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Riot

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Riot is a heavy metal band formed in New York City in 1975, the brainchild of guitarist Mark Reale. Reaching a peak in popularity in the early eighties, they have continued a long-running career punctuated by personnel and management instability.

They began when Kon-Tiki members Mark Reale (guitar) and Peter Bitelli (drums) recruited Phil Fiet (bass) and Guy Speranza (vocals) and recorded a four-track demo which they hoped would be included in a proposed compilation of new rock bands. While waiting for the project to get off the ground they added Steve Costello on keyboards.

Reale took the various demos to New York based producer Steve Loeb, who also owned Greene Street Recording Studio and the independent label Fire-Sign Records. Loeb turned down the compilation proposal but signed Riot alone which began his almost two decade association with Mark Reale. The band added second guitarist Louie Kouvaris, replaced Fiet with Jimmy Iommi and recorded its debut album, Rock City. After a promising start and support slots with AC/DC and Molly Hatchet, the band was unable to maintain momentum, and was on the verge of breaking up for good by 1979.

In that year however, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal took off, and the band came to the attention of Neal Kay, who spread the word about them in Britain. British fans bought imported copies of Rock City, which was recorded and produced by Steve Loeb and released on Loeb’s Fire Sign Records. Encouraged, Loeb recorded the band’s new album, Narita. In the course of making it, it was clear that Kouvaris’ album-oriented rock style was out of step with the harder sound and he was replaced by band roadie Rick Ventura. Subsequent to a successful support of Sammy Hagar on his U.S. Texas tour Capitol Records offered Riot a worldwide deal for Narita, mostly to support Hagar (who Capitol realized had made the wrong record and was losing his fan base).

Capitol and Hagar needed a harder, younger edge to associate with him, so Riot was chosen- but only if they agreed to support Hagar on his all important UK tour. Hagar and Riot had a successful tour, but Riot was destined to be dropped by Capitol as soon as they were finished promoting Hagar. Riot’s management, Billy Arnell, Ezra Cook and producer Steve Loeb had other ideas and with their last dollars remaining from the Capitol advance, retained every important Indie FM radio promotion guy to promote the Riot album. They put it on as many radio stations around the country as possible, thus raising the radio profile so much that Capitol was unable to just ditch the band and was forced to pick up their option for another record. Thus began Riot’s biggest selling album,  Fire Down Under.

When the record was completed some months later, Capitol turned the record down calling it “commercially unacceptable” which put the band in contractual limbo. Capitol also refused to let the band out of the contract and insisted if the band wanted off Capitol, they would have to sue. A campaign was organized and financed by producer Steve Loeb and managers Ezra Cook and Billy Arnell with fans around the world, but especially in the UK where the fans picketed the offices of EMI Records. This created so much controversy that UK bands began to refuse to sign to EMI unless they either released the Riot record or let the band off the label. Finally, Elektra Records worked things out with Capitol’s Rupert Perry and signed Riot and immediately released Fire Down Under, which then soared into the Billboard Top 100 chart.

Their progress was again thwarted by Guy Speranza, who was finding it hard to square his religious convictions with his role in the band. He was ultimately replaced by Rhett Forrester (b. September 22, 1956 – d. January 22, 1994) for the next album, Restless Breed (1983). Though an outstanding frontman, any hope of a major breakthrough was sunk by a combination of Forrester’s erratic behavior on the road and a changing of the guard at Elektra. The next album, Born in America, (1984) was self-financed by Steve Loeb and was released on Quality Records, an independent Canadian label. Support melted away, leading to the band’s disintegration.

After stints with his own band (Narita) and abortive reformations of Riot, Reale mended fences with producer Steve Loeb in New York. He kept Don Van Stavern from Narita on bass, recruited Mark Edwards on drums and Greene Street Studio Manager Dave Harrington brought in Tony Moore for vocals. A resurrected Riot was born. Loeb cut a four-track demo at his Greene Street Studio in Soho, NY and along with real estate maven turned rock manager Vince Perazzo brought the band to CBS Associated, who offered the band a worldwide deal. Resultant albums, Thundersteel (1988) and Privilege of Power (1990) renewed fan interest around the world, particularly in Japan, where they maintained their strongest subsequent following.

The revived band was from then on dogged by continual personnel and record company changes. But, by virtue of Loeb’s willingness to self finance every record that followed until his departure from the production chair in 1995, Riot was able to continue making records. All told, Loeb produced or co-produced thirteen Riot albums in his 19-year association with Mark Reale and the different configurations of Riot. Reale continued to steer the band into the turn of the century, releasing albums roughly every couple of years. Rhett Forrester was sadly shot dead during a robbery in Atlanta Georgia in 1994, and original vocalist Guy Speranza died of pancreatic cancer in 2003.

In retrospect, Speranza can truly be regarded as one of Heavy Rock’s most underrated vocalists. The tracks, “Warrior” from the debut album Rock City, along with “Waiting For the Taking”, and “49er”, both from the follow-up Narita showcase some marvelous melodic rock vocals.

Die hard fans will appreciate Mark Reale’s impressive guitar on Army of One (2006), especially in “One”, dedicated to the late Guy Speranza. Guitarist Mike Flyntz shines as well, creating a tour-de-force guitar sound with Reale. Bassist Pete Perez and Frank Gilchrist offer the listener a heavy and astounding rhythm section. However, the continued growth and power of vocalist Mike DiMeo, who has come into his own on the last two albums, is the highlight of the melodic, hard rock album.


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