Episode 193: Richie Zito

Episode 193: Richie Zito
Pat welcomes Richie Zito to the show to discuss his career in music as a Guitarist and multiplatinum record Producer.
From March 26, 2015

With your host:

Pat Francis

00:00:00 Pat welcomes us to the show. For the third week in a row, Rock Solid Studios is graced with the presence of a special guest. It's guitarist and producer Richie Zito!
Richie is an Italian from Brooklyn who came to California in 1973 for the music scene. He's made his mark as a record producer, but he made his bones in the early days as a session guitarist (and a little touring too) for Elton John. He played guitar on three albums: 21 at 33, The Fox, and Jump Up! This is actually Pat's favorite period of Elton John, a rather under-the-radar era of the man's career. Pat plays a song that features Richie on guitar. It's "Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)" off the album Jump Up!.
00:05:00 Richie, Elton, and the band were on the way to Australia when they found out that John Lennon was killed. Elton and Lennon were very close, so it's a song about their relationship. Making music with Elton was a cool, collaborative experience. Pat is still stunned that he's sitting across from a man who played with Elton John. Richie says that his parents had no faith in him being successful; they thought he would be stuck on the Bar Mitzvah circuit until the end of time. Even with the success with Elton John, they never really got it. Richie considers himself very fortunate. In addition to playing the guitar on Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone," he got to work with Giorgio Moroder, who was a mentor to him in terms of record production.
00:10:00 His music career let Richie work with producers like Tom Dowd, Chris Thomas, and Gus Dudgeon. Working on soundtracks, you get to play around with a bunch of different artists, so Richie cut his teeth on different genres. Pat asks him how he went from session guitarist to record producer? Richie left The Elton John Band and he always wanted to make records. Richie always wanted to be in the studio and sooner or later somebody trusted him. Hanging out with Giorgio certainly helped.
00:15:00 The first album Richie produced was Toni Basil's second album. Then he produced the album Shock by The Motels. Pat plays the song "State of the Heart". Richie and Martha from The Motels became good friends.
After The Motels, along came a fellow by the name of Eddie Money. Richie produced the album Can't Hold Back. Eddie's previous album hadn't done well and it seemed that Eddie was on the downslide. BUT THEN! This song came out: "Take Me Home Tonight".
00:20:00 The album was a monster. Pat wore it out. He looked on the back cover and saw the name Richie Zito and figured that Richie was the guy who made the album what it was. It was Richie's first platinum album, his first Top 5 single, and the video was all over MTV. The story behind Ronnie Spector singing in the song goes that Eddie and Richie were butting heads because Eddie didn't want to sing the "be my little baby" part. A random girl was in the studio and sang it. Then they realized that Ronnie should naturally sing the song. Ronnie flew in from New York. She and Richie became friends too. Richie has been lucky that he's got to work with so many icons like Pete Townshend. And he also played on a little album called Private Dancer by Tina Turner. You know, that little thing. And he played with Jeff Beck. Pat asks if he was ever nervous. Being a musician transcends fear, says Richie.
00:25:00 Richie names a few other people that he's worked with that you might have heard of: Ringo Starr and Roger Daltrey. Pat tells Richie to write a book. "They don't care," replies Richie. He wasn't really a partier and most people want the party stories. His thoughts on artists drinking and doing drugs to create: Talents are capable of reaching that creative place without having to get high. Also, Richie has never worked with anyone who was slurring or falling down during a recording session, so that's good. Pat asks him what a producer does, exactly. Producer is an ambiguous term. Richie's job was to help people realize their vision (and keep a watchful eye on the budget). The artist knows where they want to go, but they don't know how to get there. That's where Richie comes in like the wise Jedi Master that he is.
00:30:00 Richie worked with Pat's favorite band Cheap Trick on their comeback album Lap of Luxury and their #1 hit "The Flame". The story goes that this was Cheap Trick's last chance on Epic Records because their previous couple of albums were stinkers. Richie says that this wasn't exactly the case. The new head of A&R at Epic looked at Cheap Trick as an overlooked entity. They wanted them to be successful. It wasn't the case of the album being a fluke comeback.
