It was the „Gates of darkness" tour, wasn't it?
Yes it was the Gate of Darkness tour, in support of the Darkness Descends album and Possessed’s Beyond The Gates album. They were released about the same time. Combat Records combined the titles of both albums and came up with the Gates of Darkness name.
How did the whole tour go? What were the highlights of the tour? Can you tell us more about it?
The tour was grueling, and difficult because of the fact that it was in the middle of winter. I was colder than shit! It didn’t help that Possessed and Dark Angel were both from California. We weren’t prepared for a real winter. You see, being from California, we never experience real winters. We have mild temperatures all year long. I wear shorts 365 days a year because it never gets cold here. Other than that, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I had the chance to live the dream. I mean I got to travel around North America and see places that I might not have ever had the chance to see. I got to play music in front of audiences everywhere, and meet people from all over the place. Having had the opportunity to perform in front of so many people, is something that I still look back at fondly. One of the best memories I had was playing at the world famous CBGB’s. I got to play of the stage that so many great and influential bands played on. I remember that one of the stage bouncers was Billy Milano of S.O.D./M.O.D. I was singing on stage and I looked over and saw Billy pushing people off of the stage, and I thought, he should be up here singing with me. Another memory I had was when we went to San Francisco to pick up Possessed so that we could all caravan together. When we arrived at Possessed’s manager’s house, Jeff Bacerrra was already passed out drunk. The other Possessed guys used duct tape to tape Jeff up against the wall. It was quite a site to see.
Did you get on well with the Possessed guys?
Dark Angel got along great with Possessed. It was a great match up having both bands on the same tour with both bands. Personally, I got along great with those guys. We had a lot of fun hanging out together. Jeff could really put down a lot of alcohol, so he was always fun to watch. Mike was a very cool guy and great to party with. Unfortunately for Larry, he was dating his manger’s daughter at the time, so he was kept on a very tight leash. He didn’t get a lot of opportunities to get crazy like the rest of us did. He especially didn’t get a lot of opportunities to hang out too with many girls. The funny thing was that whenever both bands hung out together, we were always getting the guys from Possessed in trouble with their manager Debbie. She thought we were a bad influence on the boys. She eventually forbade the guys from hanging out with us, but we still hung out behind her back. She even stopped Possessed from staying at the same hotels as we did, just so we wouldn’t corrupt them. During many of our shows, I would join Jeff on stage for their last song, which was Death Metal. I would sing along with him during the chorus of the song, it was a lot of fun. After the show in New York at CBGB’s, Possessed returned home. We continued on to Canada for a few shows with the Crumbsuckers.
Were both Possessed and Dark Angel headliner acts? Wasn't any opening act?
The tour was a co-headline tour, with both bands taking turns headlining. We generally had opening acts that consisted of local bands. I can’t think of any of them, but some of them were very good. I always tried to catch as many of the opening bands as I could. I loved watching bands play, because I was and still a fan first. A lot of times you could catch me in the audience watching the opening bands play, or watching Possessed play. It never got old watching Possessed perform. They were great band live.
How did you feel standing on stage in front of hundreds or thousand fanatics and singing the Dark Angel classics?
It was awesome being up on stage performing their songs. I loved the crowd’s reaction to our performances. It was especially cool having the crowds sing along to the songs. It really made it more memorable that the audiences accepted me as the new singer.Initially it was strange singing someone else’s songs onstage.I was so used to singing my music and lyrics. But I loved performing so much, that it really didn’t matter what I sang. The more I got used to singing Dark Angel’s songs, the more fun it became. I tried to make the songs my own by the way I sang them. In my own style of singing.
Which were/are your favourite Dark Angel tunes?
My personal favorite was probably the last two songs on our set list, We Have Arrived, and Perish In Flames. I liked the tempo of the songs and the guitar riffs. Maybe it was because of the fact that they were our last two songs and the crowds were totally fucking nuts by then. You could really feel the energy of the audience, which fed my performance.
I own a bootleg Dark Angel cd and the show was recorded at the Metro Chicago on the 22nd January 1987 and you were killer…
Thank you very much for the compliment. I too have a copy of the CD and unfortunately the quality of the recording is very bad. I wish that I had a better sounding recording of our performances. I still remember that show very well. I remember that before our sound check, we went to a little bar next to the venue. The bartender was very generous with the alcohol, and I got fucked up. I remember doing the sound check and after we finished, I nearly passed out. I was still drunk as hell during the show. During our performances, I would always stand at the front of the stage and interact with the audience. However, the microphone cord was too short and I was unable to reach the front of most of the stage. I hated it because I could get to most of the audience members.
Was the tour a good experience for you as musician?
