Interview: Don Jamieson (That Metal Show)

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Sometime in the fall of 2008, I began my first semester of college and started to pursue a major in journalism so I could professionally write about heavy metal. My transition from high school to college didn’t really change anything – I still wore my Iron Maiden and Dream Theater t-shirts on a daily basis.

During the latter half of that fall, I read an article on Blabbermouth.net promoting this new talk show called That Metal Show on VH1 Classic. Year’s prior, I religiously watched VH1 specials like the “100 Greatest Hard Rock Bands” and envied those who grew up with the original Headbanger’s Ball. While my generation had the benefit of the web, most of my friends in high school and college weren’t listening to Megadeth’s Rust In Peace or Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien. That Metal Show’s pilot episode felt like the answer to my prayers as I said to myself, “Finally, there’s a television platform for us young and loyal metal heads.”

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Whenever I watch That Metal Show, I receive a world-class education on a generation of music that I dearly love but never experienced during its heyday. This show’s ability to provide exposure for bands like Living Colour, Testament, and Clutch speaks volumes about each host’s commitment to hard rock. I’m not a big television fan – I don’t watch any modern sitcoms or reality shows. Here’s the thing about  That Metal Show —, Eddie Trunk, Jim Florentine, and Don Jamieson truly bleed their hearts out for the genre. This isn’t Ryan Seacrest kissing ass on American Idol, these guys will devote an entire five-minute segment choosing the better record between Slayer’s South of Heaven and Seasons in the Abyss?

Truth be told, the hometown component of watching three guys from New Jersey speak to my favorite musicians like Adrian Smith and Jason Newsted made my musical dreams seem realistic. That Metal Show inspired me to host a radio show at my school’s station and pursue writing opportunities at my school newspaper so I could review upcoming metal records. Over the years, I absorbed their knowledge and tried to incorporate their natural ability to converse with guests into my own repertoire.

Talk about coming full circle, I recently interviewed stand-up comedian and That Metal Show’s Don Jamieson. For the legions of loyal viewers around the world, the waiting is finally over. The fourteenth season of That Metal Show is set to premiere on Saturday February 21st and will feature Rush frontman Geddy Lee and Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci. I urge readers to keep their eyes glued to the screen as Don Jamieson goes in-depth about all aspects of That Metal Show.

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We’re a New Jersey website and you’re a New Jersey comedian. Looking back on the early portion of your career, what local venues were critical in developing your stand up style?

Definitely Uncle Vinnies Comedy Club in Point Pleasant – that’s really my home club. I was the first comedian to step up on their stage ten years ago and I also recorded my new album Hell Bent For Laughter there as well. The Stress Factory in New Brunswick and Rascal’s back in the day were also super important. Truth be told, every bar and restaurant I ever performed at were just as important in certain ways.

Take me through the process of writing new material for a comedy album? Are you looking for a common theme? Do you follow your gut instinct and let the jokes flow organically?

You let the jokes flow because you’re really writing about your life and whatever is happening at the time. One of the themes from my last album was how I go out with a girl who is way too hot for me. Most comedians spend half their act complaining about their wives or girlfriends and I sort of took the opposite approach. I need to come up with a new theme for my next album and knowing my track record – it will probably be how my way too hot girlfriend left me.

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On your next album, will there also be a metal element similar to Hell Bent For Laughter or Live & Hilarious?

The album work and packaging are based off some of my favorite albums but my content is really meant for anybody. I talk about music on both of the albums but it’s stuff that’s pretty much relatable to anybody. I talk about bands that anyone would know – Twisted Sister, Poison, Mötley Crüe, or Kiss. I don’t go too deep so I’m not throwing any viking metal jokes into my act.

There are no Amon Amarth jokes in your set (Laughs)?

(Laughs) Not yet, I’m trying to ease the masses into that kind of material.

If you were to pick a comedian and band that represented your style of stand up, whom would you pick?

If you mixed Andrew Dice Clay with Motorhead, you would get me and that’s because Dice is my comedy idol and Lemmy is musical idol.

Let me say – it’s incredible how you, Eddie, and Jim have turned this show into a real platform for metal. Give us a behind the scenes glimpse – what’s it like to negotiate with the network and pitch together a show based on a genre that’s often ridiculed by the masses?

