Frank Bello: Father, Brother, & Son…. & Friend

When I first read that one of my bass playing heroes, Frank Bello from the iconic thrash band Anthrax, had written a biography titled, Fathers, Brothers, and Sons, I immediately texted my friend, Frank Bello to congratulate him on his new upcoming book and to also ask him if he’d like to talk about it in The Aquarian. He responded with a quick, “Let’s do it!” 

Fathers, Brothers, and Sons is an amazing rock star journey of memories told by Bello himself with help from author Joel McIver, who is best known for his 2004 book, Justice for All: The Truth About Metallica. Frank Bello discusses being abandoned by his father, being raised by some strong women in his family, stalking Gene Simmons from KISS (who also wrote the book’s foreword), joining and touring with Anthrax, tragically losing his younger brother, having a son himself, and endless parties with Metallica, the Abbott Brothers, Dime, and Vinnie Paul – hence the title Fathers, Brothers, and Sons

The minute I picked this book up to read for my research to chat with the bass player, I could not put this book down and finished it in four days. Frank Bello is an incredible storyteller. I couldn’t wait to discuss this book with him on my first Zoom interview with a rock star. Here’s how my chat with him went down: 

So, Frank, I have to show you this really quick, I’ve interviewed Nikki Sixx for The Heroin Diaries, Gene Simmons for Kiss And Make Up, Duff McKagan for It’s So Easy, and our boy Rex Brown for Official Truth 101 Proof, and all of these books became New York Times Best Sellers. Now, I’m not saying I had anything to do with this, but no pressure….

[Laughs] I’m in good company! I appreciate it. For me, it’s so new. I didn’t realize this would be like a record. I’m always with the band releasing records or with Dave Ellefson when we released Altitudes & Attitudes, I was always with somebody else, but this is all me. I have to be honest, it’s scary as hell to put myself out there raw. Even my co-writer, Joel, said that I didn’t leave anything on the table. I let it all out. I guess I didn’t realize it until I read the book back for proofing, I was like “Holy shit! This is raw!” I felt a little exposed, but at the same time, it was cathartic as hell, and I needed it!

Rare Bird Books

That actually brings me to my next question: Fathers, Brothers, and Sons, is the first book you’ve ever written. What inspired you to tell your story, which is an amazing one? Was this a Pandemic book, where you felt you were on lockdown and finally had the time to write a book like this?

Well, Joel McIver, my co-writer, who I love and is a good friend of mine for years, we’ve been talking about writing this for a long time. We just didn’t have the time. You know my schedule with Anthrax. We were always on the road and you can’t write out on the road because you don’t get the good stuff or the meaty stuff. There’s nothing like home where you can get your thoughts together and all that, so this was the perfect time. You’re looking where I wrote the book with Joel through Zoom. We had some great sessions. Joel is great at lighting a fire under my ass! Just starting a story, he’ll know how to tweet me and then the flood gates open up and the memories come pouring out as you see in the book. There were stories that he knew about or read about because he’s known me such a long time. Once he opened the flood gates, I was surprised myself hearing the stories come out of my head again.

This book for me is important because I’m at a place in my life where I think it can actually help people when it comes to abandonment. I think that’s really important. Yes, it has all the good rock and roll stories. I’ve had a great life with music and I love it. I cherish it. But there’s also some cool stuff that can maybe help people that have gone through abandonment or loss and stuff and maybe if they’re having a shit day, they can look at tomorrow a little differently, saying “If Frank can do it, I can do it.” Because I’ve seen that for me. I’ve said, “If he can do it, I can do it.” I just want to pay it forward. That’s what it’s about now. We’ve all been through a shitty time as of late, right? Why not make people feel better about their lives? The things in this book touch on that. A lot of people have hit me up already who’ve read it and said, “Man, I didn’t expect this out what you were talking about in your life.” And I say, “Yeah, because there were some shitty times, but you brush yourself off and move on.” That’s the purpose of it. 

After reading your first chapter, I couldn’t help but relate to a lot of your stories. I mean I grew with my family intact, but the bullying because I was the only Chinese kid in my town and the way you described your family’s Christmas Eve dinner just brought me back to that time period. I can literally still smell the food… or even the way you described old New York City. I can still smell the garbage in the streets from that time period. Before writing Fathers, Brothers, and Sons, were you always this good at telling a story?

