It was one of those perfect spring-like Saturday afternoons. The sun was shining, the temperature was just right, and there was a freshness in the air. That’s when, as I was driving down the highway, my shuffle landed on a song that it hadn’t played in a few months. While I didn’t like White Wizzard’s High Speed GTO EP nearly as much as the follow-up full-length, 2010’s Over the Top, the title track is a near-perfect hard rock road tune.
When that big guitar harmony kicked in at the beginning – something straight out of an Iron Maiden classic – I had to reach over, bump the volume up and roll down the windows.
Though I still have quibbles with the spelling of the band’s name, the retro sound they bring to the table is awesome. White Wizzard was formed as a response to all the down-tuned, angsty metal of the modern scene. The mission was to put the fun back in the music, and with “High Speed GTO,” they definitely accomplished that. From the sound of the song to the campy, cheesy, yet awesome video – which features the band being pursued across the desert by a seriously overacting black witch before ultimately summoning the white wizard to to take care of her – it’s pure, unadulterated fun.
There are some chops involved, too. Those big guitar harmonies are quite nice, with the band wearing its Maiden influence on its sleeve. That’s backed up even more by the big, driving bass lines of band founder Jon Leon. In the spirit of Steve Harris and Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler, his bass lines are an integral part of the White Wizzard sound – maybe a bit too much on the band’s latest effort Flying Tigers, but that has nothing to do with the song at hand. Singer James-Paul Luna, who I was not initially a fan of on this EP but have grown to appreciate in his new band Holy Grail, has the perfect voice for the tune, and there’s also an ‘80s pop rock sensibility to the melody with an appeal beyond metal.
Shortly after this EP was released, Leon fired the entire band, and the other members went on to form Holy Grail, a similar outfit with a little less campiness. Since then, the membership of White Wizzard has been a revolving door with members joining, leaving and joining again. Only Leon and drummer Giovanni Durst, who joined in 2009, have been constants, which probably contributed to a less impressive outing on last year’s Flying Tigers.
Band relations aside, though, “High Speed GTO” is the perfect song for this time of year. It’s a song where you’ll want to keep a close watch on your speedometer as you cruise the highway, radio cranked, windows down, wind in your hair, with nowhere to go. Sadly, I was driving a low-speed pickup truck, have no hair left and was on my way to work for the evening, but for a few minutes there, I rocked along with White Wizzard and imagined things were different.
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