Guitarist Mike Alvord about his Black Widow and Holy Terror years
Back in the middle of the 80’s, when Thrash Metal became the leading force of the underground, millions of bands started popping up. One of the most gifted, unique outfits of that era was Holy Terror for sure. Unfortunately the band fell apart after two albums, when former singer Keith Deen has passed away in 2012, but guitarist Mike Alvord was always in the business. In this interview, he speaks about his new outfit Mindwars.
Mike, at which point did you find interest in metal and how did you end up becoming a musician?
Believe it or not, my introduction to metal started when I was in the 2nd grade. I must have been 7 or 8 years old. My dad worked in the computer business, but fortunately instead of working for someone like IBM or some computer company, he worked for Capitol Records and then Warner Electra Asylum. While working at Capitol Records, he got my sister and couisins tickets to see The Beatles at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. When I was in the second grade, he brought home Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies and I was corrupted from an early age. I am not sure why he brought this home, but that was the begininng of my metal interest.
My sister is 10 years older than me and she loved The Beatles and all the other 60’s and early 70’s rock bands. Her boyfriend was a huge Zeppelin fan and I remember going over his house listening to The Song Remains the Same. By the time I was in the 5th grade, probably 11 years old, I discovered KISS. This was the game changer for me. In addition to music I loved baseball. When my sister and her boyfriend took me to see KISS in 1977 on the Alive II Tour, I knew that is what I wanted to do. I stopped playing baseball and started playing guitar.
What were your early faves, influences to start with? Were you self-taught?
As I mentioned in the previous question, my early influences and favorites were bands like Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin, and KISS. I also was introduced to Deep Purple and Black Sabbath around the same time and this is the core music that influenced me. My parents were very supportive of my playing guitar and I took lessons when I was 12 for about a year. I wasn’t interested in music theory or how to read music. I just wanted to learn songs. I think the first song my guitar teacher taught me was Don’t Stop by Fleetwood Mac. After about a year, I started learning songs on my own and stopped taking lessons. I was also friends with Jack Schwartz. He was the original drummer for Dark Angel and then Holy Terror. We played together quite a bit at his house. We played songs from all the classic rock bands. By the time I was 14 years old, another good friend of mine and I started refining our interests and began listening to heavier bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Rainbow, UFO and Scorpions. My musical direction was being shaped. One of the bands we both loved was UFO and when I heard Michael Schenker I was blown away. My two biggest guitar influences were Jimmy Page and Michael Schenker.
Were you into the underground scene or did you prefer established, known, popular acts?
This is an interesting question, because what may have been considered underground versus popular back when I was young have a completely different meaning now. Around the time British Steel came out, my friend Ron Cerro and I were more interested in Priest’s older albums like Sad Wings of Destiny and Sin After Sin. We were young, but we would thumb our nose at people who only liked the popular songs. We did this same thing with Scorpions. We took pride in lovely old Scorpions with Uli Roth. So, while these and other bands were or were becoming popular, we tended to like the older works from these and other bands. It was also around this time where I heard about the NWOBHM movement. So, to specifically answer your question, I guess I tended to like more underground music, but much of the so called underground movement music I liked came from bands that went on to be huge mainstream bands.
What do you recall of the early 80’s (1981/1982) L. A. scene, when a lot of bands were popping up and tried to make a name for themselves, such as Slayer, Metallica, Armored Saint, Dark Angel, Vermin, Sceptre, Abattoir, Savage Grace etc.?
I turned 16 in 1980 and this really was the golden era of what you are referring to as 80’s metal. Being able to drive, several friends and I would spend hours at a local record store called Moby Disc. They had a large used record section and had all the local and UK magazines. We would spend hours thumbing through Kerrang!, Circus, and Cream as well as other magazines. We would either grab a used LP or new, depending on how much money we had and then would head home to spin the entire album. This is and another independent record store called Oz Records is where we found out about bands like Saxon, Tygers of Pan Tang, Angel Witch and others. I’ll get back to Oz Records later. There was also a great venue to watch both local and bands from Europe. The place was called The Reseda Country Club. I remember seeing bands like Pandimonium, Cirith Ungol, Bitch, and many others at this club. Thrusday nights were $3US Thursdays and all the local bands would play. I don’t remember the years, but I saw Metallica, Raven, MSG, Uli Roth, Armored Saint, Motorhead, and many, many more at this club. It was a hot spot for bands in the 80’s. I didn’t hear about Slayer until a few years later, I think around 1983 and wasn’t a big fan at first.
