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Monday, September 26, 2011

Iron Maiden: 30 Years Since Bruce Dickinson Joined Today

Steve Harris had almost sorted it out. Six years after he formed Iron Maiden, whose name was inspired by a film adaptation of «The Man in the Iron Mask», Harris was still looking for that final piece to the puzzle. Having gone through three singers, twelve guitarists (of which, two remained), four drummers (of which, one remained) and a keyboard player, the bassist-songwriter-bandleader had almost dialed up the perfect combination. But he still needed a frontman.

When Iron Maiden signed to a major label in December 1979, it seemed like they were just about there. The line-up of Harris, guitarist Dave Murray, second guitarist Dennis Stratton, drummer Clive Burr and singer Paul Di’Anno was a pretty fearsome group. Stratton and Murray provided a complementing, give-and-take twin-guitar attack. Burr was a more-than-solid drummer. Harris was quickly developing into the best bassist in heavy metal. And Di’Anno…well, Di’Anno was something else.

Paul Di’Anno was not your prototypical singer. His voice was raspy and harsh, though he could fire off a top-shelf scream when necessary. But Rob Halford he was not. Di’Anno, though, brought a toughness to a band that was built for menace. In songs like “Phantom of the Opera” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” you get the feeling you’re hearing the story from the killer himself.

Di’Anno sang on the band’s first two albums, «Iron Maiden» and «Killers», and on the live EP, «Maiden Japan». And the band met with some early success. Their 1980 self-titled debut went to #4 in the U.K. charts. The follow-up, 1981’s «Killers», only made it as far as #12, but helped to break the band in America. It was on the Killers tour where the group first ventured to the States, but the tour would also prove to be the end of the Di’Anno era.

The band, which now included guitarist Adrian Smith (after Stratton’s dismissal), were growing more and more frustrated with their singer. His voice couldn’t hold up to extensive touring or long shows. More to the point, the band found his behavior erratic and detrimental, which they attributed to cocaine and alcohol abuse (a charge Di’Anno vehemently denies). Regardless, on the verge of making it big, the band decided to jettison Di’Anno in favor of a singer more suited for the road and the rigors of playing with Maiden.

Bruce Dickinson was just the man for the job. The former Samson frontman (known as “Bruce Bruce” in those heady days) had just parted ways with his old band, amid a cascade of management and record label problems. Dickinson was a hilarious ball of energy, and he had no patience for guys who were content to squander their opportunities by getting high. He’d had enough of that in Samson. And while he wasn’t a military starch-shirt like his dad, he did have a drive to succeed.

Dickinson auditioned for Iron Maiden in September 1981 and immediately got the job (on this very day in 1981). His powerful voice was well suited for the material the band was cooking up for their next release. Though Dickinson was contractually forbidden to take part in the songwriting for the new album (because of his old Samson deal), he nevertheless offered a “moral contribution.” And that next album would, indeed, propel Maiden and Dickinson to the top of the metal world. «The Number of the Beast» went to #1 in the U.K. and was the first Iron Maiden album to chart in the U.S., going to #33.

Though the band would have a handful of other line-up changes in subsequent years, this was the one that had the most lasting impact. When “Bruce Bruce” met Eddie and friends, a monster was born.

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