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Interview with Steve Riley
Part 2
Outside the Electric Circus
Drummer (LA Guns, Ex-WASP)

LA Guns

Interviewed by Greg Schmitt
Date: January 2008

Greg Schmitt: If you don’t mind, we’ll go back. You’re originally from Boston right?

Steve Riley: There was a band in Revere, Massachusetts where I’m from – It’s like north Boston, and we were a band called SASS. That was like a high school band that I was in and then as soon as I graduated high school, I was out of there, ‘cause the scene in Boston was very, very dismal at the time.

Greg Schmitt: So you went straight to LA at that point?

Steve Riley: No, I worked my way across. I went down to DC. There was a big music scene down in Washington, DC in the mid-70’s. ANGEL came out of there. The lead singer’s from Revere, Massachusetts. We grew up together. So Frank (DiMino) went down there to play – he’s a little older than me, but we were really good friends, and I kind of followed him down there. He took me down to DC, we did the clubs down there and I kind of worked my way across the country from that point to get to L.A. I stopped in Indianapolis, and Utah – everywhere, Chicago…, and then I ended up in L.A.

Greg Schmitt: What was your first gig in LA then?

Steve Riley: The first bass player from ANGEL – Mickey Jones – he was actually fired and they brought in that Felix (Robinson) guy to play bass and what happened was Mickey & I were friends from Boston - way when he was in Daddy Warbucks, I mean a long, long time ago, and we were good friends, and they came through Indianapolis, and me and my band went to me see them, and that’s when Mickey let me know he might not be in the band long, and would I want to come out to LA & I said, “That’s my whole thing, is to get out there”. This was in the mid-70s and he was out of ANGEL, and then bam – we started a band together. He flew me out to L.A. & then I flew a couple of guitar players out here. You know who the two guitar players were? One was Micki Free from SHALAMAR and the other one was Pete Comita, the guy who played bass in CHEAP TRICK. Those were two guitar players that I had played with in Chicago. And me and Mickey Jones flew those two guys out here to start a band, and it went on for a couple of years, we did some clubs and shit. That was a band called EMPIRE, and it was with Micki Free, myself, Pete Comita, Mickey Jones and a lead singer from L.A. that really never got off the ground, but then the band never got off the ground.

Greg Schmitt: In retrospect, it’s like an all-star band!

Steve Riley: In retrospect, for sure. But at the time, it was like ‘Who are these guys?’ But now I look back at it & I go wow – it could’ve been a really, really good band, but you know – that was a really weird time too, in the mid-70’s, everybody was feeling their way around, you know?

Greg Schmitt: Did you guys do any recording?

Steve Riley: We did, and I’ve got some demos that we did that we were trying to sell for record deals. And like I said it never got off the ground - It was too crazy. We took the band back to Chicago to play a bunch of clubs that we knew we could play around there. And from that point on, it sort of just disintegrated, you know.

Greg Schmitt: I bet you some people would be interested in that now.

Steve Riley: It sounded great. I’ve got some great recordings of it. It could’ve really gotten signed and taken off if we had some direction, you know?

I went to Indianapolis in ’75 from DC. One of the people from DC – a guitar player - he had moved to Indianapolis to join this band that had a record deal going, and the band was called ROADMASTER in Indianapolis. And I flew out there and I got the gig. I went from DC to Indianapolis, and just checked it out and played, and they liked me, so I joined, and we did one album. Todd Rundgren was producing, and it looked really promising, the whole band. And we were doing all kinds of dates around the Midwest, making money, and it was the best that I had ever done at that point.

The lead singer of that band was Asher Benrubi from MTV. Do you remember the VJ, Asher (Smash) ? He was down there for about four years and he was one of the VJs from MTV. He was the lead singer in ROADMASTER.

