This isn’t really just an interview about the guy from Autograph. Keni Richards is known as something of a character, an interesting cat and lately, as a working artist. He has a ton of stories about the music biz and many of them AREN’T from the 80s. He was David Lee Roth’s main man/jogging partner, toured with Motley and IS friends with Jerry Cantrell and Mark Lanegan. He’s been through hell and back with substances and was treated by Dr. Drew way before celebrity rehab. He’s lived and loved at 100 miles per hour. The paintings he creates reflect the wild past
and the honest combination of pain and joy. Big thanks to Jeff Allen of Rockers Revenge and Keni for the photos….Read on….
Q: Hi Keni….many people will forever remember you from the “Turn Up the Radio” video. You were the guy who couldn’t “Sign In Please” and tripped the error sensor on the robot!!!
A: (laughs). Yeah, that video was sponsored by Papermate who were famous for pens but had just come out
with a pencil and the idea was that the goofy, crazy drummer, instead of signing his name, signs an X, tripping the error message. What a lot of people don’t know about that video is that there were two versions. In the one everyone knows, you’ll see Steve Isham (keyboardist) dance across the stage with a transistor radio. In the original video that shot was actually a different shot….it was SUPPOSED to be David Lee Roth’s bodyguard who happened to be a midget, on my drumset, and he hikes me a 24 ounce malt liquor and I bite it in half in slow motion. When the corporation saw that they FLIPPED out, but somewhere out there is the original cut of that video. I used to do drum solos live and then about 30 seconds in stop abruptly and say “Fuck drum solos, let’s drink!” and start biting open beer cans. (laughs). I remember one time we were on MTV with Martha Quinn when we were out with Motley Crue and I was biting beer cans open like a maniac. We shot another Headbanger’s Ball thing later with Ozzy and he was having such a hard time detoxing from alcohol that his HAIR was shaking. He was that sick. We had to get him some beer so that he could shoot it.
Q: I love watching you beat the drums while simultaneously beating your head with the stick. The
late Randy Castillo ended up making that a signature move you know?
A: (laughs). That’s funny. I did not know that, I certainly didn’t get it from Randy it was just
something I did, I did it live too. When I watch some of those videos I just cringe (laughs). My next door neighbors are in that “TURN UP THE RADIO” video, the crowd shots, they’re really tight shots, there’s really only like 20 people there and five of the ones in the front are my neighbors (laughs). I do think that we tried to do something good with the videos and I myself, tried to portray myself in the right light. I was the funny guy, not taking himself so seriously. I have never taken myself “seriously” as a rock and roller or treated fans in an aloof manner. In fact, I didn’t and
still don’t like referring to them as “fans”. I just wanted to get the message across that I was having a blast and I hope you all are too.
Q: Tell us how you made the transition from drumming to painting?
A: It’s a long story, not all good or “nice” story….It goes back to about 1994, I had been OUT of Autograph and in a band called Dirty White Boy with Earl Slick (David Bowie guitarist). I had neck surgery and the pain medications I had
been taking were opiates which eventually led me to the wonderful world of heroin. I went on a really nasty heroin run that was leading me right to my bottom. I had pawned all my gold records, everything, and was homeless. An organization called M.A.P. Found me in 1997 and took me to a hospital where I was treated by my addictions doctor, Dr. Drew Pinsky. I was eighteen days into coming off heroin when I happened upon the little art room and they had some brown paper and some ketchup bottles of paint and I ended up messing around with chopsticks and finger painting and did this thing. I didn’t know anything about painting and didn’t consider it to be anything at all. The next day, Dr. Drew said “Who did this?” and I said me and that just started me down this path. Also, when I was
in there my next door neighbor was Mark (Lanegan) from Screaming Trees who was BEST friends with Kurt Cobain and eventually ended up being in Queens of The Stone Age. I met him through another patient who I can’t name but can say was in the band HOLE who introduced me and said, “Oh, this was Kurt’s best friend, Mark, he’s in a band
