STARZ guitarist Richie Ranno talks 70s rock, Aucoin Management, KISS and much more

July 15, 2011 | By | Reply More

He’s played on Gene Simmons’ solo album, had a top 40 hit with “Cherry Baby” and been cited as an influence of everyone who made millions in the “hair nation” world. If you haven’t heard of the band Starz it’s not too late to have a new obsession. Starz was an amazing hard rock band that put out a series of albums on Capitol Records starting with their self titled debut (they have recently been reissued by RYKO with expanded editions). This band is the real deal… and has been lauded by artists like Billy Corgan, Jon Bon Jovi and even referred to by some as “Motley Crue before there was a Motley Crue”…..Read on…

Q. I am one of those people who caught on to your band during the resurgance of the bands reissues and reunions. I was 1 year old when the debut came out. When I began writing one of the first CD’s I was sent to review was the Metal Blade reissues of all of your albums. It blew me away that this band had somehow slipped under the radar. How many people have you been in contact with that were not in fact original fans of the band but have come across your stuff in more recent years?

A.  Oh, some. Probably not enough but now we’ve been getting some airplay on the Satellite channels so I’m hoping more people become aware of our music.

Q. I realize it has been a lifetime ago in some respects but what do you recall about working with Jack Douglas, particularly on your guitar stuff on that first album?

A.  The first album was very much a live studio album other than the vocals. Michael sang live but they were just ‘scratch’ vocals and later re-sung them. Boys In Action & Pull the Plug had absolutely no overdubs except for vocals. I remember using some Marshall 100W heads, a SeaMoon amp and Jack had a really great stereo tweed Gibson amp. I used that one for Pull the Plug. I only used two different guitars – my old white custom Strat with a humbucker in the bridge pickup and my 1971 Les Paul. I think I actually used the LP for Plug. For years I had a piece of paper in my guitar case that listed every guitar part I did, which guitar and which amp I used but it must have fallen out at some point. Pretty careless way to store it, really. Bums me out that I lost it but then I’ve pretty much lost everything I had from back then except for that white Strat, the LP and an old sunburst Strat. I also still have the Gibson double neck which I bought in ’76. Still have the SeaMoon amp which hadn’t worked in over 25 years until I just got it re-worked. Took a friend of mine 6 months to get it in working condition.

I don’t think Jack tried to change anything about the band which was brilliant on his part. He just brought out our sound, somehow. We were in the greatest studio in history – The Record Plant, NY with legendary engineer, Jay Messina. None of that could have hurt either.

 Q. The second album is many people’s favorite. Violation has been described by some as being a concept album yet on the surface it is chock full of some of the catchiest power pop put on wax. Usually concept albums and commercially accessible rock don’t coexist with a few exceptions. Were any of those classic Starz albums supposed to weave together a greater story?

A:  Thank you – to answer your question, no, not really. Just the Violation album.

Q. You have a number of live recordings that have surfaced and many of them are available on your website, Starzcentral.com. This might seem to be no big deal to the casual observer but to the dedicated STARZ fans it is huge. How do you explain the difference of what the band was like live to people who aren’t all that familiar with your music? It seems that your singer Michael in particular took things to a level most never attempt in terms of showmanship and stage raps….

A. Most definitely – as much as our albums have stood the test of time, we were a great live band (sorry to blow my own horn). We literally could open a show for a major act in front of 20,000 people who never heard of us and wind up being brought back for an encore. We were geared up for playing live. We didn’t just stand around onstage, we performed. Michael Lee was, and still is, the consummate frontman/lead singer.

Q. I had heard a story about you guys being really pissed at either Capitol or your management about the tour you were put on with Bob Segar. What was that about and what were some of your better or worse touring experiences?….you also played with Aerosmith and KISS, correct?

A. That’s true John – we were pissed at our management and booking agency!  What they hadn’t realized was once Seger had a hit with Night Moves, his audience changed (other than in Detroit , that is). He suddenly had older, mellower people coming to see him and they did NOT want to hear us!

We toured with all the big acts of the mid to late ‘70’s – Aerosmith, Nugent, Foghat, REO, Styx , Kiss, BOC, ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, etc. We did the first headlining Rush tour, Hemispheres. One of my best memories was playing Anaheim Stadium with Aerosmith & Jeff Beck. What a day that was! The worst was when we opened for Manfred Mann in Detroit – he drew a totally Canadian crowd. Nothing against Canadians but that was the toughest audience we ever played for. Made the Seger audiences look rowdy! When we walked off the stage we gave them the collective middle finger and Dube threw his drums off the riser!

Q. Do you recall touring the midwest at all or any run-ins with our hometown boys Cheap Trick?

A. We never played with Cheap Trick but I lived in Wisconsin from 70 – 73 – and played in a band called, Bungi. We played with Fuse which was Rick Nielson and Tom Petersson’s original band. Bun E. later joined up with them. When my band split up, our 2 roadies went to work for them – they were Cheap Trick by then. We used to hang around quite a bit. By coincidence, Cheap Trick recorded their first album with Jack Douglas producing at the Record Plant immediately after we recorded our first album. They are one of my favorite all-time bands.

