Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Hot Hero Sandwich — Off-Stage with Cast Member Jarett Smithwrick

by G. Jack Urso

Welcome back, your dreams were your ticket out

Welcome back, to that same old place that you laughed about

Opening lyrics to “Welcome Back,” by John Sebastian

Smithwrick in the open credits.
As I sorted through notes about my interview with cast member Jarett Smithwrick, the lyrics to “Welcome Back” by John Sebastian came ringing through my head. After some time away from the industry post Hot Hero Sandwich, Jarett in the past few years has returned to the screen, and what a pleasure it has been to see him. For Hot Hero fans, it’s a like seeing an old friend back where we missed him.

In this interview, Jarett takes time to answer a few questions about Hot Hero Sandwich and draw back the curtain a little on the creative process behind the show. We discuss getting the part, the rehearsal process, a particularly powerful scene that addresses racism, and we get caught up on what he has been up to in recent years.

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Ae13U: Which state do you originally hail from? Where were you living at the time the series was filmed?

Jarett Smithwrick: I'm originally from New York, born and raised in Mt. Vernon.  I was living in Fort Greene, Brooklyn when the show was filmed.

Ae13U: What had you been up to before the show? There’s one credit on the IMdB before the series (Watch Your Mouth) though their records are often incomplete. Had you been doing stage, improv, musical theater, commercials?

Jarett Smithwrick: I had done mostly stage, 2 off-Broadway shows - Benito Cereno, with Roscoe Lee Browne and Sister Sadie, starring Teresa Merrit. I appeared in one episode of, Watch Your Mouth.  I also did some extra work in film and commercials all after Hot Hero.

[Note: Teresa Merritt played the grandmother in the classic 1969 Urban Christmas Carol J.T., previously reviewed, and presented along with the full movie, on Aeolus 13 Umbra.]

Browne in 1979.
Ae13U: I have to take a moment and say how much I love Roscoe Lee Browne. What a magnificent actor with such a distinctive voice.

Jarett Smithwrick: Roscoe was the best, friendly, and very laid back. He even introduced the cast to James Baldwin who dropped backstage after a performance.

Ae13U: How did you get cast? Were there open auditions? What was your audition like? Was it a reading, improve?

Jarett Smithwrick: I landed an agent shortly before Hot Hero, as I recall I don't believe it was an open audition, and it there was a script.

Ae13U: Where were the opening credits filmed, where everyone gets picked up in the Hot Hero van? It doesn’t look like it was in the city itself. Was it in one of the boroughs?

Jarett Smithwrick: The opening was shot in Westchester, a van sequence was shot in a park.  I remember it was in a recreation area we used to take kids to, when I worked as a camp counselor in High School. Yonkers was the location for the remaining scenes if memory serves me right.

Ae13U: There was a large ensemble main cast. How were the parts for the sketches assigned? Were you able to ask to play certain parts in sketches that maybe connected with you?

Jarett Smithwrick: As talent I wasn't privy to the selection process.  We received the scripts with our assigned scenes.  I'd have to say the monologue on race [Episode 5], resonated with me most.  I was living it on a daily basis walking through my young adult life in New York City.

Ae13U: How much interaction did you have with Bruce and Carole Hart? I know the director was Tom Trbovich. Did he provide a lot of hands-on direction with the actors with their individual parts or did the cast work with a separate acting coach?

Jarett Smithwrick: I didn't interact with Bruce or Carole much, when I did they were always friendly, generous and supportive.  Tom was great, big open and again very supportive.  It was apparently a given that we were all up to the job at hand, so direction was minimal.

Ae13U: When did the day begin and end? Where there days set aside for rehearsal and then for shooting? Did you start with read-throughs early in the week and do filming later on in the week?

Jarett Smithwrick: The days were long, but we were so young it didn't matter, we started early ended late, and got up the next day to do it all again.  I don't recall being tired, just grateful to be doing something I truly enjoyed.

Rehearsals were on the fly done before each take.  We filmed an entire season in a very short time.

Ae13U:  The discussion of race in Episode 5 was really bold. It included a segment that led off with an interview with Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Robert Guillaume, and then that powerful spoken word monologue you give. It’s nearly three minutes long. You challenge the racial stereotypes and even said the “n-word.” Which, blew my mind! I’m pretty sure that would probably not get aired today, at least not on Saturdays at 11 A.M. 

Discussing racial issues in episode 4. Jarett’s monologue begins at 2:16.

If you recall the piece, I would really like to get your thoughts on it. Who wrote that? How did you prepare for it? Was it completely memorized or work off notes from the notebook you were holding? Was the scene that aired shot in one-take or edited from a couple takes? How many takes did it take? What were your thoughts about it at the time?

