There are some rock and metal artists who were just too good for this world. Hendrix, Lynott, Bonham, Burton, Bon Scott. They had talent us mere mortals can’t comprehend. But, for a brief moment, at least, they basked in our love and admiration.
But there was one metal great whose name is all but forgotten by everyone but the true metal cognoscenti. Which is too bad, because he paved the way for legions of metal frontmen and showed the world what true artistry looks, sounds and even smells like.
I’m talking, of course, about Deacon Dark.
Before his untimely retirement into “serious” music and mysterious death, Deacon Dark was the most volatile musician alive. The story, which I’ve only seen published in two very unauthorized biographies of Led Zeppelin, goes that the Deacon went out as Zep’s opening act during the 1973 U.S. tour. Pagey might have dabbled in the occult and Bonham and Plant might have thought they knew how to party … but, by all published accounts, the Deacon Dark Band scared the bejeezus out of Zep before the tour ever made it out of NYC for the trek west.
It’s said John Bonham wouldn’t even go near Deacon’s bus after the night Deacon gave Bonham some “Singapore Sin Mojo Weed” that caused horrifying hallucinations and bowel eruptions of the bloodiest and most disgusting kind. As for Jimmy Page, the story (from the LZ bio, “Like Robert Johnson, Only White and British”) goes that Pagey broke down and cried like a scared baby when he saw Deacon raise the Devil Himself out of a Holiday Inn ice machine in Racine, Wisconsin. All we know for sure is that Zeppelin never toured with the Deacon again.
His origins, frankly, are unknown, so we may as well say Deacon Dark rose from hell to rock us all to damnation. One day, things were normal; but the next day, Deacon’s “Smash It!” was pouring out of rock radios all over the U.S. The song, along with the Deacon Dark Band’s debut album, “Voodoo Butch Sister,” went straight to number one, despite the determined efforts of local ministers, PTAs and town councils to have Deacon banned.
Good god. The music was just a phenomenon. Here’s a very rare performance clip of “Smash It!” Fledgling director Sonny Bono edited the concert footage around some staged footage Bono directed later, for reasons I don’t quite understand (Zeppelin, of course, later stole that idea from Deacon when Zep made the film “The Song Remains The Same”). Watch in awe.
Have you ever seen anything like it? No. The answer is no.
Who didn’t Deacon Dark influence? Obviously, the members of Kiss took more than a few pages out of Deacon’s book (besides the make-up, Kiss rearranged the riffs for “Smash It” to make up most of the songs on their first album). Alice Cooper learned theatrics at Deacon’s feet, Dio was inspired to sing for the high notes because of Deacon Dark and, later, King Diamond made his stage paint much like Deacon’s in an homage to the man.
Perhaps the most important influence is the least known; according to Black Sabbath biographer King St. John, Geezer Butler wrote the lyrics to the song “Black Sabbath” after waking from a fever dream just hours after seeing the Deacon Dark band play the Hammersmith Odeon. Black Sabbath is widely credited as the creator of heavy metal … but it was Deacon Dark who put the unholy fire in Sabbath’s belly.
Deacon Dark’s impact on black metal can’t be overstated. Simply put, Deacon Dark was the original black metal artist. Deacon’s “Witchcraft Across America” tour in 1975 caused a church to burn down in every single city along the tour route. Legend has it Deacon killed a line of ministers protesting outside his concert in Decatur simply by looking at them. The Pope even made Deacon a Catholic in absentia, just so he could excommunicate him. Make no mistake, Deacon Dark was Evil.
But then. Oh, god no. Please no. Anything but that.
Rolling Stone magazine provided what was probably the most detailed account of Deacon Dark’s early end. As Rolling Stone columnist Hunter S. Thompson (who had been traveling on and off with Deacon Dark since 1973) wrote, Deacon agreed to appear on the first “70,000 Tons of Metal” cruise in November 1975. Somehow, during that cruise, the Christian Coalition and Family Foundation managed to infiltrate Deacon’s camp with a morally correct (and, admittedly, anatomically interesting) young evangelist known only as “Sarah.” Thompson said “Sarah” was certainly a knockout, but had no personality whatsoever. Thompson was sure she was an android, or, as he called her, a “Fembot.”
