Tony Scaglione was the first drummer of legendary US-Thrash band WHIPLASH, he played here just few years long, but you can listen to his playing also on the fantastic debut-album „Power and Pain” (1986). Not too much wellknown fact, but Tony played also in the band SLAYER on their live-performances.
Tony, did your musical career start with Jackhammer? Was it your first band or…?
Yes , Jackhammer was the first real group that I was in. I had jammed with a bunch of guitarists and bass players before, but Jackhammer was the first real organized project I was involved in.
The line up consisted of you on the drums, Chris Ott on vocals and guitars and Rob Harding on bass, how did you get together? What about the musical background of them?
Originally, it was Chris and a guy named Carl Chase on bass. I answered an ad that Chris had in a local music paper and that’s how it started. We actually recorded a demo and then Carl left for some reason I can’t remember and we found Rob Harding, who was a friend of Chris. We were all really young at the time. Chris’ father was actually a well known producer/arranger in the music business. He worked with a lot of big people including Frank Sinatra and the Village People. He actually arranged all of the horn parts on the Village People’s big hits like YMCA and In the Navy.
Was it easy to find the members for a heavy metal group back then?
There were a lot of players in the New York/New Jersey area. It was hard to find the good ones though!
What about the New York scene including bands and clubs at this point? Were you familiar with bands such as Anthrax, Over Kill etc. that tried their wings in the early '80s? Can you tell us more about it?
Overkill and Anthrax started a little before Whiplash. They were playing shows here and there locally but there was not a big scene yet. It was still very underground.
Was the New York scene hardcore oriented or would you say, that the scene was divided into two parts, into the hardcore and into the thrash/speed one?
Yes, the punk/ hardcore and metal scenes were pretty much separate when we started. Then it started to get more integrated. Metal guys didn’t go to CBGB’s. It was dangerous! It took a long time before the scenes started mixing together. When we started hanging out there, we were the only long haired guys besides Dan Lilker and John Connally from Nuclear Assault. Whiplash began to become friends with a lot of the hardcore bands like Agnostic Front and the Cro Mags basically because the lady who managed us at the time, also managed Agnostic Front, The Crumbsuckers and Carnivore and she introduced us to all of these guys. We became one big happy family!
Jackhammer started as a heavy metal band, correct?
Jackhammer was kind of a traditional heavy metal band along the lines of Priest and maiden. Then we started getting into the heavier stuff like Motorhead and writing some heavier material.
What were your influences? Were you into smaller, underground outfits or rather into well known, established ones?
I like all different kinds of music as you can see by the bands listed on my MySpace page and I always have. My favorites that played heavier music back then were Motorhead, Maiden, Priest and then I discovered Venom and Raven and it progressed from there. During the early days of Whiplash, I was the one who searched out all of the new releases by the underground bands and traded tapes and read all of the fanzines. It was cool to discover new music!
What about your rehearsals? Did you start writing originals or were you jamming on covers?
In Whiplash we never played a cover song together in our life! We were all about writing original music. We had a rigorous practice schedule. Sometimes we rehearsed seven days a week! We just kept writing and rehearsing.
Your first demo was the „Lethal injection” demo in 1983, do you still remember, how was it recorded?
That demo was recorded at a place called Reel Platinum Studios. The guy who owned it, Bob Alleca, had a little studio in his basement. I recorded a few demos there including the Whiplash Thunderstruk demo. Actually I think the first Misfits record was recorded there and some Samhain albums as well. There weren’t too many affordable studios back then!
Can you give us details regarding on this tape?
To be honest, I really don’t remember much about the actual recording of that demo. I remember that we were happy with the way it came out.
At which point did Tony Portaro join the band and how did he get in the picture exactly? What about his musical background?
Soon after recording that demo, we met Tony Portaro who was playing in a band called Toxin. Tony had gone to the Berkely School of Music in Boston for a semester or two and he really knew a lot about music theory and structure. We convinced him to come and join our band, and then we went back into the studio and recorded the Chainsaw Love demo with Jackhammer.
Your second demo was „Chainsaw love” in 1984, what about this demo as a whole?
