Heart of Steel: Interviews

Rockdetector: The world's biggest Rock devoted database
Gary Sharpe-young of Rockdetector.com
Interview by JP

As part of our on-going industry profiles we are delighted to have the opportunity to to speak with Mr. Garry Sharpe-Young, considered by many to be one of the world's foremost experts on heavy metal music. The culmination Sharpe-Young's life-long commitment to documenting and archiving accurate and up-to-date information about the realm of heavy metal has resulted in an mini-empire including a number of books and the creation of Rock Detector.

 

Mr. Sharpe-Young, tell us about your early interest in metal and your formative years within the genre.

I got into Metal for the same reason everybody does, or should. There was a really hot girl at school who wore a denim jacket with a Judas Priest woven logo on the back, the old Gothic script one. Obviously I had to find out about the band to win the girl so 'Stained Class' was my introduction to Metal. I think I was 14. Anyhow, she (eventually) took me back to her place and I discovered her bedroom was a shrine to Kiss. I got into the whole Rock & Metal thing pretty quickly. At our school there were tribal factions, you were either into Metal, Punk or you were (spit!) a Mod. People were heavily into certain bands which was cool. For a long time my denim & leather was solely covered in Priest. I used to paint a different Priest album cover on the back panel of my jacket every other week. They were some guys seriously into Motörhead, a friend of mine only liked AC/DC and of course there was Mr. Intelligent who was into Rush. Great days, great gigs. Of course, all of my friends from back then grew up, cut their hair but I didn't. Whether that makes me very sad or just plain dedicated I don't know.

 

 

I understand that you have dabbled in providing artwork for a number of bands. Could you tell us more about that?

Thank you for using the word dabbled! OK, my 'dabbling' started by seeing a really awful album cover in Kerrang magazine. I phoned the record company and told them their artwork was shit and I could do better. Those were the exact words I used too! The guy didn't slam the phone down but instead took up the challenge so I had to come up with something quick. My first artwork I sent in they used on the 'Metal Warriors' compilation album. After that I did Savage 'Loose n' Lethal' and Grim Reaper 'See You In Hell'. The Reaper one I did in one night, it never got finished. You can imagine I was quite surprised when it sold 250'000 albums in the US. I was still at school at this time. Did a good 20 plus album covers since then. An excellent guy I knew, a famous Rock photographer called Robert Ellis, put me in touch with the Scorpions and Queensryche so I did some stuff there. I re-designed the Queensryche logo for a US tour programme and a picture disc. The picture disc never came out but next thing I see MY artwork on the cover of 'Rage For Order'! I kicked up a stink about that but got paid in the end. I don't think the guys knew. Always been into the creative aspect of things, designing stage sets, merchandise, T shirts etc. My pinnacle of achievement was making Rob Halford's 'Painkiller' tour jacket, the one with all the crosses on. I also did a monstrous 'Nightcrawler' pendant for him which he wore on MTV once. Did belt buckles for Guns n' Roses, all kinds of wacky stuff.

 

 

When and how did you decide to become a metal historian and writer?

I started with 'Metal Mania' magazine from San Francisco. Ron Quintana gave me my start so major thanks to him. Ron would send me early Metallica Anvil Chorus, Metal Church demos and the first Yngwie tapes so it was very cool. From there I did 'Aardschok America', lots of syndicated stuff then 'Metal Forces' for seven years. That was a great, great magazine. Where on earth is Bernard Doe now? That man should be back on the scene, he did so much for so many bands. A friend and I would go along to pretty much all the Rock gigs in the area to do interviews and take pictures. It was a great time because there were so many bands on the road then. As I went along I just kept everything. From there I started working for various labels, A&Red a lot of good stuff.

 

 

Tell us a little about the monstrous Ultimate Hard Rock Guide!

It was monstrous! I had the great honour of working with Dave Reynolds who, besides having a brain the size of Kentucky, has the wryest sense of humour. A huge learning curve that book.

