Slash Told Riki Rachtman He Was a Bad Influence on Axl Rose
There was no hotter place to be in the '80s than the Sunset Strip, and at the center of all the musical mayhem was the Cathouse. Headbanger's Ball host Riki Rachtman was the owner of the hedonistic rock venue, and he's reflecting on those days with his current Cathouse Hollywood Podcast.
Rachtman was the guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show and the longtime hard rock and heavy metal champion reflected on his days running the venue, sharing stories about those days on the podcast with his friends and his thoughts on potentially opening a new Cathouse venue someday.
The radio and TV personality also discusses how many react to his days as MTV's Headbanger's Ball host, comments on his sobriety and how Slash once told him he was a bad influence on Axl Rose and talks about the most overlooked aspect of his career. Check out the chat below.
I’m a huge longtime fan of you and what you’ve done. When I was a kid watching Headbanger’s Ball, we used to record them, my older sister and I, and when we were bad, my dad would threaten to turn off the cable, so when he did and we had no MTV, we’d bust out all our Headbanger’s Ball videos to watch.
It’s funny because for me, I didn’t realize until the last couple of years how important that show was to so many different people because I just did the show. I never watched Headbanger’s Ball, because on Saturday night I was going out. I had the Cathouse and on my nights off I’d be doing whatever. So it’s very very flattering when people are always telling you that they watched that show, but then it’s like, ‘Dude, I used to watch you when I grew up or I watched you when I was a little kid,’ and nowadays I’m finding older people who used to watch me when they were kids. And I’m like, ‘Owwww.’ You’re constantly reminded and people are trying to be nice … I’m feeling very sensitive today Jackie … and now what I get even more is, ‘Dude, my mom used to watch Headbanger’s Ball,’ or ‘Oh my God, you’re Riki Rachtman, you used to be so cool.’ That’s nice, but I’m flattered, I’m flattered.
It was such an important program and still is cause you can find stuff online. I discovered so many bands from watching Headbanger’s Ball and that period of time, there was a whole shift going on in music. You were there when it was full on hair bands from hard rock into when grunge was happening. It was a weird time when suddenly a switch flipped and there were different kind of bands on Headbanger’s Ball.
It was really, really crazy and the thing that you know as good as anybody is that fans of metal and fans of hard rock are so passionate about their genre of music that they don’t like other genres of music. So if you’re sitting there watching a video from Napalm Death, DRI or Cannibal Corpse and then we’re playing a video from Cinderella, you’re pissed. But you also have to understand there are just as many people there watching for Cinderella and Faster Pussycat who are saying, ‘Why are you playing that video from Sepultura?’
For so long, I was down on MTV because we were playing stuff that was on during the day. But just recently I’ve rewatched Headbanger’s Ball and I’m like, ‘Holy crap, we played the Cro-Mags on Headbanger’s Ball,’ and I don’t remember stuff like that. You can’t please everybody, but the truth is the show did turn a lot of people on to a lot of bands and gave many people something new.
There were years where I wasn’t anti-Headbanger’s Ball, but there were moments of we should have done this, we should have done that. But now I look back and it was pretty damn cool. We had everybody. And the problem is I’m an easy target because I was the first one to say I had the greatest job in the world. I had the job that everyone in the world wanted. When somebody says, ‘Okay, you’re going to Japan right now to hang with Queensryche’ or ‘You’re going to interview AC/DC in England,’ and I’m just this punk from Hollywood going, ‘Yeah.’ I had no interviewing skills. I’m not a journalist. I was not a DJ or nothing. Everybody wanted that job. So I totally understand that it was the greatest job in the world.
Right away, Headbanger’s Ball made you a very recognizable broadcaster. How has your approach to broadcasting changed in your career since then?
It’s really funny because I was just the guy from the Cathouse in Hollywood when I started Headbanger’s Ball without any broadcasting [background]. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a DJ but I didn’t know how, and I still really don’t know how. It’s hard to believe I do syndicated stuff now like Racing Rocks where I talk about NASCAR and I play rock 'n' roll and I’m like, ‘Wow, I’ve been in radio for 15 years,’ and sometimes people will be like, ‘You’re a legend in radio,’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’ I never knew how to work a board.
