One of Richmond's most successful musical exports remains locked away in a Czech prison this week. But friends say that Randy Blythe's recent legal troubles have obscured the fact that Lamb of God's demonic-sounding lead singer was just getting his life under control.
Blythe was arrested June 27 in connection with the death of a 19-year-old fan who repeatedly jumped onstage during a show in 2010. Authorities allege that the fan sustained a brain injury in a fall after Blythe threw him offstage. Blythe is being held in Pankrac prison in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic. A Blythe spokesman denies that the frontman fought with the fan.
Friends say Blythe, 41, had sobered up after years of drinking and drugs. The singer discusses his life in a revealing blog, randonesia.tumblr.com, writing: "I am a sober alcoholic. I don't drink or drug anymore because it was killing me. Everybody else, by all means, PLEASE — have a drink on me."
In posts dated from October to May, Blythe rants about topics as varied as his daily life as a globe-trotting rock star to his left-of-center political beliefs and his mock candidacy for president, announced this year. His writing reveals him as outspoken, with a salty sense of humor, diehard punk-rock idealism and a dedication to living by his own moral code.
"I do not tolerate racism, religious intolerance, homophobia, dogmatic political posturing, sexism, class restrictions, or just general idiocy/assholeness from ANYONE, OF ANY SEX, CREED, OR COLOR, nor should you," he writes. "That being said, I am definitely not politically correct, so if it's a joke — get over yourself."
He also is clearly grateful for the unique experiences music has given him. He wrote in February, "For me, being in a band, MY BAND, is often long, boring, stretches of 'hurry up and wait,' interrupted by really intense moments of pure joy."
Long before hitting the Billboard charts, Blythe grew up in the Tidewater area in a blue-collar family. He shared a room with his younger brother, Mark, who originally turned him onto metal. He attended Western Branch High School in Chesapeake and the Governor's School for the Arts in Norfolk. Blythe moved to Richmond and began classes at Virginia Commonwealth University in the early '90s, his jumping-off point into the local metal scene. He joined an early Lamb of God lineup, then called Burn the Priest.
"Randy had a loud voice, a wild way, and was always first to say what was fucked up about the world," says Scott Hudgins, who met Blythe in an English class at VCU.
For years, Blythe worked as a cook at the Commercial Taphouse & Grill. For a period, he roomed in Jackson Ward with co-worker Peter Frank. He remembers Blythe as an avid reader who was also into hopping trains.
"He always had his head in a book," Frank recalls. "That's what makes this thing so weird. He really is a sweet guy who would never want to do anyone harm."
That description lines up with Blythe's own in his blog: "I am actually a nice, warm-hearted, generous, articulate Southern Male with impeccable manners. If ya see me on the street, come say hello!"
Local musician Dean Owen knew Blythe from hanging out at the same places, from a musician-frequented house on Mulberry Street to Avalon Restaurant & Bar.
"He was always very involved and supportive of the Richmond punk-metal scene," Owen says. "At every show, always in the pit, sporting some up-and-coming band's T-shirt."
In 2003, after relentless touring and two albums with a small label, the group signed with Epic Records, a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment. The band has sold several million albums and received three Grammy nominations (Blythe didn't attend the ceremonies). Lamb of God's last two albums debuted at No. 2 and No. 3 on the Billboard charts. The group regularly plays huge festivals overseas, where metal is generally more popular, and has toured with arena superstars such as Metallica.
"Randy's drive was that [the music] gave him a voice he used largely to point out injustice, hypocrisy, and the general abuses of the world," Hudgins says.
But with the rock-star lifestyle came regular, heavy partying. There were the inevitable flameouts on the road, though mostly minor. Like the time when Blythe's excessive drinking spurred a fistfight on the bus with guitarist Mark Morton, captured for posterity on the DVD release, "Killadelphia."
In a December 2011 post, Blythe wrote about that incident: "Every time (if I was in the wrong), I accepted the consequences without running, hiding, blaming someone else, or complaining. … I said or did something fucked up, therefore I paid the price. And eventually, slowly, painfully, I learned better. People have called me an egomaniac, a loudmouth, an insensitive braggart. All of that may be true, but the fact is I can be held accountable for my words and actions."
"It's no secret he was full of himself to the point of being self-centered to anyone and everyone at one time or another," musician Owen recalls. "[But] Randy is a good guy."
In 2005 Blythe married his girlfriend, Cindy. During the last couple of years, Blythe was making strides toward a more balanced life, according to a former roommate. He curbed the heavy drinking and began working on artistic projects outside of music, including an upcoming documentary about the group's fans and a role in the 2009 indie horror film, "The Graves."
Then came the arrest in Prague at the tail end of another world tour, leaving his future hanging in the balance.
The singer paid his $200,000 bail July 3, and his lawyers have been trying to secure his release ever since. Considered a flight risk, Blythe had his bail challenged by the prosecution and continues to be held pending his next bail hearing July 19. If denied release again by a judge, he could be in jail for another six months or the duration of the trial, according to the Prague Post. Members of the band, as well as the group's publicist and manager, declined to comment when contacted by Style Weekly.
Fans of the band have expressed frustration that Blythe's case hasn't received more attention. The band has launched a legal fund, and music celebs including Slash, Ozzy and Sharon Osborne have expressed their outrage on Twitter. Locally, supporter Tommy Streat has organized a vigil for Sunday, July 22, from 1 to 3 p.m. in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. A benefit concert is being planned for Aug. 31 at the Canal Club, with Gwar's Dave Brockie as a co-host and performances by bands yet to be announced.
"Somewhere in the middle of these highs and lows is the experience I call my life. I really cherish all of these moments, the good AND the bad," Blythe wrote Feb. 3. "I want to understand them for what they are, and what they mean in the context of my life. Since I've put down the bottle, I believe I do a pretty good job of it most days." S
Correction: The benefit concert for Randy Blythe is Aug. 31 at the Canal Club, not the Camel as reported in earlier print and online versions of this story.