If they were all hype they might have really gotten somewhere in the 1980s. Over-hyped, talent-challenged bands like Poison sure did make it happen based more on looks and image than on their sound.
But influential, cutting edge, speed metal titans like Anvil were never about hype. Their sound was so completely on the outer limits of the metal genre it was seldom understood by the big record company executives and consequently seldom properly captured on record.
It didn't stop guitarist/vocalist Steve Kudlow AKA "Lips" and drummer Robb Reiner, and the various other guys in Anvil over thirty years, from dreaming big. They knew they had something even if they never seemed to be able to convince the right people. They began on the kind of hard road that most bands do starting in their teens. By their late twenties they had built a brand and recorded some very influential and popular material with such influential tracks as 'Metal On Metal' and 'Mothra'. They should have been huge....but they weren't.
There are theories out there as to why Anvil never hit big when they were still in their twenties, but I personally have not heard a single one of these theories that holds water. Some have wondered whether it was because they are Canadian. So are Rush, Triumph, Lee Aaron, Helix etc. Those bands hit big around the same time Anvil burst on the scene and they all stayed in Canada too. So much for that theory. It sure wasn't because Kudlow and Reiner were jerks. Ask around and you likely won't find two musicians spoken of more highly by those within the industry. These guys are gentlemen and they always have been true "mentschen". Maybe they were too nice.
What continuously betrayed Anvil were the excesses of the North American recording industry and the superficiality of what record companies thought they could sell to a listening public they looked down upon. The respective major labels all had a chance at signing Anvil and passed. Their interpretation of speed metal was something often thought to be before its time. Other musicians, particularly metal musicians loved the band, but that didn't translate into record sales or MTV airplay. The guys in Anvil were never classically handsome so you couldn't really mass-market them to women. You could also forget about any kind of bad boy persona. If these guys ever broke rules, which they seldom did, they were careful not to get caught.
If record companies have to forget about image they remain lost even today when it comes to formulating a marketing strategy. Into their thirties, Kudlow and Reiner took menial full-time jobs, got married, became fathers. But they stuck to what they did best - composing, recording and performing live, the unique sound they had forged together.
For a couple of those years in the 1990s, I lived in Kudlow's basement as his tenant. Steve and his wife, her daughters and a crazy dog named Spinner that chased its own tail, lived upstairs. I can attest to Steve's generosity, kindness and strength of character drawing from my own first hand experience. To give you some idea of what he was like as a landlord he let me use his old furniture, hooked up my cable for free, fed me on occasion, gave me a quilt when he saw I was only sleeping under a sheet.
You could suggest I'm biased when I say it, but no matter what good comes his way I'll always think he deserves better. I can assure the reader I am far from the only one. It gave me considerable pause to wonder why he cut me so many breaks when no one seemed to be giving him or his band any. I noted with surprise when my landlord and his band were shown on a local music station in their live video for 'Head To The Metal'. I told him about it and suggested he might expect a sizeable royalty cheque. "You know what? I think I get maybe a half a penny everytime one of my videos is played!" Said Steve, whom I never called "Lips". It was one of those moments of stark disillusionment I had in examining an industry which I had long glamourised. I wasn't writing about bands back then but I got my education in how bands can be popular without making any money.
Still another decade passed and by then many people impressed by the initial run of Anvil had forgotten about them. But a small network of people had not. Call it a cult following or whatever you want but there were pockets of Anvil fans worldwide. In 2007, one of their fans, a former roadie of theirs named Sacha Gervasi, made some inroads in his own career as a filmmaker and decided he wanted to shoot a documentary about the band. The guys in Anvil agreed. The result was 'Anvil! The Story of Anvil', a remarkable documentary filled with aching sincerity which has helped spark a resurgence in Anvil's popularity in 2009.
Kudlow and Reiner always worked hard at everything they did. If the odyssey of this band tells us anything it is a tribute to hard work, perseverance, seriousness of intent, and boldness of experimentation. In other words they have always been an act immersed in the least glamorous aspects of popular music. Now in their fifties, visibly aged but still formidable musically, the unimaginable has happened. They have become very popular, gained mainstream acceptance and been redeemed as though they have awakened from a long nightmare.
To those of us that have followed the band and/or dealt with them personally, their long delayed arrival on centrestage means a great deal more than the pleasant conclusion to a human interest story. Dusted off from a corner in an abandoned section of the realm of obscurity, they are suddenly living the dream. To say that it couldn't happen to a couple of nicer guys would be the understatement of the century. What the rest of us can draw from it is the fact that if you remain truthful to yourself long enough you will be rewarded for it.
They are touring in Britain in November with UK legends Saxon in a series of seven shows that are now 'can't miss' spectacles. Treat yourself and take in a show near you. Seeing such seasoned genius in performance is rare and their show remains kick-ass.
Nov 4 2009 8:00 PM Civic Hall - Whitehaven
Nov 5 2009 8:00 PM Empire - Middlesbrough
Nov 6 2009 8:00 PM Picturehouse - Edinburgh
Nov 7 2009 8:00 PM Hellfire Festival - Birmingham
Nov 8 2009 8:00 PM Koko - London
Nov 9 2009 8:00 PM Rock City - Nottingham
Nov 10 2009 8:00 PM Academy - Leeds