Scott Ian Describes His Worst Moment in Anthrax's History

Anthrax's Scott Ian
Anthrax's Scott Ian
Clay Patrick McBride

Heavy metal icons Anthrax may be on hiatus from recording and touring, but downtime has never kept guitarist and band founder Scott Ian from staying busy.

The Queens native — now firmly transplanted in Los Angeles — stayed productive by writing his autobiography I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax and embarking on a Henry Rollins-esque spoken word tour, documented on the new DVD release, Swearing Words in Glasgow.

Today on West Coast Sound, we have exclusive excerpts from both book and video ahead of a spoken-word appearance and book release party this Friday night, October 10 at Largo.

The DVD release documents a tour stop on Ian's 2013 "Speaking Words" tour. Ian shares tales from Anthrax's 30-year history in a conversational manner, almost as if you were catching up with an old friend over beers. While Swearing Words in Glasgow is fairly light-hearted entertainment for the casual metal fan, the dedicated fan will find more meat in Ian’s autobiography, which hits bookshelves on Tuesday, October 14. The autobiography — co-written with heavy metal journalist Jon Wiederhorn — goes into many of the rock autobiography tropes of humble beginnings, success, failure and rebirth, but for there is still plenty of meat for hardcore metal fans to chew on.

We were particularly fascinated with the below passage. Detailing his mounting tensions with Neil Turbin — vocalist on Anthrax’s 1984 debut album Fistful of Metal — Ian paints a picture of a time period that he describes as “the worst moment for me in the history of Anthrax.”

From I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy from Anthrax by Scott Ian with John Wiederhorn. Reprinted courtesy of Da Capo Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.

As soon as we started touring to support Fistful of Metal, Neil got ultra-cocky. He felt like he was the boss man, and he became inflexible. His attitude was, “I’m the singer and it’s my way or the highway.” He thought we’d be dead without him. The shitty thing is, he was right. We were on the fast track. Jonny Z [founder of ‘80s metal label Megaforce Records] was managing us, and he was bringing Raven back in the summer of 1984 to tour like they did the year before with Metallica opening, and this time we were scheduled to open all the dates, starting May 30. Everything was already announced and planned, and if we lost our singer, we’d have had to cancel. Jonny wasn’t going to wait around for us. There were other bands he was talking to like Overkill and Legacy (which became Testament). We had to strike while the iron was hot, and that gave Neil the ability to pull all these power plays.

He decided what we were going to look like and what we were going to wear. He made this chain-mail belt for me that was six or seven inches wide all the way around. It weighed twenty pounds, and he wanted me to wear it onstage. I liked to run around when we played, and the belt weighed me down. But he said, “Scott, you’re going to fucking wear that belt! Lilker, turn your bass down and never step in front of me.” Whenever we opposed any of his ideas, he threatened to quit. We hated his guts, but we were powerless to do anything about it.

The biggest dick move Neil ever pulled was when he fired [original Anthrax bassist] Danny Lilker behind our backs after Fistful came out in January 1984. The main reason he did it, in my opinion, was because Danny is taller than him. He honestly didn’t think someone should be taller than the front man onstage. He thought it made him look bad, so he tried to stand as far away from Danny as possible, which was hard when we were playing stages the size of Ping-Pong tables.

But I have to admit there were issues with Danny. He was lazy. He was getting into weed and the rest of us were clean. And he was forgetful. We were rehearsing at a studio in New Rochelle by then. It was thirty minutes from Bayside, so I’d pick up Lilker, and we’d drive over the Throgs Neck Bridge to New Rochelle. Twenty minutes after we’d left, Danny would say, “Oh, I forgot my bass.”

“Dude, I figured you’d left it at rehearsal.”

“No, it’s at home.”

“Man, we’ll be there in ten minutes. If we turn around we’ll be late. We’ll have to borrow a bass from another band.”

