Metal's First Female Frontwoman Talks About Playing in a Man's World

You'd think that Doro Pesch would come off as a pretty tough broad.

I mean, this is the first female band leader in heavy metal. Her name has been synonymous with "strength" over the past 30 years. She helped pioneer heavy metal's style, not just blazing a trail for future women artists, but for the entire genre as a whole.

During her childhood in Germany, her father brought her on his truck driver tours, instilling a passion to "be on the move," before she fell deathly ill and was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis. Extremely weak, she was bed-ridden for nearly a year, but made a vow to herself: If she ever got better, she would dedicate her life to her greatest passion, music. And she lived up to that promise.

Shortly after she recovered, she joined her first band at the age of 16, an underground outfit called Snakebite. At 18, she formed the band Warlock, snagged a record deal, and went on to tour with legends like Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Bon Jovi, Metallica, Megadeth and W.A.S.P. She earned the first of many career Gold Records in 1988, has been hailed as best singer by a major rock magazine in Spain 13 times in a row (as well as in many American magazines), and was the first woman to play the Monsters of Rock Festival.

On the other hand, I've found that during my last 11 years as a music journalist, you truly can't assume the demeanor of an artist. Sometimes the rudest are the ones who should probably be the most thankful for coverage; while some of the biggest legends in rock, undoubtedly jaded by and distrusting of the media over several decades (and let's be honest, don't really need to do any interviews), are the most friendly, chatty and polite.

That's where Doro fits in.

Throughout our 45-minute conversation, one thing that truly amazed me about Doro was her enthusiasm and wondrous approach to the interview process. She talked about her influences and music with the gusto of an artist that was doing the first round of press for a debut album.

With an arsenal of records spanning almost three decades [Burning The Witches and Angels Never Die are two stand-outs], solo albums backed with Gene Simmons of KISS [1990's Doro], and a fiercely loyal fanbase and band, the latter of which have been with her for decades (you rarely hear of a line-up change)--Doro clearly understands what she's done, and where she's going.

Her 17th album Raise Your Fist was released in 2012, and features guest stars like Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister and Ozzy Osbourned/Firewind guitarist Gus. G. In 2014, Doro celebrated 30 years since the first time she took the stage with a two-night concert in her hometown of Düsseldorf, Germany, and then brought that same show to the U.S. last fall. And this spring, she's bringing it back to the cities she missed, playing at Club Red in Mesa, Arizona on Friday, March 13.

Up on the Sun talked with Doro about her first time in Phoenix in '88, the time she opened up for Metallica (and didn't even know it), and heavy metal's early days.

Up on the Sun: As the first female band leader in heavy metal, can you recall a memory when you first realized that the industry was embracing more females in heavy metal?

Doro: I love music and I loved the fans right from the starts. I had a great connection to the art and to the fans. To me, in metal, it doesn't matter if you're a woman or man, music isn't about that. So I never felt like I got negative feedback or feelings. I was just Doro! Everyone was so supportive, especially my other musicians or bands on tours, whether it was the legendary Judas Priest or the greatly loved and missed Ronnie James Dio and W.A.S.P. - we just had so many excellent tours and everyone was so nice and respectful. In the industry, it was always cool and I never felt different. I just know in the media and in magazines, they were writing things like, "one of the few women of heavy metal," but to me honestly ... I think people knew I was deadly serious and dedicated, so people maybe didn't question it.

So you never felt different or judged by being a woman, it was more the media that did that instead?

Yes, yes... you know, people might've thought it was crazy or different, a woman in heavy metal, but I never felt different. I think it was more, um, you had to fight more for your music; you had to fight more to do heavy metal. Because in the beginning with metal, it was accepted as a whole. So you had to really work your ass off, work 10 times more, to make other people feel like metal is something really beautiful. So as a metalhead, I've more issues in the beginning just haven't people accept metal in general. Laughter. Yeah, yeah! Metal has so much power and soul. It's about fighting for your music; to fight for heavy metal. That was way more difficult than fighting to be a woman in the genre.

You're bringing your anniversary show you performed in Germany last May, to celebrate 30 years since your first time on stage. What can fans expect from the show?

We will play only highlights, the best of the best -- no fillers, all killers. [Laughter.] It will be like lots of old Warlock songs because people really love that. So we'll start with the first album Burning Witch and the Hellbound album. And a lot of stuff off the Triumph and Agony album. And, um, some ... fast, hard songs, and some beautiful ballads, and every day it is a different set list. Every day. The audience kinda wants that variety, and some times people want to hear more of the new record, so we will do that. If they want more of older records, we'll do that. It's 150 percent energy and everyone feels that power at the concert! And I will never ever forget this tour. There's lots of power and soul; it'll really touch your heart as a true fan. And our band is like a well-oiled machine, so we can play non-stop, and it's like we get along so great. It goes without saying that we don't even have to talk about the set list, we just look at each other and know what to play.

That's so exciting! Bringing some good energy to Phoenix.

Ya, ya! I remember my first time in Phoenix it was so hot! It was so hot in the club, even hotter than outside because the air conditioning was broken. I remember we were sweating and by the second song I could feel the first row's sweat in my face from their head-banging and the long hair. It was unbelievable. [Laughter.]

And that was the first time, too. I remember when Ronnie James Dio, when we played for him, we went through Phoenix. To be where my metal God was living. I forgot that place where we played, but it was so hot! It was so awesome!

