The Making of Atom Heart Mother out now! 2008-23-10


This album remained (officially) unissued for many years. Beware of bootlegs. Finally released by Angel Air, reproduction of these sleevenotes is done with thanks to the label.

Sleevenotes - Ace

Supergroups come and go. Some are manufactured, some form for the right reasons. And many fail to live up to expectations.

Desperado definitely formed for the right reasons; when you compare the music on this album to that of immediately preceding projects you’ll see a complete reinvention, a rejuvenation of the street energy the members were best known for. Yet despite all the promise of the project, this 1989 album was never released, until now.

Guitarist Bernie: “I think Dee wanted it to be quite grown up, for want of a better expression. I was just after the Torme D.I.V.O.R.C.E. thing with Phil Lewis, and I wanted something raw and a bit more chance to play.”

The Desperado project centred around former Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider, and three equally good (two of them equally renowned) musicians; original Iron Maiden drummer Clive Burr, former Gillan guitarist Bernie Tormé and young bassist Marc Russell.

The potential formation of Desperado dates back to the demise of Twisted Sister following the band’s ill fated 1987 album ‘Love Is For Suckers’. Twisted Sister had formed in 1976, playing a shock horror metal with street punk energy; along side Hanoi Rocks they’d pave the way for the glam boom of the late 80s, Motley Crue et al. Costumes, makeup, and raw metal typified in “You Can’t Stop Rock’n’Roll” and “Stay Hungry” in the early 80s. Progressing on, their final album ‘Love Is For Suckers’ was actually originally intended as a Dee Snider solo album, being more melodic and mature than earlier releases. The writing process had developed and grown within Twisted Sister where Dee became isolated and often wrote alone, and he prepared his own material.

The then press labelled it lacklustre, with misguided comparisons to earlier TS releases, but as is the usual case the label didn’t want a solo album but the band name to market the album under. Compare to Black Sabbath’s ‘Seventh Star’ and Jethro Tull’s ‘A’.

Dee: “In retrospect it was a mistake, maybe the band needed a year apart or something, come back together fresh. It didn’t work. I was growing as an artist and on a personal level, and many of the songs were written about a relationship I was going through, and we’re still together 20 years on”.

With reviews and sales poor and a tour hardly setting the world on fire, it was time to call it a day.

Time for a new project, and Dee (a motormouth who could genuinely match his attitude with performance) needed a guitarist to duel with. Tormé was that man.

Dee remembers: “I didn’t know his music at all, not one thing. I’d seen pictures, knew he replaced Randy in Ozzy’s band, thought he seemed a bit pompous”.

Auditioning for guitarists, Dee was out jogging when he accidentally heard part of a pre recorded tape of Mammoth album a budding guitarist had recorded over with his own demo. Mammoth, a John McCoy / Nicky Moore project, featured Bernie providing many guitar parts. Dee: “I was blown away. I phoned my manager and told him to sign this guy”.

Dee continues: “I’ve never done drugs, I don’t drink, I’m not aware of the affects. So when Bernie phoned, he has this stammer, and this accent, the manager answers the phone and tells me I’ve signed a f**king coke addict. So I speak to him and realise, and tell my manager ‘You idiot he’s only got a f**king stammer’!”

Prior to that, Irish guitarist Bernie Tormé had come to London and played in various bands (including with John McCoy) before joining Ian Gillan’s new hard rock outfit Gillan in the late 70s. His mixture of punk, blues and Hendrix was pretty unique and was key to Gillan’s success. On leaving Gillan in 1981, he saved Ozzy Osbourne’s then tour on the death of Randy Rhodes, toured with Atomic Rooster and relit his solo career.

In the mid 80s, Tormé the band, at the time featuring vocalist Phil Lewis, were having their own problems, as Bernie explains: “Tormé was very messy. Phil Lewis got asked to do a Hanoi Rocks tour of Japan that Mike Monroe didn't want to do. In typical fashion, he told everyone but me, I found out about it and it then fell through: it didn't exactly improve the band atmosphere. So then the LA Guns approached Lewis, and once again he forgot to tell me. This time he actually left, which in the circumstances was probably a good thing, and that was pretty much that.”

