Flash Metal Suicide: Black Sheep

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“Took a long time, just to get nowhere” - Trouble in the Streets

Although I certainly don’t remember flash metal ever going out of it’s way to be all that exclusionary to anybody (‘cept for punk rockers, maybe), the truth is, it was almost exclusively the domain of white males. That is not my fault or yours, that’s just the way it was, and I can pretty much name all the black guys in heavy metal in the 80s (or now, for that matter) off the top of my head, and not miss any. Watch me. Sound Barrier, The Dirty Ratz (who were on Motown, no less), Katon from Hirax, Black Death, all the dudes from Znowhite ‘cept for the white chick that sang, my old roommate Troy, Slash, and Will Basse. And the last two were both in the same band. That band? Black Sheep. Why yes, it is a stupid name. But, you know, so was White Sister.

Hollywood sleaze metal pioneers and terminal also-rans London were well-known for being ground zero for every nascent flash metal band in Hollywood, as various members went on to form Motley Crue, Cinderella, and Spiders and Snakes, among others. Same thing with Black Sheep, really. Besides Slash, who did time with ‘em before they recorded, just about every mascara’d wonderboy on the strip floated through, including guitarist Kurt James (Steeler, Dr. Mastermind), drummer Randy Castillo (Ozzy), and guitarist Mitch Perry (MSG, Talas, Steeler). The only permanent member of the band was founder Basse, who sang, played bass, and operated the revolving door. Their look was ‘tough glam’- somewhere between LA street gang and San Fran leather bar - and the sound was pure, supersonic flash metal, fueled by rapid-fire, virtuoso guitar-shred and bombastic, hook-filled choruses.

Black Sheep built up a rabid cult following in LA, but only released one album, and never really broke through outside of city limits. Which is kinda fucked up, really, cuz Trouble in the Streets is at least as good as any of the other tattooed leatherboys prowling the Strip at the time. Will’s KISS-influenced screech n’ growl sounds a lot like Ron Keel on this record, and what with all the flashy guitar trills (or whatever you call ‘em) from Paul Gilbert, who later went on to considerable success in Mr Big, Trouble sounds a lot like a lost Steeler record, which maybe explains the problem. This world still ain’t big enuff for two Keels, man. At any rate, Trouble was a mostly rockin’ record with only a couple serious offences. The flash metal suicide-isms are both on the A-side, and they are corkers.. For one, their cover of Stop in the Name of Love may turn you into a pillar of salt right where you stand, so be sure and skip over it, if you know what’s good for you. Then there’s side one’s closer, the truly awful Day of the Kids, a pseudo-religious power ballad that almost kills Black Sheep dead. Dig:

“It’s the day of of the kids/Father bless them/Mothers teach them how to live/With faith you can hold your own/cause you see, we’re not alone.”

First of all, I have no idea what any of that means (I think it might be about all the teen runaways in Hollywood back in the 80s, who used to live in cardboard boxes before they became porn stars or signed ill-fated contracts with Kim Fowley, but that’s just a guess), but I can tell you this — it sure the fuck ain’t rock n’ roll. Yikes. Amazingly, Will snatches victory from the jaws of defeat as soon as you flip the record over, and the high-wired sleaze metal of Stick! (To My Guns) kicks in. Ok, it’s awkwardly titled, but it’s a lippy, pedal-to-the-metal cock rock anthem that delivers the goods.The metal continues to flash like a blinding sun throughout the b-side, and even if the lyrics start haemorrhaging all the rock power right outta the grooves (“Love…warrior! There’s no need to fight/ there is truth in the light!”), it’s still a pretty boss swagger-metal record. Best of all, Basse’s production is pure 80’s excess, with gigantic, booming drums and triple-stereo guitar slashings that sound like they’re gonna rip your skull off. But, you know, everybody kept splitting to join puffball hairspray bands, so Black Sheep, Mach 1, imploded soon after Trouble in the Streets hit the, uh…streets.

Not that Basse was all that worried about it. By then, he was already running Willpower studios, a production studio/rehearsal space that housed and recorded every gang o’ spandex tyrants in LA, from Bitch to Guns n’ Roses. He’s still a successful studio engineer in LA, as well as the founder of Rock for Recovery, a non-profit organisation that drags boozy, drugged-out ex-rock stars outta the gutter and tries cleaning ‘em up. Oh, and in ’99, Basse re-formed Black Sheep, this time with Drummer James Kottak (ex- Kingdom Come, scab battery man for the Cult and the Scorps) and a couple new-fangled LA hustlers. They released an EP, Sacrifice, in 2000, and were planning “to rock you well into the next millennium.” They didn’t, but I’m sure they meant to. Basse is still making music though, and a solo album is imminent.

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