A Real-Life Headbangers Ball: Riki Rachtman Remembers the Cathouse Club

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Lyndsey Parker
·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
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Casual fans best know Riki Rachtman as the host of MTV’s Saturday night metalfest Headbangers Ball from 1990-1995 – a gig he landed, as legend has it, thanks to his buddy Axl Rose’s personal recommendation. (“It was great. I basically got to be like a rock star with no talent whatsoever. That was kind of nice,” he tells Yahoo Music.) But hardcore rockers are well aware that before that, Rachtman and Faster Pussycat frontman Taime Downe co-founded the world-infamous Hollywood den of Russ Meyer-inspired sleaze and debauchery known as the Cathouse.

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It was the kind of nightclub where Christina Applegate worked the coatcheck, Slash fell down the stairs, Malcolm Forbes showed up on a Harley, Dave Gahan took refuge after Depeche Mode’s L.A. instore caused a riot, and, as Rachtman says, “Robert Plant came up, sat at the bar for two minutes, and then disappeared with a girl.” It was featured in Penelope Spheeris’s rockumentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years and immortalized in songs by Faster Pussycat, Alice Cooper, and Motley Crue. It was, basically, the place to see and be scene in hair-metal Hollywood from 1986 to 1993. And Rachtman says he still does brisk business selling Cathouse T-shirts 25 years after the club closed its doors.

“The fact that people are still talking about it… They still talk about CBGB, they still talk about Studio 54, so it’s totally flattering that people still know the Cathouse,” says Rachtman. “At that time, we didn’t think of bands like Guns N’ Roses selling a bajillion records. Even Poison wasn’t selling records at that time. The Hollywood gypsy junky rock scene hadn’t really taken off yet; it was almost at an underground punk level, more punk than metal. So we were kind of an underground club, a safe haven for all these people in Hollywood where they could just do whatever they wanted, no cameras allowed. I’d love to take credit for everything, but the truth of the matter is, it was just being in the right place at the right time, and treating people right – and these people ended up selling millions of records and always repaid the favors.”

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As the Cathouse nears its 30th anniversary, Rachtman is reviving the club as the Cathouse Live festival Aug. 15 at Southern California’s Irvine Meadows, featuring an epic '80s all-star lineup of Cathouse regulars like Extreme, Cinderella’s Tom Keifer, Sebastian Bach, Dokken, L.A. Guns, Faster Pussycat, Ratt’s Stephen Pearcy, Gilby Clarke, Junkyard, Saigon Kick, Trixter, Enuff Z'Nuff, Bullet Boys, Bang Tango, Jetboy, and more. And while he admits that the old Cathouse era “can never be replicated,” for this one night only, concertgoers will definitely be partying like it’s 1986.

To celebrate this milestone, Rachtman shares with Yahoo Music his favorite (if blurry) memories of the original club, from Lita Ford’s binge-drinking spree on the club’s opening night to Axl Rose’s anti-Bowie rampage.

LITA FORD KISSES THE PORCELAIN GOD DEADLY

“The first night that we opened the doors, there weren’t a lot of people. But the photographer Gene Kirkland came in, and he was with Lita Ford. I was like, 'Guys, keep on getting Lita Ford whatever she wants to drink. Anything she wants, just give it to her.’ Because there weren’t many people there, and also I was just so stoked because I liked the Runaways. So they kept on getting her drunk, and at one point she threw up in the bathroom. The funny thing was at the end of the night, all the guys who worked for me were like, 'Riki, sorry, I guess the first night didn’t take off like you wanted.’ And it was like, 'Guys, Lita Ford puked in our bathroom! You don’t understand! We’ve made it!’ I thought that was the greatest thing in the world.”

