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IRON MAN


IRON MAN "Somewhere North of Hell"


By Dr. Abner Mality

Mention the words "Iron Man" and so many different images spring to mind. If you're a heavy metal fan (and I have a sneaking suspicion many of you are), the first thing to pop in your mind is the classic song from Black Sabbath..."heavy boots of lead", "now he has his revenge"...you know the drill! If you're a fan of popular culture, the term certainly brings to mind a certain red-and-gold armored Avenger whose popularity has shot off the charts the last decade. Sports freaks might think of a marathon. And then, of course, there is the subject of this piece...a band hailing from Maryland who have risen from being Sabbath cover artists to being cult legends of the doom metal and heavy rock scenes.

The real "iron man" might just be Alfred Morris III, the guitar wizard who has been the guiding force of the band Iron Man since its inception decades ago. Al has a reputation as one of the true nice guys of the metal scene and I can tell you that is well deserved. To say he's a veteran of rock n roll is an understatement. For years he has toiled away in the dingy underbelly of the scene, creating great music with only minimal fanfare. I have never heard a more massive guitar tone than the one Al has created. Now, the "iron man" of Iron Man is getting ready to receive his due at last. The band's great new album "South of the Earth" is going to get wide distribution via Metal Blade, one of the biggest indy labels on the planet.

Having seen Iron Man play twice at the excellent Days of the Doomed festival, I knew how great they were. Now a lot more people are gonna find out for themselves how soulful and heavy these guys are! It's the ideal time for me to speak to Mr. Morris and the result turned out to be more enjoyable, indeed. Here is the true and correct testimony of the one true "iron man"...



WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: I've been looking forward to this for a while since I saw you guys play at Days of the Doomed! Those are cozy little get-togethers.

AL MORRIS III: Oh yeah, we love it. Mike Smith the promoter is such a great guy.

WC: You've probably seen me at these things. I'm the guy that runs around with the bloody lab coat on.

AM3: (starts laughing) I think I have seen you, yeah!

WC: It's a pleasure talking to you! Your new record, "South of the Earth"...do you feel that this is the record where Iron Man will finally start getting its due?

AM3: Yes, definitely.

WC: Being on Metal Blade Records has got to give you the exposure you so richly deserve.

AM3: Yeah, that's where we've been trying to go for many years, yes.

WC: You've definitely been playing quality music. Why has it been so tough for you to land the right deal?

AM3: I don't know, because I don't know what's in the record company's heads. I know what sounds good, I know what the kids are buying and I just don't understand it."Well, we're not interested..." or maybe "the material is strong but it's just not what we're looking for right now". I don't know what that means. We've been turned down by Relapse and Spitfire and Reprise. We approached a lot of them and they all turned it down. I don't know what it is.

WC: It's hard to figure, but it looks like "South of the Earth" is it. When you were working on this album, did you have the feeling this was it? Was there anything different in the way it was put together?

AM3: No, we used the same formula we've always used. I just think that the potential of each player was greater. I'm known for having a bunch of  new people on each record because they don't stay long, but with this solid lineup I have now, everybody is running on all four cylinders, it's 100%. It's not just me trying to do everything I can to be the best...I've got a great vocalist, great bass player, great drummer. We're all punching in at 100%. When you finally have that and you harness it, this is the only way to go. You're only going to go up.

WC: My guess is, you're all pushing each other. If somebody is not performing at the top, it's going to show.

AM3: Right.

WC: How important was the addition of Dee Calhoun as vocalist? It seems he was one of the missing ingredients for Iron Man.

AM3: Yeah, I think because of his great unique vocal style and his writing ability, he has a knack with the way he writes. He's a very well-read person. What I found interesting was that the riffs I bring to the band inspire him to write the way he does. That's a lucky thing. I have to inspire the bass and the drums with what I do, but I have to keep it interesting enough to spark Dee to write some intriguing lyrics.

WC: When you played the very first Days of the Doomed, that was the first time I knew he was in the band and saw him. I saw that performance and went, holy cats! This guy can really blow it out!

AM3: He's got the pipes, man! (laughs)

WC: Yeah, his scream equals any of the greats. Another thing I noticed on "South of the Earth" is that the bass sounds so fat and is so active....it's got be a challenge for you just to keep the guitar on top of it!

