Neil Young famously sings, “Hey hey, my my, rock and roll can never die. There’s more to the picture than meets the eye.” We see what happens on the stage. We see what the press presents to us as the “reality” of artists. Too often, we learn of very real challenges that celebrities are facing until it’s too late. Conversely, some artists are quite brave and share their challenges with the world, ostensibly to help others who might be going through something similar.
Such is the case with legendary Quiet Riot drummer, Frankie Banali, who recently let the world know that he is battling Stage IV pancreatic cancer. I think it’s safe to say that most of us know someone who has battled that demon. My mom did (RIP). Friends of mine have. So, when I heard the news, it shook me to my core.
I’d interviewed Frankie back almost nine years ago (here) and a second time (here). Both occasions, he revealed himself to be a kind and compassionate person – both towards humans and animals. In fact, Banali is quite an animal lover and rescuer. So, when the news broke of his cancer battle, I once again asked God why the good people are the ones who face horrible monsters like cancer (I hate to even think of that word in my mind).
Because of the seriousness and soberness of the matter, I reached out to Frankie to see if he would share his story with Boomerocity. He graciously agreed to.
I called him at his California home. After exchanging small talk and pleasantries, Frankie shared:
“I've been up since 4:30 this morning because there's the Getty Fire. Which is not that far away from us. We got the automated call at 4:30 this morning to be prepared to potentially evacuate. So, we have to gather all the pets and some of the valuables and papers and stuff like that and just be ready. But so far, so good.
“I think it was last year or the year before. No, I think it was last year, my wife and I were on vacation in New Orleans when we had the other fires here and, literally, I had standby flights just in case we had to check out of the hotel and come back home. I get it.
With the conversation shifting to the purpose of the call, Banali said:
“I was diagnosed with terminal, stage IV pancreatic cancer on April 17th, but decided to wait until I started treatment and see how that went before I went public. So, you know, it was six months, just about six months when I got the news and coming out publicly and letting everybody know, which I did a week ago Monday. The treatments have shown some improvements and I've been already greenlighted to go back out on the road with Quiet Riot. We're scheduling the next round of chemotherapy and side effect recovery time so that it makes it possible for me to continue on the road with Quiet Riot. I just finished playing this past Saturday, the 26th, at the Whiskey with the band. I'm going to play. We're winding down the year or so. And, then, I'll start 2020 touring cycle again next year. We already have a number of dates on the books.
I was stunned by what he was saying. I asked him how on earth he was getting through all of this.
“Well, you know, the thing about it is that I'm not I'm not pessimistic about the situation. I don't kid myself about it. I mean, pancreatic cancer is the most serious cancer and it's a difficult one to treat. Having said that, my entire life, everything I've ever gotten, I had to fight for, and this is the biggest battle of my life and it's worth fighting for because I've got everything to gain. By not fighting, I've got everything to lose. So, I continue to move forward. The disappointment for me was that after the diagnosis, I only played two shows with Quiet Riot - one in April and then the M3 Festival in May. This was the first time that I have not performed Quiet Riot shows that 38 years in. And that was - that was a difficult. That was a difficult thing for me to accept but accept it I had to.
Before moving our chat over to the subject of the band’s new album, I asked Frankie what he says to those who are in the same boat as he is and fighting similar battles; What words of encouragement, what advice, does he offer?
“Well, I mean, I would give the same advice that I had given to people in the past that I had met. They confided with me and told me they had cancer, which is: you pay attention to your doctors; be educated. If you have a question, ask it. Look at every resource possible that you can, not just the doctors that are treating you; and, fight the good fight because it's worth fighting.
“My position is that it's better to do as much as possible on this side of the grass than it is to do absolutely nothing underneath it. So, you know, it is worth fighting for. With life, you only get one shot. Don't waste it. Make the most of it. It's not an easy thing. It's going to be difficult. Chemotherapy is brutal. The side effects are brutal. But, you know, you have to do it. There is no other way around it. So, fight the good fight.”
With that said, I asked Frankie to tell me about Hollywood Cowboys.
“I'm really happy with the way the record turned out. I started writing material for the record almost immediately after ‘Road Rage’, our previous album, came out two years ago. I started writing the music again with my writing partner, Neil Citron, who is also our recording engineer. We had a discussion, he and I, and I told him that I wanted to create a more varied record than some of the things we've done in the past, but still have it, you know, connected to Quiet Riot. I'm very happy with the way things turned out.
“A real bonus on this record is that I went to outside writers for some of the tracks. The first person I reached out to is Jacob Button, who is an incredibly talented songwriter, guitarist, and singer. He wrote the lyrics and the melodies for 'Don't Call it Love', 'In the Blood', which is the video song, 'Heartbreak City', and 'The Devil That You Know'.
“We cut demos with him. Everything was already blueprinted where those tracks were concerned. And, then, a couple of the heavier songs, 'Change or Die' and 'Insanity', I reached out to another friend, Neil Turbin. He's a great metal writer. He stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park with lyrics and melodies and he did background vocals on those two tracks, as well.
“And, then, what I call the odd song on the record, 'Roll On' - which is sort of a modern blues - I went to I went to another friend of mine, August Young, who I work with in a Led Zeppelin thing that we do with Jimmy Sakurai, who is Jason Bonham's guitarist. He's very much in tune with the whole Robert Plant vocal style. I thought that that would be a great contribution. He wrote the lyrics and melodies and did the demo to 'Roll On' and sang background on the record as well.”
