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Iron Wolf Interview / France / 4/02. French metal zine feat. an interview with Rob and Greg.
A totally underrated band. They were one of the first pioneer in heavy metal history. And they have let a legacy with four masterpieces of epic metal. I thought drummer Rob woud be the only one to answer the questions, and it was a good surprise to see bassist/guitarist Greg also answering.
1. When you formed the band in 1971, it was called Titanic, and the line-up was you (drums and vocals), Jerry (guitar), Greg (bass and vocals), and Pat Galligan (guitar and vocals). Did Titanic sound like a sixteen rock band? How was it to have three singers?
GREG: I think the only reason Pat and Rob got me involved was because I had an amp! Three guitars plugged into one 15 watt amp and Rob with just a snare drum and hi-hat trying to play Beatles songs. I wish I had a tape, it would be hilarious!
2. One year later Galligan left, you add Neil Beattie on vocals, and you renamed the band Cirith Ungol. This line-up lived until 1977. Can you tell us about this time? Do you consider the year 1972 was the real start of Cirith Ungol?
GREG: 1972 was our real start. Everybody except Pat wanted to play heavier stuff like Cream and Grand Funk, so the three of us quit Titanic and formed Cirith Ungol. Almost immediately we started doing some originals (Radiation Blues, Flesh Dart) along with our versions of songs by Sabbath, Budgie, Spontaneous Combustion, etc. Mountain was really a big early influence on all of us, in the way they would do extended jams. It wasn’t until 1975 that Neil Beattie (aka Terry Dactyl) became our lead singer. He was a little more glam inspired than the rest of us, but he put on a really wild live show, with black widow spider fingertip extensions to go along with our six foot wide black widow spider for “Shelob’s Lair”. Even though he was a great performer, Neil’s voice didn’t quite fit in with our vision, and we parted ways after about a year. We spent the next couple of years writing a lot of songs and playing all the LA clubs as an instrumental power trio, playing with bands like Quiet Riot (w/Randy Rhoades), Y & T, and Van Halen, and going over amazingly well. We tried out a number of singers, but nobody clicked until 1979, when Tim Baker, who was our head roadie at the time, tried singing lead on “Hype Performance”. That version is the first song on “Servants Of Chaos”.
3. Then Tim replaced Beattie, Greg played guitar because of the arrival of Michael on bass. You recorded demo songs until 1981 and some of them are available now on the “Servants Of Chaos” double CD. Why songs like “Bite Of The Worm”, “Last Laugh”, or “Hype Performance” weren’t used on the “Frost And Fire” album? Have you memories about that period?
GREG: Actually, Michael didn’t join the band until after we recorded the “Frost And Fire” album in December 1980. I played bass on that record, but we put Flint’s name on the album so people would recognize him as a band member when they saw us live. I wish we could have gotten a heavier sound, but were all still learning how to use the studio. We definitely would have liked to put “Last Laugh” and “Hype Performance” on the album, but we basically just ran out of money to pay for recording time. Remember, we paid for everything on F & F ourselves, from the recording time to the shrinkwrap.
4. In 1981 you created your own label Liquid Flames to release the first album, the excellent “Frost And Fire”. Songs like “Frost And Fire”, Better Off Dead”, and “I’m Alive” became classics. Do you remember how this album was received by the metal maniacs? Why did Greg leave the band?
GREG: One reviewer in Kerrang! Called F & F the worst heavy metal album ever recorded! I think a lot of critics at the time just didn’t know who to compare us to and tended to dismiss us. But the fan reaction from all over the world was great. Unfortunately, our albums didn’t have very good distribution and were often hard to find in stores. And that’s part of the reason I quit the band. I felt I had reached a turning point in my life after graduating college and spending 10 years in the band. It was more than a year after F & F had been released, and sales were decent, but nothing was really happening for us, and I felt it was time to move on, which I did with much regret.
5. In 1982 you put the fast and savage “Death Of The Sun” on Metal Massacre 1. There are no doubts it’s the best song on this compilation. Didn’t Metal Blade offer a deal at this time?
GREG: That’s actually an older song, written in 1977.
6. Three years after “Frost And Fire”, you signed with Enigma and released the masterpiece “King Of The Dead”, a fantastic work of dark epic heavy metal. What do you think of this album? Do you agree it’s the best CU album? But it doesn’t seem Enigma did a lot for the band…
GREG: KOTD is CU’s classic. The production is 100% heavier than on Frost And Fire.
