Interview with Jon Zazula: Back In Full Force

Jon Zazula, better known as Jonny Z, can never be accused of not putting his money where his mouth is. In the early 1980s, Jon and his wife Marsha opened the notorious Rock N’ Roll Heaven record store at a flea market located on Route 18 in New Jersey. It was a crucial meeting place for East Coast heavy metal freaks. Metal was exploding all over Europe and fans in the U.S. had to travel great distances to get the latest imports. Rock N’ Roll Heaven was one of the best stores in the country to find these records as well as magazines like Kerrang! Demand was so great that they started promoting their own metal concerts, followed by their record label, Megaforce. The first release was the debut album from Metallica, followed by classics from Manowar and Raven. Their discography contains some of the best thrash metal of all time from bands such as Overkill, Anthrax, Exciter and Testament.

Jon and Marsha are now retired in Pennsylvania, but they remain loyal to their New Jersey roots. Joining forces with their old friends from the Old Bridge Metal Militia, the Rock N’ Roll Heaven name is being revived for a concert benefiting families still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Jonny Z was responsible for some great concerts in the past, but this might be his very best lineup: Twisted Sister, Anvil, Raven, The Rods and TT Quick. Without a doubt, it will be, to steal one of his taglines, “the heaviest night of your life.”

So how did this show come about?

It’s kind of weird, I went on Facebook about three months ago and visited the Rock N’ Roll Heaven and Old Bridge Metal Militia pages. It was very, very active. As a goof, I put in a comment that said, “We should have a reunion,” and the whole thing lit up like a Christmas tree. It got really, really crazy. I talked to Marsha, then I talked to Ray Dill and “Metal” Joe [Chimienti], the head of the Militia, and we all said, “Let’s do it.”

We discussed some of the bands we wanted and if we could get them, then we’ll have a party. Now, the party was supposed to be like 300 people. We started getting so much buzz that we called up The Stone Pony and they said they had the 10th and the 11th of May. I got back to them and said we wanted Saturday the 11th, and they said somebody was already in there. (I get no respect!) I needed some guidance, I haven’t done this for years. They put me together with John D. over at iPlay America, and he showed me this room which was marvelous, the Encore Event Center in Freehold. Have you ever seen it?

No. I have my ticket and can’t wait for this show.

It’s dynamite. It’s like an indoor amusement park in a big giant room with two concert halls and a bunch of VIP rooms. We rented the room and found out it holds 1,800 people. The way the vibe was going we thought maybe we could do this. It was still a little ambitious with just Anvil and Raven, then The Rods joined the bill. You know, The Rods are one of my favorite groups ever, and a big Militia favorite. I gotta tell you, The Rods are gonna be the big surprise of the night.

Now, as the show developed, Twisted Sister came into the fold. That was the result of a phone call conversation I had with Ed Trunk. I said, “We’d love it if we had Twisted Sister,” and he goes, “OK.” He sent a letter to Jay Jay [French, Twisted Sister guitarist], and two days later, Jay Jay calls and goes, “Is there any room? We’d like to play.”

This lineup is a dream come true for me. I was about a year too young to catch the Raven, Anvil and Riot show you put on at Staten Island’s Paramount Theater in October 1982.

Oh, what a show that was! Yeah, this show is gonna sell out, but we’re not there yet. It’s a charity and we’re raising funds for the victims of Superstorm Sandy. We’re eliminating the middleman. There will be no organizations to take 10 percent or 20 percent of the money. We’re working directly with a really great organization called Under My Skin For Life. We’re gonna take all the money and we’re gonna buy gift cards from Home Depot. We’re gonna hit the shore and, depending on people’s needs, will be how much we can get them. The minimum will be $100 per card. If anyone wants to send in a donation who can’t make the show, it’s a great way to get the money directly to the people. [Under My Skin For Life, 73 Memorial Parkway, Atlantic Highlands, NJ, 07716]

Was there anybody you really wanted to get on the show that you couldn’t?

