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Jack Starr (ex-Virgin Steele)

A couple of months ago I did an interview with Virgin Steele minman David DeFeis, to memorate the release of the cd The Book Of Burning. During this interview he told me, how this cd came into being after a failed co-operation with ex-Virgin Steele guitarplayer Jack Starr.

As we gave David the chance to say what he wanted to say about this matter, we figured that it would be nothing but decent to give Jack a chance too to do the same. A conversation about Virgin Steele, remasters of 20 year old songs, his new band Guardians Of The Flame, and much more.

By: Ferdi | Archive under

The story about The Book Of Burning is as follows. In 1997, ex-Virgin Steele guitarplayer Jack Starr and current Virgin Steele-singer David DeFeis start working on new material. During these sessions they get the idea of releasing the first two lp's, Virgin Steele ('82) and Guardians Of The Flame ('83) on cd.

Alas, the two couldn't agree on how to do this. There were two options: David wanted to re-record the material, something Jack resents. Jack on the other hands, wants to publish the cd's with the original recordings. The matter cannot be resolved, and the muscisians go seperate ways. David rerecords some of the old material with Virgin Steele's current line-up and releases them as The Book Of Burning, while Jack tries to sell the recordings to vrious recordcompanies.

Birth Through Fire

Let's dive into the history of the band. What was the reason you left Virgin Steele at the time?

I did not leave, I was fired. What happened was, I went to make a solo album called 'Out Of The Darkness' with Rhett Forester of Riot singing on it. When I came back to Long Island where Virgin Steele was based I was told by David that I was no longer wanted in the band. This of course was a big shock to me because I had originally formed the band and made up the name and even hired David as the singer.

After you left, there was a dispute about the name between you and David, which was settled in court. Wasn't it obvious when you left the band, to who the bandname belonged too?

After I left the band there was a dispute about the name because David wanted to keep using it and it was my name. I had legally registered it and copyrighted it. The bank account, post office box and publishing company were also in my name. So of course I did not think that David should be allowed to use the name Virgin Steele. That's why there was a legal fight, which by the way I did not want. I tried to work out a solution with David but that was not possible because David is a very strong willed person who is used to getting his way. It should have been very obvious that the name belonged to me: I had all the paperwork proving that and I still do, but that did not stop David from pursing his course of action.

If you had the paperwork to prove your case, then how could there have been any confusion over the ownership of it?

It wasn't a clear case, even though I did have much proof on my side. David also had evidence that he felt supported his right to use the name. The problem was that there was a third party involved by the name of Zoren Busic, who managed the band Saga. He lived in Canada and I had asked him to become our manager. He replied and said he would, so we met in New York City to sign papers.

The legal questions became very complex because of the management contract that I signed which in effect gave him the legal ownership of the name . And as long as he was managing Virgin Steele it seemed they had a legal right to use the name. Thus even though I did win the lawsuit and proved my ownership, Zoren's claim was also valid and this matter has still not been settled. I will say this: I definitely have as much right as David to use the name and at some point there maybe a Virgin Steele with Jack Starr.

You worked with David on a couple of occasions during the nineties, though not under the name of Virgin Steele. How do you look back on these collaborations?

I look back at the collaborations with David as positive. David has wonderful musical ideas and vast technical knowledge of music theory. He also is one of the few people I can work with that understands my music and the lofty goals that I try to achieve when I create music. We have had personality problems but this has never affected the music.

In 1997 you teamed up with David and recorded four songs. David calls them the Sacred Demo's, you refer to them as the Reunion Of Steele. These four songs ended up on Virgin Steele's The Book Of Burning, and will also be put on your upcoming rereleases. What can you tell me about these songs?

When the Reunion Of Steele is released this will be evident in the quality of these songs. The songs on Reunion Of Steele contain the best guitar playing that I have ever done. It hurts my feelings that David chose to rerecord them and put them on The Book Of Burning. By doing this he denied fans of Virgin Steele an opportunity to hear what potential the original Steele had.

Soon thereafter the idea rose to rerelease the first two Virgin Steele-records.

