Sunday, December 7, 2008

Jack Starr "Living Life In Limbo"

1984 found me in Long Island N.Y. with the help of an old friend from back in The Boyz' day, Rhett Forrester. He used to sit in with us when we played in Baltimore back in 1981 and later moved to New York to become Riot's vocalist and front man!

I had been living in Manhattan with my girlfriend while auditioning for countless bands. Most of them looked the part but when it came down to it they really sucked as players! I must have auditioned for 35 of these so called bands that were nothing more than posers! I was beginning to think that moving to the big apple wasn't a great idea after all. Then one day Rhett phoned up looking for my roommate and we started talking about old times and also how he had quit Riot and was doing a new project with Jack Starr from Virgin Steele. He told me that they were auditioning drummers. I asked, why not give me a shot, as nothing seemed to be panning out in the city. He told me that he would run it by Jack and that I would be getting a call from him later in the evening. I thanked him and later Jack rang me up.

The late Rhett Forester was an old friend from way back and an old southern boy at heart like me! He helped me get an audition for Jack Starr's new project! Rhett was murdered in Atlanta Georgia many years later in a drug deal gone bad! He will be missed!

Right away I thought that Jack was a funny little guy as he seemed to be playing head games on the phone with trick questions to keep me off balance. I think he was just trying to see if I was a poser like all the geniuses I had been auditioning for lately. He asked if I had video of myself and I told him that I had one with me playing drums with Death Row at the Silver Fox. He told me to take the first train I could get out to Huntington that night so he could meet me and check things out. It was late but I agreed.

My train pulled in and there were Rhett and Jack standing there waiting for me. We hopped in Jack's car and headed for his house. When we walked in I noticed that Rhett was looking at me funny and I figured it was because he had not seen me in a while. I had platinum blond streaks in my hair and was dressed in my usual full on rock attire that everyone wore in the city. I soon realized that Long Island was kind of "hick" as compared to Manhattan. That was strike one against me!

For the rest of the night Rhett could hardly look at meand when he did I got the impression that he wanted to start a fight! He was a Georgia redneck anyway and I didn't care much about what he thought of me and just continued talking with Jack who was much more receptive to my image.

Jack told me that he was looking for "serious people only" to play in his new band and they had to be able to duplicate the music on his new solo album "Out Of The Darkness". He played the cuts from his album and I was impressed and told him that I wouldn't have a problem with learning it. Rhett just continued watching TV and ignoring me.

Jack then wanted to see the video I had brought of Death Row and I thought to myself "Man, Rhett's really going to love this with all Death Row's Kabuki make up and black lipstick! He's going to think I'm a fool!" Then I thought "Screw it if he doesn't like it I'll take him out back and kick his hillbilly ass!"

The video slid in the player and the "Halloween" soundtrack came on and then "Blammo" , DEATH ROW in all their hideous glory smashing on to the screen with no apologies! Rhett's eyes bulged out of his head in disbelief and Jack Starr's jaw hit the floor! I'm just thinking "What the hell have I done?" The tension in Jack's Starr's living room got so thick you could cut it with a knife! I couldn't take the pressure and headed for the bathroom!

After I found my composure, I entered the living room and told them that they had seen enough. Jack said "No, this is really wild stuff" and Rhett at this point was willing to slit his own wrists! He turned to Jack and said I'm going to bed and left the room. Rhett didn't like it but Jack was all smiles. He took me back to the train station and thanked me for coming out and told me he would sleep on it and call me the following day. The next day came and no word!

Years later the story from Jack was that Rhett was saying "There's something wrong with that guy." "Did you see the streaks in his hair?" "He's just too much for this band and what about that video?" Those guys were really out there!" Jack informed Rhett that he shouldn't be too hasty in his judgment as he thought that I was really on to something! He said to Rhett, "Besides, look at the bands on MTV nowadays! They look crazier than Joe" "I'm willing to see what he's got!"

So 2 days later I got the call to come to Long Island and meet the bassist who had apparently played on the new album. Jack wanted to hear how we played together at a rehearsal studio by his house. So, I made the trip once again and this time Rhett was excited and happy about me coming out. I jumped in the back seat of Jack's car with Rhett and I saw this set of eyes peering at me through dark sunglasses from the front passenger seat with a big smile attached to the face. Jack said "Joe , this is our bass player Ned Meloni". I shook his hand but I noticed he kept smiling and looking back at me. I got this real funny feeling that Ned was going to be a long time associate and that we crossed paths for a reason! The 22 years since that fateful meeting have proven me correct!
Ned Meloni proved to be a long time associate of mine and was the voice on "Phantom Lord"!

When we got back to Jack's house Rhett announced that he had waited for this moment for a whole year and was ecstatic! He told us that he finally had all the right band mates now standing in the same room with him. He was getting a little choked up over it.

