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Heavy Metal Shop celebrates 25 years with iconic T-shirt

Published April 20, 2012 4:38 pm

Anniversary • Now in its 25th year, store keeps selling its classic hit.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As Kevin Kirk celebrates Record Store Day this Saturday at his Heavy Metal Shop, he'll be reflecting on a series of numbers.

He turned 50 this year; his shop is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

And despite the number of Record Store Day exclusives he'll be selling, Kirk will be considering the thousands and thousands of Heavy Metal Shop T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts he has sold since the store opened.

Record Store Day is one of Kirk's busiest days of business each year, and it's a sure bet that his customers will be shelling out more money Saturday for what has become the local music scene's most popular, and omnipresent, item of fashion apparel.

"It's my main business," said Kirk of his Heavy Metal Shop T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts. "Sometimes that's all I sell."

Don't ask for the exact number of shirts he's sold. He doesn't keep track.

Locals recognize the familiar design from the store with the motto "Peddlin' Evil Since 1987":

• The stark black-and-white aesthetic.

• Half of a menacing skull peering into your dark soul.

• Topped off with lettering ­— in a font with piratesque flair — declaring the name of the shop and the city where it resides.

It's not just local headbangers who wear the logo proudly — the shirts have been seen all over the world.

You might have seen the logo in Sleigh Bells' video "Rill, Rill," where guitarist Derek Miller wears a Heavy Metal Shop hoodie. Or perhaps you glimpsed it in a scene in the Adam Sandler movie "Little Nicky."

Or you might have seen the shirt at a local concert, worn by one of the members of Slayer, or tattooed on the arm of I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House frontman Michael Dean Damron, a frequent performer of in-store shows at the Salt Lake City shop.

Tribune movie critic Sean P. Means once spotted a Pixar animator wearing a Heavy Metal Shop shirt at a 2003 California press junket for "Finding Nemo."

Music store customer Chad Gilgen met a man from Germany on a music message board who claimed he proudly wore his Heavy Metal Shop T-shirt on the streets of Berlin. Another customer told Kirk on a trip to The Netherlands he had seen a man in Amsterdam sporting a Heavy Metal shirt.

The design originated a quarter-century ago, when Kirk was closing down a general-interest CD shop to launch a store that celebrated his love of Slayer, Anthrax, The Stooges and Megadeth.

One of his customers was a graphic artist, Kirk explained while sitting behind the counter of his shop in his blue La-Z-Boy, his long hair dangling from his head, topped by a perennial ballcap. "He wasn't a metal head," Kirk said. "I told him I wanted something with blood."

That graphic artist was Rob Will, now 51 and a mild-mannered sales and marketing engineer in Salt Lake City. Will said he made an agreement with Kirk: He'd design the logo, and all he wanted in return were 16 jazz CDs that Kirk "wanted to dump anyway," Will remembered.

The design was intended "to scare the straights," he added.

The classic textbook Gray's Anatomy didn't have the skull image that Will envisioned, so he began sketching with a crayon his own images of a skull. "At some point, we were throwing around the Jolly Roger," Will said.

But Kirk wasn't an easy customer. Will said he brought 20 versions of the design to Kirk before the store owner agreed on the logo, which has remained unchanged through the years.

Twenty-five years later, Will said he and his daughter get a kick at seeing the design pop up all around town. "I'm the antithesis of those who walk through his door every day," said Will, who wears a suit and tie to work.

Several weeks ago, Will's daughter spotted a shopper at Smith's wearing a Heavy Metal Shop T-shirt. She gleefully told the customer that her dad created the design. The shopper looked at her suit-clad father and probably thought the girl needed to get off her medication, Will said with a laugh.

The design has become iconic in Salt Lake City. Because Gilgen tends to wear shirts until he tears a hole in them, he estimated that he has owned at least 10 Heavy Metal Shop T-shirts since his high-school years. He has sent at least that many to friends across the country who have seen his shirt and want one of their own. Whenever Gilgen attends shows outside Utah, concertgoers mob him and ask him where they can get a shirt like his.

Kirk — always clad in black with thick-rimmed glasses, and always accompanied by his docile dachshund, Sydney — thinks the shirts might have spread thanks to his regular booth at the Salt Lake City International Tattoo Convention. Tattoo artists from all over the world buy his T-shirts in droves when he hawks them at the convention.

Despite the pittance Will made from the design, he never considered charging Kirk more money. He'd entertain the idea only if Kirk was a "bazillionaire," Will said. Instead, he's proud every time he sees the logo, glad that "I'm the guy who helps him peddle evil."

dburger@sltrib.com

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Celebrate live music

Saturday, April 21 is Record Store Day at local independently owned stores, which are offering special deals on vinyl records, and some exclusive recordings or in-store concerts. Check out our list of Utah store offerings here http://bit.ly/HQsPn0.