An Interview with Richie Ranno of Starz

Header image courtesy of Richie Ranno

By Andrew Daly
andrew@vinylwriter.com

Image courtesy of Richie Ranno

Burrowed deep in the suburbs of New Jersey, Stratocaster slinging guitarist Richie Ranno first pressed hot flesh to cold steel, and watched his fingers climb the ridges of his star-studded fretboard as a kid in the 60s, with dreams of the grandest stages both far and wide.

Taken aback by a vibrant scene awash in guitar-driven music, Ranno’s course was forever altered as the soon-to-be six-stringer watched his hero’s rewrite his well-worn musical schematic in ways his young mind could hardly imagine.

After absorbing all he could on the East Coast, the young, aspiring musician took to the Mid-West in hopes of gathering his hopes, and dreams, and spinning them into his very own rock ‘n’ roll reality. It was here that Ranno made his first step toward immortality with Bungi, a power trio which came together by fate and soon set a course to weather the storms ahead.

For some, the world of rock ‘n’ roll can prove harsh, and while Bungi had immense chops, destiny had other plans for Ranno, and in the wake of hardships bred through life on the road, the guitarist made his way back east to plot his next move.

While back at home in New Jersey, a chance meeting would lead Ranno astray again, eventually placing him at the doorstep of fame and fortune with Stories, a group in possession of a hit single, but lacking in punch. After a year on the road with Stories, its members went their separate ways, and once again, Ranno was left to plot his next move.

Fate would soon harken Ranno once more, however, this time in the form of an ad in The Village Voice, and after an unexpected audition with the wayward members of The Looking Glass, Ranno found himself the lead guitarist of burgeoning act, Fallen Angels. In short order, Fallen Angels was rebranded as Starz, and it was here that one of rock music’s most seminal cult acts was born.

Stood alongside chiptoothed, yet effervescent frontman Michael Lee Smith, Ranno provided a maestro-level foil to Smith’s up-front machismo, and non-stop musical necromancy. The synergism was palatable, and in 1976 Starz recorded its self-titled debut record, a watershed album that would influence droves of hard rock and heavy metal bands for decades to come thereafter.

Starz followed its debut quickly, with 1977’s Violation, which for those keeping score proved to be “an album to hear before you die.” Despite the immense quality of Starz’s first two outings, turn-key success proved elusive, and as record company support dwindled, and management drug use escalated, Starz found itself a band on the rocks, careening toward destruction.

Starz closed out 1978 with two more memorable records in Attention Shoppers! and Coliseum Rock, but continued indifference from the band’s label, Capitol Records, and manager, Bill Aucoin, saw Starz come crashing to earth by 1979, with nothing more than a dull thud, leaving its members to pick up the pieces and go home.

For Ranno, the story doesn’t end there, quite the contrary. In this rare, and career-spanning interview, one of rock music’s great guitarists, Richie Ranno, and I peel back the onion on his long and eventful career in music. Among other topics, we dig into the Ranno’s early origins, joining Stories, the formation, trials, and tribulations of Starz, auditioning for Ozzy Osbourne, a near deal with Metal Blade Records, Starz’s interesting intertwinement with KISS, and a whole lot more.

Andrew:
Richie, thank you for setting aside some time with me. Let’s dial it all the way back. What first gravitated you toward the guitar?

Richie:
Well, seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan was it. I was playing clarinet, which I hated. I liked it at first, but then I hated it. [Laughs]. So, I kind of stopped, and then I saw The Beatles, and I said, “Oh, guitars. Look at that.” And I loved it, you know? So that’s why I started playing guitar. And then I wanted to play like them immediately, which wasn’t actually that hard as it turned out. I had an excellent guitar teacher when I started off, which was really good for me too. [Laughs]. I also listened to The Ventures often and learned a lot from them. Those guys were great guitar players. And then The Rolling Stones, of course, and all the British Invasion groups like Paul Revere and The Raiders on the American side and the Beach Boys too. And then, the 60s sort of got crazy with Jimi Hendrix and Cream, and that changed me completely. That was a whole new era for guitar. I mean, Clapton and Cream was ground zero for all rock groups in the future. Having the bass player, and drummer be equal to the guitar, and the guitar sound that Clapton came up with was completely unique. It was the right place, the right time, and the right guy, all at once.

Andrew:
Early on, you were a part of several projects but wanted to go all the way back and talk about Bungi. The band made some noise with “Six Days on the Road.” Walk me through Bunji’s inception.

Richie:
That was a really cool band. I guess if we had stuck it out a little bit more, I don’t know, I think we could have been huge as a trio. It was a really cool trio. I listened back recently to whatever was leftover that we had recorded, and I transferred it all over to CD. I’ve been listening digitally to it in the car, and as I’ve been listening, I’ve been thinking that it’s kind of a shame that it didn’t go further, but it is what it is. Anyway, we met in 1970. I had just gotten to Wisconsin somehow – that’s a long story in itself – and we just kind of met, and it was magic. The three of us met, and it was weird, we wrote a million songs and in fact, a lot of those songs that we wrote at that time, at least the stuff that I put my input into, I brought them from Bungi, over to Starz later on. For example, “Third Time’s The Charm” is pretty much a whole song that I’d written with Bungi, and we just added all of Michael Lee Smith’s lyrics, which changed everything, of course. There are so many songs that have parts of Bungi in them that we took and made better. Another one that comes to mind is “Subway Terror,” which was also a Bunji song.

Image courtesy of Richie Ranno

Andrew:
Paint me a picture of Bungi’s early days on the road.

Richie:
Well, what happened was, we just thought that we should break out of the Midwest. I don’t know what we were thinking, but we were young and stupid, so it didn’t matter anyway. [Laughs]. I don’t know why we thought this was a good idea, but it’s what we thought we should do. We thought we needed to go back east and find our way to New York when in reality, we needed to do the opposite. I mean, look at KISS, they made it big in the midwest, and [Ted] Nugent made it big out of the midwest too. The midwest was a hotbed for rock. When I got out there, I was so happy to hear the kind of music people were listening to, and to hear the kind of music people were playing. There were all these bands, so many great hard rock groups out there, and I was like, “Holy shit, New York sucks.” Honestly, New York sucked – I’m telling you the truth – it was horrible there, there were no hard rock groups, really.

Now, even though that was the case, at the time we didn’t realize it, and what happened was we wanted to break out of the Midwest. So, somehow, we got a gig in Daytona Beach through a Midwestern promoter, and while we were there, we hooked up with this guy, and he set us up with some gigs while we were coming back in the summer of ’73. We were going to play for two weeks at this really cool hotel that had an outdoor venue-type thing, which seemed like it was a really rocking place. But of course, we were there during Easter and not spring break, so, it wasn’t so great when we got there. [Laughs]. But what did happen was we met a bass player who was originally from the Washington DC area suburbs, and I was from here, so we hooked up for gigs in Ocean City, Maryland, and Boston, and somehow, Daytona Beach.