It was when David and myself started to work on the Reunion recordings. That was definitely my idea. I asked him to contact his label with the idea of putting out the old records, and at the time both David and myself thought this was a good idea.

There was one problem: David wanted to rerecord the material old material, you on the other hand wanted to use the original recordings. Why was it so hard to settle this dispute?

It was hard to settle the dispute, because David was not happy with a lot of the performance on the early albums. I think that he regrets his totally over the top use of echo on the vocals and his overuse of his great scream, but to tell you the truth this no longer bothers me. Also for that matter I played way too much lead guitar on the first several albums. Some times I would do four guitar solos on one song. It was crazy. But we were young and did not have a lot of experience and we producing these records ourselves. I would not change one note because that is how it was. Even my bass player Joe Oreilley told me a few months ago, there is a wrong bass note on the song Still In Love With You. I told him, so what you are only human and you are allowed to make a few mistakes. The important thing is the performance and the feel and the groove of a piece of music. And those original Virgin Steele recordings had a great feel to them and I would never change them.

So you took the project into your own hands.

My mother always told me that if you wanted to have something do, you've got to do it yourself. If David had done in 1997 when I suggested it there probably would have been no problem. But he kept putting if off and delaying it. It just seemed like there was always something more important for him to do. So finally I said enough of this and I took matters into my own hand. I contacted labels and I found that a lot of people were interested in my old band.

You still had the original tapes?

I have the masters on 15 ips Ampex reels. What I do not have are the unmixed masters, but I do not want them because I don't want to remix the original Virgin Steele albums. I am happy with the way they were and I don't like to rewrite history.

How hard was it to find an interested company for the rereleases?

It was very easy to find a label to put out the original Virgin Steele. The problem was that once I had a deal in place, David's label Sanctuary would contact the label or distributor of the label and pressure them not to release it. They did this with Metalblade, they did this with an Italian label and they try to do this Metal Mayhem. Sanctuary has a lot of power and its affiliates do a lot of distribution for smaller labels so they can say to a label "if you release the Virgin Steele records we will no longer distribute you product". It has been hard to get these records released, only the label Metal Mayhem has not changed their minds and is going through with the releases. So I am trying to fight a big giant, and it is difficult.

David released the demo's you made and old Virgin Steele Songs on The Book Of Buring. What did you think of this release?

The Book Of Burning is a good record and it has some great songs on it. And I am not saying this because I wrote or co-wrote 8 songs on it. I really think it is a strong record but I don't feel it needed to be rerecorded. This was only done because I would not give my permission for my songs to be used. I think that the great Canadians metal magazine Bave Words, Bloody Knuckles had it right when they called it a 'camouflage job'.

A Cry In The Night

You told me by email that there are certain parts in my interview with David that you disagree with. Which parts are those?

There are some statements that David made that are not true. He talks about the 20 anniversary of the band this is ridiculous: the band broke up in 1984. Yes it's true: David kept the name but all he did was make solo albums where he would tell everybody what to play and he would write all the music and do all the interviews. And I don't think this is a band, it is a David Defeis solo album. Also, David contributed very little to some of the songs on The Book Of Burning. I wrote most of the songs on The Book Of Burning, and songs like The Final Day's I wrote totally. I am not happy because David does not like to say this in interviews.

There is one other important thing would like to say: I have read interviews where he says that I am trying to take advantage of all the hard work that he has put into Virgin Steele. My answer to that is simple: when I left the band in 1984 we were on over 10 records labels in the world and we in the metal charts everywhere. So I left David a band that was very well known. Now it's 18 years later and the band has not gotten bigger, while new bands like Hammerfall, Rhapsody and Blind Guardian have arrived and surpassed Virgin Steele ten times over. It's 18 years later and Virgin Steele is still opening up for Manowar, exactly the same as when I was in the band.

I think that David needs to be honest with himself and the fans. He did not create Virgin Steele, he did not name it, he did not make it popular in the beginning and he was not the one to make deals with all the metal labels David Defeis never credits me for the saga that was started.

You've said that you consider Virgin Steele after your departure to be a solo-project of David. Yet most the guy who replaced you - Edward Pursino- has in the band longer than you have and thus has been more important to Virgin Steele's trademark sound than you have been.

