Fans Feel the Noize as Quiet Riot Goes Head and Shoulders Over Their Hard-Rock Competitors
By then the band members will be backstage at El Paso's County Coliseum for an end-of-tour gathering. Draped in chains, studded belts and colored handkerchiefs ("like a rock 'n' roll bag lady—stupid but fun," observes drummer Frankie Banali), the four do not seem far removed from their recent days as an L.A. bar band. Vocalist Kevin DuBrow has been doing his own laundry on this tour, and his leopard-skin jumpsuit is covered with chocolate cream pie stains, the result of a 33rd-birthday bash for bassist Rudy Sarzo a week ago.
This party is no less raucous, and the well-wishers include former Humble Pie member Steve Marriott, two topless dancers and a mariachi band. DuBrow seems typically exuberant, and at one point he hopped onto a table to moon his guests. After 220 one-night stands, he and his cohorts have earned this celebration—and a rest. Observes drummer Banali: "There are only two guarantees in the music business, and those are failure and exhaustion."
There has been little of the former for Quiet Riot since the release of its debut U.S. album, Metal Health, last March. Fueled by DuBrow's let-'em-bleed vocal style and a hit remake of a 10-year-old Slade song, the scabrously titled Cum On Feel the Noize, the quartet has powered its way into Billboard's No. 1-album slot. Among high-decibel, heavy-metal bands, not even Led Zeppelin made such a promising bow.
For Quiet Riot, the trip to the top has not been quick. Formed in 1975 by DuBrow, then a sometime photographer, and rock guitarist Randy Rhoads, the original band found a sturdy local following in L.A. for its brand of head-piercing hard rock. Yet despite two album releases in Japan, the musicians had little luck signing with an American label, a fact the self-assured DuBrow now blames on the "stupid ears" of record-company executives. In 1980 Rhoads defected to Ozzy Osbourne's band. "I cried for days," admits DuBrow. "I was Randy's biggest fan. I paid more attention to him than to myself. That's one of the reasons why I didn't progress as a singer."
DuBrow persisted after Rhoads' departure and in 1982 formed a second edition of Quiet Riot. He was joined eventually by Rudy Sarzo, a 1961 refugee from Cuba. Sarzo had begun his career playing in Florida strip joints, had moved to New York in search of work and had once tried (unsuccessfully) to phone John Lennon for help. "When you're young, you'll try anything," he now laughs. Before he hooked up with DuBrow he had worked serving hamburgers in a fast-food restaurant.
For the new lineup DuBrow also recruited guitarist Carlos Cavazo, then living on food stamps, and drummer Frankie Banali, a native New Yorker who had once sold his instruments for cross-country plane fare. When the reconstituted band managed to land a recording contract with tiny Pasha Records, DuBrow persuaded old pal Rhoads to return as a guest artist on the first album. But Rhoads, who in 1981 had been named Best New Talent in the Guitar Player magazine readers' poll, never reached the reunion. A week before the scheduled recording session he died at 25 in a plane crash in Florida.
"Whenever anybody dies so young and in the prime, whether they're James Dean or Buddy Holly, people sometimes blow it out of proportion," says DuBrow. "But as great as people say Randy was, he was." Adds bandmate Sarzo: "If he had lived, he probably would have become a solo artist like Jeff Beck. That's the direction he was heading."
While Rhoads' death stunned the band, its success without him would later seem equally surprising. Onstage the group relies on punch and pose when playing for its largely adolescent audiences. DuBrow, 28, augments screaming vocals with a self-styled "demented cheerleader" routine, guzzling from a bottle of Jack Daniel's and occasionally hoisting bare-chested guitarist Cavazo, 25, to his shoulders. While Banali, 29, flamboyantly pounds out a loud, heavy drumbeat, Sarzo punches his bass and throws a mock tantrum on the floor. The chemistry has worked to produce a nightly avalanche of lingerie onstage, plus sales of almost 4 million albums. Says Cavazo simply: "The girls think we're cute, and the guys like our playing."
Offstage, other dimensions emerge. Banali is a classical music buff who packs Tchaikovsky tapes on tour and will sit and argue the merits of the Boston Pops' 1812 Overture vs. the Great Performance Series. He studied architectural drafting in Florida, collects antique furniture and admits to being a serious cook who keeps his copper pots "so clean most people think they're for decoration." Sarzo, who tends his tresses with a nightly protein-spray and blow-dryer regimen, is engaged to an L.A. model. Even DuBrow, whose "Let's get craaazeee!" yell and wide-eyed mugging spark Quiet Riot's concerts, is not as crazy as he seems. His Jack Daniel's bottle actually contains cold herbal tea.
"Every club and bar band in the country would give anything to be in the position we're in right now, to go out and make their mark," says DuBrow. "Those people who burn out, on drugs or whatever, didn't deserve it in the first place. I have no sympathy for bands who blow it." Lest his fortunes falter one day, DuBrow has hired his mother, formerly a Los Angeles realtor, to act as his personal business manager. "Your mother," he explains, "is not about to screw you." The singer has not seen his father, an aircraft company executive, since his parents divorced when he was a child, although DuBrow says sharply, "I'm sure he's aware of my success."
For all DuBrow's bravado, he and his fellow Rioters know how fragile that success might be. "All your life you've been wondering, 'Is anybody listening out there?' " says bass player Sarzo. "Once you become successful, you realize, 'Damn, there really is somebody out there. You really have to work at it now.' " Adds DuBrow: "The one thing that protects us is seeing everybody else's mistakes. Or somebody like Rod Stewart who lost his roots. He got caught up in all the things that had nothing to do with what he started out doing. Now, I wouldn't mind having Britt Ekland on my arm. But I'd kill her if she ever tried to tell me what to do."
None of the Rioters, except for the recently engaged Sarzo, has had anyone on his arm for long during these past hectic months. After a short vacation in Puerto Rico, the four will return to the studio and try to repeat the success that they found so unexpectedly with Metal Health. According to DuBrow, the formula will remain much the same: high-volume visceral rock. "Down the line when someone mentions Quiet Riot," he muses, considering his place in history, "I hope they'll think of a great party they went to once." Or failing that, perhaps a pile of underwear.