By Dave Pehling

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — It may not have reached the global audience of fellow New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard, but veteran U.K. group Saxon has definitely earned its place in headbanging history. Founded in the late ’70s by charismatic singer Peter “Biff” Byford and guitarist Paul Quinn, the group issued a string of hit albums starting with Wheels of Steel in 1980 that established the format that the quintet would follow on subsequent efforts Strong Arm of the Law and Denim and Leather.

Gritty anthems like “Princess of the Night,” “Denim and Leather” and “Wheels of Steel” established the band’s biker-metal aesthetic and, while Saxon didn’t match their British and European success in the States during the hair-metal era, the group would still earn a loyal following among U.S. fans of metal music. Those classic recordings also exerted an influence on the heavier sounds of burgeoning thrash bands like Metallica and Anthrax on their early albums.

Saxon found its fortunes decline in the U.S. as the ’80s turned into the ’90s, but Byford and guitarist Quinn continued to enjoy European and British success, remaining a regular headliner at metal festivals through the decade. Saxon has enjoyed a revival of interest over the last ten years, releasing acclaimed albums like The Inner SanctumInto the Labyrinth and most recently their brand new effort, Thunderbolt.

While currently on tour with Judas Priest (who they will be supporting at a sold-out gig at the Warfield Thursday night), Saxon is squeezing in a few headlining shows of it’s own including Wednesday’s concert at the Cornerstone in Berkeley where the group will be joined by popular Bay Area hard-rock tribute outfit the Butlers.

Founded by guitarists Billy Rowe (a veteran of ’80s SF metal band Jetboy) and Craig Behrhorst (who played with Ruffians, another Bay Area metal act from the same era), the Butlers specialize in playing the blues-based rock songs from the ’70s that inspired their respective bands. The band is filled out by musicians who have put in time with such local institutions as thrash-metal icons Exodus and Death Angel, sleazy punk merchants American Heartbreak and hard rockers Immigrant.

The players’ collective connections in the music world also has led the band to welcoming a number of heavyweights onstage to perform, including former Ted Nugent singer Derek St. Holmes and longtime Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens. Frequently included on bills alongside other tribute bands, the Butlers reputation for putting on raucous, good time shows has led to  spots opening for groups like Ratt, the late guitarist Ronnie Montrose’s band Gamma and L.A. Guns. Rising stoner-metal band the Watchers, who recently released their debut album on Bay Area-based imprint Ripple Music, opens the show.

Wednesday, April 18, 7:30 p.m. $25
The Cornerstone


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