Former Iron Maiden frontman Blaze Bayley ranked one of his smallest shows with the band as his best and said he loved their late-'90s U.S. club tour, although his bandmates found it difficult.

Bayley replaced Bruce Dickinson in 1994, and the British icons experienced a sharp decline in popularity in the face of grunge and the lineup change. Before Dickinson's return in 1999, Bayley sang on two Maiden albums, 1995's The X Factor and 1998 follow-up Virtual IX. By that point, the band was appearing in low-key venues — but Bayley didn't mind.

"I think it was very tough for the guys," the singer told Rolling Stone in a new interview. "It was a joy for me, because, of course, I've been doing all those kinds of venues with [pre-Maiden band] Wolfsbane, so I was in my element. I never said this to the guys at the time, but I was thinking, 'I'm in this unique situation — it's like I'm in the rebirth of Iron Maiden. We'll get through this. Things will start changing because people will see that this music, this tough, hard, melodic music, is so much deeper, and has so much more to give you than other things around at this time.'"

Bayley singled out a show in Phoenix in July 1998, saying: "It was tiny for Iron Maiden, absolutely tiny. It was the hottest day. You could not walk for more than 20 yards without needing oxygen and a paramedic. Very, very tough day. I was feeling quite low. … So many of the promoters lost faith in us. Grunge was at its height. Everything seemed against us. There was no room for the backdrops or anything."

Despite these obstacles, Bayley said, "And I think that was my greatest Iron Maiden gig."

He continued: "I've played to 75,000 people. … But for me, one of my smallest Iron Maiden concerts was my greatest moment because I could actually jump into the crowd from the stage. I could grab someone by the head and force them to sing 'The Trooper.' I even wrote a song about it on [my solo album] Silicon Messiah. That was the joy of it, to be able to sing these incredible songs."

Bayley said he endured the same downsides as any singer on the road, but singing Maiden songs for their fans kept him energized. "The lifestyle of touring and having the best voice every day, they just don't go together," he said. "When you're sleeping on a bus, traveling for upwards of 19 hours between gigs, just getting up and eating cold food because the catering closed by the time we got there, it's really hard. And in the end, however tough that was, the thing that made it wonderful for me was these songs.

"I'd go onstage and sing 'Number of the Beast,' 'The Trooper,' 'Hallowed Be Thy Name' and 'Seventh Son of a Seventh Son,'" he added. "And to see the reaction from the fans… as shit and negative as that 20-hour journey was, to be there and sing these incredible songs that are legendary in the heavy-metal business, that was the thing that sustained me."

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