Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.
He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.
Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.
Friday, March 20, 2015
I've been in this racket more than a few years. I've been in it long enough to see bands come and bands go. I've sat in the presence of artists who used to adorn my bedroom walls as a teenager, such as Geoff Tate, former vocalist of Queensyche, as you can see above. I've made many friends in the music industry from the bands to the record labels to publicity firms. I've had a lot of joy traveling on the road covering music, hanging backstage, hanging on tour buses and enjoying philosophical conversations with artists and their fans in secretive parking lots. I've been given more than a beer or two from my interview guests who've generously turned the tables and welcomed me into their circles. I've been invited to showcases and all the amenities that come within. I've even been treated like royalty at a few venues, smiling with whispers of "Holy shit, it's Ray from Blabbermouth in the house!" floating behind my ears.
For every bit of happiness I've known being a music journalist, there is, of course, the flipside. While my negative experiences are outnumbered by the good five to one, I'm not going to lie; this past year has presented me with much to mull over. Bad enough I, like many of my peers in the industry, have been victimized by the Great Digital Kill-Off, as a I call it. I once wrote for multiple print magazines and of course a bunch of websites simultaneously. I felt incredibly alive in that period of time. It wasn't just the money that was coming in after I'd paid my dues doing the freebies to build my rep. It was the honor of seeing my work in printed circulation that got me off. Of course, only a select few of the mass population can truly appreciate what that means to a writer since most folks are obtuse to not only writers, but reading beyond a small handful of electronic paragraphs.
I'm not going to waste too much time bellyaching, but a handful of people have inadvertently shown me the light, in their own rude ways, just why I think it's time to evaluate my life in this business. I've strived for professionalism my entire career and pride myself on having interviewed more than 300 artists and written more than a thousand reviews. I've lent a helping hand to newcomers to the writing scene and I've done all the solids a respectable journalist could do for his clients. I expect nothing in return but courtesy and return professionalism. While that still occurs at least 90% of the time, it's the recent actions of that minority 10% which gives me pause to reflect that maybe, just maybe I've been in this game too long.
In a few cases, I was downright shocked by their disrespectful conduct, but I've opted to take a moment and reflect upon the fun moments, the cool things like getting goofed on by a very young All That Remains, pictured above. That moment was a riot, and a damned good backstage interview. ATR was opening for Gwar, of all bands, and I finished my night in the company of two ladies (show buddies, mind you) where we were all drenched in stage blood shot from the Gwar cannons onstage. Ahhhhhh...good times.
So that being said, I thought I'd share with you readers twenty of my favorite moments as a music journalist, in no particular order...
1. Iron Maiden will always be my favorite heavy metal band of all-time. There's no point arguing for Sabbath or Zeppelin. Masters of their own right and I love them dearly as well, for me it's Maiden, Maiden Maiden. The time I got to interview Nicko McBrain was a dream come true for me. As I've mentioned in the past, my room as a teen was filled with heavy metal bands, Iron Maiden being the biggest go-getter on the walls. Nicko was a freaking scream to interview and when we were finished, he apparently enjoyed my company enough to tell me to get on the band's guest list for their tour in support of A Matter of Life and Death. Sure enough, I was on the list for a photo shoot, dead freakin' center, arena-ville, baby. I've done plenty of arena gigs, but this was the most meaningful to me for obvious reasons.
2. I once battled Metallica's Master of Puppets against Megadeth's Peace Sells...But Who's Buying and had the stones to argue my way for Megadeth as the winner. Some people thought I was insane, others congratulated me. It was a spontaneous post I wrote in a fever pitch one night and it ended up being read by the editors of the illustrious Metal Maniacs magazine, who promptly offered me a freelancing position.
3. Winning "Best Personal Blog" from industry-renowned Metal Hammer magazine in 2009 for my blogsite, The Metal Minute was the most flattering form of validation I've ever experienced in my career. My traffic there spiked triple. Thank you, Metal Hammer, mad love.
4. Doro Pesch. I only need say the name and if you know it, you get it. Spend one minute in this classy woman's presence, you'll find her to be the most sincere person in the business, regardless of genre. I've interviewed Doro more times than any artist I've come into contact with and she's made me melt every time. Hanging with her and Trans-Siberian Orchestra/Savatage guitarist Chris Caffery (an awesome dude too) on Doro's bus in Virginia was an amazing time, especially having traveled from New York City the night prior on assignment covering Skinny Puppy. Double mad love for Doro.
5. There was the time I interviewed Alex Skolnick and Greg Christian of Testament (another one of those back-to-back interstate weekends) in a hotel bar and the waitress asked me if I was in the band. Alex and Greg nodded at me and told her I was. Moments before, I'd caught Chuck Billy in the hotel lobby and he froze upon me spotting him. He gave me a look that said "Dude, don't bust me," so I gave him a low-end horns flick and he returned it back with grateful nod. \m/
6. Back to Gwar a moment, I had an interview with the late Dave Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus, on the band's bus at the Sounds of the Underground festival in 2006. Dave was out of his costume but still in character as he gave me the most ridiculous interview of all-time, where he offered to sodomize me and laced out every profane word in the dictionary. He wound his hand at me to keep going after I was busy cracking up, knowing he was going to go off-course from my questions. I shot from the hip and it was the funniest interview I've ever conducted. After I shut my tape off, Dave invited me to stay for barbecue. I hung out with Gwar's stage minions (who happened to be area guitarists on the side) and chowed down! Sidebar: thanks to In Flames for giving me water earlier in the day when I was on their bus interviewing. On a summer festival tour at four bucks a pop for water, that meant everything!
