I’ve been looking so long for you now… You won’t get away from my grasp…
As 2019 promises to be another memorable year for Maidenmaniacs from all over the world, especially for the ones that reside in the United States, Canada, Mexico and South America who will have the utmost pleasure of seeing Steve, Bruce & Co. live during their upcoming Legacy of the Beast Tour 2019, there’s nothing better than kicking off our Metal Chick of the Month section with an amazing bass player that truly understands what it means to be part of the legacy (and also continuing our tradition of starting the year with a badass girl on bass guitar, of course). I’m talking about Wanda Ortiz (or Wanda A. Ortiz), the skillful bass player for the all-female tribute band The Iron Maidens (billed as the “World’s Only Female Tribute to Iron Maiden”) under the brilliant stage name of Steph Harris, who’s ready to crush your skull in half to the sound of her thunderous, galloping bass allied to her endless stamina when performing live.
Born on March 27, 1968 in Huntington Beach, a California city southeast of Los Angeles, Wanda first learned to play bass at the early age of nine years old, when the elementary school she attended had a music program that enabled students to sign up and choose an instrument. When she arrived late on the first day of music class, she wound up with a junior-sized double bass, and from that moment on we can say it was “love at first gallop”. In addition to that, while she took lessons on the double bass, also known as an upright bass, Wanda also taught herself how to play electric bass when she was 11 years old in order to play in the school jazz band, and she continued playing bass throughout her school years, eventually earning a Bachelor of Music in Performance (BMus) degree from UCI – University of California, Irvine. One funny thing about Wanda and her relationship with the bass guitar is that, according to Wanda herself, she felt a little sad about her instrument when in high school because she could rarely play the melody, which were the fun parts for her, as she got stuck with simpler lines meant to hold down the beat (in other words, a typical bass line), which despite being very important could get really boring at times. Luckily, she had a friend who told her about bands like Iron Maiden and Rush that really featured bass in their music and, after listening to them, she felt a lot better.
Moving on to her career as a musician, our dauntless bassist, who plays a variety of styles such as Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Blues and classical music armed with her glitter blue G&L SB-2 bass guitar and her black SB-2 bass guitar on select shows, started playing in a more professional way in 1997, when she joined a California-based Punk Rock/Rock N’ Roll band named Rotten Rod & The Warheads. She was their bassist from 1997 to 2002, having recorded with the band a demo in 1998 titled Practice Bomb (under the eccentric moniker of “Wanda Smart Bomb”), containing songs like Germs and Cruel World. I don’t know about you, but I would love to listen to the music by this fun and electrifying band on any rock n’ roll radio out there. Anyway, while still playing for Rotten Rod & The Warheads, she was also the bassist for Heartache City from 1999 to 2001, with whom she recorded the band’s self-titled album in 2001. I couldn’t find anything online form this band, but if Wanda was their bass player I’m sure their music was at least fun to listen to, right? Furthermore, Wanda was also the bassist for a Huntington Beach-based Rock/Blues band named Field of Vision in 2004, having recorded with them the six-track album FOV that same year, highly influenced by renowned acts such as David Bowie, The Rolling Stones and Velvet Underground. Once again, there’s nothing online about this specific album, but as aforementioned we know from the bottom of our hearts it’s good music we’re talking about. As a matter of fact, in 1998 and 2004, she won the Best Female Bassist award at the Rock City News Awards and, in 2003, she also won the best bassist award at The All Access Music Magazine Awards, proving how talented and focused she has always been as a musician.
In addition to those previous acts and to The Iron Maidens, our ass-kicking bassist also works as a freelance musician in various groups and orchestras in the Southern California area, including The South Coast Symphony as principal bassist since 1996. When asked about how different it is playing for The South Coast Symphony and for The Iron Maidens, if that’s the type of diversity she needs in her playing style, Wanda said that she likes to play classical music just as much as metal, and after playing an upright bass she thinks it keeps her chops up, also saying that it’s like someone who enjoys playing basketball and baseball, two different sports but both fun, which is the same with classical music and metal for her. Moreover, her talent is also recognized by several important brands and companies, being endorsed by BBE Sound, Digitech, Dunlop Manufacturing, G&L Musical Instruments, RotoSound Strings, Schroeder Superior Sound Cabinets, Coffin Case and Monster Energy Drink, and she’s also been in a couple of interesting documentaries recently, those being Hair I Go Again (2016) and the upcoming Rock Is Dead? (2019).
