Earlier in the month, The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced their 2021 list of nominees. Among the illustrious group of artists was heavy metal favorite; Iron Maiden! It was a long-overdue recognition for the band as they are arguably one of the world’s biggest metal bands, selling over 100 million albums worldwide during their 40+ year career.
Back in the late 70s, Iron Maiden was the brainchild of founding member and bassist Steve Harris. His drive, determination, and songwriting skills helped propel the band to superstardom and light the fuse for the musical movement called the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Cutting their teeth in the bars and pub in England with various line-ups, the band released their debut metal masterpiece in 1980. This self-titled album contained eight powerfully raw metal songs with punk attitude and ethos.
The line-up for their seminal album included Steve Harris [bass], Dave Murray [guitar], Paul Di’Anno [vocals], Dennis Stratton [guitar]and Clive Burr [drums]. With the band’s evolution came member changes over the 40 years, but the magic of that initial line-up and sound they captured will be remembered long after we are all gone.
In 1979 guitarist, Dennis Stratton joined the band not only for his tremendous guitar playing abilities but to help forge the band’s unique sound by adding the intricate nuances and harmonies, which gave these powerful songs depth and dimension. Together they recorded the first album then toured much of the world in 1980, supporting Judas Priest and KISS. Unfortunately, Dennis departed from the line-up before releasing the band’s second album, “Killers.” Dennis’s musical career did not stop there. He went on form Lionheart in 1984, and after the band broke up in 1986, they reunited in 2016 and have released two new albums. Their most recent album, “The Reality of Miracles,” was released July 2020 to critical acclaim due to the song’s melodically powerful nature.
Correspondent Robert Cavuoto spoke with Dennis about the release of Iron Maiden’s debut LP, what he brought to the band’s music, the importance of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nomination, and why Iron Maiden fans should vote and vote often!
Podcast: Download (Duration: 34:49 — 80.0MB)
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Congratulations on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nomination for Iron Maiden. How does it feel to be nominated?
It’s a fantastic boost for me! I first heard about it from Christian, who does all our Lionheart‘s graphics and artwork. He sent me a link when the news first came out. I looked at it and saw my name on there and just sat there for an hour or so, thinking about how nice it was to be included. The last 40 years have been a rough ride for me, being left out of receiving something like 70 gold discs from around the world for that first Iron Maiden album. It went gold in so many countries, and I missed out on never receiving the awards because I didn’t have anyone from the Maiden office representing me. So it was just so nice to see my name with the rest of them, and I’m very proud! It would be great to get a Hall of Fame nomination in print so I can put it on my wall to show my grandchildren!
With the nomination and potential induction, do you think you will have a better chance to get them?
No, I have tried so many times. When I was in America, I tried talking with Sony EMI, and they didn’t want to know about it. I spent 15 years going back-and-forth trying to get them. When I was in Japan with the band Praying Mantis, my record company contacted Sony EMI, and they didn’t have any luck as well! I have three, which I feel I was very lucky to get. I think they were moving offices at the time in London and were going to be thrown out [laughing]. I was lucky to get those, but it’s such a shame not to have them from all the countries, especially from Europe, Australia, and America. They are really good things to hold on to and show your grandchildren. After 40 years, for this to come along was a big bonus to me, and I’m very proud of it.
The first Iron Maiden LP is considered one of the most influential metal albums of our time. When you were recording it, were you aware of just how revolutionary it would be to heavy metal?
Not at all! In 1979 when they signed the deal with EMI in London, they transformed from a pub band to a big band overnight! There were only three guys in the band; Steve, Dave, and Paul. When I went down to meet them, they were missing a drummer and second guitarist. Going into the band, I was given the “Soundhouse Tapes.” I had always been involved with harmony guitar bands like I am now with Lionheart and Praying Mantis. Joining Maiden, I helped transform the sound of the band quite dramatically. Dave and I sat down to run through a few things, and then I was left alone to put down my stamp on their songs prior to recording the first album. I was basically given free rein to put harmonies where I thought it would make it more interesting. It seemed to work, and it still works for them today with three guitarists doing all the harmonies. As far as knowing what the album was going to do, it was nowhere near what we were thinking. At the time, we were in a rush as we needed to finish the Metal for Muthas tour we were on, finish the album for EMI, and then go out with Judas Priest.
Did you play with the band in pubs prior to recording the album in order to get familiar with the songs?
