In the mid-‚70s, two aspiring musicians met at Rutgers University, and formed the basis for what would be Starz, a group that went on to record nine albums, tour with groups such as Aerosmith, Rush and Ted Nugent, and earn their places in the pantheon of New Jersey rock and roll history.
Drummer Joe Dube and bassist Peter Sweval were soon joined by singer Michael E. Smith, guitarists Brendan Harkin and Richie Ranno, and bassist Peter Skance. All the members hailed from New Jersey except Michael, who originally came from Atlanta.
The group hooked up with managers Bill Aucioin and Sean Delaney, who were at the time involved with the upcoming new band KISS. “Sean told them to add another guitar player,” explains Richie. “I auditioned, and instantly hit it off with them.” Rich was a real hard rock guitarist, and at the time there just weren’t that many around.
The band started writing, and soon came up with the name Starz. “It lent itself to a really good logo,” adds Richie. “I think we had the best logo in the history of rock.” The group soon put out their first album on Capitol Records. It was the midst of the disco period, and there just weren’t that many hard rock groups. As a result, Starz was constantly in the Top 20 of Circus Magazine.
“We were radical, with some songs of controversial content,” says Richie. “It was hard rock, eventually the kind of music groups like Poison and Bon Jovi picked up on. It was a pop hard rock group. Bon Jovi used to cite us an influence, although now he talks more about the Springsteen influence.
Finally, in 1981, the band split up out of frustration. After a brief split in 1979, the band had gone through some member changes. Bobby Massano joined the band, Brendan left and then came back. They signed a new record deal with Atlantic, and decided to change the name of the band to Hellcats. After a promising start, the Atlantic subsidiary that the band was on folded. The group just got disgusted with the whole business, and stopped at that point.
The band did have a brief reunion in 1991, and put out an independent album. Meanwhile, Brendan has gone on to become the owner of a top recording studio in Nashville. Peter Skance has continued to play extensively, and is often seen doing gigs on the cover circuit.
Joe now resides in Manhattan, while Peter Sweval unfortunately passed away. Michael has relocated to Los Angeles.
Richie has kept extremely active in the Jersey music scene. He is the prime organizer of the famous KISS Expo that is put on every spring in New Jersey, and also has a part in organizing them at various places around the country. He has also just released a new album, entitled RRG. It also includes Peter Skance, as well as Neil Sundet, the singer from the popular group Rattling Bones. Fans of Starz should like the sound of RRG. “It’s like the ‘70s meeting the ‘90s,” says Richie. The new album is distributed through Big Daddy, so check your local stores. You can also get it through Rock Dream Records mail order at (609) 890-0202, or by contacting Collectors Items, at P.O. Box 4076, River Edge, NJ, 07661.
Copyright © Hal B. Selzer/The Aquarian/East Coast Rocker and transcribed with permission.
PS Latest news about STARZ is that they did some reunion shows last year (2003) and they went so well, the band are planning on doing a short tour next summer. Check out STARZ’s Website for all the up-to-date tour info: