Posted April, 2011
Photo by Rob Shanahan
When I feel particularly ornery, I like to tease the last wave of the Baby Boomer generation – specifically, those born in the first half of the sixties – that the only good music was made in the 70’s. Of course, our older brothers and sisters say, ‘Au, contraire! The only great music came from the sixties!”
Of course, every decade in the last 70+ years produced some great, memorable, even iconic music that still enjoys a following today. My good-natured teasing aside, the eighties put out some pretty darn good music. As the eighties charged full speed ahead, heavy metal enjoyed a very dedicated fan base.
From that genre, one of the flagship bands that became a symbol of those times was Quiet Riot. Their breakout hit, a cover of Slade’s hit, Cum On Feel The Noize, made it to the number five spot on Billboard. The album, Metal Health, that contained the song was the first heavy metal album U.S. heavy metal band to simultaneously reach number one AND have a top five song on the charts within the same week. Along with Noize, the title cut from the album has served as the bands most identified tunes that still serve them well today.
Like many bands, Quiet Riot experienced the dramatic, gut wrenching ups and downs of the rock and roll business. The most tragic event of their ride was the pre-mature 2007 death of the bands iconic singer and co-founder, Kevin DuBrow. Fans feared that the band was over. Last year brought the welcome news to Quiet Riot fans that the band was back, alive and banging their heads with more verve and vigor than ever.
Through a mutual friend, noted rock photographer, Rob Shanahan, I was introduced to the band’s current leader, co-founder and drummer extraordinaire, Frankie Banali, who graciously consented to a phone interview recently.
Quiet Riot fans have, obviously, read everything there is to read about the band during its history. With over 30 years of experience and perspective of the band, I started off by asking Banali how he would now describe and define Quiet Band.
As would be demonstrated throughout the phone call, he answered with well-thought out answers. “I think one of the key elements of this strange trip that we’ve been on – this Quiet Riot journey – has been the fact that, for whatever reason, we were fortunate enough to have been at the right place at the right time when the Metal Health record came out in 1983.
“From that, we culled two significant songs, Cum On Feel The Noize, which is a Slade song that we re-did. But, also equally as important, is the song, Metal Health (Bang Your Head). That’s become almost the key song for the band - so much so that it’s the last song of our set. I think for the genre, those two songs sort of became the soundtrack for that generation.”
When I asked it the song was strong via downloads, he said, “Yeah, if illegal downloads are any indication, then Quiet Riot is hugely popular. But it is what it is. It’s (illegal downloads) so big that, unless the government really cared about it and put some kind of law in place, it’s going to continue. It’s hard to say what’s going to happen. But, I’m a half-full-glass kind of guy so, it is what it is.”
After Kevin DuBrow’s passing, Banali basically stated that Quiet Riot couldn’t go on without him at the mic. Later, with DuBrow’s mom’s blessing, he reformed the band in 2010. I asked Frankie if the regrouping with former band mates Alex Grossi on guitar andChuck Wright on bass and the Dubrow-inspired vocal work provided by new lead singer, Mark Huff, has gone as anticipated.
“The first thing that I want to make clear is that, by no stretch of the imagination do I ignore the statement I made in January of 2008 – two months after Kevin passed away. That is exactly how I felt about the situation. It was an honest and genuine statement. Literally, for the first year after Kevin passed away, I didn’t even pick up a pair of sticks. I did nothing in music whatsoever. I just didn’t want to because, you have to understand that, not only was I in a band with Kevin throughout the entire history of the band from 1980 to date, but we were friends for 27 years. So, that was a difficult thing.
“What has ensued in the last three years is that I have had time to put the loss in perspective. With my grieving period and working on the Quiet Riot documentary, it forced me to really evaluate the history of the band and my participation in the history of the band. That really ignited the fire for me to want to do this again because, not only did I miss Kevin, I came to the realization that I missed this thing called Quiet Riot.
“And, yes, definitely, once I said to myself, ‘This is something that I want to pursue again.’, my first communication was with Kevin’s mom because we were very close. I, literally, verbatim, said to her if she was even remotely uncomfortable with the situation that it would end right there. I wouldn’t pursue it. She reminded me that, even at the gathering that we had – the day that we laid Kevin to rest – she had told me that I should continue Quiet Riot because Quiet Riot wasn’t just Kevin, Quiet Riot was Kevin and I because we were always the nucleus. We were the two that were in the band from the beginning to the end. That was really my only consideration.