We rehearsed at Hollywood Studios, where I took Clive because they didn’t have a drummer. Once the line-up was complete, we could start rehearsing properly as we had been rehearsing without a drummer at the time. We were basically ran through a set of songs that they played live for many years, which included the songs that were going to be picked for the first album. They had enough songs for the first and second albums! We rehearsed that set and then went out straight on tour for Metal for Muthas. There were no pubs involved. They weren’t massive shows, like 600 to 800 seat venues. They were nice size to get our feet wet. It was surprising how loud Maiden was. I have been on tours before with my previous band Remus Down Boulevard all over Scandinavia with Status Quo. It was a good apprenticeship working with big bands like Quo, who was very loud, but not that wall of sound with Maiden; it was a massive sound. So, we went straight on tour and never did any pubs.
How many songs from Killers were written while you were with the band?
I can’t remember all the songs. When we were doing headline shows in 1979 for Metals for Muthas, we played for about an hour and twenty minutes. They had been playing the pubs and clubs around the late 70s, and they had an hour and a half worth of songs. “Killers” wasn’t in the set because we wrote that while I was in the band. A lot of the stuff that was being played live was part of their hour and a half set. Steve knew out of those 17 or 18 songs which 9 or 10 songs would be on the first album because he wrote them. Those were the ones we were polishing up in the studio. In the studio, we concentrated on those 9 or 10 songs that went on the first album just to get them ready in pre-production so we could go in and record the album very quickly. At the same time, I was still learning their whole set of 17 or 18 songs when we played live, including the harmony guitar parts.
Did you ever bring any song ideas or demos to the band during your time with them?
Oh yeah. Steve was always looking to hear any ideas that we came up with. Once I learned the hour and a half set, our feet never touched the ground! We were on the Metal for Muthas tour, then recorded the first album, then back out to finish the Metal for Muthas tour, then out with Judas Priest plus a few shows on our own. After that, we went out with KISS. It wasn’t until we got out on tour with KISS that we started to pencil down a list of songs for the “Killers” album. That’s when the song “Killers” came into the set when opening for Judas Priest and KISS. We didn’t know it at the time, but “Killers” was going to be the title track of the album. We never got the time to sit in a rehearsal room when you are out touring nonstop.
You and Dave Murray had a unique chemistry that spawned a generation of guitarists and bands. Was that chemistry evident when you started playing together?
Maiden was always a one guitar band. They may have had a rhythm guitarist at times, but Dave was always the soloist. There were never any harmony guitars in Maiden. I grew up on Wishbone Ash and bands like that. In my previous band, I always had harmony guitars, and when I first went into Maiden, I spoke with Dave and Steve about it and tried to explain what that meant to the songs. You have to try to be careful not to lose the rawness and power away from the songs yet make them sound sweet with the harmony guitars. Dave never worked with another guitarist, so when he and I would sit down in the rehearsal room, I was really impressed as he would flow with it. I think it was something new that he picked up on it as well. It was more interesting than having one guitar. The next job was the make the songs sound bigger and wider yet still powerful and punky. It was to give the songs more dimension.
With the last few Maiden records, the band has been incorporating more progressive elements into their music, possibly because they have three guitarists who can execute more of those intricate harmony parts accurately on stage. This is something you were at the forefront of bringing to the band in 1979.
I’m proud to say that it was me that took the style of playing into Maiden, and they kept it. Because I did all the pre-production for “Killers,” you will notice when Adrian Smith came in to record the album; there is a lot of my playing style with the harmonies, which Adrian had to learn. Then he recorded the album. After that, I started to listen to their other albums as they ventured on through their career, so when they added the third guitarist, they kept the harmony style going all the way through to now. It’s a big plus for me as it was my idea that started it with the band. In the mid-70s, the band I was in Remus Down Boulevard, we were always doing harmony guitars. It was the Stones, Thin Lizzy, in the early 70s, but it there was another band in the late 60s, which most people never heard of started it. Then it was Wishbone Ash. We had the harmony guitars down to a “T” from the beginning. Then other bands started using.
Iron Maiden opened for KISS in 1980. KISS’ sound was changing considerably to being more pop or radio-friendly. What do you recall about the audience’s response to Maiden as you were such a heavy support band?
I can’t say much about KISS going to the more commercial sound. All I remember from 1980 was how shocked I was to see so many Iron Maiden fans in Europe due to all the fans wearing our shirts. It was summer, and we traveled through Italy and all over Europe playing football stadiums; we would see fans outside the stadium standing in the sunshine or on the grass having picnics wearing Iron Maiden shirts. That was mainly one of the reasons why KISS did not want us to support them in the UK. We had too many fans [laughing]. We stayed in Italy those ten days while they were in the UK with a different support act. It wasn’t like we were the underdogs. We held our own. By the number of T-shirts you saw outside the venues, you knew the audience was 60/40 for KISS, and sometimes it may have been 50/50.
Tell me about the comradery while you were in the band. Who were you closest to at the time?
