( #ReggieWu )
NOTE: With the Phillyist going dark, the Gothamist network has given me permission to reprint some of my favorite posts.
Just a few short decades ago Philadelphia was a thriving east coast home for the 80’s metal scene. Reggie Wu, a founding member of the Philly metal scene, was a guitarist for a band named Heavens Edge. Reggie became “Philly-famous,” and was signed to a contract with Columbia records. He sat down with Phillyist to tell us his story.
When was Heavens Edge active and where did the name come from?
We started around 1987 and stayed together until 1992ish. One of the guys in the band—Mark (Evans) was in a band called Network but they had to change their name because another band was already using it. They held a fan contest to pick the new name and Heavens Edge was one of the options. They didn’t use it but he remembered it and then we used it. A lot of people think it was [a combination of] our names “Evans/Reg”!
What was the Philadelphia music scene like when you were playing?
It was hot—Philly was awesome! Cinderella and Britny Fox earned record deals, so Philadelphia was the national hot spot for a bit. Every show was a mob scene. WMMR was fully behind the band.
How did the band get their record contract?
We set up a showcase at the Troc and invited seven labels to see us. Our managers said we would be lucky if one showed up. Right before we went on, they said all seven were there. We had a great show and got verbal offers from every label. It was the night of dreams.
Did you have any crazy rock star moments?
For us there was really no rock star lifestyle. I was the only one in the band who had a child so on off days I would landscape to make extra money because the salary from the band was never enough. Kept you real humble. There was one perk—when you are broke and trying to make it, all music equipment is impossible to get—when you finally get a record deal, all the music equipment is given to you for free.
The 80’s metal/rock scene was very … white. What was it like being an Asian American guitarist in the metal scene and in Philadelphia during that period?
It really wasn’t a big deal. I was a big fan of both Loudness (Akira Takasaki) and Jake E Lee. I guess I never really thought of myself as different.
How did you get started with music?
My mom is a classical piano teacher. It was the rule that at four or five-years-old we learned classical piano and a second instrument a few years after that. My second instrument was the violin and I hated it. Eventually I got a guitar, which obviously I loved.
But your parents were against playing metal guitar as a career?
Coming from a Chinese family, it was all about being a doctor or lawyer (as my siblings and peers became). So when I told my parents I was going to pursue music they were against it—if I wasn’t doing it their way I had to leave. So moved out at sixteen.
What was it like being sixteen-years-old and on your own?
It was awesome. I was the only sixteen-year-old with an apartment, although I was totally poor. You just got use living that way. I cut lawns after school for money and jammed every spare second that I had.
I was very fortunate. There were a couple of key families that really helped me stay alive. To this day I am grateful for what they did for me and I am still very close to them.
Did you ever make up with your parents?
Yes. Unfortunately my younger brother passed away in a tragic accident when he was fifteen. I was nineteen at the time and it brought us all back together. I am super close with my parents to this day.
As grunge became popular, what happened to the band?
Our shows definitely became smaller—the attendance got much thinner. We were struggling financially and creatively. We tried to get a bit grungy but it just wasn’t us. Me, Dave and George started another band that was “grungier” but it didn’t go anywhere.
Mark started a cover band to make some income—things were bad then. I sold most of my guitars for groceries. I had the fifth seven string ever made; Steve Vai got the first four—I sold it for like $500, it is probably worth a ton more today.
How did you land on your feet?
My mom was a classical piano teacher—she always had me teaching when I was young. When the band broke up, I ran an ad in a local paper and got my first twenty students. I have been teaching ever since.
Is it hard to tell your students to focus in class with your rock and roll experiences?
I try to relay all the info that I can and give them as much good advice as possible. I relate well with my students. Nothing is more gratifying than seeing them succeed. It is all about helping the next generation get rockin!
Looking back, what are your overall thoughts on the Philly metal scene?
We all formed a really close-knit musical community. There are some really amazing musicians in this area. I am very proud to say I came from the Philly music scene!