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Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
02/03/2010 8:18 pm

Robb Reiner and Steve Kudlow

Everybody ripped them off and left them for dead.

Although the roots of heavy metal can be traced back to the mid-1960s, it wasn’t until the early ‘80s that the genre gained mainstream popularity. With its brute force and machismo, metal had long been the domain of headbanging teenaged boys until bands like Anthrax, Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer came along and made it more accessible to both older and younger fans as well as a sizeable number of females.

As metal began to crack the Top 10, magazines were launched around the genre and metal music festivals began to pop up all over the globe. MTV created Headbanger’s Ball in 1987 which was devoted exclusively to heavy metal videos, and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences recognized metal with its very own Grammy category. Heavy metal bands were suddenly hot and selling millions of albums. And then there was Anvil.

Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner were fourteen years old when they made a pact to rock together forever. Armed with a genuine love of music and a dream that their passion would sustain them, the duo set out to make their mark on the metal scene. With Kudlow on vocals and lead guitar, Reiner on drums, Dave Allison on rhythm guitar, and Ian Dickson on bass, they formed their first band in 1978 (which they initially called Lips but renamed Anvil) after graduating high school and eventually wound up sharing the concert stage with bands like Slayer, Whitesnake and Anthrax. Slash (Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver), Lemmy (Motorhead), and Scott Ian (Anthrax) count Anvil among their influences as does Lars Ulrich (Metallica), who predicted big things for the band. “These guys were going to turn the music world upside down,” he said of Anvil. But somewhere along the way it all went terribly wrong. Anvil dropped off the radar and into obscurity while their peers went onto mega success. Except for diehard metalheads, many never even realized Anvil had gone missing.

I finally got around to watching the rock documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil. The critically acclaimed film, directed by screenwriter and former Anvil roadie Sacha Gervasi, made the year-end top ten lists in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek and The Village Voice and was recently nominated for a Critics Choice Movie Award in the Best Documentary category along with Michael Jackson’s This Is It. The UK’s The Times called Anvil! The Story of Anvil “possibly the greatest film yet made about rock and roll.”

The film follows Kudlow and Reiner, now in their 50s with long thinning hair and slack guts, as they work their day jobs (Kudlow drives a truck for Children’s Choice Catering delivering food to schools while Reiner works construction) and lament the fact that Anvil is relegated to playing small gatherings of dedicated fans in a local sports bar when they had been thisclose to fame once. Still, they are happy to do so.

Out of the blue, Kudlow gets an e-mail from one Tiziana Arrigoni, a European woman who’s passionate about metal and wants to represent the band. She offers to set up a European tour that will earn Anvil an estimated 1500 euros per show, and before you can say comeback, Kudlow, Reiner, bassist Glenn Five and guitarist Ivan Hurd set off on a 5-week tour that starts off promisingly enough at the Sweden Rock Festival, where Kudlow is as excited as a starstruck kid. But things quickly deteriorate with missed trains, language barriers, and bar owners who refuse to pay up. The band ends up sleeping in a train station, getting lost in Prague, and playing to mostly empty rooms. The final concert of the tour is the Monsters of Transylvania show, held in a 10,000 seat arena. All of 174 people show up. It’s painful viewing, but Kudlow makes light of the situation by readily admitting to the band having played plenty of gigs where no one at all shows. It becomes abundantly clear that Anvil are not in it for the money.

Dejected, Anvil return home to Canada and their “regular” jobs. They each have financial burdens, including Kudlow’s having to take out a second mortgage and bassist Glenn Five’s homelessness. Family members grow increasingly concerned about and impatient with Kudlow and Reiner’s steadfastness to a dream that should have died decades ago but none have the heart to say so. When the band has to come up with 13,000 pounds to finance the recording of their 13th album, sure to be The One that puts them back on top, Kudlow takes on a second job to help raise the necessary funds, but it's his sister who ultimately comes to the band's rescue. With tears shining in her eyes, she loans her brother the money when he fails miserably as a telemarketer after three days on the job. At this stage of the game, there simply isn't the time.

Anvil head to Dover, England, to record with Chris “CT” Tsangarides who had produced the group’s album Metal on Metal back in 1982. The band nearly implode under mounting stress but somehow manage to pull it together and record an album that they then can’t land a label to distribute. Anvil ended up self-releasing This Is Thirteen in 2007 via their website. (The album was re-released by VH1 Classic Records in September 2009 with the bonus track, “Thumb Hang,” a song Kudlow and Reiner wrote while studying the Spanish Inquisition as boys in high school.) Despite what promised to be a fresh start for Anvil, the band were no further ahead for their efforts. They remained plagued by what they feel sent them back to square one in the first place: “Bad timing, bad luck, and most of all bad management,” says Kudlow. Reiner confirms, saying their troubles can be summed up in three words: “We haven’t got good management.”

As for the film’s ending, well, I won’t spoil it for you.

There’s something endearing about a couple of 50-something headbangers with fanny packs strapped to their midsections, still waiting to make it big. “Here we sit in our (expletive) 50s and we’re gonna be rock stars,” Kudlow insists. “It’s our (expletive) dream! And I’m going to make it come true!” An eternal optimist, there is no “quit” in Kudlow’s vocabulary. He and Reiner keep the band in a constant state of preparedness with regular practice as Kudlow knows that luck can turn on a dime. He truly believes that if you stick at something long enough, “your card will come up.” The conviction in his voice and the bottomless hunger in his eyes when he says this stirs even the most jaded soul.

Ironically Anvil! The Story of Anvil, a film about Anvil's brush with fame, is winning the band a new audience and making it a whole lot easier for Kudlow and Reiner to remain true to their boyhood pact. They played the Rocklahoma Festival in Pryor, Oklahoma, last year and opened some shows for the North American leg of AC/DC’s Black Ice World Tour. Anvil also supported Saxon on a leg of UK shows this past November. The band are currently at work on their 15th album, Juggernaut of Justice, and are booked to tour through September 2010.

If you haven’t done so yet, check out the film, check out the band’s website (, and do show your support when Anvil rolls into your hometown.
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