Mastering and audio restoration by Patrick W. Engel in February 2022. (www.engel-mastering.com)
Just like the late great Ronnie James Dio, David Feinstein, Carl Canedy, Eric Adams and Joey DeMaio, Andrew “Duck” MacDonald was active in the lively music scene of Upstate New York (a good three-hour drive from New York City). In fact, when he was 16 years of age he was in a band along with Joey DeMaio. The year was 1970 and the name of the band The Grey Ghost, MacDonald was the singer. When another future Manowar member, ex-Dictator Ross The Boss, left French band Shakin Street, Andrew was his replacement on guitar. Shakin Street joined Black Sabbath and Blue Öyster Cult on their “Black And Blue” US tour (all three bands were managed by Sandy Pearlman). After a final tour through France, followed by demo recordings (for a projected third album), Shakin Street called it a day.
And this is where the story of Bible Black starts. Andrew MacDonald explains: “A lot of the shows I played with Shakin Street on the ‘Black And Blue’ tour were in venues in Upstate New York, in Rochester or Buffalo for example, so I got a lot of recognition in my home area because of these shows. That’s how Craig Gruber and Gary Driscoll had heard about me. Of course Craig had just left Black Sabbath a year and a half earlier. He basically recorded the »Heaven And Hell« album, and then they just replaced his parts.”
On the first Bible Black demo from 1981 (consisting of the songs “Metal Man”, “She’s Gone” and “Back To Back”) Craig Gruber on bass was joined by two more former Elf/Rainbow members, namely Gary Driscoll on drums and Mickey Lee Soule (piano). “You must understand that I revered these guys,” continues MacDonald, “because I grew up with them. I went to see them play locally all the time. Their reputation here was incredible. Craig and Gary were absolutely the greatest rhythm section I ever played with. And Mickey Lee is a very sweet guy. I had written a song on that first demo called ‘Back To Back’, that I thought was perfect for his style of playing. So I asked him to come in. He did it in one take and it was fantastic. I you listen to that track, it’s not really a heavy metal track.”
Musically this first demo was indeed pretty varied. “That’s because we were not sure what we were going to be,” says Andrew MacDonald. “I called up Eric [Adams, future Manowar singer">, or Louis [Marullo"> as he was known back then, because we didn’t have a singer. It was just the three of us: Craig, Gary and me. We did write the music and had some lyrical ideas, me and Craig did most of the writing. And then I asked Lou if he wanted to come in and do the demo. He jumped at it because again: these guys were really well known in our area. So he came in and did the demo. I had been in three bands with Lou in the seventies prior to Bible Black. He is a great singer. We were mostly a cover band, playing clubs. Louis and I had to make sure that the money comes in, he had kids, I had a kid. We were young but we had financial obligations to our families.”
Andrew MacDonald produced this first demo all on his own. After that there were some line-up changes: “Craig didn’t really like Lou’s voice, he had another singer in mind. So me and Gary went off to Illinois to do a session with the guy from Starcastle and REO Speedwagon, Terry Luttrell. Craig then took the master tapes down to Atlanta to Jeff Glixman [famous record producer who worked for Kansas, Gary Moore, Black Sabbath, amongst others">. And Jeff Glixman brought in Jeff Fenholt to sing on the tracks that were already there [Fenholt had played the leading role in »Jesus Christ Superstar« on Broadway, later became the singer for Joshua, recorded Christian gospel music and ran his own religious TV show">. Jeff Glixman thought we should be more metal than rock ’n’ roll, so he didn’t do ‘Back To Back’ with the piano on it, he just took the other two tracks and re-mixed them and added the vocals of Jeff Fenholt. At this stage we weren’t even called Bible Black, we didn’t have a name. So me and Gary came back from Illinois and Craig played us the tape with Jeff Fenholt singing ‘Metal Man’ and ‘She’s Gone’. Fenholt sounded great, so he was in, and we started getting together writing more material. Jeff came up with the band name: Bible Black. I thought this was perfect for us. And we went more in the metal direction than in the rock ’n’ roll direction. That would have been in the fall of 1981, possibly early 1982.
Then we wrote some more songs as we liked the combination of people that were involved. We went to Atlanta to record a second demo, this time with Jeff Glixman producing. This was probably eight months to a year after the first demo. We had to get the money together first. Craig was married to a very rich lady, she went on to marry John Sykes afterwards [Jennifer Brooks-Sykes">. She came from a rich family and had a lot of money. So we went to Atlanta and did that second demo [containing ‘Ain’t No Crime’, ‘Down On The World’, ‘Figthing The Wind’ and ‘Back Door’">, and that’s when we went shopping it. Then our manager, Larry Mazer, who went on to become a very important guy in the business, but he was still very young back then, got us a showcase gig at SIR in New York, which is a rehearsal studio. When we got there, he had rented the small room, but I had three Marshall stacks and Craig had four bass stacks, so the small room wasn’t gonna work for this showcase. We scrapped the showcase and got rid of Larry Mazer, which probably was a mistake. But we figured he didn’t handle it the right way. We thought he was not the guy for us. And Jeff Glixman agreed with us at that point in time because he was at that showcase too. We decided to do a bunch of shows, so we were booking shows around New York, Rochester, Buffalo, we did Utah. We did a bunch of shows to get our act together, so to speak.
Our new manager put together a showcase for us at the Ritz in New York, and three major companies were there, also Gene Simmons and lots of other famous people. There was a big buzz about the band in New York at that time. The Ritz was the most famous, the most important small club in New York, people like Tina Turner did their showcase there. It was perfect for this kind of thing, the acoustics were great, it used to be a theatre, a great place. But unfortunately after that we didn’t get signed. So we just went in and did another demo. And that’s when we called Felix Papalardi to produce it. This was our third demo [consisting of ‘Fires Of Old’, ‘Got Me Where You Want Me’ and the Stones cover ‘Paint It Black’">. And that’s when things happened, Craig got divorced, his wife left him. So the money was not there, cause she was the money.
We rented an apartment together and carried on working but there was a lot of alcohol around and people were frustrated. Felix was great, he did a good job on the production of this demo but the engineering wasn’t so great. I don’t know if we really did that much with the demo because we weren’t really happy with it. You have to remember, these were all demos, these weren’t finished products. They weren’t meant to be, they were demos. So in the mean time, when we were living together, there were a lot of financial problems, and alcohol floating around, also a bit too much cocaine, for some of us. That was normal for a rock band but Fenholt decided to leave. So me, Craig and Gary stayed together for a bit longer. And then Craig couldn’t take it any longer, so he left and ended up going to England, eventually he got a job at Gary Moore. I brought in a young singer, that actually my wife turned me onto. She was in a cover band in Upstate New York, and she said that she knows a good singer...”
And that singer was no other than Joe Belladini, later known as Joey Belladonna in Anthrax. “He was 19 or 20 at the time,” explains Andrew MacDonald. “Still very young, maybe early twenties but definitely not older. I was around thirty at the time. So I went in and did another demo with two songs (‘Deceiver’ and ‘Midnight Dancer’, with Joe Sopp playing bass). But me and Gary thought that it had lost the magic. So we didn’t really do anything with it. And that was the end of it.”