May 15, 2020

Steve Riley - L.A. Guns

By Bob Suehs

Drummer Steve Riley has been in the business of Rock N Roll for four decades and just incase you were unsure of his past here's the cliffnotes:

Steve Riley got his first taste of fame when he joined a revival version of Steppenwolf in 1979.  The revival version did not feature original Steppenwolf vocalist John Kay.  The core of the band was Goldy McJohn and Nick St. Nicholas with a revolving door of singers and drummers.  John Kay initially licensed the name “Steppenwolf” to the new version of the band but in 1980 he sued them for breach of contract; the legal dispute over promotional use of the name Steppenwolf continued until 2000.

Riley performed on the Keel record, “The Right To Rock” in 1985 but left the band to join W.A.S.P.

 Riley joined Black Lawless as a member of W.A.S.P. in 1985 and performed on two of the bands classic studio releases, “The Last Command” and “Inside The Electric Circus” as well as their live record, “Live…In The Raw”.  Riley left W.A.S.P. in 1987 to join Tracii Gun’s band L.A. Guns.  

The debut release from L.A. Guns featured Riley performing drums on the bonus track “Winters Fool”; Riley did not perform on the majority of the debut release, drumming duty was  handled by Nickey Alexander.

 Riley was fired from L.A. Guns in 1992 but returned to the band in 1994.

 In 2002 L.A. Guns released their last record with the Guns/Riley/Lewis combo.  Tracii left L.A. Guns to start a new band with Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx called Brides of Destruction.  When Tracii quite L.A. Guns he left the band in limbo because they had a tour booked with Alice Cooper and in what has to be one of the worst career moves ever, Tracii signed over half ownership of the name L.A. Guns to Steve Riley thus allowing Riley to carry on as L.A. Guns despite the bands namesake being gone.

Sixx left the Brides in 2005 to rejoin Motley Crue.  Tracii continued The Brides for a second record/tour cycle before disbanding it.

In 2006 there were officially 2 versions of L.A. Guns; Tracii had his version with a cast of rotating members while Riley & Lewis maintained their version with semi regular members for nearly a decade.  Legally, both Tracii and Riley had the right to use the name L.A. Guns since they are equal co-owners of the name.  

In 2016 Phil Lewis decided to join Tracii’s version of L.A. Guns thus leaving Riley high and dry.  Riley and Guns have notoriously dissed each other in the media over the rights of the name L.A. Guns.  In 2019 Riley formed his own version of L.A. Guns alongside “classic era” bassist Kelly Nickels.  Nickels redesigned the bands logo and they performed their first show together at the M3 Festival in Maryland.

Riley’s L.A. Guns went in the studio to work on new music and released a single called “Crawl” which is the lead track off their upcoming record “Renegades”.

Rock N Roll Experience:  While I like the title “Renegades” for your debut record I think you should have called it “Ressurection” since you pretty much created a totally new version of the band.

Riley: Yeah, you know what brother, we are really happy with the way the record turned out and yeah, I think it's a fitting title too. (Renegades) is actually one of the tracks that Kelly brought in called "Renegades" and it's on the album and we thought it would be a great name for an album too.

Rock N Roll Experience:  Why did you choose last years M3 as the debut performance for your version of LA Guns?

Riley: It took us a while, me and Kelly, to put the band together because everything happened so fast when Phil (Lewis) left and everything so it took me a while, I never intended on stopping L.A. Guns and its totally been like that for thirty years, I've been pushing L.A. Guns and I'm the longest tenured member, I never quit the band so I never intended to stop being in L.A. Guns it was just the situation that approached me like that and then Kelly wanting to come back with me was just a gas and so awesome having him back so it took us a while, we were starting to write material and put the thing together. Then M3 approached us and we ended up doing that show and it snowballed into new management, new agency, and the Golden Robot deal with the Golden Robot Records. Everything happened quick and we ended up going into the studio last year and getting this thing done and thank God we did it man because we were thinking about doing it this year and we would have been screwed.

Rock N Roll Experience: Are you still planning on performing at M3 Rock Fest this year?

Riley:  Yeah, we are scheduled. We should have already done it but now it's rescheduled for September and I've got a rescheduled itinerary in front of me right now, everything has been pushed back and we are going to start in August hopefully, we don't know. We've got our fingers crossed but our new dates, we start in August and we are going to release another single on the internet next month in June and then get the whole record out in July and then we start up with the (tour) dates in August.

Rock N Roll Experience:  How has the pandemic situation affected touring for L.A. Guns?

Steve: Oh man, this is a total shutdown because that's our bread and butter, going out on the road, everybody is just, we are penalized right now, nobody can move or do anything and I'm doing the same thing all of you are doing, I'm staying home, self quarantine, and just staying in and trying not to go out too much and trying to let this thing clear up right now, but as far as touring, forget it, it totally just penalized the entire entertainment industry.

Rock N Roll Experience:  Phil Lewis made a comment onstage here in Maryland several years back, he said that all Black people were one dimensional and that rap sucked, did his statements onstage that night upset you?

Riley: Yeah man, I was with him when he did that and it was totally upsetting and it came out of nowhere so when he said that we had to do a little bit of damage control also and he was invited to go on a couple of shows like Dr. Drew and these other shows and I run all of the band business so it went through me to get Phil on these shows to explain why he said that and he didn't want to go on those shows and so it was a little bit of damage control but yeah, it was unnecessary and I wish he never said it but he did and we had to deal with it after that and it was a bit of a messy deal after that.

