NEW YORK (Billboard) - By his own estimation, Meat Loaf has
turned down offers to appear in five movies, six episodes of
the new TV hit "Heroes" and a guest-starring stint on "CSI"
If he wanted, the rock veteran could be working like, well,
a bat out of hell. But come to think of it ... he is anyway.
The monster that Meat Loaf helped create in 1977 has been
unleashed again, and it's chewing up all his time and energy --
with his full and willing cooperation.
Virgin Records releases "Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster
Is Loose" on October 31, adding a new chapter to the biggest
and best-known album serial in rock 'n' roll history. Its two
predecessors -- 1977's "Bat Out of Hell" and 1993's "Bat Out of
Hell II: Back Into Hell" -- have sold nearly 50 million copies
combined, and Meat Loaf is well aware that the anticipation for
the threequel is as much, if not more, about the "Bat" than it
is about him.
"'Bat Out of Hell' are not Meat Loaf's records," the singer
says. "'Bat Out of Hell' is bigger than me. It's bigger than
any of us who are involved. Meat Loaf becomes the spoke in the
wheel of an event, and it's the event that takes over."
The "Bat" experience started in the mid-'70s. Back then,
Meat Loaf, a one-time high school football player born Marvin
Lee Aday in Dallas, had established credits on stage ("Hair")
and screen ("The Rocky Horror Picture Show"), recorded an album
for Motown in 1971 with "hair" colleague Shaun "Stoney" Murphy
and sang on Ted Nugent's "Free for All" album in 1976.
Meat Loaf met Jim Steinman when the singer performed in the
composer's musical "More Than You Deserve." The two were part
of a tour for the National Lampoon Road Show. While Steinman
was working on what Meat Loaf calls "a futuristic Peter Pan
story" called "Neverland," he came up with the idea for the
first "Bat Out of Hell" album, enlisting his friend to sing.
All melodrama and bombast -- Phil Spector meets Tod Browning --
the Todd Rundgren-produced album became a late-'70s sensation,
spawning three hits ("Two Out of Three Ain't Bad," "You Took
the Words Right Out of My Mouth" and "Paradise by the Dashboard
Light") and logging an 82-week stay on the Billboard 200.
A second "Bat" project was planned to follow immediately,
but Meat Loaf suffered a psychosomatic voice loss he now chalks
up to simply being unready to take the plunge again.
"I thought it was way too early," he says. "My intuition
said, 'You don't want to do this. "Bat Out of Hell" is still
selling this many copies a week. Why do you want to squash
this? Why not let it just run its course? Come back in five
years and do it.'
"If that record came out when they wanted to bring it out,
I wouldn't be sitting here talking about 'Bat III."'
Instead, Steinman recorded the songs himself as 1981's "Bad
for Good," which didn't come close to equaling the success of
"Bat." But a dozen years later, "Bat II" hit pay dirt, winging
to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and pushing Meat Loaf toward a
Grammy Award for best male rock vocal performance for the
chart-topping single "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do
"Bat III" went through a little hell before it became a
reality, too. Meat Loaf and Steinman started working on it in
late 2001, but the composer suffered some health setbacks,
including a heart attack, forcing Meat Loaf to make the
difficult decision to move forward without him.
"I told Jim I wouldn't do 'Bat II' without him, and I had
no intention of doing that," Meat Loaf says, adding that
"lawyers worked for over a year putting together a contract for
him to do 'Bat Out of Hell III.' It was one of the best
producer's contracts in the history of the record business."
Meat Loaf acknowledges that his decision to sideline
Steinman -- who still composed seven of the tracks on "Bat III"
-- "was absolutely selfish on my part. He had a heart attack
and two strokes; his health was the main concern for me. I know
the stamina that it takes to put together a 'Bat Out of Hell'
record, and the intensity. I just did not believe he was
healthy enough to sustain it.
"The decision not to use Steinman has taken its toll on me.
It was not easy, because I am a really loyal person. But I had
to make the decision that was right. I couldn't sit around and
Steinman would not comment on the issue to Billboard, but
his manager, David Sonenberg, says that "Jim's health is
excellent. That's not the reason he didn't participate in ("Bat
III"). He had some meaningful health problems about four years
ago, but he's been totally healthy the last couple of years.
His health in no way impacted on his involvement in the 'Bat
Out of Hell' project."
Sonenberg says Steinman is in the midst of working on a
"Bat" theater piece, which probably will debut in England.
Meat Loaf subsequently wound up going to court earlier this
year to wrest from his collaborator the "Bat" trademark, which
the singer says Steinman had acquired through an attorney's
"clerical error." The $50 million matter was settled out of
court. Steinman received profit percentage points on the
record, which Meat Loaf says is "fine. ... That kind of makes
up for me not using him" to produce it.
GUITAR ARMY ENLISTED
Meat Loaf chose Desmond Child, a hitmaker with plenty of
hard rock credits (Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Kiss) and a burning
desire to be part of the "Bat" story.
Child -- who began recording sessions by playing Slipknot
CDs to get the assembled musicians in the mood -- had plenty of
help bringing "Bat III" to life. Rundgren returned to help
arrange backing vocals. Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx, former
Marilyn Manson and current Rob Zombie guitarist John5, Steve
Vai and James Michael contributed to the songwriting, while
Vai, John5, Grammy-winning producer John Shanks and Queen's
Brian May were part of the album's guitar army.
"I didn't just want to bring in rock players -- I wanted to
go to extreme rock people," Meat Loaf says. The result, he
adds, is an album that "has all the touches of the other two
'Bats,' but it's much more of a rock album."
Nevertheless, the album's first single, a duet with Marion
Raven on "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," falls decidedly on
the pop and even adult contemporary side of the spectrum. The
song, a Steinman-penned hit for Celine Dion in 1996, originally
was slated for "Bat II," and Meat Loaf is still disappointed
("I'd use a stronger adjective," he says with a laugh) that he
didn't get first crack at it.
The "Bat III" campaign, however, started with the
hard-rocking title track. Honing in on Meat Loaf's association
with Major League Baseball -- dating back to the spoken segment
on "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" by Hall of Fame
broadcaster Phil Rizzuto -- Virgin took "The Monster Is Loose"
to the league for play at ballparks during broadcasts.
Meat Loaf's appearance in the upcoming Tenacious D film
"The Pick of Destiny" should also be a boost for "Bat." And on
Halloween night, Pillar Entertainment will present a "Bat III"
release event in more than 100 theaters across the country,
which will include footage from the recording sessions and the
video for "It's All Coming Back to Me Now."
Meat Loaf is planning a "Bat III" world tour that begins in
March in Florida. He staged a special concert showcasing all
three albums October 16 at London's Royal Albert Hall, with a
"Bat on Broadway" performance slated for November 2 at New
York's Palace Theater. He'll also perform the show in Toronto,
Atlantic City, N.J.; Uncasville, Conn.; and Mexico City.
"I'll tell you what ties (the albums) together," Meat Loaf
says. "They're all very funny. They're all tongue-in-cheek.
It's all these high, tense, emotional songs that are way over
the top, and that's what makes them 'Bat Out of Hell' ".
He adds, "Maybe that's what makes them so difficult to