Monday, June 24, 2013

Heavy Metal: A conversation with Don Jamieson of "That Metal Show"

Being a fan of heavy metal means being part of the heavy metal family. As a Metalhead for more than 30 years, I've heard this from many people in many different cities. We may not know each other personally, but we share a similar set of values. Heavy metal fans tend to be extremely loyal, dedicated, and passionate people. They're not concerned about what's popular or trendy. In fact, long hair and black t-shirts have been the uniform of heavy metal since it first appeared sometime in the 1970s (exactly when and by whom is of some debate). Metal fans are authentic, and their interest in the music transcends time and shuns fads. And we know bullshit when we see it. That's not to say we always agree. No family ever agrees on everything. "Metal" comes in many varieties, including but not limited to classic metal, hair metal, doom metal, progressive metal, European metal, speed metal, black metal, and death metal. Even some of those sub-genres have blurred and morphed over the years. But at its core, metal is about power, vitality, and an uncompromising attitude. Metal doesn't give a fuck what you think about it.

I recently spoke with one of heavy metal's most prominent ambassadors, Don Jamieson. It only took a few minutes for me to appreciate his love of heavy metal. Don's childhood in New Jersey was all about the three M's: malls, mullets, and metal. Many of us who grew up with metal in the 1980s and 1990s—even outside of the Garden State—can relate to that sentiment. Don is an incredibly humble individual, the salt of the earth. He loves what he does and he makes no apologies for it. Jamieson has a soft spot for 80s hair metal (he's practically neighbors with Sebastian Bach, the lead singer of Skid Row from 1987 to 1996) but his tastes in metal go far beyond that. He loves the early heavy bands such as Black Sabbath and Judas Priest as well as the titans of thrash like Metallica and Megadeth. Don is as comfortable talking about 1980s Ratt as he is the 1990s stoner rock scene of Red Bank, New Jersey, which spawned bands like Monster Magnet and the Atomic Bitchwax.

From his website:
"Don started his career as one of the young and talented comedy minds at MTV helping to launch the careers of comics like Jon Stewart, Kevin James, Pauly Shore (sorry) and Tom Green, but unbeknownst to many, Don was spending his nights on the local comedy scene developing his own comic style…Amongst his many accomplishments, comedian Don Jamieson's proudest moment is becoming an Emmy Award-Winner for his work on HBO's Inside the NFL. Don and long-time comedy partner, Jim Florentine, lent their brand of humor to the popular sports show; writing, producing and performing sports-themed comedy sketches."

Today, Don Jamieson is the co-host of VH1 Classic's That Metal Show along with Eddie Trunk and Jim Florentine. The website says that, "…the program is a round-table talk show where legends of rock hang out and discuss their past and current projects in front of a live studio audience full of metal maniacs." In addition, "…Rolling Stone Magazine just dubbed That Metal Show one of the 50 Best Reasons to Watch TV!" Don also tours the country doing his honest style of stand-up, and has become the first comedian signed to Metal Blade Records for his debut comedy album, Live and Hilarious.


For those living in northeast Ohio, you can see Don's live act this week. He will be performing at Vosh in Lakewood on Wednesday, June 26th, and at the Cleveland Improv Thursday, June 27th through June 30th.

Now it's time dig out your Tawny Kitaen poster, crack a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon, and rewind side one of that Shout at the Devil cassette as I talk metal with Don Jamieson.


Let's talk New Jersey. Were you around the stoner rock/Red Bank scene at the time bands like Monster Magnet and The Atomic Bitchwax were playing?

Yeah, and they're still around which is really cool, just in different versions now. The current drummer for Monster Magnet and Bitchwax, Bob Pantella, lives a few blocks from me in my little town here in New Jersey. So he and I hang out often and have a few adult beverages now and again.

Very cool. Those bands were a big influence on me [J. is the lead singer of Cleveland's Threefold Law] and it's really cool you're still in touch with those guys.

Absolutely. Dave Wyndorf lives in New Jersey. I've seen him at the grocery store before. So we got a small metal world here in the central part of Jersey.

