RIOT (1973–PRESENT). Guy Speranza (vocals, replaced by Rhett Forrester), Mark Reale (guitar), L.A. Kouvaris (guitar, replaced by Rick Ventura, others), Jimmy Iommi (bass, replaced by Kip Lemming, others), Peter Bitelli (drums, replaced by Sandy Slavin, others).
Riot are a U.S. heavy metal band founded in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1973. Although they never attained an arena-headlining level of success, they were enormously influential in the development of eighties metal (especially the NWOBHM), and the band carries on under the leadership of guitarist Mark Reale, the sole remaining original member, to this day.
Signed by New York producer Steve Loeb, Riot released their debut album, Rock City, in 1977, with the lineup consisting of Reale and L.A. Kouvaris on guitar, vocalist Guy Speranza, bassist Jimmy Iommi, and drummer Peter Bitelli. After touring as an opening act for AC/DC and Molly Hatchet, they entered the studio to record their second album, 1979’s Narita, with guitar virtuoso Rick Ventura replacing Kouvaris, adding a much heavier edge to the band’s sound and greatly enhancing their songwriting ability. After the album’s release, the band revamped the rhythm section, replacing Iommi and Bitelli with Kip Lemming on bass and powerhouse drummer Sandy Slavin, then toured the UK with Sammy Hagar, whose record label, Capitol, the band had signed with to distribute Narita, only to have Capitol unceremoniously drop them following the tour. The band’s management (Billy Arnell and Ezra Cook, as well as producer Loeb) responded with a blitz campaign of advertising and airplay on U.S. FM-radio stations, which led to enough attention and publicity for the band that embarrassed Capitol Records executives reversed their decision and picked up Riot’s option for a follow-up album.
Subsequently, Riot recorded their second album for Capitol, Fire Down Under Amazingly, Capitol not only refused to release it, deeming its heavier, faster sound as “commercially unacceptable,” but in a reversal of their previous position, now refused to let the band out of their contract to sign with another label. Outraged fans protested around the world, including a gathering of thousands at a rally in London outside the offices of Capitol’s parent company, EMI (which was given major news coverage in the U.S. on the newly born MTV network), and other bands began to refuse to deal with EMI unless the album was released, or Riot were released from their contract. Eventually, Capitol relented and released the band from their contract, and Fire Down Under finally came out on Elektra Records in 1981, making the Billboard Top 100 chart in the U.S., and selling well worldwide.
Featuring the band’s anthem, “Swords and Tequila,” and regarded by many fans as their definitive studio album, it ranks as their best-selling record to date, and laid the groundwork for much of eighties metal, with Speranza’s vocal pyrotechnics and Ventura and Reale’s dual lead guitar assault leading the way over Lemming and Slavin’s propulsive bass and drums, convincingly demonstrating the short-sightedness of Capitol executives. An opening slot on Rush’s “Moving Pictures” U.S. tour followed.
Unfortunately, on the brink of stardom, the lineup did not remain stable, an further record label troubles lay ahead. Charismatic frontman Guy Speranza, uncomfortable with the “rock and roll lifestyle” on the road, left the band to raise his family and was replaced by Rhett Forrester, with whom the band recordedRestless Breed in 1982, and toured with the Scorpions and Whitesnake, after which the band and Elektra Records parted ways. A live album (Riot Live), recorded in 1980 and 1981 in the UK, featuring the Fire Down Under lineup performing material from Rock City and Narita, was released in Europe in 1983, and ranks as one of the definitive live albums of its era. Born in America followed in 1984, on the Quality Records label, as well as a tour with Kiss and Vandenberg, after which the band dissolved.
Rhett Forrester was shot to death during a robbery in Atlanta in 1994; Guy Speranza died of pancreatic cancer in November 2003. Rick Ventura, Kip Lemming, and Sandy Slavin continued their musical careers, including playing together in the band Adrenalin. Guitarist Mark Reale re-established Riot with new members in 1988, and leads the band to date as the sole remaining member from their glory days. Since then, they have released several albums featuring a variety of lineups on a variety of labels, to little commercial interest in the U.S., although they retain a following elsewhere, especially in Japan.
Discography: Rock City (Fire Sign, 1977); Narita (Capitol, 1979); Fire Down Under (Elektra, 1981); Restless Breed (Elektra, 1982); Riot Live (European release only, 1983, U.S. CD release by Metal Blade, 1993); Born In America (Quality, 1984); Thundersteel (CBS, 1988); The Privilege of Power (CBS, 1990); Riot Live In Japan (CBS, 1992); Night Breaker (CBS, 1994); The Brethren Of The Long House (Metal Blade, 1996); Inishmore (Metal Blade, 1998); Shine On (Metal Blade, 1998); Angel Eyes (4-song EP) (Metal Blade, 1998); Sons of Society (Metal Blade, 1999); Through the Storm (2002); Army of One (LongHouse, 2006).