Original transfer by Marcus Mossmann at PHONOGRAPHIC ARTIFACTS. Audio restoration and mastering by Patrick W. Engel at TEMPLE OF DISHARMONY in November 2020.
“I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt so enthusiastic about a band’s first studio effort...” – Geoff Barton reviewing ‘The Rods’, Sounds, August 1981
BY GUITARIST/VOCALIST DAVID FEINSTEIN’S OWN ADMISSION, he and drummer Carl Canedy formed The Rods just “to get together and have some fun and go play some bars and clubs and make a few dollars. Then all of a sudden it turns out we have an album, we’re signed to a major record label and everything... It really wasn’t planned that way...” And although the band had already released their own limited edition, self-financed LP ‘Rock Hard’ in July 1980, the first Europe really heard of this three-headed metal monster was when ‘The Rods’, their debut album for Arista Records, began to appear in shops’ import racks and generate impressive reviews in the music papers.
The band (completed by bassist Steve Starmer) had actually originally signed to Ariola, which was soon swallowed up by Arista Records, and the urban myth goes that the suits at Arista didn’t even know they had The Rods on their books until top-notch reviews started coming in from the UK.
“That’s right,” Carl confirms. “Well, Mike Bone was our A&R guy, so he knew what was happening, but he had to convince the label. And I don’t think that was a very easy thing to do back then because you have to remember that metal was not mainstream. Back when I was producing Anthrax, they were signed to Jon and Marsha Zazula’s label, Megaforce, which was an independent label. ‘Fistful of Metal’ and ‘Armed And Dangerous’ [released in 1984 and 1985 respectively"> were independent records. ‘Spreading The Disease’ was the album that got them a major label.” As Carl says, metal was certainly not mainstream and, to the average record company exec, not a genre likely to make a label much money, either.
“But then, Ariola...” Carl continues... “Well, we were actually signed to the Bertelsmann Group but Ariola wound up being dissolved here in America, just as Arista took over, so Arista ended up taking a couple of metal bands; there was Krokus, and then of course there was us. But that’s how we wound up on Arista. And they were at a bit of a loss as to what to do with us.” What Carl calls “an episode” at CBGBs didn’t help. “We played CBGBs and [label boss"> Clive Davis shows up with an entourage, white limos and all the retinue, and David’s doing his solo and the spotlight’s in his eyes and he ends up kicking a beer from a table towards Clive. That did not endear him, or us, to him. Besides, Clive was doing Barry Manilow and Bette Midler and Aretha Franklin, and we were a bit heavier than they were,” he laughs.
Arista certainly wasn’t known as a metal label. “It really wasn’t,” he agrees. “It was the worst possible label for us. Ariola would have been a decent label for us because I think they would have been more of a metal label but Arista with Clive Davis was not a metal label at all. Songs had to have the ‘Arista chorus’. Clive would talk endlessly about the ‘Arista chorus’ and if you listen to ‘Crank It Up’ it does not have the ‘Arista chorus’!”
“From what I know,” adds guitarist/vocalist David ‘Rock’ Feinstein, “and as I’ve said before I don’t know much about the business side of what was going on at the time, we got signed to them basically because one of the guys who worked in their A&R department, Mike Bone, really loved the band. At the time, Arista was not a label that had hard rock bands on it. They had artists who were more traditional, you know, mellow music, so it was an odd situation for a band like us to be signed to them. But Arista UK, they loved the band. They were behind The Rods 100%. So it was kind of weird because Arista in America wasn’t up on the band at all but Arista UK was, so when we got an opportunity to go to England to record the ‘Wild Dogs’ album they got us the Iron Maiden tour for thirty days while we were over there.”
Before the band signed on the dotted line though, there was a change in line-up: out went the ‘third musketeer’, bassist Steve Starmer, and in came Garry Bordonaro. Garry joined the band in January 1981.
“Steve was in the band from the beginning,” David recalls, “but then we started to do some auditions before we signed the Arista deal and there was some talk among some of the labels about Steve not being the right bass player for the band. To me, when I think about it now, that was such a ridiculous thing to say. Why is it up to some person at a record label to dictate who’s in your band? So, long story short, Steve left the band and we ended up getting another local fella, Craig Gruber, who’d played with Rainbow for a while and went on to play with Gary Moore and so on and so forth.”
