It’s been roughly 40 years since Stephen Pearcy crawled up out of the cellar (or, in geographical terms, San Diego) with the boys in Ratt, in the process becoming one of the biggest names on L.A.’s Sunset Strip, and, eventually, all of ‘80s hard rock and metal.
And to be sure, you don’t climb to that rarefied spot without experiencing a thing or two. And as Pearcy makes clear in this round of Metal Edge’s Infamous Firsts, this former Catholic school boy was certainly no saint on the way there. “It’s been an interesting trip, to say the least,” he confirms to Metal Edge one morning from his home in Las Vegas.
Pearcy is currently on the road playing sporadic solo dates, and is planning to record a new solo album, the follow up to 2018’s View to a Thrill, early next year. He’s also figuring out the future – if there is one – for Ratt. “What next for the band?,” he asks. “I couldn’t tell you.” Until then, Pearcy was more than happy to take a trip down memory lane with Metal Edge. Read on…
First Album I Fell in Love With
It had to have been a Black Sabbath record – the first one, with the witch on the cover. Before that I had heard, like, Rory Gallagher and Grand Funk and things like that. But Sabbath was different. And the interesting about it is I didn't have a clue who Sabbath was, all I know is this group of friends I had were like, “You smoke some pot and then you listen to this in headphones and it's all trippy...” And then it was probably Zeppelin, too. But put it this way: When I first heard Sabbath and Zeppelin, I had nothing really to do with music. I listened to music, but I was a race car kid, you know? When I heard “Immigrant Song,” I thought it was Janis Joplin! I didn't know the difference between a Joplin and a Zeppelin. I even thought Alice Cooper was a chick. Like, “Who is this ugly chick,” you know? So I was introduced to music real late. It seemed my friends were about it more than I was.
My first concert was Three Dog Night at the [L.A.] Forum. Go figure. I had a date, and I got dropped off by my mom. I must've been like 13 or 14 or something. Really young. The concert was interesting because I didn't know anything of it. I was just going on this little date thing. I don’t think I knew anything about getting laid, I just wanted to take this girl to a show or something. [laughs]
It was actually a house that I rented with my twin sister and a guitar player friend of mine named John, in Clairemont, San Diego. We thought we had it down, like, “Yeah, you we got us a place...” We really didn't put two and two together that there were gas bills, electric bills, water bills. I don't think we stayed there more than two months before we were back home.
But the shittiest place I had was the garage I lived in when I first moved up to L.A. – January 1, 1980. I made up my mind I was going, and my friend had a garage at his mom’s house that he converted into a big room. The mom’s name was Mrs. O'Neill. Ms. O., we called her. And I said to her, “Well, I have this band, they're moving up with me…” So two of the three guys in Mickey Ratt moved in there, too.
First Time I Got High
I was pretty young – in grade school. That same Catholic school, St. Gerard's. It was drinking and pot. Back then, you get turned on to pot and it's like, “Whoa...” There was no talk of, "This is a gateway drug…" But lo and behold, we were eating acid and everything else after that!
First Band I Sang For
Well, my first band was called Firedome. My friend John who I lived with was in the band, too. But that didn’t last long. So then there was one point where I went to an audition with Chris Hager, who was later in Rough Cutt. And I go to this audition, I'm carrying my guitar – I finally got a decent Gibson copy – I'm all happy, excited. Because my whole trip was that I was a guitar player first. But I show up at the audition and these guys who are there go, “Well, we're the guitar players.” They say, “But you look cool. You got long hair and stuff. Can you sing?” And I go, “I guess…” That band ended up being Crystal Pystal, my first real band. And that eventually turned into Mickey Ratt, which I started with Chris Hager. I said, “I want to start my own band. And I want to play guitar, too.”
First Song I Wrote
Actually this is an interesting question, because I kind of wrote a bunch of songs all in a batch, real quick. And a few of those, like “U Got It” and “Sweet Cheater,” ended up on the Ratt EP [in 1983]. And then there were also weird songs like “Valley of the Euphrates” and “Direct Motion.” I wrote them for Mickey Ratt, which then morphed into Ratt. But it was a big batch. I just wrote like crazy. And to this day I still get into these spurts where I'll sit and just write song after song. I still like to write every day.
