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Metal Hammer
Metal Hammer
Classic Rock

“The phone rang, it was Steve Harris: ‘Are you interested in joining Maiden?’”: this is what it’s like to audition to replace Bruce Dickinson in Iron Maiden, by three singers who went for the job

Iron Maiden line up in 1992.

When Bruce Dickinson quit Iron Maiden in 1993, he left some big shoes to fill. But not everybody was daunted by the prospect of replacing the singer in one of the world’s biggest heavy metal bands - several hopefuls threw their hats into the ring, including future Rainbow singer Doogie White, Threshold/Landmarq frontman Damian Wilson and Wolfsbane microphone-wrangler Blaze Bayley (who eventually got the job, of course). This is what it was like to be in the running for one of the biggest jobs in music.

“I wasn’t too familiar with Maiden’s stuff”

(Image credit: Press)

The closest Scottish singer Doogie White had come to fame was with AOR-sters Midnight Blue. Then he sent a tape to Iron Maiden…

Doogie White: “I was an unknown quantity back then; all I’d really done was Midnight Blue. Steve Harris wouldn’t have seen that band, though Janick Gers did and Bruce caught us a few times. I’d sent Maiden a tape, and out of the blue Dicky Bell [Maiden’s production manager] turned up on my doorstep to hand me a tape with twenty-two songs on it for my audition. 

“I was nervous, but only because I wasn’t too familiar with Maiden’s stuff. I wasn’t as well-rehearsed as I’d like to have been. I sang with the band for two or three hours, and they asked me to go back for a second audition. Afterwards, Steve sat with me and we chatted for a while. 

“Janick is a good friend of mine, and we went for a drink, when he told me: ‘Look, you’re not going to get the gig, but I can’t tell you who is.’ 

“A month later, Steve called to say they were going with Blaze. He thanked me for my interest and wished me luck. I was disappointed, of course I was, but the inside track had made it known that Blaze was always the man for job. My understanding was that Blaze was the guy that Steve wanted all along.

“Naturally it was a let-down, but just five months later I was in Rainbow. The difference was that I walked into that situation and knew exactly what I was doing. Ritchie didn’t audition anyone else: ‘You’re the man I want’. But it was an honour to have auditioned for Maiden. Apart from Blaze, I don’t know anyone who was called back for a second try-out.”

“I thought they were playing out the end of their careers. How wrong I was”

(Image credit: Press)

In 1993, Damian Wilson was best known as a member of prog bands Threshold and Landmarq. Unknown to him, he had come to the attention of the Maiden camp.

Damian Wilson: “A few months after Bruce left Maiden I received a letter from Sanctuary and left my number with a secretary. Later that day our keyboard player, Steve Leigh, called about coming round to his place to go through some songs. Only halfway through our conversation the penny dropped – it wasn’t Steve Leigh, it was Steve Harris. I didn’t let on, and we finished the chat. Then the phone rings again: “Damian, this is Steve Harris. Are you actually interested in joining Iron Maiden?” I’d come across so blasé I must’ve given the impression that I wasn’t keen.

“Steve said that some tracks he’d heard from Threshold’s album Wounded Land was ‘what Iron Maiden are trying to do’ – a huge compliment to a young band who’d recorded that album on an eight-track, quarter-inch tape machine.  Steve eventually rang to say they’d chosen a vocalist but sadly it wasn’t me. He wouldn’t reveal it was Blaze – who was really something on stage with Wolfsbane. It was announced the following day. 

“Back then the Maiden guys had seemed much older than me. I thought they were playing out the end of their careers. How wrong I was. I didn’t fancy just touring old catalogue. I wanted to do something new, creative and original. I hated the thought of seeing myself playing past Maiden numbers night after night. Strange how life is, because that’s exactly what I’m doing now with my side band Maiden United, and enjoying every minute of it.”

“I didn’t just know the songs, I knew every drum fill as well”

(Image credit: Mick Hutson/Redferns)

Blaze Bayley’s band, UK hard rock livewires Wolfsbane, were watching their once-promising career fizzle out when his manager alerted him to the fact that Bruce Dickinson had left Iron Maiden. Despite his reticence to abandon his bandmates, he decided to go for the audition.

Blaze Bayley: “Wolfsbane had supported Iron Maiden in 1990, so they knew who I was, but I still had to audition twice. It wasn’t, ‘Do you want to come and try this?’ No, they auditioned lots of other people. There was 12 guys who went for that audition.

“I was a Maiden fan, so I didn’t just know the songs, I knew every drum fill as well! The first thing I did was pick up my monitor and move it into the middle of the room. The guys were, like, ‘What’s he doing?’ I was, like, ‘I don’t care, I’m going to stand right here. No matter what happens, I’ll be able to say that at least I’ve been in Iron Maiden for an hour whether I get the job or not.’

“It’s true that Bruce sent me two yellow bricks [a reference to Blaze’s comment that he felt like Dorothy from The Wizard Of Oz when he got the job]. I kept them at my house. Unfortunately, I moved five times and they just got lost. Somewhere, someone’s sitting in their house going. ‘What the fuck are these yellow bricks doing here?’”

Originally published in Classic Rock issue 199

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