AM3: What it is, though, is we kind of work in layers. The bass and drums have something going on with each other. That gives me the freedom to ride on  top of it. I can do whatever I want to do and it will work, because they're holding me up. I can travel through notes, through whatever. Yeah, you might think by the way we play, it's a competition, but it's not a competition...it's just another layer to the cake, that's all.

WC: The other missing piece of the puzzle over the years has been the drum position. Do think that has now been solved as well with the addition of Jason?

AM3: Yeah, everything is solved now! In fact, he is in a position of control now. What we do is this. We'll put something together and we'll kick it around. Whether we play it live or put it on record, he gives the word when it's ready to be done. When he's happy and he says yeah, this feels good, then we go with it. That's his job. I let him know everytime, this is your job. When it's ready, you let us know. That's his position. As you see, we are ready! (chuckles)

WC: That's a very unique way of doing things. I take it that wasn't the case until Jason came into the picture.

AM3: Exactly.

WC: To me, "South of the Earth" seems the most soulful Iron Man yet. It seems to have a soulfulness and a bluesiness to it more than you have in the past. Would you agree with that?

AM3: Yeah!  And I attribute that to the writing mood we were in at the time. It ended up sounding that way, which is kind of cool, because there's more of a groove to it than just the metal/rock n roll side. It's still metal, But I'd like to say it's heavy rock, to be honest.

WC: There's a lot of pigeonholing in music and sub-genres and sub-sub-genres. Iron Man is generally considered "doom metal". Is that a term you are  comfortable with or would you rather just be known as a heavy rock band?

AM3: People have been labelling things for eons. It doesn't bother me what people think Iron Man is. We just make songs. We don't say, oh, this song's gotta be doom metal...we don't do that! For instance, if we did that, you wouldn't have a song like "The Ballad of Ray Garraty" on there! Or we might not have "Thy Brother's Keeper"...something diverse like that. If you try to follow one thing all the time, nothing separates you from the rest.  There are so many bands out there these days!


WC: Today, it's easy to be heard and hard to be seen. Yeah, I've always heard the bluesy element in Iron Man, even going back to "Black Night", but it just seems more pronounced this time around. Today, the blues doesn't seem to be as strong a force in music today as it was years ago. Is that troubling to you?

AM3: Well, still to this day, I think each type of music has its own type of people, people who love it. I think today, with the high speed of media, there's so much that's shoved down your throat, you almost can't differentiate each little element of things as a whole. Even what they call country music today, it's taken on a strong rock n' roll flavor. And the country people who are fans of country from back in the day, they don't like it! They say, that's not country! They disowned Taylor Swift because she's a pop singer. But I think my perspective helps keep Iron Man unique, because I'm well rooted in the blues. That's the earliest stuff I ever heard. My father, he had stuff like B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters,even Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian. I was exposed to all of that stuff as a kid, so it was ingrained into my head. That's to my advantage. I will put those influences in with our music and make it happen.

WC: Was there one of the old bluesmen in particular you drew inspiration from more than any other?

AM3: It was probably between Muddy Waters and B.B. King because they were the most "seen" guys. You would see B.B. King on any kind of a show. I was drawn right into it.

WC: He transcended his own genre.

AM3: Exactly, yes he did.

WC: It's got to be a great feeling for you right now because it sounds like everything has clicked. Did you know instinctually that this was going to happen like it did?

AM3: Well, this is the light at the end of the tunnel. From Day One, when I thought I wanted to be a rock and roll star, this is where I aimed to be. I just didn't know it was going to take this long! (laughs) But it's good that it happened at all! That's the thing. You don't want to just grind your knuckles for years and years and never get there. So it least it is finally happening.

WC: Speaking of all those years ago, right at the beginning of your career you were involved in a band called Force that not much is known about. What can you say about those days and that band?

AM3: That was the beginning of trying to reach where I am now. We were trying to write catchy songs and looking for a vocalist...that was the formative years of trying to be a rock act.

WC: I believe Force did one EP, which now is considered a rarity and commands big money...


AM3: (chuckles) It's a rarity, yeah! We had a four song EP and then we were working on a full length album which came out to. Those two things are out there. Like I said before, we were trying to find a vocalist and write catchy material. We used to tape everything we did. Without a vocalist, we put out something called "Earthgarden". Earthgarden is basically Force without the vocalist. It was instrumental rock music.

