Interview by Earthdog


Only one man had talent and drive enough to play with all of these bands, a who's who of legendary hard rockers and metallers. He is Joe Hasselvander and his career reads like the road map of modern heavy music. In addition to playing regular drumming gigs with the above bands, Joe has also sat in with the likes of Rainbow and Cathedral, as well as becoming the mastermind of his own band, The Hounds of Hasselvander. Other projects in his incredible career include Devil Childe, Phantom Lord, numerous solo records and also a lot of producing gigs.

Recently our own Earthdog picked his jaw off the floor long enough to speak to Joe about his amazing run. As you will, there's plenty of fight left in this hound!!!

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Your life in music goes all the way back to 1966.Did you have any real musical ambition when you first started out?

JOE HASSELVANDER: My older brother was a very popular surf guitarist in the 1960's and like all little brothers I aspired to do the things that my older brother did especially witnessing his success in the Washington, D.C. area where we grew up. Our parents really marveled at our birth given abilities and encouraged both of us to choose music as a career. Of course, in those days you could make a beautiful dollar in that business unlike today! I was a natural at the drums and already knew how to play as good as any adult professional at age 8! You also have to remember that the music scene was full of bands actually creating the genre of hard rock and inventing everything we know today as the basic formulas used in pop music! These were highly exciting and stimulating times for musicians everywhere! My ambition was on 10!

WC: You played in a jazz fusion band called Ra Notra Sextet.Did this have any affect on how you play the hard rock/metal stuff?

JH: Yeah! I got heavily in to Jazz fusion in 1972 after hearing albums by Mahavishnu Orchestra and later seeing them at D.C.'s Constitution Hall with Billy Cobham. This guy was a complete dynamo on the drums as was Lenny White of Chick Corea's Return to Forever. This stuff just knocked me out and inspired me to put together my own fusion group with some ex-Berkley students who had some great material with bizarre beat patterns and plenty of featured drum fill spots. It takes a certain mentality to play this stuff and a lot of dedication and rehearsal! So in hind sight I would say for sure I had a proper leg up on other drummers when I went back in to heavy rock. Oddly enough, most younger modern day Heavy Metal bands have a drummer with these same fusion sensibilities!

WC: You played with one of my all time musical heroes Leslie West,what was that experience like?

JH: That was a dream come true for me! That was around the time Leslie recorded "The Great Fatsby". Probably around 1976. I think I was 19 years old. I got a call from my agent who at the time was handling Leslie in the area. He told me that Leslie's band had left him high and dry with a bag full of local shows and wanted to know if I would play drums for him and could I also get a bassist? I got my oldest friend Steve Angel involved as he had been in a very successful D.C. band with me called The Boyz and he, like me , knew all the Mountain material by heart! We played the first gig with him, Mississippi Queen and all! I remember that he couldn't believe that such young cats could do the Mountain stuff so authentic to the original band. He kept asking us, "How did you learn those songs?" We told him that we were weaned on Mountain! We asked him what his next project would be and he confided that he wanted to work with a symphony orchestra! Unfortunately he was sick with diabetes and didn't know it at the time and was having some health issues attributed to it and we kind of noticed. So he cut the tour short and flew back to New York to check in to a hospital. Of course , nowadays Leslie's got it all under control and is reasonably healthy and equally as ornery!

WC: What was it like getting involved with Pentagram? Those first batch of songs have such a timeless feel to them.

JH: I joined Pentagram after meeting up with Bobby Liebling in 1977 when the original Pentagram left him and my band The Boyz left me to form a new "Super Group" called Sex! They were more like a "Super Mistake"! As everybody knows Bobby and I ran in to each other at their miserable debut and I asked him to come down and hear the new band I had formed. Everything clicked and I built the band and a show around Bobby's stage antics that for the first time gave him some real local celebrity. All he had to do was show up and sing! So in 1978 this became the High Voltage era Pentagram which produced one single "Living In A Ram's Head" b/w "When The Screams Come"! That was the band that was the greatest fun in the world for me because there was no metal scene anywhere at the time and we were bringing in record crowds to the clubs just on sheer curiosity and word of mouth about our highly strange show and ghoulish heavy music! We were beating the odds in a big way!

