More than 25 years ago, Bill Peters, then (as now) host of a heavy-metal show on John Carroll's radio station, WJCU 88.7 FM, ran into a schoolmate he hadn't seen in a while at a local record store. He told Peters he was in a band and invited him to check them out. The friend was Jim Hamar of Breaker, who were just getting started. Peters says he was "totally blown away. I couldn't believe how good they were." That planted the seed for Auburn Records, which provided a focus for Cleveland's '80s metal scene, releasing now-classic albums by Breaker, Shok Paris, Destructor, Black Death and Purgatory.
Although Peters took a break in the '90s, today Auburn Records is going strong with a catalog of old releases, new material by veteran bands and a new generation of bands. He'll celebrate his 25 years with an 11-band free show that includes Breaker, Destructor and Shok Paris, as well as Auburn-affiliated '80s bands H.A.T.E., Attaxe and Wretch, "next gen" band Eternal Legacy and "friends" Alternate Reality, Foose, Manimals and Soulless. The show will be hosted by Iron Ingo, a writer for German metal website metal-rules, along with Cellbound's Chris E.
"I invited anyone who's been involved in any way with Auburn Records," says Peters. "I didn't realize the list of bands and musicians I've worked with over the years was that long. If everybody could have done it, I would have had a multi-day festival."
Peters says he especially regrets the absence of Purgatory, whose frontman Jeff Hatrix is touring with Mushroomhead, but says he's patterning the 10-hour show after the European festivals he's attended.
"They're so well-run," he says. "When I first went over to Wacken Open Air in 2000, I was amazed. Everything ran to the minute. My Auburn shows have a reputation of being well-organized. My crew are all volunteers, and we take pride in our shows."
Peters launched Auburn in 1984 with Shok Paris' debut, Go for the Throat. They went on to land a contract with IRS, fulfilling Peters' goal of being a launching pad for his bands. Destructor was in the studio working on a follow-up to their Auburn debut, Maximum Destruction, to be released under a deal Peters struck with Island, when tragedy hit: Bassist Dave "Holocaust" Iannicca was murdered on January 1, 1988.
Peters soldiered on and released the Heavy Artillery compilation with a multi-band free show at the Phantasy Theater in December 1989. Despite a blizzard, 1,600 people attended. But music-business politics sunk the Island deal, Destructor couldn't regroup and musical tastes changed in the early '90s.
"Island Records, IRS, Dave's death had all taken their toll," says Peters. "I was so beaten down I just had to stop. I got married; we started having kids."
But, by the late '90s, he was bitten by the bug again. With the Internet explosion, he started to hear from people all over the world who revered the bands he put out in the '80s. He re-launched the label in 1998.
"European guys were flying over to Cleveland and driving through the city trying to find me," says Peters. "People would e-mail me and say, can you reissue this or reissue that? I just got inspired to do it again."
Since then, he's reissued most of his original releases on CD; many of his bands have regrouped or been rejuvenated and have been playing festivals in Germany regularly since 2000. Some, like the invincible Destructor, have released new material. But they'll play Maximum Destruction in its entirety at the 25th anniversary show. Blending old and new has become Peters' passion. His next generation includes Venomin James, Lick the Blade and Eternal Legacy; the latter two recently had CD-release shows.
"I don't want to be just a reissue label," he says. "I want to do all those old records, but I want to mix them with new things too. I want to find and discover and develop new bands. That's where I get the most joy."