Starz (band)

Starz is an American heavy metal and power pop band from New Jersey, United States. Despite a lack of major commercial success, the band has a lasting cult following and has been cited as a major influence by bands such as Mötley Crüe; Poison; Bon Jovi; and Twisted Sister. [1]

Logo created by artist Michael Doret
Background information
OriginNew Jersey, United States
GenresHard rock, heavy metal, power pop
Years active1975–1979; 1980; 1990; 2003–present
LabelsCapitol Records
Associated actsLooking Glass; Stories; Fallen Angels; Hellcats; Brother Louie; Richie Ranno All-Stars; Richie Ranno Group
MembersMichael Lee Smith
Richie Ranno
Joe X. Dube
George DiAna
Alex Kane
Past membersBrendan Harkin
Pieter Sweva
Orville Davis
Doug Madick
Steven DeAcutis
Bobby Messano


Starz was formed out of the ashes of the early 1970s pop music band, Looking Glass, which had the No. 1 hit single Brandy (You're a Fine Girl) in the summer of 1972. [1]

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, changing the name to Fallen Angels. [1]

In September 1975, they were joined by former Stories guitarist Richie Ranno. After keyboardist Gonsky was dropped from the group, they decided to rebrand and pursue a more heavy metal direction. [1]

The band was trying to decide on a new name when their manager noticed the star necklace Ranno was wearing, in addition to his guitar with stars on it. When he suggested the name "Starz", the band was not immediately on board with the idea. However, when the band returned to the studio the following day, their manager presented them with a rough sketch of the current (STARZ) logo, which he had drawn on a napkin. Upon seeing the logo sketch, the guys all agreed it was perfect, and the band was officially rebranded as Starz. [1]

Kiss manager Bill Aucoin was introduced to STARZ via his right-hand man Sean Delaney, who had previously befriended Sweval. Aucoin began representing Starz in late 1975, helping them to get signed to Capitol Records in early 1976. [1]

Their major hit single "Cherry Baby" in the spring of 1977 came from the album Violation, produced by Jack Douglas of Aerosmith fame. Douglas produced their first two studio albums: Starz and Violation. [1]

Their third studio 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 such as "X-Ray Spex". [1]

Harkin and Sweval were asked to leave the band after Attention Shoppers!, reportedly since they wanted to continue in that album's musical direction, while the others favored a return to the harder sound of their first two albums. [1]

On their fourth, and final, studio album on the Capitol label: Coliseum Rock (produced by The Guess Who producer Jack Richardson), Harkin and Sweval were replaced by Bobby Messano on guitar and Orville Davis on bass, respectively.[2] Previously, Davis was the bassist for Southern Rock band Hydra, which released multiple albums in the mid-1970s. His contributions can be heard on the first two LP's: 1974's Hydra and 1975's Land of Money. After leaving Hydra, Davis joined REX, a hard rock outfit fronted by Smith's younger brother, Rex Smith. [1]

After leaving Capitol, Starz split up in 1980[2]. 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, Davis, with Doug Madick on drums. The group played clubs up and down the East Coast in what amounted to a farewell tour. [1]

In 1981, Smith, Ranno, Madick, and Scance regrouped and rebranded as Hellcats.[2] Hellcats recorded five new songs, released as an EP on the independent, Radio Records label in 1982. [1]

In the mid-1980s, Ranno shifted the lineup of Hellcats, this time featuring Perry Jones on lead vocals. They produced and released an album in 1987 on the King Klassic record label, as well as a four-track EP in 1988. [1]

Brian Slagel of Metal Blade Records contacted Ranno in 1989, telling him of his longtime admiration of the band and asked if Ranno held the rights to any of the band's material. [1]

Ranno stated he owned two unreleased live shows and allowed Metal Blade to compile them as Live in Action, which contained cuts from a 1976 Cleveland show and a 1978 radio promotional show in Louisville, Kentucky, previously known as Live in Louisville. The release of Live in Action was a precursor to the 1990 release of the four Starz studio albums on compact disc, as the inaugural releases by Metal Blade's "Classics" imprint. [1]

The albums have been subsequently re-released on CD (by other labels and the band themselves), with bonus tracks primarily composed of material from the band's days as Fallen Angels, as well as a few songs from the 1992 reunion (independent) album: Requiem. [1]

