1981–1986: Early days
The group was founded in 1981 under the name Paradox by drummer Kelly David-Smith and guitarists Pete Mello and Dave Goulder, who were later joined by bassist Jason Newsted. Jason had answered a newspaper ad that Kelly had placed in the local newspaper looking for a bass player. Jason came to Phoenix with his band Gangster from Michigan on their way to California, but Gangster broke up while in Phoenix. Kelly got a call from a couple of his high school friends, Mark Vasquez and Kevin Horton, looking for some people to jam with playing covers of bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, MSG, and UFO. The band then morphed into "Dredlox" together with the new recruits, Jason was now the main vocalist.
Kelly saw "A.K." (Eric A. Knutson) singing "The Goodbye Girl" at his high school talent show. In 1982 they were in the same summer school class and Kelly asked Knutson if he wanted to audition. They put him on 2-week probation and he later joined the band. Due to the provisional nature of his membership, the band referred to Knutson as "the 2 weeker." Ed Carlson, from another local rival band called Exodus (not to be confused with the California Bay Area thrash metal band of the same name), also joined in 1983 after Kevin's departure from the band. The name of the band changed into The Dogz, but it didn't last long. Eventually the band renamed itself "Flotsam and Jetsam" after writing a song inspired by a chapter of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Two Towers.
The band made its live debuts in local clubs and in California and had the opportunity to play with bands such as Megadeth, Armored Saint, Alcatrazz, Malice, Exciter, Mercyful Fate, Riot, Autograph and Icon. In 1985 Mark Vasquez stepped out and 17-year-old Michael Gilbert joined the band. Flotsam and Jetsam released two demo tapes Iron Tears and Metal Shock in 1985.
They created their first video "Hammerhead" from the Metal Shock demo: "We taped it in Jason and Ed's apartment living room. We also made a live video at the infamous Bootlegger in Phoenix", (owned by Gloria Cavalera, currently married to Max Cavalera) These videos and the band's demos made a good impression on record labels. After the band contributed to the Speed Metal Hell II and Metal Massacre VII compilations, they then signed a deal with Metal Blade Records.
1986–1987: Doomsday for the Deceiver
Flotsam and Jetsam recorded their debut album Doomsday for the Deceiver in Los Angeles with producer Brian Slagel and engineer Bill Metoyer. The album was released on the 4th of July in 1986, and was the first in Kerrang!'s history to achieve the 6K rating.
Bassist Jason Newsted, who was also the band's main lyric writer, departed soon after to join Metallica, replacing their bassist Cliff Burton, who died in a bus accident. On Halloween night 1986, Jason played his last gig with Flotsam and Jetsam. The band had asked another local bassist Phil Rind of Sacred Reich to fill in Jason's place for a short time. They then hired Michael Spencer from the Sacramento band Sentinel Beast. Flotsam and Jetsam inked a deal with Metallica's then-label Elektra Records before opening for Megadeth in 1987 on the Peace Sells tour in Europe and America. After touring with Megadeth, the band played selected shows in America with Slayer, Dark Angel, Possessed, Celtic Frost, Sacred Reich and Excel.
1987–1994: No Place for Disgrace, When the Storm Comes Down and Cuatro
Michael Spencer left Flotsam and Jetsam shortly after a U.S. tour in the fall of 1987; his replacement was Troy Gregory. Their second studio album, No Place for Disgrace, was released in May 1988, and includes a cover of Elton John's hit "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" for which a music video was shot. The band toured heavily behind No Place for Disgrace throughout 1988 and 1989. They opened for King Diamond in America, and supported Megadeth, Testament and Sanctuary in Europe on the So Far, So Good... So What! tour. The band also toured or played shows with Testament, The Crumbsuckers, Fates Warning, Destruction, Metal Church, Death Angel, D.R.I., Acid Reign and Kreator, and landed a billing for festivals, such as Milwaukee Metalfest, and played at Aardschokdag twice (in May 1988 and April 1989).
In 1989, Flotsam and Jetsam were signed to MCA Records and began work on their third album When the Storm Comes Down, released in May 1990. The band expected to gain recognition with this album, but it suffered from a variety of mixed reviews. Flotsam and Jetsam toured for about a year and a half in support of When the Storm Comes Down; they co-headlined a U.S. tour with Prong, and subsequently toured or played selected shows with bands such as Testament, Savatage, Exodus, Vio-Lence, Sacred Reich, Wrathchild America and then-unknown Pantera.
Shortly after returning home, bassist Troy Gregory departed to join Prong. Holding auditions in Phoenix, the band hired Jason Ward to fill the role.
