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When it comes to doom metal singers, there are three untouchable legends: Ozzy Osbourne, Pentagram’s Bobby Liebling, and Scott “Wino” Weinrich. From his humble start as a teenager playing in heavy bands in Maryland and the DC scene, Wino moved to LA and went on to front Saint Vitus during the band’s prime years on SST Records in the late ’80s. Since then he’s led many bands, such as The Obsessed and Spirit Caravan, and been involved with countless side projects, establishing himself as an iconic figure in the world of doom and stoner rock.
He’s dealt with his share of conflict, succumbing to sporadic drug abuse throughout the years and most recently getting busted with meth in Norway while touring with Saint Vitus. But despite his downfalls, there’s a very human side of Wino that comes through in his singing, guitar playing, and lyricism. In a word, he’s got soul. He writes about his emotions and the darker parts of life that we can all relate to, whether it’s addiction, heartbreak, or a corrupt government.
This past weekend at Thief’s Psycho California festival, Weinrich fronted Bedemon for their first-ever live performance. Considered the first American doom band, Bedemon is a Pentagram offshoot that featured Liebling’s vocals, which were performed by Wino. In light of this awesome collaboration, I went through the Wino songbook and chose the 10 tracks that best define him as an artist, from his earliest work in The Obsessed to his most recent acoustic albums. It’s hard not to hear him as the protagonist in his own lyrics, so in many ways, these also speak to who he is as a person, weaving a biography of songs about a journeyman singer who just keeps on keeping on.
The Obsessed – “Sodden Jackal” (1983)
A 16-year-old Wino formed The Obsessed (originally Warhorse) back in 1976 when he lived in rural Maryland. The band remained active until he joined Saint Vitus in 1986, recording an EP and a shelved album for Metal Blade Records. “Sodden Jackal”, a ferocious cut of nihilistic doom metal, comes from that first EP. It sets the template for everything Wino would do thereafter. For ’83, it was too heavy, even for Metal Blade.
HE’LL NEVER BE LIKE YOU
Saint Vitus – “Born Too Late” (1986)
For many, this was their first time hearing Wino, who replaced Scott Reagers as the frontman of Saint Vitus in 1986. Written by guitarist Dave Chandler, “Born Too Late” is the ultimate stoner metal anthem and the perfect introduction for Wino. “I know I don’t belong/ And there’s nothing that I can do,” he sings. “I was born too late/ And I’ll never be like you.” It’s a song about him and people like him — the denim-clad, the longhairs, the stoners — and holding true to one’s personality despite the pressures of social conformity and those who enforce it.
THE SST YEARS
Saint Vitus – “Thirsty and Miserable” (1987)
Maybe Black Flag wrote this song as a satire of its subject matter, but for Saint Vitus, it was another declaration of their lifestyle as a scuzzy band from California touring their asses off and getting by day-to-day on booze and herb. The back sleeve shows the band sprawled out on a sidewalk with Budweiser. It’s ’80s as fuck, like The Replacements crossed with Black Sabbath. Even if they didn’t sound like a punk band, Wino-era Saint Vitus shared the punk ethos and belonged on SST Records. Lyrically, they focused on the real, relatable, and sometimes deeply personal, same as Meat Puppets, Black Flag, and Hüsker Dü.
CONCERNING DEPRESSION AND LOSS
Saint Vitus – “When Emotion Dies” (1989)
One of the few Wino-written Saint Vitus songs, “When Emotion Dies” is a fingerpicked ballad, a lament on depression and how we’re all susceptible to it, foreshadowing the acoustic projects of his latter career and the bluesy doom of Phil Anselmo’s Down. When so many metal bands in the late ’80s and early ’90s were fixated on death and cartoonish gore, Chandler and Wino chose to write about more tangible human motifs. The darkness in the songs doesn’t come from some contrived, superficial evil posturing, but from a place far more real and volatile: the heart.
The Obsessed – “Hiding Mask” (1991)
Weinrich has never been afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. Opening with a minor arpeggio, this track from 1991’s Lunar Mask is a Rimbaudian love poem.
Pure heart, clean soul
Maybe in some way I guided you
Summer’s torn away winter’s doorway
To the winds I spat and lies I threw
Holding nothing, your eyes they swim in front of me
The Obsessed – “Lunar Womb” (1991)
Weinrich’s guitar talents took a backseat in Saint Vitus, but once The Obsessed reformed in 1990, he was finally given a platform to showcase his abilities. One of his most complex pieces is the title track from Lunar Womb, which builds from droning dissonance to a wah solo of ascending and descending scales, a Wino signature.
NO REST FOR THE WICKED
Spirit Caravan – “Dead Love/Jug Fulla Sun” (1999)
Weinrich has remained active musically since he was 16, involving himself in dozens of overlapping projects without letting the quantity overwhelm the quality. His short-lived power trio Spirit Caravan, with Gary Isom and Dave Sherman, was perhaps his best “other band,” netting two solid full-lengths — Jug Fulla Sun and Elusive Truth — before the group called it quits in 2002, reforming in 2014 with Saint Vitus drummer Henry Vasquez replacing Isom.
WINO ON TOWNES
Wino – “Rake” (2012)
Both troubadours and plainspoken poets, Wino covering Townes Van Zandt is a beautiful thing. 2012’s Songs of Townes Van Zandt features three solo acoustic covers by Weinrich, including this version of “Rake”. The similarity between their respective songcraft is apparent when you hear Wino sing the bitter words, for his music carries the same existential weight, at ease with its own despair.
ALONE AND ADRIFT
Wino – “I Don’t Care” (2010)
Which brings us to his more recent solo albums, such as the folky Adrift. Decades later and he’s the same old Wino: “born too late” and proud of it. “Wear my hair down to my knees,” he sings on “I Don’t Care”. “I go where I want/ Lord, I do just what I please.” His sentiment hasn’t changed, but the music’s quiet and careful — a testament to his versatility as a songwriter and guitarist.