Riki Rachtman is probably most famously known as the host of Headbangers Ball, but yet he’s a man of many talents playing in various bands (the L.A. Metal band Virgin and Battery Club, to name a few) starting from about the age of 16. He also co-hosted Loveline with Dr Drew and Adam Carolla, and he was the owner of the Hollywood-based Cathouse nightclub for many years, which showcased many of the heavy metal bands seen on Headbangers Ball. This is only a small sampling of Rachtman’s experience as he’s hosted other radio and TV shows, and his entrepreneurial spirit has led him to owning other companies.
When Rachtman spoke to our own Dave Castagno, Publisher/Editor of Screamer Magazine and host of RadioScreamer, we knew Rachtman would have a lot to say.
1987 was maybe the “golden” year for Rachtman, “’87 was the year that everything just started to really pick up and things were going pretty good.”
While Rachtman hadn’t yet began his work with MTV, his Cathouse was gaining speed, according to Rachtman. “The Cathouse was just starting to get going. All of our, I guess you would call them house bands, their records were coming out which was, Guns ‘n Roses, Faster Pussycat, L.A. Guns, Jetboy. All those bands, their records were just coming out and we were watching all of our friends become rock stars and I was the guy that wasn’t in the band but was kinda with all my friends because the club had started to get a little bit of notoriety.”
Perhaps it can be safely assumed that the start of Rachtman’s journey began as a club DJ. He was a DJ playing dance music and entertaining guests, but he wasn’t a DJ like those we know today; Rachtman made a very hipster DJ, one who carried vinyl and all that jazz.
He then got hired to be the DJ for Tommy Lee and Heather Locklear’s wedding, where, in the words of Rachtman, he may have been out there DJ-ing, playing Run DMC, but his passion was still hard rock/heavy metal. That is where his inspiration for Cathouse developed from; he played with the idea of a club where he could be a DJ who only plays rock and roll. The first person he went to with this idea was his new roommate and friend, Tamie Downe (the lead singer of sleaze rock band Faster Pussycat). “Tamie and I were friends and his band was starting and I said, “You know what? I want to do a rock dance club so we’ll have a place for all of us… [Tamie] liked the idea and we just started kind of promoting it and then it started into a rock and roll dance club and it did okay for a while.”
Guns ‘n Roses visited the newly formed club from day one, with Axl being the life of the party, dancing on the dance floor regardless if anyone else was there or not. Whether it was due to that support or not, nevertheless the club started enjoying more and more attendance of bands, girls, etc.
The club was special in terms of being VIP – for anyone who visited. Downe was inviting all sorts of people over and bands were attracting bands therefore anyone who visited enjoyed the club’s strict no cameras policy so all the bands that visited enjoyed from the freedom, because they weren’t no-name bands. As per Rachtman, “…when I say bands I’m talking Steven Tyler, Nikki Sixx and all people like that were showing up and then the guys started showing up and because the girls started showing up, more bands started showing up…”
Attendance at the club varied delightfully. It started gaining reputation, getting featured in fashion magazines, jam packed nights, and all that. The popularity peaked when the club started playing live music. Guns ‘n Roses were about to release their Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide EP so the club hosted a celebratory acoustic session of Guns ‘n Roses, L.A. Guns, Jet Boy, and Faster Pussycat. Needless to say, the show was a huge hit for the club.
However, soon enough the “dilapidated disco” that was (then) Bosco’s got bought by Loehmann so Rachtman and Downe had no other choice but to relocate elsewhere. Relocate, they did and hit it right off by having various bands play the opening night and soon the reputation of the club followed it to the new location as well.
Following Cathouse, Rachtman decided he wanted to do a dance club that wasn’t your everyday type of dance club where specific bands played and people came to check them out, no. “I didn’t want to have a live venue that people said, “Who’s playing?” and it’s like, “So and so”, it’s like, “Oh forget it then, I’m not gonna go.” I wanted people to show up every Tuesday and be surprised who played. So you didn’t know if you were going to see Negative, Motor Head, White Zombie or you were gonna see L.A. Guns or Jane’s Addiction or whatever.” That’s how Bordello came into being. It was a club that was dynamic, entertaining people with the greatest dancers hired, music, and a VIP room where Glenn Danzig once played the blues for Halloween.
