By Paul Salfen
From 1986 to 1993, there was no hotter place in the debaucherous hair metal scene than Riki Rachtman’s Cathouse, a Sunset Strip nightclub in Hollywood that was famously immortalized in Penelope Spheeris’ cult classic documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. Also the host of MTV’s “Headbanger’s Ball”, Rachtman helped to break so many bands of the era and had a great time doing it. Now 29 years later, Rachtman, 50, put together a reunion at the Verizon Theatre in Irvine Meadows, California on August 15th to celebrate the club and the music – even with bands that weren’t really in the scene but of the same time period. Consisting of 24 acts with varying members of the original lineups of platinum and gold-selling favorites like Extreme, Dokken, L.A. Guns, and BulletBoys, the bands took to the two stages for a full day and night of ‘80s memories. While the crowd was mostly of the era, there was a surprising amount of people that were too young to have experienced the bands the first time around.
The event included an all-star jam led by ex-Guns N’ Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke that had surprise appearances from the likes of original KISS guitarist Ace Frehley and Michael Starr from Steel Panther, a reunion by the classic lineup of the Cathouse co-founder’s band, Faster Pussycat, Cathouse-like pole dancers, and Rachtman himself performed a wedding ceremony for a pair of delighted fans.
Reflecting on the night as it was starting to wind down, Rachtman said, “I said it when I put it together that I really wanted this show to be fun. Not this or that – just fun. I think we succeeded because all of the people here are having fun and the bands are just awesome. Sebastian [Bach, the ex-singer of Skid Row] was phenomenal, Tom Kiefer [of Cinderella]was phenomenal – really everyone has been great.”
Rachtman, who recently moved to North Carolina to work with his other love, NASCAR, finds the humor in being pulled back to LA so soon. “Is that ridiculous?” he laughs. “I said, “Forget rock and roll, I’m moving to North Carolina and working with NASCAR. Now I moved to North Carolina and all I’m doing is rock and roll stuff.”
But it seems to have paid off. Thousands of fans enjoyed seeing and meeting their favorite artists as well as Rachtman himself – and the bands had a great time. And some of the bands just enjoyed getting a chance to be seen again en masse, even if they weren’t a Cathouse staple. As surprised as anyone was the Florida based alternative metal act Saigon Kick. Guitarist Jason Bieler said semi-jokingly, ““We were never part of any scene so we were pretty much ostracized by every community, musically-speaking. We weren’t part of the hair scene but we were close enough and we weren’t part of the alternative scene but it was close enough and it just worked.” Vocalist Matt Kramer added, “But when Riki did “Headbanger’s Ball”, he was very kind to us and he personally asked us to do this show – and it was very kind of him.” Chicago-based hippie metal mashup Enuff Z’Nuff bassist-vocalist Chip Z’Nuff said, “Collectively these guys have sold about 100 million records, so it’s nice to be included. We’re just gonna mix it up and go back to the old days. That’s what it’s all about.” Austin-based Dangerous Toys was also a surprise as singer Jason McMaster dryly offered, “We got invited so we showed up – you as well”, even though it would be a stretch to call the band “hair metal”. McMaster shrugs it off saying, “I can see why and how they would lump us in” and knows what the crowd wants: no new songs. He quips, “We’re just gonna play “Teasin’ [Pleasin’]” and “Scared” ‘til we’re dead if that’s OK with you.”
But for some bands, the venue itself held a special place in their hearts. Trixter guitarist [and current Def Leppard fill-in]Steve Brown said, “For us, Irvine Meadows is where we played right here 25 years ago when we were opening for The Scorpions and it’s where we found out our record went gold during those two sold out shows. What a way to come back…this is our first California show in over 20 years.” And Faster Pussycat’s Downe recalls, “It’s weird because Irvine Meadows was the first big gig we played back in the day.”
A lot of bands even stuck around to see all of their old friends and touring mates play again. Clarke said, “This is really fun getting to see all my old friends. There are a lot of great bands that have survived, some haven’t and are coming back just for today but it’s still good music and I think everyone still sounds great.” Tuff singer [and Metal Sludge founder]Stevie Rachelle said excitedly, “Tuff rocked the festival stage. It was a good time. Riki is a good friend from way back and there were two dozen bands, thousands of fans – going back to ’89.”
But going back to ’89 can be a fuzzy road. Some have great memories of the club, but others have forgotten or plead the fifth. Rachtman says, “The perfect nights you don’t remember. Nights when you have Axl Rose chasing David Bowie down the street saying he’s going to kill him. I remember that.” Downe laughs, “I’m old so I forget shit. There’s too many. Most I can’t even say – shit that would incriminate somebody – mostly myself.” And Z’Nuff recalls, “I went there all the time. Riki Rachtman would get behind the bar and pour everyone cocktails, Guns N’ Roses jumped up on stage and played an impromptu set. There were a lot of women – loved the trim there. Fascinating.”
Now the real question is since the festival was such a success, will there be another one – or could this become an annual thing? After all, there are plenty of bands from the time – in the scene or not – that would be great for another big bill. Rachtman says, “I know everyone else is saying yes but I can’t say yet. I know next year is the 30th anniversary [winces]and everyone else says yes, but it’s “Riki Rachtman’s Cathouse” and I’m Riki Rachtman…but I will tell you to do another one, money is not a deciding factor.”