On December 26, 2020, Grey Haven Media released pay-per-view video of a conversation between current EXODUS frontman Steve “Zetro” Souza and the band’s former vocalist Rob Dukes, recorded earlier that month at Zetro‘s studio in the San Francisco Bay Area as part of Souza‘s “Zetro’s Toxic Vault” YouTube interview series. The discussion at the time was described as “raw and uncensored, with no stone left unturned.” Almost two months later, Zetro has now uploaded a two-and-a-half-hour “director’s cut” of his chat with Rob, including a lengthy section that focuses on the circumstances that led to Dukes‘s 2014 dismissal from EXODUS and Souza‘s return to the group.
According to Dukes, the seed for his exit from EXODUS was planted during the songwriting and pre-production sessions for the band’s 2014 album “Blood In Blood Out”. “One night, before a show, me, Lee [Altus, guitar], Tom [Hunting, drums] and Jack [Gibson, drums] were sitting, and we said, ‘You know, we should do this [album] different. We should do this one where we actually rehearse together and we go through the songs like a band would do ’em in the old days’ — go through ’em and maybe pick apart parts, maybe make ’em better, do it that way,” he said. “[I thought it was] a great plan; I agreed. I come home, fly back out a couple of weeks later and everything is done. They’re doing the drums, but Jack is doing the engineering, and [longtime British producer] Andy [Sneap] is not doing the vocals. And at that time, nothing against Jack — I love Jack — but the difference was, working with Andy, I didn’t have to sing the whole line all the way through over and over again. Jack wasn’t able to, at this time, edit in a word if I fucked up; I had to start all over. And the dissent had started with me. I felt a lot of the songs were very repetitious.
“Now, I could have just kept my mouth shut and just went along with it if I wanted to keep my job, even though it wouldn’t have mattered, because the business decisions, I think, were being made behind the scenes with Metal Maria and Chuck [Billy, TESTAMENT singer]. I, actually, in front of everyone, challenged Chuck. ‘Cause Chuck was now managing the band. We’re halfway through the record, and they said, ‘Well, Chuck‘s gonna manage the band.’ I go, ‘You don’t see that as a conflict of interest — a little bit?’ And I said this to Chuck, to his face. I said, ‘You’re telling me, if you get an opportunity, you’re not gonna have TESTAMENT [take the gig]; you’re gonna give EXODUS the gig? Get the fuck outta here, dude! I wouldn’t do that, so I know you’re not gonna do that.’ He’s, like, ‘I wouldn’t do that.’ I go, ‘You’re not being honest with me. You’re not being honest with yourself.’ And it caused, like, a thing. And everyone was mad at me, ’cause the boys don’t like confrontation. And it wasn’t the songs. The songs were the songs. I thought ‘BTK’ was killer. Dude, you did ‘BTK’ awesome,” he said, complimenting Zetro. “There were certain things about it. I don’t wanna shit on it, but some of it just seemed regurgitated. I was, like, ‘This song sounds like that song,’ and, ‘This song sounds like this song,’ and it started to weigh on me. Like I said, I could have just kept my mouth shut and just played the game and not rocked the boat, but it wasn’t my nature. My nature was, ‘No, man. We’re better than this. We need to top ourselves over the last thing we did,’ and I didn’t feel like it was doing that — I felt like it was actually declining a little bit, in my eyes, from my position. But it didn’t mean that I didn’t give everything I had — I gave everything I had on vocals — but Jack was beating me up, because I was constantly not able to… Especially with some of the timing stuff — you’ve never done it before, and now you’re expected to do it forever. This is the CD, man — this is forever.”
Dukes went on to say that he was “angry for about a year” following his dismissal from EXODUS. “Maybe even longer,” he said. “‘Cause look, man, [I was] 47 years old [at the time]. I got married five days before. And you fucking fire me. If I was by myself, if I was just me, I would have been okay with it. I was responsible for another human being. I just moved my entire life from my comfortable New York upbringing to a place [in Arizona] where I know one person, and I don’t even know him that well; I know him from touring and watching him when I was a kid. I knew Roger Miret from AGNOSTIC FRONT; it’s the only guy I knew [in Arizona].
“I remember telling my wife, ‘We’re gonna be okay. It’s fine. We’re fine. I’ll sell my car. And that’ll get us, like, a year rent, and we’ll be okay. I’ll figure it out. We’ll be okay.’ But in my head, I was fucking terrified,” he admitted. “And I felt like [the EXODUS guys] took something from me that I earned, that I deserved. But I was looking at it wrong. I didn’t deserve anything. I didn’t earn anything. I was grateful to be there. And I tried to do the right thing. I remember writing a statement and putting it out there. I was grateful — I was grateful for going to over a hundred countries in my lifetime, playing in front of the millions of people that I got to play over 10 years. I was grateful for every opportunity that was given to me; I was honestly grateful. But also, I was angry, and I had every right to be angry. But I wasn’t able to see it for what it was until a year later — it took me a year.”
Dukes said that he wishes he had been more vocal in the earlier stages of the making of “Blood In Blood Out”, particularly as it relates to EXODUS‘s choice of producer for the sessions.
