During hair metal’s glory days, the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles was the place to be. At that time, Linda McDonald (aka Nikki McBurrain), who currently plays drums with the all-female Iron Maiden tribute act the Iron Maidens, played in the Los Angeles-based metal act Phantom Blue. She has fond memories of that time period.
“That was, gosh, that was like such a high point of life because it was the ’80s, c’mon,” she says via phone from her Los Angeles home. She brings the Iron Maidens to the Beachland on June 18 for their first-ever Cleveland show. “You can’t relive that. The ’80s were a class of its own, and the hair metal scene was so huge. Everything you hear about it is true. It was crazy. With all the big hair, you didn’t know who was a man or a woman. Everyone was beautiful. It was like Times Square on New Year’s Eve every weekend at the Sunset Strip.”
McDonald says she started out on the “pretty instruments” like piano and violin in elementary school. She also learned to play acoustic guitar. She saw Iron Maiden on its Number of the Beast tour in 1982 and knew she wanted to pick up the drums.
“Back then, they didn’t do all these overdubs when you did live recordings and just to hear something that tight and that powerful live in one take — that was it," she says. "I was really, really happy to be able to see, well of course Iron Maiden live, but I was really happy to see [drummer] Clive Burr because that was his last tour. And he was the one that really inspired me to not just wish I played drums but to actually get off my butt and do it.”
In 2001, Phantom Blue was looking for a bass player. The band received an invitation from an Iron Maiden tribute act that had a female singer and bass player who were potentially available. McDonald met with the group because “any bass player that can play Steve Harris won’t have any problem playing the Phantom Blue stuff.’’
“So, we went down there hoping to, you know, pick up a bass player, but they turned the table around on me and one of my guitar players and asked us if we wanted to join their band that they were trying to put together,” McDonald says. “They had been looking for players for over a year and they just needed a guitar player and a drummer and, of course, we accepted because why wouldn’t we?”
They got together at a local studio to rehearse, and people who walked by kept peeking in the window to check them out.
“I think people wanted to see what these five girls were doing playing Iron Maiden in this small rehearsal studio,” says McDonald.
The band’s first-ever concert created a buzz too.
“There was a line wrapped around the building,” says McDonald. “We were completely shocked because we didn’t know what to expect. We played for people in the rehearsal studio, but we had no idea it was going to carry over to the venue. The people at the club told us we have no idea how many phone calls they had gotten about the show. And wow, when we showed up that night the place was packed and there were people there with their arms crossed, and you know, expecting failure. I guess that kind of energy just really pushes you to give it your all.”
Back then, the group only knew about nine songs. Now, it’s mastered tracks from all eras. Some songs even feature different singers as Maiden has gone through numerous lineup changes over the years.
“For drums, the earlier material with Clive Burr is my favorite material to play and learn just because that’s what got me starting to play drums,” McDonald admits. “It’s generally more raw and requires a lot more energy and I love it. I love all the eras. I think Kirsten [Rosenberg aka Bruce Chickinson] would also agree there’s a big difference with [singers] Paul Di’Anno versus Bruce Dickinson.”
The Iron Maidens even include Maiden’s zombie-like mascot Eddie in the live show.
“Eddie was there since Day One,” says McDonald. “The Devil and sometimes even the Grim Reaper make appearances too. Over the years, the monsters have gotten better looking.”
The band’s fanbase has continued to grow. It now boasts more than a million Facebook followers.
“We are really shocked and thrilled honored all at the same time to actually have over 1.3 million followers on our Facebook page, and that’s insane!” says McDonald. “Wow! Yeah, we’re a cover band we’re not, like an original band but hey people just want to be entertained and this is entertainment and Iron Maiden is still going strong right now. They’re so strong even after so many years that they’re reaching all generations, and so are we. We have people coming and bringing their kids. So, Iron Maiden has become a family event and that is the same with this tribute band audience as well. It’s pretty amazing. I would never dream of bringing my parents or going with my parents to Iron Maiden when I was a kid. No way!”
The Iron Maidens, Chemikill, 8:30 p.m. Sunday, June 18, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $17 ADV, $20 DOS, beachlandballroom.com.