Interview With Canadian Rock Writer
For those of you not familiar, Martin Popoff is a Canadian hard-rock / metal journalist, who has written numerous rock biographies, review & reference books, tons of articles in various publications, as well as liner notes for various rock releases. A couple of weeks back I had the honor of being invited in to check out his office in Toronto; an amazing display of rock & metal CDs, books, signed records, notes, and everything else Martin has accumulated over the years. While there Martin passed me the first 4 installments to his “Ye Old Metal” book series. Ye Old Metal books feature lengthy essays of classic hard rock & metal albums, boasting exclusive and never seen before interviews.
For more info and to order any of Martin’s books, check out www.martinpopoff.com
How did the whole concept of the “Ye Olde Metal” book series come about?
MP: Well, as you know, I've written seven or eight rock biographies, but there are always these bands that were too small to do a whole book on. But I was just as curious about all of those types of bands, Angel, Moxy, Teaze, Hounds, Boyzz, Derringer, Ram Jam… as well as some of the bigger bands. It was just so cool hunting these guys down and getting those interviews, and then getting the stories of those albums. I just love knowledge, especially stuff that hasn't been talked about too often. So there are a lot of cool revealing tidbits throughout these books. I just wanted to write about some of these unsung bands, and part of the thrill, really, is just seeing in print things that you thought you would never see in print again. There are a lot of rarities covered, but even some bigger bands. For example, the Ted Nugent Free For All chapter in the 1976 book is something like 40 pages long, and I talked to everybody in the band. So yeah, I just love this idea of writing a lot of stuff on one album, and I started gathering them up, and I've had a lot of the interviews in the can for quite awhile, and indeed, I've got them ready for future volumes, I just thought yes, it was time to start putting these into book form. I just love the idea of a series as well, where all the spines match up in the covers look the same. So once this is done, it's just going to be this vast tract of knowledge that no one else in their right mind would write about because it's not very commercial! I’ve limited them to 1000, they are numbered and signed from me to the buyer – it’s for a little club of historian types like me and that’s it.
How long has the writing for these books been around and in the works?
MP: Many of these interviews I've had for 4, 5, 6 years. Because I started doing it as just some variable content to have at my website, so those essays have been going up there for quite a while, but not too many of them. But yeah, as I went along, I thought about how can I theme this thing? Should I do NWOBHM, American bands, Canadian bands, and then I just decided let's just do it by year, and now, after the first two books covered a few years, every book from here on in is gonna cover one year only. But the thing is, I've just got this vast interview archive, and I thought, well, I've been using them for the rock biographies, but what about all these bands I've talked to that I can't do a whole book on? So it was just a cool way to get all of the stuff out there so people could read it, rather than just sitting on my tapes deteriorating in my closet. Of course they aren't just in the closet, they are all transcribed in my computer, but yeah, who is going to get the story of both Ram Jam albums in such detail? Or DMZ or Dirty Tricks? I think that's left to me and my geeky fanboy mission to talk about all these unknown bands.
You’ve chosen more obscure and lesser known bands and /or albums, forgotten gems, instead of going for all the obvious ‘classic’ albums, though there is some huge names in their like Boston, Kansas, Heep…. How did you edit it down to the albums you chose? And did you have a lot written to choose from?
MP: Well, there is no real noble reason why some things are in and some things aren't. Yes, there are famous bands and yes, there are smaller bands. The one thing I didn't want to do is include stuff that has been talked about so many times, or that there are a bunch of full books on already. But also, hell, if I could get Joe Perry on the phone to talk about Draw The Line for 20 minutes, I would do that, and you would see that in there pronto! So yeah, that's something that happens as well. The really, really famous bands, sure, I've interviewed them, but it's usually limited time and you better stick to the new album. I have to really play it cool and see how much I can get out of any of these guys on some old album. Lots of times they don't remember, lots of times they don't want to talk about it, and many other times, they're just lousy interviews! They just really have nothing to say. And so, sometimes even if I've really tried to cover off an album, and the chat didn't go so well, like there wasn't much interesting in it. I would have to just put it aside and hope that I can get another guy from the band at some point to flesh it out to make it interesting enough to actually write a chapter on. But yeah, so many of these things came together totally awesome, like the Derringer one, which again, every single guy that is in that band was talk to for that one. And then there are things like Rex and Piper, where those guys are hard interviews to get, but when you get them, they're just delightful, funny, interesting guys. And man, with a band like Starz, once the 1978 book is done, I'll have done a clean sweep, all four of their albums. But yeah, Boston and Kansas, I've taken some heat for putting those bands in, but even Piper is mellower than that. But the thing is, I had a great interview with Brad Delp, which, as we all know has committed suicide, and also a great chat with Tom Scholz, so I figured yeah, put that in. Plus, if you remember 1976 like I do, that album was pretty heavy, and it ran in the same circles as all the other heavy albums. That's the thing we've got to remember. In the ‘70s, heavy metal didn't mean heavy metal like it does now. And really, the clue to which band sort of along in this concept is who all toured together? And all these guys did, and they all had the same producers and the same record labels, and they all knew each other, which is why the stories turn out to be pretty damn funny sometimes.
