Metal Chick of the Month – Wanda Ortiz

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”?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

The Iron Maiden’s Official Facebook page
The Iron Maiden’s Official Instagram
The Iron Maiden’s Official Twitter

“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

Advertisements

Album Review – Iron Maiden / Powerslave (1984)

Exactly 30 years ago, the world would witness the birth of the best Heavy Metal album of all time.

Rating1

Iron Maiden_PowerslaveRecorded from February to June 1984 at the famous Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas, and released on September 3, 1984, Powerslave is much more than just a milestone in the Heavy Metal universe. You can disagree with me and start all that blah blah blah about how this or that album from Black Sabbath or Metallica, or even another Iron Maiden album like The Number of the Beast, is better than Powerslave, but I’m sorry, nothing really compares to this album. Powerslave is by far the most complex, complete, exciting and powerful album of all time, and anything I say about it won’t be enough to describe this 50-minute Heavy Metal masterpiece’s grandiosity.

Steve Harris, Adrian Smith, Bruce Dickinson, Dave Murray and Nicko McBrain were at the peak of their musical creativity and inspiration, delivering their fans unique songs about the Ancient Egypt, the experiences of a sailor from a famous English poem, the pleasures and honor of a duel, an aircraft battle during the Battle of Britain, and more. All songs have wonderful instrumental parts, together with clever and meaningful lyrics, making them some of the most requested by all Maidenmaniacs around the globe for any live concerts, best of albums, top 100 Heavy Metal songs, weddings, birthday parties, Bar Mitzvahs, funerals, prom nights, or anywhere else good music can be played.

Well, the album kicks off with my favorite song of all time in any music genre, Aces High, which still gives me the chills every time I listen to it. “Run, live to fly, fly to live, do or die / Run, live to fly, fly to live, Aces High”, sings Bruce perfectly while Steve Harris “gallops” his bass like a wild beast. Not only that, you can feel the battle going on in the air with the lyrics, and the solos are among the best the band has ever produced thanks to majestic performances by Adrian and Dave. Do I need to say it sounds even more splendid live?

There’s no better way to continue the album than with another all-time classic, 2 Minutes to Midnight, a song that has an unparalleled starting riff that even a newborn baby can easily recognize, and amazing lyrics that make reference to the Doomsday Clock. Then comes Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra), one of the few instrumental songs the band has ever produced, with total highlight to the beautiful job done by Steve and Nicko. Flash of the Blade keeps the bar high with its outstanding riffs and speed, while The Duellists is in every fan’s dreams of seeing it being played live by the band in any of their world tours. This is another one of my top Maiden tracks of all time, especially due to its incredible rhythm led by Steve and Nicko. Iron Maiden even tried to replicate this type of sonority with more contemporary songs like “Fallen Angel” and “Montsegur”, but it seems the fans didn’t like the new songs that much. Then we have Back in the Village, another song with amazing riffs, although it’s considered the least favorite of the album by many fans.

Iron Maiden 1984The last part of the album is simply awesome: Powerslave is one of those cases of a song that should be turned into a movie due to its excellence in telling the Ancient Egyptian history during its 7 minutes of pure Heavy Metal. Its initial drums are superb, the lyrics are perfect, the chorus is wonderful (“Tell me why I had to be a Powerslave / I don’t wanna die, I’m a God, / Why can’t I live on?”), as well as every other part of the song. Seeing Maiden playing this song live is an unforgettable experience in the life of any person. And last but not least, we have another Heavy Metal masterpiece, the one and only Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Inspired by the amazing poem from British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge called “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, this 13-minute song has one of the most elaborate lyrics in the world of music, different tempos, a beautiful narration in the middle taken directly from the original poem, and all musicians showing us why “Iron Maiden’s gonna get ya, no matter how far”. As I mentioned before, nothing I say will be enough to describe the magnitude of this song or the entire album.

“One after one by the star dogged moon,
too quick for groan or sigh
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang
and cursed me with his eye
Four times fifty living men
(and I heard nor sigh nor groan),
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
they dropped down one by one.” 

SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE (1772-1834)

Iron Maiden World Slavery Tour

World Slavery Tour 1984-1985

If you think that’s all, you’re completely wrong. Iron Maiden is not a regular band, as they add a lot more than just the music to their work. Powerslave follows its predecessors with another unmatched front cover showing the band’s most celebrated “member”, Eddie the Head, this time inspired by the Ancient Egypt and perfectly representing the content of the album, designed by master Derek Riggs. It’s impossible not to fall in love for it, don’t you agree? And if you get the 1995 reissue, you’ll also enjoy the songs from the bonus disc, especially their cool  version for Beckett’s Rainbow’s Gold.

Finally, right after the release of Powerslave the band went on their longest and most memorable tour of all, The World Slavery Tour, which began in Warsaw, Poland on August 9, 1984 and ended only in Irvine, U.S. on July 5, 1985 (187 shows in total), culminating with the launch of another masterpiece, the live album Live After Death. I have no idea of how many bands have been influenced by Powerslave or by Iron Maiden’s entire career, but I know that none has ever been able to deliver something so mighty and unique as Steve, Bruce & Co. did with Powerslave. UP THE IRONS!

Best moments of the album: Aces High, The Duellists, Powerslave and Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Worst moments of the album: None. Powerslave is perfect.

Released in 1984 EMI

Track listing
1. Aces High 4:29
2. 2 Minutes to Midnight 6:00
3. Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra) (Instrumental) 4:13
4. Flash of the Blade 4:03
5. The Duellists 6:06
6. Back in the Village 5:03
7. Powerslave 7:12
8. Rime of the Ancient Mariner 13:42

1995 Reissue Bonus Disc
1. Rainbow’s Gold (Beckett cover) 4:57
2. Mission From ‘Arry 6:42
3. King of Twilight (Nektar cover) 4:53
4. The Number of the Beast (live) 4:57

Band members
Bruce Dickinson – lead vocals
Dave Murray – guitar
Adrian Smith – guitar
Steve Harris – bass guitar
Nicko McBrain – drums