Famous Firsts: Sick Of It All

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Sick Of It All frontman Lou Koller reminisces over the firsts of his musical career – from falling in love with Judas Priest to touring with Bad Brains.

What was the first album that you ever bought?

“The first record I got with my own money was Judas Priest British Steel. Before that I had other records. My mother had gone out and bought Kiss Alive for me and my brother, Pete. Around that time – when I finally saved up enough money – I went to the record store, and I was looking through all the records when I saw British Steel. I thought, ‘This looks great!’ And then I turned it over and I saw the guys on the back, and I was like, ‘These guys look fucking wild!’ So I bought the record. Then I went home and I put it on, and I was blown away. That record is such a great record. And not just the hits like Living After Midnight, but Grinder and stuff like that. Oh, man! Our two other brothers were into bands like Deep Purple and Rainbow too, but me and Pete always leaned more towards the heavier, dirtier stuff like Sabbath and Motörhead. But Judas Priest were the first real heavy metal band I got into.”

What was the first single that you ever bought?

“The first single I went out and bought, and I got it for fifty cents at a used record store in my neighbourhood, was Alice Cooper’s School’s Out. How about that?! They didn’t just sell records: they had all kinds of second-hand crap. It was one of those tiny little places that’s stuffed with everything. I was looking through the 7”s, and there it was. The B-side was Gutter Cat, and I fucking played both sides to death. I still have that record.”

What was the first gig you ever went to?

“This is an easy one. My uncle worked for a company who owned part of Madison Square Garden, and he got us tickets to see Black Sabbath and Blue Öyster Cult. It was Ronnie James Dio, the Heaven & Hell tour, and it was called the Black & Blue tour in the States, with the two bands. It was fucking amazing! I was a fan of Ozzy, but I think Heaven & Hell is a fucking amazing, classic record and my first real concert was on that tour. I was like 13 at the time and it was such an incredible experience. We were really close to the stage, too. Sabbath came on and opened with Neon Knights, then went through a whole set of all the old stuff and the Heaven & Hell shit. It was fucking great. I was 13 years old, hanging out in this section of Madison Square Garden, and the people in the upper tiers were throwing fireworks down. It was pretty scary, ha ha! I remember during the concert some people were trying to move closer by jumping down too, and this hippy couple jumped down and asked if they could stand next to me and my brother Pete. We were there without our parents just rocking out to Sabbath, and this guy kept offering us a bit of his joint. I was like, ‘No thanks, man!’ Ha ha.”

What was the first gig you ever played?

“Sick Of It All was the only band we started doing any real shows with, and the first Sick Of It All show ever was at a place called the Right Track Inn in Long Island, New York. The show was booked by Craig [Setari] who plays bass for us now. He was playing bass in two bands that day. He played in Youth Of Today, and Straight Ahead. He called us up and said, ‘Come on, you guys could open the show.’ And we were like, ‘Man, we’re not ready.’ And he goes, ‘Well if you’re not ready now, you’ll never be ready. I’m putting you on the show.’ And he forced us to play the show – and we sucked. But the crowd kind of liked us because we covered an old New York band who had just broken up – Cause For Alarm – and when we played that song the place went crazy.”

How was the first Sick Of It All tour?

“The first real tour we did, we opened up for Bad Brains. We joined their US tour halfway through. So it was us, Leeway from back in New York, and Bad Brains. We joined the tour in Salt Lake City and we did the whole West Coast with them. They were like our favourite band ever, and the first night in Salt Lake City we had a great reaction. We watched Leeway, and then Bad Brains came on, and right away during the first song H.R. does the backflip. It was insane. We got to watch them be amazing every single night on the Quickness tour – that’s the record they were pushing at the time.

“After Salt Lake City, we were heading to San Francisco and we were driving along this desert road behind them in our van. We saw their tour bus slowing down, and we thought maybe they were breaking down. Then all of a sudden H.R. just jumps out and starts walking out into the wilderness. We were just like, ‘What the fuck?’ ha ha! So we followed them to a gas station, and we asked their roadies, ‘What happened? Where’s H.R. going?’ And they just said, ‘Oh, he got into a fight with his brother Earl and he just said to let him off the bus.’ We asked if they were going to wait for him and they said, ‘No he’ll find his way.’ So we’re at San Francisco the next night and we’ve played already, Leeway have played, and Bad Brains are getting ready to go on. I’m looking around like, ‘Where’s H.R.? Is he gonna make it?’ And as soon as I said that, there he was. He was with these two punk girls, one under each arm, who just happened to pick him up on the highway and brought him to the gig just on time. That’s what made them so great I think; not just their musical talent and all that, but they had that insanity that makes a lot of the hardcore bands great.”

Lou Keller joins Matt Stocks on the TeamRock Punk Show this Sunday.