“I’ve taken, I think, a lot of unjust criticism for it. But, at the end of the day – I’ll be perfectly honest with you - the only person whose opinion really mattered to me in my reforming the band was Kevin’s mom. That being said, the first people that I reached out to were Chuck Wright on bass and Alex Grossi on guitar which is the two players that were in the last version of Quiet Riot when Kevin was alive. It was Kevin’s favorite version and it was also the most stable, productive version that we had. Nothing against any of the members in Quiet Riot from the past – and there have been many. Most people like to consider the so-called Metal Health line-up as the only Quiet Riot line-up. There were so many musicians that came in and out of the band at different periods of time that my consideration was really for the last version of the band that Kevin and I were most happy with.
“The thing is, the people that aren’t involved in the situation – certain fans – definitely, some of the critics – don’t understand it. Rudy Sarzo and I have been friends since before Quiet Riot and we continue to be friends. He has been very vocal in public about saying that he completely supports my continuing Quiet Riot and he’s not even a part of it. He has his own life and his own career. He has his own music that he’s working on. So, it’s not one of these things where I’m excluding this person or that person. Carlos Cavazo is in Ratt so it’s not like anybody is being excluded for any negative reason. They’re being excluded for all positive reasons.”
Before leaving the subject of DuBrow’s passing, I asked Banali if there have been any life lessons, perspectives or any sort of spiritual repercussions or revelations that he has learned or experienced from Kevin’s passing.
“Well, you know, I’ve got to tell you, because, when you’re in a band for as long and Kevin and I were in Quiet Riot together, most people in a band, after a period of time, don’t hang out together any more or don’t do anything together for no other reason than they’ve done it all and seen it all. The thing that’s always been at the forefront for me is that Kevin and I always continued to always hang out on the road together. We didn’t in Los Angeles because I live in California and he moved to Las Vegas. But, when we were out on the road, we would fly to whatever city and then spend x amount of hours in a vehicle to wherever it is that we were going and we would still have lunch together. We would still have dinner together. And, if we had time off, we would go to wherever we wanted to go together.
Banali shared a recent reflection about his late band mate. “I just got back yesterday from a run that we did. We did a date outside of Indianapolis and another one in Dayton. And, so, I have my phone and it has GPS on it – something that we didn’t have when Kevin was alive. I programmed the thing to make sure that the routing I had was correct. The little voice tells us, ‘Take a left at I-95’ or whatever it was and the first words out of my mouth were, ‘Kevin would have loved this.’ This happens a lot. We drove by a barbeque restaurant and Kevin loved barbeque. The first thing out of my mouth was, ‘If Kevin was here now, we would stop there and have barbeque for lunch.’”
With bitter-sweet comfort in his voice, Frank said, “So, yeah, he’s still around.”
We began talking about the current band line-up so I asked Frankie what the fan reaction has been, so far.
“The thing that I always took into account when I decided to move forward Quiet Riot that, obviously, could not include Kevin, I knew there were going to be, essentially, three factions. On the positive end of things, there were going to be the fans that were going to accept it wholeheartedly, no matter what. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were going to be the fans and critics that would not want to accept it, no matter what. Then, square in the center was going to be the ‘show me’ faction who wanted to see if this was really viable. Will this really sound like Quiet Riot? Is this really Quiet Riot?’
“What has happened is, strangely enough, we’re getting so many dates on the calendar, we get to the shows and right from the get-go, the fans have been with the band, which is surprising to me. You still have to go out there and do a great job but I really thought that it was going to take two or three songs to get people to realize that this is the real deal. So, from that perspective, it’s been more rewarding than I expected it to be at this early stage.”
Of all the questions and interest in Banali’s and Quiet Riot’s work, I wondered what would be the one thing that Frankie felt has been least covered and understood about the band’s work.
“In the past, I think one of the big misunderstandings – and I always defended Kevin while I didn’t always agree with many of the things that Kevin said or many of the things he did - I always supported the fact that it was his right to say it. A lot of people took a lot of the things he said as Kevin being a negative person, which he wasn’t. What Kevin was, he was acutely honest and that honesty got him in trouble. Where most musicians, if they were asked about a certain band or a certain song – even if they hated it – they would give the political correct answer to the situation. Whereas Kevin would tell you exactly what he thought. If he loved something, he would tell you and in minute detail why he loved it. If he hated it, he would tell you, in minute detail, why he hated it.
“And the really unfortunate thing about it is that most of the negative comments that Kevin may have said early on in the band’s career were exactly that: early on in the band’s career. But it took nearly 20 some odd years for people to sort of let it go. Kevin had let it go many years before that but even to the end, some critics were still criticizing him for things he said when he was much younger and two decades earlier. It’s interesting: people really love an underdog until the underdog becomes a big dog and then they want to run it over.”
