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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.