That was the thing – we knew VH1 Classic was the right place for the show because they’re the only network playing Dio videos in the middle of the day. We knew we were at the right place and it was just a matter of – did they want three fools from New Jersey on their airwaves discussing heavy metal and breaking each others’ balls? Luckily, they were in the market for that. Here we are fourteen seasons later and it’s still going.

Metal fans might not be the largest demographic but we bleed for our favorite bands…

The metal crowd is the most loyal audience ever and they have found That Metal Show all over the world. It’s great to hear feedback about our show from South America, Mexico, New Zealand, and Australia. When you’re a metalhead and you’re looking for a certain album that isn’t sold at Best Buy or any of the big chains – you seek it out elsewhere. It’s sort of the same scenario with our show – people have found us and if they liked us, they stayed loyal this entire time.

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Going off your last statement, I remember when a fan flew all the way from Ireland to see the show and he won a bass guitar signed by Billy Sheehan. I think that happened during the Vinnie Paul episode last season…

He’s still in contact with me on Twitter. That’s just something where you’re like, ‘wow.’ Here we are, we’re three guys from New Jersey doing a TV show in New York and we connected with someone all the way from Ireland. That’s the neat thing about metal and just like Rob Halford says, “Metal unites us.” (Don nails a spot on Rob Halford imitation)

Being someone who has also become a high profile interviewer, what’s your preparation like in terms of organizing questions for your guests? 

All the prep work has been done since I was nine years old. I’ve been listening to most of these bands since I was young. For the three of us, we’ll usually glance at our notes for a few minutes before the set. There’s no plan really and we’ll just go out and start talking. Between the three of us, we try to make it a hang out more so than an interview.

Which guest on the show gives the best history lesson – maybe someone like Alice Cooper, Bill Ward, or Brian Johnson? 

Yes, yes, and yes to all of those guys you mentioned. To have anyone from Black Sabbath on the show is a history lesson because they were the creators of heavy metal. To have Tony Iommi on our set twice now and discuss music – it’s incredible because you’re talking about the guy who wrote the original heavy metal riffs. He’s still the king of heavy metal riffs till this day. If you’re looking for a heavy metal lesson, Sabbath has to be atop of the list.

Going off my last question, which guest impressed you the most by their wealth of music knowledge? Or which of the guests made you walk away feeling as if you learned something totally new? 

You learn a little bit from everybody but I have to say Ted Nugent. All you need to do is introduce Ted and he will take it away from there. Between hearing his stories over the last 40 years and having the honor to watch him get on stage and jam at the end of the show – that was a pretty amazing day.

That was a cool episode because he elaborated on his influences like Chuck Berry and talked about the early pioneers of rock n’ roll. 

Yeah, that’s where his roots come from and you see how it’s shaped his style over the years. Let’s face it – Ted wrote some of the greatest love songs of all time like “Wang Dang Sweet Pootang,” “Yank Me Crank Me,” and “Wango Tango.” Those are the kind of songs that I want to hear when I’m with my girl.

What low-key artist were you proud to bring on the show? I’m talking someone criminally underrated but they benefited from the exposure of being on That Metal Show…

I think someone who’s received an immense amount of exposure on our show is John 5 – the guitarist of Rob Zombie’s band. He’s not only one of the most brilliant guitarists in the modern age but he’s also as a nice a guy as he is talented. When you put those traits hand in hand and see the amount of recognition that he’s received by playing our show, that’s the kind of stuff that makes us feel so good. It’s truly awesome to expose a guy like that to our audience and help raise his profile.

Absolutely, he’s been on the show a handful of times and you could see it through the television. His personality is pretty much equal to his high caliber guitar playing…

That’s it. All of the guys in Zombie’s band are like that. I’ve hung out with them backstage and it’s just the four guys sitting in the dressing room and hanging out before the show. Nobody has a separate dressing room. They just all hang out together and get ready to play. It’s just four buds playing music – it’s real simple. I could see why he’s in Rob’s band because he sort of attracts people like him –talented cats that are cool to play with. You’re supposed to have fun playing rock n’ roll; it’s not supposed to be a job.

