STARZ / Stories Guitarist
Richie Ranno

FIB MUSIC:  What's new? What's in the future?

Richie:   Sony/BMG is releasing "Live In Cleveland", in September, recorded in 2004. It was recorded 24-track digital. Brendan missed his flight so there's only one guitarist, myself. I played differently and it sounds fine. Has a big sound to it. I'm also going to be at the national merchandise show, MAGIC in Las Vegas. Starz signed a merchandising deal and the company is flying 1 member of each group they signed - Kip Winger, Steven Pearcy, Jesse Dupree, Pat Travers, Frank Dimino, Chip Z'Nuff, among others. Should be fun.

FIB MUSIC:   STARZ was an epic 'Classic' first album amongst classic debut albums. How come the band never seemed to repeat those types of songs in so strong a format?

Richie:  Sorry, I thought we did. Particularly on Violation - Subway Terror - STEADY, Violation.

FIB MUSIC:  Who wrote the bulk of the material / What were the inspirations for the first album?

Richie:  It was pretty much a group effort. Michael wrote all the lyrics except Tear It Down. I wrote slightly more of the music

Michael Lee Smith & Richie Ranno
FIB MUSIC:  "Monkey Business" seemed to be about drug abuse? "Night Crawler" about a Serial Killer? The classic, "Pull the Plug", was that about Karen Ann Quinlan? Tell us the story.

   There were more than one of those Euthanasia cases going on in NY at the time. There was one in Long Island where a person actually pulled the plug on a loved one. The song was a combination of both those cases. The cases were the headlines of the newspapers every day in NY and we were in the songwriting process at the time. Michael heard us playing that music and the lyrics just happened.

FIB MUSIC:  Nothing could top "Boys in Action", "Detroit Girls", "Live Wire" and "Tear it Down". These songs had a real 'rock and roll' sort of a KISS feel to them. Was the band influenced by KISS at all?

Richie:  Slightly - but really only myself. I really liked the 1st Kiss album a lot but the other guys weren't into them at all.

FIB MUSIC:  Any cool, brilliant, sucked moments come to mind when reflecting on the recording sessions for the self-titled release?

Richie:  I remember it as a great time. We didn't take a long time to record it at all. It was done at the Record Plant, NY - possibly the greatest and most legendary studio in history. Kiss was recording Destroyer in the next room over and Billion Dollar Babies (Alice Cooper Band without Alice) was in another room so we all got to hang out a lot.
FIB MUSIC:   Who were some of the bands you toured with to support that record

Richie:  Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Rush, BOC, ZZ Top.

FIB MUSIC:  Any great moments or moment stand out from that tour?

Richie:  That tour was really great because from the 1st show, the week our album came out, we got encores every night as an unknown opening act. I think that pissed Aerosmith off but the other groups we played with were really cool.

FIB MUSIC:  STARZ' first 1975 promo photo shows both bassist Peter Sweval and drummer Joe X. Dube, wearing (horrors!-facial hair), moustaches, yet in the 1976 photo, while Peter's is gone, Joe's trademark waxed handlebar moustache remained. What was up with that?

Richie:  I don't think it was anything planned. Dube still has that moustache today.

FIB MUSIC:   What did the 'X.' stand for in Joe X. Dube's name?

Richie:   Absolutely nothing.

FIB MUSIC:  We hear that several STARZ members used to be in the 1960's group LOOKING GLASS of "Brandy" fame?Who were they, and what were their original names?

Richie:  Peter Sweval and Jeff Grob (aka Joe X Dube). Brandy was a hit in 1971 actually.

FIB MUSIC:  Any other STARZ band members from famous 60's bands?

Richie:  I was in the group Stories - Brother Louie #1 in 1973. But, I joined the group right after the song hit #1. The previous guitarist quit the band to make it big in Jobriath. Guess that didn't quite happen as planned.

FIB MUSIC:  How did you all meet and form STARZ? How did a NYC 'Yankee' band find a singer from Atlanta of all places?

