Some people counts the beginning of time with the birth of Christ, others with Siddhartha’s enlightenment. Me? I count the beginning of time when Ross Friedman was born in the Christian calendar January 3rd 1954. Friedman has spearheaded both the genres of Viking metal in Manowar and the punk scene in The Dictators promoting the gospel of party for almost forty years.
With that in mind, who the hell cares about who first won the title of Idol or even who got the first Grammy award? The man, the myth, the boss is the Darwin of our time, the Freud of our minds, the Gilgamesh of rock as we know it and he’s back with the ferocious clan who goes by the name Death Dealer.
When a taxi picks me up from a hotel in Umeå, Sweden to drop me off at a remote location in the woods outside of town I don’t know what to expect. All I know is that I’m about to meet Ross ”The Boss” Friedman at a video shoot for the song ”Break The Silence” (directed by Owe Lingvall, drummer of Nocturnal Rites) from the new album ”Hallowed Ground”.
On arrival the cab driver worriedly asks me if I’m sure this is the place since we can see tons of smoke from what has to be gigantic fires, and yeah, the fires were enough for a week of putting witches to rest.
I spotted a van with the Death Dealer logo on it and replied: ”This is the place, Illuminati here I come!”
The first thing that hit me when I walked to the back of the house and the main yard is how serious this gathering was. People were running around with cameras worth of Detroit each, video cameras, a drone… This shoot was something I’d never witnessed before, this was a professional shoot with professional gear.
My contact greeted me welcome and told me the large wooden pinnacles burning had a story. Apparently, one has to have permission for these large fires and since the average Joe uses lighter fluid an accident could easily occur if not proper precautions were made. Working with a tight schedule the crew went out to buy extremely large amounts of corrosion resistant while telling the cashier ”This goddamn bolt is comin’ off TODAY!”. Imagine the look on her face.
Now, this particular liquid doesn’t require a permit ‘cause, really, who even thinks of corrosion resistant for the weekend barbecue, so the shoot was up and running on time, burning as a 15th century fornicator. Kudos to an resourceful crew! Another thing requiring paperwork was the drone. A connection with the airports flight tower was key to being able to use it and eventually the very first shot in the video coming from that things eye was really cool. It looked like a uterus with a camera attached on it, a piece sturdier than John Holmes pride exploding to a height of surely one kilometer (3280ft) in less than twenty seconds.
Walking inside the house by the pool area a smiling Ross comes forth to shake my hand offering me free beers since ”hey, this is a professional shoot, have all the beers you want”. Such a nice guy all the way!
Growing up in the Bronx in the 60’s, can you tell me about it? Well, my neighborhood was a pretty rough spot. Not perhaps the most rough in the city but you know I still had a normal childhood hanging out in the schoolyards and parks. Sports was a big thing after school. Everybody was playing baseball all the time with a ball and a bat and it was fun. There wasn’t the danger like you couldn’t go outside or having to be with a parent all the time. It wasn’t like kids were being abducted or anything like that and all that stuff. From the third grade or something like that I was out on my own. As long as I got back home in the evening everything was fine.
The reason I ask is this that all you guys who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s pretty much invented the sound of heavy metal as it came to be. Does that have anything to do with how things were back then? Rock ‘n’ roll I guess began in ‘54 with the early Blues musicians and rock ‘n’ roll guys like Chuck Berry and all. The thing that happened back in the 60’s was that the Blues guitar guys went overseas to England like Peter Green, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Keith Richards just to name a few. So they kinda influenced the whole rock ‘n’ roll scene internationally. I was 13 back then in ‘67 and I listened to Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton and all these great guitar players so I’m basically a child of the electric blues guitar growing up. The thing about my style of music is that I’m able to translate that into the Heavy Metal music I play today in Death Dealer and it’s just that, the blues has been able to translate into everything for me.
According to you, what is the first real Heavy Metal band? I’d say that Black Sabbath is the first true Heavy Metal band. Let’s face it, they invented the tri-tone. There has been earlier forefathers to the Heavy Metal before Sabbath but until Black Sabbath happened it wasn’t what it was. Once they wrote and played their music it all started this thing called Heavy Metal. It was only natural to them to do this as they played the Blues faster and harder making it Metal. I respect all musicians for doing their thing, but those guys having a range being able to play a lot of different styles will always have my respect.
