INTERVIEW WITH ROUGH RIOT GUITARIST CHRIS HAGER
Date: December 2, 2018
Interviewer: Ruben Mosqueda
Photos: Joe Schaeffer Photography (first and fourth photos), Denise Truscello (second photo), Mike Coeyman Photography (third photo)
“WE WANT PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND THIS IS THE REAL DEAL. THIS ISN’T A PROJECT OF A BUNCH OF GUYS GETTING TOGETHER FOR A MONEY GRAB. THIS IS A BAND. WE ALSO WANT TO RELEASE SOME NEW MATERIAL TO SHOW PEOPLE WE’RE COMMITTED TO THIS,” SAYS GUITARIST CHRIS HAGER. THE BAND HE’S REFERRING TO IS ROUGH RIOT WHICH FEATURES HAGER (ROUGH CUTT, GUITAR), SINGER PAUL SHORTINO (ROUGH CUTT, QUIET RIOT, KING KOBRA), DRUMMER DAVID ALFORD (ROUGH CUTT), BASSIST SEAN MCNABB (QUIET RIOT, LYNCH MOB, GREAT WHITE) AND GUITARIST CARLOS CAVAZO (QUIET RIOT, RATT).
HAGER, SHORTINO AND ALFORD RECRUITED CAVAZO AND MCNABB, SHUT DOWN ROUGH CUTT AND DUBBED THEIR NEW BAND ROUGH RIOT. THE BAND RECENTLY PLAYED ITS FIRST SHOW IN LAS VEGAS. SLEAZE ROXX CAUGHT UP WITH HAGER TO TALK ABOUT ALL THINGS ROUGH RIOT. THE BAND HAS A COUPLE OF CONFIRMED SHOWS IN 2019. THEY ARE ON JANUARY 5TH, 2019 AT THE RAMONA MAIN STAGE IN RAMONA, CALIFORNIA AND ON FEBRUARY 5TH, 2019 AT THE WHISKY A GO-GO IN LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA.
Sleaze Roxx: So when did you decide to shut Rough Cutt down? And at what point did [guitarist] Carlos Cavazo and [bassist] Sean McNabb come into the picture?
Chris Hager: Amir [Derakh] has been working on Julien-K, which has been his baby for the past 13 years. Great band. I love all those guys. When the opportunity came up to put Rough Cutt back together, the offer was great, so I was like “Yeah, this will be fun and we’ll make a little money.” Amir was into it and it was a lot of work to go back and relearn some of that stuff. We used a lot of effects back in the day, a lot of double leads and stuff like that. So we did the Monsters of Rock [Cruise] and then did some other shows. We got an agent to see where that would go. We did wind up doing a half dozen shows or so. We wound up hooking back up with our former manager Wendy Dio. That was really cool because it was like we were back home again. Once Wendy came on board, things began to happen. Amir’s band was offered a couple of different tours. That was a priority for him, so he wanted to do that. Matt [Thorr] didn’t want to do it anymore, so we thought we could get some subs. That way Rough Cutt could be playing, because once you begin to build a little momentum, you’ve got to keep going. That left us in a position where we weren’t sure what we were going to do next.
We started off looking for another guitarist and bassist, so we made some calls. We definitely had some interest. Sean [McNabb] really was into being a part of Rough Cutt. He’s a fantastic musician and not to mention that we’ve been friends with him forever. So then it was just a matter of finding another guitar player. We got a lot of interest from some great guitarists, but they wanted to do a few shows with us and wouldn’t commit. So one day I asked Sean, “Hey, what is Carlos [Cavazo] doing?” We knew he wasn’t in Ratt anymore. We got into touch with Carlos and within a week he said, “Yeah, I’m into this.” Once we got Sean and Carlos on board, Paul Shortino said, “Let’s not call this Rough Cutt, let’s call this something else.” He was all about starting off fresh, so that is how this all evolved. So Rough Riot came up as a name. At first we were like, “Ugh, I don’t know.” After a while, it grew on us a
little bit and it was like, “Why not?” It does represent what the band is, which is members of Rough Cutt and Quiet Riot. I think the fact that Paul and Sean made a record with Frankie [Banali] and Carlos in the ’80s, it kind of made sense.