7. I was at a Naked Raygun reunion show and went up to the pit to photograph modern punk legends Paint it Black. I'd long since stopped moshing and stagediving, but I took a huge beating from the pit to get one of the personal best live photo shoots in my portfolio. Example above.
8. Rob Halford, KK Downing and Glenn Tipton. All gentlemen, all kings who don't know they wear crowns. Getting to interview one member of Judas Priest was thrilling enough. Three? Jesus wept. Halford was especially wonderful, and I'll never forget him telling me about his niece who had a chamber recital he was attending the following day. He sounded so proud! I told him, "Imagine what pressure that child must feel with the Metal God in the audience!" He roared.
9. Most people who know me know I tried my hand at a digital music magazine, Retaliate. That was one of the most invigorating and painful moments of time in my life. You can read more about it here at The Crash Pad. My guests were just astonishing for a debut issue: Slayer, Black Label Society, Drowning Pool, Lamb of God, Papa Roach, Filter, Mick Garris, Adam Green...and of course, Marky Ramone. As the Ramones are my all-around favorite band, I need not say what interviewing Marky meant to me.
10. Nina Blackwood, what a wonderful woman. Made me proud to grow up in the eighties as MTV first launched. She patiently waited for me to slug my way through bad traffic after she finished her DJ slot with Sirius radio. Being off-the-air 45 minutes, she still gave me an hour-long interview and was so kind. God bless ya, Nina. I still want my MTV and you on it...the way it used to be.
11. Halloween night, years ago. Lizzy Borden. How could it not be awesome? Another of my personal-best live photo shoots, Lizzy put on a hell of a performance and smeared stage blood all over me and other folks in the front row. I'd interviewed Lizzy a few days prior to the gig and he remembered me after the show. We talked again a few minutes and then I made friends with his bassist Marten Andersson.
12. Interviewing Anthrax vocalist Joey Belladonna while he was shooting pool. It was during a period when he was out of the band and we yakked a long while. He gave me a few more interviews afterwards until he rejoined Anthrax. Happy for ya, Joey!
13. The night after George W. Bush won office the second time, I was at The Black Cat in Washington, DC interviewing Every Time I Die singer Keith Buckley. The city was ghostly after the election and you could sense the anger from Bush haters in town. It was game-on time, as Buckley went on the rant of all anti-political rants and I only published a sliver of it so as not to hang the dude publicly. Afterwards, Every Time I Die and Dillinger Escape Plan ripped that club apart!
14. I once interviewed Bobby Blotzer of Ratt in his hotel room and we hit it off rather well. Afterwards, he asked me for a ride to get some food before the gig. We drove around northern Virginia in search of grub and talking about life off-the-record. Awesome sauce.
15. I've interviewed half of System of a Down and it was the ultra-intelligent Serj Tankian who really won me over. I had a small audience in attendance and they were likewise impressed. Afterwards, Serj's press rep emailed me back to say Serj thought well of my questions and he asked for my response to his own question. That remains between us.
16. The opening phone exchange between Sebastian Bach and I: Sabs: "Heyyyyyyy, honey, it's Sebastian!" Me: "Heyyyyyy, Sebastian, I'm a dude!" Sabs: "Aww, shit!" It was still a great interview, though we killed half our allotted time talking about comic books.
17. Alice Cooper's the best. What a hell of a cool guy. We only got 15 minutes together, but he filled it up with detailed answers that are a journalist's best friend. I don't ask my guests for much other than photos, but Uncle Alice nicely recorded a special message for my friend Matt, who's been a lifelong diehard.
18. Speaking of photos, here's what I call "3 Dude Selfie," taken by country/cowpunk legend, Hank Williams, III, aka Hank3. Next to us is my friend and Hank's guitarist David McElfresh, who had me down for the show and a long hangout with the band on the bus. I'm happy to have also made friends with drummer Phil Cancilla during this brodown.
19. I've had two interviews with Killing Joke vocalist Jaz Coleman. Both were long, intriguing and frankly, intense, just like the band's music. Jaz is for real, folks, and it was our second interview backstage at Union Transfer in Philadelphia where I was flat-out humbled. We got on famously and Jaz gave me a slew of compliments to my questions. He then invited me to stay longer and he produced his personal writings for me. I don't think I've ever been more flattered in my life.
20. Karyn Crisis and the Crisis band. One of the fiercest singers of our time, Karyn Crisis is one of the most delightful, pensive intellect-artistes I've ever had the privilege of knowing. We've had wonderful interviews and even better private conversations. I became friends with her and the defunct Crisis band after a hilarious misunderstanding. Let's just say I was confused with an asshole groper who'd accosted Karyn and I was challenged by the band to a duke. Karyn defended me by pointing out the real offender and we've been laughing about it ever since. The conversations I've enjoyed with Karyn, Jwyanza and Afzaal about civil rights will always stick with me.
All photos (c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Listenin' to: Opeth - Blackwater Park