So, we went down to Daytona Beach again, we played for a couple of weeks, we had room and board, but we didn’t get paid, the guy didn’t pay. It was basically like, “You can eat whatever you want, that’s how I’ll pay you,” and we didn’t eat much then anyway. [Laughs]. Anyway, then we drove up to Ocean City, Maryland, and the same thing happened, we played a bunch of gigs, and we didn’t get paid, but we were having a great time in Ocean City, Maryland. In fact, we did one gig with a group called Max, and we got real friendly with them because they were doing the same thing as us playing in Ocean City. So, we did the gig, but we hung out regularly. So, that’s where it all originated.

Andrew:
From there, how did you end up leaving Bungi
and joining Stories?

Richie:
Well, we went up to Boston, and the same shit happened up there – we didn’t get paid. We did gigs, and we weren’t getting paid. Honestly, we were starving. We were stealing food out of the back of people’s gardens, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots – it was unbelievable. So, after the Boston thing, I got fed up, we were scheduled to go back to the Midwest, and I said, “Guys, instead of taking the northern route, go down to New York, drop me off at my parents’ house in Teaneck, New Jersey. I’m done.” And none of them argued with me or anything, we were all so beaten down. It wasn’t like we were mad at each other or anything, you know? But that was that, I left Bunji, and I ended up in Teaneck. Now, at this point, I didn’t know anybody, because I had been gone totally for five years. I was in New York doing gigs for a couple of years, then I wound up leaving to go to Wisconsin, so it was five years really being out of this area. I had no idea what to do, but I remembered that I had met some cool guys down there in Ocean City, who was from the Washington, DC area. So, I got in touch with them, and they said, “Oh, you know, we were thinking about putting a new group together.” They were calling themselves Cherry Smash, and they said, “Richie, you should come, man. We’ve got a place for you to stay. We can hang out, and we’ll put this group together.” So, I go down, and I stayed at this lady’s house that worked for one of the guys in his other business. She had a spare bedroom and was kind enough to put me up, her name was Joan. She was just a nice lady, she was divorced with two kids, a lot older than me, but just a kind lady, who really helped me out. And looking back, it really changed my life, actually.

Andrew:
How did things progress from there?

Richie:
So, the group never got their shit together. [Laughs]. I didn’t do one rehearsal. In the meantime, I auditioned for The Cherry People. Remember them? Punky Meadows had just quit, and it was really weird. I actually went to audition for them in a club seller in Washington, DC. I get there, plug in, set my guitar up, and the guy said, “Okay, we’re gonna play some stuff and you just play along.” Well, I listened, and I said to myself, “Oh, my God. This is like the worst thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” So, I didn’t play, I just stood there, and they said, “Why aren’t you playing? You’re not picking up anything up?”“No, I am just not hearing anything to play along to at all.”“Well, we think it sounds really great.”“Yeah, everything I hear is making me sick. Sorry.” After that, I left. Looking back on it, I don’t know what happened there. I’m not saying they were bad per se, it’s just that whatever they were playing at that moment, I couldn’t relate to it at all. I don’t know what it was.

So, about a week later, the phone rang at that lady’s house I was staying at, she had a job she was working at, and the kids were at school. I heard the phone ring, and I said to myself, “Let me answer it. I’ll try and help out and take a message for her.” I answered the call, and this lady said she was the woman’s best friend from high school, Natalie. I said, “Oh, great,” and she said, “Who are you? What are you doing there?” I explained the whole thing just like I just explained to you, and she said, “Oh, you play guitar?” I said, “Yeah.” …. “Are you any good?” …. “Yeah, I’d say I’m pretty good.”“Well, you know, my husband books rock groups. He’s a big-time booking agent. He works with Stories, and their guitar player just quit.” I was taken back a bit, and I said, “Stories? They’ve got a number one record this week.”“Yeah, and the guitar player just quit. Do you want to audition?” … “Well sure, why not?”“Okay, I’m gonna give you his number right now.” All in all, this woman, Natalie, and I, we had spoken for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, just talking, you know? We were just shooting the shit, and she was just a really nice lady. Well, as it turns out, she wasn’t lying, her husband was Richard Hale, who was a very well-known booking agent. I don’t know where he’s at these days, but he was a nice guy too, and he did book Stories at that time.

So, I got off the phone with Natalie, but before we hang up, she said, “Call him right away, and when you do, tell him that I recommended you, so that he knows.”“Okay, no problem. Thank you.” I still remember it like it was yesterday, it was Friday, I was in Washington, DC, and I didn’t have a car. I called him he said, “Yeah, Steve Love quit the band. Monday. Can you come Monday?”“Okay, I’ll be there Monday.” I said this knowing that I had no vehicle, and I didn’t know the music other than that one song. But as fate would have it, I managed to get back home, buy the album, and learned some of the songs. Come Monday, I walked into an open audition with about eighteen other guitar players. After a long day, in the end, it came down to two guitar players, me and the other guy, who was recommended by Steve Love.

Image courtesy of Richie Ranno

Andrew:
What a twist of fate, you
were pitted up against the same guy who Love was backing?

Richie:
You got it. Steve Love’s the guy who was quitting Stories. He was quitting the band, but he was gonna hang around for a while and help them find a new guitarist. So, it’s down to me, and this other guitarist, who Steve Love liked. I mean, he was literally coaching the other guitar player while I was over on the other side of him trying to figure the fucking songs out. I guess he had his favorite. [Laughs]. At this point, I thought, “Oh, I don’t think I can get this gig.” So, they called it a day and still hadn’t decided on who they wanted. As I’m leaving, they tell me, “Come back tomorrow,” and for the next five days, it was me and this other guy, and at the end of each day, they kept telling me, “Come back tomorrow.” I started to think to myself, “Steve Love likes this other guy, but it seems like the rest of the band wants me around.” So, we did that all day all week, and I’m going back and forth thinking, “Maybe I have a shot,” and then I’m thinking, “There’s no way I can get this gig. I’m not the favorite.”

For five days, I just kept trying and giving it my all, and it was coming together more and more. Plus, I got along great with everybody in the band too, and it was instant. I’m getting along right away, and the other guy was quiet, sitting in the corner, and would only talk to Steve – the guy who was leaving. It’s funny, because even afterward, I never really discussed any of this with any of the man members, you know, what I was thinking this whole time. When it was over, we just never talked about it again. Anyway, to my surprise, on the next day, I come in on a Friday, and I see that I’m the only guitar player there. I said to the guys, “Where’s he at?”“Oh, he went back to Maryland. You got the gig. You’re in.” After that, we played together as a group for a year, and then the group split up after Ian [Lloyd] went solo. I tried to hang in there with Bryan [Madey], the drummer, but there was too much drug use. I never stick around if there’s drugs. I was never into any of that.

