The world of heavy metal is loaded with supergroups. A collection of all-star members from various bands congregating on stage to jam, have fun and in some cases come up with their own original music rather than simply playing covers.
Then there's the South Texas Legion.
The STL fits each of the above criteria but with one additional vital caveat. The historical significance of its members, and the “Heavy Metal Capital” scene of which they were a part in the Alamo City and its surrounding areas in the 1980s, was the main impetus of the South Texas Legion’s formation. And the reason it’s taking its act to Germany next spring.
And why it delighted a packed Fitzgerald’s Bar on Wednesday night in a rare opportunity to see some of South Texas’ finest musicians join forces to play tunes from their respective bands.
In a league, or legion, of its own, the South Texas Legion's collective resume came together as a Thanksgiving Eve celebration of the early metal days. But it proved to be more than a trip down Memory Lane (see 66-photo slideshow below).
The brainchild of guitarist Art Villarreal — founder of S.A. Slayer and Karion — members of South Texas' storied past took part in a 95-minute Q&A with Ruben Luna of Hogwild Records and Jake Wylde from KSYM-FM radio. Yours truly was given a mic by Jason McMaster — vocalist of Watchtower, Dangerous Toys, Ignitor, Evil United and Broken Teeth — to ask a question about the famed Nov. 30, 1984, "Slayer vs. Slayer" concert at the Villa Fontana . . . and the fun was on.
McMaster emceed the session, with Militia vocalist Mike Soliz rounding out the original panel of five. That soon grew to include the Jarzombek brothers, guitarist Ron and drummer Bobby, with the latter answering Wylde's question of how he came to play in Halford, the solo band of Judas Priest vocalist Rob "The Metal God" Halford. But rather than bask in their former glory, the members of South Texas Legion relayed the importance of their bands' roles in the emerging South Texas heavy metal scene. Then they showed they "still got it" by performing for another 90-plus minutes.
One of the highlights was when Villarreal spoke about what led to the formation of S.A. Slayer as well as Motorhead tribute Martyrhead.
"This was 1981. 'Ace of Spades' was brand new," Villarreal said. "We lost our drummer and bass player. I put out an ad in the ‘Express-News.’ It might have been ‘The Light.’ Some guys called and had no idea what I meant by 'heavy:' (I'd say) 'What do you play?' (They'd say) 'Tenor sax.' Click. Then Donnie called me."
Donnie Van Stavern, an important piece of the scene as a two-stint bassist in Riot since 1988's Thundersteel album that included Bobby Jarzombek on drums, was unable to attend the festivities. So was Target 7 (and former Fates Warning, Karion and S.A. Slayer) vocalist Chris Cronk. Van Stavern, along with Machine Head drummer Dave McClain, Ron Jarzombek and guitarist Bob “Bob Dog” Catlin, took part in S.A. Slayer, which performed a one-off gig with the Big-4-of-thrash Slayer 34 years ago next week at the Villa Fontana.
With California's Slayer touring in support of its Haunting the Chapel EP, both Slayers brought thrash and heavy metal to town with Militia and Syrus providing support. Slayer frontman Tom Araya, in fact, paid homage to that show Aug. 15 at the Freeman Coliseum during his band's farewell San Antonio concert by performing in a “Slayer vs. Slayer” T-shirt (coverage with photos here).
Soliz had his own perspective of that historical gig, which cost a difficult-to-fathom $5.
"That show was probably the highlight of Militia," Soliz said. "The cool thing about that for us was not just the fact we were opening for both Slayers, but we got a soundcheck for that show. And the crowd was just sic! One guy came up and said, 'I'm here to see y'all!' He had a catcher's mask and nails coming out of it, and he said he was there to see us."
McMaster joked: "How much did you pay that guy?"
Soliz, an Austin native, described the importance of venues such as the Villa Fontana and Ritz Theatre. "They welcomed metal with open arms,” he said. But Soliz wasn't too keen on the radio support, or lack thereof, in his hometown during the '80s. "I don't think Austin had time for metal," he said. "They were busy being bluesy."
Villarreal added: "I lived in Austin for awhile. Their rock stations were stuck on Led Zeppelin and maybe the new Van Halen. I met one guy who knew who the Scorpions were. One guy!"
