INTERVIEW AND PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
Richie Scarlet, also known as “The Emperor of Rock and Roll,” is a New York native musician, songwriter, and producer. Richie started his career as a solo artist in the early ’80s, and he was a founding member of the former Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley’s band Frehley’s Comet. Later on, he played guitar in Frehley’s solo album TROUBLE WALKIN’ (1989). Scarlet toured several years with the band until Ace rejoined Kiss in 1996. Following the split, Scarlet resumed his solo career, and he has released six solo albums after 1997. The latest record, “I PLEDGE THE FIFTH,” saw the light in 2012. In September of 2014, Scarlet reunited with Frehley and toured with Ace until October of 2018. Besides his solo career and working with Ace Frehley, Scarlet’s credits include recording and touring with the former Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach, the former Alice Cooper Group members Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith, and with different incarnations of the band Mountain and much more. Scarlet is also well-known for his production skills. He has produced several groups, including 5th Avenue Vampires, Michael Bruce, the Misfits, Karais James, and the Chesterfield Kings. Currently, Scarlet is a member of Return of the Comet, which also includes the former Frehley’s Comet/Ace Frehley band members: vocalist/guitarist Tod Howarth, bassist John Regan, and drummer Steve “Budgie” Werner. He’s also working with Mountain drummer Corky Laing, and there’s a new Richie Scarlet album in the works. So, let’s have a talk with the man now.
Richie, it’s been a couple of years since we last did an interview together, and a lot of things have happened since then. You have gone through many changes in your personal life and career, so, how would you sum up the last two years in your life?
Right. Life was rocked my world, like, bad. The last two years really of my life, taking care of Joanne for a year. She succumbed to ALS disease, a relentless disease that there’s no cure for. So, it was very difficult, obviously, for her, but for me, I tried to tend to her needs, and I did everything I could, and we lost her last of October of 2018. And I was very lost for quite a while, and I was with Joanne for 25 years. We had a wonderful life. I took her all over the world, to Japan, to England, France. Our last trip on the road was Argentina and New Mexico and Brazil. But that was a very, very tough part of my life. And musically, though, my musical world opened up after Joanne’s passing, because I had all this extra time now on my hands, I would always dedicate half my day to my music, and then the other half, well, Joanne and I would– But now that other half, I put towards my music, writing songs and producing and recording and just full fledged into keeping my mind occupied and being as creative as I possibly can be.
Then last spring, John Regan calls me and offered me this Return to the Comet, which I didn’t really want to do at first because, as you know, Ace Frehley fired his band, including me. So, I was kind of the last thing I wanted to touch a bit but the guy Tom — Tom is the tour manager for Return of the Comet and he kind of convinced me to give it a shot and I had never worked with Tod Howarth before. So, Tod Howarth flew into New York from San Diego, and I picked him up at the airport. And he stayed with me for three days, and we got to know each other a little more. I had run into Tod just a few times in all those years between Frehley’s Comet and when he was in it, and then just ironic how I was replaced by him, and then I ended up replacing him again or vice versa. And then we end up in a band together. But we hit it off fabulously. He’s such a talented guy, and he’s an absolutely great singer, great songwriter, and just a great guy. So that was important that the two of us connected when he stayed with me and we played together, and he showed me his songs that he wrote, and Frehley’s Comet and I showed him songs like “Shot Full of Rock”, “Animal”, “Give it To Me Anyway”, and “Lost in Limbo” because he never played any of those, and I never played “Calling to You” or his other songs. So, we got to mesh together musically. And then we started– then we got Steve “Budgie” Warner on drums on that and of course, John Regan, and we rehearsed and went out and started doing some shows in the States, and it was wonderful. The reaction was wonderful.
When the Return of the Comet band was announced, Sandy Slavin, who also played a couple of songs on TROUBLE WALKIN’, was the drummer of the group. What happened to him?
Sandy was John’s original choice, but Sandy had left when I was with Ace prior. We rehearsed for a tour, and he quit a day before the tour, so I wasn’t — and I had never talked to him ever again since that day. He really kind of left us hanging, and then John brought up Sandy. He’s a great drummer, and he and John played together very well, and I went along with it because John loved playing with Sandy. But as it turned out, Sandy, the last minute, pulled out just before we would start rehearsals. He quit before we even started the thing. So, then they had brought up — who was the drummer that played with Ace, the first tour, Frehley’s Comet tour? The guy with the mohawk?
