Eric Blair has sacrificed a lot for the music he loves. Probably more than we deserve to know. But whatever Blair's dedication to music costs him in fame and groupies, he makes up for it in respect from local viewers who've watched him bring insightful, in-depth interviews with the world's most respected musicians and celebrities to the doldrums of OC's cable access stations for the last two decades.
"That's never gotten me laid though," Blair says jokingly. "There's one time I was with this girl who saw the Asia poster in my bedroom and immediately put her clothes on, got in her car and left. Her tires literally did a burnout in front of my house."
This month marks the 20th anniversary of The Blairing Out Show With Eric Blair. What started as just another cable access show in 1996 blossomed into an OC staple, mostly for music buffs who were looking for the deepest info they could find on their favorite artists. As the host, Blair always prided himself on asking his guests offbeat, personal questions while extracting the kind of stories and info you won't find on Wikipedia.
"I think Eric kinda kept me on my toes," says OFF! front man Keith Morris, who spoke with Blair extensively about his involvement in the controversial lawsuit between Greg Ginn and past members of Black Flag in 2013. "He wasn't gonna let me just slide off real easy. . . . I believe 'Gimmie something real' could be Mr. Blair's fucking tagline. Save the bullshit for somebody else."
"People ask me why are you interviewing so-and-so for two hours? And I'm like because that person has fans," Blair says. "And I'm doing this for the fan, to give them the ultimate experience."
Blair feels most like himself is when he's in the middle of an interview. Caffeinated wit and charm crackle like spark plugs behind his eyes. After every question, he smiles and nods intently like a tweedy, armchair therapist. He bides his time in the discussion and picks the right openings to flex encyclopedic knowledge of music trivia that rattles effortlessly off of his tongue like jazz scales. Whether it's a backstage sit down or a few moments at a red carpet award show, his raspy voice surges with excitement as he approaches music icons with the charisma of a punk rock Ryan Seacrest. Only instead of a major league budget for dental whitening and expensive suits, he's got an insane amount of knowledge and appreciation of his favorite bands, even the cheesy ones.
On a recent sunny day at the Tustin Market Place, he sits at a table outside Starbucks clutching a bright orange Monster Energy drink. The towering can of caffeine stands out against his all-black attire. He sports horn-rimmed glasses and a tightly shaped crew cut. His lips are underscored by a manicured triangle goatee. The comfortably worn-in Ramones-style leather jacket on his back is a relic from 1992 that he bought during his days as a long-haired, thrash metal miscreant. "This jacket has seen everything," he says, having worn it to the bulk of his interviews. "Man, if this thing could talk."
It's fitting that the host uses the term "Blairing Out" to describe his own personality, a cocktail of charm, neuroses and hyperactivity that can sometimes make you feel like you're in a TV show when you stand next to him, whether you're on or off camera. For those who know him, the fact that he shares his birth name with George Orwell doesn't come as a surprise.
"I like Eric and I always like doing something with him," T.S.O.L. front man Jack Grisham says. "It's always like being on 'shrooms a little bit. . . . He's like Adam West meets Troy Donahue, it's trippy. But he's not in any way ashamed or pretentious, he's just Eric. I'm surprised a major network hasn't snapped him up."
Since he started the gig in cable access, Blair always dreamed of taking his career to the mainstream. And despite the people in his life who've told him he'll never succeed, in his mind he's always just one big opportunity away from getting the spotlight he deserves.
"You get kicked around a lot when you're not some brand name like Ronald McDonald or Rolling Stone," Blair says. "That's a big part of [what drives me]. I want to succeed [with the show], and be able to say 'Everyone said it couldn't happen, but it did.'"
Blairing Out was always part of Blair's personality well before the TV show. In 1980, instead of a microphone and a camera, the Tustin native used a cranked up ghetto blaster to get attention.
"That thing was invincible," Blair says, referring to the Panasonic Platinum stereo with five-inch woofers. His parents gave it to him as a gift on his 17th birthday.
He bought Maxell recordable chrome cassettes and filled them up with his favorite AC/DC, Van Halen, and Black Sabbath tunes. A friend would max out the EQ on the tapes for him to make the sound punishingly loud.