called Screaming Trees, Mark, this is Keni”. So here’s this heavy metal guy and this big grunge guy writing poetry and playing piano together (laughs). We wrote a bunch of songs together while we were inside that ended up being a classic, 5 star classic album called “Scraps At Midnight”. Then I worked on an album called “Field Songs” with Mark, another GREAT record, worked with Duff from GNR, who co-wrote some stuff on there. I’ve played piano since I was
little and we wrote songs and I played piano on the album. Mark and I just worked on a song for East Bound and Down, the show on HBO. I’ve been working with him for about 13 years now. I met Jerry Cantrell through Mark and got to really know him. Mark is my best friend and he had told Jerry “Hey, if you ever need help or anything get ahold of my friend Keni” and true story, there’s a knock on my door and this long haired blond guy standing there and he
just looks at me and says “Mark sent me”. I didn’t even know he was in Alice In Chains until the next day I was driving him to a funeral and “Rooster” was on the radio and I said “My god, that song is amazing” and he just looks at me and says “Yeah, I wrote that about my dad”. I flew out a couple times to Jerry’s ranch and got to meet the “Rooster”….it was great! I worked on a Joe Cocker album after Autograph. I’ve had a really interesting rock
and roll life aside from Autograph that most people don’t have any idea about. Most Autograph fans don’t know how great Mark Lanegan is, he’s a legend. I’ve been to hell on drugs but I’ve made a hell of a comeback. Some of my fans know about my artwork, I have exhibited at art shows, I have a Keni Richards art page on Facebook.
Q: Was art something that you ever messed around with over the years of playing music?
A: No. Never. Nothing ever. I know nothing about art and had no background in it I just do it and it
happens. I have a big exhibit here in Los Angeles coming up and it’s all really coming together. It’s an overwhelming gift to be given and I’m trying to do it with grace not skill. It’s nothing like the ego driven world of rock and roll. I wake up every morning and say, “Oh my god, I did THIS??!!” Inspiration takes many forms. I’m coming up on a year since I lost the love of my life, going through this really painful divorce. I’ve been in this deep cave caused by
this loss of a person I was married to for 9 years and I’m finally coming out of that cave. We met and went on three dates and were inseparable for 9 years, I was totally shocked when she came to me one day and said “I don’t love you anymore”. I will go on record as saying that no divorce is all one person’s fault but I was totally taken by surprise. I never had a computer and still don’t but I have my iphone and I started checking my Facebook and started getting all
this LOVE. Fans, acquaintances, all these people telling me how much I meant to them and how I help them and it’s been amazing. I forgot. I went through the drug thing and forgot. I went through the divorce thing and forgot. I am a grateful person to be alive, I am truly blessed by all these people who remember me or my music and astonished by it. When you get messages about “You were the soundtrack to my teenage years” or “I was blown away by you
opening for Van Halen in 1984” it really takes you back and blows ME away. You don’t think about people caring about Autograph or whatever when you’re going to Home Depot for supplies or Whole Foods for groceries (laughs). It doesn’t occur to you until you get on and check your Facebook and just get flooded by all this love. It’s really cool to hear that people remember my band or like my new art. I don’t think like that or aspire to be a “rockstar” anymore, I’m just an artist but at the same time that sincere appreciation from people did help me and helps me remember ,“Yeah…that was cool and that was me and my dream at that time”. Having said that, I do still love music though and play music and work with Mark to this day.
Q: Do you have people that make requests of you as far as things they’d like you to paint? Is that
appropriate to ask of an abstract artist?
A: Yeah and that’s great, they’ll say “Keni, I really love that blue thing” or “I really love that Japanese feel” and I will create something similar for them. I have no problem selling my art. I have some where I apply indian ink
over the top of my art and create this ripping or tearing effect. I use unconventional methods that aren’t usually taught at art school.
Q: What were you doing musically before Autograph?
