On August 24th, the 80’s will return in its wondrous glory to the streets of Long Beach for a dance party extravaganza. Lost 80’s Live Long Beach will feature such notable acts as A Flock Of Seagulls, Boingo Dance Party, When in Rome UK, Naked Eyes, Animotion, Tran-X, The Flirts, Gary Myrick, and a surprise headliner! Hosting the event will be legendary Sirius XM DJ Richard Blade, who spent a good part of the 80’s ushering in the now classic tunes on KROQ. We recently had the opportunity to chat with Richard Blade about the upcoming Lost 80’s celebration, his memories of A Flock Of Seagulls and some of the other bands playing the show, as well as his thoughts on the iconic Depeche Mode he champion at the beginning of their career. Blade also discusses his overall observations of rock and roll from the 60’s up until the very present – from the Stones to Sound Garden and beyond. It’s an absolute honor to present the Highwire Daze exclusive interview with the world renowned Richard Blade. Read on…
How did the Lost 80’s Live In Long Beach come about and how did you become involved with it?
I think it was put together by a guy by the name of Rob Juarez, who represents quite a few really great 80’s bands. And he had the idea to do a really fun 80’s festival that would be really popular – in other words take bands that are good live and put them together on the same bill. I think it’s Rob who created the concept – and Rob and I go way, way back – at least 20 years – to when these bands were happening the first time round. Rob contacted me and said “We need a host and an MC and a DJ between the bands. Love to have you do it! Would you be interested?” And as I’m friends with so many of the groups on the bill, I said, “Absolutely!” So it was really a no brainer for me.
What’s one of your favorite memories of A Flock of Seagulls back in the 80’s?
The first time I met them was in 1983. We were doing an interview for a TV show. And Mike (Score – A Flock of Seagulls vocalist) was very, very busy at the time – I mean super busy – A Flock of Seagulls were huge in America and just exploding. I remember setting up, and we were using a camera person that we’d never used before. I started doing the interview with Mike, and I could see out of the corner of my eye the camera person sweating – but not in a hot way – in a nervous way. We were eight minutes into the interview, and I said, “Mike, do you mind if we stop the interview for a second?” And he said, “No, no, no problem.” I took the camera guy to a side and I said, “Dude, what’s the problem?” And he said, “I can’t get the camera to focus. Everything is out of focus.” So I said, “You didn’t tell me?” and he goes, “No I didn’t know what to say.” So I said, “Do you have a spare camera?” and he goes “Yeah, it’s out in the truck and it’ll take me about 20 minutes.” And I said, “Go get it.” I went back to Mike, and as busy as he was – he had Entertainment Tonight waiting – I said, “Look, I’ve a technical issue, I spotted it. It’s going to be like 20 minutes. And he goes “I’ll tell my manager to push everything back.” And he sat there and we just chatted while the guy came in to set up the new camera. Even at the peak of his popularity when he had just won a Grammy and everyone in the world wanted a piece of him, he was willing to kick back and just hang with me rather than going, “god, this is incompetent, this is crap!” and walk out. He was being completely the opposite, and he’s always had my respect for that – and my appreciation for standing by me when there was a technical problem that was out of my hands. And that was my first memory. And since then, we’ve done I would think at least 50 gigs together and have become staunch friends and buddies.
Some of the bands on the Lost 80’s we haven’t seen in quite a while. Who are you the most excited about seeing at the Fest?
You know, I’ve worked with a lot of them recently, because I’m always out at the clubs myself and I do a lot of gigs. The ones who never disappoint and are always great onstage are A Flock Of Seagulls. Naked Eyes are great – Pete is just a phenomenal performer. Believe it or not, The Flirts are also really good – they put on a great show! I worked with them for the first time in 25 years last year – and since then I’ve done three shows with them. I was dreading the first show – I didn’t know how they would do – and instead they just blew me away how good they were. Also, I’ve gotta say that I’m looking forward to Johnny Vatos and the Boingo Dance Party. Johnny’s a hero of mine – he’s great, and I just love the music of Boingo, so that I’m really looking forward to that!
Do you have any idea who the secret headliner is yet?
No, I don’t. Rob won’t tell me because he knows I’ve got a big mouth and I’ll go straight on the air at Sirius XM and blab it! He’s deliberately keeping away from me.
How does working for Sirius XM compare to your days at KROQ?