I asked Frankie a range of questions that I try to ask music industry veterans: What similarities and differences do you see between now and when you and the band started out? What’s been the biggest POSITIVE change in the music industry since you started out? What about the biggest negative change?
“When we started, we were really, really fortunate to have been in what I think would be considered the center of the world for rock which is Hollywood, California, in the late seventies and early eighties. Also, that new thing called ‘MTV’ had come along which, I think, was really instrumental in many bands’ careers because, all of a sudden, you had mass exposure but it was mass visual exposure. Up to that point, it was only really magazine articles and, maybe, the occasional newspaper article. But, that (MTV) had a huge impact on the industry and the music industry was thriving and alive whereas, now, none of that exists anymore.
“There is no record industry as we once knew it - neither major nor independent. There is no MTV as we once knew it. MTV stood for ‘music television’ and, now, really, it stands for far less than ‘music television’. Although, I will say VH1 Classic has really waved the flag for a lot of the bands of our genre. But there is no rock radio like there once was. DJ’s were independent to play whatever they wanted whereas, now, it’s become corporate and there are just a few national programmers that will program the radio stations that are owned by a handful of conglomerates.
“Kevin and I used to marvel at the fact that we would continue to put out records year in and year out and we’d be out on the road and we’d have morning show interviews to do. We’d bring in the new product and the DJ’s would go crazy about the new product but take it home because they couldn’t play it on the radio station because everything was ‘on the cart’. It’s very, very challenging now for new bands to get anything done in the industry. And most of the bands that you see working today are working because they have marquee value from one or two decades ago.”
Like I’ve shared with others that I’ve interviewed, I share with Banali my belief that one of the big reasons that country music is still a thriving genre with an incredibly loyal fan base is due to the fact that there are two cable networks that actively run supporting music videos. He agrees.
“Yeah, I completely agree with you on that, that the mentality for the country industry and the fans of country radio is completely and totally different than any other market. They’re still producing current videos which are still being played on their respective stations. The radio stations continue to play new country music. I don’t know if you’ve also looked at it from this point of view: if you look at a country artist and a country show, it is, essentially, what an 80’s rock show used to be. It’s still the big stages. It’s the big drum riser. It’s the wall of lights – all the special effects. If you take away the cowboy hats they’re dressing pretty much like the 80’s artists were dressing. That is a very different world and a very different market that supports that artists and supports the music across the board.”
After sharing what he believes are the negative changes in the music business, Frankie addresses my “positive change” portion of my question.
“I can’t say that I’ve seen any at all. The advent of the CD when it came out and then the inevitable being able to record onto recordable CD’s; and then the internet, MP3’s and downloading has really taken its toll on the industry. It’s amazing, you have fans out there who are screaming, ‘Why aren’t bands putting out new music?’ Well, why put out the money to put out new music if some of these so-called fans are going to look for every possible way to download it for free? I don’t know if they don’t realize or don’t understand or don’t care that the only way to really produce music is to earn a living doing it. And, if you take it down to the most basic structure, you have record labels – most of them – are not ‘artist friendly’. For them, it’s just a business. But, having said that, in the old days you would get a label to give you and advance and you went out and made your record with that advance and, if you had anything left over the band made some money. Then the records were sold and the record label would recoup their advance on the artist and the artist would start making royalties.
“Well, what has happened is not only is it the artists that are being hurt by the illegal downloads but it’s also the record labels. So, what happens is the record labels aren’t making any money because their product is being illegally downloaded; ‘trickle-down economy’ to the artists not making any money for the same reason (the labels tell them) ‘We can’t afford to give you an advance because we’re not going to recoup it.’
“Then, the artists has to go out and come up with their own money to produce a record, to manufacture it, put it out there and they, too, have no hope of ever recouping the money. So, it’s pretty much become a still-born industry. There’s no label support for touring and you can break it down even further. You have all these bands that aren’t making a living off of their records so you have less tours going out and you have all these other bands who are vying for very few support spots. They, in turn, keep dropping their guarantee down in the hopes of beating another bands guarantee to get on that tour and it deflates the industry even further from that perspective.”
Banali’s response to me isn’t a positive one when I asked him what he thought the solution to the music business’s problems were.
“I really don’t know that there is a solution. I think the problem with illegal downloads from the sites in Russia and Eastern Europe, some in Latin American and some in Asia – it’s so widespread. I mean, anybody who has a computer – a laptop – can pretty much illegally download anything. Just about everybody these days in economically diverse countries most people have computers. It’s almost impossible to police it so, as long as the product is going to continue to be downloaded illegally, there’s no source of revenue.