A: I was in the scene out here but not on the strip playing the clubs. I was working with A&M for a
band called The TUBES at the time and had played with Steve Plunkett (Autograph singer) in a band around 1980 called John Doe. We had not been a part of that whole Gazarris, Whisky club thing going on with
all the metal bands. We did however, have a gig working on a demo at Record Plant with Andy Johns (Led Zeppelin) and we were really invested in that. I had gotten an invitation from my good friend then and jogging buddy David Lee Roth to go out on the road with him in 1984…..to just go out and party basically and I explained to him
that I couldn’t and I had this gig doing a demo and that was it. The next day I go down to The Troubadour club with Dave and he goes hey I got a surprise for you, Edward’s on the phone for you. So I get on the phone with Eddie Van Halen and he’s like “Hey, we need a T-shirt band” and of course I’m like “Well, what’s a T-shirt band” and Eddie Van Halen’s like “It’s a band that goes out on the road with us and people boo you cuz they don’t like you and they
go buy one of our t-shirts” (laughs). So I said to myself and David “Well, that’s an interesting concept”. So we go out and get a Winnebago and take them up on their offer to open the 1984 tour. Funny thing happens, five months later we’re signing a multi-million dollar record deal with RCA after we play the gig at Madison Square Garden. The CEO who signed us was Jose Menendez who was the head of RCA Records, later killed by his sons, Lyle and
Eric….the Menendez brothers.
Q: Wow….How did you end up becoming friends with Diamond Dave to begin with?
A: We would always run into each other at a place called the Starwood which was “The” hang at that time,
it was on Santa Monica Blvd. It was right before the whole strip scene took off and all the bands started making it. At that point Dave HAD made it and was basically a GOD. He would walk through an aisle and everyone would separate. He was a king there in that scene at that time and we just hit it off. One day I’m walkin around in
the afternoon and he saw me walkin on the street and said “Hey Man…..Keni???, it’s Keni right” and I’m like “Yeah” and he said “Hey I’m training and I need someone to jog with do you happen to be into jogging?” Of course, wanting to hang around Dave I said, ”Yeah!!” and we started running Hollywood. Every night. Five or six miles, we would run until we puked and then keep going. Miles and Miles, uphill and then up to his high rise condo and go
out and party the rest of the night. He was training for the 1984 Tour. We ended up forming this close friendship through training and hanging out and I thought he was gonna be gone for the next year but apparently we were tight enough that he wanted me to go out on the road with him, just as his hangout guy or whatever. When I said I
had the recording plan and couldn’t leave it that’s when it took off. That whole story that’s been repeated over and over about me giving Dave the demo tape is all bullshit. That is a story Steve Plunkett invented and had reported on Wikipedia to make it sound more impressive, like Dave had heard his songs and had to have him. Or that Andy Johns played Dave the demo. We were DOING a demo but it wasn’t finished and David hadn’t heard it. Eddie just told us he
“needed a t-shirt band” and we went out. There was no record label, no management, nothing…..boom, I go from being friends with Dave and doing my nameless recording gig to opening the BIGGEST tour in the world (laughs). That’s the truth and any other version is bullshit, there was no other member of Autograph that was tight with
Dave and running with Dave, bicycling to clubs with hoods on so he wouldn’t be recognized when we went places, spending quiet time talking with Dave about life. For what it’s worth it was me and it wasn’t because I handed the demo to Dave, that was just the fly by the seat of the pants way Van Halen operated. It was crazy and amazing. You know what else Dave did? The night we got signed at Madison Square Garden he climbed up on the balance and had his roadie cover him so nobody could see him and said into my ear “Mission Accomplished” while we were playing, meaning he helped us get a record deal. That’s how it went down and it WAS true and noone else in the band can take credit for getting that deal other than the fact that they were GREAT musicians and played great songs. Randy (Rand, bassist) knows that’s what happened and Steve Lynch (guitarist) does too and we were NOT Steve Plunkett’s “SIDE” men…..we were a BAND!!!!!
Q: So I guess I can throw out my next question about what experience you had playing clubs ???
A: None, zero. Our first gig was in Jacksonville in front of 22, 000 people! It was a true Cinderella story, we never played the strip. We went from nothing to 22,000 people (laughs)
Q: Do you remember how you personally celebrated the record deal with RCA???
