Neil Daniels: Freelance Writer of Rock & Metal

By Jeb Wright

Neil Daniels is a rock-writing wonder.  The man keeps pumping out books nearly as fast as Martin Popoff!  And the books keep getting better.  His latest efforts on Iron Maiden and Pantera are beautifully done and expertly researched.

Classic Rock Revisited caught up with the writing wonder to see just how he does it and to refute those rumors that he lives in his Parent’s basement chained to his typewriter.  

Read on to learn how one master rock scribe goes about selecting his subjects, doing his painstaking research and releases his works to be gobbled up by the rock and roll reading public.

At the end of this chat there are links with more information on how to purchase his books. 

Jeb:  My god you have been busy! Are you doing full time rock scribe work these days? 

Neil: I’ve never worked full time as a rock scribe. I don’t think it’s possible these days in this economy. Times are tough, here and in the US, right? I did, when I started out, have thoughts of being a fulltime writer but it never happened. I can’t risk it now – rent, bills, holiday/sick pay. I can’t afford to lose all that.

I’ve actually just released three books via Createspace which, as many people might know, is Amazon’s print on demand company. AOR Chronicles and Rock & Metal Chronicles are hefty 400+ page books featuring dozens of reviews of albums mostly released over the past decade or so during the time I’ve been a writer. Hard Rock Rebels is basically my two Rock N Roll Mercenaries books (out of print) together in one 476 page book with bonus interviews. It features dozens of interviews I’ve done with members of Maiden, Priest, Queensryche, Van Halen, and many more. AOR features the “lighter” albums I’ve reviewed over the past decade and Rock & Metal features the heavier stuff while Hard Rock Rebels is a massive 476 page book that features all the Interviews I’ve done for magazines. It doesn’t include the countless more interviews I’ve done for my book work, though. Maybe I’ll put those in print some other day. Details can be found at my blog, I’m also on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Linkedin.

Jeb:  How do you explain your ability to keep these books coming at such a pace?  It is pretty amazing.

Neil: I work at a high school so I get 12 weeks off work a year so I have a lot of time to write then plus two evenings a week and most Sundays. I’m well organized so I manage to get a lot done and I’ve cut back on magazine work preferring to work on books instead.

Jeb:  How do you decide who to write about? 

Neil: Either I have an idea that I pitch to a publisher or they ask me. I’ve got a book out on UFO before Christmas which was the publisher’s idea. I’m really pleased with it. It covers the band’s entire history. It’s being typeset right now. I’ve also got books out on ZZ Top, Bon Jovi and an origins book on a huge British metal band due in the next sixth months as well as Createspace books that I work on in between the commercial stuff. Keeps me busy!

Jeb:  Once you decide on a subject, where does your research begin? 

Neil: I usually start by creating a timeline of events and then compile all the research. Write the book as a sort of loose book plan and build the research into it and watch it go from maybe 500 words to 80,000 words. I’m currently working on a book on the first eight years of a major heavy metal band and the amount of detail has been overwhelming to be honest. Very confusing indeed, but I’m pretty confident I’ve got it nailed.

Jeb:  You interview many behind the scenes people.  How do you track them down?

Neil:  Regarding my Pantera book, thankfully a majority of people are on Facebook. That’s the modern world, I guess. Some friends from childhood didn’t reply to my messages but many did. I also got in touch with some producers and record label people; some refused my requests for interviews, others didn’t. That happens especially with a band whose history is as complicated as Pantera’s. Some interviews were done by email; many were done on the phone. Stuart Taylor, Dime’s best buddy, was a massive help. I also spoke with ex-singers Terry Glaze, Donny Hart and Dave Peacock and they were great.

Jeb:  My one critique of some of your books is that there are not enough ‘current’ interviews with the subjects.  Do you find getting them to talk when they know you are writing a book is tough?  Does management push back sometimes?  Any specific examples?

Neil: Sometimes the publisher’s prefer for the artists not to get involved because it gets too complicated especially regarding money so I try to dig deeper by speaking to roadies, produces, friends, etc.

Jeb:  I finished your Pantera book.  WOW.  That is a good stuff, man.  I like how you focus on the entire band and not just Dimebag. 

Neil: If you look at the band from Cowboys from Hell onwards you see a short body of work that is vital to the progression and growth of modern American metal. They made a huge splash on the scene and throughout the 1990s with Slayer they were the two bands that kept the flag flying for metal. Dime was also an incredibly gifted guitarist and obviously became one of the greatest in metal. Before Cowboys they made fun party pop metal. Don’t forget they were just kids self-releasing their own music. Their live shows went down with a storm and they were hugely popular on the Texas club scene. Dime – then known as Diamond Darrell – proved his worth very early on.

Jeb:  What do you learn about a band like Pantera when you spend so much time researching them and talking to people about them?

Neil: Anselmo is certainly a complex man with a difficult past. I’m looking forward to reading his book. He’s a fascinating individual. I didn’t speak to any members of the band but rather ex-members, producers, roadies, friends. I think it gives the book an objective slant.

As for the split, it takes two to tango. I think everyone had their own part to play but of course everyone has their own side of the story. The second Down album killed it for the band – Rex and Anselmo were concentrating on Down and Pantera was coming to an end. It was a nasty break up but most band break ups usually are. But I don’t think one individual can be blamed.

Jeb:  You did an amazing Iron Maiden style coffee table book.  How did you come up with that idea? 