Sleaze Roxx: I see what you’re saying about going through the work of relanching Rough Cutt, but why not just press forward with replacement players? A lot of your contemporaries have done it. They’re doing dates right now. Sounds like it was Paul that didn’t want to call it Rough Cutt?
Chris Hager: I think he wanted a fresh start, even though Rough Cutt has some marquee value. It’s at an underground, cult level. We wanted to really stay away from the term ‘supergroup’ so we went with a new start and that is Rough Riot. Now in hindsight, if that was the right move remains to be seen [laughs]. I think using a new name might have made things a little more difficult for us, but in the end it might be for the best. I can see where in the beginning, promoters will look at the name and say, “Rough Riot who the hell is that?!” I think using the tagline of saying featuring former members of Rough Cutt and Quiet Riot will help people get it. I know there’s a lot of people in middle America don’t know about this. They’re not necessarily on top of things like we are, so we’re using the tagline. I mean if you look recently, Bobby Blotzer used the name Ratt with other players and you have people in let’s say Nebraska, who think they are seeing Ratt [laughs]!
Sleaze Roxx: How is it for you to play material that you weren’t a direct part of? Material from the ‘Quiet Riot’ album doesn’t get played and doesn’t get heard unless Paul is doing it in a set.
Chris Hager: Frankie doesn’t play any of this stuff, so the new generation of Quiet Riot fans don’t hear this in the Quiet Riot set. Playing material that I didn’t record isn’t new to me. I did this when I played in Stephen’s [Pearcy] band. I played all this Ratt material for a period of almost five years. If I recall, we only did one song that I was a part of when the band was still called Mickey Ratt. The song was called “U Got It.” The rest of the set was Ratt stuff that I had nothing to do with. I guess it’s just a matter of whether you like the stuff or not. I just happen to like the stuff those guys wrote. The songs that we’re playing on that [Quiet Riot] record, I like them a lot. It’s fun. It reminds me of when I went out and I played Ratt songs. I love seeing the crowd’s reaction when we play some of these songs, and we’re doing the Quiet Riot hits. We’re playing “[Cum On Feel The] Noize” and “Metal Health (Bang Your Head).” It’s really fun playing those icon songs and watching people’s eyes light up. It also helps having one of the original guys that either wrote or recorded the song in the band with you. When I toured with Stephen, that was a no brainer, because he’s the voice of Ratt. With Rough Riot, we have Carlos Cavazo who recorded those iconic Quiet Riot albums. That adds a lot of credibility to it. Let’s face it, not a lot of bands have every original member in it anymore. When you have a couple of key people in the band, that makes a huge difference.
Sleaze Roxx: What are your favorite Quiet Riot song to perform or that you’ve been rehearsing?
Chris Hager: Oh man, that’s a tough one, but I’d have to say that one song that I really like is a song called “Empty Promises.” It’s off the ‘Quiet Riot’ record. It’s got a monster riff. I like the chorus and the verse too. I love that one. When I heard that song, I immediately connected to that song. Wow! That’s just a great song! It should have been a hit record. I have to say “Metal Health [Bang Your Head]” is also fun. It’s such an iconic song.
Rough Riot performing “Bang Your Head (Metal Health)” live at Vamp’d in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA on November 2, 2018:
Sleaze Roxx: Have you heard how it’s been for Carlos to perform these songs with another guitarist? He’s been the lone guitarist on all these Quiet Riot tracks for years.
Chris Hager: I don’t know. I haven’t asked. Should we try getting him on the phone? Good question. You know, I just don’t know. Maybe we can get him on the phone once we do a couple more shows. We’ve done one show so far, but it was fun for the band and it was fun for the fans. We had a couple of clams but I don’t think anyone noticed. We’ll work the bugs out in rehearsals. We had three leading up to the first show. We did a 17 song set. We’ll get better with more rehearsal time. I will ask him that question for you [laughs]!
Sleaze Roxx: Moving forward, by the sound of things, it sounds like there will be some new material written?
