It looked like Anthrax were at the top of their game when they finished touring for their debut album Fistful of Metal and prepared to write their second record, which was scheduled to be released through a joint deal with Island Records. But while they were soon to hit a pivotal point in their career, the creation of Spreading the Disease — which came out Oct. 30, 1985 — it didn’t come without running over some major bumps in the road.
As soon as Anthrax finished touring for Fistful, the band fired vocalist Neil Turbin. They had already written a batch of new songs are were getting ready to work on them with their planned new vocalist Matt Fallon, who used to sing in the band Steel Fortune (which also featured future Skid Row guitarist Dave Sabo).
The band entered Pyramid Sound Studios in Ithaca, N.Y., and recorded drums, guitars and bass for most of the songs. But Fallon wasn’t up to the task. While he sounded fine onstage, he lacked confidence and discipline in the studio and no matter how hard Anthrax tried, they were unable to get him to deliver decent vocal takes. So Anthrax put Fallon on a bus and sent him home.
Once again, Anthrax were in a tough situation without a singer. “We were so desperate, we were actually entertaining the idea of becoming a four-piece,” guitarist Scott Ian says. “Like KISS, we’d have two singers. Frankie [Bello] would be Paul [Stanley] and I would be Gene [Simmons], because Frankie had a clean singing voice and I could do a hardcore kind of thing. We’d split up the songs, and that was literally our plan B, because we didn’t know what we were going to do, and we couldn’t sit on it much longer. Nobody was thrilled with that idea. Mostly me and Frankie were not thrilled with it, but we figured If this is what we have to do to finish the record than let’s do it.”
As interesting as Spreading the Disease might have sounded with Ian and Bello on vocals, the band’s producer Carl Canedy, who was in the Rods, suggested Anthrax track down a local singer named Joey who had long curly hair and sang in a band called Bible Black, which used to play shows in Upstate New York. Not long after, Canedy located Joey Belladonna in Plattsburgh, N.Y., playing in a cover band. A quick phone call later and Belladonna agreed to try out for Anthrax even though he had never heard of them and didn’t know anything about thrash metal.
“He showed up wearing these really, really tight jeans, these boots -- I can’t even explain -- just s--tty poseur leather boots,” Ian says. “I think even one of them had a chain on it, and he had an animal print shirt that was cut a little too short, no sleeves, very poseur-ish. I’m looking at his clothes with my jaw open, standing there in an Agnostic Front t-shirt and my ripped Levis with suspenders hanging down and Doc Martens on. I thought to myself, ‘What the f--- have we gotten ourselves into here?’”
Since there was a microphone set up and since Belladonna showed for the audition, the band asked him to sing something. He auditioned with songs by Journey, Foreigner and Deep Purple. While Anthrax didn’t vibe with his choice of audition material they could tell Belladonna had magical pipes.
“Instantly, Carl was like, ‘That’s your golden ticket right there,’” Ian says. ‘”Listen to that guy’s voice. You guys will be unlike any other band out there. This is going to put you miles ahead of anybody.’”