First Time I Did Something Illegal
In Catholic school – sixth grade at St .Gerard’s in Culver City. At lunch time we would split – like, literally escape. Because there was a chain link fence around this school, and you're looking out like you're in a camp, you know? But we would leave and go steal candy and shit from the pharmacy down the street, come back to school and eat it in class. It became kind of a daily thing.
The other thing we used to do is that two or three of us would get together and go to the local mall and say, “Okay, whoever comes out with the most stolen goods, wins.” Well, you didn't win anything. You just became the winner of stealing that day. But that’s what we would do.
First Shitty Job
When I first moved to L.A. I worked at a head shop in Culver City. I would just help this hippie lady in there, grab papers and things that people wanted. It didn't last long. Then I got a part-time job at Tower Records in Marina Del Rey, and that didn't last long either, because me and this dude would just drink and party in there. I told him, “You're going to be selling my records one day...” And he goes, “Yeah, yeah, right. You're fired.” And I'm like, “Okay...”
First Time I Met Van Halen
It was at the Whisky. I lived in San Diego, but a friend of mine kept saying, “You gotta see this band – they're playing Gazzarri's and they’re amazing.” I kept missing them at Gazzarri’s, but then one time he said, “Okay, now they're playing the Whisky. You’ve gotta go.” So I figured, “Okay, well, I’ve seen enough of how shows work in San Diego to know that the bands go to the club early and they go in backstage…” So I drove myself up to the Whisky and I just parked around the corner, on Clark St, and waited. And soon enough I fucking saw Dave [Lee Roth] pull up, park and walk up the steps. And I just yelled out, “You wanna smoke a joint?” He said yeah, and I got in. And once I was inside I said, "Later! Where's Ed?" [laughs]
I'd go up to L.A. and see them all the time after that, and I became good friends with Ed. I'd go to the house where Ed lived with his mom, and he had a little cot and a little workspace with all his guitars. It was fucking amazing. And I'd go back to San Diego and tell people, “There's this fucking band that's gonna blow minds!” "Yeah, yeah, sure…" And then a year or whatever later, you know, boom!
First Time I Met Milton Berle
It was when he was doing the “Round and Round” video with us, obviously. And he was there because our manager, Marshall Berle, who had managed Van Halen in the early days, was his nephew. So Marshall took a few of us, probably Robbin and I, to meet him. And Milton was a trip. Then next thing you know, he's at the video shoot. And funny story – after that, Miltie used to take us to the Friars Clubs in Beverly Hills. We’d see all these old-time comedians like Shecky Greene, and they’d be doing roasts and telling these dirty, vulgar jokes. Miltie would make fun of us, too. He was a real trippy guy. I just wanted to know if he had banged Marilyn Monroe. But he wouldn't give me an answer.
First Time I Felt I Had “Made It”
There’s two times. The first is when we finished recording the Ratt EP. Robbin [Crosby] and I were out in Hollywood, tripping around, trying to get the word out. And there were two big stations in L.A. – KLOS was one and KMET was the other. And lo and behold, Robbin and I are coming back from town at, like, 2:30, 3:00 in the morning, and we hear “You Think You're Tough” on KMET, probably on the Local Licks show or something. And then we heard it on KLOS like five minutes after. We were just screaming in the car: “They're playing our song! We're on the radio! We're gonna be huge!” Because you have to understand, even though we were a huge draw locally in L.A., Ratt were one of the last bands to get signed. That's why we recorded the EP. We would be selling out places, with people lined up around the block, but nobody gave us the time of day. It was crazy. So that was a “holy shit” moment.
And then the other time that I thought we made it, I was with Robbin again, and we were in a limo driving into Madison Square Garden. To go park there you have to go through these round tunnels that are like a corkscrew, and they just go up and up and up. It’s like Led Zeppelin in The Song Remains the Same. I remember sitting next to him and actually saying “I think we’ve made it.” Although by that time we had actually already made it, so maybe it doesn’t count…