I can vividly remember the first time Quiet Riot’s Metal Health truly hit my senses. I was a freshman in high school, sitting on the steps of my school when my friend Scott handed me a copy of his dad’s tape. I popped it into my walkman, and instantly the whole world (and all my troubles) disappeared, leaving just me and the music. There was no doubt about it; I was falling in love.
The story behind Metal Health – a monumental achievement in metal history – was no small feat; late singer Kevin Dubrow had recently revived the name Quiet Riot in 1982 after the previous band – which had released two Japan-released albums in the late ’70s – had broken up two years prior. Dubrow recruited guitarist Carlos Cavazo, bassist Chuck Wright, and drummer Frankie Banali to complete the lineup and resurrect the name after receiving the blessing from former guitarist Randy Rhoads, who by then had gone on to join Ozzy Osbourne’s solo band.
Recording of the album commenced in North Hollywood, CA, and shortly after, Rhoads died tragically in a plan crash while on tour. At that point, former bassist Rudy Sarzo (who had also joined Osbourne’s solo outfit) was asked to perform on the track “Thunderbird” as tribute to Rhoads. Sarzo quickly took the place of Wright, who had already recorded the tracks “Don’t Wanna Let You Go” and the album’s crushing opener, “Metal Health” prior to leaving.
A cover of Slade’s “Cum on Feel the Noize” would propel the band into superstardom, shooting to number five on the Billboard Hot 100 in November of 1983, eight months after the record’s March 11 release date. The video received around-the-clock rotation on the then-new MTV station at the time. “Slick Black Cadillac” was a re-recording of a track from 1978’s Quiet Riot II, while “Love’s a Bitch,” “Breathless,” and “Run For Cover” keep the momentum going. Cavazo shows off his chops with the instrumental “Battle Axe,” while “Let’s Get Crazy” kicks things up a notch before finally slowing it down with the previously-mentioned “Thunderbird.”
There’s no denying the lasting impact the record has had for generations. And as the first heavy metal album to ever reach number one on the charts, it literally put metal on the map, causing a craze for the music that would last the rest of the decade. When I was finally able to see the band live in October of 2006, I was instantly greeted with the familiar sounds of the guitar solo to “Cum on Feel the Noize” as I arrived fashionably late for their set. Dubrow and company then killed it with “Metal Health” before finally exiting the stage, and I knew I had just witnessed true greatness in the nick of time.
When I spoke to Quiet Riot/Hookers & Blow guitarist Alex Grossi via phone from his Las Vegas home last week, one of the first things I mentioned was how our paths had already crossed previously back in 2006, when I saw him perform with Quiet Riot on a bill that also included Skid Row in Ormand Beach. To my surprise, he actually remembered the exact show; “Oh yeah, during one of those Bike Week events! I vividly remember going to a Waffle House afterwards with a bunch of bikers and meeting with some fans (laughs). That was a good show!”
While technically it was actually Biketoberfest and not Bike Week (though I won’t fault him for it too much, it does get confusing!), I was still impressed none-the-less for remembering, and knew it was primed to be a good conversation from then on out. So of course I tested his memory further and asked him to recall how exactly Hookers & Blow, his cover band he formed along with Guns N’ Roses keyboardist Dizzy Reed (one of two GN’R members Grossi has worked with extensively, the other being former drummer Steven Adler in Adler’s Appetite) around the same time he joined Quiet Riot (in 2004), originally came together. He tells me; “We met at a place on Sunset Blvd. that’s no longer there called the Cat Club. It was sort of like the local musicians watering hole, where they would have an open jam there every night. I approached him to see if he wanted to maybe do some cover gigs. We exchanged numbers, and a couple of days later he said, ‘yeah, let’s book some shows, but call the band Hookers & Blow.’ And I said, ‘sounds good to me,’ and we gave it a shot, and it sort of snowballed from there. Now seventeen years later we’re finally putting out a record (laughs).”
The band has seen it’s share of members come and go, and Grossi did his best to clarify; “We’ve had a bazillion guys in and out of the band over the years, but the ‘core’ as of right now is myself on guitar and Dizzy on vocals and keys, but we also have Mike Duda from W.A.S.P. on bass, and Johnny Kelly from Type O Negative/Danzig on drums. And as far as who also appears on the album, (late Quiet Riot drummer) Frankie Banali did a couple of songs, and so did Scott Griffin from L.A. Guns. And when it comes to the touring aspect, we’ve had everyone from Chip Z’Nuff from Enuff Z’ Nuff and Todd Kerns from Slash’s band play with us live. It’s been a rotating lineup, but like I said, the core is really myself, Dizzy, Duda, and Kelly, and also Dizzy’s wife, Nadja, on background vocals.”
