Gaze across the head-banging crowd at any local metal show, and you’ll see a mass of black T-shirts that spans the history of the hard-core musical genre: Napalm Death, Pantera, Scorpions, Slayer, and many other hard-rocking titans.
San Antonio, it’s often said, is the Heavy Metal Capital of America, so it stands to reason that this city also vies for consideration as the Heavy Metal T-Shirt Capital of America. And no piece of music merch tells the story of SA’s love of all things heavy as well as the T.
End to end, shoulder to shoulder, from Old English font to Old English font, here are my picks for classic black Tee-shirts any self-respecting San Antonio metal fan has in their collection.
99.5 KISS Rocks San Antonio T-Shirt (the oldest one you can find): Put aside, momentarily, sniping debate about present-day KISS radio. Does the station still rock out? Do the songs suck? Is it even metal? What’s easier to agree on is the station’s importance in our city’s collective hard-rock history.
Back in the mid-’70s, before Ozzy bit a bat, before Metallica went to counseling, and before the music was even widely known as metal, KISS DJs Joe Anthony and Lou Roney played the obscure LPs of then-unknown hard-rocking bands like Legs Diamond, Budgie, Triumph, Moxy, and Judas Priest, circa Sad Wings of Destiny. And while the sounds were hard and heavy, the music was unabashedly alternative, in the true sense of the word.
You would not hear this kind of music anywhere else in the country. Years before the bands broke out nationally, San Antonio hard-rock fans from Military Drive to the Judson Drive-in Theater were not only jamming out to “Blinding Light Show,” commercial-free, but forming a sophisticated taste for the expressive power of heavy metal.
So wear that KISS FM T proudly. You would not be head-banging today without Joe, Lou, and 99.5.
Any Iron Maiden T-shirt: As any ad exec will tell you, a recognizable icon, branding image to product, is half the battle in winning the hearts and wallets of consumers. Think Apple. Think the Keebler Elf. Think Eddie, the grinning skeleton found on Iron Maiden albums.
While the ghoulish cadaver is known to Maiden fans worldwide, for a few years running Eddie made a unique and regular appearance at a distinctly San Antonio event, the annual Lanier vs. Fox Tech Chili Bowl football game.
Heavy metal, as practiced in San Antonio, is primarily a brown thing. Apologies to the gringo headbangers jamming out in Loopland but sheer demographics prove my point. And nowhere is the city more Mexican than Lanier High School, in the heart of San Antonio’s West Side, where Eddie, not too long ago, made a yearly half-time appearance painted large and tall on the booster club banners the Vok football team would run through.
For the 1999 game, billed as “the last Chili Bowl of the century,” Eddie held in his skeletal, outstretched hand a severed and bloody Fox Tech buffalo head.
Try and imagine that weird and wonderful tradition of high-school football, Chicanos, and heavy metal anywhere else but San Antonio.
Go Voks Go.
Ozzy Osbourne - Diary of a Madman Tour T-shirt: Apart from Ozzy’s invaluable musical contribution to the formative metal band Black Sabbath, the rocker will always be remembered for two things: 1) biting the head off a live bat while performing onstage (an accident, Ozzy claims; he thought it was rubber); and 2) pissing on the Alamo. While some have called this last act an eloquent gesture of resistance against gringo oppression, Ozzy swears he was drunk and just couldn’t hold it any longer. In any case, banner headlines crisscrossed the globe regarding this event, and San Antonio made the pages of heavy-metal history.
Incidentally, San Antonio was one of the last tour dates for Randy Rhoades, 25, Ozzy’s talented young guitarist. One month later, Rhoades would die in a freak plane accident while the band was touring Florida.
(Tie) Moxy’s 30th Anniversary Tour
T-shirt and Budgie’s 30th Anniversary Tour T-shirt: In the history of rock, bands, of course, matter. But so do venues. The Roxy, Winterland, the Royal Albert Hall, they all loom large in the annals of pop.
Moxy’s band name, in its distinctive ’70s-era design, decorates the front of the Canadian group’s 30th Anniversary Tour
T-shirt; on the back, a red, white, and blue Texas flag with a single listing, their one U.S. tour date: “Sunken Garden Theatre, San Antonio, Texas” — our very own CBGBs. Sharing the March 20, 2004, bill on Moxy’s return to the city that made them famous was another San Antonio classic-rock favorite, the Welsh metal gods Budgie, on their own three-decade anniversary celebration. On that one day, in that one venue, two venerable bands played before an appreciative and knowledgeable local crowd that spanned a generation. In San Antonio, not only does metal rule, but the music and its bands are remembered, passed on to new fans, and celebrated by both.
Joe Anthony would be proud.