INTERVIEW AND PICS BY MARKO SYRJALA
Richie Scarlet, nicknamed ”The Emperor of Rock ’n Roll,” is a multi-talented musician and producer from New York. The man started his career back in the late ’70s, but he’s best known for his long and successful collaboration with former KISS guitarist Ace Frehley. Scarlet has also worked with such names as Sebastian Bach, Mountain, and he’s released several solo albums, including the latest I PLEAD THE FIFTH, which came out earlier this year. In early June, Scarlet came to Finland with his lovely wife Joann because he was one of the special quests for the annual KISS Expo in Helsinki. Later on in the evening, Scarlet also performed with Finnish Ace Frehley tribute band Frehley’s Vomit. I met a little tired but very talkative Scarlet the next morning at the hotel, and here’s what I got caught on the tape. Read on!
Alright, first of all, how has your visit here to Finland gone?
It was a wonderful trip to the beautiful city of Helsinki. Real good rock crowds and the weather was great. I enjoyed it very much.
Yeah, so this is actually the second visit for you to Finland. The last time you were here was ten years ago after you played a show with Mountain on the rock cruise which sailed between Sweden and Finland. Do you have any memories of that visit?
I remember that the cruise ship was crazy; everybody was drunk. And I remember very little about it, to be honest with you.
Was the Mountain tour your first time in Europe?
It’s the only tour I ever was in Scandinavia, but I have played all over Europe – Austria, Germany, England, whatever, just about all over Europe, the border of France, and I would say all over Asia, Canada, just about everywhere. I have not been to Italy yet but played all over Germany, and yeah, you know. I toured Korea and Japan with Sebastian Bach, toured Japan with Ace Frehley and with Mountain all over Europe and Canada and just about everywhere else.
SOLO CAREER, STUDIO WORK, SESSIONS, AND MORE.
People here in Finland and Europe know you best because of your Ace Frehley connections…
But before we start talking about Ace, I want to discuss your solo career and other things. First of all, you just recently released your fifth solo album titled I PLEAD THE FIFTH. Tell me something more about it?
Yeah, so this time doing the record, I usually co-produce my albums, but this time, I turned it over to the guy I co-produced with Tarik Solangi. I told him, “You take over. I want to be featured more as a songwriter more than a guitar hero”. In a lot of my records, I do a lot of guitars, this new record, I had just written most of these songs, and I have Bumblefoot from Guns n Roses on there, and the sax player from the Rolling Stones, Arnold Hecht. There are all kinds of guests, and it’s been my most commercially successful CD so far. It’s a little more commercial, but as I said, it features my songwriting more than just wanking on guitar up and down, and I play a lot of piano on it also.
I know you play guitar, bass, and piano, but do you also play some other instruments as well?
Yeah, I play about 11 instruments. I play the sitar, dulcimer, mandolin, drums, harmonica, bass, any string instrument, and that’s the gift that God gave me so.
So basically, you could create a whole album on your own?
Yeah, that’s basically what I did on this new one. I did most of the bass, all the guitar, vocals – I also am a drummer, so that’s where I started. I started on drums, and I have been playing on drums all my life. So any drummer that I work with has to be pretty fucking good, you know? They have to be better than me, and I got a chance to work with many great drummers through the years, so from Anton Fig to Carmine Appice, Bobby Rondinelli, Neil Smith from Alice Cooper, and so on. Right now, I’ve got a drummer called Russage Wilson, who’s been with me for two years, an excellent drummer. Russell Wilson and I are the core members of my band, and we use different bass players come and go and keyboard guys occasionally. But on the new record, the single, “Without Your Love” is a pop song, which I don’t even like, but when it charted and went to number 1.
It’s a melodic and catchy song, but is it too commercial a track for your taste?
Yeah, it’s a pop song, but it took off. It’s number seven on the secondary markets in the United States and number one on the independent market. So because of that single, which I just did a video for, it helped the record a lot, you know?
Tell me something about the video “Without your Love”?
The video was shot in a mean part of New York, called Mt Vernon New York. That single also featured Joey Molland from Badfinger. He did background vocals as well as Joann Scarlet, and we just shot it to make it, you know, it fits the music. It was kind of a throwback pop… You know what you do call that song, but it has a catchy hook, and it’s only 3 minutes long, and I think that’s why it did so well on these singles charts. But I didn’t plan it to be a single. It just happened.
What other things you have currently going on?