No. It was 200 percent of what I wanted. Then what made it all absolutely over the top was the addition of TT Quick. They’re gonna do a special late night set starting at 12:25 at night.

Is that going to be after Twisted Sister?

I’m not gonna give up the lineup (it’s a surprise), but the show is gonna run great. It’s just a special TT Quick show after the final band.

I’m really excited for that. I grew seeing TT Quick every other Friday night at the Rising Sun in Yonkers for years.

Yeah! The Rising Sun in Yonkers! Moe [owner] was a piece of work. “I’m not gonna give you any beer. What do you think, I give you beer? Costs money this beer!” And Jim Florentine is going to do a comedy set, too. Slayer just contacted us, they’re sending us an autographed guitar to auction off. That’s amazing. And we’re hoping to get a Metallica guitar. Not in yet, but we’re hoping.

Who are Lords Of Mercy, the band opening the show?

They’re an Old Bridge-based band. Members have been in the Militia for 30 years.

Were any of them in Blessed Death [Old Bridge thrashers signed to Megaforce]?

No! Blessed Death are really scattered. One of them is dead. But they may show up anyway.

Did you ever consider doing this at the Paramount Theater in Staten Island where you used to promote shows?

No. I wanted to get something where the people from Old Bridge can make it back alive.

So what kind of P.A. system are you bringing in for this show? Is it going to be deafening like it was in 1982?

We’re bringing in half an arena system and the most lights you can fit in there. Every band’s gonna get the same volume. There’s not gonna be one band’s quiet, the next band is thunder.

Did you stay in regular contact with the Old Bridge guys all these years?

Oh yeah. I speak to Ray at least once every two or three months, I speak to Joe every six months or so. Now we speak all the time. We’ve been together 32 years.

This is the first show you’ve promoted in a long time. What was the first one?

The first show we ever did was with Anvil and a local group called Prey. We did it at the Route 18 flea market, they had an auditorium in there. Of course, it’s not there anymore. It was the Friday The 13th Rock Show in August of 1982.

The show with Anvil, Riot and Raven was October 30, 1982, and advertised as the Headbangers Ball. That was the first time I ever heard that term.

It was our expression, we made up Headbangers Ball. We never hassled MTV and in turn, they played S.O.D. music for like, seven years.

The Venom/Metallica shows you promoted in April 1983 are legendary. Venom blew a giant hole in the stage on the first night, right?

Oh, you know about that?

A friend has it on tape. It blew up the mic on his cassette recorder.

It blew up everything that night. It blew up the amps. They didn’t know that English and American voltages were different. They blew out the bins for the bass. Cronos broke his bass and went into a rant. It wasn’t a very good show. I know when I got the bill from the amp rental company it came to $666.66. I published that with Kerrang! and a few other people way back when.

Will the Lone Rager [Jonny Z’s 1984 rap metal alias] be making an appearance on stage at this show?

No, he’s not gonna do anything. He’s gone. He retired at the top of his career.

Vinyl’s made a big resurgence. Have you been tempted to re-open your record store?

(Laughs) No, Marsha and I are very retired now. We don’t want to be bothered. We travel.

There have been a lot of books and documentaries done about the thrash and pre-thrash eras of metal the last few years. How do you feel about the way things are being documented?

A lot of it’s rubbish. If you were an English writer, you talked about Metallica and Anthrax about being on Music For Nations. Megaforce signed those bands and licensed to them. It may not mean much, but that’s the story. I think the best account of history is in Mick Wall’s book, Enter Night. That’s a great book. That has a very good accounting of what happened in those days.

Have you ever thought about writing your own memoirs to set the record straight?

A lot of people have asked me about that. I don’t have the patience for that. I’ll let guys like you write it all.

Anything else you want to add for people to know about this show?

Just that 100 percent of the profits go to the charity. That includes t-shirts, posters, anything sold inside the venue. There will be surprises, but you have to be there to find out what it is. I just think this is incredible the way that people are coming together.

The day after the show is Mother’s Day. Is this show your gift to Marsha?

No, it’s the anti-present.