Friday, March 16, 2012

STEVE HARRIS 1965-2011 A REMEMBRANCE OF HIS MUSIC, HIS LIFE, AND HIS INSPIRATION.

In loving memory of Steve Harris 1965-2011 who died of a brain tumor after suffering it for two years.
He was my major inspiration and his magic guitar playing was an inspiration to all who heard it.
He will be sadly missed and I am in as much grief as if I lost a family member.
   Shy will always be more than just another great band for me. When I discovered them back in December 2001 it was on a whim and it was also after never understanding their music in the past. Over the next year and a half I'd turn into a Shy obsessed new type of guitarist, new type of singer. My first Shy awakening experience was the song "When You Need Someone" demo version on the Regeneration CD where Tony Mills lays down a passionate vocal before Steve Harris soars into the skies with an even more passionate guitar solo that makes the song. This version is way better than what you hear on their one horrible record Misspent Youth and Steve would agree with me about that. The one time I was lucky enough to talk to the great man he said that to me.
   Steve Harris will never be equaled. It is safe to say and no hyperbole to say that with his untimely death last year we have lost the greatest guitar player in melodic hard rock along with Randy Rhodes and Michael Schenker- his two major influences along with the also amazing George Lynch. If George Lynch (in case you don't remember that name he was the masterful guitar wizard in Dokken back in the 80s before going into oblivion with his solo projects) or Schenker had died I would be shattered, but for me losing Steve Harris is even worse, even harder to deal with. Perhaps it is because not only was he a very gifted guitar player, but also his astonishingly advanced writing was always what held Shy together. Both George Lynch and Michael Schenker enjoyed and enjoy fame- Harris has to settle for a small cult following and relative anonymity.
  What you are about to read is the full history behind Shy and my history with this amazing band- a band that opened many doors for me and led the way for my huge interest in all Melodic Rock.
  Shy formed in the early half of 1981 in British Music City Par Excellance Birmingham under the name Trojan and originally were part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal- something they'd stay on the fringes of as a melodic rock band. Trojan were a heavy metal band who were heavily influenced by Judas Priest and contained the nucleus of Shy in their ranks. In 1982 Shy was born. They were featured on Ebony Records- the notorious label run by permanently jailed Darryl Johnston- a man who ripped off every young band who were on their label and finally was charged with lawsuits by the most successful band on the label metal rockers Grim Reaper.
   Shy would too part acrimoniously with Johnston, but not before cutting an excellent debut album Once Bitten Twice.... This record showed that Shy and especially vocalist Tony Mills and guitarist Steve Harris were no ordinary teenaged inexperienced metal band. Shy were not and never were heavy metal once they went through the name change. On Once Bitten Twice... despite the poor production which all Ebony releases suffer from this is miles in the sky above anything else on the label with its powerful melodic hard rock attack full of great melodies and blistering guitar work. Steve Harris was never a flashy, show-offy, gimmick driven player and especially unlike many other guitar players of the time he favored melody over noise. His riffs can be described as punchy, tough, and still very melodic, very catchy whilst his solos soar and spit fire, but the melody is the main thing behind the man. For a bunch of Duran Duran (I have nothing against Duran Duran- in fact I love them) lookalikes this was an odd sound to be hearing- pomp rock taking the best of British NWOBHM excitement and merging it with the smoothness of AOR/Melodic rock. Highlights on this stellar album are the opening track "Deep Water" which sums up the Shy sound, "Think Of Me," "Take It All The Way," "Tonight," and "Chained By Desire." When I heard this album Shy had made the first of two new recordings which actually would surpass even their 80s brilliance although original drummer Alan Kelly (whom Tony Mills hated with a passion and in turn Alan Kelly hated Tony Mills with a passion) would be tearing his hair out over that comment.
  When Shy Came back they still wanted to chase success, but let's go back to their formative years back between 1982-1989.  When I Heard Once Bitten I had fallen in love for the first time and it had turned out to be as painful as the situation described in "Chained By Desire." Back home in New Jersey and with no way left to tell my should have been best friend or more how I felt for him it was probably that song that struck me the most. I was now deep into Shy for the second year and for two more whole years they'd be my #1 band- in my heart, soul, memory, and love of music forever.
   So you're probably asking why so much fuss after I've just described one poorly recorded debut album. Shy would sign to RCA in 1984 and the following year saw the release of their first of two legendary albums on that label Brave The Storm. Brave The Storm was the album that broke Shy into me. It was the album that would take the longest, but that once I got used to Mills screaming his tonsils out on it would impress me almost as much as the follow up masterpiece Excess All Areas. Shy were all very young in the 80s, but they could see and write and sing beyond their years into a sophisticated, polished, and seasoned pomp/progressive/hard rock/pop nexus that arguably no other British band had such a handle on at the time. By Brave The Storm changes had been made. Original bass player Mark Badrick had departed and in his place came ex Trouble (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal- not the awful American band) bass guitarist Roy Stephen Davis. Also, Tony Mills' earlier penchant for makeup wearing onstage flamboyance had been let go of after Mills accidentally wandered into a gay bar in full face paint!!!!