Jarett Smithwrick: Well, I'm not certain who wrote the piece [ed. note: It was later revealed to be writer Richard Camp].  It was memorized, there must have been some retakes, at least for technical reasons.  I do recall that even the crew responded with applause there may have been an edit because I remember something about mentioning color TVs and the word colored.

Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 1 Sketch: "Nicknames"

Ae13U: OK, this is a real small point of trivia, but I love your character Mark Johnson’s nickname in the first sketch in Episode 1. [Note: see clip above]

You and Paul O’Keefe managed to pull off a pretty impressive tongue-twister of a nickname; however, not sure I’m hearing it correctly, so help me clear it up.

As I heard it, the nickname is: Mark Swivelhead, Motormouth, Dinosaur-Breath, Pizza Face, Donut Brain, Yellow-belly, Bugger-eyed, Silly Putty, Sniveling, Bowlegged, Barfact, Dipstick, Hangnail, Wombat, Johnson.

“Barfact?” I know I must not have heard that correctly, but it sounds like that’s what you and Paul are saying. Since this is my big chance to clear up a Hot Hero mystery, can you confirm for me what that word is? Also, it’s a pretty long one. Did you memorize it or use cue cards?

Jarett Smithwrick: It was barfbag. We never used cue cards, all of our scenes were memorized. We showed up for work with every word in our heads.
 
I later obtained a script for episode 1 which proves Jarret's memory was right on!

Ae13U: It seems like the writers knew the show wasn’t going to have another season. When did you find out? Would you have stayed for a second season? What changes would you have liked to have seen?

Jarett Smithwrick: We found out at the end of the summer the shows aired, it was over.  I would have done another season but like all actors I would have liked to have been in more scenes than the previous season.

Ae13U: What was your impression of the show when it aired? Where there things you felt worked really well, or perhaps could have worked a little better? What would you have liked to see changed?

Jarett Smithwrick: I was very proud of the fact that I'd landed a show. Frankly it’s always difficult watching myself, what I'd do differently is a constant to this day.  Gratitude for the opportunity to work and hearing how the show affected so many folks, is of great comfort however. 

Ae13U: I know it’s a bit of time to cover, but what did you do after Hot Hero Sandwich and what are you doing now? I see there’s been some credits have recently popped up on the IMdB the past couple years. Will we be seeing more soon?

Jarett Smithwrick: Well things dropped off a good bit after the show, there were a few commercials and even those dried up after a while.  I was very fortunate in that I could type 80 words per minute, so I kept a roof over my head and made a living as a temp for years.  In the late '80s I moved to Los Angeles, I wrote a couple of screenplays got a nibble here and there but nothing got picked up.  I stayed there for 13 years, then headed back to New York after 9/11.  I ended up working in Healthcare until I retired eight years ago and I've been fortunate enough to have finally aged into an age range that keeps me relatively busy.  I've done over 20 commercials in that time and the usual New York episodic rounds of, Law & Order, Bull and Power.  My intention is to keep going.

Jarett Smithwrick today (photo courtesy Jarett Smithwrick).
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Concluding Thoughts

Though many years have passed since the broadcast, Smithwrick’s monologue on race remains relevant today. It honestly discusses the issue and the use of the n-word — and on Saturday morning network TV in 1979.  I can’t imagine the same thing taking place today.

As the saying goes, Hollywood is a fickle mistress. Jarett’s performance showed a broad range for both comedy and drama, but Hot Hero didn’t have much network support, and seemed purposely set against various sports schedules almost guaranteeing pre-emptions in certain markets, with the last episode being aired in only four or five markets. The preemptions reduced the actors’ opportunity to be seen in important markets. At a time before the widespread use of VCRs, the performances were buried in vaults and closets.

But you know what? We’re still talking about the show and those scenes today. Somehow, despite the apathy of the network and no video releases, they stuck. If an actor’s performance can survive only as a memory after four decades, well, that’s one damn good actor.

So, if it hasn’t been said yet, let me welcome back Jarett Swivelhead, Motormouth, Dinosaur-Breath, Pizza Face, Donut Brain, Yellow-belly, Bugger-eyed, Silly Putty, Sniveling, Bowlegged, Barf Bag, Dipstick, Hangnail, Wombat, Smithwrick.

We missed you, man.

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Saturday, March 25, 2023

Hot Hero Sandwich — On the Flip Side with Drummer Mike Ratti

by G. Jack Urso 

Hot Hero band drummer Mike Ratti at work on Studio 8H.

Mike Ratti is the Hot Hero Band’s heartbeat. His sound is the very first sound we hear in the series — that steady, thumping pulse in the first few bars of the theme song. Indeed, bassist Robert Brissette points out in his interview, when they were given the demo tape of the theme song, it was Ratti who first set the pace and got the groove going.