Andrew:
From here, as I understand it, is where the story of Starz begins. Walk me through your audition for Fallen Angels.

Richie:
It’s a pretty funny story, actually. So, in ‘74, I was in Stories, and then the band broke up, and I went back to Teaneck, New Jersey. After I got home, I would go out with friends and do this or that, and one night we were hanging out at one place, and it was really crowded, and there was this gorgeous blonde singing, who was just great. Well when her band was done, we were standing around, and it was a big place, but this beautiful blonde singer girl just happened to walk right by me and my friend through the crowd. And when she did, I said, “Hey, you were fantastic.” “Oh, thanks a lot.” Then she introduced herself, and I introduce myself, “I play guitar. I just got done with a band called Stories.” “Oh, my husband’s in The Looking Glass.” I said, “No kidding?”“Yeah, and he plays guitar too.” Well, I thought this was kinda funny because both groups are very similar in the way that they both had their one hit, you know?

Before I get to the next part, it’s important to know that The Looking Glass was a group in transition. Brendon Harkin had joined the band on guitar, and then suddenly, Elliot Lurie left, and he was the singer and played guitar. Well, the band said, “How about that? We’ll just keep going and replace you.” When they decided to do that, they auditioned for people, and they found Michael Lee Smith, a young guy, who was just getting into New York and looking for a gig. They put an ad in The Village Voice, and Michael found them through there, nailed the audition, and once he joined, they added a keyboard player too. So, they released a few more singles on Epic Records, and they toured for a while but really weren’t making any money. They kept trying to release singles, but they did absolutely nothing. At this point, they were fed up, so they got a different manager, and they changed the name to Fallen Angels. They got out of their deal with Epic, signed on with Arista, recorded two more singles, and both bombed. With no singles, there’s no album, and if no album comes out, within six months of the recording, the group can leave the label.

With no album out, the manager got them out of the label thinking, “Okay, let’s just move on. Maybe it’s over. Maybe it’s not.” Well, not too long after that, the bass player, Pieter Sweval, he ran into Sean Delaney, and they got friendly. So, they get to talking, and Pieter apparently says, “Yeah, we’ve got this new band that we’re calling Fallen Angels, but we aren’t getting anywhere.” And Sean said, “Well, you know, we’re managing KISS, but we’d like to sign a second band.” Now, at this point, KISS hadn’t broken wide open yet, they had maybe two or three albums out, and Alive! hadn’t exploded – it wasn’t even out yet. Now, the next piece of this puzzle is that when I was with Stories, I got to be friendly with KISS, and Bill Aucoin. And even back when I met him, when I was with Stories, Bill told me, “You know, we’re looking for a second band. Why don’t you quit Stories, put another hard rock band together, and come to my management?” And to that, I just said, “I’m not quitting a band with a number one record, Bill. That would be fucking stupid as hell, wouldn’t it?” But when Stories broke up, I remembered Bill’s offer, and I did try to put something together. But again, I was in the tri-state area at the time, and I know this sounds crazy, but that just wasn’t a good area to be in if you wanted to make it in hard rock around that time. You needed to be in the Midwest. That sounds nuts, but it’s true.

Image courtesy of Richie Ranno

Andrew:
While that is hard to fathom, it checks out. Using KISS as an example, the Midwest broke them. Most of the shows that were recorded for Alive! were in Detroit, and Cleveland, so it makes perfect sense that you’d struggle there around that time. The scene had shifted geographically.

Richie:
Right. And you know, interestingly, when I was out there in the Midwest, hearing Nugent, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Cheap Trick, and Bob Seger, I thought, “These bands are really rocking.” It helped me out because as I was listening to those guys, I was also getting friendly with them a little bit, you know, casually, I guess you could say. And I kept seeing all these great hard rock bands, but I couldn’t really do that in Stories. I was still happy doing Stories, but they weren’t really hard rock. So then, Stories splits up, and I’m trying to get some people together to do some different things. When I was in Stories, I had a roadie named Tom Butler, who unfortunately passed away about three or four years ago, but he was a great friend, a great guy, and he knew I wanted to move toward hard rock with a new band. Well, Tom, he lived in the city, and he always read The Village Voice, and one day, he sees that Rock City Management was looking for guitarists for a new band. There was this little classified ad for musicians in the back of The Voice, and so Tom calls me about it.

Looking back, it’s funny how stupid little things change your whole life, like the call at that woman’s that I picked up in 1973, and then my buddy seeing this thing in 1975 and calls me. Anyway, so Tom calls me, and he says, “Here’s the number, Richie. Call it right now, this is right up your alley.” So I did. I called it, and Sean Delaney answered the phone, and he says, “Yeah, okay. So, are you the greatest rock guitar player that ever lived?”“Probably not.”“Well, then we don’t want you,” and I said, “Okay. Wow.” Now, if it wasn’t Rock Steady Management, I would have hung that phone up right away, and said, “Fuck these idiots,” you know? But because it was them, and I knew them – which I didn’t tell him at the time – I decided to entertain this whole thing. So, then he doubles down on being an asshole, and said, “Well, actually, we’re fine with what we’re looking for, we already have the greatest rock ‘n’ roll guitar player.” After that, I was really like, “Wow, this guy is something else.” So, I said, “Oh, okay then. You’re right. You don’t need me.” Again, normally, I would have hung up right there, but I knew that they had the ad out, and I knew it was a fresh ad, which meant they didn’t have who they needed. No, this guy was trying to weed me out. So, I don’t hang up, instead, I say, “So then why do you need another guitar player? Why are you still on the phone with me? I think I’m better than who you have, and I think you do need me.” Well, then he said, “Alright, fine. We’ll have you come down.”

Andrew:
So, from there, break down the audition for me, Richie. How did you land the gig?

Richie:
Man, I must have been a fucking psycho because I did something that I would normally not do; I took my girlfriend with me. Now, this was not necessarily the most professional thing to do, but I said, “You know what? This guy pisses me off, and I need a buffer. If you want to go with me this time, just come with me.” Sean had said it was down the Chinatown area, that’s where they had the loft that they had where they would rehearse. So, my girlfriend agrees, and she comes in with me, and when we get there, they tell me, “No girls allowed, man. She can’t be here.”“Well, tough shit. She’s already here, and we drove a long way here to audition. What are you going to do?”“Well, she’ll have to go upstairs.”“Okay, fine.” So, they take her upstairs for some reason – I don’t know what the fucking problem was – but anyway, I wait my turn, I go inside, and nobody looks at me. It was nuts. I remember Brendan Harkin had his back to me, and would barely look up, and the only time he did was to say, “The guitar cable is down there.” I thought, “Okay, assholes,” I grab it, plug it in, make a couple of sounds, and then he goes, “1, 2, 3,” and I’m like, “Oh, how about like a key, or song, or something?” It was at this point that I was really at a boiling point. Nine out of ten times, I would have left, and just not done this audition, but I just kept going with it because of Rock Steady Management.