WC: Does it seem like a long, long time ago or only yesterday?

AM3: Oh, it seems like a long time ago.(laughs)

WC: That was when going to the record shop and waiting for your favorite band's new record to come out meant something.

AM3: Oh yes, it did! Yes, it did. I saw a post on FB the other day and it was so many years ago today, this album was released. I went yup, I remember! I was walking around in a drugstore that had a little record bin. I went through that bin and boom, there it was! I saw it, grabbed it and brought it, you know! (laughs)

WC: I remember virtually camping out to get "British Steel" by Judas Priest.  Now you still have the anticipation but it takes a different form.

AM3: Yeah, it's not like the old days. Now everything is high-speed, automated, digital, blah, blah blah, you know!

WC: Do you take a hand in the lyrical side of the album or is that all Dee's work? How does that work?

AM3: Right, the way we work is each guy has his assignment. The bass player is responsible for his bass lines. If I have an idea, I'll tell him what it is, but i don't tell him to play it that way. I let him develop it into his own style. Same with the drums. He figures out what he's going to do. If we hear something, we'll say, you know what? You could try this, too!  We don't say "play it this way"...we DEVELOP how we play it and what we're gonna do. Same thing with Dee. If that riff sparks him to write something good, he writes it. Then he figures out where the chorus goes, where the verse goes, what melody line he's gonna put over the top of what we're doing. That's how it works. Each guy is responsible for his part. We give suggestions and we let each guy go. When we come together, we have the magic right there.

WC: Iron Man is a band with lyrics that could be about anything. If I'm reading the lyrics on "South of the Earth" right, it seems to be a warning.

AM3: Uh-huh.

WC: As far as "Thy Brother's Keeper" goes, I'm guessing Dee must be a major Lovecraft fan because that's all taken from "The Dunwich Horror". Now how about "The Ballad of Ray Garraty"? I believe that was inspired by an old Stephen King story?

AM3:  Stephen King used to write under an alias, Richard Bachman. That song came from one of King's works during that period. It was a pretty horrific story, if you've ever read it. (laughs)

WC: I actually haven't, but it sure doesn't sound like something that's gonna make you laugh and clap your hands.

AM3: No. I believe the original story was called "The Walk" or "The Race" or something like that. Now in addition to being heavy rock, we want to let people know that we've got something for them. We're saying, hey, you H.P. Lovecraft fans or you Stephen King lovers, we've got a couple of songs for you here! Hopefully, that will give us some in-roads with those folks.

WC: The sound of the music itself almost seems to demand those kind of lyrics. On "Thy Brother's Keeper", he portrayed the entire story in six and a half minutes and he didn't miss anything in it!

AM3: (laughs) He's very well read, I know that!


WC: Has anybody ever come up to you and said that you inspired them to play or something that Iron Man has done has inspired them in some way?

AM3: Yes I have. Many times.

WC: That's got to be worth more than gold, when you hear something like that.

AM3: It is that. And also, when I hear somebody say, I had to put on some Iron Man because it gives me strength. People tell me stuff like that and say that they're inspired...yes, those are the golden riches that go along with his business. When you hear somebody say that, you've done your best, you've touched people's hearts. You touch the world. When you get that kind of emotion out of somebody, you've done your job!

WC: Has any young African-American guy ever come up to you and said that you inspired him to play rock and roll or heavy metal?

AM3: Hmmmm....

WC: I know some black guys who are really into it, but let's face it, they're going against the grain.

AM3: (laughs) It always has! For instance, if was 47 years ago that Hendrix was brought over to London. And now 47 years later, Al Morris is being brought over to London.  I play on that. Yeah, it's going against the grain and that's good, because that's some fuel to propel me even more. Instead of being daunted by it or ashamed that I like it, I go No, this is something different! You close your eyes and hear it but then you open your eyes and say, who is this guy? Where'd he come from?

WC: There were only be one Jimi Hendrix.

AM3: Exactly.

WC: The black guys I know that are in heavy rock, they are into it fanatically. Not everybody just wants to do aggressive hand gestures...some of them want to play an instrument. When you look at the state of African-American music in America today, are you happy with it, unhappy or indifferent to ti?

