“At that point, it was like ‘There’s no way Quiet Riot would do a show without Frankie Banali And then, two days before the Dallas show, Alex called and was like ‘Can you do the show?’ and I was like ‘What do you mean ‘Do the show’?’ (laughter) He was like ‘Frankie’s not going to be there. Can you cover?’ I was like ‘Yeah, sure’.”
— Johnny Kelly
Metal Sludge — Quiet Riot drummer Johnny Kelly is the featured guest in a brand new interview with the Big Music Geek website.
Kelly was the guy brought in to fill-in for classic era drummer Frankie Banali when he got sick in the spring of 2019.
As we all know, Frankie lost that battle with Pancreatic Cancer on August 20th 2020.
How Kelly got involved is all revealed in this new Big Music Geek interview.
Kelly covers other subjects as well, including his time with Type O’ Negative, Danzig, subbing for Black Label Society and much more.
We have shared some of that recent interview below.
Big Music Geek: How did you become involved with Quiet Riot? In hindsight, I did not have the ‘Quiet Riot’ box checked on my commemorative ‘Who Will Johnny Kelly Play With Next’ Bingo card. I’ll admit I did not see that coming.
Johnny Kelly: “I had played with (Quiet Riot guitarist) Alex Grossi in (the cover band) Hookers & Blow for years. We played together with (ex-Guns n’ Roses keyboardist) Dizzy Reed and (ex-W.A.S.P. drummer) Mike Dupke. …When Frankie had first gotten diagnosed, they had a show coming up in Dallas where I live. I’m actually the one who suggested it. I knew that Frankie was going to be getting treatment, and I just suggested it to Alex. I was like ‘I’m going to be there anyway. Just ask Frankie if he needs any help’. They were helping him out so that he could save his energy for the show. …I was like ‘Let me help him out’ and Frankie was into the idea. He said ‘It’s cool. Thanks.’ I didn’t really expect much of it, of course, but I told Alex ‘Look, if something comes up and you’re in a jam and you need somebody to cover Frankie, I’ll do it if you need someone’, not thinking anything would ever come of it, right? At that point, it was like ‘There’s no way Quiet Riot would do a show without Frankie Banali And then, two days before the Dallas show, Alex called and was like ‘Can you do the show?’ and I was like ‘What do you mean ‘Do the show’?’ (laughter) He was like ‘Frankie’s not going to be there. Can you cover?’ I was like ‘Yeah, sure’. I never really expected it, so I was like ‘Yeah, send me a set list and I’ll look at it’. This was literally two days before the show. When the show day came, I meet them at the venue in Dallas. I walked into the trailer, but I really didn’t know the other guys all that well. I know Alex well, but I didn’t know (former vocalist and American Idol runner-up) James Durbin, (current vocalist) Jizzy (Pearl) or (former bassist) Chuck Wright (Alice Cooper, Giuffria, House Of Lords), who was the bassist at the time. I walk in and was like ‘This is a terrible idea.’ (laughter) ‘This is just terrible.’ They all turned white as ghosts when I said that, but we managed to somehow get through the show, and there wasn’t really any major shame there. Of course there were mistakes and whatnot, on some of the little things, but I got through the whole show and everything was okay. From there, I was covering for Frankie, so I did a bunch of shows with them that year. Mike Dupke was also covering when I couldn’t. Then, right before Frankie passed away, when he was getting everything in order, and telling everyone how he wanted the band going forward once he’s gone. …He wanted me to be the one doing it.”
Big Music Geek: Were you initially hesitant to accept their offer on a full-time basis? It’s certainly a massive responsibility.
Johnny Kelly: “I said ‘Of course’, so it’s pretty crazy. It’s cool and weird at the same time. The circumstances of getting the job are terrible, because somebody passed away. You’re friends with them, so you know it’s got to be tough for those guys, too. But at the same time, it’s so cool. We got (bassist) Rudy (Sarzo, ex-Dio, ex-Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake) back in the band now and that’s great. It’s pretty weird. I’ll be playing and I’ll look across the stage and I’m like ‘Oh, there’s fucking Rudy Sarzo’. (laughs) ‘It’s fucking Rudy Sarzo!’, and it all still blows me away.”
Big Music Geek: Is it safe to assume you were already familiar with Frankie’s collective body of work? Once you began performing as a permanent member, were you able to add your own personal touch to what Frankie had played?
Johnny Kelly: “Obviously, I grew up loving Frankie’s playing, so I guess I kind of came through that same school of playing. No one ever came up to me and said ‘This all has to be exactly this way’, ya know? And Rudy has been really encouraging, actually. I was very worried about Rudy when I came in. I was like ‘Does this sound okay? Is there something that you want me to change?’ and he was like ‘No, you’re playing the parts. I can hear you in the playing’. He’s like ‘You’re not just trying to be Frankie’ and I was like ‘Is that a bad thing? Do you want me to change that?’ (laughter) and he was like ‘No, it’s a good thing. You have to be you’, so he’s been encouraging in that way. I studied a lot of how they played the songs live, but not so much like the studio recordings. …They’ve been playing these songs live a certain way for so long and there’s all these different things, all of these little nu-ances, so I was trying to learn it that way so that it would be more comfortable for the guys that are playing in the band now. During their live sets, Frankie was always playing like a maniac. In fact, he had been going so crazy, I had to tone down some of the stuff he was doing. It was almost as if he was putting on this drum clinic.”
Big Music Geek: As both a musician and a fan of the group itself, it must have been a real challenge to incorporate yourself within what Frankie was doing while on tour. Do you throw yourself into that as he did or have you ‘held’ back?
Johnny Kelly: “I was like ‘I don’t know this is my place to be doing this kind of stuff. It’s like Frankie’s doing it. That is his band and his songs. I didn’t really feel that it was my place to go as overboard with the things like the way Frankie did. I kept some of it in there, but simplified some other things where it’d be more about the song than about me trying to stand out in the song. It’s just basic respect for the songs, for the catalog and for what they did. …When I hear drum playing in songs and hear drum patterns, there are certain things that jump out to me that kind of cooks like guitar hooks. There’s little things, I think, that are important to the drum part where I’m like ‘That needs to be there, regardless of who’s playing it. It needs to be there’. I try to keep those things in there and then there’s some flexibility within some little nuanced things that I made my own. …Part of it is like having fun with it. It’s like a live show where it could all be a bit spontaneous. You could do something a little bit weird with it. As long as the meat is there in the meal, the main course is there and the little side dishes and stuff, you could play around. (laughter) You try to find a balance in it. You do your job, but you have to have respect for what you’re doing and respect for the people that came before you. And it’s the same thing with Danzig. For the other players that came in before I did, I tried to recreate their parts. You’ve got to find the balance between paying respect for the music, and the work that was done. …Then you also have to stand on your own two feet.”
Read the full interview here at Big Music Geek.
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