But I think you're referring to Death Row which ultimately became Pentagram revisited 3 years later and yes, Victor Griffin's sound and song writing skills fit right in line with what Bobby and I were writing, which gave us a huge catalogue of songs! Victor's material by far was the deepest and heaviest along the lines of Witchfinder General and "Master Of Reality" era Sabbath. I loved helping him tool in these classics along with Marty Swaney. This band was totally self motivated with zero management. But Bobby and Victor suddenly pulled a power play on me by threatening my standing with the band as Bobby was doing his usual manipulation game except this time with a 20 year old Victor Griffin who wanted success no matter how he got it. I guess Bobby had convinced him that I should just shut up and be the drummer or else! That really cut me to the bone considering that I booked all the gigs, rented the trucks, supplied the light and sound, roadied their gear and provided the rehearsal space all free of charge. People who know me know that I don't put up with unprofessional ego mania bullshit! So that was the end of that until I moved to New York and hooked up with Dutch East Records to do "Phantom Lord", "Devil Childe" and my solo album "Lady-Killer".

I went in to their office to discuss album cover art for these records when the owner, Barry, asked me if I had ever been in
Pentagram? I told him yes and he informed me that he had just received master tapes from them to review for signing. He asked if I was on it! I told him that I was and he said "Good, we'll release it along with the other albums that you've done." I don't think he even listened to it! He just gave the OK and handed it to an employee to mail off for pressing. I found out then the music business is indeed a small world!

WC: What was it in your opinion that held Pentagram back from making it big? To me ,they sounded just as good as anything else around but for some reason it never took off the way it should have.

JH: This is a big question that deserves a big answer! Pentagram has a long history of failing right before their greatest successes. That would be due to Bobby's Liebling substance abuse which is no secret. People in the industry have known about this for years. These problems has been around a long , long time! With that sort of life style always comes a flurry of bad judgments, arrests, jail time and a criminal record which makes it impossible to get through immigration to play outside of the country in foreign markets that are receptive to the band, further blowing out it's success. There is also a babysitting issue for anyone involved with a person like this. As grown men, we just couldn't roll like that for long with him. When I was in my early 20's,I was able to wear blinders and pretend there wasn't a problem but when I wised up and went elsewhere, that became Victor Griffin's job and almost his demise! He also got smart and started his own band Place Of Skulls and hasn't looked back since! In the late "90's up until 2001, I helped Bobby once again as everyone else had long given up on him and recorded "Review Your Choices" and "Sub-Basement". I stood by him as long as I could until he and a promoter pressured me into a show using an under rehearsed band and headlining a festival where Bobby pulled a classic no-show leaving me hanging out to dry with 200 angry Pentagram fans! He managed to show up for the last two vocal lines of the last song in the set!

For years I could hardly forgive myself for actually playing that God awful gig and trusting my good name to such a dim wit! He also went on to tear apart his next incarnation of Pentagram by falling out on stage without singing a single note in front of 1000 people. I think it's strange that the world's perception of Bobby Liebling as being responsible for the band's successes whatever the version of the band! The truth is, he has always done the minimum as opposed to everyone else giving their maximum, to the group. I've learned long ago not to feel sorry for career substance abusers, or you could find yourself falling into their web of lies! None of us were angels but when it came down to brass tacks it was time to work and not party but Bobby didn't grasp that concept. As far as the man's song writing ability and vocal style are concerned , he is somewhat of a genius and that can't be denied. The sad part is, I've always loved the great music that was achieved by the band! That is the constant downward spiraling paradox that is Pentagram!

WC: You and Victor Griffin were asked to fill in the guitar and drum slots for Cathedral as support band on the tour for Black Sabbath and their "Cross Purposes" album in the spring of 1994.How did that come about?

JH: Lee Dorian came out to a small Western Maryland club in 1993 on Halloween night to see a Pentagram show. I think he was in the country doing business for Cathedral's 'Ethereal Mirror" album. He apparently had been a big fan for years as he claimed he had waited his whole life for that moment! We later played a few co-headlining gigs with Cathedral in D.C and New York. After that Victor stayed in touch with Lee after they flew back to England. One day during a Pentagram rehearsal Lee called and told us of the departure of their 2nd guitarist and drummer. He explained that they had booked a tour with Black Sabbath in Europe and that Cathedral were special guests on the tour.He then asked if we would fill the empty spots left by their drummer and guitarist! We agreed and off we went!

WC: On so much stuff that Pentagram have released , you play all the drum and guitar parts on them. Do you like having so much work to do?

JH: I did those albums partly out of loving a challenge and partly out of necessity! I always heard a certain type of sound in my head for Pentagram and agreeably Victor Griffin had come the closest to finding that sound in a 4 piece band. But I still heard something a little more grandiose like a horror movie soundtrack! I had already done albums by myself and new how to get just about every kind of sound or feel and it was also cost effective for one person to do the work as it eliminates all the cooks in the kitchen that bog down production. Besides, we weren't receiving giant budgets from our label. But the two albums I did as Pentagram proved to be the biggest challenges and also the most fun to do even though I was working against the clock! It was painstaking work!I had always wanted to put the perfect music around Bobby's unique vocal style and I think I did that on "Review Your Choices" and "Sub-Basement". It gave Bobby more freedom to experiment with his voice which he so loves to do.