Gruber had been a member of Elf, the band in which David had really cut his teeth, and as such was the bassist on the ‘Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow’ LP. He was also brought into Black Sabbath by his ex-Elf bandmate Ronnie James Dio to fill the bassist vacancy when Geezer Butler didn’t seem interested in re-joining. In Tony Iommi’s autobiography ‘Iron Man’ the Sabbath guitarist admitted that “Craig Gruber had put the bass parts down...” on the ‘Heaven And Hell’ album, showing that he certainly had some pedigree. But once Butler had heard how good the material was, he re-joined, re-recorded all the bass parts and Gruber was asked to close the door on his way out. Gruber crops up again later in The Rods’ story, playing on the 1986 ‘Heavier Than Thou’ album, but back as 1980 became 1981 he wasn’t the guy David and Carl were looking for.
“Craig was in the band for a short period of time but personality-wise he didn’t fit with Carl and I,” says David. “Even though he was a great bass player, it didn’t work out so we needed to find someone else and Garry was another local person who lived in a town maybe a fifteen-minute ride from where I lived. And he was playing in a cover band at the time we met him. He was a great bass player, a great guy, he could sing and he fit in perfectly – he really was the bass player for the band. I don’t see Garry that much anymore but we do talk occasionally. He’s a great guy, we’re still good friends, he was a great performer onstage, great bass player, great singer, and we knew that with Garry we had the right line-up for the band.”
Carl remembers that one audition that led to the change in line-up particularly well. “I have to say,” he begins, “that Steve is a really good bass player and you can hear him on ‘The Rods’ – that’s Steve playing with the exception of the two new songs. What happened was Doug Thaler [the ex-Elf guitarist who’d moved into booking and management"> was helping us find management with Cedric Kushner – he was a promoter who then became a boxing promoter. Doug set up an audition for us, opening for Judas Priest at the Palace Theater, Albany, New York. We were thrown up onstage, David was super-loud, Steve was super-loud, but we didn’t have anything in our monitors. We start playing, I couldn’t hear David; it was just ‘eeerrrrrrrrr’ – like somebody put the blender on high and dropped some keys in it! I didn’t know when to come in, and it was a bit of a disaster. Although,” he reflects, “we went down well, surprisingly; I guess because David was running around on stage and Steve and I were going crazy as well and eventually we’d got it together we skipped through the songs.
“But Cedric said to Doug after this disastrous show to tell David that he needed to replace both of us. So that – as you can imagine – wasn’t fun to hear. My first thought was: ‘what the fuck are you talking about, asshole!’ But my second thought was: ‘oh wait, he’s right, I played horribly, I couldn’t hear anything’. So it was a case of, well, Steve was a little more clean cut, he wasn’t the image, he wasn’t quite headed where we were musically, so ‘if we’ve got to make a change, it’s got to be Steve’. But it was a horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible thing to do because he’d done nothing wrong. He was a great guy – still is a great guy – and for years we were pariahs in Cortland because they were a very popular family, and very well-known family, and everybody loved Steve like I love Steve so we were hated for making that decision. But it was the right decision and I stand by that. It was just one of those sad moments where you know it’s a tough place to be, a hard call to make, but on the other hand you can’t not make the change.
“As David said, after Steve we asked Craig Gruber to join the band. Craig and I remained good friends till the day he died [he succumbed to prostate cancer in May 2015, aged just 63">. He was a very close friend and he obviously knew David because of Elf so there was a lot of commonality there, and so Craig came and started playing with us. I can’t remember now why he left. Before he’d joined us he got tapped by Ronnie to go to Black Sabbath, which he did. Then Geezer Butler came back to the band, but I believe from what he told me he was paid fairly handsomely when he left because supposedly he’d written some of the riffs on the ‘Heaven And Hell’ album. But Craig wasn’t with us long. Garry was also a local musician, and he was a singer in his band, and as soon as we started looking around, well, he was local, he was great, he was a great showman, a great bass player, and we thought, ‘this is a no-brainer, if he’d like to join the band’. And he said yes. I am sure he rues that day still,” the drummer laughs.