Cheap Trick
00:35:00 Cheap Trick used outside writers for the album. It was the 80s, everyone was doing that to get a hit song. It wasn't about surrendering (no pun intended), it was simply the times. Rick HATED "The Flame" when he first heard it; he literally smashed the tape. To get the band to record it, Richie and his friend Kim Bullard cut a 9-minute bare bones track. They got Robin to sing it and it was naturally amazing. One by one the rest of the musicians came in to record the song whether they liked it or not. And it went to #1. The band also did a cover of "Don't Be Cruel" by Elvis Presley. The song was chosen just for the hell of it. As long as Robin was in, the band was in. Pat plays another song off of Lap of Luxury called "Ghost Town".
00:40:00 Richie's been lucky to work with his favorite singers too, like Joe Cocker. WE listen to his version of Randy Newman's "You Can Leave Your Hat On" off the album Cocker. The song needed a hook to it, so Richie put a "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" vibe to it. Rock in Peace Joe Cocker.
00:45:00 Then there is the supergroup Bad English. We listen to "Forget Me Not" off their self-titled debut album. The band started with just Richie and John Waite. Then Jonathan Cain came aboard because he and Waite were in The Babys together. Then Neal Schon, Deen Castronovo, and Ricky Philips came on to complete the package. Richie says that this was a tough album to do.
00:50:00 The guys in the band have very strong personalities. Pat notes that Neal Schon guitar solos his ass off all over the album. Of course the big song from that album was the power ballad "When I See You Smile" It was Richie's second #1 single. Richie didn't come back for the second Bad English album because he had just finished producing a Heart album after 8 months and he needed a break.
00:55:00 This transitions nicely into talking about the Heart album Brigade. Pat wonders about the song "All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You." Did Ann or Nancy have any reservations about doing the song? Richie says that there was no resistance from the Wilson sisters. Pat likes Brigade the most of the 80s Heart albums. We listen to a song from the album called "Wild Child". Ann has that crazy voice that never falters. When he worked on the album, Richie and the other musicians would go in the studio all day and work on the music. Ann and Nancy would come in around 5 or 6. Ann would sing a few takes of songs perfectly and then they would call it a day. Pat asks if songs ever don't come together despite hard work. Richie agrees. Sometimes a song isn't happening no matter how hard you work at it.
01:00:00 Working with bands, Richie usually did five or six takes and worked from there. Pat wonders about demos. Richie did a few demos. Demos are about the songs themselves. They are a test to see if the songs would work. Richie goes off on a tangent about the current state of music. All of the music that is played today is 30 or 40 years old. They use samples of old songs instead of actually playing instruments. Now there is no recording, it's all files. There is nothing organic.
01:05:00 Pat brings up a documentary about the making of Aerosmith's Pump. He was surprised by a clip of Steven Tyler recording one line at a time. Pat thought the singer records the whole song in one go. Is this the norm? Richie says that there are different ways to do it. Nowadays it's just about the push of a button. The old guys are still keeping it real. Pat thinks about 20 years from now when those old timers are gone. Who is gonna keep the tradition? Will it still exist? Richie chuckles and remarks that Katy Perry needs 11 people to write one song. You do the math.
01:10:00 Richie produced for Cher, who is the real deal. He produced a song called "Save Up All Your Tears" from the album Love Hurts. There were multiple producers on this album, which Pat doesn't like. There is no cohesion. Richie co-produced his song with Bob Rock. Cher is the consummate professional.
01:15:00 We talk now about Ceremony by The Cult. The Cult was only Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy on vocals and guitar, with sidemen Mickey Curry and Charley Drayton on drums and bass in the studio. Their bass player Jamie Stewart retired and Matt Sorum left to play drums for Guns N' Roses right when they were clicking. The album was not as big as Love or Electric. Pat plays "Wild Hearted Son". Richie really wishes he could have worked with The Cult during their big break. They look scary to Pat, but the guys are actually really cool. Ian and Billy didn't like each other during the recording, but Richie circumvented their angry bullshit because he was a musician and focused on the music.
The Cult
01:20:00 We listen to another Cult song called "Sweet Salvation". It's nice to work with musicians who have a lasting friendship. Pat gives Billy Idol and Steve Stevens as an example. Richie shocks Pat by saying that he worked on Billy's first solo album. Richie also played on the song "Call Me" by Blondie from the American Gigolo soundtrack. AND he worked on a duet between Barbara Streisand and Donna Summer. The guy's been everywhere!
