author and journalist
has recently published a 380-page history
of Judas Priest
Martin has also written biographies of
Black Sabbath, Rainbow, UFO, Rush, Dio (and more!),
compiled various Collectors' Guides and Best Ofs
and contributed articles to Guitar World, Record
and many other prestigious music magazines
spoke to Martin about brave words, bloody
and disjointed thumbs!
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,
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
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 exposed?
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 photo thing).
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 the drums!
Writing 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 life!
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 a pleasure.
eating 'Ribs à la Nuge'
Which 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
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
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? For
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 days!
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!
Vinyl LPs with 12" comfortable-to-touch sleeves
versus CDs with diminutive artwork and cold hard plastic
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 with CDs.
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
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!
© Get Ready To Roll - 5th April 2008