I just recently played with Chubby Checker, who is a part of American pop culture. “The Twist” he is famous for. So I am doing shows with Chubby Checker. I just did a record that also went to number one by a guy named Charlie Gracie. He is a rockabilly legend who is vast in England, and his song went to number one. It’s called “Baby Doll,” and I did all the guitars on that. So I have been doing a lot of different projects. I am also doing a lot of producing work. I just finished Eric D’s CD, and I’m producing a guy named Louie Spagnola, who’s a phenomenal guitar player from out of New York, and I’ve produced the Chesterfield Kings, which is one of the coolest bands in New York. Have you ever hear of them at all?
Yes, I know the name.
Richie Scarlet: Yeah, they’re like a 60’s garage band –dynamite band, actually that was quite a while ago. I do a lot of work for independent labels out of New York.
Which studio are you using primarily for all those projects?
I work primarily out of Primetime studios in Mt Vernon, New York. That’s where the new record was done, and that’s where the last couple of albums I did were made. And I’ve worked at Electric Lady in New York City and just about every major studio in New York.
Which studio is your favorite place to work?
Richie Scarlet: Well, Electric Lady, because it was Jimi Hendrix’s studio and so many incredible artists have recorded there. It’s an astonishing studio, and it’s always a thrill to record there.
It seems that you’re working a lot these days. How much you have time to do Richie Scarlet solo shows in the midst of all these things?
I’ve been doing touring a lot. I toured in San Francisco, California, on the last solo tour. It went all over the West Coast. I play a lot in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston – I did the North East section of the United States, that’s where I mainly play with my own stuff. I have a show next week in New York City at a place called The Cutting Room. I have two other shows in the New York States, a couple in Connecticut; I went to Japan twice with my show. I have just played everywhere.
ALICE COOPER BAND
Are you still working with the original Alice Cooper band, guys?
Well, I do little projects with Dennis Dunaway. I produced Michael Bruce, and I played on Neil Smith’s CD, THE GOLDEN GOD. I believe it’s called, so… I also worked with guys from Blue Oyster Cult and played with them on and off. You know, I try to stay as creative as possible because if I don’t, I get in too much trouble, “Laughs.”
A few years ago, you did an interesting project called the 5th Avenue Vampires, which included Dennis Dunaway. Would you tell me something more about that project?
5th Avenue Vampires was a project I did with Dennis, a guy named Joe Von T, and Russell Wilson. We did an album called DRAWING BLOOD some years ago, and then we went out and opened for – we did the Alice Cooper -tour a few years ago, the “Theatre of Pain” -tour.
I think you mean “Theatre of Death” –tour… “Laughs.”
Richie Scarlet: “Theatre of Death”? Was that what, yeah “Theatre of Death…” Just testing you to see if you knew “Laughs” We did a whole bunch of cities on that tour… Recently I’ve been playing in the Cutting Room. I’m playing next week with Joey Molland from Badfinger. I also play with Denny Laine from Paul McCartney and the Wings. He was also in the Moody Blues. So I’m doing different shows with Denny and Joey Molland. What they do is they have me put a band together for them, and then they fly in, and I have the group all ready for them, and then we do the shows, so Joey Molland from Badfinger is the 22nd of June, which is coming up in a couple of weeks.
ABOUT THE INFLUENCES AND ANTON FIG TALK
You’ve been working with various bands and artists during the years, and it seems that you’re not a “metal guy” at all but more like a fan of 60’s stuff. Am I right here?
No, I should say I’m more of a 70’s guy. I grew up with T-Rex, David Bowie, and early KISS, and then I went from that to into the Sex Pistols, early Clash…
How about the Ramones?
Not so much Ramones, though you know I knew Joey Ramone pretty good Generation X I really dug and also bands like Mott the Hoople, early Queen, Roxy Music, and a lot of 60’s stuff. But I was never really a metal guy. I had always loved Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, but that’s more a hard rock, you know. I’m not into a – the speed metal – death metal thing. I think the drumming is unbelievable, but I’m not into the cookie monster “arrr rahh (growling) your mother sucks cock” kind of singing. Also, I’m a blues player, too, at heart. My biggest influence in music my whole life has been Jimi Hendrix, and my favorite living guitar player, hands down, is Jeff Beck. I mean, there’s just nobody that can touch Jeff Beck in my book. I grew up with him in the Yardbirds, all the way through his whole career, but metal, yeah, I like some of it, but being associated with Ace, people think you know I’m this “metal guy.” I’m a mix of every style, playing from rockabilly to British invasion to punk to hard rock – I like hard rock, that’s really where I am at, I’m a hard rock man.
