Interview with Blackie Lawless (W.A.S.P.)

You’ll soon be heading over to the UK for your latest tour. It’s been a few years since you were here. Are you looking forward to getting back over here?

The UK is almost like a second home for me because, having had an office over there and considering the amount of time I’ve spent in the UK over the last 30 years, I’d say conservatively I’ve spent about a year of my life in the UK so I’ve got to know the place pretty well. The guys at EMI used to refer to me as the honorary Brit so I can’t wait to get over there again to play.

Do find touring harder in general these days or can you do it in more comfort than when you first started the band?

It’s a lot easier than it used to be. The quality is better. Ray Charles once said “I don’t get paid for playing, I get paid for travelling” When we did Wacken last year, we were in Crete the night before. We had to drive all the way across the island to get to the airport. We took an hour flight to Athens then a flight to Berlin and drove 4 hours to Wacken. We got no sleep at all. We did 2 shows in a 30 hour period and got up in front of 100,000 people. That’s when you find out how bad you really want it.

Talking of starting the band, this is actually the start of your 30th anniversary tour. Does it really feel like 30 years since you started the band?

The human mind has a funny way of stretching or compressing time. When we look back sometimes things look like they were a month ago and others feel like 100 years ago. What we do and any touring band does, is like cramming so much into a small space of time, it’s like living four of five people’s life times all at the same time.

You caused quite a stir when you first broke through in the early ’80’s. Do you remember the press reaction when you first started out?

When we first came to the UK, we’d just done our first album so we weren’t used to doing interviews but every journalist that came in asked the same thing. They all asked whether we thought we’d be around in 5 years time. I heard that all day long and I just wanted them to stop and let me enjoy this for 5 minutes. I had no idea whether I’d be around in 5 months or 5 years, I just wanted to savour the moment. I didn’t have a crystal ball. All you can do is put one foot in front of the other and see if you can keep marching and fortunately we’ve kept going for 30 years.

So what has kept WASP going for so long compared to other acts from the early ’80’s?

It’s the same thing that keeps any artist going for a long time. It’s the quality of the songs. It’s not just this genre, it can be opera or country and western. They won’t have a long career if they don’t have the quality songs.

You have a special show lined up for this tour. What have you got planned?

We’ll be doing a show in 3 parts over 2 hours. The first part of the show will cover from our first album up to The Headless Children. We’ll then take an intermission and do a condensed version of The Crimson Idol. We’ll have another intermission and will come back and do material from the rest of the records. Part of the reason for the intermissions is because there’s set changes. It’s not a play but the environments are going to change. One of the cool things we’ll be doing is with “The Headless Children”. On the album, all four members are playing at full volume. What I’m doing on the tour is I’m going to come out with just an acoustic guitar and I’m going to show you how the song was born. It’s not just going to be me doing it though. We’ll have multiple movie screens behind us and I’ll sing the first line and behind me on the screen will be Martin Luther King, he sings the next line and we’ll start with me and Martin Luther King trading lines. It’s an interesting way to do the song because nobody has ever done anything like this before. It’s taken a lot of work to get it to work out like this. It’s a cool effect. Believe me, when you see it, people will walk out and ask how we did that.

When you started the band back in 1982 Chris Holmes, Randy Piper and Tony Richards were with you but they’ve all moved on now. Do you have any plans for any of those guys to come up and play a song or two or will you be performing just with the latest line up?

We’ll just be doing the current line-up as this line-up has been together 7 years now and that in itself is longer than the tenure of any of the other members. Our bassist Mike Dudda has been with us for 17 years and Doug Blair, our guitarist, even longer so I won’t ask them to step aside for any reason. That won’t happen.

Has having Doug Blair in the band for nigh on 20 years given you the stability in the guitar department that maybe you’ve lacked in the past?

I would say the proof is in the pudding with that. Listen to the records and what he plays on those. I defy anyone to do what he’s done on those records. He first joined the band for The Crimson Idol tour 20 years ago and that’s another reason why we’re doing a Crimson Idol set, to mark its 20th anniversary as well as the bands 30th anniversary.

On your last tour you performed the Crimson Idol album in its entirety. That was the first time you’d performed that whole album 15 years after it was first released. Why did it take so long to perform the whole Crimson Idol set?

The technology didn’t exist at the time to enable us to play it live. There was a lot of orchestration on that record that just couldn’t be pulled off live with any consistency. It could have been tried with tape but tape was too unreliable so it wasn’t until a few years ago that it became feasible.

It must have been pretty exciting for you to do that performance and finally seeing your vision put onto the stage?

When you’re singing you don’t get a whole lot of time to spectate. There were times during the instrumental breaks that I’d just turn around and watch the movie on the screen and get to be like a fan. Standing in the middle of the stage surrounded by screens and hearing the roar coming across the stage, I’d be less than honest if I said that it was not fun.

For the sake of those who may not know the storyline can you give a quick summary of the plot?

I kept getting asked for advice from kids asking how they could get from where they were to where I was. I kept hearing this question over and over so I thought I’d write a story and show them the worst possible side of this business and then if they still wanted to then they should go for it. The kid in the story comes from an abusive family and he’s a victim of child abuse and he’s seeking approval from his parents that he never gets and he ultimately commits suicide. It’s basically about a kid looking for love

Along with the Crimson Idol, your previous album The Headless Children showed a different side to you. Indeed your later albums look at topical political issues such as US Foreign policy. You have been accused of corrupting the youth with your music. Was this your way of answering your critics and showing a greater depth to your music?