This is a difficult question for me to answer because I like Ed Pursino and I feel he is a very talented guitarist. But in all honesty David has told me that he writes everything in the Virgin Steele songs, including the guitar parts and even the solo's. This to me is strange, and I think it shows that the band David calls Virgin Steele is really his solo-project. This is not honest to the fans. Also yes its true that Eddie has been in the band a very long time. But there have also been long periods of inactivity for the band including the time that David was in Smokestack Lightning with me, or the many years that David took off to attend university. So when David says Virgin Steele is celebrating 20 years as a band it's ridiculous. Virgin Steele broke up in 1984 and from that point on it was the David DeFeis band. When a married couple get a divorce should you still celebrate the wedding anniversary 15 years later? I don't think so.

But if he has been in the band for 18 years, then why consider Virgin Steele a soloproject of David?

David writes almost all the songs as well as produces, arranges and comes up with titles of the albums and even the order of the songs! David is a control freak. This is not a bad thing but then let us be honest and call it what it is, which is solo albums by David. I think that basically he doesn't care who plays on what because he feels as long as he is on it it is Virgin Steele. I do feel that there is no band, only solo albums by David , and I think it is not honest especially since he claims this is a band.

But you shouldn't forget that it was David who has kept the bandname Virgin Steele alive for all these years.

That's, but it is easy to keep a name going when it is known and successful. When I left the band we were a well know recording act. The band had a recorddeal and was opening for groups like Krokus, Manowar and Black Sabbath. So it's not like David took an unknown band and through his hard work and talent made them know. This was already done and it makes me angry that anyone would ever say that I am trying to benefit from his work. The opposite is true, David has benefited from all the hard work that I did in the beginning, and he continues to reap the rewards of my work.

Some people will say that you're just trying to grab the media's attention to promote your new band and reissues.

Yes, I would like some media attention. Primarily because I am not on a big label like Sanctuary and it is difficult for me to be in a lot of magazines like David. And I would like my side of the story to be printed so that the fans can decide for themselves what they wish to believe. I am a musician and this is what is most important to me. I don't always want to talk about the past but there is unfinished business. And Virgin Steele is one of the only band from the first wave of heavy metal whose original records have never been reissued. I would like to see this change, but not in a re-rerecording. I would like the real records to come out and I am fighting for this.

Guardians Of The Flame

When do you expect the first two Virgin Steel albums to be available on cd?

This is a question for the boss of Metal Mayhem. I know that everything has been remastered and all the artwork, linernotes and packaging is ready and it looks great. I know Metal Mayhem has just finished a record with some members of Ratt, so I do know that the Virgin Steele cd's are next.

Besides the records that you want to rerelease you also have a new band, called Guardians Of The Flame. Can we expect a cd in the near future?

My new band the Guardians Of The Flame is doing great. We have been playing festivals in the States and we will be going to California to record our first album for the Metal Mayhem label. There is a lot of interest in the band from touring agencies, so things are good. I have been getting a lot of support from fans and magazines all over the world and I am very grateful that have not been forgotten

What can we expect from the first Guardians Of The Flame cd?

I can say that I am going to try to make a great album. My favourite metal album probably is Metallica's black album. I also loved Black Sabbath. When I first heard it I had been playing guitar for one year and it changed my life. So I am going to make an album with these influences. The other thing is I will try to make the guitar as good as can be and I want the playing to be very emotional and very intense. One of my favourite guitar solos of all time is on the song This Burning Heart' by Vandenberg. The album is about one half competed. The only change we have made is the name of the album: it was going to be called I Stand Alone" and this was announced last year and reported in some metal media, but since that time in America a movie has come out called The scorpion King and the title song is called I Stand Alone. So we have decided to change our name to another song on the album which is called Under A Savage Sky. So now we hope there will be no movie with a song with that title! The cd will be issued on the Metal Mayhem label before the end of the year

Any last words?

I really appreciate being able to tell my side of the story. Even though I have my differences with David I still think he is a great performer. To the readers of Lords Of Metal I would like to say: thanks for listening keep the flame of metal burning. Stay loud and stay proud.

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