At Hellstorm’s center was a gifted guitarist, pigeonholed early on as a soul musician. Born in Japan, Ron White was relocated to Willingboro, New Jersey, as an infant. As a youth, White got facetime with no lesser lights than James Brown, Otis Redding, and the Ohio Players, via his mother’s own well-connected booking agency. Later, he’d hone guitar pyrotechnic chops in the Jimi Hendrix mold. In his teens, White toured with Brighter Side of Darkness during their “Love Jones” heyday. Failing to follow-up, Brighter Side let White go after a year. He’d then tour with T. C. Jason of The Spirit of Atlanta, grinding out another year before returning to New Jersey. With classified ads, White formed Grandstand in 1973 as a trio, ably covering hits of the day for Jersey’s clubs and lounges. Hall & Oates and Sly tunes were Grandstand’s closest approach to soul or funk, as they’d depend mostly on FM radio rock to draw audiences. But disc jockey culture seeping out of New York and Philly slowly eroded Grandstand’s customer base. A UK jaunt circa 1976 exposed White to Britain’s fresh convergence of rock, soul, and reggae. Returning to the States, he felt his creative itch in need of scratching.
After reconnecting with his folks in San Antonio, Texas, White dipped again into the want ad well. Drummer Fred Michaux came from a rock background, while bassist Sahara Greer brought a studied soul, funk, and disco vocabulary. Dubbed Hellstorm by White, the trio set about whipping up the genre-bending LP they hoped would win them a deal, saving them from club circuit rigors. Sessions false-started at Houston’s SugarHill Recording Studio, before the band stormed back to San Antonio for more studio work, completing enough for their debut album. White’s industry-connected mother installed Hellstorm as opener for hitmaking clients Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly. White’s brother, a Philadelphia DJ, swooped in to press up 45s on his one-off Golden Ruler label in 1980. It put the scorched-earth soloing of “Cry For The Newborn” on Side 2, alongside a lightning-spiked Hellstorm logo and assurances that both sides hailed from “the 1st HELLSTORM album”—an empty promise, as it turned out. Their gig in support of Maze was Hellstorm’s first, and only, appearance.