WatchTower : The Official Story of Progressive Metal Pioneers
as told by Jason McMaster
In the Beginning
The Unattended Microphone:
WatchTower – formed by guitarist Billy White and drummer Rick Colaluca in may 1982, along with guitarist turned bassist, Doug Keyser. The three found singer/bassist Jason McMaster, when Jason met Billy thru an ad at a music store in south Austin. Jason happened to be looking for a guitarist to revive what was basically a cover band with few original songs, while Billy White was in a similar situation,which was a band that was really only looking to play heavy metal covers in the vein of what was gradually becoming the new wave of heavy rock or metal. I was looking for anyone who wanted to do songs by my favorite metal bands, most of which were from the U.K. and Europe (priest / maiden / raven / thin lizzy / accept / scorpions / ufo-michael schenker / def leppard / angelwitch and saxon,to name a few), as well as the North American metal that had been gaining momentum from the late 70s into the 80s ( rush / riot / Y&T)
Billy was with a band I hadn’t heard of til I had seen the ad, with what I thought was a strange name (WatchTower), but when he introduced me to bassist Doug Keyser and drummer Rick Colaluca, the singer they had at the time didn’t show up for rehearsal that day in may of 1982, leaving the microphone unattended. I sat in with them per their request, and that was it.
From then on, WatchTower did parties and small shows around the Austin area for years to come, playing their favorite metal covers, while building some original material that would change heavy music, little did we know, maybe forever .
The sound that WatchTower was to have, was of course, not contrived or pre-meditated, it was a metal sound, with a major influence stemming from all of their fave metal bands, but the influence bands like… (old) RUSH, RAVEN, and progressive bands such as KING CRIMSON & U.K., would leave upon TOWER -(as the fans later would call them), was definitely a big part of what was happening to the sound of WatchTower.
In the mid to late 1980’s, TOWER would soon end up opening for many metal bands that were on the rise during the same time that the band was working on its fanbase, as well as the bands sound. Many of these bands were on indie labels that specialized in the new sound of what was happening in heavy music. METALBLADE RECORDS is one of the labels, to this day, that feature hard rock and heavy metal bands. The label that gave SLAYER, METALLICA, TROUBLE, and ARMORED SAINT, a chance before their major label deals were signed. Other labels that gave metalfans a chance to hear what all the rage was, MEGAFORCE RECORDS who were instrumental in the early successes of METALLICA, ANTHRAX, MERCIFUL FATE, S.O.D., & RAVEN, as well as other underground rock/metal acts like THE RODS , MEGADETH, & OVERKILL. COMBAT RECORDS(NUCLEAR ASSAULT, SAVATAGE) also had a huge influence on what metalfans would eventually come to know as some of the heaviest and strangest, heavy music they would ever put on the turntable. (Other labels include SHRAPNEL RECORDS-YNGWIE MALMSTEEN,EXCITER… ..NEAT RECORDS-early RAVEN, VENOM)
WatchTower’s original material, and even the fact that we thought it was a big deal to drop the cover songs entirely, was a big deal to us. We made flyers that said now all original , just to rub it in to all the cover bands that we had done shows with (no one wanted to hear covers unless they were hit songs, and then again, I don’t think anyone noticed that we were doing covers anyway, since we sorta leaned towards the obscure songs by different new wave British heavy metal bands, or the odd Rush song. They just thought that we were original the whole time, well, the real fans of hard stuff and any metalheads knew what was up) we had our own songs the whole time, just mixed into the set. Some early song titles were Fighters of the End and Tricks of the Trade . There were a few more, along with these that we never did anything with, other than do cheap demos of them. That’s how we built our sound, seeming to get heavier and more progressive as time passed. The more orignal and wierd we got, the more people came out to shows, and really freaked. Something was happening on a small, and humble level. That was definitely exciting for us.
