“We were fans first and musicians later”

Interview with ex-Necrophagia singer Eddie Santiago – Part 1

This time isn’t about the Ohio based band, but about a Los Angeles based one that was active during the mid 80’s, then renamed themselves Neckroholocaust. Two demos (Murder in the First Degree – 1985, It Began with a Twisted Dream – 1987) and an EP (Necrophagia – 1987) are attached to their name, had a lot of gigs in the L. A. area, but unfortunately nothing special happened with them. The entire story was told by former singer Eddie Santiago.

László Dávid: Ed, do you still remember, how and when did you discover heavy metal/hard rock in general? What was so impressive for you in this music style?

Eddie Santiago: I do remember what shifted the balance of power towards metal. It was AC/DC’s Back in Black, Motorhead’s Ace of Spades and No Life Till Hammersmith, Judas Priest’s British Steel and mostly Metallica’s No Life Till Leather demo and Armored Saints’ EP. Those were eternal game changers for me.

L. D.: Were you deeply involved in the tape trading/fanzine network that started those times?

E. S.: No, however I had friends who basically were doing the tape trading thing back when Lars from Metallica was doing it. They were the ones who would introduce me to acts such as Tygers of Pan Tang, Angel Witch, Savage, Jag Panzer and those types.

L. D.: Do you perhaps remember of Bob Nalbandian’s Headbanger fanzine?

E. S.: I remember the Zine however I wasn’t into that kind of metal for long. I got into the Metal Forces movement and Ron Quintana’s Metal Zine and a few other very obscure magazines that told me about Bathory and Hellhammer. That is what peaked my interest, the obscure incredible artist of that time. There is no comparison between the creative spirit of metal then as to now. Bands of today for the most part Suck Bad. Sorry but that is the truth.

L. D.: Being based in Los Angeles, what do you recall of the early 80’s L. A. scene when a lot of bands started popping up, such as Metallica, Slayer, Savage Grace, Shellshock (later known as Dark Angel), Malice, Medusa, Vermin, Abattoir, Armored Saint, Omen etc.?

E. S.: They rose like most bands rose back in the day, thru the underground and playing backyard parties and high schools and hole in the wall clubs. The first time I saw Slayer back in late 1983, they played in a club that had a capacity of about 175 people and they didn’t even headline. A horrible band by the name of Bitch with the female singer were the featured act. Needless to say Slayer demolished that place and as soon as their set was done? We left.

I saw Dark Angel at a backyard party, Armored Saint actually at that time were considered the sure thing and quickly signed on to a major label. They flopped big time as far as a major act but their records were good specially Delirious Nomad and Raising Fear. Metallica during their stint in LA received much flack and even bands now who played with them back then used to talk crap about them. How they couldn’t play their instruments and so forth.

You have to understand that during the early 80’s all of these underground bands felt they had to have an Yngwie, Randy, Eddie type shredder in their midst or else they couldn’t measure up. Metallica and Slayer showed all of them that you could start in the garage and be an Epic All Time Band if you just put in the hard work minus all the poser shit that most of the bands were doing at the time. Medusa sucked (horrible). Vermin? Terrible! Malice? That was an amazing group and they should have been signed to a major label! Sure they had the Judas Priest thing going on but somehow that did not matter. They had content and skill and they were believable (great band).

Omen was a fantastic group (one of the best underground bands that I ever heard and witnessed). Kenny Powell left Savage Grace to start this group and they blew away Savage Grace! Awesome songs and concepts and a great singer who unfortunately died way too young. Last but certainly not least was Abattoir. This band more than any during the early days of me transitioning into a thrasher was the band that embodied what I wanted my band to portray. They had a great image and logo and they just had this NWOBH sound that just sounded authentic and raw and real. They should have been huge and had a way better outcome then what bestowed them eventually. I and all the true thrashers of the day, who went to the Troubadour, Perkins Palace, The Ice House and Radio City bowed down to them and banged the crap out of our heads.

