From Elvis to Brain Damage

Yeah, that's me with long blond hair (1989)

I’ve always been a lover of music, of most kinds, really.  I grew up listening to mostly 50s and 60s music, compliments of my parents.  Can you say, Elvis Presley, boys and girls?  Kind of “meh”, then, but as you get older you become more fond of that type of thing, I guess. Of course, in my teenage years, I became hooked on Led Zeppellin, the Stones, groups like that. Even some mildly embarrassing 80s groups. Not terribly atypical from the path many of us took.

I’ve always loved rock and roll – but it wasn’t until I joined the Army and went overseas that I would begin really exploring the depths of metal music.  Mind you, this was in the 1980s.  Judas Priest and Iron Maiden were in their prime, and a young band in Los Angeles decided to ditch the name “MetalMania” in lieu of a catchier, less cheesy one – Metallica.

Jason Penner - Brain Damage - 1988

Jason Penner – Brain Damage

Shortly after my arrival to Delta Company, 3/64th Armor in Schweinfurt, Germany, I met Jason Penner.  Jay was a cool cat all-around – knew his shit, whether it was about tanks or rock and roll.  As it turns out, he was the lead singer in an all-soldier band called “Brain Damage.”  Saw them play here and there.  They sounded pretty tight.  I’ve got an old VHS tape around here somewhere of one of their shows.  If I get the courage one day to try and play it (for fear of it being eaten due to age), I’ll try and digitize it and post it here somewhere.

As with all soldiers, the time came for Jason to head back stateside.  Demand for the band was growing, but they now needed a singer.  For some reason, they picked me.  One day, out in the middle of nowhere (REFORGER ’88, if I remember correctly), the drummer, Kirk Strieter, comes up to me out in the bush and says “Hey, I heard you could sing.  We’re looking for a singer, so you’re in, right?”  I chuckled a bit, as I tried to figure out why in the hell anyone would start a rumor that I could actually sing.  I agreed to come hang out with them when we got back from the deployment.

The practice room at the time was a tiny (miniscule, really) room underneath a place called Zapfhahn’s.  Zap’s was an institution in Schweinfurt, a dive bar located on the corner of Frühlingstraße and Niederwerrner Straße. Cozy little place, rock and roll always blaring over the speakers.  It had a reputation of being a great hangout during the week, and a place where GIs would go to beat the snot out of each other on the weekends.  What’s not to love?

That little practice room couldn’t have been more than 10′ x 10′.  And believe me, that space fills up quickly when you add in a drum kit, a bunch of amps, mic stands, and a sound board.  The acoustics were nothing short of, well … non-existent. I walked into the room for the first time and was completely sucker punched by the noise. Deafening.  Beautiful, but ear-shattering.  We used to practically rock the pictures off the wall in the bar above us. We got a lot of complaints from Zap’s, usually when they couldn’t hear their own jukebox because of the noise emanating from the basement. They loved us practicing there, though – we brought them a lot of business.

At any rate, at that first practice session, Tony, the guitarist, asked me if I knew this one particular song by Judas Priest.  I shook my head negatively.  “What about song X from Iron Maiden?”.  Nope.  Never heard of it.  Hmm.  “Well, what about Rock and Roll, by Led Zeppellin?  Everyone the hell knows that song!”  I flashed a wide grin and we rocked it.  The rest is, well history, I suppose. We played that song in every live gig we did after that.

I had some pretty big shoes to fill. Jay was the kind of frontman that every bands wants to have … needs to have. He had a natural “stage swagger” about him. He was confident, inspired. Plus, he had a history with the other guys that I didn’t. It was a little awkward at first, to say the least.

But, we practiced and practiced, wrote and wrote, played and played.  We rented a practice room just outside of town, in a farm village called Sennfeld – Herr Geyer, proprietor. He was an old guy, and didn’t give a crap about rock and roll, but he gladly took our geld. He once said that American beer looked like “apfelsaft” (apple juice) and tasted like “piss water” – we agreed.

We trolled the strip in Schweinfurt, at the height of 80s metal and American military presence. We shredded places like Maggie’s, The Green Goose, Jackpot, Wellington’s, Eastwood, the River Boat, and about a million other places. We were the kings of the boardwalk. There came a point where we didn’t pay for many of our own beers – a sure sign that you are going down the right path as a band.

We eventually changed our name from Brain Damage to Shadow. Even though we had our military duties to contend with, we were four single American boys living the dream in a rock band … in Europe!  After one particular show in a little town called Oberlauringen, a producer approached us backstage and set more things in motion. We recorded a record – vinyl, no less (the Iron Umbrella LP).  We reaped enough crazy stories to fill a book (which at one point, someone was actually working on.) Buy me a beer and I’ll tell you the story involving the Rajun’ Cajun, some two week old Ox Tail soup, and a strange night time anomaly apparently known as the “Southern Lights.” (*snicker*) No kidding …

I was the baby of the group. At the time, I was 19. Tony (Thornton), Monte (Starling) and Kirk (Strieter) were all 5-7 years older than me. They razzed me, they gave me shit. But they were like big brothers, too. They took care of me, and made sure I didn’t get into any trouble. Well, at least any trouble in which they didn’t get to participate. We became the best of friends. Inseparable, and insufferable to be around if you weren’t part of the “Shadow circle of trust.”

