Tales from a Metalhead: Chapter 6: “Johnny’s Back”

Tales from a Metalhead logo

This chapter is part of a book called Tales from a Metalhead written by Metal Express Radio’s President Stig G. Nordahl. The chapters will be posted one at the time and you can find them all here.

I didn’t discover Riot until I came across their 6th album, Thundersteel, when it was released in 1988. In addition to some great music and their many lineup changes, Riot is probably best known for their stupid seal mascot that is the main focus on their older album covers. Eddie, Vic Rattlehead and Snaggletooth, go home; you’re no match for Johnny (which is also a stupid name for a mascot). Luckily they stopped using Johnny on the album covers when they released Thundersteel (though he has made a comeback on some of their later releases). I followed the band closely for many years after that, checking their new albums and did several interviews.

Look at that stupid seal! He’s just ridiculous. Half man, half seal.

Thundersteel was a new era to the band. It was recorded with a completely new lineup, with guitarist and founder Mark Reale as the only remaining member from the previous records. With this release the band became more “Metal” and this is especially underlined by singer Tony Moore’s high pitched vocals.

As you might know, Metal Express Radio started as an FM radio in the 80s. Shortly after I had taken it online in 2000, I received an email from a listener who had one of the songs he had heard on the stream stuck in his head. He didn’t know which band it was nor did he remember any of the lyrics to the song, but he remembered the melody. So, as any good Metal fan would do, he recorded himself humming the melody to the song and sent it to me asking which song it was. Since Thundersteel had been a favorite of mine for a good number of years I immediately recognized the chorus to “Johnny’s Back”. Were they foreshadowing the return of their mascot with this track…?

Mark Reale and the beer barrels

A couple of weeks later I received another email. This time from ex-Riot singer Tony Moore. Tony had been listening to Metal Express Radio and had heard a song off Thundersteel. He sent me an email to let me know how cool he thought it was that we had played it. I forwarded him the email with the recording of the listener humming “Johnny’s Back” and told him that the listener had the song stuck in his head. Tony responded that he would send a signed copy of the album to the listener. Tony also sent me demos with his new project Faith and Fire that would be released years later. That was a nice sneak peek. I believe we still have some of the demo versions on rotation today. Please, don’t tell Tony…

After two albums with Tony Moore on vocals Riot released several albums Mark DiMeo on vocals. When I looked through my old recordings I found a telephone interview I did with Mark Reale in 1998 when the album Inishmore was about to be released. He was sitting in Metal Blades office in Germany doing press for the album. I had totally forgotten about it, but we had a nice talk. Check it out here:

The first time I saw Riot live was when they played the Wacken Open Air in Germany later the same year. Even though I had interviewed Mark Reale earlier the same year I hooked up with him once again for a chat. To get away from the loud music by the bands playing on stage we went out in a nearby field and did the interview on a car trailer with beer barrels on it. We had already brought our own beer though. Mark gave a quick update on the reception of the new album and his current projects. It is funny to hear is reaction when his favorite band Thin Lizzy enters the stage in the background. Check it out here:

Riot followed up Inishmore with another strong strong release called Sons of Society. Since Mark Dimeo joined the band the music got back the more straight Hard Rock style. During the release of their new album in 1999 I had a talk with Mike DiMeo about how that band’s style had changed and  how how he became a member in the first place. Check it out here:

In 2014, the lineup that recorded Thundersteel was reunited at the Sweden Rock Festival. They hadn’t released the comeback album Immortal Soul yet but they played the single “Wings Are for Angels” off that album, and Tony’s voice was still sounding great. I had scheduled an interview with Tony after the show. This was 15 years after the last interview I had done with them. When I got backstage it turned out that the entire band wanted to join for the interview. I don’t particularly like interviewing an entire band at the same time. It’s challenging to interview five people, keeping track of who has responded to what and who hasn’t said anything yet, especially if you only have one microphone. You also lose some of the intimacy that you get when you interview only one person. Despite this, it turned out to be a great interview. The band members were riding high on the successful comeback show they had just played and everyone were very talkative. Check it out here:

After the interview we were going for the mandatory backstage pictures. I suddenly found myself hoisted in the air by the short but strong Tony and was tossed into the arms of the rest of the band. I have never really been picked up by anyone for a picture but this time I was, whether I liked it or not.

Mark Reale was very sick at the time. He was suffering from Crohn’s disease, which he had most of his life, and seemed very weak during the interview. He died shortly after. The band carries on the legacy under the name Riot V.

RIP Mark Reale!

It costs a lot to keep Metal Express Radio running. Let’s face it, we’re a grassroots web radio and we do this because we love Metal. Any contributions that helps keeping us afloat are highly welcomed. We gladly accept donations on our donate page.


  • Stig G. Nordahl

    Stig is the founder and the president of Metal Express Radio, based out of Oslo, Norway. He has been around doing Metal radio since the mid-eighties. In fact, running Metal Express Radio takes almost all of his time. Is it worth it...? "Most times, yes," Stig says. "My philosophy is to try to give all Metal releases a fair chance to get promoted in one way or another. As you can imagine, it can be an arduous task to listen through about 20 albums every week! Still, I know we have the best METAL dedicated radio on this planet, and that is a reward in and of itself. I hope one day the whole Metal community can and will make listening to Metal Express Radio part of their daily rituals! Yeah, right..."

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