Origin of the term "Heavy Metal" music

Browne Donald (absee@hq.afis.osd.mil)
Mon, 11 Aug 97 06:48:00 PDT

Dear Sixties People,

I am researching the origin of the phrase "Heavy Metal," which describes
a musical genre which began in the late sixties.

In the PBS series "Rock And Roll", which originally aired on September
26, 1995, in the fifth hour entitled "Crossroads," "Chas" Chandler was
interviewed in his capacity as manager of the Jimi Hendrix Experience
in 1969. In discussing the origin of the music genre phrase, "Heavy Metal",
he said ".....it was a term originated in a New York Times article
reviewing a Jimi Hendrix performance." Chandler said the author called
the Hendrix Experience "...like listening to heavy metal falling from the
I have researched The New York Times Index [1966-1972] and can find
no reference to a musical review of The Jimi Hendrix Experience or the
coining of the phrase "Heavy Metal." In articles discussing Hendrix' death,
The New York Times actually coined the phrase "space-rock" and "space
music," to describe the music of Hendrix.

I contacted Elizabeth Deane, executive producer, PBS' "Rock &Roll" who
forwarded my question to her counterpart at the BBC, Hugh Thomson.
"Rock & Roll" was a co-production of WGBH and the BBC, and the Hendrix
program was made by the BBC. Unfortunately, "Chas" Chandler died on
July 17, 1996 [only weeks before my initial inquiry] so the BCC couldn't go
back to him.
On August 1, 1996, Hugh Thomson put the question to Charles Schaar Murray,
author of "Crosstown Traffic" and an advisor to the production. No

In the possibility that "Chas" was mis-attributing "Rolling Stone," I
interviewed Ben Fong Torres, who worked at "Rolling Stone" during the time
period in question (1967-1974). He remembers no such "coining" in
"Rolling Stone."
I also contacted the database for "Rolling Stone" to see if it contained a
Jimi Hendrix Experience review, possibly by Lester Bangs or Dave Marsh.
No luck.

Another possibility was that "Chas" was mis-attributing "Creem" magazine.
Biographers of the late Lester Bangs claim that he coined the phrase from
the William S. Burrough's story "The Heavy Metal Kid."
I read a compilation of "the best reviews of Lester Bangs" in a novel with
the Bangian title "Psychotic Reaction and Carburetor Dung." No such coined
phrase was evident.

Author Deena Weinstein, in her novel "Heavy Metal, A Cultural Sociology"
vaguely references two William S. Burrough's stories, "The Heavy Metal Kid"
and "Metal Men From Uranus." as the source of the phrase.

An article about the origin of "Heavy Metal" appeared in the first [or
second] issue of Mondo 2000, back around 1990. In that article, Buck
Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult and Roger McGuinn (Byrds) were talking to an
Among other things, one of them claimed to have coined the expression.
Dharma, I believe, pegged the time for the origin of this phrase as 1970 or

There was a mumbled phrase in the 1968 Steppenwolf song, "Born To Be Wild"
that went "I like smoke and lightning, heavy metal thunder."
John Kay, the group's founder, lead singer, and songwriter has claimed
credit for the phrase (although the song is actually about the motorcycle

In my research, I have found that acolytes of music industry luminaries
ascribe the term to their patron; Lester Bangs and Dave Marsh are most
frequently mentioned. Any opinions from the sixties group?
Donald S. Browne (absee@hq.afis.osd.mil)