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Frankie Banali “Insights from a Metal Legend”

Frankie Banali "Insights from a Metal Legend"

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Ludwig drums recently conducted an in depth interview with Quiet Riot drummer Frankie Banali.

The legions of drummers spawned by the Heavy Metal Heyday of the early-to-mid 80’s came a dime a dozen; each sporting huge set-ups, huge hair-dos, and enormous egos. While many of these denizens of the double-kick sect have disappeared into the “Where Are They Now” file, there is one that continues to “…hit the drums like they owe (him) money.” Frankie Banali is of a different breed from among these players. A true aficionado of the music and slave to the groove, Frankie’s drumming echoes the sound of many of his influences (which, as you will see in the following interview, he wears proudly on his sleeve.) Candid and outspoken, unabashed and yet a true gentleman, Frankie has seen it all and lived to tell the tale; which he does –much like his career- writ large.

Frankie Banali: Before we begin, let me first say that for rock music from Ringo with The Beatles, to John Bonham with Led Zeppelin (and so many more in-between, more on that later!) the Ludwig drum sound was pivotal in the development of how drums should sound. And this doesn’t even include the influence of Buddy Rich while masterfully playing his Ludwig drums in the field of jazz, big band and swing during certain periods of his career. Ludwig drums are as relevant and powerful now as they were then…

Ludwig HQ: What is your schedule like for the next few months?

Frankie Banali: I continue to do sessions. I expect the usual slow-down in November, and then the habitual music industry grinding to a halt in December for the holidays; which invariably continues through January. Then, slowly, the industry resuscitates itself back to some abnormal sense normality in February.

I am involved in a new project called “FREAKSHOW”, which I am excited about. The tracks have now been recorded and mixing will commence around the middle of September. I am really happy with the drum tracks for these recordings and I love the songs. I used the Ludwig re-issue Amber Vistalite Zep Set, and they recorded amazingly well. It’s not the first time I’ve used the Ludwig “V’s” in the studio; having done so with both the Amber set, and two of my vintage kits (a yellow 1975 and a clear 1976.) The Vistalite’s are largely considered by most recording engineers, producers and some musicians as un-recordable; but I beg to differ and I play them wide open.

Ludwig HQ: What do you have planned for your clinic at the Hollywood Vintage and Custom Drum Show?

Frankie Banali: I want to focus on the “Power and the Groove” as it applies to drumming. The majority of my career is based on recording and playing live with various groups and musicians. My focus has always been on the importance of the song first, and how the drums enhance the song and the band. Unlike many drummers who are known for the expertise in soloing, if I am known for anything at all, it is for what I have contributed to the songs from the drummer’s perspective. To me it’s always been about the groove rather than the individual as a drummer. Personally, I’ve always tried to play with authority and individuality, but not at the expense of the song or the musicians. It’s all about the groove.

Ludwig HQ: Quiet Riot was the first metal band to break through to the mainstream with a chart-topping single and album. What was it like for you to reach this level of success so early in your career?

Frankie Banali: I was fairly realistic when we reached the pinnacle of success, with the “Metal Health” record reaching #1 on the Billboard Top LP’s and Tapes chart, and #5 with the single “Cum On Feel The Noize” on Billboard’s Hot 110 chart on November 26, 1983. To put into perspective how historic this was, Metal Health had to climb over albums by Lionel Ritchie, Michael Jackson, The Police and Billy Joel -all established hit makers- which no one would call an easy feat. I also understood that the elusive elevator of success travels both up, and eventually and invariably down.

Having said that, I had already been fortunate enough to have recorded the hit single “Mony Mony” for Billy Idol’s debut EP “Don’t Stop”, as well as drum tracks for the Hughes/Thrall record (which featured Glenn Hughes from Deep Purple and Pat Thrall from Automatic Man and the Pat Travers Band.) I had just returned from Germany where I recorded with keyboardist Tony Cary (fresh out of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.) I was already both somewhat experienced and very fortunate. Perspective was somewhat easier for me to comprehend.

Ludwig HQ: Where there any drawbacks?