With Garry now slotted in, recording took place in March 1981 for The Rods’ self-titled major label debut, although, in fact, ‘The Rods’ is actually a remastered version of the ‘Rock Hard’ album with a shuffled track list. Out went the Elf cover ‘Sit Down Honey’, The Young Rascals’ ‘You Better Run’, the guitar solo ‘In Your Panties’ and ‘Getting’ Higher’, and in came two new covers suggested by their A&R guy Mike Bone – ‘Nothing Going On In The City’, and ‘Ace In The Hole’. Although bunked from the album, ‘Getting Higher’ – now with the ‘g’ – would appear as the ‘unreleased’ track on the four-track 12” ‘Full Throttle’ EP, alongside album cuts ‘Power Lover’, ‘Nothing Going On In The City’ and ‘Crank It Up’.
‘Nothing Going On In The City’ was originally written and recorded by Dutch band White Honey and appeared on their 1979 ‘Some Kinda Woman’ album. The Rods took what is a good song and made it their own, turning it into something of an anthem for their fans to rally behind. “Yeah, it is a great song,” agrees David. “I think the guy who signed us, Mike Bone, he might have had a connection, and said ‘I’ve got a song...’ I hope I remember this correctly, it’s been a lot of years, and Carl might remember it better, but I’m sure he brought the song in. I think it was done originally by a band in Holland called White Honey and it was more of a punky-style song. It wasn’t a heavy rock song at all. So if we were to do this song, we had to do it the only way we knew how. I mean, everything we did was in the same vein – fast, hard, and Rods’ style – so we took that song and made it our own. We basically learned that song in the studio. We’d never heard it, but we thought, ‘we can do that: da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da,’ you know,” he laughs. “So we made it our own style and it turned out to be a great song, a very popular song, and it is really good. I’ve always wanted to meet the person or the band that originally did that. We came close. We were overseas one time, I don’t know if we got a message or something, something about somebody in the band that had written the song or recorded the song, but it didn’t happen. ‘Nothing Going On In The City’ turned out to be such a great song, though, and we still do it. All the live shows that we’ve ever done, we always play it.”
The other new song on the album, Robert Fleischman’s ‘Ace In The Hole’ (originally on his 1979 ‘Perfect Stanger’ album), was sung by Garry. “Yes it was,” says Carl simply, “and he did a great job on it.”
The cover photo was the perfect illustration of what the record was about – mean, gritty, and streetwise. “I agree,” says Carl. “I thought it was a cool cover too, and every time I look at it I’m just reminded of, you know, young and foolish, because I’d recorded the demo for Manowar and The Rods’ was the next day.” He pauses and thinks for a moment. “Well, chronologically I might be off by a day, but whatever the case, with the Manowar guys I was up all night – it was a party all night – and so I was up all night and David and Garry show up for the photo shoot and I didn’t even go to sleep. I just showered and got in the car. So I look at that photo now and go, ‘oh, look at those dark circles’! But it reminds me of that whole scenario. And that photographer, he had scouted some really cool locations. I don’t know why we didn’t use him again.”
“We’ve really never been that photogenic anyway!” laughs David, when asked about the cover shot.
‘The Rods’ was released in September 1981. As previously mentioned, it was originally only in the shops in the States, but import copies started making their way to Europe. Writing in Sounds in August 1981, Geoff Barton turned over almost a whole page to his five-star album review. “This album has to be heard to be believed,” he gushed, continuing: “I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt so enthusiastic about a band’s first studio effort. Incredibly, with songs such as ‘Rock Hard’, ‘Crank It Up’ and ‘Power Lover’ under their bullet belts and with a style of playing reminiscent of the Ted Nugent band around the time of that first classic Epic album, The Rods are already up there with the best of them... The Rods speed along at a scorching pace throughout the first side, Feinstein always keeping on top of affairs and contributing an abundance of dynamic, dextrous but never overly indulgent solos. And side two has the band, if anything, pounding the track even harder than before... Although the slightly sanitised US production (à la Riot) might not be to everyone’s taste, I’ve no doubt that live this combo will not so much deliver the goods as throw them through your front window...” Ending with a plea for a UK release, the writer noted that “there’s an army of Rods fans out there, just waiting...”