I do have an interesting story about Dark Angel though. I think I was 15 or 16 at the time Jack Schwartz joined DA. As I said before, Jack and I were childhood friends. Jimmy Durkin, Don Doty, and probably Rob Yahn used to rehearse at Jack’s home, which was down the street from where I lived. I was actually a member of DA for about two weeks. Maybe longer, but it was a very short time. I remember playing We Have Arrived, Merciless Death, and Welcome to the Slaughter House. Jack and I were living in the San Fernando Valley and the rest of the guys lived in Downey. When they decided to move their rehearsals to Downey, I was left behind. I don’t think you can consider me an actual former member but we did rehearse quite a bit together.
In your opinion, were they overshadowed by the glam/hair (W.A.S.P., Mötley Crüe, Ratt etc.) outfits?
This is an understatement. There was a huge glam/hair band movement happening in Hollywood around this time. I even saw Mötley Crüe, W.A.S.P., and Ratt at the Reseda Country Club. These bands soon started drawing much larger crowds. The reason? Because all the girls liked them. So, anyone with a grilfriend would go to their shows, because that is where they wanted to go. Also, the guys without girlfriends would go to these shows too because they wanted to be where all the girls were going. So, the Speed/Thrash Metal movement was in competition for sure. When trying to place local shows, many of the clubs would require bands to buy tickets and sell them. Well, for a young kid like me, it was expensive to pay $50 and try to sell tickets. For the glam/hair bands, their crowds were getting larger and larger and it was very easy for them to sell 30-50 tickets. I remember when Holy Terror was on tour with D.R.I. and Kreator and bumping into the band Jet Boy or Warrant or some hair band. They were getting gas at the same place we were fueling up. They had a big tour bus and we were pilled in a small motorhome. I’m pretty sure we were playing similar sized places, but the record companies were throwing a lot more money at these bands.
Was Black Widow the very first band that you got involved with or did you have any earlier experiences as musician?
As I previously mentioned, I played with Jack Schwartz quite a bit and other friends, but Black Widow was the first band I was in where we played original material. The other bands I was in were cover bands. I also previously mentioned Oz Records, well, this is where I met Brian Slagel. He worked at Oz Records. My friends and I would hang out and talk with Brian. He really knew his music and introduced us to the whole metal scene in the UK, including NWOBHM.
Black Widow appeared on the 3. volume of the Metal Massacre series along with the likes of Slayer, Bitch, Tyrant, Sexist, Medusa, Warlord, Marauder and LA Mort. Do you still remember how you got the chance performing on that compilation?
I was here I found out about Metal Massacre and Metallica. I don’t think I knew that Brian founded Metal Blade at this time. Brian to me was just the metal guy at Oz Records. I’ll get back to Metal Massacre in a bit. As we got to know Brian Slagel more, we found out about Metal Blade and by the time Metal Massacre II came out, he asked me if I was in a band. I told him about Black Widow and also said we didn’t have a singer. He said it didn’t matter we could record an instrumental song. I remember my dad going down to the studio with us, because we were all under 18 years old. He had to co-sign the contract with us. This was my first time in the studio and this is also when I met the mighty Bill Metoyer. He was the studio engineer. The song was terrible and we got horrible reviews. But hey, I was a kid on the same album as Slayer!
Did you record any demos/rehearsals with Black Widow? How would you describe the band’s style?
