I once had a dog that bit Scott “Wino” Weinrich.
At the time Scott was not what he is today, a legend of doom metal — a subgenre of heavy metal rock music — but an eight-year-old kid growing up in Maryland. It was the early 1970s and Scott was my next-door neighbor. He was trying to remove a tick from the body of Christopher Robin, my half-poodle, half-retriever mutt. When Scott pulled the tick, Robin turned and bit him.
A minor bit of local folklore, but also useful when you consider the career, and recent comeback, of Wino, who has become something of a legend. Scott Weinrich is a doom metal god and a member of the band St. Vitus, which has a stellar new album out this week. But Wino is also a supremely gifted musician and a very intelligent dude. And, as the tick story shows, he even has a tender side. All those attributes may have cost him in his career. But his time may have now come.
Weinrich was born in 1961 (three years before me), and was friends with my older brothers Joe and Michael. In fact, I can even claim that my brothers jammed with Wino in the early 1970s. They even wrote a song together, “Oh Beth.” Wino also taught guitar to Daryl Davis, who is today one of the masters of boogie-woogie piano and has played with Chuck Berry. Daryl lived down the street.
We spent every Christmas with the Weinrichs — Scott’s sister Lori is my age and we have mutual friends — and one thing that was obvious was that Scott is a highly intelligent guy. It’s something that I’ve noticed about a lot of metal fans. They seem like headbangers but when you talk to them they can easily converse about politics, culture and, of course, the sub-genres of metal. He also has a great sense of humor, and a gentleness that occasionally flashes through the grim faces he makes on stage. I’m not saying that there weren’t drugs, violence and arrests (I saw one myself). But that’s not the whole picture — as people who listen to all of Wino’s music, not just the metal albums, can attest to. Of course, seeing Wino once a year at Christmas probably didn’t give me a full picture, and I’m not claiming to know him very well. I am certain that he had some smoking hot girlfriends, one of whom arrived at Christmas dinner in the early ’80s wearing a sexy top and skin-tight black leather pants. I think the image of her in those pants got me through football camp that summer.
In the late 1970s Scott got into heavy metal music, particularly Black Sabbath. He formed a metal band called The Obsessed, and although by that time I was in prep school and metaphorically in a different universe, I would occasionally hear about Wino. There are a few stories from that time that stand out. One is when The Obsessed played the annual neighborhood picnic at the local school. We lived in suburbia, and the concert was “The Exorcist” meets “The Nelsons,” complete with smoke, loud noise and freaked-out parents. One of them shut the band down. Rock and roll!
Another was when my best friend in high school, “Shorty” Kane, who was dating Wino’s sister Lori, got his first look at Scott, who by that time was all leather and denim, with hair down to his waist and a body covered in tattoos. Shorty was a real smart ass, and was riding in a car with Lori and her mom when they passed Scott and two buddies riding toward them on a motorcycle. Shorty had never seen Scott, only heard about him, and had no idea who it was. He immediately went into smart-ass mode: “Hey man, check it out!!! BORN TO BE WILD!!! CHECK OUT THE DINKS!!! WHO ARE THOSE GUYS?”
“Well,” Mrs. Weinrich said, “one of them is my son.” She still laughs about the look on Shorty’s face.
The third story is the most relevant to today, because it has to do with Scott’s talent. Sometime in the early 1980s Scott invited my brother Michael to watch them rehearse. At the time we were all listening to Elvis Costello and Culture Club, as well as the classic bands from the 1960s, and I didn’t think my brother would be too impressed. When he came back, I was ready for some Spinal Tap jokes. My brother walked through the front door, his face dead serious. “Scott,” he said, “knows exactly what he is doing.” Shortly after this, St. Vitus, a band Scott joined after The Obsessed disbanded, released the album “Born Too Late,” which is now considered a classic.
I always knew Scott was talented, but I recently learned that his talent has become even sharper, his songs richer, over the years. I recently had to go to the doctor for a long medical procedure and was in a nasty mood, and I clicked on iTunes to download some music — some heavy metal. I needed that wall of sound, those thick guitars, ass-rumbling bass and power vocals. It would help me power through. Then I saw it: Wino! Still at it! He was no longer with The Obsessed or St. Vitus, but had been in a bunch of different bands and released some solo records over the years. Wanting to do a solid for a hometown guy, I downloaded <his albums “Adrift” and “Punctuated Equilibrium.”
When I put on the headphones, I got a surprise. “Adrift” is an acoustic album. It is Wino and his guitar, with (almost) nothing else. It is also a great record, and I would say that even if I had never met Wino. I listened to his other albums, and it hit me: Is Scott Wino Weinrich really a heavy metal musician? It is the deepest sacrilege to suggest not; in the last few years Wino’s reputation has transformed into legend. Metal fans think of him the way conservatives do Ronald Reagan, as a man who never compromised his vision and is now in the pantheon of the greats.
Yet while Wino has been playing doom metal straight up for more than 30 years, his talent goes far beyond the genre. In “Heavy Kingdom,” a record he recently made with his friend guitarist Conny Ochs, he covers folk singer Townes Van Zandt and even quotes a lick from Neil Young. “Heavy Kingdom” is also an acoustic album, and for me it’s just good music that defies category. Wino is a true free spirit and artist who follows his muse not matter where it takes him. Now what happened to the chick in the leather pants?
Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.