Okay, so we start playing, and not sixty seconds later, Joe Dube the drummer puts the sticks down, they all stop and they’re looking at me now. I say, “What’s up?” Noone is making contact, but one of them says, “Hey, what’s your name? What have you done before today?”“I’m Richie Ranno. I was in Stories.”“Oh, we were in The Looking Glass.” I said, “Hold on. Wow, that’s weird.” See, because I never told Sean who I was, he didn’t know that he actually knew me, and going in, so none of these guys knew I was in Stories. So they said, “Listen, we’ve been auditioning people for two weeks, and there hasn’t been one guy that came in and was any good. You show up, and you’re playing rock the way we want it. No one has except you. So you’re in the band.” I said, “Yeah, well, that’s why I came here,” and that was that.

Image credit: Backstage Gallery

Andrew:
When you joined the band, you were the Fallen Angels. How did the group transition to Starz?

Richie:
Yeah, so as the Fallen Angels, we did a demo, and we did some gigs over maybe two months. And one of the gigs we did we opened for KISS in Philadelphia at The Tower Theater. And after the gig, Sean Delaney came up to me, and said, “What do you think of this keyboard player?”“What do you mean?”“I don’t think he fits or belongs in the band.” I thought about it, and then I said, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m not saying anything. I’m the new guy.” Well, Sean, he gets all serious, and he says, “No, no, I need your opinion.” I was like reluctant to give my opinion, but I ended up saying to him, “Well, the truth is, that Larry doesn’t belong in a hard rock band period.” I mean, this wasn’t John Lord, this guy was like a honky tonk keyboard player. I mean, he was a nice guy, and he was good at what he did, but he definitely didn’t belong with us. And so, Sean leans in, and says to me, “Okay, so you agree?, and I kind of just stare back at him, “Well, yeah.”

Sean was very crafty, and he went to Michael Lee Smith next because Michael was the second newest guy, and he told Sean the same thing, that he didn’t want Larry [Gonsky]. So now, there were three of us, me, Michael, and Sean. Next, he went to Brendan [Harkin], who said the same thing, and it was only then that Sean went to the two guys who had played with Larry in the original Looking Glass lineup and said, “Look, nobody wants him in the band. Larry just doesn’t fit. He’s got to go.” Well, next thing we know, Larry was gone, and that’s when we changed to a five-piece. Well then, management said, “You’ve got to come up with a new name.” We kicked some names around, and Sean came up with “Starz,” and we all said, “I don’t know, man.” See, I used to wear this star-shaped necklace, I had stars on my guitar strap, and I had stars inlaid on the neck of my guitar too, so that’s where he got it from. Anyway, Sean really liked the name and thought it had potential, but we were all unsure. So, what Sean went ahead and did was, he got an artist who worked for the management company to do that beautiful Starz logo. Next day, Sean came in and showed it to us on a really small Xerox copy sheet, we looked at it and said, “Wow.” It was then that we all agreed that the name of the band would be “Starz,” and that was it, Starz was born right there. Actually, I still wear that star-shaped necklace to this day.

Andrew:
From there, Starz signed with Capitol Records relatively quickly. What did their courtship consist of?

Richie:
Well, the Al Coury was the vice president at the time and he loved us. At first, it was all lip service, “We’re gonna get you tons of money,” but by the time the album came out, Coury and his crew were gone. Now it was a whole new crew in there and they absolutely didn’t give a shit about us. But they still had a contract and they had to do certain things like pay for tours, pay for albums, and this and that, so they acted nice, but they didn’t give a shit. They didn’t understand hard rock music at all. They simply did not understand it. I was like, “Why don’t you release singles?”“Well, we don’t release hard rock singles.” It was clear to me then that we were on the wrong fucking label.

Andrew:
Was there any sort of promotional push at all?

Richie:
No, not really. Even still though, the album did well enough, but it wasn’t huge, and magazines like Rolling Stone were never any help either. I actually stopped reading them in 1976 after they “reviewed” the first Starz album. I remember this really cute girl came to review one of our concerts in Cape Cod. I won’t say her name, but she seemed really cool, and we got along really great. She interviewed us for Rolling Stone, and she was supposed to review the concert and this and that, and whatever. And she was really sweet saying, “You guys are so great. I loved the show. I loved the album. I’m gonna write a great review for you guys.” She was so sweet and so friendly, that we actually exchanged phone numbers, and she gave me her address, and says, “Keep in touch.” So, we’re on cloud nine, thinking Rolling Stone is going to give us a big boost, and the review of the album comes out, and it’s nothing but a put-down. She completely trashed the record, the show, and us as a band. I was so confused because this was someone who said she loved the band, and she said it to our faces.

Well, it bothered me a lot, and I said, “I don’t understand this,” and one day, me and Joe Dube were walking in Greenwich Village, and I said, “You know, that Rolling Stone chick lives right around here. We should go see her.” I get my wallet out, and sure enough, I still have the napkin with her address on it. She lived right around where we were, so I said, “Let’s go knock on the fucking door.” So we knock on her door, and she answers, and I go, “Hey, remember us?” “Yeah…”“Well, listen, I just have to ask you – why did you write such a scathing review on us when you liked us?” “Because the magazine told me that’s what I should do.” I was blown away. To this day, I still remember that, and I know it really hurt Starz as a band. And I’ve got news for you, that motherfucker who used to run that magazine, Jann Wenner, he hates rock music. Wenner has always picked favorites, and he’s hurt a lot of artists’ careers. For example, just look at KISS, why are Bruce Kulick, Eric Carr, Eric Singer, and Tommy Thayer not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? It makes no sense to me. He’s got a bias, and most of it makes absolutely no sense.

Image courtesy of Richie Ranno

Andrew:
Initial critical praise aside, the proof is in the pudding. The first Starz album laid the path for everything that was to come after it in the late 70s, 80s, and beyond.

Richie:
That is something that’s been very gratifying. You know, when I talked to all these major groups from the 80s, that’s what they told me. Bands like Poison, Mötley Crüe, and Black N’ Blue really seemed to take to what we did. Circling back to support though, a lot of it came back to our management, and honestly, our management was focused on being high as a kite on coke.

Andrew:
Dialing back to some of the tracks on the first record, in my estimation, “Boys In Action” and “Night Crawler” featured some imposing songwriting and guitar work. What do you remember most regarding the recording of those two songs, Richie?