“I think that radio has changed to the point that you cannot get promotion for anything. Even Quiet Riot, when we go out on the road – even if I were to put out a new record tomorrow – I would still end up going to the local radio stations with the product and they still wouldn’t play it. And when they’re promoting the shows, they would be playing Cum On Feel The Noize and Bang Your Head. So, I don’t know if there’s a way out of this situation. From that perspective it’s really bad. Quiet Riot is fortunate in that we have a long history and we have marquee value which makes it possible to continue to tour. Most of the bands that you see touring are touring just for that reason – based on their past history more so than their current history.
“The policy that Kevin and I always had was that, regardless of what was going on in the music industry, regardless of what the trends were, regardless of how deflated the industry was, we were going to continue releasing records, which we did throughout our career. The last record we released when Kevin was alive was in 2006 was called Rehab which was a great record. It was probably the best reviewed record we had since Metal Health and I’m gratified that Kevin received a lot of praise for his vocals on that record. So, if he had to leave us, at least he did knowing that people loved what he was still doing.
In wrapping up his answer, Frankie concludes, “So, I have every intention of going to the studio at some point and making a new record. I want to do it because it’s important to keep creating music and I want to do it because it’s part of the Quiet Riot legacy. But, I am not counting or depending on either label support to do it and I certainly can’t imagine that it’s not going to be illegally downloaded but it’s important for me to do. But, I’ll pick and choose when to do it and I’ll pick and choose how to do it because I’ll have to spend my own money to do it.”
Because of cases that I have heard about through friends, I suggest the very real possibility of a few widespread, well-publicized cases of viruses being spread via illegal MP3 downloads, in addition to continued label driven litigation, as creating a chilling effect on the problem and, thus, being one contributing solution.
“If that were to happen, it would be interesting. I don’t know if it would enough to really turn around the labels where they would actually want to sign new bands or want to sign former bands and give advances again. I also don’t know if that would really remedy the problem with radio because that’s also a huge problem. You could release new music all day long but if you write quality songs and they’re recorded and produced properly and radio doesn’t play it, then you’re still in the situation of ‘if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, did it make any noise?’, you know?
“The problem is huge. Unfortunately, it’s so multi-sided. Unless all of the problems are fixed then none of the problems are fixed.”
Our mutual friend, Rob Shanahan, told me prior to my call with him that Banali was working on a history of Quiet Riot and he tells me a little bit about what it’s all about.
“It’s a documentary. People have wanted me to do a book for awhile but I’m so busy with the business of Quiet Riot. I’ve managed the band for the last 17 years. But, it’s a documentary beginning with the history of the band. It continues to evolve because the story continues to be written so it’s very difficult for me, at this juncture, to say how it’s going and where it’s going other than the fact that the amount of footage we have is monumental. Interviews are still going on. It’s a work in progress. Hopefully, it will be completed by the end of the year.”
In reviewing that treasure trove in the Quiet Riot archives, I asked Frankie what’s been the most memorable thing that’s happened in all his years of touring with the band.
“A couple of things stand out. For the band, I think the US Festival was probably the greatest, early experience we had because, all of a sudden, it put us in front of a huge audience that, up to that point, had only heard rumors about the band. So, that was monumental.
“Playing the L.A. Forum was monumental the first time we played it. Then, the second time we played it, we headlined. It was a big venue and our hometown. For me, personally, it was playing Madison Square Garden because I’m originally from New York. My history with Madison Square Garden goes to as early as me not remembering - when I was a baby and my parents taking me to the Ringling Brothers circus. Then, when I got older, my dad used to take me to prize fighting boxing there. I used to go see concerts there. I saw Led Zeppelin there. So, to actually play Madison Square Garden was huge – just HUGE!”
Is “the Garden” his most favorite venue to play?
“I think emotionally it was but I think, probably, the single greatest experience for the band at a venue was in 1983 when we were still an opening act. We were the darlings of the opening acts. We were opening for so many different major bands at the time. But, in 1983, when we were still an opening act, the band was becoming so huge on radio that we were offered – on a day off – to headline Market Square Arena (Indianapolis and, interestingly, the site of Elvis’ last concert before his death) and we had Nazareth opening up the show. Quiet Riot sold out the place – over 15,000 people – while we were still an opening act for somebody else. That was our first real headlining show. That one stands out in my mind because it was unbelievable to know that over 15,000 people came to see the band. And, then, the next day I think that we were opening up for Iron Maiden. It was interesting from that point of view.