My buddy, JJ, a bit further north, runs a blog called The Obelisk. He does a great job of promoting the New Jersey music scene.

Yeah, it's still a good music scene here in Jersey. I lived in Manhattan for 15 years and obviously the New York scene, for the longest time, was incredible. But they started to shut down all the rock clubs the last few years I lived there. It was really disconcerting because it was like, if we can't rock in New York City, where can we rock? So it's funny, but at this point New Jersey has a better music scene.

I definitely believe it because I lived there through most of the 1990s. What was it like to be on the same stage as Metallica at the Orion Festival?

This whole journey—with everything that's going on with That Metal Show, around every corner—I'm just amazed. It's like, I'm just a kid from New Jersey, I like to tell dirty jokes, have a few laughs, and hang out with my friends, and here I am standing on the side of the stage watching Metallica play. I never would have dreamt of this when I was driving around New Jersey with my mullet, trying to pick up girls in the mall, and buying Metallica albums. It's incredible that all these years later I'm part of their lives and they're part of mine.

If heavy metal didn't exist, what flag would you be flying? If it were not heavy metal, what type of music would you have been driving around listening to?

Growing up in New Jersey was all about the 3 M's: malls, mullets, and metal. So you basically had to listen to metal, have a mullet, and hang out at the mall, which I did all the time. Now people think of Jersey as TTL. But back then when I grew up it, was MMM, and so I lived by that code strictly and still do to this day.

Can we do a quick version of "Put it on the Table"?

Yeah, let's do it. I like that you're pulling out a new segment. Very good.

If you weren't on That Metal Show, what other talk show would you be on?

I'd be on my other television show, Beer Money, on SNY here in the New York/New Jersey area. I do a sports trivia show here because I'm a big sports fan. So that's where you'd find me. Where you still will find me.

You're in Cleveland, right?

Yes. That's where I live now.

They have their own version of Beer Money out there and I do the one in New York on the Mets Channel, SNY, out here. You guys have a chick with really big boobs and they have a silly man with sideburns. So I think you guys win on that one, but I got nothing but love.

Right. Boobs trump sideburns. Sorry, man.

Always.

What's your one vice?

Beer. That's about it. I'm not a real extreme guy except for my taste in music. That's my one vice, beer. It's getting close. As soon as we're done, it's going to be about that time.

What's something you did that neither Trunk nor Florentine know about?

We're like three best buddies. We tell each other everything. Something I did...boy, I don't know. I'd have to really think about that one. Probably something crazy in L.A. that I didn't tell them. The first couple years we did the show in L.A. I was getting around a bit. It wouldn't be so much what I did, but who I did.

Fair enough. I'm not going to push any further on that.

That's alright. I'm settled down with my girlfriend. So that stuff's all good. I'm a domesticated Metalhead now.

Let's talk about mullets and hair. I was watching That Metal Show with my wife and she was like, "What happened to all the hair? I thought metal was about black shirts and long hair? I don't see much." I was like, "You know what? I'm going to ask Don that question." What happened to the heavy metal uniformthe long hair, the black shirts?

If you hang out in Jersey, if you go to the Stone Pony or Dingbatz up in Clifton, you're still going to see guys that are living in 1986. My buddy from college still has long hair, not quite as mulletty as it used to be but he still has the same look. I think he still wears the same jeans he had in college. They're still around. If you go to the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, you're still going to see those people. I love stuff like that. Bobby Blotzer from Ratt came and did our show, I mean that guy is still in 1987. I love it. That's commitment. He's still saying "Ratt-n-Roll". He's got the young girlfriend. He shows up in the stretch limo. He's wasted at eleven in the morning and he's still living the rock star life. And God bless him, man. That's a great way to live.

And that attitude is really different than another 80s guy like Vince Neil. I'm not passing judgment, but Vince Neil seems to be in a very different place than some of those other guys from the 80s. He's much more businesslike in his ventures, seems to have taken more lumps.

Well, Vince, he's lived a rock star life. Obviously he's gone through lots of tragedy. There are some guys who have had it better and hopefully they've calmed down over the years. That's the thing, man, when you love these artists—and I've been a Mötley Crüe fan since 1983—you want them to stick around.

