Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Night Of Gothic Metal Never To Be Forgotten!

There are always moments in a rock musician's life that are milestones in their career and fuel to keep on slugging it out through the years of tough competition and endless work! On February 28, 1979 I had mine!
Through 1978-79 I had forged an alliance with Washington, D.C.'s own Bobby Liebling and Pentagram. We were working the hard and sometimes dangerous rooms of Georgetown and the occasional out of towners in small theaters and civic auditoriums across Maryland and Virginia.
We had recorded a single in late 1978 entitled "Living In A Ram's Head" b/w "When The Screams Come" and it was garnering modest airplay on local radio that ultimately landed us in Virginia's premier rock venue, Louie's Rock City!
Pentagram, "Living In A Ram's Head" 1978

Louie's was once a Grand Union grocery store that eventually closed and was revamped in to the world's largest Tiki bar called "The Royal Hawaiian Supper Club"! The venue had a stage that could fit a whole orchestra or big band with giant carved wooden Tiki masks all over the place! But it too was unsuccessful and changed hands to new management who named it "The Place Where Louie Dwells"! They soon found out that their meager clientele couldn't generate enough money to pay their monstrous utility bills! The son of the owner of this establishment had the very hip idea of bringing rock and roll bands in the club and to it's unused massive stage! The name was now permanently changed to Louie's Rock City and it wasn't long until they had packed houses every night! They hired a staff of unusually beautiful waitresses that attracted even more people and soon the drinks were flowing and they were hiring national acts!

Pentagram publicity photo taken backstage at Louie's Rock City 1979, L-R Richard Keuht, Joe Hasselvander, Bobby Liebling, Vance Bockis & Paul Trowbridge

Pentagram was a perfect group to have on the bill at Louie's because they could sell us as a national act or have us open a show as a local support band! Our manager in those days was Joe Rowe, an anphetimine fueld, night club hopping, party animal who loved the local scene so much that you would hear of multiple sightings of him all over town like Dracula on his rounds! On one of his outings he stopped in Louie's and learned of the booking of Judas Priest at the club in February! Joe snapped in to action and talked his way in to getting the club to book Pentagram as the opener! I later found out that after shoving a few party favors up the man's nose, Joe Rowe signed a contract for the band! In looking back , I wouldn't doubt if a lot of our shows were booked that way as we were the band everyone loved to hate!

Marty Swaney & ex-Pentagram manager, Joe Rowe hold up Pentagram banner from 1979

We knew that this was going to be a super gothic heavy metal night having Britain's new heavy metal champions Judas Priest paired up with the U.S.'s mid-Atlantic equivilant Pentagram on the same bill! Word started spreading like wild fire throughout the metro area about the concert and tons of fans were buying tickets! It was sold out in a week and many people told us that this would be like going to the Roman Colosseum to see a clash of the heavy metal titans!

We had just hired a young Vance Bockis as our bassist to replace Martin Swaney who left the band a month earlier! Vance in later years became the original frontman for The Obsessed but in 1979 he was 16 years old and still in high school! We picked him up for the show but didn't tell him where we were playing or who with! We got to the club and said that we were opening for Priest! His eyes got as big as saucer plates! We walked in through the side door for load- in and their was K.K. Downing standing there! Vance ran right up and started chewing his ear about Judas Priest! K.K. didn't mind though and spoke with him at length

A 16 year old Vance Bockis plays in the first rock concert of his life opening for Judas Priest with Pentagram!

After loading our gear in we sat through Priest's soundcheck and we noticed that they were playing our favorite song by Fleetwood Mac "The Green Manalichi"! It was featured on their brand new album, "Hell Bent For Leather" the U.S. version of "Killing Machine" as an extra bonus track for the American release! We couldn't believe anyone had even heard of that song much less the obscure single it came from! Their rendition sounded great! Little did we know that years later it would be one of their most requested concert chesnuts!

It was showtime and the place was packed to it's 1000 seat capacity! We knew that we had to make this one count! We also knew that this moment may never come again which made us a little nervous and also more determined to blow the house down!!!
Pentagram went down a storm and we played all the hits from "Day Of Reckoning" to "Twenty Buck Spin"! Bobby put on his best show ever and our two guitarists at the time Richard Kueht and Paul Trowbridge put on their hottest twin guitar attack that filled the room with doom! The concert goers were in heaven having two pounding metal bands of this caliber! We made many new fans that night who had never heard us before and they were truly amazed at the volume and our presentation! This was the night that turned the tide for us and we were now accepted by the local mainstream!

Pentagram serving up some old fasioned fire and brimstone opening for Judas Priest

It was now time for priest and they did a blistering set with songs from "Stained Class", "Hell Bent For Leather" and all the classics off "Sad wings Of Destiny"! It is interesting to note that at this time disco was finally loosening it's tyrannical hold on the world music scene and from this time on heavy metal and heavy rock was on it's way to being popular again! Judas Priest's show and the audience's reaction was proof of that to me!

After the show my friends and I invited Glenn Tipton and Ian Hill back to our after show party and they changed leathers(I kid You Not) and came back to our friends apartment where we went over the night's events and talked about music and bands until dawn! I remember Ian giving me my first ever scotch and water! He said it's easy on the stomach, mate! We made them a captive audience to a tape of one of my old bands playing "Victim Of Changes" which afterward they politely applauded to! They were very genuine people and gave us young guys some good advice for our future careers in music! Years later I found out that their advice was sound! We left the party in the blinding rays of the morning sun and said our goodbyes and drove them back to their bus!
K.K. Downing & Glenn Tipton prepare to rock the house at Louie's Rock City!

That morning our underaged bassist went to class in his high school and told of the previous night's events! "Man, I played a show with Judas Priest!" he said. His classmates just rolled their eyes and said "suuure you did!"
That night was a metal fan's dream come true and it was a pleasure to share the stage with Priest and we told them so! Years later people still come up to me when I'm in Washington and say,"Man , that was the heaviest concert of all time and we were there!" I always say in response to them, "Yes we were!"

Footnote to this story: I was inspired to share this little piece of history with the public because of the amazing discovery of the photo negatives taken of this show by Michael Slade in 1979. These had laid untouched in storage for 29 years and show like a time capsule the youthful faces of Pentagram and Judas Priest! After first seeing these photos, I was instantly transported back to the show and my thoughts at that time about life, love and music. We all including Judas Priest, were trying to act so important and so dog gone grown up when in fact we were just mere babes! It's uncanny how both bands survived all these years and still are able to entertain large audiences. I sort of knew that night that "Preist" were going places and that I was to. All my tours with Raven have proven that. These photos jogged this old man's memory for a few hours like a wisp of smoke or a rabbit jumping over one's grave. Either way it put it all in to perspective for me and planted a big smile on my face and made me realize i've been doing things right the whole time!


Woody said...

Good lord! Things like that just don't happen anymore.

mcslade said...

Joe, I was there, in fact I took the pictures of Pentagram pictured here....
absolutely spectacular and memorable night of the heaviest doom ever to melt an eardrum....

Mike Slade

John said...

One of the best rock stories I've ever heard. I hadn't been born yet when this show happened, but luckily nowadays I'm making my own memories to tell the young punks about when I get older. Great stuff! See you at the next northeast Hounds gig Joe!