“The heavy rock stuff that’s coming out today is pure garbage” - White Sister guitarist Rick Chaddock, in 1987
It is no dark secret that this column skews towards the sleazier, slimier, scuzzier end of the flash metal spectrum, the inky-black end of the street where skinny black-leather creeps like Gunfire Dance, Junior Manson Slags, The Ultra 5 and The Veins slug it out with brawling bikers-from-hell like Zodiac Mindwarp and Circus of Power. That’s just our beat, man. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot acknowledge a great pop metal band, like, you know, TKO and… well, ok, so I sorta hate most pop metal bands. And I think I hated White Sister more than any of them. But did they deserve it? It’s been 30 years man, can we just let it go? Maybe they were better than remembered? Let’s find out.
First though, a little history. This would help if you remember Angel, the anti-KISS. To be honest, I still think Angel was a great idea. Not a great execution, but conceptually fantastic. If KISS were fire-breathing, blood-spitting demons, Angel would be just the opposite, keyboard-banging AOR played by androgynous dudes with flowing, gossamer hair clad in white latex and satin. Gene Simmons “discovered” them, so you know they were doomed from the start, but it was a worth a shot.
Looking back, probably the best thing about the whole affair was Angel’s logo – it was the same when you turned it upside down! How great is that? But the music was mostly so-so, a (suitably) vanilla mish-mash of prog and mid-paced hard rock. Angel definitely had their fans but not enough to keep their mammoth stage-show afloat. They sputtered through the mid-70’s and died at the dawn of the 80’s and their keyboard player, Gregg Giuffria, struck out on his own. Giuffria the man/band was instrumental in the development of what would derisively be called “Wimp metal” at the time and might more generously be called “Melodic rock” now. Dude scored a couple top 50 hits that were like drowning in diet cola, just a merciless onslaught of saccharine puffball power-balladry that bore so little resemblance to actual heavy metal that it almost seemed like an affront to all that was good and decent about the genre (if you consider, say, Manowar or Raven good and decent, which you certainly fucking should).
And Gregg wasn’t even satisfied with turning hard rock into keyboard-laden wimpstuff himself, he started scouring clubs looking for more bands to topple metal mountain with. Which brings us to White Sister. Well, it brings us to Sister, a pre-metal band from Burbank who changed their name to numbingly feeble White Sister during the dawn of the flash metal era and who (so the legend goes) ran into Gregg Giuffria at a gas station, who was so impressed with them (not sure why… headband placement maybe), that he agreed to produce their demo and help ‘em get signed. And that’s exactly what he did. EMI snatched them up and Gregg stuck around to produce their debut self-titled album. It was released in 1984 and hit the bins with a light thud. And with good reason. Every song is sounds the elevator music version of some band you actually like.
Realistically, White Sister’s major issue was that they were middle-of-the-road rockers caught in the double-fisted booze n’ broads woosh of the flash metal wave. Giuffria managed to stay about the fray because he was a 70’s rock survivor, like Whitesnake or AC/DC, but these dudes were being hawked to the same kids that dug Crue and Ratt and WASP, nevermind Metallica or, you know, Laaz Rockit, and it just didn’t fly. So it doesn’t really seem fair to pile it on, but seriously, they named themselves after a Toto song, so they sorta get what they deserved. White Sister somehow managed to get placed on the soundtracks to a lot of b-horror flicks in the mid 80s, which remains their legacy.
After the release of their debut, they found themselves in a minor skirmish with their record label, EMI, who wanted them to change their name to avoid confusion with Twisted Sister, but accidentally buying their record because you thought it was some other band is still better than not buying it all, so they stuck with it for an even less successful follow-up, 1986’s Fashion With Passion. And when that didn’t work, they did, in fact, change their name. Not only that, but they changed their whole image. You’re not gonna fucking believe this one, man. In 1991, three-quarters of White Sister reconvened as a street-fighting, Harley-riding, virgin-killing biker metal band called Tattoo Rodeo. They signed to Atlantic and released an album called Rode Hard… Put Away Wet. And guess what it sounds like? Like White Sister in cowboy hats.
And so ends our journey. Just say no to White Sister no matter what they call themselves.
Next week: Ankh n’ roll!