Reeling out of the British punk scene, a desperate group of metalhead musicians take interest in a young science-fiction artist’s unique sketch. Incorporating the strange creature into their stage performances and album covers, the group begins to foster one of the most recognizable characters in music history.
“I was in London, trying to make it as a male model, but it wasn’t really working out. The whole ‘heroin chic’ thing was years away, so a bloke with my physique was destined for a life of doors slammed in the face, you know? Even the punks and goths didn’t want nothing to do with me. But then these guys spotted me on the street and said, ‘We’re desperate for an image, and you’re perfect! Be on our album cover!’ So I said yeah, figuring it’d be like a steppingstone to something bigger, you know? Well, thirty years later, here I am.” – Eddie, Scene Magazine, 2010
The turbulence of the 1970s had only begun to give way to the coming decadence of the next decade. It’s 1980, and the world mourns the loss of music icon John Lennon, who had been shot in front of the Dakota apartment building, his New York City residence on the Upper West Side. Pac-Man is the hottest video game in the arcades. The 1980 Olympics provide two memorable moments, the boycotting of the Summer Games in Moscow and the Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid. Mount St. Helens erupts and an upstart 24/7 news channel known as CNN first appears on cable television.
1980 serves up some of the most memorable album releases in the history of rock and roll. AC/DC releases Back in Black, arguably the biggest comeback record ever. Judas Priest and Motorhead give birth to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal while The Clash and the Dead Kennedys keep the punk flag flying. And what would eventually become staples of classic rock, Pink Floyd and Queen, both release landmark records.
But this is a story with humble beginnings, the swirling combination of rock music, art, and commerce. This is the story of Iron Maiden, Derek Riggs, and an unlikely animated icon known simply as “Eddie,” who has become an eternal representation of an entire generation of heavy metal fans.
I’m your host, J. Thorn, and this is, “Consequences of Rock.”
“It’s disappointing when you tour one year with Maiden in support and they come out and wear all your clothes…” – K.K. Downing, 1984
Steve Harris came into this world as Stephen Percy Harris on March 12, 1956, in Leytonstone, London.
At 17 years of age, he bought a Fender P-Bass and formed the band Gypsy’s Kiss, and then Smiler. But those weren’t the bands young Steve had hoped to take to superstardom, so he quits Smiler and forms a new band on Christmas Day, 1975.
Harris becomes inspired after watching The Man in the Iron Mask, a film based on an Alexandre Dumas novel with a mention of an eighteenth-century torture device known as the iron maiden.
The new band performs its first show at Cart & Horses pub in Stratford, London, in the spring of 1976. Unfortunately for Harris and the members of Iron Maiden, punk rules the London rock scene. Bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and The Damned leave no room for what will become the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Even Paul Di’Anno, the lead singer of Iron Maiden at the time, is a much bigger fan of punk than heavy metal.
Ironically, both punk and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal espouse a hardcore DIY or “do-it-yourself” attitude.
“I reckon we’re the only real New Wave HM band. ‘Cos we’re the only ones who don’t give a monkey’s. We’re an HM band with punk attitudes.” – Paul Di’Anno
On November 9th, 1979, Iron Maiden releases its first EP known as The Soundhouse Tapes with a song called “Prowler,” which immediately grabs the attention of fans and critics alike. In December of that same year, Iron Maiden signs a record deal with EMI. The songs “Sanctuary” and “Wrathchild” appear on the Metal for Muthas compilation in February of 1980, just before the band’s self-titled debut.
But there’s trouble on the horizon.
“But you know, I like punk music and hardcore, yeah, and most of the heavy metal sound I’m not really a fan of.” – Paul Di’Anno
Di’Anno doesn’t much care for heavy metal, and he doesn’t hide it. Iron Maiden infuses comic book horror and channels the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe while performing at a level of musicianship that punk bands couldn’t, and quite frankly, didn’t care about doing.
