Published on May 11, 2012
Starz - Texas b-side of the (Anyway That You Wan't It) I'll Be There 45 released in 1978
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Richie Ranno: Guitars, Vocals and E-Bow
Michael Lee Smith: Vocals, Percussion and Guitar
Joe X Dube: Drums, Percussion, Snare Synthesizer and Moustache
Peter Sweval: Bass and Vocals
Brenden Harkin: Guitars, Percussion and Vocals
Starz was formed out of the ashes of an early 1970s pop music band, Looking Glass, which had the #1 hit single "Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)" in the summer of 1972. After lead singer Elliot Lurie left Looking Glass in 1974, the three remaining members (keyboardist Larry Gonsky, bassist Pieter Sweval and drummer Jeff Grob, who adopted the stage name Joe X. Dube) teamed up with Michael Lee Smith (vocals) and guitarist Brendan Harkin to continue the band and soon changed their name to Fallen Angels. In September 1975 they were joined by former Stories guitarist Richie Ranno. After keyboardist Gonsky was dropped from the group, they changed their moniker once again (to Starz) and pursued a more heavy metal direction. Kiss manager Bill Aucoin was introduced to Starz via his right hand man Sean Delaney, who had befriended Pieter Sweval, and Aucoin began handling Starz in late 1975, helping them to get signed to Capitol Records in early 1976.
Their major hit single "Cherry Baby" in the spring of 1977 came from the album Violation, produced by Jack Douglas of Aerosmith fame. Jack Douglas produced their first two albums "Starz" and "Violation." Most fans consider Violation their best album and compare it stylistically to Kiss and Aerosmith. Their third album, the self produced Attention Shoppers!, was more in the vein of power pop than heavy metal and featured a Cheap Trick influence in songs like "X-Ray Spex." Brendan Harkin and Pieter Sweval were asked to leave the band after Attention Shoppers!, reportedly since they wanted to continue in that record's musical direction, while the others favored a return to the harder sound of the first two releases. On their final Capitol album, Coliseum Rock (produced by Guess Who producer Jack Richardson), Harkin and Sweval were replaced by Bobby Messano on guitar and Orville Davis on bass. Davis had played in Rex, a hard rock outfit fronted by Michael's brother Rex Smith, who went on to TV and pop stardom in the late 70s and early 80s.
After leaving Capitol, Starz split up in 1979 and Dube and Ranno put together a trio with bassist Peter Scance called Hard Core. In 1980 Starz reunited with a lineup of Smith, Ranno, Harkin, Orville Davis and Doug Madick, former Prism drummer who was working with Smith at the time. The group played clubs up and down the East Coast in what amounted to a farewell tour. In 1981 Smith, Ranno, Madick and Peter Scance regrouped. At first they were to continue as Starz but decided to change their name to Hellcats. Hellcats recorded five new songs and released them as an EP on the small Radio Records label in 1982. But Radio, unfortunately, went out of business not long afterward. And another mid-80s lineup of Hellcats with Ranno and Scance also went nowhere after putting out another record in 1987. Brian Slagel of Metal Blade Records contacted Ranno in 1989 telling him of his longtime admiration of the band. Ranno put him onto the group's material and Metal Blade put out Live in Action, which contained live cuts from two 1978 Starz shows in Cleveland, OH and Louisville, KY. Both these shows eventually saw separate releases. Metal Blade was supposed to then put out the group's studio albums but never got around to it (the Starz catalog was finally released on CD in 2005).
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