Renegades is a gritty, blazing, ballsy return to rock and roll glory for L.A. Guns. The quintessential Los Angeles band of the late 1980s, which has seen so many twists and turns in their career that one needs a chiropractor to help straighten out their narrative arc, has released this new collection of 10 songs through Golden Robot Records in the midst of the global pandemic – the best time for fans to let loose their frustrations and angst with some badass tunes.
Led by drummer/songwriter Steve Riley, who has been with the band through numerous incarnations for nearly 35 years. His version of L.A. Guns is essentially the original one, since he himself never left, while the likes of co-founders Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis (who are confusingly operating another L.A. Guns at the same time) have come and gone. Also having gone, but now returned is the bassist/songwriter from the band’s classic lineup, Kelly Nickels, who rejoined in 2018 to add some creative vigour and a sense of legitimacy to the heritage and future of the Riley-led lineup.
“We’re so lucky to have Kelly Nickels back in the band because he is also a great visual artist, so anything that you see with the L.A Guns with Steve Riley and Kelly Nickels, any of that artwork, the merchandise like the t-shirts and photos, patches, the cover of Renegades, anything like that, Kelly has put all of that together because he is so good at that kind of thing. I think he has done a fantastic job of designing and putting all of that together,” Riley said admiringly.
“He has put such a ton of effort into the album not only with songwriting, but with his artwork and helping make some of this merchandise really likeable too. I am very proud of Kelly and am also very thankful because he gave me so much more confidence when he joined back up with me. Not only was that because he was my battery mate in the rhythm section on everything we did in the late 1980s and 1990s, but he’s one of my best friends. So, to get him back in the fold and for him to be so excited to be back in the music industry, because he dropped out for a while to do some other stuff, to have one of the main classic members back is amazing. I think everybody knows that he wrote one of our biggest hits, the Ballad of Jayne; he’s a really prolific songwriter, so with having him back it gave me so much more energy and ambition because he is just such an important part of the old L.A. Guns and now the new L.A. Guns.
“He knows all about L.A. Guns and what the fans like and what they expect, so he has become a crucial cog in the machine. Like I said, we both really wanted to put in the effort to make this record sound like a genuine L.A. Guns record. And we did that; it’s the same style, the same type of songwriting with tight, compact songs. So, Kelly is, like I said, such a great songwriter and he is such an important connection between the early days and what we’re doing now. It’s just really important that us being a classic rock band that we stay true to our sound and what we look like and what we sound like and what kind of presentation and artwork we put out there. The whole thing is important. I feel great having Kelly shoulder to shoulder with me through all this.”
Riley said he, Nickels and fellow bandmates Scotty Griffin (guitarist) and lead vocalist Kurt Frohlich, all had a hand in crafting the sound and the songs for Renegades making it truly a band experience.
“I think we did a good job of balancing the old sound and the expectations of our fans, with a new sort of vibe. I think we did a pretty good job because Scott and Kurt both brought in a pile of material too, and the four of us co-wrote everything, with each one of us bringing the main gist of some songs. Kelly brought in the first three singles that we released [the title track, Crawl and Well-Oiled Machine], then we finished them in the studio. Scotty brought in the awesome Lost Boys and Kurt brought in four others that are on the album,” he said.
“What we did was we weren’t trying to copy anything we’ve done before. We just wanted to stay in the same vein as what we were and what we are. When I did an album with Tracii back in the 1990s called American Hardcore [released in 1996], we strayed a little too far off track and it wasn’t sounding like L.A. Guns. For Renegades, we weren’t going to do anything like that where we would confuse the fans and say this is a new style. I think it sounds fresh, but it still sounds like us and that’s because we were all really happy with what everybody brought to the process. We had about 30 songs at one point, and we whittled that down to 10, so we actually have a lot of material to do more albums. We feel good about the way the album sounds and we feel food that it sounds in the vein of L.A. Guns.”
Renegades, both the song and the album, are emblematic of the band’s overarching theme of the ups and downs, the good, the bad and the ugly of rock and roll life, as well as the importance of standing together, with the whole being greater than the sum of its individual parts.
“Just the word ‘renegades’ describes rock music and rock bands and how we are and how we travel and what we do and how we’re sort of like misfits or like a gang or a band of brothers,” Riley said, adding that this ethos carries over to how they see the band’s fans – part of the gang, part of the family.