Do you remember the first real band you played in? My first real band was right out of high school and we were called ”Total Crud”. It was just a high school band with a bunch of guys and it stepped up after we graduated moving up state to state college. That school were voted the 2nd most ”party school in the country”.
You really, actually had votes about such things? Well yes, it was either us in Newpools college or some guys in San Fransisco but Newpools was really out of control. Kids just coming from all over the place just losing their minds totally. And in that environment we started to play at parties and making a lot of gigs. I really started to improve my chops up. I almost became the guitar player that I am today but it took time and after a while I met this guy Andy and we formed the band called the ”Dictators”.
So that’s how it was, I was upstate and not really happy with the band. I started to look for some professionals and some opportunities playing guitar and that’s what happened. We were playing Newpool and we got discovered by the Blue Oyster Cult’s manager Sandy Proman and he brought us back to the city to record a demo and we were signed to the CBS. We didn’t play shows just yet and I was just 19 and we had a record deal. The Dictators was pure rock ‘n’ roll with cars, girls, surfing and beer.
Oh it was that kinda band? Yeah, you know hamburgers and junk culture. It was that kind of thing. I’m so glad for this. You know that bands that we loved like the MC5 suffered due to their politics… White Panther Party and all.
Then we’re on the same page, I mean there’s no room for politics in that kind of music. It totally isn’t, it really finished off a great rock ‘n’ roll band.
So being 19 years old already having a record deal, how did that effect you as a person? Well it was easy like ”oh this is going good” you know, but then again after the record came out the Dictator released the record ”Go Crazy”, which is another great story and we got dropped because they had no idea what this band was all about. The lead singer in a wrestling outfit in front of a locker room with pictures of us and people went like; ”Hey, what is this band? A punk rock, rock ‘n’ roll wrestling thing crazy with hamburgers, girls and cars? What the heck is going on?!”.
Our music had nothing to do with what was going on in 1975. You know it was all like southern rock, Boston and Foreigner that we had nothing to do with. KISS started out back then so people felt like ”What is this?” towards the Dictators and we had to find our niche where we could play our music. Suddenly in 1976 there’s a place we heard about called CBGB’s and we became one of the CBGB’s bands.
Can you tell me a bit more about CBGB’s? CBGB’s was a great club opened up by Hilly Kristal. Patti Smith played there and it was full of dog shit like a dump. But it was our dump and Hilly was such a visionary and everybody played there. All of a sudden all the best talent came to play there. You had the Dictators, Patti Smith, The Rolling Stones and all these great guys. Even The Police played there and it was the beginning of the new wave called punk rock.
We played there 34 times as it turned out and we played the last weekend of the club’s existence and the last two shows they had, it was a real honor. It’s 40 years since The Dictators ”Go Crazy” came out, so Sony Legacy decided to reissue the record, and Andrew W.K. remixed three songs from the master tracks and it came out on Black Friday which is the day after thanksgiving in America and it was a totally new package with alternate takes and all. So after putting that record out people earlier thinking it was shit now felt that this was brilliant giving us revenge! Uncut Magazine UK said it’s the number one greatest American punk rock records of all time.
How did that feel? It feels like vindication. Like everything that happened, everything we went through, for that record, starting like teenagers, was great.
What kind of hardships did you have to go through? You know, after you get dropped and the band has no money, everyone is looking at each other like “What did you do?” but we stayed on, we got another record contract and we made two more records for May and July.
Speaking about the reissue and everything, I’m thinking about finding a certain sound, you know you can always hear if it’s an Iron Maiden song, for instance, or, well, anything. Now, to really sculpt something like that, it can’t be that easy? No, nothing like that was ever really done, we were a year before The Ramones first record, so what we did didn’t even exist. There was not even a title for what we did, there was no punk rock then.
In the 80’s, and of course Manowar, let me repeat the question about the sound in Manowar. Was there ever really like a sit down and discussing the sound? No, we knew what we wanted to do, but the story, let’s lead it from the three Dictator records, then I need a job after we took a hiatus, so I joined a French band called Shakin’ Street, but my manager Sandy, from the manager of the Dictators, he managed Shakin’ Street, then he managed Black Sabbath so we found ourselves opening up for Black Sabbath in England and this guy comes to me and it’s Ronnie James Dio, he goes “Boss, I know you, I know the career, I know the rock and I love it.” Nicest guy ever and then he finally goes “I got this guy Joey and you should meet him because he is a really good bass player, I think you two would get along.