The tour was an excellent experience for me, both musically and personally. Musically, I learned a lot and tried to improve, my performances with each show. I always tried to give the audiences what they wanted. A lot of these kids paid good money to see us perform, and I wanted to make sure that they walked away feeling like they got their money’s worth. I also got a chance to learn a lot about sound production and how to improve my vocal sound.
Did you have great parties with the Possessed guys?
Many times after our shows, we would hang out at the venue or at our hotel. We didn't organize anything special, we just got together with as much alcohol we could get, and drink until it ran out or we passed out. Possessed's manger (Debbie Abono at this point – the editor) could keep her huys under control and would often times loose one of them somewhere. One or all of them would miss their curfew or their check out times so that they could get to the next city. So that was some of the reasons that she kept them away from us. We even stopped caravaning together. I guess it was just to limit our bad influence on them.
Did the label suggest going on tour with Possessed or...? Why didn't you come over to Europe?
The tour was put together by our label, Combat Records. I believe the tour decided upon because we (Dark Angel and Possessed) had released albums at about the same time, and we were both from California, so it made it easier to coordinate everything. Both bands had similar followings and so it would draw crowds that could enjoy watching both bands.
What did your Death Force bandmates do during the tour? How did they react at all, when you told them, that you join Dark Angel?
As far as I know, they didn’t do too much. I think that they were still trying to figure out what to do without a singer. I don’t know if they tried to fill my vacancy or if they just went into limbo for a while. I touched on how they felt when I left Death Force earlier in the interview. They were surprised about the news and if I had to guess a little bit pissed off. But liked I mentioned, I made sure to talk it over with them before I made my decision. I was loyal to my friends and made sure that I got their blessings.
By the way, did you start writing on new Dark Angel material during the tour or did you concentrate only on the shows?
We only worked on getting through the tour. The tour was in the middle of winter and we weren’t prepared for the cold weather. Plus, this was our first tour, so we wanted to just make the best of everything and enjoy ourselves. We were told that we might be going to Europe to tour with Megadeth, so we were only focused on that for the time being.We talked about getting down to writing new material soon after the possible European tour.
Couldn't have you made a good thing for Death Force out of the tour? I mean, to make the band more known etc.?
If the Death Force thing had had a chance to move forward after I returned to the band, I suppose it would have made a big difference. But when I re-joined Death Force, Chris Ingle had left the band and we were trying to find a new guitarist. Also, I didn’t want to sound like I had a bigger head that I already had at the time by running around and telling everyone that I used to be in Dark Angel. I wanted Death Force to make on it's own merit.
Did you rejoin Death Force after the tour? Was it a successful tour by the way?
The tour was very successful in that it made Dark Angel even bigger that it already was. We got a lot of publicity out of the tour. We did a lot of interviews and met a lot of people. It also helped with album sales. We sold a lot of albums after the tour ended.
Don Doty came back into the fold as Dark Angel gained the guest slot to the Hollywood Palladium for Slayer's finale of their „Reign in blood" world tour, did you see that particular gig?
I didn't get a chance to see the show, because I couldn't get it. I went to the Palladium to see the show, but someone or everyone didn't put me on the guest list, and I couldn't get in. I tried to find the guys, but I couldn't get near them. I am not the kind of guy to intentionally look for freebies, so I didn't go around and look for Dave or Kerry from Slayer hoping to have them get me in. I felt like I got snubbed by my ex-band mates, and so I thought to myself, why should I be there. So I just left. If I wasn't wanted, then I didn't want to stick around. I tried to stay in touch with Jim and Gene, but my calls went unanswered. I just stopped trying after that.
Don Doty was aked to leave the band after a headline Texas show and the band requested the services of Watchtower's Jason McMaster, but this union never transpired and finally they found Ron Rinehart of Messiah, do you think, that the band found the perfect replacement in his person instead of Don?
As far as Jason McMaster, I don't know anything about that. I think that Ron was a good replacement for Don. In my opinion, they had similar sounding voices and so it kept with the original Dark Angel sound. My vocal style was in complete contrast to both singing styles, so I probably wasn't the best replacement for Don.
What about Death Force at this point? Did you start writing newer songs for a second demo or…?
I believe that we wrote a few new songs after I returned, but I don't remember too clearly.
Were there some labels interests in the band at all?
We had one label approach us, but we didn't like the terms, and so we waited to try to get with another label. In retrospect, I think that we did the right thing. We were more interested in trying to get our name out there, so that we could show up at a label with good tight music and a good following. There were a lot of bands that went with the first label that looked at them. However, if you remember back then, there were a lot of bands that had no business being signed to anything. They hadn't perfected their sound or what they wanted to project.
