Headbanger's Ball Ex-Host Riki Rachtman Is Bringing His 'One Foot In The Gutter' Tales To Headliners

May 8, 2023 at 11:58 am
Riki Rachtman is coming to Headliners to talk about his time in the L.A. metal scene in the '80s and '90s.
Riki Rachtman is coming to Headliners to talk about his time in the L.A. metal scene in the '80s and '90s. Photo provided by Rachtman

If you grew up in the '80s and '90s, you remember MTV as a place that actually showed music videos. The video hours were often hosted by folks called Video Jockeys or VJs. Late Saturday nights on MTV were Headbangers Ball hours and one of the hosts — the host that most folks remember — was Riki Rachtman. Rachtman was, at the time, the owner of the infamous Cathouse Club in Los Angeles. He moved into the job of hosting Headbanger's Ball when Adam Curry left the gig.

Rachtman is coming to Louisville, Tuesday, May 9 at Headliners Music Hall with his "One Foot In The Gutter" show where he tells stories of Cathouse, Los Angeles, Headbangers Ball and more. Tickets for the show are $23 and available online.

LEO caught up with Rachtman and asked him to give us some dish on things he might not talk about in his show. What we discovered is that apparently, he tells it all: the good, bad and ugly.

LEO Weekly: You started your MTV career filling in for Adam Curry who hosted Headbanger’s Ball. Curry always seemed somewhat uncomfortable in the role. How did you end up getting the gig?

Riki Rachtman: I go into greater detail in my show but the brief answer is, I was running the biggest rock club in Los Angeles the Cathouse and at the time the people I was hanging out with were just starting bands that would eventually sell millions of records. I was the odd man out. The guy hanging with famous friends. Understand they were not famous when we were friends . The brief answer is it was Axl Rose that helped facilitate the audition and he even flew with me to New York

You always seemed quite young during Headbanger’s Ball and often were the recipient of “abuse” by bands. Were there any bands that you found just unreasonable to deal with? How did you get through the moments when musicians would treat you either like a child or just disrespectfully?

When you are with people you like you bust their balls. I don’t know if there were any bands that truly didn’t like me. It’s quite possible there were. I never backed down. I never cowered. I dont think however being combative would have made for an entertaining show. If I looked like the fall guy and the bands looked like they had the advantage it probably made for a great show. The perfect example is Dave Mustaine from Megadeth. He would rip me to shreds on camera. The truth is Dave and I were always friends . Ya sometimes he was a little harsh but so many people ask me about this rivalry. After all these decades you remember those little spats. IN that case I did my job. Nobody knew that Megadeth was playing my club at the time….for free. If Dave truly hated me why would he do that? In an interview 2 years ago Dave said he wanted me to succeed so he would try to toughen me up. I’m grateful for all the times he was on the show

What about the positives, you were often among the first to interview bands that have become legendary. How does it feel to be forever linked to an extremely unique period in music history?

I had the greatest job in the world. I mean think about that. It really was the best job. Who would have thought Nirvana would be what they became after the Headbangers Ball. I feel really blessed to be that guy from that show. It’s actually surreal. I never sought out to be on tv or radio so when Im mentioned as a VJ it’s still awkward. I am proud of that era. I am proud that Headbangers Ball and Cathouse are still mentioned

You also owned a legendary nightclub in Hollywood. How did that business make your job as the host of HB Ball more difficult (or easier?)

When the guy from Headbangers Ball runs a club called Cathouse, it only made the Cathouse more popular. Many of the bands that were featured on “The Ball” would end up playing surprise shows at the Cathouse. It was a lot of great things at the same time. Of course both helped each other

Being so deeply ingrained in the industry, obviously, there are lots of “raunchy stories” but two things, Tell us the funniest story (that you don’t use in the show) or the saddest tale (that you also don’t use in the show)

If it’s a great story it’s in my show. I think the saddest part was how deep many of us fell into addiction. You would think after waking up in handcuffs with the police that didn't want to put me in the car because I, ugh... ummmm, took a shit in my pants, and after that and a couple 502’s, I still thought I didn't have a drinking/drug problem. I don’t know why I told you that.

You’ve taken the stories from the 80s/90s metal scene on the road. Have you thought of writing them in a book? (of course, a paper trail could be risky)

I have been asked for a long time if I would write a book, and I always declined even though I have taken a few writing classes. I had believed that the stories I wanted to tell might not be appropriate to put on paper. Instead, I took them onstage. It was pretty crazy sharing some of these tales while looking at peoples faces. The shows have been incredible. To hear an audience break into laughter is almost as incredible as hearing dead silence because they are riveted. The shows took the place of my book, but after seeing the response of the shows, I feel a book that goes deeper into the scene, and elaborates on the stories I tell on stage need to be in a book. So, yes, I do plan on doing that.

So much of the lifestyle from those HB Ball years couldn’t happen today in a public way. Certainly, the way women were treated and portrayed would be strongly challenged now.

Thats an interesting topic which I do address in my show. Yes some of the videos and album covers look pretty ridiculous and degrading towards women. However, if a woman wants to dress a little sexy, I think it’s great. I also think it’s great if they choose not to. I know as far as the Cathouse goes we had a lot of strippers there, and they looked like it. We also had a lot of very powerful woman that owned businesses, were lawyers, housewives, and they would dress like they were strippers — and after the club, probably just go back home. It was almost cosplay, pretend. We never ever treated women poorly at my clubs. We also didn’t care if you were overweight, dressed in a provocative way. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that we had all races. There were 'homosexuals,' transgender people, women in drag. Truth be told, nobody ever cared. If there were 2 guys kissing in the corner, nobody cared. We treated everyone the same. We never promoted that we treated everyone the same either.

What do you think are pros and cons of the way society has shifted? Considering the safety issues that many young (sometimes too young) women faced during their quest to meet or marry a rockstar in the ‘80s.

If a woman has her sights on hooking up with a rockstar she’s probably attracted to the fame and not the individual. I don't like that being sexy is all of a sudden known as offensive. Why are we not as accepting for men or woman that like to dress provocative? I have to be honest, if I see a commercial with a girl in a bikini, even I think to myself, 'Oh that looks so dated.' Ya see society even changed me. I don’t like that people don’t go out like they used to. We lived in dangerous times in the '80s/'90s. It was a decadent lifestyle and there are parts that I miss. It will never go back to the way it was. There is an incredible documentary called "WALL-E" that is an incredible description of where we are going….Oh it’s a Pixar kids movie? Ok, well it still shows the direction we are going.

Tell us about your show and have you been to Louisville before?

It’s me on stage with videos and photos as I share true tales of rock n roll sleaze and debauchery. It is me telling stories but some parts are almost like a play. The one thing I can guarantee is in the first 5 minutes the audience will realize that it’s much more than they expected. I know some parts are funny but there are some pretty heavy parts as well. Yes I do mention some well known names but there is also the account of how I lost it all and ended up in jail. I read a review that said that my show was inspirational. That was a damn good compliment. I never set out to be an inspirational speaker but if that’s a take away. It’s damn flattering. It is very personal and not like anything I have ever done. I love it more than any of the incredible jobs Ive had in the past and to read the positive reviews is really gratifying .

Favorite HB Ball moment?

It has to be Alice In Chains at Action Park. I never knew it was also the deadliest amusement park. I show some never before seen footage in my show ad we go deep into that episode

Last question, the horseshoe mustache period from a couple of years ago. What happened there? Pandemic pet?C'mon it’s not a handlebar mustache. It’s a Lemmy, in honor of my friend and leader of the great Motörhead. Nobody seemed to like that look but that never stopped me. C'mon I’m an old man with a mohawk