A: Yes. Michael Anthony chipped in a limo and Dave gave me a gallon of Jack. I remember cruising around
Manhattan via limo in utter and complete shock. First of all I had never been to Manhattan and then to be signed to RCA and playing three sold-out nights at Madison Square Garden.
Q: Not to be argumentative, but I hear a bit of animosity in your voice when you talk about some of the
things done or said by your singer, Steve Plunkett…is that fair to say?
A: To be clear John….it is 100% animosity. Steve tries to take credit for anything and everything
related to the band Autograph and all of the members of the band are aware of that. The animosity comes from things like, for instance….I have a 24 year old child and she knows about the band and she and her friends go on the websites or whatever and they read this shit put out there by Plunkett and Plunkett alone. Things like
“Keni Richards, retired from music at 26 years old due to chronic back pain”. He doesn’t wanna mention me playing with Joe Cocker or Mark Lanegen or Duff McKagen or Earl Slick or any of that and my daughter knows. She grew up around Mark and Jerry Cantrell and all these guys and she knows that her dad is still actively involved in making music. Steve is a songwriter, okay, we get it but he fails to mention that I also wrote songs for a 5 star reviewed record according to Rolling Stone with Mark or that I am writing for HBO or Warner Brothers. He is only concerned with putting his take on things out there. It’s the Steve Plunkett show and these other guys who went along for the ride. The fact that my relationship with Dave led to the deal wasn’t reflected in the royalties either, my wife
made more money driving for UPS than I made in Autograph on that first album’s royalties. We got a hundred thousand dollar check after the Van Halen tour and my cut was 6 grand. Does that tell you anything? I was only given a writing credit for TURN UP THE RADIO and the rest of the credit all went to Plunkett. I wised up to the
song royalty thing later and got more credits on the next couple albums but SIGN IN PLEASE was the biggest seller of our catalog by far you know? Then on top of that financial shit, he’s out there all these years later trying to rewrite history and put all these bogus stories out there about the band. I mean, on the positive side he did write some fuckin great songs for Autograph…..really great POP songs. He knows what he wrote , everyone knows what they did and
that makes it that much worse that he has to negate all the rest of our involvement in the band.
Q: Steve Lynch has said in interviews that the Van Halen tour was his least favorite and was
frustrating. Was that mostly just his experience?
A: I think it WAS frustrating for Steve because the Van Halen management didn’t want Steve to do his
finger tapping, his guitar work with the hammer-ons and all that in front of their crowd. They demanded that he turn away from the crowd and turn to the side when he did his solos rather than be in the spotlight. I don’t think that directive came from Edward and I know it didn’t come from David. That was just the kind of stuff you had
to deal with on the road as a support act….we never toured as headliners, it wasn’t OUR show. There was also some animosity during that tour because of the way Dave treated me as a brother. I was on Dave’s bus with Dave’s private cook and staying at 5 star hotels on that tour while the other guys were eating on their Winnebago. But….that was one of the conditions of the band, Dave brought us out because he wanted to hang out with me. We were really, truly, an unknown band, TURN UP THE RADIO wasn’t even being played live on the 1984 tour…..we hadn’t done it yet!
Q: What tour was it that you did with Motley Crue and what was that like?
A: It was the THEATRE OF PAIN tour. Overall that tour made the Van Halen tour seem tame, the only
difference being that for me, personally, I had a lot more responsibility on the Motley tour in terms of work and interviews and stuff and sometimes that conflicted with my partying daily with Nikki, Tommy and Mick. I didn’t party with Vince for some reason we got along but just never hung out together at that time.
Q: Vince wasn’t hanging out with the other guys either to hear their side of things…he had been
isolated and not partying after going to jail for the whole Razzle incident.