But anyway, the band decided they were gonna stay in Indianapolis, and I was like “We got to take this to LA or New York, somewhere where there’s attention.” I’m from the east coast, and I have friends on the west coast, and I knew you can’t stay in the Midwest and try to get this off the ground right now. But when they decided to do that, to stay in the mid-west, as soon as Mickey called me, I was gone. I had to leave. And I left a nice little situation too, where I was making money, there was a record out, I was living in a nice place. So I moved out to LA and we did this EMPIRE thing for a couple of years, and I got an offer to join STEPPENWOLF like in ‘78. It was one of the incarnations of STEPPENWOLF, and they were gonna pay me a lot of money to go out on tour with them. And I did that for about a year and a half, made some money, and got to see the whole country and everything. And that’s when I came back to L.A. and that STEPPENWOLF incarnation had broken up.

Greg Schmitt: Did you record with them or was it pretty much touring at that point?

Steve Riley Steve Riley: It was a band with the keyboard player and the bass player from the original band. And the lead singer was a guy that I had already known from L.A. – Tommy Holland. We had hung around the L.A. scene in the mid-70s trying to do shit, but not together. And when we both left STEPPENWOLF, we started a band called The B’ZZs in Illinois, and we got signed to Epic and we did an album. We were the first band on American Bandstand without a record deal. It was a whole big thing we had going on. It was nice, and it was doing good, and again, it just splintered. It didn’t have good direction. If you don’t have the right kind of machine around you, it’s gonna splinter, and that did the same thing. And that’s when I came back to L.A. from Chicago - when the B’ZZs broke up.

I was just doing any kind of shit in LA. I was doing $25 sessions, $50 sessions for people who were like lawyers and they wanted to do a demo, and they needed a drummer, and I answered the ad. And I was doing all kinds of shit like that just to make dough. And one of the people I did the session with said “Hey, you gotta call this guy and tell him you’ll beat his drummer’s ass, man, in playing drums” and I went “What?” And he goes, “No, call this guy. His name’s Ron Keel, man, they’re ready to do an album with Gene Simmons. Just tell him you’ll blow his drummer’s doors off,” and I was like “Whoa”. And you know who that guy was? It was the bass player from BADLANDS - Greg Chaisson. His brother happened to be the bass player in KEEL, Kenny Chaisson. And he told me call KEEL up. And I didn’t know who Ron was.

Greg Schmitt: So had Keel already put out albums at this point?

Steve Riley: He had already put out one album - It was the independent on Shrapnel (“Lay Down The Law”), and then he was getting ready to do his A&M record with Gene Simmons (“The Right To Rock”). So I called him up and he goes “Who are you?” and I said, “You gotta just give me a chance to come down there. I wanna play with you.” He said “Alright. I’ll clear a space one day,” and I went down there and I got the gig, and Gene came down and he liked it too, and so I ended up joining this thing and doing the album immediately. We went into the Record Plant, and immediately did the album. A couple of shows and then did the album.

Shit, I was in one of the weirdest spots I ever could be in, Greg. I was sitting in a studio with Gene Simmons at the Record Plant doing an album on A&M – best I’d been doing ever in my life. And I get a call in the Record Plant while I’m doing the background vocals – I had just finished my drum parts, and me and Gene & Ron are doing the background vocals. And we’re sitting around talking, and I got a call right there in the Record Plant with Gene sitting right there, and the caller was anonymous, He said “This Steve?” and I said “Yeah,” and he goes “I can’t tell you who I am but I need a drummer… dah dah dah dah dah – and we’re a big band, we’re getting ready to split for a European tour in two weeks.” And I was like “Whoa.” He goes “I know you’re getting ready to sign the management deal with KEEL, but before you sign that, will you come and meet me?” I go “Well who the fuck are you dude?” And he goes, “I can’t tell ya.” I go, “Oh shit. So he goes, “Just come and meet me.” And it was Blackie.

And I had never met Blackie, but I had seen him about a month before, and his drummer was kind of weak. Even though Tony Richards was good on the first album, but live he was kind of weak and he was really really like all over the place. And I had said to the person who was with me that night when we were watching WASP, I said, “I think I could fit into this band.” That was just an off-the-cuff fucking thing. I said, “I think I could power this band.” And that was Black who called me in the Record Plant and he says “Come on over and meet me” and I went over. He told me what was going on, and I was like “Oh shit.” He goes, “Yeah, I got the whole thing set up. We’re managed by Iron Maiden’s people and bah dah dah dah dah.” And he kept going on, and I just had to weigh one against the other. Two great scenes, but I took the WASP thing. I think I made the right decision.

