By Carl Begai
I recently crossed Black N’ Blue frontman Jaime St. James off my interview bucket list.
No, he doesn’t have the high profile career, matching fame, or “legendary” status of Bruce Dickinson or Rob Halford, but St. James is one of those voices from my formative metalhead years in the ’80s that never disappeared. And while I can’t say that I’ve listened to Black N’ Blue religiously since the days I had a full head of hair, I can lay claim knowing every word, vocal nuance, widdly guitar part, drum fill and additional noise found on the Nasty Nasty record. It was and is one of those things I can’t explain beyond the fact it was music that struck a chord with me and became part of my bloodstream. That they have a new album out all these years later on par with Nasty Nasty is nothing short of fantastic in my world.
St. James recently took time out to discuss the record, Hell Yeah, and the interview will appear on these pages soon. In the meantime an excerpt from the chat is available below, as I address something that’s been bugging me for over two decades…
In 1987 a new band called EZO – rumoured to have been discovered by KISS legend Gene Simmons – started popping up regularly on MuchMusic and MTV through their video for the song ‘Flashback Heart Attack’. This was followed by a second single, ‘Here It Comes’. Hailing from Japan, they played the glam metal part well, fitting into the hair-and-make-up ’80s scene running amok at the time as if they were born to it. Musically, however, they were different from their more-pose-for-your-buck peers, making EZO something definitely worth investigating for a youngling with preferences for Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Helloween.
Upon purchase of self-titled debut, it was confirmed that Simmons was indeed responsible for bringing EZO to North America, acting as co-producer and creative force behind the project. Folklore has it that Simmons was inspired by the ninja movie craze of the ‘80s to create a band with a similar mysterious image, refining the face paint the band wore as Flatbacker – derived from Kabuki’s Kumadori – to KISS-like proportions. Simmons also pushed the name change from Flatbacker to EZO as a reference to the band’s origin, the historical name for Hokkaido.
Relocating to the United States, the band was responsible for delivering the music, but several of American songwriters were brought in to shape the debut album, one of them being Jaime St. James. His involvement struck me both as odd and amazing, particularly since EZO sounded nothing like Black N’ Blue.
St. James recalls how he became involved:
“Gene Simmons produced that album, and it’s funny because he called me up and said ‘Jaime, I need you to come over, I need some lyrics, can you write some for me?’ I told him sure, no problem, so I met him at Shannon Tweed’s house, and then he let me in on the other part: ‘By the way, they don’t speak English.’ I had to stand in the studio and tell EZO’s singer (Masaki Yamada) how to sing all my stuff. The poor guy’s standing there, he doesn’t know what to do or how to sing my lyrics, and I’m thinking ‘Oh my God…’ (laughs). But, I helped him out and we got through it.”
“It was a weird situation, things went okay, but Gene in his ultimate glory never tells you the exact truth (laughs). I’m sitting there, he’s got me committed, and then he’s telling me that the guys in EZO won’t know what the hell I’m saying and that I’d have to be there the whole time (laughs). I have to admit, though, it was fun. Great band, great songs.”
– Special thanks to Takashi Kanazawa and Yasushi Matsumoto for the continued support and filling in the blanks.
(And while you’re here, listen to my fave EZO track, ‘Desiree’; years ahead of its time).