ROB: KOTD was our best album, the reason was that we had total control over it. Every album could have been this good if we could have exercised complete control over its production etc. This is the album that I feel is our best effort. The reason the long wait between albums is because when you are financing them yourselves, you have to come up with the $$$ to pay for studio time etc. Plus being on all these independent labels their timetables are slower. I also did all the layout and design of the first 3 covers, all this while we were all working full time trying to sponsor the dream.
7. Finally you signed with Metal Blade and released “One Foot In Hell” in 1986, another great album which contains my favorite CU song, “Chaos Descends”. I would like to know how you consider this third album because I remember you said you had complete control only for “Frost And Fire” and “King Of The Dead”…..
GREG: It’s an excellent album although I thought the songs overall were not as strong as “KOTD”, and Flint’s bass seems to have gotten lost in the mix.
8. Cirith Ungol played of course in the USA and even Mexico in 1986, but never in Europe. I guess there was the money problem, but the truth is also you never got the support from the labels you were on, isn’t it?
ROB: There was never ANY tour support from the record companies at all!
9. Why did Jerry leave the band and how did you find Jim?
ROB: We had found a really good guitarist named Jimmy Baraza who we wanted to bring on board so that Jerry could concentrate on his leads and we could play all the double leads we were writing in all the new (and old) songs. Somehow Jerry must have felt that we were trying to replace him although nothing could have been farther from the truth.
10. On the last album, Joe Malatesta played guitar too, Robert Warrenburg played bass, and after the recording there was another bass player called Vernon Green. These three guys didn’t stay a long time in the band… What was the reason Michael left the band?
ROB: When we signed with Restless Records to do “Paradise Lost” they were actually were the shattered remains of our original label Enigma who had been bought by Capitol because they were impressed by all their poser type bands. After Capitol bought them and the men dressing like women thing started to die out (who would have guessed:) Enigma filed for bankruptcy. I don’t know or care about all the sordid details but they ended up in abbreviated company called Restless. We were so desperate at this time and really had no where else to go so I talked this creep Ron Goudie into signing the band. It took at least 3 years for all the shit to settle at the record company after their break-up with Capitol so this whole time we waited. I showed up at the band room one night and Flints stuff was missing, he had decided to join a garage band thinking that our career was as doomed as the planet we live on. After six months he returned only to leave again right as soon as the album was to start to be recorded. I can’t fault their decision but if Jerry and Flint would have stuck it out #4 would have been allot better CD and we may have finally got the recognition that we deserved.
Anyway I put ads the local music stores and got a call from two guys who were in a local band in Santa Barbara. They came down and we decided they would be better than nothing. The deal was they help us record our album and they would get to put some of their songs on it. The guitarist Joe Malatesta’s song was “The Troll” and the bass player Bob Warenburg’s song was “Heaven Help Us”. Although these songs really were not our style we really had no choice.
To make a long story short Bob got some kind of religion, and Joe left to do something or another. Both left before the album was even released, which made us look bad in Restless’ eyes. Tim, Jimmy and I were so pissed at what we thought was a betrayal so we pulled their pictures from the album.
Anyway I put another ad the local music stores and got a call from a guy called Vern Green who also unfortunately had some religious beliefs, so right after we got cut from Restless he quit the band, then Jimmy quit. The sad thing about Jimmy, he was one hell of a guitarist but once again he didn’t have what it takes to have followed it through. It is really a shame but Tim and I were looking at each other one night at our band room and we just decided after 22 years of being f**ked over we had had about enough. I sold all our equipment and my drums paid off or bills and Cirith Ungol was officially deceased.
11. Five years after “One Foot In Hell” you finally released “Paradise Lost”, and album with great songs but an album that Ron Goudie slayed. The six songs that are on “Servants Of Chaos” sound really better. Why did you sign with Restless? Have you only bad memories about this time?
ROB: I was to go in with only the little f**king click machine to record the drum tracks, no bass… no guitar.. no nothing to play with but this little piece of shit!! Next the other members followed suit except Ron did not want the other members of the band in the studio. (I guess he didn’t want us to contaminate his vision of what we thought was our album!!!!) So each band member went in did his part alone. I was really upset about the vocals cause I had coached and cheered Tim through the last 3 albums, Guess what I wasn’t allowed in while the vocals were done. I hope you can get the picture of how warped and terrible this whole album was done. Not only this but the best 20 seconds of the album Ron cut out because while he was producing the album he fucked up and the part which I thought was the most killer part of “Paradise Lost” was spooled out on the studio room floor. I was very pissed about this!!! And still am!!