Tape trading probably wasn’t a new thing at this point, for bands of a heavy nature, how else was a band supposed to really get their stuff abroad. Since WatchTower was a new band, to human ears, outside of Central Texas at this point,demos of early 4track recordings..as well as some live tapes of rehearsals ’slipped thru my hands. I had sent various tapes of our original material to fanzines,and supposed metal radio shows whereever I could find an address that seemed to be a force that would want to help out bands like us… of course, we thought we werent like anyone else, and to this day, I think we were right about that .
By the end of 1983, we had a set of unbelievable, technical, fast, crazy, time changing, sophisticated sounds coming out of the mill we had created, making a planet that we didn’t feel, had been fully instigated. All of the lyrics were socially aware, and some strange fascinations with nuclear power, and a some sort of holocaustic world, that had been dreamt up by guitarist billy white, and bassist doug keyser. They equally wierded each other out with their lyrics. I had no problem with the stuff they were pumping out, it was so tasteful, but yet, had urgency and was frantic about the topics, mostly apocolyptic and socially chaotic on news issues. These were crazy words to sing over crazy changes. I had no map, this wasn’t rock n roll!!!. I wrote all of the melodies (I use that word loosely ) for the songs, and that was my contibution to the sound and timber, even though later on, few critics would learn to hate the style of pissed off geddy lee vocals. Seemed to be most of the death metal head mags would say that they love the band, hate the singer (gee, I have said that myself a million times!)
The Ritz is an old theater in downtown Austin, where WatchTower cut their teeth. Some of the best shows they ever did, as well as build the legacy that extended all the way to european fans. Ssome of whom made the trip, just to witness what they had only heard/read about in WatchTower interviews, or zine articles on the band. One of those stories that you could use the word infamous somewhere, and it will totally apply. The ritz is now a pool hall, with games, a bar, etc… a hot spot on the infamous 6th street in Austin (6th street – a strip of bars/clubs/restaurants downtown Austin – mainly attended by students / partiers… a sort of marti gras every weekend in the capital of Texas, with numourous plugs in different articles about Austin, or music related subjects, such as the SOUTHBY SOUTHWEST MUSIC CONFERENCE that happens every march. Rolling Stone magizine has given much press to all of these facts). The Ritz was the place, from 1983 to about 1988, that many excellent shows would unfurl… many roadshows, and local acts would showcase there during this time period. WatchTower, along with other Texas bands, such as.. the butthole surfers, the bigboys, dino lee’s white trash review, and scratch acid.. would have the biggest draws in Austin, all on an underground level, meaning that very few clubs in Austin would recognize the monsters within some of these bands souls. These shows were put on by the bands themselves…
First Studio Recordings:
WATCHTOWER was approached by Chris Gates ( The Bigboys, Poison 13, Dino Lee’s White Trash Review, Junkyard, 99 pounds ) to start doing shows at the Ritz, in 1983. WatchTower also opened for touring metal acts on the rise during the mid 80’s such as SLAYER (SEE SHOWBILL), ANTHRAX (SEE SHOWBILL), and KING DIAMOND of Merciful Fate (SEE SHOWBILL). An important fact now, in 1983, WatchTower was approached by RAINFOREST RECORDS, from San Antonio, to record a full length album of material (RainForest was an independant label, that had released the PREPARE TO DIE E.P. by good friends SLAYER. NOT THE SLAYER FROM L.A. (4 piece-satanic speed metal)… BUT THE SLAYER FROM SAN ANTONIO. (5 piece – power metal – texas answer to merciful fate) LATER TO BE KNOWN AS… S.A. SLAYER). WatchTower gratefully accepted the offer, and the first ’real studio recordings by the band were underway by early 1984 (the average age in WatchTower at this point was 18 years). These recordings went well but only one song was ever released. The song MELTDOWN, was included on a Ward Nine Records release (Ward 9, a very small indie label in San Antonio, TX) entitled, A TEXAS HARDCORE COMPILATION-COTTAGE CHEESE FROM THE LIPS OF DEATH , the cover was painted by Gibby Haynes of the BUTTHOLE SURFERS, an underground favorite, featuring texas punk from, of course, THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS, THE BIG BOYS, MARCHING PLAGUE, also other hardcore stuff from D.R.I., THE DICKS, THE OFFENDERS, to name a few. Making WATCHTOWER the oddball here, a metal band on a texas hardcore record? The decriptions of the music cannot classify, more confuse, what the ears were hearing, space metal from hell? Zappa from hell? Well, the punks were into it, as well as the others who dug the freaky stuff we were screaming out!!! . None of the other songs recorded from that session, were ever released. Watchtower actually re-recorded the same songs , for a change in style in Jason’s vocals, from Udo( Accept) to John Gallager( Raven), to a cleaner version, tighter playing as well as new gear.
