Frank Russell tells about Lee Aaron’s Metal Queen album – Part I
In my opinion, Canada put a lot of unique bands on the map of the metal scene during the 80’s. A lot of cool outfits came from that country such as Anvil, Exciter, Razor, Sacrifice, Annihilator, Voivod etc., but they were overshadowed by the American ones and didn’t manage them to be big, but they reached a cult status. The Lee Aaron Band appeared at the early 80’s, they were one of the first female fronted metal bands those times. For 35 years ago the band’s second album Metal Queen was released, and session drummer Frank Russell gave me a lot of details considering my questions.
Frank, what kind of experiences did you have as musician, before you joined The Lee Aaron Band? What were the bands that you were involved in?
Well, before I was asked to join The Lee Aaron Band, I was playing in a couple of other bands. One of them at the time, was called Aquamoose (AQM), which was an all original progressive band I got together in 1979. We played a few gigs in Ontario and Quebec, here in Canada, but the players from Vancouver, decided they were homesick and went back to Vancouver, so unfortunately, though it was a really good band, and the music was really great and very different, it was short lived.
We recorded 4-5 songs on a spec deal I made with one of the engineers at Phase One in Toronto, the same studio that Metal Queen eventually was recorded in. I believe we also did some work at Metal Works studios in Mississauga. Before AQM, I played and recorded with Buzzsaw, formed with the original singer from Moxy, „Buzz Shearman”, with Robert Bulger on guitar and Bob Conolly on bass and keys. Robert was from the band Spirit Of Christmas and Bob and I had played in a band called Plateau in 74.
Buzzsaw was a hard rock band. A couple of the songs we wrote in Buzzsaw appear on Lee’s first album… The Lee Aaron Project… „Should Have Known” and „Texas Outlaw”. Buzzsaw was playing in 1978 and toward the end of 1978, I got a call from Buddy Cane in Moxy and was asked to join that band after being replaced in Buzzsaw. It was pretty crazy times in those days and I did a lot of what amounted to trouble shooting for several other bands before these. At the end of 1979, when AQM disbanded, I joined the Downchild Blues Band and recorded the We Deliver album and toured through Canada and the USA with them.
Do you still remember, how did you get in the picture exactly?
I remember Bob Conolly had called me, as he was managing Lee Aaron at that time, and asked me to come and audition for the band. He had hoped to get Gary MacKracken, one of the former drummers with Max Webster, but he (Gary) was busy doing something else at the time. I ended up getting the gig and had a couple of hours of rehearsal with the band before heading out on a cross Canada tour. While doing so we wrote the Metal Queen album, at least all the basic ideas for it and recorded it when we got back.
Were you meant to be only a session drummer right from the start or did you perhaps get an offer to join as a full time member?
I believe I originally was meant to be the full time drummer at the time, but, after returning from England having played the Reading Festival, Bob told me that I was too old and that my services were no longer needed and he had hired a younger guy and that was Attila, the drummer listed on the album jacket and pictured I believe. I was credited as only the studio drummer. All the drum tracks were recorded by me on the record though.
Were you familiar with The Lee Aaron Project record (released by Freedom Records)? Did you like it?
I was familiar with The Lee Aaron Project record because there were the two songs from the Buzzsaw band on it and I believe, if I recall correctly, Buzz appeared on it as well, to help with the promotion of it. I thought it was decent for a first album. She was still quite young at that time but was dedicated and a good person.
Was it a successful release those times?
As far as I know, I think it remained a rather obscure record at the time and I do not believe it sold many copies, but I can’t say for sure and have no numbers to know one way or the other.
On this album played a lot of musicians, among others guitarists John Albani and George Bernhardt, bassist Jack Meli; would you say that the line-up became stable, when you joined ’em?
I was familiar with John Albani because I knew him from the band Rabbit and knew he was an exceptional guitarist. As for George and Jack, it was the first time meeting them. I thought at the time that George was a very young and talented guitarist and his style played very well with Johns, as is evident on the Metal Queen record. Jack was a solid bass player and was not really a fancy technical player but was really good holding down the bottom end and was also a good guy. I like to think that when I joined them the overall sound became a bit more concrete so to speak and did in fact solidify the sound. After I left the band though I can’t say for sure, how long it remained with these players in the band.
What were your views on the Canadian scene at this point? How about bands such as Moxy, Triumph, Rush, Anvil, Rapid Tears, Exciter etc.?