So I say “Yeah, okay” to Ronnie, he tells me to do it, I did it. So I went and made friends with Joey and all of a sudden, we started jamming in the Black Sabbath’s dressing room when they were on stage and there was something there, even from the first time we played together.
So we kept pushing it on and I decided, “You know what, let’s make a band.” So we started thinking of what we’re gonna do and eventually I quit Shakin’ Street, nicely with a replacement, and we went off the road and we started writing songs. It was 1980 and I had a friend that worked for EMI Records in New York City, Bob Curry, and he came to see me play with Shakin’ Street when we opened up for Blue Öyster Cult, which we did a lot. So he, Curry, said “I love you man, I’m gonna do something with you, I wanna do something with you”.
But little did he know what “doing something with” was going to be called Manowar. He came and saw me play and said “You’re great, man!” and I said that he should see me and Joey play because we had this couple of songs.
We auditioned for EMR without a drummer or a bass player. When we played together it was like you heard the drums already, it was so loud, you didn’t know what the fuck you were hearing because it was so vicious, so that’s what we did and that’s how Manowar started.
Did you go straight off into your own tunes while jamming on the Sabbath gear? No, we were just fucking around in their dressing room. You know, like, I got this riff, he had this other riff, I like the way he played. It was new, it was different, I had never heard a bass player play like that.
So there were two of you, how did you get a hold of Eric Adams? Alright, so Joey goes “We need a singer.” And I go “Joey, do you have a singer?” and Joey goes “Yeah” and tells me he worked with this guy called Eric Adam, not his real name, and that he was a great singer, so we got him and we didn’t have a drummer yet, so for our demo, we had a demo budget from Curry and Curry goes “I got this guy called Kennedy.” Kennedy played in this band called The Rods and so we decided to do the demo and that was the demo that got us signed to EMI.
You just told me that Eric Adams wasn’t his real name. Louis Marullo.
Why did he change his name? Because he, Joey and me didn’t like it. We didn’t want to be the young rascals you know, we didn’t want to be the Italian band or a Jewish band, we wanted to be a rock ‘n’ roll band so Lewis had to sons, Eric and Adam and I said “You know what your name is? Eric Adams! There’s your name.” That’s how Eric Adams was born.
So then you left Manowar? Well, yeah, I did the six records, invented the band with Joey.
For those six records, you really kind of invented your own thing. I think they’re calling it power metal now, I don’t know, what they call it, or Viking metal. This guy from Amon Amarth said “You invented Viking metal!”
So do you ever really contemplate about it? Like “Yeah, I’m the guy that invented all this”? Yeah, I do and I did it in the Dictators too. So I mean, I don’t know how I did it. People were like “You were there.. and you were there for that one. How did you get from that, to that?” and I don’t know, I just wanted to play heavy music after a while. So that’s what happened, that was the by-product of what I wanted to do, it was called Manowar.
Yeah, that was actually one of the questions I wanted to ask you. From punk rock to metal. Yeah, I haven’t really changed much up, it’s just a natural thing because I wanted to play heavy music, like Sabbath.
So, after quitting Manowar; It wasn’t quitting, I didn’t quit. I was asked to leave.
Why? Well, Joey and I, after a while, people want to gain control of things and I was asked to leave. I’m not gonna be negative, but I didn’t want to, honestly, but I could see it, I had disagreements with the band and the image and things like that and the politics of the whole thing. But I didn’t want to go, it wasn’t the time because we just recorded Kings of Metal and it was the first time because I mean, now? After I record this record? Just not a good time.
Did you take it hard? Not really, because I played music, I started to play music, to be happy and not to be stressed out and only care about the money. Because the band was about to blow up and start making a lot of money and you know after doing all the heavy lifting for the band, and I’m out. So there was some acrimony there, some bitter feelings and to this day there still are but I don’t live with that, I’m not that way, I refuse to live like that. But after I left Manowar, we had Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom, another metal thing, it was like the Dictators with one guitar player and I kept recording. To this day, I keep doing what I’m doing.
