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Under the Radar: Riot (Part 1, 1975-1984)

Updated on March 30, 2015

Some rock bands are just not destined for commercial success. Sadly, this was the case for hard rock band Riot. Formed by guitarist Mark Reale in 1975, Riot have released a little over a dozen studio albums. The band were plagued with bad luck, ranging from record deals and poor management. Despite their bad luck, Riot are known well by die-hard rock fans and have managed to build a cult following. While Reale tragically passed away in 2012, the band continues to play under the name Riot V- paying tribute to the music of Reale and Riot.

This article will highlight their entire career, era by era- along with YouTube clips of their music. Please note that I don't own everything by Riot, as some of their music is hard to find. Still, there's more that I own than I don't own.

Line-up on "Rock City"

Guy Speranza- lead vocals
Mark Reale- guitar
Lou Kouvaris- guitar
Jimmy Iommi- bass
Peter Bitelli- drums


The Guy Speranza Years (1975-1981)

Riot were formed in New York in 1975 by guitarist Mark Reale. Throughout the band's career, the band went through many line-up changes with Reale the only stable member (so keep in mind: I don't mention every line-up). For the band's first three studio albums, the band were fronted by singer Guy Speranza. In terms of sound, the band were heavily influenced by UK rock groups such as Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy. This influence shows on the band's first three albums.

Their debut, Rock City, was released in 1977. Although only a little over a half hour, Rock City manages to deliver the goods. Some of the band's best songs can be found on this album. Of them, "Warrior" became a live staple for the band in the years to come. The song is also an anthem for Riot fans, with its chants of "Shine on, shine on!" Other key tracks would include the hard-hitting "Tokyo Rose" and the guitar heavy title track.

Who's that seal?

When someone looks through the discography of Riot, they will notice something: the band were stuck with pretty lousy album covers. For almost all of the album covers, there is this seal character that keeps popping up. So what's the deal?

In a phone interview I did with guitarist Lou Kouvaris in 2012, I found out most of the story from him as well as drummer Peter Bitelli (who someone else interviewed). From what I can understand, the album cover for Rock City was originally just a painting/drawing of a seal with a human body holding an ax, with a dead body and a huge fire behind him. This was supposedly social/political commentary about how seals were being killed since people wanted their fur for clothing and whatnot. This doesn't fit with the music of Riot at all. According to Kouvaris, the band was surprised when they saw the cover. That's right: the band had no say in what the cover for their debut was going to look like, were presented with an album that had a picture of a seal holding an ax and were told that was their first album. So see: Spinal Tap weren't the only ones cursed with a bad album cover!

Eventually, the seal became the band's mascot. Believe it or not, the guy's got a name...or two. The two names I keep hearing for the seal mascot are Johnny and The Mighty Tior. The Johnny name would explain later songs such as "Johnny's Back" but I hear more people calling him The Mighty Tior. Personally, I'd like to think of him as Johnny- the Mighty Tior. Whatever the case might be, Johnny has a part in Riot's history. In fact, the back of Mark Reale's gravestone has the picture of Johnny taken from the cover for Fire Down Under.

So here's to you, Johnny- the Mighty Tior!

"Riot Attack The World" promotional film (1977)

The video above is a 14-minute promotional film made for Japan. It was made to promote the band's tour in Japan around that time in 1977-78. The concert footage was from an actual concert, so it can be watch just for that. You can skip the introduction if you want, although it's a good chuckle.

Line-up on "Narita"

Guy Speranza- lead vocals
Mark Reale- guitar
Rick Ventura- guitar
Jimmy Iommi- bass
Peter Bitelli- drums

The band's 1979 sophomore effort, Narita, is strong than its predecessor. While Rock City is a great album, Narita is a rougher. From catchy opener "Waiting for the Taking" to the pedal-to-the-metal "Road Racin'," Narita is a fun hard rock album to listen to. The pounding "Kick Down the Walls" and the hard n heavy "Do It Up" are also great tracks. A personal favorite: the instrumental title track, which has Reale and guitarist Rick Ventura showing off their skills. "Road Racin'" might sound familiar to some gamers as it was used in the soundtrack for the video game Brutal Legend.

Narita is a bit hard to track down these days on CD. In 2005, a UK label called Rock Candy reissued the album on CD. If you can find a copy online, I'd say go for it.

Line-up on "Fire Down Under"

Guy Speranza- lead vocals
Mark Reale- guitar
Rick Ventura- guitar
Kip Lemming- bass
Sandy Slavin- drums

Speranza's third and final album with the band, 1981's Fire Down Under, is considered by many not only to be the band's best but one of the greatest hard rock albums of all time. Indeed, Fire Down Under is an underrated album. If you're looking to get into Riot, Fire Down Under is the perfect place to start as it is the band's strongest album. All of the songs are great and the production is top notch. Highlights include the party-hardy "Swords & Tequila," the speedy title track and the high rolling tale of "Outlaw," which was the closest thing the band had to a hit single in their original carnation. If you're a lover of hard rock music, Fire Down Under is a must-have album.