The rehearsals went fine and Jack informed us that we would be playing a huge outdoor festival in France and that we were going to have to rehearse for several weeks for it. He also asked me to move to Huntington as he needed me close by. Once again I knew that I would lose a girlfriend over this because "Gloria" hated Long Island and things had been a little shaky between us anyway. This would be the final straw! It is never easy on wives or girlfriends of struggling musicians.

The day came for me to move and I arrived at the apartment that Jack had set up for the band but only Ned was there. I asked him where Rhett was and he told me that Jack had taken Rhett to France to play the festival with Carl Canedy and Gary Bordonero of the Rods as they had played most of the rythym section parts on "Out Of The Darkness". I was pissed! I had uprooted everything that was good in my life for this opportunity and now I had been screwed by yet another set of liars! Ned tried calming me and told me that Jack was going to make it all up to us by recording 3 brand new albums with us as soon as he got back. I didn't know what to think but for now I was stuck out on the island with nowhere to go but Virginia and I wasn't going to go back there!

Jack came back into town and met with us and told us that the gig went miserable and that he had made an error in judgement. He also told us that the "Out Of The Darkness" project was over because Rhett was leaving the group. I was thinking screw this! Jack though, did finally make good on his promise to record with Ned and I.

Jack"s way of making up for our disapointment came as a deal he had struck with Dutch East Records to complete 3 albums at a reduced cost. He proposed that we take on the challenge of recording and mixing each album in 12 hours time. He told Ned and I that it didn't matter how bad they sounded as all the new bands sucked anyway and we would use suedonyms instead of our real names just in case. This would also make it appear like 3 seperate groups. Jack informed us that he had already written the bulk of the albums in cookie cutter fasion but that I would have to write the remainder of the songs myself on the spot or use any material that might be floating around in my cranium. On Halloween of 1984 we went in to the studio to record the first of the 3 albums. "Devil Childe" was to be a spin off of Venom and Iron Maiden but it sounded more like a train wreck! The budget for this album was a whopping $200.00! You can just imagine the crap sound we got out of that. It does have it's moments though and I very much enjoy it today. It has since become a cult classic for collectors of rare metal. Side B features a drum solo by me and 3 songs that were intended for Death Row, "Through The Shadow", "Grave Robber" and "Beyond The Gates" which I'm sorry to say could have been done better.

Devil Childe was the first of 3 albums put out by Dutch East Records for Jack Starr and I in 1985.

Our next recording would be a spin off of Metallica and Slayer entitled "Phantom Lord".
From the get go this album proved that no rehearsal equals rubbish. Again this one was recorded for $200.00 and again this featured a few songs written by Jack Starr and the rest were written and performed by me on the spot in the studio! I was picked to produce this abomination and the night I did it I had a temperature of 104 and my ears were totally stopped up. Most of this album has a very scratchy and abrasive sound. With the exception of "Fight The Thunder", Phantom Lord is a throwaway although it does have the distinction of being one of the very first thrash albums in existence. Many years later it also became a cult metal collector's item. This album was repressed 2 times! I guess there is no accounting for taste.

The abysmal Phantom Lord album has the worst production of all time! I know, because I produced it!

L-R Ned Meloni, Jack Starr and Joe Hasselvander. The makers of Phantom Lord and Devil Childe!

Jack loved having girls in the photos with us! These two gals ended up being our dates! These were taken during the Devil Childe and Phantom Lord period!

Jacks next big project was going to be "Lady-Killer" featuring a phoney all girl band on the cover with me playing all the instruments and a female vocalist. This was his bright idea of cashing in on the Girlschool and Rock Godess craze! The record company decided it was now going to get behind me all the way and give me an increased budget of $400.00. "Woo Hoo!!!" We were going to ask the singer from a Long Island based band called "The Poison Dollys" to be the vocalist. I didn't really mind as I had a giant crush on her anyway! Somehow that was not to be because come the day of recording, she was nowhere in sight. I had written 8 heavy rock songs with a slight glam rock appeal that were full of hooks and sing along parts. The songs were heavy though and contained a lot of elements of my 2 favorite bands at the time, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. When it came time to sing them I had no choice but to give it my best Alice Cooper treatment as I really didn't know how to sing in those days. I finished the album up with Jack Starr coming in to bang out the lead solos in an hour. He was not expecting it to be very good but was pleasantly surprized at the song writing and told me "You know what Joe?" "Your songs are better than they deserve to be". As weird as that sounded coming from him, I took it as a complement.

What came out was a bitter sweet musical success for me as the recording was only as good as the $400.00 it took to make it. I decided that it would become my first solo album even though the recording was questionable. I thought at the time the songs stood well on their own and I needed something with my actual name on it for better or worse!

"Lady-Killer" came out on my mother's birthday May 30th 1985 and I was shocked by the cover as it looked like a Xeroxed hand bill on blue paper.

"Lady-Killer" was the last of 3 albums for Dutch East Records and became my first solo album which is still in print today!

