RETURN TO THE METAL CAPITAL: A Celebration of the 80's Metal Scene in San Antonio

Photos by Joel Pena - Photographer, SA Sentinel

July 7, 2019 - Downtown San Antonio

Article By: Joel Pena - Lifestyle Editor, SA Sentinel

The Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC) along with Robbs MetalWorks presented the second phase of last year’s “Heavy Metal Capital of the World” panel discussion, with “Return to the Metal Capital,” an exhibit which included music from local heavy metal band Byfist, as well as some special guests. The event also included a panel discussion of San Antonio musicians who helped build the metal scene in the 1980s, and a Metal Mayhem! exhibit produced by the ITC and TexPop which showcased memorabilia chronicling the rise of the San Antonio Metal Scene and highlighted the iconic 1984 battle between two infamous bands, S.A. Slayer and L.A. Slayer which took place at Villa Fontana.

Attendees admire relics of the SA 80s metal scene. (Photo by  Joel Pena .)

Attendees admire relics of the SA 80s metal scene. (Photo by Joel Pena.)

In the early 80’s, San Antonio was referred to as the “Heavy Metal Capital of the World.” This moniker helped build a following and boost acts such as Rush, Triumph, Iron Maiden, Moxy, and Judas Priest who already had a reputation but helped push their names into the discussion with such acts as AC/DC, the Scorpions, and Def Leppard. The city’s status as the “Metal Capital” also helped boost local acts such as Juggernaut, Wyzard, Syrus, SA Slayer, Helstar into a legendary status.

The key people who helped make all this happen were Joe “The Godfather” Anthony and his DJ partner Lou Roney who would often play a lot of their music on former SA radio station KMAC-KISS before the rest of America would understand who bands like Rush or The Scorpions were. As soon as they started playing these artists on the airwaves, many San Antonio metal fans began vying to hear more of their music. This spurred a push to bring these acts to the Alamo City to perform concerts. Later Anthony and Roney would go on to work with Jack Orbin, founder of Stone City Attractions, who then introduced these artists to San Antonio and the rest of Texas. 

Entering the Institute’s Metal Mayhem! exhibit is a very surreal experience for any San Antonio history buff or metal enthusiast. “It’s a visual history of how San Antonio became the heavy metal capitol of the world,” said Ruby Garza, Coordinator of the Metal Mayhem! Exhibit and Executive Director of TexPop. “It started (on) the airwaves with Joe Anthony and Lou Roney on KMAC-KISS for the 1st time playing this music, AC/DC, Rush, Black Sabbath, Scorpions…these guys were the 1st guys to actually find it and put it on the airwaves, which created a fan base. Therefore concert promoters started to bring in these big bands which Stone City Attractions came in, to the record shops that put in the music to all the local heads that started bands.”

Fans raise the metal horns hand sign at the event. (Photo by  Joel Pena .)

Fans raise the metal horns hand sign at the event. (Photo by Joel Pena.)

Several local groups from the early SA Metal scene went on to play larger venues and tour the world. Larry Barragan of Helstar, Bobby Jarzombek of Juggernaut, Al Berlanga of Syrus, Buster Grant of Wyzard, Donnie Van Stavern of SA Slayer and Nacho Vara of Byfist were all featured guests on a panel where they would talk about their time in the SA heavy metal scene. Moderated by Keynote Speaker Robb Chavez of Robb’s MetalWorks, the panel would also expound on why it is important for people to know the history behind the music they hear on the radio and how heavy metal has changed since they started.

Hearing them speak together, you can witness just how tight-knit this community of artists was.  “They have all known each other for a long time and some of these guys had the same bands together or knew each other from just being musicians in the scene. They have a long history not only musically but as friends too,” said Chavez. 

Anthony Gomez, an avid metal enthusiast, was not only attending as an admirer and musician, but also as as a fan who grew up listening to many of the featured artists’ music. “I have been very fortunate and blessed to have grown up with a lot of these dudes. I mean, Wyzard, they are my brothers. We grew up together in the same hood, hanging out, having a great old time, getting exposed to SA Slayer, I probably seen them a number of times even in backyards before they were something bigger and better. But they actually played in our high school one day and I knew who they were but that was mind blowing because your peers are there freaking out and you’re the one dude going ‘ Yeahhh!’” said Gomez, yelling and laughing while making the ever popular metal horns hand sign.

The panel discussion. (Photo by  Joel Pena .)

The panel discussion. (Photo by Joel Pena.)

As fans lined up after the panel to get autographs and snap pictures, it became immediately apparent that the 80’s heavy metal scene had a huge impact on all generational heavy metal cultures. “One of the things San Antonio has always been known for, is we have a strong metal community and most of us know each other and in some instances there is a generational gap from musicians in the 90s, 2000s and 2010s, but many of those guys are inspired by these bands in the 80s and 90s and fans come here and they are musicians too but they look up to these dudes,” said Chavez. “These guys are their legends.”

As the Return to Heavy Metal opening event came to a close, there was one central fact that all in attendance could agree upon. Ruby Garza said it best: “Here in San Antonio, we were untouchable during that era. Whether it was commercially, underground, all-around - we were untouchable.” 

The Metal Mayhem! exhibit will run till January 5th, 2020.