Meanwhile, although in the early days Kerrang! didn’t feature album reviews, in the third magazine’s ‘Armed And Ready’ pages (a feature designed to introduce new bands) Barton again threw the spotlight on The Rods, calling their LP “perhaps the US metal debut album of the year.” Highlighting that it was still only available as an import, he described it as “jam packed with statement-of-intent song titles such as ‘Crank It Up’, ‘Rock Hard’, ‘Power Lover’ and ‘Get Ready To Rock ‘N’ Roll’... Accompanied by a bass player, Gary [sic"> Bordonaro, and truly terrific drummer, Carl Canedy, Feinstein’s current purpose in life is to become ‘the meanest, loudest and fastest man ever to pick up a guitar’. And, you know, with ‘The Rods’ he’s well on his way to succeeding.”
Shortly afterwards, Barton’s prayer was answered and ‘The Rods’ was granted a UK release, the cover carrying a sticker with selected quotes from both articles. Under the title ‘Rods Ram It Home’ a full review in Kerrang! issue 9 noted that “following the announcement that The Rods will be opening for Iron Maiden on their forthcoming tour the record finally gets its British release. What makes The Rods’ LP a particularly special entity,” enthused the reviewer, Steve Gett, “is the combination of blitzkrieg hard rock ‘n’ roll songs along with talented musical ability.”
Almost overnight, The Rods were being touted as the best thing since the bread slicer, and the reviews humbled the band. “‘Wow!’ we thought. ‘They really liked it that much?’” recalls David. “You just don’t realise... What you think is really good might not be what somebody else thinks is really good. There have been songs through the years that we’ve put on the end of albums because they’re a bit like a filler song – we needed like twelve songs and this is number twelve, so we’ll put it on there because we have it. And then we go to play live shows and we get people requesting that song. We didn’t really like it, but to somebody else, that’s their favourite song. So you never know, you can’t judge... Sometimes, you think: ‘I’ve written a great song, I can’t wait to bring it to the rest of the band.’ Well, it’s only great to you; it might not be great to somebody else. So you never really know what the public will pick out. You can only really hope that there’s a song or two on that album that will make that album popular. And that’s what it is. So it was surprising for us, and we were just incredibly happy that we would get recognition like that because I think I can speak for a lot of musicians when I say we just want to play. We write, record and perform and either people like it, or they don’t like it. You cannot second-guess what people will like.
“In my opinion it’s always been about the song,” he continues. “The song is what people become attached to and relate to. They can relate to the story that the song tells, or the feeling that the song gives you, or whatever, but if you have a ‘natural’ song you know that people are going to attach to it: pretty much anybody can record it and it’s going to be a success. But the thing is, it goes back to the fact that you never know,” he laughs as he gets himself back on track, “if it’s going to be a great song or not. All we could do is be true to ourselves as a band.”
“It really was a big surpise,” adds Carl. “The thing is, we didn’t know about Sounds, we didn’t know about Kerrang! I find it hard to believe saying that now but we didn’t know about them. We read Circus magazine, things like that. My friend Victoria called me and said ‘you guys got a five-star review in Sounds’ and it’s like ‘Sounds? What’s that?’ Then I realised that that was huge. A big honour as well. So that was the first time that we heard of it, but after that it was, well, things seemed to fall into place pretty quickly.”
As a result, Carl, David and Garry found themselves adopted by fans of the ever-growing New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, some 3,000 miles from their home.
“That too was a surprise to us,” Carl continues. “You know, David and I came from similar backgrounds in terms of music. We came out of The Who, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Blue Cheer and all that and we wanted to play metal music, heavy music. And we were just starting to write, and we were writing heavy stuff, because of our influences and because of individual styles, which seemed to match pretty well. And that was it. And then one day, we put out our album and suddenly we’re getting reviews that are not only very good, but we’re getting compared to this genre that was called the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. And then I think it was Geoff Barton who said ‘these guys are like the American Motörhead.’ We had no freaking idea who Motörhead was!” he laughs. (Strange though it might sound now, Motörhead were barely known at all in America at this time.) “So then we got their album and it was like ‘man, these guys are bad-ass! See how cool they look.’ But up until then we didn’t know Motörhead. We were just doing what we did, and what came naturally to us. We weren’t writing to order, we were just doing what we loved. And it just turned out that other people were doing similar.”
Seeing as the UK was so keen on The Rods, a trip across the Atlantic seemed the next logical step for the band.
John Tucker January 2021