High hopes and great expectations are familiar concepts from up and coming bands throughout the years. Steeler was not the exception to that rule. But they were for sure one of the finest bands of the 80s hard rock sound in the States. Their one and only album was released in 1983 and it is rightfully considered a classic gem. In the wake of the band’s reunion show for KEELFEST, we get in touch with bassist Rik Fox who was more than happy to speak in depth about…well, almost everything! Enjoy… Interview: Sakis Nikas
Rockpages.gr: Rik, since this interview takes place after the KEELFEST show, would you like to say a few things about it?
Rik Fox: It was awesome. Lots of fun and really great to be involved with so many top line players and performers. Everyone involved, from top to bottom members of The Ron Keel Band, and Keel, and the crew and support and the promoter Missie Tong, were all fantastic. It was an honor and privilege to be there and working with all these people. It was especially great to work with legendary guitarist Mitch Perry.
Rockpages.gr: This would be the first Steeler show in decades. What took you so long? Was it a conflict of schedules? Was Ron into the whole idea of reuniting Steeler even just for one show?
Rik Fox: Ron Keel and I have kept in touch over the years and he began discussing the idea of a Steeler reunion going as far back as 2015 I believe, but for whatever unknown reasons, it just remained on the back burner until the right opportunity could present itself. Obviously all things Steeler begin and end with Ron. It’s always been his baby and rightfully so. Without Ron Keel there IS NO Steeler. Bottom line.
There was talk of a thirty-year anniversary get-together but that didn’t happen and there were several false starts. The dots just didn’t connect up properly for whatever reason. Ron had asked me if I would be interested in a reunion and I said “anytime, anywhere.” This time around, about a year ago in 2018, Ron brainstormed with the idea of selling the KEELFEST concept, delivering several bands spanning his career, with, naturally, Steeler being one of them. He discussed this with Columbus, Ohio promoter Missie Tong, and once everything was in place, Ron contacted me and said “I’m putting KEELFEST into play…are you in?” Contracts were passed back and forth and everything was signed, sealed and delivered, but this time, without Malmsteen who seems to have outgrown the gratitude of being a part of the Steeler legacy with a vehement abhorrence. This time, we were going to ace the day with one of the greatest team-players in the business; legendary guitarist Mitch Perry who’s played almost literally with EVERYONE, from Edgar Winter, Talas, Montrose, Michael Schenker, Cher, etc., and a huge laundry list of who’s-who, yet, one of the most humblest, down-to-earth guys you’ll ever meet. Ron arranged everything, and, after the KEEL rehearsal, (with Keel drummer Dwain Miller), we entered the rehearsal room, looked around at each other, and launched into the Steeler set, like it was 1983 all over again, which included Heaven and Hell due to Ron’s involvement with Black Sabbath and a tribute to Ronnie James Dio’s influence on all of us. (I’d performed twice onstage with Ronnie for two live versions of “We’re Stars” in 1987 while I was a member of Surgical Steel). We ran thru the set twice and Ron looked at us and said “This sounded surprisingly better than I expected it to…See you all in Ohio boys.”
Rockpages.gr: Did you approach Yngwie Malmsteen or was that thought not even on the table?
Rik Fox: Well, I certainly didn’t personally. I don’t know if Ron tried, but in any case, we all know what the answer would have been. Sadly, and very unprofessionally, Malmsteen’s arrogance gets too far in the way of his being a nice guy and team player to allow himself to be considerate enough to want to be involved. Although Steeler was the band that gave him his introductory break in the USA, there’s absolute zero gratitude or acknowledgement from him on that, and, he considers Steeler to be so far beneath him and that’s a known fact. Besides, working with legendary guitarist Mitch Perry was just so much more rewarding, personally.
Rockpages.gr: Everybody is aware of Malmsteen’s eccentric personality. Quite recently he did an interview and referred to Steeler as a “cookie cutter band.” Do you have any comment on that?
Rik Fox: I commented to that on Facebook. I took a very Paul Stanley, high-road reply, and said something to the effect of: “What’s wrong with cookies? Everyone I know LOVES cookies. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a cookie cutter band, most people like that kind of music anyway, besides, we go great with a tall glass of cold milk.” (laughing). “The more chocolate chunks in the cookie the better.” (laughing).
Rockpages.gr: Your departure from Steeler was a bit of a shock to Steeler fans back in the day. Do you think that it was one of the reasons of the subsequent demise of the band?