Promising disease-free, conversation-free (“Sarah” was allegedly deaf) bosomy bliss, “Sarah” cornered Deacon Dark in his cabin and brainwashed him with her endless Bible verses and teary-eyed disapproval of Deacon’s life and music. Hunter Thompson tried to intervene with an emergency airlift of drugs, but the SarahBot was also a martial arts expert; she broke both of Thompson’s collar bones and threw him into the sea (it was only with the help of some friendly dolphins that Thompson survived, but that’s another story).
As Thompson writes, by the time he got back to the ship, the damage had been done. Deacon Dark had renounced rock music (which he claimed to never have liked) and announced he would from then only work as a “serious” musician. He debuted his first “serious” song to a unbelieving audience later that night. Here’s the only video of the event, along with more of Bono’s staged footage (that is the “real” “Sarah” FemBot, though).
As Thompson allegedly screamed at Deacon later that night, “that judgemental, deaf @$#&@! FemBot just ruined your life!”
After the cruise, Deacon changed back to his name birth name (Dennis Wayne Erlinger), wrote a few successful adult-contemporary songs (mostly for other singers) and was “born again” in a televised ceremony on “The 700 Club.” He and SarahBot were married on Jan. 1, 1976. Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham co-officiated the wedding ceremony.
But Dennis Erlinger’s life, post-Deacon Dark, was destined to be short.
On April 15, 1976, Erlinger was scheduled to perform a few of his new, serious songs at the Trifecta Lounge in Atlantic City. During the show, however, Erlinger and Sarah (who was also on stage for reasons no one could ever explain), were both burned to death in front of a sold-out crowed when one of the strobe light machines exploded. The fire marshal could never find a cause for the incident, and ruled the fire “unexplained.”
The true mystery came shortly after Deacon Dark’s death, when almost every single copy of his music was destroyed, worldwide, in a series of unexplainable circumstances.
Record company warehouses burned down. Record shops that had championed Deacon’s rise were obliterated in freak thunderstorms and mud slides. All of Deacon management team (during his rock years) died of heart attacks on the same night, June 6, 1976, all at 6:06p.m. Further, the original recordings of Deacon’s works were lost when Bug Gun Studios – where the band recorded all of its four studio albums – fell suddenly into a giant sink hole that appeared without explanation, only to close again once the studio had been completely consumed.
The destruction of Deacon’s works continued down to individual albums and 8-tracks. The only account I’ve ever read of the “event” was in a old copy of Kerrang! magazine I found, uncatalogued, in the New York Public Library’s Chinatown branch. According to Kerrang!, readers reported strange winds would sweep their Deacon Dark 8-tracks out of their cars; that unorthodox rays of sunlight would melt Deacon LPs and that some albums would simply disappear. I know for a fact my dad owned a vinyl copy of Deacon’s third album, “Luvin’ The Coven,” but I’ve searched his stacks of wax again and again over the years, and the thing is just gone.
Allegedly, Christie’s auction house tried to sell one ultra-rare copy of “Voodoo Butch Sister” last year, but the auction was canceled when an electrical failure caused pseudo-lightning to erupt in the auction room moments before the room was to be opened to bidders. I’m told Christie’s officials decided to bury the album, in an air-tight, water-proof safe, in a woodland in Estonia that is owned by absolutely no one, not even the government.
Today, there’s barely a mention of Deacon Dark anywhere. It’s almost like he never existed … or that he was wiped from existence by an unseen, unstoppable force that was determined to take revenge on him. Robert Johnson sung about deals with the devil, and suggested those deals have consequences. With the story of Deacon Dark, perhaps we have an idea of what happens when someone tries to later back out on the deal.
But that’s all speculation on my part, and it’s beside the point. What is the point is Deacon Dark deserves to be remembered for his contribution to metal, music and art in general. So, here, with my last beer (of the night), I raise a toast to the metal legend that was Deacon Dark. Your midnight ride was much too short, but you brought us a taste of hell and terror that will live in our hearts forever. Despite your holier-than-thou ending, we’ll always remember you for the disgusting sensation you really were.
If you feel the need to pay your respects, you may worship Deacon Dark here on Facebook.