tarted by showman Blackie Lawless (Real Name: Steven Duren; ex-New York Dolls; guitar/vocals), Chris Holmes (guitar), Randy Piper (guitar) and Tony Richards (drummer), W.A.S.P. quickly became known for their outrageous live shows featuring them dressed in skin-tight leather outfits, throwing raw meat at the audience and, once, whipping a (presumably consenting) naked woman bound to a torture rack. Even their name, an acronym for "We Are Sexual Perverts", was taken just to make sure you got the message.
In late 1982, their first gig was at The Woodstock near L.A., and by May 1983, they were able to sell out the then 3000 seated Santa Monica Civic Hall. Momentum continued with a number of sold out gigs at the Troubadour.
Late in 1983, Iron Maiden manager Rod Smallwood went to see the band. He was so impressed with the music and outrageous live performances that he decided to get involved. 'Capitol Records' wasted no time in fitting them for vinyl by quickly snatching them out of the L.A. club scene; they instantly became a US national concert draw. This appeal in the band was further accented when 'Capitol' refused at last minute to release what would have been their debut 1984 single, Animal (Fuck Like A Beast), even if it was to be released in Europe only in a plain black package,on legal advise fearing the controversy, so the band offered it to independent label 'Music For Nations' who rammed it into hit status worldwide with its original packaging; to this day it's a valued collector's item. 'Capitol', instead, launched their debut album shortly later (missing this track), W.A.S.P. (1984). W.A.S.P. (originally to be called Winged Assasins) was a fair debut as albums go, but it lacked Animal in more ways then one. What it did feature, however, was two hit tracks L.O.V.E. Machine and the all-time teen anthem, much in the style of Kiss or Twisted Sister, I Wanna Be Somebody, A track simultaneously released as a single.
Stephen Riley (ex-Keel) took over the drum stool for their sophomore effort, Last Command (1985), when Richards decided to leave just prior to their British tour. A brilliant example of the power of heavy metal, Last Command was an album full of power and suggestive lyrics. The album was more refined and contained a collection of great tracks including Wild Child, Blind In Texas, Last Command, and the highly controversial Ball Crusher, a song considered as sadomasochistic by the ultra-political right.
Inside The Electric Circus (1986) was much the same. It also featured the debut of bassist Johnny Rod (ex-King Kobra), with Lawless replacing Piper on rhythm guitar as well as maintaining his vocal duties. The album also sported covers of Uriah Heep's Easy Livin' and Ashford & Simpson's Don't Need No Doctor. The live shows, although toned down somewhat, still gave the audience an eyeful, while their costumes got even more grandiose, now even sporting circular saw blades (or flame throwing versions) and exploding codpieces.
Before the start of the subsequent British support tour, W.A.S.P. flew into London a few days early to appear live at the Town and Country Club for a BBC2 special called Rock Around The Clock. Their usual grand finale with Lawless' codpiece exploding in a shower of sparks was deemed to be unsuitable and was not filmed. Also around this time there were bomb threats at arenas were W.A.S.P. were playing and Lawless had his life threatened by gunshots.
In 1987 W.A.S.P. were listed fifth on the bill of the Castle Donington, Monsters Of Rock festival in the U.K, headlined by Bon Jovi. Their act included the return of the "Torture Routine". The week before the festival, their Scream Until You Like It, the theme tune to the horror movie Ghouls 2 was released.
Live...In The Raw (1987) followed as a competent live album but it also lacked sufficient Animal, as well as the track, which was a staple in their live repertoire and remained unreleased on the album. This album was followed up in February 1988 with 'Music For Nations' following up the original Animal... release with a live version.
By this time, W.A.S.P. was a huge target for the American PMRC special interest, which was on a bent to "clean up" the recording industry and cited W.A.S.P., along with many others, as the worst offenders. This did not go unnoticed by Lawless who successfully fired back at the special interest group when they used W.A.S.P. material during government hearings to enforce their point; he sued them for improper use of copyrighted material and won! It didn't stop the PMRC, but kept them off his back for a while.
Frankie Banali (ex-Quiet Riot) replaced Riley, who switched allegiances to join L.A. Guns for The Headless Children (1989), despite it not being in the "old-school" flavour the W.A.S.P. fans had grown used to, was the most successful album W.A.S.P. would generate, and it took a much more serious attitude towards the world; it's vivid socio-political and anti-drug imagery, both live and in the lyrics, gave it a more haunting and cerebral feel. Ken Hensley (ex-Uriah Heep/ex-Black Foot) guessed on keyboards, while Holmes would leave shortly after the following tour; evidence as to why was seen by his state of drunkenness in Penelope Spheeris' documentary movie The Decline And Fall Of Western Civilization Pt. II: The Metal Years. Other than the title track, the album generated some other songs of note, including a cover of the Who's Real Me and a remarkable old-W.A.S.P. styled, but nonetheless ridiculous, Rebel In The F.D.G. (Fucking Decadent Generation). The resulting British leg of the supporting tour saw W.A.S.P. with Zed Yago.
