The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
At Xcel’s first show in the Robert A. “Bob” Bowers Civic Center, the ticket holders ran out of tickets and resorted to stamping hands in order to admit the more than 1,000 people who lined up outside the door to see the band.
It was the mid-80s, and the five young men who made up the metal band had long hair and a dream: to become rock stars.
Fast forward 24 years. It’s 2010, and the members of the Midcounty-based band Xcel live in separate cities and hold down day jobs. They seldom if ever pick up their instruments to pluck a few chords. But the Internet buzzes about the first and only album the band released in 1986, “Deliver This Dream.”
One night when the band members got together, they found mention of Xcel and its only album spanning more than 10 pages of Google results. Several metal blogs had reviewed the album and commended the band’s initiative. One of the bloggers was in Greece.
Kevin Cox, one of Xcel’s guitarists, dropped the Greek blogger, Chris Papadakis, a note to thank him for the review, and that was the start of a conversation that would result in a deal to re-release “Deliver This Dream.”
A dream begins
Rewind back to 1985 before “Deliver This Dream.” Xcel was born out of a cover band, Wizzard, in which four of the five Xcel members played. When Wizzard fell apart, Xcel formed with the addition of guitarist Barry Duncan.
“That’s when we decided to change the look and direction of the band,” Duncan said.
They tossed out the old, recycled music sheets and picked up their pens and instruments, ready and eager to write something original. Duncan and bassist Peter Voight said they found inspiration in Kiss and several other bands, like Van Halen, Queensryche, Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin.
“We all listened to very similar music, but we all listened to different stuff, too,” Voight said. “We would blend it all together.”
Together, Duncan, Voight, Cox and singer Kevin Luke and drummer Dag Gabourel would work on the songs, careful to stick to their sound. Because if something did not sound like Xcel, it would be thrown out through a somewhat democratic process, Duncan said.
“We knew we were better together,” he said. “The whole point was not us. It was the song.”
Where did the name come from? It’s hard to say, Duncan said.
“It kind of fit what we were trying to do,” he said. “It came to mean something to us.”
Xcel was not a typical garage band though. The band members treated it like a job, like a business, practicing every day of the week and seeking out opportunities to play gigs nearby, such as their first show at the civic center.
The band garnered the attention of a manager and promoter after playing a show at Phideaux’s in Houston one night, and all of a sudden Xcel had investors. Collectively, the band members started saving the money they had earned from their shows so they could produce an album, but the recording process was something they had not expected.
“It was atrocious,” Duncan said.
They were nervous, never having set foot in a recording studio before, he said. It was a lot of pressure with everyone watching from the control room, he said, but they wanted to produce an album in the hopes of getting signed to a major record label.
“We were young and inexperienced in a studio,” Voight said. “I can remember just going in and almost being scared.”
But they did it and recorded the eight songs that constitute “Deliver This Dream.” They sent 500 copies to radio stations across the country to “see if they would bite” and ended up getting some positive feedback from California, the Seattle area and the Eastern Seaboard, Duncan said. But nothing ever happened.
“I’m sure that’s the story of thousands of bands,” he said.
A dream dissipates
Several events precipitated Xcel’s split. Though the band’s manager took Xcel to California, again nothing ever came of it. The manager tried to take one of Xcel’s investor’s money and put it into another band he was managing at the same time, Duncan said. The investor refused, saying he knew Xcel, not this other band.
Duncan said the band probably would have gone further without a manager because the investors were attracted to the band and its music.
Then Black Monday happened. Stock markets around the world crashed and burned, and all of Xcel’s investors pulled out in October 1987.
“I would have figured we’d have been a better investment,” Duncan said.
Their dreams of becoming rock stars began to dissipate. They had other dreams, like graduating from college and starting families, so they put down their instruments and pondered a different path.
But somehow their music made its way to Europe, where it was well-received by many.
Voight had traveled to England with his family in 1988 and passed out copies of “Deliver This Dream” to radio stations, vinyl shops and family members, but he had no idea if that was how the album found its way into the hands of European metal fans, he said.
A dream resurfaces
Ten or so years later, the band members started seeing Xcel and its album scrawled across the pages of the Web. An eBay member out of Greece was selling signed copies of the vinyl album for $315.99, but Duncan and Voight seriously doubted they were really signed by Xcel. The latest transaction for the signed album closed Oct. 9.
“I wouldn’t pay for that album,” Duncan said with a chuckle.
However it happened, Xcel’s album had made a name for itself. Voight got calls from Italy, Greece and Germany, inquiring about the status of the band and seeing if it could come play. The band was baffled.
After Cox read the review by Papadakis, the Greek blogger, about two years ago and thanked him, Papadakis could not contain his excitement over finally getting in contact with the obscure American metal band from Southeast Texas that had released only the sole album.
Papadakis partly owns Arkeyn Steel Records, a Greek record company that specializes in releasing rare, high quality metal bands that have been neglected or whose music was never released. And he wanted to release 1,000 copies of “Deliver This Dream” on the record label’s dime.
Arkeyn Steel Records announced the release of “Deliver This Dream” on its website Oct. 18. The band expected the album to come out sometime during the spring, for Papadakis has been gathering liner notes, photographs and promotions for the re-released album. If the album sells out, Xcel could have the chance to play in Europe and possibly live the dream on which the band was built.
“We had long since given up,” Duncan said.
Xcel certainly did not expect to achieve this kind of success 20 years down the road. But this made the band realize how much they had missed their music.
“I loved it. I actually have missed it,” Voight said. “I put up my bass, and I didn’t play for 26 years.”
And if “Deliver This Dream” sells out, the band might be able to release a new album.
“I’d be tickled,” Duncan said. “Would any of us turn down going to Europe? No.
“Who knows?” he said. “We’re just keeping our fingers crossed.”