Greg Schmitt: Hi Steve, it’s Greg from Rockeyez.
Steve Riley: Greg, how are you, buddy?
Greg Schmitt: First off, thank you for taking the time to do this.
Steve Riley: Oh, you’re welcome – no problem.
Greg Schmitt: For starters, what are LA GUNS up to right now?
Steve Riley: Right now, you know, I mean – it’s a weird time for rock music, obviously – you know that. And everything’s turned into sort of a live situation for everybody, you know, going out and playing, and so that’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve been just playing non-stop, you know. And it’s a new way of touring too. Of flying out on the weekends, instead of taking a tour bus every time you’re gonna go out. It’s such a heavy burden price-wise that you sort of fly in and out of gigs now – go out on Wednesday, come back on Sunday, stuff like that, and do 3 or 4 shows. So we’ve been doing that like non-stop, and we’re in fact doing it this weekend. We’re on our way to Vegas tomorrow to play for this weekend, and it’s OK, but it’s a live situation for sure.
Greg Schmitt: Yeah, I think a lot of bands do that.
Steve Riley: Yeah.
Greg Schmitt: The last album that came out – “Tales From the Strip”. I thought was fantastic.
Steve Riley: Well, thank you very much.
Greg Schmitt: You guys working on another one?
Steve Riley: We are – you know we have- I think about a dozen songs ready to go right now that are really, really good. But we’re not ready to go into the studio yet now because we don’t have a deal set up. And right now over the holidays is kind of a bad time to even be looking for anything. So what we’re gonna do is just keep writing and when we do finalize a deal next year we’ll be all ready to go in and we’ll have a ton of tunes already written.
Greg Schmitt: But there will be another album?
Steve Riley: Oh definitely, and it’s right in the same vein as “Tales” & “Waking the Dead”, and it’s really good so far. I think by the time we go in to record, there’ll be about 20 songs to choose from.
Greg Schmitt: You think you’ll be using Andy Johns again?
Steve Riley: Oh, definitely. Definitely Andy Johns and Bruce (Witkin) over there to engineer. And we’re gonna use the same team that we’ve been using for the last 3 or 4 albums, because I mean, we can’t argue with Andy Johns.
Greg Schmitt: Seems to be working right?
Steve Riley: It does. It works, and everybody knows that Andy Johns isn’t the easiest guy to work with, but he is a great guy to work with. He’s like, you know – a master in the studio and you just really listen to him when he has a suggestion, you know?
Greg Schmitt: Is he good for some old stories?
Steve Riley: Oh man, the best old stories! ‘Cause if you are like a rocker who knows your history, you can just bang down any question to him, and he’s been in the studio with everybody from Hendrix to ZEPPELIN to the WHO, to the STONES and, you know, he’s just got story after story - it’s killer!
Greg Schmitt: NOh that’s awesome. That’s actually what I wanted to get out of you today!
Steve Riley: Yeah, no problem.
I lucked out because, these guys in LA GUNS, they were big fans of WASP, and they used to come and see us all the time. And I used to run into this little kid at the Whisky, and at the Roxy, at the Rainbow. And he used to come up to me and talk to me and I didn’t really know who he was, but I just kept saying “Hey!” He was a big WASP fan - It was Tracii. And me and him had sort of like known each other, bumping into on the street, and he knew I was the drummer for WASP, and he would come up and talk to me.
And after I was out of WASP I was still living in a condo, so I couldn’t rehearse there. I went and got a room down at SIR just to practice my drums and fuck around and stay loose, and they happened to be in there – LA GUNS – at the same time. And I saw Trace, and he knocked on the door. We said hi, and he handed me this fucking old cassette with all writing on it and shit, and he goes “We just finished our first album.” Almost the same thing as WASP. It was identical! And they just finished their album, and would I want to join? And I didn’t know what the scene was around here, I was so busy with WASP.