The end of the clubs came several years later; Cathouse just wasn’t “fresh” anymore. Things were slowing down, the music scene dying out, so rather than letting it fade away, Rachtman decided it was best to close it with a good reputation rather than a faded one. However, by that time, Rachtman was already working for MTV – that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a hard decision to make, but it had to happen. Soon, Bordello closed as well.
Rachtman’s experience with Headbangers wasn’t all that a planned decision as he explains, he never intended to become a TV personality. Sure, he wanted to be a DJ since he was a little kid but his initial shows with Headbangers were messy, but remained stable enough.
Soon enough he landed as the co-host for Love Line. “Then I ended up being a co-host on the radio show Love Line with Dr. Drew which they were trying to syndicate for the longest time and I started poaching that show and within three weeks it got syndicated and that show blew up so then I was doing MTV and I was doing Love Line and Love Line was huge.” But wanting to do more than just that, Rachtman decided he wanted to do his own show, which led to him doing talk radio in Los Angeles on After Noon Drive and Triple R (Ricky Rachtman Radio), which blew up expansively, taking all kinds of celebs in. However, in the midst of a smooth drive, it all came to a sudden stop and then reverse when Rachtman once beat up a DJ and lost everything. “I got fired and lost absolutely everything. Everything. Went to jail. Came out with nothing. Zero.”
Coming out of jail, Rachtman got to work – regular “you and I” kind of work. He started by selling cars. As Rachtman puts it, he isn’t the type to wait around for a huge record deal; he’s one to work and struggle.
“If you take Cathouse and NASCAR and every one of my jobs away from me right now, I’m not too proud to get a job anywhere.”
Working at a regular job selling cars got Rachtman a lot of ridicule. As he puts it, “When regular people work their entire life, no one cares. A celebrity enjoys fame and rank for years, but then gets down to regular jobs, everyone decides it’s something worth making fun of – in turn, making fun of themselves, working regular jobs from the start.” A lot of the ridicule came from shock-jock Tom Leykis. He would find opportunities to bash Rachtman on the radio any chance he found, but Riki endured until the next opportunity came to him.
Always having been interested in wrestling, he once was sitting with Jason Hervey (an actor from The Wonder Years), who is really good friends with Eric Bischoff (Executive Producer/President of World Championship Wrestling) so they decided bringing Riki back into Spring Break would be a great idea, to which Rachtman agreed. That led to doing Monday Nitro as well, but Rachtman wanted to do something more along the lines of manager, to which they never agreed.
Rachtman’s interest in NASCAR, however, is more substantial than his interest in wrestling. Perhaps that’s why he got so ahead in it. “People know that from my MTV days I was always–even though I grew up in Hollywood–I was a NASCAR fan and I just wanted to find a way to do what I do in NASCAR. So I figured, “What if I do a radio show and in between songs, I’d talk to drivers and talk about NASCAR?””
Many refuted the idea, saying NASCAR, being a Southern sport, wouldn’t care to listen to Riki Rachtman. But Dick Clark’s company United Stations liked the idea and so was the birth of Racing Rocks. On over 120 stations once a week, with a huge audience. That was where the various jobs at NASCAR stemmed from for Rachtman. Speed Channel, NASCAR.com, and spokesperson for Dover International Speedway, Riki Rachtman is a popular name in NASCAR.
So what comes next? Well, the Cathouse Live coming back to L.A. in August of course. This was also Rachtman’s own idea – he admits to have wanting to do a Cathouse tour for a long time now. He talked about it to John Areese, a friend of his, and sometime later, Areese gets back to him, saying let’s do a Cathouse festival. Some argument ensued but finally, Cathouse Live was decided. Rachtman himself seems extremely excited at the prospect, hoping it will be “the biggest festival of this type of music genre.”