Rock N Roll Experience:  Tracii has recently stated that he’s out for blood and that he knows he will not make one penny on his lawsuit against you, if he’s not making anything from the lawsuit then why is he taking you to court?

Riley: This thing has been going on for so long now, he (Tracii) quit the band in 2002 and went with Nikki Sixx and signed a new record deal, a new management deal, he was totally out of the band and Phil and I just battled on forward from that point on for the next 15 years without him and we ended up doing 4 albums without him, so after the Brides (of Destruction) thing didn't happen or it ended he tried a couple other things and then decided to gig his own L.A. Guns while Phil and I were out on the road. So this thing has been going on for a while, both of us own the name and the mark and the badge, so it's just something I've had to deal with now nonstop and like I said, I never left L.A. Guns. All of the classic (line up) members have been in and out and I tried to talk each one of them into not quiting, to talk them out of it, but they all quit numerous times, each guy, and I just kept the band going and kept pushing forward. That's what I'm doing right now with Kelly, we are just pushing forward. He's (Tracii) trying to get me and Kelly to stop going out (as L.A. Guns) and it's just not going to happen but it's something I've got to deal with right now, it's a total inconvenience and he know's it and I know it, what's the reality of it, me and him were partners, when everyone quit the band me & Tracii became partners, me and him were very close and we ended up trademarking the name together and making sure that the two of us were partners so we could push forward and now, 20 years later, maybe 22 years later, he is fighting me on it and there's just no basis for it, but there's just no way not to answer it, I have to deal with it right now so it's a total ball breaker.

Rock N Roll Experience:  Do you keep in touch with Blackie Lawless?

Riley: No I don't, but I do keep in touch as much as I can with Chris (Holmes) and Randy Piper and I'm still very good friends with them. I'm actually good friends with Blackie still too because L.A. Guns did a show opening up for W.A.S.P. a number of years ago and it was the first time that the two of us had seen each other in a while. We don't get to see each other, everybody is kinda living in different locals and we don't really get to cross paths that much but I consider those guys my friends.

Rock N Roll Experience:  What was it like playing with Chris Holmes?  

Riley: Oh man, I'm telling you, that was like, first of all, he's a great guitar player, a great musician, and he has a great stage show that he does, and me and him became very, very close while we were playing together and he's a maniac bro, he is a true rock n roll maniac. He will "fuck you!" to anybody and then he will chuckle after he does it. He's just a great spirit and he was a gas to play with.

Rock N Roll Experience:  When will “Renegades” be released? 

Riley: The way it's looking right now, we will get another single out next month (June), and then the whole album out in July, we would love it to come out during the Summer so that would set it up for the album to be out before we start these (show) dates in August. If the dates get moved back again we don't know if the label would want to work another single on the internet and then release the album closer to the shows again. Right now so much is up in the air, but right now tentatively we want the whole album to come out in July.

Rock N Roll Experience:  Will there be any special guests on the new L.A. Guns record?

Riley: No, there's no special guests because what we did was, we recorded it old style and the 4 of us exchanged ideas on the internet for 2 months, then got everybody out to L.A. to do it and it just the 4 of us banging away, it is pretty much a live recording, it's got a good feel on it, it's a very organic, the old Sabbath way of doing it, going in and recording it within a couple of weeks and its just the 4 of us, no special guests, it turned out great, we are happy with how it turned out.

Rock N Roll Experience:  Are you upset that Tracii purposely released a new single the same time your band released their new single?

Riley: I know. It wasn't purposely that I didnt get to hear what they had done on those 2 albums, I never really got to listen to them but this last thing that they did was right in my face because there was polls about comparing it and shit like that so what I did get to hear, this last thing that they did, it's kind of curious that it came out so quick while our single was out because I know that they don't have an album recorded right now but they certainly went crazy trying to get that single out man, and I guess it was all phoned in too, they weren't even in the studio doing it together so, I didn't do alot of checking up on them but it was right in my face about how they did it and I guess it's a curious way of trying to put something out while "Crawl" was out. It is what it is.

Rock N Roll Experience:  How would you like people to remember Steve Riley?

Riley: I hope that they remember me as trying to be cool to everybody because I never got into the mud slinging and putting people down on the internet, even putting any past bands or members of bands that I've been in, so I hope that they remember me as being a good drummer and somebody who never slagged anybody off (laughs)

Rock N Roll Experience:  Do you ever see yourself performing with Phil or Tracii again?

Riley: I never say never bro. I've always been the one guy in the band who tried to talk people out of quiting, especially the 5 classic (line up) guys from the 80's that did the first 3 albums, 3 or 4 albums together. I've always been open to anything and I'll never say never.

Rock N Roll Experience:  Tracii's version of LA Guns served as the backing band on a track off the new record from former 80's star Tiffany.  What are your thoughts on that?

Riley: I saw that on the internet too and that's a pretty curious thing too, ya know. I don't know how that came about but I did see it on the internet and I don't know what to think about it (laughs) it is a pretty big departure to be doing something like that with a pop star but I don't know, maybe it sounds good, maybe it turned out good, but I haven't heard it.

Rock N Roll Experience: Is there anything else you would like to say?

Riley: If anyone wants to find out what me and Kelly are doing go to www.laguns.net and they can find out everything that is going on with me and Kelly. There's all kinds of merchandise there, all kinds of videos up there, and it's a great place to go to, and we've got the Official L.A. Guns facebook page too so we are always trying to stay connected to the fans and Kelly runs both of those sights so laguns.net is a great source to find out what the 2 of us are doing.