Monday, February 3, 2014

Great Metal Bands in History: THE RODS


The Rods were one of America's unsung blue-collar heavy metal bands of the 1980s -- often compared to Britain's Motörhead because of their veteran three-piece lineup; their everyman, almost punk-simple image; and, of course, their brash and extremely loud music, which was invariably played on amplifiers set to 11! The band achieved little mainstream success during its career, though, and although The Rods' general compositional style hardly pushed the heavy metal genre into new terrain, at least they never sold out to glam metal like so many of their peers.

Hailing from upstate New York, The Rods came into being in the late '70s under the leadership of vocalist/guitarist David Feinstein, whose first brush with success had come almost a decade earlier as a member of blues-rockers Elf, whom he was invited to join by his cousin, singer Ronnie James Dio. However, Feinstein quit Elf shortly after the release of their eponymous 1973 debut (and before they became the first incarnation of Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow), in order to, in his own words, "recover from the '60s" by taking a job with the wildlife conservation department in upstate New York, and moving into a log cabin with no electricity or running water! But Feinstein was lured back by his guitar before too long, and after he jammed with local drummer Carl Canedy and bassist Joey DeMaio (future Manowar) in a short-lived group called David Feinstein's Thunder, The Rods were officially born in 1979 with the arrival of bassist Stephen Starmer. The hard-working trio then proceeded to amass a solid repertoire of original songs and, rather than bothering with demos and waiting for the music industry at large to take notice, set about recording their own long-player in 1980, which they revealingly named Rock Hard and pressed 1,000 copies of, independently.

In the end, this served the same purpose as a demo anyway, as The Rods were duly signed to a contract by Arista Records (the home of Air Supply!?), which repackaged the first album with a few newly recorded cuts (featuring recently arrived bass player Garry Bordonaro) for release as the band's eponymous major-label debut in 1981. Along with vague punk rock connections (enforced by the LP's Ramones-like cover photo) and the aforementioned Motörhead similarities -- which were frankly more aesthetic and philosophical than musical -- the album showcased a tough, frill-free heavy rock style with occasional proto-speed metal tendencies, a surprising appreciation of melody, and telltale similarities to '70s legends like Deep Purple and Rainbow and '80s contemporaries like Riot and Y&T. And perhaps not surprisingly, the LP garnered more attention and positive press in England than in the U.S., where heavy metal was still a couple of years away from its commercial breakthrough, thus prompting Arista to ship the band over to the U.K. for a guest slot on Iron Maiden's The Number of the Beast tour, then keep them there for the recording of their sophomore album, Wild Dogs. Released in 1982, this latest effort was also heartily embraced by the Brits, but fared no better than its predecessor in America, leading Arista to drop The Rods just as soon as they'd managed to limp back home.


Luckily for the band, though, Shrapnel Records swooped right in with a new contract, and 1983's aptly named In the Raw saw the group celebrating its return to independent status with a significantly stripped-down sound (according to some reports, the tracks were essentially demos), which, oddly enough, was suspiciously reminiscent of Twisted Sister.

Next in their newfangled "less is more" crusade was a hastily assembled live album that ultimately did them no favors, and with 1984's Let Them Eat Metal, The Rods found themselves linked to yet another record label (this time rising thrash imprint Combat) and obtaining more headlines from the LP's provocative cover model than the actual music within. Interestingly, around this time, drummer Carl Canedy began taking on parallel jobs as a producer, and thus he wound up recording a handful of future thrash classics such as Anthrax's Spreading the Disease, Exciter's Violence & Force , and Overkill's Feel the Fire. Back in the land of The Rods, though, things weren't looking nearly as promising, and confusion had obviously set in by 1986 when a mysterious hard rock album entitled Hollywood was released by a group billed simply as Canedy, Feinstein, Bordonaro & Caudle (Rick Caudle being the lead vocalist, since Feinstein focused solely on guitar). Later that year, a fifth LP credited to The Rods would emerge through dinky independent Passport Records, but fans who actually managed to find a copy discovered that Feinstein and Canedy had now teamed up with bassist Craig Gruber (ex-Elf, Rainbow) and yet another new singer, named Shmoulik Avigal (indeed, he was a Dutchman, ex-Piture), for what proved to be a largely ignored swan song.

All involved soon moved onto other, mostly low-key projects, with Canedy continuing to focus on his production work while Feinstein kept playing with several underground bands (most notably A la Rock, which actually released an album in 1990), before switching gears to become a restaurant owner in New York City. It was therefore quite unexpected when the guitarist made another comeback with a nondescript solo album in the year 2000, and then launched a new power metal group named simply Feinstein via 2003's Third Wish CD. Even more surprising, 2008 saw the original Rods reuniting for a special performance at the Metal Rock Fest in Lillehammer, Norway. Shortly afterwards, the band went back to the studio together for the first time in over twenty years, and in 2011 released their sixth album as The Rods, Vengeance.

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