Now without Holmes and Banalli, Lawless would release The Chrimson Idol (1992), a Who influenced concept album augmented by session musicians, with the line-up of Johnny Rod (guitar), Bob Kulick (guitar), Doug Blair (guitar) and Stet Howland (drums) for the follow-up tour. Lawless would go solo after the final W.A.S.P. album, a retrospective compilation, First Blood...Last Cuts (1993). Rod was back in the show for the subsequent tour including the Castle Donington festival with Iron Maiden headlining.
Now with the act briefly split, Lawless desired to try a solo career but soon after reformed the act under the name Blackie Lawless And W.A.S.P., but the name would soon revert back to just W.A.S.P. soon after when it was realized that the fans and music written were more interested in the W.A.S.P. moniker. His virtual solo effort Still Not Black Enough (1995) on 'Castle' would be the only example of this period.
W.A.S.P. then signed a new deal with 'CMC International' with Lawless hiring back the returning Holmes, Howland and adding Mike Duda on bass with the inclusion of most notably Mark Josephson for violin parts for Kill, Fuck, Die(1997). The band then toured and their stage show returned to the outrageous by including a scene involving the raping of a nun and the cutting up of a pig. At that time W.A.S.P. was still a going concern, they were state-of-the-art and controversial but would soon after pale in comparison to today's artistic antics.
The line-up (sans Josephson) would be stable through Double Live Assassins (2CD live; 1998), Helldorado (1999), Best Of The Beast (2000) "best of..." with extra bonus tracks, and The Sting (live; 2000). Unholy Terror (2001), an album on social, religious and political hypocrisy that would see them on the 'Metal-is' label and the debut of Darrell Roberts (guitar) would follow. More recently, however, the on-again-off-again affair with guitarist Chris Holmes has proven to finally be off, with Darrell Roberts replacing him in time for the release of Dying For The World (2002), a release that also saw Frankie Banali take over from Howland and was inspired by letters sent by troops during the first Gulf War. Since 9/11 and the stories of how Wild Child and Fuck Like A Beast were hits on the battlefield in the past Gulf War, it seemed time for a new batch of battle songs. But there were still some drum tracks left over from Howland's time and they also got used on the follow-up album, The Neon God Part 1 - The Rise (2004) and The Neon God Part 2 - The Demise. Also in 2004, drummer Stet Howland returned to the fold for tour dates.
Early 2006 saw that seemingly stable lineup fall apart. Long-time session and tour drummer Stet Howland left first (on amicable terms); Larry Howe of Vicious Rumors was considered as a replacement. In May, the departures continued with guitarist Darrell Roberts, leaving to join the band Five Finger Death Punch, and new guitar player Mark Zavon was brought in several days before the first tour date. However, to confuse the issue, the same press release confirmed Mike Dupke -- and not Howe -- would be the new drummer. Two days later, Zavon was out, with Doug Blair step in on guitar.
A new album, Dominator was planned for release in October 2006, but ended off being delayed until April 2007 with the band recording two news songs and dropping two cover songs, to be used instead as bonus tracks.
Now with a new label, 'Demolition Records', W.A.S.P. released their 2009 album, Babylon. Golgotha (2015) and ReIdolized (The Soundtrack to the Crimson Idol) (2018) followed on the 'Napalm' label.
Footnote: W.A.S.P.'s powerhouse has been Blackie Lawless himself who was born in 1956 as Steven Duren in Staten Island, New York. When he was young he hung out with Ace Freley of Kiss fame. But the man that would become Blackie was a bit of a rebel, at the age of 13, Blackie was stabbed in a fight and a year later was sent to Military School to learn discipline. After 18 months of a two-year sentence he was thrown out after beating up a Sergeant Major.
Blackie was nine when he got his first guitar and in that same year he earned all of $16.35 in his first band, The Underside. At 16 he played with an east coast band called Black Rabbit, followed by Orfax Rainbow. But his first hit of true fame came when he joined New York Dolls at age 18 when a singing vacancy came up with the departure of Johnny Thundersves. After only 6 months it became clear that the 'Dolls were on their way out and Blackie, with fellow N.Y. Dolls bassist Arthur Kane, decided to leave New York and head to L.A. to form a band called Killer Kane and release a 33 ½ EP including the tracks Mr. Cool on Side 1, 'Long Haired Woman' and 'Don't Need You' on Side 2 all under his new stage name Blackie Gooseman. But this act eventually split when Kane decided to go back to New York.
In 1977, Blackie and Randy Piper joined together to form a band called Sister; Sister where one of the first groups in L.A. to experiment with occult symbolism and face make up. It is also believed that Nikki Sixx (Motley Crue) also played in the band for a while. During his tenure with Sister, Blackie met up with Chris Holmes. While browsing through the Beaver Hunt section of Hustler magazine, Blackie spotted the ex-US Marine and decided to contact him. But the late 1970s were a bad time for heavy metal and Sister failed to generate record company interest.Other bands that Blackie had played in around this time were Circus Circus and London.
Blackie and Randy stayed in contact and in 1982, when Blackie felt that he had good enough material to form a new band he contacted Randy. Chris and Tony Richards were also added to the line up. The band also dabbled with bassist Don Costa for a while before he joined Ozzy. W.A.S.P. was then formed and the rest is history.
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|City||Los Angeles, California|
|Active Years||1982-1992, 1995-|
|RRCA File Code||REV00003|
Artists mentioned in this article:
|Twisted Sister||Quiet Riot||King Kobra|