Richie:
I wrote all of the music for “Night Crawler,” and pretty much all of “Boys In Action” too, so it’s interesting that you would pick those two. I love those songs. I wrote the main parts of “Boys In Action” backstage at a gig that we were doing in Atlanta, where these hot girls had come to see us the night before, and they came back to see us the next night at a small ballroom. It was funny, well not at the time, but it is looking back, the owner said we were too loud and fired us. What happened was, we were in the dressing room and he said, “You know, you play loud, too fucking loud. Can you turn it the fuck down?” “Hey, fuck you, man. We play the way we play.”“Get out of here! You’re fired.” So, we’re packing up, and we’re down in the backroom, and these two girls make their way backstage and they said, “We heard you’re not playing tonight.”“Yeah, we got fired for being too loud.”“Well, I came to hear boys in action.” Well, instantly I grabbed my guitar and I just started playing most of what you hear on “Boys In Action.” I even sang the chorus too, and then Michael [Lee Smith] took it from there because he’s the lyrical and melodic genius. And in the studio, with both of those tracks, there were very few overdubs, just on some solos. I remember I nailed the solo and all the guitars for “Night Crawler” in one take. With that record, everything was pretty much just done live.

Andrew:
The record is definitely raw, but also has a certain amount of required sheen. To that end, in what tangible way did producer Jack Douglas influence the sessions?

Richie:
Well, I think that’s what Jack wanted to do. Jack was a great producer. It’s also worth noting that Jay Messina engineered it. He was a phenomenal engineer. We recorded the album at The Record Plant, which was one of the top studios in the entire world, especially for loud rock. I think Jack, and Jay both understood us, and what we were all about. He understood the edge we had as a live band, and he did a great job of harnessing that.

Image courtesy of Richie Ranno

Andrew:
With little to no label support, and management being seemingly checked out, what sort of adversity did the band face on the road?

Richie:
Well, we went on the road for six months straight, and as you said, the support was shit. It was like being in a war zone. We felt like we were in the center of the eye of the storm every day, with no boat, just aimlessly drifting. Every day we got up, traveled, did interviews, signed autographs, and did shows, but Capitol simply did not get our record in stores. We would pull into town, and head to local record shops, and they wouldn’t be stocking our album. These were big chains, in big cities, and after a while, we kind of felt like zombies just going through the motions. And it’s not like we had that much input, or could do anything about it, you know? When we were in L.A., we hung out with the record company guys, and I remember I’m telling them again, “Why aren’t you releasing singles? Why aren’t “Detroit Girls and “Pull The Plug” coming out of singles?”“Oh, we can’t release songs like that.” I’m thinking to myself, “What the fuck do we need you guys for?” Capitol Records was an awful label and the wrong label for us. We should have signed to Atlantic, or even Columbia, who did great with Aerosmith.

Andrew:
Considering you were managed by Bill Aucoin, was there ever a push for Starz to sign with Casablanca?

Richie:
No, because he already had KISS there. And in reality, Casablanca wasn’t a good label. That label was all about disco and it was a total fluke that KISS was there and that they hit while being on that label.

Andrew:
In the wake of all of that, Starz recorded and released its second record, Violation. A lot of people retrospectively gravitate to this record. Do you feel the album’s more power-pop edge has anything to do with that?

Richie:
You know, I don’t think it’s quite as hard-edged as the first one, but it wasn’t really a conscious choice. We went in with the same sort of songs and the same intention, but I just think it had more to do with Jack’s production. When I listen back there are definitely more layers, and there is a certain kind of eeriness to it that I just can’t figure out. I remember when it came out, I noticed how spacey it seemed, and I honestly didn’t know how we did it, or how that happened. The music just seems to have a lot of space around it, like there’s a certain ambiance to it. I can’t explain it. I mean, it’s Jack Douglas again, it’s at The Record Plant again, but it’s got this vibe I could never really put my finger on. It’s definitely futuristic, at least for the time.

Image courtesy of Richie Ranno

Andrew:
As Starz’s highest-charting album, and as the one that many seem to remember, when you look back on Violation, do you agree that it’s the band’s best album?

Richie:
That’s a tough question. I don’t know. I loved the first album, and I think it’s the one with the most meaning. I’ve always liked the first one, it meant a lot to the band, and it means a lot to me too. But I do love Violation, and I do love Coliseum Rock, which really came out great considering we had two new members, basically no songs going in, and we had like five weeks to write and record it. For it to come out that great, under those circumstances, was pretty amazing.

Andrew:
We’ll hit on Coliseum Rock, but before that, Starz put out Attention Shoppers! Now, I know that Jack Douglas didn’t produce that record, and in my estimation, it’s probably your lightest record, and it gave way to a tumultuous time in the band’s history. Walk me through that period.

Richie:
Well, first of all, we wanted to do it with Jack Douglas. We told Bill [Aucoin] and he said, “No. Jack can’t do it.” Now, Jack and I were great friends back then, so I called Jack personally and asked him to produce the record, and he said, “Richie, I’m sorry. I can’t do it. I just need a little more time. Can you wait?” Well, somehow we wound up recording this third album by ourselves in a lesser studio called Secret Sound Studios, which was not The Record Plant, with Jack Malken, and Michael Barry, who with all due respect, were not Jack Douglas and Jay Messina. And then our management really wanted us to play lighter songs, and the group was just kind of beaten down, and so, we just said, “Okay,” without even arguing, or thinking about it. I remember I was really pissed off, and I was coming home from the studio every night telling my then-wife, “I gotta quit now while I still have some integrity,” but I didn’t, even though I felt like I should have. At the time, that’s really how I felt, but ultimately, no, I don’t feel that way now, but at the time that’s how I felt, I just couldn’t go through with the quitting part.

We finished Attention Shoppers!, and we went and toured, but by that point, Brendan [Harkin] was very unhappy that we were still playing hard rock music. To this day, I don’t know where that was coming from, I guess it’s just where he was at by that time, or maybe he thought we should have gone disco like KISS and The Stones. Making things worse was that Pieter [Sweval] was off doing something else, and he wasn’t really involved with the band anymore, and so, at the end of the tour, the rest of us decided that Pieter had to go. And then the night before we went to fire Pieter, we decided Brendan should probably go too. So, it was left to me to break the news, and I call them up and I said, “Look, you should just leave because you’re not happy, and we don’t want you to be unhappy. We’re good friends above all else, and we understand where you’re coming from, so how about you just split?

After that, we had a meeting, and that was it, those guys were out, and now we had to get to new guys. I wanted to make a hard rock album, and I felt like we really had to do it after Attention Shoppers!, but I guess Capitol really had no interest in us at all by this point, still for reasons I’ll never really understand, or fully know. Looking back, by this point, the new wave thing was starting, but I didn’t realize the new wave stuff had started, let alone got so big. I thought that stuff was pure garbage myself. I know people play that stuff, Talking Heads, and all the kind of music, but when I first heard it, I was like, “You’re kidding, right? But things come and go, and you never know what’s going to be popular, but I absolutely hated all that shit. [Laughs]. There’s all kinds of music out there, and I like a lot of it, but that just wasn’t my thing.