When I first started at Sirius XM, no one knew what it was. I started in 2004 and they had 235,000 subscribers nationwide and that was it. It was like when I started with E! I was one of the original hosts at E! and nobody knew what is was – and now of course everybody knows. And it’s the same with Sirius – it started like, “Well, I’m a satellite radio.” And it was like, “Well, what’s satellite radio?” “It’s Sirius.” “Well, what’s Sirius?” You had to explain the whole thing. And now we’ve passed over 25 million subscribers and never mind the listeners of Dish Network – the ones online, etc. They say that the listening figures are well past 35 million. Now when I do a gig and say “Sirius XM,” people just scream. I had so many people coming up to me at every gig saying, “I heard you say this on Sirius.” Just like they used to in the old days at KROQ. It’s very similar to what it used to be like on KROQ – the listening audience now has become vast. In the old days, you could go on the air and say anything you want, and no one heard it, because there were so few. And now it’s like 1 out of 4 people who have a car has Sirius – it changed so much! It does feel actually like the old days of KROQ because the reach is so great.
You were very instrumental in bringing Depeche Mode to the States. Did you have any idea that Depeche Mode would turn out to be so huge in time?
I didn’t know they’d be that huge for so long. I knew that certain songs of theirs would be massive! I knew when I heard Speak & Spell for the first time that the album was very ahead of its time – that they keyboards were so progressive and very infectious. Songs like New Life and Just Can’t Get Enough were dance floor monsters and I was playing them on radio; I thought this band’s got a great chance at the big time. And when the second album came out and I was doing interviews with them for TV, I jokingly said “You must have girls all over you” and I remember Dave (Gahan – DM vocalist) said, “Oh yeah” very tongue in cheek – “there’s all these girls around Depeche Mode.” Meaning no, we don’t have a lot of girls. I said, “You guys are going to be huge!” They still didn’t know they were going to be big – they didn’t have a Top Ten Hit till People Are People in America. I think it was 1988 and the Music For The Masses Tour at the Rose Bowl of June 18th of that year that really crossed them over to a huge audience. In Los Angeles, they would sell out The Forum or The Rose Bowl, but in the Midwest, they would only sell 500-800 tickets because there wasn’t a KROQ in the Midwest. That’s why Depeche Mode – and also Morrissey – have been very prone to put Los Angeles number one on their world tour stop. When Depeche Mode got sick last year on their tour – when Dave tore a calf muscle and had to be operated on, they cancelled a bunch of gigs. But they won’t – and they will never cancel Los Angeles, because they have such a huge fan base here.
What was going through your mind when you were broadcasting during the near riot they had when they were doing a signing at The Wherehouse in LA back in March of 1990?
I was thinking A. – this is crazy – and B. – I could have told the record company this would happen, because I knew how big Depeche Mode were at the time. I had heard Violator and I knew the album was going to be massive – and it was! It entered the charts at Number 1. Fortunately no one was hurt – so for me it was actually kind of fun. I hate to say that because of all the police expenditure and everything like that – but nobody was hurt, and for me, it was a validation of all the music that KROQ had played for the previous decade. Other radio stations in town like KLOS and KMET had always put down KROQ and said “Your music will never make it.” Rick Dees once said, “If ever KISS FM plays Tears For Fears – that’s the day we sign off the air.” KISS FM has bent over and played Tears For Fears many times. Depeche Mode was in that same category – and to see a band that was specifically a KROQ band period pull so many thousands and thousands of people on to a point where it was a near riot, to me was like, “Hey, we told you this!”
I was actually there at that signing and I remember that day well…
You were one of the D-Mode-ties like me! You knew ahead a time way before everybody else how great Depeche were. You know, they are the biggest selling electronic band of all time.
Do you still keep in touch with KROQ longtime DJ Rodney Bingenheimer?
Yeah! I went to see Rodney when he got the star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame two years ago. I had lunch with him at Cantors a few months back. I spoke to Rodney about two weeks ago on a documentary that’s being made on new music. Rodney and I are still in touch. He’s a great guy!
You’ve done a few movies in the past. Do you like acting and could we expect to see more acting from you in the future?