Frankie Banali: No more than there are in life in general or any other profession. With success comes a lot of demands, which are to be expected. You can’t dream of being a successful musician and then complain about the constant touring, which feeds the industry and your career. Yes, the touring was exhausting early on, because we toured under the worst possible circumstances. First in two station wagons and a rental truck, then a Winnebago, then a low end Eagle bus that spewed more exhaust inward than outward. But we were touring! It improved as we earned more money, and time off from the road usually meant that we would fly to LA to shoot a video or a TV show. But it was great, it was wonderful and I would not trade one single experience –neither good or bad- because I achieved many of my dreams as a musician along the way. If you look at life as neither being fair or unfair, you get the sense that life is just life; so do the best you can while you can and make the best of it. Enjoy the ride, as much as the ride and you allow it to.

Ludwig HQ: What were you doing when you were asked to join Quiet Riot?

Frankie Banali: I was in five bands all the time, playing all the LA clubs and doing a number of sessions, some of which were released and others that were not. I played around LA a lot, which worked as a showcase for my drumming style. This led to working on production demos in 1980/81 with Roy Thomas Baker, who was one of my producing heroes for his work with Free and Queen (to name just a few.) Roy would later hire me to record drum tracks for Andy Taylor (Duran Duran,) for the soundtrack to the film “American Anthem” in the mid 80’s (which featured the single “Take It Easy” the video of which has Terry Bozzio playing to my recorded drum tracks. Around the same time I recorded drum tracks with Roy for Yes vocalist Ian Anderson‘s “3 Ships“ release. I also worked early on with Andy Johns who is famous for recording Led Zeppelin, in 1980 when he recorded a band that I was in and loved called “Monarch” at the Record Plant with Michael Monarch the guitarist from Steppenwolf and Detective. That was a great band and it was the band that Kevin DuBrow first saw and heard me play with and then asked me to join QUIET RIOT. This was on January 30, 1980 at a small club in the LA suburbs, but it was a number of months before I took up Kevin’s invitation. Monarch only did a few more shows before breaking up, one was opening up for the newly formed Missing Persons with Terry Bozzio which was a free drum lesson for me. At the final Monarch date I met guitarist Trevor Rabin and he asked me to record tracks with him. Trevor later joined “Yes” and a great number of the tracks on the Yes landmark release “90125” I recorded the demos with Trevor and I still have those tracks in my archives. It really was such a musically creative and exciting time for me then. The LA music scene was so alive!

Ludwig HQ: What were the “Metal Health” sessions like, and what are your drumming recollections of those sessions?

Frankie Banali: The Metal Health sessions were very disjointed. Initially the band was called “DuBrow” because Kevin wanted some separation from the first version of QUIET RIOT which included the late great Randy Rhoads. We only changed the name back to QUIET RIOT while deep into the sessions because the label wanted the band to have a band “name“ and everything that was suggested didn‘t click. “DuBrow” had turned into a revolving door of musicians the year before we recorded Metal Health. Kevin and I had planned to record with bassist Chuck Wright and guitarist Bob Stephan, but there was a falling out between Bob and the band. There was another guitarist involved as well prior to Carlos Cavazo being asked to join the band. I actually have different versions of a number of QR songs with three different guitarists from this period.

When we started the Metal Health sessions, it was all on available time at the studio, so no real recording schedule. The Pasha studio had a small drum room that was fairly dead acoustically. I went out and acquired about eight sheets of 4 X 8 plywood and stood those up against the walls to create some reflection. The room had a low ceiling and further complicated by a dropped acoustic tile ceiling. I removed the tile to get even more reflective surfaces and it also allowed for the overhead mic’s to have more height. This is something that I had also done when I hade previously recorded there for the Billy Thorpe’s “East Of Eden’s Gate” Randy Bishop and the Underdog’s “Dangerous Infatuation” and a couple of Danny Spanos records all released by Pahsa through CBS records before the Sony moniker change. For the QR sessions we used my personal Senheiser 421 microphone for the kick drum, it was a really old model, the gray ones with the hardwired cable, and I still have that mic. The drum set I used for the Metal Health record and everything else at that time was my 1969 Ludwig green sparkle set, 14 X 26, 12 X 15, 16 X 16, 16 X 18 and my 1976 Supraphonic 6.5 X 14 snare drum. I later stopped using the 15” rack tom and went down to a 10 X 14 tom. I still have that set as part of my ever growing collection. Engineer Duane Baron and I were instrumental in the development of what was a huge drum sound for 1983. Duane knew how to record me in the way I played and the drum sound I brought in which was very, very live with no dampening or muffling whatsoever.

