Rockbrat Remembers: LA metal bands who never made it: Rough Cutt

In this regular blog post I cast the magnifying glass over some 1980’s LA bands who were clearly entrenched in the minor leagues, the 2nd division, (or even the 3rd)  – and as a consequence, were not packing out stadiums, touring the world, or signing to major labels – despite their big star aspirations (Hello Nadir). Most of these bands were Californian bands, although not specifically from Hollywood. It just so happens that Hollywood was the heart of the mid to late 80’s scene, and that is why this is the area of focus. This blog has been inspired by the ‘Hollywood Rocks’ book.  Mr Rockbrat bought me this book a couple of Christmas’ ago – and it’s pretty much the bible for any fan of the Hollywood hair metal scene.  I wasn’t there during the heyday but nowadays I look back at that scene with a kind of voyeuristic curiosity.  It’s like eating a cheeseburger – it tastes good but it’s full of calories. I still dig the music from this period. It was a great and fun period to be into rock ‘n’ roll. In 87- 92 I experienced a somewhat carbon copied version of the LA scene in Sydney, Australia. By the time Cowboy Col and Mr. Rockbrat got to LA in 93 the scene was pretty much dead. It didn’t stop me from getting round in my KNAC T shirt and LA Roxx baseball cap though. So let’s go back to the Sunset Strip. The Rainbow, The Troubadour, The Roxy, Gazzaris – or out to The Country Club in the Valley. When Van Halen and then Quiet Riot broke through, along came Motley, Ratt, Poison, Warrant and a zillion other cardboard cut-outs. Some good – some bad, so let’s check out some of the lesser well known acts.  In this feature, I will give a brief description of the band, a little bit of history, my assessment, and a mini review of one of their albums  – and then a score out of 10.

Despite being in the right place at the right time, Rough Cutt never made it. They were one of the best LA bands who were around in the first half of the 80s, prior to being swamped by an absolute tsunami of heavy metal cut-outs and sunset strip wannabees in the second half of that decade. Of the LA bands in that period (pre 1985) who got signed to a major label, there was Quiet Riot, Motley, Ratt, Black ‘n’ Blue – and Rough Cutt. They had several of the ingredients for success including good vocals, good musicians and a good look. One problem was, like London, it seemed that Rough Cutt was a training ground for musicians, and other than Duke Fame, I mean Paul Shortino on vocals, Rough Cutt was a revolving door for musicians. Some of the more well known musicians who went through the band’s ranks were Jake E. Lee, Craig Goldy and Claude Schnell. Ronnie James Dio greatly influenced the development of the band. Dio’s wife Wendy Dio was the group’s manager, and Dio himself helped write one of the band’s songs. Rough Cutt was signed to Warner Bros. Records in 1984 and recorded two albums, this one (produced by Tom Allom) and 1986’s ‘Wants You!’ produced by Jack Douglas. The band toured extensively in the United States, Europe and Japan as an opening act for Foreigner, Dio, Krokus and others. Yet they never broke in a big way, though they were certainly a lot better than many other bands going around in the mid 80s. Their debut album is pretty solid, though there are no big standout tines or potential hits.  5 of the songs out of 10 are not written by the band – so that indicated a weakness in the song writing department. “Take Her” was co-written by Ronnie James Dio,  “Dreamin’ Again” and “Black Widow” were co-written by Wendy Dio, “Piece of My Heart” was originally performed by Erma Franklin, (though Janis Joplin made it famous) and “Never Gonna Die” was written by Australian band the Choirboys and it appeared on their own debut album in 83. The album opens with ‘Take Her” a good solid upbeat metal song. Penned by Ronnie James, Shortino’s scream is great in this – he has a strong voice suited for heavy metal. Song 2 – and it’s a cover. That’s not a good move, despite how good the version of ‘Piece Of My Heart’ is. It’s interesting to hear a metal version of the Choirboys  ‘Never Gonna Die’. This could have been a big hit for the band. Maybe radio didn’t get behind it. Again, Shortino’s voice is great on this. The Wendy Dio penned ‘Dreamin’ Again’ is resplendent in Dioisms (hey Rockbrat I invented a word) with its lyrics of rainbows, dreams and magic. It’s a great, atmospheric tune – if Dio had of recorded this it would have been a big hit. ‘Cutt Your Heart Out’ (note the two t’s) is the first of the tunes written by the band. It’s riddled with clichés and a tried and true riff. The brooding Wendy Dio penned ‘Black Widow’ is another solid tune, though not outstanding. ‘You Keep Breaking My Heart’ is also solid, though not exceptional. ‘Kids Will Rock’ is an attempted anthem, complete with children singing the ‘Kids Will Rock’ chorus. Unlike the Coop’s “Department Of Youth”, it falls well short of the mark.  ‘Dressed To Kill’ is again average – musically and lyrically (“she gives me thrills, she gives me chills, she’s dressed to kill”) Further evidence that an outside song writer should have been employed. By the time I got to the last tune, ‘She’s Too Hott (note the two t’s) I was reaching for the cup of Jim Jones brand Kool Aid. Man this song stinks. Clichés aplenty and it just goes nowhere. Rough Cutt were a great band visually and musically – but they lacked SONGS. None of the Rough Cutt penned songs on this album cutt (ahem) the mustard, and I hate to say that, cos I reckon that’s the real reason why they never made it. As a result, this debut album is good, but far too inconsistent. Not Ronnie James Dio, not Wendy Dio, not even Tom Allom could save them here, despite some promising moments.  5.5 out of 10.  Shortino left the band in 1987 to replace Kevin DuBrow as singer of Quiet Riot (with our own Craig Csongrady of Boss also in the running). Shortino reformed Rough Cutt in 2000 with an all-new line-up that included former Aerosmith guitarist Jimmy Crespo and former Quiet Riot bassist Sean McNabb. Let’s not forget Paul Shortino appeared in This Is Spinal Tap as Duke Fame. You can view a clip of that here

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