You know what? I say this at the beginning of the book: I want this book to be like you’re hanging out at a bar with me, having a beer. I think it’s really important to be conversational like we’re talking right now. I’m not the diction guy. I’m a real person and I cherish that for every person that I talk to. I want to have that moment. I just want to sit down at a bar and we’ll talk about life. I’ll tell you my stories and you tell me your stories. This is my story at a bar. This has been my path. It’s all about family. It’s all about how you can take a punch and get back up and move on with your life and really go for what you want and your dreams. I’ve been very lucky. I know how lucky I’ve been to have this band for 40 somewhat years. I just want people to understand that they can move on if they’re hurting. It’s conversational and I want it to relate to people. That’s what I found about writing a book, I really wanted to connect, because why not? 

After I texted you about the book, I was reading the Foreword, which was written by Gene Simmons from KISS, and I thought he was perfect for your Foreword to kick the book off. Not only because he’s an icon and a hero to many of us, but he seemed to have a mutual admiration for you as a person because he seemed to have had a similar upbringing as you as a child, and then he compared himself to you as being able to unleash some of that angst in every live performance. Why Gene Simmons and not Steve Harris, who you remind me of when you perform live?

The idea of Gene came from Joel. As you read, Gene was a big influence on my life even before Anthrax. [Frank proceeds to tell me two amazing stories about Gene Simmons that are in the book, so I chose to keep the stories out of this interview, because you have to buy his book.] These stories showed me how to be with fans – just be normal and cool. Gene taught me a lot, so for him to write the foreword of my book… it was such an honor to have that piece of my life because Gene was so important in my life. Remember, growing up without a dad, we talked about the abandonment stuff, Gene was a hero to me when I looked at him on that stage where he was doing it right. He was doing what I wanted to do that made sense to me, that filled that void that was left from not having a dad. I looked to musicians as guides. “That’s what I wanted to do and this will show me the path.” Gene was one of those guys on that stage that made you go, “That’s what I want to do right there!” It gave me focus. It really did!

I found it interesting when you wrote about meeting your heroes and being humble enough to be friendly to your fans. When I met you for the first time in person at NY Comic Con 2013, I have to admit, I was a little nervous approaching you, but when I finally did, you were one of the most outgoing and easy going rock stars I’ve ever met. After reading this, now I know why. Were there any of your heroes that you’ve met in your career that truly disappointed you when you met them?

There’s actually a drummer from a very successful group from the seventies that kind of didn’t give me the time of day, and that’s fine. I kill ‘em with kindness. I’ll keep coming back. I learned a long time ago that we all go the bathroom the same way. We all put the pants on the same way. Maybe it’s my blue-collar Bronx upbringing, I don’t think there’s an elevation here. I’m very lucky to do what I do. I’m very thankful. I want to relate to people. I love talking to people. I don’t want to be above anybody. I want to be able to do this job and do it right. Yeah, I’m very lucky to be in a successful metal band, but at the same time, I don’t want to make anyone feel bad. That’s bullshit! I’m not better than anybody. This is just what I do. Like you, you’re my friend and I don’t look at you any differently. I look at as two guys talking. 

So, where is Compass Point again?

[Laughs] Bahamas! [Another story you’ll have to read about in Frank’s book!]

Tim Louie and Frank Bello / Courtesy of Tim Louie

Can you explain the whole spitting fiasco in Europe? I have to admit, I gagged a few times reading that segment. I never heard of that before.

It was a punk rock thing back in the day or the eighties, this is what I heard, when they spit on you. It was accepted that there’s a piece of them on you. It was a compliment. I never dug it because I’m a germophobe. I don’t want that, but we had to deal with it. We were a young band trying to build our momentum up, so you dealt with it and we dealt with it. We toured with Metallica quite a lot in those days. I remember poor Cliff, God rest his soul, I remember during his bass solo, there’s a spotlight on him, and it just looked like a bunch of bugs flying all around him, but hey, we all got it. It was one of those things where it was a compliment. I get it. It was a time in life that I’ll cherish forever. It was really strange. I don’t want it to happen again, especially these days. 

When I got to the chapter titled “Anthony,” I have to admit that I don’t remember seeing this in the news back then, but the feeling I got reading this chapter… I was able to feel your pain and your angst of wanting revenge. It might be a little late, by I just wanted to pay my condolences to you and your family to have to go through such a tragedy.

