Memphis, Tennessee's MEDIEVAL STEEL are another one of those U.S. cult bands, especially over here in Europe; Germany & Greece in particular. All as a result of the self-titled 4-song EP that they released back in 1984. Believe it or not : the band is still (or rather : back) together, and has every intention of releasing more material later on this year. Read on and find out what the current members had to tell about MEDIEVAL STEEL's past, present & future. Although some of my questions (concerning their early days, early line-up changes, explanation of the bandname, lyrical content of the songs, new songtitles, ...) were left unanswered, I still feel there's something to be discovered in what Bobby Franklin (vocals), Scott Jones (guitars), Steve Crocker (bass) and drummer Chris Cook had to say.
Hi guys! How are you doing, and how are things going for MEDIEVAL STEEL in 2003, almost 20 years after the release of the EP?
Bobby : It's going good, and it's great to be jamming. Twenty years, man, it's hard to believe. Scott : 2003 should bring great things for MEDIEVAL STEEL. We are excited about the 20-year mark.
I know that you have opted not to elaborate on the formative years of the band, and the line-up changes that led to the line-up that recorded the EP, but nevertheless I can't help but wonder if you have any idea of what's up with the likes of Ricky Triola & Ron Baronatto these days? Did they continue with music after they were out of MEDIEVAL STEEL?
Bobby : Man, you're going way back. Ricky still plays, I think, but has no band going, and Ron was in a band, last I heard.
Did MEDIEVAL STEEL record any demos prior to the EP? If so, which songs were on there? Style?
Bobby : Some songs were recorded, like Ladies Of The Night. As far as the style, we were trying different things at that time. After the EP the line-up changed, so that had an impact on the direction and sound.
Who came up with the MEDIEVAL STEEL moniker at the time?
Bobby : I think the EP has Danny Umfress as the guy.
The EP was released on Sur Records, which I presume was the band's own small label? What did Sur stand for exactly?
Bobby : Sounds Unreel (SUR) was the studio.
The EP was engineered and co-produced by Jack Holder, together with the band. Who was this Jack Holder guy, and how did you end up working with him? How did things work out in the end?
Bobby : Chuck Jones and I lucked out by just getting Jack, because he was a good fit. Scott : He was the main engineer at that time. He did a great job.
Jack Holder also played some bass on the EP. Why didn't he get any credit for that? And which songs did he play on exactly?
Bobby : Well, Ron Baronatto was in the band when we started recording, but he left the band early on. So, to keep things moving, Jack Holder played on some tracks. I don't know exactly which songs he did. He didn't want any credits for his bass work, so Jeff Boydstun got all the bass credits. Jeff Boydstun did play on some of the EP, and he did get his picture on the back cover.
The recordings for the EP took place at two different studios, while the mastering happened at yet another. Why was that? What do you remember from the recording sessions of the EP? Any fond memories?
Bobby : Sounds Unreel was moving at that time. The mastering was done at Ardent, which is one of the best studios in our area. As far as memories, I do remember laying my vocal tracks down in the bathroom, because it sounded great. Jack did some really cool things in that session.
On the evidence of the credits on the EP it seems like Bobby & Chuck Jones were the main songwriters in the band, together with Bill Jones. Who was responsible for the lyrics, and who took care of the arrangements?
Bobby : I write all my own lyrics, and we all pulled the arrangements together, with Jack Holder in the studio. As far as Bill Jones goes, he wrote a riff or something with Chuck, I think. He may have just wanted his name on the songwriting credits.
Can you tell us a bit more about the lyrical content of the songs on the EP, song by song? Where did the inspiration come from to write such lyrics?
Bobby : I just wrote what I was feeling at that time in my life. The name of our band is great, because it points the songwriting in a certain direction. I get inspiration from many things, like movies, books, TV, and anywhere else that I can find it.
In a previous interview for Heavy, Oder Was!? magazine Bobby claimed that 10.000 copies of the EP were released, which a lot of people tend to wonder about, since it's really hard to find any copies. Were there really that many copies made, and if so, where did they all go?
Bobby : I think 9.000 original units were made, and we sold some here in the States. And then Chuck Jones did send some others overseas.
Indeed Bobby, you also mentioned that 900 copies were sent to a guy in Germany, only never to hear back from him afterwards, and thus being ripped off. I'm wondering who that guy was, and how you dealt with this matter?