Released in 1992, Cuatro marked an evolution in style and songwriting. The band released four singles this time, two of which ("Swatting at Flies" and "Wading Through the Darkness") were shot as music videos. "Wading Through the Darkness" received regular rotation on MTV during their tours that year.
1995–1999: Drift and High
Their fifth album Drift was released in April 1995, with three singles released off of the record. Jason dedicated it to his older brother Jeff Ward, former drummer of such bands as NIN, Ministry, Revolting Cocks and Lard, who died in 1993. A long break followed the release of the album.
During Flotsam and Jetsam's tour with Megadeth and KORN, MCA and Flotsam parted ways, and Flotsam returned to their former label "Metal Blade Records".
Shortly after auditioning a new drummer, Nick Menza of Megadeth insisted that the band check out a friend of Nick's named Craig Nielsen. Nick was there for the auditioning, and Craig Nielsen was hired.
On their 1997 album High the song titles were designed with the font types/logos of famous bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Kiss, Van Halen, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Misfits, etc. to pay homage to those whom came before and inspired the band while it was coming up the ranks. The music was more experimental than before, and the album also featured the Lard cover song Fork Boy. Music video was released, Monster to follow-up.
Michael Gilbert and Kelly Smith left the band after the release and were replaced by guitarist Mark Simpson and drummer Craig Nielsen. With the new line-up Flotsam and Jetsam toured in Europe together with Anvil and Exciter.
1999–2002: Unnatural Selection and My God
Unnatural Selection was released in 1999 and Mark Simpson took a short break. He joined the band again in 2000 to record a new album, My God released in May 2001. At that time Eric A.K. had founded a country band, the A.K. Corral. He left the band for a short time to take a break from Metal and pursue his side project. (AK) "I had given Metal my life for a solid 15 years, I took some time to explore other musical flavors." Though Flotsam and Jetsam did not disband, there was a long break at that time. They found a new singer, James Rivera, who took over vocal duties live. Later the band felt that no one other than Eric A.K. could be their singer and Rivera left the band soon after.
2002–2006: Live In Phoenix and Dreams of Death
During 2002 and 2003 the band were active only sporadically, but Eric A.K. rejoined for live dates in the Phoenix and Los Angeles areas in 2003. Tory Edwards was a guest for this tour. A live recording of these shows was released in 2004 as a live concert DVD under the title Live in Phoenix. Signed to the Crash Music label in May 2004 and with Eric A.K. joining the band again officially, they hit the road with Overkill and Death Angel for a series of sold out concerts in Japan.
Spring 2005 Flotsam and Jetsam returned to the studio to work on their new album. The lyrics were mostly inspired by Eric's nightmares. This resulted into a concept album entitled Dreams of Death - like track 2 of No Place for Disgrace. The album was released July 2005.
2006–2011: Live In Japan, Once in a Deathtime and The Cold
The live DVD Live in Japan was released in February 2006 and shows their concert in front of hundreds of screaming Japanese fans at the Citta Club in Tokyo 2004.
Doomsday for the Deceiver was re-released in November 2006 by Metal Blade Records to celebrate the album's twentieth anniversary. This set (2 CD and DVD) includes the original recording of Doomsday and a re-mixed and re-mastered(Digitized)version and also the two Flotsam and Jetsam demos. The bonus DVD includes rare live material, an interview filmed at Kelly's High School and a photo slide-show.
In Spring 2008 Metal Mind Productions remastered and re-released the albums When the Storm Comes Down, Cuatro (including 5 bonus tracks), Drift (including 3 bonus tracks) and Dreams of Death. Unfortunately for the fans No Place for Disgrace could not be remastered due to existing legal issues between the band and their former label Elektra Records.
In March 2008 Flotsam and Jetsam toured in Europe and played at the Metalmania Festival in Poland. This show was filmed and released as DVD Once in a Deathtime in July.
Midyear 2008 the band were signed to Driven Music Group, founded by former KORN guitarist Brian “Head” Welch.
After a tour in Europe with support act Neurasthenia in April 2010 Flotsam and Jetsam finished their album The Cold. It was released on September 14, 2010. It was the last album with Mark Simpson on guitar. He left the band in friendship and was replaced by returning guitarist Ed Carlson, who had quit the band in March 2010, to be replaced by Michael Gilbert.
2011–2013: Ugly Noise
Mid 2011, Craig Neilson departed the band soon after Mark Simpson's exit. Former Drummer and founder of Flotsam Kelly David Smith was asked to rejoin after a 14 years absence.
The band then embarked on their newest release Ugly Noise. Flotsam would take a new turn and release and record Ugly Noise using the direct-to-fan platform, PledgeMusic.