Billy. Billy Ward.
Billy Ward. Then they brought up Billy Ward. I never worked with Billy Ward, but I had worked with Steve “Budgie” Werner before. I knew that Ace’s fans liked Steve. And so, I had pushed for Steve “Budgie” Werner. And once John Regan played with him once, that was it. They locked in like ham and eggs. And John was — because John had never played with Steve before. John was already gone out of the Frehley’s band when Steve played with Ace. But anyway, it worked out, and so that’s the line-up. Tod Howarth, John Regan, Steve “Budgie” Werner, myself, and we’re looking forward to playing this Kiss Kruise Fest at the end of this month.
How you share the vocal and guitar stuff with Tod Howarth? I mean, how did you decide who’s playing this and that part, who’s playing solo, etc.?
Well, when Tod and I got together– of course, Tod plays guitar, and he plays great keyboards. But we kind of both said I said to Tod, “You’re the singer, and I’m the lead guitar player,” and he agreed with that. He said, “You are the lead guitar player. I am the lead singer.” I mean, even though I also sing, and he plays some lead, but I do the majority of the lead, and he sings most of the songs. I sing about five songs. I sing “Lost in Limbo,” “Animal,” “Give It to Me Anyway,” “2 Young 2 Die”, “Breakout.” Oh, and we do a Beatles song “Little Help from My Friends” at the end of the set. That was “Steve Budgie” Werner’s idea. I don’t know. He asked me to talk to John Regan about it. I mentioned it to John, and he loved the idea. So, we did it the first night and for the last song, and no one really expected it, and it went over great. And for me to sing that song, that’s right in my voice, so. What would you do if I sing out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me? It’s like right there. So, we slam that song. So that’s maybe four songs I sing, five, I don’t know, but Tod is really the singer of Return of The Comet. I mean, he’s got that great voice, and he doesn’t smoke three packs of cigarettes a day [laughter] or do all the other things that I might do. So, his throat and his voice are always pretty much always right on the money.
Does the formation of Return of the Comet mean that John’s and Tod’s band Four by Fate is over?
I can’t really speak for John and Tod about that subject. I don’t know, to be honest with you. I know they just kind of put that on hold, and we put this Return of the Comet together. For all I know, they could do something next year in 2020, but I think right now, the Four by Fate is just kind of grounded right now.
Return of the Comet has played a couple of shows, and there’s more to come, but have you discussed the possibility of writing original material with this line-up?
Yeah, that’s a great question. We have a couple of shows booked that are coming in 2020 that aren’t confirmed yet, but I would love to write some songs with Tod Howarth and the guys in the band. We haven’t really spoken about that much, but I certainly would be all for that. We had to put out a new Frehley’s Comet record. Not Frehley’s Comet, but Return of the Comet [laughter].
And maybe Ace Frehley could be a guest star on it! “Laughs”
We’ll see [laughter]. But right now, we’re just playing out live, and having fun, and playing for the old Comet fans that haven’t heard those songs of Tod’s, especially, in 25 years or whatever it’s been.
NEW SOLO ALBUM
You are busy with Return of the Comet, but you are also working on new solo material. And there’s a new single out already?
Yes, I have a single called “God, the Devil, and Me,” and it’s available all over the– you can download it. And it’s also on YouTube, you could check it out on there and if you like it, spend the big 99 cents and purchase it. I think it’s one of the better songs I’ve written in quite a while. I started writing it towards the end of my wife’s life, and I just regret that she never got to hear the finished product. But she was with me when I first started writing it, and so that’s my first single.
Do you have plans to release a full-length album as well?
Yes, I have the record, it should be out– it will be out sometime in 2020. It’s about 75% finished, it’s like ten songs on there, and I hope to get it finished soon, and be able to deal with that solo record new year, but a majority of the album is done. All the guitars are done, all the drums are done. Scott Sobol flew in from L.A.; he played on a few tracks. The drummer from The Lovin’ Spoonful, Mike Arturi, was on some drum tracks. The drummer I’ve been with for ten years, Russell Wilson, is also on a couple of drum tracks. So, the drums are all done, the bass and guitars are all done, keyboards. It’s just the vocals and then mixing it.
How about if you compare this new album and these new songs to your past albums, is it going to be the same style as the previous I PLEAD THE FIFTH? It was an excellent record from you.
