FIRESTARTERS – The North East Connection from Raven & Blitzkreig to Megaforce & Metallica

In the book Heavy Tales, Jon Zazula tells the story of how he and his wife Marsha founded Megaforce Records in 1983 in New Jersey, USA, and released one of the most important albums in Heavy Metal history – ‘Kill ‘Em All’ by Metallica. This post looks at the North East connection.

I read the book in a couple of hours – I couldn’t put it down, it contains detailed accounts of the couple working with bands who would go on to release some of the most important albums in Heavy Metal history.

One historic story was how they helped kick start the Metallica machine, who eventually went on to sell millions and pack out stadiums across the world, and 40 years later, still be at the top of their game.

Jon & his wife Marsha (pic Mark Weiss)

In the early ‘80s based in an indoor flea market in New Jersey, Rock n Roll Heaven was a record store that Jon ran with his wife. “I gave it that name because I wanted to specialize in music by dead people and pay homage to them – John Lennon, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix”.

With his business head on, Zazula had a multitude of ideas bursting around him, and with an unstinting help and belief from his wife Marsha, the ideas for the record store were becoming reality.

One day a friend returned from a heavy metal show in San Francisco with a demo tape “Johnny you gotta hear this”.

He put it on the tape deck in the store and out of the crackly speakers the first song played “What the fuck, this is amazing”. Zazula immediately new the next step and put it into action.

With some earnings from the record store he brought Metallica over to the east coast to fuse ideas together and play live dates with Raven, Venom and Twisted Sister.

Raven’s Chief Headbanger John Gallagher told me…

“For young lads like us there was only two ways out of Newcastle…and we weren’t good footballers”.

“It all changed when we made contacts in the US and did our first tour with a young rag tag outfit called Metallica opening up for us”.

Raven at The Metro, Chicago, Dec 8 1983. Pic courtesy Gene Ambo.

Not long after Zazula added more store takings to a second mortgage on the couple’s home and paid the production costs on Metallica’s debut album. Was he stretching his resources too far and taking a huge financial risk ? “I never shipped an album in my life. Unbelievably, I ended up paying the studio bill before I left with the finished tapes”.

The original title was Metal Up Your Ass and pictured a dagger coming out of a toilet on the cover. The distributors backed away saying retailers wouldn’t stock it. Jon broke the news to the band, bassist Cliff Burton shouted

“Man, fuck those big business guys, fuck the suits, we should just kill ’em all”.

“It was a brilliant moment, that was the Metallica way” said Jon.

Lightning had struck and Megaforce propelled both bands forward to the major labels, with Raven signing to Atlantic while Metallica optioned for Elektra.

The Metallica connection to the North East didn’t stop there. Leicester band Blitzkreig, got a deal with Neat records and subsequently based themselves in Newcastle.

Brian Ross (vocalist) told me a story that isn’t in the book.

I didn’t know that Metallica were massive fans of Blitzkrieg. In 1985 I was in the studio recording the first Blitzkrieg album. When I came home, my wife Mandy said there’s been an American guy on the phone and he wanted to talk to you. I asked who it was, ‘Somebody called Lars, he didn’t say much but he’s calling back later’.

Staying true to his word, the drummer got back in touch.

“Hi Brian it’s Lars Ulrich from Metallica here, I wonder if you’d mind if we do a cover version of your track ‘Blitzkrieg”. 

“I had no problem with that at all” said Ross.

“and then spent ages on the phone telling him the structure of the song, the chord progression and dictating the lyrics. It’s a good version they’ve put their slant on it and they done it because they love the song. They put it on the American version of Kill ‘Em All and Garage Inc”.  

Heavy Tales: The Metal. The Music. The Madness. As lived by Jon Zazula out now on kindle or paperback.

Gary Alikivi  June 2021.