I remember the very first day I met Michelle. I believe it was the summer of 1982; I was in my late teens working behind the counter at a Carls Jr. restaurant in Huntington Beach, CA and in walks my friend Pat Crane with a small group of metal heads (or "rockers" as they were called back then). Amongst them was this incredibly sexy young girl sporting red spandex pants, black boots and a denim vest jacket with a giant Judas Priest logo on the back. My eyes popped out the back of my head! "Whoa! Judas Priest!" I exclaimed. You have to remember Judas Priest were still fairly underground at this time in Orange County and for a girl, let alone a smoking-hot 14-year-old girl, to be wearing a denim vest with a Judas Priest iron-on patch was unheard of in my home town. Pat kindly makes the introduction, "this is Michelle, she recently moved to HB from Detroit."
From that moment on we started hanging out, checking out all the great metal bands that were performing the Orange County clubs at the time. I had the fortunate pleasure of taking Michelle to her very first metal shows. We went to the Woodstock in Anaheim and The Concert Factory in Costa Mesa to see then unsigned local metal icons Slayer, Armored Saint and Malice. I remember driving to the Country Club in Reseda with Michelle to catch Raven and Metallica on the Kill ‘Em All For One tour. We had an absolute blast together at these shows. Michelle was one of the truest metal fans I had ever met; she totally lived for the music and loved nothing more than to support the then-local bands that were paying their hard-earned dues. It's hard to believe that was 25 years ago although it seems as if it was only yesterday.
Michelle and I had very similar tastes in metal music, which was very rare. Michelle loved the attitude and ferociousness of what was soon to be coined as "thrash" metal. But moreover Michelle had this incredible sense of melody and was just as huge a fan of melodic metal bands as she was the thrash bands which, back then, was a barrier most metal fans and/or musicians wouldn't dare cross. I remember making Michelle several mix tapes of some of may favorite underground metal bands at the time, from NWOBHM greats like Motorhead, Maiden, Raven, Saxon, Tygers, Girlschool, Samson, and Diamond Head to Canadian bands Exciter and Anvil as well as the latest underground Euro-metal bands from Germany, Holland, France and Sweden. Demos and independent recordings from Accept, Mercyful Fate, Trust, Warning, Bodine, Killer, Picture, Silver Mountain...in fact I remember one band I included on a mix tape that Michelle particularly loved, which surprised me seeing that it was the most melodic band out of the bunch. It was from a virtually unknown Swedish rock band at the time called Europe. And who would have thought several years later Michelle would marry Europe guitarist John Norum? But that was just like Michelle, if she liked something, she went for it!
I remember once after taking Michelle to a Malice show I introduced her to guitarist Jay Reynolds. A couple weeks later Michelle had bought a guitar and was taking guitar lessons from Jay. Again, that was so Michelle; she was the most driven person I had ever met. As the metal scene started to grow in Orange County, a small group of us local metal fans and aspiring musicians would often meet up at local nightclubs, a record store signing or a concert at the Long Beach Arena. Wherever there was metal, we were out in full-force and Michelle was always right there with us! Another member of the local metal crew was a young aspiring drummer from Long Beach named Gene Hoglan. In fact, I believe I was there when Michelle first met with Gene; they were both14 or 15 at the time and both had dreams of someday starting their own metal band. A few weeks after that meeting Michelle calls me on the phone, super excited she tells me that she and Gene are forming a band called War God...and from there it all began.
I remember how thrilled Michelle was to finally have her very own metal outfit. Michelle's parents, Bob and Marilyn, were so supportive of her music career. At that time I thought it was standard for all parents to hate heavy metal music and what it stood for. But this was definitely not the case here, Michelle's parents not only encouraged and supported Michelle's career decision but they also rented a giant home studio warehouse in Torrance where Michelle and her band were able to rehearse. Unfortunately, War God split-up soon after Gene got the call to join Dark Angel, the then up and coming speed metal outfit who were hot on the heels of Slayer (who had just signed with Metal Blade Records). Michelle was determined to succeed in music, no matter where it would take her. She immediately caught wind of the burgeoning thrash metal scene up in the Bay Area and within weeks made the trek up to San Francisco and was instantly embraced by the Bay Area Bangers.
