Riki Rachtman remains best known as the host of MTV's popular Headbangers Ball. For three hours each Saturday night from 1990-1995, Rachtman was the show's master of ceremonies – interviewing bands in the studio, sometimes holding special episodes off-site, playing videos, offering giveaways, and reporting news.
But before landing the Headbangers Ball gig, Rachtman was the co-owner of the LA rock club the Cathouse with Faster Pussycat frontman Taime Downe (some of rock's then-top names could be spotted sporting Cathouse shirts in photos within rock mags at the time). And now, Rachtman is launching a one-man show, titled One Foot in the Gutter (which was part of a phrase he would say at the conclusion of each Headbangers Ball episode).
Rachtman spoke to AllMusic shortly before hitting the road for a string of 'OFITG' dates in December 2022, and was up for sharing some memories and stories from the days when he served as the face of Headbangers Ball.
AllMusic: What can fans expect from your one-man show?
Rachtman: "I think they are going to get what they expect in the way of hearing some first-hand experiences with some of these incredible moments in rock n' roll – whether it be what was it like on Headbangers Ball at the water park with Alice in Chains, or with Nirvana. And they're also going to hear the stories from the Cathouse."
"But I think there's going to be a lot of stuff that they're not going to expect – because there's a lot of stories that I've never told, and there's also a lot of personal things that I talk about. So, as much as you're going to get all the crazy raunch n’ roll and sleaze and debauchery of that era, there's also a lot of stories that people had no idea – from getting arrested for beating up a DJ to drugs to…it's a little bit of everything."
"Somebody that saw the first show said that they were surprised it was so inspiring – which I didn't think about it like that, but it was very, very flattering. I think the whole show is unexpected. But, if you're expecting to hear some great rock n' roll stories, you'll hear that as well."
"I promise anybody that goes, the first three minutes of the show, they're going to say, 'OK. I never expected that to happen at all.' I can promise that. In a million years, no one’s gonna guess what’s going to happen in the first three minutes."
AllMusic: Are there plans to do further shows into 2023?
Rachtman: "Absolutely. I would love to say that I did 30 shows in 2023 or more. I know that Halloween next year I'm on the Headbangers Boat, and I'm doing my show there, and people are asking when am I going to do show in LA, what about New York City. I would like more than anything to be able to make this 'my gig' – to be able to go out on a bigger tour and do 100 shows."
AllMusic: Is it true that a certain famous singer helped you land the Headbangers Ball gig?
Rachtman: "Absolutely. To say would I have gotten the job if it wasn't for Axl Rose? Probably not. Because he was the one that suggested I do it, and Axl said, 'Do you want me to go to New York with you when you audition?' And I'm like 'OK!' He got the hotel room and we stayed in a really nice hotel. He decided to 'slum it' and fly business class and we went to New York."
"And I just remember back then, when you travel with a big rock star and you get off the plane, somebody escorts you to a different area the airport, and you get into a car. It was like kind of cool."
"Axl was a very big part of every part of my career, and to this day Slash is constantly wearing Cathouse shirts, and anytime Slash is on stage and he's wearing a Cathouse shirt, I sell more Cathouse shirts! So, Guns N’ Roses has always been a very important part of my career and has always been extremely helpful."
AllMusic: Who were your favorite guests on Headbangers Ball?
Rachtman: "I think the shows that people remember the most are the shows that were the best. Obviously, any time I got to spend time with Lemmy was a joy. And Lemmy was somebody that I spent a lot of time with when we weren't on MTV."
"But the shows that people remember the most are the Alice in Chains shows, Pantera…even though people want to believe there was this real big feud between me and Dave Mustaine, Dave Mustaine was always great because he always kept me on my toes, because I knew he was going to give me a hard time but it was always fun."
"I'll never forget interviewing Brian Johnson from AC/DC. I'm sitting there talking to Brian Johnson and him saying to me, 'Well, now if I see you because we're friends…' and I was just like, 'Did Brian Johnson just called me 'a friend'?!'"
"I am not a journalist, I'm not a reporter – never really been accused of being one. I'm nothing but a glorified rock fan that had the greatest job in the world. So, when somebody says, 'You got to go to England to interview Aerosmith,' there's not a chance I'm not going to be like, 'Oh my God. Are you kidding me? I'm going to interview Aerosmith?!' It was always great."
"And to be in a position where these bands…the 'Cathouse era ' was different, because at the Cathouse, I became friends with most of these bands before they even had record deals. But to meet legendary masters, to all of a sudden be in Brazil hanging out with Rob Halford, I'm like, 'This is kind of like the coolest thing in the world.' And I was 'that guy.' If I came off like this goofy guy all the time it's because I'm excited. This was amazing."
AllMusic: What do you recall about Nirvana's infamous appearance?
Rachtman: "I talk about that a lot in my show. But the thing was just a total apathy that Kurt showed – that he did not want to be there. He did not want to be there. And would have Nirvana been huge without Headbangers Ball? Absolutely they would have. But Headbangers Ball did expose a lot of people to Nirvana. And I don't take credit for that and I don't think Headbangers Ball should take credit for that. But it was a big thing for them."