After the release of Fire Down Under, Speranza left the band. As to why he chose to left the band is disputed but it is at least know for a fact that Speranza had grown tired of touring and the music business in general. As a result, Speranza quit the music business and ended up becoming an exterminator. While he was living in New York, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich remembered once calling to have an exterminator come over to help with a rat problem he was having in his apartment. Ulrich, a huge Riot fan, was surprised to find out that the exterminator was indeed Speranza!

Unfortunately in 2003, Speranza passed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer. At the time of his passing, he was living in Florida still working as an exterminator.

Line up during this time

Rhett Forrester- lead vocals
Mark Reale- guitar
Rick Ventura- guitar
Kip Lemming- bass
Sandy Slavin- drums

The Rhett Forrester Years (1981-1984)

Speranza was replaced by singer Rhett Forrester in 1981. With Forrester, the band recorded two more studio albums: Restless Breed in 1982 and Born in America in 1983.

Restless Breed is a strong album. Rhett's vocals are different from Guy's but still fit with the music Riot plays. Most of the song on this album I could see Guy singing. Compared to the material on the first three albums, Restless Breed isn't as good but is nevertheless a great album. The title track and the galloping "Loanshark" are highlights from the album.

Born in America is yet another good album. The production isn't as strong as it was on the last two albums but it manages to be a solid album. The title track and the Judas Priest-like "Running from the Law" are all good songs.

By the time Born in America was released, the band had hit rock bottom, financially and commercially. The success of LA hard rockers Quiet Riot, who had a #1 hit album with 1983's Metal Health, didn't help the band either. Reale decided to leave the band on hiatus and start something new.

In 1994, Rhett Forrester was shot and killed. It is believed that he was killed during an attempted carjacking. According to The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars, one witness said that two men had approached Forrester, and quickly started to argue with him. One of the two men pulled out a gun and shot Forrester in the back. Forrester was able to drive far enough to flag down police but died shortly afterwards. Forrester's murder remains unsolved, although other source say that one of the two men was found and arrested.

Stay tuned for the second part of this article, in which I will cover Riot's career from 1986 to present day.

Are you a fan of Riot? Do you remember them back in the day? Have you heard of them before? If so, please share below in the comments section.

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      RockUFOrever 2 years ago

      I have been a Riot fan since a friends brother turned us onto Rock City and Narita right after Narita was released.Seen them on the Narita tour and 3 more times after that up to and including the Born In America tour.The albums have been consistently great and missed by lots of rockers out there."Shine On Warrior"

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      Aaron Conn 2 years ago from Sicklerville, NJ

      @Frank Cook- I didn't mean to put the Rhett material down. For the record (no pun intended), I have yet to listen to a bad Riot album. I think they are one of the few bands that've had a pretty solid and consistent discography. One album might be better than the other but as a whole, their discography is pretty impressive. So I'm with you ;-)

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      Doghouse 2 years ago

      I had the great fortune of first being introduced to Riot when "Fire Down Under" came out. (It would have been better if I had known them from the debut, but better a few years late than never.) Since that time, I have never been disappointed with a Riot album, and I can't think of even a single song that I intentionally skip on any of their albums. Mark Reale's music--the music he made with all the great musicians that have been in Riot--continues to uplift and inspire me. I still view the music being created by the current lineup as Mark's music. It is the result of the considerable talent and efforts of those in the band now, of course, but Mark's spirit permeates the music still. My commendation and gratitude go to the members of Riot, both past and present.

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      Frank Cook 2 years ago

      I liked the article but iv been a RIOT fan since narita they are a major part of the soundtrack of my life.i didn't care how you played down the quilty of there music during the Rhett days.i like everything thay ever put out.SHINE ON.

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      Toan Bueme 2 years ago

      I am good friends with Rhett's mom LaFortune Forrester. She is an amazing lady. She took me to his tomb. Guys vocals are totally amazing also. As Tony Moore. Riot was severely underated. IMO they are one of the top metal bands ever. Shine on Mark, Guy & Rhett. R.I.P.

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      Keith Abt 2 years ago from The Garden State

      Riot is one of those bands that I've always meant to investigate but have never really explored in depth. I own "Thundersteel" and "Fire Down Under" but that's about all.

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      Gigface 2 years ago

      Thank you so much for keeping RIOT and Mark Reale's music alive and telling their story. I am luck for the fact I have been working with RIOT since 1994 and have many great memories of incredible shows and Mark's music and laughter. The current band is a must see if you ever enjoyed the music of Mark Reale...his legacy is in good hands. Shine on!!