 

 

What is RockDetector and how did it come about?

Rockdetector (one word) is the world's largest Rock & Metal devoted database. It's pretty new and we are adding lots of stuff behind the scenes for a major relaunch. As of early November 2002 we have over 13'000 bands on there. It is designed to be an objective, accurate and highly detailed resource. We cover all types of Rock Music - absolutely everything. We will soon be adding a lot more searches and functions. I suppose the 'Real' Rockdetector still hasn't happened yet but our user figures are just brilliant even now. We get tons of emails from bands and labels so we must be doing something right. Basically if you are in a band or you work at a label you need to be involved.

 

 

What is an average day (if there is such a thing) in the life of the Rock Detector organization?

Wake up, kiss wife, cup of tea (British), go to office, check emails (wish I hadn't), organise people, stare at a screen for 8 hours whilst listening to Rock & Metal, get on the phone, go to the beach, watch the sun set, back home, turn on computer, check emails (wish I hadn't),... That's me. For the others pretty much the same except I don't let them anywhere near my wife, they drink coffee and you can substitute beach for pub.

 

 

Tell us about the inspiration and creation of the A-Z Encyclopedia series.

'Black Metal' started it. There was no reference guide and we were being deluged with records so it was obvious. The book is selling great. I have to say that it did become a bit of a task toward the end, writing endlessly about ol' Nick & his minions. The subject is fascinating though. We got hundreds of emails from bands about the book, all positive except two and they were from imbeciles. And by the way, we know it's the wrong Crematory in the book. When we got the first copies through I saw that and thought what the F***??! Not to blame for that clanger. I think the next 'Black Metal' will be creeping up to 600 pages. 'Death Metal' the same, no one had done it. The Ozzy book I had been wanting to do for a long time and I knew a lot of those guys so starting that off was not difficult. The inspiration for the Black Sabbath book was quite simple. I was reading another Sabs book when I came across a line that stated Ronnie James Dio was a former singer of Deep Purple. The book had so many inaccuracies it was untrue. The author even put in a fictitious interview with Ronnie! I couldn't believe a publisher like Sanctuary would allow such a thing onto the market. 'Power Metal' is a particular favourite genre of mine and the 'Doom & Stoner' side of things is fascinating. In particular with 'Doom' we got a lot of help for that book from the bands, labels, Deanna at Stonerrockchick and the guys at Stonerrock.com. 'Thrash Metal' took some digging but it was nice to see there are a lot of new Thrash acts out there. I think a lot of Canadian bands have to thank some guy called JP for his input there? I have to say here that most of the labels are great in helping - Nuclear Blast, Century Media, Earrache, Metal Blade - well on the ball. They realise the value of both the books and the website. Some though are appalling and make you wonder how they stay in business.

 

 

Which titles have been published?

'Black Metal', 'Death Metal', 'Ozzy Osbourne' and 'Thrash Metal'. The last one is out November 28th. 'Power Metal' and 'Doom, Gothic & Stoner' are done and will be out early next year.

 

 

What other titles are being worked on?

I'm in the middle of writing a Black Sabbath biography covering the period 1980 onwards. Personally I love all those albums like 'Born Again', 'Eternal Idol' and 'Headless Cross'. Interviewing tons of people for that. We're also doing 'A-Z of 80s Rock'. That's all the Los Angeles scene of that era. After that we have 'AOR' already commisioned (yes, I love Journey. Schon & Perry are Gods). Then we have three more. The success of the Ozzy book has presented quite a few new opportunities too.

 

 

Are you considering revising the published titles as new facts and bands come to light?

Yes. 'Black Metal' and 'Death Metal' will be republished. The website is updated daily so there is a ton of stuff to add. The plan is to update every two years if we can. The problem with books, and this is unavoidable, is that they have long lead times. For example, 'Power Metal' was finished some time back but is published February.

 

 

What is your feeling about the state of the global metal industry at the present time?