Look at Rob Halford. He has said for a long time how messed up he was in the early 80s. He's a mellow guy now and we all think of him as basically our leader in heavy metal. And he's real smart and well put together. Yet, who knew all the troubles he went through? And he's been sober 25 years at this point. You either make that jump and start taking things seriously or you die. That's the bottom line. I'm thrilled to death that Priest is still making music today.

We forget that these rock stars are people like everybody else.

Yeah, exactly. For all the excesses and all that rock 'n' roll stuff, that's why you love your rock stars. But at some point, too, it becomes about the music, and when you're a fan of that band and that music, you want it to keep going. Especially if that band is still putting out good music after 35 or 40 years.

You're coming up to our neck of the woods, to Cleveland, Ohio, this week, beginning on the 26th of June. I was wondering if you could tell us a little about Live and Hilarious?

I did a comedy album on Metal Blade Records a couple years ago. Metal Blade is home of Slayer and King Diamond and lots of great metal like that. So obviously I'm very proud that I had a comedy album out on a metal label that I've loved since the very beginning. They're celebrating 30 years. They didn't crumble like all these major record companies. You know why? Because they weren't greedy. They said, "Hey! We're going to change with the times. If downloading is the way to go, then we're going to make sure our fans can get physical copies and they can download them, too." The big, old, dinosaur companies were just greedy. They still wanted $20 for a CD. Metal Blade never operated that way. They changed with the times. But most importantly, they put my album out. I was the first comedian ever signed to the label and we did great with the record. Thanks to the power of social media, my album hit the top 20 on iTunes, on the comedy iTunes chart, and the Top 10 on the comedy Billboard charts, which I do want to qualify: I'm very proud that I went to the Top 10 on Billboard's chart, but at the same time Louis C.K. had an album out called Hilarious and I suspect a lot of people downloaded my album, Live and Hilarious, thinking it was Louis'. And that's probably what got me in the Top 10. So for anybody who did that and thought they were getting Louis' album, I apologize. But thank you for giving me some time on the charts. I appreciate it.

What a fortunate alignment of the planets, the way that worked out for you?

And thank you to Louis also. Probably without his release I would not have cracked the Top 10.

Here in Cleveland, we have our own version of Metal BladeAuburn Recordsrun by long-time DJ and Metalhead, Bill Peters. It's got the same feel as Metal Blade. It's a family operation.

I know Bill!

Excellent guy. And he didn't get greedy either. He was all about the metal and about promoting the bands he loves, and he still does to this day. So thankful for those kinds of guys…

Yeah, that's the thing. We're a very close, tight-knit community. I think that's what's appealing about our fan base—everyone feels very connected. There's a lot of music you're going to tune through your radio while you're driving around during the day. You're not going to come across the type of songs we listen to. You're not going to tune into whatever the popular afternoon show is in Cleveland and hear Slayer, Raining Blood. That's just not going to happen. You know us Metalheads have to find our ways to listen to music and commune together—that's what we do.

Absolutely! I really appreciate you taking the time to talk and I don't want to cut in to your beer time tonight. Anything else you want to say before we finish up?

Well, I'd like to let people know the new season of That Metal Show is currently on the air and we're really proud of the new version of the show. The hook is still talking to the artists, but there are a lot of changes to the show, a lot of new segments. We hope to give the show new life. This Saturday is Rex Brown/Sebastian Bach. It's our 100th episode to date, so we're real proud to hit that milestone and hopefully we'll continue to do it [aired June 15th]. If you want to come out and see my stand-up, you can check out donjamieson.com—that's my website, and it's minutes of fun. You can also check me out on Twitter @realdonjamison. There you go.

I appreciate it, Don. Have a good one.

Thanks for the support, man.

Contact:

Official - http://www.donjamieson.com
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/donjamiesonofficial
Twitter - http://twitter.com/realdonjamieson
That Metal Show - http://www.vh1.com/shows/that_metal_show/series.jhtml

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