Before Megadeth’s Vic Rattle-Head, Motley Crue’s Allister Fiend and Anthrax’ NOT Man, there was Eddie. A standout in the field of heavy metal mascots, with a face as recognizable as the president’s to a generation of disenchanted youth, Eddie is the perennial yardstick by which all future metal mascots will, must, be measured.
His genesis dates back to the murky time when Dennis Wilcock was Iron Maiden’s lead singer. A huge Kiss fan, Wilcock used to spice up the band’s East End shows with a barrage of cheap visual gimmicks. Among his most impressive feats involved running a sword through one side of his mouth and out the other during the song “Iron Maiden,” all the while his wounds dribbled fake blood down his chin. After Wilcock left the band, Maiden wanted to retain the theatrical element he had added to their shows, so local acquaintance of Harris’, Dave Beasly (nicknamed Dave Lights because of his inventive stage sets), began designing makeshift props out of light bulbs, vacuum cleaner parts, flowerpots and whatever else he could get his hands on.
One of Beasly’s earliest designs consisted of a backdrop with the band’s logo painted on it, and embellished with a ghostly papier-mâché mask. During the performance of “Iron Maiden,” he would use an aquarium air-pump to spew blood from its mouth.
“We started to call the mask ‘The ‘ead,’ because you don’t pronounce the H in London,” says Harris. “And from there he just became ‘Eddie the ‘ead.” Eddie remained in this bodiless state until the end of 1979, when Rod Smallwood came across a poster drawn b artist Derek Riggs and asked him to bring his portfolio up to Maiden’s office. The band was particularly impressed with one Riggs drawing of a wild-eyed, spiky-haired punk, and decided to use it for the cover of their debut album.
Before the record was released, they had Riggs design the sleeve of their first single, “Running Free,” which pictured Eddie at the back of an alley, shrouded in darkness. “We didn’t want to give away his identity before the album came out,” says Harris. “So we kept his face hidden in the shadows.”
It wasn’t long after the release of Iron Maiden that Eddie began making headlines. Riggs’ artwork for “Sanctuary,” the second single off the album, depicted Eddie, bloody knife in hand, crouching over the corpse of a woman who had torn down an Iron Maiden poster. The problem: the dead woman was then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. England’s Daily Mirror ran the headline, “It’s Murder! Maggie gets rock mugging,” while the Scottish Young Tories publicly proclaimed the sleeve to be “in very bad taste.” Later pressings of the British single were censored with a black bar drawn over Thatcher’s eyes. “It was really just a bit of a joke,” says Murray. “People had begun calling Thatcher the Iron Maiden, and they thought that we had taken the name from her, when in actuality, we were using it first.”
“So we decided to let Eddie have a go at her,” laughs Harris. But Maiden allowed the Prime Minister to have her revenge on the cover of their next single, “Women in Uniform,” where Thatcher is seen hiding in the shadows with a machine gun, as Eddie, flanked by a schoolgirl and a nurse on either side, approaches unawares. Not surprisingly, the band ran into controversy once again, this time from feminists outraged that not only was old Ed a murderer but a womanizer to boot.
Eddie’s appearance on stage grew commensurately with his growth as a media star. By 1982’s Beast on the Road Tour, he had grown to a massive 12 feet tall and roamed the stage freely, terrorizing both the band and the audience. The enormous mummified Eddie of the World Slavery Tour ruled over the entire arena, bursts of flame shooting from his eyes, while on 1988’s Seventh Tour of a Seventh Tour, Eddie the Guru sat cross-legged at the back of the stage, crystal ball in hand.
Ed’s onstage persona was always based on the sleeve of the album Maiden was touring in support of, and some of Riggs’ more memorable cover art saw Eddie playing puppet master to Satan (The Number of the Beast), receiving a lobotomy (Piece of Mind), traveling back in time to become an Egyptian sphinx (Powerslave) and jumping ahead to the future as a cyborg (Somewhere in Time).
In 1992, the band decided that it was time to inject some fresh blood (so to speak) into their mascot and invited several artists to submit new designs for Eddie. The winner, a drawing by Melvyn Grant, was featured on the cover of the Fear of the Dark album. Grant also did the artwork for 1999’s Virtual XI.
“Derek had been doing all the designs for the band almost since day one,” explains Iron Maiden’s drummer, Nicko McBrain. “Basically, we just felt that it was time for a change, to get some new ideas. But Derek is still very much a part of the Iron Maiden family. He still does the artwork on our T-shirts, and he also did the single, ‘The angel and the Gambler.'”
In July 1999, Eddie made the leap into the 21st Century as the star of Ed Hunter, a 3D video game designed by the band in conjunction with Synthetic Dimensions.
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