RainForest records, as well as the studio (called The BOSS-Bob Oneil Sound Studio), went belly up, and the unreleased WATCHTOWER recordings have been a tape trading gem for underground metal fans since then, considered rare… it took years for WatchTower to even get a hold of the master tapes, now safe in a locker in South Austin.
Since these recordings ended up just being an underground morsel to devour… what happened soon after.. WatchTower regrouped after a short indecision, and searched Austin for a rehearsal space. The band had been rehearsing in guitarist Billy White’s bedroom for years at this point, it was time to move on. A space was found on the SouthEast side of town, which at that time, was the only rehearsal hall in Austin. Run by Fred Mitchum, who ended up managing the band, getting studio time set for the new sessions for a slated 1985 release of the first album, (to be entitled ENERGETIC DISASSEMBLY – the government term for the detonation of a nuclear warhead ), by what was now clearly the new if not the first techno – thrash/progressive metal pioneers (wether the title was to be desired or not, that’s what was being said nearly worldwide about the Texas based band , WatchTower).
..by the time 1986 got here, alot of things were happening to heavy music, Metallica’s Master of Puppets , was opening doors for metal, and music in general, along with other heavy bands, magazines, radio shows, mTV even attempted to tap into what was going on (Headbangers Ball). It was such a great time, to see all of this happening around us while we were fighting the fight, as well as alot of other bands that were trying to prove something, that this was a revolution, that it wasn’t just about groove and feel good rock n roll. We were starting to find out that in your face, quirky, wierdo space music, could be metal, or improv, could also be commercial on a certain level.
Billy White Departs:
In October 1986, WatchTower was obviously still going strong, still packing local theaters and halls, all over Texas, selling up to 5,000 copies of the record, ENERGETIC DISASSEMBLY, and getting worldwide acclaim from all underground fanzines / magazines, as well as being recognized by the AUSTIN CHRONICLE (hometown entertainment rag that for the most part, pays no attention to heavy music) and TEXAS MONTHLY( a major, glossy ’doctors office magazine, that does cover stories on the lone star state, but definitely no stories on a metal scene hero)… with articles on the band, the scene, the following, the style.. all being praised in ways that other locals envied, maybe not a coveted place, but recognized by unorthadox, non metal publications, mainly because WatchTower wasn’t just a conventional long haired freak heavy metal band with a Marshall stack, and a huge drumkit… . but like every band, the pitfalls happen, and weave a web of drama, that isn’t all that popular, other than the regular spinal tap-isms that will happen anyway… .Billy White, WatchTower guitarist, founding member, main song writer, and confidant in the way of the entire, almost legacy, even at this point, decided to leave the band to play other styles of guitar oriented music in the Austin scene, and take a few gigs that would take him abroad as well.
Tower had booked two shows in California, that Billy had agreed to play, upon his exit. These would come to be an interesting trip for WatchTower and it’s small but mighty crew. Another side note, it was about this time, Pantera, now a known multi-platinum / incredible / heavy / power metal / old school metal king from the Dallas Texas area (East/West Records) was, back then, a not so heavy, but still a metal/hard rock band and very popular, with label interest, and packing clubs on their own turf, with a few self released records under their belt, were searching for a singer , calling Jason McMaster to fill the spot, flattered by the offer, Jason declined, with hopes of continued underground successes, those that WatchTower was poised and ready to take. Booking a tour of some sort was a bitch, without money or much in the way of transportation, using connections that the band had gained thru friendly aquaintances in the members of Metallica (Jason met and hung out with the metal gods in 1983, and kept a pen pal relation for years, as well as traveling thru Texas to hang with the metalicats for years 83 thru 88… , <see Lars with WatchTower shirt>). It was actually a phone call to Lars that Jason got a list of clubs in the bay area.