Bobby : Chuck handled that stuff. I think it was more than 900.
Even if Chuck was involved in that, I can't imagine that you know nothing more about it. Is it so hard to let people know about rip-offs? After all, this guy ripped the band off, and not vice versa!
Bobby : This all happened after Chuck left the band, so he really didn't tell me much. So I really didn't get ripped off, because I was not owed anything at that time. Like I said before, that was Chuck's deal.
Battle Beyond The Stars also ended up on the From The Megavault compilation LP, released on Jon Zazula's Megaforce Records. How did you end up being included on there? And what do you think about the fact that MEDIEVAL STEEL were picked to open up side A?
Bobby : I guess Johnny Zazula did like us, in his own way. Side A 1st track, that's the first good decision Johnny made for MEDIEVAL STEEL. I found out after the fact, and of course never got paid, or a thank you. I hate it when people use the band like that. Scott : That's real funny. I thought that Johnny told us that we weren't ready to be on vinyl.
Why wasn't MEDIEVAL STEEL able to release a full-length album on Megaforce Records back then?
Bobby : Johnny Zazula kept trying to re-invent us, and change what was fine to begin with. That guy has a huge ego. He tried to keep stringing us along, but that came to an end in Nashville, Tennessee, when we warmed up for ANTHRAX. Scott : Yes, that's when I had joined up with Bobby. We had Zoltan Chaney on drums, John Roth on guitar and Chuck Jones on bass. That was the first MEDIEVAL STEEL line-up that I played with. Bobby and Johnny Zazula had not seen eye to eye since the band broke up, after Zazula tried to change it to FIRE CHOIR. This was the time to start recording for a full-length album. Johnny was not in any hurry to sign us, and was still talking about a name/style change, so we parted ways at that gig. He sucks!
And exactly who was in FIRE CHOIR?
Scott : That was Chuck Jones and John Roth's project after leaving MEDIEVAL STEEL. They were going for the commercial rock market.
There were also some other companies that showed interest in the band at that time, at least one from Germany, and another from Australia. I'm wondering who those labels were, and why things didn't work out in the end?
Scott : A company called Semaphore was one of the companies. In 1988-1989 music changed, so the timing got off, but maybe that was just setting us up for 2003?
With that line-up MEDIEVAL STEEL wrote another 4 songs. The line-up that recorded those songs though was different again, right? Why was that?
Scott : Bobby had come to me when he left FIRE CHOIR, because he wanted to keep MEDIEVAL STEEL alive. So when we wanted to record the first songs that we wrote together (Eyes Of Fire, Tears In The Rain, To Kill A King) Bobby and I had not put together a full band yet. FIRE CHOIR had fizzled out soon after Bobby left, so Chuck Jones played bass, Bill Jones played drums, and John Roth played keyboards on the famous 'bootleg demo'. That session got pulled soon after it started, because the engineer did not know how to mix. So that tape is basically a soundcheck tape, not intended to be the final takes. You will like the way the new recordings sound.
And how would you compare those new songs to the ones on the EP?
Scott : When Bobby came to me and teamed up, we just started writing. We didn't think about comparing, or even trying to sound like the EP, because we were just trying to see if we could write together. Thank God it worked out, and we do write well together.
Although those four new songs were not really completely finished, nor properly mixed, they did end up on a bootleg split-CD with CULPRIT on Reborn Classics Records in 1992, which also included the MEDIEVAL STEEL EP. How did this happen, and when did you find out about that? What do you think of such a treatment?
Scott : I think that it sucks that people have to steal from us, to profit from something that they had nothing to do with creating. Bobby : I hope we get to meet them some day. It will be a day they won't forget!
Did MEDIEVAL STEEL write and/or record any more songs in the 1980's that are thus far unreleased? Any songtitles?
Scott : Yes, we did some recording. The two soundbytes on our website are from Cotton Row studios. That session had Chris Cook on drums, Steve Crocker on bass, Bobby and myself.
Whatever became of FIRE CHOIR? Any recordings? Releases?
Bobby : They did try to come back, but it never panned out for them. I think that they did some demo tapes, but no releases.
So what is the current MEDIEVAL STEEL line-up like, and did the band ever call it quits in between, or just maintained a very low profile?
Scott : Chris Cook (drums), Steve Crocker (bass), Scott Jones (guitar) & Bobby Franklin (vocals). Bobby and I have played in other bands, but we always keep in touch. Heavy metal has not been hot in the States for some time.