The Canadian music scene at that time was actually quite healthy and there were all kinds of venues to play live music. Bands like Rush, Moxy and Triumph were arguably the top three at the time and were playing all the time. Anvil, oddly enough, was actually rehearsing in the same place Lee Aaron was rehearsing before we left on the cross Canada tour, which is where I met them, though they were a popular band back then also…and were probably the first heavy metal band that could be classed as such. They played a lot of gigs and travelled extensively and I didn’t see them too often because of it.
I still know the lead guitar players from Rapid Tears and Exciter, having played with Mike and Dave respectively in projects years later. Though as I mentioned I was playing a lot then also and did not keep a very good track of a lot of the bands as a result. I had moved out to Vancouver and then went to Las Vegas and was doing some recording there with different players on various projects.
The Lee Aaron Project LP sold well as an import in the U.K. and generated enough interest to warrant a trip over for a headline appearance at The Marquee (May 4th 1983), but it was unable to fly her Canadian band over, so she teamed up with U.K. group Sam Thunder and with less than 12 hours of rehearsal, garned rave reviews for her British debut. Were all of you aware of it?
As for the Marquee gig she did, I was not aware that the band did not make it over there, but the songs were such that good players could pick them up and play them pretty quickly. The fact that Sam Thunder could play them that good as to garner rave reviews is proof that the players were really good and were able to execute the songs well enough for that type of review. I was not at that time aware of the fact that Sam Thunder had backed her up over there and good on them for doing such a tremendous job. I’m sure, to this day that is without question, the biggest gig that I have played. I met some very cool players backstage and saw a unique formation of Black Sabbath which included Ian Gillian, of Deep Purple, Gezzer Butler, Tony Iommi and the biggest surprise for me, Bev Bevan from ELO on drums.
I played one of my favorite sets of drums which were Premier Drums and only had to adjust them very slightly. The crew had them set up quite wonderfully and they sounded just fabulous. The stage hands were all just amazing and very gracious. I can’t recall how many people attended the festival but I think it was some where between 80,000 and 100,000, which was the largest number of people that I had played for.
Extensive touring followed in Canada and USA and then she was invited back to the UK to play at the prestigious Reading Festival on August 27th 1983 together with Black Sabbath, Anvil, Magnum, Mama’s Boys, Heavy Pettin’ and Marillion among others and this show was filmed for Canadian TV. What do you recall of that particular gig?
If my memory serves me well, the band was coming back from touring Canada and we found out that we were invited over to England to play the Reading Festival. One of the writers from Kerrang Magazine had taken it upon himself to let us stay at his place for the duration of our visit.
I cannot recall his full name but his first name was Paul and was a really great guy for allowing us all to stay with him. The day of the show was the same as getting ready for any other gig other than the fact that the crowd was enormous and it was an outdoor thing, which I loved playing. There is just something about playing outside with a monster PA that really gets the blood moving. We had our own trailer to prep in and backstage was like a small city of great talent. I met several people that I had only read about in mags which for myself was just brilliant.
I walked up to sidestage and took a look at the kit I was to be playing and as it turned out, it was a set of Premier drums which happens to be one of my favorite kits to play. They were set up really good and I had very little adjusting to do. The stage crew were a great bunch of guys and very helpful. I did notice a camera man walking about the area and knew it was to be filmed so I had a good chuckle over that.
When it came time to start our set, we all walked out there and got ready for our opening number and then we all just started to play and get settled I. From what I remember, I had the best time back there banging away and everything was sounding bloody marvelous. The people were liking it a lot and I knew at that point what the Zep song The Ocean was really about. In short, it has to be the biggest audience that I have played to ever. The guys played really great and Lee was doing what she has done so great, fronting as she always had.
I thought the gig went very well. When it was finished we left the stage and Anvil was up after us. I went out front to where the sound boards were set up to watch them and to just check the view from there. It was rather well done indeed, with the massive delay towers and all and just a ton of people all having a great time. As I said though, that was quite some time ago and my memory isn’t the greatest on a good day.
The next day, I wanted to go back to the site to see some of the other bands play but none of them wanted to do that so, I went for an exploration ride on the tube and went to a pub or two to have a beer and something to eat. I ended up having a couple of pints and a burger with peanut butter sauce on it and it was just amazing. What a time and a special thanks to Paul for letting us stay the week at his place… I really wish I could remember his last name to thank him proper.
Did you finish the recordings, when you played at the Reading Festival?
By the time Lee was invited over to play the Reading Festival, the album was finished I believe and was in post production or had finished being mixed. We went over there and stayed with one of the guys from Kerrang Magazine, who I mentioned before.
(to be continued)