One quiet Sunday, Blair decided to test out the stereo's demonic decibels on a nearby Mormon church during a crowded morning service. "I ran into the church cranking my ghetto blaster playing 'Neon Knights' by Black Sabbath," he says. "I held it up and I remember everyone looking around in horror." The woofers of the stereo rattled as Ronnie James Dio's devilish, operatic howl echoed off the hallowed ceiling and painted-glass windows. Within seconds, two refrigerator-sized male congregants got up from their seats and charged at him, their suit tails flapping behind them. Blair tried to escape, but the Linebackers of Latter Day Saints pounced on him and proceeded to kick him out of the building. They confiscated his stereo, which the church held hostage until Blair's father could come pick it up.
Situations like these weren't exactly out of the ordinary for Blair, who had extreme ADD and anger toward authority growing up. His parents sent him to a number of experimental schools for troubled children. But according to Blair, the schools sometimes felt more like being in juvie.
"The school psychologists would always tell me, 'You have no future, you're never gonna amount to anything,'" Blair says. Weekly group therapy sessions with a handful of kids and a psychiatrist would often end in fist fights between him and his classmates. "I got sick of it after a while and I said I'm fighting back. And I learned about using weapons. Whatever I could find, I was using it," he says.
In high school, he found religion. Well, actually he just made one up—a heavy metal faith he called Dioism. As the name suggests, it was based on his worship of the Medieval metal god Ronnie James Dio of Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Dio fame.
The creation of Diosim and T-shirts proclaiming "Death to All Born Again Christians" were the staples of his teenage existence. His weekly sacrament involved sneaking backstage at concerts. In 1982, he finagled his way to the green room at Perkins Palace in Pasadena to meet Mötley Crüe with nothing but a camera and a laminated badge he stole from his mom's workplace. The stunt paid off. He remembers striking up a conversation with Tommy Lee, drinking beers with the band and getting them all to sign a copy of the adult mag Oui, which contained the first magazine interview the band ever did.
"I was a kid," he says. "When you're a kid you're thinking about instantaneous stuff. But music was everything to me, that was my salvation."
Despite his wild ways, Blair actually had his first real experience with religion while watching a band practice in a stuffy garage.
A father of one of Blair's friends brought him and a few other kids to see Michael and Robert Sweet jam at their parent's house in La Mirada right before they became known as Stryper. Even before they became OC's most famous Christian metal band, kids from their neighborhood would come watch them practice. The crowd often spilled into the street outside the Sweet family home. The Jesus-loving metalheads famous for throwing out bibles during their shows made an impression on 19-year-old Blair.
"All their songs were boldly about the gospel message, to me that was like 'Whoa these guys are hardcore,'" Blair says. "They're getting up there and rocking like Mötley Crüe but they're talking about Jesus."
He signed on to become a roadie for the band and toured with them for a year and a half. They continued to blow up, and Blair found himself surrounded by the who's-who of hair metal as Stryper played sold-out arenas and shared the stage with RATT, Bon Jovi and Poison.
During this period, his loud mouth and hyperactive social skills earned him a nickname that stuck.
"Janice Sweet, the momager for Stryper told me once, 'You're always blaring out, in fact that should be your name because whenever you open your mouth you're just Blairing Out all the time,'" Blair says. He took the name and used it to form his own Christian thrash band Blairing Out, which he was in for five years. Footage of the four-piece band still lurks on YouTube. Their song "Porno People" features Blair headbanging with a heavily Aqua-Netted '80s mullet while screaming at the top of his lungs about sinful porn stars frying in hell. While most religious rock acts felt more like pious praise music with shredding guitar, Blairing Out's sound showcased a more confrontational side of Christianity.
"I felt like if Slayer and Venom could write songs about worshipping the devil, why can't I sing songs about you're going to hell if you don't worship Jesus," he says. "If they can do it, why can't I do it?"
The band broke up in 1991, despite being offered a record deal by the now defunct Christian label Frontline Records. Blair says he used some of his connections and his band's pull in the Christian rock world to help other bands in his genre, like Guardian, get record contracts. But due to some health issues and the fact that bands like Nirvana were already taking over radio, Blair realized his music career wasn't destined to pan out. However, that wouldn't stop him from getting the chance to hold a microphone in front of a TV camera.