Michelle moved back to Los Angeles a couple years later and formed the all-female hard rock band Phantom Blue in the late ‘80s. And it didn't take long before the band signed a deal with Shrapnel Records. I remember how excited Michelle was to be working with Marty Friedman, who produced the band's debut record. Not long after that release Phantom Blue signed to Geffen. That was the time I started at Roadrunner Records (when they opened their first LA office) and I had the pleasure to work with Phantom Blue as they were still licensed to Roadrunner in Europe. These were again great times I shared with Michelle. It was so gratifying for me to witness Michelle blossom from this young, spirited metal fan into a bona fide Rock Goddess. But the fame or success never went to Michelle's head. She was so grounded and she never took anything for granted. Michelle lived for rock n roll and Phantom Blue certainly lead the rock n roll lifestyle, in fact, it's safe to say they lived up to that standard more than most the dude bands in Los Angeles.
Even after Michelle's break-up with Phantom Blue and her subsequent move to Stockholm, we never lost touch. One of the things I admired so much about Michelle was the fact that she was determined to do exactly what she wanted to do. She never gave into the music industry and refused to be a victim of this cold-hearted business. Michelle was determined to succeed, but it would be on her terms. After settling in Sweden, Michelle formed her new band Meldrum and called me to say she was setting up showcases in Los Angeles. She sounded more thrilled than ever about her new band and I was so excited to witness their first shows in Los Angeles. The shows were incredible and it was so great to see Michelle back in full force! I remember after seeing her onstage at the Dragonfly club in LA saying to myself "here is the next guitar hero!" Michelle's playing had improved immensely and she was now right up there with the guitarists she had worshipped as a kid. The whole band stayed at my small apartment in North Hollywood those few days they were in LA and even though I had just met her new band members; Moa, Frida, and Fredrik, it was like hanging out with old friends. Michelle and I reminisced about old times as we all got drunk and talked about metal into the wee hours of the morning...it was just like the old days!
Over the years that followed, I had the pleasure of hanging out with the band every time they hit the states and even went on the road with them to Vegas. They toured here several times with Black Label Society and I had never seen a virtually then unknown opening band win the crowd over like Meldrum did. And nothing puts a band more to the test than to play in front of a horde of BLS fans! It was awe-inspiring for me to witness a jam-packed crowd with their fists in the air chanting the lyrics along with Moa. And what was so astonishing was the fact that the band hadn't yet released their record here in the US, yet everyone in the venue seemed to know their songs!
In September of 2006 I met up again with Michelle backstage at the Gigantour show at Glen Helen, just outside Los Angeles. I remember telling her I had just met up with Gene Hoglan, who was also hanging out backstage. Michelle was so happy as she hadn't seen Gene in years. The three of us got together and laughed and joked all night in between bands. I instantly sensed the magic between Michelle and Gene so I wasn't surprised in the least when Michelle soon after informed me that she and Gene were going to reunite (for the first time since War God) for the recording of the forthcoming Meldrum record, Blowin' Up The Machine.
I last met up with Michelle this past January at the NAMM show in Anaheim, CA. That Saturday night at the Hilton bar Michelle, Gene and I once again reunited and got absolutely shit-faced drunk! It was one of the greatest nights ever. And it was the last time I would ever spend with my dearest friend and oldest pal, my confidant, my creative force, my inspiration. You will be terribly missed Michelle. You were one-of-a-kind. So incredibly talented, so thoughtful and considerate, so uplifting and motivating, and so damn fun to be around.
I will always treasure the fond memories we had together. My heart goes out to your Mom, Bob, and your 3-year-old son Jake. You will always be in my heart, Michelle. I will miss you forever.Bob Nalbandian