For decades, Elk Grove Township was home to the sprawling headquarters of United Airlines and with it a spectacular outdoor swimming pool at the base of a hotel full of 22-year-old flight-attendant trainees. Ladies, who wants a suntan?
Every summer, they came in droves. The women bore a resemblance to one another, the effect of the company’s strict height and weight limits for the position. In 1984, graduates were subjected to “weigh-ins” and faced disciplinary penalties for what United Airlines considered disproportionate weight gain. See the world, the job promised, but you must see it like this.
Around this time, high school dropout Paul Speckmann saw his township and the world from the vantage point of an unheated Mount Prospect storage unit. Informed by breakneck D.C. hardcore act Minor Threat and the conspiratorial crossover import Discharge, the bassist of Metal Massacre 4-era War Cry sped up and spoke out: “Mannequin! Mannequin! They’re all the same!”
“The Truth” – a song played in this space by his bands Death Strike and Master – was novel in its gnashing discontent, a hard-drug metal stripped of armor, pick, and skin. Muscle and blood only. Here lies the red newborn of Chicago death metal.
Mosh tracked down Speckmann, now living in the Czech Republic, 30 years into his discography. Master’s 11th album, The New Elite, and supergroup Megascavenger‘s Descent Of Yuggoth (on which Speckmann duets with ex-Grave member Jorgen Sandstrom) are out now on Pulverised and Selfmadegod. During a Skype interview, the Illinois native remembered two things clearly: Old Style beer and a man getting a haircut. Beware of the latter at Master’s homecoming show March 11 at Reggie’s.
Mosh: Why did you move to the Czech Republic?
Paul Speckmann: I joined a band called Krabathor in 2000. I met these guys on this European tour. It was Malevolent Creation, Master, and Krabathor. We hit it off, and I did [a side-project] with them called Martyr. Their bass player subsequently quit the band, and they asked me if I was interested in moving to the Czech Republic and trying it out. Well, I think any musician will go for work if you’re serious about your craft. So I moved to the Czech Republic. And really, when I got here, it was a rundown place. The Russians just left, obviously some years before. It was really scary when I got here, yo.
M: I remember reading that the hockey player Jaromir Jagr considered Ronald Reagan a punk icon while growing up in Czechoslovakia.
PS: Yeah, sure. I understand what he’s saying. But now, it’s really modern because they get all the European Union money coming in [and are renovating] old buildings. Just yesterday, I was in my car, and all of the sudden: “Oh, wow, they’re remodeling these ones now, too?” It’s as if they’re remodeling everything they can, which is a good thing. I’m not complaining. So I joined Krabathor . . . then I’d go to Arizona and work in the wintertime for a couple months to get by between tours. Eventually, after four years, I just stayed here. Their band broke up, and I put together a new lineup with Master.
M: Witchslayer vocalist Jeff Allen said he went to Forest View High School with you in Arlington Heights. Growing up in Crystal Lake, I used to take the same train that services Arlington Heights into Chicago to go record shopping.
PS: Really, the beginnings were in Mount Prospect. We were jamming in a small storage unit, freezing our asses off all winter, just me and the drummer trying to find guitar players for the band. It took probably a year before we finally got somebody. Actually, Master broke up before we ever got it off the ground. Before we ever got a guitar player we liked, [drummer] Bill Schmidt started jamming with Mayhem Inc. He wanted to do the drums for Mayhem Inc. on a demo. I put together a band called Death Strike with Chris Mittelbrun from Chicago, [and Schmidt] came back, and we became Master again. But my point is, it all began in Mount Prospect. Even with Death Strike, we rehearsed in the same small practice space, freezing our asses off. It was rock ‘n’ roll. I always considered us a Chicago band, but really we were just a Mount Prospect band [laughs].
M: Legend has it that you auditioned to play bass for Trouble and got a callback, but chose to develop Master instead. Was this when Sean McAllister left Witchslayer to join Trouble in 1982 or 1983?
PS: Exactly. We played “The Tempter,” some of the stuff from their first demo, and also “Children Of The Grave” from Black Sabbath. I can still play “The Tempter.” I never forgot. It was a great song. So I went and auditioned. I was jumping around like a freaking maniac. I think it kind of freaked Eric [Wagner, then singer] out a little bit because they were just standing there.
M: You write in the book Glorious Times that you owe a chance encounter with Joe Caper of Righteous Pigs for the Master and Abomination record contracts with Nuclear Blast.
PS: I was moving furniture in Chicago at a particularly rough time in my life, and the band really wasn’t doing a whole lot. We were still playing shows but struggling in Chicago. I left the moving company and went and had some Old Styles in the forest. Went out drinking in the afternoon. It was an early day. Two bikers were sitting there, and sure enough, one of them was Joe Caper. At this time, he said to me: “Paul, I found this new underground label called Nuclear Blast Records, and they’re signing this kind of music. Could you send me a demo or something?” And I just happened to have the Abomination red demo in my pocket. I don’t know why I was carrying it around, but I had it. I was probably playing it for people. Whatever, I gave it to the guy and within less than two weeks, I got my first record contract with Nuclear Blast . . . then when Caper and Mitch Harris from Napalm [Death] started talking about Master and Death Strike, the next thing you know, I had all these record contracts.