Hmmm...this is a Pandora's box you're opening here. OK, I'm in my 30s so have a certain tradition. I recall my father telling me that Priest, Saxon and Motörhead were rubbish. Now my son has a Linkin Park fixation. The good thing is, I'm not saying to him 'That's crap!'. Linkin Park are big for all the right reasons, Chester Bennington is an awesome singer, the songs are damn good and those guitars put most Metal bands to shame. That's not opinion - that's fact. But, and it is a very big but, MOST of the Nu stuff I hear does not impress at all. I can appreciate it for its angst but I have a big problem getting past the lack of craftsmanship there. Some of it for pure feeling and emotion is great, but it's not going to last. What was interesting for me was that probably the very finest Nu-Metal album of the mid 90s was the second Geezer album- and that was from a 50 year old! Huge songs, big attitude, great production, off the wall lyrics and sensational singer. When I was at school we would argue about who was the best guitarist? The best drummer? The best singer? I guess those discussions don't happen anymore because it has all leveled out. I don't see any 20 year old Blackmores or Schenkers. The 'old school' Rock was so great because it had all these amazingly talented people as well as great, great songs that have stood the test of time. We keep hearing that the music industry is on such shaky ground but what are they doing about it? Are they seriously trying to tell us that most of these new breed of Rock acts will be around in 20 years time? No way. A lot of the problem rests with A&R. Bands used to get signed because some guy walked into a club or pub and saw a great performance, something unique. Not any more. It's all about getting the hit. What they don't understand that to gain your fans loyalty for life there has to be a basic quality there. This applies to all fields of music, not just Rock. Last week everyone was jumping up and down about a Led Zep reunion tour of America. Well great but why aren't there any 20 year olds who are doing that kind of business? Globally, Metal has certainly spread far and wide. Even though it is now very underground Rockdetector gets a lot of stuff from South America, Russia, the Far East, etc. It doesn't matter where you're from anymore. Lecture over.

 

 

In all your years of meeting metal "stars" you must have many interesting stories, tales of terror, anecdotes and fond memories. Do you have any favorites you can share with us without compromising the innocent (or guilty?)

Naming no names... I can remember being up in a light rig in Europe during a major star's rehearsal (and I mean major - Pop not metal). I was sitting in an old car seat used by the supertrouper light operators and I realised as soon as I got up there that there were all these containers of urine up there balanced precariously on the rig! The lighting guy the night before took them up so he could relieve himself in the middle of the show. The guy must have filled three of them and I was dreading them dropping on a certain someone's head! That same day I spilt coffee on George Michael's white shirt. He was not impressed. There was a particular roadie who would get blind drunk then pass out. Once he was out cold you could do anything to him. This certain guitarist played the nastiest trick on him by evacuating his bowels, catching it on newspaper and then putting it down the back of this roadie's jeans while he was asleep! The next morning on the bus (the roadie hadn't changed or washed, just woke up, got on the bus) everyone started to say 'Oh my God. What's that smell?' Imagine this guys horror when he realised! It was a double whammy though because after the shame of thinking he had done he was then told it wasn't his but belonged to someone else! The bus was on the motorway at the time too so he couldn't get off. I have lots of fond memories of meeting great people who are no longer with us, Cozy Powell, Ray Gillen, Cliff Burton. Some interview situations are funny. I think I put this in the Ozzy book, I interviewed Blackie Lawless at the Derby Assembly Rooms on the 'Electric Circus' tour and behind him, in the same room, Chris Holmes was in the shower. As I was addressing questions to Blackie, Chris was all lathered up, naked and pressing himself against the glass throughout it all! I interviewed someone once while they were putting their wig on which was unique. Done one or two whilst the musician has been sticking a needle into their arm, once in his foot. Seen a few inter-band fist fights. Most of the best memories are from recording studios and rehearsals, watching songs being worked up, that kind of thing.

 

 

The floor is yours! do you have any last comments or thoughts to share with the readers of www.metal-rules.com?

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