And I’ll tell you what, it’s a funny thing with LA GUNS & WASP with me. It was identical situations where they both finished their first albums, and then they were told to get rid of their drummer either by management or by their record label people. They said, get rid of Tony Richards, because he had a drug problem. And Nickey Alexander from LA GUNS, they got rid of them because he was just kind of a weak drummer.
Greg Schmitt: You’ve been in LA GUNS from the get-go, really.
Steve Riley: Right from the beginning – yeah. And they say that me & Phil aren’t original members? It’s like “Come on, you motherfuckers, what are you talking about?” From the very first day the band stepped out of LA, it was me & Phil with the band. Yeah, they did this recording in a studio here in LA, and fired the drummer right after he finished the recording. So you wanna call him the original member 20 years later? Come on, you fucks!
Greg Schmitt: I saw him a year ago with Tracii. It’s a weak band. I mean, Tracii is good, but everybody else is like… Your lineup is so much better.
Steve Riley: Well, we’re the real band because me & Phil have been in this from fucking day one. And we co-wrote every song. Any song that you hear by LA GUNS, me & Phil co-wrote it with Tracii, and with Mick & Kelly. We co-wrote every single song. Like we’re doing now – we all get in the studio and write together. And it’s just – the thing that Tracii has out right now is not a musical thing he’s taking out, it’s a destructive thing. He’s only out there for one reason, and that’s to ruin the name of LA GUNS. He has just burned every bridge in the book. I mean, I can go on and name bands that you wouldn’t even believe fromMÖTLEY to GUNS N ROSES to LA GUNS to QUIET RIOT – I’ll go on - POISON, RED HOT CHILLI PEPPERS… These are bands that dislike Tracii so much that they don’t even want him around them. All these big bands – they can’t stand this guy. So what does he do? He burns all his bridges with Nikki (Sixx) and all of those connections – he fucked that whole thing up, too. And now he’s got nothing left to do. Me & him own the name! But he has every right to take it out, and what’s he doing? He wants to take it out to destroy it right now. I know Trace – he likes to play with good musicians. And he’s not playing with good musicians. Oh, they’re horrible, Greg. Come on- they’re terrible. They don’t sound anything like LA GUNS. And I just think that if I wanna go see a classic rock band, I really, really want to see the fucking lead singer who sang the songs!
Greg Schmitt: And they have an argument where they say, “We’re the original guys” And it’s like all right, fair enough, but you know – they’re just not (very) good!
Steve Riley: Not at all. And you know, that “original guy” thing too - Paul was in the band, right? And they co-wrote a couple – not even co-wrote – they started writing “One More Reason” & “Sex Action.” They were just pieces, not completed songs.
Greg Schmitt: I have his old demos that he put out – the Paul Black demo disc (“Black List”), and it’s kinda neat, but …
Steve Riley: Yeah, and you can hear it - you can hear the song in there, but it’s not completed the way Phil kinda rounded it out.
Greg Schmitt: Like “Never Enough” doesn’t have the hook yet.
Steve Riley: That’s right - Phil had to come in and finish those songs, and then Paul was gone. We had to write every song from scratch. So this guy had very little to do with anything. They didn’t want him on the record deal. The label said “If we’re gonna sign you guys-” This is while I was still in WASP - They told me this as soon as I joined – They said “If we are gonna sign you guys, you’ve got to get rid of Paul Black.” The manager at the time was Alan Jones from England, and he knew Phil from GIRL.
Greg Schmitt: He had some drug problems at that time, too, right – Paul Black?
Steve Riley: Paul had terrible problems – he couldn’t sing...
Greg Schmitt: (Laughing) That’s the bigger problem, I guess!