"And he was just wasted, and the whole thing was just like…I was bummed out, because I was a big fan of the album Bleach. I thought Bleach was just a great record. And when there's a band that I've never met that didn't go to the Cathouse that I'm a fan of, I am excited to meet them. And people said, 'Oh, you looked so uncomfortable.' I wasn't uncomfortable. I was just like, 'He doesn't even want to be here.' I was just like, 'Yeah, whatever. He seems so excited.' Because that was what he gave out – he didn't really care about being there."
AllMusic: There is a popular belief that grunge killed metal, or rather, hair metal. But if you watch some of the Headbangers Ball shows from '92/'93 on YouTube, you see that it was still a pretty wide variety of videos that were being shown.
Rachtman: "I'm just gonna make this up and let's just see if this analogy even works. If heavy metal in the '90s was a person, you would like to think that that person was a bad ass. That person was tough. And that person is huge and strong. And all of a sudden, this new type of music comes on and pushes you aside. Well, that means that your music is not that strong."
"Do I believe that grunge killed metal? Absolutely not. I don't believe that for a little bit. Because I don't think metal ever died. Because there were bands like Soundgarden and Alice In Chains coming and Pearl Jam, and MTV was playing them. If you're saying that this type of music killed your type of music, that means your type of music was weak."
"Who cares if it's being played in normal airplay? The bands that I listen to aren't getting radio play, weren't played during prime time MTV. And if you're going to say, 'Well, Soundgarden's this…and now look at grunge.' No. First, I don't say 'grunge.' Just like I don't say 'hair metal.' When I listen to Soundgarden, I don't hear this 'Seattle sound.' I hear a band to me that is heavily influenced by Black Sabbath. When I listen to old Sabbath, I hear Soundgarden and vice versa. Alice in Chains is a great rock band."
"If you think that people would still be looking and dressing like Warrant and Poison if there wasn't grunge – no. That was something that was an era and it was a fashion and it was a type. And a lot of the bands of that era – and I get a lot of crap for this – were very weak, and didn't have any substance. And sometimes, bands like Cinderella – that were so incredibly amazing – got pigeonholed into being some of these 'fluffy bands' that didn't have any substance."
"Bands like Cinderella and Skid Row are just killer, kickass rock bands. And because both those bands broke up…things change. It’s like saying if all of a sudden everybody's drinking a certain type of beverage instead of another, hey it's a new flavor and people like it. But nothing killed heavy metal."
"I went and I saw WASP a couple nights ago, and it was packed. So, obviously metal is not dead. And if I would go see Alice in Chains, it's packed and they're selling out arenas. So, I don't believe that anything killed anything. I think this type of music would have died out on its own if it wasn't substantial and had enough meat to it."
"Why don't people say that Guns N' Roses was hair metal? Because Guns N' Roses never stopped playing – they became one of the biggest rock'n'roll bands in the world. And to prove that it was never dead, if it died, then how did the Stadium Tour [with Def Leppard, Mötley Crüe, Poison, and Joan Jett] do as well as it did? This music has never died. To say that grunge killed it is to insinuate that it's dead. And if you used to listen to Mötley Crüe and then you started listening to Stone Temple Pilots, well that's that person's choice – they keep on going with the flavor. They're not going to listen to the same thing. People like whatever's hot."
"Things come in waves, and the people that like metal are still going to metal shows. And I don't think that that scene was killed. I think it might not have gotten the same exposure, but a true fan never stopped going to see Iron Maiden. A true fan still supports that type of music – no matter what happened. And yes, does it sometimes not have the luster and the shiny newness that it once did? Yeah, that happened. But it didn't happen because of certain type of sound out of Seattle."
AllMusic: Did you have any say in which videos would be played on Headbangers Ball?
Rachtman: "None. Ever. In my entire time on the Headbangers Ball, I got one video picked to play – and it's probably because they were going to play it anyway. I was like, 'It's my birthday. Can I pick the videos?' And they're like, 'You can pick one video, that we already play.' And I'm like, 'Motörhead. Just play a Motörhead video for my birthday.'"
"Because there's a lot of bands that I don't believe should have been played on Headbangers Ball. I believe if you're a band that's played during the prime time of MTV, then you should not be on the Headbangers Ball. I've always believed that Headbangers Ball should have been the music that we don't get anywhere else. And a lot of people thought that I picked all the videos. That I sat here like, 'I'm going to play this video here and that video there.' There were tons of videos that I grit my teeth having to play – because I didn't like them."
"People are like, 'Well, you should have told them ‘Don't play that video’.' It's like, 'This is my job! I'm getting paid a crap load of money to talk about rock n' roll!' It's like, 'Oh, I'm gonna go to Burger King and say, ‘Hey, screw these burgers…we're making tacos now’.' This was my job. I never got on Headbangers Ball and said I like a band that I didn't like, but there were videos that I played that I didn't like. But that was my job."
