Everybody has a handful of musicians and bands that they’ll lean on when discussing those who were underrated or didn’t get a good enough break. Among those in the hard rock and heavy metal genres, Armored Saint is one of my go-tos in that regard.
I truly feel that they could have been America’s answer to Judas Priest, keeping the flag waving on the continent for so-called traditional heavy metal when glam and thrash metal were gaining more dominance in the mid to late 1980s. They’ve got killer songs, have an outstanding vocalist in John Bush (who would later gain more popularity singing for Anthrax), and continue to whip crowds into a frenzy to this day. To describe them, I’ll say they have elements of the European metal sound of an Accept or Scorpions mixed with the American hard rock of Aerosmith and Van Halen. That’s the best I can do for a description, as there’s no substitute for listening for yourself. If you’re new to the band, you’ll know them fairly well after a good scroll down this page, and you could get to know them even better if their documentary ever sees the light of day.
In today’s post, I’m once again going to present customized trading cards that I’ve made to commemorate the lineup of a band that I view as their “classic lineup” (I did this with King Crimson previously). There haven’t been a great deal of lineup variations within Armored Saint, but I still viewed my inclusions as somewhat of a difficult decision. One thing I knew for sure is that I was going to go with a two-guitarist lineup. From a live perspective, two guitarists works best for their material since that’s how most of it was recorded (their Raising Fear album in 1987 was the only one made entirely with a single guitarist). At the end of the day, I concluded that Dave Prichard has to be in the classic Armored Saint lineup. He died from leukemia in 1990, and the years following would mean he would not be a member of their longest-lasting lineup. His legacy lives through the band, and he even contributed heavily to the first album the band released following his passing in 1991’s Symbol of Salvation. It’s for this reason that I will dub the “classic lineup” of Armored Saint as being the one that solidified in the early days, the quintet that dates back to their “Lesson Well Learned” recording for the Metal Massacre II compilation album.
Unfortunately, that leaves the long-serving Jeff Duncan on the outside looking in. He nonetheless deserves honourable mention given his tenure with the band from a touring member beginning in 1989 to being part of their current incarnation that has kept its form since Symbol of Salvation and is in-tact on their latest album Punching the Sky. I’ll also add that while putting these cards together, I’ve envisioned this set as a “lost set” that could have been released somewhere around where they were gaining significant momentum as a band in the mid-’80s while with a major record label in Chrysalis Records. For that reason, I can’t include Jeff as a Saint member with these cards.
What’s the inspiration for my designs this time around? I’ve looked to the national pastime of hockey and the 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee set featuring National Hockey League players. I always liked the combination of the larger action shot as the main image with a close-up used in the bottom where you can see their faces better (even the goalie cards showed them unmasked). As a baseball fan, I could just as easily have looked to the 1983 Topps baseball set, but as a Canadian I’m much more accustomed to seeing the hockey card design. The use of similar design elements between the sets was likely a deliberate choice, though I wonder why Topps’ football sets in the mid-’80s didn’t also made use of this.
Anyway, on with the band, and we begin with the man who fronts the outfit.
Getting a trading card with John Bush in knight’s armor would have been one hell of a pull from a pack back in the day! He may not have had the star power of Ronnie James Dio or Ozzy Osbourne, but images such as this one would leap out to a card collector regardless of where the man stood in the metal vocalist pecking order. Live photos of the band in decent quality (and in colour) are fairly hard to come by, particularly during the first half of the 1980s. For this gem of an image, I give credit to photographer Kevin Estrada. For a man that got the photo the hard way by sneaking a camera into a show taped to his back, I salute you! Know that my use of the image is just a labour of love, and I’m not monetizing these cards in any form. I suppose since he also obtained this photo without permission, that would mean I’m merely stealing from a thief (to quote the Anthrax song).
The front of the cards are fairly self-explanatory given I already directed you to the source of inspiration. Instead of listing their entire instrument on the front, I took the lead of their hockey equivalent and used single letter abbreviations (V for vocals, G for guitar, etc.). Like most other cards I’ve crafted and shared over the years, I threw my site’s logo on there for identification purposes.