Like I mentioned, this was the demo where Tony joined. He played lead guitar and did lead vocals, which really helped since the vocals on the Lethal Injection were very weak. The demo came out o.k. Chris left the band after this.
Were all of the demos shopped around to attract label interests? Did you try to make a name for the band?
We sent those early demos to some local radio stations and some fanzines but you have to remember, this whole thing was REALLY underground at the time so exposure was limited.
Why and when did you change your name to Whiplash? Did you choose this name because all of you were huge Metallica fans?
From what I can remember, we changed the name to whiplash some time after Chris Ott left Jackhammer. We wanted a fresh start. We didn’t choose the name because of the Metallica song though, even though we were very big fans of the band.
Who came up with the name by the way?
I think it was Tony Portaro. The name actually came from an old cartoon character named Snidely Whiplash.
Were you aware of the existence of a fanzine that was called Whiplash and it was done by former Heathen singer Sam Kress (R.I.P.)?
Yes, I remember that fanzine well, As I mentioned, exposure back then was limited. There weren’t that many fanzines around yet, but that was one of the first.
In 1984 you joined forces with singer Mike Orosz, why did Chris Ott leave the band?
After Chris left we hooked up with Mike and that’s around the time of the name change. Chris left because his father was very strict and he wanted him to concentrate on his studies in school.
Do you still remember how did you find Mike? In which bands did he play before?
I think he answered an ad we placed in the local music paper. We was a local guy and I really don’t think he had done much music before that. We liked him because we thought he kind of sounded like Udo from Accept. I was a huge fan of Accept’s first couple of records.
Was he meant to be a full time member or only a session musician?
We initially asked him to be a member, but after the Fire Away demo we did with him, we realized his voice just didn’t fit what we were doing
Considering his name, he was an Hungarian guy, wasn't he?
I’m not sure.
The first Whiplash demo was recorded in 1984 titled „Fire away”, musically was it tape more brutal, aggressive and faster than the Jackhammer demos? What made you to turn into a more brutal and aggressive direction?
We didn’t make a conscious decision to write that way. We were just influenced by the newer, heavier bands of the time and it just came naturally. Kind of like osmosis!
Why did you part ways with Mike and Rob Harding? What did he do after their departure?
Rob ended up leaving because his parents sent him to a private school because I guess they thought he was becoming a delinquent from hanging around with us!
In the same year, thus in 1984 you entered the Reel Platinum Studios in Lodi, NJ to record your second demo „Thunderstruk”, what do you recall of the recording sessions?
The Thunderstruk demo was truly the beginning of the band as far as I am concerned. Tony Portaro and I were constantly rehearsing and writing. This was always the case. We have a great friendship and writing chemistry together, and we have really been the nucleus of the true Whiplash throughout the years. Whiplash has put out records with various members but the true sound always comes naturally when Tony and I get together. For the Thunderstruk demo, we had no bassist and we just decided to go in and do it with just the two of us. This demo was the start of Whiplash getting some more worldwide acclaim from some of the underground radion stations and fanzines. The scene was beginning to blossom.
Were the songs written only by you and Tony Portaro?
Yes. Even though I’m not accomplished at playing a melodic instrument, I can still convey my ideas and Tony knows exactly what I mean. My strength is in the editing department. Tony would write so many riffs, it was amazing. I was good at atking the riffs and putting them together in a cohesive way. Like I said, we have a great chemistry. Tony always wrote all of the lyrics.
For recording of the next session „Looking death in the face” the band drafted bassist Tony Bono, was he your first choice or were there still other bassists in mind? What about his musical past?
We originally had Pat Burns on bass (who later formed Deathrash). He lived far away from us though, and couldn’t really commit to our practice schedule. We eneded up placing an ad in the local music paper and Tony Bono responded. When I first spoke to him on the telephone, he told me his name was Tony. I said “You’re Hired!” Fortunately for us he was an incredible bassist. He had previously played in a local band called Metal Disciples. When Tony Bono joined, this was the true birth of Whiplash. Tony, Tony and Tony! It was fate.
You were the band of the tree Tonys, what was very interesting back then, was it a kind of conscious conception or…?
