Members of Warhead tell their story
The 90’s New York scene became well known of its hardcore and thrash metal bands – not forgetting forerunners, such as Riot, Kiss, Twisted Sister –, but there were a few acts, that were taking part in the tapetrading, but unfortunately never managed to go further and were fading in the obscurity, like Deathslayer, Frigid Bitch or Warhead. Latter band released a compilation last year so the gentlemen, guitarist Tom Innamorato, drummer Mike Gallino and bassist Neil Benderman were kind enough to share their thoughts about the band.
So guys, how did the whole Warhead story start exactly? How did you get together?
Neil Benderman: I was introduced to Tom by a co-worker, while I was working at a New York city music store.
Mike Gallino: Tom Innamorato (guitarist) put the band together. He and I had played in another band previously. The three of us played together for a bit and then an advertisement was placed for a vocalist, and that’s how Ron Simmons joined the group. The four of us were the original lineup for Warhead.
Tom Innamorato: I was part of a Judas Priest/Iron Maiden copy band called Kingdom, easily the best Priest copy band (think the movie Rock Star) only Ripper Owens had nothing on Jay Amon! (Ask Twisted Sister), they frequented our shows! So Mike Gallino filled in for our drummer one night, that’s how I met Mike, he was the fastest double bass drummer I ever heard! I met Neil at Sam Ash part of the world renowned guitar row in Manhattan. I’m not sure where we first played together but shortly after we rented a room in the Queens music building and started writing songs as a trio, we started auditioning singers and found Ron through a tri state music publication and this is how Warhead was formed.
Was the line up Tom Innamorato on guitars, Ron Simmons on vocals, Mike Gallino on drums and Neil Benderman on bass right from the start?
N. B.: Yes, that was the only Warhead lineup.
M. G.: We all had jobs, and we practiced/played four to five nights a week at some points, but we were out in clubs like L’Armour, Februarys, Hammerheads and Cheers as much as possible.
Were all of you deeply involved in the underground scene those times? Was Warhead the very first band for all of you or did you perhaps play in other oufits prior to Warhead?
N. B.: I was very involved in the scene, I played in many bands before Warhead.
M. G.: You would have to ask each guy, but I think everyone played in other bands before and after Warhead. Personally, I played in a few cover bands, then some original bands including Corruptus, Warhead, Barb Wire, The Hunger and After Burn. I’m currently playing in a band called Freebird.
Being based in New York, what do you recall of the late 70’s/early 80’s scene?
N. B.: Yes, the scene was growing, it was a great time, everything was new.
M. G.: I don’t know that we were specifically influenced by NY bands. Although there have been so many great bands out of NY. I’m a fan of all of them, but our music was maybe closest in the genre with Anthrax and Overkill who were contemporaries.
T. I.: The 80’s in the New York metal scene revolved around Lamour rock clubs in Brooklyn and Queens and it was great to have been a part of that era. The local acts never really made an impression on me, my influences were Hendrix, Sabbath, UFO, MSG, Accept, Priest, Maiden among others and mainly we were developing our own songs alongside our neighbors Anthrax and Metallica on the same floor in the Queens music building.
How did it begin to start with? Were Kiss, Twisted Sister, Riot etc. the very first acts, that emerged from New York?
N. B.: Kiss was very popular. I grew up in Queens NY, that’s where Kiss originated. They sort of got the fire burning in me.
Did they have a great influence on bands, that were formed later on, such as Manowar, Overkill, The Rods, Cities, Anthrax, Warhead, Deathslayer, Fallen Angel etc.?
N .B.: Speaking for myself, I feel my influences came from the forefathers, for me it was Black Sabbath, Motorhead and AC/DC.
Who came up with the moniker Warhead? Did you choose it on the base of the Venom song or…?N. B.: LOL, I happened to be a huge Venom fan. No it had nothing to do with Venom, it just came about. The Cold War was going on at that time, talk of different types of Warheads were the talk of the evening News.
M. G.: I’m not sure who came up with the name Warhead. We did eventually learn that there were one or two other bands with the same name. At the time, we couldn’t research the name on the internet. In fact, there were/are numerous bands called Warhead, and there was actually another Warhead out of New York. Years later, I had heard that this band was often mistaken for us.
T. I.: We came up with the name Warhead with regards to the power of our songs and named ourselves after nuclear missiles to go along with our stage set, we wore camouflage and had camo netting and sandbags, dummy munitions stacked against our amp stacks.
Were you aware of the existence of the Columbia based (South Carolina) act with the same name? They were active from 1981 to 1987…
N. B.: Never heard of them.
Did you take the band seriously?
N. B.: Warhead was our lives, we rehearsed 7 days a week, we wrote new material daily. We truly loved what we were doing.