Ugly Noise was released through PledgeMusic on 12-21-12. Members on the Pledge site were the first to hear and download the recording before the public. Each Pledge purchased either a download of the new disc or a package of "exclusive items" only available through Pledge. All income from items sold went to fund the entire project.
Shortly after Flotsam inked a distribution deal with longtime friends '"Metal Blade Records" for worldwide distribution.
After tracking on Ugly Noise, Jason Ward was no longer able to commit to touring with the band any further due to his current personal commitments.
In Jan 2013, Flotsam and Jetsam jumped on board the acclaimed 70000 Tons of Metal in support of Ugly Noise. They then followed up on Testaments, Dark Roots of Thrash Tour US Package included Overkill and Australian metalers 4ARM.
During the tour, Edward Carlson started to have extreme physical pain in his lower back and numbness in his right arm. After the tour, an MRI revealed that he had bulging disks in his upper and lower back causing the dysfunction to occur. Flotsam and Jetsam then recruited guitarist Steve Conley of F5 to step in while they finished out their live commitments.
Flotsam and Jetsam also recruited Michael Spencer to rejoin the ranks in place of Jason Ward. Spencer was the first official bassist after Jason Newsted's departure to Metallica in 1986. He toured with Flotsam in 1987 to Europe on Megadeth's "Peace Sells" tour. Spencer also was a major player in the writing of classic acclaimed recording, "No Place for Disgrace" released on Elekra Records in 1988.
2013–2014: No Place For Disgrace 2014
In June 2013, the band headlined at the Warriors of Metal Festival in Columbus Ohio, then returning home, Flotsam hired manager Jeff Keller(JKM).
His roster includes the likes of: UDO, Destruction, Lordi, Hirax, Primal Fear, Satan, Suicidal Angels.
In 2006, after the successful remix and master of the debut album “Doomsday for the Deceiver”, there were a lot of fan requests to have “No Place for Disgrace” follow the same process. After spending some time at the 25-year mark, the band decided to go forward with this idea.
The band had some issues with the original production and definition of some of the parts played, due to the speed it was recorded at. Having had success with Ugly Noise through the PledgeMusic process, the band would be able to again gain the rights to this classic with a re-recording and some minor changes.
In the middle of 2013, Flotsam and Jetsam embarked in this monumental task of reviving some songs that, for the most part, had not been played in 20 years. All tracks (except drums) were done at the Flotsam studio with Michael Gilbert at the helm.
In December, the project was finished and the re-recording of the classic album "No Place For Disgrace", was again released using PledgeMusic to finance the project.
The album, No Place For Disgrace 2014, was set to release on February 14, 2014 worldwide through Metal Blade Records distribution. NPFD 2014 would feature some of Flotsam's friends from the past as guest musicians, Mark Simpson, Chris Poland, Tory Edwards.
Flotsam and Jetsam embarked on a 29-date European tour with Sepultura, Legion of the Damned and Mortillery. The tour kicks off on February 7, 2014 in Bochum, Germany.
Flotsam toured Europe 4 times in 2014 with a total of 40 shows in all. Returning home from Europe on August 11, the band planned to start writing for a new release in 2015. Michael Spencer and Steve Conley would be involved this time in the process. Spencer had written some material previously in 1987 that he took with him after his departure. Flotsam used at some of the archive material from Spencer.
2014–present: Flotsam and Jetsam, The End of Chaos and next album
In December 2014, drummer and founding member, Kelly Smith decided to leave the band due to unexpected family matters that required him to be home with his family. Handpicked by Smith to replace him on drums, was longtime friend and Shadows Fall drummer Jason Bittner. Bittner was present on Flotsam and Jetsam's self-titled twelfth studio album, which was released on May 20, 2016. The band did a world tour to support this album, including Europe with Destruction, Enforcer and Nervosa, North America with Helstar and Hatchet, and then back to Europe with Dew-Scented and Izegrim. They also opened for HammerFall on their spring/summer 2018 North American tour.
On July 6, 2017, it was announced that Flotsam and Jetsam were replacing Bittner (who had just joined Overkill) with Ken Mary (Fifth Angel, Alice Cooper, House of Lords, TKO, Chastain, Impellitteri), and that they had begun working on their thirteenth studio album The End of Chaos, which was initially reported to be released in November 2018; however, the album's release date was pushed back to January 18, 2019. In support of The End of Chaos, Flotsam and Jetsam (along with Destruction and Meshiaak) opened for Overkill on the European Killfest Tour in March 2019.
Less than a month after the release of The End of Chaos, frontman Eric "A.K." Knutson stated in an interview with Jesse Capps of Loudist that Flotsam and Jetsam will "probably start writing and recording" a follow-up album in November 2019.