When you now mentioned Ace, I was thinking about Anton Fig, another person working with Ace, although he has a different musical background. When I interviewed him last year, he told me that he barely knew about KISS when he first started to work with Ace in 1978.
I think Anton came more from a jazz background, maybe, but he has the ability to kick ass and play really hard rock and any style, and the man can play any form, with a lot of power. A lot of Jazz guys don’t have power. On songs like “Rip it Out” or “Breakout,” the drum fills on there are amazing, and that’s power, man.
He is a great drummer. He’s been doing tons of albums with different bands/people and works still on David Letterman’s show as well.
Yeah, and he is still there to this day, and to me, Anton Fig is still one of the greatest drummers in rock and roll. Not only rock and roll, but he can also play jazz, he can play fusion, and he has been a wonderful friend since I first met in 1983. We still talk to Anton all the time, my wife and I, and my wife loves Anton. Anton loves Joann, and when Joann first met Anton, she would watch him before, well actually, yeah, you didn’t know him in the beginning, but since Letterman comes on at 11:30 PM at night – so what did you tell him?
Joann Scarlet: I used to go to sleep with the little TV next to the bed, and I would always say “good night” to Anton after I would sleep, and I found him to be the best drummer at night on the talk show
Richie Scarlet: But what else did you say to him?
Joann Scarlet: Oh, when I met him, I said to him, “I go to sleep with you every night.” And he laughed, “Laughs.”
Richie Scarlet: But Anton has played on most of my solo CDs. From the very first one, WISE GUY FROM NEW YORK, INSANITY OF LIFE, he played on REVELATION SUPREME, and I had the honor of playing on his solo album.
And just seeing Brian Wilson’s picture from the Beach Boys and then seeing my picture next to him on the booklet… that was a rush.
ACE FREHLEY TALK
Alright, maybe now it’s time to talk about Ace Frehley a bit as well. It wasn’t that long time ago when you played with Ace in New York, right?
Yeah, I played with Ace at Best Buy Theatre in Times Square, New York City. Anton Fig also came up on drums. It was wonderful to play with Ace again after a long time, and you know there is the talk of a possible reunion, which I would love to see happen, but I don’t know if it’s going to happen. I know John Regan is pursuing it also, so that only time can tell on that one.
Ace has now been living on the West Coast for a while?
Yeah, he’s settled down out there in California.
But he’s still a true New Yorker?
Yeah, he is New York, but he made a big move recently he moved out there. He has asked me to help him write his second book, which will be all about his solo band. His first book was more about KISS, and there’s only a small chapter about his band. His second book is supposed to be all his solo, Frehley’s Comet, Ace Frehley band stuff, so that I may be helping him out on that except that. He lives in California, I’m in New York, so if our schedules get together, we‘re going to hook up, and I’m going to help him out with that book.
I know this question has been asked million times already, but how you and Ace end up working together?
I was recording my first album, HIT FOR HIT, and the engineer’s name was Eddie Solon. If you look at Ace’s first solo album’s back, he dedicates it and mentions Eddie Solon. Eddie brought me to Ace’s mansion to borrow a twelve-string guitar. It was an old Fender electric guitar that I used on a song called “American Youth,” We just hit it off and started playing. And Ace’s vision of that band was to have a band like what Johnny Winter and Rick Derringer once had called Johnny Winter, And where they both played lead guitar back and forth, so when I first hooked up with Ace, that was his blueprint of what he wanted to do. I did the very first Ace Frehley -tour in 1985. We did – I don’t know how many cities it was a small tour, we didn’t have a record out yet, and it was his first time without makeup, so he was very he was kind of nervous in a way because no one had ever really seen what he looked like.
Why did you quit working with Ace before the first Frehley’s Comet album was released?
At the time, I recorded my album, and we were supposed to get a deal for Ace with Bronze records, but then Ace kind of got himself in some problems, and we never ended up going over there recording it. The band sat waiting for six months, probably, and at that time, I left to promote my album. And then I think John Regan brought in Tod Howarth, and I was out, and he was in, but I believe that when I came back… I believe that TROUBLE WALKIN’ record was the best thing Ace did since his very first solo album with KISS. I was proud to be part of that, and then we toured from ’89-’95, I believe, before he went back to KISS re-union. I can say that Ace is one of the most generous guys and always treated me like gold. He was very generous, and we had just a lot of fun. All the other bands I worked with were mainly a job like Mountain or Sebastian Bach, but playing with Ace Frehley was like a family thing, and he was like a brother, and we had that bond and that specific chemistry that… I usually don’t like to play with other guitar players. I’m a greedy fuck. I want to play everything, lead, rhythm, but playing with Ace, was always magical, and there’s a special chemistry that I have with Ace Frehley that I don’t have with other guitar players.
