|Panthers are territorial animals, fiercely patrolling their stalking lands. The Sunset Strip, circa 1988, was ruled by one: a legendary band called Steel Panther. The Strip was the plangent heart of the nascent heavy metal scene, one that would soon conquer the music world, and rockers came from as far as New Jersey and the San Fernando Valley to see this band with a killer sound and habits to match.
Now, these once and future kings of heavy metal have emerged out of the mists of history and a cloud of hairspray to reclaim their rightful throne. Look out, because Steel Panther is again marking its territory.
Steel Panther's fabled live shows were like a GED class from the school of rock. And other bands took note: Their raucous stage shows, outrageous style, seismic guitar riffs, catchy melodies, catchier afflictions and indiscriminate taste in trollops and intoxicants - what frontman Michael Starr, lead guitarist Satchel, bassist Lexxi Foxxx, and drummer Stix Zadinia laid down would all be copied, as sure as if the original had been left at a Kinko's where so many apprentice rockers dream of quitting their day jobs.
"Most of the other bands were very jealous about all the chicks we were nailing," says frontman Michael Starr, "and they were wondering how we were getting these great gigs. The bottom line is: We're pioneers in what we're doing. Poison totally ripped me off: I was the first guy to come out with blonde hair and tight pants and the bandannas and they got Vince Neil popping out with the bandannas - you know who we're talking about."
But before we get caught up in the heady excitement of those times, let's look to when rock's glory was yet to be fully reclaimed from the New Wave British bands sporting synthesizers, asymmetrical haircuts, sweaters and worse. It was in the thick of that noxious early-'80s atmosphere that Steel Panther defiantly came to be.
They were high school pals, hanging out and getting high to stick it to the man. When in the course of being rebellious young men, Satchel, Michael Starr and Stix discovered Lexxi's penchant for wearing his mother's make up. To shock him out of his nascent transvestitism, the three school chum decided to burst out of his closet in full make up, a graphic depiction of the error of his ways. Then in a twist of fate, Michael Starr caught sight of the foursome in the mirror, recognizing at once that this look belonged on stage. A quick trip to the guitar store later, the band that would become Steel Panther was born.
But the band needed a name.
"I was with this chick watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom," Michael Starr says, "and I saw this show on black panthers, and I thought wouldn't that be a cool name for a band, so I went over to Satchel, and I said, 'Satchel, how about we name our band Black Panther?'"
"And I said, how about Steel Black Panther," Satchel replies, "only we take out the 'Black.'"
Small early gigs led to big ones. Big chicks led to hotter ones. And before long the gigs got bigger and the chicks even hotter. Entire communities of hot chicks moved to LA. Steel Panther shows were like their Mecca. It was in this era, in which the dream that led to the 1959 invention of spandex was finally realized, that many of the band's once and future classic songs developed, like the mission statement "Eye of a Panther" and the burning "Asian Hooker."
By 1987, not even the record business' most revered tastemakers could ignore the band that put the "strip" in Sunset Strip, and a fierce bidding was about to erupt. Every major label was involved. Competition to get into their big showcase gig so intense that entire A&R staffs were left in tatters; many label reps were reduced to returning to their college studies in hopes of eventually taking teaching positions in their hometowns.
But this is where the mystery of Steel Panther becomes mysterious: The band never showed for that big showcase. Rumors abounded as heavy metal's finest minds pondered the whereabouts of the Steel Panther and the great "lost" album they were rumored to have recorded.
But what really happened is that when you rock hard and live hard, you can tear something else - the fabric of time.
"It's so fucking awesome," Michael says, "we didn't pay attention to the clock or anything. When you can have all the blow and the strippers you want, why would you want to stop that?"
"It was never easy to get the band together to get together to talk about songs and rehearse," Satchel admits, "Because they were all mostly high in the '80s. And the '90s." Band rivalries and tensions heightened, especially between Satchel and Michael Starr, ultimately resulting in a tighter bond between the two, and for Satchel, a criminal record.
Then, one day, Universal-Republic President Monte Lipman found a Steel Panther package on his desk. Only this time, it was a box with an album inside. Could it be? Had the legendary metal band actually recorded those songs that shook the LA Basin to its core? One play confirmed it was true: The Panther roars again.
Always innovators, they set upon making Mondays the night to rock in Hollywood. Mission accomplished: Their weekly show at the Key Club is considered the longest-running Monday night heavy metal show in the world, a record the band hopes the Guinness people will soon certify.
The club is packed to the rafters every week, drawing the Hollywood in-the-know and celebrities alike to bask in the band's sui generis covers and stirring originals. On any given night, you can see the likes of Pink, Jessica Simpson, or Vince Vaughn onstage rocking with The Panther.
But the question remains, with the album at last ready, is the world ready for songs that herald the return of heavy metal's hegemony over the rock scene, tracks like "Stripper Girl," and "Community Property?" It would appear to be so. After all, what this band does, give or take 20 years, is timeless.
"The music, the art form, for me hasn't really changed," Satchel says resolutely, "Heavy metal is all about looking killer, wearing bitching clothes and sex with really hot girls - not just really, really hot like she's hot for the bus stop, or I'd-put-her-in-a-video hot, but the hottest girls you can have sex with. We live in Los Angeles, there are a lot of hot girls here, and we have sex with some of the hottest."
The same bravado that created the legend of Steel Panther, that forged the template from which so many other heavy metal bands were stamped, still courses unalloyed through the veins of the band. From Michael Starrs's golden vocal chords to Lexxi's frosted tips, rocking out is simply in their DNA, samples of which are so often available to fans after the show.
Get ready. As Michael Starr says, "Now it's time to let the cat out of the cage."
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