Latest Release: By Blood Sworn (AFM)Website: www.ross-the-boss.com/
Power metal is something of a curious beast within the world of heavy metal sub-genres. Generally appreciated across the board for rigidly sticking to a true path of classic heavy metal’s natural extrapolation into a more intense and bombastic delivery, the power metal scene has evolved from dragons and sorcery themed onslaughts into neoclassical displays of virtuosity. However, the true, no-nonsense barrage of high volume guitars, thundering rhythms and battle themed falsetto vocals was the result of American band Manowar combining the exploding scenes of British heavy metal and unhinged thrash metal. Their outlandish image of shirtless, loin cloth wearing warriors was soon exaggerated with animated album artwork that enticed a rabid following who embraced the band with undying loyalty that Manowar’s third album Hail To England embodied. Released in 1984, the battering ram of fighting anthems celebrated their origins and communicated an uncompromising intent of forceful musical invasion.
Co-founder and original guitarist for the first six Manowar albums, Ross The Boss has left his stamp on the legacy of the band with classic tracks still being played today. On leaving Manowar, he reformed his New York City punk band The Dictators and also participated in a variety of different musical projects but it was his own band, unsurprisingly titled Ross The Boss, which has seen him reinstate his form of true classic metal with a penchant for unleashing uncompromising heavy metal music. Returning to Australia again, not long after his first ever tour here, Friedman and his cohorts will test decibel meters, playing the full Hail to England album plus a fistful of Manowar classics and his own band’s ground rumbling material. Loud Online spoke to Friedman about the tour of eardrum destruction he plans to inflict on his obedient metal armies.
Looking back Hail to England, did you imagine that you’d be celebrating it thirty five years later?
That’s right. Not a chance. When you make your record you should know that you’ve given it your all and you’ve tried to do your best. At the time, you wrote the best songs that you could write. You’d just do what you’ve got to do and then, if it goes, it goes. Once it leaves your hands it is out of your control. But it has been amazing. I could say the same thing for all of those six records that I did.
Are there any particular tracks that stand out on Hail to England as being pivotal?
Tracks like Each Dawn I Die, Blood of My Enemies, Bridge of Death and Kill with Power but for me, the whole record is great. It is just a tremendous record. We [Manowar] were at that point of just cranking out one album a year for six years and whatever we did, it seemed to just flow out of us.
You’ve also got your own material as well so are you planning on mixing up the set list?
Well, for this tour we are going to do the Hail to England album as promised. We are going to do some other Manowar classics and then we will do a couple of our songs off the last [Ross The Boss] album [By Blood Sworn] from which we are getting tonnes of request for and that was a successful record. We have started working on our new record that is due in April.
Is the line-up for the tour the same band you had for the previous tour?
Yes, it is the same band that came here last year [bass – Mike LePond (Symphony X), drums – Lance Barnewold, vocals – Marc Lopes, guitar – Ross The Boss].
Your vocalist, Marc Lopes, has an incredible vocal range. How did you find him?
I was doing a gig with the old version of the band and my friend had a group and they opened for us. They invited Marc down because he knew the guys from Death Angel and they asked him if he wanted to come down and sing songs like Fast As a Shark and songs like that. When he did, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Not only did the guy have a great voice but he was amazing on stage. I mean, he really had great stage presence. So, I was really impressed with him when I saw him and then another gig happened and again, my friend’s band opened up and I saw him again and I said, ‘this guy is amazing’ so as soon as I needed a singer, that was the guy that I called.
Well done. These days, a lot of bands have taken the digital route with Kempers [profiling amplifier] and the like. Have you adopted that at all or are you still cranking the amplifier heads and cabinets?
I go straight into my amplifier and it ends at the speakers. I do not use any effects on my guitar; there are no pedals. It is just my guitar into the amplifier. As old school as you can get, that’s me.
Yeah and even in the late eighties there was that shred thing and rack gear overload yet you shied away from that at the time too.
Never had it, never had it. Never did it, that is alien to me that stuff. I can get my sound through any amplifier. I believe that the sound is in the fingers and even Billy Sheehan says that too. The sound is in the fingers.
Is the Les Paul or the SG your guitar of choice?
I still have all those guitars. I have all my old guitars but I am currently using a Ross the Boss model Grosmann guitar and that is from a company in Romania and he made this incredible guitar for me. I had that with me last year and I’ll have it with me this year, on tour. I do have other guitars like ESPs and Gibsons. It doesn’t matter, they’re all good.
Romania makes sense as Manowar continues to be very big in many parts of Europe.
Yes, absolutely. For the guitar, people have been contacting me for years. I have been going to Europe since the days of The Dictators back in 1977. So, I have made a lot of friends in the business over the years.
Speaking of The Dictators, you were with Mark [‘The Animal’ Mendoza] who went onto Twisted Sister and you went onto Manowar. At the time, was putting on the whole outlandish image what you had to do to get noticed in the clubs? You could say it was a Neolithic version of Twisted Sister to get attention.
Well, first of all, you had to be good. Back in the eighties, it was an image. Twisted Sister definitely had their image and there is no doubt about that. Of course, in Manowar we had our look that no one else had. So, I guess you could say that separated us from the rest of the bands.
Prior to that you were in a band called Shakin’ Street which was very MC5 influenced. Do you think any of that style flowed into Manowar?
Yeah, when I was in Shakin’ Street, we were touring in the UK and Ronnie James Dio came up to me and said, ‘you’ve got to meet this guy in our crew, his name is Joey DeMaio and he plays bass in a unique way’, so I said, ‘okay, let me know when to meet’ and we became friends and then we decided to make the band Manowar. But, I do not think that there is an MC5 influence in Manowar. However, I would say that there is definitely, well, my influences.