* * * * *
Under the glare of a handheld LED spotlight, Blair sits in a rumbling, mini tour bus behind Malone's Bar and Grill in Santa Ana. He's holding his signature mic flag for the show with the words "Blairing Out with Eric Blair" written in bright green on his lap. Today's interview is with Tommy Victor, lead singer and guitarist of seminal New York metal band Prong and former guitarist for Danzig, who is headlining the club in a few hours. The light and small camera on a tripod is juggled by his brother Evan, a taller, huskier spitting image of his brother. Though "Blairing Out" is Eric's creation, Evan—a local consumer advocacy attorney—was always there to help the show in any way he could, including filming, holding lights or driving Blair to and from his interviews with musicians and other celebrities over the years.
"When you are busy working for the show you focus on each interview in front of you," Evan says. "You don't really see the change and progress because it is slow change and you are too close to the evolution and growth. Then one day you are at a sit-down interview or a red carpet interview and someone walking the red carpet states they know Eric and are taking cellphone photographs of Eric on the other side of the red rope. At that point you realize how much Eric's produced shows have reached the public."
Blair also managed to rope in another friend to hold the cue cards of scribbled questions for the Victor interview. He shuffles through the questions off camera as Blair fires them away one by one at Victor.
"Do you believe in Hell, and if so is Hitler rotting there?"
"If you could solve any injustice in the world, what would it be?"
"Is Glenn Danzig the Donald Trump of rock & roll?"
Most TV hosts often stick to the same flaccid album cycle questions that don't attempt to challenge the artists. But Blair insists that each interview is an opportunity to get his guests to reveal true thoughts as artists and deep thinkers.
"I'm not here to make a rock star or a celebrity look bad," Blair says. "I'm here to give them a chance to answer the question and let the fans see who they really are."
The same level of gusto is what inspired him to venture into public access 20 years earlier. After coming home from a party at 3 a.m., Blair was flipping through channels in the warm glow of the TV when he caught a commercial offering slots for viewers to start their own public access show through Continental Cable.
By 1996, the 30-year-old Blair was used to being on the road with rock stars, interned at Interscope Records, and had had his concert reviews published in local magazines. He had all the life experience he needed, despite having none of the technical skills. He'd even busted his ass to get his aestheticians license from Fullerton College and worked as a makeup artist and instructor (a gig he still holds today).
Blair contacted Continental Cable (now Time Warner) days after seeing the TV ad and submitted a short treatment for The Blairing Out Show With Eric Blair. The station execs agreed to put him on the air. With a lot of luck and the help of a few industry connections and benevolent publicists, Blair got a chance to interview big artists consistently throughout his career. His third interview for the show was Ronnie James Dio himself, backstage at the Coach House in 1997. But instead of approaching Dio like the high school fanboy who once named his personal religion after him, Blair broke the ice the most professional way he knew how.
"I made him laugh," he says.
After cracking a few jokes, their recorded interview was smooth sailing, as Dio lounged on a couch sipping a glass of wine and regaled Blair with stories about his friendship with Ritchie Blackmore in Rainbow; joining Black Sabbath; and his favorite bands at the time (Soundgarden, Tool, Napalm Death).
"Ronnie would do lots of interviews and most of them would all sound the same, but Eric always thought of unusual and off-the-wall questions to ask him and Ronnie greatly enjoyed that," says Dio's widow and former manager Wendy Dio. "I vowed when Ronnie passed away to keep his legacy alive and I hope Eric stays in my life for many years to come because he was always a great supporter of him and everything he did."
Being on camera always came easy to Blair. However everything else about public access was a constant struggle. Various bosses during his time at cable access (which changed names and owners several times) were known to cuss him out and ridicule him and his show. "I think a lot of people in cable access were failed; they had a dream and they ended up not living their dream," Blair says.
To top it off, the recording equipment, which he taught himself how to use, was in constant disrepair. He remembers his first time interviewing Lemmy Kilmister later on in 1997. As soon as Blair's camera guy pressed the record button on the three-quarter-inch tape machine, the button broke and Blair had to push it back in with a pencil eraser.
In order to get his show into different cable access markets, for years Blair would duplicate dozens of rolls of three-quarter-inch tape and hand mail them to stations with postage paid out of his own pocket.
