Paul Bruce Dickinson (born August 7, 1958 in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, England) is a British airline pilot, singer and songwriter, best-known as the lead singer in the iconic heavy metal band, Iron Maiden.
Before Iron Maiden, he was the singer in a similar band called Samson from 1979 until he joined Iron Maiden two years later. In Samson and previous bands, he went by the name of “Bruce Bruce”. He made his recording debut with Iron Maiden on their Number of The Beast album in 1982. During previous years, he was in Styx (1976) (not to be confused with the American band of the same name), then went on to sing for Speed (1977 - 1978). When Speed split up, he joined Shots until the summer of 1979.
Dickinson quit Iron Maiden in 1993 in order to pursue his solo career and was replaced by Blaze Bayley, who had previously been the lead singer of punk-metal band, Wolfsbane. Dickinson’s solo work ranges from the Alternative Rock sound of 1996’s Skunkworks, to the all-out Metal style of Accident of Birth. To many, Dickinson was releasing an artistic energy he felt was suppressed by Iron Maiden’s strict progressive metal format, which he claimed could not accommodate emotional reflection as evidenced in the lyrics of “Tears of the Dragon”. After releasing two traditional metal albums with former Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith (which were arguably more akin to the genre than Maiden’s epic format), Dickinson rejoined the band in 1999 along with Smith. Both are still in the band to date.
In 1977, Dickinson met a guy called Paul “Noddy” White. He was a multi-instrumentalist and he had a PA and other equipment. Dickinson suggested that they form a band together. This would eventually evolve into the band “Speed”, described by Dickinson as sounding like a ‘crossover between Judas Priest and The Stranglers with a Hammond organ on top of it.’ Dickinson recalled: “It had nothing to do with taking speed, we were a completely drug-free band; we just used to play everything ridiculously fast. Like Speed Metal, but ten years too early.” Dickinson was the vocalist and occasionally played guitar. “I got Noddy to give me guitar lessons and I started writing stuff straight away. He showed me three chords and I’d write stuff just from those three chords.”
Speed didn’t last long, but it encouraged Dickinson to continue to work to be a musician. Dickinson spotted an ad in Melody Maker with the caption “Singer wanted for recording project”. Since he had never been near a recording studio he replied immediately. He “wailed, wolfed, hollered and made noises” onto a tape and with it went a note that read; “By the way, if you think the singing’s crap, there’s some John Cleese stuff recorded on the other side you might find amusing.” They liked what they heard and Dickinson came down to the studio. The band was called Shots and was formed by two brothers, Phil and Doug Siviter. They were amazed by Dickinson’s vocal abilities and they started talking about what music they liked. “I started saying Ian Gillan, Ian Anderson, Arthur Brown, and Doug goes, “Sometimes your voice is a dead ringer for Arthur! We’ve got to form a band.’ This guy’s got a studio and he wants to form a band with me! I was like ‘Yes’.” A song “Dracula” from this session can be heard as the closing track on The Best of Bruce Dickinson, disc two. According to Dickinson this song is very first thing he ever recorded at all.
Dickinson played pubs with Shots on a regular basis. One particular night, Dickinson suddenly stopped in the middle of a song and started interviewing a man in the audience, making fun of him for not paying enough attention. He got such a good response he started doing it every night until it became a regular routine. “Suddenly everybody was paying attention, ‘cause they might be next. The first time I did it, afterwards the landlord of the pub was like ‘Great show, lads, See you next week’. So we started sort of building this bit into the show. And that was when I first started to get the hang of, just not being a singer, but being a frontman, too.”
The next step in Dickinson’s career was taken in a pub called the Prince of Wales in Gravesend, Kent, where Shots was playing regularly. One night, Barry Graham (Thunderstick) and Paul Samson paid a visit. The legend says that Thunderstick, who was there in his every day guise, became the victim of Dickinson’s gimmick. “He looked a bit weird so I did a spiel on it”. Obviously impressed with his stage-act, Thunderstick and Samson talked with Shots after the performance. A couple of weeks later, Samson called and asked him if he was willing to join their band, Samson. Dickinson was interested since this meant he could play larger gigs in London. Dickinson wanted to “do things with a bit of a weird edge to it”. By then, Shots had almost become a heavy metal comedy act; the show had completely taken over the music.
Formed by Sidcup-born guitarist Paul Samson in 1977, the band had already been established with their debut, Survivors, released on an independent label. The band toured quite extensively in the UK. Dickinson finished his final exams in the morning and in the afternoon he went down to Wood Wharf Studios in Greenwich to rehearse with them.
