The Old Bridge Militia Were the Lords of the Early 80s New York and New Jersey Metal Scene
Meet the coolest dudes in metal.
The Old Bridge Metal Militia and Metallica in 1983. All photos courtesy of Rockin' Ray Dill
The Old Bridge Metal Militia were (and are) a pack of gregarious headbangers from Old Bridge, New Jersey, who populated all the NYC and NJ metal shows in the 80s. Whenever bands like Metallica, Slayer, Anvil, Mercyful Fate, Exciter or Venom—to name just a few—came to town, the Militia was there in full force. You could find them packing the front of the stage at L’Amour in Brooklyn, at Club 516 in Old Bridge, at the Sunshine Inn in Asbury Park, at the Academy of Music in Manhattan, or almost anywhere in the Tri-State area that heavy metal bands and the burgeoning thrash movement were on display. Jerseyites with names like Metal Joe, Rockin’ Ray, Bulldozer Bob (who became Lars Ulrich’s drum tech), Metal Maria (who has since become a publicist for many prominent metal bands), Jethro, John Boy, Tony Bologna and Party Artie would descend to raise hell, slam beers and bang heads. “Everybody had a nickname back then,” Old Bridge OG Rockin’ Ray Dill tells us. “If you didn’t have a nickname, you were nobody.”
The Militia were given their nickname by no less than Metallica, who sent out a “loud ‘metal up your ass’ to the Old Bridge Militia” in the credits of their 1983 debut, Kill ’Em All. The crew was further immortalized on the 1984 Megaforce comp Born To Metalize (“One Night In Old Bridge”) and on Jersey speed metal maniacs Blessed Death’s 1985 debut, Kill Or Be Killed (“Knights Of Old Bridge”). The Militia’s epicenter was local promoter and Megaforce Records founder Jonny Zazula’s record shop, Rock N’ Roll Heaven. When Zazula’s bands rolled through the area, they stayed with someone from the Militia—usually Rockin’ Ray or Metal Joe Chimienti. “I got my name because my house was rockin’ 24 hours a day,” Dill laughs. “We did a lot of crank back then. We were all motorheads, so the party never ended.”
These days, much of the Militia has mellowed out and settled down. But a bunch of them are getting back together and chartering a bus to the Defenders of the Old festival in Brooklyn, where they’ll reunite with their old pals in Exciter and spread the word about the Old Bridge Militia Foundation, which they set up to assist underprivileged young musicians.
Noisey: What are the origins of the Old Bridge Metal Militia?
Rockin’ Ray Dill: Back in the ’70s when I was growing up, we were just a group of people from town who would go to the shows. What was so cool about New Jersey was that we lived close to Asbury Park and New York City, so we could easily get to venues like the Academy of Music in New York and the Sunshine Inn in Asbury Park, which was an old bus garage that they converted into a concert hall. My parents dropped us off there for the first time in ’73 to see Slade. That was my first taste of live music. Then I read about KISS in a magazine called Rock Scene, and I went to see them at the Sunshine Inn. They really tore the roof off the place, and that’s how I got into heavy music. Me and my friends just lived for it.
Slayer playing a private show for the Militia
How did you discover the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal?
We read about it in a [British] magazine called Sounds. Sometimes I’d have to go as far as Bleecker Bob’s in the Village to get this stuff, because they were the only ones carrying the imports until Jonny Zazula opened up Rock N’ Roll Heaven in late ’81. Jonny put on his first show in August of ’82, when he brought Anvil down [from Canada] because Metal On Metal was the big album at the time. They stayed at my house. The second band to come down was Raven, then Metallica, then Venom—we had some shit going on. But we were just a group of guys from Old Bridge. We loved the music, we loved the parties, and we’d seek out the new stuff. When Jonny Z had the Megaforce bands come to town, he’d ask us to put them up and keep them occupied. Everybody was friendly and hanging out—no egos or anything. I mean, that’s thing—the guys in the bands were fans just like us. The Metallica guys were Motörhead fans; they were Anvil fans, you know?
How many people were in the Militia?