You see, we were fans first and musicians later! Only after we would go to all these shows and see how it was really done, would we have the template to not only have a foundation but to expand on. We respected those that came before us.

Eddie – today

L. D.: Would you say that the musical direction of Metallica and Slayer was energic, raw, fresh and new at that time? Did they have a kind of revolutionary approach and influenced a lot of bands later on?

E. S.: Absolutely. Contrary to what Lars Ulrich has said, LA had a large contingent of true thrashers. The problem was that major labels were signing all the Mötley Crüe’s and Ratt’s and W.A.S.P., Dokken, Poison, GNR. Some of these groups were awesome and they were influential in the infant stages of something rebellious however, once I saw Slayer live and heard the demo No Life till Leather and witnessed Abattoir and so forth, those bands for the most part became obsolete and in short time, adversaries and recipients of our hate towards mainstream and glam.

Slayer brought that Venom, Mercyful Fate, Motörhead, Bathory sound but they added the street element of LA and Dogtown, that suicidal approach that drove the fans to want to slam till death. Their shows brought out not only the rage in the fans but it was also street and hood and black and dangerous. Their shows in the early days were true bloodbaths.

Metallica’s rise was different in that they ascended so quickly. They filled that punk void in the Bay Area with their NWOBHM underground sound. Their very accessible street sound that transitioned all of those punk rockers that were left behind and gave them new underground heroes in which to follow. A band that brought that FU approach of rebellion but that also demanded your allegiance against anyone perceived to be a poser.

They were The Band in the Bay Area and they influenced an entire generation of kids and bands like Death Angel, Possessed, Legacy and especially Exodus. No one was doing what Metallica was doing at the time in the entire USA. They had two of the best guitar players/right handed strum masters on the planed in Hetfield and Mustaine. They were ferocious yet accessible. The greatest metal band to ever come out of the States! Even to this very day.

L. D.: Do you consider them as the forerunners/pioneers of thrash metal?

E. S.: Slayer and Metallica brought life to genres that did not exist in the USA. Both are still the two biggest influential bands of not only thrash but of death metal as well. True Hall of Fame artists and deserving of everything they worked for.

L. D.: What about the club scene and fanzines? Which clubs did start opening their doors for metalheads?

E. S.: Radio City in Anaheim, The Country Club in Reseda, The Troubadour in West Hollywood. Those were the main joints. Boyle Heights also featured some great venues as well such as The Paramount. Unfortunately all the other venues such as The Roxy, Gazzaris and the ilk catered to the Hot Woman of the Sunset Strip so you got a steady diet of glam bands. Thrashers were persona non grata in those establishments. That led to many fisticuffs on the Sunset Strip between thrashers and posers.

L. D.: Did you play in some local outfits prior to Necrophagia? What about your musical experiences as a whole?

E. S.: Necrophagia or forms of that band are all I have known other than a small stint with Robert Cardenas Band of that time known as Truth. I have always been the emergency bass player of Necro and I am also a decent harmonica enthusiast.

The cover of the band’s first and only demo

L. D.: Necrophagia was formed in the Spring of 1984, by you and Joey Gonzalez what was the very first line up of the band. How did you get together exactly?

E. S.: It all started for me when I decided that I needed to form a thrash metal band in Boyle Heights! Since there weren’t any bands whatsoever playing that style. Joey had temporarily joined a cover band who played songs from the Scorpions and Van Halen, stuff like that. I knew Joey was skillful plus he had all his equipment and was basically clay ready to be molded into whatever style I would offer him. He was a fast learner and to this day the best guitarist I ever played with. I convinced him to quit that group and start a band with me.

I came up with the name Necrophagia the following day and so we began to search for members who were also into that underground thrash metal approach. Joey somehow ran into Willie Mims and his brother Wally Blazer Mims. These two guys were also into the extreme metal that we loved and maybe even more advanced as far as their knowledge. Willie was a rarity in that he had a large new van and a killer drum kit so we wanted him to join our group badly. Even before we ever heard him play we wanted him in the band. He decided to join us but we also had to have his twin brother Blazer in the group. So we said yes.