A: Right, or perhaps he was partying in private….either way, I didn’t know that at the time but the rest
of us did our fair share and had a wonderful time, especially Nikki, Tommy and I. I wanna go on record as saying that Tommy Lee is one of the coolest, most beautiful souls on the planet and that Nikki was a very, very close friend of mine. I haven’t talked to either of them in about 20 years but then again I don’t go around and try and get
into their gigs. I’m not a star like Nikki and I haven’t written a book but I sure do have some stories!! Maybe if my art career continues to take off I will have an avenue for writing it all down and doing that. I think they’re great and all the guys in Motley were great to us, it was an amazing time. Heart was also amazing to us when we opened for them. Ann and Nancy were so beautiful and I went out of my way to listen to them every night, we were out for
months with HEART. Both of those tours, the HEART and MOTLEY tours were during a period of heavy, heavy touring for our second album. A lot of cities in a row, it all starts to blend together and blur. We had a nice tourbus and I saw the guys on the bus but I didn’t really hang out with the band at that point. What a band starts out as and what it becomes are two different things. I probably hung out more with my roadie, who was also my roommate than anyone in the band. I was also into my drinking and partying with the other bands and that stuff. Before you have a record deal, before you do any touring, you’re out there trying to make it happen as a band. You’re playing, rehearsing, recording demos and trying to get it going. After you get the deal and do the touring and money gets involved and all that everything changes. It’s just never the same again. For example, money becomes an issue and starts to divide you. Steve was pulling some underhanded stuff. RCA sent us a movie called Fright Night while we were out on the road, they wanted us to write a song for the movie. None of us knew they sent the movie or wanted a song. One
night I saw this light on in the back of the bus at like 3 in the morning and I look in and see Plunkett with this movie and he’s got this movie and he’s writing….finishing…the song up. None of us were even on the bus but we see him and he’s doing this. He gets the sole writing credit and we’re all upstairs none the wiser, he never told us the tape or request came in.
Q: Is it true that a wedge started to divide the band on the second album, “THAT’S THE STUFF” ?
Was it between Steve Plunkett the rest of you over the poppy, glossy direction he wanted and the
heavier direction the rest of you wanted?
A: Yeah. He really wanted to homogenize the sound and take all the edginess out of it. We wanted
a more soulful, heavy, as a drummer almost….tribal sound but we had to keep fighting this pop thing. At a certain point I was done fighting….after getting Ozzy and Vince Neil to do our video for LOUD N CLEAR. I was done. We tried to tone down the keyboards and the pop element on the third album, I remember I was deeply affected
by hearing APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION and came into the studio and just said “Man…..FUCK this pop shit….it HAS to end, forgot trying to appeal to the radio and write hits.” That was the audience we needed to be going after, the heavier audience, you know which is why we had the legendary Andy Johns do that third album. It was a joy
to make that record, we kicked BUTT on that record and to me it’s our best moment. A lot of people don’t talk about the fact that LYNCH was just getting better and better as a guitarist. Myself and Randy Rand were really tight as a rhythm section. That backbeat, that rythym was a BIG part of the band’s sound, it was a big part of our
biggest hit TURN UP THE RADIO. We were trying to get more into that on the third album and trying to appeal to the hard rock crowd again. I knew Ozzy and Vince through Bob Timmons and to tell the truth John…..I knew we were done when we couldn’t break the album after getting them in the video for the title track and having Andy produce the record who had done fuckin Led Zeppelin….I knew that if we couldn’t break through to the hard rock audience at that point it was over. I was done. We did very little touring aside from some dates with Whitesnake, we had shitty promotion, it wasn’t happening on the road, it wasn’t happening on MTV, the label was doing NOTHING. I quit shortly thereafter and told them, “That’s it, you guys are done, it’s over.” I left the band, left the record deal and I
just knew, I could see it and you know what, I was right, they WERE done. But really, if you think about it, even though we were lumped in with and tried to appeal to that audience were AUTOGRAPH ever really a heavy metal band?? I don’t hear it. I mean, we opened for some heavy metal bands but do you hear any METAL in “Send Her To
Me” or “Turn UP The Radio”?…..maybe, mayyyybe hard rock but METAL?? No way man.
Q: RCA was never really known as a very good label for hard rock OR metal. They really seemed to be
clueless in fact. Were they still doing a decent job of working and promoting the second album?