“I plead the fifth” is a statement in the New York– in the United States court justice system. If you’re guilty, but you don’t want to admit it, then you can take the Fifth Amendment and say, “I plead the fifth.” And that’s the reason that is called I PLEAD THE FIFTH because Richie Scarlet is always guilty [laughter], so. No, I PLEAD THE FIFTH was my most successful record. It outsold my whole catalog, that’s how good it did. I had a number one song off it called “Without Your Love” in the States, and radio stations pushed it, and Eddie Trunk also really helped get that single all over the United States. So, I always try to top the record I did before, and this one that I’m almost finished with now, I feel very, very strongly about it. It’s not really up to me, it’s up to the fans whether they like it more than I PLEAD THE FIFTH, but it was my most popular record to date.
WORKING WITH MOUNTAIN AND CORKY LAING
Another project you are involved in now is Corky Laing’s Mountain. Actually, you have been playing with these Mountain guys on and off since the ’80s?
Yes. And I was such a Mountain fan when I was a teenager. I saw the original line-up of Mountain probably six times, at least. With Felix Pappalardi and Leslie West and Steve Knight, and of course, Corky Laing. And then, years later, I end up in the Leslie West solo band, and we toured England and Germany and stuff, and then Leslie decided to put Mountain back together with Corky Laing, so I was recruited to play bass. We were a three-piece power trio, and I loved the Mountain songs. And I did that for quite a while, and I thought, “Okay. That’s the end of it.” And here I am now in Mountain again, only this time playing a six-string guitar instead of a four-string. And I always loved the way Leslie West played guitar, I mean, he’s a motherfucker on guitar, so I tried to tap into his world but also give it my own—”Scarletize”, to the music “Laughs.” But yeah, it’s been a very successful tour in Germany, in Belgium, and here in Finland, and Corky Laing is one of a kind drummer. There are certain people in the world, whether it’s art or filmmakers or musicians, where you can have 100 of them in a room but only 3 of them are geniuses at what they do, and Corky Laing is a drummer– he’s just a drummer that you can– he’s the most unpredictable drummer I’ve ever worked with because he really rarely ever plays the same things twice, so he’s always keeping you on your toes, and Anton Fig is also like that. He’s that good that he can take you into other worlds, well, that’s what Corky does. And Corky is a true rock and roll warrior, putting 50 years of his life into this crazy business called rock and roll. He’s always been a brother to me. And the talent of Mark Mikel, the bass player, and singer of Corky Laing’s Mountain is just phenomenal. He’s just a phenomenal musician who every day surprises me. He plays drums, he plays great piano, he plays great guitar, and he plays great bass, and he sings. He’s got many, many voices. So, between Mark Mikel and Corky Laing, for me, it’s a real pleasure and a joy to be in this power trio.
You now wrote new music with this band in Finland. What kind of schedule you have for the album release, and how will the recordings continue from now on?
Right. Well, we had written three songs, four songs actually here in Finland in the past week and now we’re recording them here. And they’re mainly not– they’re more of the template and the ideas. I don’t necessarily think it’ll be a finished product, but it’s a good percentage of the song we’re recording each one. And then we’re all be back in the United States in January is the next show for the Corky Laing’s Mountain. So, we’ll have these four songs that we recorded and we’ll probably re-record them because these are more demos than the actual record. But I think we have some really cool stuff going on here. I don’t even know how you describe what kind of music it is. It’s hard rock with a lot of unexpected changes in it.
When was the last time you recorded original music with Corky?
It was the MASTERS OF WAR album released in 2007. That’s the last record I did with Corky and Leslie West. And that was the last Mountain record, I guess? And Ozzy Osbourne sang on that record. He sang on the title track “Masters of War.” And there’s a bunch of guests on it. And that was all Bob Dylan songs that Leslie had taken– the 60’s folk songs really and just turned them into these gigantic big rock heavy versions. So, I forgot about that until I signed the record the other day. I think I signed that record there, and I forgot I even did that record.
So, you have a solo album in the works, you have Return of the Comet, and you have this Corky Laing project. Do you have more projects going on right now?