In mid sessions we parted company with bassist Chuck Wright, although he appears on the tracks “Metal Health/Bang Your Head” and “Don’t Wanna To Let You Go” those already having been recorded. This was around the time that Randy Rhoads passed away as the result of the tragic plane crash, and Rudy Sarzo left Ozzy Osborne’s touring band to join QUIET RIOT. A lot of people think that Kevin DuBrow wrote “Thunderbird” as a tribute to Randy, but in actuality he wrote the song when Randy left to join Ozzy and Randy had agreed to and was scheduled to come in and record “Thunderbird” with us for the Metal Health record. Randy is missed. He was a great talent and a great person. May he rest in peace.

Ludwig HQ: It has been said that Slade liked QR’s version of “Cum On Feel The Noize” better than their original. Is this true?

Frankie Banali: If that is true, they never told us! I think they were a little bitter about our success with their song. They had a hit with it in other territories but not in the US and later our version overshadowed theirs worldwide. Any real success in the US always seemed to elude Slade, so QUIET RIOT having a major hit with “Cum On Feel The Noize” was bittersweet for them. When QUIET RIOT played the Hammersmith Odeon in London opening up for Judas Priest in 1983, we offered them an invitation complete with a limo service to attend the show, but they never responded. Later I was shopping in Kensington Market and ran into (Slade bassist,) Jimmy Lea, who co-wrote of the song. I wanted to shake his hand and thank him for writing a great song. He looked into my face, and walked away leaving me with nothing in my hand but air! I look at the situation like this: QUIET RIOT received a great measure of success with the help of that song, and Slade received a great deal of money for their trouble. Fair enough!

Ludwig HQ: It is also rumored that you and Kevin Dubrow were against covering it; true or false?

Frankie Banali: True. I really didn’t care either way. To me it was a good song, but just another song. Kevin, on the other hand, hated the song! He thought “Mama Weer All Crazy Now” (another Slade song we later recorded for Condition Critical,) was a better choice. But the producer thought that “Noize” was the one. Kevin wanted nothing to do with it. I understood that we could not avoid the issue, so we decided to not work on the song or rehearse it. When asked to record the song, it would sound so awful that it would be set aside. On the morning of that particular session, the producer asked for us to play the track. I had already privately confided with Duane, the engineer, of our plans for not recording “Noize”, so he was ready to push RECORD anyway for comedic value. I didn’t even have an intro for the song, so when the producer said “Let’s hear it!” I counted it off and for the first time played that intro and just kept going. I made it through the entire song, and the producer said “Great, Duane recorded it and we have the drum track!” Meanwhile, Kevin is sitting across from me glaring, smoke coming out of his ears! He took me aside and said…. “What was that? What am I supposed to do now?” I replied “Sing it poorly; you know how to do that, don’t you?” It took a few minutes, and though he started to laugh at the joke, he was still clearly angry. In the final analysis, we both agreed that it was the right song, the right performance, the right time, and if not for that song, who knows how my own personal career might have evolved! I am very grateful for that song, QUIET RIOT, and yes, grateful to Slade for having written it!

Ludwig HQ: QR’s version has recently seen a resurgence in video games (Grand Theft Auto, NHL 2K8, Rock Revolution,) and movies (Tropic Thunder.) Why do you think the track has such staying power?

