Heavy metal singer Steve Grimmett has vowed to keep rocking despite the amputation of one of his legs. He tells SUE BRADLEY why the show must go on

There’s nothing like a deadline to provide a bit of motivation, although heavy metal singer Steve Grimmett’s determination to learn to walk with a prosthetic limb in time for a performance at a rock festival in July takes some beating.

Steve, lead vocalist with Grim Reaper, had to undergo a partial amputation in January after an infected wound on his foot spread to the bones in his leg part way through the band’s five-week tour of South America.

The life-saving surgery was carried out in Ecuador and the 57-year-old singer was in hospital for just over a month while fans raised $14,000 (more than £10,000) to bring him home after his insurance company refused to pay because of the type of work he was doing.

All in all it’s been a rough time for Steve, his wife Millie and his family, but he refuses to be beaten.

In fact, with World War II pilot Sir Douglas Bader as his inspiration, he’s willing himself to get mobile ahead of the ‘Bang Your Head’ Festival in Germany on July 14.

“The way I’m looking at it, I’ve only lost part of one leg, while Douglas lost both of his and continued to fly,” says Steve, who lives in West Swindon and has sold more than 1 million albums.

“I feel I owe it to our fans: so many people donated money after they heard what had happened and this is my way of saying thank you.”

Steve says he cannot praise enough the Ecuadorian medics who saved his life and has vowed to raise money to buy a defibrillator for the hospital that treated him. He’s also keen to raise awareness of the dangers of diabetes.

“I want to tell people they cannot live life in denial like I did for so many years,” says the grandfather-of-two, who has the type 2 form of the disease.

The amputation marks the latest chapter in what’s been a colourful career for Steve, who has experienced a spectrum of highs and lows since a girlfriend heard him singing and encouraged him to join a band.

He started out with amateur groups before joining Evesham-based Medusa when he was 16 and then stepping in to provide vocals for the Cheltenham-based rock band Chateaux on their ‘Chained and Desperate’ album.

In 1984 he became the lead singer of Grim Reaper, which went on to win a session in a recording studio after triumphing at a battle of the bands competition in Worcester. Steve passed a demo tape to Ebony Records, to which Chateaux was signed, and in just six weeks his group was recording ‘See You in Hell’, the first of several albums.

“That one went a bit nuts really and did really well in Europe,” recalls Steve, who at this point was able to give up his ‘day job’ with an electronics company to concentrate on his music.

Subsequently Grim Reaper was signed by RCA in the US and a video of ‘See You in Hell’ was shown on the MTV music channel, the viewer response to which led to it being shown seven times a day and seven days a week for seven weeks.

The band rode the crest of a wave for three years, recording the albums ‘Fear No Evil’ and ‘Rock You to Hell’ and performing all over the US.

At one point Grim Reaper teamed up with the American heavy metal band Armored Saint and Helloween from Germany for the ‘Hell on Wheels’ tour, which saw them travelling all over the US and playing a special Hallowe’en night show at First Avenue in Minnesota, the location for the filming of Prince’s film Purple Rain.

In 1985 Steve and the band performed in front of more than 70,000 people at the Texxas Jam, which also featured groups such as Deep Purple, the Scorpions and Bon Jovi.

“These bands were my heroes, although the only people we actually talked to were Bon Jovi, who at that time weren’t as successful in the States as they were in the UK – we were second on and they were third,” says Steve.

“Performing at Texxas Jam was something else. It was all ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’.

“We didn’t know anything about the size of the crowd until we got there.

“We stepped out on stage and there was a massive sea of people: my mouth went dry. It was fantastic.”

But these heady days weren’t destined to last, with the band splitting up during a protracted dispute with its record company.

Steve went back to working for his family business, the Tewkesbury-based doors and windows manufacturer Firm Fix, and says the period ‘poisoned’ his association with the music industry.

It didn’t stop him from performing indefinitely, however, and after the dispute came to an end he joined the thrash metal group Onslaught and later founded Lionsheart.

“Our first track did particularly well in Japan – it went straight to number one in the Japanese charts, which was unheard of for a band that wasn’t Japanese. We were, you might say, big in Japan,” he laughs.

Grim Reaper reformed with Steve at the helm in 2001 for the Keep it True festival in Frankfurt and since then the band has gone on to appear at various events and record new material for Wallingford-based Dissonance Records.

“We toured the world, including Europe, and South America three times,” says Steve.

“It was all ‘weekend stuff’ as we were all in jobs. Subsequently the gigs started to dry up and the only thing we could put it down to was that we were playing stuff that we had been playing for 10 years, so we spent three years writing and recording our new album.”

It was during the band’s latest tour of South America with Grim Reaper’s current members Ian Nash, Mart Trail and Paul ‘Bam Bam’ White that Steve started to feel unwell. Over the previous eight months he had been wrestling with an ulcer on his foot but this looked as though it had healed over by the time they had left the UK.

To begin with he thought he had altitude sickness, but was worse by the time he had reached Ecuador; nevertheless he took painkillers and continued to perform, taking to a chair so that he could finish the set. Afterwards the band reprised ‘See You in Hell’ as an encore and stayed on to sign autographs before Steve allowed himself to be taken to hospital.

“Even when I was in a treatment room I still didn’t know what was going on,” he says.

Over the following days medical teams fought hard to contain the infection in Steve’s leg, but as time went on, and due to complications caused by his diabetes, they were left with no alternative but to amputate.

“It was tough but throughout it all I have kept a positive attitude,” says Steve, who was hospitalised for five weeks.

“Throughout the two operations, for which I was given epidurals, I was thinking of the soldiers who come back from war far worse than me.

“I am a big war bird buff and I thought of Sir Douglas Bader and what he achieved without either of his legs.

“While I was in hospital I felt a bit down because I missed Millie and my family, but not because I had lost a leg.

"At times it could be amusing: fans were coming in to see me and I could tell when the medical workers were using the internet to check me out because I’d hear them playing my songs.”

Since returning to the UK, Steve has been going to the Nuffield Hospital in Oxford for physiotherapy and to learn how to use a prosthetic leg.

“I got my leg a couple of weeks ago but I’m only allowed to walk on it while I’m at the rehabilitation clinic, although I am allowed to practise putting it on and taking it off and standing on it when I’m at home,” he says.

“I’m really keen to get on with it. Basically I have to learn to walk all over again. I’m determined to perform in Germany in July; Bang Your Head is one of the most important festivals in Germany and even Europe.

“What’s happened has been very humbling, especially when I consider the number of people who have helped me. I now look on life a bit differently. What’s happened has taught me not to be impatient and to make the most out of life.”