This would be when Jason would hook up with Ron Quintana, a DJ on the college radio station KUSF, and editor for METAL MANIA (a metal newsprint typed zine/rag, that covered underground metal and rock in the 1980’s, that was originally to be named… metallica). Ron Quintana set up the shows that were to be Billy’s last gigs with Tower. WatchTower played two shows in the San Francisco bay area clubs (October 4th, 1986, at the Rock on Broadway, which was attended by Alex Skolnick former Testament guitarist, as well as Paul Baloff Singer for Exodus , and Gene Hoglan ’drummer from the great speed metal band Dark Angel (see Strapping Young Lad, Testament, & Death, for other Gene Hoglan related sites), and October 6th, 1986, at the Mabouhei Gardens (where bay area bands had been working the metal scene for years, (where Testament, Exodus, Metallica, Blind Illusion (Les Claypool from Primus), Possessed (Larry Lalonde- Primus), Megadeth, and many more), this show was attended by Marty Friedman,guitarist for Megadeth, also a band that was an influence on Tower called Hawaii, (whom was invited by Jason McMaster to be a replacement for Billy, that plan backfired when Marty asked Rick and Doug to leave WatchTower, to be in his new project, I guess he didn’t like my singing very much, huh?), this would be the last time Billy would play any WatchTower material, even to this day… One more side note… September of 1986… the passing of Metallica bassist,and great spirit that is missed dearly, Cliff Burton, left an opening for a spot in Metallica, Jason being called upon to exchange information about Doug from WatchTower, for an audition… Doug made the top five choices, pen pal, and Tower fan himself, Jason Newsted, of the Phoenix band on Metalblade,FLOTSAM AND JETSAM, would make the final cut.
The future of Tower was uncertain, calling upon Ron Jarzombek, guitarist for San Antonio Slayer, immediately as a replacement. Ron and Billy were friends, and we all knew there was no auditions to be had, Ron was the man necessary for the empty shoes in WatchTower, he knew it, and the band knew it. Even though he wouldn’t join immediately, feeling a bit strange about taking his friends place in one of the bands that he had played many shows, and shared respect for, for so many years, but soon would change his mind, making January 1987, the first show ever without Billy White on guitar.
1987 was as good a year as any for WatchTower, keeping a rigourous schedule of shows, writing new material for a possible new cd with the new WatchTower. It was also in 1987, October to be exact, that Jason was approached by local bands, friends of his in the scene, to fill in on some shows as guest singer. Cover songs by pretty much any style rock were done in different projects. Friends, as well as jason, would get together, for no other reason than to have a break from doing one style of music for as long as WatchTower had. One project in particular was to end up being known as Dangerous Toys, a hybrid heavy metal band, that came from more of a punk/ glam/ bar rock attitude, so very different from WatchTower. This project changed a few things for WatchTower. While being an active member of WatchTower, Jason also did time/gigs with Dangerous Toys, as well as other projects, but in early 1988, Dangerous Toys was asked to sign a 7 record deal with Columbia Records, and a long time stint with WatchTower was to end soon after, leaving the vocalist job in the most progressive metal band ever, open for auditions.