Image courtesy of Richie Ranno

Andrew:
Pulling back the curtain on Coliseum Rock now, which for me, may well be Starz’s best record. Take me through the recording of the band’s return to hard rock.

Richie:
Coliseum Rock was a task, man. We had just changed around two members – we added Bobby Messano on guitar and Orville Davis on bass. Then we had to write an entire album and start recording right away. The reason it was right away was that Bill Aucoin had told us when we start recording, Capitol will send a bunch of money his way. Well, we didn’t see any of it. Why? Because it was allegedly to cover recording costs. Amazingly and conveniently, as usual with him, there was never any money left over for the band members. Maybe he snorted it. Anyway, we somehow pulled it together fast and went up to Toronto to Nimbus 9 Studios with Jack Richardson at the helm. We had faith in Jack, he had produced all The Guess Who’s albums, was very knowledgable and competent. His studio was fantastic. We had a great time up there and even played two nights at the famed, El Mocambo, which was broadcast on FM radio live.

After the shows in Canada, and the recording of the record, we were really happy with the way everything came out. So, the record comes out, and we go out to tour, and we got very pissed off while we were on the road. Once again, we were doing in-store appearances and Coliseum Rock wasn’t even in the store. So, from the road, I call the record company up, and I’m yelling at them over the phone, “Why the fuck isn’t our record in the stores you’re sending us to? You’re making us all look like assholes here.” Honestly, from nearly day one, Capitol Records never got behind Starz, not once. We had great records out there, better than most, and we knew it too. It was extremely frustrating to put out that level of quality music, and have it left to die. I think the reason was the level of intensity of the music. It was hard and energetic. Way too hard and energetic for the executives at Capitol Records, who felt Juice Newton was the perfect music for them. [Laughs].

Andrew:
Coliseum Rock was released in 1978, but by 1979, Starz had come to an end. What was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back?

Richie:
It all came to a head. Capitol was doing nothing to support us, and we couldn’t continue on. We had this great record out in Coliseum Rock – just as great as the first – and we couldn’t even find it in stores. So, we had Bill Aucoin get us out of the contract. We said, “Bill, we’re done. Get us out of this, and maybe we can go somewhere else.”“No, no, no. I just spoke to them, they don’t want you to leave.”“Okay, well we don’t understand why they don’t want us to leave. They do nothing for us. We want out, and we want you to get us another deal.” Well, by this point Bill Aucoin was just drugged out of his mind on cocaine, and he just said, “Yeah, sure. Okay, whatever you guys want. We’ll get you another deal.” So, Bill got us out of the deal with Capitol, and then we said, “Okay, so how’s it going? Did you get any other deals?”“Oh, no, no, no, you can’t get another deal, nobody’s signing hard rock bands.”“Why did you get us out of the deal then, and tell us otherwise? We didn’t know that. We’re just musicians. We didn’t know what the state of the business is like.” Bill just kind of looked at us, and said, “Yeah…sorry.” All I can say is, it really sucked, and we got majorly fucked over by our record company, and our management, and in the end, that’s what killed Starz.

Image credit: Fin Costello

Andrew:
In the wake of Starz’s demise, a few years later, my understanding is you had an audition with Ozzy Osbourne after the passing of Randy Rhoads. Before we go into that, first, did you have a history with Randy?

Richie:
Yeah, that’s true. Yes, I did know Randy. I first met him in 1976 when he showed up at a Capitol Records release party for the first Starz album at the Santa Monica Pier. He was with his girlfriend, they came over to me, and they sat with me for a really long time. He told me how much he loved Starz and this and that. I just knew him as a kid named Randy. I didn’t know his last name, and he didn’t mention that he played guitar at that time, he was just a nice kid. And he had a flyer that Capitol had given him saying that we were going to be shooting an appearance on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert show that following Saturday at the Aquarius Theater. So, he shows me the flyer, and he said, “I’m gonna definitely be there.” I said, “Cool, man. We’ll be there around zoon for when we start shooting the video.”

So, the next weekend comes, and Randy got there, and we ran into each other outside because they kept pushing the shoot back all day by a couple of hours, so we had a lot of time. He told me he was with his girlfriend, and that he had a buddy with him, who he said was a bass player. At the time, didn’t know who that was, he didn’t give me his name at the time. I later found out this was Quiet Riot’s original bassist, Kelly Garni. Anyway, Randy tells me that they were going to be hanging out at this little restaurant that was right next door later. It was an outdoor restaurant, and since the weather was so beautiful, they would be outside, and I should come by. I said, “Yeah, I’ll come out and hang with you.” So I did. I hung out with him for quite a bit, all the three of them, Randy, his girlfriend, and Kelly Garni. They were all probably about nineteen years old, and they were just really nice. After that, they stayed for the concert thing that we did, which was maybe all of thirty-five minutes, and afterward, he said how much he loved it and this and that.

So fast-forward, I saw him again in ’79 when Starz came through L.A. to do four dates at The Starwood, which by the way was the greatest, greatest rock club in the history of rock clubs. Anyway, while I was on stage during the last night of the four, I looked out and saw that Randy was there. I saw him up front. Later on, as I was getting ready to leave, Randy comes up to me and says, “Quiet Riot.” I said, “What does that mean, Randy? What does Quiet Riot mean?” I mean, by then I knew he played guitar because back at Aquarius Theater in ’76 he had told me. Anyway, Randy just looks at me, and again, he says, “Quiet Riot.”“Randy, what does that mean, man?” He looks at me again, smiles a bit, and says, “Quiet Riot. It’s my band.” Well, I just said, “Man, that’s great. Good luck with it all.” After that, I kept “Quiet Riot” in the back of my mind as something to check out. I had a good clear memory – I still do – because I didn’t do drugs, and I hardly drank at all in the 70s. And so my memory is very clear.

So, a couple of years later, after Starz had ended, I remember hearing the Ozzy’s Blizzard of Ozz record, and thinking how much I loved “Crazy Train.” I loved it so much that I went out and bought it, which was interesting because I wasn’t really a big Ozzy fan, but I did love “Crazy Train” and pretty much all of what I heard on there as it’s a brilliant album. So, I went and bought a copy of the record, but I transferred the album immediately over to cassette because I only listened to music on cassettes back in those days in the car. Honestly, I never really looked at the album other than glancing at it, and Randy would have looked a bit different, but I didn’t know it was Randy anyway. I didn’t even look at the names of the people. After that, I bought Diary of a Madman too, still never putting together that Randy was the guitar player. Shortly after that, the tragic accident happened. I read it in the paper. I was like, “Oh, God. This is so awful.” I kept reading it said, Randy Rhoads was the name of the guitarist – I never knew his last name – it said “Randy Rhoads, formerly of Quiet Riot.” I saw “Quiet Riot, and I knew right then who it was, I said, “Oh, no. This is the same kid.” I was so so upset. It was weird because I was so simultaneously happy for him that he had reached the top, but was so sad to hear what had just happened to him at such a young age.

