Interview With Riot Act Guitarist Rick Ventura; Talks New Album And Career
Riot, the hard rock band out of New York has been through it all. A struggling band in the late ‘70s that went through a few lineup changes, finally hit their stride with their breakthrough album Fire Down Under. However, after that success, their lead singer quit and they never seemed to get back on track.
Riot guitarist, Rick Ventura has put together a new band called Riot Act. They just released a new CD titled Closer To The Flame. One disc is all new material and the second disc is re-recorded classic Riot songs including “Swords and Tequila.” Both discs rock.
We had a chance to do a Zoom interview with Rick. He discussed the new album, his career and the future of Riot Act.
Greg Drugan: Hey Rick, congratulations on your new record, Closer To The Flame, It really has the sound of the original Riot. I think it’s a really good hard rock record.
Rick Ventura: Cool, thank you so much!
GD: How long have you been working on this record?
RV: This past year, during the pandemic. It was kinda unusual to record in those conditions.
GD: Did you record stuff in your own separate studios?
RV: Yeah, in our homes. I’d work out demos and send them out to the band. Everybody would work out their parts at home and once every blue moon, we’d get together, keep our distance and try to work stuff out. It was a very unusual recording process.
GD: What made you decide to make it a two CD set with one disc being original material and the other being re-recordings of classic Riot songs?
RV: Originally it started out that Lou Kouvaris and I started a project and people wanted to hear what two guys from the original Riot sounded like. It was originally done as a six song EP just to let people hear what we sounded like. We did it to say “hey, we have a pretty good band here!” Then it worked it’s way to a twelve song lp. The record company requested that. They thought it would be a treat for Riot fans to hear classic Riot songs updated with better sonics. That was the concept of the bonus CD.
GD: It is a bonus to hear those songs. Maybe some younger fans who maybe don’t know the older stuff, they hear the new material (then listen to the older) and say, “Wow, this is where they came from.”
RV: Yeah, we get the old fans and the new fans.
GD: The first two songs, “Wanted” and “Stand Or Fall” are great. Do you have a favorite track on the record?
RV: Yeah, “Wanted” is probably my favorite track so far. I don’t listen to it. We record it and then we shelve it for a while. It’s about to be released on the 15th. So I don’t listen to it for a while, then I put it on and see what songs hit me. “Wanted” always struck me as a song that had the spirit of the band. That’s why we released it as the first single. It had the drive, the energy and the vibe of what I wanted Riot Act to be. I like “Smoking Gun.” There’s a few on there that I like, I’m pretty proud of it.
GD: As well you should be. It’s great. Looking back on your career, who were some of your musical influences growing up?
RV: I would have to say it started with The Beatles. Every artist goes back to The Beatles. When I was a kid, my mom took me to see A Hard Day's Night in the movie theater. Being in that theater with screaming girls, I was like, “what is this?” It was the craziest thing ever. I didn’t pick up an instrument until many years later. Maybe that initial exposure to those four guys struck something in me. Later on, it was bands like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. I was into Cream and other guitar driven stuff.
GD: What made you pick up the guitar as opposed to the drums or the bass.
RV: Drums had too many pieces. (laughs) The guitar, there was just something about it. The guys I grew up listening to and the way they handled it and the sounds that came out of it, it was just for me.
GD: Who was the first band or artist you saw live and how did that impact you?
RV: Oh wow! I actually saw Grand Funk Railroad. That’s a real long time ago, in New York City. It was just an overwhelming experience. Being with that crowd. The bands were out of control, and just watching those guys play and listening to the reaction of the crowd. The whole experience just blew me away. This was the coolest thing on earth!
GD: When did you join your first band?
RV: I was in a cover band and I was eighteen or nineteen. You start to get really serious about it and start honing in on what you want to do. Then I became friends with those guys in Riot. I started shifting from a cover band to a band that had their own material, and that’s what I wanted to do.
GD: That was my next question, Riot was already established with two albums under their belt. How did you end up joining the band?
RV: Yeah, yeah. I became friends with Mark because the band was based around the corner from me. How I first came to meet him, I was walking or riding my bike and I heard this music blasting from this house. I just stopped there, and people just congregated around there. Then I met finally met him and became very close with him and we just talked music. I just watched Riot evolve. They started out as a cover band then started doing originals. After the first album, Lou Kouvaris had left the band and I came in during the second album. They needed a guitarist and I was just the obvious choice because I was right there.
