Piranha-Alone We Survive
Hell House, Berkeley, CA 1988
It was 1988, Baloff's Hell House on San Pablo was in full effect, four
floors of skidly, debauchery. Exodus's Pleasures of the Flesh had been out
for barely a year, Metallica's Garage Day's Re-Visited was months old and
they had just finished ...and Justice For All. Eddie Van Halen and George
Lynch guitar tones ruled rock and James Hetfield's signature rhythm crunch
was cherished by metal guitarists. The S.F. Bay Area was in full effect.
All we cared about was partying hard, jamming and girls. Ego's and guitar
tone set the standard. Speed, weed and alcohol were more common than food.
Unknowing newcomers to Hell House would lose cameras, microphones, and
jewelry to the house to further ones sustenance. Dope dealers that fell
asleep would wake up missing their precious stash. It was a band urban
survival compound. It was like a heavy metal version of Lord of the Flies.
James Hetfield, Jim Martin, Jason Newsted and a like would always hang out
and jam. I remember Baloff turning Flotsam and Jetsom on to speed when they
were looking for coke after a Stone gig. Ruthie's Inn in Berkeley where
Slayer had debuted in make-up and Suicidal Tendencies made their Bay Area
impact was winding down, but The Stone in S.F. and The Omni in Oakland were
big parties. If it was a glam show or a metal show, there were always five
hundred to one thousand people in attendance. These were times of our
This whole East Bay scene was such a hot spot for metal with Metallica,
Exodus, Laaz Rockit, Ruffians, Heathen, Death Angel, Forbidden, Mordred,
Legacy, Testament, Bacchus and Ulysses Siren. Interestingly enough I had
gone to El Cerrito High School with Paul Baloff (never saw him), Mark
Whittaker, who had co-produced Metallica's first two releases, Laaz
Rockit's Aaron Jellum, and East Bay guitar wizard Brian Kehoe (Mirv, Jerry
Cantrell, Kehoe Nation). I did my first gig with him. I bought my first
bass amp from Les Claypool as he graduated from Blind Illusion to Primus.
Green Day were kids only miles away getting ready to take the world by
surprise. Work defining punk bands like Attitude Adjustment were kicking
ass, pumping out multiple vinyl releases. The Bay Area was on fire with
I had already moved on from Heathen, and was jamming with some cool dudes
from Brazil (one dude Eddie who became Sepultura's road manager for a
while) and was living with Rob McKillop the bass player of Exodus in
Berkeley. I started playing with Piranha after I noticed their bass player
opening a Testament show at the Stone was struggling. After checking them
out at the Berkeley Hell House rehearsal, I realized their bass player Al
Voltage was actually a very good guitarist. I talked to the band,
auditioned and did well securing my spot. I was very Iron Maiden influenced
at the time. In fact after the photo shoot by Tony Mottram, I took Tony,
Bruce and a couple others out for a ride in my Firebird. Bruce took us to
sushi in S.F. and gave me 20 guest spots at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in
Mountain View. I assured Dickinson I would bring lots of girls...
Because of Fred Cotton's friendship with James Hetfield Piranha was able to
record a demo produced by James Hetfield for Mechanics Records. He was
frustrated by the experience because he had just finished and Justice for
All and was tired of the studio, as well as having a hard time getting drum
and guitar tone. Bobby Gustafson from Overkill showed up out of the blue to
the recording session. It seemed he just wanted to be around Hetfield.
Bobby was a total Hetfield clone back then. What a trip. I remember getting
pulled over by the CHP with Hetfield, Baloff and Baloff's dog Level in the
car on the way home. The cops were amused by Level the wolf. I flew out to
New York to meet with Mechanics Records only to find they wer not impressed
with the music and frustrated they could not use Hetfield's name. The demo
would not further Piranha's career...