Steve Riley: Yeah, and he didn’t have a stage presence – he was all fucked up, and they said you gotta get rid of him if we’re even thinking about coming near the band. So they brought in Phil , and the band got signed immediately. So where’s Paul in this fucking mix? Nowhere! He’s absolutely nowhere. They wouldn’t have even signed them! If he was this much of a talent, this guy, why didn’t he go get a fucking huge singular deal off of the LA GUNS mystique and get his own deal and start a band? He did with BLACK CHERRY, and it never got off the ground. So this guy’s got very little going for him. And Trace is out there on a destructive mission right now.
Greg Schmitt: So) what do you think is going on in Tracii’s head?
Steve Riley: He’s out there thinking… Well, first of all he had to come up with some sort of a fucking shitty story about why he’s out of our band. Just to capsulize it one more time: We did the album for Spitfire – “Waking the Dead” with Andy Johns. It came out and it sounded so fucking good, and we were so proud of it. We couldn’t believe it. It was our first album with Andy Johns, and it was like “Oh my god – this thing is huge!” Well, we got great reviews on it, and we got the whole Alice Cooper tour for the world. Starting in Russia, going all the way through Europe, and then coming over here. And he quit to do the fucking BRIDES OF DESTRUCTION. Bottom line: Me & Phil begged him not to quit. “Please do both – You can do both things, man, you do not have to quit!” He told us to go fuck ourselves, in a matter of words. He said, “Forget it, I’m out of here.” We lost our record deal, we lost the tour, and we had to start from scratch to build our way up again. This guy turned around – and now he knows he looks like an asshole – and he turns it around and makes it look like the band ripped him off for money, that I ripped him off for money… You know, it’s just so fucking bad – it’s horrible. It’s like this guy is reaching so bad that me & Phil know we’ll never play with this guy again. He’s that devious, that bad. And we love Stacey’s playing – Stacey’ s fucking killer. We love him – he fits in, and the fucking guy – he’s really into it and he’s really low maintenance, and he knows it’s a rough scene right now, but he’ll do it. Trace on the other hand is into the mode of destruction. He knows he’s out there hurting LA GUNS’ name by having another LA GUNS out there.
Greg Schmitt: And is he really making enough money to make this worth-while?
Steve Riley: No! He’s not. That’s the way he’s hurting LA GUNS. Not just in the name, but financially too. We make a certain amount of money, and he’s going out for like 1/3rd of that. So the clubs are going “Hey! I’ve got LA GUNS for this price over here!” So me & Phil right now, and the guys in the band, we’re just trying to stay strong. Phil ’s gotten into a few Internet wars with Trace , but I’m staying out of that. I’m trying to take the high road and not be a little pussy on the Internet, shooting lines that don’t make sense. So I’m just taking a back seat on it. We know ‘cause when I was in STEPPENWOLF in the 70’s, I was in one of the bands that didn’t have John Kaye. Now John Kaye, the lead singer, wasn’t going by “John Kaye & STEPPENWOLF.” He was in STEPPENWOLF, and then the other guys had STEPPENWOLF too, because they all owned the name. When I was in STEPPENWOLF, we sounded really, really good. I thought we sounded great, and I was making all this money, but guess what? We fizzled. And I realized why – We were a classic rock act without the real singer. And we couldn’t go on. And me & Tommy went on and started The B’ZZ ‘cause we were still young - We were young’ins back then playing with STEPPENWOLF.
But the fact of it is that we’re gonna sit back right now, and we’re gonna wait for this thing to peter out. People know it sounds like shit, people know Phil ’s not singing in it, and they know they’re not gonna hear the songs the way they think that they’re gonna hear the songs. So we’re gonna wait for it to peter itself out and people are gonna eventually ask the question, “Is this the band with Phil in it? No? Oh, OK, I understand – it’s that other band.”
Greg Schmitt: So there’s no making peace at this point?
