The general rule is that anyone in a band is replaceable except for the lead singer.
There is something so immediately striking about a change in vocal timbre that makes a group sound like an entirely different entity, which usually comes at the expense of a fanbase. Although it’s not entirely unheard of (just ask Brian Johnson or Sammy Hagar), it’s usually best to leave well enough alone when it comes to the pipes.
Iron Maiden is one of these special cases where a band really took off after switching vocalists. Although their two records with Paul Di’Anno were greatly successful at the time, his ever increasing issues with drugs and alcohol rendered the singer nearly impossible to work with.
According to most accounts, Di’Anno was fired from the band after a short run of shows in Scandinavia during the fall of 1980.
As it turns out, Iron Maiden had already been making plans for life after Paul Di’Anno, having met with Samson frontman Bruce Dickinson somewhat secretly in the month prior. Dickinson spoke of the experience to Rolling Stone: “I did two auditions actually.
The first one was just in a rehearsal room. They asked me to learn four songs and I thought, “Well, they’ve only got two albums. I’ll learn them all.” So we bashed through a load of them, and then we started bashing through old Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple covers because we knew them all.
“And then they had to go off and do some gigs with the old singer, Paul [Di’Anno], in Sweden. So I thought, ‘Well, that must be kind of difficult because they just had this kind of very fun day with me.’ And then they came back and said, ‘OK, well, we fired him and so now we want to give you a test in a recording studio just to make sure we’re not hearing things.’
“So I went and there was the late, great [producer] Martin Birch. And I sang over four backing tracks that they recorded live in Japan. And it was Siskel and Ebert, two thumbs up, and I was in that night.
So we all went down to a UFO concert, I think, at a theater somewhere and drank a lot of beer. And then the rest is history. The hard work actually began the next day.”
The live transition between singers was as swift as could be, with Di’Anno’s last show being on September 10th in Denmark and Dickinson’s first on October 26th in Italy. For their part, Dickinson’s Samson bandmates were not thrilled with the situation.
They got lawyers involved and prevented from being credited as a songwriter on Iron Maiden’s true breakthrough album Number Of The Beast. Such is life…
Check out Bruce Dickinson’s earth-shattering audition tape with Iron Maiden right here!