The rhythm section of Clive Burr, who Snider had long admired, and Marc Russell completed the band. Burr had featured on the first three Iron Maiden albums, including the chart topping ‘Number Of the Beast’, before playing on the ill fated Gogmagog project while Russell had previously toured with Tormé (and previously Beki Bondage), completing contractual obligations in Lewis’ absence. Bernie auditioned Clive at Dee’s request: “He was awesome as expected and we got on very well, he's such a lovely guy, I just played in a room with him in Nomis with no bass player, we both just went totally mad, and he really wanted the gig, and so it came to be. Me and him auditioned Marc and some other people, Marc ruled, and that was the band.”

Dee: “We (Twisted Sister) had toured with Maiden, I respected them, especially their earlier material. I thought Clive, with (bassist) Steve made their sound. I was looking for a drummer and said to Bernie we need a drummer like Clive Burr and Bernie said ‘OK I’ll ring Clive’”.

And on looking for a bassist, Dee adds “I guess we were like a supergroup, and we originally tried to find a bassist in that groove, like Neil Murray the original Whitesnake bassist, but he wasn’t available or it didn’t work out or something. We also didn’t want to compromise the integrity so when I heard Marc (Russell), he was good, I said give him a try”.

Bernie had previously been well aware of Twisted Sister too: “I remembered hearing lots of good things about Dee from Twisted's initial Marquee shows. I really remember "I Am I'm Me" on Top Of The Pops, Dee and Mendoza really made a big impression.”

Various names for the band were suggested, but as Bernie remembers he was no good with names and probably suggested something like Electric Sister, it was down to Dee. Desperado and Widowmaker were suggested but as Marc Russell’s father had been involved with the original Widowmaker in the 70s, Desperado stuck.

Bernie and Dee ended up doing most of the writing, at the time there was talk of Burr and Russell being more involved in the writing for a second album, but alas that was not to be. Bernie: “Most of the songs were initially bits and pieces Dee had, that I worked on getting into shape, adding and changing. At the inception it was not really intended to be a writing partnership, that evolved over a few months. And because of that I brought no complete "ideas" in initially. As time went on and it became more of an equal partnership in terms of writing, and for example Hang ‘Em High was an idea that I brought to the table very late on, last batch I think, which Dee liked and worked on, and added a lot to.

I felt we worked very well together, we both pretty much liked the same sort of things, though in a lot of ways we came from different ends of the table. I had been brought up on folk and blues before getting into Hendrix and psychedelia and heavy stuff and suchlike. Dee was more into Aerosmith and a lot of classic US and British rock stuff that I was not really that well up on. I really liked what he was into, I think he liked my twists on things.

We must have written well over sixty songs together in all, a lot of that stuff Dee subsequently used. I couldn't use it, I can't sing it!”

The project was to relight fires for all parties, with Dee Snider telling the press at the time it was a feeling he hadn’t felt for 15 years.

The album was recorded in 1989, during which process Dee’s third son was born, although Bernie and Dee had been writing since 1987 and seems to recall nearer to 100 songs being written. The band signed to Elektra, and felt the material they had was so strong that they wouldn’t need to cover any Sister, Gillan or Maiden in their live sets, but the band only managed one gig. A secret show in Birmingham, no press or anything, where Kix (who shared the same management) had played the night before and kindly left their gear onstage for Desperado. 15 new songs during a rock disco, which the audience loved, and that was it.

The rise of grunge, a bandwagon most press and record labels would jump on, would then kill off any label interest, and the band would be forced to go their separate ways. Bernie: “I don't know that it was an excuse, maybe it’s a justification in retrospect from my point of view. I don't think there was an excuse, we just got jettisoned into open space, straight out of the airlock having worked our asses off for two years.”