Steve Riley: He’s just digging a hole for himself so deep. He’s so hard to travel with or do anything with, that we don’t see – me & Phil – and you know what, we love to say you can never say never, but with this situation…
When we were in LA GUNS in the mid-80’s and this whole scene was going on out here, we always wondered. Me, Mick, Kelly & Phil always wondered why the guys in GUNS N ROSES wouldn’t give Tracii the fucking time of day. They wouldn’t even say hi to him! I’d been in rooms where GNR was there with Slash and the guys - they wouldn’t even look at Tracii! I always wondered, “What the fuck? How could it be that bad?” Now I know. He’s burnt bridges so bad that people in a band that supposedly has his name in it-
If you go back to this fucking behind the scenes thing or whatever they had on VH1 for GUNS N ROSES - Me & Phil were on tour, we were waiting ‘cause we had heard Tracii did a four hour interview over at CBGB’s. And we were waiting that year for it to come out, and we saw it on the bus & were watching it. The first 15 minutes were gonna have to contain Trace , ‘cause it’s the beginning - Nothing! Zero! They didn’t even mention this guy’s name, and I found out why. When Duff and Slash & those guys saw Tracii’s piece, they said, “We don’t need this fucking guy! He has nothing to do with fucking GUNS N ROSES!” So now here’s the supposed “GUNS” from GUNS N ROSES that’s not even mentioned in their fucking history, bio or nothing! He’s not even mentioned – he’s nothing. Unless somebody – a journalist- says that it started back then. But as far as the band’s concerned, he has nothing to do with their history at all, and I always wondered “What the fuck?“
It’s because this guy is so bad to people after he plays with him, or even while he’s playing with them that you just want to wash your hands and say “Fuck it – Yeah, the guy’s a good guitar player, but fuck this maintenance problem. We don’t even want to deal with it!” And that’s where it is right now. It’s a horrible, horrible scene between us and Tracii right now that probably will never, ever be fixed, because he’s such an asshole to people.
Greg Schmitt: But you got along with him all those years though, right? Or was he always difficult?
Steve Riley: Always. Because when I joined, I was the older guy in the band, and I had just come from WASP and KEEL and some major label deals. They asked me to do the business. To be the liason from the band to the management, and I said of course I’ll do that – no problem. When I did that, I realized that there was this big, big riff between Tracii, Phil , Kelly & Mick. I didn’t know what the fuck it was. I had gotten into an argument with Tracii on the very first LA GUNS tour in Japan. These three guys – Mick, Kelly, and Phil - pull me aside at the Tokyo Airport and say, “Let’s get rid of Tracii. He’s an asshole.” And I just joined. And I just went through the Randy Piper thing. And I’m like, “Are you guys fucking crazy – you want to get rid of Tracii? I got into an argument with him, but it’s alright.” They said, “No – you’re gonna see. Let’s get rid of Tracii and maybe go get Andy from HANOI ROCKS.” And I was like “What?” I mean, it really got down to the nitty gritty, and I was like “You guys, come on, there’s no way. We’re on a roll right now. The album’s selling great, we’re on tour. We can not fire anybody.” That was so early in the game, and I realized it. And now, you wanna know something- nobody talks to Trace . Phil , Micky, Nick, Kelly and me – We never talk to this guy! I talk to Chris Holmes, I talk to Blackie, Randy Piper. Phil talks to all the guys in Girl. I mean, we all are still friends with everybody we’ve played with. Nobody talks to Tracii anymore. He’s all alone. He’s dug himself a hole from being an asshole. And so we’re now at this point where we did “Tales From the Strip” and we know we can write really, really good without this guy. We know we can really play live great without this guy, and we can have a lot of fun without him, too, without any of the maintenance bullshit. So now, who wants to go back? It’s so difficult as it is right now today to do anything, you don’t need this major fucking maintenance problem with you in the band. ‘Cause it’s already hard enough. You need people that already know they gotta dig in, and we gotta take the good with the bad right now. We’re gonna play a shithole tonight and then tomorrow night a great theater. The next night the shithole, and then the next night, the great… see, so we gotta bounce back and forth and be tough and Tracii was never like that with us. So we’re just gonna do that right now. We’re gonna keep writing and playing, and we’re having a great fucking time right now.