Greg Schmitt: So you actually played on “The Right To Rock”?

Steve Riley: I did – I did the whole album. But they fucked me in the credits, Greg. Because I left, they were pissed off at me. They were so mad I was leaving to go to WASP without the album even completed. It was just my drum tracks (that) were done, and the guitars.

Greg Schmitt: But they kept them?

Steve Riley: You know what – they kept all my drum tracks and used them, but they gave me “Additional Drums” and they gave the new guy – I forget his name – they gave him the credit for drums but they said “Additional Drums: Steven Riley.”

Greg Schmitt: Dwain Miller?

Steve Riley: Yeah, Dwain something. And they gave me “Additional drums” but if you listen to it, you can tell it’s just one string of drums through the whole thing. I did the whole album, but you know, I got that call from WASP and they gave me the “Additional Drums” credit, but that was OK, because I was out touring with WASP and KISS and IRON MAIDEN - I didn’t even give a shit.

Greg Schmitt: So with WASP, you just went right on the tour right away?

Steve Riley: Immediately! I didn’t have a chance to even get into that character that they were playing - This whole scary over-the-top thing, and everybody in their different outfits & shit. I was coming from a straight type of rock band into this and I had to go get clothes made. I had to put this whole face on immediately and try to fit into this outfit that had been together for a couple of years. And they were this bloody fucking heavy metal outfit that sounded great. And I only had a couple weeks and we rehearsed our asses off and flew over to England.

We were jumping on the IRON MAIDEN tour, but before we got to the mainland of Europe, we had to do a bunch of England shows on our own. And the second one we did was at the Lyceum, and they recorded it. So that Lyceum show - I was only in the band for a couple of weeks by that point, but then we were starting to roll from that, and it just was like a fucking steamroller for the next couple of years.

Greg Schmitt: And from there, you opened for MAIDEN at that point?

Steve Riley: Oh yeah, we got the MAIDEN slot on every one of their tours, because we were managed by the same people. And we were on the same label, Capitol, together too. So we always got the MAIDEN tours all over the world. We toured everywhere with those guys. And we jumped on the KISS tour that year, too. A whole bunch of them. We didn’t stop touring for like a couple of years, and then we went in and did “Last Command”.

Greg Schmitt: When you were touring with KISS, did Gene remember you from the KEEL thing?

Steve Riley: Of course he did. Of course. I had to go in their dressing room and talk to him. ‘Cause we’re good friends, and I had talked to him, and I told him “Gene, I’m sorry the way that fucking thing went down.” He goes, “It’s a business decision.” He’s so business oriented that he realized it. He goes “No, it was a business move, and you most likely made the correct move.” And I go, “Wow, what about those credits, Gene?” He goes, “I know, what are you gonna do? I had nothing to do with that. That’s those guys saying to not give you the full credit.” I go, “I don’t even care - it’s alright.” But me and him are good friends, and I ran into him almost immediately after I left KEEL – we were on tour with KISS!

Greg Schmitt: Were you nervous at first like “Oh shit, he’s gonna be pissed”?

Steve Riley: Well, you know what? A little bit. Because he was so cool to me, and he’s such a giant – he’s such a giant person, and I was – I was like “Ah, I fucking hope I didn’t piss him off too much. I hope he realizes I had to do this.” And he did. He realized it immediately.

Greg Schmitt: So from there you go and do “The Last Command” album?

Steve Riley: Yeah, after a bunch of touring with WASP we did “The Last Command” album.

Greg Schmitt: Spencer Proffer produced that right?