Enter Mike Soliz (long time friend and singer for the Texas metal band Militia), as the first singer to come in and bring new life once again to WatchTower. Mike had been on the Austin scene for years with Militia, and also another band that he and Jason had helped out… . called Assalant (which was made up of other metal purists from the Austin scene, who gained much support and following in a short time)
Mike Soliz recorded a song with WatchTower… .. YES… .. just one song, called DANGEROUS TOY, about a polygraph test, with absolutely nothing to do with Jason’s new band, ( to my knoledge -Jason). It was an excellent song, and was only featured, with Mike Soliz on vocals, on the 1988 release of DOOMSDAY NEW 2,on NOISE INTERNATIONAL, the label that was to release the next full length cd from WatchTower. (CONTROL AND RESISTANCE) …
The year or so that Mike spent as singer for the band, was built up of some minor touring and some recording, demos mostly. However, it was soon decided, by Mike and WatchTower, that there was more that was needed in a singer, so Mike left on good terms, and the search was on again. ( too bad, Mike seemed just right – Jason) …
Singer number two… Enter Alan Tecchio, from the New Jersey progressive metal outfit HADES. Once again, Jason was instrumental in getting Alan to call up Tower for the audition, for they were long time friends and pen pals. Alan had just returned from a tour of Europe with HADES, and was ready for something new! He was ready for WatchTower.
Alan flew to Texas, learned the songs, some of which were getting some age to them. Some songs written with Billy White while he was still on board, as well as some songs that were written with Ron Jarzombek, guitarist since 1987. So an interesting collection of progressive metal was about to unfurl on to the world… . in the 1989 release on NOISE INTERNATIONAL, Control and Resistance !
It really happened about that fast. Alan was primed, was a fan, and practically knew the material in his heart, being that this was the stuff he was already into. The release of Control, and a tour of Europe and the States was to follow. A great time for WatchTower!!
Where Are They Now?
Jason is currently busy with many projects. Writing and playing live with new band GAHDZILLA MOTOR COMPANY. Spending most of his time on GMC, as well as releasing full length cds with GMC, BROKEN TEETH, DANGEROUS TOYS,SSIK (a kiss cover band). As well as producing and writing with other bands.
Writing and producing with projects in New York. A few solo efforts released (BILLY WHITE TRIO,6 IS 9.. DMZ/DOS RECORDS). Billy played guitar on a DON DOKKEN release called UP FROM THE ASHES(1990). A few Billy White sightings in Austin this past year 2002, but for the past 2 years, Billy spent most of that time in Spain playing flamenco guitar stylings, studying, and living there, but he is well and back in the states, New York still his main base for now.
Replacing Billy White was a huge mountain to jump, but not if you knew Ron Jarzombek, guitarist for the legendary SLAYER from San Antonio, TX. Ron joined Tower in 1986 when Billy left to pursue other styles.
In 1994, Ron & his brother Bobby started a band called Spastic Ink, which may be even more technical than any WatchTower song (no easy feat !). Spastic Ink released Ink Complete in May 1994, on Dream Circle Records.
They are currently working on a new record, Ink Compatible.
Please check out the SPASTIC INK site, and feel free to contact Ron there as well.
Doug Keyser & Rick Colalulca
Playing in personal projects, occasionally seen playing with hip-hop-styled-crazy-live band RETARTED ELF . (NOTE* THERE ARE A FEW RELEASES ,PLEASE SEE WEBSITE!)
Currently writing & producing hip hop grooves for Austin based street rap/soul funksters, KFO(KIN FOLK ONLY).
Currently in a recently re-united HADES(SEE WEBSITE!!!!), as well as re-releasing HADES and NON FICTION cds, ( see metalblade records!!!) back in New Jersey. Touring Europe in the summer with HADES, and writing for Jersey based entertainment mag. STEPPIN OUT(SEE WEBSITE).
Headway Festival features the European premiere show of WatchTower’s long-awaited reunion on April 3, 2004 in Amstelveen, Holland.
Current line-up: Jason McMaster (vocals), Ron Jarzombek (guitars), Doug Keyser (bass), Rick Colaluca (drums).
Discography: Energetic Disassembly (1985 debut album), Control and Resistance (1989 album), ’demonstrations in Chaos (2002 compilation album), Mathematics (new album to be released in 2004).
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