of your books has been the most satisfying to
write, and why?
still maintain that the Top 500 Heavy Metal Songs
Of All Time, and the similar book for albums,
are my best books - they were the most fun, with
the best writing. It's very rewarding to do a
poll which asks a big question like that, and
get so many responses, and thereby actually know
the answer. Not know my own answer, but know THE
answer. And it was very cool to be able to draw
from my own interview archive and find so many
quotes on those songs and albums as well, although
that might not have been such a coincidence as
it sounds, because when I booked an interview
with someone, I would quickly check the database
and see what I needed to ask them about!
is the difference for you between writing the
'Best Of' collections and writing a book about
one particular band?
With the 'Best Of's it's fun arranging everything,
playing God, getting all the knowledge together
and putting it in one place where you can hold
it all in your hand. It's also very interesting
to find out the the answers to the poll questions.
But writing about a band feels a little more academic,
as if you are back working on a school assignment.
As with the 'Best Of's it also has the feeling
of taking everything you know about a band, from
all your own interviews and everything you've
read, adding your own commentary, and putting
it all into one place. There is sort of a unpleasant
finality about it though, inasmuch as once you've
done it, a lot of the reasons for talking to those
bands ever again is now over with. Not really
of course, but all the old archival stuff that
constituted the most burning questions in my mind,
is now all taken care of. And it's not like I'm
ever going to write another book about those bands,
or even update the books for new edition. But
... who knows?
us about Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles.
BW&BK is a magazine we started on my photocopier
in 1994. It started as just black ink on gray
paper, and it's grown into a regular-looking magazine.
Tim Henderson is the boss, I'm Editor In Chief,
Jackie and Scotty handle all the admin, and yes,
it's been a blast over the years. It's afforded
us the opportunity to talk to all of our heroes.
The website kicks ass too! It's very high traffic,
and Tim is the one to thank for that because he
is obsessed with keeping the news page ticking
over every 10 minutes or so. It's funny, his main
concern about going out to lunch or going out
to do an interview or see a concert is whether
the site updates will be covered by one of our
other employees for the few hours he's away!
you're interviewing, do you prefer a face-to-face
interview where you can adapt your questions by
responding to the body language - or a telephone
interview where you don't get the eye-contact
but get what eye-contact doesn't always produce,
i.e. the 'anonymity' of the confessional-box,
where people tell you more because they feel less
I totally know the answer to this one! The face-to-face
interview is the one you will always remember,
maybe get a couple of things signed, or get a
photo taken with them (although I never do the
But in terms of a good interview, phoners win
hands down. There are no distractions, nobody's
wasting brain cells trying to think of how much
eye contact we should all be making. Some of the
in-person interview situations are set up properly,
but very often it's scheduled to take place on
the tour bus or even worse, backstage at the club,
and five minutes into it they start to soundcheck
about classic rock and heavy metal it's a Catch-22
that a lot of what is written has to refer back
to the 70s and 80s. Do you think that reinforces
a belief that the genre is set in the past, or
do you think it's still evolving - and if so,
which bands are taking up the baton?
definitely still evolving. But I'm not keeping
up, that's for sure! I really don't care too much
about new bands. My one saving grace which means
I'm not living entirely in the past is that I'm
intensely interested in all new music by the old
bands. That counts for something, although admittedly,
not a lot! I think the rock/metal scene is as
healthy as any scene. There are all sorts of new
bands, it's just that I'm not talking to them.
The new bands are all the usual suspects, Mastodon,
Lamb Of God, Opeth, but you see, even with that
answer, I'm referring to bands that have been
around 10 years and have five albums out! I can't
answer a question about new bands without talking
about bands that some little pipsqueak pup will
think are already old! So, built-in to that answer,
it's clear that to name check bands that are the
future, they have to have some sort of impressive
track record already.
have been your favourite musicians to interview?
Ted Nugent, for one. He is hands down the funniest,
most energetic, most articulate guy to interview.
And he's damn inspiring in about half a dozen
ways. It's pretty amazing when you can put down
the phone after talking to Ted Nugent and the
first thing you think about is improving your
Alice Cooper is always a nice chat. I've also
had some magic moments with Ozzy Osbourne, but
those have to be in person. On the phone with
Ozzy it's a disaster! Ian Gillan is also a pretty
smart, inspiring guy. I’m the biggest Gillan
band fan in the world, and I think he finds that
a combination of amusing and creepy.
It's always a great chat with Bill Ward, Joe Lynn
Turner, Roger Glover, etc. Sabbath and Priest
are all pleasant guys. UFO, I love those guys!
Rush, Rainbow, all great, Ronnie James Dio, always
interviews were the most difficult?
Hmmm, Lemmy always seems to be an uncomfortable
one. Glenn Danzig is a man of few words, although
I don't think he intends to be mean... I remember
Dave Thomas of Pere Ubu was not in the mood to
be interviewed when I collared him in person,
at a club show. There's a whole category of guys
who I like enough, but they just don't have much
to say, or you have to drag stuff out of them,
or they speak more in platitudes. There's a bunch
of guys like that. I mentioned Ozzy before. I
had a pretty bad phone interview with him once.
