Frankie Banali of Quiet Riot

by Greg Prato

There have been few cases in the history of popular music where the lines between heavy metal and pop truly became blurred - in other words, an album that both headbangers and Top 40 listeners could agree on. In 1983, it occurred with Quiet Riot and their album, Metal Health.

Having been a band since 1975, Quiet Riot was first led by singer Kevin DuBrow and guitar legend Randy Rhoads. They issued a pair of Japanese-only albums (a 1977 self-titled debut and Quiet Riot II in 1978) despite being based at the time in Hollywood. By 1983, QR was comprised of DuBrow, guitarist Carlos Cavazo, bassist Rudy Sarzo, and drummer Frankie Banali. They struck mega-platinum with Metal Health, which went to #1 in America in one of the few weeks of 1983 that Thriller didn't claim the top spot. The big hit was "Cum On Feel the Noize," a vivacious cover of the 1973 Slade glam rock classic updated for the headbangers. It went to #5, elbowing into playlists alongside the likes of Duran Duran and Men At Work.

But the group could not keep the hits coming, and over the years have endured quite a few lineup hiccups. And with DuBrow's passing in 2007 (just as '80s metal was experiencing a resurgence in popularity), it seemed as if the band was completely over. But Banali put together a new version of QR (with the blessing of DuBrow's family) in 2010.

An interesting documentary about the band and Banali's decision to carry on as Quiet Riot was issued in 2014, Well Now You're Here, There's No Way Back, and in 2017 came the band's 13th studio album overall, Road Rage, which sees the drummer joined by former American Idol contestant James Durbin on vocals, as well as guitarist Alex Grossi and bassist Chuck Wright.

Banali spoke with Songfacts prior to the album's release to discuss comparisons between DuBrow and Durbin, a QR classic, video-making, and his involvement in a famous Ozzy tune.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): How would you compare the songwriting process of the current QR lineup to the classic lineup from the '80s?

Frankie Banali: First of all, I think you have to understand, when I started playing with Kevin DuBrow in 1980, we were working on songs through that whole period of time - mostly Kevin, because he was the main songwriter. So we had two years of fleshing out those songs - both at rehearsals and playing live, because we did a lot of dates in Hollywood at the time. So by the time we went in to record the Metal Health record, all of that material was really, really fleshed out. Very little of it got written in the later stages.

When it came to Condition Critical, that was much more difficult, because we were out on the road for two days shy of a year straight. We started the Metal Health tour in Hollywood on March 17th and 18th, and we ended in Munich on March 15th of the following year, and we went straight into the studio to record Condition Critical. By the time we got to QR III, we had some down time, and we had some outside writers, so it just evolved as the situation developed.

Now, it's a little different. Let's say it was the classic Metal Health lineup. Everybody was living in LA, whereas now, our guitarist lives in Las Vegas, Chuck lives in LA, I live in LA, and James lives in Northern California. So it's not as easy to get together. On the Road Rage record, the majority of the music was written by myself and my writing partner, Neil Citron. Chuck contributed to one of the songs, and Alex wrote one song with James.

The dynamics change based on how the industry has changed, because now with the internet, cell phones, and all of those things, you no longer have to live in the same city to really be able to function. So that has changed the dynamics of songwriting.

Songfacts: Although James has been in the band for only a short while, how do you compare him to Kevin as a vocalist?

Frankie: It's a really interesting thing. First of all, before we even get into the vocal situation, he reminds me of Kevin a lot. Kevin was really hyper - a ton of energy - and James has a ton of energy. Kevin was 6'4", and I think James is 6'4". So from that perspective, it kind of reminds me of Kevin. I used to call Kevin "my goofy kid," because he was as goofy as the day is long... in a good way.

Vocally, the amazing thing about it is I didn't have James join the band to have a clone of Kevin. I wanted somebody who had the vocal range that Kevin had, because the amazing thing about Kevin was he had those soaring highs, but then he had that growly low. And that is something that James has within his own style. So while it does sound like Quiet Riot when we do the songs, James brings his own personality and his own thumbprint to the old catalog, which I really, really like.

Songfacts: Let's discuss the lead-off single from Road Rage, "Freak Flag."
Frankie: The music was something that Neil and I worked on. I wanted to create the music for something that I think the longtime fans of Quiet Riot would be able to immediately associate with, without trying to copy anything we had done. It was just the idea of tempo, the drumming, the vibe, the chord structure.

And then we handed off the music to James, and let him run with it. Essentially what the song is about lyrically is people overcoming obstacles in their lives when they're being told that they're different or they can't do this, or they should do something else. To really be themselves and forge forward.

Songfacts: You are credited as one of the songwriters of one of Quiet Riot's biggest hits, "Metal Health (Bang Your Head)."