We had some crazy songs.  We wrote about things from a human perspective.  What does it really mean to be a soldier, and to carry those burdens for the rest of your life?  What is stage fright really, truly all about? What would it be like if the world really came to an end?  How would someone truly feel if their lover committed suicide?  We even had a song about a guy simply called “The Missionary” who killed prostitutes in the name of his god.  Stuff that most bands wouldn’t touch, and we did it with an edge.

red carpet dresses

Scott Burkett, Germany, 1988

We had a built-in fan base, simply given the fact that we were all soldiers.  At the time (height of the cold war), the United States had somewhere around 300,000 troops stationed in Europe. And as for the Germans? They loved us simply because we were an American band.  We had it good.

One by one, we each concluded our military service commitment. Tony had been out for a while, but I got out next. So I moved into an apartment right off the Marktplatz with Tony. Monte and Kirk eventually got out as well, and we made our way back to the States.  We started building up a following here in the U.S. – even had some metal radio airplay with a few of our songs. We were rockers, and we partied like rockers should. Good stuff.

Eventually, however, as most bands do, for one reason or another, we disbanded, and everyone headed their separate ways. Tony continued his music career, and is still playing today.  Monte resurfaced in a new band recently as well.  Kirk went back into the Army, and get this, is currently stationed back where it all started (Grafenwoehr, Germany, not that far from Schweinfurt, where we all met all those years ago). Small world.

About 15 years later, I started getting emails from people around the world, asking me whether or not I was the same Scott Burkett that was the lead singer of Shadow, and if I had any more copies of the old vinyl record.  The frequency of these emails picked up over time – I still get them today. In trying to determine why so many people have emailed me over the years asking about the old Shadow record, I discovered some interesting things.

For starters, the underground heavy metal collector circuit is rather large, and apparently fairly affluent.  A copy of our now vintage, rare metal album, in “excellent” condition, is listed for sale on one collector site for $1,800, and on another for over $1,400. According to some, there is a bit of an underground “cult-like” following of the band all across Germany.  Who knew?

I thought it would be cool to create remastered digital versions of the songs, and make them freely available to people who wanted to download them for personal use.  Maybe even have a charitable tie-in to a non-profit organization to help veterans.  Unfortunately, the only digitized copies of our songs that I have are ripped from the vinyl, and the quality simply isn’t that great. If you happen to have any decent vinyl rips from that original LP, please send them to me :)

As a next step, I decided to try and obtain the master recordings from the studio in Maßbach, Germany where we recorded the album.  Unfortunately, the studio had changed hands over the years, and it seemed no one knew what had happened to those original reels.  I tried contacting GEMA (the German version of our ASCAP), but again, no one could seem to find the mastered recordings that we filed as part of our copyright process. Sigh. So the hunt continues.  There is a bounty available if someone in the world can produce those original reels.

Over the years, I had been toying around with acoustic arrangements for some of our old songs. In 2003, Tony and I reunited for a series of acoustic sessions to produce some new music.  We re-arranged and recorded 5 songs from the original album, as well as 3 previously unreleased Shadow songs, all in an edgy acoustic format.  As we hadn’t yet reconnected with Monte and Kirk, we brought in some pretty darn good musicians to provide some tracks for a few of the tunes.  On drums, we had Ron Wikso (Foreigner, Richie Sambora/Bon Jovi, David Lee Roth, Cher), and pulling the bass strings was Lance Morrison (Alanis Morrissete, Rod Stewart, Simple Minds).  It was a blast!

At any rate, I decided to at least put together a little Shadow tribute section on the site here.  It turned into something larger, with photos, tunes, road stories, and more.  All of the tracks from the original LP are there, as well as the tracks from the acoustic sessions. If you are so inclined, you can go explore the world of Shadow.  Or, at least what was. It truly was the time of our lives.

Cheers.

6 Comments

  1. I STILL have the SHADOW Iron Umbrella album yall signed –I LOVE it!! -It ROCKS!

  2. Just wow… I have downsized my vinyl collection to about a dozen albums and I have never thought about getting rid of my copy that Monte autographed as my back stage pass. Great memories of Scheinfurt. I have played this album 1 time and put it away.

  3. Lena From Atlanta · March 31, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    I have the Shadow Iron Umbrella album that you guys gave me from the party days. Hey, I still have the Shadow ” Hide Your Sheep” 1988-89 Tour Tee Shirt too. Woiuldn’t think of parting with it. Good times….

  4. Sorry I never got the chance to meet you while I was on Schweinfurt. I was stationed with Monte in 2/64 and ran the sound boards during early “Brain Damage” concerts. It was always fun to be in the practice room with Monte trying out his bass and proclaiming that it was “making his eyes vibrate”. I left Schweinfurt in early 1988 and really miss the times I had hanging out with Tony, Monte, Kirk and Jason.

  5. Donkey Loaf Bitches ! I’m not dead yet !

  6. I was a American teenager in schweinfurt from 84-87, my dad was stationed there. I remember see Brain Damage and partying with the band at Sir Wellingtons. I loved the music! I ended up joining the army as a MP and went right back to Schweinfurt in 1988.

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