So, recording this follow up (Hallowed Ground), what do you think is the most challenging thing to do? The debut or the follow up? We did the debut ourselves, maybe we shouldn’t have, I asked a lot of records labels but we didn’t get the response we wanted, so we just put it on ourselves and we made a ton of money of it in preorders and packaging and all that stuff. But I mean you can’t get your name out to the world that way but I think we eventually got hooked up to a really brilliant label, a lot of young energy. We have a great record that’s a little more broader than the first, there’s more of my writing in it, more of Manowar style epic stuff in there. And when you hear it, you’re gonna love it. It’s just a really good record. That’s where we’re at so we’re here tonight, the record is coming out in October and we’re here now, so what does that tell ya? They’re spending some cash. You know, we’re doing some festivals, the reactions have been great for the band so far. It’s an honor to play, this is my 30th record coming out and then with the reissue it’ll be 31.
Really cool, so are you due for a star on the walk? Ha ha, I don’t know, maybe not. They’ll have to give it to me when I die I think, before I get really famous, I’m like the world’s best guitar secret in the world still, so, ha ha.
When Rhino (Drummer, ex-Manowar) left, then Steve came in, what do you think he brought to the sound? Steve is a more Brooklyn school of music studied drummer. He’s an incredible drummer, Rhino is more of the rock ‘n’ roll. I think it was for the best because Rhino had some personal problems, but he was a great guy, we love him and we did the Metal All Stars tour, we played the arena thing and I was also a metal all star, so I opened for myself. But Steve, he is great, we’re having a great time with him, he’s like the youngest kid in the band so he’s keeping us funny, we’re laughing, he’s girl crazy like I was once, I still am, but he’s really making me proud.
He’s a great drummer. I hope you get to see us one day, live, because we’re a really good band. I think the whole thing is going great, the record is coming out, it’s gonna blow up, I think, I don’t know, I’ve been wrong before in my life, plenty of times, but I think we’re doing good.
So, how do you wanna introduce Death Dealer to the readers of Azaria Magazine? I’d say, this is a great metal band. This is heavy metal, but this is rock ‘n roll too. This is not just a made up thing, this has got street cred rock and roll and metal. You know, rock and roll is part of this band and you get what you see with Death Dealer, it’s gonna punch you right in the face, it’s great songs.
The most important thing about this band is songs. Song oriented band with choruses that everyone can sing along to upon listening to it for the first time. That was the most important thing to me, we need arena rock anthems, so when we play in a club it seems like you’re in an arena and when you play in an arena it seems like a club. That’s my job. I told the boys, “When we’re in an arena, we have to make it feel intimate and when we’re in a club, you have to make it feel like an arena.” And that’s our job and we do it. That’s the deal.
That’s wise words. Can you tell me a little about the recording process of the new album? What did you do differently this time? Not much, we spent a lot of time in the hotel rooms on tour, writing and tossing about the songs. Of course, Stu lives in Australia, so we’re an Internet thing, because three of them are in LA, I’m in New York, Stu is in Sydney, so we’re dealing with different times and there’s just tons of Skyping together, we get like three or four of us on Skype and that’s what we do.
The will to succeed and will to be excellent has driven us and now we’re here. We’ve played 30 shows and we’re here, so this is the by-product of a lot of work and a lot of dedication. Most superstar bands to me suck so that’s the shit we were getting on the first album (Warmaster). “It’s not really real, they’re not serious.” But people have seen that we’re taking this shit seriously, and it is serious! Watch what’s gonna happen. We’re very happy.
Gonna make sure to underline that you’re not just a joke. No, no, I want this to be, this is my thing into my retirement, if I ever do that, which I doubt.
Writing songs, approximately how many songs did you have to cut out? We had a lot of stuff that we didn’t use and we’ve got a lot of stuff on the back burner, so we have a song rich environment right now in Death Dealer. It’s song rich.
Is pretty much everyone a song writer? Three of us are, Sean, me and Stu. Mike has a lot of new ideas and Mike’s really been popping his stuff up, so yeah there’s no problem with that. We don’t care who or where it comes from, if it’s there and if it’s good, it’s getting used. You know, there’s no ego here. When we get together, we’re all together. It’s not talking behind each others back, none of that happens, we’re just guys together. We’re just a real band.
After our talk I hovered around for a while to mingle and to taste the juicy good vibe in the air. I still had a few hours before my interview with Blackie Lawless of WASP to kill.
Outside by the pool a certain man by the name of Ioannis sat at the table. This guy has quite an amazing resume! Check this out, bands like Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Sepultura, Deep Purple, Yngwie Malmsteen and a shitload of others dignities all has his art on the cover. That is however another story, a story fit for the next issue of Azaria Magazine.