I would be interested in doing something else. And this is not false modesty, but I don’t think I’m a great actor in any way, shape or form. I’m a good host – I’m a really good TV host because I’m being me – but when it comes to acting, it’s a different kettle of fish, because you have to try and suppress the “you” and become the “character.” And for me, it’s really hard to suppress the “Richard Blade DJ” character. When I see myself on camera trying to act, I’m actually quite uncomfortable. When I see myself hosting, I’m fine with it – it’s no problem – it’s something I could do because I’ve done being a DJ. So when someone asks me to act, I’m very flattered that they do – and I do the best job I can do, but it’s not something I actively pursue. I’m no Jeremy Irons or Robert Deniro and I know that.
Why do you think music from the 80’s remains so popular today? Even kids who weren’t alive in the 80’s seem to really like it now.
Well, the 90’s sucked period! I mean people say (in a stoner voice) “Well ya, dude the 90’s rocked!” No they didn’t! The 90’s sucked! Today is a golden age for pop and hip hop and rap. But rock music is in a terrible position right now. Name me the biggest rock bands in the world, and you’re going to come up with Springsteen, Aerosmith, Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones. None of them are new. They’ve all been around forever. If you look at the bands that came out in the 90’s – the Soundgarden’s etc. – where are they? They don’t do anything. The only band that’s still viable really from the 90’s is Pearl Jam and the spin off from Nirvana the Foo Fighters – who are great! Don’t get me wrong – I love the Foo’s – they’re absolutely fantastic! Everybody else, none are them are a stadium draw – none! The 80’s to me were like the 60’s. Even though I was just a kid in the 60’s – you listen to 60’s music – you listen to Motown, American R&B, you listen to Martha Reeves, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Supremes, the early Jackson 5 – and you listen to the Beatles and the early Doors and The Beach Boys and The Who – and that’s incredible music! That crosses over and it’s still around. Why do you think it’s on TV all of the time?
And in the ‘70s there was disco – which was fun! Loved disco – and the rest it was crap – it was England Dan and John Ford Coley and Air Supply and Crystal Gayle Don’t It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue. And then along came the 80s and suddenly everything changed. Punk in the late 70s pushed rock and made it into New Wave – and it stems from the Sex Pistols and The Clash right through to Spandau Ballet, and on the far side of Kajagoogoo. And I think the 80s are still around in a big way, because it was fun music – it was happy music – it was sexy music and it was good! And I think kids today love it. 11 year old kids at gigs I do will sing every word to A-ha Take On Me – never mind that Pitbull sampled it for his latest single. It’s used on a lot of video games – if you play Grand Theft Auto, they have an 80s radio station that you race past and there’s Flock Of Seagulls and Adam Ant. And I think a lot of kids these days – because album sales no longer exist – albums are dead – the only thing that sells is singles. And when kids listen to music, they listen to it track by track – individual tracks. So they will love the new Calvin Harris, they will love the new Beyoncé, and they will love A-ha, and they will love Berlin –The Metro. And those they got from their Dad’s IPOD – to them they don’t categorize it like radio stations do and say “Well, we’re a beautiful music station, we’re a talk station, we’re an 80’s station, we’re a pop station.”
Kids listen to music as if it’s good or it’s bad. And I think the IPOD and ITunes had a lot to do with that. So kids build a playlist not based on when it came out, but what they like – and so it’s not uncommon for a kid who’s 12 years old to ask “what are your favorite songs?” And they’ll say “I love Firework from Katy Perry, Just Can’t Get Enough from Depeche Mode, and Don’t Stop The Party from Pitbull. And they don’t see the difference. And I think that’s why 80s music is still so popular – it was great then, and to kids, it doesn’t feel dated. If you put on Spoonman from Soundgarden, kids want to slice their throats because it was depressing then and it’s depressing now. If you put on Metro from Berlin, they want to get up and dance.
And last question – do you have any messages for people who are getting ready to relive the Lost 80’s in Long Beach next weekend?
Yeah! Wear comfortable shoes, because you are going to be dancing for quite a few hours. Cuz when Mike Score plays I Ran or Space Age Love Song, or Naked Eyes put on Always Something There To Remind Me, or Animotion goes into Obsession, or Johnny Vatos hits Dead Mans Party, or The Flirts tell you you’re not to put Another Dime In The Jukebox – you’re not going to be sitting down and you’re not going to be kicking back. You’re going to be partying – two hands in the air, two feet on the ground – and it’s going to be a blast!
(Interview by Kenneth Morton – Photo by Damon Duran)