Saxon was one of the early leaders of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, along with Iron Maiden and Def Leppard. The band was formed in Barnsley in 1977 by vocalist Biff Byford, guitarists Graham Oliver and Paul Quinn, bassist Steve Dawson, and drummer Peter Gill. Originally calling themselves S.O.B. (which became Son of a Bitch), they soon decided to find a more subtle name, settling on Saxon. Like many young metal bands of the day, Saxon found it difficult to land a record deal, but eventually signed with Carrere Records (France). Though Saxon's 1979 self-titled debut album was marred by a poor production, the band built a strong following touring Britain as support group to Motorhead and Nazareth. The band capitalized on this exposure with their second effort the following year. Wheels of Steel featured a much heavier, metallic sound. The album was immediately heralded as a New Wave of British Heavy Metal classic by fans and critics alike.
Saxon released two more equally strong albums, Strong Arm of The Law and Denim and Leather, over the next year while touring relentlessly across Britain, Europe, and the U.S. Even the loss of founding drummer Peter Gill to Motorhead (replaced by Nigel Glockler) didnít slow their momentum, and a live album, The Eagle Has Landed, capped their hot streak in 1982.
Though still touring solely on the Continent, Saxon's early success was rivaled only by Iron Maiden, and the band seemed poised on the brink of worldwide success. Then a strange thing happened. Lackluster albums (Power and The Glory and Crusader) brought short-lived success to a screeching halt. When they attempted to follow the trend set by other British bands like Whitesnake (who cracked the U.S. with a style and fashion makeover), the bandís career went into a backward slide.
Innocence Is No Excuse (1985) featured great songs, but the tried-and-true fans scoffed at the slick production and new fans failed to take notice, prompting bassist and principal songwriter Steve Dawson to quit the band. He was replaced by Paul Johnson as Saxon struggled through the rest of the decade recording weak pop-metal albums in a desperate, but futile, attempt to connect with American fans while slowly corroding their European fan base. By the time they released their tenth studio album, Solid Ball of Rock (1990), Saxon had been reduced to whatever-happened-to status.
Having reached the lowest low, the members of Saxon finally gave up their dreams of ever making any headway in America, dropped their pretenses, and returned to their British metal roots. This resulted in their strongest material in years: 1992ís Forever Free; 1995ís excellent Dogs of War (after which guitarist Graham Oliver departed to re-form Son of a Bitch with Peter Gill and Steve Dawson); 1997ís Unleash The Best; and 1999ís Metal Head. The band even managed to land a new U.S. record deal with CMC International for the latter two discs, which also led to their first American tour in almost a decade.
Throughout the bandís history line-up changes have been common, but with Byford and Quinn remaining as constants. Gill left in 1981 after injuring his hand, to be replaced by Nigel Glockler, formerly of Toyah Willcoxís band, who was himself replaced twice Ė briefly between 1987 and 1988 (by Nigel Durham), and, more permanently, following an injury of his own in 1998. Gill later went on to play for Motorhead. Dawson departed in 1986 Ė his replacement, Paul Johnson, lasted two years before leaving. Nibbs Carter has filled the position ever since. When Graham Oliver left in 1995, the band split into two different Saxon groups - one dominated by vocalist Byford and the other consisting of original Saxon members, Oliver and Dawson. A period of legal actions ensued, resulting in both groups having the right to use Saxon in their name. The line-up of Byfordís Saxon has been fairly stable apart from the departure of a few drummers. Following Glocklerís departure, German Fritz Randow took up the position until 2004. His replacement was former Stratovarius man Jorg Michael.
The line-up that played on the recent Lionheart album consisted of Byford on vocals, guitarists Quinn and Scarratt, Carter on bass and Michael on drums. The German originally agreed to perform on the album as a session musician, but following his firing from Stratovarius he was hired as a full-time member. Following the rapid reunion of Stratovarius, Michael departed after only a year in the job, opening the door for Glockler to return to Saxon.
Dawson and Oliver both went on to form a new incarnation of Saxon - Oliver/Dawson Saxon, which continues to tour and record.