Greg Schmitt: (On the) “Hollywood Vampires” tour – You were on a package with CONTRABAND?
Steve Riley: Yeah, we did a bunch of shows. It was RATT, LA GUNS and CONTRABAND. And CONTRABAND was where Michael Schenker and Tracii would get up and play with them. But we did a bunch of dates with that on the East Coast.
Greg Schmitt: I was supposed to go to Toad’s in New Haven, and the show got cancelled.
Steve Riley: That’s right, because we didn’t make it all the way out there. We started in the southeast or something like that. And we did a bunch of shows and then it fizzled out.
Greg Schmitt: I guess the whole timing.. The whole scene was dying at that point.
Steve Riley: Totally. The whole scene was starting to feel it at that point.
Greg Schmitt: And I was supposed to see you guys open for Vinnie Vincent. That must’ve been second album tour.
Steve Riley: That got cancelled too. Well, you know what happened with that? We were on tour with him and the first fucking date – I had to go in the room with Phil and Vinnie and his people, and they read us the riot act on what we can and can’t do. And it was the wrong fucking move, because we were doing great at the time. We were fucking going on a shoot up... We were shooting up (the charts) and selling records.
Greg Schmitt: You were probably selling a lot more records then they were.
Steve Riley: Oh, we were all over the place. MTV – everywhere. And it was the wrong approach to take with us, to read the riot act on what we can and can’t do, because we weren’t assholes anyway, we weren’t gonna take over the show, we were just gonna open up for them. But it started off really bad that way, and then by the sixth show, there was a big fucking brawl between Kelly Nichols and Mick Cripps and a couple of their crew guys. And a big fist fight outside, and that was it. We pulled off the tour, we went back, and then we got our shit together here in LA, and we went right back out I think with CHEAP TRICK or something. Yeah, that was funny – we got in a big fight with those guys.
Greg Schmitt: Now were you fired in ’92?
Steve Riley: This was a real, real shitty situation. We had been going for 5 years non-stop, and everybody was getting frayed. Me & Phil had got in an argument, and Tracii fucking capitalized on it. He had told me before I got in this argument with Phil that he doesn’t want to stick around anymore, and I’m going “What?!” We were on the “Hollywood Vampires” tour in Europe with SKID ROW – “What’s the matter? What’s wrong? Nothing’s wrong!” He goes, “No no no, I’m not happy – I’m not digging it.” I kinda forgot that he said that to me. And then me & Phil got into an argument on one of the tours, and we came back home & Tracii capitalized on it. He went shoulder to shoulder with Phil and said, “We should get rid of Steve.” When he called me and told me that I said, “Are you fucking kidding me? I do all the business. You guys will fall down in six months if you fucking fire me. Never mind my drumming! What I do business-wise – you guys will fall the fuck down in six months because nobody wants to do what I’m doing.” And that’s what happened. In six months, they completely broke up. It was ‘cause Trace wanted the band to break up. So he’s been in a destructive mode ever since he started the band in ’86. He’s been in the mode to fucking destroy the band. It’s a real, real sick situation he’s in, I gotta tell ya.
Greg Schmitt: Well, then you came back right away, right?
Steve Riley: No, I didn’t. I did a whole bunch of session work from ’92 to ’95.
Greg Schmitt: Were you doing something with George Lynch at one point?
Steve Riley: Me & him were gonna do something. We were talking about it, and then we were talking about doing something with him and a couple of other people, and it never really came to fruition, but we had talked about it. I had done a shitload of sessions in those three years, and I was just bouncing around doing everybody’s demos, what have you, anything. And that’s when they finished the “Vicious Circle” thing, and Tracii called me & says, “You wanna come back & we’ll do this – the five original guys?” I said, “Yeah, sure, fine. Let’s try it,” and from that point on I was in it non-stop. I was out of it for about 2 1/2 – 3 years, and then back in it in ’95. But between ’92 and ’95, the band was broken up anyway. They had all flown in their parts for “Vicious Circle” – nobody was in the studio at the same time. And it was really, really Tracii’s doing. He made it a situation where nobody wanted to be around each other. He just created a horrible atmosphere.