Frankie: Kevin and I spent a lot of time working on that song, and at that point in time, we were huge fans of AC/DC, so we wanted something that had a very simple, straight ahead groove at a certain tempo. And then Kevin just ran with the lyrics, mostly from personal experiences. Especially the line, "I've got a mouth like an alligator," because as we all know, Kevin spoke his mind quite often.It went through a lot of different changes, and what I mean by "changes," a lot of that song has to do with the tempo. I listen to a lot of classical music and jazz, and the thing that I found interesting about both classical music and jazz is that certain parts of a song only work at a certain tempo, and they don't work at another tempo. With jazz, they shift gears - the same thing with classical. With rock 'n' roll, you basically start at a tempo and you end at that tempo. So the tempo on that record is not slow, but it really digs into the groove. It didn't work at that tempo live, which is why we actually played it a little faster live - because it gets the energy of the audience. So that is something that we paid attention to.

And at one point, the song was much longer than it is now. Kevin was really good about trimming fat.

Songfacts: I'm a big fan of the early years of MTV. I wrote a book about this era, MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years of Music Video, and even interviewed ex-Quiet Riot bassist Rudy Sarzo for it. What are your memories of filming the videos for "Metal Health" and "Cum On Feel the Noize"?

Frankie: The "Metal Health" video was filmed first, came out first, and was pretty much ignored. That video was done on a shoestring budget, because at the time, the music that Quiet Riot was doing wasn't popular. Not only was it not popular, it didn't even exist. Consider that when the Metal Health album went #1, we had to jump over first Michael Jackson's Thriller, and then the Police's Synchronicity. And the other artists that were in the Top 10 were people like Lionel Richie and Paul McCartney. So when you take Michael Jackson, the Police, Lionel Richie, Paul McCartney, Linda Ronstadt - those kind of artists - nobody was doing what we were doing. So it was a challenge to do that.

But before we even got to that point, we made the "Metal Health" video, and it went on MTV and it didn't get much of a response. It was done with no budget. We had gone to a community college, who donated their facility, and then we put out flyers and newsletters to students to come down for the free filming, and that's what made up the audience.

You know the scene where Kevin drops from the sky? Kevin was not crazy about heights, so he had to be up there strapped into this harness, and he refused to do it until I did it as the guinea pig! And me, I was always one for a party - "Strap me in! Strap me in!"
There were four masks that were used in the video shoot. One of them was the one that gets ripped off of Kevin's face and Kevin throws it out in the audience. That one got destroyed with the people in the audience trying to get their hands on it. One was burned as part of the video, another one has been missing since 1983 so I seriously doubt that one exists. And then I have the last remaining one in my archives. That one was featured when the Grammy Museum did "Gods of Metal." They featured and displayed that, and one of Kevin's stage suits.

Now, when it came to making the "Cum On Feel the Noize" video, the band was getting a lot of momentum, so there was more money to be spent. Not that much more, but more money to be spent. And it was a fun video.

When that one came out, it immediately got a lot of play, calls, and attention on MTV, and then the "Cum On Feel the Noize" video pulled the "Metal Health" video back into solid rotation. So after the fact, that one also became a successful video, and I think in time, it's become a more successful or important video than the "Cum On Feel the Noize" video, even though that was a much bigger hit. And I think that's because "Metal Health (Bang Your Head)" really is the definitive Quiet Riot track. If there is only one track that I would have to pick that defines Quiet Riot, it's "Metal Health."

Songfacts: Something I've wondered: What is the official title of that track? Is it "Bang Your Head" or just "Metal Health"?

Frankie: Well, everybody calls it "Bang Your Head" because the hook is so strong, and that is the hook. But the official title of it is "Metal Health (Bang Your Head)."

Songfacts: Looking back, what are your thoughts on Quiet Riot covering two Slade songs early on?

Frankie: Well, before I answer that, do you know the story about the recording of the "Cum On Feel the Noize" track?

Songfacts: I do, but if you wouldn't mind re-telling it for the readers who are not familiar with it.

Frankie: The idea to do that song was the producer's [Spencer Proffer] idea - it wasn't the band's idea. Kevin was completely and totally against doing it. Kevin was aware of who Slade were, but he was not a particular fan. What he liked more was Humble Pie and Queen - that type of British rock. He didn't really care for Slade.

But the real reason why he didn't want to do it was because he wanted all the songs to be written in-house, particularly by him! So, we were supposed to rehearse the song and go in and record it. The producer kept calling the rehearsal studio, "Are you working on 'Cum On Feel the Noize'?" And we'd say, "Yeah. It sounds great." But we never played it.

So the day came when it was time to record the song, and I came in early and told the engineer what was going on. I was honest with him. I said, "You might just want to record this for laughs and giggles."

We went in, there was no intro, no nothing at all. There was a little bit of arguing as to how it was going to start. Finally, when I knew the engineer was rolling tape, I just started playing what became the intro. Rudy joined in, and then Carlos joined in. Kevin was sitting at the corner of the studio, just giggling, waiting for this massive train wreck, and the train wreck never happened.

