Sacred Rite Biography
HONOLULU, HAWAII - 1980
Jimmy "Dee" Caterine and Kevin Lum were just fifteen when they met and discovered they shared a love for European hard rock. They put together a group, covering old Judas Priest, Scorpions and UFO. Mark Kaleiwahea (pronounced, “Kuh-leh-vuh-hey-ah”) was a schoolmate of Jimmy's, and a fan of Van Halen and Randy Rhoads. When Dee and Lum saw what an incredible guitarist Mark was, they signed him up. Then they found bassist Peter Crane - who listened to Yes, Queen , and The Beatles - and this diversity of influences made the unit complete.
The band was called SABRE (for lack of a better suggestion) and it was their goal to excel in their musical ability. They learned a ton of early metal covers. Maiden, Ozzy, Priest, Def Leppard, Y&T, MSG, and such. The boys were only in their teens, and their first years of gigs consisted mostly of drunken high school parties. Sabre quickly gained a reputation as the tightest, most impressive rock band in Hawaii. This reputation flourished with a long series of steady engagements at Hawaii’s 50th State Fair. It was there that they won the statewide Battle of the Bands, and solidified their position at the top Honolulu’s heavy metal hierarchy.
Jimmy Dee and Mark Kaleiwahea wrote Sabre’s first original song together, called ‘Killer in Disguise’. Very Maidenish - a label that would follow the band for years. ‘Revelation’ was the title of their second attempt. Both songs were very simple, and very heavy - typical of first time songwriters. The third song was more of a departure, a soft, flowing, medieval sounding piece called ‘As It Was Told’. ‘As It Was Told’ marked Peter Crane’s songwriting debut, as well as the boys’ first attempt at background vocals. ‘As It Was Told’ remains the all-time favorite for many SR fans, but it was their fourth song, ‘The Blade’ that really defined the SACRED RITE sound. Of course, ‘The Blade’ sounds very much like it belongs on Iron Maiden’s debut album (it was obviously inspired by Maiden's crowning glory, ‘The Phantom Of The Opera’).
Many songs followed, each more difficult and complex than the last. But for the boys in the band, one aspect of their sound was missing. Lead vocals. Each member of the group was a fan of the power vocalists of the day. And while Kaleiwahea, who shouldered the vocal responsibility, had a good voice, he didn’t have the range to match up with the instrumental ability of the band. So a front man by the name of Robbie Littlejohn was brought in. Littlejohn was a disciple of Judas Priest’s Rob Halford (vocal god among metal fans) and could sing any Priest song so perfectly, you’d swear you were listening to the record. It didn’t take long, though, for the boys to realize that he couldn’t sing anything else. The originals sounded terrible. Robbie was dismissed after a few short months.
It was about this time that the boys began their relationship with Pierre Grille and Rendezvous Recording. They had decided that it was time to record an album, and Rendezvous was the bargain studio in town. But it was magic. The first SR album was recorded there on only 8 tracks of tape. With Littlejohn gone, Kaleiwahea returned to the mike, and did a great job, especially for a seventeen-year-old kid. When the record was finished, Sabre changed its name to SACRED RITE. Peter Crane came up with the name, basing it on the spiritual nature of the band’s lyrics. He designed the logo and envisioned a simplistic black and white album cover. For the photo on the back, the boys went to Manoa Valley Cemetery, and posed among the headstones in the glow of their automobile headlights. The album was released independantly in Hawaii, and with the band’s large following sold very well. The album was picked up and distributed in Europe by Axe Killer Records and sold without the support of live performances. SACRED RITE received their first fan mail from the other side of the world.
The next big moment was when SACRED RITE landed the warm-up spot for their first major concert. It was with Triumph on their Allied Forces tour. The boys were thrilled as they took the big stage for the first time. In the two years that followed, SACRED RITE would share the stage with Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot, Ronnie Montrose, and Alcatrazz w/Yngwie Malmsteen (who upon meeting the band, commented that they sounded a bit like Iron Maiden).
