Earlier this year, I spoke with L.A. Guns bassist Kelly Nickels, where we discussed the band’s then-upcoming new studio album, Renegades, and why this version of the band – lead by long-time drummer Steve Riley – deserves to still use the name as much as the Tracii Guns/Philip Lewis incarnation (Riley, who still owns fifty percent of the L.A. Guns name, maintains he never left the band, but rather Lewis had instead to join up with Guns, the two of them deciding to use the name shortly after).
So rather than cover the same topics Nickels and I previously had, I decided to focus my conversation with Riley on two specific subjects; said new album, and Riley’s storied career as a rock drummer that expands as far back as the 1970’s. With Renegades having just been released on November 13, one of the first things I wanted to ask Riley when I spoke to him from his California home was just how the album’s been received so far. He tells me; “We feel great! We were originally set to release the album and start touring in March (before everything started happening), but when we found out everything was going to be postponed until at least next year, we had to go into another mode, so we had to just release a single every couple of months or so. But now that the entire album’s out we feel so good…we just couldn’t wait for everyone to hear the entire thing!”
I was also curious if Riley had a favorite track on the new album. He explains; “You know, I’m SO in to the whole thing! We picked ten songs out of forty that we had, so I really love a lot of the tracks on it. Some of my favorites though are “Well Oiled Machine,” “Crawl,” “Lost Boys,” and I like the way “You Can’t Walk Away” turned out. Our singer Kurt brought in the song “Would,” and it’s a great acoustic track. I’m really digging the way the whole thing turned out. We really made a conscientious decision to make this album true to the L.A. Guns sound, and didn’t want to stray too far from what we really are.”
As I had mentioned earlier, Riley’s career began long before he joined L.A. Guns in 1987. In the ’70s he recorded with a number of acts that didn’t quite take off before joining a revived version of Steppenwolf by the end of the decade. He explains; “I was in a bunch of one-off bands in the mid-late ’70s where we would record an album, and then the band wouldn’t be able to continue for one reason or another. Then around ’78, a couple of the original guys from Steppenwolf called and asked me if I wanted to go out on tour with them, and I did that until ’79. I was a big fan, so it was a blast going out there and playing those old Steppenwolf songs!”
A little later down the line, Riley was with the band Keel long enough to record on their 1985 effort The Right to Rock (produced by Gene Simmons) before joining up with one of my personal favorite metal bands, W.A.S.P.. I wanted to know why his time with Keel was so brief, and how he went right from them to W.A.S.P. so quickly. He explains; “I had been doing session work in the early ’80s after doing a bunch of one-offs even after Steppenwolf. One of the guys I was doing sessions work with told me to go down and audition for this band Keel. I went down, got the gig, and recorded all my tracks for the album, even doing background vocals for it with Gene! But while I was in the studio, I got a call from (W.A.S.P. frontman) Blackie Lawless, and he asked me to come by and listen to what they were doing at the time.”
He continues; I was already familar with W.A.S.P. – they were all over the magazines and getting all this press – and I had even gone to see them live here in L.A. And Blackie asked me if I wanted to join up, and told me that they were about to leave for Europe in a few weeks. I was in such a weird (but good!) predicament with the situation with Keel. So I had to make a decision, and I think I made the right call because I ended up joining W.A.S.P. and doing the world tour with them for the first album, and then recording three more albums with them. It was a hard decision because the guys in Keel are great, it was a really good set up, and I really enjoyed working with Gene (Simmons). But even the guys in Keel (I’m still great friends with them today) knew I made the right call at the time.”
Like with L.A. Guns, W.A.S.P. has had a revolving door lineup over the years, with frontman Blackie Lawless being the only constant member. So I was curious if Riley still kept in touch with Blackie (who just happens to also be the first major interviewee I ever did back in 2010). He tells me; “I hadn’t seen him for a long time after I had left W.A.S.P. since we were both so busy with our own bands. Then maybe eight or nine years after I was out of W.A.S.P., L.A. Guns did a few shows with them, and it was really great seeing him (and all those guys) again.”
And finally, considering it’s not everyday I get the chance to speak with someone who was actually involved with a Ghoulies movie, I had to ask Riley what his thoughts were looking back on recording the track “Scream Until You Like It” with W.A.S.P. for the 1987 horror/comedy film, Ghoulies II. He says; “It’s funny, I’ve been on a lot of songs that have been in movies before, but that was just a campy flick (and kind of a campy song, too!), and just a lot of fun!”