But if an interviewee is difficult, it's not always
their own fault. If the artist is a big star like
Ozzy and gets delayed by 10 minutes and you've
only got a 15 minute interview slot, everybody
is stressed out while you're trying to get it
done. An acquaintance of mine here in Toronto
who does interviews with big movie stars for a
TV show once told me about being flown to Los
Angeles for an interview, and flown back to Toronto
the same day, and he was allotted only four minutes!
extra-special magic moments?
There was an interview with Zakk Wylde..... myself
and Aaron Small spent over an hour and a half
with Zakk on his tour bus.… I swear to God,
it was probably the best time we ever had. I'm
not talking about anything crazy happening, it
was just all of us togther, drinking beers in
the middle of the afternoon. Zakk was going off
like a firecracker, and it resulted in a brilliant
interview. We came off the bus thinking "wow,
did that actually happen?" It wasn't even
a taped interview, because it started out just
as a visit to Zakk's tourbus and it was all going
so well that we decided to carry on as we were,
without recording it. It's still one of my Top
10 favorite interviews of all time!
of the most frustrating things for a writer, and
probably right up there with writer's block, is
the physical brick wall of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
I know you suffer from this very painful condition
and that it restricts the amount of time you can
spend at the keyboard - how do you overcome this?
don't even know if Carpel Tunnel Syndrome is the
exact diagnosis for what I have. But I do know
that if I type too much, I get a kind of separated
or pulled feeling in my thumb joint. I really
can't overcome this except by taking a good long
break to give my hands complete rest in between.
I do use voice recognition software, but even
then I have to go back and do all sorts of clean-ups
to the displayed text. I fret and worry about
having to retire - but maybe that would be a good
thing to be forced to do, because my one life
goal left is to do lots of paintings, paint album
covers, have gallery shows, become a famous painter!
That's really the last goal.
all the books you've written, which has had the
most favourable reviews from the band themselves?
not a single one of my seven biographies did the
band see any of the copy before it went to print,
except the Rush book, which was a special case
- well, I guess not all that special, just authorized
- and they sold it on tour in the merchandise
booth. I've heard that all of the Sabbath guys
seem to have liked the Sabbath book, and Joe Lynn
Turner, Ronnie James Dio have also said favorable
things about my books. For the Priest book there's
been no reaction at all as yet, but it's early
After the Blue Oyster Cult book came out I definitely
got bad vibes from Eric, but Albert and Joe like
it and I think Buck is okay with it. Eric probably
figures that he doesn't come off looking too good
in it, and fair enough, I think Albert and Joe
and maybe Richard Meltzer all had some negative
things to say. It's too bad, we had a really cool
plan to turn that into a big massive full-color
coffee table book, but I can't get those guys
to even answer my e-mails anymore.
As for Ronnie James Dio... I really wonder what
that guy thinks of me, because I've written a
Dio book, a Rainbow book and a Sabbath book. Maybe
he thinks I'm some kind of stalker!
LPs with 12" comfortable-to-touch sleeves
versus CDs with diminutive artwork and cold hard
plastic jewelcases.... Discuss.
I'm gonna be in the minority on this one. It drives
me crazy when people talk about how great vinyl
artwork was compared to CD artwork. The only place
vinyl wins is that it was obviously bigger. With
special packaging such as a gatefold, a lyric-sleeve
or a cool back cover, combined with the fact that
it's bigger, then yeah, maybe it's a tie or a
slight win for vinyl. But people forget that with
CDs you get a cover, and it's usually pretty damn
cool, and nowadays you get all sorts of crazy
packaging - and with a CD you usually get lyrics,
all sorts of pictures, and even lots of extra
artwork throughout the booklet. How many LPs back
then even came with lyrics? 30%? I mean, let's
face it, even on the subject of the artwork itself
there are probably more cool album covers in the
last 15 years than between 1970 and 1985. Looking
back we tend to only remember the classic covers
and think that all album art was classic, but
taking everything into account, things have improved
schedule for writing must keep you pretty busy,
but what other things do you spend your time on?
As I already mentioned, I love art, but I certainly
don't get enough time to paint - although now,
with my new office, I have a set up where I can
spend at least a little bit of time on that, and
hopefully I'll damn well turn it into a career
one day! We also seem to take lots of vacations,
although my wife doesn't think so! And our son
is in lots of different sports programs and stuff.
I tend not to watch movies anymore, and very little
TV, but I read like crazy. Fiction, non-fiction,
biographies, and I subscribe to about six magazines
and two newspapers.. yeah, I'm a crazy newshound!
on your To Do list?
Mainly painting. But I also have so many records
and CDs that need to be catalogued and put up
for sale. I'm not talking promos - I don't sell
promos which have been sent to me by record labels
(but I do sell promos and other stuff which I've
bought and paid for!). I'm a big collector, but
I have to divest myself of some of this collection.
I literally could have a full-time job for a couple
of years just cataloging and selling off stuff
that isn't in the framework of my sentimental
favorites! I care about my record collection more
than practically anybody else on the planet, so
it doesn't make sense to sell it off. And most
of that falls in the round of records, yes, actual
LPs, but I bought as a kid or teenager, and even
more so, subsequently got signed by the band.
What outstanding ambitions
would you like to have fulfilled in 5 years time?
Just the painting. Like I say, I would love to
have gallery shows, but I would also love to become
a regular album cover painter. I've done a few
little indie things, but that's it. I haven't
painted a lot, but most of what I've painted has
sold! My friends say I'm crazy, but I think I
can be more successful as a painter than I am
at trying to be heavy metal journalist!