In the beginning, you recorded a lot of demos with Ace, which are still unpublished. Would you tell us something more about those sessions?
Yeah, we probably recorded, I would say, at least 25 songs. We worked with producers like Vini Poncia and Chris Kimsey, and all kinds of producers came in. We did songs like “Audio/Video,” “Wired Up”… I forget a lot of the titles. I think “Dolls,” we did the original demo of “Dolls,” “Breakout.” I don’t know… but there all starting to surface now on YouTube, I noticed after all these years. I always had them, and KISS collectors would try to buy them, but I would never sell them. Now somebody let them out. They were let out years ago, but the quality was terrible, but I have like first-generation quality. I was surprised that Ace didn’t do more of those songs on his first Frehley’s Comet record; he did a couple. There were some cool songs there, a lot of songs, we recorded a lot at Northridge studios in White Plains in New York, and most of those songs were done at Ace’s Studio in his studio.
I’ve heard most of those demos, and almost half of the songs are very keyboard-driven stuff. I think it was a fashionable thing to do in the music world at that time?
Yeah, I think that was the time. It was the early ‘80’s, and there was a lot of keyboard stuff everywhere, and the producers had a lot to do with that. They were trying to maybe steer Ace towards that “new wavish” sort of things, whatever, but some of the songs were good, you know?
What do you remember of the song “Give it to me Anyway,” which came out years later?
“Give it to me. Anyway,” yeah, I co-wrote that song with maybe Arthur Stead and Ace? That was recorded for the TROUBLE WALKIN’ record, and then they ended up using “Fractured Mirror 2”. At that point, I think it was part 3 or 4, but I was disappointed when it didn’t come out, but then I guess it eventually did come out.
Now when you mentioned Arthur Stead, do you know what he’s up to nowadays?
I haven’t seen Arthur Stead in years; I have no idea, to be honest with you. He was the keyboard player in Frehley’s Comet. He also wrote a couple of songs, like “I’m An Animal,” which was a demo, which I don’t think got released, “Call Me Animal,” I think it was called? Arthur has written songs for Jefferson Starship and many other groups, but I have not seen him in years. He’s a very talented guy, though.
How about the track “One Plus One,” which was also released later on?
I didn’t have anything to do with that song. Ace wrote that with somebody else, and that came a little bit after all those sessions that we did. I’m trying to think about what other songs there were. There was a whole bunch of them, “Baby It’s You,” I don’t know, but the “One Plus One,” I think, came out a few years later.
PETER CRISS, VINNIE VINCENT, AND THE ROCKSTAR MOVIE
You’ve also been working with another original KISS member, Peter Criss. How did you two first get to know each other?
I met Peter way, way back. I’ve known Peter for maybe even longer than Ace or around the same time. Peter is always treated me like gold. I mean, he’s a great friend, and you know, he wears his heart on his sleeve, and he’s really… of course, he was an original member of KISS. I think it hurts him somewhat that he’s no longer there, or I don’t know how to put it, but for me, KISS that was KISS was Ace Frehley and Peter and Paul and Gene, but I understand that here in Finland the ‘80’s KISS was more popular than that. It’s just different generations, but I love Peter Criss. I did a record with him two years ago and played bass on the album. I wanted to play at least one song so bad on guitar, but all the guitars were done, the whole record was done, all vocals were already done. It was a great departure from the album he had done before that.
To be honest, ONE FOR ALL wasn’t his best release to date…
No, and I actually told him that it was really not KISS fans cup of tea. It wasn’t really what they like. But he had said to me that he had to get it out of his system to be kind of a crooner singer with orchestration and everything. The record, if it ever sees the light, if it ever comes out, the album that I played on actually was with some really good rock stuff. Some catchy songs. When I started that record with him, he also had just gotten a book deal, so he took the book deal first. Which is now… anybody knows that the book is out. And hopefully, that record will see the light of day, you know I don’t have any demos from it, and Peter wouldn’t even send me a demo. I had no idea what I was also going to play until I got to the studio. I spent about four days with him, and we just had a blast. We watched lots of Gene Krupa stuff, The Gene Krupa Story. Gene Krupa very influences Peter, and his best man at his first wedding was Jerry Nolan from the New York Dolls, who was also a friend of mine, but Peter grew up with him, Jerry has passed on. We just had a blast making the record, it was already built, and I just went in and did all the bass. But I spent four days nonstop with Peter and you know he can indeed be a funny man with a lot of soul. Peter Criss has a lot of soul – in his vocals and his passion for drumming in his music. So hopefully, that record will come out one of these days.