I think nowadays, and you’re a great example of this, but nowadays it’s okay to be a fan on the air. Not a dumb, dorky fan, but to show your appreciation and talk normal. It’s okay to talk like you’re talking. When I hear somebody on the radio, I want to hear somebody I would hang out at the bar with. If I’m listening to Jonesy [Steve Jones], I know him cause Steve Jones used to hang out at the Cathouse all the time, and is he a great radio talent? He’s the anti radio talent. But that’s still a great listen because the radio DJ should be someone you’d be hanging at the bar with. I hope that I’ve always been thought of as that guy, and not too much skills in radio.
I’ve done this with the Cathouse Radio Podcast, where I try to make it feel like I’m just hanging out with my buddies and telling you a story if I have a story or if I know a band, and I’ll be the first one to tell you, I don’t care who your producer is or your engineer is and I don’t read your liner notes right before I go on air. Let’s just hang out and talk about what it’s like to be you and real stuff like you’d be talking with your friends.
I put Gilby Clarke on the last episode of the Cathouse Hollywood Podcast and I’ve known Gilby Clarke when he was pretty much unemployed and I turned on the mic and we sat down for an hour and I realized, I never asked him about the day they put him in Guns N’ Roses. I never asked him what it was like cause I never really interview my friends. But I just try to make it like people hanging out and talking and that’s what people like these days I hope.
The Sunset Strip, including your club The Cathouse, was a mecca for music fans worldwide. What would precipitate the reemergence of that kind of club along with its subsequent lifestyle?
The lifestyle will never come back. I put myself down when it comes to Headbanger’s Ball, but when it comes to the Cathouse I will always say it was hands down flat out the greatest rock 'n' roll club in the world. The Cathouse was a lifestyle. It was raunch. It was roll. It was sleaze, debauchery, even without the bands that happened to play there.
People are safer now. They’re not willing to get risky. Even if you were to take a club now and call it the Cathouse, it would have to have the feeling of it. It was more than just who was playing. I want a place where people would just release all inhibitions and it wouldn’t be big. Do I have dreams of opening up a Cathouse bar? Absolutely. But I look at it being a smaller bar and not a live venue. I wouldn’t want something even the size of the Roxy even. I’d want something where people were gonna go to hear some killer rock 'n' roll. Maybe a band’s gonna play, maybe not, maybe there’s some dirty movies on the wall … who knows?
It’s just fun and I wish I could do that maybe one day again, and maybe I will, but when I did the Cathouse 30th, I rented out the Whisky and Roxy and it was the fastest sell out on the Sunset Strip without one band announced. It’s because people wanted that lifestyle and they knew it was going to be something fun. I’d like to bring it back, but it’d have to be for the right reasons, because there’s been offers all the time. It’d have to be small and I don’t think the lifestyle would ever come back because people are too safe and looking at their phones.
It is a different time now. I grew up on the East Coast watching all these things that were going on here and dreaming of coming out to Southern California. I finally did, but by the time I did I felt like it was already gone except for Lemmy at the Rainbow. Everything else was a ghost.
That was the nail in the coffin so to speak. That was the mainstay of coolness on the Sunset Strip and now as you know it, I have nothing against places like the Rainbow, but when I come to Hollywood, I’ll go there, but it’s a lot of people that don’t know that the scene really didn’t die.
Last time I was in Brooklyn and I went to Duff’s it was just a good rock 'n' roll bar that was just a good time like it was when we used to go to the Scrap Bar. We just liked the Scrap Bar because it was a rock 'n' roll bar, and that’s what I want. The Limelight … I was in a punk band that played the Limelight. It was a good time, but that feeling, it just can’t come back, and I wish it could.