Richie:  Starz didn't form, it morphed. The Looking Glass had a 2nd hit with Jimmy Loves Maryanne in 1972. Right after that they decided to add another guitarist - Brendan Harkin - 1 month later the singer/guitarist quit. They looked around for a new singer and found Michael Lee Smith. They still had lots of high paying gigs coming up and they wanted to get out there and play. They recorded 2 singles on Epic that didn't do much of anything and then changed their name to the Fallen Angels. They signed with Arista Records and released 2 more singles. One of them bubbled under on the Billboard charts but Arista only released albums after a song became a hit. Since there was no hit, there was no album release. The band was allowed to leave the label. During that time, the band was kind of in limbo. Peter had met Sean Delaney during that time and Sean came down to hear the band. Sean was working with Aucoin Management (called Rock Steady Management at that time) and Kiss. Kiss was not very successful around that time. They had 3 albums out but were only selling about 50,000 units of each. Sean said that Rock Steady was interested in managing the band but that they should have 2 guitarists. That's when I hooked up with them. It was September, 1975. Right away, we wrote Fallen Angels. I think it was the 1st rehearsal. We had a keyboard player but after a few weeks we decided that keyboards didn't work, especially with 2 guitarists. The band was still called the Fallen Angels but when we got rid of the keyboardist, we changed the name to Starz.

Peter Criss, Joe X. Dube, Paul Stanley
FIB MUSIC:  While working for another early Aucoin Mgmnt. band SPIKE, (and obviously a BIG STARZ fan), in his interviews & "Starz Memories", (WASP/STEELER/SIN bassist) RIK FOX, invokes the name of SEAN DELANEY?Who was he? Where did he come from? What was his role with STARZ (As opposed to KISS and SPIKE)?

Richie:   With Starz, he was the guy who convinced them to get another guitarist (me) and then he hung out with us at our rehearsals & was very helpful in our songwriting process. He would comment on everything almost to the point of being annoying except that he was 99% correct in his observations. He made us write songs that hit hard and got right to the point. He was very helpful.

FIB MUSIC:   In regard to SEAN DELANEY, what was 'The Dream'?

Richie:  I believe that "The Dream" was, when he originally saw the band, he had a vision of what the band should look & sound like. When that album was finished, he felt his dream had come true.

FIB MUSIC:   Like management-mates, KISS, stage choreography played a noticeable part of your live shows, paving the way of influence for dozens of bands in later years. You guys swayed back & forth a lot, tell us about that.

Richie:  Well, that was also partly to do with Sean. He said, when you're on stage you should always be 'entertaining' - doing something. And he helped us make moves that looked right for us. If we did something physical on stage he would say, "That sucks", or "That's great!" The moves were our own but he was the audience and his reactions meant a lot to us. He also had the experience of working with Kiss.

FIB MUSIC:  When was the decision to go all black costuming with platform boots?

Richie:  I'm not really sure. I already was wearing that sort of stuff when I was in Stories .

FIB MUSIC:  Could you give us some insight into each of the STARZ members?

Richie:   Michael was an incredible singer/songwriter and, quite possibly the best frontman in rock n' roll history. Certainly a major influence on all the '80's frontman.

Dube was a creative drummer. Dube put a stamp on every song we played. Those same songs, when played with any other drummer, don't sound at all the same. Dube has a style all his own.

Brendan is a great rhythm guitarist. Solid as I've every heard. Right up there with Pete Townshend. He can play leads also but his forte his rhythm.

Peter was an excellent songwriter with a really strong voice. Capable of being a lead singer for a band. Played solid bass and was invaluable to the Starz sound.

FIB MUSIC:  The 'Galaxy' airbrushed design on the backline of amplifiers of the live show was a very unique concept. How did that come about?

Richie:   It was an idea that came from seeing the promo poster/ad for our 1st album. When we saw the ad we asked the artist who did it if he could paint it right onto our cabinets & he did.
FIB MUSIC:  Who came up with the name STARZ, and why was that the name decided on and used? Any other names considered?

Richie:  Sean did. I remember objecting and then he said 'with a z'. I thought, hmm, that could work. Then he went to an artist who came up with the logo. He brought it to rehearsal and showed it to us. We all immediately agreed that Starz was the name. There were other names but I don't remember any of them.

FIB MUSIC:  Any truth to the rumor that you're a good practical joker? Any favorite tales?