Andrew:
When did you get the call to audition for Ozzy?

Richie:
Well, after it all happened, about two weeks went by, and I unexpectedly got a call from a member of the road crew, he was the lighting director, and he said Ozzy was going to try and get a replacement for Randy. They asked me if I would be interested, I said, “Yes,” and they flew me out there and put me up in a hotel. I was the first guitar player to audition with them after Randy passed, and we played very well together. I went in for a second time, and we just jammed for a while, we played a few songs, and then I hung around and got to know them a little bit. After me, Robert Sarzo was the next one I believe, and then Bernie Tormé. I stayed to watch Robert, and then I went back to the hotel. I didn’t know who Bernie was at the time, but he was with Ian Gillan then. I did well, and I thought I had a good chance of getting the gig, but then they just sent all of us home, I guess because Bernie got the gig, but I didn’t know that then.

So, about another week or two went by, and the lighting director called me and said, “Ozzie – who wasn’t at the auditions, by the way – wants to see a guy with blond hair when he looks over to the side of the stage.” Now, I’ve been quoted as saying, “They told me, ‘You don’t have blonde hair, so you don’t get the gig.'” That’s not true, and it’s not quite what I said. The truth is, they said he wanted to see a guy with blonde hair, and that’s why they took Bernie, but then Bernie didn’t work out either. You know, I got to be friends with Bernie in 2013 when we were playing Ginger Wildheart’s big birthday bash, and Bernie was on the bill. And he and I really hit it off great and stayed in touch until he unfortunately passed. Bernie was a great guy and a great guitar player, but I don’t think he really cared for Ozzy. And after Bernie left, they got Brad Gillis, and the proof is that they both had blonde hair. So I’m not making it up. [Laughs]. All these people were ripping me saying, “Oh, yeah, they probably thought he sucked. That’s why they just made some bogus excuse.” I love these people that think they know everything, you know? But anyway, I was definitely disappointed that I didn’t get it for sure, but it’s okay. I don’t get every audition I’ve done, but I have gotten some pretty good ones along the way.

Images courtesy of Richie Ranno

Andrew:
Did you have any prior history with Ozzy or Black Sabbath dating back at all? Because the other headline floating out there was in regards to Tony Iommi. Can you hit on that for us as well?

Richie:
No, not at all. I had no history with Ozzy or Tony. This drove me crazy too because I didn’t say anything negative about Tony Iommi. I never would think to either. Honestly, what he’s done is excellent. I don’t know him, but I only hear great things about him. All I said was I didn’t hear any incredible guitar playing. That doesn’t mean Tony Iommi wasn’t great, and it doesn’t mean that he was bad. What I did say was that he wasn’t playing like Jimmy Page and Richie Blackmore, and no one can argue that. I don’t care who it is, you can’t argue that he did not play like those guys. And it just so happens that those are the guys that I liked. I’ve always been drawn to a faster kind of playing, and I don’t mean speed playing, I just mean faster music, that’s all. I’m not saying anything bad about Black Sabbath or Tony Iommi, and I certainly never did, it was taken way out of context. If I’m gonna say something bad about someone, it has to be someone who is a pretty big asshole, or fucked me over royally, because I don’t do that. I feel really bad because I have a lot of respect for Tony and what he’s done. You know, he had a serious accident when he was young, and he overcame that to do what he did. I think that’s great. It was an out-of-context quote, posted by people looking for hits, and they got ’em. So they accomplished their goal of getting hits at my expense. So what? I hope they’re sleeping well at night.

Andrew:
Do you remember what songs you guys ran through during the audition?

Richie:
Yeah, I do. It was kind of crazy when I got there. The vibe was very somber. When I got there, the keyboard player Don Airey said, “I never thought I’d play the keyboards again after the accident.” I understood exactly what he meant because it was so abrupt, and just so sad. Then he said, “You’re the first person we’ve played with since it happened,” and I thought, “Oh boy, I’m in a bad spot here.” I mean, who wants to be in that spot? So I just started riffing out on some general riffs, they joined in, and we just jammed for about forty minutes. And then we did “Crazy Train, “I Don’t Know,” and “Goodbye To Romance.” It was great, and we had a good time. I love those songs. I loved those first two Ozzy solo albums. Those are two of my favorite albums of all time, and it’s a shame I didn’t realize it sooner because they were playing the Capitol Theater, and I could have gone over there and said hi to Randy. I just had no idea it was the same guy. I got blasted for that too. People said, “Oh, he knew. How could he not know who is in the band?” I honestly didn’t people, so just shut up. [Laughs].

Andrew:
I wanted to hit on Hellcats too. What can you tell me regarding its inception?

Richie:
Well, that kind of evolved out of the ashes of Starz. It got to a point there, where we had changed out so many people, and we didn’t want to call the band Starz anymore, so we went with Hellcats. Although, I look back and realize we gave up a brand name, and that was really stupid, and probably gave us no shot to succeed. But we did it, and we ended up getting a deal with Radio Records, who oddly enough had this other group called Stars on 45, and they actually had a big hit. We signed with them, the EP came out, and the label was calling us regularly saying we were getting great airplay, and sales looked great. Right at the beginning, they hooked us up with an agent, and the agent said, “I can put you on the Ted Nugent tour, and the label will subsidize the tour so that we can sell lots of records.” We took their word for it, and wouldn’t you know it, just the opposite happened. The label was saying, “Yes, everything looks really good, just wait on our call.” Well, Michael [Lee Smith] and the drummer Doug Madick had gone back to L.A. and were just waiting for that call, and we never heard back. We tried calling them, and then the label just didn’t pick up the phone anymore. Apparently, it was all bullshit, they went out of business. After that, I quit music.

Image courtesy of Richie Ranno

Andrew:
The late 80s and early 90s Metal Blade Records reissues proved important to keeping Starz music alive over the years. Was there ever any talk of Starz reviving itself on Metal Blade?

Richie:
Brian Slagel called me in the late 80s and told me that he was a big fan of Starz and said, “I’d like to help get those out of print albums back in circulation,” and then he asked me, “Do you hold the rights to the music?” I told him, “I don’t own the rights to the four studio albums, but I do have two live shows you might be interested in.” We decided to combine the two shows – one from Cleveland in ’76, and the other from Louisville in ’78 – into one album, and that’s how Live in Action came about. I think was around 1990.

