Ross ‘the Boss’ Friedman is among metal’s pioneers. A founder of Manowar, his vision for the band, powerful riffing and song writing helped shape the genre. As a producer he helped Anthrax get their big break, sitting behind the desk on their 1983 ‘Soldiers of Metal’ debut. Now with his own Ross the Boss band, he’s just released ‘Born of Fire’, an utterly uncompromising return to his Power Metal best. We sat down with Ross for a chat about fighting the world in the time of coronavirus, as well as all of the above. Into glory; Eamon O’Neill.
You’ve just released ‘Born of Fire’, and then COVID-19 hit; it must be a difficult time to have a new album coming out?
Yell, it came out March 6th, and it's really done well, and the public have really embraced the record and accepted it. I’m seeing a lot of really beautiful things said about it, so, what can we do?
The band’s tour was one of the first to be postponed in light of the virus; that must have broken your heart, not being able to go out on the road?
Yeah, we had our tour, it was all set up, and we should have been on tour right now with Burning Witches, who also have a brand new record out. It was going to be a great tour; the ticket sales were great, and everything was just headed for a really great month in Europe. And then it was just; "well, we’re going to have to postpone it". There was nothing else we could do.
It must be very strange for you to be sitting where you are, having to promote the album without being able to tour.
Yeah, but we’re reaching out and constantly updating our media, which never existed when I started. I guess it’s good that we can be in contact with our fans. But really, nothing replaces playing live.
The new album is the second one from the current incarnation of the Ross the Boss band.
Basically, it is except for the drummer. Our real tour drummer Steve Bolognese is on this record. Obviously we have a fantastic, amazing drummer. ‘By Blood Sworn’ was great, it was a good album, but this one is just in another class.
With a little more momentum behind you, is the band gelling more this time around?
Yes, that’s very good observation. We’ve been on tour for the previous two years, and we were really playing hard; a lot of work, a lot of festivals, a lot of shows, and it really made it bond the band together. The band is totally tight, and we believe in each other, and it really came across in the song writing for the new record.
Listening to the album, and the phrase that leaps to mind is ‘utterly uncompromising’, in that it’s hard hitting power metal.
Yep, and we really wanted it to be that way. We knew it with these songs, and we went louder, faster, harder and heavier. It wasn’t done on purpose; it was just the way it came out, it’s just the way we are, and we just wanted to make a statement saying; “welcome to our world!” I think what really separates those songs is the fact that we have metal hooks in every single one of those twelve songs.
One of those hooks is in ‘Maiden of Shadows’, which was the first video released, and it has quite a Celtic, Thin Lizzy type vibe.
Yes, it does, doesn’t it? Well, the guy that wrote that song is Stu Marshall, and he’s from my other metal band Death Dealer, and he’s Australian, but originally that song was called ‘King of Scots’, and Marc [Lopez, vocalist] rewrote the lyrics and changed it to ‘Maiden of Shadows’. But it definitely has that feel to it, there’s no doubt about it!
There are also elements of Groove Metal in the likes of ‘Fight the Fight’.
Yes. I was even going to dare say Nu Metal, because I’m not very familiar with all the categories. It’s metal, and they call it Power Metal, and they say I invented it with Joey [DeMaio], but I’m thinking that it’s just a kick ass record.
The album comes adorned in a glorious sleeve, and there’s a continuity in the artwork that harks right back to your earliest days with Manowar.
Yeah, and I think that it’s important to have a fine artwork on a record, because it’s like your calling card, and in Heavy Metal, it’s what’s on your merchandise. I can tell you that my merchandise is outstanding, and it just breaks my heart that I’m not out on tour selling it right now! We had 26 US dates that ended on February 24th, and we incorporated a lot of the new designs in our merch, and they were flying! It was great. But it’s not anything that the rest of the music world isn’t feeling right now.
The last time you were in Europe you played with K.K. Downing at Bloodstock Festival; how did you enjoy that?
Well, the whole thing, from start to finish the way we organised it was really cool, and it was a terrific day. It was pouring rain out, like 20 minutes before we went on, and then when we went on, the sun just came out. It was nice and warm, and we just did our set, then brought K.K. out for four songs, and the whole thing was just a remarkable day at Bloodstock. I think everybody will never forget that, and I think that it just gave K.K. the impetus to come back and do something. It was a special day to be able to bring out K.K. and show unity. K.K. started around the same time that I got started in the music business in the ‘70s, so we have a lot in common.
Going back, and I wanted to ask you about producing Anthrax’s ‘Soldiers of Metal’ demo in 1983.