The back of the originals used a white hockey stick in the background. I was considering using the band’s logo, but I believe from card to card (should the set expand to include other bands) there should be something more consistent. That’s why I went with the silhouette of a guitar. Still, I felt the backs needed something a bit extra. The hockey cards did not include team logos, but I figure I’d slap the band’s logo next to my own. It reads better than if I placed it in the background. A member of the FanArt.tv community submitted this logo to their massive image library, which I re-coloured to match the established palette. You could technically say the backs of these cards are closer to the American Topps variants, which uses a larger font since O-Pee-Chee was required by Canadian federal law to print their cards in both English and French. I just wanted to include more information about each person on them, especially since they don’t have statistics the way athletes do. It also was wise as I don’t want to embarass myself to any French readers out there with some crude translations.
I made references to two more established bands on the back because that sort of trivia is exactly what would make such a set worth buying. For those not in the know, Metallica confirmed their interest in the singer during their 30th Anniversary Concert, during which they also had Bush perform “The Four Horsemen” with them. The Huey Lewis bit was a shocker to me. I can enjoy his songs every now and then, but I didn’t make habit of giving their music videos all that much attention. Have a look at “The Heart of Rock & Roll” for yourself. He’s got much more makeup, but that definitely seems to be him. Pretty young thing, wasn’t he?
You can’t have a metal band without a guitarist, so next I’ve got the previously mentioned Dave Prichard.
Once again, a great shot from Kevin Estrada’s personal collection as the central photo. You get a bonus look at John Bush lurking in the background, sort of like the thrill of getting the card of a fourth-liner that has a cameo of one of the star players. Not that Dave wasn’t a star in his own right. There’s no telling what notoriety he would have achieved had he lived longer, whether it was with Armored Saint or in another project. I don’t know if anybody actually called Dave “Red” either, but it seems like a common enough nickname, and one that I took advantage of to squeeze in a corny pun. As for the new level he reached on their next album, Delirious Nomad, this was out of necessity. Due to a lineup change at some stage of the album’s recording, Dave was left as the band’s only guitarist (though Phil Sandoval did record some of the guitar prior to leaving the band).
Next is the bringer of the low-end, Joey Vera.
Joey was one of my favourite bassists when I was first learning the instrument. He always managed to cut through the mix in their songs (far from a certainty in metal music in general), so you could hear how thought out his bass lines are. He adds heft to the band’s sound without following the guitar riffs 100% of the way, making tasteful deviations while locked in with the drums. He also happens to be a member of another band I would later become a big fan of in Fates Warning. Joey first filled in temporarily for bassist Joe DiBiase during a portion of the Perfect Symmetry tour before coming into the band beginning with 1997’s A Pleasant Shade of Gray.
As for his card, I was trying like hell to freeze frame the “Can U Deliver” video as well as other live footage from the early days, but it yielded nothing worth framing. Since I couldn’t get a good pre-1985 image of Joey holding his bass, I settled for two close-up shots. At least the one I found was a better likeness than the secondary photo. I’m not sure what’s going on with that picture. His face has an unusual expression as if he’s either experiencing discomfort or he’s trying his best to put on a pouty rock star face.
I’ve known that there was a Joey Vera-Tommy Lee connection for quite some time, but I haven’t thought to look into it until recently when I saw someone mention it on Twitter. An Instagram post Vera wrote a few years ago noted that he was also in The Greg Leon Invasion. Sapphire didn’t appear to be around for very long and seemingly never made any recordings (though the band name is quite common), but Joey continues to speak highly about his experience working with Tommy.
Naturally, the second half of the rhythm section comes next.
