I'm pretty sure Darrell Roberts didn't like me very much when we met. Backstage at the House of Blues in Orlando, W.A.S.P. was touring to support Unholy Terror, and Darrell was the new kid in the band. Ours was a cursory introduction, because I was more interested in the hilarity of hanging out with (Mike) Duda and Stet (Howland), and taking up Blackie Lawless on the offer to ride Elvis, the spring-loaded, whiplash mic stand that nearly threw me over the handlebars.
Our paths crossed twice more during that tour—Hartford and Wantagh, NY—but Darrell was very reserved. And intense. He didn't say much, and that piercing, direct stare and no-nonsense demeanor convinced me that I was just an inane jackass to him.
Three years later, I spent a week on the road with W.A.S.P. I figured Duda, Stet and I would laugh our asses off, Blackie and I would bust each other's balls about the Yankees and Red Sox, our respective favorite baseball teams (I woke one morning to giddy news from the back lounge of the bus that Nomar Garciaparra had been traded to the Cubs), and I would stay the hell out of Darrell's way.
But a funny thing happened, somewhere on the highway between Atlanta and Springfield, VA. We connected during a conversation about Ronnie James Dio. I had an advance copy of Master of the Moon with me, and he wanted to hear it. Other than the driver, we were the only ones awake. Darrell slid the disc into the CD player, and “One More for the Road” blasted throughout the bus. Very loud. Wake-the-dead loud. Piss-off-your-sleeping-band-and-crew loud.
Darrell scrambled to turn it down, but something malfunctioned, and it just got louder. The panic on his face was priceless, and once he got the volume under control, we listened. And we talked—about Dio, Sabbath, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and some pretty heavy shit about family and life.
During that conversation, he admitted, “When Blackie said there was gonna be a writer traveling with us, I thought you were gonna be a pain in the ass.” I loved that line so much, I included it in my 2004 Year In Review for Metal Edge magazine.
I got to know Darrell—“D”—a lot more during subsequent W.A.S.P. tours, including a few more days on the road in 2006. On the bus in the parking lot of the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ, we had another one of those very personal conversations. Later that day, a couple hours before W.A.S.P. took the stage, D, Duda and I were watching vintage Tom & Jerry cartoons, laughing our asses off, nearly to the point of tears. Something about the sight of an animated cat getting slammed in the face with a shovel just seems to bring people together.
D has always made sure I got to preview his newest musical ventures. In 2005, after a W.A.S.P. gig in Hartford on the American Metal Blast tour, we sat in my car and listened to solo tracks he had recorded. And when he joined Five Finger Death Punch, very excited about the musical possibilities he heard in “The Bleeding,” he made sure I got a four song demo CD.
It's pretty funny that, considering how much I initially thought he disliked me, we're good friends. It took me awhile to really put my finger on it, but Darrell has a very powerful presence. Confidence, attitude—call it whatever you want, but the guy has got it. And he's incredibly talented, too. When your friends are musicians, you usually want to hear whatever they're working on, to be supportive and offer encouragement. But I always want to hear whatever D is doing because I've come to know him well enough to recognize how much the music is an extremely personal and intense reflection of what's going on inside.
Since leaving Five Finger Death Punch, he's been working on what has become Sintanic, despite about twenty suggestions from me for a band name. Before he posted them to MySpace, D emailed me two tracks that were promptly loaded onto my iPod. I listened a couple of times, liked them, promised to write something about them, then promptly shifted gears into procrastination—until last week when I thumbed past Sintanic, wheeled back and remembered, Christ, I promised D that I would give him an assessment of these tunes.
So I pushed play, and something really clicked for me. Most metal fans already know that Darrell is a monster metal guitarist. But he's got a deep appreciation and a real understanding of the emotional dynamics of the blues. “Lost and Found” is Darrell taking that raw emotion and adapting it to metal. That absolutely perfect pause, right before the guitar solo, when he speaks—“help”—is classic Darrell Roberts intensity. The lyrics—and his guitar and voice—are stark, desolate sadness. The song is despondent, very lonely and haunting.
D is also an underrated vocalist—well, maybe not underrated, so much as unfamiliar. Like his love of the blues, most people probably don't know that D has an extremely strong, soulful voice. You don't spend five years listening to Blackie Lawless track vocals without learning something about the beauty of pained, wailing singing, or the power of properly using your voice as a blunt instrument. Vocally, “Push the Enemy” is Darrell at his take-none-of-your-shit best. It's also a great example of the guitar creating a compelling musical cadence through the use of minimalism and sustain.
Years ago I thought, “This is the guy who replaced Chris Holmes?" This skinny blonde kid doesn't have a chance. Shows you how much I knew. Turns out that D had his own share of the intensity market already cornered. I just needed to catch up.