Stuff like that was constantly happening. Danny was laid-back and lackadaisical, and I was always that guy — bam, bam, bam, gotta move forward — but that was no reason to kick him out of the band. Danny was the guy who was there from the beginning. It was me and him. We started Anthrax, and he was the main riff writer at the time. Charlie [Benante, Anthrax drummer] hadn’t started writing songs yet, and the stuff that I had written before wasn’t good enough anymore. It still kinda sounded like Iron Maiden, whereas Danny’s writing got so much better as we progressed. The first time he played “Deathrider,” I almost peed myself. It was amazing. But Neil didn’t like Lilker and felt he was holding us back. We finished Fistful in October 1983, and in November we had a show at a roller rink in New Jersey called Skateway 9. Talas, which were Billy Sheehan’s band, were headlining, then came Exciter, then us. We thought we should have been in the middle of the bill, but Jonny said, “Exciter are coming from Canada. We can’t make them open the show. They’re an international act.” International? Fucking Canada? But we liked Exciter, so we relented.

We had a great set, and about six hundred kids lost their shit because we were the local favorites. Exciter were cool and tore the place up as well, and Talas were nuts. Seeing Billy Sheehan play bass was insane and still is. He’s incredible. Things just got better. Fistful of Metal came out in January, and we were thrilled to finally have a record out that people could buy in stores, even if we never got used to that shitty artwork. I was still riding a natural high from having a record out when I got a call from Lilker. He sounded strange.

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  “Dude, what’s going on? Neil just called me and told me I’m out of the band,” he said.

“What are you talking about?”

“Neil just called me and fired me.”

I figured he must have been confused. Neil didn’t tell me anything. We didn’t have a band meeting. I thought maybe there had been a mistake, and I told Danny I’d figure out what was going on and call him right back.

I called Neil and said, “Dude, what the fuck! You fired Danny?”

“We talked about it. You knew this ...”

“No, we’ve talked about Danny’s problems and that I would talk to him and we would get him back on track. No one fucking told you to call him and fire him, that’s ... you can’t just fire Danny, it’s not ...”

“Well, he’s out,” he interrupted. “It’s either him or me. I can’t be in a band with that slob anymore. He’s an embarrassment onstage. He’s not a professional musician. He doesn’t look like he belongs in Anthrax.”

I would wear leather pants onstage, Neil had his whole Rob Halford–meets–Rhett Forrester look, and Lilker would have jeans and a black leather jacket on with some metal T-shirt. I never had a problem with the way he looked. Cliff didn’t look like the rest of Metallica, and no one cared. It just didn’t matter.

“You can’t fuckin’ do that, man ...”

“That’s it. It’s either him or me.”

I hung up and called Charlie and Spitz, and everyone came to the same conclusion. We couldn’t lose our singer. We had to go on tour and support our album. It was sickening knowing our hands were tied and we were backed against the wall. We felt like if we lost Neil the band would be done. We’d be held up for months trying to find someone else to sing for us.

I got off the phone with those guys and sat in my room in my mom’s house and cried. I was sick to my stomach, throwing up. I had gone from a state of elation from having just released our first record to feeling like I had lost a loved one, and in a way I had. I called Danny back and explained the situation: “Neil said it’s you or him. I called Charlie and Danny, and I can’t believe ... I don’t want to say this to you, but this is what we’re doing, this is what we have to do if we’re going to move forward. We can’t lose Neil. As much as we hate him, we just can’t.”

Danny was silent for a moment. And then he just went with it. If I didn’t know any better, I wouldn’t have thought he was angry, but I knew he was devastated. Telling Danny that I was going with Neil’s decision was probably the worst moment for me in the history of Anthrax. It was fucking brutal. I hated Neil before, mostly because he was such a douche, but he was laughable because he was an idiot. Now, I genuinely hated him because he was a tyrant and he made me lose my best friend. I’d dream about the day when Neil wasn’t going to be in the band, either. I’d look at him with his smug expression, and I’d think, “Dude, this is not going to happen for you. You’re never going to be what we’re going to be — not while you’re in the band.”

Scott Ian appears at Largo this Friday night, October 10. Tickets available here.

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