Richie:   Didn't know that was out in the public. We all pretty much were but I was the ringleader. One time we were in Michigan and one of our roadies quit. I had gone to a local rock club with Michael earlier in the evening and a guy came up to me and asked if I could get him a roadie gig. He gave me his phone # on a piece of paper. So, the next morning when I found out our guy quit, I gave the number to our road manager, Arnie. He called this guy, Tom and asked him to come over to the hotel the next morning. Tom said he would take the gig but had to go home for clothing, etc. Arnie told him that if he wanted the gig, we were leaving right now so he got on the bus. The next gig was in South Carolina and the bus was leaving. Dube had just bought a blank starter pistol at a truck stop a couple of days earlier. So, we came up with a plan. Everyone but the bus driver and Tom knew about it. We had 12 people riding on the tour bus. We started drinking beer and playing cards. From time to time Dube & I would argue. About 5 hours into the trip we stopped at a rest area and Dube and I kept at each other. Finally Dube cursed me out and pulled out his gun and shot me 6 times. I fell down and everyone acted shocked. Tom ran off the bus and ran into the woods at about 80 miles per hour!! It took awhile to convince him that it all just a joke. He was white as a ghost!

FIB MUSIC:  Can you tell us about your sessions on the GENE SIMMONS solo album. How did that come about?

Richie:   Well, Gene wanted superstar guests only and I really wasn't in that category. So, he got Joe Perry to play on Tunnel of Love. He didn't like what Joe did so he got Jeff Baxter to overdub it. He didn't like that either and wasn't sure what to do next. Sean Delaney was co-producer of the album and told him there was no need to look any further, that I could do it and it would be no problem. So, Gene called me and I went into the studio, listened to the track and came up with a part. Gene tried to coach me but basically seemed happy with the way I was playing. Worked out well for everyone and Gene was kind enough to give me a platinum album award.

FIB MUSIC:   What was it like opening for KISS at the height of their popularity?

Richie:  It was great - exciting. Plus, back then, we were all good friends. It was just a big party atmosphere all the time.

FIB MUSIC:   VIOLATION was a 'masterful', yet 'darker' follow-up to your debut album, tell us about it. Did you have any goals in mind while writing it?

Richie:   No goals. We just wrote. It kind of came together on it's own. Once again, Michael wrote all the lyrics except for All Night Long which Peter wrote. I came up with some song titles. Cool One was really recorded during the 1st album sessions and we used it on Violation.
FIB MUSIC:  Any cool, sucked, brilliant moments stand out from the "Violation" recording sessions?

Richie:  Yeah, when we were recording, Jack Douglas, our producer, would tell us to be quiet before the song started and right when it ended. He kind of got mad once because I made a noise. Back in those days, you had 2 inch tape and it was hard edit sounds that were close to the beginning or end of a song. So, just for that I went up to the snare drum microphone and yelled "Subway Terror". When the take was done, I knew it was the 'one' so I ran over again and just let out a scream. Dube picked up on it right away and yelled with me. Jack could only laugh and figured out a way of putting a flanger on our voices and used them on the final mix.

FIB MUSIC:  Where was it recorded and how long did it take to finish it?

Richie:  Record Plant, NY. I think we recorded and mixed it in about 6 weeks, tops.

FIB MUSIC:  Who were some of the bands that you toured with to support that album?

Richie:   We did about 8 weeks with Bob Seger and then sporadic dates with Aerosmith, Nugent, Rush, BOC, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Styx and REO Speedwagon. I think we did about 3 weeks with REO and 2 more with Styx.

FIB MUSIC:  Any particular moments stand out when reflecting on that tour?

Richie:  Just one city after another, really. It all kind of blends together.

FIB MUSIC:  The VIOLATION album cover was brilliant! Who was responsible for that?

Richie:  The art department at Aucoin Management - Dennis Woloch, more specifically. He had an actual silver metallic 3-dimensional Starz logo built and photographed. He told me that he had it in his possession until about 10 years ago when he gave it to a girl who he was seeing.

FIB MUSIC:  VIOLATION was a 'concept' album start to finish, correct?

Richie:  Sort of - it didn't really start out that way.

FIB MUSIC:  Being another relatively new idea for bands to do back then, it was about a boy being released from a mental-correctional institution of some kind?

