With renewed interest in the decade of decadence continually growing each year, there’s no shortage of various media information on ’80s hard rock (a.k.a. ‘hair’ or ‘glam’ rock) and heavy metal out there these days. But this new book by rock journalists Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock (with a brief forward by Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor) is truly the new bible on ’80s hard rock and heavy metal.
Largely tracing it’s roots back to the influence Van Halen had on the movement in the mid to late ’70s, here the two authors put together a collection of interviews that includes numerous musicians, producers, promoters, magazine editors, and the like, to help tell the tale of arguably one of rock’s greatest eras. Various key members of such staple acts as Motley Crue, Ratt, Guns N’ Roses, Quiet Riot, Dokken, L.A. Guns, W.A.S.P., Poison, Cinderella, and Warrant, – as well as numerous Rewind It Magazine interviewees from over the years – including Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister, Jack Russell of Great White, Brian Forsthye of Kix, and Rachel Bolan of Skid Row (among many others), are just some who help recall the foundation of the genre that changed it all in great detail.
The perspective is unique and fresh, despite some of the stories already found in other published works (many of those involved have previously published their own individual biographies). There’s even a brief but brilliant collection of many never-before-seen photos included as well. In short, Nothin’ But a Good Time is a rollercoaster ride of literature from start to finish, and one of the best of it’s kind currently available on the subject. It simply ‘don’t get better than this.’
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.”
Those who know me well, know what a huge fan of ’80s metal veterans W.A.S.P. I’ve been since day one (frontman Blackie Lawless was even the first major interview I ever conducted as a professional journalist more than a decade ago). Guitarist Chris Holmes no doubt played an enormous role in their early sound, yet never really got his just due…until now.
Following heavily in the footsteps of Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Mean Man is the ultimate underdog story that finally answers the question (one that I’ve even been asked a time or two over the years) “Whatever happened to Chris Holmes?” perfectly (for those who don’t know, he now resides in France these days with his wife, still making music albeit on a smaller scale).
Current and archive footage, as well as interviews with numerous musicians including Scott Ian of Anthrax, Dizzy Reed of Guns N’ Roses, and Holmes’ own former bandmates Johnny Rod and Stet Howland, help tell the tale of this once revered guitarist, who no doubt got the raw end of the deal from his former band mate Lawless.
I only wish more of Holmes’ former bandmates might have been included, especially early (and somewhat elusive) members like Randy Piper or Tony Richards, or even Lawless himself for the sake of transparency (although I knew going in the likelihood of that wasn’t very promising). Still, this quite possibly might be the closest the world is ever getting to a straight forward W.A.S.P. documentary, and I can live with that.
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!”
More than a quarter of a century since the initial release of their concept effort The Crimson Idol in 1992, W.A.S.P. have finally re-released the now-classic album, along with the entire full-length film originally intended to accompany it (included here for the first time as a bonus DVD or Blu Ray disc).
The film itself (like the album) follows the story of fictional rock star Jonathan Steele from an abusive upbringing, to rock stardom, and all that comes along with it. Essentially it is one long music video, with various degrees of effective moments, or near misses. The narration in between tracks borders on the corny side, and some segments are easy to lose interest in quicker than others. Still, the music parallels the video footage fittingly for the most part, though it would have been nice to see some sort of behind the scenes material, such as commentary from the director or actors themselves. If nothing else, it gives good enough reason to re-visit such classics tracks as “The Idol,” “Arena of Pleasure,” and “I am One” again.