I just got done producing a fabulous singer named Karais James. I produced this first record, which is called AS THIS GARDEN BURNS. And I just finished producing the second record, and it hasn’t come out yet but watch for Karais James, great album. Louis Spagnola did the guitars and Russ Wilson, who both are in my band, Show of Shows, Russ Wilson did the drums. I did all the keyboards and bass, but I mainly produced it, and it’s quite a record, so check out Karais James. The album will be out in early 2020. Yeah, I mean, in New York, I try to stay in the studio as much as I can and just put down ideas, or I’ll do an old cover song and just have fun. If I’m not in the studio, if I’m not busy, I get into too much trouble. I have to keep myself motivated. But anyway, yeah. My future plan is to stay as creative as I possibly can. I’ve been playing a lot of piano, and I’ve been playing mandolin a lot lately, and instruments like sitar and dulcimer, and slide guitar, or instruments I played when I was much younger. And now, they’re back, and I’m playing a lot again. So, I’m going to take– I play cello. I like just lots and lots of instruments. So, I’m going to be experimenting with a lot of different colors of music in the near future, and staying as creative as I possibly can be, and just enjoying life. As I said, it was a very, very tough two years. And now, I’ve accepted that my wife on the other side or up in heaven. And it’s time for me just to embrace life and enjoy as much as I possibly can while I’m still here on earth. And I’ve had a wonderful time in Finland. I love your country. And I love Helsinki, and we got to go to the Music Hall of Fame Museum the first night it opened here. And Tuija, I like to say, Tuija Takala, who is Corky’s manager and personal assistant, ran the shows unbelievable throughout Germany. I never had a tour manager that is quite as efficient as her. So, I want to throw her some credit for running the whole Corky Laing’s Mountain because she’s the brain behind the whole project. Tuija grew up here in Helsinki. And she is just as much the star of this band as Corky Laing. They both really shine [laughter].
WORKING WITH THE ALICE COOPER GROUP GUYS
One thing I want to ask, have you still been working with the original Alice Cooper Group bassist Dennis Dunaway?
No, I haven’t been working with him, but I did go to the premiere of his new video. It’s called “Cold Cold Coffin.” And it’s wild. And he called me and asked me to play piano at the studio that he was premiering the video at quite a while back, about six months ago. And it was wonderful. Dennis Dunaway is one of my favorite rock stars of all time. He’s one of the coolest rock stars that I’ve ever met. I was such a fan of the original Alice Cooper group. All five members, each one was such a rock star, their songs, and the way they look. So, all these years, of course, I had a band with Dennis called the 5th Avenue Vampires. Now, Alice has the Hollywood Vampires. But we went out on tour with Alice Cooper with the 5th Avenue Vampires, which featured Joe Von T on vocals. The band is doing another record, and I’m also just about finish with producing the second 5th Avenue Vampires’ record. Dennis is on about three tracks. And then other people came in and played bass. But Dennis Dunaway is one of my favorite rock stars.
You’ve played on Neal Smith’s solo album, and also worked with Michael Bruce. So, you know them all?
Yeah. I played on Neal Smith’s record called PLATINUM GOD. Right. I forgot about that. And Michael Bruce from Alice Cooper. I always love Michael. And I produced a bunch of tracks for him. And I still talk to Michael. Actually, he offered a tour of Iceland to me at the same time that I was coming over here to Europe, to Germany with Corky. So, I couldn’t do it. But I see Dennis quite often because he lives in my area. And I have true admiration for those guys because they’re still out there. I knew Glen Buxton in the last two weeks of his life, and I’ve gotten to know Alice very well just from touring with them with Ace as the opening act. We were in New Zealand and Australia a couple of years ago. And last year in the States, we did some dates with Alice, and. Anyway, Mountain and Alice Cooper Group were two big, huge parts of my childhood, of growing up, so. And they just wouldn’t go away [laughter]. They just kept coming back. Somebody will come in; I’ll play with them, Mountain, Corky. They go away for a while, but they always come back, and that’s great. I mean, I’m blessed and lucky. My life’s been very blessed because I’ve gotten to perform with a lot of people that I grew up listening to as a kid in high school or junior high school. I ended up either playing on their records or whatever. And I’m also on Charlie Gracie’s newest single. Charlie Gracie is a rockabilly legend, American. Philadelphia’s first rockstar, but he’s huge in England also. And so, I’m honored to be on his new record. And I’m on Chubby Checker’s latest album. I did the Misfits’s LAND OF THE DEAD record quite a while ago, but they just played Madison Square Garden the other night. And when you grow up in New York City, that’s the dream. And Ace always used to tell me, and Peter told me too, that growing up in New York, when they first played at The Garden, you would know the date – I don’t know – it was in the ’70 sometime. That’s a dream of every musician growing up in the New York City area, to play at The Garden, so, yeah. And John Regan just played Madison Square Garden with Peter Frampton, which I was very proud to do that. It was great to see John Regan or, as I call him Johnny Rex – that’s his nickname – to see him up at The Garden there, that was a big night for John, and I was very happy for him.