How about working with the late producer Sandy Pearlman from Blue Öyster Cult? Did he influence Manowar’s development in the production side of things?
Yes, absolutely. He was my manager and he discovered us.
Did he fine tune arrangements at all or did you already have the songs?
Well, no, he was the producer, you know. He produced the first Dictators record and the second with Blue Öyster Cult putting money into the band. He was definitely involved in all of that.
Looking over the first six Manowar albums, are there any production tweaks you’d make today?
They’re pretty good but yes, absolutely, I would like to get them to have a more universal sound or a more cohesive sound because it seemed like every record changed. I guess that in the beginning it was so hard just actually capturing that sound and the way we were but song wise it really doesn’t matter. Song wise it was brilliant.
How did you find the album Fighting the World in context of previous albums?
I guess that one was a little more commercial. It was out first record for Atlantic but looking back on it, there were some great songs on that record. I mean, Blow Your Speakers and Carry On were great songs. They were trying to be hit singles but they weren’t – ha-ha, you know what I’m saying?
Well before signing to Atlantic, didn’t you get picked up by Megaforce who had Metallica, Raven, Exciter and Anthrax?
Megaforce was for the second record, Into Glory Ride.
The first album was through Liberty but was Megaforce instrumental in getting Manowar’s name out there since Metallica were just getting huge?
Well, they distributed Into Glory Ride but there were just getting started so they weren’t a big label at all. I mean, Jonny Z and Marsha did the best that they could. They were definitely pioneers.
Did getting on a big label down the track cause friction for Manowar?
Well, there could be for direction, you know, because you’re getting a big advance and you’re getting a lot of attention and you want to do well. You do want to stay on the label. So that is the deal and of course, we wanted to be professional.
Your own band, Ross the Boss, debuted in Brooklyn about ten years ago?
We started after the Keep It True Festival where we got a lot of attention and I put a band together and had a record deal with AFM. We put the first record [New Metal Leader] out in 2008 and then another [Hailstorm] in 2010. I took a little break and then came back to it last year.
You probably don’t need a huge backline of amplifiers. Given the reputation of Manowar, do you find the whole theatrics and huge walls of speakers as being pretty comical?
Yeah, half the time what you’re seeing is not real. I find it unnecessary now. The point of the band is to be an honest band or a street band and to come out onstage with my punk rock ethic which transfers to heavy metal. We just come onstage to kill. There is not bullshit. There are no guitar solos, bass solos or drum solos. It is just pure music, pure metal, rock action and we go for it. People are very impressed with that. People call it, ‘so refreshing’, ha-ha and I’ll say, ‘well, thank you’ and that is what is should be.
In that light, what are your recollections of Manowar cracking the Guinness Book of Records with breaking longest shows and loudest shows records?
Ah, you know, we wanted to be in the press. We were fucking loud, there is no doubt about it. We had the equipment and we used it. There is no doubt that we were stupidly loud. But yeah, we needed to do stuff and we needed to be outrageous and that was honest. So, that was the truth. We were fucking loud but we were clear.
That’s the thing which is similar with bands like Ministry and Motörhead who are or were also very loud but there was a distinct clarity of sound.
Yeah but I’d say that Motörhead was loud but distorted loud. Joey and I always thought that Motörhead had a white noise generator plugged into the PA. Ha-ha.
So, have you suffered any hearing damage?
Actually, a little bit in the mid-range in my left ear but I guess that was from standing near cymbals.
Oh yeah, but I have been lucky.
Looking at where Manowar are now, what are your thoughts on it today?
Well, they kept the band going but I cannot comment. I know and I wish them the best.
The musicianship on the first six Manowar albums that you were on is certainly undeniable regardless of the image. Does it bother you that some might dismiss the band’s music due to the loincloths?
Well, that was part of the whole aura of Manowar. It was the first, you know, Viking band or the first Conanband. The whole thing and it invented power metal. I think it is good and it’s okay that people look at it like that. Some people do have some negative comments and no doubt about it, I’ve heard them all. But it is mostly positive. Haters are always going to hate.
In The Dictators, you did some interesting covers including Sonny and Cher [I Got You Babe] and also Iggy and the Stooges [Search & Destroy]. The latter was one of the first ones to come out on a twelve inch format.
Yep, great record and as a matter of fact, that was the Dictator’s first tour with the first gigs opening up for Iggy Pop, The Stooges and Blue Öyster Cult. Yeah, pretty amazing.
So you were part of that New York punk scene alongside the Ramones?
Yeah, definitely part of it and we were ahead of the Ramones.
Then how did doing a cover of Sonny and Cher go down?
Well, we just wanted to do it and we thought it would be funny. You know, ha, we thought it would be funny and that everyone would get the joke but not too many got the joke. Ha-ha.
What are your plans with your current band for say the next five years?
Oh well, a new record on the way and a recent one came out just last year. We are doing the best work that we possibly can and the next record is going to kick ass and keep going. The band is getting bigger and getting more famous because we earn our accolades onstage. We are proud of ourselves and we are working hard. We do not take anything for granted. We are honoured to play and that is what we are going to do.
For Hail to England, is there any tongue in cheek aspect hidden within the lyrics?
Not with Manowar. No, there is nothing tongue in cheek about Manowar.
You’d guess that would be were something like Spinal Tap has a field day?
Yeah, of course but Joey had nothing to do with that. We wouldn’t want anything to do with that. I thought it was funny. Ha, but he didn’t.
Thanks very much for chatting. We’re looking forward to the tour.
Yeah, it is going to be excellent. We’re going to have a huge, wonderful party. It’ll be a metal party, a rock’n’roll party, whatever you want to call it. Thank you for the interview.