Drummer Kelly has also been pulling double duty in Quiet Riot along with Grossi, taking over for the previously-mentioned late drummer Banali. I asked if this arrangement would be permanent or not, and he said; “When Frankie got sick, Johnny kind of fell into the spot. At first he was just keeping the seat warm, but now we need him to keep it warm for us every night. He’s been with Hookers & Blow for eight years now though, so it made sense for him to fill that (now unfortunately empty) seat for Quiet Riot. But he’s doing a great job, and he’s family, so I’m really glad it’s worked out the way it has.”
I also asked Grossi for some insight on how H&B chooses the songs for it’s sets, as well as for their upcoming full length album. He explained; “Well, when we initially got together we were only playing live shows, so we basically were sending master lists of the songs we all knew back and forth through emails to each other. And over the years we’ve since added and subtracted songs from the set. But as far as the record goes, I’d say it’s about fifty percent of our live set, and then the other half are songs we’ve always wanted to cover. For example, we cover Body Count’s “The Winner Loses,” and we’ve never played that live before. Then on the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got a track like David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust,” which is literally the first song we’ve ever played together and have played at every single show since.” But Grossi maintains that H&B doesn’t indulge too much when it comes to playing their respective bands’ music in their sets; “We’ll throw in the occasional Guns N’ Roses deep cut, but for the most part we like to keep it completely separate from our day jobs (laughs).”
I was also curious if a cover of Led Zepplin’s “Trampled Under Foot,” which featured the late Banali on drums, was a personal favorite of Frankie’s. He tells me; “That was a really special track. He was given 3-6 months to live in April of 2019, and he recorded that track in November of that same year after about a dozen rounds of chemo, and he still did it all in one take. He was definitely amazing though, just a monster. But we learned that, and “No Quarter” specifically for him, cause Zepplin was obviously Frankie’s favorite band. “Trampled…” we actually played live for years before we recorded it. In 2013 we got hired to do a residency at the Whiskey A Go-Go for a month, and Frankie wanted to come down and play, and asked if we could put some Zepplin in the set. We did, and it just turned out great.”
Before our conversation ended, Grossi clarified that Quiet Riot will still go on, and confirmed some upcoming show dates with both them and H&B; “We’re still going full steam ahead, that’s what Frankie wanted. His wife has taken over as manager and is doing a great job, and it’s nice to be able to still carry on his legacy, and it’s like having him here still in a way. But both bands actually have shows booked for the year already; Quiet Riot has a show March 6 at the Landis Theater in Vineland, NJ. And Hookers & Blow actually have four shows in Texas the following week, in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and Eagles Pass. They’re reduced capacity shows of course, but thing’s are slowly opening up, and wherever it makes sense for us, we’re going to do some shows here and there.”
One final thing I wanted to ask Grossi, was his thoughts on the late, great guitar legend Eddie Van Halen’s recent passing. Grossi tells me; “I was such a HUGE fan of Eddie’s, but I never aspired to play like him, because I knew I never could! There was Eddie, and then there was everybody else. It’s almost surreal that he’s not here with us anymore.”
If ever there was a band worthy of comparison to Spinal Tap, it has got to be today’s incarnation of Quiet Riot. As if the album cover didn’t already give it away, HollywoodCowboys is a bit on the amateurish side.
On their second (and now final) studio album recorded with former American Idol singer James Durbin on vocals (ex-vocalist Jizzy Pearl has now stepped back in to fill the spot once again), unfortunately what the band has compiled here doesn’t sound much better than essentially a demo recording. I was honestly surprised the band didn’t rush back in to re-record Durbin’s vocals with Pearl, much like they had done when Durbin replaced previous singer Sean Nicols on 2017’s Road Rage album.
All things considered, some of the songs found here actually aren’t that bad. Tracks like “Insanity” actually contains some fairly impressive guitar work, and “Hellbender” probably stands above everything else here. But the mix is still so off throughout the entire album, with the drums simply overpowering everything else. Perfect example; look up lead off single “Don’t Call it Love” on YouTube and see how many people agree with that exact same sentiment in the comment section.
I’m not the kind of person who enjoys being overly critical for the sake of being harsh, but I’m also not going to sugar coat things. I actually really dug Quiet Riot back in the day (one of the best concerts I’ve actually ever been to was a bill they were on with Skid Row back in 2006, a year before original lead singer Kevin Dubrow’s untimely passing), and I honestly sympathize with drummer Frankie Banali’s recent cancer diagnosis (and wish him the best with it). But there’s a reason why some bands from their era don’t maintain the same status as an act like Motley Crue. There’s also usually a fairly good (and dysfunctional) reason for so many rotating lineups in a band, and Durbin most likely wisely stepped down from his now former group.