In 1981, Harris and band manager Rod Smallwood eventually fire Di’Anno, replacing him with a brash and operatic frontman known as Bruce Dickinson. Dickinson’s vocals on Iron Maiden’s next three records would define the band’s legacy and their place in the halls of heavy metal history. The Number of the Beast (1982), Piece of Mind (1983), and Powerslave (1984) would all be certified Platinum in the United States, selling more than 6 million records combined, worldwide.
But this is still 1980, and Harris is doing his best to keep together a band with a constantly shifting lineup. Iron Maiden releases the first single off their self-titled debut, “Running Free.”
In a stroke of cosmic rock coincidence, KISS invites Maiden to open for them in 1980.
“The guys from KISS were wonderful, especially Gene (Simmons) who was looking after my money, which isn’t exactly my strong point. In fact, he was keeping my dough and was giving me the strict minimum when I really needed it, which prevented me from blowing it on rubbish.” – Paul Di’Anno
Gene Simmons takes the lessons he’d learned from Bill Aucoin and teaches them to a new generation of young and financially irresponsible hard rockers.
In those early days, Harris has bigger problems than a punk as a lead singer. Like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, Slade and Sweet, Megadeth and Metallica—Iron Maiden develops a rivalry with fellow British metal icons, Judas Priest.
Iron Maiden is tagged to support Judas Priest on their 1980 tour. At one point, Di’Anno says that they’ll “blow the bollocks off Priest.” In turn, some members of Priest point out that Iron Maiden is copping their look—black leather, chains, studs.
Like KISS had done when contemplating what to do about the New York Dolls, Maiden faces a similar decision. Does the band compete with Judas Priest or strike off in a different direction? And unlike KISS, Iron Maiden must fight a war on multiple fronts because punk wasn’t going anywhere.
The solution to both problems will be found in a portfolio of an unknown art student.
Iron Maiden begins to take their stage show to the next level, trying to outdo Judas Priest and their shared rivals, punk bands. Maiden incorporates the use of elaborate lights and pyrotechnics. But a guy on their light crew comes up with something unique, innovative—a mask that will eventually be named “Eddie.”
The inspiration for the stage prop comes from former Iron Maiden frontman Dennis Wilcock and his love of KISS. Wilcock would paint a red heart over his eye and then would break blood capsules on stage. Steve Harris liked the theatrical nature of it.
As Steve Harris explained, “The concept of Eddie grew from a joke about a couple who had a son who was born with only a head. The parents spoke to a doctor who said that when the kid grew up they would give him a makeshift body. The couple put Eddie’s head on a stand and looked after him for years until they could have a body made for him. One birthday, the father tells the boy that he’s got a present for him. The boy says, “Not another hat?”
During shows, when the band plays the song “Iron Maiden,” the crew squirts blood from Eddie’s mouth using an aquarium pump.
The stage gag definitely sets the band apart from Judas Priest. Some thought it was Harris’ way of taking a shot at the punk scene.
“Well, I didn’t start the band as any kind of crusade against punk as people seem to think. I couldn’t have because Maiden began in 1975, before all that… It was when Zep and Purple were finishing—a lot of the influences came from them, the twin guitars from Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy, the time changes from Yes and Jethro Tull. We wanted to get all the ingredients in there and come up with something different. But after a year or so we realized we weren’t getting gigs anymore. Then we did ‘ate punk.” – Steve Harris
An hour from London in the coastal town of Portsmouth, an 18-year-old by the name of Derek Riggs is enjoying a DIY movement initiated by punk.
