Joey Jordison loved metal, and metal loved Joey Jordison
Joey Jordison once told Kerrang! that one of the nicknames he’d picked up among his bandmates was ‘Superball’. Following a bad show in Slipknot’s early days, the drummer had returned to the band’s dressing room in a state of some agitation. Not so much pacing about in annoyance as ricocheting off the walls in frustration – “like a rubber superball” – the name was bestowed upon him. It didn’t stick, but it’s a wonder as to why.
Anyone who met Joey, even briefly, will instantly recognise this fidgety energy that oscillated through Slipknot’s #1. By his own admission a “quiet, introverted” man, there was also a restlessness to Joey that made him perhaps the most dynamic and exciting drummer of his generation onstage, as well as a whirlwind personality off it. Quiet one minute, a blur the next.
For those on his wavelength, if the subject was music, he could talk enough to make Corey Taylor seem reserved. Doing an interview on his bus some 10 years ago during a stop on a tour with his other band, the Murderdolls, for an appearance on the Kerrang! cover, it was only a break in the music coming from his iPod (Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas album) that gave any indication of quite how much time had been frittered away discussing the finer points of Norwegian black metal instead of getting any work done. This itself led to a further delay, as he debated what to play next (eventually electing death metal legends Malevolent Creation’s The Ten Commandments). And the tape recorder hadn’t even been unpacked yet. We may as well have been in his mother’s basement.
But this says a lot about Joey Jordison. After Slipknot’s second album, Iowa, went to Number Three in America following its release in August 2001, the band took up residency in the arenas of the world, and crossed the Rubicon to become one of the most important metal bands in history. And yet, in his faded, once-black-but-now-beyond-grey AC/DC tour shirts from his years as a teenager, in some ways the only real difference between Joey and the fans was he got to sit behind the drum kit each night. Other than that, he was just the same metal maniac from a small town finding meaning in music as anyone else.
Even the show-stopping upside-down drum solo that such bigger venues allowed for was an act of pure fanboyism. “You just want to be Tommy Lee,” K! once jokingly ribbed him of this contraption so obviously inspired by the Mötley Crüe sticksman’s antics. “Of course,” came the reply, as if we’d only just realised who it was we were talking to.
And even when he was called up at zero notice, on the day, to fill in for an absent Lars Ulrich and help Metallica’s headline set at Download 2004 actually happen, he talked about it more as a fan than the percussive lynchpin that snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Of course he knew every one of their songs from the ’80s perfectly – what the hell do you think he had spent his teens doing?
Looking back at the drum-cam videos of that performance on YouTube now, it’s like watching lightning strike, a feral energy that’s been focussed and marshalled into something devastatingly sharp, something out of everyone’s control that couldn’t be stopped if they wanted to. But even as hero of the day, the best bit for Joey was simply being up close with his idols.
“As cool as it was playing that show, what was cooler was playing in Metallica’s practice room,” he said years later. “It was just me and those three guys, just warming up. What a dream come true, man. I’ll have dreams about it every once in a while. It was one of the best gigs of my life.”
Sadly, we’ll never get to see this incredible force of nature doing whatever it was he was able to do to a drum kit again. On July 26, 2021, Joey Jordison died “peacefully in his sleep”, according to a statement from his family. In tribute, his former Slipknot bandmates posted simple black squares on their social media. Though not a member of the band he founded since 2013, the loss feels as though it’s taken a vital organ from them. And once again, just as when the world lost bassist and co-founder Paul Gray in 2010, the Slipknot family, band and Maggots will face this darkness together, and share their grief.
Because even before his death, Joey Jordison’s vitality and vision were so strong that it remained fundamental to the band. It forever will.
For as long as he could remember, Nathan Jonas Jordison had wanted to be a drummer. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that for as long as he could remember, Nathan Jonas Jordison had played the drums. Born on April 26, 1975, in a rural area of Des Moines, Iowa, one of his earliest memories was of “playing along to Rolling Stones records on a little miniature drum kit when I was five years old”.
“I remember my first kit,” he told K! in 2011. “It was called a Black Magic; it was like a little toy kit. When I sat behind it, I was like, ‘Can I hit it hard, just once?’ And I fucking smacked that thing and it sounded like hitting a fucking piece of paper. I was like, ‘(Shrugs) Okay.’ I beat that thing to fucking death. And the next thing you knew, my parents were like, ‘Well, that’s what he wants to do for the rest of his life.’ For my birthday the next year, I came home from school and my parents asked me to go and get this Elton John record from the basement. I was like, ‘Why? Where the fuck are my presents?!’ I went down to get this Elton John record, and there was my first drum kit. I just started shredding. And from that point on, my life changed.”