“The truth was that my part in it, had I been honest from the beginning and I had said — ’cause there were times when I didn’t wanna rock the boat — ‘We are making fucking mistakes. And if you guys all wanna go to this next level that you all talk about, then let’s put our fucking money where our mouth is and change it the way we’re doing it,'” he said. “You’ve done it this way all this time and you’ve always gotten what you got. But if you change the game… Nothing against Andy, but if we bring in Colin Richardson, bring in fucking Zeuss [Chris Harris], bring in somebody [from] outside the game who had his own ideas of looking at things and maybe corral some of the chaotic stuff that was going on. And maybe go, ‘You know what? The song does sound like that song. Maybe we should fucking take this riff…’ Let producers do what they do… I thought it would have been awesome for somebody like Colin Richardson or Zeuss to come in and take Gary Holt [EXODUS guitarist and main songwriter] and sit him down and go, ‘This is awesome. But we can make this better. Let’s try this and try that.’ And that’s what the plan originally was.”
Three years after he was fired from EXODUS, Dukes performed with the band during a July 2017 concert in San Francisco, California. He sang several songs with the group on the second of EXODUS‘s two-night stint at The Chapel in what marked the band’s first headlining Bay Area club shows since late 2013.
Looking back on how his split with EXODUS went down, Rob now says that he is “glad that everything worked out the way it did. And I was glad that Gary called me a year later and I spoke with him,” he said. “And he was legitimately sorry; I knew he was. And he said, ‘I want you to come to San Francisco.’ And then I was, like, ‘Well, how does Zet feel?’ And he goes, ‘It was Zet‘s idea.'”
Zetro explained that he was always in favor of reaching out to Rob and inviting him to share the stage for the San Francisco shows. “They thought that I was gonna be anti that ’cause they were, like, ‘Let’s do this Chapel show. We’re gonna get [former EXODUS guitarist] Rick [Hunolt to make an appearance],'” he recalled. “And I go, ‘Well, then if you’re gonna get Rick, why don’t you call Dukes and have him come out?’ And they all looked at me like I had plague on my face. And I’m, like, ‘Yeah, why not?’ I go, ‘I don’t care what everybody else thinks. I had nothing to do with this. And I like singing his songs.’ I think, honestly, it would show all the EXODUS fans — which it has — that there’s no bullshit. There’s [late EXODUS singer] Paul‘s [Baloff] era, and then there’s my early era, and there’s your era, and then there’s my era again. It’s all EXODUS.”
Dukes also addressed the speculation that his substandard vocals on an early version of “Blood In Blood Out” were proof that he wasn’t sufficiently inspired to deliver the goods on the album. “That assumption has been said to me a bunch of times,” he said. “Even Lee has said, he goes, ‘Your heart wasn’t in it.’ And my ego, which I don’t have a big ego — it’s not like I’m an egotistical dick — but I can tell you that when I was on the microphone, I was giving my best, I was giving all I had. What I felt inside was that the songs weren’t as good. To me, they felt rushed. I felt some of the lyrics felt rushed.
“Me and Gary look at music very differently, and I think that’s why we kind of worked,” he continued. “Gary will write the lyrics before he writes the music, and he fits it in, where I write the music, write the melody and then fill in the words to the melody.
“It’s hard to say it without sounding like a dick, but it was very… I remember singing one song and going, ‘Dude, this is that other song.’ And then, hearing the lead, going, ‘That’s the lead from that other song.’ And I think that alone, trying to take my ego out of it, maybe my heart wasn’t it. I wish that it was.
“At the moment, I knew I was giving all I could, but the factors against me was I didn’t think the material was as strong as what we had already done,” Dukes added. “I wanted it to be better. It’s like setting bar for yourself and then not giving at least that measure. And then I thought that, as much as I love Jack, he wasn’t Andy Sneap. And working with Andy, there was something to working with Andy that pulls it out of me.
“I remember talking to [Rob] Halford about it, ’cause [Andy recorded] Halford with PRIEST. He made me do fucking 10 fucking takes of each line. When you do 10 takes of each line, and then he fucking pieces them together. And then you get back something and you’re, like, ‘Wow, that’s the way I sang that, huh? Cool.’ No, it wasn’t. It was the way Andy put it together. And then, all of a sudden, now you have a template. ‘Well, now I’m gonna do that live, ’cause that’s better.’ ‘Cause Andy knew what the fuck he was doing. But now you’re just leaving it to me raw. And I thought not having Andy there for the vocals made me mad — not mad; it just made me a little disheartened, I guess. Because working for two albums with Andy, I knew what to expect. No matter what template I was given, I knew that Andy was gonna make me do it the right way. And when we were doing it, it wasn’t that.”
Dukes joined EXODUS in January 2005 and appeared on four of the band’s studio albums — “Shovel Headed Kill Machine” (2005), “The Atrocity Exhibition… Exhibit A” (2007), “Let There Be Blood” (2008, a re-recording of EXODUS‘s classic 1985 LP, “Bonded By Blood”) and “Exhibit B: The Human Condition” (2010).
Dukes still resides in Arizona, where he works as a mechanic specializing in car restoration.
Photo credit: Raymond Ahner