Jack Starr's attention now was on creating a new solo band for himself called Jack Starr's"Burning Starr". He came by our apartment with 2 sets of stapled together sheets of paper with his scribblings on it which he referred to as "The Booklets". They were the lyrics to his new songs with extra paper to right notes on about song arrangement. We went about the task of learning the material for his new project with the promise that we would record the album in 2 months and also do some live shows. At best this became rough going as Jack couldn't remember the parts he had written to his own songs. This made him constantly rearrange everything we had worked on from minute to minute. It became an insane game of follow the leader that never ended!

Ned, Jack and I getting down to preproduction for "Burning Starr"!

Ned and I finally realized that if we didn't push Jack into some local shows we would never stop marching around in his field as his space cadets! Jack knew this himself and finally booked some shows around New York. Our first gig was at L'Amour East in Queens. The show was packed out and we got a good reaction as we played Jack's new songs and a couple from "Phantom Lord" which went down a storm! I remember Rhett Forester coming out to see us and he said to Ned and I "Man, it's really strange seeing you guys up there doing it with Jack and doing it like pro's!" "It makes me proud!" Ned and I told Rhett that we wished that he would come back to the band but he was getting ready to record his own solo album in L.A..

Top - A handbill for our first concert at L'Amours East Long Island City, N.Y.. Bottom- Jack always used to brag that his new band had enough hair to stuff a mattress!

As the weeks went on it got colder and colder in the apartment that Ned and I lived in and the money was running out. We had barely enough to eat and relied on the local groupies to supply us with food and clothes. Even though we had day jobs, It was still not enough to live in expensive Long Island. I figured out a way to get coffee creamer for the whole week by going to the local 7-11 food store and filling up a large coffee cup full of creamer out of the carton and pretending it was a large coffee I was buying. The cashier never knew the difference and we would add our instant espresso to it back at our place. I also remember eating a lot of hard pretzels as they trick your stomach into thinking you have eaten meat! I can't count the times that we bought different shapes of macaroni only to trick ouselves into thinking that we were having something different for dinner each night! That's Rock & Roll!

Our bachelor flop pad was fast becoming hard reality for Ned and I not only for the lack of good nutrition but also the revolving door of psychotic groupies who were literally coming through the door only to let out the last batch that had just been there! I remember one night being at home alone when suddenly there was a knock at the door and when I opened it a hand gun was shoved in my face with a very mad groupie behind it telling me to sit down and shut up while she went through Ned's drawers! She told me that she was pregnant and looking for any money or phone numbers with his parent's name on it that she could find! She placed the gun on the top of his buero and I quickly grabbed it and through it out the door into the snow, then grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and kicked her ass out the door too! I then called the cops!

The day came that I had enough! My nerves were frayed and things seemed to be reverting backwards. Jack and I also weren't speaking much because he didn't approve of my new relationship with a certain girl that he fancied at the time.

Burning Starr was scheduled to play that night at the Stage Door in Deer Park and I decided that hook or crook after that show , I was getting out of Long Island! A friend of mine named Arnie Goodman who owned Zig Zag Records in Brooklyn came to the house that night to come with Ned and I to the show and told me that Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown was looking for a drummer and had shows lined up all over the U.S.. I asked if he had a contact number and he said "I am the contact, I'm his manager!" Once again I was saved by the bell!

The Stage Door In Deer Park, N.Y. was my last gig with Jack Starr in the 1980's before I left to play drums for Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown!

Photos of one of the many rehearsals for the Deer Park show that was to be our goodbye!

When we got to the gig I told Jack that this would be my final show. He told me that he was sorry that I felt that way but understood. A local Long Island DJ was hosting the show named "Fingers" and had promoted the show excellently as every rocker on the island was there! Even Jack's old band mates from Virgin Steele were their heckling him all the way through the show!
It was by far our best gig but it was too little too late and I would be home in Virginia in a week getting ready to drive out to Cleveland, Ohio for my audition with Savoy Brown!

This wouldn't be the end of my story with Jack and Ned though. We briefly got back together again in 2003 with Smolik Avigal to record the classic metal album "Under Savage Skies" as Jack Starr's Guardians Of The Flame! More about that in another entry! Thanks for reading this one because it's a story that has needed to be accurately told for years and was the beginning of much bigger things to come! Cheers!


Woody said...

Wow. I remember seeing the Phantom Lord record around and read a review of it in Kick Ass. I had no idea Jack Starr was behind it. I was (and still am) a huge fan of Riot.

I always wanted to get Virgin Steele II just because I had the other 3 releases on Mongol Horde Records (Thor, Alien and Takashi). That was the complete discography of the label.

Can't wait to read more stuff from this era. I grew up in New Rochelle as a metal fanatic in the early to mid 80's.

Woody said...

PS - I saw the Poison Dolly's open for Motorhead at Lamour in Brooklyn July 1983. I thought I was gonna mess my pants when I saw the singer.