    With Tony and Steve sharing most of the writing, classically trained keyboards player Pat "Paddy" Mckenna chipping in, Roy playing a steady foundation laying bass, and some writing help from drummer Alan Kelly Shy looked set to make the big time. Brave The Storm came during a year that saw a lot of darker lyrical themed records released and this was no exception although far more listenable than the debut by fellow Brummies Phenomena (file under really good recipe really bad result) because Shy weren't bogged down in the doom gutter. Doom and AOR did not mix on Phenomena's record. It was an impossible cross and with Shy drawing from early Genesis and Judas Priest the keyboard heavy album had something Genesis never had- a really truly possessed frontman and explosive guitar work. No Neo Prog was this. Brave The Storm saw Shy make an album that was not hard rock and not progressive nor pop, but all 3. There was the choice single track "Hold On To Your Love" which should have been a hit, but beyond that classics like "My Apollo," "Caught In The Act," and "Reflections" which featured some achingly beautiful guitar from Steve Harris made Shy a really special band. The title track was to be Shy's one foray during their career into apocalyptic hard progressive rock, but it would also be the track on the album that brought my love to it and my love to them. Tony would later confirm that he wrote the song about Nuclear Holocaust, but I thought it was a about a different kind of war that killed all mankind- a kind of stand up and fight anthem for soldiers. Scary keyboards begin the track before Mills comes in with his dynamic Rob Halford meets David Bowie instantly recognizable vocals. Over the course of the song Shy go rocking into the stratosphere while the world is destroyed by The Last War. No one survives by the end and Tony Mills screams out in real anguish to end the track on a long drawn out wail that would have Rob Halford in a tizzy as to how he didn't think of it himself!
   Shy would leave Progressive Rock and Metal behind after Brave The Storm. Despite great reviews and great shows across the UK and Europe the album just didn't sell. RCA had not done their bit to promote it, but back in 1987 when Shy unleashed Excess All Areas it looked like they were finally about to make it to the top. When I as a shallow, timid, and fiercely Un Anglo (how things would change!!!) 11 year old went to England in 1987 Shy were on the cover of every publication. They were everywhere. Steve Harris was being written up as a rock God. This convinced me before learning better that indeed Excess had been a major breakthrough. Financially and in the fickle world of success VS low sales it was only a minor breakthrough, but it would be the greatest Pomp record England would have and a landmark for Shy.
   If you haven't heard Excess All Areas grab a copy, even if it's the not as good American press or do as I did and buy the European CD with their post LP bonus EP added and get it on vinyl as domestic (American). You won't believe this album didn't outsell everything Journey ever did. Journey would be a huge inspiration to Shy and certainly throughout their career Tony Mills would come off like a tougher Steve Perry much of the time, but Shy had something to make them British- a real dangerous vibe to cut through the airbrushed pomp brilliance of their melodies. The songs deal with lost love, fighting for everything you believe in, oppression, and finding the perfect romance. Steve Harris plays his guitar with so much passion and fervor yet with such an understated sympathy towards the songs that would set him apart from all other guitar players chasing stardom at the time. Shy had made the perfect album. Tony Mills is still a bit on the edge of histrionics, occasionally throwing himself right into them ("Telephone"), but boy does his voice sound good. Songs with the strongest melody and feeling in them like "Can't Fight The Nights," "Emergency" (hard to believe Michael Bolton wrote this!), "When The Love Is Over," "Talk To Me," "Young Heart" (a real anthem), and "Just Love Me" which is beautifully sung in a softer voice by T. Mills makes this Shy's most satisfying album. Neil Kernon was a very sympathetic producer to Shy's wants and needs. In the vast "How Could This Miss The Charts" category of AOR the best albums are this, Lionheart's one release Hot Tonight, Snowblind's one record, and Airrace's masterpiece Shaft Of Light, but this would open up a new awareness in me towards AOR and pomp. It could be its own kind of music. It didn't have to follow strict guidelines or rules. It could be truly emotional and Shy paved the way. Things do get much heavier in the outlaw anthem of "Under Fire" with screaming guitars from Harris and their one brush with stardom "Break Down The Walls," but as stated Metal had long been left behind by Shy. Shy had found their best instincts and dreams and Kernon had helped put them on vinyl. Listening to this album after hearing of Steve Harris's death today I had to take it off to fight back the tears. It was unbearable to hear all that we have lost and what a good heart the man had. Steve was the sensible one in the band. I knew that from our one conversation back in 2003. Tony may have been the voice, but Shy were Steve Harris's band. It would be safe to put Excess All Areas now that he has died up there with Ozzy's first two with Randy Rhodes. Now it would seem the only surviving guitar player from those days who really made a mark on me and who is still out there and active is Diamond Head's Brian Tattler and Tattler is a metal Steve Harris. Or I could state that Steve Harris is/was to melodic rock what Brian Tattler is/was back in the day to melodic metal. Both of them found something refreshing to base their music around- melody. Excess All Areas saw Shy headline for the first time and it all looked good. That was until sales weren't what was expected and RCA promptly dropped Shy from their roster.