Frankie Banali: The two most representative tracks from the Metal Health record are “Cum On Feel The Noize” and “Metal Health/Bang Your Head”, which seem to have captured a sense of what the music of the period was. These tracks have become iconic representations of a time and place in music history and could arguably be called part of the soundtrack of that generation. The fact that they have endured over 25 years, and have crossed over to a couple of new generations is a testament to what QUIET RIOT accomplished; it really needs no further justification. We were very lucky, and we worked very hard for those accomplishments. Metal Health has gone on to sell well over 10 million units worldwide as of 2003. We must have done something right!

Ludwig HQ: What goes through your head when you hear it now?

Frankie Banali: It’s been so long since I recorded the tracks that I don’t think about it, other than taking pride in them. I will admit that to be at a sporting event, or watching one at home, and hear it being played to unanimous approval from the crowd is really beyond description. Also, my 11 year old daughter takes a lot of pride in letting her friends know that it is her daddy playing drums when it comes on a video game, which puts a smile on my face!

Ludwig HQ: Everyone hears about the decadence of the Heavy Metal Heyday of the early-to-mid Eighties. As a member of a band that pioneered that kind of image, are the “Behind the Music” stereotypes true?

Frankie Banali: With regards to the VH1 generated “Beyond The Music” shows, you really need to view those as a set format, in a way a tried and true plot, which every show follows. They all have the “Humble Beginnings” portion, the “Rise to Success and Excess” portion, the “Personal Tragedies/Road to Redemption”, and the end of the story…for now! Sensationalism at every level sells interest, so the story line is directed toward and feeds off of that. While the stories are generally true, there are many aspects of the story, the interviews, etc., that are unused simply because it’s not titillating enough to include; but therein you loose a lot in the progression of the stories. Understand that this is not criticism, but an observation as an overview. There is just so much time to cover a story, and I am just happy that they chose to include QUIET RIOT!

As to the stereotypical portrayal of the bands from the 1980’s, let’s just say that if you get a 50 gallon drum and fill it with dog food, the dog will eat until it explodes if he can get to it! Much is the same for the bands and musicians from that genre. We all had a great time, it was a great ride! For the most part, we all got whatever we wanted, a few have managed to retain their success (or part of it,) and a lot did not. Many fell to the wayside, or worse, through lifestyle choices. Every ride has a beginning, a middle, and an eventual end; no matter how many tickets you have.

Ludwig HQ: The Metal community, and indeed the music community at large, was saddened by the passing of QR front man Kevin Dubrow in 2007. At the risk of getting too personal, how did this affect you?

Frankie Banali: I was devastating on a personal level and life changing on a professional level. I knew and worked with Kevin for nearly three decades. We had our up’s and down’s (all well documented,) but we managed to remain friends through it all. That friendship was resuscitated when he asked me to rejoin the band in 1993, after QUIET RIOT had been largely dormant since late 1989. Our friendship continued to grow until the very end.

Ludwig HQ: What did you do to get through such a heavy personal blow?

Frankie Banali: I’m still not through it, I am in disbelief at the reality and finality of Kevin’s passing. Kevin and I shared a twenty-seven year personal and musical friendship, that encompassed both great triumphs, as well as difficult and hard times. We were like brothers in many ways, which sometimes found us at great odds with each other. One of Kevin’s most endearing qualities was also to his detriment; as he was outspoken, and you always knew where you stood with him. This quality made for close friends, but also many critics of his point of view. Kevin had so many sides to his personality that few saw beyond his stage and professional persona. Musically, he knew more about the bands we loved from the musical periods we grew up with than anyone I’ve ever known. And if you were one of his close friends, he always made you feel like you were the most important person in his life. He was always incredibly supportive of my drumming, more so than anyone I’ve ever known.

I find comfort in knowing that the last three years of Kevin’s life he was the happiest I had seen him since the glory days of QUIET RIOT. I am also comforted in knowing that the last time we saw each other at the airport for our respective flights home I said "I love you my brother. Have a safe flight and please call me when you get to Vegas so that I know you got there all right." He replied "I love you too my brother" and we hugged. We shared similar sentiments on our last phone conversations, e-mails and text messages. In this, I have no regrets.

The link for the entire interview @ Ludwig’s site is found HERE.

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