Joel McIver

Joel McIver

Joel McIver has been described by Classic Rock magazine as “by some distance the UK’s most prolific rock/metal author”. (“Dashed kind of them,” he says.) Indeed, if you are a reader of rock and metal biographies, it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid Joel McIver’s books. Not, of course, that you’d want to. Readers of Words and Music will have noticed references to both  Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica (a best seller widely regarded as the leader in its field) and Joel’s Black Sabbath biography Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. He has also written books on Cliff Burton, Randy Rhoads, Motörhead, Machine Head, Slayer, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Sex Pistols, to name a few, and he co-wrote Glenn Hughes’ recent autobiography  (see my Voice of Rock blogpiece for more on the latter). Read ’em All – that’s what I say!

Joel edits Bass Guitar Magazine, and contributes regularly to a range of other music and film magazines. Chuck in his media activity and his liner notes for CDs and DVDs and you clearly have one busy man. It was dashed kind of him, therefore, to agree to take the Words and Music Q&A.

Hello Joel, can you tell us what rock music means to you?
Music of all kinds, not just rock, is a medicine for the brain, an outlet for the soul and the best possible drug ever.

Joel McIver Machine Head book signingI’ve heard people say that working full time in the music industry and being surrounded by music all the time has stopped them enjoying it. Have you found this as a writer?
No, because I haven’t allowed this to happen. It’s perfectly possible to let yourself forget why you started doing this in the first place, but I take the time to remind myself on a daily basis why I devote my time to music, the greatest of all human achievements.

Does researching and writing about artists ever change the way you feel about their work?
Yes, sometimes. Naming no names, I have discovered certain personal things about musicians which have diminished the enjoyment of their music. The opposite is also true, fortunately.

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
The Beatles, when I was seven. I became obsessed with certain guitar lines, drum patterns and vocal harmonies and was a pre-teen geek before I knew it. I’m still a geek, and proud.

Tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
‘Tree Of Pain’ by Soulfly. Max Cavalera, whose autobiography I am currently co-writing, put everything he had into that song: you can hear his inner agony.

The Truth About Metallica Book CoverAn artist who has stayed with you over time?
Metallica. I have never fallen out of love with their Cliff Burton-era material even though it’s 25 years since I first heard it.

Dylan or Morrison?
Neither. If you want 60s names that mean a lot to me, I’d go with Hendrix or Cream.

What do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
“Are they working you hard today?” That is their cue to laugh and say no, or frown and say yes, either of which is a way into a personal connection.

Your best encounter with an artist?
Joel - mad monkLemmy, 1999, drinking Jack Daniel’s in a London hotel and arguing about Tony Blair.

Your strangest encounter with an artist?
Jon Bon Jovi, 2001. I had a seven-minute interview slot with him on his tour manager’s cellphone, and his attention was clearly elsewhere.

What makes a rock gig special?
At this stage, if I’m backstage with the artist, enjoying a medium level of debauchery and not standing in the crowd.

Your most memorable gig?
Donington, 1988; Clash Of The Titans, 1990; Slayer, 2004. And lots more.

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Neither, just a lifestyle that some people choose to pursue. It’s not necessarily positive or negative; it’s merely one of many options.

You’ve written about Sabbath and Slayer, and know a thing or two about extreme metal. So tell us, is rock music the spawn of the devil or a force for good?
A force for good, because all music is exactly that. Anyone who thinks otherwise is uninformed, mistaken or just a fool.

Rock music – music for the masses or a tribal affair?
Both apply, surely?

Italian launch of Joel's Cliff Burton book 2008How do you view the role of the rock writer?
We are chronicling our culture for future historians, and having more fun than the average human while doing so.

Of everything you’ve written, is there one thing of which you are most proud?
My Cliff Burton book, which came closest to my objectives as an author of the 21 books I’ve done so far. Also, interviews with challenging people such as Femi Kuti.

You’re well known and well established as a writer now. Would you give it all up for a crack at the big time as a musician?
Fuck no! I’m also a musician, and there is no way I would trade my life for a daily routine involving 22 hours of travel, 2 hours of live performance and no money.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
I wouldn’t say anything to them. They’re clearly not willing to make the effort to listen, and therefore they’re not worthy of my time.

What next from Joel McIver?
Eight books at various stages, detailed at, and I’m also the editor of Bass Guitar Magazine, Cheers captain!

Joel with Glenn Hughes

Joel McIver’s website:

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