01:25:00 Pat brings up a band that Richie produced called Tyketto. They were supposed to be the next big hard rock/glam metal band type band, but then Grunge happened and they sank to the bottom of the barrel. Pat takes issue with the word "Grunge." It's just rock and roll. Richie says that it's all just rock and roll, except with slight variations in sound and look. Pat plays a song from their album Don't Come Easy called "Forever Young". It's all just very poor timing.
01:30:00 We jump around to another band, Mr. Big. Pat plays "Shine" from their album Size Matters. Mr. Big has a lot of great talent, from Eric Martin to Billy Sheehan to Richie Kotzen. They are a supergroup that people don't think of as a supergroup.
Richie also produced for Poison. Off the album Power to the People, it's a song called "I Hate Every Bone in Your Body But Mine". C.C. Deville sings lead on the song.
01:35:00 How does C.C. rank as a guitarist? C.C. replaced the original guitarist and brought "Talk Dirty to Me" to the band. Richie compares him to Pete Townshend: He's not a prolific soloist, but he's integral. Pat plays another song from the album called "The Last Song". Richie has always liked Poison. They're from Pennsylvania and besides the hair metal stuff, they got a sleazy country thing going on. They are talented. Luck can only get you so far, says Richie. You need talent.
01:40:00 White Lion is a band that Richie also worked with. Pat wonders where the guitarist Vito Bratta went. He just disappeared! He was a good guitarist, too. We hear two songs from the Richie-produced album Mane Attraction. The first is "Love Don't Come Easy" and the second is called "Broken Heart".
White Lion
01:45:00 Richie must really like his hair metal because he also worked with Ratt on their self-titled album. Warren DeMartini, another underrated guitarist. We listen to the song "It Ain't Easy". Pat bought the album strictly because Richie produced it. The best part about making the album was that there was no fighting whatsoever.
Pat brings up something called Avalon by The Richie Zito Project. Richie doesn't really want to talk about it. It was a Richie solo album with a bunch of guest singers. There were too many compromises. Nowadays, Richie doesn't get many requests for producing. He did a few years on American Idol, producing the vocals for the record versions of songs. It's difficult for him to imagine someone calling him up. He was very lucky. He had the best studios and the best performers. But that doesn't exist anymore.
01:50:00 Richie doesn't want to be in a garage. He doesn't know what he could bring to the table. There's no need for him. But, in his career, he got to work with the guys he wanted to work with. And he has a lot of gold and platinum records on the wall of his house. He doesn't want a Grammy, he prefers the albums. Pat thanks Richie so much for coming on the show, sharing great stories, and giving inside info on the producing world. Pat still listens a lot to his albums. Richie just wanted to be part of history and have a song that didn't go away. Mission accomplished, Mr. Zito.
01:55:00 You can go to Richie's website at RichieZito.com. You can also find him on Twitter @RichieZito.
Pat takes us out with a song from the album Nothing to Lose by Eddie Money. The song is called "Walk on Water".
Time Song Album Artist Who
00:00:00 Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny) Jump Up! Elton John N/A
00:15:00 State of the Heart Shock The Motels N/A
00:15:00 Take Me Home Tonight Can’t Hold Back Eddie Money N/A
00:30:00 The Flame Lap of Luxury Cheap Trick N/A
00:35:00 Ghost Town Lap of Luxury Cheap Trick N/A
00:40:00 You Can Leave Your Hat On Cocker Joe Cocker N/A
00:45:00 Forget Me Not Bad English Bad English N/A
00:50:00 When I See You Smile Bad English Bad English N/A
00:55:00 Wild Child Brigade Heart N/A
01:10:00 Save Up All Your Tears Love Hurts Cher N/A
01:15:00 Wild Hearted Son Ceremony The Cult N/A
01:20:00 Sweet Salvation Ceremony The Cult N/A
01:25:00 Forever Young Don’t Come Easy Tyketto N/A
01:30:00 Shine Actual Size Mr. Big N/A
01:30:00 I Hate Every Bone in Your Body But Mine Power to the People Poison N/A
01:35:00 The Last Song Power to the People Poison N/A
01:40:00 Love Don’t Come Easy Mane Attraction White Lion N/A
01:40:00 Broken Heart Mane Attraction White Lion N/A
01:45:00 It Ain’t Easy Ratt Ratt N/A
01:55:00 Walk on Water Nothing to Lose Eddie Money N/A