Chris Hager: Funny you ask. We actually started working on our first collaboration yesterday. I wish we all lived in the L.A. area because it would be more conducive to writing new material. Sure, we can get everything via internet [but] it’s just not the same as being in the same room. I wish I had Paul sitting in my little studio working on songs, but I think we will be doing some of that in the near future, which will be great. We’ve worked this way once before in Rough Cutt so we know we can do it. It’s not optimal, but we can do it. We have had an offer by a label, but I think we’re going to keep looking until we find the right thing for us.
Sleaze Roxx: I didn’t get this one in last time around, you formed a band with Jef Warner [Black N’ Blue] at the tail end of the ’80s. It was called Woop and The Count. It was short lived, but could you tells us about that?
Chris Hager: Ah yes, Woop And The Count. It was short lived as you said. Woop and I had been friends since the early ’80s, when Black N’ Blue arrived in L.A. from Portland [Oregon]. I remember I was at a friend’s house and here comes these guys fresh off the boat, so to speak. Woop and I hit it off right from the start and we became partners in crime so to speak. We had a lot in common with those guys. We were both signed to major labels. We had a strong local following and we both had all the trappings, so we had this bond of sorts. I’ll say this, Woop is an ultra talented guy. I would say that he is one of the best overall songwriters that I have ever worked with. He’s such an amazing songwriter. Rough Cutt was over by the middle of 1987, Warner Brothers had let us go. Black N’ Blue was let go by Geffen [Records] within a year from that. We were party buddies, but we found out that we had chemistry as players.
It was about four years after Rough Cutt was over that Woop and I got together and we shared our demo to Brad Aaron who worked with Kansas and who I had worked with in my pre-Rough Cutt band Sarge. Brad liked the material. We had a lot so we went back into the studio and cut a three song demo. That has to be one of the better recordings that I have been a part of. It’s top quality stuff. That happened as we started shopping the demo. I remember we went down to Atlantic [Records]. Brad got us a meeting with them, so we went down there. They listened to it for about a week. They ultimately passed on it. This was around 1990-1991. That music was considered out of fashion. This music we created was totally ’80s. It was over the top, cool, ’80s rock! At that point, it was all about Nirvana. It was timing. Timing is just so important. We’ve talked about that before with Rough Cutt. Woop And The Count were just about two years too late, which is a shame because we had some really cool stuff. We did some shows and it fizzled out.
Sleaze Roxx: You said there were three songs on that demo, so I assume those are in the archives somewhere.? Would anything off that demo possibly be repurposed in the future for let’s say Rough Riot?
Chris Hager: Yes! Absolutely. There’s one song in particular that I think I will go ahead and do that with. Woop and I, we don’t talk anymore. I really don’t know what the hell he’s doing these days [laughs]! He’s fallen off the map, man [laughs]! I don’t know what he’s up to these days, but there’s zero chance that we’d do anything together again. So yes, as you say, I would certainly like to repurpose those songs, absolutely.
Sleaze Roxx: Last one, I know you have a nickname of “The Count.” I’m not sure I have heard the story behind that. Care to share the story behind that?
Chris Hager: Oh man! I have to preface this with, that I’ve always been more of a night person. I’m not much of a morning person. That’s still kind of true to this day. This is kind of a funny anecdote. This was in Rough Cutt. We were on a bus on an 18 hour drive across the country. We were out with Ronnie [James Dio] on the ‘Sacred Heart Tour.’ We had been up partying and had stayed up late. We all just passed out at some point at like three-four in the morning. We were toward the front of the bus. We were driven east so we were driving toward the sunrise. The sun had started to peaking through those big windows at the front of the bus. All of a sudden, the sun pops up, we hit a bump, it startled me and woke me up! There’s this huge bright sun, right in my eyes. The guys woke up too, I was laying down, I sat up and I crossed my hands in front of my eyes! Like the Dracula movies [laughs]! I think it was Matt that said “Count” [laughs]! And the name just stuck man! That’s the story [laughs]!
Rough Riot performing “Dreamin’ Again” live at Vamp’d in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA on November 2, 2018:
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