Q - That's where Steve Van Zandt called him to say it's the best 25 seconds he'd ever heard in the history …
JS - (OVERLAPPING) Really? Well, then we owe Steve Van Zandt a lot. See I didn't even know that. I do remember he was involved somehow but I didn't know that. So thank you, Steve. That's great he said that. So Popovich is the one who saved us. He brought it in as Cleveland International because CBS couldn't turn it down then. He had the right to sign it. It was sort of assumed that we would sell nothing, you know, except 10 copies in Cleveland. All the time we're doing the record Popovich is saying, you've gotta write me some polkas.
JS - 'Cause he also had this guy, Frankie Yankovic, who's the biggest polka artist in the world, who's also on Cleveland International, who would do like seven albums a year, polkas for April, polkas for June, polkas for July and then he'd go back next year and do polkas for May, the ones he missed, polkas for Sunday. You know he did a hundred polka albums, and that's his other big artist. So he's telling me you've gotta do a polka album.
JS - He just loved whatever music and he was very Eastern European background. He's the one I was very proud of. One day he comes to me, as a personal favour, he says, you've gotta write a song for my grandparents, they're real old country, they're from the old country, Russia. You've gotta write a song for them that they'd like. I said, I don't know. I can't write Russian. He says, you know it's like Doctor Zhivago, they used that balalaika thing that sounds like a lute.
JS - Oh write something. Come on, write something. So I wrote this song, It's Only Rock And Roll Balalaika, and I was very proud of it. It was for Steve Popovich's grandparents and Popovich is the one who like, it was amazing, again a great lesson in the record industry, if you have one believer you can get much further than you can with all of Sony or all of Warner Brothers sort of having some interest. You have to have one fanatic believer. This guy was a fanatic believer and all he did was have faith in it.
JS - He built it step by step with like one station in New York, one station in Cleveland, and he believed, as I did, that if people heard it, it would catch on. I had no idea it would take about a year to catch on in America. It was one of the strangest stories ever for a record. It became huge overseas before America. In fact, it's the first record I think ever that sold, American record, that sold something like five million overseas before it even sold 400,000 or so here. We were like platinum in 12 countries overseas and no one even knew who we were here.
JS - It was surreal. When we were touring we would be playing places in like Toledo and suburbs of Cleveland. They were always in that area around Cleveland, these little dumps that were, it was great gigs. The audience was great, but dumps. Then I remember one specifically we were playing, which I think was Toledo, where it was dripping liquid on my head. I'm playing a really bad piano and this liquid is dripping on my head. I said to the guy, I finally got someone's attention during the show.
JS - I said, you know this water is dripping on my head, is it raining? Can you do something about it? He says, oh it's no water, it's not rain, don't worry about it, it's just the plumbing from the toilet. I said, oh that's reassuring, at least it's bodily fluids. It's not, and that was one of the worst nights. It was a typical gig. The next day, I'm not exaggerating, the next day we flew to Australia and we were met in Melbourne, Australia by about 10,000 people.
JS - It was so big in Australia that it had knocked Saturday Night Fever off the charts as number one. It's still one of the biggest records of all time, if not the biggest in Australia. We got there and there was like thousands at the airport. It was one of those Beatles things where they, we were delirious. It felt like a four week flight and we got out and we could hardly move. All of a sudden it's a press conference, like you always see the Beatles with the Pan Am logo behind them, and they're asking us questions.
JS - I'm thinking well, God, I'm supposed to be witty like John Lennon or something. I was an idiot. We could barely talk English. Luckily in Australia they don't talk English, so it didn't matter. We did that and then we had a convoy of Hell's Angels that took us into the hotel from the airport, like a hundred Hell's Angels in this convoy and it was on the evening news. It was the second biggest story, Meat Loaf has the newspaper by the way.
JS - It's a great newspaper to see because OPEC was the biggest story, the oil prices. They were having a big conference there, and the second biggest story was Meat Loaf's arrival. The next night we did our concert and of course he collapsed. They have this huge headline, Meat Loaf Collapse Shock, and there's a big picture of him collapsed. It's the big headline, and in the smaller print OPEC raises oil prices for the world or something.
JS - Then, you know, after about a week we're back in the little town in Dayton, Ohio with urine coming on my head and it's totally schizoid. It took forever in America. It was really interesting that it didn't take forever overseas. I always found it amazing because they could understand the lyrics, 'cause there's so many puns and wordplay and things like that, but they totally got it in Germany. To this day, the country that the album sold the most in, per capita, this is cool, is Finland. No Iceland, excuse me, even more obscure.
JS - It's Iceland. That's the one that Reykjavik's the capital of, right? Yeah, 'cause one night we actually got the operator in Reykjavik and we're asking her the population of the country, just to find out what it was like. It sold, it's the equivalent of 50 times platinum in Reykjavik. I don't even think they give you like a special, I think they give you like an impaled polar bear or something, you know, on a plaque. Mathematically they said it works out that every home in Iceland has 10 copies of Bat Out Of Hell.
