Friday, June 1, 2012

In Memory: Michael D. Grant III

A sad day for metal, and a bad blow for me personally. Today I lost a close friend. And we lost a true talent, singer Michael D. Grant III, of Crescent Shield, passed away at 39. Mike’s melodic baritone voice graced pro recordings by Legend Maker, Onward and finally Crescent Shield. Sure, he was a singer, but he was also a gifted lyricist and songwriter. Even though he didn’t play an instrument, Mike would sing or hum guitar and bass lines or drum parts. His passion was music, particularly heavy metal. Acting was his other forte, and he brought that theatrical flair with him to whatever he sang, especially on stage. Acting out the lyrics with all sorts of motions and gestures! CS or “The Shield” was his true calling, the band he formed with comrade in arms Dan DeLucie before Destiny’s End folded. The pinnacle of Mike’s career was performing with “The Shield” at the Keep It True open air festival in Germany in 2008, and the footage is the proverbial proof in the pudding that heavy metal is missing one of its great frontmen.

MDG III and me at the Anaheim Destiny's End/Nevermore/Iced Earth tour gig - 5/14/99 

Personal memories? They’re many and far reaching.

I first met Mike Grant at the House of Blues in Hollywood at an Yngwie Malmsteen concert in late 1995. Mike had recently relocated to L.A. from Connecticut. I was wandering around outside the venue before the gig when I saw this dude wearing a Forbidden longsleeve. Though I was a lot more reserved back then, I went up to him and remarked that it was good to see someone flying the flag of such a killer technical/melodic and traditional metal band in those barren times. Mike instantly opened up, a super friendly guy, and we had a long chat about all sorts of favorite bands we had in common (Savatage, Sanctuary, Fates Warning, Queensyrche, etc.).

I then asked the question I’d been reserving for last, “So, do you play an instrument?”
“No, but I sing!” was Mike’s reply.

And he wasn’t lying—unlike the usual L.A. wannabes—I’d find out later. Mike’s instrument was his voice, and he used it to show instrumentalists what he heard in his head to orchestrate a song.

I didn’t get Mike’s number at the end of the Yngwie show, but we said we’d see each other at the next metal gig. And, rest assured we repeatedly did at nearly every club imaginable in the SoCal area. I kept badgering Mike about using his vocal services. At first for the band I was forming in 1996 with Mike Bear (bass), and later for my own project (Obscure), but somehow we never recorded a note together, nor played a gig in the same band. We shared the stage in different bands and watched each other perform countless times, egging a metal bro on from the front row. Oh, but we did jam many a time, off stage – in the rehearsal room or at home. It was during those many jams that I witnessed firsthand the enormous talent and larger than life personality that was “MDG III,” as he was referred to for short. The skill! A great pair of ears and pipes! Naturally precise pitch, emotionally charged delivery and a keen ear for what each instrument could accomplish towards the greater whole of a song.

While L.A. is a massive metropolis, and tons of superficial people abound, Mike was a no-bullshit type of guy you could depend on – never so self-absorbed that he forgot to ask you about your life. Always willing to help a friend in need! Mike was always struggling to make ends meet with “day jobs,” like any aspiring musician or actor in L.A. One of Mike’s many jobs was as a manager in a photocopy shop, where he pitched in to assist me in keeping my tiny publishing business (Tsathoggua Press) afloat by sneaking in free or heavily discounted jobs. He could’ve gotten the sack for it, but he went out of his way for a close friend.

Big city or not, L.A. actually has a very incestuous little metal scene, and the same fans and musicians are spotted from venue to venue. Everybody seems to know each other or has answered a “musicians wanted” ad placed by a friend’s band and so on. So, it wasn’t a big surprise in 1997, when I discovered that Mike Grant had become pals with New Eden guitarist Dan DeLucie and his sister Linda simultaneous to me, bassist Mike Bear and Prototype guitarist Kragen Lum. Friendships were solidified then that lasted – far beyond any of the stereotypical L.A. facade – for well over a decade. A close-knit circle of metal friends, a “metal posse” as Mike Grant’s cohort in “The Shield,” bassist Mel Sisneros, called it. MDG III was definitely one of the blazing personalities in that ring. He kept us amused by acting out all sorts of goofy scenarios on our various outings. It was rare that our Mr. Grant ever missed a chance to hang out with the whole group of metalheads. And for a good several years I probably saw MDG III at least once a week, despite the fact that he lived in the heart of L.A. proper, while I was on the western edge of the San Fernando Valley.