In 1990, Smith and Harkin went to New York to join Ranno in writing and recording five new songs. Madick played drums on the new project, as Dube had left the music business to work as an architect. Harkin played bass, since Pieter Sweval had passed away on January 23rd of that year. [1]

The songs were released (with some live tracks, plus other previously written, yet unreleased songs) on their own label - Drastic CD - in 1992 as the aforementioned Requiem. After this, Ranno continued on his own with the Richie Ranno Group, which put out a CD (RRG) in 1996. [1]

Ranno was approached in 2003 by a British promoter who wanted to bring STARZ over to the UK. This particular UK tour never materialized; however, the surviving original members (Smith, Ranno, Harkin, and Dube), with new bassist George DiAna, regrouped that same year for a number of successful club dates, culminating in the two-day, 2005 "Starzfest" in Teaneck, New Jersey, which featured the entire band joined by Messano and Davis. They performed the studio album catalog in their entirety, including songs which had never previously been performed live. Two concerts in California were also performed in late 2005, one recorded for a television special. [1]

In addition, a show recorded in Cleveland, Ohio in 2004 was released on CD in late 2006. The Ohio show was performed as a four piece, as Harkin had missed his flight to Cleveland. In 2005, Messano once again replaced Harkin as the second-guitarist. Ranno also performed shows on the East Coast with DiAna and Dube as the "Richie Ranno All-Stars". [1]

Former Ted Nugent drummer Cliff Davies filled in for Dube at a Starz show in San Francisco, California in October 2007. For additional shows in California in April 2008, Billy Howe filled in on guitar for Messano. Former Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick did the honors at that year's Kiss Convention on May 3rd in Secaucus, New Jersey. In 2012, Messano was replaced by guitarist Steven DeAcutis. [1]

Alex Kane took over the second guitar slot from DeAcutis in 2013. Kane played guitar and Ginger Wildheart subbed on bass for a one-night-only gig in the UK at The Garage, London in London's Highbury section on December 18th, 2013. [1]

Starz went back out on tour in 2019, co-headling with Angel on East Coast (April) and Mid-West (May) show dates. Starz and Angel were supporting acts for Ace Frehley on May 4th, 2019 at Chesterfield Amphitheater in Saint Louis County, Missouri. The Saint Louis show kicked-off the Mid-West leg of the 2019 tour. [1]


Despite lack of major commercial success, Starz has created a significant and enduring legacy. Several 1980s glam metal artists, including Poison; Jon Bon Jovi of Bon Jovi; Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe; and Twisted Sister cite Starz as a primary influence. Ginger of the Wildhearts has also cited Starz as an important influence, including them in the lyrics to the song "29x The Pain (I see Starz)". Kerrang! magazine included the first two Starz albums on their list of the most important heavy metal albums of all time.[3]


Studio albums

Year Album US RIAA Certification Label
1976 Starz - - Capitol
1977 Violation - - Capitol
1978 Attention Shoppers! - - Capitol
1978 Coliseum Rock - - Capitol
1992 Requiem - - Drastic CD


Year Single Chart positions
US Hot 100 US Main Rock UK
1977 "(She's Just A) Fallen Angel" 95 - -
"Cherry Baby" 33 - -
"Sing It, Shout It" 66 - -
1978 "(Any Way That You Want It) I'll Be There" 79 - -
"Hold On to the Night" 78 - -
"So Young, So Bad" 81 - -

Live albums

  • Live At Municipal Auditorium, Louisville, March 30, 1978 (1978)
  • Live In America (1983)
  • Live In Canada (1985)
  • Live in Action (1989) (Contains the 1978 live album + extra live recordings)
  • Greatest Hits Live (2004)
  • Double Live (2006)

Compilation albums

  • Brightest Starz (1985) on Heavy Metal America records (contains a collection of songs from "Starz," "Violation," "Attention Shoppers!" and "Coliseum Rock")
  • Do It with the Lights On (1987) Contains Previously Unreleased Material
  • Brightest Starz Anthology (2000)


  1. Colin Larkin, ed. (1995). The Guinness Who’s Who of Heavy Metal (Second ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 339. ISBN 0-85112-656-1.
  2. "Kerrang! 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Albums Of All Time". January 1989. Retrieved 2013-02-23.
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