Q. I think it’s awesome that despite the relatively short lifetime of the bands studio efforts you guys still play out and are active as musicians. You do guitar lessons and still play gigs, you run the website and deal with Starz merchandise and even did a STARZFEST out on the east coast. I know many people would kill to have an Angel or Starz T-shirt and on your site they can order one amazingly enough. Is it a blessing or a curse that you continue to play and live your life and STARZ refuses to die???

A.  Well, you have to remember, we went for 20 years without doing a gig! So, it’s a blessing that we were able to get back together and have anyone remember us. Radio forgot us totally. That doesn’t help. Classic Rock Radio turned some acts into perennial draws. Classic Rock Radio basically re-wrote music history. You were either in or out.

Q.  You were management mates with KISS and certainly were around one of my other favorite bands Angel. They both saw levels of sucess and some of it was attributed to their stage shows. Looking back at the clippings, ads, albums and videos it seems like Starz were visual but perhaps even more focused on the songs. I mean this as no slight against Angel or KISS, as I said I love them but was it more of a challenge to Sean and Aucoin Management to market or stage STARZ….was the band a part of that marketing angle or did you mostly leave that to management?

A.  Yes, we were around both bands quite a bit. I’m still good friends with Frank Dimino to this day. I see what you mean by that. We probably were a little more song oriented and less stage show/image oriented than the other two bands. But, the problem was that while we were signed to Aucoin Mangmt Kiss rose to the top. They got way bigger than anyone there could have ever imagined. It definitely took the focus off of us. Managing Kiss was a major job and I really think we got pushed off to the side just enough to hurt the success of our singles and albums.

Q. The whole music industry is in a collective funk nowadays….you think Capitol had their head up their ass when they dropped the ball with you just look at how labelsare floundering now trying to break bands with no MTV and everyone downloading for free. It seems like some of the nostalgia stuff is bigger than ever though!… VH1 has mentioned Angel practically every week on That Metal Show and it’s a regular occurence that I turn on Sirius and hear Cherry Baby or Pull the Plug….Are people over 30 the only people that give a shit about being “fans” or even caring about bands or members of bands? Is rock just disposable now?

A. It sounds like what you’re saying is 100% on the money.

Q. The legacy of the third album “Attention Shoppers” seems to be that it’s the weakest of the bunch and I really don’t agree. I wish the back cover was the front cover but that’s the only thing I’d change…Was the move towards being more commercial something the band was aiming for or pushed in the direction of?

A.  Pushed in the direction of, actually. Speaking for myself, I was not at all happy with being told what to do by non-musicians. I think we can just leave it at that.

Q. You recently lost your producer of the final Starz studio LP, Jack Richardson. People have either stated that “Colusieum Rock” is the worst or the very best STARZ album….the truth is usually in the middle they say…..Was the band or Jack aware that the relationship with Capitol might be running it’s course and did it lead to you guys getting more experimental and trying things like the instrumental?

A.  Yes, Jack Richardson was a truly great producer and a truly great man. I think Col Rock is a great album. Definitely stands the test of time. And, no, we didn’t realize that Capitol was about to throw us under the bus. I suspect, management did but never let us in on it. One thing should be noted – Capitol never ‘dropped’ the band. They did poor promotion on the album but for some reason wanted us to make a 5th album for them. We were irate and told them to shove it and let us out of our contractual obligation to them. We were also unaware that the whole ‘new wave’ thing was happening. We thought bands like the Talking Heads had a snowball’s chance in Hell of making it big. By the time we got out of our deal, record companies were only signing new wave bands. We were dead in the water. Ironically, we would have been better off to record another album for those idiots at Capitol.

Q. Some people may not know how very, very edgy and controversial your band was at times. The people that have heard the live shows are aware certainly but maybe the general public isn’t necessarily aware. Some of your stage raps and songs like Pull the Plug were pretty ahead of the times as far as pushing the envelope of good taste. This was in the era before punk took over with that very agenda of being shocking. Don’t you think it’s pretty shocking to take one of your catchiest guitar riffs EVER and put it with the lyrics to “Piss Party”? Was releasing that super catchy song with a yellow vinyl release your final middle finger to the industry?

A. Yes, we were. We were considered to be the most subversive, disgusting band of all-time!! Worse than Alice Cooper! (Before he went mainstream, of course). It was a bit of pressure but it was what it was. The Sex Pistols and The Clash made us look mainstream not long later. The Piss Party thing was really just a joke on our part but I do like your take about giving the middle finger to the music industry.

You know, there is some justice finally – Capitol Records is out of business and yet, we are still here playing music as Starz!

 Q. Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us Richie….is there anything that you’d like to leave us with or anything in particular you’d like to plug?? Websites, Facebooks? Gigs? Merch? (I know I need to buy myself a Starz shirt now that I know I can)

A. Well, we don’t play much but we have a gig tentatively scheduled in Cleveland with John Waite and April Wine. And sure, you can tell people to check out http://www.starzcentral.com

 

I also have some solo albums out there – my last one has a couple of videos out – it’s acoustic, mellow music – just a different side to me. The first song was written by my good friends Chuck and Dan Auerbach. Dan is the guitarist/singer/songwriter of The Black Keys! Here are the links:

 

 

Any Old Way –   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qvvp5ott_7w

 

Angel of Love –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LJlCLTWgdU

 

 

Thank you – Richie

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Category: Interviews

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