“There were millions unemployed; that’s quite a lot for a country like England. Parts of London were completely rundown… I lived in Finsbury Park — now it’s trendy — and buildings were literally falling down. They were full of squatters. And that was my neighborhood. And this is where English punk rock came from. This is from a bunch of kids who were told that they were nothing, never going to be any good, never be anything.” – Derek Riggs
Riggs recalled to 89.8 FM host Andy Lee that before collaborating with Iron Maiden, “I was painting all sorts of things. Disco covers, jazz, selling the odd portrait… I did some jazz covers at EMI. They started up a new label called Harvest Fusion, which lasted for about two albums before they knocked it on the head… I did the covers for those. Kind of weird, surreal things that weren’t painted very well… because they wouldn’t give me enough time to do it. Story of my life …
“[One day] I was sitting alone in my shed trying to get my painting together. I was doing a lot of work on Symbolism—reading a lot of books, trying to work out what it was all about… Reading a lot of horror books too because I’m sick and twisted inside [laughs]. There was an idea that H.P. Lovecraft came up with that you can make things more horrible by putting them up in your own environment, rather than sticking it out in Transylvania or somewhere. It was in the late 1970s and punk was big—there was this ‘wasted youth’ concept going around: ‘We’ve all been thrown on the dustbin… Help, we’re dying now…’”
Although he didn’t know it at the time, Eddie, “this character with punky hair” that he designed two years before he met Iron Maiden and before they had a recording contract, would become as iconic as Mick Jagger’s tongue or AC/DC’s devil horns.
“I invented the character of Eddie. Eddie came before Maiden.” – Derek Riggs
Riggs had been designing covers for jazz records, and he didn’t think heavy metal was a popular musical movement. His true passion was science fiction artwork.
Derek remembered how his artwork was initially received by the record company.
“One time an art director threw me out of his office because he didn’t think it was a proper rock-album cover. He pointed to a picture on the wall, which was his idea of a rock-album cover — it was an airbrush drawing of a waitress in a short skirt bending over so you could see her knickers. Another record-company art director suggested I go and get my hair cut and paint more normal things because I looked ‘like a weirdo or a mental case’ and I shouldn’t go around painting things like that, and I should get therapy.”
Riggs names his painting “Electric Matthew Says Hello.” He passes the artwork onto his agent who “kept it for a few weeks, then gave it back to me and said, ‘Look we don’t think this is very commercial.’” Riggs shoves the painting back into his portfolio and forgets about it.
As Riggs recounts, “Heavy metal had been the most unpopular form of entertainment in the universe for about five years and it was just starting to make a comeback. Smallwood had this band and he knew he wanted illustrated covers. I went down to Wessex Recording Studios where they were making lots of noise and they were all there.
“I had put lots of things in my portfolio and Steve Harris said ‘well I don’t want pictures of metal women.’ I had this weird comic book science fiction stuff in there… Anyway, they liked ‘Electric Matthew Says Hello’, and they said, ‘give it some more hair and we’ll have that.’”
Riggs draws Electric Matthew during punk rock’s heyday, “a symbol of the ideas at the time that the youth were being wasted by society. Eddie works because I did it properly and people identified with him. I never started out to draw scary stuff, that’s just the way that one picture turned out to look, and I got kind of stuck with it. Sometimes I think God is taking the piss.”
Eddie might have only lasted one record had it not been for the vision of the band. One that included trepanation—drilling a hole in the skull to let the poison out.
“It’s an allusion to an old Aztec custom. Originally the idea was to kill Eddie, but we thought that it was too much. So we trepanated him, like the Aztecs used to do to the sacrifice victims that they offered to their god.” – Bruce Dickinson
Riggs knows he’s on to something massive. “As soon as I had finished painting the first picture of Eddie I sat back in the chair and thought, ‘that picture is going to make me rich and famous.’”
Eddie and Iron Maiden. Two facets of one experience, together establishing both a sound and a brand for decades to come. Aerosmith had its wings, Motorhead had the war pig, and Iron Maiden had “the head.”
Edward T. Head has become the most recognizable member of Iron Maiden, transforming the band from pioneers of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal to a merchandising monstrosity, much like their mentors, KISS, had done in the 1970s.
Generations of fans have come to love Eddie, sporting a version of Derek Riggs’ original artwork that is represented on countless t-shirts and posters.
Today, hardcore metalheads still pack stadiums and arenas to see the band as Iron Maiden stretches well into its fourth decade of existence. They pump their fists, participate in call-and-response choruses with Dickinson, and proudly wear Eddie on their chests.
Could Maiden have been international superstars without Eddie? Possibly. But the allure and mystique of one of heavy metal’s finest wouldn’t be the same without that character.
