Richie Onori is an accomplished drummer whose diverse artistic endeavors could make a professional juggler look like an amateur. He’s been playing with a who’s who of musicians, his own band Heaven & Earth, iconic glitter rockers The Sweet, pursuing solo projects, and is also a talented singer, songwriter, guitarist, and businessman.
“I’m proud that I’ve built these things up and I’m not just one-dimensional,” Onori says. “I think the idea of being multidimensional and really climbing the mountain and trying to reach your goals will keep you going in life.”
Graduating from “hitting on pots and pans,” Los Angeles native Onori began playing drums at age 11, citing seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan as a huge motivator toward a musical career which has included work with such luminaries as Rick Derringer, Ronnie James Dio, Paul Rodgers, Uli Jon Roth, Slash, Steve Lukather, and one of his heroes, Keith Emerson. “Keith Emerson was an amazing experience, because I was a huge Emerson, Lake & Palmer fan,” he describes. “And he comes to my house, and loads some keyboards into my studio space. The next thing you know, I’m looking at Keith Emerson, and we’re playing together. So instead of looking at him as one of my idols, we’re relating together as fellow musicians working on a project together. It’s really gratifying to work in your craft and get the opportunity to play with some really, really advanced players.”
Humble words coming from a man who is quite advanced himself, having melded various styles into his own impressive drumming technique, which first drew attention to him in the LA-based progressive rock band Satyr, featuring former Quiet Riot members Pat Regan and Chuck Wright. “I have the jazz chops because I started off in a lot of jazz technique. And Carl Palmer, I liked the progressive thing. Then I got very involved in John Bonham and the hard rock type stuff. So I like the power, and I also like the finesse.”
Onori’s creative appetite additionally led him to learn how to play guitar, which he discovered “is a thing I’m really passionate about,” and to write songs so he could utilize lyrics to communicate vital messages. An ardent Jimi Hendrix fan, Onori had the opportunity to play guitar alongside Hendrix’s brother, Leon, at a Tower of Power benefit. And how did it feel to step out from behind the drum kit? “Terrifying,” he recalls with a laugh. “I was so worried to do it. And I pulled off the show, and then played some pretty big festivals after that.”
Steve Priest from Sweet got up and we did Fox On The Run and we hit it off.
Onori and Heaven & Earth band-mate, Stuart Smith, who are now recording their third album, were to get more of a piece of the action at a Hurricane Katrina benefit in 2005. Onori found himself drumming with most of the performers that night, including The Sweet. “[Original bass player] Steve Priest from Sweet got up and we did Fox On The Run,” he says, “and we hit it off. And when it was time that Steve decided to go out [on the road] again, I was the likely candidate. And ever since, we’ve been doing five years of playing with everybody you can imagine. Sweet is such a legacy band — they’ve had so many hits, from Ballroom Blitz to Little Willy — that audiences are always ready to have a lot of fun, so along with that, you end up having a lot of fun on the road.”
Amidst the whirlwind of playing with Sweet and Heaven & Earth, Onori also found time to catch his breath and record two solo CDs, The Days Of Innocence (now available on iTunes at richieonori.com, with video clips upcoming on YouTube) and American Fighters. Commenting on his multiple projects, he says, “I talk to a lot of other musicians who were gaining their recognition from one band, and it’s all about that one band. But because of what I’ve done, I’ve been able to really spread myself out there and have so many different experiences, so there’s been so many different peaks on so many different levels.”
The Days Of Innocence lives up to its name with catchy blues/rock and poppy tunes, several ballads, and poignant touches of nostalgia for simpler bygone days. “It’s pretty autobiographical,” he says. “One of the songs, It’s Raining In Hollywood — I was playing in a band and we were just getting ready to get signed with Virgin. And the guy, he was so talented, but he really got into the drug thing, and he just totally lost it right in the middle of us getting a deal. And I was living in that Hollywood Hills house overlooking Hollywood, and I looked over and I just thought of all the people who come to Los Angeles to make it as an artist, and then get chewed up and spit out. And Days Of Innocence — I just felt like, boy, I just want to go back to The Ed Sullivan Show and go back to those days. It’s a lot of experience of a lifetime that I’m able to express in my songs in a multitude of levels.”
Onori goes on to say, “I’m going to be releasing a second record this year called American Fighters, which is a lot more, I guess you could say, political.” Without preaching, his intention is to raise consciousness about Wall Street, the Fed, and the few controlling the masses. “What it boils down to is we have to come together as a nation in a very peaceful protest. It’s a very rigged situation right now, and if people don’t wake up, it’s going to get worse.” Onori explains. “It’s awareness about what we face, and how we can make the world a better place.
Music, Onori believes, is a powerful vehicle for achieving this vision. “To me, it’s the highest privilege to be able to communicate, have other great artists surround you, and you learn artists can change society. They really can. It’s a high vibration, and it has changed the world.”
The beat also goes on for Onori as an entrepreneur. He has a fashion line of guitar straps, and is also the U.S. distributor of Albion amps, designed by amp guru Steve Grindrod, mastermind of the 1973 – 2000 line of Marshall stacks. “I was always the kind of person that said, ‘Hey, my plate’s full — I need a bigger plate,’ ” he says, laughing. “I decided to come out with my own guitar strap line, Onori International [onorniintl.com]. It’s a full line of guitar straps in about 150 different styles that I make and ship all over the world. And then I have an amplifier division that I just launched called Albion [albionus.com], and a lot of music stores are picking up on it. I deal with a lot of the stores, and I have a lot of reps that work out there in the field, so it’s never a dull moment.”
Reflecting on his many years in the music business, Onori still talks about his craft with the untainted excitement and passion of someone who’s inked his first deal. “It’s my purpose and mission to be the best I can. So to play in front of thousands of people and see them get excited and dance — as a drummer, it’s a great feeling. If I didn’t start playing guitar and writing songs, would I have gotten bored with drums? No, I love it,” he says emphatically. “It’s the best job in the world.”