Richie Ranno is a solo artist in his own right, as well as the lead guitar player/songwriter for the classic rock band Starz. His playing has influenced many and his songwriting has produced some of rock’s most memorable songs. I was introduced to the band when I heard the album “Coliseum Rock.” I was hooked after that and bought all their records. I enjoyed asking Richie these questions and getting to know a little more about him and a band I have loved since the first time I heard them.
Carl Hose: Richie, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. Your first band, right out of high school, opened for some heavy hitters right out of the gate. From what I gather, you opened for some of the big Midwestern bands, which is quite a feat for a band right out of the gate. In later years, as Starz, you also toured with heavyweights like Aerosmith, ZZ, Frampton, Nugent. Any fond memories, or memories you’d rather not have?
Richie Ranno: Yes, that was Bungi in Wisconsin. We opened for Fuse who later became Cheap Trick, Styx, Bob Seger & lots of other bands. My first band while I was still in high school, Andy’s Gang, also opened for some big bands in the Catskills – The Box Tops, The Left Banke, and I can’t remember who else.
CH: You were in the band Stories, but only on a touring basis. Is that right?
Richie Ranno: No, I recorded a couple of singles with them. The band had 2 albums out but then recorded a third before the guitarist, Steve Love, quit. Instead of the label releasing the third album, they released the single “Brother Louie.” That song went to #1 and the label re-pressed the second album with that song on it to boost sales. Right after it hit #1, Steve quit. I got the gig and then two months later the third album came out. But it had been recorded before I joined them.
CH: The formation of Starz came about in a way that might surprise some people. It sure as hell surprised me. The band was actually formed by members of a band called Looking Glass, who had a hit with a great song, “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl).” Their lead singer, Elliot Lurie, left, and the seeds of Starz were planted. I’m sure you were familiar with Looking Glass and their sound. What were you expecting musically when you hooked up with these guys?
Richie Ranno: I wasn’t expecting anything. I didn’t know that Dube & Peter were former members of the Looking Glass until after I joined. They were called The Fallen Angels when I hooked up with them. Michael & Brendan were added to the Looking Glass toward the end and when they wrote new songs, they changed their name and signed with Arista. Two singles came out but the album was never released.
CH: It can be argued that Starz is the precursor for 80s metal. Motley Crue, Poison, and Twisted Sister are just some of the bands that have cited you guys as an influence. “Live Wire” and “Fallen Angel”, recognizable as Motley Crue and Poison songs respectively, are titles and themes that can be found on the first Starz album, recorded in 1976. Consciously or subconsciously, that’s a nod in your direction. I think the material on the Starz records is as valid today as when it was recorded, and it certainly should have been featured more prominently in the landscape of 80 rock and metal. Do you see the correlation between Starz and the 80s metal scene or am I overthinking it?
Richie Ranno: Well, no, I don’t see or hear it, but I know it exists because of all the guys in those bands who have tracked me down to let me know the influence we had on them. Nikkie Sixx, all of Poison, Sebastian Bach & Lars Ulrich, just to name a few.
CH: The first and second Starz records, and “Violation” in particular, are considered the best by a lot of fans and were actually cited by Kerrang! as two of the most important heavy metal albums of all time. I actually started with “Coliseum Rock” and worked my way backward. From the opening chords of “So Young, So Bad” to the outright bombastic assault of the instrumental “Coliseum Rock,” both of which still give me chills today,” I knew Starz was a band I could dig. What order do you rank the four studio albums by Starz?
Richie Ranno: Oh, that’s a tough one. Attention Shoppers 4th – that was easy. The other three are very close but maybe the debut album – that’s my favorite.
CH: As a guitar player, were you influenced by other guitar players or were you more a affected by the genres and songs you were listening to as a whole?
Richie Ranno: Combination of both. I was very into Aerosmith (Get Your Wings) particularly, Sweet & Bowie (Spiders From Mars), but as a guitarist I was very influenced by Clapton in his Cream days, Page in the early Zep years, and Hendrix in addition to Jeff Beck and Randy California (Spirit).
CH: Correct me if I’m wrong, but the only constant members of Starz are you, Michael Lee Smith (vocals), and Joe X. Dubé, the drummer. Are you still working with those guys at all today, and is the relationship pretty good?
Richie Ranno: Yes, the three of us are still playing together & are recording a new album for the Frontiers label.
CH: You guys were managed by Bill Aucoin for a while, whose history with KISS is rock and roll history. Any KISS observations you want to make?
Richie Ranno: Yes, Bill was a great manager. Kiss did a great thing coming up with their stage show. True innovators.
CH: There have been a few CD releases of Starz albums through the years. Which of those releases are definitive or recommended by you?
Richie Ranno: I think “Live in Louisville” – the live double CD recorded in 1978 for a radio show.
CH: Do you use much of the new technology available to musicians today or are you more an old school guy? I’m thinking more in terms of recording methods.
Richie Ranno: For recording, yes, I have a whole digital recording setup – a Mac Pro with Digital Performer. It’s not as good as the old analog studios like The Record Plant, but it’s all that there is these days.
CH: How do you feel about the state of the music industry today? Are you saddened by what you see, will we ever see a respect for the artist again, are the glory days gone?
Richie Ranno: Glory days are gone. Just happy to have lived during that time. That’s life.
CH: What’s your songwriting process like? Do you write often, do you wait for the muse, work at home, that sort of thing.
Richie Ranno: I write all the time. Sometimes I start with the lyrics, sometimes with the music, sometimes all at once. Whatever the inspiration is.
CH: Coffee or tea?
Richie Ranno: Tea! Drank coffee once in my whole life.
CH: What kind of food gets you off the most?
Richie Ranno: I’m not into food other than to eat and survive. Vegetables, fruits, and some pizza and Chinese food!
CH: As a Jersey boy, what are your thoughts about Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and the two “Eddie and the Cruisers” movies?
Richie Ranno: Well, it’s all good stuff. I knew Bruce and used to go see his band when I was going to college on the Jersey shore in 1968 & ’69. Bruce’s band was called Child. They were amazing. The drummer was Vini Lopez. I just re-connected with Vini for the 1st time since – it was last weekend at a Rock Convention in the Philly area.
CH: What does the future hold for you as a solo artist and for the band Starz? Where is the best place for fans to keep up with the latest and most authentic information.
Richie Ranno: Well, with Starz, we’re recording a new album for Frontiers Records, a European label. For me, I’m always recording new songs. When I have 12 done, I’ll make some CDs. I don’t market them in any way at all. In fact, I probably won’t even put it on our website. I just write and record for myself. I’ll do an occasional video and put it up on YouTube. There’s no way to be successful at it, so I’m not about to bang my head against the wall in vain. Just do it for fun. I have a YouTube channel in my name that no one goes to, called “Richie Ranno.” There is also a Starz YouTube channel called, “Starzcentral.” There is a Starz Facebook page run by our tour manager called, “Starz Central” and there is a website: www.starzcentral.com I’m also on Facebook in my own name.
That’s about it. Just playing guitar and having fun doing it!