It was fate like I said! What are the odds that we would all be named Tony!
As I as know, you also wanted to have a lead singer, but you didn't find the suitable member so Tony Portaro took the singing duties, can you tell us more about it?
Tony Portaro never liked singing. He still doesn’t. But we just couldn’t find a singer and we were getting favorable reviews for the Thunderstruk demo so he just kept doing it. It took some convincing though! A lot of the singers at the time were these really high pitched Halford-esque guys and that wasn’t the kind of vocal style that fit what we were doing.
The third effort was recorded at Sonic Studios in Long Island, NY, what can you tell us about this demo? How much did you develope compared to the first two demos?
This was the first demo we did in a real professional recording studio. We saved up some money and did it. We were really excited with the quality of it. This demo got the attention of some labels and we were starting to be taken seriously as a musical force. Throughout the time after Tony Bono joined, we just kept writing and rehearsing all of the time. We didn’t really worry about playing gigs. We just wanted to hone our songwriting and come out with some great material.
How happened that „The burning of Atlanta” made up on the „Ticket to mayhem” record?
That song and I’d say over half of the Ticket To Mayhem record was written with Tony, Tony and I, between the time of the Looking Death in the face and right after the Power and Pain album was released.
Tony Portaro recorded the songs with his arm in plaster having suffered a broken arm in a car accident, what happened with him exactly?
We were driving home in Tony Bono’s van after a recording session and we were sitting at a red traffic light. Out of nowhere a car came speeding up and hit us from behind. We all got thrown in the back of the van. Tony P. broke his arm, I cut my head open and was beleeding all over the place and Tony Bono hurt his leg and neck. The guy who was driving the car who hit us died on the spot. Tony P. had to have surgery and had two metal rods inserted in his arm which he still has to this day. A few weeks later we finished up the demo with Tony playing thee remaining guitar solos with his arm in a cast!
What about the early Whiplash gigs, that you did during the demo era? I mean, have you gigged a lot during this period? Did you try to make a big name for the band?
We didn’t do any gigs during the demo stages. Our first gig ever was in California with Possessed and Death Angel at Ruthies Inn. We basically just rehearsed and concentrated on writing material
The third demo secured Whiplash a deal with Roadrunner Records, how did you get in touch with them?
They were interested in us after the looking Death In The Face demo and wanted to hear a few more songs so we went in the studio and recorded 3 more songs and then they offered us a deal. I would love to have a copy of that third demo, but I could never find anyone who has it! As I mentioned in a previous answer, we had a lady managing us at the time and she also managed Agnostic Front, The Crumbsuckers and Carnivore. We actually had offers from 7 or 8 independent labels including Combat records, who in retrospect would have probably been better to sign with.
You were the very first directly signed band to the US office, weren't you?
Whiplash and Carnivore were. I think Carnivore signed before us.
How did you end up featuring on the „Speed metal hell" compilation (New Renaissance Records) with the song „Thrash 'til death"? Did they perhaps want to sign you as well?
We just sent out a bunch of tapes and Ann Boleyn of New Renaissance got in contact with us and offered us a spot on that compilation
Mid 1985 you entered the studio to record your debut album „Power and pain", how did the recording sessions go?
Very quickly. We didn’t have a big budget so I recorded all of my drum tracks in like 10 hours total. Every song was either a first or second take. Back then when recording, you had to play the song all the way through and if you made a mistake here or there that was too bad and that ended up on the record! It was all about capturing the moment in time as raw as it was.The recording process is MUCH different nowadays!Tony Bono did his bass parts the next day. Then Tony P took a couple days for all of his stuff and then a day or two to mix it. It sounded great while mixing it. When we eventually got the test pressing of the record back we were extremely disappointed in the sound. from an audio standpoint it sounded like shit to be frank. But I guess it had captured some raw quality of the band that fans liked.
Were all of the songs written when you started recording the material? Were there perhaps songs that you didn't use for the record?
Yes. We had one other song that we recorded that didn’t make it on the album called No Room Left In Hell.
