W.A.S.P. The Early Years 1982-1984 According to Blackie Lawless, Chris Holmes, Randy Piper, Tony Richards
The Classic W.A.S.P. Lineup Looks Back on the Early Days 1982-1984
The first W.A.S.P. gig took place on August 28th, 1982.
The first W.A.S.P. album was released on August 17, 1984.
40 Years ago today my life changed. To change in ways I had dreamed, but also to end up different than I had imagined. It’s impossible for anyone to foresee the totality of ways life will change when those dreams become reality. It was 40 years ago today W.A.S.P. played its first show, Aug. 28th, 1982, at a long-gone club called the “Woodstock”.
The lineup at that time was Tony Richards on drums, Chris Holmes on lead guitar, myself on guitar and vocals and Don Costa on bass. This was our humble (if you wanna call it that) beginning. Many of you have heard me say that when we first started, we never had any intention of ever playing live shows. In Los Angeles at the time, it was mostly impossible to get a record deal from only playing live. Ironically, our true intention was only to make records and we knew from having lived in L.A. for such a long time that the only real way to get a record deal was to make the best demo tape you could make. So that’s what we did. We made a demo of songs that would end up being mostly our first album, but we had sent those tapes out to labels a couple of months earlier and we got no response from any of them. So, in our impatience, we said, well we think these songs are pretty good, why don’t we take them out and play them live a see what happens. So again, that’s what we did! A month later we would move up into Hollywood at the Troubadour.
For us that were part of this historic night, the importance of this show cannot be overstated. We were a group of musicians that had no idea of what or how we would look in a live show. All that would come later over the course of the next few weeks. I would like to personally thank the band and all the crew that were involved that night for that first show. All of our destinies would change that night.
I’ll explain more next month in a segment that I’ll do to mark the first show we did at the Troubadour. For what most of the world knows that’s really where the band began, but this show too is significant because it was the real beginning of the band in its 4-decade long journey. This show would be the first night anyone would hear, “Love Machine, “On Your Knees”, “Hellion” and “School Daze”. I remember taking the stage that night and thinking, nobody knows who we are and nobody knows these songs. From this night, almost 2 years to the date of the release of our first album, all that would change!
full in bloom: What was the recording budget for W.A.S.P.’s 1984 self-titled album?
(laughs) It was a lot. I know we spent a lot. It was about time. I mean, we probably got one of the biggest deals that any of those bands had gotten. Everybody had gotten signed in Los Angeles. We were the last ones with like Motley Crue, Ratt, Dokken, Black ‘n Blue, Great White, all of us got signed pretty much at the same time, and we got one of the biggest deals. Our deal was like a two (album), plus four option. So, it was two guaranteed and our deal was for three million dollars. It was a huge deal. Of course, they don’t do that anymore. It’s a lot tougher now. Kind of miss the old days. The digital revolution changed everything. I don’t think it will ever be the same again.
full in bloom: So, you guys got a nice, fat signing bonus?
Oh, yeah, big time. I remember Tony and I got new cars, and we were driving down the freeway and we were just slamming beers, looking at each other with our feet hanging out the window. I mean, it couldn’t have gotten any better than that, you know what I mean?
full in bloom: What was it like working with Mike Varney?
He’s an awesome guitar player. He finds all the good guitar players. Actually, a couple of years ago, I found an album by Leslie West that Mike Varney produced. Yeah, Leslie is talking about him, he goes, “Mike Varney, that fat bastard” (laughs). It’s called “Blues to Die For” and it’s Leslie West playing all blues. I’m a big Leslie West fan.
full in bloom: Once the band officially becomes W.A.S.P., how soon after did you guys sign your record contract?
I don’t think it was that long. Things were really rolling at that time, but Blackie and I were together five years previous to that.
full in bloom: So, maybe a year after you guys named the band.
I think less than that. We had already been recording. We just started going to better studios. We were in A&M and then in Capitol, we were all over the place. Baby-O, I think at the time. Then we were going to release the first single and Capitol said, “No.”
full in bloom: Which was F**k Like a Beast.
Yeah, they said, “No, you can’t release that on Capitol Records,” so then they got us a deal with Restless Records overseas. They were going to print it in London, then the Queen’s Council got a hold of it and said you can’t do it here, either. I think they ended up pressing it in Belgium and importing it into England. Once it got into England, it was on the charts for like 110 weeks, which I think was a record at that time.
full in bloom: Any memories from that tour stand out?
We went out and toured the first album. Then we’d come back two weeks, and then leave again for a couple of months. Then we’d come back for a couple of weeks, and then leave again for three months. It was pretty crazy then. When we did come back, we immediately went into rehearsals for the second album. Once the album was written, and we were halfway in the middle of recording it, we had to go out and support Maiden. So, we went out in the middle of recording “The Last Command” and had to put the first show back together. Even though the second show had already been put together, we’re out doing the first show again. We had to forget everything we had just learned and start playing the first show again. We did a bunch of festivals and shit like that and then we went back and finished the second album and then we were out on tour for that one.
full in bloom: What was a typical day like for you during that time?
