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Categories: Hard Rock

Biography

Fronted by pin-up vocalist Michael Lee Smith, the older brother of REX frontman Rex Smith, STARZ had the look and the songs but never quite made the breakthrough into superstardom they undoubtedly deserved. Discovered by Sean Delaney of Aucoin Management - the company behind KISS' meteoritic rise to success - STARZ' roots can be traced all the way back to the LOOKING GLASS.

Guitarist Brendan Harkin, bass player Peter Sweval and drummer Joe X Dube worked as session musicians for a period, one of their more dubious jobs being the soundtrack for the porn movie 'Divine Obsession'. Having advertised for a vocalist the fledgling band picked up Alabama born Michael Lee Smith, who had been featured in the New York Shakespeare Festival prior to joining the group. A second lead guitarist was also added in the form of Richie Ranno, a man who had been a member of the Ian Lloyd fronted STORIES. Ranno too had also responded to a newspaper ad placed by the founding trio in 1975.

Taking the band name of FALLEN ANGELS, the quintet signed a deal with Arista Records and recorded a couple of singles, neither of which were released by the label who suddenly got cold feet. Changing the band name to STARZ after linking up with Aucoin Management, a deal with Capitol followed and the band's self-titled debut album was recorded with producer Jack Douglas.

Douglas had produced what effectively had been STARZ's first ever demo just prior to the change of name from FALLEN ANGELS and before dispensing with keyboard player Larry Gonsky. The tape contained early versions of 'Detriot Girls', 'Live Wire', 'Pull The Plug', '(She's Just A) Fallen Angel' and a number titled 'Do It With The Lights On' that would later be reworked as 'Rock Six Times'. STARZ almost immediately found themselves at the centre of a controversy over the track 'Pull The Plug' said to be advocating.

As a means to promote the band in Britain, Capitol rather oddly chose to spend some wedge by sponsoring a March Toyota 773 in the Formula 3 championships! Painted black with the familiar STARZ logo in yellow, the car was driven by New Zealand born Brett Riley but fared rather badly.

Sweval, having contributed a co-write and backing vocals to Aucoin Management employee SEAN DELANEY's 1978 debut album 'Highway' was to appear the following year with his hair cropped and sporting a moustache as a member of Delaney's sub Disco band SKATT BROS' 'Strange Spirits' album.

The HELLCATS found firm interest from Radio Records and a five track mini album was released during 1982 that whet the appetite of all those long sold on the talents of Smitrh and Ranno for a full blown album. Sadly, it never arrived. Radio Records hit the wall and Smith would soon grow disenchanted with the business, living in California by now as it was.

However, In the wake of the interest created by the HELLCATS album, Ranno decided to put out a STARZ live album on his own Violation label. Although the collection of live material on the album (titled 'Live In America') wasn't really to the same level of excellence as the promotion album or, indeed, several STARZ live tapes in collectors hands at the time it was still a welcome release.

Ranno also decided to release a solo album, a five track effort led by a cover of CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL's 'Who'll Stop The Rain'.

Interest in the live STARZ record was such that Ranno assisted in Heavy Metal Records putting out a STARZ 'greatest hits' collection entitled 'Brightest Starz' in 1985. This was followed by the 'Live In Canada' album and the 'Piss Party' effort.

In Canada' wasn't, as the sleeve suggested, recorded in 1980 but was in actuality taken from a radio broadcast made on the 'Coliseum Rock' tour two years previously.

'Piss Party', a 'urine yellow' vinyl album titled after the band's most notorious of songs boasted not only a live version of the title track but also a reggae version of 'Pull The Plug'. Also in eveidence were cover versions of Rock n' Roll standards 'That's Alright Mama', 'Mountain Dew' and 'Good Golly Miss Molly'.

1987 Ranno had a hand in another collection of previously unreleased STARZ material under the title of 'Do It With The Lights On'. This record (pressed on clear, see-through vinyl) comprised STARZ's first ever, Jack Douglas produced demo plus material recorded in 1980 with the line-up of Smith, Ranno, Scance and Madick.

In 1989 Metal Blade Records managed to obtain the rights to release the STARZ studio albums on CD. The label also put out the legendary live promotion album, albeit without one track and intercut with one of the band's more famous live show recordings from 1976.

Ranno effectively put the STARZ legend to bed with 'Requiem', a collection of newly recorded demos with Michael Lee Smith and other curios. A whole slew of officially sanctioned early material and live tracks was issued in 1999 including 'Back In The Day' which comprised of STARZ original 1975 demo.

STARZ reformed in 2000 with Smith, Harkin, X Dube and DANGER DANGER's Bruno Ravel on bass. The classic albums 'Starz', 'Violation', 'Attention Shoppers' and 'Coliseum Rock' would all see re-issue in 2005 with additional tracks and historical liner notes. That same year saw RICHIE RANNO'S ALL-STARS on the touring circuit, a unit featuring Ranno alongside Joe Dube and George D'ana from STARZ.

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