WC: You officially joined Raven in 88.I have been into the band since Wiped Out.They seem to be totally over the top guys and performers.What was it like joining them on stage for the first time?

JH: Quite frankly ,I took to them like a fish to water! I finally found musicians that were as wound up inside as me and also musically my equal. This is where my jazz fusion drumming paid off as Raven has so many time changes , turn- arounds and manic double bass requirements. I've always felt like I've known them since birth and they feel the same about me. There's a kind of E.S.P. thing going on there between us on stage and off! I'm also proud to say we've never had a major disagreement in the 20 some years I've worked with them! I love all the albums we've recorded together!

WC: Raven seem to me one of those bands that could be around forever,do you feel the same?

JH: I agree 100%! High energy Rock & Roll is infectious and can survive many stylistic changes in the music business. We survived Thrash, We survived Death Metal, We survived Grunge and we've survived rap and Hip Hop. We've always kept our Rock & Roll roots and our Priest and Sabbath sensibilities. That equals –TIMELESS!

WC: Your solo band Hounds Of Hasselvander have got some awesome reviews.How do the solo tours compare to the other bands you have play with and still play with?Do you feel a lot more free musically?

JH: In The Hounds Of Hasselvander I get to be the guitarist and front man which is something in my musical life I've neglected doing and now's the time! I love the guitar especially my "69 Gibson SG. It truly has a voice of its own and sometimes completely surprises me with it's droning overtones! I always feel free playing my own music with my own arrangements and that has made some people accuse me of being a control freak, but I know what that meter in my head says, "It's either heavy, or it's not!"

WC: What are your plans for the next year? You seem to be busier now than ever before.

JH: The Hounds Of Hasselvander are going on tour in late April-May. We are bringing a doom metal circus to the people of Italy with openers Doomraiser and my old friends from New Jersey, Solace.This package is going to kick major ass!

WC: You also played with Blue Cheer, that must have been a incredible experience.

JH: It really was! Anyone who knows me knows that I am one of the world's biggest fans of that band and have been since I was 13 years old. They are truly the fathers of Metal! My good friend Duck MacDonald joined them in the mid '90's and was aware of my fondness of the band so when Paul Whaley couldn't make it to the states from Germany for health reasons. Duck called me and asked if I would like to play drums for them on a few come back dates to promote the re-release of Vincebus Eruptum on Universal Records and possibly record a new album. Needless to say , that was a done deal! The gigs were monstrously heavy and as authentic to the group's original sound as possible and later "What Doesn't Kill You…"was recorded and later had extra tracks added as a bonus with the return of Paul Whaley. So I got the best of both worlds playing live and sharing the spotlight with my drumming mentor Paul Whaley on the new album!

WC: How has the Doom scene progressed in your eyes?There are some great bands out there but the scene is full of copy-cat bands ,do you agree?

JH: The Doom scene still hasn't reached its zenith and I'm hopeful for a lot of new Doom, Stoner Rock and Retro-'70's bands to finally take it into the mainstream.The world needs a good dose of some old medicine!

WC: Out of all you have done,what has been the most satisfying for you?

JH: Out of all the albums I've done, 5 really stand out and show what I've got! That would be : "Architect Of Fear"(Raven), "Relentless" (Pentagram), "Sub-Basement" (Pentagram), "Under Savage Skies" (Jack Starr's Guardians Of The Flame), "The Hounds Of Hasselvander"(Self Titled) and "Walk Through Fire" (Raven) release date- early 2009

Out of all the memorable tours, I've done 4 stand out more than the others: Kreator/Raven – 1989, Running Wild/Raven – Europe 1990, Cross Purposes Black Sabbath/Cathedral – Europe 1994, Raven/Hammerfall/Tank - Europe 1996

The most memorable single gigs were: Raven - Tokyo, Japan (Live Album "Destroy All Monsters" is recorded and concert video is made) 1995 Raven - San Didros Festival in Madrid , Spain (We played to 40,000 concert goers!) 1989 Raven - Show in Athens, Greece 1990 Raven - Bang Your Head Festival 2006(Raven kicked up a storm with the likes of White Snake, Foreigner and Y&T and stole the day!)

WC: You were just on tour with Raven again, any plans on slowing down and how do you keep going?

JH: Yeah! We just did a tour of the U.K. and even though the state of touring is slow over there at present we managed to pack a few places and make a lot of people happy. Classic Metal is becoming hard to come by and the fans really appreciate you coming to their hometown! On the thought of slowing down, There is enough time to rest in the grave!!!!!