During the first rehearsals they wrote songs that would be recorded and released on the album called Head On. “I had loads of stuff kicking around and they had loads of bits so we just glued it all together.” The songs were slipped into the live set on the coming tour, which was to promote the Survivors album. This was a step forward for Dickinson as his first real tour was third on the bill with Randy California and his all time hero Ian Gillan. During his time in Samson, Dickinson was billed as “Bruce Bruce” (derived from Monty Python’s Bruces sketch about the Australian philosophers), a nickname that was forced upon him by their management. They insisted on making all the cheques out to “Bruce Bruce” which had the effect that Dickinson had to go through enormous trouble to cash them in. The management was one of Samson’s recurring problems. They booked the band on rather ill-matched support tours, which saw them playing a venue, only to return one week later with another act. Eventually this chain of events culminated in high court leaving the band unable to play gigs and get paid. When the legal side of things was settled and the band left their management in 1981 they discovered that their record company was going bankrupt. “We made every mistake in the business” Dickinson acknowledges.
Frustrated with the fact that the band never seemed to get anywhere, Dickinson contacted guitarist Stuart Smith with the idea of forming a band. They had a few rehearsals and wrote some material together but then Samson seemed to get a better deal and the obvious thing for him to do was to stick with them. During the “Shock Tactics” tour, Thunderstick left the band and was replaced with Mel Gaynor, a black funk/rock drummer who was in the band very briefly and later ended up in Simple Minds. “When you took Thunderstick out of the equation and replaced him with Mel, this phenomenal drummer, there was no excitement in it there anymore. When he played, he played everything perfectly. Everything was in time, there were no mistakes, there was no danger anymore. So I got bored. I had time to think about the shopping list on stage and that’s not good. And I realized that this was what Paul wanted. It enabled him to go into more ZZ Top, boogie sort of areas.”
Dickinson’s last gig with the band was at the Reading Festival in 1981, a gig which was immortalized by the BBC and subsequently released on the album Live at Reading 81. “Listening to some of these old tracks they stand up really well” says Dickinson. “Certainly all the stuff on ‘Shock tactics’ does. When you hear the Reading Live album the band was really cooking. And the songs don’t sound dated at all.” Around that time, Iron Maiden had begun considering change of vocalist due to of increasing problems with Paul Di’Anno. Steve Harris and manager Rod Smallwood came to Reading to check Dickinson out for the job. Dickinson was asked to come down to auditions for the band.
After accepting the invitation to audition for Iron Maiden, Dickinson spent a week rehearsing with the band, and recorded some demos, and was convinced that they were the band for him. “When I first heard Maiden I got the same buzz of them I did when I heard Deep Purple in Rock. It was like a steam train coming at you and none of the other bands did that anymore”. Dickinson discovered that the routines in Maiden was very strict and regimented. Where Samson would just fool around aimlessly, Maiden was working with a very clear idea of the result. “The intention behind that changed after the first couple of records for me, because it became obvious that Maiden worked to a time table. A table that wasn’t absolute but it had to be stuck to. ‘Now you’ll write for six weeks, now you’ll make a record for three months, now you’re rehearsing for two weeks, now you’ll tour for eight months’. It was organized like that and that seemed to suit the style of writing of the band.”
After a few gigs to ‘break him in’, the band started writing new material for their third album. This was the first time the band had decided to write an entire new album; The two released previously basically consisted of songs the band had been playing for years, with a couple of exceptions, on Killers. The album, The Number of the Beast, was put together in five weeks. In the wake of Samson’s contractual problems, Dickinson could not be credited on the songs to which he had contributed. “I think you could say I had a very big moral contribution to certain songs, like “Children of the Damned”, “Run to the Hills” and “The Prisoner”. Those three songs were the songs in which I had the biggest moral contribution.” “Moral contribution” refers to the fact that the contribution that he had made was equal to those of the other band members.
“Run to the Hills” was a huge hit in the UK peaking at Number Seven in the UK singles chart and the album and the following world tour was the band’s most successful to date. During the “Beast” tour, Dickinson had fitted well into the role as the band’s frontman, and the next two albums, Piece of Mind and Powerslave, showed a very tight and creative band. With Smith and Dickinson contributing with half of the songs on the albums, Harris’s monopoly of the song writing would be pushed aside in favor for the other members’ ideas. “It wasn’t always easy, we didn’t always agree. . . . In fact we fought like cat and dog at various stages, but we made great music.”
On the “Powerslave” tour, Dickinson was sporting a feathered, supposedly Egyptian-inspired, mask during the title track. This was an attempt to introduce more theatrical elements into the stage show. In terms of sales and popularity, the band was peaking. The tour lasted for over a year, as dates kept being added all the time. “It got to the point where Harris and I said ‘If they add another week’s shows to this tour, we’re both going home.” Dickinson continues, “I thought of leaving. If it’s gonna carry on like this, if I’m gonna feel bad all the time, this imprisoned, then I don’t really want to go on tour.”