JS - I don't really know how they can figure this out but it's just an absurd amount of copies in Iceland. I remember I never got to go there. I remember asking Meat years later, what was it like playing in Iceland, Meat? He says, oh Iceland, it's wild. I said, I imagine it's a really enchanted country like it's the world of elves and fairies and magic and sorcery. He says, really? I don't know, my main memory is (SOUNDS LIKE) you play a big, open space. There was like 100,000 kids there and they're all vomiting and pissing through the whole show.
JS - They're just vomiting and pissing, vomiting and pissing. I said, yeah well I guess elves and sorcerers do that too. I guess I could reconcile that discrepancy. That was my image of, it will always be that, of Iceland, of a huge crowd of kids pissing and vomiting. It just took off overseas far before it took off, and especially in England. It was huge in England.
Q - (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was a major turning point.
JS - That was pretty important.
Q - Can you say what it was?
JS - Yeah, the CBS has a big convention every year, every record does. This was CBS at the time. It was in New Orleans and it was important because we didn't have the attention of the record company at all. They couldn't care less about our record. Only Steve Popovich cared about it and us, and actually we saw internal memos that were infuriating. There was a guy, I even remember his name, a guy named Del Costello who I'm sure is not around anymore but he was the head for the west coast of CBS.
JS - We saw an internal memo when we were going to the west coast that he wrote to all the branch people and radio people, etc saying, ignore this band. It's just a bar band. It's not important, and made us furious. We were always jealous. I was joking with David a few weeks ago. I remember the band that (SOUNDS LIKE) inferred us. It was a band called Crawler. No one knows now but Crawler was getting all the promotional money. We were getting nothing.
JS - They just thought it was a ridiculous record. You know, it wasn't what was happening and no one cared about it. It had to be built from the ground wards up. So one of the steps in that is you try to get their attention at some point and it was in January of '78 as I remember, the CBS record convention, New Orleans, and David managed to get us a spot on that which is important 'cause it showcases the new acts for the whole company from around the country.
JS - And probably some from around the world. That was a really important show and we did a great show. We did a great show and it really caught the eye of a lot of people there, probably did help a lot to turn it around. So I would say it was never cut and dry like one thing. It was really mostly word of mouth. You know, I always describe it as, and I'm referring to Jim Lovine again, 'cause another thing that always has stayed with me when he was mixing with me one time, every time at the same point in the song he'd get up, he'd suddenly pounce up and he'd go to one of the dials of the console and he'd turn it wildly from left to right.
JS - He'd go, oh this part. Then he'd go left to right really fast. He did it like eight times in a row. Every time we'd do a mix of the song. I finally said, Jimmy what are you doing? Every time that comes around you go, oh I gotta do that. He'd turn the dial left and right. He goes, oh that, well that's for the kid in Wisconsin. Every record I do I figure you should put in one thing for the kid, the teenager in Wisconsin who's in bed listening on headphones 'cause his parents don't want to hear the music and he's got, he's smoked a little dope and he's got the covers over his head and he's listening in the dark.
JS - I think you gotta have something where it goes fast, left to right. He goes, holy shit, wow. That was the first thing for the kid in Wisconsin. To this day I've metaphorically expanded that to every song, anything for theater or a film or music that I do. I always think of the kid in Wisconsin. There's gotta be something for him and basically I always think the kid in Wisconsin still exists in the widower in Miami, the nurse in Kansas, the 50 year old business woman in Texas.
JS - I just, thus again the teenager who never dies. I think it's the kid in Wisconsin. That's the metaphor for me. With the covers covering his head, the headphones on, escaping in the dark and you want to put the little thing where he travels back and forth, and that came from Jimmy. Where was I?
Q - This is the opposite of hype.
JS - Oh no. This is the ultimate anti-hype record. Never got the benefit of any eye. Saturday Night Live was a big help. We got through Saturday Night Live. Once we did the convention there was a little more attention paid so they played the single, Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad, and that became a big hit single. That helped. But really I still think the key to the record was word of mouth. You know, people who have heard the record or saw the concerts and just became real fans.
JS - Really, to tell you the truth, I never knew how big the record was. You know, we all moved on around 19, though it is significant I should tell you, there was a great time, we did a fairly famous sequence of shows for the people who were involved early on, fairly early on. We did one in Washington DC and David again managed to get, this is the era before MTV so no one was doing videos basically in 1977, and we did four songs, complete videos.
JS - And Bat Out Of Hell even had, not just live, it had some shots on a motorcycle in a graveyard in Queens, New York. They're kind of silly but it was amazing for the time to do four or five songs live and with some extra footage. I think the old video I'm aware of before was The Beatles had done something. Queen did Bohemian Rhapsody but you just weren't doing videos in those days.
JS - There was no outlet for them but we did these videos and then (SOUNDS LIKE) David Match would get Don Kirschner's Rock Concert which was a big TV show. Don Kirschner was this comic figure who's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) 'cause Paul Schaffer does a great imitation of him. He would introduce the acts and it was that and Midnight Special. There was no MTV, it was the only way you could get rock and roll on television, and he put on Bat Out Of Hell as a video.