GD: With you guys already being established, you got to open up for some pretty big bands. What was it like touring with AC/DC and do you have any memories of Bon Scott?
RV: Oh yeah. I always loved AC/DC. When I first found out we were touring with them I was thrilled. I liked Angus Young’s guitar playing and I thought he was a great guitar player. I always loved "Highway To Hell." I loved the way Bon Scott sang that song. They were just cool, ordinary guys. That was very exciting tour to be on and a cool experience.
GD: It seems that the third album, Fire Down Under, fit in perfectly with other hard rock bands at that time. How could the label call it “commercially unacceptable?”
RV: I guess it was commercially unacceptable to them. They were looking for a single I guess. There was another song that we had written for the album, which was more of a commercial tune. They wanted to go with that but It was a little left of what the band was really about. We stayed on our course. We went from Capitol to Electra, it was a big fiasco. Everything just came together writing wise, member wise. The band just jelled and I guess it’s just the timing and the right combination of people and what we were going after just came together at that point. It made an impact on the metal community.
GD: Were you headlining at that point or were you an opening act?
RV: We were an opening act. We opened for Sabbath, Rainbow, Rush. So many bands. We’d do some small dates between shows where we headlined. But we were right at the cusp of becoming headliners.
GD: I read at the end of the tour, your singer quit the band. Is that what happened?
RV: Yeah, it was the Rush tour. The band has had a lot of hard luck. We just finished the Rush tour, and the band was smoking hot at that time. Not a good time to lose your lead singer. We had a rough period there where we had to come up with a replacement. We found someone who could work with our writing style and we came up with Rhett (Forrester). Rhett came along and we did Restless Speed. I like that album but it’s difficult to come up with a new lead singer because it changes the sound of the band. But what can you do? You either pack it up or just move on. A lot of fans like that period too.
GD: After a few more years with Riot, was it a mutual agreement that you left the band and what did you do afterwards?
RV: Yeah, my enthusiasm waning and the direction was changing. We weren’t on Electra records anymore and it started going downhill. There was too much frustration in the band, so much bad luck and so much going wrong with us. That was probably one of the reasons Guy left. You sort of get disillusioned. All the work we put into it and then things went off course. I will always continue writing, you always have that hope that something will happen and come alive one day.
A few years ago, we were inducted into the Heavy Metal Hall of History. That was kind of a surprise. Lou and I went to the ceremony in California and we started realising the influence that Riot had on newer metal bands. That’s how this whole thing started. It just sort of happened. I always had the desire to get out and play. I had a lot of ideas in me and stuff I wanted to get out there. Then another unfortunate incident happened at the start of this project, Lou passed away from COVID. That was another devastating setback. We just got up and said “Hey, we have to do this.” There’s a lot of great chemistry with the band a lot of good songs and ideas and we started writing the album and it all just came together. We wanted to keep it going and do it for ourselves and do it for Lou. Close To The Flame came out of it and we are really proud of it.
GD: Sometimes it takes a tragedy to create some great art and I think you guys hit the nail on the head with this one. I really enjoy it.
RV: Thank you.
GD: For sure. Do you have any plans to tour the States this year?
RV: Yeah, first we are in England in August and September. I think we have some date for later in September. I know we will be in the this year for sure, so I’m excited about that.
GD: Being from Cleveland, we are a great hard rock and metal city.
RV: Cleveland rocks! Cleveland rocks as Ian Hunter would say!
GD: For sure! Do you have any memories of playing in Cleveland back in the day and did you ever stay at Swingo’s?
RV: Yeah, we played in Cleveland. Was it The Agora?
GD: Absolutely, the old Agora.
RV: Yeah, great town! I can’t wait to play there again. It’s such a rock and roll city.
GD: The old Agora is gone but they built a new one about forty years ago and we would love to have you come play there. It would be like coming full circle.
RV: I would love to play there again, that would be a blast.
GD: Rick, I wish you all the best with the new album. I’m going to let all of our readers know that Riot Act is back and sounding great. I think it’s great and I hope you guys can make it to Cleveland soon.
RV: Thanks Greg, I really appreciate that. I look forward to playing and if people want to check us out go to riotactband.com and that will keep you up to date on what we’re up to.
Be sure to check out Riot Acts new record that just came out called Closer To The Flame. It has one disc of new material, that rocks and the other disc is re-recorded Riot songs. Both discs really rock. You will not be disappointed!