A: I don’t think so. I think a lot of other labels might have had more success, I mean we were on some of
the biggest tours in the world.. I can’t definitively answer that because I wasn’t in their office every day and I don’t know but I do know that at some point RCA had dropped the ball. I don’t think they ever expected the first album to be such a hit and I don’t think they knew how to handle THAT. SIGN IN PLEASE was thick with songs that could’ve been singles. A lot of people don’t realize that TURN UP THE RADIO only went to 28 on the charts, it wasn’t top 20. SEND HER TO ME was a great song , a great pop song but you know what it BOMBED as a single. RCA had no idea what to do or how to market us as a rock band. By the time we released the third and final album LOUD N CLEAR it was clear that they had dropped the ball, that was our best album by far and they did nothing, It was a travesty.
There’s always going to be band in-fighting or bad luck but to just have no push at all from your label……This was after recording our best album with an amazing producer who has an amazing track record. What happened with LOUD N CLEAR was just sad.
Q: You’re an artist nowadays….What do you think about the album covers for those
A: I like em….They were cool, especially the SIGN IN PLEASE cover, I think that one is really cool and was really key for the band at that time. That was based on the concept from the video, we did the video for TURN UP THE RADIO first and then voted on the cover. I thought it turned out really cool. We also voted on the name of the band, another story our singer Steve Plunkett likes to tell about how he thought of it while listening to the song “Photograph” IS NOT TRUE. It’s a great story, a romantic story but it’s not true. We had a bunch of names written down that we were considering for the band and we all could agree on that one. That’s funny about the second album cover I remember
talking to Waylon Jennings’ son and he was like “Dude, Aerosmith ripped off your album cover!!” which of course isn’t true, they didn’t rip it off. Number one, who would rip off an ALBUM COVER??? Number two, we leased that art from the Japanese artist that created it and if anything Aerosmith used the same artist and he got one by them and sold the rights to that art again. I didn’t know about the AEROSMITH thing until I was hanging out with Shooter Jennings and
Jerry Cantrell and they said something about it but then I looked it up and laughed my ASS off!!! I liked that cover too, I thought it was very cool at the time. I would love to talk to Steven Tyler again just to share a laugh about that one. I like the Loud and Clear one which was more of a “band” album cover but to me that’s just my favorite album that we did.
Q: There have been a few different releases since the band officially broke up. Were you approached or
consulted about the band releasing MISSING PIECES or MORE MISSING PIECES? Were you asked to play on the revamped Autograph BUZZ album ?
A: The Missing Pieces releases are offensive to me. To release that without our involvement or input is
offensive, The BUZZ album was just Steve Plunkett and a bunch of sidemen. I have never heard it, it should have been a Steve Plunkett solo album because that’s what it was. How can it be Autograph when it’s just Steve Plunkett? I mean, who can replace Lynch on guitar, I could be replaced but LYNCH??? Come on.
Q: What is it going to take to get past all of that and do an honest reunion of the band? Is that being
A: Some of us are talking about it. Randy and I have discussed it and I have some people that would be
willing to help with staging and endorsements and get all of it put together but I think Steve Lynch is dancing around it. I don’t think it will happen because of he and Plunkett. I think that at this point we are all grown men and it would be very satisfying to get back together the original group and play those songs. We all are still actively playing and should get in a room and try for at least one day to give it a shot. Just for one day get on a soundstage and
try it, that’s what I’m offering. At one point we were all friends, when we were recording our first album, before things started to tear us apart. I know I’ve said some things in this interview and I do have some feelings about what’s happened between Steve and I but I would like to leave all that behind. I am not a bitter old man, I would be an hour early for a reunion with Steve and the guys. I would give them a hug and forget about yesterday and walk towards
tomorrow. Let’s give it a shot, it could be a lot of fun for everyone.
Keni’s art page can be found here on Facebook….https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Keni-Richards-Art-Fan-Page-/262585913766840
Sites That Link to this Post
- Legendary Rock Interview with Autograph bassist Randy Rand | | June 25, 2012