Slayer’s manager RIck SALES takes us inside the job of a lifetime.
… is how Rick Sales describes a band like Slayer. He should know: he’s managed them for more than three decades
Rick Sales had just finished tour managing hair-metal B-listers Dokken when he got a call asking if he wanted to go out on the road with an up-and-coming band named Slayer. He was tired and initially turned it down, but a friend told him to reconsider. “I went and got a copy of Reign In Blood and I was hooked,” he says. Rick soon graduated from tour manager to full-time manager – a role he still has today. Has it been fun managing Slayer, or is it hard work? “Well, I’ve been doing it so long, of course it’s fun. If I didn’t like doing this, I would have called it quits a long time ago,” he says. Still, we asked him what it’s really like working with one of metal’s most iconic bands.
What were Slayer like as people when you first met them?
“The guys were very young at that point
– still in their early-to-mid-20s. Tom and Kerry and Dave all lived with their folks and fairly close to each other. Jeff lived with his then-girlfriend [and future wife] Kathryn, and the band rehearsed in Tom’s family’s garage, so I remember doing a lot of walking from Kerry’s house to Tom’s. Tom’s family were lovely people, and his mom would make food for everyone.”
Kerry comes across as a no-bullshit guy in public. Is that what he’s really like, or do you get to see a different side of him?
“No, he’s pretty black and white, that’s Kerry, absolutely. Tom’s the same way. He may not come across in public the same way as Kerry does, but he knows what he likes and what he doesn’t like. These guys are smart and they’re thoughtful, they always have been.”
Kerry King has been critical of some of the music Slayer made in the 1990s. What was the mood like in the band during that period?
“There is always creative debate in every musical group. These guys were brothers. It wasn’t that there was only one guy with the vision, it was three guys with a vision – Dave was an amazing drummer, he just wasn’t the writer. So, there were albums that were spearheaded by Tom, then there were other albums that were spearheaded by Kerry, and albums spearheaded by Jeff. It wasn’t a uniform, every-album-is-the-same process.”
They’ve had their moments of controversy, from Angel Of Death to Jihad from Christ Illusion. Have you ever said, ‘Guys, I think you’ve gone too far’?
“No, I endorsed their vision. I thought it was art, making a statement that people really picked up on. They made people think, they made people feel. The whole ‘anti-Semitic’ accusation - that wasn’t by design. That was the public coming back with that accusation. If you read the lyrics to Angel Of Death, it’s a narrative, not an endorsement.”
God Hates Us All was released on 9/11. Did that have a detrimental effect on the album?
“The timing was surreal, but no, not at all. They had made a statement and the fans endorsed it, in a way: ‘If there’s a god and this god is supposed to be wonderful and looking after us, why does he let this kind of thing happen?’”
Jeff Hanneman contracted a flesh-eating bacteria after being bitten in his hot tub in 2011. How hard was that for everyone to deal with?
“It was very hard for all of us. We all hoped he was going to recover and come back as a fulltime member of the band. I saw photographs of his arm; the results from the spider bite were diabolical. He went through hell in terms of the process to rebuild the tissue, the skin grafts, getting the nerves and all that stuff working again. It was very hard for the guys. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, we’re never going to see Jeff again.’ It was, ‘Okay, we’ll go on for a minute, he’ll come back.’”
Was there a chance that they might not continue after Jeff passed away?
“I think it was considered. But they also thought, ‘What would Jeff say if he was standing here?’ He’d say, ‘Hey, you went on without me while I was here.’ And Jeff endorsed Gary, there wasn’t any conflict about that. But of course, when you lose a brother after so many years, it’s like, ‘Should the band continue?’ That’s human nature.”
When the band announced they were going to retire, did you try to talk them out of it?
“No, I understood it. Tom had been saying in the media for some time that he lived for that hour and a half onstage - the rest of it was hard. But Kerry and Tom made the decision. When they announced this was going to be it, I supported it. To me, it’s like the comedian, Jerry Seinfeld. He was top of the food chain, he had one of the most successful television shows and he just called it quits. Slayer are going out on top.”
Is this really the end? Do you see any tours or one-off gigs in the future?
“No, I don’t see any more tours. This is their swansong, there’s no question about it. People have asked me, ‘Is this like Ozzy or Cher – how many ‘final tours’ are they actually going to do?’ And my answer is: ‘This is it.’ One of the things Slayer have always had is ultimate credibility, and if they say this is it, this is it.”
When you started working with them, did you ever anticipate that Slayer would become such an influential band?
“This is The band’s swansong, There’s no quesTion abouT iT”
“Absolutely, definitely, you could see it after a few albums, for sure. They put their stamp on hard rock music, they’ll go down in the history books, no question. They invented what they do; no one’s done it better, and no one ever will. Slayer comes around only once in a lifetime.”