Which other bands were you in exactly?
Bobby : I've played with a lot of projects. Some of the names were MAD HATTER and TIN CIRCUS. Scott : I did some clubs in 2001/2002, with SCOTT JONES AND THE ROCKERFELLAS and SCOTT JONES AND THE EDGE. I went on the road with LOIS LANE (with Zoltan Chaney on drums), GANG OF THIEVES, A2Z, DEFIANCE and TIN CIRCUS, etc.
Chris, what can you tell us about your previous musical experiences? And what were the bands that you were in before (RAIL, ZACHARY FIST, RASH, ...) like, musically?
Chris : RAIL was one of the last projects that I was in. RASH was a RUSH tribute band, and ZACHARY FIST was back in 1986. I like LED ZEPPELIN. Of course, with RASH, I do like RUSH, and there are a lot of other good players out there, too many to mention. I think that I have developed my own style by listening to such a wide variety of drummers.
And what about you Steve? What about EDENS ALLEY?
Steve : EDENS ALLEY was just one of many projects that I have worked on, but MEDIEVAL STEEL is the most fun to play, musically. When we play together, it just feels right.
What has become of former members Chuck Jones, Bill Jones, John Roth and Jeff Boydstun? Did any of them continue with music, or are they still at it these days?
Scott : Chuck shoots pictures for a living, and still plays music. Bill stopped playing after leaving the band. John Roth has a weblink on our homepage. He plays with WINGER when they need him, as well as having a solo career. Jeff Boydstun moved to Texas and was playing, last we heard.
And what about Zoltan Chaney?
Scott : Zoltan is a close friend and a great drummer. MEDIEVAL STEEL sounded great with him. He has played in a lot of road(club) bands, and is currently looking at playing on a summer tour, but he is still waiting on that news. He is another talented guy that just needs to play in front of the right people, so that he can show his talent and get a break.
Swiss band EMERALD included a terrific cover version of Medieval Steel on their Calling The Knights CD a while ago. What do you think of their performance? Did this instigate MEDIEVAL STEEL in any way to continue in full force from now on?
Bobby : It was cool. Chris : Back in 2001, we had talked about writing some new material, just to see what it would sound like, and now it's happening.
From what I noticed on your website, several companies started to show interest in the band from March 2002 onwards. Could you please reveal which companies have been interested so far? Was this to release all new material primarily, or just to re-release the old stuff properly?
Scott : It is nice to have so much interest in MEDIEVAL STEEL. I can't say much, except that you will hear more MEDIEVAL STEEL in the future.
Well, I'm sure that you could be a bit more elaborate concerning this matter, if you really wanted to?
Scott : I will say that Cult Metal Classics, Hellion, Iron Glory and Unisound are a few of the labels. That's about all that I can say for now.
In April 2002 Cult Metal Classics Records from Greece offered to re-release the EP + 5 bonus tracks. What's going to become of that, if anything? Would this be on CD only, or on vinyl as well?
Scott : Cult Metal Classics was the first to step up. We are working on locking up a deal soon, so we will see about vinyl/CD.
In June 2002 the current line-up started to rehearse again. How did things work out on those occasions. Is the magic still there?
Bobby : I could not have asked for it to feel any better. Scott : It felt great to crank up and let it go. Playing with Steve and Chris is easy, because those guys are great players!
More recently, in September 2002, you started recording new versions of songs such as To Kill A King, Eyes Of Fire & Man Who Saw Tomorrow. Any other titles that you have recorded in the mean time? How do these new versions compare to the original, mid 1980's ones?
Chris : I think that we will let you be the judge of that, but personally I think that they sound great. Bobby : I think that our music is 'timeless'. The new versions are very close to the originals. Scott : When I tweak tones for our recordings, I keep the original versions in mind, so that the songs stay true. That is very important to me. All early demos sound very good.
Have you been writing/recording any brand new songs as well? Titles?
Bobby : Scott and I have been getting together to write; it sounds great! Scott : I am staying busy with pre-production and tone checks.
The website also mentioned that there will be a worldwide MEDIEVAL STEEL release soon. Can you tell us a bit more about that? Label? Formats? Release date? Songtitles? A combination of revamped old songs and new ones, or just all new ones? Album title? Style? Producer? Cover artwork?