When Manowar first started playing in New York, Anthrax were the opening band. They were very nice guys, and it got around that I was a good producer, that I worked very well with people, and Scott Ian talked to Johnny Z [Megaforce Records] and kept bugging him for a record contract, Johnny Z goes; “well why don’t you ask Ross to produce some stuff for you, and get back to me?” So Scott came up to me and said; “Ross, would you like to produce Anthrax?”, and I went; “okay, sure”. And we went into the studio and we cut ‘Howling Furies’, and then we cut ‘Soldiers of Metal’. This was their first time in the studio, and ‘Soldiers of Metal’ in particular came out very well. So they gave it to Johnny Z, and Johnny Z signed them.
What was the session like?
They were young, and Scott was hungry. I lent them my Marshalls. It was very productive. They had Danny Lilker and Neil Turbin, and it was Charlie [Benante]'s first time in a studio.
When you listen back now, could you have foreseen how successful Anthrax would become?
I thought they were pretty good. I thought that what they were doing, this new sound, this thrash sound, I thought it was really pretty good. And I knew how dedicated they were, and I knew they were going to be ok. Once we started them out there, I had a feeling that it was going to be good. And it was a great time, because there was Manowar, and there was Metallica, and there was Anthrax, Megadeth; everything was happening, everything was starting. I think they were in the right spot at the right time.
Would you have liked to have produced Anthrax’s debut album ‘Fistful of Metal’?
I would have done it, but you know how things happen; probably I got busy doing another record, or communication didn’t happen, but I’m glad I did what I did.
Moving on to your time with Manowar, and you contributed to six albums, and the defining period for the band.
Yeah, six records in six years, plus inventing the band and getting the band its’ first record contract with EMI Liberty. It was something! We had a plan, Joey and I had a plan, and we pulled it off. And thank god we had Bob Curry who was head of A&R for EMI records in New York. He was very interested in me because he saw me play with Shakin’ Street when we were playing with Blue Oyster Cult in Atlantic City. He said; “I’m really interested, and I want to do a project with you, Ross”, and it turned out that that project was going to be Manowar.
In terms of the image of the band, how do you feel looking back at those early press shots?
Well, we wanted our image to be different than the leather and studs of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. We like that, but we wanted Manowar to look different and have a different feel to it, and I think we succeeded. A lot of the times, it was cheesy - I’m not saying it wasn’t; we didn’t have the budget for expensive clothing and expensive stuff. We did later, but we had to make things up as we went along. We didn’t have a lot of money to do it, and I do admit that at times it looked cheesy, but I think we made our point.
What are your personal highlights from your time in Manowar?
Well, I would say that, of course, getting the band signed with EMI; the first time I went to the Marshall factory and bought all my gear, which filled a truck! That was just for myself! The first album having Orson Wells on it; setting the record for the loudest volume in the Guinness Book of Records for the loudest band in the world; signing one of our record contracts in blood; there’s a whole bunch of things! Also, doing six records in six years, which is pretty impressive. I don’t think anybody will do that again.
Do you still have your gold discs and things from your time in Manowar?
Yeah, I’ve got all my memories, and I’ve got my memorabilia and stuff. It’s nice to look back on, but it’s also nice to know that I’m definitely planted in the future right now, and in the present, and with my output of music, I don’t rely on the ‘80s, and I don’t rely on the ‘70s. I’m proud of what I’ve done; I’m proud to sign my records, but I’m a workaholic guy, and I work hard all the time. I’ve a lot of stuff happening, a lot of records out, and it’s an honour to keep playing, I tell you.
Back to the present, and is everything on pause for Ross the Boss band right now?
Well, I would have to tell you that everything is on pause now; the whole business is; everything is! Life is on pause right now for us all, and I know that they’re going to start opening up the country pretty soon, but I don’t know how fast the live show thing is going to come back. That’s going to take some planning, so we’ll see what happens. There’s a lot of powerful people at work trying to get it back, so we have to be safe, and we have to be smart, because there’s a lot of people that need to work. The industry; everything is on hold; the crews, the trucks, the PA’s, the venues; there’s so many things, not to mention the musicians and all our families. So, every day’s a new day, but the most important thing is that everyone stays healthy.
There’s such a sense of community within the metal scene; you must be missing that.
Yeah. The metal community’s very tight, and very close. We support each other; we’re friends. I love my fans, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them, and they know that. What can we say? It’s a tough time, but we can get through it.
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Ross the Boss's 'Born of Fire is available now via AFM Records. For Ross the Boss merchandise, click here.