Greg Schmitt: Is that why Phil ended up leaving?
Steve Riley: Oh yeah. And that’s why Mick & Kelly will never come back. They told me they never want to play with this guy again.
Greg Schmitt: I think it got real watered down in the ‘90’s… The CMC album (“American Hardcore”) and all of that… Singers coming in and out all the time.
Steve Riley: Yeah, the CMC album was something that Tracii wanted to do. He wanted to do this complete departure from the LA GUNS sound. And he was so into Dimebag and fucking PANTERA at that time that he had to do this album that sounded almost just like a PANTERA thing. Or in the PANTERA line – not even like PANTERA - just in that line of sound. But yeah, this guy – I tell ya man, he right now has that other band out there in a destructive mode, not even in a creative mode. Because we found out those guys have tried to go in and write songs together recently – Paul and Trace . They can’t. They can’t even write a song together because they never really wrote songs together. And so they can’t write one together. And Tracii’s got that band out there knowing it sounds like shit, knowing they’re making fucking pennies with it playing.
Greg Schmitt: They’re just real sloppy, actually.
Steve Riley: Oh, it’s terrible. I saw something on YouTube, and I was like “Woah, this thing’s bad!” It’s really, really bad. It doesn’t even sound like they’re fucking trying hard. So, we’re out there and we just dare people to come and see us, and go see their band. We’re gonna take people’s heads off! ‘Cause right now we’re playing so good, and we’re so into each other and happy with the situation, that it shows in our playing, I think.
Greg Schmitt: Yeah, ‘cause I saw you, the original five, in what – ’99 or something? You guys were good!
Steve Riley: Here’s what happened: We got a great money offer to get back together to do a greatest hits. And the guys – I called them all myself, and I said, “You wanna do this, and we’ll go out on tour and try it out?” And we did – the five of us. And we did the greatest hits and put four or five new songs on there and then went out and toured. And they just – Mick & Kelly don’t like touring with Tracii. Neither does Phil . And neither do I. And these guys will never ever play with him again. I guarantee you - I’ll put a million dollars down – you’ll never ever see any of the original guys in LA GUNS play with Tracii again. That’s how bad it is, and I’m a fucking optimist. I don’t think like that. I don’t think like, “You never never never.” I gotta always be open – especially in this business. That’s one of the things that I believe to my heart. None of the original members will want to play with Tracii again. He’s that much of an asshole.
You know what I want people to know? To come and see LA GUNS with Phil Lewis. It’s the real sounding LA GUNS, the band that’s been together for 22 years. If you want to hear the band the way you know the band, come and see us – we’re playing fucking great.
Greg Schmitt: Are you going to be at the NAMM show in January?
Steve Riley: I am gonna be at NAMM. I’m gonna sign on Friday at the Ludwig booth, and then we’re gonna play the Whiskey the next night.(Jan 19)…
to be continued.
Watch for part 2 of my interview with Steve, where he talks about his early days, his time in WASP, and much more!
**Special thanks to Jennifer Bartram-Schmitt for the transcription**
- 01/19/08 HOLLYWOOD, CA@THE WHISKY A GO-GO
- 01/23/08 MT CLEMENS, MI@EMERALD THEATRE
- 01/24/08 CINCINNATI, OH@THE BLUE NOTE
- 01/26/08 TOLEDO, OH@CLUB BIJUO
- 02/07/08 CLIFTON, NJ@DINGBATZ
- 02/08/08 HARTFORD, CT@WEBSTER THEATRE
- 02/09/08 ALLENTOWN, PA@CROCODILE ROCK