Or, how a metal band comprised of all black dudes started in 1978, got paid in cocaine, and squeezed Cyndi Lauper’s boob.
Photos courtesy of Black Death
Siki Spacek is in Cleveland, where he’s pretty much always been. That’s where he was in 1978 when he started Black Death, the first heavy metal band to feature all black musicians. As the band’s vocalist, lyricist, lead guitarist and mastermind, Spacek tutored a revolving group of funk and blues players in the ways of metal by teaching them Scorpions songs and dragging them to a Judas Priest concert. “People thought it was a novelty act,” Spacek says before adopting the universal uptight white-person voice: “Four black guys playing heavy metal? I’ve never seen that before.”
Black Death’s classic lineup—Spacek, drummer Phil Bullard, guitarist Greg Hicks and bassist Darrell Harris—recorded a self-titled album in 1984 before going tits up a few years later. During the band’s heyday, they supported the likes of Rick Derringer, Anvil, and Helix, but never managed to make it out of Cleveland. After the split, the years passed inexorably. Beyond a handful of knowledgeable diehards, the tale of Spacek and Black Death languished in obscurity. But fast-forward to right about now, and Spacek has assembled a new group of musicians under the name Black Death Resurrected. They recently recorded an album called Return Of The Iron Messiah, which includes songs Spacek wrote between 1983 and 2013. “This lineup is far superior to the lineup from back in the day,” he ventures.
On the eve of his 57th birthday, this one-of-a-kind personality looks back on his extraordinary life in heavy metal. “They tell me I can get a check ’cause I’m crazy,” Spacek laughs. “But I’d rather earn my way.”
Noisey: How did you get into heavy metal?
Siki Spacek: I was born this way, dude. I was hearin’ this music in my head since I was an infant. I had an image of a guitar in my head before I ever saw one. And then the first one I saw was on TV, when Elvis Presley did his Comeback Special in Vegas and he had all that black leather on. Before that, I was trying to describe it to my parents and grandparents, but they thought I was crazy because I was trying to describe something I never seen before. So anyway, Elvis had the black leather, the cool sideburns, the slicked-back hair and the guitar. But it wasn’t until I heard Black Sabbath’s Master Of Reality album that I was able to tell my friends, “This is the shit that I’m hearing in my head!” It gave me something to reference. So then I went and got their Paranoid album, and I was off to the races.
What did your friends think of your musical tastes?
They joked because I’ve never played soul music or R&B. I’ve always been more into blues, classical and metal. Those are the basic ingredients, you know? I can sing that soul shit, but I can’t play it to save my life. Some white-complexioned friends of mine got more rhythm and soul than I do. [Laughs] I’m a white African-American. I used to get made fun of for the way I talked, too. I was like, “I’m not trying to talk white. I’m just paying attention to what the fuck they teaching us in school!” [Laughs] See, I was paying attention while they was fucking off.
How did you get Black Death started?
At first I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew it was going to be done. There was a destiny behind this shit and it had to be fulfilled. I met Phil and Greg in 1977, but it wasn’t until January of 1978 that we really started.
Was your plan to start an all-black heavy metal band?
Actually, no—it wasn’t. It wasn’t a contrived thing. I never even thought about it until other people started mentioning it. A friend of mine, Squeaky, hooked me up with Phil and Greg and they didn’t even play heavy metal. None of those guys did. I had to teach them heavy metal. I started by teaching them Scorpions songs. Before that, they listened to Eric Clapton and… what was that song? “Holy roller! He’s got hair down to his knees!”
“Come Together” by The Beatles.
Yeah, whatever the fuck that song is. They were playing shit like that, so I had to be kind of subtle. I had to go into my Machiavellian mode and manipulate things from behind the scenes. And the best way to do that is to show people that you have a better idea than what’s being presented. But they used to laugh and make fun of me because I had on my spiked bracelets and I used to wear my leather vest and then I started wearing spandex because you get that leather sweaty and wet, baby. [Laughs]
What did you do once you were in Machiavelli mode?
I took them to a Judas Priest concert. It was the second time Judas Priest came to Cleveland. It was at the Agora. When we first walked in, these guys were looking at the audience because you know how us metalheads dress and shit—biker down, bro. But then Judas Priest came onstage and a light bulb went off in their heads. They got it. But I had to write all the material because the shit they tried to write had that Funkadelic type feel. Matter of fact, they were playing “Maggot Brain” when I first met them. I was like, “No, no, no. We ain’t playing that shit!”
How did you decide on your stage name?
This guy Reginald started calling me Siki, but I knew it needed something else, like “Ace Frehley” or “Gene Simmons”—something that would make it jump out. So me and Squeaky, the guy who introduced me to Phil and Greg, we went to go see the movie Carrie. That was kickass. We didn’t have no acid so we drunk some syrup back in them days—Robitussin PM.
The old Robo-trip.
Oh, I could tell you some adventures… but that’s a whole other interview! [Laughs] So yeah, I see the girl’s name up there on the screen—Sissy Spacek—so I took it from there. But it’s my real name, my legal name, now. Not my birth name. The other guys thought Siki Spacek was my real name for a long time until somebody opened they motherfuckn’ mouth. Fuckin’ pissed me off. Just like when Greg Hicks put my real name on that Wikipedia and shit. And he didn’t come up with the band name, either. I did.
What do you remember about the first Black Death gig?