So, Black Widow was an interesting band. It was formed by me and my friend Ron Cerro. My kid friend from middle school. The drummer and bass player were brothers, John and Dan Castellano. I think Dan was 13 or 14 years old at the time we formed. We didn’t have a singer. We started off playing cover songs. In fact I have an old cassette tape with us playing Victim of Changes by Judas Priest, Rock Brigade and Rock’s Off by Def Leppard, and I think Shellshock by Tank. Ron was beginning to get into punk, I was into the more heavier metal bands, and John and Dan really like Def Leppard and those types of bands. After we recorded the song for MMIII, Ron left the band. He wanted to play Punk Rock and not metal anymore. He went on to play in the bands Fatal Error and Naturecore. Ron and I would reconnect musically after Holy Terror.
So John, Dan, and I started looking for another guitarist. We also went through about 3 or 4 different singers. We played a bunch of local clubs in Hollywood and even my high school. The band still had different musical interests, but we managed to satisfy everyone’s needs. I wrote most of the material, so it definitely leaned more towards the heavier side. We did one demo with four songs, Black Widow (Speed Metal), Time to Love (Scorpions style metal), Action (AC/DC influenced), and Far Away (an acoustic guitar ballad). The singer at the time of the demo was quite a bit older than us. I think he was 24 or 25 and we were still 17 or so. In 1985, we decided to kick him out of the band and we started looking for another singer. This is around the time Holy Terror entered my life.
Then you joined Holy Terror. Would you say that all of the band members were experienced and had a name, when you got together?
In the summer of 1985, Black Widow was falling apart and at the same time, Jack Schwartz met Kurt Kilfelt. Jack had just left Dark Angel and Kurt just left Agent Steel. The two of them hooked up to put togerher a Speed/Thrash Metal band. Kurt also was friends with Floyd Flanary and the three of them started jamming this summer. Kurt initially wanted Juan Garcia, who also played guitar with Kurt in Agent Steel. Juan decided to stay with Agent Steel and Jack mentioned me to Kurt. I was quite a few years younger than everyone else, but I decided to jam with them. After our first jam, I knew this was the style of music I wanted to play. I went to a rehearsal with Black Widow and told the guys we either needed to play faster and heavier music, or I was going to quit. You can guess what happened. John and Dan wanted to go even more toward the style of Def Leppard in the Pyromania era. So, I joined what became Holy Terror.
So, you kind of have a good understanding of my background and experience. As far as the other guys, Kurt and Floyd had quite a bit more experience. Floyd was about 9 years older than me and I think Kurt was about 6 years older. Kurt came from Agent Steel and Floyd from Thrust. However, they both had quite a bit of experience playing clubs and bars in Top 40 bands. These were actual paying gigs, too. Where I lacked in experience, I made up for with enthusiasm. I also brought in a more punk element. Since my friend Ron was in and out of punk bands, I began to grow found of this sound and style. Kurt had the band name and all the songs for what would become Terror and Submission. I brought with me three songs. I played Kurt my song Black Widow from the demo as an introduction. He liked that it was fast, but didn’t care for the song. I also wrote a song called Lake of Fire and Tomorrow’s End. We played both songs live, but Lake of Fire got cut by the time we were ready to record the album. I don’t even know what happened to that song. The only memory of it is from a picture of an HT set list. I have no idea what the song even sounded like. I do remember loving the first Megadeth album Killing Is My Business… and listened to it a ton, so maybe it influenced me when I wrote it. Believe it or not, this is the only Megadeth album I own.
How would you sum up the band’s career as a whole? What are your best and worst memories with Holy Terror?
I have some of my foundest and worst memories when it comes to Holy Terror. Holy Terror was active as a five piece from around August 1985 until February 1989. It was a whirlwind. We recorded a demo after about six months after the band formed and then recorded Terror and Submission about six months later. We rehearsed about four nights a week for three or more hours a night. We all worked for a promotional company where we would glue movie and other entertainment posters to walls of construction sites. We managed to put up a few HT posters up, too….nothing like free promotion.We played a lot of local shows in the Los Angeles area, including a show with Megadeth at the Reseda Country Club. Our favorite place to play was the Anti-Club in Hollywood. It really suited our style and culture.
