40 Years Ago: Bruce Dickinson Performs First Show With Iron Maiden
On Oct. 26, 1981, Bruce Dickinson made his debut with Iron Maiden; a ripple effect still being felt to this day. The transformative singer gave the band the extra push they needed to become one of the most dominating musical acts the world has ever seen.
Iron Maiden were riding high following the success of their first two albums, especially the sophomore effort, Killers, which saw the band inject more melodic lead playing courtesy of then new member, guitarist Adrian Smith. With a nine month stretch on the road, the British band took their growing brand of heavy metal all over the world, including providing direct support for country mates Judas Priest on the American leg of the World Wide Blitz tour as well as performing at the famed Hammersmith Odeon in London.
The exhaustive touring regimen was beginning to take its toll, namely on singer Paul Di’Anno. Knowing there was no end in sight as the band’s popularity only continued to grow, he turned to rampant drug and alcohol use to, in Di’Anno’s words, “numb the pain” of being on the road and the longing for home. In the Early Days DVD, Steve Harris reflected, “The more success we were having the more he couldn’t deal with it or didn’t want to deal with it; I mean, I remember one particular gig in Germany and he was just like saying, ‘I don’t want to be here, I want to be home, I want to go home.’”
As a band who was quickly gaining reputation as a must-see live act, it was difficult to have a singer where, as Dave Murray said, “there were some nights where he actually didn’t want to go on stage; he was sitting on the side.” As the ship’s anchor, Harris knew a change had to be made and he talked things over with their manager Rod Smallwood, who agreed that “Paul couldn’t last much longer the way he was treating himself.”
The search for a new singer didn’t take long. Iron Maiden auditioned Terry Strasser, but the singer ultimately couldn’t handle the breadth of the band’s catalog. Harris then suggested “Bruce Bruce” of Samson, to which Smallwood was not enthused. Regardless, Smallwood was convinced halfway through one song when witnessing Samson at the Reading Festival. The true welcoming into the band came when Smallwood told Dickinson “you look like a roadie, here’s 30 quid go and get yourself a leather jacket.” After all, he did have a true metal band to front.
Dickinson officially joined Iron Maiden on Sept. 26, 1981, a full month before performing his first show. He recorded an audition tape with Iron Maiden, consisting of a visceral version of “Killers,” “Twilight Zone” and “Wrathchild,” which can be heard below.
Bruce Dickinson Audition
Exactly one month later, Dickinson made his debut with Iron Maiden in Bologna, Italy, and tore through 17 songs with a raving response from the crowd who demanded three encores. From that point, it was clear Maiden made the right choice and with history as evidence, nobody can argue against it.
The band would enter the studio shortly after to record their third album, The Number of the Beast. The album boasts some of the band's biggest hits such as the title track, "Run to the Hills" and the dazzling closer "Hallowed Be Thy Name."
Check out some footage from 34 years ago as Iron Maiden began a new era with Bruce Dickinson.