When I said that ‘Roll On’ was my favorite cut on Hollywood Cowboys, Frankie said:
“Well, it's really interesting because so many different people that have interviewed me - because the records are not out to the public hasn't heard it yet - the consensus has been across the board that they really, really like that song. That makes me very happy. We also have an acoustic version of it, but it's going to be released on just the Japanese version of the record.
As for how long the album took to make, Banali said:
“The drum tracks didn't take that long to record. I recorded all the drum tracks in one session, and I did it old school. No click tracks and I recorded on two-inch analog tape. I'm crazy that way. And, then, after we recorded the tracks, Neil and I - because Neil is also a guitarist - we were able to put demos, really quality demos together. I first sent it out to Chuck Wright, who is a great bass player, and he put his DNA on it.
“Then I sent the tracks out to Alex and brought him into the studio to cut guitars over two sessions. He did a great job with that. In the meantime, I had taken the songs that Jacob Button had contributed - the four songs he contributed to - and the two that Neil Turbin contributed to, and the one that Augusts Young, and sent those complete demos with vocals and melodies and backgrounds and everything to our former singer because he opted to really work for whatever reason, on only five of the twelve songs on the record.”
I asked about James Durbin’s participation. I felt that his voice is quite unique for a Quiet Riot album and that it fits nicely. I wondered what made Frankie reach out to Durbin to fill in the gaps.
“Well, it didn't happen that way. What I did is, I sent the original twelve songs without any lyrics or melodies to him and he was only interested in working on five of the songs, which is why I reached out to the outside writers. Once I did that and those seven songs were completed demos, I sent those demos to James and all he really had to do was copy it from there because the songs were completed with background vocals, great lyrics and great melodies. All he did was copy what was already there.”
And which song would Banali point to as a calling card for the entire album?
“That's a difficult one on this record because I made a conscious decision when the writing process started with myself and Neil to have a more varied record. So, if you listen to the first four tracks on the record, 'Don't Call It Love', 'In the Blood', 'Heartbreak City', and 'The Devil That You Know', which are all the tracks that Jacob Button wrote lyrics and melodies to, some people have termed them ‘’Arena Rock’ or a classic Quiet Riot sound.
“But then you get into 'Change or Die' and 'Insanity', which is two that Neil Turbin contributed lyrics and melodies, too. Those have a heavier edge to them. Then, as we have already discussed, 'Roll On', is sort of an offbeat blues track for a better term. So, it's really hard to pick one track that might be, you know, the definitive 'this is what this album's about'. Having said that, one of my favorite tracks on the record is 'Don't Call It Love'. I'm really happy with the way that that turned out. But, you know, there's not any one track on the record that you could say represents the entire record.
As for touring to support Hollywood Cowboys, Frankie shared:
“Yeah, you know, traditionally, I don't add any new songs to the Quiet Riot set until a record comes out. ‘Hollywood Cowboys’ is coming out November 8th and we're almost done with the touring year. So, I'll add one, possibly two tracks from the record to the live set. But you have to be really aware when you do that because, by and large, when people come to a Quiet Riot show, they want to relive maybe a happier time or a more fun time with the 80s decade. So, you really have to play quite a few things from the Mental Health record and things from the Condition Critical record and some things off of QR III. So, when you're adding two songs to a set and you know that you have an allotted of time that you can play live, it means you have to delete two of the classic songs from the set. You have to be very conscious of what you pick and choose to take out and what you pick and choose to put in – especially if you're doing if you're doing a festival date with a number of other now national acts. Sometimes, you only get to play 20, 30, maybe 40 minutes, if you're lucky. Not even a 60 minute or 75- or 90-minute set. So, even that becomes more of a challenge.”
What’s on Frankie’s radar for the next year or two?
“Well, I've already started I've already started writing material for future a Quiet Riot record if I have the opportunity to record another one, which is kind of my M.O. Right after we released Road Rage two years ago, I started writing material with Neil, which became the songs that are on the Hollywood Cowboys record. So, you know, I'm looking forward to going back out on the road and continuing touring with Quiet Riot. And I'm looking forward to the possibility of doing a follow up record to Hollywood Cowboys and very much enjoyed doing the video for 'In the Blood'. I was very happy with the way that turned out.”
Though I asked Frankie this question when we talked in the past, with everything he’s gone through, his answer may have changed. The question was: How does he want to be remembered and what does he hope his legacy will be?
“Well, I mean, it's not up to me to say, but I would like it to be that people appreciated what I tried to do with Quiet Riot, not just as the drummer, but also keeping the band alive in spite of some major, serious setbacks. The fact that I've always appreciated all the fans because I've said this many times and it's the truth: If it wasn't for the fans and the support that we have had for thirty-five, thirty-six plus years now, there would not be a Quiet Riot. So, it's not just Quiet Riot that has survived the test of time, it's the fans that have made that possible.
“I got to tell you, I had no idea how the news when I went public on my situation. You know, I had no idea how it was gonna be received. But I have to tell you, the amount of love and prayers and support that I've received, both over the Internet and private messages and texts and emails has given me additional strength to continue this fight and take it wherever my life leads.”
As you keep Frankie Banali in your thoughts and prayers, keep up with him and Quiet Riot at https://quietriot.band .