Were there any albums in particular that you REALLY wanted to write about but could found nothing and no one to discuss?
MP: Wow, that is a very cool question. There are many, many of them. One thing, I'm kicking myself, I wanted to cover the Armageddon album from 1975, on A&M, and for the life of me, I couldn't find my Bobby Caldwell contact information. I interviewed him before and we went through Captain Beyond, which is in the second book and is a very good essay, and at the end of the chat he said hey, if you wanna talk about Armageddon, that is perfectly cool with me. But then I couldn't find him. But yeah, sure, I mentioned Aerosmith before, and sure, I would like to have some detailed stuff on some of those albums, and even things like Cheap Trick. You know, these bands are talked about a lot and they've been in the press a lot, but the cool thing about this concept, and people tell me this as well about my books, like the Black Sabbath, Rush, Judas Priest, they like the way I go through all the album song by song... you would think that kind of thing is talked about in detail in all these rock biographies we love to read, but I'm amazed where you can go 20, 30 pages of just detritus, and then you get to that album we all love and bought as kids and have in our collection than play all the time, and then it's dealt with in a page and a half! In my books, and maybe this is a shortcoming as well to some people, but that album is the whole damn book! Every chapter is an album; every song is discussed in as much detail as I get dragged out of these guys. And that kind what these Ye Olde Metal essays are too. But yeah, sorry I was drifting there, back to your question, I suppose I should've put in the first Riot album. There are some interesting bands that I didn't even think to pursue, that I am actually quite curious about, like for example Diamond Reo. And I’ve done a good Sweet Off The Record chapter, but I’d still like to get Andy Scott - so far it’s only been Steve Priest – and cover off, say, Give Us A Wink. But yeah, most of the bands I grew up with and was curious about, I actually did track them down and they are in there, the best of which is the Rex stuff and the Ram Jam story. Wait until you read the story of their second, totally heavy, awesome album, in the 1978 book. That is an incredible tale. But yeah, the stuff in the 1977 book about the first Ram Jam is pretty killer as well.
You got some real rare classics in the series, like Dust, Buffalo, Sir Lord Baltimore, Lone Star, Piper, The Dictators… Was it a task to obtain any interviews and info pertaining to some of your selections? Any stories?
MP: Yes, some of these guys were quite hard to get a hold of, and you ask someone who knows someone else. But surprisingly, it eventually comes through. Some guys just will not talk. I could not get Robbie Bachman to talk to me, or Joey Alves from Y&T. And sure, there are people that you just can't find. I mean, I would've loved to talk to some of these producers, and I didn't really look hard enough, but sure, Eddie Leonetti, Jack Douglas, Bob Ezrin, Derek Lawrence… some day. But yeah, the Buffalo guys from Australia were a gas. And speaking of Australia, getting Doc Neeson on the line from The Angels/Angel City… well, that guy’s more desirable as a chat to me than Hendrix, although maybe not Phil Lynott. Getting to talk to Billy Squier was very cool, because he is a little bit reclusive about interviews. I'd say the funniest two guys were brothers, Rex Smith and Michael Lee Smith! Both of them had some pretty funny things to say. And I think the most satisfying out of all of this was to get to talk to Rex Smith, because those two Rex albums... my first big concert was Ted Nugent, with Rex backing up, along with in the middle slot, Be Bop Deluxe. Now the hand-made bass drum head – two of them in fact – of Rex drummer Mike Ratti are hanging on my wall in the record room.
You’ve also got a number of classic albums like Alice Cooper’s, Deep Purple’s, Boston’s, … How do approach writing about these albums when there is so much stuff easily out there? And what would the appeal be to say a serious Alice Cooper fan who already thinks he knows everything about “Welcome To My Nightmare”? J
MP: You're right, I am guilty as charged! For the fan that knows everything, there may not be too much in some of these things, although the Welcome To My Nightmare chapter is actually fairly long and pretty decent. But no, not all of them are super great essays, on these bigger bands. But of course every one, the anchor of it is an interview or two or three that are my own personal interviews, so it is largely unseen footage. But I do use some of the old available press, and it's funny, a lot of people don't have access to those old magazines anymore, and the interviews aren't up on the Internet, or they've forgotten them. Plus I put in a lot of my personal critique and things, memories about these things, I let fly with a writing a little bit. Another thing I do is just let them talk. There are no real space restrictions, like you do with magazine articles, so it really is just a sit-down with myself, people like me that care about this stuff, and those artists. It's like a big ol ‘70s love-in.