JS - He agreed to do that. We were thrilled. That was gonna be great for us. This is still I think '77 and we did a show in Washington DC and then afterwards we all gathered around to watch it and it was a horrible mess. I mean, I was told they were showing it all but the fact was none of us considered the fact that it's a 10 minute song ended the TV show. So they edited it like crazy but not only did they edit it, they broke it in half in the middle.
JS - I probably should've been grateful 'cause they showed a lot of it. They probably showed like six and a half minutes but they cut it at three and a half minutes, they stopped for commercials and came back and Meat Loaf went crazy when they cut for commercials. I mean, I was shocked too but we went really berserk. Then when they came back something was wrong with the tape. So it started to wobble. It was like (SINGING) and he went berserk. It was going out on television like this and Meat went crazy.
JS - Then we had to do a concert the next night, again in Washington DC, and David will probably tell you the story if you interview him. He had a really strong relationship with Meat Loaf and there was a whole series of corridors and hallways in this place we played in Washington. It was one of those right out of a comedy in that it was a long hallway with like 20 doors. I had no idea where to go. I was always in a daze.
JS - So tired of touring, as was Meat. We were exhausted and we were just the, after four months it was so intense and exhausting and I was looking for some people I guess and I kept opening doors and I couldn't find anybody. I finally, as David will tell you, he was, Meat pulled him in the room. Meat had no clothes on at all. He pulled him in a room and started strangling him. Started screaming, you scam artist, you scheister, you crook, you thief, you phony.
JS - 'Cause of what they did with his video on television. David's being strangled and Meat doesn't fool around. He wasn't just doing a fake strangling, David was turning blue. David will tell you this. He thought, I'm gonna die. I'm gonna die right here in this stupid room in Washington DC, I can't breathe. He felt a death rattle, you know (MAKES NOISE) he's turning blue and he says like, I know I'm gonna die. These are my last moments.
JS - At that moment, the door opens, and it's me looking for whatever it was, probably the food, and the door opens I go, oh, and David was saying, I'm saved. I go, I'm sorry I didn't know you were having a meeting, and I closed the door and left. David says, now I'm gonna die again. So his chance to be rescued was lost. 'Cause it was so typical of any meeting it wasn't that unusual for me to open a door and see Meat nude, strangling David, and calling him a thief, so I just thought it was another meeting.
JS - We went from there, and did a show in Philadelphia, which is known almost legendarily as the Battle Of Philly. Opening actually for Southside Johnny which is the band that Miami Steve was in. It was one of the few shows we opened for anyone but we, it was (WORD?) 'cause WMMR, the big station in Philadelphia, was broadcasting it live so it was important exposure for us, and there were so many things that went wrong.
JS - I won't bore you with them but they were really sorry they let us use the piano. We didn't have our own piano, so I said, is it all right if we use your grand piano rather than some horrible little piano the theater has? They said, oh yeah, use our piano. They didn't realize how hard I play. I played ridiculously hard on the piano. It comes from, you know, wanting to bleed. I played so hard that six keys flew out of the piano.
JS - It was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. You saw this key just fly out. The string broke and then the key gets ricocheted out. They couldn't use their piano for their show and they were furious. Then when Meat came out the one thing they warned him about, they said, look this is going out on the air live. Don't curse, we don't have a delay going, it's broken.
JS - So just control the, and I swear, the (WORD?) you'll have to bleep it but Meat Loaf comes out and he goes, how are you doing, you mother fuckers Philadelphia? Mother fuckin' Philadelphia. He just says mother fuckin' about 40 times in a row, and from there it was downhill 'cause he was still upset from Washington. He was totally drunk, I think, and he poured a bottle of gin over the head of Steve Buslowe, the bass guitarist while he's playing the bass guitar. It could have electrocuted him.
JS - He was throwing beer bottles behind him. They were crashing and breaking against the drums. It was really like a danger zone but that was always the case. Doing a show with Meat was always a dangerous occurrence. I mean that literally. There's always a chance of physical danger 'cause he was, in a way, a very scary thing. A guy who did not have any conscious inhibitions when he was on stage and that can be dangerous for other people.
JS - Even just the sound level. I remember we got so scared at one point. He had the loudest monitors ever for his vocals and they were on the side and they were right next to me on the piano, literally maybe three feet away. This is his vocal monitor. His vocal monitor was just his voice which he needed because he was hard of hearing in one ear. It's all (WORD?), he wanted the heavy treble.
JS - So this unbelievably bright, loud vocal. Trying to make you understand how loud it is, they tested Kiss, Gene Simmons told me and Kiss was, I might not have the number exactly right, something like 143 dB or something. It was what a jet plane was taking off Kiss was clocked at, which was amazing. You know, cause of permanent damage to your ears and all that. They did it for us and we were like 8 dB hotter for the band.
JS - But the amazing thing is, I asked them would they do the monitor? The monitor was something like 160 dB, just the monitor. So I had the equivalent of a jet plane plus like 100 people screaming in my ear for months and I got really nervous. I remember I went to a doctor in Detroit who told me my hearing was perfect, but then again he was a doctor in Detroit, who knows? It was really an ordeal every night, the show, for a lot of physical reasons.