A half-studio/half-live format was proposed for the second album, and Pierre Grille mobilized his studio for the first time. The live tracks were recorded at the Olomana Ranch, in a barn, before an intimate audience of about 200 friends. The crowd noise was beefed up a little, but the tracks were all live. Peter Crane stumbled upon the ideal artwork for the album while browsing through a fantasy art calendar in a bookstore. Michael Whelen's 'Hecate's Cauldron' depicted a beautiful witch dropping tiny humans into her cauldron. It went perfectly with the song title ‘Witch’s Fury’ and the album title ‘The Ritual’. ‘The Ritual’ was released in 1985 on Greenworld Records, and again the response was terrific. But the boys knew they had something really special still up their sleeve.
The guys in SACRED RITE had always been lovers of great rock albums. The kind that take you on a journey from end to end and leave you with a feeling of 'Wow!'. And while there was some great playing on both of their first efforts, they felt that as a whole, the albums lacked that magical quality that they were striving for. The reason, they felt, was the focus on being 'heavy'. SR had chosen all of their fastest, hardest songs for their first two albums. But they had left out some of their best songs. There was Kaleiwahea's 'I Will Survive' (SR's first 'boy-girl' type of song, very popular among the home fans), Dee and Crane's 'I've Seen the Wizard' (for which they actually used keyboards - God forbid!), and of course, long-time favorite 'As It Was Told' - which, combined with their biggest metal epic of all, 'The Last Rites', made a fantastic album ender. There was also SR's only instrumental, 'Ni4Ni' (an eye for an eye - get it?), which was their most difficult show-off piece, and their only cover tune, an experiment of the Beatles classic, 'Eleanor Rigby', in which they merged a super-heavy version of the song with the original string arrangements. Once again, the album was recorded by Pierre Grille, and everyone involved agreed it was the band's greatest work yet. Another fantastic Michael Whelen piece, 'Destroying Angel' was used for the cover, and the inspired title was 'Is Nothing Sacred?'.
Unhappy with their current label, SACRED RITE released 'Is Nothing Sacred' on Medusa Records in 1986. But before the album was even in stores, the boys were on a plane to Atlanta, GA. Polygram records had offered the band a small developmental deal. They brought the band to Southern Tracks studio in Atlanta to record a demo with a professional producer. Jeff Asher (son of Polygram president Dick Asher) was a fan of the band, and felt that big things were about to happen for them. Of course, comprimise was part of the deal. They wanted to hear a more commercial sound, and Sacred Rite gave it to them. It wasn't a big problem for the band, who enjoyed the music of Journey, Prince, Heart's big comeback album, and anything else that was good - light or heavy. So a wimpy demo of a few quickly-written songs was recorded. One chorus reads: "One for the money/two for the show/c'mon, get ready/it's time to go". You get the picture. This period did produce a couple of good songs. 'Make It Hard' (the title says it all ) was the band's signature tune in the later days, and 'The Sidewalk' (a song about a homeless person) is held among those who've heard it as Crane's greatest ballad.
When the Atlanta trip was over, the boys returned to Hawaii and awaited news from Polygram. Asher advised them to be patient, it was definitely going to happen, but it could take quite a while. In the mean time SACRED RITE landed a job as the house band for a stage production of 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' at Honolulu's old Queen Theater. A piano player and a sax player were hired to accompany them. They had to turn their amps down almost to zero and lay towels over the drum heads, but it was a lot of fun for the boys. When the show finally closed a couple of months later, Jimmy Dee's mother (known as 'Mom' to the boys in the band) took over the lease at the Queen Theater and SACRED RITE used the venue for a series of self-promoted headlining shows. They attracted huge crowds and did fantastic shows displaying all of their original material. The crowds cheered and sang along with the songs they loved. The boys had achieved the highest status in Hawaii's rock music history, and they felt like real stars. But they knew that they were really just big fish in a little pond. They had to get out of Hawaii for good. With the highest of hopes, they packed up and left home, saying goodbye to a small, teary-eyed group of family and friends.
When they arrived on the mainland, SACRED RITE signed with Polygram, sold millions of records and played to packed arenas for years.