Loud, Brash and Subtle as a Chain Saw, Ratt Cuts Itself a Piece of the Hard-Rock Pie
It is Independence Day, and the Heartland is being devoured like so much American cheese by Ratt, a very loud, five-headed beast of a hard-rock band that is scampering across the country and up the record charts with such abandon you can almost hear the squeamish scream "Eeeek!" at the top of their decent, music-loving lungs. Right now, as the Ratt-mobile eats up I-69 between Fort Wayne, Ind. and Charlevoix, Mich., some patriot in the slow lane is smirking into his rearview. He can see the big beige bus bearing down on him, electric guitars painted loud and flashy on the sides, the slogan SHOW US YOUR TITS filling the destination scroll above the windshield. The bus driver—a mean ol' Texas boy sitting on $1,100 worth of speeding tickets, evidence that his Fuzz Buster can't always ferret out radar Ratt traps—snarls at the square in the slow lane. "Don't laugh, old man," he says, "your daughter might be on board."
Just a year ago, when Ratt embarked on what was supposed to be a brief, three-month tour as opening act for Billy Squier, there was little chance that the good citizen's daughter had even heard of Ratt, much less been lured into the band's rolling, air-conditioned lair. But thanks to an album titled Out of the Cellar, a single called Round and Round and two videos that feature Milton Berle, an uncle of the group's manager, Ratt stayed out on the road for 10 months. Dubbing its trek the "World Infestation Tour," the band did 205 concerts, covered 72,000 miles and, as the trades put it, "played before 1,537,534 screaming rodents." Out of the Cellar, meanwhile, clung to the charts for 56 weeks and sold an impressive 2.7 million copies.
Now less than halfway through another 10-month tour of one-nighters in support of its follow-up album, Ratt clearly hasn't lost its bite. Invasion of Your Privacy debuted at No. 29 on Billboard's album chart and after a mere four weeks reached the Top 10, making it the hottest-selling record in a shrinking heavy-rock market.
Ratt's sudden popularity, though hard won, still inspires wonder in the five Southern California lads who have devoted themselves to a style of music and living they call "Ratt 'n' roll." Stephen Pearcy, the group's San Diego-born 26-year-old founder and lead singer, has the looks of a Gypsy and the prowling stage manner of an affectionate cat. Nicknamed Felix by his band "brothers," Pearcy writes most of the group's often libidinous lyrics. "She gave me the eye and showed me some thigh, you know what I mean" isn't going to be the subject of collegiate seminars, but nobody says Ratt is a cerebral outfit. Theirs are love songs of the id, self-consuming and loud from start to finish.
Not a single slow number dilutes the pace in any 90-minute Ratt set, and, thanks to wireless mikes and guitars, four of the five players scamper at will around a multi-tiered stage lighted dramatically to resemble a chrome space station. Guitarist Robbin Crosby calls Ratt music "Errol Flynn rock, swashbuckling and bellowing." Standing 6'5", with wild blond hair, billowing leather-and-lace garb and a V-shaped guitar, Crosby—"King Vee" to his pals—looks the part of a space-age buccaneer. Posing and preening are all part of the onstage theatrics, and as the musicians fling guitar picks and drumsticks into the audience, the crowd responds by tossing back everything from joints and beer cans to panties, bras and love notes. Obviously Ratt's audience of postpubescent teens is totally into the hormonal moment. A sea of fist-in-the-air fans materializes out front every night, despite the fact that the band's new single, Lay It Down, has received scant radio play in the Midwest. "We're here for the girls," says one long-haired moose before the Fort Wayne show. In fact Ratt is drawing a high proportion of female fans. "The guys are cute, they dress great and the girls like them," says their wardrobe mistress. "Honey attracts bees."
Pearcy offers his own explanation: "We're not into politics or the devil or even heavy metal. We're into playing rock 'n' roll music. We want to make Ratt 'establishment,' to become a huge band, like Zeppelin or Van Halen." As 26-year-old bassist Juan Croucier puts it, "We're going to make this as long a bus ride as we can."
And what a bus ride it is. Inside this rolling Sodom and Gomorrah is a nightmare vision of rock depravity. Hanging from the ceiling, tied to the light fixtures and dangling from the storage cabinets overhead are dozens of ladies' underthings. Bras and panties, G-strings and teddies shimmy with the motion of the bus—at the moment Crosby is tying a pair of smoky-gray patterned panty hose to an overhead rack, a memento of last night's post-concert frolic back at the Fort Wayne Holiday Inn. "I read where Quiet Riot keeps iced tea in the Jack Daniel's bottle they chug onstage," Crosby says, incredulous. "That's not our style. This ain't no golf game. We work hard and we enjoy whatever fringe benefits Ratt 'n' roll has to offer. We didn't buy these bras to impress strangers."
Crosby, a 25-year-old San Diego native, once considered a career in baseball but hung up his cleats when he decided he'd "rather rock." Sitting on the bus, his hair styled like an electrocution victim's, he grins and says, "I think I made the right choice." So does Pearcy, who once just wanted to race top fuel dragsters. Then a motorcycle accident forced him to abandon high speed for hard rock. "Going 200 miles an hour in the quarter mile is quite a rush," he says. "But nothing beats the stage."
Lean and soulful lead guitarist Warren De Martini, a 25-year-old whose playing has been compared with Eddie Van Halen's, always felt Ratt would make it big. Even back in 1981, when he, Pearcy and Crosby shared a studio apartment in L.A. with all their equipment and a roadie, earning as little as $13 a night playing the clubs, De Martini says, "We could walk down the street knowing we were a kick-ass band."
Much of the credit for the group's kick belongs to drummer Bobby Blotzer—his real name—the only band member with wife and (two) kids back home. "I see them when I can, which ain't often," he allows. Perhaps the most gifted Ratt is bassist Croucier, a Cuban-born Los Angeleno who could play fiddle and read music at age 4. Croucier is also the band's most disciplined player, refusing even a beer before a show.
Just now, as the Ratt bus crosses the 45th parallel (halfway between the equator and the North Pole, Crosby points out), four-fifths of the group are sacked out in bunks in the back. The blinds are drawn in the forward cabin. A new Motley Crüe tape plays at mid-volume, and a videocassette of Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains, an absurdist film about a washed-up punk band, runs soundlessly on a built-in TV console. The sight reminds Crosby of This Is Spinal Tap, another comedy film about a superannuated heavy-metal outfit. "We never want to end up like those guys," he grimaces.
Later, Blotzer, 27, emerges from the bunk room, bewildered by what he calls a "bus mare." He says, "I can't sleep easily like those other guys. I dreamed a bunch of hicks wielding baseball bats surrounded me, and when I told them I just wanted to make some music, they started bashing my Porsche with their bats. Very weird. I don't even want to think about what it means."
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