I had already done so many sessions in LA - even before the Metal Health record - that I knew, "Vamp long, there's no click track on it," and all of that. And then when we were done, the producer says, "That sounded great. I wish we had recorded it." And the engineer said, "Come on in." He went in to listen, and Kevin grabbed me by the arm and almost dislocated my shoulder. He says, "What the hell was that?" And I said, "I don't know man. I just started playing it!" He says, "Well, what am I supposed to do now?" And I said, "Well, you can always sing it shitty, can't you?" [Laughs]

He smiled a little, but he was really pissed off. The thing is, when you listen to the original Slade version and you listen to our version, Slade begins at a different part of the song. Slade did not have an intro - it just goes right in. And because we weren't familiar with the song - and I definitely wasn't familiar with the song - I think I either left out a verse or a chorus in our arrangement. So if you play them side-by-side, they're not going to match.

I will say that there is a lot of similarities between Kevin's voice and Noddy Holder's. It was good call on the producer's part to do that, and I understand why he did it: Quiet Riot was a new band, doing music that nobody else was doing, and he just wanted to have a "safety song" that was a hit everywhere except for the United States. I get it. And the reality is, if we had not done that song, you'd probably be interviewing the drummer from another band right now.

Now, to the rest of your question, as far as doing "Mama Weer All Crazee Now," how that came about is even after I had recorded the drum track and subsequently Rudy and Carlos recorded their parts for "Cum On Feel the Noize," Kevin still didn't want it on the record. He said, "Well, if we have to do a Slade song, let's do 'Mama Weer All Crazee Now.'" But the producer said, "Absolutely not."

So, come to the Condition Critical record, "Mama Weer All Crazee Now" ended up on that record, which I think was a mistake because we were already getting the stigma of, "You had a hit with somebody else's song." So I could see the writing on the wall coming on that one. The track that Kevin and I really wanted to be the leadoff single was "Condition Critical," even though it was not meant to be a hit. It was a slow-tempo song, but it was a really heavy song for Quiet Riot at the time. But the producer said, "No. We're going to go with 'Mama Weer All Crazee Now,'" and you know the rest of it.

Songfacts: Is it true that it was you who came up with the opening drum pattern - later performed by Lee Kerslake, but credited to Tommy Aldridge - on the Ozzy Osborne song, "Over the Mountain"?

Frankie: Yes. How that came about was really interesting. I had an apartment in West Hollywood - this small, one-bedroom apartment - and I was having to hustle as many gigs as I could and as many sessions as I could just to meet my monthly rent while all my other friends were still couch-surfing. I get a call one morning... from Randy Rhoads.

Randy had a really low voice. Everybody thinks he had a high voice because he was a tiny little guy, but he had a really low voice. He goes, "Frankie, do you want to play with Ozzy?" And I said, "The guy from Black Sabbath?" He says, "Yeah." I go, "OK! I have my drums, but I don't have a car."

So he borrowed a car that was big enough. He came and picked me up and we went down to rehearsals. And when I say, "pick me up," he picked me up with my 1969 green Ludwig sparkle set with a 26-inch bass drum. I brought a gong - the whole thing. We went to this rehearsal studio called Mars - on Melrose and Western - and we rehearsed for about a week. It was interesting. It was great to play with Randy, and the bass player oddly enough was Dana Strum, who eventually became the bass player in the Vinnie Vincent Invasion and then Slaughter. Essentially, that was the band.

Ozzy was interesting - he was nothing like what I expected. He was quiet and he sat down on a piano bench with a little ghetto blaster, and he was recording essentially everything we were doing. That ended up becoming "Over the Mountain," which at that time wasn't really fleshed out. A lot of those parts were guitar parts that Randy brought in from older Quiet Riot songs from the '75-'79 period, and that triplet thing is something that I was doing at every session because I figured, "If it ever comes out, I'm finally going to get it on a record," because I really enjoyed it. It's derivative of the "John Bonham triplet." John Bonham is one of my favorite drummers, so that's how that came about.

Now, originally, they were going to record the record in LA, but Jet Records had spent so much money flying Ozzy between London, LA, and New York looking for musicians and they were really unsure what Ozzy's future was going to be. Ultimately, they decided to just record it in England, because it would be less expensive, and they would only pay to fly one guy over. And obviously, "the guy" was Randy Rhoads. That was my brush with Ozzy-ness, so to speak.

The interesting thing about that one is, I read - I think it was in Bob Daisley's book [For Facts Sake] - that it's nonsense and that I didn't come up with that drum part, that he was there when Lee Kerslake - who is a friend that I really love, from Uriah Heep - came up with the drum part. It is fascinating that Bob Daisley would say something like this, because this happened a year before he was involved with the band, and he wasn't in Hollywood. So, how could he pass judgement like that? I know what I played.

In '87, Kevin and I were doing press for the QR III record, and Ozzy was doing press. It was at a Mexican restaurant on Melrose in Hollywood. Ozzy pointed to me, and he goes - I'm paraphrasing, but something to the effect of - "That's the bloke that came up with the drum part that Lee recorded, that Tommy Aldridge got all the credit for!"

July 13, 2017
Banali died of pancreatic cancer on August 20, 2020 at 68
Vintage photo courtesy of Richard Galbraith

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