Sex, Drugs, & Awesome Hair

The glamtacular history of 1980s heavy metal in the Twin Cities

In 1985, the Minnesota Music Awards created a Heavy Metal category. Its first nominees were Dare Force, Obsession, and Hüsker Dü. MTV was there at the black-tie event at the Carlton Celebrity Room in Bloomington—mostly to capture Prince's predictable sweep for Purple Rain.

Obsession went home as the best metal band. One year later, they would eschew metal altogether, change their name to Funhouse, and eventually cut their hair.

IN 1986 Slave Raider, a new band in town and a frequent warm-up act for Obsession, was nominated in each of the heavy metal categories: Best New Band, Best Original Band, and Best Band. Hüsker Dü was nominated with Soul Asylum for Best Garage Band. Limited Warranty (the Midwest's answer to Duran Duran) and the Jets (a sibling R&B act who enjoyed marginal national success and then fell into bankruptcy) were nominated generously. The event was broadcast live on KTWA, channel 23.


See more photos in our GALLERY of 1980s metal promo stills from the Twin Cities and our SLIDESHOW of modern hair metal heroes Hairball.

For more on the bands featured here, including video, read Jeff Severns Guntzel's REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK. Plus, revisit the past with scanned ADVERTISEMENTS from City Pages era archives.

Chainsaw Caine and his posse—the Rock on drums, Leticia Rae on bass, Nikki Wicked and Lance Sabin on guitar—took the nominations as evidence that what they had prophesied with their self-released debut, Take the World by Storm, was manifesting, if only in a small slice of the world called Minnesota.

Chainsaw wore a reflective pirate patch, a top hat, and tails. Rae wore a torn prom dress. Sabin wore a trench coat. Wicked and the Rock wore tattered shirts. The band had splattered its entire wardrobe with acrylic paint. "We were going for a Road Warrior look," Sabin remembers, sitting in the offices of his Institute for Production and Recording with shoulder-length hair and a lavender sports coat, "only colorful."

The band took their seats next to the members of Soul Asylum. Sabin was seated next to Dave Pirner. After tying with Hüsker Dü in the voting for Best Garage Band, Pirner came back to his seat holding the award and itching for a smoke. There was no ashtray. "So he just knocked his award against the floor and broke it in half," Sabin remembers, "and what was left was a perfect ashtray. I shrugged my shoulders and lit up a smoke." The pair shared the tray.

That night Slave Raider won in all three metal categories, cementing Slave Raider as the boss of the local metal scene. "Dare Force was about to break up and Obsession had just peaked," Bart remembers. "And Slave Raider came along and broke all the records."

Most significantly, they broke a losing streak in Twin Cities metal: They won a recording contract. Jive records, a subsidiary of RCA, had no metal bands on its roster when it signed Slave Raider. That roster was packed tight with lucrative fluff: Flock of Seagulls, Billy Ocean, Samantha Fox. An executive with the label, living in London, wanted to start a metal wing of RCA. Slave Raider were to be the trailblazers.

The band was invited on a trip to London to make another record and play a headlining show at the legendary Marquee Club.

Their entrance on the Marquee stage—the chainsaw, the light show, the frenzied crowd—was a triumphant moment. But triumph was not the theme of the visit. The band arrived in London to find that their guy at Jive had quit. The band had no ally left in the company. "Really," Sabin says now, "signing that record contract was the death of the band."

THE UNSEEN HAND in Twin Cities metal was the talent agencies. There were a half-dozen of them. The Good Music Agency, or GMA, worked with Findling to assemble Slave Raider, but there were always tensions with the agency. The band insists it developed its image organically, but GMA built an entire development wing claiming it could do for metal bands what it had done for Slave Raider. Findling has a good relationship with the band's GMA agent to this day. Sabin has nothing but venom: "They were whores."

The agencies had a lock on the big clubs in town. They would sell packages to the clubs—if the Payne Reliever wanted a Slave Raider show, they'd have to take three other, lesser-known bands as well. And the lesser-known bands, by the mid-'80s, were everywhere. Most of them were cover bands, and the agencies wanted them that way. For bands looking to showcase their originals, it was tough going. Drummer Brian Reidinger started a band called Axis in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in 1981. The Twin Cities, he says, was a sort of epicenter for bands like his. "All we wanted was to play Ryan's and Mr. Nibs."

Today Reidinger runs In the Groove Music in downtown Minneapolis, a publishing company and recording studio where a team of engineers and musicians make music for the advertising industry and television networks. He came to town in the early '80s and met with a talent agent at Alpha Entertainment. "The guy handed me a list of songs we'd have to learn if we were going to play in the clubs here," he says. Billy Ocean's "Caribbean Queen" was on the list. "But we're a hard-rock band!" Reidinger protested. The agent shot back: These are the songs people want to hear. When they hear these songs they want to dance. When they dance they get thirsty. When they get thirsty they buy drinks.

« Previous Page
Next Page »