Speaking of previous guests, I have to say – the Lamb of God episode featuring Randy Blythe was the heaviest moment in the show’s history. You guys were the first outlet to hear his full story. What was it like to sit there and listen to such a heart-rattling recap of his trial?

Photo Credit: Colin Douglas Gray
Photo Credit: Colin Douglas Gray

We’ve had a few tricky shows over the years. I’m lucky that I’ve known Randy for a long time since before That Metal Show, but obviously trying to tackle a real sensitive situation like that– it was definitely a fine line of not bumming him or the audience out the entire show. At the same time, it was something that we needed to talk about. I think we’ve been pretty good at walking the line during those situations. When we did our “Dio Tribute Show,” we unfortunately had to talk about Ronnie in the past tense since he passed away. At the same time, we also wanted to celebrate his life and tell funny stories. We tried to do the same thing with Randy – let’s tell the story but let’s also hang out and try to have some fun as well.

Did you apply the same approach for Peter Criss during the whole “Rock + Roll Hall of Fame” drama last season? Being a longtime Kiss fan, his speech towards the end struck a chord. It was difficult to hear the disappointment in his voice…

For me too, I’m a longtime Kiss fan and that was all Peter – he turned towards the audience, looked into the camera, and told everybody watching, ‘Hey, I wanted to play for you.’ That was important for him just like the first time he was on our show and spoke about male breast cancer, which we obviously allowed and wanted him to talk about. At the same time, we want to keep the show’s fun spirit alive but if there’s something that needs to be talked about or dealt with – we’re going to ask because we’re fans too. We want to know the same thing every other fan wants to know about, especially with Peter. When we’re talking to Randy, you can’t gloss over huge events that happened in his life. There are just certain things that you have to talk about.

If you had to pick one guest from the show who would always deliver a solid interview, whom would you choose?

Guys like Ted Nugent, Dave Mustaine, and Phil Anselmo because those guys tell it how its. You’re always going to get an honest answer out of them. Whether you like them or not, they’re going to tell you what’s on their mind for better or worse. I think those are the best kind of guests for television. Even if I don’t like Ted Nugent, I’m still watching the show because I want to hear what kind of crazy stuff Uncle Ted has to say.

Even as a writer, I’d rather hear an interviewee say something unique that stands out from the pack…

Just like sports, you don’t want to hear the same stock answer over and over again like, ‘We’re going to look at the schedule one game at a time.’ Forget all that stuff. I want to hear someone say, “Oh, I hate The Royals. Screw them, we’re going to kick their ass!” I’d rather hear that. Those are always the best guests on our show because they make things entertaining.

I know you’re a big football guy. Are you a fan of someone like Richard Sherman who isn’t afraid to voice his opinion?

Marshawn Lynch is my favorite interview of all time and I love what he does. I think every athlete should repeat the same thing over and over again to every journalist. That’s way more interesting than saying, “They were a really good team and we’re a really good team but they just got the best of us.” Who cares? It was beautiful how he kept repeating himself. I think that’s way more interesting than hearing the same old same old. That’s what I love about guests who come on That Metal Show and that’s why we make it a hang out. We don’t want people to censor their answer because they feel like it’s an interview. It’s just the four of us hanging out so you could say whatever you want.

You grew up listening to comedy duos like Cheech & Chong, did you ever imagine you would work with someone like Jim Florentine? You guys perfectly compliment each others’ style. It’s not too common in comedy so it’s really an incredibly chemistry…

It’s definitely not common that comedians are friends for over twenty years and business partners as well (Laughs). That’s definitely true. We’re two New Jersey brothers from different mothers and when you have a great partner – you stick with them. I’ve worked with all of my idols over my lifetime. Like I mentioned earlier, Andrew Dice Clay is my comedy idol. I’ve opened for him many times over the last eight years and he’s become one of my closest friends. Lemmy’s my musical idol and I’ve had him on my TV show four or five times. I could’ve never imagined it but I’m glad it happened. I actually drank a Jack and Coke with Lemmy and that was number one on my bucket list.

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You could just retire after that, that’s the pinnacle of metal right there (Laughs)… 

I had a jack and coke with Lemmy so I’m done (Laughs). Anything from here on out is just gravy (Laughs).