Maybe 15 of us. Some of the guys were roadies. Three of my friends were roadies on the “Kill ’Em All for One” tour with Raven and Metallica. We did whatever we could do to help out these bands. See, the club scene in the ’70s was all cover bands. So when the heavy bands came out in the early ’80s, they were on a mission. The cover bands were just there for the girls. The heavy bands weren’t out to look like pretty boys or whatever. When Metallica hit the stage, it was all about the music. It wasn’t about the pussy or the money, because there was none of that at the time.
Joe and James Hetfield of Metallica on the Master of Puppets Tour
There were girls in the Militia, too, right?
Yes. These girls were wild as hell. [Laughs] A few of them were with guys in the bands, but they loved to rock out, too. Our whole scene was going right up to the front of the stage to raise hell—headbanging, air guitaring. There was no moshing then. That came later on. Once that started, we couldn’t even bring the girls up in the front because people were getting killed, you know? It got out of hand. To be honest, that wasn’t my thing. I loved being up front to watch the musicianship of the bands, but once moshing started, I thought the whole scene got really ugly.
When was the first time you saw people moshing?
The first time Exodus came out here. They backed up Slayer at L’Amour in Brooklyn. We were watching Exodus and this guy comes crashing into me. I was drinking a beer, and the bottle almost went down my throat. So Metal Joe runs after the guy, punches him in the mouth and knocks him right over the railing. [Laughs] Then [Slayer drummer] Dave Lombardo runs over and goes, “What the hell are you doing?” Joe says, “The guy just hit Ray!” And Dave said, “No, he was just playing.” And Joe goes, “I didn’t know it was a fuckin’ game!” [Laughs] And that was it. California brought it over.
DJ night in the summer of 1984 with a visit from Exciter and Anthrax. Metal Joe (far left), Dan Beehler (on Joe's right), Scott Ian (in front of Dan), Charlie Benante (on Dan's right), John Ricci (on Carlie's right), Dan Lilker (on John Ricci's right), Johnny Z (behind John Ricci and Dan Lilker).
The skinheads were the rivals of the headbangers in those days. Did you ever have any problems?
When hardcore started mixing with the headbangers, we were getting jumped by skinheads. It was nuts. We went to see Overkill play one night, and we could see some of the skinheads beating up some of the guys up front. We were standing in the balcony, so we dumped some beer on them. They looked up and spotted us, but I didn’t think anything of it. Joey Ramone was at that show, so we were all hanging out with him and didn’t leave until four in the morning. When we walked outside, the skinheads were waiting on us. They were sober and we were wasted and they went bananas on us. One of them jumped onto the car we were driving away in. When he fell off, he ran across the street and beat the hell out of this guy and this girl for no reason. It was insane. That had to be the late ’80s, when that shit started. There was one group of skinheads in Brooklyn that was real bad—they did that shit all the time.
How did you first meet Metallica?
When Metallica came out, Jonny had no place to put them up, so that’s where we came into play. They stayed out at Metal Joe’s place in Farmingdale. That’s where they wrote a lot of Ride The Lightning. They did a couple of shows for us right down in Joe’s basement one night. I remember James [Hetfield] drew the Metallica logo on one of Lars [Ulrich]’s drum skins and signed it for us, and Cliff Burton wrote, “Can’t wait to play in the basement again.” Just classic shit. Slayer played for us in that basement, too. They heard Metallica had stayed with us, so when they did an in-store at Rock N’ Roll Heaven after Jonny moved it to Clark, New Jersey, they came to stay with us. I remember they pulled up to the house in a truck with [Slayer vocalist/bassist Tom] Araya following them in the Camaro. They stayed at Joe’s house for a couple of weeks. They pulled their equipment into the house and played a lot of Hell Awaits for us before it was even released.
King Diamond right after Joe and Ray gave him the skull at L'Amore in November of 1984 (left), Jeff Hanneman and Dave Lombardo wen they were staying with the Militia at the "Fun House" in November of 1984(right)
You’re still tight with Metallica, right?
They flew me and Joe out to Cleveland when they got inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame because we helped them out so much back in the old days. They’re really into giving back these days. Whenever I go to the shows, there’s kids from [the] Make A Wish [Foundation] there. People can say and write their bullshit about Metallica, but I’ll tell you what: They’ve been good to us. I know the guys personally, and I haven’t heard “no” yet.
Didn’t you give King Diamond a skull once?