You kinda lumped a number of years in the 1968-72, and then began [eventually] going yearly. So, when might readers see ‘1978’? And do you see any end [year] for this series?
MP: Well, I thought we'd see 1978 by now, but now there's going to be a full five-week delay, and then so it really won't be out for like two months. I have to run off and work on the Rush documentary, the movie, for five weeks solid, away from my office, away from getting any of my own work done. So yeah, unfortunately, that damn book has been 75% finished for like six months! And I just haven't had the time to put it over the hump. It's going to be very cool though, and I've really got about the next five of them mapped out pretty well, and by mapped out I mean, I already have most of the interviews done. I think for me this process might stop after 1984. That's about the time I started getting jaded, and the records didn't mean magic to me anymore. Sure, every year from them all the way up until now there are always great, great records, but they just don't feel like this clump that can sit together in a book. They might not even all be metal records. I mean, do you think I can really find 15 albums from 1993 that I want to write 250 pages on? Probably not. But sure, right up until 1984, this will totally be a blast to write.
You’ve also written a Deep Purple book. What can you tell me about that, aside from the press notes? Any great interviews? Unknown tales and people?
MP: I had tons of interviews. I love Deep Purple, they are one of my favorite bands for the reason that they are one of these bands that I think are making their best music now, even though they are a bunch old guys. In that category I put Cheap Trick, Motorhead, Uriah Heep and ZZ Top. But Deep Purple, I'd interviewed various guys I don't know, 30 times, maybe more than that, and I've had a good archive of stuff that I figured I could put into a book. The reason I started doing this book is because first of all, I sold the German language rights to my buddy Matthias over in, appropriately, Germany, who have done my Rainbow book, my UFO book, and are currently finishing up my Black Sabbath book. So yeah, for that, I have to deliver them the whole book. But the first thing I said to him was, I can do this, but I want to put out the English version, and I may even just self-publish it, which is what I did, and I wanted to do that even before I delivered the whole thing for the German translation. Which is exactly what I'm doing. Now I've got to write the second half, which will again be a 250 page book, and will be very fun to write because like I say, in some weird ways, I would put many of the Steve Morse-era albums as my very favorite Deep Purple albums of all time, so that isn't going to be a chore to write about at all. But yeah, the first one just covers up until the breakup of the band in the ‘70s, after Come Taste The Band. We've got a lot of photos no one has seen in there before, along with memorabilia shots, album covers, ads, the front of tour programs. But it is my usual style, love it or leave it, love it or hate it, whatever, basically every chapter is an album, and we talk about that album in real crazy fan boy detail. Well, not really. I mean, you could go way crazier on any of this stuff, like people of done in Beatles books, but yeah, it still manages to be 250 pages on what is that, eight or nine albums?
What else might you be working on in the future? Any books you’d like to write?
MP: So yeah, 1978 is next, and then the second half of the Deep Purple story. I have written and it's just getting laid out now, a coffee table are book on Michel “Away” Langevin of Voivod, who is one of the great artists of our time and of our field. That's going to be a full color throughout, hardcover book, limited, signed. We've also got a another coffee table art book, which will be full color, on heavy metal album covers, but with a little more depth to it, like a poll, me writing about them all, funny connections between them, funny in-jokes, stuff like that. It'll be a good read as well as good picture book. Outside of that, we've got volume 4 of the reviews series, although because I am slowly becoming obsolete and less slowly becoming really old, I'm going to co-write that with one of the writers at our magazine, David Perri. So that will be pretty much like volume 3, the ‘90s, where we go right to the wall on the page count, and put in roughly 3000 reviews of heavy metal albums from this decade. Other than that, really, all I've got planned is 1979, 1980, 1981 etc. There is a lot of writing there – each of these books is sorta 240 pages -and I'm really looking to get cracking on it. Oh, yeah, last week was the Purple, but the week before, I had a full color coffee table art book of backstage passes, and right now – email me at email@example.com – I’m offering three free authentic backstage passes from a list of bands you can choose from, with purchase of it from my site. That’s it. Now off to the Rush movie…
© Kevin J. Julie, November 08
Thanks to Martin and Ron Mann