It’s unclear exactly when and how Marvin Lee Aday became Meat Loaf, but by 1966, when he moved from his native Texas to California, he’d formed a band alternately known as Meat Loaf Soul and Popcorn Blizzard, which, until its breakup in 1969, had opened shows for the Who, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Johnny and Edgar Winter, and Ted Nugent.
He then auditioned for and got a part in a West Coast production of Hair and traveled with the show to the East Coast and then to Detroit, where he hooked up with a singer named Stoney to record the unsuccessful LP Stoney and Meat Loaf —rereleased in 1979 as Meat Loaf (Featuring Stoney). Meat Loaf went to New York to appear in the off-Broadway gospel musical Rainbow in New York in 1973, and then successfully auditioned for More Than You Deserve, written by Jim Steinman.
Steinman, a New Yorker who’d spent his early teen years in California, had studied classical piano. Later he wrote a play called Dream Engine in New York. Meanwhile, Meat Loaf had played Eddie in the hugely successful cult film The Rocky Horror Picture Show and sung lead vocals on one side of Ted Nugent’s platinum LP Free for All. After meeting at More Than You Deserve auditions, Meat Loaf and Steinman toured with the National Lampoon Road Show; then Steinman wrote a musical called Never Land (a Peter Pan update), from which would come much of the material for Bat out of Hell. (Never Land was produced in 1977 at Washington’s Kennedy Center.) Meat Loaf and Steinman rehearsed for a full year before Todd Rundgren, an early supporter of the project, agreed to produce them.
At first, Bat, with its highly theatrical, bombastically orchestrated teen drama, sold well only in New York and Cleveland. Then Meat Loaf hit the road with a seven-piece band that included singer Karla DeVito in the role Ellen Foley had played on the LP’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” (which also included a cameo by New York Yankees former shortstop and announcer Phil Rizzuto). The LP was platinum by the end of the year, with the hit singles “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” (#39), “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad” (#11), and “You Took the Words Right out of My Mouth” (#39).
Meat Loaf appeared in the films Americathon (1979) and Roadie (1980). In 1981 Steinman released his own Rundgren-produced solo LP, Bad for Good. Still the world awaited Bat’s sequel. Stories circulated that Meat Loaf had been coaxed to sing on Bad for Good but couldn’t or wouldn’t because of a variety of physical and emotional problems. Finally, toward the end of 1981, Dead Ringer (#45, 1981) was released to meager response. Meanwhile, Steinman initiated lawsuits against Epic and Meat Loaf. Midnight at the Lost and Found had no Steinman material and included a few songs cowritten by “M. Lee Aday.” Meat Loaf eventually declared bankruptcy and underwent physical and psychological therapy to get his voice back. He somehow managed to keep making records, which went virtually unnoticed in the U.S., though he remained a concert draw in England.
In 1993 Meat Loaf —back with Steinman —reemerged with Bat out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, unabashedly picking up, in sound and story, right where “Mr. Loaf” (as the New York Times called him) had left off with Bat out of Hell. The comeback album sold even faster than the original, entering the chart at #25 and eventually hitting #1, selling 10 million copies within three months worldwide, and yielding a hit single in “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That”). In January 1994 that song won Meat Loaf his first Grammy, in the category of Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. Meat Loaf also mounted a Broadway/arena-rock tour reminiscent of days of yore, with his entrance heralded by bombastic power chords interrupting a string quartet, which opened the shows playing a medley of his early hits. This renewed popularity led to prestigious engagements, such as a duet with Luciano Pavarotti at a benefit concert for the children of Bosnia in 1995.
Despite this success, Steinman and Meat Loaf parted ways once again. Although it featured contributions from the likes of Diane Warren, who penned the single “I’d Lie for You (and That’s the Truth)” (#13, 1995), Welcome to the Neighborhood (#17, 1995) quickly sank from the chart and the following tour did not do well; the singer was then dropped by MCA. In the mid-’90s his former label, Cleveland International, and Sony became involved in several lawsuits concerning claimed underpayment of royalties for Bat out of Hell. The cases were settled out of court for an undisclosed amount in 1998.
Without a label, Meat Loaf once again turned to acting, appearing in Crazy in Alabama and Fight Club, both in 1999. That same year he released the live VH1 Storytellers, along with an autobiography, To Hell and Back.