KERRANG ISSUE 33 JANUARY 1983
Ever wonder what happened to Starz?
Here’s a conundrum for ya! When do superstars fail to make it big in the world of rock ‘n’ roll? When the guys are members of that super New York five-piece Starz, of course. A band tipped for big, BIG things by the all-knowing critical ball-points of many a respected rock critic, but which fell apart in the year of 1979. Not a peep was heard of any of Starz’ members – until earlier this year that is.
Enter Hellcats, a new four-piece signed to the American Indie Radio Records and distributed through Atlantic. It was decidedly delighting to find two ex-Starz persons, guitarist Richie Ranno and vocalist par excellence Michael Lee Smith, nestling within the ‘Cats’ ranks and, in view of the quality of Starz’ output on those almighty albums ‘Violation’ and ‘Coliseum Rock’, it was hardly surprising to find Hellcats’ first five-track mini LP was a gloriously rowdy selection of hard rock tunes. Individual – yes, heavy -but tuneful, That goes without saying!
Ranno and Smith are the hard core (more or these two words later!) of Hellcats, just as they were with Starz. But the band have more to offer through Peter Scance’s expressive bass play and Doug Madick’s highly competent drum backbeat. Numbers such as ‘Rock & Roll Man’ and ‘Auto Erotica’ provide ample proof that the tour have gelled remarkably well. There’s no hanging about here. Hellcats are taking up where Starz left off.
“That’s exactly how we’re viewing Hellcats,” states Ranno, “because it wasn’t really musical problems that instigated the Starz split. At the time we wanted out of our record and also our management deals but the management kept us in a stranglehold and wouldn’t relent, which meant we were kept in limbo. The pressure of living and also keeping a band going with its hands tied behind back became too much, so the only thing we could do was split. It was a real pity because we did pretty well in Starz – another two albums and I reckon we could have broken.”
That, of course, was not to be and the band went their separate ways.
“Michael stayed out in California where we’d been working and got involved with various bar bands, one of which included Doug. I went back to New York and formed a band by the name of Hard Core (see what I was getting at?!) With Peter and Dube, the drummer who played in Starz. That was a good band too, but the longer it went on the more we could see that we weren’t really going to get anywhere.
“The next plan we had was to re-form Starz, because after the split we had a constant flow of letters from fans of the band asking us to get back together. Dube, Brendon Harkin, Orville Davis, Michael and myself gave it a go but we had the same problems that Hard Core had experienced and again things fell through.”
Persistent burgers that these guys are, they decided to give it another shot with Hellcats and this third time, everything fell into place.
“It’s a strange situation that we’re in now, because on paper you’d think this would be the hardest band to keep together. Mike and Doug still live in California whereas Peter and myself are based in New York, which is different to say the least
“There are good and bad aspects of this distance, though. On the one hand, it means we don’t see enough of each other to fall out but on the other it means we don’t really get the opportunity to play together enough. We have to play in bursts, but that’ll be rectified soon because we’re going to start some heavy touring in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut areas.
This touring schedule has, of course, been organised to promote the first Hellcats product. It strikes me as rather strange that it should be no more than a five-track mini album, judging from the high quality of all the featured songs, ranging from the fiery, up-front rock ‘n’ roll of ‘It’s Alright’ to the smooth, polished, even funky ‘Auto Erotica’. Was it, as l would guess, lack of finance that dictated the relatively short playing time?
“That’s right. We recorded the songs at the Record Plant before we had a deal proper. We had what is known as a ‘Spec. deal’ whereby we took on the expense of recording knowing that the label was very close to signing us. It was an act of faith on our behalf and proof to Radio that we could deliver.”
Creative juices are apparently oozing out of every Hellcat pore (paw?) and new numbers are being written all the time and at great speed…
“We don’t decide on our set for the evening until the very last minute because we have so many songs to choose from, We have well over an album’s worth of unrecorded numbers that are real killers. We do retain some of our Starz heritage, though, with our opening number, ‘The Take Me Intro. Song’, which features some guitar parts from the Starz tune ‘Take Me’. That aside, we have numbers whose titles should show you what we’re about.
“We perform an anthemic kind of tune called ‘Sludge Rock/We Are The Hellcats’ and then we include the likes of ‘Dreaming’ My Life Away’, ‘Miss You Tonight’ and ‘Restless Underwear’ (which has got to be one of the best titles since ‘Wang Dang Sweet Poontang’!). We’ve stuck to our roots – we’re still pretty gross!!”
‘You got your mind on something, You wish your hands were there, ‘Cos you never, never ever seen, Such a perfect pair!’ (from ‘It’s Alright’).
The band are desperately keen to play in the UK, especially if they can get a licensing deal for their next release, a single of ‘Auto Erotica’ backed with alive version of ’Rock And Roll Man’. They’d like to do some kind of co-headlining club tour, and you’d be crazy to miss them if they come, After all, they’re born again super Starz, right?