What kind of reasons did lead to the split of Death Force? How and when did the band come to an end exactly?
As discussed before, we spilt up because of personnel problems. We lost our direction and our drive. We just decided that it was no longer working, so we spilt up.
It’s well known that you became policeman, but what about the other guys? Did you remain in touch with each other or…?
Yeah, I know that it sounds weird that a thrash metal singer ended up a police officer. Actually, Dark Angel's first bassist, Rob Yahn ended up a police officer after he got out of music. So maybe it wasn't all that weird. As for what the other guys I played with, most of them I lost touch with. So I will speak about the guys I do know about. Ernie Espinoza,and I worked at a hardware store for several years after Death Force. Tragically, he was involved in an off-road vehicle accident and was paralyzed. He is now in selling wheel chairs, and is quite successful. Eddie Moraza got married and settled down as a family man. Jimmy Durkin is married playing guitar for the band Dreams of Damnation. Gene Hoglan is drumming for Strapping Young Lad, and Dethclok. One of Dark Angel's roadies, Ray Sanchez has remained a very good friend of mine. He is now a great chef and works for Harra's resort in Las Vegas. As for everyone else, who knows.
Did you keep an eye on what's going on in the underground after the end of Death Force?
Like I had said before, I have always been a fan first of metal music. I continued to listen to metal ever since. I occasionally go to shows. I like a lot of the new music, but not all of it. I prefer to listen to the older music that was contemporary to my time as a musician. Some of the newer bands that I am listening to right now, are Kreator, Dismember, All Shall Perish, and Cataract.
How do you view the present scene? In your opinion, how much did change or evolve the scene during the years? Do you still listening to metal? Do you prefer the old stuffs or do you listen some new ones too?
The metal scene has really changed a lot. Back in the old days, we struggled for everything we achieved. No one handed us anything. As a result, everyone knew everyone and there weren't as many attitudes. Don’t get me wrong, there were some people that had huge egos and way too much attitude for their own good. But it seemed like everyone got along and enjoyed being a part of something cool. I don’t have a lot of first hand knowledge about the metal scene these days, but it doesn’t seem to be as close knit as it did in the old days. I still keep in touch with my old friend Mille Petrozza from Kreator. He told me once that he likes to keep in touch with the guys from the old days or with the bands that are still going after all these years. He said that he enjoys talking with the older guys because they knew what it was like to struggle and to be a part of something from the start. Mille said that the younger bands don’t have the same sense of appreciation that the guys from the old days do. He said that a lot of the newer bands take what they have for granted and have a sense of entitlement regarding what they have, or think they should have. I can totally understand what he said, because unless you were there in the old days, you wouldn’t understand what it took to try to make it back then. The struggle brought us closer together. I think that the music has changed considerably. I am not a big fan of the new type of metal that has two different types of signing styles. Where one actually sings and the other growls. In my opinion, they need to pick one style and stick with it, not do both. I don't know, maybe I'm just too old fashioned, or just too old. One thing is for certain, the musicianship has gotten much better. The talent out there is phenomenal. These kids can really play their instruments.
Do you consider yourself an open minded musician?
I always considered myself to be a very open minded musician. I always listened to a wide variety of music. My Ipod has metal, punk, classical music, blues, 1980's new wave, and all kinds of funky shit. I really enjoy singing blues music. For some reason, I have always felt emotionally connected to blues music, and singing it is feels good.
How would you sum up your Death force/Dark Angel career, that was although short, but I think so, it could have been longer?
If I had just wanted to be a musician, I am sure that my career would have lasted much longer. For me, music was something to do for fun, not a lifestyle. I loved what I did, and wouldn't mind being able to do it now on a part time basis. But at the time, it was just supposed to last as long it could last. To sum up my metal career, I guess that I would have to say that I wanted to experience as much as I could, and enjoy the ride. At the time, I didn't think that I was a very good singer. I thought that I was just okay. So I wasn't sure that I had much of a future in music. It wasn't until way after the fact, that I received accolades from so many different people, which made me think that there were people out there that liked what I did.
Jim, thanks a lot for your answers, anything to add what I forgot to cover?
You are very welcome! I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about my past and appreciate the fact that there is someone out there that gives a damn after all these years. I really enjoyed all of the experiences that my singing career brought me. I met a lot of great people, both fans and fellow musicians. There is no greater experience for me than being on stage and giving my all for appreciative fans. I would like to thank everyone that made my music career possible. Especially my parents, who encouraged me to follow my dream. I hope that for those who I had the opportunity to perform for, enjoyed what they heard and saw. I did my best. And as for you Leslie, keep up the great work that you are doing. Hail to you!