Rik Fox: Μy departure from STEELER came as a bit of a surprise and shock to both myself and the fans. I never saw it coming. I had no idea. We did a great job recording the Steeler album and everything was starting to look up and positive for us. Do I think that was one of the reasons of the subsequent demise of the band? No. To this day, I didn’t know the reasoning in Ron’s mind about why he made the decision(s) that he did. We were supposed to have a band meeting the day after our last show together, and both Yngwie and Ron were not there. I was informed by (drummer) Mark Edwards that the band was reforming again, and that Yngwie already quit and was joining Alcatrazz and that I was out of the band. Yet, there was no definitive reason given to me for my being let go from the band. I did everything and more that I was required to do and bring to the table for Steeler that helped make it the success that it was at that time. Who knows? If not internally, the band Steeler itself, the fans certainly were very enthusiastic about what this new line-up did for being one of the most pivotal, cornerstones of the Heavy Metal scene in Los Angeles. Steeler were literally untouchable in terms of our performances, and it definitely took this virtually then-unknown bassist from NY and put me on the map and in a position of respect among our peers.
Rockpages.gr: Did Ron approach you to join Keel back in the 80’s?
Rik Fox: No. He already had another set of new members for Keel beyond the last line-up of Steeler. Meanwhile, I had already formed my band SIN. We even did a show with Keel in 1984.
Rockpages.gr: How would you describe your relationship with Ron?
Rik Fox: Our relationship? OK, I guess. Because of our respective schedules we don’t always have time to drop what we’re doing and talk, but these days, Ron says “you can call me anytime.” So that’s encouraging. But Ron’s an extremely busy guy, probably one of THE hardest working performers in the rock music scene. He’s constantly doing shows, he’s just released a new album “Fight Like a Band” by The Ron Keel Band. So his priorities are pretty much set in place. But yes, we’ve kept in touch over the years. In fact, whenever he gets an idea about Steeler, he contacts me and discusses it with me, which is very courteous and professional. We’re all brothers in this at the end of the day and the mutual respect goes far between us. Ultimately, he’s the final say, but it’s great that he bounces ideas off me to see how I feel about his concepts. You don’t see too much of that anymore these days between band members.
Rockpages.gr: An interesting fact that I didn’t know until recently was that Dana Strum “stole” one of your songs (“On the Run”) with SIN and went on to use it with slight changes on the song (“Let Freedom Rock”) by Vinnie Vincent Invasion. What really happened?
Rik Fox: Well….SIN was doing pretty well in 1984. We were riding high on the Los Angeles Heavy Metal scene, and doing a lot of high profile headlining shows and apparently getting some industry attention. This was my second, and much heavier line-up of SIN, containing several members of the NY band Alien. We were approached after one of our shows by a guy from Jerry Weintraub’s heavy-hitter Management 3 Company located in Beverly Hills. He wanted to get us in the studio and record us and shop us to the major labels. I had briefly met Dana Strum a few years previously through a manager friend of mine, Bob Aiss who managed Capitol Records act Face Dancer who I did concert lighting for in NYC, Dana was playing bass in a new wave band, and I wasn’t very impressed. So, ironically, this is the same guy that our manager Todd Cooper brings into the fold. Dana had just placed guitarist Randy Roads in Ozzy Osbourne’s band and was some kind of mover and shaker, networking guy in the business now. So a ‘Spec’ (Speculation) deal was arranged and SIN went into the recording studio and we did a four song master album demo. One of the songs was a song I wrote in my previous line-up of SIN called “On the Run.” It was essentially a very heavy biker song, like my answer to Born to be Wild. Dana brought in, this then-unknown singer from Las Vegas, Nevada, some kid named Mark Slaughter, and Mark sang all the tracking vocals on our demo until we got another guy who sang over them. We actually wanted Mark to be our singer but Dana was keeping him for the Vinnie Vincent Invasion to replace singer Robert Fleishman. One night during our mix-downs, I walked in and surprised Dana and Vinnie Vincent sitting there listening to my song. Vinnie says he really liked the song and was interested in possibly re-recording it some time and ‘having me involved’ which was never defined what that meant exactly. Dana was producing and co-engineering our demo and after our demo was done and being shopped it was causing a lot of interest among the labels. Not long after that Dana was also doing the same concurrently with The Vinnie Vincent Invasion as well as the bass player for that band, and an advance demo of their album containing the song “Let Freedom Rock” was handed to me by the person who was doing publicity for both bands. I was told to listen to it and my jaw dropped. Essentially, in a breach-of-trust, our producer, Dana Strum literally handed over my song “On the Run” to Vincent, and with a few minor changes here and there, and changed the lyrics, literally ripped off my song note-for-note, with Strum claiming that “you can’t copyright a hook” which was utter bullshit, because that exactly how George Harrison got sued and lost over his song “My Sweet Lord” which was literally the