Hopefully it will evolve into something else …
Who knows? People need to go out. They need to support live music and not just wait until the big arena band plays. They need to go out and be willing to get turned onto something new. I loved going to shows and seeing a band I’ve never seen and being like, ‘Who the hell is that?’ Now I want to search them and find that record. I like that. You’ve got to get exposed to new stuff.
The Cathouse Hollywood Podcast revisits the decadence of your guests recalling younger, wilder times in their lives. As producer of the podcast, how do you balance discretion with telling a good story?
There is no discretion, absolutely none, and the show is gonna get worse as far as that goes. A lot of people like to talk about the bands we have on, but my favorite shows are like the DJ Joseph Brooks being on and talking about the famous story of Axl [Rose] chasing Bowie onto the street or when Axl smashed the turntables or John 5 sneaking into the club as a little kid.
The Cathouse wasn’t just a live venue. It was this raunch and roll, and I know it sounds like a cliché cause I say it all the time, but it really was decadent and dirtier than The Dirt and it’s all true. I don’t ever want to have anyone say something that would purposely hurt another person but I love telling stories. There are things I haven’t said on the podcast and probably won’t. But I love it because the thing that I hope that the show does is tell a story about what it was like back then. That’s why I’ll talk about what movies were in the theaters, what gas prices were and just use pop culture to set the tone and when people say, ‘Oh people were having sex in the bathroom,’ well, people were. It was dangerous and it was incredible. It was not like a Sunset Strip club.
Let’s talk about the Cathouse. The brand is based on debauchery but ironically you’re sober. What’s most challenging about maintaining sobriety when you’re someone that people would want to buy you a drink?
It’s different now because when I bought the Cathouse, I was drinking and doing a lot of drugs. It went from booze to coke to meth, and I was a mess. There’s a lot of people from back then who will tell you. When you’ve got Slash telling you that, ‘Dude, you’re a bad influence on Axl. Don’t be hanging out with Axl.’ When they’re telling you stuff like that, it’s like damn. I would’ve died.
It was difficult at first, but now, and I’m not the guy to stand on a pedestal telling guys, ‘Be sober, be sober,’ or ‘I’m the sober guy and you should all be sober.’ I’ll tell you, when I went to Slayer, I’m the first one to go buy my fiancé a cocktail. I’m the first one to get drinks for my friends. I like it when people get a buzz on. But I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict. I can’t do that. I’m allergic to it. But they’re not, so when people are buzzed and having a good time, that’s okay. It’s when it goes past that point. Are there times when I think about drinking? Yeah. But I just don’t do it cause it’s not an option for me. If I had just a sip of beer, well, damn I’ve been sober 33 years. You think maybe I’ll have some whiskey or do some blow, but if I do there’d be no stopping me.
I’m also not that guy who says I’m going to be sober forever. I’ve been sober 33 years and I know I’m not drinking right now and I don’t know what I’m going to be doing tomorrow, but 33 years is a long time and I know if I have a drink I will lose everything. The main thing that keeps me sober is I have been blessed, and I am so damn lucky that I sit and talk about the Cathouse and I’ve got hundreds of thousands of people listening to me talk about the Cathouse.
You and I are lucky. We both talk about something we love in metal, and people are interested in listening to you talk about it. Oh my god, there are a lot of people who have crappy jobs, and I believe that if I get loaded, it’ll all get taken away from me and everything I busted my ass off to create. I have a lot of demons. I have just as many demons sober and sometimes when I’m sober the demons are even stronger and there’s depression and loathing and self-anger, but you just gotta cope sometimes. It’s never white knuckling it, because I’ve got too much to lose and I know what the alternatives are.
I’m more proud every day that I wake up everyday and Taime [Downe] doesn’t smoke, drink or do drugs. I never met a person who smoked more than that guy and he’s healthy now. It’s different going out and some people are really good at it and some people have a hard time with it. But for me, I just don’t have an option. Most people don’t know that I’m sober because I’m not a sober preacher, and I’ve done a lot of stupid, stupid stuff sober. I’ve made some bad decisions. I’ve gone to jail. I’ve done some bad things, and I don’t even have booze to blame it on.
