Why Watching Peter Steele's 1985 CBGB Soundcheck Was a Transformative Experience | Revolver

Why Watching Peter Steele's 1985 CBGB Soundcheck Was a Transformative Experience

This was something I never heard before and didn't even imagine was possible
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My name is Parris Mayhew of the Aggros, co-founder of Cro-Mags... I was a friend of Peter Steele and I remember vividly the first time I met him. It was 1985 at CBGBs. My band Cro-Mags had just played a "Hardcore Matinee." A Sunday, of course, and CBGB was trying out a "Sunday Metal Night" to follow the hardcore matinees, which ended around 8pm. 

After the matinee we packed up our gear at a leisurely pace, lingering with friends and fans backstage, high on the energy of a 1985 Cro-Mags gig at CBGBs. My best friend at that time was Sean Taggart. He was impatiently waiting to leave. He had little patience for sharing his time even with our inner circle, much less strangers and fans. He couldn't wait till I was finished so we could eat before going out to Park Inn Tavern to drink. He repeated his mantra again and again, "Come on let's go." At times like that you knew exactly what Sean looked like at nine years old, but then we were so young that nine was not that distant a memory.  

Normally after a matinee we had plenty of time to linger as long as we wanted. But CBGBs — in its endlessly and desperate attempts to fill the room — was trying something new, a Sunday night metal night to follow the hardcore matinees. Metal and hardcore were clearly separated at that time and the idea of metal on the same stage, on the same day, was lame to hardcore kids. And violence was the result at many transitional times between the shows. Sean wanted no part of it. He paced in a circle waving his arms around demanding we leave "NOW." He finally thought he had me leaving when the first metal band began sound checking… and it was loud. He was not having that at all. The drummer started hitting the toms one at a time, in a loud droning boom boom boom, which made conversation impossible and was our cue to leave. I began packing quickly. 

A drum line check is always unbearable. By the time I was packed up and away from the stragglers, the full band was onstage. Sean and I walked out of the dressing room which was a cave of stickers lit by a single bulb, behind the stage, along the graffiti and sticker-covered mosaic wall running along the stage. Nothing so colorful looked so dark — except a garbage dump or a crime scene. As we turned the corner of the stage and almost made our escape the band hit their first united chord and what came off the stage was like nothing I had ever heard before, thunderous and spine crushing.

I took just another step and was standing directly in front of the stage. I turned and was looking up at this monster of a man, standing in front of a sound that made no sense to me whatsoever. I was completely confused and in wonder. Truly. Even the two feet of stage that added to his height didn't account for the way his body and hands made his Alembic bass look like a ukulele. 

I was just a young musician; I didn't understand alternate tuning at that time and couldn't understand what I was hearing come off the stage. Down-tuning was not common at all at that time, except maybe for Black Sabbath, but this band was even lower than that, a lot lower. It was like my balls were at risk somehow from exposure to this sound. 

I stood looking around the stage for some clue to this magical unexplained awesome power coming off the stage. I looked at the amps, the pedals, the bass and guitar and then back up to this longhaired monster Jesus, but saw nothing, no indication, no clue as to what could possibly be making that sound. At concerts, I often looked at guitar pedals, amps and guitars to get a clue, a starting point to get a sound I liked, but this was something like I had never heard before and didn't even imagine it was possible. 

Sean was now getting agitated and was pulling on me because words couldn't pierce the wall of sound. I tried to say what I was feeling about what I was hearing and couldn't understand why he wasn't hearing what I heard. I looked at him like he was crazy and he at me as I gestured at the stage as if pointing out an amazing sunset he simply couldn't see. He finally threw his hands up and walked out. 

As they finished their song. Even the immediate aftermath of the sound was confusing. What was I hearing? They then went into another song so slow and low and deep I was startled by it. When music can be a complete mystery to musicians it takes on a magical quality. I stood there with my guitar case and stared in disbelief wondering what we played on this same stage that day because it wasn't like this. It was the heaviest thing I had ever seen and heard. 

As they finished their second song, it was only then that I realized after staring at these guys for 10 minutes, that the singer was wearing a Cro-Mags T-shirt. He turned and looked at me over his shoulder, then turned and stared down at me with no expression, then he bent down and extended his freakishly long hand at the end of an impossibly long arm to shake my hand. He opened his mouth and the pitch of his voice was so low that it almost seemed like he was kidding me as he said "Hi, I'm Pete. Good show today." I said, "Thanks, my name is Parris. What's the name of your band?" Then and only then did he smile as he said "Carnivore, good to meet you." We shook hands and then I turned and left. That was the first time ever I saw Peter Steele and Carnivore. I'll never forget it.