same hook and song as the Chiffons’ “He’s so Fine.” I personally confronted both Mark Slaughter and drummer Bobby Rock at the NAMM Show music convention and wanted to know how and why this was allowed to happen. They essentially both told me that “Dana made us do it and we had no say in it.” I said to Mark “But you KNEW that it was my song, you sang the tracking vocals on it on our SIN demo.” I had them both dead-bang, and they knew it. Mark just was embarrassed and didn’t know what to say. I threatened to sue Strum and Vincent and their label Chrysalis Records. Chrysalis panicked and Strum threatened to “bleed me dry and then counter-sue me for being an asshole.” His level of arrogance had no limits. Eventually that Vinnie Vincent album tanked, and Vincent whacked-out and was kicked out of his own contract which automatically went right to Strum and singer Mark Slaughter which then became the band Slaughter. That’s the beginning of the downward spiral that continues to this day to Vincent. So I guess it was great karma. In-between all this time, I took a LOT of negative heat over the issue and nobody believed me. Everyone though I was lying about it. Then, around I think it was either 2016 or 2017, there were several pod cast interviews with both Mark Slaughter and drummer Bobby Rock and they were both asked directly, in those pod casts: “Is it true that Vinny Vincent ripped off the song “On the Run” from Rik Fox?” They both hesitated for a moment and replied “Yes, he did.” At that moment, I was vindicated and validated. The truth came out in public for the whole world to know. Today, Strum plays bass in the Vince Neil band and acts like some kind of manager for Neil.
Rockpages.gr: How did you end up joining W.A.S.P.?
Rik Fox: I was working in a store in 1981, in NYC, and this kid and his friends were visiting NY from L.A., to see Twisted Sister play at some festival, they walk in. They asked me if I was a musician and said I looked like (Angel guitarist) Punky Meadows. After I told him I was friends with the guys in the band Twisted Sister, and also KISS, they were like fan boys, going all ga-ga over it. One guy says he knows a band in Los Angeles who was looking for a bass player and that I would be perfect for that band. I never believed that it was possible for me for that to happen, but he begged me for my phone contact and a picture for him to take back to L.A. I honestly thought that that was the last of it and I would never hear anything, and so I forgot about it. About two weeks later, I started getting calls from this guy named Blackie Lawless. Apparently this kid actually gave Lawless my contact information, and Lawless convinced me to come to Los Angeles and, on his dime, he flew me out to L.A. to audition for his band. But, it wasn’t called W.A.S.P yet. It was called Sister. Once again, for the record, I arrived on February 4th, 1982, After getting over the jet lag, Blackie brought me to the audition at Randy Piper’s rehearsal space studio in Buena Park, Magnum Opus on February 6th. They went through their set of about five songs; On Your Knees, Hellion, B.A.D., Sleeping in the Fire and School Daze. These guys sounded like THUNDER. There was definitely something different about this band. I was about to step into my dream. I listened twice and then he said to plug in and try out. Not only did I pass the audition, but by February 8th, I was co-writing Master of Disaster with Blackie. We continued rehearsing as often as Blackie could arrange a ride from Mike Solon (brother to Eddie Solon, Ace Frehley’s guitar tech and early KISS soundman- Mike is the bartender in the W.A.S.P. video Blind in Texas). Because Blackie was so broke, we built fog machines and stage monitors to get a few bucks to live and eat on. It was the first time in my life that I was forced to steal food from the grocery store to survive; it was *that* bad. Blackie used to open his electric meter and dial it back so he wouldn’t have to pay his DWP (electric bill). I had a day job set up for me, transferring from another company in NYC, but they reneged at the last minute and said there was no openings at that time, which REALLY fucked me hard. Otherwise Blackie would have been living off of my paycheck, making me more valuable to the band. Blackie said he wanted to change the name of the band because there were other bands using the name Sister (White Sister, Twisted Sister, etc.). So, It’s now March of 1982, and while I was on his phone outside his Hollywood rental cottage, I was kicking over some leaves and stepped on a hornet under one of the leaves. It wasn’t dead yet, but dying. It looked like the curled-up logo from the 60’s TV show The Green Hornet. So I went in to the house and he’s watching the ballgame on TV slumped in the chair, and I said “You said you were looking for a new band name; I have a great name for the band.” Blackie looks up at me and says “what?” And I said “Wasp. I just stepped on one outside, and I thought it’s a cool name.” Blackie looks away thoughtfully, and says “That’s a great band name, keep thinking like that.” I drew up a logo of the curled up Wasp, and a few days later at rehearsal and announces that the new band name is WASP (no periods yet). So, technically, since all four of us, (Randy, me, Tony and Blackie), are standing there at the birth of the new band name, that makes all four of us original, co-founding members of the band that was now WASP. On April 12, 1982, we recorded the first (live, 3-track) WASP demo at Randy’s studio, and it sounded like THUNDER! (and NO, it was NOT called “Face the Attack“- that was the name I had drawn