Thank you. I really appreciate that. The story had to be in there. This is my life and this is my story, and I didn’t want to bring anybody down, but people have to know. My brother was such a big Anthrax fan and he supported our band big time from the very beginning, so I think he deserved his own chapter. When people read this, I need them to know it was very hard for me to even get through writing that chapter – there were so many tears. Joel and I literally had to stop every five to 10 minutes because I relived it… and I try not to relive that because even all the therapy won’t help. For people that don’t know, my brother, unfortunately, at 23-years-old (This was 1996.), was shot and murdered in the Bronx, New York, around the area where I grew up by some fools with guns. It was a very tough time for myself and my family. I hope that nobody ever goes through anything like that. It was a really tough situation and I describe it more in the book. I take you on this journey on purpose. There’s a reason why I wanted to make you understand about not only losing my brother, but going to the scene of the crime during it and seeing my brother under the sheet and how that affected me and my family. I went really dark for a while. I wasn’t Frankie from Anthrax. I became a hunter. Thankfully, something hit me that if I did what I wanted to do, my mom would have lost another son. 

Your retelling of your tours with Pantera sounded epic and, as a fan, you used to hear these stories about Pantera’s partying, but you lived and survived it.

As you say that, do you know whose face I have looking at me right now? Dimebag laughing at me with a shot glass! I swear to God! These were my brothers. I still feel close to Dime and Vinnie and all of the Pantera guys, but Dime and Vinnie, specifically, were the best of the best. When I say people know Pantera, they know the guys, but the real people that they were…. Dime and Vinnie were good-hearted people. They were the best of the best on Earth. They were just good people aside from the music stuff. They were good people that you wanted to talk with like we’re talking right now, and every other word would have to laughing your ass off. The Abbott Brothers were just great people from a great family.

I remember we went on tour with Pantera, and I don’t even think I put this in the book, we’re on the road and we’re having a ball, usually drinking, and it was insane. I remember we were going to have a Thanksgiving on the road. We were on tour and we couldn’t all get home, so we, the band Anthrax, were just going to have it at some restaurant. Now, the guys from Pantera, Vinnie, Dime, and the rest of them, put together this great Thanksgiving dinner for all of us. Pantera and Anthrax, all crews and everybody involved with the tour, and it was one of the most fun times I ever had in my life because it was great food, great people, music, and it was family. That’s why when I talk about Pantera, that’s family. As much as my family is, Pantera is family because we had those times together. They made us have a specific dinner. They knew we were away from home. We were in Dallas and we had this great dinner. They’re the best of the best. Top-notch – nothing will every touch them. Dime will forever be known as the sixth member of Anthrax because he played on so many records with us. 

Last question: When you wrote about being a father, it really resonated with me, especially having a child later in life. My wife and I had our first, a baby girl, two years ago, and she is the best thing to ever happen to me. Everything thing you wrote about being a father is exactly the way I want to be. Was there ever a time when you feared that the touring would take away from fatherhood? Sometimes, I fear that when it comes time to hit the road again, that I’m not being a good father.

That’s a great question and that’s why I think I waited so long to marry. I dated my wife for nine years. Nine years I made this poor girl wait. I mean I knew she was the one. I call her Saint Teresa. She’s the best, but obviously from my upbringing and what I saw when I was young, one thing I promised myself is that I would never let that happen again… ever! For me, abandonment, I was on the other side of that, so I’m not going to ever leave my son, my wife, and all that stuff. I had to be sure. It had to make sense. I was the one who said to her, “Maybe we should get married!” My wife was fine with us just being together. It was very important to me to do it right. For me, it was important that my child would be the most important thing in my life. I’d rather jump off a bridge before I ever leave him. There’s no way that is going to happen in my life. It’s everything about being the best dad and that’s why I named the book Fathers, Brothers, and Sons. It’s all about that and what I learned – and even the stuff about the person I don’t want to be, because I learned from that. I don’t want to put that on my son. I want to be a cool dad. There’s going to be discipline, but I want to talk to him. I want to be there for him – period! I waited long enough so that with Anthrax, we can stick together and move our dates to where we want to play. Now that we are in control, we can decide when we will be away from our families. But it did take me a long time to have a child. I didn’t want to be on the road all the time. I couldn’t imagine having a child during Among the Living because when I tell you we were never home, we were always on the road. A couple of weeks home? Tops! It’s tough enough when we leave, but he’s fifteen now and he gets it.