When was that?

That was in '88, when we toured for the Triumph and Agony album, and did the big Megadeth tour. The audience was amazing. Oh, and I love the landscape and the vibe. When I was a kid I always dreamed of going to America and wanted to go to Phoenix. I remember when I was there, too. There was this one girl who was such a big fan and she got on stage and gave me a huge huge! [Laughter.] A big hug around my neck and then she wouldn't let go. So I remember Phoenix for nice people, good conversation and cool vibes. And some cool spiritual gifts from the Native American culture. Well, going back to Phoenix in '88, the dynamic of shows change over the past three decades, with things like live streaming and constant cell phone coverage.

Yes, sometimes that takes away from that vibe! Because people are looking at their devices and text messages while concerts are going on. It's totally different. Totally different. Like, I'll be in the middle of singing and a photo is snapped and blinds me! But as long as the fans are happy, then that's what I want to do.

What can fans expect from the 30th anniversary DVD? That comes out this fall, right?

Yes, yes! Yeah. It's in the making. You see so many types of people; old fans, new fans, young people that are just learning about us. It's really what we live for. I think the new DVD will showcase so much of what our life and love for this music is about. There's tons of special gifts and people I really love. It really highlights the arrangements of songs too which is great.

How is the production going on the follow up to 2012's Raise Your Fist? Are you in the middle writing?

Yes, that's correct! I'm thinking that next year it will come out, because we've been touring so much. We're focusing on touring and playing a lot right now, that's a top priority, but we are working on it. But we have a couple of killer ideas and songs in the making; and I've really fallen in love with some of the arrangements. With everything; touring, the DVD and new songs, it just gives me pure joy.

With all the albums in your career, pick three that stand out as your favorite or that propelled your career the most?

You mean, three highlights, or albums?


I'm sorry! It's so loud over here. I'm hiding in a tiny room. I would say, definitely the Triumph and Agony album [1987]. It was the right album at the right time. I still love it and I think it has fantastic songs on it. I love "Metal Tango" and "East Meets West" and "Touch of Evil" -- I think we will play a ton of that album on this tour too. That album really made me realize that our band was getting big.

There's one album that was never officially released in the states that was fantastic, very very classy. Love Me In Black [1998]. We always play the title song, and diehard usually fans know it. The last one would be Raise Your Fist because it's been more metal in the past 10 years, and it has one of my favorite duets on it with Lemmy Kilmister who I love so much! And it has a great vibe between hardcore, heavy stuff, beautiful ballads and anthems. One song is called "Freiheit" and in English it is "Human Rights," which I think is an important track this day in age.

Those are great picks! You know, many musicians see you as a pioneering, influential figure that has inspired dozens of others to start their own music careers. What musicians have always inspired you?

Oh man, so many, so many! The British Wave of New Heavy Metal, like Judas Preist, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and one of the greatest inspirations was from Ronnie James Dio. Like Ronnie was my favorite singer -- um, one second!

Loud knocking (she say she locked herself in a small room for the interview, and giggles uncontrollably.)

Now, where was I? Oh yes, Ronnie was my favorite singer. Whitesnake was my first concert I ever saw in 1980. He was a God, too. And of course Motorhead; I will always love Lemmy. And Saxon, and I had the great, great honor of touring with every single one of those bands. But in the very beginning, when we started, heavy metal was still so young and new and growing. We didn't even know we were a heavy metal band. We just like, knew what we could create and loved and what we wanted to do. Then we figured out it was heavy metal later on. So in the beginning, just doing what you love and go forward.

I always loved the power of the music, and then a few years later with more bands came into the scene. You realize it's growing and how cool it was to be a witness of it. You see these bands get bigger and bigger, wow! It was mind-blowing. I remember when we were at a small club, and the promoter asked us if we wanted to play a gig and we said 'sure cool.' It was like 400 people, and he said that he had another band playing it from America. And then all the sudden we're off, and the next band came on -- and it was Metallica!

So your motto is to do what you're passionate about. So is that what you attribute your longevity to in the music industry?

Whispers excitedly. I always loved music, since I was like 3 years old. And ever since I love it so much! And when I had my first band, we were just like playing music every day and rehearsing. And then the first gigs came along, and I fell in love with the fans. So to me, my true motivation and love is my fan base all over the world. And it's great to see new fans come forward too! There's fans who are like 17 and that gets you so excited! So, it's the fans to me. The anonymous audience. They are my best friends, because through the music we have more common ground then ever, and it's meaningful.

To be a metalhead; it's more than just listening to the music. It's a way of living, thinking, feeling. Most metalheads are very soulful, and there's something very deep about the music. And I can't imagine any other genre of music that has so much loyalty.

If you could be a fly on the wall for the recording of any classic album in history, what would that be?

Probably Highway to Hell by AC/DC. [Laughter.] I'd like to watch them drinking, laughing, cracking jokes, having a great time, while creating great music and a great sound. I think that record was so special to me because it seemed like there was no pressure on it by the record company. It just came natural to them.

Doro is scheduled to play Club Red on Friday, March 13.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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Lauren Wise has worked as a rock/heavy metal journalist for 15 years. She contributes to Noisey and LA Weekly, edits books, and drinks whiskey.
Contact: Lauren Wise