on my copy of the cassette which was stolen and tape traded all over the world)…Blackie looks at me and says he’s glad that I worked out, and that I was the missing piece they were looking for. Three days later, on April 15th, Blackie had booked our first (and only) photo session with local scene photographer Don Adkins, whose infamous photos are all over the internet, and which had caused a firestorm of controversy, because, some 30 years later, Blackie has cut me out of the actual truthful history of W.A.S.P., and censored and denied that I was ever in the band, despite all the photos, the demo and that all the other members have gone on record admitting that I not only was in the band, but that I created the band’s name. I had contacted some of my friends in the record industry and they listened to the demo and liked it, but said it had no ‘hits’ on it, and they passed. I think that bugged Blackie. I was outliving my usefulness perhaps? After seeing the first promo photo of Mel Gibson in the newly released film ‘The Road Warrior’, I suggested to Blackie that as a band, we should look like that. Ironically, he said “No, we’ll scare away the record people.“ Little did I know, he was keeping notes on all my suggestions. Blackie was a big fan of Hitler’s Nazi generals, and said “If you’re going to lie, lie BIG–the bigger the lie, the more outrageous it is for people to believe it. How prophetic that would be…By the end of May, 1982, Blackie suddenly stopped talking to me, which was awkward, because I was still staying at his place. I would occasionally bring a date back to his place, and I believe that it was beginning to annoy him, which Randy later confirmed, saying that “Blackie is extremely jealous.” Out of nowhere, Blackie says “you’re out of the band–it’s not working out, and you are to surrender all your copies of the band photos.” I was stunned, shocked. Why? What did I do? The band sounded great, listen to how tight that demo sounded. So by the end of May, about four months — sixteen weeks later, I was out of the band. Welcome to Hollywood. That’s when I was staying with various friends, and trying out for bands. I didn’t know that many people and didn’t know who to trust. I eventually auditioned for Warlord (Yes, Bill Tsamis’ band), and played with them for about four months until they said they weren’t going to be a live band, so I walked out. I auditioned for Ratt, and The Greg Leon Invasion, I hosted a couple of rock n’ roll BBQ’s, networking with various bands, and jammed a couple of times with Hellion and then put an ad in The Music Connection magazine. That story has been so misquoted and twisted over the years, by bad gossip that it should look like a pretzel. But today, many W.A.S.P. fans have become very supportive and have come to accept the fact that I was the original bassist and a co-founding member of the band. Here’s a good question to think about: If I didn’t create the name of the band, what do you think they would be called?
Rockpages.gr: Many KISS fans are familiar with your name due to your relationship with Peter Criss’ younger sister. You were there in the very early days of KISS and witnessed the beginning of a legendary band. What do you remember from that period?
Rik Fox: HA! Not enough KISS fans. For some reason, although I was there, in the beginning, before it WAS the beginning, I’ve never been asked nor invited as a guest speaker at any KISS convention to this day. With all my knowledge and stories, try and explain that. Anyway, Peter’s family moved into an apartment around the corner from me around 1972, while I was in high school, and I eventually became friends with his younger sisters. I hadn’t met him yet, I didn’t know about him. They just said “Our big brother is a rock drummer and he’s going to be famous one day.” Then One day he showed up at their place and he WAS a rock star! Dressed in a satin shirt and platform boots, tight jeans and a shagged rock and roll hair cut. I was stunned. I had been sneaking onto the clubs to photograph some of the local rock bands in NY and Queens at The Coventry club, and apparently Peter was good friends with New York Dolls drummer Jerry Nolan, they both grew up together in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Peter gave me my first rock haircuts and was like a big brother to me. His younger brother Joey was an artist like me so we had a lot in common and hung out together, and I began dating one of Peter’s sisters. My high school friend John Altyn dated one of the other sisters. Eventually Peter put an ad in the local NYC papers looking for a gig and was contacted by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley and they began to rehearse together in an industrial loft in Manhattan, NYC, and we used to go watch them. They weren’t called KISS yet. Eventually we go there one day and there’s this guy in a gray suit and a purple and an orange sneaker playing with them, that was Ace Frehley and now the band was complete and eventually became called KISS, and we continued to watch their rehearsals. I was one of a small group of people, in the very beginning, who got to watch KISS form from an embryo and grow into the band they are today. We went to their early shows ands watched them develop their characters and improved their shows and performances. I became friends with Sean Delaney, the guy who was like the fifth member of KISS and taught them how to be the rock stars they became and wrote songs with them. I’ve seen the band in bigger concerts a few times, and it was great to see them rise to where they’re at today. I saw it when it was being born.
