On the back window of a vehicle parked on a well-kept street in a neighborhood near Central Library, there is a sticker for the band Avenged Sevenfold. While you’d be right in assuming that the vehicle belongs to a big fan, which fan might surprise you. It’s not one of the millions of high school or college kids who have helped make this innovative, intense metal band one of the hottest in the world right now. Rather, the vehicle belongs to Joe Sullivan, the drummer’s dad.
Joe and Barbara Sullivan, who have lived in the same comfortable Huntington Beach house since 1977, may not look like rock ’n’ roll parents. Spend some time with them, though, and you’ll realize how deceptive looks can be. Since their son Jim (a.k.a. “The Rev”) hit it big (literally and figuratively) with Avenged Sevenfold, they’ve become industry experts.
They can just as easily discuss the importance of merchandise sales as they can the financial implications of headlining a gig versus being an opening act — and most importantly, they love the music. Raising their son, 28, in this house along with sisters Kelly and Katie, they knew early on that Jim’s life might involve percussion.
“He was desperately into music,” Joe says, laughing. “In the bathtub when he was tiny he’d be banging away on things. Then, pots and pans — anything and everything.”
Barbara adds, “So finally we got him a little drum kit from Sears. And we knew — we just knew this was serious.”
Neither of his folks are musicians, so Jim’s mom went to a music store that used to be at Warner Avenue and Springdale Street when he was about 6. There, they met Jeanette Raitt, a teacher who became very influential and helped spark his passion for complex percussive challenges. Soon, the young drummer discovered Metallica, then Pantera.
“Faster and faster stuff,” Joe says. “And his teacher had him transcribing all the drum work so he could really understand what was happening.”
When Jim was 10, his folks got him a more serious drum kit — an old Ludwig set with lots of cymbals.
“When his teacher found out he’d been figuring out the parts on a little toy set, she was amazed,” says Barbara.
Jim played with several local bands including Suburban Legends, before finding his way into Avenged Sevenfold, who formed about 10 years ago, in high school. All five band members (M. Shadows, vocals; Zacky Vengeance, guitar; Synyster GateS, guitar; Johnny Christ, bass; and Jim “The Rev” Sullivan, Drums) hail from Huntington Beach.
Supposedly, the band’s name refers to the book of “Genesis” in the Bible and the story of Cain and Abel, where Cain is punished to live in exile, alone and miserable. Anyone who relieved Cain of his misery by killing him would be “avenged in sevenfold,” or punished in a way that is seven times worse than Cain’s punishment. However, M. Shadows, the driving force and de facto band leader, has stated in interviews that the band is not “not really religious at all.”
After forming, they released the album “Sounding the Seventh Trumpet.” Their follow-up album, “Waking the Fallen,” broadened their fan base quickly, and critical acclaim was swift:
Rolling Stone: “These guys excel at the complex, pummeling Eighties-metal moves that first came into circulation when they were in diapers.”
Spin magazine: “A Godzilla-size pileup of whiplash metalcore and Sunset Strip swagger, Avenged Sevenfold’s 2005 major-label debut, ‘City of Evil,’ won unexpected platinum status.”
Blender: “Avenged Sevenfold transcended the headbanger heartland with 2005’s ‘Bat Country.’ Its mixture of campy goth and ’80s Sunset Strip debauchery was matched with a refreshing sound that fused florid guitar solos with frenzied nail-gun drumming, while M. Shadows shifted effortlessly between a snarl and a croon.”
And 2007’s “Avenged Sevenfold” album won the Kerrang! Awards Best Album-award in 2008.
Joe and Barbara have watched their son learn to live on his own, as a member of an up-and-coming band that would soon be touring the world.
“It wasn’t that easy at first,” Barbara explains. “Those first tours, like the first ‘Warped Tour,’ they’d be in a van driving all night, not eating right. But they learned discipline fast, and the importance of hard work. These young guys work very hard.”
Today, the families of the band know each other and it’s a very close-knit bunch in the Avenged organization. Crew members went to grade school with the band, the musicians are all high school buddies — and it all happened here in Huntington.
The Sullivans are amazed with their son’s life and support every beat of it.
“We love to hear how the music evolves when they’re working on it,” Joe says, smiling. “We love the shows, the feedback from fans and family members — it’s an incredible experience.”
Barbara scrapbooks many of her son’s musical moments and also collects much of the band’s memorabilia, including lunch boxes, watches and coasters. She also remembers what it was like when all three kids were home.
“While Jimmy played drums, he played drums, his sister Kelly was playing classical music on French horn, and his other sister Katie would paint — there was always wonderful art being created around us.”
Mom’s favorite show to date? “A long time ago, right as they started catching on, up at the Ford Theater in Los Angeles. Jimmy still says that they weren’t that good yet, but watching the kids in the crowd sing along to every song — you knew something special was happening.” She pulls out the MTV “spaceman” statue that the band won as Best New Artist at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards as proof of how right she was.
And what does Joe feel when he watches the band play live today before thousands of adoring fans?
“I look at him up there under the lights, and I think back to the little kid in the tub; that little boy hitting those toys together. It’s incredible to think about what he has done and where he’s been. But you know, it doesn’t just happen. He worked so hard — all these guys work so hard, and that’s that thing I think people should realize. They’re great because of the time they put in. How can you not be proud of that?”
For more on Huntington Beach’s own Avenged Sevenfold, visit www.avengedsevenfold.com.
Note — several weeks ago I wrote about the closing of The Bookman Too Boosktore. Larry Wagner wrote me a note: “I regularly read your columns in the HB Independent and enjoy them. Your column on Bookman Too closing left the impression that there are no other used bookstores in HB. There are two used bookstores in HB that have been in business in their location and have been listed in the Verizon and AT&T; yellow pages for over 15 years. Neither stores (The Book Junction or Sandcastle Books) have any plans for closing in the foreseeable future.”
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 14 books, including the new “Huntington Beach Then & Now.” You can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.