There have been some “Stump The Trunk” moments where I felt like you easily knew the answer. Does the audience potentially underestimate your wealth of knowledge? Could you hang in there with Eddie during a trivia competition?

No, I could hardly answer any of them! Are you kidding me? I’m just trying to be a pain in the ass (Laughs). Eddie’s really good so I don’t want to make it too easy for him. That’s why I’m always a pain in his side. Jim and I will just needle him. Even during the hardest question, I’m going to say, ‘That one was easy (Laughs).’ It just gives him a distraction and gets a good reaction out of him every time. The trivia thing is his alone– he has it down to a science. That’s why it’s not “Stump The Florentine,” or “Stump The Jamieson,” because Eddie really is the king of that stuff.

What’s it been like to learn from Eddie and work together all these years? He’s truly the consummate professional on the radio or whenever he’s speaking to guests on the show. He’s just so natural when it comes to talking about his favorite bands….

Jim and I were fans of Eddie’s before we even met him. We would listen to his show when we were driving back from our comedy gigs and we would say, “We have to meet this guy. He’s just like us.’ That’s really how it all started. We met him at Ozzfest and we became friends. It’s a good balance for the show, because even though Jim and I know a lot about hard rock and metal, we’re sort of the goofballs and he’s kind of the straight guy. It really works well on TV because you need one guy who could hold it all together. Ed’s really the anchor of the show, which he does so well.

Photo Credit: Jeff Crespi
Photo Credit: Jeff Crespi

I’m twenty-four years old and I’ve watched every episode since I was eighteen. I didn’t grow up with the original Headbanger’s Ball. When I was fourteen listening to Iron Maiden “Live After Death,” there was a void for the genre on television. Do you take pride in creating an established platform for all generations of hard rock and metal listeners?

Absolutely, we had Headbanger’s Ball growing up because we’re all in our late forties. We had music videos on MTV and Headbanger’s Ball. There was something missing for a long time. Like I said, VH1 Classic was the perfect home because Fox and ABC aren’t running Scorpions videos in the middle of the day. That’s been our home for the last fourteen seasons and we’re psyched to start the new season on February 21st.

Going off your last point, what should fans expect from this upcoming season of That Metal Show? Are there any new elements or returning features that you’re most excited about?

Geddy Lee will be our first guest during the premier episode on February 21st. We’re adding a new wrinkle “Stump The Trunk,” whenever Eddie gets a question wrong, he has to strip down to a song (Laughs).

That will send ratings through the roof (Laughs)…

Or we’ll be off the air by the end of the season. Either way, it’s going to be fun (Laughs).

John Petrucci will be the guest musician as well…

Yeah, it’s going to be a major progressive metal geek out show. We’re also doing 12 brand new episodes and that’s going to take us into the middle of May.

Since it’s been a year since last season aired, what’s your excitement level right now? Are you pumped to get back into the swing of things?

If we could, we would make this a weekly show but we’ll take the shows whenever we can get them. We have a lot of stuff to talk about since so much has happened in the last year. We appreciate people hanging in there and watching the reruns over and over again. We’re going to make this a killer season. It’s going to be really great. It’s another cool and diverse season and everything will be bigger and better including my sideburns (Laughs).

You guys are also playing the Starland Ballroom this week. For the curious fans interested in going, it’s not the same exact format as That Metal show but it has a similar vibe…

If people want to come out and see us live on Friday February 20th at the Starland Ballroom, that would be great. And the next night, they could watch the premiere of That Metal Show and listen to us speak to Geddy Lee and say, “Oh wow, we just saw those guys last night.” We wear New Jersey on our sleeves proudly and it’s definitely a whole Jersey metal weekend.

VH1 Classic’s That Metal Show kicks off the 14th season of ‪#‎TMS‬ with RUSH’s Geddy Lee, Joe Elliott of Def Leppard & John Petrucci on guitar Saturday at 9/8C. Pre-game the TMS premiere by catching, Don Jamieson, Eddie Trunk and Jim Florentine at The Starland Ballroom with musical guest Jackyl. Tickets can be purchased here.

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