AM3: Well, I think everything runs as it runs. How can I describe it to you? All forms of music are like free flowing rivers. What I am suprised at, but accept, is that the core of rap is still at the forefront. You know what? As long as people can talk, they're gonna like rap! Rapping can go on forever. It can be like the roach of the music industry, it's just gonna go on and be indestructible. Nothing can kill it. But I'm a "live and let live" type of person. If you do something that's working for you and people like it, let it flow, you know what I'm saying? That's how I am.

WC: What kind of tour plans does Iron Man have for the new record?

AM3: There's gonna be European stuff, there's also gonna be some stuff in the U.S. and Canada. Hopefully we can squeeze in some things in South America. There are some things developing in Australia. But the main focus is going to be Europe and the USA.

WC: It sounds like you might wind up in some places you've never been before. Have you ever been to Australia or South America?

AM3: No, I have not. We have fans there and they want to see Iron Man, so we'll try to satisfy them.

WC: What was the last CD or release you got just because you wanted to hear it?

AM3: Um, gotta think.

WC: I often find that most musicians are so busy, they have a hard time remembering what they got.

AM3: Yeah, that's happening to me right now.(chuckles) It was a band called the Army of One. They did some stuff on the radio that I heard and I liked, so I went out and bought it! It kind of reminded of older style rock but modernized. That's the last thing I bought...but even that was three or four years ago.

WC: In the long history of Iron Man, have you ever had a "Spinal Tap" moment where things went haywire that you could share with us?

AM3: We had a couple of gigs where the bass player didn't show up at all. Ready to go on stage and no bass player. We had to get somebody out of the audience. One time we got Joe Hasselvander to do it! We were still covering Sabbath then and Joe came up and did five or six songs with us. That was pretty cool, that was in College Park. Now the latest thing that happened was in Vegas. We were about to go on stage...in fact, we were on stage...and the drummer gets up and walks away.
He was too drunk to play. So we had another guy come from the audience and say, hey, I can play! So we did the show with this guy out of the audience.(laughs)

WC: How'd he do?

AM3: He did good! He did good. He was an Iron Man fan and a decent drummer, so he could play stuff from the first album pretty good. The rest of it is kind of easy to catch on to. Him and Louis, the bass player, talked before each song and Louis gave him an idea of what to do. He did a good job! He did the whole set with us.

WC: That's amazing, I've never heard that one before!

AM3:  Yeah, there were some videos on that because it was such a big deal. During the few minutes before we were going to play, the sound guy was going "oh, what's going to happen? Is Iron Man gonna play?" He kept berating us! It was tense!(laughs) We had some folks in the front going, "what's going on, Al? You guys gonna play?We're not gonna take this! We came here to see you!" A lot of those folks came from California to Vegas to see us play. It was a mini-disaster. What was gonna happen, though, is if we nobody came up to play drums, we were going to have Dee sing and play drums at the same time. Dee's a drummer also.

WC: Wow, that's not easy to do!

AM3: No! But the guy is multi-talented, so we probably could have pulled it off. But with this guy coming out of the audience, it went good!

WC: Nothing like a little pressure...

AM3: (laughs) Yeah!

WC: Do you have a feel for how Iron Man is going to evolve from here on out? Will you keep to the same path or could you see yourself adding different elements?

AM3: I had envisioned maybe adding a keyboard player in the live situation. Maybe an orchestra backing us up on a couple of songs. I've envisioned things like that. What I'm happy about is that we've got a pretty diverse range of music that we put on each record so that's gonna be how we do it from here on out. There's always something on an Iron Man record that you'll like, no matter who you are. For example, if you play the song "Ariel Changed the Sky", a 60 year old lady or an 80 year old man...they'll like that song! I always try to put some easy listening song that everybody can appreciate, it helps to break up the record and keep from being bombarded non-stop by heaviness! (laughs)

WC: That's the way classic Sabbath used to do it. There used to be stuff like "Laguna Sunrise" or "Changes" in there.

AM3: That's part of our formula.

WC: Any last words?

AM3: We love you all and we are very anxious to see everybody. We want to come to your town and play and have a good time with all the fans. We want to see them worldwide. If Metal Blade helps us to make that happen, that would be great.

www.ironmanband.com