ACE FREHLEY THING
Then I have to ask something about Ace Frehley. How would you sum all the things that happened after you re-united with him back in 2014 until now?
Well, I’ll make this brief. With Ace, first of all, I was never expected to get back with Ace. It was my wife that got me back with Ace after not playing with him for probably– 17 years had gone by, and we had a great four years. I came back. I never expected to be back. We toured the world. We did the big festivals; you were there with us. The Sweden Rock Fest and we did the Download Fest with the Muse, and we did Hellfest in France, and lots of great shows in The States. And it was a fantastic band with Chris Wyse who is now in The Hollywood Vampires, formerly of the Cult, and of Scotty Coogan, who now plays with L.A. Guns. It was a real rock and roll band, and it was a great time. Eh, good things don’t last forever, and kind of out nowhere, Ace just fired the whole band. End of the story.
Were you disappointed that during your recent time spent with Ace, he released a couple of albums, but you were not allowed to play on those?
I would have played on his albums, but… Ace is living 3000 miles away from me, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t have done it. It’s just… he just went ahead and did his own records. And I don’t know? I can say he’s put out a whole bunch of records. But my favorite Ace record, of course, is His first solo record, when he was still with Kiss. He had the right combination of Eddie Kramer and the material and the songs, and Anton Fig, of course, was incredible on that record. I don’t know what else to say other than TROUBLE WALKIN’ was one hell of a record. And not just because I was on it, but it was just Eddie Kramer did that record, and Anton Fig was on drums on that record too. And we just captured the magic on that record that I think a lot of his fans missed out on maybe. That record kind of flew under the radar. But I’m still very proud to be on that record. That’s for sure. That was a great record. And that’s about all I have to say about his recordings.
You’re going to perform with Ace again next week in Miami. What are your thoughts about it?
Yeah, I’ll be seeing him next week. And he announced that he’s coming up to play the hardcore songs with us. So yeah, we’ll see how that goes.
But isn’t it a kind of similar situation for John Regan and Tod Howarth as well?
Yeah, but they played with him. I don’t know, maybe a year or so ago they got together somewhere with Anton. They did one little thing. So it’s not like they haven’t seen him in all these years, and they opened up with Ace– when I was with Ace, we played the Chance Theater and Four by Fate opened up that night, and they went over great, but I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but I never tried to even, I just let things happen.
We’ll see what happens. I wish you the best of luck with the event and everything else.
Yeah. Well, that’s it. So that’s it, man. So, I like to thank the KISS Army of Finland who all came out to the show and you and Mikko for still giving a fuck about Richie Scarlet, and still caring about me enough to interview me, and I’m very blessed, and I love you guys and all the best.
The last question. A couple of years ago, you played bass on Peter Criss’s rock record, but the album has not been released yet. Is there any new info regarding the album, and do you think that it will see the light of day someday?
I don’t really have an answer but, what I did the bass on every track. I wanted to play guitar on that record really bad, but Angel, his guitar player, had already done all the guitars, but I did the bass, and it was rock and roll record. It wasn’t like the–
Do you mean ONE FOR ALL?
Right. No, this was like back to the Catman attitude, man, but it just hasn’t seen the light of day yet. Peter had mentioned that John 5, I think, might be doing something for the album, and also Rob Zombie, but this was a while ago. I don’t know, but I could say that I love Peter Criss. I am the closest with Peter Criss of any member of KISS. I have been for 30 years. He is somebody who called me every week when my wife died just to make sure that I was okay. And that’s the kind of person that the Catman is. And Gigi, they both reached out to me once a week, and they still do. And it’s been over a year just to make sure that I was okay after losing my wife. It just shows you the kind of person that Peter is, I mean. So, I’m close with Peter Criss, and hopefully, that record will see the light of day someday.
Okay. That’s it.
Okay, man. You got it
LIVE SHOTS FROM HELSINKI BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