   RCA had never known how to promote their bands. This would go all the way back to the 1960s and nothing had changed by 1987. They had passed up the best thing they had by dropping Shy and Shy would rapidly go down the toilet after they just couldn't gain the success they so richly deserved. This would not be the fault of the band, but come new record company MCA after a brilliant one off EP on FM Revolver (which is included as the bonus tracks on Zoom Club's CD reissue of Excess All Areas) times were not the same and melodic rock was out. MCA had told Shy to make a heavy, commercial, and loud record in the style of the then huge Guns and Roses and the result in 1990/1989 was the sickening Misspent Youth. Shy would hate the album throughout their career. It would be their downfall, their destruction, the bullet-through-the-heart of their dreams. Don't blame the songs some of which were actually great in different demo form, blame one time dream producer Roy Thomas Baker for it. That's right. Roy Thomas Baker the man who brought Queen to the world's stage. He was no longer the huge massive genius he had been then and really after Queen his production jobs had gone steadily downhill. R.T.B would ignore Shy. They were flown out to L.A to record the record and hated it from the start. Tony Mills and Steve Harris were often quoted as saying they never should have made Misspent Youth and I'd agree.
   Shy had run their course for the 80s, but not before the worst breakup story ever would have to be told. Shy broke up because MCA were stupid enough to place them on a tour with the despicable Amerikan macho chest beating thug metal band Manowar and the dark metal cookie monster voice band Sabbatt. Manowar pulled the electricity on Shy and the band had to drive all the way back to Birmingham in their tour van. A horrid end to a brilliant story, but a temporary one.
   Shy had always had personal problems between Tony Mills and Alan Kelly and when talks of a reunion came up Mills would only agree to it if Alan Kelly was out of the group. Now Alan Kelly may call this not really Shy, but he's lying.  With the original three mainstays Davis, Harris, and Mills back + a much better drummer in Bob Richards Shy recorded two last masterpieces in 2002/2003 and 2005.
Unfinished Business was Steve Harris's title idea and it would top even Excess All Areas. How I can say that after what I've said about Excess is I admit hard to believe, but with no more pressure for hit singles Steve Harris now could play solos, fills. and riffs as much as he wanted to. Shy were still the most melodic of all hard rock/heavy pomp bands, but the new guitar attack soars with so much passion that it equals or surpasses the best work that Harris did back on Excess All Areas. Unfinished Business features an opening track that would make for a great add for The Parachute Regiment "Sky Diving-" a song that may be my favourite Shy track ever. Unfinished Business is full of the strong melodies, flying guitars, and soaring vocals that characterize the very best of Shy. Tony Mills is in fine form here too, better than on Sunset And Vine which also is great. "Breakaway," "Change Of Direction, "Maryanne," "Whole Lotta Feelings," "No Other Way" they served as a life force for me. They still may, but with the sadness that the magical guitarist behind these great songs, solos, and memories is dead.
   Sunset And Vine followed Unfinished Business in 2005 and is also an excellent album with many great songs and superb guitar from Steve Harris, but I would rate Unfinished Business even higher. Shy seemed like they were finally gonna be here to stay, but unfortunately they just failed to get off the ground once more. Having a strong cult following is enough for some bands. It never was enough for Shy. I have neglected to even mention their one album attempt without Tony Mills Welcome To The Madhouse up till now because it is putrid. Shy needed Tony Mills to spark them and Tony Mills became worthless enough to replace helium voiced Mariah Carey soundalike loser Tony Harnell in the worst band ever Norway's all whimper no bang TNT. Tony Mills was my good friend through emails before TNT, but I knew that he was somebody who would run out of control without the melodies and fire of Steve Harris when I heard his post Shy band Siam- a banal Queensryche wannabe and who would want to be one of the worst bands ever formed. No, for Tony Mills post Shy I've been very much more impressed with Serpentine who I really do need to track down for a blog entry. The question now is how long Mills can survive. In all honesty after he suffered a serious heart attack last year I thought he'd be the one to go and I really hope that Tony can recover his health and find his way back to Shy style music through Serpentine. No offence to you Tony, I wish you all the best in the world mate.
  How do I end the story of Steve Harris and Shy without it being all a gloom and depression ridden tragedy? How do I sum up my grief and my shock that the guiding light behind my musical dreams is no longer with us? Look back at the work he left behind him- it all survives still through the magic of being recorded and will live forever. He will always be the cleverest, most inventive, tastiest, and most melodically brilliant guitarist and writer of all melodic rock. I find it still very horrible to think that we've lost Steve. This all comes as so much of a shock to me, but the music lives on and it will live on forever and a day. I believe in Shy- they will continue to inspire my music, my love, my dreams, and my goals to find true love. I lost him back in 2003 as soon as I found him, but Steve Harris's message through all of Shy's music is a consistent one- Love Will Find Its Way To You In The End. Perhaps I will find him again, no, I Will find true love in my life and I have already found it to a good extent in my love of music. May you find Steve Harris and Shy. May you treasure them and love them forever. Rest in Peace and To Your Loving Memory Steve Harris. Much love to all Shy fans out there who will keep up the fight and keep your music alive. You were the greatest and you always will be. 

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