In the beginning we were doing visually what we thought was social commentary. We were holding up a mirror to the world and saying if you don’t like what you see maybe you should examine yourself. We found that people were looking more with their eyes than listening with their ears. If you look back on the history of the band we didn’t do that show for very long, maybe only one tour . That was nothing to do with the critics. What I found was happening was we were getting labelled as a Shock Rock band and I didn’t like that as I knew what our intent was. By the time we did the The Headless Children I learned then to get people to listen to the music and not focus on the visual side was to shrink that circle to narrow the focus of what I was trying to say. When that happened people could then see what it was I wanted to say.

Your battles with the PMRC in The States in the ’80’s were legendary. What was that all about?

They were never about censoring records they were about trying to get Al Gore in The White House. They were a political organisation trying to create a profile for a presidential candidate. They weren’t trying to improve anything in society. They were purely after political gain. This is nothing new and it will happen again. We just happened to fall into it when that cycle came around.

You put forward some pretty eloquent debates around that time which probably surprised some of your critics. Have you ever thought about entering politics in some form or another? If Arnie can, why not you?

Early on I did but the more I looked on it the more I just could not stomach the idea of compromise. They say that politics is the art of compromise. I don’t do that very well. If there’s something I believe strongly in, I just can’t let go of it. I thought that I was far better off where I was as at least no one is going to try and limit me as to what I’m trying to say.

The Headless Children featured a guest appearance by Ken Hensley from Uriah Heep on Hammond organ. How did you end up working with Ken?

Ken had worked briefly with Johnny Rod, our bass player at the time and I mentioned to Johnny what a huge Heep fan I was. Johnny said that he used to play with him and asked if I wanted him to give him a call. Ken was my hero. Johnny called him and he came out to LA. He was great, I just can’t say enough good about him. He played on our record and I was so pleased to have him involved.

Ken is considered one of THE Hammond organ players in music possibly second only to Deep Purple’s Jon Lord. You covered Purple’s “Burn” on your last album. Jon has sadly recently passed away. What did Jon and Deep Purple mean to you as a fan and as a musician?

When I think of Deep Purple and the sound that came out of Jon Lord’s Hammond Organ it was so unmistakable. That was as much a signature part of the sound as any other instrument in the band. For anyone to minimise his contribution to the band and to music would be a huge mistake. He’s a huge loss to music.

Your latest album Babylon and its predecessor Dominator were recorded for the Newcastle based Demolition Records. How did a band from the States end up signing to an Independent label from the North of England?

Based on contacts we had through our management. We thought that they were the right label for us to go with.

What did you make of the North of England when you came up here?

I will always remember this area for a lot of things including the first time I had Indian food, which I’m still passionate about. The thing I remember the most was that about our very first tour of the UK, was that The Mayfair in Newcastle was our very first show. The night before we got into the hotel, it was pouring down with rain and there was a queue of kids outside the hotel. I looked out of my window that night and there must have been a hundred kids in sleeping bags out in the rain. I talked to one of the hotel staff and I asked them if they were homeless. He said that they were there for us. I never forgot that. They are the sort of things that make memories that endear you to people forever. I will always remember the people of Newcastle for that.

Looking back on you career what is the album and song you’re most proud of?

That’s hard to say. It’s like trying to choose your favourite kid. Yesterday I was editing the video portion for the The Crimson Idol part of the show and it’s always fun to look back at that as it’s like seeing a good friend you don’t get to see all the time. I was there when all that footage was shot even if I’m not in the actual scene but there’s little things that I remember from those days that only I would know and I wish I could share that with people. I really like that album a lot.

A very early version of WASP featured Don Costa, who later played with Ozzy. He seems to have totally disappeared from the music scene. Have you heard anything from him recently?

I last saw Don, it must be about 20 years now. He was from San Diego originally and he moved back down there and that’s the last time I’ve seen him.

What bands are you listening to at the moment?

To tell you the truth I don’t really get the chance to listen to much stuff these days. We’ve been working hard on a new album that’s almost finished and it’s taken an incredible amount of work to put this tour together and I really don’t have the time. It’s like being a car mechanic. If you’re working all day on people’s brakes the last thing you want to do is work on the brakes of your own car.

You were involved with the New York Dolls for a while. What was it like for a young musician being in such a legendary band at that time?

There was a lot of chaos at the time and the band was disintegrating. The biggest thing that came out of that for me was that Arthur Kane, their bass player and I came to California. It got me from the East coast to California and everything changed for me there so it wasn’t so much the band but more the geographical location I ended up at afterwards.

Once you complete the UK shows you head out into Europe for pretty much the rest of the year. Do you plan to mark your 30th anniversary in any other way besides the tour?

I don’t know yet. There’s talk of doing a DVD next year as the tour will continue on into next year in different parts of the world. There’s a specific thing we’re thinking about but I don’t want to go into more detail at the moment until things are finalised.

Talking of a DVD you had a video out years ago Live at the Lyceum which is impossible to find these days. Will you re-release this on DVD at some point?

There’s some contractual complications with that video which have meant that we can’t do anything with it but hopefully that’ll be resolved at some point and it will be released.

Once the tour is over, what will you be doing next?

We’ll be home for Christmas and will look at finishing the album next year, it may come out in the Spring or the Fall but the decision hasn’t been made just yet. We’ll be following the same sort of direction as our last two albums Dominator and Babylon.

WASP’s 30 Years of Thunder UK Tour starts on 21st September at the Forum, London. Full dates as follows:

21st September: The Forum , London

22nd September: HMV Picture House, Edinburgh

23rd September: O2 Academy, Newcastle

24th September: Ulster Hall, Belfast

25th September: Vicar Street, Dublin

27th September: HMV Ritz, Manchester

28th September: O2 Academy, Leeds

29th September: Rock City, Nottingham

30th September: Waterfront, Norwich

1st October: Wolfurun Hall, Wolverhampton

3rd October: The Great Hall, Cardiff

4th October: O2 Academy, Bristol


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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