Music changes, technology changes, audiences change. How do you anticipate your career will continue to evolve as a result of those changes?
You will never hear me say rock is dead. I believe that rock is on the upswing. I believe that heavy metal and hard rock is the best genre without a doubt. I’ve always had an affinity for punk rock, but it’s all the same to me. I thought Motorhead was punk when I was a kid. I’ve always loved Motorhead.
I feel that it’s getting better. The reason I’m not really hosting these shows is I’m not really going after them. I would be lying if I said I don’t get bitter sometimes when I see a heavy metal motorcycle rally …. I’m a dumb egomaniac and I don’t ask for it. I don’t have an agent or manager. Sometimes when I see certain people, I’ve ridden a motorcycle in every state. Nobody rides a motorcycle more than me every year and maybe they pick somebody who knows nothing about motorcycles, I may get bitter and jealous. I’m not putting down any of the hosts, because I like all of the other heavy metal hosts, but I’m like, ‘How come I’m not working there?’
It’s like, ‘Damn, why am I not hosting that show?’ Did you ever try to host that show? ‘No.’ So I’m sitting here in North Carolina telling everyone, ‘Come call me,’ and nobody knows. I’m getting mad at myself.
I’m excited bout the success of the Cathouse Hollywood Podcast. Jan. 1 I’m going to launch something called Triple R, which is another podcast that is just another outlet. If I’m going to interview Zakk Wylde, I can’t put him on the Cathouse Hollywood Podcast because we don’t have any great Cathouse stories, but I’ve got so many great interviews from people like Burt Reynolds that I’ve never aired, just crazy stuff because I like doing interviews. I’m hoping that’s going to take off and I’d like to do a lot more in rock 'n' roll. Like I said, I can’t be mad about not being out there and doing more because I’m not going after it. I wanna do more and I’m hoping my career picks up, but if it didn’t, if it stayed exactly the same for the next five years, I’m doing okay.
Ultimately, what’s overlooked about your career that you wish people would recognize?
I think the thing I’m most proud of that a lot of people do know is the charity motorcycle rides I do. Every year I get on a motorcycle and most of my route is planned by social media, and I go and raise money for various charities without an assist or anything.
I’ve made a lot of money. Last year, me and my fiancé Leah Vendetta, got on a motorcycle just the two of us and we rode 15,000 miles all over America and raised $32,000 for Stop Soldier Suicide. This is without a press release. This is without anything. We would go meet people who followed our ride and we’d sit down at tables and have lunch with them. One time we stayed with this girl Maz who was following all the stuff we’d do. She offered to let us stay at her mom’s place in Brooklyn and we did. We’d say, ‘Hey we’re going to be at Melt Grilled Cheese in Cleveland’ and we’d show up and there’d be 80 people at a table.
I just love doing the charity motorcycle rides and we don’t do a big press release about it. We don’t say, ‘Hey we just raised $32,000,’ we just do it. I really like that. People say, ‘Oh, make America great again.’ Let me tell you something. I’ve ridden in every single state in America except for Alaska, and in four other countries, and America’s pretty damn great. The people are good and it doesn’t matter who you voted for or if you grew up in a small town, there’s some pretty good people there, except in certain parts of Texas (laughs). That’s not true, because I’m going to Eagle Pass, Texas soon.
But I think the charity motorcycle rides are cool and don’t get noticed. I’ll do videos of this is where Hank Williams grew up or this is where I had marshmallow Peeps. That’s not really much music involved, but that’s the thing I think I’m most proud of that I’d like more people to notice.
The fact that so many people remember something I did all those years ago, it’s pretty cool. It’d be nice to be recognized for something I did last month. People will tell me, ‘I like the Cathouse Hollywood Podcast,’ and I’m like ‘Come back, talk to me.’
Thanks to Riki Rachtman for the interview. Be sure to check out his Cathouse Hollywood Podcast here and keep an eye out in 2020 for the Triple R podcast. You can also stay up to date with Riki on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.
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