1992 was the beginning of the end between Derek Riggs and Iron Maiden. At the time, Bruce Dickinson said, “…we wanted to stay nasty and we felt some of Derek’s stuff was getting a bit posey and he was getting pissed off with drawing Eddie.”
By the year 2000, Riggs and Maiden officially parted ways, Eddie on the Fear of the Dark album cover done by Melvyn Grant.
“They kept on changing their minds all the time, then I would get grief for not knowing what they wanted. Working for Maiden is neither as straightforward nor as lovely as they would have people believe.” – Derek Riggs
For Brave New World, Riggs was brutally honest.
“They were so rude and unpleasant about everything, always trying to sound clever and taking credit for the ideas on the covers, that I don’t really care if they do well or not anymore. According to them, they had all the great ideas and I was just the stupid monkey who painted it for them. The truth is that for about 75% of the time they didn’t even know what was going to be on the cover of their album or single… Basically they were just jealous and insecure because the covers were getting more attention than the music.”
Today, Riggs seems to have a love/hate relationship with Eddie, and mostly a hate relationship with the band forever associated with his iconic illustration.
“I don’t really like the music of Iron Maiden. It just seems to be endless boring guitar arpeggiations and Bruce screaming a lot. Again there is a story on the internet that I ‘Hate Metal’ which, of course, is crap, I like some metal, back in the 1970’s I used to listen to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Hawkwind and Uriah Heep but I moved on to listen to other things as well, like Jazz and Classical and weird synthesizer music. I just don’t happen to like the way Maiden sound and I think their lyrics are a bit childish, it’s all monsters and war and they are all just based on movies they have seen.”
Iron Maiden continues to tour, recording music and sharing it with devoted fans across the globe. In a world of disposable rock stars and forgettable music, Steve Harris’ band has garnered a legion of followers who proudly wear Eddie on shirts, hats, and just about anything else the band can merchandise.
Had Riggs tossed “Electric Matthew Says Hello” into the garbage instead of putting it into his portfolio, who knows what the consequence of that action might have been?
Derek Riggs, much like Sean Delaney did with KISS, feels as though he never received proper credit from the band, one that he apparently never liked. Derivative versions of Eddie continued to be created long after Riggs had stopped drawing him. And yet, in a way, Riggs has gotten the accolades he believes he deserved—from fans of heavy metal who are as loyal to the guy who drew Eddie as to the band who played on stage beneath him.
I’m your host, J. Thorn. And this is “Consequences of Rock.”
Episode written by J. Thorn, edited by Eve Paludan.
Recorded at 88.7 FM WJCU studios.
Audio mixed and engineered by Adam Phillips.
Produced by J. Thorn and Adam Phillips.
All research was conducted at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – Library and Archives in Cleveland, Ohio, with a special thanks to Jennie Thomas, Director of Archives, William Jackson, Archives Assistant, Sule Holder, Library Assistant, and Laura Maidens, Librarian.
Dismal Hand – The Whole Other
1973- Bruno E
Punk in Donuts- Hanu Dixit
St. Francis- Josh Lippi and the Overtimers
Fresno Alley- Josh Lippi and the Overtimers
Burning Time – Threefold Law
Ether Oar- the Whole Other
The Machine Assembly- the Whole Other
“Ambience, London Street, A.wav” by InspectorJ (www.jshaw.co.uk) of Freesound.org
Laugh track. Tim.kahn of freesound.org
For a complete list of sources cited, see the show notes for this episode.
Daniels, Neil. Killers: The Origins of Iron Maiden. Soundcheck Books, 2014.
Stenning, Paul. Iron Maiden: 30 Years of the Beast: The Unauthorised Biography. Chrome Dreams, 2006.
Brown, Jake. Iron Maiden in the Studio: The Stories Behind Every Album. John Blake, 2011.
Artwood, Dave, et al. Iron Maiden: British Metal. Abstract Sounds Books, 2010.
Daniels, Neil. Iron Maiden: The Ultimate Unauthorized History of the Beast. MBI, 2012.