M. G.: Warhead was very serious, maybe too serious.
T. I.: We took ourselves very seriously, since we had every premiere Indy label offering us contracts including Johnny Z, Roadrunner, Combat, Shrapnel etc.,
How did you opt for that heavy/power style, that you started to play with? Which bands would you name of your biggest influences?
N. B.: It was the style that just came out of us, we combined all of our influences, we needed to play fast, hard and loud. We created our own sound.
M. G.: I like most types of music. Growing up I listened to and learned from a lot of different drummers. My favorites were John Bonham, Simon Phillips, Les Binks, and Neil Peart. There are so many incredibly talented people playing today. I’m a big Danny Carey fan. Warhead was an all original, hard-driving, heavy metal band from start to finish.
How about your rehearsals? Were you playing mostly covers or did you start writing own material right from the start?N. B.: The very first night we played together we wrote „Whore”. Warhead has never played a cover song as a band.
M. G.: We practiced in the Queens music building down the hall from Anthrax and next door to Metallica. Metallica moved out of the building on the same day we moved in.
T. I.: We were an original band from the get go and Ron put vocals to the songs with very little arrangement needed.
Your first (and unfortunately the last) material was the Demo 1984. Do you still remember how were the songs written for it, how was it recorded, how did it sound like etc.?
N. B.: We were writing new songs constantly, we had so many ideas, we practiced to perfection. Finally, when we felt we were ready, we went in to the studio to record.
M. G.: I know tracks from the 1984 demo have been copied on other recordings. There was a recording from the show with Lee Aaron floating around which was recently released in limited edition. Some of the guys from the band are discussing the possibility of recording in the future.
T. I.: We recorded the demo at a Long Island studio called Bolognese. We were by no means top notch studio musicians, the same can be said about many other metal bands at that time but the rhythms mostly first takes were bombastic and as soon as we laid down the rhythms the owner who was blown away (a friend of Dee Snider) called him to see if he would sing back up!
How do you explain, that the songwriting, performance, and atmosphere were all so incredibly strong on the tape?
N. B.: I think as a band, Warhead just jelled, we had great chemistry together. And of course a lot of practice.
M. G.: If I remember correctly we worked collaboratively at songwriting. For example, Tom or Neil would come up with a riff and play it for the rest of us at practice. I would add the beat. We would each offer suggestions and critiques until we came up with something everyone felt good about. We didn’t really focus too much on lyrics until Ron joined the group. Some people refer to some of our songs as speed metal, but Warhead was doing speed metal before it had a name at least in our corner of the world. Performing, for me, was always and still is about having fun, and it was a lot of fun until it wasn’t.
T. I.: I was always trying to come up with the heaviest riffs or progression of chords I could, while keeping the arrangement melodic or musical, the purpose of the demo was to shop to labels for a deal, we agreed to release.
Were there definitely touches of speed metal thrown in the songs? Was the riffing catchy, but dark and powerful?
N. B.: Absolutely! Playing fast was our style, we were just trying to sound like us, not like any thing we’ve heard.
Was this material spread around in the tapetrading circuit? Did you try to make a name for the band with this demo?
N. B.: We only recently heard that our tapes were being sold/traded underground, our demo was to be the first EP.
M. G.: Someone, I can’t remember the guy’s name paid forrecording the demo so it didn’t really belong to us. I heard it was passed around and eventually landed on the desk of a guy called Johnny Z. I only knew about one record contract offer. The business end got convoluted and that’s when things turned sour. Recently, I heard there had been several record contract offers, but I don’t know if that’s accurate.
The track Whore appeared both on the New York Metal-84 (Rockcity, 1984) and on the 12 Commandments in Metal (Roadrunner Records, 1985) compilations. Didn’t you think about to record a brandnew song to these compilations or to publish a previously unreleased one?
N. B.: Doing the compilation’s wasn’t really our thing. We wanted our own album.
T. I.: „Whore” on NY Metal ’84, but the 12 Commandments was a surprise and probably came about from Roadrunner’s immense interest in us after meeting with the CEO in his Manhattan office.
In your opinion, did these compilations help the group to increase a fanbase or getting new fans, to draw the fans attention to the band?
N. B.: Yes, it still stands up today. the reviews we got from NY Metal ’84 jump started our career.
M. G.: We thought the demo had increased interest at the time, but we had no idea that people in other parts of the world had heard and liked it. I was contacted by a gentleman named Laurent Ramadier of Snakepit magazine a year or so ago. He had questions about the band and indicated there had been interest over the years. I answered his questions as best I could, provided music, pictures and contact information for Neil then Neil put him in contact with Tom.
Did you start working on a second demo or on a record at this point? Did you have any newer songs written?