A bar fight broke out while we were playing. It was at Charlie’s Tavern, somewhere between 40th and 55th down on Saint Clair. Back then, it was like, “What are these guys doing coming in here?” It wasn’t too diversified back then, if you catch my meaning. So we came out, you know, “Straight from the pits of hell—Black Death!” After each song, there would be at least 60 to 90 seconds of stunned silence and disbelief. People with they mouths open, kinda like that David Chappelle skit where he was the black Klansman. [Laughs] But after that they broke out screaming and yelling and all this applause.
Do you know how the fight started?
While we were playing, some drunk guy in the bathroom used the n-word when he was talking about us. Some other guys jumped on him for doing that, and the fight went from the basement—’cause that’s where the restroom was—up the stairs and in front of the stage while we were playing. It was just like the wild, wild west. The crazy thing was, these two guys bumped into my Marshall stack and almost knocked it over. But they stopped fighting, both of them, and grabbed my amp, one on each side, to make sure it didn’t fall over. Once they stood it back up, they went back to fighting. We kept playing the whole time, and after that song I was able to use my ambassadorial skills to calm everybody down.
When the barmaid saw that, she gave us a pitcher of beer. In the middle of the solo on the next song, I’m trying to be cool so I’m playing with my teeth and shit. I see the beer and I’m thirsty, so I start chugging the whole thing because theatrics is a big part of heavy metal. I chug until I can’t chug no more and I just let the rest of the beer run out the side of my mouth down my leather vest and my motherfuckin’ Frederick’s of Hollywood goddamn spandex jeans. So then I slammed the pitcher down on top of the bar, trying to be dramatic. I wasn’t trying to destroy it, but I was a bit too excited so it shattered and glass went everywhere. But we kept playing and they put another pitcher of beer up there so I figured everything was okay. Oh, and we got paid in cocaine and prescription black beauties. [Laughs] That was the paycheck of choice back then.
Your first bassist, Clayborn Pinkins, was killed in 1979. What happened?
He went to pick up his old lady at Church’s Chicken over here where Broadway and Union intersect. It was the first Church’s Chicken in Cleveland. And Clay, he was always up into some shit. You always had that one guy in the band who’s a pseudo-drug dealer. You could always count on him at every practice to have some goodies. And quantities of goodies, too. [Laughs] And he was an Aries, so he was kind of a hothead, but this guy basically just walked up to him and shot him. No tellin’ what Clay might’ve been into. That’s still a mystery to me. But they caught the guy later—two female cops, actually—and they shot him and arrested him. Matter of fact, he might still be in prison. But he’s paralyzed. And then… who’s the next bass player that died?
Yeah, something like that. He’s a dead motherfucker, too.
What happened to him?
Oh, he just died. [Laughs] No, I don’t mean to say it like that. Ed got kicked out before he died, though. After Ed, I got Darrell Harris in the band. I had to teach him how to play bass. That was 1980.
You recorded the original Black Death album in 1984. Did it go smoothly?
It was one of those scenarios when you expect something to be all that and then it ain’t. What’s the word I’m looking for? Anticlimactic! That’s what it was. We’d been going into the studio to record our demos, so the novelty of the studio had long worn off. I had this girlfriend at the time, and women can make a man lose his strength and power, you know? Curse them! [Laughs] So I wasn’t too crazy about that album, but I got nobody to blame but myself for that. I was with a woman instead of going up there for the final mix-down and all that. When you have the first love of your life like that, reality ain’t there, you know? [Laughs]
You thanked Cyndi Lauper on the album. What’s up with that?
Oh, I squeezed her tit. We were at WMMS, the big radio station here in Cleveland, doing promo spots. “Hi, I’m Siki Spacek from Black Death! When I’m in Cleveland I listen to WMMS, 101 the Buzzard!” You know, that kind of shit. Cyndi Lauper had just done the WMMS Coffee Break Concert down at the Agora, which was a free show that they broadcast over the air. So we were getting ready to leave and she was coming in and one of the deejays introduced us. Then her road manager comes in with the platinum record for that song [adopts high singing voice], “Oh, girls they just wanna have fu-un!” And lemme tell you, the bitch don’t talk like that in real life. She talk just like a regular chick with that thick Brooklyn accent. So somebody decides to take a picture of us. I was on her left side holding her around the waist and before the flash could happen, I moved my left hand up quickly—I already had it cupped like Brett Favre getting ready to throw a heat-seeking missile into the end zone—and it was real soft. She had a soft titty, I’ll tell you that much. All she did was smile.
Black Death split up in the late 80s, but now you’re back with new musicians as Black Death Resurrected. Is that because Greg Hicks has the rights to the name?
He doesn’t have the rights to the name. He has the logo from the first album. He doesn’t have the name Black Death. There’s 29 other bands called Black Death, and it’s like a public domain name because it originally meant the plague. And the band name was originally meant to be a plague against ignorance. “United humanity in one final last stand.” Fallen angels and all that shit. Sorry, I got carried away. Too much History Channel. [Laughs]
The new album, Return Of The Iron Messiah, has songs that you wrote over a 30-year period.
Yeah, it’s an eclectic mix of new material and a few gems that should’ve been on the first album but didn’t make it. Some of this shit is like Lemmy on crystal meth, cocaine and Adderall. [Laughs] Real fast. And all my lyrics are based on biblical prophecy stuff. But there’s a little romance in there, too. Each song is its own little story, a mini-theatrical masterpiece. Like musical television shows—musical episodes of The Twilight Zone. And I’ve got enough material for two more albums, so we’re good. These past 30 years, I can hear people’s thoughts, like, “Where’s Siki? Where’s Black Death?” To me, getting this band together was like unfinished business. The way I’m looking at it, Metallica has the spot that Black Death is supposed to have.
J. Bennett asked to be paid for this story in cocaine and black beauties, but Noisey refused.