Tom Mukai was already jamming with us on bass so he just continued to play with us even though he was never formally asked to join our band. Blazer Mims time with the band was short lived as he wasn’t very polished for the style that we wanted so, after a few practices and actually one gig with Blazer, he was asked to leave the band.

Ruben was an acquaintance of mine and I knew he was an excellent skilled axeman but I also knew that he knew nothing of true underground thrash metal. We asked him to join our band just for the mere fact that he had his own equipment and he could really play the hell out of a solo. That was the original lineup of the group that stood together for a couple of years.

L. D.: Was it hard to find the suitable members that were committed and enthusiastic?

E. S.: Yes! We were all so young. I was 14 years old when I started the group and Joey was 15 and Ruben was 16 as well as Tom. Willie was the elder statesman of the group and he was 20. Basically, anyone who was into the kind of music that we loved were already playing in groups. Also, being teenagers, you had that immature issue and the fact that we were all experimenting with alcohol and drugs. There were a ton of obstacles capturing the imagination of a potential new member living in the Hood’s of Boyle Heights and East LA. We were all poor and playing thrash metal during those days wasn’t exactly a money maker. Everyone wanted to hear and pay to hear the stoner bands playing Sabbath and Priest and those types.

L. D.: Did you take the band seriously right from the start?

E. S.: I was the driving force in the infant stages of the band. I was the one who not only booked the gigs but promoted them. I was the one who booked the studio and payed for the studio time in order to record our first demo Murder in the First Degree. Yes I was motivated for sure.

L. D.: Were you aware of the Ohio based band Necrophagia that were a death metal outfit? Didn’t you think about to change the band’s moniker?

E. S.: I was aware of them but I also felt that we would outlast them. Initially we did. When it began with a Twisted Dream came out, Killjoy’s outfit ended for a time. During that phase, we were the only Necrophagia around. I wasn’t threatened by their sound or anything. I felt we were way better and head to head we would kick their ass. I had zero doubt and I had zero intentions of changing the name. I felt that we were going to ascend to height that would dwarf them.

L. D.: What about the musical background of the other band members?

E. S.: The Mims brothers were messing around with a garage outfit named Massacre. They were actually the first band that I ever heard in this region that sounded like Hellhammer with a taste of Bathory. Groundbreaking for the time but it didn’t go anywhere. Tom had no back story and neither did Ruben. They were all just fresh faced kids willing to play anything rebellious and fast.

L. D.: At this point, so at the mid 80’s happened the great thrash metal boom and L. A. was a kind of citadel of thrash (power) metal with starting newer bands, such as Megadeth, Archenemy, Bloodcum, Bloodlust, FCDN Tormentor, Decapitation, Wargod, Necropolis, Death Force, Detente, Commander, Agent Steel, Evil Dead, Necrophilia, Majesty/Nausea, Terrorizer, Sadistic Intent etc. What kind of memories do you have from those times?

E. S.: Agent Steel was awesome, FCDN Tormentor was actually the first true grindcore band ever, they weren’t really thrash at all. Bloodlust, Wargod, Commander were just power metal bands and I wasn’t a very big fan of their sounds although the dudes from Bloodlust did practice for a while at the Necrophagia LA garage and we became better friends even though our styles weren’t similar at all. Sadistic Intent didn’t come to be until the late 80’s and we played a few shows with them. They were energetic for sure and dedicated.

Bloodcum, out of all the bands mentioned were probably the closest thing to true thrash even though they had that crossover appeal. They were actually one of the first true crossover bands that I ever heard. My memories are about the scene at that time that it was truly a dog fight every time you performed with any of these acts, like a true battle of the bands. Let’s see who can rule the stage if you will. That was a true competition and fun and it made you step up your game.

(to be continued)

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