W.A.S.P. is an American heavy metal band formed in 1982 and had continued success in the 1980s. The band gained notoriety for its shock rock themed image, lyrics and live performances. The band continues to write and perform today, though Lawless remains the only member from the original line-up.
The band, formed in Los Angeles, California, initially consisted of Blackie Lawless, Rik Fox, Randy Piper and Tony Richards. The band became famous for its raunchy and at times shocking live shows. The band’s debut single, entitled Animal, and its cover were equally controversial.
The first lineup didn’t last for long, as Rik Fox left the band to join Steeler with (then unknown) vocalist Ron Keel and guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen. He was replaced by Don Costa. Shortly afterwards, Don Costa also left the band and his position on the bass was filled by Lawless. At the same time, guitarist Chris Holmes joined the band.
W.A.S.P. signed to Capitol Records for their debut album, W.A.S.P., released in August 1984. The debut was at one time planned for release under the name Winged Assassins. The idea was obviously forgotten though. The band’s first single, “Animal” was omitted from the album in the United States to prevent the album from being banned from major chain stores.
“L.O.V.E. Machine” and “I Wanna Be Somebody” helped the album sell well, and set the band up for “Blind in Texas”, a song written in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, by Blackie Lawless. The song was released on the next album, The Last Command, which is still W.A.S.P.’s highest charting album at Number 47 on the Billboard album chart. “Blind in Texas” is still perhaps their best known song, more than 20 years later. The Last Command album was also the first album with new drummer Steve Riley. The former Keel drummer replaced Tony Richards at the beginning of the '84-'85 tour.
After The Last Command tour, guitarist Randy Piper quit the band. He auditioned for a spot in Alice Cooper’s band and was accepted, but, according to Piper himself, left in a few weeks because Kane Roberts was going to be the lead guitarist, and Piper was not content with staying in the background once again. Former King Kobra bassist Johnny Rod joined the band as Blackie went back to rhythm guitar. With the changes made, they recorded their third album called Inside the Electric Circus (1986). While the album was a big hit with W.A.S.P. fans, many critics dismissed it as “seventh grader rock”. Songs like “Shoot from the Hip” and “9.5.-N.A.S.T.Y.” might have helped the band earn the reputation as sexual perverts - an idea that had been around since 1984.
W.A.S.P. became a very prominent target of the Parents Music Resource Center, an organization led by Tipper Gore and dedicated to opposing music with lyrics deemed violent or sexual. This lowered the band’s reputation to such a degree that concert halls were getting bomb threats, band members were getting written death threats by the hundreds, and singer Blackie Lawless was shot at twice (though not hit). Ironically, the publicity this controversy generated ultimately improved album sales.
“A tired record by a tired band”, as Blackie calls it, spawned a minor hit single “95-N.A.S.T.Y.”. It was a critical review of this single that convinced Lawless of the necessity to take some time off and reconsider the band’s creative direction.
In 1987 W.A.S.P.’s “Scream Until You Like It” was included on the soundtrack of Ghoulies 2. The same year a few dates during the Inside the Electric Circus tour were recorded. In November 1987, the Long Beach arena concert was released as the Live . . . In The Raw album. Unfortunately by this time Steve Riley left W.A.S.P. to join L.A. Guns, a band that had just recorded their debut album, L.A. Guns. When drummer Nikki Alexander quit just after the recording of the debut LP, Riley stepped in.
W.A.S.P.’s fifth album, The Headless Children, was released in April 1989. This was their first album without any sexually explicit songs and also the first one that sold rather poorly. It reached Number 48 on the Billboard 200, but quickly fell off the charts. However, it was critically acclaimed to be W.A.S.P.’s best work at the time, and according to a recent Lawless interview, it is now actually the biggest selling W.A.S.P. album. The drumming duties for the album were handled by former Quiet Riot drummer Frankie Banali.
Chris Holmes left in August 1989, stating that he wanted to “have fun”, having recently married Lita Ford. The band effectively disbanded a few months later with Blackie Lawless embarking on a solo career. Lawless was originally slated to play T-1000 in the Terminator 2: Judgment Day movie, but was later replaced by Robert Patrick after Arnold Schwarzenegger deemed Lawless “too tall”. Blackie commenced work on a solo project, but under pressure from both promoters and fans had to release it as a W.A.S.P. album. Ironically, many critics feel that The Crimson Idol has been the best W.A.S.P. output so far.
The follow up to The Crimson Idol was Still Not Black Enough, a collection of dark introspective tunes that extended the Crimson Idol mythology (but this time, without Lawless hiding behind Jonathan Steele, as he stated in the liner notes) as well as included cover songs as “bonus tracks”. The initial European edition included a different track listing from the American and a subsequent American re-issue featured yet a different track listing. No version to date includes all the various tracks on one disc.
Chris Holmes returned to W.A.S.P. in 1996 and together they released K.F.D. (1997) and Helldorado (1999). They also recorded two live albums from these two tours, Double Live Assassins and The Sting, respectively. The Sting CD and DVD were taken directly from the experimental webcast. Apparently Blackie had no control over this release and was unhappy with the results with their poor sound and picture quality.
The band continued with Unholy Terror in 2001. Chris Holmes left the band again in 2002, citing that he wanted to “play the blues”. He hooked up with fellow ex-W.A.S.P. member Randy Piper’s band, Animal, but fell out soon.
Dying for the World, released in 2002, was written and recorded in less than a year which is very fast by Lawless’ perfectionist standards. Its liner notes feature one of Lawless’ strongest statements about political correctness, inspired by the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
In April 2004, W.A.S.P. released the first part of The Neon God, subtitled The Rise, a conceptual album about an abused orphan who finds that he has the ability to read and manipulate people. The second part, The Demise, was released in September 2004.
Early 2006 saw the seemingly stable lineup fall apart. Stet Howland left first on amicable terms, promising more specific information about the reasons for the split to be posted on his website. Larry Howe of Vicious Rumors was considered as a replacement. Yet in May, the departure of Darrell Roberts hit the band, and as the new guitar player Mark Zavon was announced several days before the first tour date, the same press release confirmed Mike Dupke, not Howe, as the new drummer. Still, two days later Zavon was out of the picture as well, seeing Doug Blair step in once again.
Dominator was planned for release in 2006; however, the release was delayed until April 2007, with the recording two news songs and dropping two cover tracks, to be used as selective bonus tracks.