"But not in San Antonio," McMaster, a Corpus Christi native and longtime Austin resident, chimed in. "They had (late disc jockey) Joe Anthony and Hogwild Records."
McMaster also brought up his gigs with Watchtower at the Villa Fontana and a 1984 concert at the Cameo Theater with Juggernaut and Helstar.
"The first time I played the Villa Fontana was when Watchtower opened for S.A. Slayer," he said. "You know what I loved about that place? The floor was filled with headbangers. Did that place have an air conditioner? I don't think so. But you know what, I didn't care! . . . I feel like I'm from San Antonio."
The South Texas Legion was a conglomeration, a who's-who of the South Texas metal scene, joining forces at Fitzgerald's. Various combinations performed songs from S.A. Slayer, Karion, Juggernaut and Militia. Watch ATM's Facebook Live footage of Watchtower's "Meltdown" here.
Bobby Jarzombek played the first half of the set on drums before giving way to Chip Alexander of Karion and Militia. Bass player Pete Perez, who joined the Jarzombeks in Spastic Ink and played in Riot and Syrus, also jumped up on stage while Villarreal and Catlin — who has played various instruments on 35 albums — held down the guitar forts throughout the show. Ron Jarzombek and Juggernaut's Scott Womack also chimed in on a few loud and heavy tunes, while the evening’s event afforded fans an opportunity to see the Jarzombek brothers perform together in one of the rare instances since their Spastic Ink days.
Not to be outdone was Helstar vocalist James Rivera, who recently took part in Megadeth bassist David Ellefson's "Basstory" at Fitzgerald's (coverage with interview here).
But it's not as if Wednesday's seemingly one-off get-together was just a holiday weekend gathering that would go its separate ways by night's end. Villarreal is taking the South Texas Legion to the Keep It True festival in Germany in April after he played there in 2014. Juggernaut is also slated to perform there for the first time and will have both of its albums re-released by Metal Blade Records at the start of 2019. Listen to a 2017 ATM interview for AXS with Metal Blade CEO Brian Slagel here.
"When German festivals are calling us to reunite this (movement) and wanting us to bring it over there in 2019, that's a big deal," McMaster said. "All those people that go to those festivals, you know what they remind me of? They remind me of San Antonio. They remind me of you."
Villarreal added: "They even know about my demos," while Soliz said, "The fanaticism is 1984 over there."
Despite Perez's and Bobby Jarzombek's presence, there were no Riot or Fates Warning songs performed, nor a mention of the late Riot guitarist Mark Reale. Well, other than the fan who kept shouting his name and calling for a performance of "Thundersteel." Reale, who founded Riot in New York, died of Crohn's disease in a San Antonio hospital in January 2012 while his bandmates were honoring their commitment to the second annual 70000 Tons of Metal cruise in the Grand Cayman Islands with the blessing of Reale's father Tony. Mark Reale was 53. However, the panel did mention other lost musicians such as Byfist vocalist Vikk Real and S.A. Slayer singer Steve Cooper.
Although the South Texas Legion pulled out Iron Maiden's "Prowler" (ATM footage here) and ended with an all-encompassing jam of Judas Priest's "The Ripper" that featured Alexander and Bobby Jarzombek changing drum seats in the middle of the song, the rest of their set featured their bands' originals. Check out ATM footage of Juggernaut’s “Hallow’s Eve,” Militia’s “Salem’s Square” and S.A. Slayer’s “Final Holocaust” plus Facebook Live footage of Juggernaut’s "Impaler" with Rivera on vocals and S.A. Slayer’s “Unholy Book” as sung by McMaster. Watch “Panzer,” originally done by Karion, below.
Rivera may have summed up the evening the best.
"San Antonio, you made my career," he said regarding his 3 1/2-decade Houston band. "San Antonio gave birth to Helstar. The first review said we were from San Antonio. We'll take it. We know where the metal is."
On Wednesday night, the music was being kept true by the South Texas Legion's Legends of the Great Texas Metal Era. The devoted turnout certainly didn't mind doing its part to keep it alive and well too.