I brought Clive into the band as I knew him for many years before Maiden. I suppose he was the closest friend to me. It was strange because with my old band Remus Down Boulevard we grew up together, so we were like pals or brothers. With Maiden, I got the feeling this was a business. I didn’t know Dave or Steve very well before I met them. Steve and Dave used to come down to the Brick House in East London to watch me play, but that was before I know who they were or before I joined. I’m someone who likes excitement and variety, so I would sometimes travel with the road crew, and Dave Lights became my closest friend as we would share hotel rooms while on tour. I was also friends with the guitar and drum techs. Those were the three people I was probably the closest with. I had more laughs with the crew than the band [laughing].
Are you still in contact with any of the members of Iron Maiden?
I speak to Steve all the time and have done so ever since. We are both West End Supporters, so I talk to him regularly, sometimes once a day, sometimes once a week, and it’s mostly about West End football. I see him at shows. When he was working with British Lion, I would go down to see him play in the UK and meet up for a beer. I don’t really see any of them anymore; it’s only Steve.
I met Steve a few times through the years, and he is genuinely a nice guy to his fans.
He has always been that way. Like I always say, “He is the bloke next door.”
You are currently in Lionheart, and Steve has a sideband, British Lion. Is that a coincidence with the names or perhaps something you and he spoke about as back in the day of having bands with the words Lion in them?
I don’t think so. The guys from British Lion are good friends of mine. Grahame Leslie, the guitarist, lives on the east coast of the UK. I never knew that Steve managed them back then. He was trying to get them up the ladder in the early days. He has always liked the band and their songs. I think it was only a matter of time when Maiden got big, and he got some time off; he would do an album with them. He can’t sit at home during the break, so it was only a matter of time before he would get the band back together and started rehearsing.
Lionheart released “The Reality of Miracles” in July. It’s melodic metal at its best while still having a cinematic aspect. Tell me about that approach to songwriting?
That style of music is what I have always liked best, even before and after Maiden. With Lionheart, we love American bands like Journey, Foreigner, Toto, Kansas, and REO Speedwagon. We love their big harmony vocal and guitars. In 1984 Lionheart went to Los Angeles to record our first album “Hot Tonight” and had Kevin Beamish, who produced REO Speedwagon produce our album. That was the sound we were looking for even then. If you listen to any of the stuff we had written, whether Lionheart or Praying Mantis, it all has the same feel with the vocal harmonies and harmony guitars. Listening to that style of music after all those years, it comes across in your songwriting. When Lionheart got back together a few years ago, it was one of the things that we started writing, and it came automatically. We wanted to keep it rock but not too heavy. It has a melodic rock sort of sound. We don’t do it purposely; it just comes naturally to us.
There seems to be a lot of religious connotations from the cover artwork, to the album title, to the song’s titles, and some of the lyrics. Was that intentional?
No, funny enough, before the album was being released, I was asked to do so many interviews, particularly from America. I was asked this question a hell of a lot. It seems that way, but it’s not. We wrote the music and put a guide vocal down. Lee Small [vocals]took it over to work on the lyrics as he is a great songwriter. When he put down “Thine Is the Kingdom,” we asked him if it was about anything religious. He told us it was about New York! If you read the words, he is talking about the games in New York. With the big backing vocal sound by the three of us, it becomes the dominant part of the song and sounds religious. The lyrical verses are all about New York [laughing]. None of that was an intention of being religious. When Steve Mann [guitar/keyboards] was working on the song, “Planet Earth,” and Lee took it over to work on the lyrics for the verses, the speaking part was done long before the COVID virus, at least by a year. It’s a really strange coincidence. It has a lot to say about how we are as a planet!
The spread of the virus seems to be slowing down, are there any touring plans or festivals for Lionheart in 2021?
When COVID started in 2020, it was the 40th anniversary of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and we were booked all over the world. I was also booked all over to do the Iron Maiden’s 40th anniversary of the first album. The whole year was canceled. Come forward a year, we were emailing with our management in Germany on Metalville Records, and they explained to us that last year killed the business completely! They are trying to recreate it to get it back. There is no light at the end of the tunnel at the moment. The vaccine will take another 6-9 months then you will be coming to the end of the summer. You don’t know if the pubs and clubs will open, let alone have music. Our management said they are pulling their hair out as they don’t know what will be the next steps for the bigger shows and tours. It’s impossible to say whether or not we will be able to work this year. There are shows and tours being booked by other artists, but we really don’t know.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I know this is a big thing for me, and there are a lot of Maiden fans who have been listening to Bruce Dickinson‘s comments on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. All I want to say is to please vote. To some people, the Hall of Fame may not mean much, but from this boy here, being nominated and included in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would mean the world to me! Please vote and make me very happy.
To vote for Iron Maiden, click here.