After we recorded T&S, Kurt met Ron Peterson. Ron was the manager of D.R.I.. He got us a show opening for D.R.I. in San Francisco. This show was actually an audition for us to tour with D.R.I. in Europe in 1987. This first Euro tour was some of my foundest memories. It was my first real tour and first time playing in Europe. The crowds were great and we had a blast. It really was a great experience personally and definitely for the band. We grew closer and our music became tighter and faster. It’s interesting because the ending of HT include some of the best and worst of times. By the end of 1988, Kurt and I grew apart. Kurt was heavily into drugs and it affected the band. However, in December of 1988, we got to open four shows for Motörhead. This might be my fondest memories. Playing on the same stage as Motörhead and meeting Lemmy was amazing. Not to mention the show at the Santa Monica Civic. It was a big show and many of my family and friends came out to see us. Lemmy dedicate Killed by Death to us, too. What an amazing time! The worst part of my time had to be when Kurt missed the second leg of our US tour with D.R.I. in 1988. He was strung out on drugs and we played about 30 shows without him. We were definitely a two guitar band and having to fill his shoes and cover my parts was brutal. It also drove a bid wedge between us and our friendship was severly damaged. I’ll explain the other worst moment in HT in the next answer.
What made them, except you and Keith Deen (R.I.P.) relocating to Seattle back in 1989?
In January of 1989, we were added to the Exodus and Nuclear Assault European Tour. This was the big break we were looking for. On the flight over, Kurt and I started to reconnect and we were focused on forgetting about the past and play our asses off on this tour. The tour started off a bit rocky. We missed our flight out of Los Angeles and ended up spending about 8 hours in London waiting for our transfer to Belgium. By the time we hit the stage in Belgium we were all pissed off. It was brilliant…the anger and sheer exhaustion made for a great show. We kicked ass and the tour was headed in the right direction.
Unfortunately, the wheels would fall off on this tour. After one of our shows, Keith was being interviewed and he mentioned that we had signed a long term record deal with an American label competitor of Music for Nations who put out T&S and MW in Europe and was supporting us on this tour. Well one thing lead to another and they were pissed we didn’t give them a chance to sign us after MW and they kicked us off the tour. Kurt ended up getting into a fight with the road manager. Well not sure you can call it a fight. Kurt socked the guy in the face and he fell backwards. He then grabbed a big piece of wood and he and a body guard started after Kurt. The band, sound guy, and roadies jumped in the van and we sped off. We ended up at a German pizza restaurant and I decided to leave the tour. The sound guy and one roadie joined me. When I told the other members of the band, Kurt said if I leave it was for good. By this time, after everything that had happened I was ready to leave the band.
When Kurt, Floyd, Joe, and Keith returned to the US, they tried to continue as a four piece. They played at least one show, maybe two, but that was it. Kurt’s girlfriend who was pregnant moved to Seattle where Kurt’s family lived and soon after him, Joe, and Floyd followed. I was out of the band, so that is why I didn’t follow. As for Keith, I think he was tired of all the bullshit. Plus he had a long term girlfriend who ended up being his wife wasn’t interested in leaving LA, so he stayed behind, too.
Kurt Kilfelt reformed the band in Washington circa in 2005, but the band has split-up again since then. What happened?
Kurt, Floyd and Joe tried to carry on as HT when they relocated to Seattle, but soon switched styles and changed their name to Shark Chum and played Punk Rock. After playing in several bands after Shark Chum, Kurt decided to reform HT. He and I had reconnected through a guy by the name of Scott Lambert. Scott is a huge HT fan and is the one who created www.holyterrorspeedmetal.com and has continued being the webmaster for this site. He got Kurt and I to reconnect through e-mail. At the time Kurt was thinking about reforming HT, I was still in Los Angeles, Keith was in Las Vegas, and Floyd relocated to Denver, CO. Kurt and Joe were playing with Jeff Matz who was the bassist for High on Fire and they found Matt Fox to play guitar along side Kurt. They found a singer by the name of Aaron Redbird. I believe they only played one show in Seattle and then disbanded. I sent Kurt an e-mail asking about the show and he said it wasn’t great and that is all I heard.
(to be continued)