Story by Clay Marshall
Steel Panther guitarist Russ Parrish sports leopard-print Spandex and a tiger-striped ax when the group plays in concert. If all goes well, he'll climb atop the drum riser and stomp on the kick-drum pedal, accompanying himself. Meanwhile the group's bassist, Travis Haley, spends much of the time staring into a sparkly handheld mirror, touching up his makeup.
Cock rock is dead? Hardly. For more than a decade now, the band members -- who also have performed as Metal Shop and Metal Skool -- have built a large fan base by simultaneously skewering and embracing hair-metal tropes at Sunset Strip venues. Their streetwalker attire, their synchronized leg kicks and their devotion to their fans' breasts are all part of the fun.
Parrish, 41, once played alongside Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford. Vocalist Ralph Saenz, 46, briefly fronted L.A. Guns and impersonated David Lee Roth in Van Halen tribute band The Atomic Punks. (When it comes to Steel Panther stage names, Parrish goes by Satchel, Hakey by Lexxi Foxx and Saenz by Michael Starr.)
Though initially focused on the rendition of hits by Cinderella, Poison and Warrant, Steel Panther suddenly are popular from their own material. Their second major-label album of originals, Balls Out, debuted at No. 40 on the Billboard Top 200 in November. In December they supported Guns N' Roses at the Forum and toured the United Kingdom alongside Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe. Not only have Steel Panther gone legit, they've become peers of the acts they once covered.
The group's original songs combine the party-hard sensibilities of Andrew W.K. with Andrew Dice Clay-style humor, on songs like "It Won't Suck Itself." "Fat Girl (Thar She Blows)" is basically a rip-off of Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again," while anal-sex ode "Weenie Ride" ("Just bring the baby wipes and the Astroglide") resembles Mötley Crüe's "Home Sweet Home" in parts. But it's clever, and that goes a long way. "We don't do 'serious' music," Parrish says. "People need a break from that. Our stuff is fuckin' fun."
This transition came about "naturally," says Saenz, adding that he and Parrish's first original was power ballad "Stripper Girl," which cops a few licks from "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" and can be heard on Steel Panther's 2009 debut full-length, Feel the Steel. The group first started playing the song at their Viper Room residency even before that, and sold self-produced CDs, which their fans promptly memorized.
"Once they stopped focusing on the covers, I think people were really blown away by the level of musicianship in the band," says the House of Blues' Paul McGuigan, where the group had its most recent residency. They'll be putting it on hold to embark upon a European headlining tour, however, which means that overseas fans (and yes, there are plenty) will get a chance to see Parrish's dextrous shredding and fretboard-tapping, worthy of Eddie Van Halen.
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Still, their manager, Paul Geary, admits that folks new to the Steel Panther aesthetic aren't sure what to make of a modern-day hair-metal band. "There was a lot of confusion for two or three songs," he recalls of a show at an Ohio festival last year. "People were like, 'Are they serious?' [But] within four or five songs, people were engaged, laughing and having a good time."
Rest assured that, despite their new penchant for performing their own material, Steel Panther won't start taking themselves too seriously. "We're stoked to have gigs, go out and entertain, and fuck people's girlfriends," says Parrish. "That's really the goal: How many girlfriends can we fuck?"