Steve Riley of L.A. Guns has been playing drums for 50 years!
HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT
Here’s a METAL SLUDGE exclusive with star drummer Steve Riley from L.A. Guns
By Gerry Gittelson
Metal Sludge Contributor
HOLLYWOOD – Hard-hitting drummer Steve Riley from L.A. Guns is ready to hit the road again. The band has a bunch of dates lined up, starting a national tour Feb. 20 in North Dakota – why start in North Dakota, we don’t know – including the five-day Monsters of Rock Cruise in March, then a return to Los Angeles for a Whisky show March 23.
The feud with former guitarist Tracii Guns is settling down, as L.A. Guns continues to record and tour while Guns does not do shit, and all Riley and his band mates want to do is to keep playing music.
L.A. Guns has sold millions of records, though not so many since their peak with “Ballad of Jayne” in 1990, and despite a stream of personnel changes and in-fighting through the years, the band has managed to keep on going like an Energizer bunny.
What’s the secret? Read on.
The classic L.A. Guns line up
METAL SLUDGE: First thing, I have to ask you about Tracii Guns. He said some terrible things about you on national TV on “That Metal Show” with Eddie Trunk on VH1. Basically called you a thief. You appeared on the same show but basically took the high road. This is Metal Sludge, Steve. Tell us how you really feel.
STEVE RILEY: You know, it was comical almost. When I first saw it, it was a little shocking because we had some good times and shit. The thing is, it doesn’t bother me because of Tracii’s track record that shows he’s burned a bridge with everyone he’s ever played with. There was nothing shocking. I have no feelings at all about it. Like I said, it’s comical because what’s he’s saying is untrue. Why would everyone still be working with me? In this business, I’ve never had any financial issues with anyone, not even once. I’ve never had a problem, and no one has ever accused me of anything like that.
METAL SLUDGE: But just having been in the same band together and have someone say things like that about you. It’s got to feel like a punch to the stomach or something.
STEVE RILEY: On the Trunk show, I didn’t want to make a big rebuttal because I wanted to talk about the new stuff. I’m older than most of us who have ever had a record deal. I did so much before L.A. Guns, a lot of stuff. I’ve worked with a lot of guys, so many. Tracii is the only one who has ever said that about me. It’s comical.
METAL SLUDGE: Please go on.
STEVE RILEY: When I first got in L.A. Guns, I had already been in WASP, so we had a meeting, and we said, “Hey, we’re all in this thing together,” and they wanted me to be the conduit to management, because I had the experience, so that’s what I ended up doing. Later, at one point I had to retool the whole thing with new management, a new agency, a new merchandise deal, everything across the board, and it was put in my hands by my band members. I had the experience, so I took care of the business. It all went in the shit can in the 1990s, but I was the one who was still finding us work and making us some money. I don’t rip people off. I was the one getting them work and keeping L.A. Guns successful.
Watch "Ballad of Jayne" by L.A. Guns
METAL SLUDGE: You’ve been married for 29 years. That has to add some credibility.
STEVE RILEY: Yeah, and I’ve got a kid in college. He’s not a delinquent. He went the other way, away from his dad (laughs). The guy is doing great, and I try to support him in every way I can.
METAL SLUDGE: Is he musically gifted?
STEVE RILEY: He loves music and the whole thing. He’s touched on playing some instruments, but his real interest is just in a love for music like a music scholar. He knows it all going all the way back to the 60s.
Steve Riley (right) during his stint in the shock rock band W.A.S.P.
METAL SLUDGE: What did he think of you guys throwing raw meat into the crowd when you were in WASP.
STEVE RILEY: He thought it was hilariously funny. He saw it on video, on film. The entire situation, he thought it was hilarious. But he also got it that it wasn’t just about theatrics because there was some good players and some real substance in WASP, and that balanced things out in that band.
METAL SLUDGE: I remember the song “Tormenter” with the torture rack sound effect. Loved that song. And you did Keel “Right To Rock,” too, right?
STEVE RILEY: Yeah, I was doing the Keel album, in the studio, when WASP fired their drummer. It was right in the middle of Keel when I was asked to join WASP. I was there in the beginning for both bands.
METAL SLUDGE: So you’ve worked with both Ron Keel and of course Blackie Lawless from WASP. Two great singers known for having attitude problems, Steve.
STEVE RILEY: You know what, bro? I still get along with both of them. In this business, things just blow up. Someone has a little attitude, then someone else has a bigger attitude, and you know how it goes. But I get along fine with both, and I enjoy being around both of them. I wish WASP had never broken up and that we hadn’t all got fired, but still.