After a six month break, of which Dickinson spent a great deal indulging in his favorite sport, fencing, Maiden was about to start writing for a new album. “When it came to writing for a new album, whenever I started to write very ‘eavy metal things, I found I was thinking along these lines, you know, ‘I should do one of these, one of those.’ So I ended up writing a lot of different things instead for bagpipes, folk things, stuff like Jethro Tull. Bang went my royalties.” Though Somewhere in Time marked a departure for the band, introducing keyboards and a cleaner Progressive Rock influenced sound, Dickinson was unhappy with the effort, and has no writing credits. It was during this tour that Dickinson started writing what would become his first published novel, The Adventures of Lord Iffy Boatrace. “Plotting it out was the doddle. It came from a series of mad conversations, actually, that all gestated together along with some Sherlock Holmes, some Biggles and Penthouse, and out it came.” It was released in 1990 and due to the loyalty of Maiden’s fanbase, 40,000 copies were sold, on the strength of which he produced a sequel, titled The Missionary Position, in 1992.
When the Somewhere in Time tour was finished, Iron Maiden was looking forward to the next album. This was also unexplored territory for the band as it was a concept album. Harris had written the song “The Clairvoyant”. Dickinson really liked the idea and the band was quite keen on producing the entire album based around this character with the gift of clairvoyance. When the recordings were finished in December 1987, Dickinson moved to Bonn, so that he could be close to the West Germany training centre for fencing. At the end of the ‘80s Dickinson was at the peak of his fencing career, eventually ranked as high as seventh in Great Britain in the men’s foil discipline, while his club side, the Hemel Hempstead Fencing Club, represented Great Britain in the European Cup of 1989.
After the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son tour in 1988, which climaxed when Maiden headlined the Donington festival in front of 107,000 people, the band decided to take a year off. Rumors were floating around that the band was splitting up, as various members were seen pursuing various solo projects. In 1989, Zomba was looking for someone to do a track to the movie, Nightmare on Elm Street Part 5 and Dickinson was asked to contribute. There was a budget, a studio and a producer, Chris Tsangarides. Dickinson was delighted to take up this opportunity and immediately phoned up an old friend of his, Janick Gers. Within three minutes after meeting up they had the track “Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter” ready for the studio.
With assistance from the same musicians as on the previous single - Andy Carr on bass, Fabio del Rio on drums and Gers on guitar - Dickinson’s intention was to do something he wouldn’t normally do in Maiden and the album was written and recorded in two weeks. Dickinson regarded this album as a follow up from where he left off with Shock Tactics in Samson.
Around this time, Dickinson appeared in one episode of the TV-series Paradise Club, playing the part of a rock guitarist wanting to break free from the dictatorship of his record company. Some tracks were recorded by Dickinson to be used in the episode, mainly cover tracks, with exception of “Ballad of Mutt” which Dickinson played solo on an acoustic guitar.
The album, Tattooed Millionaire, was released in May 1990. By this time, Gers had replaced Adrian Smith in Iron Maiden and the mini world club tour that Maiden embarked upon during the summer introduced his audience to the new Maiden guitarist. The same band was used as in the studio except for Fabio del Rio who was replaced by Dicki Fliszar. With Gers in the league, Maiden was flooded with energy and enthusiasm. Dickinson says, “There were several ways the band could have gone at that point but as it turned out, the next one, No Prayer for the Dying, was a huge backward-step, I thought.”
When it came to making a new album in 1992, Dickinson felt that Dream Theater’s demos sounded better than No Prayer. He was determined to make sure the over all sound of the album would be given a good treatment. By now, Harris had set up a studio of his own and it was a foregone conclusion that the new album, Fear of the Dark, would be recorded there. “I think it was the first album where we were attempting to recapture something of the past. In many ways I think that we were looking backwards to other albums that we’ve done in the past while other bands are looking forward to something new.”
Dickinson always thought of himself as more than a singer in Iron Maiden. He had been a top fencer, written two novels, done some acting and was doing an increasing amount of guest DJ-ing on various radio-stations. His US label, Sony, asked him if he could do another solo album. Dickinson felt it would offer a welcome “break” for him. The Fear of the Dark tour was divided into two parts and in the gap between Dickinson entered the studio to record his second solo album, backed by the band Skin, again with Chris Tsangarides at the technical helm. Manager Rod Smallwood emphasized that if Dickinson was to make a solo record, it had better be a good one. This had the effect that Dickinson went full-stop and canned the whole thing on the merit that it sounded too much like average metal. “I realized I was just going along with the flow, making my solo album in the same way we were motoring on with Maiden.”