Scott : I have been working on recording and arranging some of the older stuff, so that when we go into the 24-track studio we will be ready. I will engineer and produce, along with the band producing, and Andy Mayhall to be the main engineer. Chris : At this time we have not finalized any arrangements for songs, or labels, but we a very close.
How comes that Steve won't be playing all bass parts on the upcoming new release, as Scott will be doing some parts as well?
Scott : Steve has a tight schedule, so on demo stuff I will be playing from time to time. Steve is the only guy that can play some of our songs, so he will play on all of the album tracks.
Going back in time once again, which MEDIEVAL STEEL song(s) would you consider to be your favourite(s)? Why?
Bobby : I like all of the stuff, because it came from the heart. The new ideas are fresh. Scott : To Kill A King sticks with me, but they are all fun to play.
And for those still unaware of the band, how would you describe MEDIEVAL STEEL's style? How do you feel that the band has changed, musically, over the years?
Bobby : I think it's unique. I don't feel that the band has changed, but I do think that it has matured in writing and sound. Chris : I hope that it can't be described, because we don't want to sound like anyone else.
What's the most memorable MEDIEVAL STEEL live moment that you can share with us, both positive & negative? And which other band(s) made an everlasting impression on you? Why?
Scott : There was a show that we did on Halloween in 1988; that was a great night for the band and the fans. Another moment that I remember was playing an outdoor show in 1987, and it was about 108 degrees, so I started getting sick from the heat, and next thing I knew I had fallen off the stage and was looking up at the guys onstage. We never figured out what really happened. I like TNT a lot, as well as the classics.
What was so special about that 1988 Halloween show?
Chris : It was a packed house that was out of control, and everything that we did as a band was flawless, and magic. We played some covers to keep things light, and unleashed some new material on them that night that they will never forget. We still have people come up to us and speak of those songs and that show.
Once the new release will be out, do you intend to start performing live and tour again as well? What about Europe?
Bobby : I will love it when it happens. Chris : I played overseas before, and it is such a rush. Scott : MEDIEVAL STEEL is a band that feeds off of the energy of a crazed heavy metal crowd. I do look forward to that. I hope it happens.
So Chris, which band did you play overseas with? When was that? What made it so special?
Chris : CAMPAIGN was the name, and it was in 1990. It was my first trip overseas, and I enjoyed the fans and all the nice people that I met. Visiting Stonehenge was a definite highlight, as well as a handful of other sights. Europe has a nice feel to it, and the soccer is better. I look forward to getting back over there.
I suppose that most interest in the band comes from Europe these days? What was it like back in the mid/late 1980's? Was there more interest from your home country back then, or what? And how does it feel to be regarded as a cult band over here in Europe?
Bobby : It's strange, because metal is non-existing where we are. In the 1980's rock was strong here, but we were too heavy for this area. Scott : I've often wondered if overseas would be the only ones to catch up on what we have been trying to do. I think that it's great that people love music that Bobby and I have written.
Have you been playing any MEDIEVAL STEEL shows in recent months/years?
Scott : No, we have not played any big shows in years, but we always seem to get together and jam, one way or the other. Here in Memphis, there is not a big call for heavy metal.
By the way, have you been offered to play any of the European (German) summer festivals for this year, or the next? I suppose that you would be interested in doing that, bearing in mind that you have a huge fanbase over here?
Scott : Yes, we have been contacted about live shows overseas, but no time or place have been locked in. The cost for us to come over with some basic equipment would be a lot. If one of the outdoor festivals did lock up a live show with MEDIEVAL STEEL we would want to book more shows around it. We would like to do a couple of weeks tour, if possible. Germany, Greece, etc. The band would love to see all the fans that have waited so long to see a live show or two.
Anything you'd like to add? Be my guest ...
Scott : I just want to say thanks for keeping MEDIEVAL STEEL music alive, and check out our webpage at : www.medievalsteel.net. Bobby : Thanks man. I hope to see you guys soon, and remember : 'THERE WAS A TIME LONG AGO, WHEN MEN FOUGHT FOR STEEL.'
Recent news : the band is still working on a deal with Unisound Records from Greece. As far as the line-up goes, bassist Steve Crocker has been replaced by the band's original guitarist Chuck Jones! Chuck played guitar on the E.P. but changed to bass after that. Actually, he did play bass for MEDIEVAL STEEL back in 1986 as well.