M: Had War Cry or Master broke to the level of Metallica, as was the hope of bands going the Metal Massacre route, do you think the name “Speckmann” would have resonance in the underground?
PS: That’s a tough question to answer. I will say that in 1985, maybe the spring of ’86, we got that offer from Combat Records, and we didn’t sign that record deal. That really was a big mistake in a sense. But then on the other hand, I’m still alive today. They say things happen for a reason. I actually believe in that because at that time, the guys from Master and myself were heavily into fucking drugs, yo [laughs]. Maybe that’s the reason why it didn’t happen. Maybe I wouldn’t be so popular in the underground if we would have been successful with that first record. But then when I look back on it, maybe one of the guys would have been dead. Maybe me, you never know.
M: What happened with the Combat deal?
PS: [The Runaways producer] Kim Fowley happened to be getting a haircut in Seagrape Studios in Chicago, where we were recording. He offered to read the contract for $1 a minute. This was before Death and Possessed ever signed the same contract. My point is that he read my contract for $1 a minute, and he turned it into a million-dollar contract. Well, Combat threw it into the garbage because they didn’t know what they had in their hands at that time.
M: Was he your manager?
PS: No, he just read the contract. He was just the unofficial guy helping us out. The guys from Seagrape [said] he has so much knowledge of the business, he’s a big-time guy, blah, blah, blah. And so I trusted him. It was a mistake.
M: What was Kim Fowley doing getting a haircut in a recording studio?
PS: He is a strange guy. Watch the movie, yo.
YEAR OF THE SNAKE: Like most every teenager behind a punishing drum kit, Leu Teuber dreamed of a label releasing his band’s debut album. He prepared the occultish Medusa for that mythic carpet ride out of Chicago by capturing tight live rehearsals and weird vocal overdubs with a four-channel reel-to-reel Dokorder at his parents’ house. His coed quintet finished more than an LP’s worth of near-metal hippie jams: One tune was good enough to be played on WXFM-FM, “at the top of the Sears Tower,” recounts Teuber, affecting a DJ voice. Two songs (“Temptress” and “Strangulation”) were recorded in a studio and pressed into a single. But the call for an album never came.
Then, like 40 years later, the phone rang. “It was kind of a scary time for me,” says Teuber, a retired tool-and-die maker who now lives outside Boulder, Colorado. “I didn’t know if it was a joke or what.” Chicago label Numero had discovered the forgotten act’s lone 45 while mining a trove of ancient vinyl. Any more where that came from? “I said, ‘Well, I’m going to have to dig in my closets and try to find out what I have.’ It just seemed like too crazy of a story, and I had to see where it would go.” First Step Beyond, seven home recordings from 1975, hit turntables for the first time last month.
Medusa was formed by high school freshmen in the late 1960s and dissolved in 1976 when half of the band’s equipment was stolen from lead guitarist Gary Brown‘s mom’s garage in Portage Park. “When I got married!” the drummer exclaims. “That’s how I could remember.” He can’t remember the group tossing around the word “metal” at the dawn of the genre, but a Black Sabbath influence is obvious: The chunky guitar riff from “Children Of The Grave” is conjured in “Black Wizard.” The band saw itself in the lineage of krautrock and oddball prog: Lucifer’s Friend, King Crimson, Guru Guru, Gentle Giant, a “Rush-meets-007” contemporary act named Behboumkney Loondeaz (which deceased Medusa bassist Kim Gudaniec recorded with Teuber’s gear).
“People I hung around with called it ‘stop music.’ It’s probably because it would start and stop very abruptly and change into different things,” the retiree explains. “For all I know, it was just in the neighborhood that we said that.” With the drop of a needle, he’s back in Chicago with Medusa, his tapes, and his dream. “At the very least,” he adds, “it’s one heck of a souvenir.”
MOSH-WORTHY . . . LIVE: Behold The Arctopus (Ultra Lounge, 3/14); Nile (Mojoes, 3/15); Anneke Van Giersbergen, Novembers Doom (Reggie’s and Ultra Lounge: 3/23 electric and 3/24 acoustic); Soilwork (Mojoes, 3/25); Bestial Raids, Black Witchery (Cafe Lura, 3/30).
MOSH-WORTHY: Zombified Carnage Slaughter And Death (Metal Blade/Cyclone Empire); Vreid Welcome Farewell (Indie); Meshuggah Pitch Black EP (Scion); The Lord Weird Slough Feg Traveller reissue (Metal Blade); Bored Youth November 1981 EP (Alona’s Dream).
— Mike Meyer