I was a freshman at Montclair State College (now University) in New Jersey when Meat Loaf came to our campus for a performance. He wasn’t a household name yet (his debut album had just been released in October 1977) but that didn’t stop our Concerts Committee from booking him.
As an on-air member of our campus radio station, (WMSC-FM), I and the other student DJs had been playing the grooves off Bat Out of Hell for nearly a month. He came to our campus in mid-November to play in our Panzer Gym, a whopping 1,200 capacity venue.
Being a newly-commuting freshman, I was given one of the poorest on-air shifts: weekdays, 6-8 pm. Our weak FM signal could just be heard within the 10-mile radius of campus, but for that concert night, the timing worked especially well.
I’d planned to join my friends at the gym after my show was done. That’s before I looked up and through the studio glass, saw the figure of a big, long-haired guy. It was Meat Loaf.
Some of my station colleagues, working security for the concert venue, had convinced him to walk up the hill to our station for an interview. Before I knew it, “Mr. Loaf,” beamed his bigger-than-life smile at me. One of the students who brought him whispered in my ear, “Man, the guy was huffing and puffing all the way up the hill to get over here.” Beyond his notorious size, Meat Loaf was also 30 years old at that point. Dressed in a sweatshirt and sneakers, he took a seat opposite my turntables.
After introductions, we went straight into music talk. Right out of the gate, he asked, “What kind of music are you playing on your show?” I told him that we had a “free” format, and I played anything that was off the mainstream grid. “No Fleetwood Mac from me!” I offered an example of my playlist – “AND I like this new guy, Elvis Costello.” I was disappointed when he told me that he hadn’t yet listened to Costello, but we continued talking music.
He was impressed that I knew of his work on Ted Nugent’s last album (Free-For-All, 1976). He described Ted as a “character” and a great musician. I asked him to compare Ted to Todd Rundgren, Meat Loaf’s producer for Bat out of Hell. “No comparison between the two. A whole different approach. Todd sees the whole picture for the songs on the album, and how they should play out. Ted was one tack at a time”.
He had a lot of energy, darting and fidgeting on the small chair, as the warm banter continued. I asked if he was really “a hell of a block” from the lyric in his “All Revved Up with No Place To Go.” He let out a big laugh and said that indeed he played football in high school, and got his nickname from a coach due to his size. Then he admitted that he preferred softball.
I asked his thoughts on the differences between New York and his home state of Texas. He surprised me by saying he’d worked in Broadway musicals for several years, and he was quite used to the pace and attitude of the area.
“Did you like being in a stage-play environment?,” I asked rather awkwardly, as I didn’t have much knowledge (or interest) in Broadway. “Yes, I like to act, but I think I enjoy musical performance better. I’m being asked to be in films too.” Soon enough, his movie career would kick off with The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
When we went to a break, he asked to go around the corner to have a look at our music library. He spent a few minutes pulling records for examination, and then returned to the studio.
“Well, got to go, I got to get ready for the show,” he announced. As he hit the studio door, I asked, “Any surprises in the setlist?” “Yeah, we do a hell of a ‘Jonny B. Goode.’ We’ll do that tonight!”
While waving goodbye, he paused. “I never got through college. You study hard, OK?” And he was gone. I’d never met a rock star before and sort of expected a strung-out, long-haired freak. Instead, I experienced a good-natured big brother.
Soon I met up with my friends at the show. We had a lot of things in common, mainly as commuting students who could only afford a local state school. After that concert, we had one more thing in common: we all loved The Loaf. Forty years out, we still get together at least once a year to play Bat Out of Hell and sing at the top of our lungs.
That night in November 1977, we watched a great showman do his thing. Even though he was 1,500 feet away, Meat Loaf looked even bigger to me while on that stage. I couldn’t believe that I was watching the same gentle guy who had sat in front of me just a few hours before.
Decked in a frilly tux shirt, his handkerchief flying to wipe the profuse sweat that stuck to his stringy hair, he prowled the stage as a man possessed. Meat Loaf had the chops of a dynamic entertainer; his huge voice was only rivaled by his body size.
He had backup singer Karla DeVito with him that night; she wore a tight white leather bodysuit, designed to give us 18-year-old boys the bends. The two of them acted out the gestures suggested in the lyrics of “Paradise By The Dashboard Light,” with Meat ending the musical argument by throwing his microphone stand at her as the song concluded.
All the while, he showed that even rock stars are only mere mortals. After each song, the former football tackle was compelled to sit on the drum riser sucking in fresh oxygen through a mask in order to get himself together for the next epic performance. Man, that was some sweaty, sexy, vintage 70’s rock!
Naturally, my friends from that night all texted each other when we heard the news of his passing. Rest in peace Mr. Loaf; thanks for the 40-year talk.
Photo: Meatloaf (r) with composer Jim Steinman (Getty Images)