Steve Riley: Yeah, Mr. Proffer over at Pasha House. And you know, we toured a lot on “Last Command”, and then Blackie ended up firing Randy, and that was the end of that killer version of WASP. As soon as he fired Randy Piper the whole sound, the whole look - everything changed in WASP. And that’s when my whole thing started going downhill with him, too, and I started clashing with Black a lot. ‘Cause I didn’t like the whole thing that was going on. Especially – nothing against Johnny Rod, but he never fit in the band. And he was a definite bad choice to make. I was put in charge of finding the bass player because Black wanted to switch over to guitar obviously, and he fired Randy, and he goes “Listen Steve, I need you to help me with this fucking bass thing, and finding a bass player.” Do you know one of the guys I auditioned – or not ME audition - I had him come in and I talked to him and he gave me his whole bio and the whole pictures, and then we had him come down and play was Kelly Nickels, and he fit in so good. He looked so good as a bookend with Chris Holmes, ‘cause both of them are real tall. It was before Kelly got in his motorcycle accident, so he was jumping all over the place, off the riser and everything, and he was just a great bookend – he was as tall as Blackie and Chris, he looked great up there, but he didn’t work out in Blackie’s eyes, and he chose Johnny Rod instead, who was a nice guy, but I didn’t think he fit into the band, and that’s when things started going downhill for me. And me & Blackie started clashing, and I ended up getting fired from the band! Well, me, Chris & Randy all got fired. (laughs.) Randy, then me, and then Chris.

Greg Schmitt: Why did he fire Randy?

Steve Riley: Oh dude, it was a bad move; one of the worst moves I ever seen because WASP was so good with that duel guitar thing with Randy & fucking Chris. It was just so good - one guy playing like Billy Gibbons, the other one playing like VAN HALEN. It was just a really, really good mixture, and he fired him over personal shit, not even playing shit, nothing to do with his playing. He was the 2nd vocal in the band, so everything that you hear on those first two albums – the second vocal behind Blackie’s, that was Randy. So now you’re losing half the lead guitar, half the vocals, and you have a different sound.

Greg Schmitt: You & Chris probably didn’t have much of a say at that point, when Blackie got rid of Randy, right?

Steve Riley: Not at all – our hands were tied. It was Black’s band. I realized that almost immediately, that this was gonna be Blackie’s band. And whatever he wanted, it was all geared towards him, and so I knew it was gonna be his band. And we’re good friends still nowadays, but there was like a 19 year period where I didn’t talk to him at all. I didn’t see him, I didn’t talk to him, and it wasn’t like I was avoiding him or not wanting to talk to him, I just never saw him for 19 years. And then a year and a half ago, we went on tour with WASP – LA Guns & WASP, and I went in the dressing room and we hugged and it was like, Goddamn it, man, long time, you know – it was really good because we had a lot of good wars we went through.

Greg Schmitt: I actually saw that show.

Steve Riley: Oh, you did? Right on.

That was the first time I’d seen him in about 20 years so it was good. But I tell you, I just really, really look back on that first WASP band with me Randy, and Chris & Blackie, and I just thought we could’ve gone on and really stripped it down with the outfits and went a little more darker and blacker sort of like a DANZIG type of thing, and with the same sound we had. And I thought we had a lot of legs to us, but personality things busted up the band for sure.

Greg Schmitt: (So) was it primarily Blackie’s control that caused all the tension?

Steve Riley: Oh yeah, it really did at the time, because he didn’t realize. He might realize now in retrospect what a good band he had at the time, because when we went on stage, we blew off MAIDEN, we blew off KISS, we killed everybody. Between ’84 and ‘87 when I was in that band, no matter who we opened for, we blew them off the fucking stage! And I’m not even pulling any punches – we killed everybody! We were so good, and so theatrical and dynamic. But it wasn’t just the show. We sounded really, really good live – vocals, guitar, everything pushing. But I just wish it had a little bit longer legs, but you know…

Greg Schmitt: In WASP, you toured with KISS more than once, then. ‘Cause “Electric Circus”, too, you opened for them.

Steve Riley: That’s right. And so we opened up a bunch of shows for them all over the country.

Greg Schmitt: It was very strange. I saw it in Connecticut with BLACK N BLUE, then a friend saw it in Massachussetts with you guys, and then in Poughkeepsie it was KING KOBRA or something.

Steve Riley: That’s funny. That was those days. Back then it seemed like we were jumping on and off of tours, too. Because we were doing so well at the time, we could jump off of tours and go do a shitload of shows on our own for really good money, and then jump back on a tour, so it was on and off, on and off. It was kind of fun, it was nice.

Greg Schmitt: What happened to all the old WASP props? Is there a giant head of you somewhere?