Therefore, they are ensuring that Renegades is more than just another record release for their loyal admirers to pick up. Riley and co. are devoted to providing value and fan service for each hard-earned dollar spent on their wares.
“What we have coming out is five different vinyl releases, with red, white, blue, purple and a black one as well. You’ve got to make things like this really appealing now because of the situation with no record stores and small promotional budgets and people mostly streaming and downloading music. So, we’re putting together these cool bundles so fans can get a bunch of stuff together if they get the album, which will make it feel more special,” Riley said.
“Nowadays most bands are kind of on their own because those big record company machines aren’t around anymore. Golden Robot has done such a wonderful job so far of releasing and promoting the singles and now the album and getting them out there and setting up a ton of interviews for Kelly and myself. Now we’re sending out these nice packages that we did ourselves, but which would normally have been done by the big record companies and big publicity firms. Those kind of operations are gone now, so you’ve got to dig in, dig deep and be creative and make sure you’re doing something that the fans get, that they like and that they feel is worth having.”
Riley was not just a contemporary, but also a close friend of Quiet Riot drummer Frankie Banali, who died earlier this year after a valiant battle against an extremely aggressive form of pancreatic cancer. For decades, Banali kept the Quiet Riot flame burning brightly in the wake of constant member changes, the vicissitudes of the music industry, changing tastes and other challenges. Similarly, Riley did the same for L.A. Guns, being the only member of the classic lineup never to have departed from the group.
“Frankie and I were very good friends. I met him in 1977 when I moved out to L.A. He was in one of a couple of versions of Steppenwolf that were out at the time. He was the drummer of one of them and he had left that band and I actually replaced him. Obviously, when I left WASP [in 1987 before joining L.A. Guns] he replaced me in WASP, so we were very close,” Riley said.
“We gravitated to each other because we were drummers and we liked the same drummers – John Bonham, Cozy Powell and Ian Paice – so we had similar styles and were very, very good friends. When WASP went out on the road, we toured with Quiet Riot a lot and both bands were really close. Frankie is going to be sorely missed. He was a great drummer and a great guy. And I just feel so bad about what he had to go through over the last couple of years of his life. But he was a true rock star and a great guy.”
As he said above, Riley came to Los Angeles and the burgeoning rock scene there in 1977 and happened upon a group that was just at the cusp of international stardom – Van Halen. Riley said he got along well with the band, including its inhumanly talented guitarist, Eddie Van Halen, who also died recently.
“When I moved out here in 1977, Van Halen was still doing clubs and they were just getting ready to record their first album. I had crossed paths with Eddie because I was friends with the guys in Angel and Angel was already signed and they were an East Coast band that I had grown up with. Me and Frank DiMino, the singer, we grew up in Boston, so when Mickie Jones the bass player left Angel in 1977, he asked me to come out to L.A. and play in a band with him. He was good friends with Eddie Van Halen, so I used to hang out with Mickey and Eddie before that first album came out,” said Riley.
“I have told very few people this story, but Eddie, me and Mickie Jones went to the Starwood together one night to see Randy Rhoads play with Quiet Riot, the first time any of us had seen him play. I remember one time Eddie brought his cassette player up to the house where I was living in the Hollywood Hills with this photographer friend and played us the first album when it was just a scratch mix on a regular cassette. And it blew us away. He also invited us out to the Pasadena Civic Center for a big show they did later that year too and I hung out with Eddie then too. Obviously, by 1978 when that album took off and they became huge, you didn’t really see the guys around anymore, but Eddie was always a great guy and obviously a giant of a musician. I still think it’s unbelievable that the first time I got to see Randy Rhoads play I was there with Eddie Van Halen. It’s still hard to believe that both Eddie and Frankie are gone.
“Both Frankie and I, we believed in our bands from the very beginning when we first joined them. We were both vital to the early sound of those bands and we never really wavered. We never really wanted to go do something else, we always wanted to go on and push forward with the band we were in and with the material and the legacy of that band. Frankie and I were always close and talked about that a lot. There were many times over the years when I was out with L.A. Guns and he was out with Quiet Riot and we would laugh about how we’re still doing it with the bands that we basically started with in the early 1980s and we were both still happy to be with those bands.”
For more information, visit www.laguns.net, www.facebook.com/officiallaguns or www.goldenrobotrecords.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for nearly 30 years. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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