Text by Gary Sperrazza! / Big Star fanzine, 1978
Introduction by Bernie Kugel / Big Star fanzine, 1978
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2020
Images from the Internet
This interview was originally published in Big Star fanzine, issue #3, dated Spring 1978. It was written by Gary Sperrazza!, who passed away in 2016 (but his exclamation point lives on). Thanks to Bernie Kugel, the fanzine’s publisher, who kindly granted permission for this reprint.
Metal Mike Saunders is a name that was a much larger known West Coast punk personality than in the East, but he had quite an influence through his early punk rock journalism at both national and fanzine levels, and later with hardcore bands like VOM, and especially the Angry Samoans (who have been touring again in the last couple of years). However, his biggest claim to fame that no one seems to remember is that he is credited with coining the phrase “Heavy Metal.” – RBF, 2020
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In the early ‘70s, Mike Saunders was one of the leading and best writers around, especially when he was writing about the topics most near and dear to him: heavy metal and punk rock of the ‘60s, in such diverse publications as Flash magazine, Phonograph Record Magazine and Buffalo’s own lamented Shakin’ Street Gazette. He also was partly responsible for the legendary Brain Damage mag, the great one-shot parody of the big fanzines a few years back. He was also one of the guys initially responsible for the quickly-becoming-legendary West Coast rock critic punk band, VOM, even though he seems to have stepped back from taking a major role in the band, preferring to just “churn out heavy metal riffs.” Some of the classics he’s written over the years includes such underground hits as “Got a Dagger for You Jagger,” “Just Killed My Dad,” “Getting High with Stephen Stills,” “Gary Gilmore is my Friend,” and many others which will hopefully find their way to vinyl in one form or another, eventually.
Lester Bangs [d. 1982 – RBF] recently told me that Metal Mike was truly “ahead of his time.” So to satisfy the needs of all the Metal Mike fans across the globe, we present this little interview recently done by Big Star West Coast Editor, Gary Sperrazza! – BK, 1978
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Big Star: What have you been doing lately?
Metal Mike Saunders: Well, from 1973 through mid-’75, I worked a 9-to-5 office job here in LA that truly inspired me to go back to Arkansas and get a second college (degree) so I could become an accountant. I saved a lot of money those two years. A lot for what I was making, but… so now I’ve got the degree, got suits in the closet, my hair is cut short, (and) I’m hunting for that first accounting job. I guess my goal is to have $100,000 in the bank at the age of 35. That’s really sick, you know! But accounting is a vehicle through which to achieve that goal, and it’s (a) great profession, besides. Do you really think anyone cares about this trivia, outside of my mother?
Big Star: Not really.
Metal Mike: So let’s talk about something interesting. How about the Dodgers?
Big Star: What about ‘em?
Metal Mike: Well, what it amounts to is that in this town (Los Angeles), the Dodgers are bigger than rock’n’roll, TV, and movies all combined. They’ve run these surveys showing that 71.7% of all males (females, 54%) over 18 listen to the Dodgers games on the radio or TV. And the team is amazing anyway… manager Tommy Lasorda is a bona fide future legend in the making. What it amounts to is that in LA, the Dodgers kill any current rock’n’roll phenomena with the possible exception of KISS.
Big Star: KISS???
Metal Mike: Yeah, I think they’re the ‘70s Beach Boys. The best American rock group, hands down. I love their records.
Big Star: Care to elaborate on that assertion?
Metal Mike: No, not really. KISS are just the commercialization of heavy metal that I was really waiting years for. Plus, they got the most and best riffs of any band around. Like, “I Stole Your Love,” man – any of you MC5 fans who can’t get into that, I’m having your record collections repossessed tomorrow! Or “Love Gun,” to stay current – that’s as good a 45 as anything.
Big Star: Anything else you like in the current rock scene?
Metal Mike: ABBA are really, really great; they’re the only other group whose albums I’d pay four bucks for. Aerosmith are OK, Rush and Starz ditto, Ted Nugent, eh… I really liked all those rock’n’roll Top 40 singles from the past year: Boston, Foghat, KISS, Steve Miller, ELO, the Bay City Rollers’ rock’n’roll singles; paid 99 cents at K-Mart for all those groups’ 45s. Basically, I’m just a heavy metal purist. AM radio finally caught up with heavy metal guitar via Boston – so my taste now is really mainstream. Don’t ask me about New Wave, I hate that stuff. “God Save the Queen” was a great record, both sides, but otherwise… Limeys can’t do anything right, y’know. The Ramones albums literally make me ill. Their 45s are neat though – I bought “Sheena is a Punk Rocker.”
Big Star: Any other hobbies or fandoms you like better than rock’n’roll?
Metal Mike: Oh, yeah, I’ve been back into wargaming since 1975. It’s a great hobby… a couple nights a month, anyway. Baseball is really the king, though.
Big Star: Tell us about R. Meltzer and VOM.
Metal Mike: Gregg Turner came by one day and mentioned that Meltzer wanted to do a group; he was really serious about forming a band. So I said, “Okay,” and the next time I plugged in the fuzzbox to write some metallic riffs, I did a song tailored to Meltzer’s voice, “Getting High with Stephen Stills.” Then a couple days later Turner came by with a lyric he had called “Too Animalistic,” and I wrote some Fred Smith/Wayne Kramer riffs for it, and it was obviously a VOM song! So it all took off, and the concept of VOM has been expanding ever since.
