Metal moments at the Joe: Biggest non-Wing memories
With the Red Wings playing their last season at Joe Louis Arena, Hockey Weekly will reminisce about some of the greatest moments, players and personalities in the building’s history and also some of the unsung heroes who have made JLA what it is over the years.
In the last issue, I listed my greatest Red Wings memories at Joe Louis Arena. So in this issue will be my most memorable moments at JLA that did not involve the Red Wings.
The great majority of my non-Red Wings hockey memories at The Joe are of College Hockey. Those are mostly many seasons of covering the Great Lakes Invitational, the Central Collegiate Hockey Association Championships and Michigan-Michigan State regular-season games at the Joe.
There was also the Detroit Jr. Red Wings (now the Flint Firebirds) of the Ontario Hockey League when they played at Joe Louis Arena in the early-to-mid 90’s.
Twice I had the opportunity to skate and play games on the Joe Louis Arena ice. The first was in 1995, and the second time came in 1997.
But I have to be honest. My biggest and best memories at Joe Louis Arena that don’t include the Red Wings are of concerts.
You see, I’m about as big of a music fan as I am a sports and hockey fan. And while there is a wide range of music that I enjoy listening to, heavy metal is at the top of the list. Yes, I am a proud metal head.
(OK, here’s a warning. I’m about to geek out big time about metal.)
One of the biggest memories of my life was the first time that I saw Black Sabbath, which was at The Joe in the fall of 1980.
This time period is very controversial among Black Sabbath fans because it was their first album (“Heaven and Hell”) and tour (the legendary Black and Blue Tour, in which they co-headlined with Blue Oyster Cult) without Ozzy Osbourne – who had been fired a couple of years earlier – as their singer.
In his place was the late Ronnie James Dio, who had formerly been with Rainbow (originally Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow), with whom he had recorded the hard rock and metal classic, “Man on a Silver Mountain.”
Known for his mystic and fantasy fueled lyrics as a songwriter, Dio – who died in 2010 at the age of 67 of stomach cancer – stood only 5-4 but had one of the biggest, best and most recognizable voices in the history of heavy metal.
I had always liked hard rock and heavy music, but I couldn’t really say I was a metal head when I walked into Joe Louis Arena that Sunday night as a 17-year-old. And I wasn’t steeped in the Black Sabbath catalogue at that point, only hearing their classics “Iron Man” and “Paranoid” and the two hits from Heaven and Hell (“Heaven and Hell” and “Neon Knights”) on the radio.
But I became a metal head that night.
Aside from Dio – I’ll get back to him in a bit – I was struck by the pulsating rhythm section of bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward (I believe Ward was still the drummer at that point of the tour. He was replaced by Vinny Appice at some point of the Black and Blue Tour, but I believe Ward was still behind the kit at JLA that night).
I had never heard anything like those rhythms and I found myself bobbing back and forth to songs I had never heard before.
There was the guitar playing of Tony Iommi, who would become one of my guitar heroes (I had begun taking guitar lessons about a month before that show).
There were the vocal dynamics of Dio, which would be compelling to anyone at anytime. He was also exhorting the fans to hold up their hands do a sign with their fingers that college football fans would know as the Texas “Hook ’em Horns” salute: The forefinger and little fingers raised with the two middle fingers still folded.
Well, little did I know that I was also taking part of heavy metal history. On that tour, Dio originated that sign, “The Metal Horns,” which has been flashed by heavy metal devotees ever since.
In the days before curfews, I believe the show lasted until about 2 a.m. or so.
I would go on to see Black Sabbath about 10 more times over the years (if you combine the times I saw them with Ozzy and when Dio was the singer). I saw Dio after he went solo (after his second album with Black Sabbath, “The Mob Rules” – I also saw the show when that Tour came to JLA a couple of years later) three or four times and even saw Heaven and Hell – which is what the band renamed the Dio version of Black Sabbath in the mid 2000s – a couple of times.
Another of my metal memories at The Joe came four years later when I was an intern at the rock radio station WRIF, 101.1 FM.
That was the first time I ever saw the band Judas Priest in concert and it was quite the experience.
In those days, the Riff (as WRIF is called) was all about bumper stickers. Its own with various slogans and special edition ones for the bands that played concerts in Detroit that WRIF promoted. There was a special edition Judas Priest bumper sticker for that show that we interns that “worked” the concert handed out to concert goers as they were about to ascend the stairs to enter Joe Louis Arena.
Here is a little aside about WRIF bumper stickers that involves sometimes Hockey Weekly contributor, Mike Nestlehut.
I’ve known Mike since we both worked at the Detroit News in the mid-80’s. We both had gone to Wayne State at around the same time but didn’t know each other then.
Mike is also a big music fan and we’ve attended many shows together and we have spent a lot of time talking about music.
Around the time I was a WRIF intern and after, I had a briefcase on which I had placed a lot of the limited edition band bumper stickers. That was the briefcase that I carried around the WSU campus.
When I first told Mike that some years later, he said: “I remember seeing you. I wanted to knock you down and take that briefcase.”
Anyway, after handing out the Judas Priest bumper stickers, we interns along with many of the radio station’s staffers, headed to WRIF’s suite where there was free food and liquid refreshment (I think I had just turned 21 at that point …).
But back then I thought the coolest feature was even when the glass doors were closed, you could still clearly hear the music. If you wanted the total experience, you could go out and sit in one of about three or four rows of seats in the arena outside the box.
That’s what I opted to do for most of the show.
It was the first time I saw Judas Priest’s legendary stage set up of black and silver metallic looking stairs and singer Rob Halford – another of metal’s greatest singers – strutting up and down them befitting his nickname “The Metal God.” There was also the synchronized head banging of guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, that became synonymous with Judas Priest.
I remember the band opening the show with its song “Love Bites” and nearly losing my mind when it played “The Hellion-Electric Eye.”
Some of the other hard rock and metal acts I saw at Joe Louis Arena are AC-DC, Alice Cooper, Nazareth, ZZ Top, Deep Purple and Queen.
Coincidentally, the last time I saw Dio (with the band Heaven and Hell) was also the last time I saw Judas Priest play a concert. It was during the summer of 2009 at DTE Music Theatre and Judas Priest headlined a bill that also included Heaven and Hell and Motorhead.
Little did I know then that would be the last time that I would see two of my metal heroes – Dio and Motorhead leader Lemmie Kilmister) live before they died,
Dio died the following year and Lemmie also succumbed to cancer in late December last year at the age of 70.
As I said, above, I have a wide range of musical tastes and I also saw Bruce Springsteen at JLA twice: On “The River” Tour in 1981 and on “The Born in the USA Tour” in 1984, which I also saw from the luxury of the WRIF suite after handing out bumper stickers.
If you’ve never been to a Springsteen concert, it’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen or heard: About 41/2 hours of great, intense and energetic rock and roll with anywhere from four-to-six encores.
During the 1981 show, I remember legendary Detroit rocker Mitch Ryder came out to do one of the encores with Bruce and the E-Street Band and did the classic Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels classic “Devil with the Blue Dress” medley.
Amazingly, Springsteen’s shows haven’t changed to this day, despite the fact that he is now 67 and most of the surviving members of the E-Street Band are also in that age range.
I also got the opportunity to see the late Prince at Joe Louis Arena.
That was around 2000 and the performance was as you would expect: Perfect.
I always knew that Prince was an incredible guitar player and a virtuoso on every instrument but it was still amazing to watch him play all of the instruments at one time or another, lead the band and sing his songs as only he could. Sadly, he was one of the many notable deaths of this year.
So, not everything is about hockey.