As a high-school teen, Joey took music lessons to sharpen his skills on his instrument of choice. Mostly, though, he “just hung out on my own by my locker, listening to my headphones”, the music of Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slayer and Mercyful Fate blasting out. Post-school, Joey took up employment in a local petrol station, Sinclair (a cool job, he deemed, on account of “being able to play my own music at work, which was Deicide”), and began drumming in local metal band Modifidious. When they broke up, a young Paul Gray doorstepped Joey at work to tell him, “Dude, you’re probably the best drummer I’ve ever seen!”
The pair formed the delightfully named Anal Blast, before talk began of a new outfit called The Pale Ones. This would become Slipknot. At Sinclair, Joey, Paul and Shawn Crahan would plot and discuss their new band. Behind the drums, he was already proving himself a formidable talent, and was just as antsy about what else he could bring to the table. The phrase ‘People = Shit’ was an early idea of his. Another was their iconic logo.
“I drew that logo on my dad’s old desk in the house I grew up in,” he recalled to K! in 2017. “I had this little piece of paper and drew it with pen and ink. It stained the desk. I took it to band practice and they loved it. The next thing you know, almost half of the band got it tattooed – this was before we got signed.”
There was something else as well; an attitude that set Slipknot apart. With their masks and boilersuits, they were already different to other bands on the scene, but it was a fiery nihilism that made them such an explosive outfit. He may have been laughing when, in their first bit of British press coverage in 1999 (Kerrang! introducing Slipknot to the world by putting Eyeless on a covermount CD), he frothed excitedly about producer Ross Robinson chucking potted plants at him while he was recording his drums for their debut album, but he wasn’t fooling around. At a hometown show shortly after, when we put the nine masked maniacs on their first magazine cover, Joey laid out their stall in unflinching, abrasive terms.
“Lately, metal has become almost like a fashion statement,” he spat. “All we care about is creating the most aggressive, intense music possible.”
It’s a mission statement that would echo over a decade later, when in 2011, having long outlasted many of the nu-metal bands among whom Slipknot were placed, he told us, “Everyone’s a fucking enemy. And that’s what rock’n’roll should be. I hate safe shit. A lot of that American shit that’s out right now can suck my fucking dick. I fucking hate it. Every fucking bit of it. None of it does anything for me. None of it.”
As if fulfilling his own prophecy, in 1999 Slipknot took the American Ozzfest tour by storm. Even Kerry King of Slayer – a man with a similar mindset to Joey’s – was knocked back by the intensity of these new kids. As summer wore on, Joey realised the fire they were breathing was also blazing a trail. “I remember the first stop on the Ozzfest in 1999, St Louis,” he told K!. “We were brand new. It had already circulated who we were and all that stuff, but I remember all these people charging at us, and how obsessed and how dedicated they were. That freaked me out, like, ‘Something’s about to happen.’”
What happened was this: Slipknot became one of the biggest and most influential metal bands of their time. Certainly, nobody else raged with such euphoric hate as they could. With a UK Number One album in Iowa, and with its two follow-ups, 2004’s Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses) and 2008’s All Hope Is Gone, keeping them on a commercial high, Slipknot still balanced success with danger. Even when, in 2009, they finally ascended to headline Donington’s Download Festival, their attitude remained the same.
“We got together, the whole backstage cleared out, and we got into a total vendetta type of mood – it felt like 1999 again,” he told us of that moment. “We were like, ‘Fuck everyone!’ We went up and just fucking slayed. We looked out and we were in that vendetta mood, and all we saw was nothing but people smiling and having a celebration. People can see that with Slipknot, that’s what we write about, that’s what our band is. It is dark, but it’s to help people as well.”
This would prove to be true for those inside the band as well as the fans. Nobody could play like Joey. With most of their contemporaries such has Korn, Deftones and Linkin Park dealing in something slower and groovier, Slipknot’s diminutive drummer was like watching someone on fast-forward. Even players from the world of death metal, from where he had learned much of his speed and technique, seemed dull next to him. He wasn’t just fast – although he was, particularly with his feet – it was almost like he was trying to keep up with what was coming out of him, a firework that couldn’t be stopped once the fuse had been lit. “If you keep a baboon in a cage for 24 years, the beast has got some shit to work out when it’s released,” he said early on. “That’s us every night.”