Despite the obstacles, he says cable access colleagues like sportscaster Bob Gibson and former bosses Linda Maxwell and Preston Hayslette were the few cherished supporters.
His talents didn't go totally unnoticed back in the day. The Weekly showed Blair some love, naming The Blairing Out Show With Eric Blair the Best Cable Access Show in 1998 in our annual Best of Orange County issue.
All the endless work behind the scenes helped his reputation as an interviewer and a go-to source for publicists and labels who wanted to land interesting interviews for their artists. Since he started, Blair's done well over 2,000 interviews with everyone from Jerry Only of the Misfits to Britney Spears on the red carpet. No matter who he was interviewing, it was always the same style of questioning that aimed to pitch out interesting, personal or stange questions that caught his subject's attention.
"[He] operates outside the box, is deeply researched and therefore delivers an entertaining and informative piece of journalism for his viewers and our fans," says classic rock vocalist Graham Bonnet, who did an interview with Blair last March.
Blair was also one of the first people to seek out and interview Katy Perry, Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance before they became international superstars, making the show a valuable time capsule of pop culture.
Unfortunately, as California had done away with the bulk of cable access channels by 2013, Blair got a notice from Time Warner saying that they were cutting back resources, cutting shows and laying people off. He'd have to find a new route to continue doing his show, which meant transferring everything over to his Blairing Out YouTube channel. To this day, he continues to make new episodes and upload as many classic interviews as possible.
Although he's only been able to upload about a third of all interviews he's produced during the course of the cable access show, he says it's worth the trouble when he sees audiences comment on his interviews.
"I think it's definitely affirming," Blair says. "You know what you created and then someone will comment and go, 'Hey, these questions are great.' And then you can say 'Yes, this person gets it.'"
The biggest interview so far is the one he did with tattooed, lesbian Australian model and TV personality Ruby Rose at the Newport Beach Film Festival in 2014. So far it's garnered over a million views.
"Looking at it on the [YouTube] analytics map, you see that the interview's been watched as far as the deserts of Iraq," he says. "It's a little mind blowing."
* * * * *
Though it's been a long road, there are still days that remind Blair he always has the potential of achieving success in the entertainment world. On a recent Sunday afternoon, he's sitting near the balcony of a tree-covered mansion nestled in Beverly Hills. Beside him is his latest interviewee, a modelesque front woman named September (portrayed by Emily Lazar) of the band/transmedia project September Mourning. The singer is covered in white like a heavy metal snow queen. Her character and story line (co-created by Lazar and comic book legend Marc Silvestri) require her to be covered in ghostly white from the top of her snaking hair extensions, to her Kabuki-style face paint and a superhero outfit made of a leather, metallic studs, buckles and straps.
The mansion belongs to nightclub mogul Art Davis and his wife, former rock singer and 1979 Penthouse Pet of the Year, Cheryl Rixon, who was actually on the cover of the issue of Oui that Blair got signed by Mötley Crüe back in '82.
The spirit of classic rock feels comfortably encapsulated in the lavish home. An African jungle theme with hand-carved statues of wild animals and massive palm trees collide with a mirrored ceiling above the plush couches and rows of thick biographies of icons like Jimi Hendrix, Billy Idol and Janis Joplin. A life-like oil painting of John Lennon watches over Blair's interview with September from the corner by the open double doors of the balcony.
Though much of the interview surrounds September's fictional character, at one point Blair asks her a question weighted in reality.
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"How important is fame and could you live without it?" he asks.
"I think what's most important is that people get the message and people understand the art and respond to the art," September says. "If that makes me famous, great, if two people get it great. As long as somebody responds to it ... because I have to do this."
There's no question that two decades of producing his own show definitely makes Blair the living embodiment of the statement. But fame doesn't happen without the will to achieve something in spite of those who say you can't. In that respect, Blair's spirit has always had to be louder than the naysayers every time he picks up his mic to do an interview. As long as he continues doing it, he'll continue to live life the way he always has: Forever Blairing Out.
"People have just told me over and over that, 'You're fantasizing, you're not a real interviewer, you're never gonna make it,'" he says. "When I'm super low, having that next interview booked, that's like the next bridge to my life. Without that, I might just stay down. But instead I'm like 'Oh, I have to rise up to get that next interview. Because life isn't gonna wait for me.'"