When Metallica came back after recording Ride The Lightning in Copenhagen, they brought a demo tape of Mercyful Fate’s Don’t Break The Oath. Melissa was a great record, but that one just blew us away. So when we heard Fate was coming over, we went to this place in New York called Magical Child. It was a friggin’ witch’s store or some shit, but they sold skulls in there. There was one that looked like the thing that Fate had on the album. So when they came to play L’Amour, a friend of mine who works there hooked us up with him and we gave it to him. He was freaking out. He said, “This is going on the altar at my house.” He was the real shit. We knew the Venom guys, and their Satan thing was just a big act. But King Diamond took the shit serious. So he took that skull on tour with him, but it got stolen. That tour was Motörhead, Mercyful Fate and Exciter. What a lineup.
Do you have any good Venom stories?
One thing about Venom, those guys didn’t like to shower much. I had a gym downstairs in my basement, and Cronos and the drummer—Tony—went down there to work out. When I went down there 20 minutes later, there was so much film on the mirrors I had down there from these guys sweating and stinking. That night we went out, and we picked up a couple of my friends. There was no room for one guy to sit in the car, so we put him in trunk because we weren’t going very far. But then we forgot he was in there. We ended up riding around for hours—I think Cronos wanted to get some acid—and someone was like, “Where’d your buddy go?” And then we heard him banging the trunk from the inside. [Laughs]. Those Venom guys, I liked their first two records a lot. But I’ll tell you: They sucked live.
What’s the story behind Blessed Death’s “Knights Of Old Bridge”?
Yeah, that was about us. Some of those guys were originally in a Sabbath cover band called Chrome Locust. We thought they were great, so we invited them over to my house after they got done playing one night. They were from the woods of Jersey somewhere. So they were going through my record collection and we were playing them some Manowar, some Mercyful Fate, Slayer—they’d never heard that shit, but they loved it. A couple of weeks later, they stopped by Club 516 and told us that their bass player had just killed himself. Then they said they were trying to get another band together. They said, “We’re writing original shit now, and we’re writing it like those bands you turned us on to.” So they came and played a party down in Joe’s basement, and we thought, “Fuck, maybe we can do something with this shit.” So we got together a bunch of money so they could record an album—we did it at the same place Slayer did Live Undead—but then we couldn’t figure out how to put it out, so we asked Jonny Z to put it out on Megaforce for us. It hardly sold shit, but it was something we had to give a shot to. There was some cool shit on that record.
There’s an official-looking website called Oldbridgemetalmilitia.com, but it’s not actually you guys. What gives?
That’s a fan page that this guy started a few years ago. He didn’t reach out to me or Joe, but once we met him, we thought it was kinda cool. But then I found out he copyrighted the name, and he’s selling shirts now. You know, we never made a dime back in the day. We helped out all those bands because we loved the music. So to have somebody who wasn’t even there copyright the name 30 years later? This guy who started the website, it turns out he used to hang out on his bicycle by my house when he was a kid. That’s what he told me. He was a fan, basically—which is cool. But then he starts making shirts and then I find out he’s trying to get Old Bridge Militia guitar pedals made or some kinda shit. I mean, are you kidding me? We told him to stop, but he’s still got the page up there. He’s using our story, and he wasn’t even there. It’s not good.
Tell us about the Old Bridge Militia Foundation. What does it do, exactly?
There’s a group of kids at Old Bridge High School called Cloud 9. They play jazz, rock, funk—whatever they wanna play. They love music, but they’re not funded, so if you wanna be in it, you gotta have your own instrument. So we bought a bunch of instruments for them, all brand new stuff. And we’re just gonna keep on helping them. Jim Florentine and Don Jamieson from That Metal Show did a comedy show for us and raised a shitload of money that we used to buy toys for kids. We brought them to the food bank here in Old Bridge and they distributed them to kids who wouldn’t be getting anything for Christmas. Metallica sent some autographed stuff for us to auction off to raise more money. Hopefully we can keep doing more like that and just make it bigger. A buddy of Joe’s who’s a lawyer out in California helped us set up a 501(c), which wasn’t easy to get for a group called the Old Bridge Militia. [Laughs] But we got it, and now we’re a hundred percent nonprofit charity. The Old Bridge Militia Foundation Facebook page, that’s us. We had so many good times with all these great bands and now we’re just trying to give back.