Rockpages.gr: What have you been doing after all your musical activities in the 80’s?
Rik Fox: When I put Thunderball together, it was just before the beginning of Seattle and the Grunge scene. We were trying to make one last great stab at it. But the tide was turning against bands that looked and sounded like us, except for bands like Poison and Keel and such, I don’t know why. I filled in with a couple of bands here and there, and changed my look and when I decided that it’s not fun anymore, and I wasn’t going to adapt into the Grunge scene and look like that image. I took a hiatus for a while and began working in the film industry and became a property master and weapons handler for films and television. It definitely paid MUCH better too. I also joined the CSMR (California State Military Reserve) and served for five years as a Communications NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) at the rank of E-4 (Corporal). From there, through my father’s research, I got into my Polish Noble ancestry and was the first officially-recognized representation of the 17th century Polish Winged Hussar knights cavalry. In memory of my father, Chevalier Leonard J. Suligowski, created Suligowski’s Regiment of Sobieski’s Hussars, and became an award-winning representation of the Polish Winged Hussar cavalry at The Battle of Vienna 1683, in the Unites States. I’ve since been featured on the Canadian Kensington Productions cable television series “Museum Secrets” in this portrayal, which has been broadcast on the BBC and Smithsonian Channels and other networks Internationally. I did that for over a decade and I started to notice that rock music was making a slow comeback, and decided to get back in the mix, and by 2012, I started to try to get back in and was finding it somewhat difficult because people’s attitudes changed and it was as if they were making it difficult for me to get back in on purpose, there was much bias and egos still in the music business and less clubs to perform at so it was becoming this territorial sandbox, and nobody was respecting my track record resume’ and it was like I was being pushed out of those social cliques. By 2013, I had joined KEEL onstage at The Whisky a Go-Go in a two song reunion for a couple of Steeler songs and I’ve been making slow progress since. Participating in various All-Star Jams, etc. Then, In 2017 or 2018 I was contacted by Hair Nation lead singer and vocalist for the Appice Brothers Projects, a guy from Buffalo, NY, named Jim Crean. Jim puts out these albums filled with all these major rock stars. He asked me to be a guest performer on his upcoming album “The London Fog“, and I recorded on the album’s single “Broken” with Sabbath and Dio drummer Vinny Appice and guitarist Robby Lochner of Jack Russell’s Great White. I also recorded on an Angel song with Angel’s lead singer Frank DiMino. And Hollywood Monsters guitarist Steph Honde from France. It turned out so well that Jim has asked me to do the live dates and the video for “Broken” with his Jim Crean Band. Jim’s provided me with the missing piece opportunity to help get me back in circulation again like a guardian angel so to speak, because he said he was “tired of seeing me getting bashed and disrespected in Face Book by all these jealous losers trying to dismiss my career.”
In-between this, I participated in the KEELFEST event for the Steeler reunion in May of 2019 in Columbus, Ohio, with the bands KEEL and The Ron Keel Band. And I’ve done some minor projects and guest jams in-between all that. You’ll have to keep an eye on my Face Book page for updates. I’ve FINALLY been blessed with some great people around me, in addition to my wife Tamara…I’ve recently signed with Sola Custom Guitars and they’re making me a signature Rik Fox bass, I’m also endorsing DR Strings through MyStringKing(dot com), and Pro Player Art / Kicklidz Custom Amp Screens and Nexxus Muslady 2.4 GHz Wireless Guitar Systems. So I’m very grateful to Jim for this opportunity and looking forward to doing the live dates with Jim Crean! And thanks to Christina Avila who has been doing a great job handling my Artists Promotions.
Rockpages Gr: Last but not least: shall we expect a comeback record with Steeler?
Rik Fox: That’s a very good question. You’ll have to ask Ron Keel about that. He says “Never say Never.“ That would be his call, but I’m always open and up for the opportunity! Thanks for having me and a BIG Thank You and YASOU! To all your readers and fans in Greece!