“When the Tacoma Dome first opened, they booked AC/DC. I think that the Tacoma Dome was something like 23,000 (seats). The show was selling well but the sales hadn’t really gone over the top. We might have been opening up for ZZ Top at the time. I don’t clearly remember but we were on the east coast and they offered us the opening spot at the Tacoma Dome for AC/DC. Our participation made it possible for the show to sell out, so that stands out in my mind, as well.”
If Frankie was a young musician just starting out, or coaching a young musician, starting out today, how would he enter the music business today, given what he knows now?
“Well, you have to be realistic. You have to look at the business the way it is now and not fall prey to the idea that you’ll put a really good looking band together and you’ll write some really, really good songs and you’re going to go out and get a really good record deal and then you’ll go out on the road and become rich and famous. The industry doesn’t work that way anymore.
“I think that it would be really important to start with the basics. Make sure that you know the material that you want to write and the type of band that you want to be. But you’ll also have to be prepared to have a lot of doors slammed in your face. There are a lot of doors that aren’t even there anymore! You have to be prepared to go out there and put a band together and play clubs throughout. To me, it’s so sad that bands these days have to go out and literally pay to play at a venue where they can get the slots at a club if they buy a hundred discounted tickets from the clubs and sell them to their friends or through MySpace or Facebook. That was something that simply did not happen when Quiet Riot started out. It’s really challenging.
“I wouldn’t discourage anyone from being a musician and putting a band together. I cannot imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t have music in it. It’s a huge part of my life. If music is a huge part of your personal life, then you should pursue it as a career with the understanding that the percentage – even during the best period of music – the best percentage that actually made it might have been ten percent. And out of that ten percent there might have been one percent or less that had a sustained career.”
His thoughtful answer triggered a related question: Is he surprised that people today still think the business is as it was back in the day?
“I think it’s foolish to have that mindset but it is human nature to do that. It’s the romantic side of things. I think musicians romanticize what it would be like to have been a band in the 70’s and be a Led Zeppelin or a Queen or a Free or any of those bands without realizing that not only is the industry not that way but life in general isn’t that way. I think that a lot of musicians view it that way for the same reason that period piece films are so incredibly popular. Everybody wants to look at what might have been a more prosperous time or more romantic time in history and that includes music. So, yeah, I think that it’s human nature to look at that.”
With all of that said, I asked Frankie if there are any artists or band out there that are commanding his attention these days.
“Um, not much. I’ve got to be honest with you. I haven’t heard anything out there that particularly impresses me. I continue to go out and add to my collection of CD’s of vinyl that I have that, for whatever reason, somebody has finally put out on CD. I’m aware of the new music because I like knowing what’s going on and I like knowing where the trends are going. I also ignore most of it at the same time. If it doesn’t meet the criteria of the music from my heroes – and I’m just talking the 70’s, I’m talking the 60’s, the 50’s and the 40’s – I’m just simply not interested in it.”
When I comment that I’m doing the same thing and that I prefer to have the physical and not download, Frankie adds, “That’s because we’re fans. One of the reasons why I respect fans so much – whenever possible I try to meet as many of them as possible and sign stuff is because I’m a fan, too. If you were sitting right here in my office right now, on my walls you would see Charlie Watts autographs, B.B. King and all three members of Cream and Buddy Rich and Miles Davis and Gene Krupa and it just goes on and on and on. And that’s because I’m a fan.”
What’s next, project wise?
“As far Quiet Riot is concerned, we will continue to do concert dates. We’ve got an Australian/New Zealand tour that we’re doing called Metal Health 2011 which we are headlining and supporting are Warrant, L.A. Guns and then there’ll be local support, as well. That begins at the end of April through the beginning of May then we come back to the states and continue touring. We’ll be at a couple of festivals here in the U.S.
“It’s a work in progress. And when I feel that the band is ready to go into the studio, we’ll take the band into the studio and record. But I’m in no rush to do it. If it’s not right, it’s not right. There’s no reason to rush to do it because, again, it will have to be self-financed, most likely, and for everything we’ve already discussed, there’s no reason to record at this point.”
With our time winding up, I asked Banali where he sees the band being five years from now.
“You know, I don’t even deal along those terms. When Kevin, God bless him, was with us, he loved the fact that I always had the one year plan, the three year plan and the five year plan. The last thing that I would have ever expected would have been that, on November 4th of 2007, would have been the last time that I would ever step on stage with Kevin and that was actually the last time I’d see him alive.
“So, right now, I really concentrate on the immediate future – nothing beyond a year at a time because it’s a work in progress and, as has been tragically proven to me, a lot can happen in a year.”
You can keep up with all the latest with Frankie Banali and the Quiet Riot crew by checking out www.officialquietriot.com.