Anyone who’s ever watched a rockumentary on hair metal in the mid 80’s probably has a pretty good idea of what the night life was like up on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles… the spandex and leather… the drunken debauchery… But let’s back up a few years to a time when the hair was not quite so high, and the eyeliner was not quite so thick.
To start at the beginning would be to tell the tale of so many other 16-year-old kids with a rock n’ roll dream — rehearsing in their parent’s garage and playing the Hollywood High Battle of The Bands. Singer David Anthony and guitarist Alan Santalesa were getting frustrated after spending a year looking for a perfect rhythm section, and soon settled on some kids from the South Bay… and so Shire was born.
But still unsatisfied with their lineup, Anthony and Santalesa continued to hunt for musicians. The musician search wasn’t web-based like it is today, and a popular resource for finding bandmates was a local paper called The Recycler. “You could buy old stuff, look for jobs, and find musicians,” says Santalesa of the local mag. Santalesa and Anthony would scour the ads on a weekly basis and soon found their next bass player, Izzy Stradlin, who went on to gain fame as rhythm guitarist for Guns N’ Roses. “Back then he was Izzy Bell,” says Santalesa of Stradlin, “He looked a lot like Nikki Sixx and had a lot of energy. He was very enthusiastic.” (This contrary to the current heroin chic persona Stradlin sports today.)
Santalesa goes on to say that Stradlin was always more of a punk at heart, counter to Shire’s melodic power metal sound. He says “[Izzy] wanted to do a Ramones song and I added a solo, so everyone thought that was funny. He was the first guy I saw wearing creepers so he was ahead of his time.” Ultimately, Stradlin would leave the band when “his friend Bill Bailey came from Indiana in 1983, so he started doing his thing with him.” (Bill would be GnR singer Axl Rose.)
Despite lineup setbacks, Shire persevered and soon found out that Don Dokken of Dokken fame was recording and producing local metal bands working with renowned producer and engineer and former Accept guitarist Michael Wagner. The band contacted Dokken about getting into the studio with him and he agreed. Santalesa describes his time in the studio with Dokken saying, “He was a taskmaster. He was good at getting things done.”
The five-song recording the band got out of those sessions proved beneficial. In 1984, Enigma records released it on their label as an EP. Things took off from there as Shire would go on to hear their recordings played on stations like KLOS on both local shows and in regular rotation, an experience Santalesa describes as “thrilling.” The band also continued playing clubs like The Roxy, The Troubadour, and Gazarri’s for enthusiastic fans. Other bands on the scene were Motley Crue, Ratt, and Dante Fox, who would later change their name to Great White.
Time passed and the band continued on the path they were on. But when they contacted Enigma Records about the possibility of recording a full-length LP, the company told them that wouldn’t be a good idea. Despite the excitement behind the band, they simply didn’t sell enough copies of the EP. “Even with the Dokken and the radio airplay, all they really care about is money,” says Santalesa.
Following this disappointing event, the band members went on to pursue other ventures. Says Santalesa, “We never really broke up. We just stopped showing up.”
Anthony and Santalesa didn’t speak to each other for quite some time. Then a tragedy brought them together. Anthony’s brother and original L.A. Guns’ lead singer Michael Jagosz died. When Santalesa called to express his condolences, it renewed an interest in the band for the former members, and so Shire was reborn.
Now, with many more resources at their disposal, including a recording studio at Anthony’s house, the band has been re-releasing some older material as well as recording new material. They also are playing out locally at places like Paladino’s and The House of Blues where they are always happy to see old fans coming back out of the woodwork. You can keep up with Shire on their web site, and their Reverb Nation page.
Shire’s reunion is also being recorded in a documentary called Shire Then and Now. In it, Anthony offers, “Every time you listen to your favorite rock and metal song, you’re listening to a part of your youth that never dies and that’s what’s happening here.”
[Images courtesy of Alan Santalesa.]
Marissa Bergen is a Los Angeles-based musician and writer. “Spotlight On Local” focuses on independent underground artists in the hard rock, heavy metal, and punk genres.