N. B.: We were building a catalog of songs, almost enough for two albums at this point.
M. G.: There are a few songs that were never recorded. Neil expressed some interest in getting back in a studio. We played live shows opening for TT Quick, Ratt and Lee Aaron. The recording of Warhead live from the show with Lee Aaron was recently released in limited edition.
How about your live shows? Did you manage to headline or were you mostly opening act for bigger names?
N. B.: We were doing the opening act thing, playing the bigger venues was important to us, it really got our name out there.
During the mid 80’s a lot of fast, brutal bands were popping up from New York, such as Nuclear Assault, Caligula, Deathrash, Deathcorps etc. What were your views on this movement?
N. B.: Most of that stuff came after us. We were so focused on what we were doing.
A burgeoning scene was also in New Jersey (Whiplash, The Beast, Gargoyle, Revenant, Ripping Corpse, Blessed Death etc.), was it chained to the New York one or was it totally independent from it?
N. B.: Not really sure, we rehearsed so much, we just shut everything else out at that time, we wanted to stay true to our sound. I didn’t know what was going on in the other side of the river.
How do you mean, that it’s such a pity that a band like Warhead having a good grip on songs in their stuff generally, never joined the group of album-recording artists back in the day?
N. B.: It is a pity , we got so close to doing it, it should have happened for us. We still struggle with this.
When and why did the band’s story come to an end? What have all of you done after the demise of Warhead?
N. B.: We started to have internal issues. Ron left, we tried to hold it together as a trio, until one day we called it quits, it was tough for all of us, we put everything we had into that band. I stopped playing bass for many years after that.
T. I.: From the demo I had five contractual offers from the premiere Indy labels and the owner of Lamour/manager of White Lion wanting to manage us. It was at this time that a problem arose between us and Ron which forced us to look for a replacement singer, that singer was Schmoulik Avigal (Picture/Horizon) from Holland. This and the thought of getting a major label record deal led to the demise of Warhead, which all happened within months!
Were Warhead criminally overlooked back in the day? What did lack become bigger, more well known or more popular in your opinion?
N. B.: I don’t feel we were overlooked, there was so much outside interest in the band, people were hungry for us. Poor management led to our demise.
M. G.: We started out as friends having fun, but we were very serious and committed to the music. At some point, the business, egos and emotions got in the way. Everyone started moving in different directions. Tom took the role of leader of the band and, in my opinion, he let that and some advice from „industry snakes” get in his head. Ron was tired of commuting from Pennsylvania to New York, and he wanted to move toward more commercial music so he left the band. In an attempt to find a replacement vocalist, Tom and Neil auditioned a singer who wanted to remain in a band with his drummer. When I learned this was being considered, I chose to leave next. Neil felt badly about how things were handled and decided to leave as well. I really don’t think anyone was having fun any longer.
How about your early bandmates these days? Are you still friends and/or in touch with them?
N. B.: We were recently brought back together. I feel Laurent from Snakepit had everything to do with it.
M. G.: Warhead was only together for a short amount of time less than two years. It would be fair to say things didn’t exactly end amicably, but Neil and I kept in contact for a while and then drifted. It was the renewed interest that brought us back in communication with one another. We were pretty young and each of us moved on, grew up and made our own way. I’m married almost 30 years to my wife, Amy. We have two grown sons, and D.J. I retired this past January as a Captain with the FDNY providing more than 25 years of service at numerous fires and other dangerous events including both World Trade Center bombings. I’m still playing the drums, and I’ve had and continue to have a great life.
Last year Cult Metal Classics released a compilation album, limited to 500 copies. How did it happen? Were all Warhead members involved in the project? Was it done only for the diehard collectors?
N. B.: Manos from Cult Metal Classics reached out to us with his vision for the project, Tom, Mike and myself were involved. Again I’d like to thank Laurent for bringing this all together.
T. I.: Cult Metal Classics came about through meeting Laurent Ram who contacted me through Facebook and did a feature on Warhead in Snakepit mag and introduced me to CMC.
Do you still follow what’s going on in the metal underground? How much did the scene develope/change compared to the 80’s?
N. B.: I still listen to the same bands I listened to in the 80’s. I try to keep up with new bands, I will always love this music.
M. G.: In the 80’s, the music was raw and powerful. Today everything is technically precise but still powerful. I’m a fan of bands like Lamb Of God, Godsmack, Tool and Three Days Grace, but I also still love Maiden and Priest.
Guys, thanks a lot for your answers! Anything to add, that I forgot to cover or to mention?
N. B.: Thank you for remembering us and reigniting our music. The good news I have is, Warhead is currently working on new material. Thanks to people like you, Laurent and Manos for keeping alive.
M. G.: It’s very gratifying to learn that people are interested in Warhead after all this time. Please contact me by e-mail at email@example.com if you have any additional questions. Thank you!