The release did really well and stirred up some interest in Starz, and so Brian was able to get the rights to the first four records, and he released them on cassette and CD through Metal Blade. In the end, though, it came down to money, and there were issues there. At that point, I considered Brian a good friend, and really appreciated all he had done for Starz to that point, but the money was the issue. So, I reached out, and said, “Brian, you know, you’re signing King Diamond, King’s X, and all these bands on hard times, how about you sign Starz and we make a record?” Well, I can’t remember why, but Brian didn’t wanna do it. Maybe he thought there was no money in it, and in his defense, the 90s was a hard time for hard rock music, and that’s what Starz was. That didn’t stop me from being really pissed off though, and I basically said, “Fuck you.” After that, I felt bad and tried to apologize, but Brian never returned my calls. That was around thirty years ago. I’ve always felt kind of bad about it, but it is what it is.

Andrew:
Fast forward to the present day, and Starz has more or less been back together with a few stops and starts since around 2003. You alluded to your disdain for the music industry on the whole, but where do things stand in terms of Starz putting out new music? Is there any music in the vaults that we haven’t heard yet?

Richie:
Honestly, I think we found everything. [Laughs]. But Frontiers did sign us, and they sent us a really nice advance to do a new Starz album going back many years ago, but we just couldn’t get it together with guys on the West Coast, as their schedule didn’t jive with us here on the East Coast. They signed us, and we wanted to do a record, but it just didn’t work out for us. We had to give Frontiers the money back, and then just forget about it.

Andrew:
Looking back at the story of Starz, in your estimation, what held the band back most? Starz seemed like a band that had all of the necessary ingredients to be world-beaters.

Richie:
It was strictly bad management and a bad record company. I mean, people defend those guys, they even wrote a book about it where they asked our managers and the record company people their opinions, and of course, they said, “Oh, no. Starz had the same shot as anybody else. We backed them.” I read that, and I shake my head. I mean, look, we had absolutely no influence on what was happening to us, if you understand what I’m saying. We were just musicians, and we didn’t have any input into the business side of things. And when that business shifted, it was just the record company paying people off, and never paying us. And when they stopped paying people off, all that was left was a bunch of guys who were on drugs, who didn’t care about us. All those guys were like really messed up characters, a lot of those guys were really bad, it was rampant through our label and down through our management. I mean, what are you gonna do? I’m saying the truth. We weren’t the ones blowing coke up their noses, they did that themselves, in front of us, constantly.

Andrew:
As for Bill Aucoin, he gets tremendous accolades for what he did for KISS. What could he have done differently to help Starz
breakthrough?

Richie:
A lot of people say he broke KISS – he didn’t break KISS. KISS broke themselves because those four guys came up with this concept that couldn’t be contained. It was such an incredible thing that they did, that it just happened on its own. It happened on its own, it didn’t happen because Bill Aucoin was there. Look, here’s the thing about Bill, I know I’m saying some kind of bad things about him, but I want to make something clear – he was a really great guy, and he had a tremendous personality. He was very smart too. But I think by doing drugs, and getting caught up in all that money that he was making, he got detoured. Sadly, by the time Bill got to us, when Starz was with him, he got detoured. That’s what happened. There is a flip side to that though. I had heard from people who worked with KISS that they didn’t like that Starz was getting bigger, and I think there was some pressure from KISS to have Bill hold us down to a degree, so as not to eclipse them.

Image credit: Trudi Knight

Andrew:
There is an argument to be made that KISS peaked around 1977, and that just so happens to be around the same time that your two first albums, which were highly influential, came out. It could be said that KISS was on the way down at a point when you would be rising.

Richie:
Well, I can tell you that I can find many people that you can interview who will corroborate that. You know, obviously, at the time we had no idea, but I do feel that’s part of what happened with Bill. When it comes to Gene [Simmons] and Paul [Stanley], you’re talking about very egotistical guys. These guys, they want all the money, and when they’re playing Monopoly, they want to be that guy in the end that has all the money. In their world, nobody else has money. That’s their personality type. You know, Ace [Frehley], and Peter [Criss], they weren’t like that, and that’s why they’re not in KISS anymore. At the same time, I have all the respect in the world for them. I was a big fan. I thought the first KISS album was one of the greatest rock albums ever. Along with Get Your Wings by Aerosmith, Sweet’s Desolation Boulevard, and the first Bad Company album, those four albums are unbelievable and changed rock music forever.

Andrew:
Last one, Richie. What’s next for you in all lanes as we move forward?

Richie:
I just play locally with my Richie Ranno All-Stars band. I started playing again twenty years ago, but it’s mostly local, and it’s great. I have one of those really nice computer setups with a nice playback system in my basement, and I’ve been recording for a few years. I’ve got a ton of songs on there, but I’m not inspired to do anything that’s in the music business. Like, what am I gonna do? Put them out on CD? Put them on Spotify? I don’t see the point, really. I hate to say it but, that’s the truth. So I record the stuff, I play it back, and listen to it. I play it live too, and that’s my reward. I’m not complaining about it. It’s just what it is, and I’m ok with that. It’s no big deal.

Honestly, I don’t have any expectations. When I got back into it twenty years ago, I said, “No expectations. Just and don’t play with people you don’t like.” Those are the two things that will make me quit music again. From the start, I said that to myself, and I said to my wife, “If I quit again, then I’m done. I’m never gonna come back to it.” So I have to be very careful. I have no expectations. And if I’m playing with someone who’s like a real asshole, and I notice it, I just stop playing with them. That’s it. That’s my guideline. I look back on it all, and I think to myself that it all must have been a part of some big grand plan. I try not to think too much though, I could drive myself crazy if I think about it too much, because it doesn’t really make sense. It doesn’t add up. You know, Starz was and is one of those bands where it really just doesn’t add up.

Image courtesy of Richie Ranno

Andrew Daly (@vwmusicrocks) is the Editor-in-Chief for www.vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at andrew@vinylwriter.com

3 thoughts on “An Interview with Richie Ranno of Starz

  1. Nice interview. Interesting to learn the backstory and progression of Mr Rannos’ career. I first saw Starz on Don Kirshners Rock Concert and live once. Although that era was my mid teen years and I enjoyed most of the rock music of the time Starz is one band that remains in my playlist constantly.

  2. Nice interview. Interesting to learn the backstory and progression of Mr Rannos’ career. I first saw Starz on Don Kirshners Rock Concert and live once. Although that era was my mid teen years and I enjoyed most of the rock music of the time Starz is one band that remains in my playlist constantly.

  3. WOW Richie & Andrew💚That is an exceptional interview. Thanks for being so forthcoming Richie💥It’s amazing how life works out. I really wanna see STARZ live before I die(59 next year lol)🤘Living in Ireland it’s a big ask but should the band ever hit the UK again I’ll be there for YOU🎯💥😎🇨🇮💓

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