Laugh all you want, haters. But, it takes brass balls to dress up in yellow and black from head to toe, grow your hair long, and use heavy metal as your vehicle to spread whatever message you're passionate about. Oz Fox, born Richard Alfonso Martinez, has played with two of the most influential bands in the 'christian metal' genre: Stryper and, lesser known, but critically acclaimed Seattle band Bloodgood. The end result: 'To Hell With The Devil', the bestselling album in the history of christian metal, the number one spot on Dial MTV (The precursor to TRL for you young hipsters!) and a permanent place in music history. Stryper are the example of a 'spiritual' group achieving what was once thought impossible, crossing over to mainstream success on radio and MTV. Whether you consider Stryper to be genuine artists or musical curiosities, no one can deny Oz Fox's talent on guitar. He's the sonic force behind tracks like 'To Hell With The Devil' and 'Surrender', which showcase the melodic, guitar-heavy appeal of Stryper's music. And don't pretend you didn't get all misty listening to the lyrics of Honestly while you were slow dancing with some bridesmaid at some wedding in 1987. The Blog was fortunate to catch up with Oz when Stryper recently played at Detroit's historic Harpos venue on their 2011 World Tour.
Oz, does it feel like fifty ?
Of course it feels like I'm 50. Actually I became a grandpa in December. My oldest daughter just had a little girl, so I'm really excited about that.
It's been said the Sweet brothers 'recruited' you to join their pre-Stryper project. Were you friends at the time, or were your considered a 'hired gun' ?
No, we were all friends. Michael, Robert, and myself all went to high school together. We ended up hooking up after they started playing the club circuit. Tim Gaines left the band he was playing in, and he was someone they'd been admiring for a long time. When he left his band they got a hold of him.
Who's idea was the yellow and black costumes ?
Yellow and black started with Robert. He painted his drum kit yellow and black and it crept out into the rest of the band. Eventually it turned into stripes. By the time I got into the band, they were already all striped up yellow and black.
When you look back at pictures from that era, particularly those of the skin tight spandex pants, what kind of emotions resurface within you ?
I don't know if it's emotions or if it's just, uh . . .well, it is what it is. In one respect, you have to say, wow, that was an amazing time when bands were doing their best to look the best and have something different. And we certainly had a different look and different way of dressing than anyone else, which was pretty unique.
Was Stryper more or less successful than you imagined from when you first joined ?
I would say more successful. When I joined the band, and when Timmy got in it, we definitely had a Chemistry that worked better than anything else they'd had. I'm speaking of Michael and Robert because they had been playing together as a band for a long long time. Definitely a lot more successful at that point.
Your style of playing has been compared to Jake E Lee and Mick Mars.
First of all I have to say, Jake is an awesome guitar player. Mick is a very, very emotional type of player. These guys have been on the forefront of melodic metal for years. I basically just learned my style from a mix mashhh of being influenced by guys like Van Halen, Michael Schenker, Uli Roth from the Scorpions, Mathias Jabs from the Scorpions, Jeff Beck. Rhandy Rhoads, that's pretty much what I learned and cut my teeth on. Learning those guy's licks. And it wasn't really until later in my career that I started learning theory. Nowadays, some of my favorite guitar players are Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. It's funny how later on in my years I really got into Hendrix and Clapton and started to appreciate them more. In the beginning, that wasn't the case. Tony Iommi was a huge influence and Carlos Santana. Like I said, a mish mash of layers kind of got me going and influence me. I don't necessarily feel like I fit in any one particular mold. To compare me to Jake E Lee or Mick Mars, I have no idea what their influences were. Even being compared to George Lynch, and George blows my mind.
Randy Jackson was a session bass player on Stryper's 1990 release 'Against The Law'. Is it odd to watch him on American Idol ?
No. It's great to see that he's on American Idol. Randy's an icon. I was sick the day he came in to do that so I was bummed that I missed it. But Tim got a big kick out of it.
What's been the high point ?
I don't know. Hard to say when the high point was. Ultimately there's so many different high points, so its very difficult to give you that answer. Playing Budokan in Japan was awesome. Playing Cornerstone Festival in Illinois was a pretty amazing thing. Making it to the number one most requested video on MTV was really a great experience to see that happen.
Was it overwhelming for you had to suddenly take over lead vocals after Michael Sweet quit the band in 1992 ?
The show must go on. That's my attitude. And I was just trying to pay the bills. I could never replace Michael. Never. The guy is incredible. I could never sing like him and I can only sing like me. And I personally would not want to replace Michael in anyway. But you do what you have to do. My attitude at that point was 'well lets make this work and put some food on the table'.
Do you ever wish the band's career had evolved in a different direction ?
No. I'm glad it went the way it went. The coolest thing about Stryper is that no one else can say, they were a faith based band that crossed over to MTV for the first time. And led the way for a lot of other artists like us to do the same.
Jerry Falwell once compared Stryper's practice of throwing Bibles (with the Stryper logo on the cover) into the audience as 'casting pearls before swine'. Did the band feed off that negative press or was it demoralizing ?
That kind of stuff you let slip off. Your heart becomes like silicon. People are blind to the fact God can use any situation to reach people. He can use rock (music) if he wants to. The problem with these people is they get caught up in a spiritual bubble. They can't see past the church doors, which is very sad. God confounds the wise by using simple things to spread his gospel. If these guys are considered the heads of theological knowledge, I don't want to follow them, because they're ridiculous.
You were divorced in 2006 and you're now remarried to an ex-prostitute who has calling to minister to streetwalkers in Las Vegas under the title 'Hookers For Jesus'. You played guitar in Stryper. Has it been challenging for either of you to accept the other's past ?
Absolutely not. Annie loves what I do and supports me way more than I have ever been supported in the past. And as far as her past goes, she is who she is, because of her past. It's a miracle she came out of it, and she has an amazing story. And she uses that story to help other women. And I'm blown away by the fact that she chose me as someone she would trust and be married to. It's an honor. She's an amazing woman, she has an amazing ministry. I'm so happy to be apart of it. Some of these women started when they were twelve to fourteen years old being prostitutes. It's a joy to be an example to them and show them what a true marriage, and what a man is supposed to do with his wife. How a man is supposed to love his wife and protect her. And that's what they see.
How do you deal with the 'stripper for Stryper' jokes ?
Sometimes I join in on them, you know ? You got to admit it is a funny situation. You got these guys who started out in yellow and black spandex pants and hair up to heaven. There are some funny things you can say about it, but it's all in good fun. Anyone who's serious about hating Stryper or mocking us, . .whatever.
If there is any band in the christian metal genre that can be considered one of your peers, it's Bloodgood. What's your experience been like playing guitar with them ?
Those guys are just incredibly talented. I am sorry they got missed. If anybody should have been watched and had the same success as Styper, it's Bloodgood. Those guys are amazing Christians and have amazing hearts, and amazing talents. Their music was awesome and touched a lot of people. I would love for that band to be recognized, which they already have in the christian world. They got inducted into the Christians hall of fame. They are an incredible bunch of guys. We have a good time when we're out playing together and they're some of my closest friends.
for the DRB
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