W.A.S.P. – Johnny Rod, Blackie Lawless, Chris Holmes & Steve Riley
METAL SLUDGE: Blackie Lawless fired you. Were you shocked? Was it hard to take?
STEVE RILEY: It was a little shocking when it happened, but it was almost like it was in the cards. Because he had fired Randy Piper, so that’s when I knew something was going down. He was dismantling the band. I was next, then Chris Holmes, so that was the whole band.
METAL SLUDGE: Were you resentful?
STEVE RILEY: Of course I was, but only for a short time. All the resentment and shock was short-lived because I joined L.A. Guns like a month or so after.
Watch "Wild Child" by W.A.S.P.
METAL SLUDGE: There was one bright side: From WASP to L.A. Guns, you didn’t have to change your wardrobe because both are known for wearing black all the time. You had black hair, too.
STEVE RILEY: Yeah, you know, I always did. I just like black, and I like black hair. There’s just something about it. How can you go wrong with black because black and rock and roll go together, right?
METAL SLUDGE: Plus, you get to hit things for a living, and it’s something you’ve been doing for a long time. I guess all great drummers live a stress-free life because you get to take out your frustrations by hitting the drums.
STEVE RILEY: It is a good way take out your frustrations. I’ve been doing it so long that I’m 57 and I started when I was 7, so I’ve been doing it for 50 years, a half-century! It’s hard on me in some ways but I love it.
Steve with the one & only CC Banana, a true Sludge legend. RIP AJ.
METAL SLUDGE: Here’s an interesting thought: If you’re angry or in a bad mood, you play even better. Is that right?
STEVE RILEY: I dunno. Sometimes maybe. Sometimes you can slam when you’re frustrated, but you should hit the mark every time, the same way, every night. But I see what you’re getting at, and yeah, it’s a great way to take out your frustrations.
METAL SLUDGE: Talk a bit more about your marriage. You’ve been married for 29 years, so that’s got to be longest of all your friends, especially in this business.
STEVE RILEY: I gotta tell ya, we’re like close to breaking the record. We’re really close. Most of my friends have been married and divorced a couple of times. She was with me from the start, even before Keel and WASP, and it’s kind of cool just having someone you can reminisce with, and we both know exactly what the other one is talking about, and that’s a cool thing.
METAL SLUDGE: Do you remember the beginning? The spark?
STEVE RILEY: I just fell in love with her. Who knows? It just happened, and I just kind of latched onto her, and she latched on to me. I wasn’t working at the time, kind of between gigs.
METAL SLUDGE: She believed in you.
STEVE RILEY: She did.
METAL SLUDGE: That’s a big turn-on.
STEVE RILEY: Absolutely. Out there in L.A., I’ve learned how it is. The life of a musician, there comes a point where you start making good money, but everything goes in cycles. A lot of us aren’t prepared for how everything goes in cycles.
METAL SLUDGE: It sounds like you’re saying you’ve had some tough years.
STEVE RILEY: I have. I’ve had some really tough years, just like musicians in New York had tough years, in Seattle some tough years, in Philly and Boston. It’s getting better now.
METAL SLUDGE: And just so we’re straight, you’re version of L.A. Guns has Phil Lewis as the singer and Scott Griffin on bass.
STEVE RILEY: Yes, and we changed guitarists. Stacey Blades, who we are all cool between us, he left because of the way we have to tour now, we really have to dig in. It’s like guerilla warfare out there, it’s not easy, this type of touring. To pull it off on the road is tough, and we understand that Stacey didn’t want to do that anymore. So we got Michael Grant now, and we love him.
METAL SLUDGE: A good fit, you mean.
STEVE RILEY: Here is the way I see it: The whole attitude about being a rock guitarist changed when Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads came along, and they were both great. But they changed guitar playing because all of sudden speed became a factor, and suddenly guitarists were trying to play as many notes as they could all over the neck of the guitar. Michael never went that way, and that’s impressive.
METAL SLUDGE: Not everyone did. Look at Slash.
STEVE RILEY: Yes, totally. Slash is such a great example. It’s a style thing, the melodic mode. More basic but so tasty, and I really admire that. We sort of lucked out and ran into him in the studio. We talked to him, then we just jammed, and it sounded great. So now he’s in, and he’ll be there with us for the long run. The best thing is, he gets it. He gets the music.
Metal Sludge first did "20 Questions" with Steve Riley way back on May 25th 1999
Gerry Gittelson can be reached at email@example.com