Marzi Montazeri is certainly no stranger in the Houston music scene. Since the '80s, the enigmatic guitar player has played all over town with a succession of heavy rock, blues and metal bands, rarely failing to turn heads with his astonishing, obsessive shredding skills.
Tonight, those talents will be showcased by a guy of great renown in the Texas metal pantheon: former Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo, who has made Marzi his right-hand man in his new solo project, Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals. The band released its debut album, Walk Through Exits Only, last year, and while Anselmo wrote all of the music himself, Montazeri's immediately recognizable fingerprints are all over the record.
The pair go back a ways. In fact, Marzi says he was one of the lucky few to witness Anselmo's very first gig with Pantera, well before the release of the band's major-label breakthrough, Cowboys From Hell.
"I ended up seeing them accidentally on the very first night they played with Philip, their very first show in Shreveport, La.," Montazeri remembers. "I happened to be there because I was playing in a band that was playing the same venue the night before or the night after or something. We had a night off, and I borrowed the band van to go see Pantera; no one else wanted to go see them with me.
"So, they had Philip, and it was an amazing set," he continues, growing a tad wistful. "Just fuckin' awesome."
Montazeri hung out with the band after the show, forming friendships that linger to this day. To a guy like Marzi, the metallic freaks in Pantera must have seemed like kindred spirits. Growing up as an Iranian immigrant in H-town, he often felt as though he'd come from a different planet.
"I was born in Tehran, and I moved here with my parents to Houston, Texas," he says. "My parents immediately got divorced, and it was just me and my dad. He would go to work at night, and this was our first summer here. So I was alone, like, every fucking day. It was a total isolation trip."
An acoustic guitar that he ordered out of a catalog at a music shop at around age 10 was just about the only thing that kept him sane, Montazeri says.
"Without even knowing how to tune a guitar at that age, I just started noodling with it," he explains. "After noodling for a while, you start to get good at certain things. The muscle memory allows you to move around. In the beginning, anything that happens is like, 'Oh, wow!' You're going somewhere brand-new, and it's exciting. It makes you realize that there's other doors to be opened."
While his devotion to the guitar has never abated, these days it's Anselmo who's opening doors for Marzi, offering him the chance to tour the States and abroad. It's practically impossible to play with Phil Anselmo without inviting fans' comparisons to Dimebag Darrell, the late, great Pantera guitarist who was already the undisputed shred-king of the Texas metal circuit as a teenager. It's a prospect that doesn't intimidate Montazeri, however. Though they jammed together only infrequently over the years, he counts Dime as a friend, and says they shared a special, musical bond.
"Even though we were young, we were eye-to-eye, like childhood friends or something," he says. "We were like a couple of souls who knew each other way in the past. We had a relationship where we didn't talk every single day or nothing like that. It was just a bond in music and love, where you actually respect and complement one another. We came from the same school of guitar players -- Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen."
Montazeri maintained his friendship with Anselmo over the years, too, and was involved early on with the singer's now-defunct side project Superjoint Ritual. It was Marzi that the singer turned to several years back when he decided to begin translating some of the musical ideas rattling around in his brain into his first solo album.
"For three years, I was going to Philip's house, cutting demos, working on songs for a few weeks at a time," he says.
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Tonight, the pair will share a stage on the first night of the latest leg on the Illegals' U.S. tour. Watching the legendary singer, who suffers from chronic back pain, go to work each night has been an inspiring experience for Montazeri.
"His will is incredible," Montazeri says. "He lives with pain. It's horrendous. With that kind of pain, you can lay down and die, or you can fight. This motherfucker is a fighter. He's shown it. He's really sincere and strong."
The Illegals figure to keep Marzi busy through the spring, at least, with European tour dates already scheduled. He's also got Heavy as Texas, his bluesy local hard-rock group, and he's been contemplating a solo album featuring contributions from some of his other famous friends, such as Tim "Ripper" Owens, Hank III and Bobby Blotzer.
Tonight, though, he'll simply be concentrating on crushing his hometown on the first night of a new tour. When it comes to metal, the Lone Star State is Anselmo Country, and Montazeri is relishing the opportunity to feed off the crowd's energy. It's only the group's second Texas gig, and its first since opening for Goblin last year at Anselmo's Housecore Horror Film Festival.
"Philip had so much to do then, so we did a relaxed show, and in all honesty, I don't count that show as the one yet," Marzi says. "I think in Houston on the 10th and then coming back to Dallas and then San Antonio, these three cities on this run, these will be the ones that let the people see what we do."
Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals play Warehouse Live tonight with Author & Punisher and Hymns. 813 St. Emanuel St. Doors open at 8 p.m.
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