Big Star: Which is?
Metal Mike: Sort of a cross between heavy metal Fugs and the first Stooges album.
Big Star: Who’s gonna be in the band?
Metal Mike: Three friends of Meltzer’s on guitars and bass who’ve knocked around in bands, we’re auditioning drummer, myself on anything from guitar to drums to vocals, plus Meltzer and Turner handing a plurality of the vocals. So things as of this date (10/77) are in that embryonic stage of finding the right musicians, then rehearsing for a couple months.
Big Star: So what’s the musical genre?
Metal Mike: Various levels of heavy metal, because that’s all I write – Black Sabbath/Stooges, mutated ’66 metal, or whatever level of tightness is attained, but with Meltzeroid lyrics and stage presentation. Heavy metal Fugs is really a good description. Unless it’s both stupid… and funny... then we’re not gonna do it.
Big Star: You have a really big backlog of songs of your own, don’t you?
Metal Mike: Oh, yeah, around 300-350 from over the past eight years. I love making up riffs; it’s like working algebra problems. Quick and easy, (in) 10 minutes ya got it, another song. It’s like permutations – 10 different basic chord changes in 10 different sequences, 10 different tempos. 10 x 10 x 10… a thousand songs. You’ve just got to know the basic riffs really well, like very good punk rock or heavy metal record ever made. I think Paul Stanley of KISS is really one of the best riff-mongers ever; his output is just great.
Big Star: What’s your personal experience in rock bands?
Metal Mike: The mid- and late-‘60s, as a drummer and guitarist in a lot of garage bands back in Little Rock, Arkansas; some real megatonic heavyweights like the Rockin’ Blewz, the Living Endz, Society’s Outcasts, among others… A Standells member I wasn’t – by the end of high school I was a real basket case stage-wise… a walking time bomb capable of blowing a chord change at the worst possible moment. Like the chorus of “Talk Talk”… or the intro to “Louie Louie.” My position with VOM as musical director/dictator and utility infielder is really ideal… I only have to play on the songs I know I’m not gonna blow. All three of them…
Big Star: Back to rock writing –
Metal Mike: Rock what?
Big Star: Rock writing; magazines…
Metal Mike: Boy, ya got me. It was just something I did in lieu of working at McDonald’s during my college years, you know.
Big Star: Any writers you like?
Metal Mike: Oh, yeah. Nick Kent of NME was amazing during his hot period. Charles Shaar Murray is amazing. Max Bell also of NME has done real well at times. Over in this country you had or have Lester Bangs. All the rest of us turkeys were a good six notches below Bangs and those first two, I think you’ll agree. Like, I mean, Lenny Kaye for example had a couple great moments, but… Like Circus is really the best commercial American pro-zine at this point – don’t you think that kinda says it all?
Big Star: Compared to NME, yes. Any comments on Mark Shipper, Flash, or your Brain Damage fanzine from 1974?
Metal Mike: No, not really. At this late date it’s just all water under the cesspool… Let bygones be bygones. Who cares, y’know?? I’m still gonna let the air out of Shipper’s tires someday, though!
|Angry Samoans: Metal Mike on far left|
Big Star: Anything else about VOM?
Metal Mike: Yeah. At the first VOM business meeting, Meltzer was really drunk, knocking over things. We got into an argument on how you write songs, me being used to patching lyrics onto riffs I make up, and then he called me a folkie. I really wanted to deck him. But I calmed down… so Turner and I went into his brother’s bedroom, locked the door, and plugged in the guitar and took a couple of Meltzer’s finished lyrics, “Electrocute Your Cock” and “I’m in Love with Your Mom,” and I made up riffs for them. Good ones, right on the spot. So when we came back out in half an hour with finished songs, Richard saw we weren’t kidding about being just what he needed musically…. He’s going, “Hey, Blue Oyster Cult takes six months to write a riff… this is all right!” And it’s been easy working with him ever since; we write together when we can in the same genre, lyric-wise, so it’s a real songwriting mill. All that Meltzer needs is someone to crank out the music; he’s got the best lyrics around. “I Live with the Roaches” is hilarious – I can’t believe BOC [Blue Oyster Cult – RBF, 2020] wimped out on recording that! All that has to happen is for the group to attain a reasonable level of competence and keep up with the quality of material that’s gonna be coming out.
Big Star: How about records?
Metal Mike: Aw, that’s the best part… for records, we’re gonna bring in Ross Friedman [Ross the Boss, at the time in the Dictators,– RBF, 2020], that kind of thing. They’ll be real heavy metal 45s. I’m the musical Dictator of Vinyl – so they have to be, or they won’t happen. Back Door Man Records will have their first big chance to break the 1,000 sales mark… maybe even 2,000!
Big Star: Sounds Interesting.
Metal Mike: Well, y’know… heavy metal Fugs… I guess it beats watching the San Diego Padres on TV… unless they happen to be playing the Dodgers, that is.