Dee Snider also remembers the politics of the decision: “We were signed by this A&R guy called Brian Koppleman, his father was way up in EMI. Brian left Electra for Giant Records. The management were pissed off so they killed every project he was working on, including us. Totally political. The head of Elektra was not a metal fan and at one point wanted to dump every metal act on Elektra. You had Metallica, and Motley Crue doing Doctor Feelgood, that stuff was funding the label. My management was getting us out of the deal .Left a year later with my songs tied up. The label had spent half a million that they wanted getting picked up, and we had the stigma of being shelved, so we couldn’t get signed by anyone else.”

This all worked to destroy the band, as Dee adds: “The band dissolved quite quickly, it was economically devastating. Before we’d been signed was funding it, renting houses and paying salaries when they came over here, all came out of me. A real death blow.”

And regrets on the bootlegs that appeared? Bernie: “Good. At least some bastard heard it.” Dee feels the same way, at least those who had read about the project could see what they’d been doing.

Bernie has many good memories of the sessions, but one bad one stands out: “My main bad memory is that it took far too long, and that I needed to learn a lot of personal diplomacy skills that came in useful in later life but didn't quite hang at that point! Prior to that I had just said "Go f**k yourself" quite a lot. I don't much like the politics of recording, but I seemed to be the guy in the band who was most hands on with Peter Coleman, the producer. Peter was fantastic, a lovely guy, one of the last of the great analogue masters, I learnt a phenomenal amount from him, but I seemed to be in the diplomat between band and producer position: a position for which I was totally unskilled by nature and found frankly very stressy. Whatever, you do your best, and it was in all senses worth it hearing it again, no matter how stressy I found it at the time.”

“As for the album itself, “For me "Heart is a Lonely Hunter", on which Dee is just unbelievably empathetic and awesome, sometimes I hear it still it makes me cry.

Fantastic. And "Run Wild Run Free" where Clive and Marc are just above the law. And of course "Emaheevull", Clive, how could you do that!”

After the band’s demise, Dee and Marc continued as Widowmaker; Bernie had to pass the invitation due to health problems (a punctured lung only a minor setback) and the birth of his son. After a solo album (‘Never Let The Bastards Wear You Down’) Dee reunited with Twisted Sister, who have been touring successfully quite recently.

By the time Widowmaker had formed Dee had a new lawyer who contacted an attorney, who with one phonecall got permission for his songs to be used, which Dee used during Widomaker and solo.

Bernie resumed his solo career, and most recently has rejoined forces with John McCoy in GMT. Drummer Clive Burr has sadly been struck down with MS and is now unable to play.

On the album now: Bernie “I'm very proud of it personally, very proud of that band and album, Dee, Clive and Marc gave fantastic performances. And very pleased it’s coming out. As usual I was never quite sold 100% on what I did on the guitars on it personally, but everyone else's performance just eclipses that, that usual Torme "I could've done that better" thing just becomes completely irrelevant. Hey it was so good the guitar really didn't matter!”.

Dee has good memories of the album too: “Very proud of the Desperado album, some of my best songwriting. Painful to think about what might have been. I found a real partner in Bernie, it resulted in magic. The creativity of the rhythm section too. Clive is the only drummer I’ve ever worked with who works off the vocals, to finish his parts, he works off the melody where most drummers work off the guitar or bass. But doing that record, creatively, was the best moment in my life to that times. Bernie plays like I think, it opened me up as a writer, and share the burden. A real blossoming as a writer and creator.”

Looking back now, Dee says “We bonded, we got on great, and it breaks my heart that we didn’t get to tour, and really be onstage together.”

It’s not unheard of for such a superb album to avoid release because of trends, but it’s a great shame when it happens. It is released here now, in full, for the first time. Bernie: “Thank you God, it’s about time, it’s not good to try and bury live babies. Albatrosses around necks also comes to mind. It’s good to set it free.”


Homepage | Contact | Music | Environment | Résumé (PDF) | Links

top ↑↑ © Joe Geesin 2008