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CATHOUSE GOES UNPLUGGED BEFORE UNPLUGGED

“We started off as a rock 'n’ roll dance club; it was not a live venue per se. Then a band said, 'Hey, can we do our record release party there?’ It was Guns N’ Roses, and they were releasing their independent EP. They said they wanted to play acoustic. I was like, 'Eh, OK.’ So that first [live] night, before they ever did Unplugged on MTV, we had Guns N’ Roses, Faster Pussycat, L.A. Guns, and Jetboy, all playing acoustic sets. The beauty was when a band sold 5 million records, they’d still come back and play the Cathouse unannounced.”

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AXL ROSE HAS AN APPETITE FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF DAVID BOWIE

“My best memories are the stories about what happens when you don’t know how to deal with running a club. It was basically the home away from home for Guns N’ Roses. They knew they could do whatever they wanted in that club. Now, when your security guard comes up to you and says, 'Riki, Axl Rose is chasing David Bowie down the street saying he’s gonna kill him, what should I do?’ Well, how do you answer something like that? You’ve got one of your better friends, chasing one of your idols down the street? I guess what happened is Bowie tried to pick up Axl’s girlfriend Erin [Everly], and that pissed off Axl. That was when David Bowie was in the band Tin Machine. So Axl was running, yelling, 'I’m gonna kill you, Tin Man!’”

RIKI RACHTMAN QUICKLY FORGETS MILLI VANILLI’S NUMBER

“The guys in Milli Vanilli showed up once. Nobody cared. One of the guys came up to me, and this is the honest-to-God story, he asked in broken English, will we present him with women and cocaine? And I am not sure which one it was. Does it matter, really? I don’t know. I think it was the one that [later] died. I just walked away.”

SHANNON HOON WOULD RATHER GO BLIND

“Once Axl said, 'Hey, my friend from Indiana is coming to town, can you give him a job?’ I said yeah, I could make him the receptionist. This guy comes in, and the kid used to get drunk and start fights at the Cathouse, but we loved him. He was a crazy little kid. Then he started a band. He said, 'OK, man, I got the name of my band. It’s Drowned Cow.’ I was like, 'That is the stupidest band name I have ever heard.’ Then he comes in the next day and says, 'OK, I got a new name: Blind Melon.’ I’m like, 'That’s even stupider than Drowned Cow!’ That was Shannon Hoon, obviously.”

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STEVE JONES GENERATES ANARCHY IN THE DJ BOOTH

“Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols used to show up with a bike and he would wait till the very, very last minute and always leave with a girl – sometimes she was beautiful, and sometimes she wasn’t, but he did not care! Also, once Steve Jones brought these Japanese tourists up into the DJ booth, and they did coke off the Sex Pistols’ album cover. My DJ told me that story.’”

CROWES TAKE FLIGHT IN THE CATHOUSE

“David Lee Roth’s manager once called saying, 'Hey, can my band play the Cathouse?’ But I was really particular on bands that played there. He said, 'If you let them, I’ll buy 400 tickets and they can play really, really early.’ I listened to them and thought they were good, so I said OK. And that band was the Black Crowes. You just never knew.”

WELCOME TO RIKI’S DAD’S NIGHTMARE

“There were some great performances at Cathouse, from White Zombie, Megadeth, and of course Guns N’ Roses tons of times. Alice in Chains played and had Pearl Jam open up for them under the name Mookie Blaylock. But Alice Cooper on Halloween was a real thrill for me, because my dad wouldn’t let me see Alice Cooper when I was a kid – so I showed him by having Alice Cooper play my club on Halloween! That was pretty cool.”

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LOOK WHAT THE CATHOUSE DRAGGED IN

“I actually got sober the second year of Cathouse. The first year, I could literally not even count out the cash to give to the security guards, because I was so messed-up. I couldn’t even count out 50 bucks! I’d have to tell them to come by my house the next day; that’s how messed-up I was. And what happened later [after I got sober] was I just turned all of my addiction into being addicted to business, and I became a full-blown workaholic.

"That era will never be replicated. It’s a cliché, sex and drugs and rock 'n’ roll, but it really was just that! That really was what was going on then. And we all had this feeling that we were invincible and we could do whatever we wanted. And we did! And some of us died, and some of us lived.”

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