The following interview of Biff Byford of SAXON was conducted by Michael Henry. Michael was the managing editor for SHOCKWAVES Magazine and one of my closest friends for the past 17 years. Michael was an integral part of SHOCKWAVES, not only was he an incredibly talented journalist and avid fan of heavy metal music, but he was also one of the most gifted and underrated vocalists/lyricists in rock'n'roll. Having fronted the bands AUGUST REDMOON (released the groundbreaking 5-song EP Fools Are Never Alone in 1982 on the Metalworks label), EDEN (released one self-titled album in 1986 on Enigma Records), and ARMED FORCES (released the ultimate power-metal album Take On The Nation on Bizarre/Straight/WEA in 1991), his musical career was unexpectedly cut short after being diagnosed with Cancer in 1988. Michael battled with the disease for over a decade, undergoing at least six major operations. Refusing to give in to this deadly disease he fought long and hard and continued to do what he loved most; performing. He performed and recorded with his band ARMED FORCES after doctors claimed he would never be able to sing again.
Michael was extremely dedicated to his craft and was one of the most gracious and sincere human beings I have ever met. He was a true talent and a truly great friend. Michael Henry passed away on August 22, 1998. The following interview of SAXON is in his loving memory, for this was Michael's last interview.
Rest In Peace, My Friend.
Michael Paul Henry
9/9/60 - 8/22/98
Interview with Biff Byford of SAXON
By Michael Henry
When I sit back and try to recall some of the moments that changed and molded my life musically, a few different images come to mind. One was seeing Steppenwolf when I was fourteen (my very first concert), another was the first time I saw KISS. Yet another was the first time I heard Eddie Van Halen play guitar. But the most riveting and welcome change in music came to me via SHOCKWAVES publisher Bob Nalbandian, when he turned me on to The New Wave of British Heavy Metal. This new form of music just up and crapped on anything that was happening in the United States. Bands like the Tygers of Pan Tang, Motorhead, Iron Maiden and Diamond Head shined a whole new light on heavy metal as I knew it. One of the most loved and praised bands of this era was Saxon!
Saxon combined heavy, jackhammer riffs with over-the-top vocals, making it instantly palatable for the common man. You could hear a typical Saxon song once, and be singing the chorus for the rest of the night...yes, they were that addicting.
Saxon has managed to survive the ugly nineties and release yet another powerful platter called Unleash the Beast (CMC Records). I was fortunate enough to hook up with lead throat Biff Byford this past October for a chat about the past, the present and the future of Saxon. . .
SW: First off - good job on keeping metal alive and well during some very heavy weather. When most would have thrown in the towel, you stuck to your guns.
Biff: It hasn't been so good for some bands. Lucky for us we are still pretty big in many parts of Europe. But as far as metal in America and England goes, there is no radio for it at all, nothing whatsoever.
SW: Well, in minds of many, Biff, America really never got heavy metal in the first place.
Biff: American radio took certain rock songs and labeled them "heavy metal," but many were a far cry from metal.
SW: It took albums like The Power & the Glory and Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast to really wake America up to what was happening in Europe...How long has Saxon been together now?
Biff: 18 years.
SW: And you never thought about hanging it up?
Biff: Around 1985 - 86, during the Innocence Is No Excuse era, we were thinking about it actually. But our fans are what has kept this band together. We have played a couple of shows in America over the last few years. We did some shows in San Antonio, Texas, and received a great response. It seems that we still have our underground fans in America.
SW: I believe that metal is making a comeback, and Saxon's time will come around again...
Biff: It's a matter of the record companies releasing some really good quality hard rock/metal music. If they do, I believe it will come back strong. They can't think that every person who plays guitar can play heavy metal music. Out of that whole era (the eighties American hair bands), I think Motley Crue was about the only band playing anything good. But, it was like "panty metal." We toured nearly two months with Motley Crue, and during that time I think we might have seen two guys in the audience (laughter). Don't get me wrong, I think it was absolutely brilliant...if you get what I'm saying. But, it wasn't like a true metal audience, it was more like an MTV audience.
SW: Testing your memory here, Biff...I want to take you back to the early eighties, when you headlined the Whisky in Hollywood for two nights. This was during your Denim & Leather tour. I was at one of those gigs, and it was one of the best concerts I've seen! Was that your first time in America?
Biff: Actually, our first time in America was on tour with Rush...that had to be around 1980, during the Wheels of Steel tour. After that, we went home to England and came back around a month-and-a-half later and did the shows at the Whisky. We did a whole string of shows down the west coast of California, but the reason I remember the Whisky shows specifically was the fact that we did 4 shows in two nights. Two with Metallica supporting, and the other two with Ratt supporting. It was also great because there was an endless stream of people coming in and out of the Whisky that night...At that time, a lot of musicians and fans were real interested in what was coming out of England, so that did a lot for our popularity then. It was also really fun because some of the members of KISS were there, and Ozzy Osbourne, the guys from Motley Crue, it was quite nice actually. Just prior to those shows, Ozzy had supported us on a German tour, Randy Rhoads was playing with him at that time, and we were quite surprised when Ozzy showed up at the Whisky because this was just 3 weeks or so after Randy had died, so it was a bittersweet memory.
SAXON Interview part 2