Such were his talents that when Slipknot were in downtime, Joey found himself in demand. As a bonus, it was often from bands he loved: Korn, Rob Zombie, Norwegian black metallers Satyricon, industrial pioneers Ministry, to name but four. He was also the engine at the back of 2005’s Roadrunner United album, in which he and equally prodigious Trivium frontman Matt Heafy celebrated the label’s legacy with a set of songs on which artists from across Roadrunner’s history came together.
“I never stop, and that’s a problem,” he explained. “I love music and I love my life and I love it all, y’know? I just love playing so much, because I don’t know what to do if I’m not. I’m a time-bomb, pretty much. It’s the only thing that makes me sane.”
Sadly, a worsening physical ailment, transverse myelitis, would see his abilities diminished for a time, when he was so affected by it that he “could barely walk”. In December 2013, before their post-Paul Gray return – 2014’s raging and emotional .5: The Gray Chapter – he departed from Slipknot, latterly claiming his bandmates misapprehended the cause of his physical condition, putting it down to drink or drugs.
Joey started new bands – Scar The Martyr, Sinsaenum, VIMIC – but his output became less and less common. Drumming, however, remained both a passion and a way to navigate life’s hurdles.
“Drumming is more of my angst and frustrations with everything and to challenge myself to become a better player,” he told us in 2017. “I play constantly. When I was diagnosed with transverse myelitis and my legs got wiped out, it was the most devastating thing. I’m not just saying this, but through determination, I’m stronger than I’ve ever been because I cannot not play drums. That’s how much it means to me.
“I didn’t give up,” he continued. “I wasn’t going to let it beat me. I was like, ‘I am going to walk again and play again.’ And now, I have no problem walking and I’m playing just as good as I always did, if not better. It’s just determination and confidence and doing what you’ve got to do. I’m very lucky to come out of it. A lot of people don’t. That’s the beauty of metal; it gives you that energy.”
During our cover feature interview in 2011, for all the metal banter and pinging off the bus waiting for showtime, Joey also let us in on that introverted, quiet high schooler of his youth. Preparing for Slipknot’s live return a few months later at Sonisphere in Greece, he was both fired-up (“What are we gonna do? Lay down? Fuck no – forge!”), but also revealed the quiet man behind the mask.
“I live in an area that you can’t really find. It’s very desolate, pretty much isolated, so nobody can find me,” he said. “Even the Slipknot guys, every time they come to my house, they still can’t find it, it’s that hard to find. I prefer it like that. I’m really peaceful. I just like going to my house, working in my garden, taking long walks. I wanted to take you on a walk today to do this [interview] but it’s pissing with fucking rain. I like going home and chilling out. It’s almost like I go home and try and re-adjust. It’s like my storm’s gonna hit again.
“I’m not a difficult person at all. It seems like I am, but that’s me struggling with my own demon. I’m a demon within myself,” Joey continued. “As long as you’re content within yourself, things are really easy as fuck.”
Looking back through all this, as we say goodbye to a ferocious talent and – though separated from them – the lynchpin of one of the greatest metal bands of his own lifetime, there will doubtless be many thoughts and memories of Joey Jordison. He was the best drummer. He was a man with genius ideas. He was someone who could put dynamite in the tail of anything he was playing, and make it hurtle toward you like a freight train. He helped make Slipknot the most extreme band ever to have a chart-topping album – the sort of rare thing only the luckiest and most gifted can achieve at precisely the right time.
And yet, it’s hard not to think of him as just a metal fan, like any of his own fans. And as he once reflected to Kerrang!, the heart of Slipknot was actually rather a simple one.
“Honestly, the happiest time I think out of all the stuff that I’ve done – which I wouldn’t trade for anything – [but] the happiest time I can remember was me working at Sinclair doing 10pm to 8am,” he told us. “I would literally get off and go straight to the record store, then sleep ’til 5:30 when I had to get up for practice. We’d rehearse for three hours, then I had to go to work, and the whole band would come down to the gas station and just hang out. And it was just, like, we became kings before anyone knew it. And that was just a fun time. There was no pressure, there were no interviews, no bullshit.
“It’s like that old saying: be careful what you wish for, you just might get it,” he said, before realising his good fortune. “I got it!”
Joey Jordison: April 26, 1975 – July 26, 2021
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