Mike, being of a thespian bent (he was a born actor, I tell ya!), was a total film fanatic. It was the second thing he loved after his metal. One of Mike’s many jobs was hawking promo tickets to advance screenings of new movies. He was always hooking his friends up with free passes, or accompanying them to theaters all over the “southland,” as the newcasters like to call El Lay. One of the funniest episodes of my friendship with Mike revolves around the flick Cube. We saw it near his old Miracle Mile pad at the Beverly Center. The premise of the movie revolved around a group of amnesiac people imprisoned within a booby-trapped maze, rigged up with all sorts of treacherous contraptions to slay its human occupants. None of the prisoners knew why they were ensnared or how to exit the cube of the flick title. Mike and I followed the arrows and signs, exited the mall to the multi-storey garage. We headed straight for the level and section where he’d parked his little black Honda. Only to find the bloody car was missing. We proceeded to check every level of the garage, but... No cigar! Figuring the thing was stolen, we headed back into the mall to flag down security, only to both smack ourselves in the head for our own mistake. We discovered that the flick had put our noggins in such a spin that we neglected to realize there were two garage towers on opposite sides of the mall. Go figure! The movie had achieved its desired mind-fuck, and we laughed our asses off the entire way back to Mike’s place.

I mentioned jamming together... It was my pleasure to play heavy-ass metal with good pal Mike for nearly a couple of years, between 1998 and 2000. You see, our singer in Destiny’s End lived in Texas, while we four instrumentalists were in La La Land. Mike not only loaned us his stereo power amp the few times that our singer was actually in town, but... He also sang for Destiny’s End during, by my estimate, upwards of 100 rehearsals. Reason being? We wanted to be well-rehearsed with a vocalist for gigs. Also, guitarist Dan DeLucie and I wanted to give Mike a chance to keep his voice in shape for his own efforts. In Destiny’s End rehearsals Mike fit like a glove, and I honestly felt like he was a member of the band. As I’ve stated previously here, there were many times when I wished he had been our DE singer. He was honest, dependable, down-to-earth and always enthusiastic about his beloved metal.

There were other jams, though! A metal family consisting of me, Mike Bear (then in Prototype), Ana Greco (then in Rapture and Faustus) and Mike Grant (then in Ocean Seven) often fooled around with tunes on our time off from rehearsing with our respective bands. Mike cracked us up by mouthing what he felt was the most clich√© riff from his first-ever band back in CT (Morpheus), forcing us to play it. I’ll remember that silly ditty till the day I die, I think, thanks to Mike’s antics.

On a couple of occasions, I loaned Mike (and Dan DeLucie) the use of my multi-effect unit to put delay and reverb on his voice for Onward or early Crescent Shield demos. I was the first person outside of Dan who heard the demo of “The Waterfall Enchantress,” and it just floored me. The hairs on my arms were standing on end. Mike had succeeded in transforming what was previously just Toby Knapp's instrumental metal track (Onward had no identity yet) into a riveting and heart-rending journey. You could sense he felt every last line he sang. No going through the motions for Mike!

Though Mike and I hadn’t seen each other in a while (we last hung on my second to last L.A. visit in April ’09), we kept in touch online. In our last chat he seemed to upbeat, coming out of the gloomy aftermath of his long-time girlfriend Sue Lee’s untimely death in 2011. We spoke about working on something musically together in the near future. He asked me to email our mutual pal Dan DeLucie to get the ball rolling. I’m crushed to say that’ll never happen. I’m left pondering what sort of metal magic that triumvirate could’ve wrought.

I suppose I’ve got to close this out. I have a wealth of fond memories of hanging out with Mike, which is a small consolation for not being able to grow old with him. To be old farts singing classic metal tunes on the fogy farm! I speak for all of Michael D. Grant III's friends, when I say “Rest in peace brother! You’ll always be on our minds…”

Crank up some Onward and Crescent Shield Mike's honor, and when you’re done with that, spin some Savatage, Fates Warning and Sanctuary! I know he would’ve liked that…

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