This was when Dickinson first started questioning his ambitions. He wanted to break out of the routine and do something “really out there.” So off he went to America to record with producer Keith Olsen. “The recording was basically put together electronically, written on computers and keyboards,” Dickinson explains. “I wanted to do something quite unusual and quite mad.” With the feeling of being tossed between two camps, Dickinson started thinking of leaving the band. “I wore a groove in the kitchen floor for that one.” Bruce played his last show with Iron Maiden in August 1993.
His career outside Iron Maiden started with the recording of “Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter” which appears on the A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child soundtrack and Disc Two of The Best of Bruce Dickinson album. A different version of the song was recorded by Iron Maiden for the No Prayer for the Dying album. The original version got him a studio deal for a full album. Along with friend and soon-to-be Iron Maiden guitarist Janick Gers, Dickinson wrote the Tattooed Millionaire album within two weeks. The result was a rather poppy rock album. It was, however, far away from Iron Maiden’s heavy metal sound and fantasy lyricism - the baudy sexual innuendoes of “Dive, Dive, Dive!” would never find themselves on one of Iron Maiden’s releases. It is possible that some of the songs are leftover ideas from the Somewhere in Time sessions, in which Dickinson presented more experimental ideas to Steve Harris who was not convinced, thus leading to a complete absence of Dickinson songwriting credits on that album.
Before the release of his second effort, Balls to Picasso, Dickinson left Iron Maiden and went through two different efforts with two sets of different collaborators. The first was with Myke Gray of the band Skin, and the second with the producer Keith Olsen. Of the second, a few songs surfaced as B-sides and one, “No Way Out . . . Continued” appears on the two-disc The Best of Bruce Dickinson collection. Dickinson was not happy with the majority of the material on these efforts. Salvation came at last in the form of Tribe of Gypsies guitarist Roy Z. He agreed to work with Dickinson to improve the Keith Olsen album and ended replacing all of it except “Tears of the Dragon”. Balls to Picasso was recorded with the Tribe of Gypsies and was a far more mature record than Tattooed Millionaire, with some very well-crafted songs, spurred along with the melodic and shredding leads of Roy Z.
The Tribe departed to tour and record under their own steam, leaving Dickinson to track down another band. Dickinson’s new writing partner was Alex Dickson, and after touring his current song catalogue (documented on Alive in Studio A) with him and the rest of the new band, sat down to write Skunkworks. The idea was that the band would be called that, but the record company insisted Dickinson’s name be on the release. Dickinson likened that to David Bowie attempting to do the same with Tin Machine and how it did not work for him either.
The Skunkworks entity ceased to be after the touring due to musical differences (Dickinson wanted the next album to be more metal), and after a period of inactivity Dickinson once again teamed up with Roy Z to record Accident of Birth. Adrian Smith was asked to guest, and played on the whole album and tour. The album marked a return to heavy metal for Dickinson; in fact the album is much heavier than Iron Maiden, with a less progressive influence. It was a big success and for the first time, a follow up was inevitable. The Chemical Wedding, a semi-concept album on alchemy and the writings of William Blake followed. This record proved to be even more successful, with engaging lyrics and powerful songs. Scream for Me Brazil was a live album that documented a show of the Chemical Wedding tour, and featured songs from the last two albums and two from Balls to Picasso.
The Best of Bruce Dickinson album with two new Roy Z songs and a limited edition disc of rarities was released in 2001. Dickinson is said to have wanted to record another album with Roy Z, but he was busy with Judas Priest vocalist, Rob Halford, and the window of opportunity was missed. Tyranny of Souls was finally released in May 2005. This time the songwriting was all split between Roy Z and Dickinson, with Roy playing all guitars and even basses in some songs. Much of the writing was done by Roy sending recordings of riffs to Dickinson which he wrote lyrics and melodies for while on tour. With the release of Tyranny of Souls, Dickinson’s back catalogue was reissued with a bonus disc of extra tracks for each album except The Chemical Wedding and the two live albums, the latter of which were packaged together in a three-disc set.
A three-disc DVD package, named simply Anthology, was released June 2006 and contains three concerts from his career, promo videos and footage from his Samson days.
Along with Adrian Smith, Dickinson rejoined Iron Maiden in 1999. As a six-piece (Janick Gers remained in the band as well) they embarked on a small tour. Afterwards they set about recording the first Iron Maiden album with Bruce on vocals since 1993, Brave New World. The Brave New World tour culminated with a performance at the huge Rock in Rio festival, which was captured on DVD.
Dickinson has continued on as a full member of the band, recording the follow-up Dance of Death album, Death on the Road live album and DVD, and most recently their newest studio album, A Matter of Life and Death, while also pursuing his solo musical and airline pilot careers.