At first it was fun. Typical, you’d wake up, have some breakfast or whatever. I would make it down from Long Beach. Randy’s (rehearsal) studio was in between Blackie and I, so we would pretty much make it there at the same time. We would hang out there. Randy would block time out on other bands, so it would just be us. We would rehearse and write and spend hours in there. It was pretty fun. We would go get something to eat, or go shoot pool, or drive up to Hollywood to hang out. Pretty much, they were good times. When we were just getting to know each other and writing, it was kind of exciting. Then seeing the other up-and-coming bands in the clubs. It was a cool thing. Once the business end came into it, it was rush, rush, rush. Hurry here, hurry there, sign this, sign that, you have to be there yesterday. Things really started to roll fast after that.
full in bloom: What do you remember about recording Animal “F**k Like a Beast”?
I remember the excitement of that song and being in a nice environment, being in that studio. Other people coming in and out from the studios next door. I think Quiet Riot was recording their album at the time. I just remember going from, sort of, I wouldn’t say rags to riches, but just having the respect and being in there working – putting something together that was very exciting. For me, it was just about being really excited about the whole thing. It was neat to be there and be included. And then you finish a good night’s work, getting some tracks down. Then step out on the streets, get something to eat, pick up some girls, and just hang out.
full in bloom: Any memories of Mike Varney?
Not really. Like I said, I didn’t hang out a lot, and I think that used to bother Blackie. I just wasn’t the “hang out, play the rock star” musician. I would hang out for a little bit, have a drink, flirt a little bit, do whatever, and then BOOM, I was off to someone else’s house…private, you know? I don’t know, I think it might have rubbed him the wrong way. I think he wanted it to be more like the Crue. Hang out, go to strip clubs together, live and die together, so to speak. But Varney, I don’t think I ever got too close to him because I think he was more in Blackie’s ear.
full in bloom: I always thought he was a strange choice for a producer. You guys were signed to Capitol, and you chose a guy who hadn’t really proven himself.
Yeah, I know, and I didn’t have any say. I remember hearing the mixed tracks. Well, first I remember hearing what we had laid down and the drums were just thunderous. They sounded great. Now, I know this is coming from a drummer, but it’s more than just that. The tracks that we laid down, the guitars, Randy’s guitars, they were out there, and everything was crisp and clean. I then remember this big WASH of disappointment when I heard the final mixes. They played it back, and the drums had been tweaked, to where they just sounded like shit. Randy’s guitar was buried. Everything had changed. And that was probably part of the reason I distanced myself from Varney because I had no say. I didn’t hang around, so I didn’t have a right to say anything.
It was a big circle, yet I knew things were fucked up. Something wasn’t right, and Varney is supposed to be behind the helm. So, I just had a feeling that’s Blackie calling the shots, wanting his man Varney in there, and it didn’t work out. And that was an important thing, that first album. That first album should have smoked more than it did. I mean, Capitol Records. Iron Maiden’s management. We had unlimited money, we had unlimited resources. There were a lot of bad decisions made, and Blackie made sure that he was in charge of a lot of shit and that was the beginning of the end. The rest of the guys in the band felt the same way.
full in bloom: In my opinion, that first lineup will always be the best W.A.S.P. lineup. I remember thinking, as a kid, that it was a big mistake to part ways with you.
That was the problem. Blackie. I keep saying Blackie and I shouldn’t, but mainly it was. Him and whoever else he had involved with him in the band decisions, they all jumped the gun too soon. The best thing for a new band to do with that kind of money and resources behind them is to handle whatever fucking problems everyone has and keep it between the group. Whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas in other words. What happens here, stays here and you do everything you can to glue this together. Do the first world tour and come back, then you start hashing out problems. That’s the time to work on it, but they made changes way too soon and that’s what ultimately killed the band. Greed fucked this band up. It was greed. Blackie was looking out for number one.
full in bloom: Do you remember doing the two videos for LOVE MACHINE & I WANNA BE SOMEBODY?
Yeah. Those ended up being kind of corny looking. Shit like that used to bug me. The make-up, the corny videos and shit. I wanted to be cooler. I thought we were going to be cooler, more like the Crue, bad boys, but we weren’t that. Even if we were more Alice Cooper or partly KISS or something, but we were kind of in between and nowhere on any of that.
full in bloom: I didn’t even realize, before my Randy Piper interview, that you didn’t do the tour for the first album.
NOPE. I got screwed out of it all, royalties, too. And they continue to sell t-shirts, posters and buttons and all that shit with my likeness on it.
full in bloom: Why were you kicked out of W.A.S.P.?
I think I scared Blackie. I really lived the rock n’ roll lifestyle. I lived up in Hollywood. I was a madman. I was high every other night, every night. But I was always there, always on time, always did great shows. I just scared him; he was not that way. His was more of an act, mine was too real, and I think I was just too scary for him. I think he thought I was going to be trouble down the line, so he thought he was doing the right thing by nipping it in the bud.
full in bloom: How were you told you were out of the band?