You also mentioned that you knew Vinnie Vincent as well?
I never knew him personally that well, but I had met him through George Sewitt, who handled Ace and managed Slaughter and Vinnie Vincent Invasion. He managed Peter Criss, so occasionally George would take me to see Vinnie at L’Amour in Brooklyn, I think was the first time I met him. But I don’t know him on a personal level, but I got to meet him and hang out a little bit when something was happening with Vinnie Vincent Invasion when it first came out.
When you mentioned Vinnie Vincent Invasion, I met Dana Strum and Mark Slaughter last year in Sweden.
Last time we saw Mark Slaughter was doing the movie Rockstar, which I recorded for that movie with Sebastian Bach and Anton. It was a song by Rose Tattoo, but on the last minute, they pulled the song, we didn’t end up in the movie soundtrack, but we did record a song for that movie, and I think the Black Crowes ended up in there signed, we ended up not getting in the film.
Do you still have the tapes from that session?
No. I have never even heard it, and I’ve never yet gotten a copy of it. But Anton and… It was produced by the guy that did one of the Aerosmith records. I don’t know, but anyway, I never ended up in it. I did end up producing a song for a movie called Jimmy Whispers by a group called NYB that I produced. So at least I got to see the credits come down, and I always wanted to have my music in a film, but that one, the Rockstar movie, it just never happened. You know, it wasn’t my song anyway, but it would have been cool to have it in there, you know.
KISSIN TIME IN FINLAND
Yesterday you did see a KISS concert for the first time in years here in Helsinki. How did you like it?
Yes, that was the first time I ever saw that particular lineup. I’ve known Eric Singer quite a while from his years with Alice Cooper. I’ve known Tommy Thayer, but I never actually saw him with Kiss. I saw him play in Black and Blue years ago, at the Garden in New York, when they opened for KISS. But I must say, his guitar playing, I didn’t realize, like he did a great job, I thought. It was a really good show. You know I liked the big Spider- that was cool. Right? You got to give a hand to Paul and Gene for all these years of just continually touring, and they could have retired years ago, just like the Rolling Stones. To me, the Rolling Stones is rock and roll. That is rock and roll hands down, but I watched Paul up there working and Gene, and I think, I got to tip my hat to all of the years that they just keep going and I have a lot of respect for them for the fact that they keep going and always give a thousand percent to their fans. I don’t think we ever saw KISS in another country?
Joann Scarlet: This is true only in the States.
Richie Scarlet: Only in the States. But I could see that Finland was very excited to have them here. All the power to them. I have to tip my hat to them.
When was the last time you saw KISS in the States then?
The last time we saw KISS was the Psycho Circus tour. We saw them in Hartford, Connecticut, and Boston. I think Boston might have been the first night of that tour in ’96. Ace sent the limousine to pick up my wife Joann and me, and we had fifth-row seats. To see Ace and Peter back in there after all those years and all the red tape between Paul and Gene and Ace and Peter, to see the four of them together. It was a magical moment. It was wonderful, and I was really proud of Ace and Peter, the fact that they came back and showed their fans and Paul and Gene that they could still do it. It was amazing when they put the makeup back on, how you know with the makeup they look like. It’s like going back in time; they are all in shape, and with the makeup, it covers any age, so that was a great time. ’96, ’97, ‘98, and I was just so proud of Peter and Ace, after all the years of all the squabbling back and forth, all of a sudden they buried the hatchet, but the makeup back on and went out and kicked the world’s ass.
Right. Is there anything more you want to say?
I want to thank the fans in Finland. And Helsinki, especially, for all their warmth and the great time we had, and going from Frehley’s Comet to Frehley’s Vomit was a lot of fun, and that’s what rock and roll is all about. Rock and roll is an attitude, a pure attitude, and I don’t care how good you can play, and Frehley’s Vomit had the attitude, and that’s what enabled me to have so much fun. I want to thank you, guys. And thank you, Marko, for interviewing and the visit, and that’s it.
Ok, thank you so much.