Michael Earl (Mike) Saunders (1952–)

aka: "Metal Mike"

Little Rock (Pulaski County) native Michael Earl Saunders is the lead singer and guitarist of the Angry Samoans, a California-based band that formed in 1978 out of the first wave of American punk music. Saunders, a music journalist in earlier years, was also the first to use the term “heavy metal” to describe the musical genre.

Mike Saunders (a.k.a. Metal Mike) was born on May 1, 1952, to Earl L. Saunders Jr., who was an architectural photographer, and Jean Cox Saunders, who was an office manager for Burns Security in Little Rock. He has one younger sibling. Saunders attended Hall High School in Little Rock, where he played trombone in the marching band. His first album review was published in Rolling Stone when he was sixteen years old. Saunders and his sibling Kevin Saunders (a trans woman who has been legally named Bonze Anne Rose Blayk since 2011), recorded their first album at their home in Little Rock in 1969 under the band name the Rockin’ Blewz. The album went unissued, but the fourteen songs were later released along with other tracks on one of Saunders’s solo albums, Surf City or Bust (1999).

Saunders graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BA in business statistics in 1973. Upon graduating, he moved to Hollywood, California, to be a part of the burgeoning punk scene. In 1974, he joined a backing lineup for 1950s rockabilly artist Ray Campi. Saunders returned to Little Rock in 1975 to pursue a degree in accounting at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) and maintained various jobs in accounting and finance throughout his musical career.

In May 1977, Saunders moved to North Hollywood, where he was promised a space to sleep for $30 a month. He formed the punk band VOM, along with fellow rock writer Gregg Turner on guitar and renowned writer and music critic Richard Meltzer on vocals, with Saunders on drums. The band also included Lisa Brenneis, Dave Guzman, and Phil Koehn. Though short-lived, VOM made an impact on the American punk scene with minor hits like “I’m in Love with Your Mom” and “Electrocute Your Cock.” The group disbanded after Meltzer left the band in 1978.

The Angry Samoans formed in 1978 and included VOM members Saunders and Turner, along with Kevin Saunders, Todd Homer, and Bill Vockeroth as original members. The Samoans’ first show was on October 28, 1978, in Richmond, California, opening for Roky Erickson and the Aliens—although Erickson was not present due to illness. The group’s first studio album, Inside My Brain (1980), emerged as one of the earliest hardcore punk albums to come out of the Los Angeles punk rock scene.

The Angry Samoans appeared to be a self-parody and were known for their political incorrectness and stage antics. Music journalist Natalie Nichols described the band as being “so blatantly offensive that you can’t be offended by it” on the group’s documentary, Angry Samoans: True Documentary(1995). As a band of rock writers, the Samoans’ humor and intelligence were built into their lyrics and performances.

The Angry Samoans generated controversy with the song “Get off the Air,” which was directed toward Rodney Bingenheimer, disk jockey of the long-running and popular Los Angeles rock station KROQ. Due to Bingenheimer’s powerful influence on the local music scene, the band was blacklisted from several clubs in Los Angeles when the song was included on Inside My Brain.

Saunders wrote for several rock magazines, including Rolling Stone, Creem, and The Village Voice alongside renowned music critics Lester Bangs, Richard Meltzer, and others. As a pioneer of a form of writing that articulated an aesthetic for rock and roll, Saunders did not attempt to intellectualize rock music but analyzed it intelligently, though in a very sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek manner.

A prolific song writer, Saunders released several solo albums in the nineties under the “Metal Mike” moniker. Saunders is credited as the first to use the term “heavy metal” to denote the genre and is recognized on the VH1 documentary Heavy: The Story of Metal (2006). He first used the phrase in a review for Humble Pie’s album As Safe as Yesterday Is (1969), in the November 1970 issue of Rolling Stone, and again in a review of Sir Lord Baltimore’s Kingdom Come (1970) in the May 1971 issue of Creem. In subsequent years, the term began being widely used to describe the genre.

After serving twenty-one years as an accounting and finance professional in the healthcare sector, Saunders took early retirement in 2009. The Angry Samoans continue to tour the United States and play locally in California with original members Saunders on guitar and vocals and Bill Vockeroth on drums and vocals, along with newer members Colin Alflen on guitar and vocals and Matt Vicknair on bass.

For additional information:
Angry Samoans. http://www.angrysamoans.com (accessed October 14, 2021).

Angry Samoans: True Documentary. 1995. YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqCQreez58w (accessed October 14, 2021).

Ziegler, Chris. “Parasites Like Me.” OC Weekly. September 13, 2001. http://web.archive.org/web/20160630233900/http://www.ocweekly.com:80/music/parasites-like-me-6422940 (accessed October 14, 2021).

Amy Ulmer
Memphis, Tennessee


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