Chapter I: Before the Storm (pre-Queensr˙che History)
By Brian Heaton
Editor's Note: The first two sections of the narrative draws heavily from Northwest metal historian Brett Miller's personal account of Queensr˙che's formation, first published in the late 1990s and later hosted exclusively by AnybodyListening.net. Miller was close friends with Chris DeGarmo in high school and was a highly-regarded musician and promoter in the Seattle area. Thank you for your generosity, Brett.
The musicians of Queensr˙che derive from a host of local Seattle area groups in the late-1970s. Michael Wilton founded the band Joker in 1978 with friends from Interlake High School in Bellevue, Wash. Chris DeGarmo joined Joker in 1979, marking the first time the future Queensr˙che guitar duo would join forces.
Joker was fronted by Paul Passarelli, who was considered the "David Lee Roth" of Bellevue according to Brett Miller, a northwest metal historian. Passarelli currently fronts the Mike McCready (of Pearl Jam fame) UFO tribute band called "Flight to Mars."
Around the same time, Geoff Tate – then known as Jeffrey Wayne Tate, or "Jeff Waterfall" – came onto the scene, fronting the band Tyrant. Tate impressed the local metal crowd with his operatic wails, reminiscent of Rob Halford of Judas Priest, and a versatile four-octave range. Tate was classically trained by the late Maestro David Kyle, a world renowned vocal instructor and teacher. Joker and Tyrant both entered a local "Battle of the Bands" at Lake Hills Roller Rink in Bellevue. Joker was dismissed in the first round, while Tyrant (also known for guitarist Adam Brenner) advanced to the finals.
Tyrant featured a variety of Van Halen cover songs and Tate was especially noticed for Tyrant's version of the Rainbow classic "Man on the Silver Mountain." Tyrant would lose to Ridge, featuring vocalist Ted Pilot, drummer Ken Mary and guitarist Ed Archer. Ridge would change its name to Fifth Angel a few years later and sign a seven record deal with Epic Records.
Tyrant disbanded following the event. Brenner told Miller in an interview years later that he and the members of Tyrant "were rock kids and only played metal," and that "Geoff was trying to get us to play more progressive stuff like Yes & Genesis." Brenner would later go on to change his name to "Adam Bomb" and signed a deal with Geffen Records in 1985.
Tate wasn't the only future member of Queensr˙che without a band. DeGarmo was let go from Joker and replaced by guitarist Jeff Olson. Miller speculates that it had a lot to do with gear – Olson had high-end equipment and his own PA system, while DeGarmo had to borrow amps to play shows.
Joker's profile went up following DeGarmo's departure. The band got bookings across the state at local junior high and high schools doing heavy metal cover songs such as Judas Priest's "Hell Bent for Leather."
DeGarmo would resurface shortly thereafter, however. He joined Tempest – a band fronted by singer/bassist Mark Hovland. DeGarmo's playing ability improved during this time, as the group attracted attention by doing covers of KISS songs and other hard rock acts. Eventually, they'd be joined by drummer Mark Welling, and the trio branched out on their own, under the moniker of D-H-W – DeGarmo-Hovland-Welling.
By the time the 1979-1980 school year came to an end, however, both D-H-W and Joker broke up. Welling had teamed up with Tate's progressive rock group called Babylon and Joker simply ran its course.
Meanwhile, Wilton had graduated high school and enrolled in the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle to study music. During this time, he met future Queensr˙che drummer Scott Rockenfield at Easy Street Records. The two decided to start a band and called themselves CROSS+FIRE. The duo were heavily influenced by Iron Maiden, according to Miller.
The group began recruiting a bass player, ultimately landing a high school friend of Rockenfield named Eddie Jackson. They added James Nelson on second guitar and went on to play local parties without a singer. Eventually Wilton reached out to DeGarmo and asked if he and Hovland wanted to play. They agreed, with DeGarmo replacing Nelson and Hovland becoming the singer. CROSS+FIRE played a few shows, but Hovland quit the band due to commuting issues from the Renton, Wash., area.
It's now 1981. A singer-less CROSS+FIRE had now renamed itself "The Mob" after the Black Sabbath song "The Mob Rules." The lineup now featured DeGarmo and Wilton on guitars, Jackson on bass and Rockenfield on drums.
Miller offered The Mob, Babylon, and TKO the three prime-time slots for METALFEST '81, a show he was promoting. The gig took place on Sept. 19, 1981, at the Lake Hills Roller Rink (billing itself as "The Palace") in Bellevue.
The Mob couldn't find a singer on short notice, so they asked Tate to stand in with them for the show. Tate agreed, figuring it would be cool to sing with two bands in one night (Babylon went on three hours after The Mob). The decision delighted local metal fans. After seeing Tate with Tyrant a couple of years earlier, people wanted to hear him sing heavy metal songs again, Miller explained. He called Tate "truly a local rock star" that everyone knew as the best singer around.
Miller picks up the story here:
"Showing up for The Mob's performance, Tate nonchalantly dressed down wearing gray sweatpants and a leather vest to perform in … When he got up to play that awesome set of metal covers with The Mob, the crowd's reaction was the biggest of the night. My personal favorite song that night was 'Victim of Changes' by Judas Priest, delivered letter-perfect by Tate. The Mob also played 'Murders in the Rue Morgue,' 'Running Free' and 'Wrathchild' by Iron Maiden and letter perfect versions of "Animal Magnetism" and "Sails of Charon" by the Scorpions, among others.
I wasn't a big Iron Maiden fan myself at the time, but it was amazing how the crowd and I were absolutely swept away with their performance that night. Tate was also noticeably impressed by the reaction."
After METALFEST '81 concluded, Babylon – which had a stable of all original progressive rock songs in the vein of Genesis and King Crimson – broke up, leaving Tate once again without a band. The Mob went on to play a couple of parties with Tate, but he wouldn't commit to them. His heart was in progressive music, not heavy metal.
But the response The Mob received at METALFEST '81 galvanized DeGarmo, Jackson, Rockenfield and Wilton. The quartet hunkered down over the next several months in Rockenfield's parents' garage to hone their playing skills and write original music.
The Mob Live Shows (1981-1982)
The Mob wasn't a signed band, and didn't gig regularly, playing just a handful of shows prior to becoming Queensryche. The Mob didn't have a singer, so the shows they did were with Geoff (then Jeff) Tate, when he was up for doing a gig with the group. The three dates below are the known shows The Mob played, courtesy of Brett Miller.
A typical set from The Mob looked like this (from Sept. 26, 1981):