Headbanger’s Ball that is. Oh those were the days my friends. Every Saturday night back in 1989 from 10pm – 1am, I found myself planted in front of the television in my bedroom with a hearty supply of snacks, some soda and my remote set to record that night’s Headbanger’s Ball. When the majority of my high school peers were out getting laid, getting drunk, going to parties or all of the above at once, I was at home ready to tune into see just what videos host Adam Curry would be playing that night. As much as I loved attending the Ball every weekend, the host Adam Curry just didn’t click with me. He just didn’t seem into it at all. He looked like someone who didn’t really like metal music but was dressed and made to look the part. This usually showed through his lack of enthusiasm and bland “reading off the cards” personality. In 1990, all that would change.
In 1990, I remember reading in a magazine that Riki Rachtman would be replacing Adam Curry as the host of Headbanger’s Ball. This was awesome news to me. Riki Rachtman was a cool mother fucker. Riki was the owner of two of the most bad ass clubs in Hollywood, The Cathouse and The Bordello. He was roommates with Faster Pussycat singer Taime Downe and he actually liked hard rock and metal music. I couldn’t wait to see just how this was going to work and low and behold, it kicked my ass. Ever weekend I was whisked away on some kind of kick ass adventure without having to leave my room. It was everything this rock n’ roll dreamer could ever want. The videos were cool but I wanted more. I wanted to see behind the scenes and get to know these bands. Riki did just that and then some.
Headbanger’s Ball had a new set, new logo and a new host who not only looked like a real metal dude but actually was a real metal dude. I was always impressed with the endless array of useless information on bands that my friends and I thought was just awesome. Riki was the real deal. It was here that I discovered many of my favorite bands. Bands like Animal Bag, Ugly Kid Joe, Collision, Dangerous Toys and Rhino Bucket were all bands I saw for the first time on Headbanger’s Ball. I remember Riki one night talking about this new band from Texas that was going to take the metal world by storm. He told us all to stay tuned and to go see these guys when they came to our town. That band’s name was Pantera and you wanna talk about a facemelt. I remember having a moshpit to the “Cowboys From Hell” video in my room with my kid brother and one of my buddies. Yeah, it was that intense.
Riki used to get a lot of shit for always saying, “This is my favorite band!” about every band he’d play. I loved that about the dude. Riki never asked forgiveness and he never seemed to have a problem loving a band like Skid Row, digging a Slaughter song and at the same time being a fan of Slayer and other trash bands. This was what made my friends and I more open to seeking the good in any band that we could and not caring what genre they were. Most kids at my school who were into thrash would totally berate you if you were into anything lighter than Motorhead yet we had no problem at all digging Slayer, moshing to Megadeth and admitting that bands like Winger and Hurricane actually had some pretty killer songs.
Headbanger’s Ball was where it was at for me. There was no internet back then. There was no YouTube and no cool blogs. All the metal magazines were pretty much covering mainstream hard rock/metal bands like Warrant, Motley Crue, Metallica, etc so Headbanger’s Ball was the best place to discover obscure metal bands especially if you stuck it through until the last hour. The last hour of the Ball was when you’d get some obscure bands like I Love You, My Sister’s Machine, Tattoo Rodeo and even a little band from Seattle called Alice In Chains.
My favorite thing about Riki was that he would take me on all these awesome journeys behind the scenes with my favorite bands. He took us on the backstage and behind the scenes the Clash of the Titans Tour where we got to see live clips and see interviews with Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer and Alice In Chains. One summer the Ball took us behind the curtains and onto the stage of the Operation: Rock N’ Roll tour with Alice Cooper, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Dangerous Toys and Metal Church. These “behind the scenes” episodes were always such an amazing thing for me to take in as I was so fascinated with how these bands were as people and just how things looked from that side of the stage. Riki was more than a host. He was the guy that I wanted to be. I wanted to be him and live out those awesome experiences and meet those people. I wanted to be their buddy and I wanted to know everything about them. I wanted to drink beer with them and I wanted to hang on the buses.
As the 90’s headed more into the alternative and grunge era things just started to get weird. Headbangers Ball seemed to feature a lot less denim and leather and more flannel and cutoff shorts. Even Riki himself got his hair cut short and was wearing a flannel around his waist. Oh no. Where was this going? Well, it was plain to see just where it was going and I didn’t like it. My interest and connection with Headbangers Ball started to die off towards the end and then eventually the show was canceled completely. I hung in there hoping that things would go back to the way they were but it seemed like the days were long gone. Our time had come and the torch wasn’t even passed. The torch was just completely snuffed out and the fire was gone.
At 37 years old, here I am living out some of my dreams. I get to interview some of my favorite bands, hang out on tour buses, talk to them on the phone and take in all kinds of killer shows. I’m now doing the things I used to dream of as I watched Riki live the dream for me. I learned a lot from ol’ Riki. He never seemed to really interview these bands. He seemed to just talk to them like they were good friends of his and all the bands really seemed to like him and treat him as one of them. This is when I knew that I wanted to do something like that when I got older. I didn’t wanna be one of those guys that just asked a bunch of questions and got answers. I wanted to be someone that the bands would allow into their world as an equal. This method seems to have worked well for me as I’ve been really lucky to have this kind of connection with nearly everyone I’ve ever interviewed and I love that.
I was recently asked who were some of my biggest influences as a writer/hard rock journalist. I listed Lonn Friend and Chuck Klosterman and failed to list Riki Rachtman. After answering this question, I pondered it for a day or two and totally realized what a huge impact Riki made on me as a kid and in my adult life as a writer. How the hell did I let that slip me? Well, all that matters is that I remembered and reconnected with my memories of all those Saturday nights that this loner spent at the Ball. Thanks Riki for what it’s worth. Maybe you’ll get to read this and maybe you won’t but either way, thanks for the inspiration.
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