„Power and pain" is roughly over 30 minutes of Whiplash's true identity, their unmistakable sound with screamingly high pitched guitars provoking every single track here, riddled around the corner of every riff, what do you think about it?
Yes, this is TRULY the signature Whiplash sound. The chemistry of Tony, Tony and I can never be created again now that Tony Bono has passed away. That is evident on the Thrashback record. when we got back together to record that album, we just naturally fell back into our comfort zone with each other. No other Whiplash lineup can recreate that special thing that we three had together.
Do you agree with, that Tony Portaro does an insane job handling both vocals and guitars?
Yes he does. He and Gary Holt from Exodus are the best thrash guitarists ever in my opinion.
He growls and has a sctrachy tone to his singing, which is incredibly aggressive, hasn't he?
His singing was aggressive and the fans really liked that style.
Starting off with „Stage Dive" and ending with „Nailed To The Cross" eight tracks later, it's pure speed/thrash never giving one room for a short breath in sight, correct?
Yes I’d say so. That’s what we wanted to deliver. Total power thrashing death mayhem! A total punch in the face.
How do you view that the music is a perfect mix of early Metallica („Kill 'em all" era) and Slayer („Show no mercy") with a hint of early Exodus?
That’s probably a great description. We were big fans of all of those bands and albums especially Bonded By Blood from Exodus. Also Maiden and Priest and Tony Portaro’s favorite band Deep Purple. Those were all in there somewhere.
Is the entire point of this album just to simply kicking ass repeatedly song after song?
Yes. I think that captured that vibe just like those classic albums you mentioned in the last question.
„Power And Pain" is full of relentless, straightforward pounding and the band's characteristic machine gun riffs, great sing-along choruses are the strong points on this release, especially on tracks like „Last Man Alive" or „Stage Dive", all of the tracks are easily memorable, right?
That’s one thing we had that some other thrash bands didn’t. We had a lot of melody injected into our sound. It just wasn’t noisy guitar solos and screaming. If you really listen there is a lot more going on that that. We also prided ourselves on trying to have catchy hooks or choruses and a more traditional rock song structure.
Tony Portaro's vocals are extremely raw and there's something fresh and honest in this kind of no-nonsense thrash supported by adequate production values, how do you explain this?
This is just how it came out naturally. It wasn’t thought out. That’s how he sang
Would you say, that „Power And Pain" contains an essential dose of old thrash metal done in the true Whiplash style?
Yes, like I said this sound might be imitated but can never again be truly duplicated. Remember these are just my personal opinions.
In your opinion, was it a great debut, that introduced the band for the fans, for the scene and made a name for the band? Did this record put Whiplash on the map of the speed/thrash scene?
Yes I think it did to some degree. Definitely more so in Europe. Not so much in the United States as we would have liked. Roadrunner’s U.S. office were a very lame operation at the time. That is why I say we would probably have been better off signing with Combat records to gain more popularity in the State. But hindsight is 20/20.
The debut album was followed up by your first live performance at Ruthie's in Berkley, Ca with Possessed and Death Angel, what do you recall of this show?
Just that it was our first show and we got to meet all of the guys from the bands we played with as well as Exodus and Metallica who were there at the show. So it was very cool for us.
What were still the shows in suport of the record?
There were a number of shows in support of the record. Two of my favorites would have to be when we opened up for Celtic Frost and Voivod at L’amour in Brooklyn and playing with Nasty Savage and Hallow’s Eve at CBGB’s
You left Whiplash because Slayer requested your services for their upcoming „Reign in blood" tour, how did it happen exactly? Were you the first choice of Slayer?
Slayer was actually at a show we played in Brooklyn with Overkill. It’s my understanding that Dave recommended me when he left, but I don’t know if I was their first choice.
You couldn't refuse this possibility, could you?
No. It was an honor to be asked of course
Was it a kind of challenge for you?
It was a challenge due to the fact that they only gave me 2 weeks to learn their whole catalogue at the time which was 3 albums and the Haunting The Chapel EP before auditioning. That was a lot of music to cram into such a short period of time. Then we rehearsed a few times and they asked me to go on the road with them. It was all very rushed. Up to that point, I had played almost entirely original Whiplash music.