"And because there the music fanbase was so broad, because you had just as many people that wanted to hear, y’know…Warrant, that wanted to hear Nuclear Assault. I mean, you had all these people wanting to hear the different genres, and a lot of these bands need to be played, because this is the only place to play them. That was why I believe we never should have played any videos that were being played during the daytime."
AllMusic: What were some of your favorite videos that were played at the time?
Rachtman: "My favorite band always has been Motörhead. I love Motörhead. I've got Motörhead tattoos. I can't say enough about the band Motörhead. But during my era on Headbangers Ball, I loved Danzig, I loved Suicidal Tendencies, I loved Megadeth. I mean, these are all bands I still listen to, but videos that I remember going to like, 'Hey, now we've got something from Suicidal or Danzig,' and I also liked bands like the London Quireboys – which were a very Rod Stewart/Faces type band. And I still got love for my brothers Faster Pussycat, and some of the LA bands."
"Some people get older and they listen to the lighter stuff. When I get older, I listen to even heavier music – because it makes me smile. Sometimes, the stuff that's so 'ARGHHH!' makes me smile. But I listen to everything. Spotify just put out the list of the songs that I listened to the most in 2022, and I was like, 'Really? THAT was what I listened to the most?!' It's kind of surprising."
AllMusic: How important was Headbangers Ball in breaking bands, and also, could a show like that have the same impact today?
Rachtman: "It was vital in breaking bands. I hear it all the time, people saying, 'Riki, you turned me on to Pantera.' Which, I appreciate it, but I don't believe I should take credit – because I was just a host. But if people heard me say how much I love Pantera and 'Pantera is great, Pantera is one of the greatest live bands,' they might think, 'Oh. I wonder what this Pantera sounds like.'"
"See, the thing is we didn't have YouTube then. Now, we're in this 'TikTok generation,' that if there's something that we don't like in the first 10 seconds – scroll, scroll, scroll. If you wanted to see a video from Pantera on Headbangers Ball, you might have to sit through six videos that you've never heard before, and three of them you might hate, but three of them you might like."
"Now, we can pick up our phone and say, 'Show me a video from Megadeth,' and we're gonna see them instantly. Which because of that and that instant fulfillment of what we want, we're not going to get turned on to new stuff as much. Which is kind of a shame. If you wanted to see a video from Pantera on Headbangers Ball, you watched Headbangers Ball, and you're going to see other bands during that time that you wouldn't have known about. And now, if there's something that you don't know about – scroll, pass, delete. Go right by some good stuff. So it'd be tough."
"But I believe – especially the way that I hosted Headbangers Ball, for better or for worse – I didn't mind being a butt-end of a joke. I didn't mind doing goofy stuff. I didn't mind bowling with Chris Cornell, skydiving with Megadeth, or walking through the streets of San Francisco with Metallica. These are things that that were fun, and what I hoped is I showed people more of the personality of these artists. That's why I never minded if an artist gave me a hard time on camera – because I believe the people that were watching really enjoyed that."
AllMusic: Who are some of your favorite modern-day metal or rock artists?
Rachtman: "I just saw Amon Amarth live, and holy crap – that was one of the most fun shows I've seen. I really like Amon Amarth. As far as bands that I like today, I mean yeah, I'm going to a Lamb of God show – I like Lamb of God – but even that's not new anymore. Lamb of God have been around two decades."
"I'm a big fan of Shooter Jennings and Yelawolf. That's not metal at all, and I think that [Sometimes Y] is one of the greatest albums of the year. I also like Municipal Waste. People give me a hard time, but I really like My Chemical Romance. I love that band. I like Turnstile. I also rediscover old catalogs. Back when I was on Headbangers Ball, believe it or not I was not that into Venom. And now, I find myself listening to more Venom."
"But to me, going to see Amon Amarth was fun – like going to see Maiden for the first time was. It was just a fun show. I like seeing bands that that do goofy, fun stuff. Y’know, they're Vikings, come on! It doesn't matter how many times I've heard a Motörhead album, there's so many albums in their discography. And I listen to my Misfits, I listen to a lot of old punk rock a lot. But I like everything."
AllMusic: It seems like now more than ever, people listen to a bit of everything.
Rachtman: "I hope so. There's a lot of people that have a hard time listening to new music, and there's so many bands that I listen to that to me feel like old bands. I like it when there's a new band playing that has that 'old feel' to it, because I like thrash, I love Exodus, I love Slayer – I love that stuff. So, when I hear newer thrash bands, I'm like, 'Oh, right on.' Because they pay homage to that type of music, and I think the reason I like thrash so much is because it sort of has a punk rock feel to it."
AllMusic: It was fun speaking with you, Riki – as I was a loyal Headbangers Ball viewer back in the day, tuning in every Saturday night.
Rachtman: "That was weird that we were on Saturday nights, because Saturday nights…that's why there were a lot of kids that watched it, because kids didn’t go out on Saturday night. To be honest, I didn’t watch Headbangers Ball – because I shot it on Fridays, but I would go out on Saturday night!"
To view Riki's upcoming spoken word dates and Headbangers Ball and Cathouse merch, click here.