They called a meeting at Rod Smallwood’s house up in Beverly Hills. We all sat around a big table and talked about a few things. All of a sudden, that came up and before I knew it, it was like BOOM – the fingers were pointing at me and I just kind of stood up and said, “Whoa, ok.” I think I was in shock, and I just kind of walked away, walked down the driveway and got in my rental car, which I totally trashed. It was a brand new ’84 Cutlass with glass T-tops. Man, that thing was on one wheel when I brought it back. No glass left in it. I didn’t sit there with an axe and bust it up on purpose, I was just reckless in it. I fucked it up because I didn’t care.
Somebody had taken something away from me that I had worked my whole life for, and I was on a roll. I was on a binge. I was pissed. But yeah, I was devastated. I couldn’t tell you exactly what had happened or how, but I was the first to go. He used me as an example and had to put the fear back into Randy again because Randy had come and gone a couple of times. One by one, that’s what he was working on, he wanted control. It’s greed, man. The guy is a greedy, lonely person. The last few shows that I have gone to see him, he will not send his road crew down to escort me up, he won’t come down to see me or nothing. I haven’t seen him in years.
When I joined the band W.A.S.P., before I joined, Randy was in the band and there was a bass player named Don Costa. When I joined W.A.S.P., it was Don on bass, Blackie on rhythm and Tony on drums. Randy was in the band, but they threw him out to get me in the band. Don was an outrageous player. He played with his fingers.
What happened was, we played the first show and Don was playing his bass out of tune on the last two songs. I flipped out. It really pissed me off. If you’re out of tune, you shut your guitar off or your amp, whatever. You don’t play out of tune. But I told him: “Don, if you ever play out of tune again, I’m going to chew your balls off and spit them in your face. Don’t you ever, ever do that with me again.” He quit. So, we had some shows lined up and Blackie freaked out and blamed me for it. He goes, “Well, we can bring Randy back in, he knows the songs, and I’ll just switch over to the bass.” That’s what happened. That’s how Blackie went to bass because Randy could sing, and he already knew the songs. Plus, I told Blackie that I was only going to be in the band for seven months to a year, and I was going to be gone because I didn’t want to be in a band like Sister. I didn’t want to work like that where I wasn’t happy. I didn’t want to play music and be unhappy. I wanted to do what Van Halen had done and be like them.
full in bloom: What was it like working with Mike Varney as a producer?
Mike was enjoyable. He was a great guy to get along with. He used to play in a band called The Nuns. He was just starting to produce things. I love Mike. I saw him about ten years ago at some show in Vegas. It was cool seeing him again. I appreciated the guy.
Then, of course, Blackie got into a fight with him halfway through doing the record. So, Mike’s gone, and Blackie produces it. But Mike’s name had to go on it.
full in bloom: Oh, shit. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know they got into a fight at some point. I thought he was there through the whole thing.
Well, he was there for the whole thing, but doesn’t it say that Blackie mixed and produced it.
full in bloom: I think it has both of them listed as producers.
Right, not just Mike Varney. It had to be the narcissist himself. It should be that on every record – Blackie Lawless, the producer.
full in bloom: I think it is, pretty much. I guess Spencer Proffer produced the next one and then, from then on, it’s Blackie, right?
Yeah. The Headless Children, Max Norman started doing the album, but halfway through, Blackie got into a fight with him and made Max leave.
full in bloom: How long did it take to record the first W.A.S.P. album?
Two and half weeks. Two to three tracks a day, so the drums were probably done in three days. We were at the Record Plant. I went in and busted ass and laid down the rhythms, Blackie did the bass, and Randy came in and did a few solos. I did a few solos. He was singing in one studio while we were tracking the guitars in another.
full in bloom: And at this point you guys think that “F**k Like a Beast” is going to be on the record, right?
No. We signed the record deal and before we found Mike Varney…We couldn’t put “F**k Like a Beast” on the record because Capitol wasn’t going to let it be on the record. Even if we called it “Animal” because it said “F**k Like a Beast.” That was released by an independent label in Europe. It was recorded at Cherokee, and it was done for Music for Nations. That’s the name of the record company. They put it out in England.
Some guy had commented on my YouTube channel, he said that Tony was kicked out because the record company made you guys kick him out. Is that true?
No, Tony was kicked out because of Blackie and Blackie alone. That was it. You’ve got to remember that we were with Rod Smallwood, our manager. Rod had just moved to L.A. and Iron Maiden had just gotten rid of Clive Burr and changed singers, Bruce Dickinson. Tony liked to get high. They threw him out because they didn’t want someone who was addicted to drugs on the road. That was the only reason.
I always thought that once we got Tony on the road, he’d stop doing drugs. When you’re in L.A. and you ain’t got nothing to do, you go get high (laughs). You get drunk or fucked up in those days. When Tony was kicked out, it was like losing my left arm, man.
Out of everybody, you got along best with him?
Yeah, Tony was great. I’ve got nothing but respect for the guy. I love the guy, he’s a great person, man.