Steve Riley: You know what, I was thinking about that the other day. ‘Cause I have the case for the head. But the heads all got fucked up because so many kids from the audience were throwing quarters at them, and chipping their noses off. And by the time I was out of the band, we had already switched over to a new stage set with “Electric Circus”. And we had put those things in storage, and then Black said, “Do you want the case?” ‘Cause he was gonna throw out the heads – they were all chipped and fucked up. I wish I kept mine.

Greg Schmitt: (Laughing) Don’t know where the hell you’re gonna put it, but…

Steve Riley: I have the case! Now the case has a bunch of drum shit in it! (Laughs)

Greg Schmitt: >: (About) the “Live In the Raw” album - (How much of that) was doctored in the studio?

Steve Riley: Yeah, “Live in the Raw” is something that – I think I’m the only thing live on it! I really do. I didn’t go in and redo any of my drums. Those are the drums from those dates that we recorded.

Greg Schmitt: Because it seems very overdubbed…

Steve Riley: Oh, it is. Because they brought it in and we did all the guitars and a lot of the vocals. It sounds a little too clean. The audience sounds piped in. The whole thing sounds a little off. It doesn’t sound very genuine. I thought the performances and the songs were pretty good, but I thought WASP was way better than that live album.

Greg Schmitt: Was that Blackie’s call?

Steve Riley: >: All of it is. Nothing gets an OK in WASP without his OK. Absolutely. So that goes from recordings to photos to touring, merchandise – everything has to have his OK.

Greg Schmitt: (Now) I was always under the impression you left WASP for LA Guns.

Steve Riley: No, I got fired, bro. Just like everybody else in the original band. We all got fired.

Greg Schmitt: Were you guys all on salary at the beginning of WASP?

Steve Riley: We were all making money, and we were all moving ahead. Black was making more money because he had a production deal set up too, so he was making more money, and it was his band. He owned the name – everything. But we were all making money. We were working and touring, and then we just got fired. Everything was still going good when we got fired. I mean, I got fired right after headlining Long Beach Arena!

Greg Schmitt: Management didn’t try to talk him out of it or anything?

Steve Riley: No, it was so fucked up. And it slowed him down so bad, it wasn’t even funny. It kind of really hurt him bad for a long, long time, and still hurts him because no matter who he puts together in that WASP,…

Greg Schmitt: At this point, he doesn’t even try to pretend it’s a band, I don’t think.

Steve Riley: No he doesn’t. It’s just his band. Whoever’s in his band – yeah. WASP

Greg Schmitt: So, will we ever see a WASP reunion? (Laughing)

Steve Riley: I don’t think so, because Black, on the other hand, has this personality problem with Randy Piper. And with the Chris thing – Chris is kind of fried right now. I love him, and he’s a dear friend of mine, but I ran into him about a couple months ago, and hugged him, and we talked for a couple minutes. But I could see in his eyes, he’s kind of like worn down, he’s kinda burnt out. And a lot of it has to do with his personal lifestyle – drugs and drinking. But a lot of it has to do with – He was beat down by Black. The guy’s beat down to the ground.

Greg Schmitt: What’s he doing now?

Steve Riley: Nothing. I don’t know. He might be doing a little bit of construction here and there, and playing guitar in some cover bands here and there, but him & Randy - they got beaten down by Black. When both of them went through the Blackie thing, they never recovered. And me – you gotta have some luck, on the other hand. I didn’t go find LA GUNS – they found me. But it was a luck thing. You know, timing and all that shit – I was there at the right time.

Greg Schmitt: But you have your chops, and you’re professional, and you get the job done, you know?

Steve Riley: Yeah, I had been doing it for so long before I even got to WASP that I knew you had to be cool, and just hit your mark, and be good. It’s a sad thing with the LA GUNS thing, because we were a really, really good band. Kind of an underground band - we didn’t have the G’NR success. But we were a really, really good band – the five original guys.

Again, I’d like to thank Steve for his time, and for being so cool. Thanks for sharing great old stories, and having such an open and honest conversation with us. If you missed part one, be sure to check it out here:
**Special thanks to Jennifer Bartram-Schmitt for the transcription**


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