Richie:  It was about the future and the future of rock n' roll. In the future, R n R was banned. A kid walks into a thrift shop and finds a dusty old 45 of Walk This Way and rock starts up again. But, they put him into an institution in Buffalo, NY to "Steady" him up. S.T.E.A.D.Y. stands for Steps Towards the Eventual Acceptance of A Disciplined Youth - hence, Streetlight or the Moon - when the kid gets out, he can't even tell if he's looking at a streetlight or the moon.

FIB MUSIC:  This all seems to be a throwback to Stanley Kubrick's film "A CLOCKWORK ORANGE". Was MICHAEL LEE SMITH influenced by this film?

Richie:   I don't know that he was. I would imagine. I know that I was. He came up with the concept on his own when he was putting lyrics together. That's why I said it's 'sort of a concept album' because Cool One and All Night Long were previously written.

(L-R) Richie Ranno, Joe X. Dube, Michael Lee Smith, Brenden Harkin, Pete Swevel

FIB MUSIC:  In the song "Rock Six Times", STARZ pays tribute to AEROSMITH and the song "WALK THIS WAY"- How did that come about?

Richie:  It was Michael's idea totally.

FIB MUSIC:  When 'Rock Six Times' was written, technology wasn't readily available to the general population to produce what MICHAEL LEE SMITH referred to as a 'Vide-ereo' (Video/Stereo), today we have Stereo Video (VHS) systems- Was Michael 'forward-projecting' into the future?

Richie:  Ah, the Michael Lee Smith prophecies

FIB MUSIC:  STARZ frontman, Michael Lee Smith, seemed a true visionary. What inspired the classic "Subway Terror'? How about 'Violation'?

Richie:  Subway Terror was a headline in the NY newspapers about a gang that was robbing people on the subway. I brought the headline in and taped it on the wall when we were writing songs. Michael put it to use. Violation was part of the idea that the band had committed some type of crime on the 1st album with Pull the Plug. We actually wanted to call the Violation album, Second Offense.

FIB MUSIC:  If ever a song was born for top-ten airplay, it certainly was "Sing it, Shout it", a brilliantly arranged, sing-along ditty?Tell us about that song.

Richie:  Well, musically, a lot of people had shown me parts - like Sean Delaney, Jon Parrot (bassist in a former band of mine, Bungi), plus I had a couple of parts. So, I strung them all together and made a musical piece out of it. Michael came up with the brilliant vocal and lyrics on his own. Should have been top 10 but, at that time, Capitol Records couldn't get out of their own way.

FIB MUSIC:  Tell us about "S.T.E.A.D.Y.", and what did it stand for? / Who was "Dr. Kline", Was it GENE SIMMONS?

Richie:  I mentioned that earlier and no, it had nothing to do with Gene. But, the background vocal on Violation was meant to sound like Gene singing. Michael wrote it and wanted me to sing it because I used to always, jokingly, do a Gene singing voice. If you listen close, it kind of sounds like Gene singing, "No, that's a Violation".

FIB MUSIC:  Who was responsible for the orchestral arrangements of "Streetlight", and why were there no credits for it? What's with the 'angry elephant' (ascending/descending slide), effects of the French Horns?

Richie:  I don't know why there are no credits. Ron Frangiapone (don't know about the spelling there) did the string arrangement.

FIB MUSIC:  Is there any video available of STARZ during the first two albums' tours?

Richie:  Some - we sell it on the website -

FIB MUSIC:  Would Starz ever record new material?

Richie:  Possibly.

FIB MUSIC:  Any unreleased Starz material in the vault?

Richie:  Just a great live radio broadcast from Rochester, NY in 1977. We only recently found it and it's the best live performance of Starz captured on tape. We will release it at some point.

FIB MUSIC:  Anything else you want to add?

Richie:   We always like to thank everyone out there who is still there for us & still into the music that we created. We love playing together and hope to do some more live shows in the near future. We really want to come over to Europe so if anyone knows a British or European promoter who is a pro, please send them our way. You can see some of our videos by going here. Keep Rockin' Everybody! Richie Ranno

Additional Reference:
Rik Fox Article, "Starz on the Horizon"

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