It was in September 2002 when Wanda finally joined The Iron Maidens, remaining with the band ever since and adopting her stage name “Steph Harris” as an obvious reference to Iron Maiden’s iconic bassist and founder Mr. Steve Harris. So far, she has recorded with the band the albums World’s Only Female Tribute to Iron Maiden (2005), Route 666 (2007), The Root of All Evil (2008) and the video Metal Gathering Tour Live in Japan (2010), trying to be as loyal as possible to Iron Maiden’s original sound. In one of her interviews, Wanda said that when she joined the band everyone was just looking for a fun and original side project (there were already several all-female tribute acts for bands like AC/DC in the area), as they all had their own bands and projects, with a goal of playing maybe once or twice a month at some local pubs. However, after the first few shows a lot of people started calling them, with things really kicking off after the band had been together for about a year despite the fact they never took themselves too seriously at that time. As a matter of fact, if there’s one thing they always took very seriously was the music, always trying to replicate the original tones from Iron Maiden the best possible way even with the different instruments they use like Wanda’s bass, which is technically a Fender bass but not the same one used by Steve. If you want to take a good listen at how amazing Wanda and the girls from The Iron Maidens are, simply search for them on YouTube, as there are countless fantastic videos of their live performances such as The Trooper and Die With Your Boots On in California in 2014, or these two full concerts recorded in New York in 2018 and in California in 2013. Also, how about a nice and relaxed interview with the entire band conducted by Grasser Production in 2017 called “15 questions with The Iron Maidens”?
Regarding the songs she likes to play the most from the Iron Maiden vast and rich discography, she said her all-time favorite are Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra), Phantom of the Opera, Powerslave and Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and when questioned if it’s hard for The Iron Maidens to come up with a setlist to please all fans she said it’s not difficult at all because it’s drummer Linda McDonald who keeps track of all places the band plays and what songs they played before, also taking into account her own endurance and the timing for their lead singer to do a costume change, for example, and always focusing on old songs not usually played by Iron Maiden during their current concerts and tours. She was also questioned if she ever struggles with identity, wanting to do her own original material and showcasing it, and she said she doesn’t really have any issues with that, stating that she actually enjoys playing music written by a wide variety of different composers, either metal or orchestral music, and that it doesn’t stop her from writing her own music which she has done before in original bands. Also, when asked if the band has ever had to deal with any issues related to artwork, royalties, cease-and-desists from lawyers or anything like that, she said the band does everything they can to avoid that, but that they were asked to change their logo many years ago (and they did). She complemented by saying that wasn’t a big deal, and she doesn’t think the guys from Iron Maiden were even aware of it; they simply have a good team of people who help look after everything.
Of course, it’s impossible not to talk about her “relationship” with Mr. Steve Harris and his two-fingered galloping bass method. In one of her interviews, Wanda talked about how much Steve Harris and his bass have influenced her taste for music and her playing style, talking about the aforementioned story of her playing only the basic notes while her friends would play the melodies with their violins and violas in high school, but that after listening to the all-time classic Piece of Mind she fell in love with her bass guitar again and never stopped listening to the music by Iron Maiden ever since. Apart from Steve Harris, she also cites Geddy Lee, lead vocalist, bassist, and keyboardist for Canadian Rock titans Rush, and Chris Squire, bassist and founding member of English Progressive Rock band Yes, among her influences, once again showing how much she loves the most intricate, unique and vibrant sounds anyone can extract from a bass guitar. There’s also a price to pay for having Steve Harris as her major influence, and especially for playing Iron Maiden’s music, which comes in the form of fans who believe they can offer her advice on how to perform that material beyond her considerable talent. “Every once in a while, there will be a bass player in the audience. There’s a couple songs that I’ve gotten used to playing it a certain way or maybe a different position, but they’re the same notes, but it’s not the same position (Harris) plays it in. Sometimes I’ll get that, or sometimes I’ll get like, ‘Well, Steve uses two fingers’. Well, okay. Sometimes I’ll hear that. Very rarely though,” said our talented bassist.
Wanda’s first ever Iron Maiden concert happened many years ago during the World Slavery Tour, when according to Wanda herself she didn’t drink anything to avoid having to leave to use the bathroom, as she didn’t want to miss any part of the show (well, it’s the same for me). Years later, Wanda was even able to get to know Iron Maiden in person when Michael Kenney, Steve’s long-time bass tech and the band’s onstage keyboard player, introduced the whole band to them at a concert in Irvine, California. Wanda and the other girls were obviously nervous at first for meeting their idols, but the guys were really friendly to them and down to earth, making the whole experience very pleasant. The only thing that didn’t go as planned was that they weren’t able to give them cookies that they baked specially for them, as their singer left them in her car. I’m pretty sure those cookies were delicious, but you know what was even better than that? The fact that The Iron Maidens were not only able to meet their icons in person for the first time ever, but also that the band led by Mr. Steve Harris supports them, acknowledging their undisputed talent, their passion for metal and their hard work, and that they can rest assured “Steph Harris” and the girls will always represent this more “feminine” and “delicate” side of Eddie with a lot of energy, respect and admiration. Having said that, don’t forget to check Wanda and the girls live whenever they take your city by storm, and of course, as usual… UP THE IRONS!
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“As a bass player, of course, you’re going to be drawn to music more challenging, interesting and fun. I’ve always been an Iron Maiden fan since I was very young. When the band first formed everybody wanted to do something different, something more challenging. Since we all wanted something unique that nobody else was really doing, we thought Iron Maiden would be a good fit. We are all coincidentally huge Iron Maiden fans, so that made it better.” – Wanda Ortiz