Nikki Sixx on “Pull the Plug” by STARZ: “Would love to cover this song someday”
Nikki Sixx: Such a cool song with great lyrics. Would love to cover this song someday #Starz
— ♣️xxıS ıʞʞıN ♠️ (@NikkiSixx) October 22, 2019
Here’s an excerpt from our old school full in bloom interview with STARZ guitarist Richie Ranno.
full in bloom: “Monkey Business” seemed to be about drug abuse? “Night Crawler” about a Serial Killer? The classic, “Pull the Plug,” was that about Karen Ann Quinlan? Tell us the story.
Richie Ranno: There were more than one of those euthanasia cases going on in NY at the time. There was one in Long Island where a person actually pulled the plug on a loved one. The song was a combination of both those cases. The cases were the headlines of the newspapers every day in NY and we were in the songwriting process at the time. Michael heard us playing that music and the lyrics just happened.
full in bloom: How did you all meet and form STARZ? How did a NYC ‘Yankee’ band find a singer from Atlanta of all places?
Richie: Starz didn’t form, it morphed. The Looking Glass had a 2nd hit with Jimmy Loves Maryanne in 1972. Right after that they decided to add another guitarist – Brendan Harkin – 1 month later the singer/guitarist quit. They looked around for a new singer and found Michael Lee Smith. They still had lots of high paying gigs coming up and they wanted to get out there and play. They recorded 2 singles on Epic that didn’t do much of anything and then changed their name to the Fallen Angels. They signed with Arista Records and released 2 more singles. One of them bubbled under on the Billboard charts but Arista only released albums after a song became a hit. Since there was no hit, there was no album release. The band was allowed to leave the label. During that time, the band was kind of in limbo. Peter had met Sean Delaney during that time and Sean came down to hear the band. Sean was working with Aucoin Management (called Rock Steady Management at that time) and Kiss. Kiss was not very successful around that time. They had 3 albums out but were only selling about 50,000 units of each. Sean said that Rock Steady was interested in managing the band but that they should have 2 guitarists. That’s when I hooked up with them. It was September, 1975. Right away, we wrote Fallen Angels. I think it was the 1st rehearsal. We had a keyboard player but after a few weeks we decided that keyboards didn’t work, especially with 2 guitarists. The band was still called the Fallen Angels but when we got rid of the keyboardist, we changed the name to Starz.
full in bloom: Are there any cool moments that stand out when reflecting on the recording sessions for the self-titled release?
Richie: I remember it as a great time. We didn’t take a long time to record it at all. It was done at the Record Plant, NY – possibly the greatest and most legendary studio in history. Kiss was recording Destroyer in the next room over and Billion Dollar Babies (Alice Cooper Band without Alice) was in another room so we all got to hang out a lot.
full in bloom: Can you tell us about your sessions on the GENE SIMMONS solo album. How did that come about?
Richie: Well, Gene wanted superstar guests only and I really wasn’t in that category. So, he got Joe Perry to play on Tunnel of Love. He didn’t like what Joe did so he got Jeff Baxter to overdub it. He didn’t like that either and wasn’t sure what to do next. Sean Delaney was co-producer of the album and told him there was no need to look any further, that I could do it and it would be no problem. So, Gene called me and I went into the studio, listened to the track and came up with a part. Gene tried to coach me but basically seemed happy with the way I was playing. Worked out well for everyone and Gene was kind enough to give me a platinum album award.
full in bloom: Is there anything that stands out from the Violation recording sessions?
Richie: Yeah, when we were recording, Jack Douglas, our producer, would tell us to be quiet before the song started and right when it ended. He kind of got mad once because I made a noise. Back in those days, you had 2 inch tape and it was hard edit sounds that were close to the beginning or end of a song. So, just for that I went up to the snare drum microphone and yelled “Subway Terror”. When the take was done, I knew it was the ‘one’ so I ran over again and just let out a scream. Dube picked up on it right away and yelled with me. Jack could only laugh and figured out a way of putting a flanger on our voices and used them on the final mix.
full in bloom: STARZ frontman, Michael Lee Smith, seemed a true visionary. What inspired the classic “Subway Terror’? How about ‘Violation’?
Richie: Subway Terror was a headline in the NY newspapers about a gang that was robbing people on the subway. I brought the headline in and taped it on the wall when we were writing songs. Michael put it to use. Violation was part of the idea that the band had committed some type of crime on the 1st album with Pull the Plug. We actually wanted to call the Violation album, Second Offense.
full in bloom: If ever a song was born for top-ten airplay, it certainly was “Sing it, Shout it”, a brilliantly arranged, sing-along ditty? Tell us about that song.
Richie: Well, musically, a lot of people had shown me parts – like Sean Delaney, Jon Parrot (bassist in a former band of mine, Bungi), plus I had a couple of parts. So, I strung them all together and made a musical piece out of it. Michael came up with the brilliant vocal and lyrics on his own. Should have been top 10 but, at that time, Capitol Records couldn’t get out of their own way.
full in bloom: Tell us about “S.T.E.A.D.Y.”, and what did it stand for? / Who was “Dr. Kline”, Was it GENE SIMMONS?
Richie: I mentioned that earlier and no, it had nothing to do with Gene. But, the background vocal on Violation was meant to sound like Gene singing. Michael wrote it and wanted me to sing it because I used to always, jokingly, do a Gene singing voice. If you listen close, it kind of sounds like Gene singing, “No, that’s a Violation”.
full in bloom: Any truth to the rumor that you’re a good practical joker? Any favorite tales?
Richie: Didn’t know that was out in the public. We all pretty much were but I was the ringleader. One time we were in Michigan and one of our roadies quit. I had gone to a local rock club with Michael earlier in the evening and a guy came up to me and asked if I could get him a roadie gig. He gave me his phone # on a piece of paper. So, the next morning when I found out our guy quit, I gave the number to our road manager, Arnie. He called this guy, Tom and asked him to come over to the hotel the next morning. Tom said he would take the gig but had to go home for clothing, etc. Arnie told him that if he wanted the gig, we were leaving right now so he got on the bus. The next gig was in South Carolina and the bus was leaving. Dube had just bought a blank starter pistol at a truck stop a couple of days earlier. So, we came up with a plan. Everyone but the bus driver and Tom knew about it. We had 12 people riding on the tour bus. We started drinking beer and playing cards. From time to time Dube & I would argue. About 5 hours into the trip we stopped at a rest area and Dube and I kept at each other. Finally Dube cursed me out and pulled out his gun and shot me 6 times. I fell down and everyone acted shocked. Tom ran off the bus and ran into the woods at about 80 miles per hour!! It took awhile to convince him that it all just a joke. He was white as a ghost!