12. You wrote in the booklet of the double CD because of a lawyer you signed away the rights to “Paradise Lost” forever to Restless Records. Is it really impossible to get the rights back?
GREG: Nothing’s impossible, but the legal fees and hassle wouldn’t be worth it. Maybe there’s a lawyer out there who’s a CU fan and wants to donate his time…
13. About the live songs on “Servants Of Chaos”, there are “Last Laugh” and four immortal songs from “King Of The Dead”. Haven’t you recorded other live tunes from the other albums like “Frost And Fire”, “Better Off Dead”, “Chaos Descends”, “Doomed Planet”, aor “Fallen Idols” for example?
ROB: There is some more but most of the stuff for one reson or another was not as good so we decided not to add it. There was also not very much room on the CD’s left!
14. You also wrote in the booklet that you made a video of “Join The Legion”. Didn’t you think to include it as a bonus cd-rom on one of the re-releases?
GREG: It’s a bit amateurish…
ROB: It was done by a friend who was in college. I am sure everyone will se it someday but it was and is not a good representative of what we were really like. It was lip synced to the music and like Greg said is not very good!
15. Are you satisfied with Metal Blade for the three re-releases and the double CD?
GREG: The European branch seems to believe in us much more than the US side of the company. Metal Blade chose not to release “Servants Of Chaos” over here, and apparently, they have deleted “Frost And Fire” and “King Of The Dead”. We get emails every day from US fans trying to find “Servants…”
16. Are you still in touch with Greg, Tim, Michael, and Jim?
GREG: Rob and I are still great friends. We go to auto races and Ferrari events all the time, and I keep him up to date on new music.
ROB: I see Jimmy once every 6 months are so. Tim and Flint have pretty much disappeared.
17. Would it be possible to see a Cirith Ungol comeback with you on drums, Tim on vocals, Michael on bass, Jim and Greg on guitars?
GREG: Maybe if we could get Tim to lay off the cigarettes and Rob could wrangle a drum kit out of Pearl or Ludwig!
18. Don’t you think Jerry was an underrated guitarist? I think he was, still is and always will be one of the greatest guitarists in heavy metal history.
GREG: I totally agree. Jerry Fogle should be mentioned in the same breath as Tommy Bolin and Randy Rhoades. I’m going to make it my personal mission to get CDs to every guitar magazine I can so more people can discover what an incredible guitar player he was.
19. Would it be possible to see a “Servants Of Chaos Volume Two” double CD in the future?
GREG: We have at least 20 songs that have never been properly recorded. We could definitely come up with 8 or 10 strong songs for an album. “Brutish Manchild and “Shelob’s Lair” come to mind….
20. Cirith Ungol was more than an important part of your life. Have you more good memories or have you more bad memories?
GREG: The best things were coming up with a new song and playing it together for the first time, playing on stage for an appreciative crowd, and meeting our fans. The worst things were dealing with greedy promoters, club owners, and some of our rival bands.
ROB: The only good memories I had were of being on stage and playing, unfortunately this was a very small part of the 22 years that I spent trying to get the music out to the people. There are many people who should be ashamed that they were guilty of actually conspiring to keep our music from our loyal fans.
21. Cirith Ungol will be remembered and your music is eternal. Thank you very much for answering the questions. Last word are yours….
GREG: My humble thanks to all our past, present, and future fans. We hope you like “Servants Of Chaos” and let us know if you want to hear more….
ROB: Yes thanks to all who listen, hold the bannerproud and remember:
The being called Ungol is dead, its resurrection is doubtful. But heed it’s teachings oh faithful, for on these memoratic disks contain, the wisdom of the ages, and by your iron fists, may the horror, of false metal be extinguished.
As you now join the swelling ranks of the Legions of Chaos, together we will drive before us, the cringing herd of False Metal, crush their spineless lackeys, and purge the world of their mutant plague!!!
INTERVIEW for: IRON WOLF
C/o Patrick LEFEVRE
91, Avenue Porterat