Occasionally, researchers that find content to put on trading cards didn’t always do the most thorough job, evident by the countless error cards that exist out there. In my own laziness, I made assumptions on the place of birth for Gonzo Sandoval, and you’ll see later that I did the same for his older brother Phil. For many years I thought Phil was the younger brother, but I can’t even tell you what planted that in my head. It may have been that Gonzo was a more consistent member of the band than Phil, and the idea may have sprouted because of the Abbotts of Pantera or the Van Halens, where the drummer is the older brother in both cases. The primary image I was able successfully capture from “Can U Deliver”. Gonzo may have had some of the best camera work on him in the video aside from Bush, with this being one of a few quality stills I considered.
I’ve been into this band for around twenty years, and despite knowing the name’s origin, I’ve yet to watch Excalibur. With the likes of Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, and earlier roles for both Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne, it sounds like an interesting ensemble. I’ll make it a 2023 resolution, and no, February is not too late to declare it! To give credit where it is due, I grabbed Gonzo’s influences from GiveMeMetal.com. That fan site is an interesting accumulation that tracks several metal artists and those that inspired them, and it’s very-well sourced.
I had considered placing another amusing fact about Gonzo on the back that was told in an anecdote in a bonus feature on their Trip Thru Red Times DVD. One night backstage after opening for Quiet Riot, Gonzo was mistaken for Quiet Riot’s drummer Frankie Banali by the groups lead singer Kevin Dubrow, most likely due to the drummers sharing similar mops of hair. I almost included this on the card, but I wouldn’t be sure if it was something Dubrow had a sense of humour about, and I can’t remember exactly how the encounter went down. Even though he’s no longer with us (unfortunately, neither is Banali), I left it off the card. Still, it does seem like an innocent enough story that theoretically could have made its way onto a card, possibly in the form of one of those “Did You Know?” type of trivia illustrations certain sets would use.
Now comes the other Sandoval brother, Phil.
Not the sharpest of all images to use, but it’s a good capture of a stage-front Sandoval in the midst of a guitar solo. I took this one from a performance of “Lesson Well Learned” filmed at Billy Barty’s Roller Rink in 1983 and used on the aforementioned Trip Thru Red Times home video. The inner photo is one of the better ones I’ve used with these cards because you still get a good glimpse of some of his faux armor that he’d occasionally wear on-stage. Combined with the main image you get a good mix of the sort of stage attire they donned in the early days.
I allude to his departure on the back of the card, but I suppose it would also have made sense to do the same on the front. I could have stamped “Traded to…” or “Now with…” across the front like card companies often put on sports cards when a player changed teams just as the cards were about to be printed, but I honestly do not know where he went at that stage in his career. Out of uncertainty as to how to phrase it, I decided not to add anything.
BONUS CARD!!! Remember when I said that I wouldn’t be doing a Jeff Duncan card? I’m afraid I misled you. What I said was that I wouldn’t make him an Armored Saint card, but I didn’t say I wouldn’t include him at all. Here’s Jeff with the band he played in for the bulk of the Eighties, Odin.
It seems like it would have been very premature in the band’s development to receive a card that would be circa 1985, but possibly one released regionally in California could have picked up on the band. For the Odin logo, I took it upon myself to create my own PNG image to insert at the bottom, which was good practice for my tracing ability in my software of choice (Paint.Net). The biographical/trivia details on this one are fairly lacking because I know very little about Odin. Like many, my experience with the band never went beyond seeing them in the Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years documentary. I’m also not sure if it was Duncan’s departure to Armored Saint that ended the band or if it already dissolved by then. Regardless, I’m pleased to have found a way to feature him.
I know the above weren’t perfectly executed, but I hope they get my passion across. For a few more recommendations of those who churn out custom music cards in an impressive fashion, check out some of the work done by Dan Baumfeld (Instagram @thirddanart) and Pop Art Sports Cards (@popartsportscards). I’d strongly encourage musicians out there to get in touch with visual artists like them to add something unique to the wares at your merch tables and online stores. Some bands have already taken the initiative to jump back into the trading card business as well, including Between The Buried And Me and Gentle Giant (the latter of which I managed to snag a wax pack).