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Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

Lead guitar man settles horse farm for family, music studio

Friday, February 3, 2012

(Photo)
Tribune photos by Clint Confehr Marshall County resident Alf Batz - holding a guitar he made for himself - stands in John Price's Music Shop on North Ellington Parkway. Batz played lead guitar for the seminal heavy metal band Iron Maiden.
By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

When a man settles down, it's usually for love, admittedly amid whatever raucous lifestyle he's embraced.

For Alf Batz, life as lead guitar-man for the heavy metal band Iron Maiden - the band's performed for crowds of 300,000 people - is behind him, although he's been back to Europe for something of a victory lap just for the fun of it all.

Iron Maiden's best known songs include "Run to the Hills," "Rath Child," and "Powerslave." Released in September 1984, "Powerslave" is the name of the English band's fifth studio album.

Songs most associated with Iron Maiden were written by Paul Di'Anno who kept Batz as a "paid musician," as Alf explains it, after original members argued over the direction of what Iron Maiden should perform and what heavy metal should be. Litigation and fame are in conflict over whether Iron Maiden still exists as what it was, or should be, depending on your point of view.

What transpired after additional Paul Di'Anno concert tours - dogged by legal claims over the name of the band - was Batz's life including surgery in Richmond, marriage, work as a cowboy in Virginia and as a computer assembly man in Atlanta.

Now, you'll find him at his music shop in Lewisburg (it's call John Price's Music Shop), or on the 60-acre horse farm he and his wife, Peggy Weldon, have between Belfast and Farmington, or in the recording studio he's building there. Alf and Peggy live in a circa 1850s farmhouse with uneven floors and a happy lifestyle.

"I've been here quite some time," Alf said Wednesday morning at the store. "It's like my hide out."

The Batz family moved here about a decade ago when Peggy's warmblood horse business was growing and land was $125,000 an acre at Alpharetta, Ga., near Atlanta. Peggy's friend, Dabney Thompson, invited them to look here.

Last week, daughter Roxy Batz was back home with her parents from her place at Fort Worth, Tex. Some 300 CDs have been pressed since her recent concert tour and she's going back to Europe pretty soon.

Is her father her inspiration?

"Well, of course," Roxy replies.

She might have been better known as Debi at Cornersville High School during 2006-08. She was Miss Cornersville during her freshman year.

"I've been working on this record since I was 15 years old and I got an opportunity to do this," she said Friday before returning to Texas and her boyfriend, Joey Diclaire of Fort Worth. His band is called Concept Cove. The music is metal.

In August last year, musicians auditioned for her band tour through Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Holland.

"That's where I wanted to start, in Europe, because that's where my Dad's from," she said.

Alf is the son of Fritz and Elna Batz. The Danish farmers' son went to a school with maybe 1,000 students. He's never studied music, although there was a musician who also taught math at the school and Alf's first public gig was at age 8 on the town square. He started his own band at age 12, realized his passion was recording - to hold the creation of something really cool.

Alf taught himself to play the guitar and says, "I've never really gone into a studio with a stack of notes (on paper) and did it."

He was asked, but didn't oblige.

"I ran into Eddie Van Halen," - that's Edward Lodewijk "Eddie" Van Halen, the Dutch-born American musician, who co-founded the hard rock band Van Halen - Batz said, responding to a question about formal music training. Van Halen had been asked what he plays. "'I don't know. It sounds good,'" the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer replied.

"I've often wondered if I had an education, would I have done better," Batz said. "I always try to feel the music and know what (the composer) is trying to do."

While telling his life's story, Batz was approached by a customer who wants to buy music lessons for her child. Batz sent her to a shop just off Lewisburg's public square. He and his partner, John Price, sell musical instruments, related equipment and, among other things, a jukebox that's on the display floor.

One of the guitars in a big carry case is Batz' own electric guitar. He's starting an electric guitar manufacturing operation so that what's produced for a guitarist is what that musician wants. Standardized production of guitars will always fall short for a guitarist, he said. So, he wants to custom build guitars that meet the specific needs of the musician who's buying their next ax.

The price range is very wide. It's from inexpensive to very costly.

Batz speaks softly about the several years he played in what was the original Iron Maiden band, and the subsequent concert tours with Paul Di'Anno, composer of the songs made famous by the concerts.

There are sad tales of not being paid; landing at JFK in New York and nobody meeting them, and a concert manager's office phone with the classic recording about the number being disconnected and no longer in service.

Now 49, Alf seems content. He compliments the local talent among the musicians he's met in this area, by which he means Lewisburg and the environs.