Neil:  I’d seen Phil Sutcliffe’s books on AC/DC and Queen and loved them so I pitched some ideas to the publisher and Iron Maiden was the one that got commissioned. It came out amazingly well with a cover designed by none other than Derek Riggs. I’m really pleased with the book and it seems to be doing well.

Jeb:  Talk about the cover and the holes in Eddie’s eyes?  That’s cool. 

Neil: Very cool – the publisher’s got in touch with Riggs and I guess together they came up with something very cool. It looks fantastic. It’s certainly my best looking book.

Jeb:  You have tour dates, set lists….do you go crazy getting all that info?  How do you do it?

Neil: A guy in the States called Ryan LaMar runs a site  dedicated to Maiden’s touring history and provided all the details for the book.

Jeb:  Which is better for you…working with a publisher or doing self-publishing?

Neil: I enjoy both especially with all this Createspace stuff I’m doing. But I guess the commercial stuff is my best – nothing beats having an editor, proofreader, designer etc.

Jeb:  Do you ever come out of the writing room?  You write so much I fear you are in a dark corner of your Parent’s basement with nothing but a computer and a lamp and you just working away at a feverish pace!!

Neil: I work pretty fast, plus my books come in all different word counts. I’m not quite Dave Thompson, Martin Popoff or Joel McIver but then it’s not a race. I respect those guys enormously and own many of their books. I’ve just had six weeks off work for the school summer holidays so I’ve got a lot of work done. I just wish I could have a holiday [laughter].

Jeb:  Talk more about Maiden and what their music means to you.

Neil: I think the post Dickinson reunion era (i.e. now) is simply wonderful. The band has gone from strength to strength both in the studio and onstage; taking risks and challenging themselves and their fans. Obviously I have a love for the early Dickinson stuff too, especially Piece of Mind and Seventh Son.       

Somewhere In Time has its strengths despite the dubious reaction it got back in 1986 and still gets today from some fans. I like the fact that Maiden are not willing to stick to an agenda yet whatever they do still sounds like Maiden.  I think Judas Priest could learn a thing or two from Maiden.

Jeb: Lets be serious a moment.  Music to me is very spiritual.  I love the music from the 70’s and 80’s.  What do you think makes that music so special and why do guys like us feel the need to make sure and record the stories of that era?

Neil: Much of it is nostalgic, I think. I love music from the eighties too – most of my favorite bands are pre-Grunge. I realize it sounds ignorant but I don’t listen to many new bands. I’m very old school. I’m spending much of my time filling in the gaps in the back catalogues of my fav artists. But it’s all personal taste. I guess us diehards are worried this stuff isn’t being taken seriously so we make efforts to keep notes for historical purposes.

Jeb:  I have heard you wrote a fiction rock book.  What’s the scoop on that? 

Neil: I wrote it a while back for a bit of fun and when I started to work on Createspace books I saw the perfect opportunity to release it. It looks pretty cool. Here’s the premise:

This fictional rock memoir tells the story of Johnny Cannon, an Alice Cooper tribute singer who was once in a band called The Druids, one of the most exciting and distinctive bands of the hair metal era. They released two albums (The Flight Of The Druids and Kingdome Come) and toured the UK, Europe, America and Japan. Vividly recalled and explicitly written, this “mock rock memoir” is filled with hilarious anecdotes, candid diary entries and is also a handy historical document of a bygone era. Hair metal was big business in the eighties until grunge exploded and consequently it became universally derided and a “thing of the past.” Many bands lost their record deals, folded or suffered constant line-up changes and were reduced to playing in tiny clubs. Johnny Cannon was there and he can tell you everything.

Johnny Cannon tells the history of The Druids and the hair metal genre from the early eighties to 1991 when everything changed. It’s My Life (Stories Of Excess By A Former 80s Rock Star Turned Tribute Singer) is Britain’s answer to Motley Crue’s hugely successful autobiography, The Dirt.

Jeb:  Speaking in generalities, how do the British compare to the Americans when it comes to the historical value and current goings-on of the artists from the time period we are discussing?

Neil: I’m not sure if I see a difference to be honest – certainly the magazine industry seems stronger in the UK than the US right now. The internet has had a massive impact on printed media so anyone can set up a site and become an historian of some kind. I guess in the UK as we’re a much older country we’ve got a long history of keeping notes for historical purposes, it’s inherent in our genes.

Jeb:  What book do you most want to write?  If there were no limitations, what would be your dream book?

Neil: If I had the talent, energy and drive I’d like to write a huge book similar to Ian Christe’s book on heavy metal but I can’t say what the subject would be. Somebody might steal my idea [laughter]!

Jeb:  What is in your future?  What projects are coming up? 

Neil: I’ve had 18 books published with titles on Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Journey and Metallica as well as AC/DC and Bon Jovi et al. I’ve got commercial bios out this year on Pantera, UFO, Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet and ZZ Top. It’s pretty exciting. Like I said earlier, I’d like to move between the self-published stuff which fills in the gaps between the commercial releases.

Jeb:  You have worked with many legendary writers and photographers.  You can see a lot of great names in the Maiden book.  What do you learn from these people?

Neil: To stay polite and friendly – keep your contacts. I know two writers who are despised because they’re not very nice people so be kind to everyone, even if it’s through gritted teeth, because you never know what the future holds.

Jeb:  Last one:  If you could go back in time and do an interview with anyone in the music business, who would it be and at what particular point in time would it be?

Neil: There’d be a few – Tina Turner in the 80s, Billy Joel in the 70s, Freddie Mercury after Live Aid, Ozzy during No More Tears; there are too many to name.