Ratti has been playing the drums professionally since the days of psychedelic rock, and a lot of rock musicians would have killed for the career he had before the Hot Hero Band, not to mention in the four decades afterwards as a hard-working, and in his own words, “journeyman drummer.” So, let’s get caught up with the long and winding Ratti road to Studio 8H.

Strange Days Indeed

Morgen’s 1969 classic self-titled psychedelic record.
Scream if you recognize the cover art!
The psychedelic band Morgen was Ratti's introduction to the music industry. He was a student in Bayside High School, Queens, when he was asked to join Steve Morgen’s band as a replacement for the first drummer. Morgen’s 1969 self-titled debut, and only, album, is regarded as one of the better examples of “heavy psychedelic rock” and a classic of the genre. I had the chance to check it out on YouTube and it not only hits every mark representing the era but also showcases Ratti’s talent as a drummer at a young age with challenging material — these are not simple 3-chord songs in a 4/4 beat.

Morgen was recorded in Jazz/Classical conductor and composer Skitch Henderson’s old studio, Studio 3, in New York City — a pretty legendary place to record a psychedelic rock album — and all on only a 4-track, an effort that took some considerable engineering, according to Ratti. It was during this time that Ratti was approached to work with Jay and the Americans, doing two albums, including the songs “This Magic Moment” and “Walking in the Rain.” Ratti then returned to play with Morgen for one last show at the Fillmore, January 10, 1970 — quite a shift in genres.

Ratti also toured with Steam (“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”), for about a year. Then, before Hot Hero Sandwich, he toured with Rex Smith (who Brissette and Mark Cunningham had also worked with). Then in the 1980s, Ratti worked with the New Wave band, The Nails. From Psychedelic to Doo-Wop, to Classic Rock, to teen idol Rex Smith, to New Wave, Mike Ratti has been there, done that, and played it all.
Caricature of Ratti by Hot Hero Sandwich writer Sherry Coben that hung on the halls backstage at Studio 8H along with those of other band members in the Summer of 1979.

Paying Union Dues

For Hot Hero Sandwich, Ratti wanted to use the drum set he used from the Rex Smith Tour (which could constitute another article all in itself). It was a big kit that was purchased by CBS for the band. NBC, however, would not let it in. Between the suits and the unions, the red tape and paperwork required to bring instruments in was predictably a nightmare. As was the practice, the instruments on set had to be rentals. The source for these rentals was Studio Instrument Rentals (S.I.R.].

“I asked for a standard five-piece set . . . symbols and high hats . . . and I think I asked if I could bring in my snare drum . . . and they probably said no, because you don’t walk into that building with anything.”

“So it came that day and . . . I was escorted to the loading dock at the side door at NBC, 30 Rock. I went down to the side door, the S.I.R. truck pulled up . . . I went to put my hand on it and I heard, “WHOA!” I turned around and three guys said, ‘Get your hands off that!’”

“Excuse me? I said.” They go, ‘What are you doing?’”

“I’m getting my drum set.”

“They said, ‘I don't care. Those are not your drum set.’”

Mike had played enough shows to know union rules. “I knew what it was about, but I just reacted.”

“The guy says, ‘It's not your drum set until it's brought to where you're gonna use it.’ Then I realized . . . I'm talking to three Teamsters. This wasn’t my first rodeo, I knew all about it, but I just reacted. I was doing a TV show!”

Then Ratti and the Teamsters go up to Studio 8H with the equipment for probably what was a long, awkward elevator ride.

“They wheeled it to the stage. They walked away. I went over. I put my hands out to open up the top and I heard, ‘What are you doing?’”

It was yet another set of Teamsters.

“’Excuse me,’” they said, ’No, no, no, no, no, no.’ It was the stage hands’ union.”

It was beginning to sound like a Saturday Night Live sketch, apropos since it was at Studio 8H. Again, Ratti knew the stage union rules. He was young, but he had been kicking around the scene for a decade at that point. Nevertheless, the SNL stage was a big deal, so you can’t blame him for his excitement.

I wonder. Did David Bowie ever have the same problem with these guys when he did SNL a few months later in December 1979?

Ratti continued, “’You cannot touch this,’ the stage hands said, ‘Period.’ I backed away . . . they took everything out and they looked at it as if it was, you know, a dragon. They have to set them up and then I could arrange them. So they put them on the riser, they set them up upside down, inside out, left to right. Walked off the stage, gave me the nod to say, ‘Now you can do it.’ I set up the drum kit and they stayed there for the duration of all the tapings, which is the whole summer.”

Nice work if you can get it, but the lesson learned for performers and producers alike is that everything coming and going goes through the unions — particularly at 30 Rock.

It's Been Only One Lifetime
Walter Becker of Steely Dan, 1977 (Chris Walter/Wire Image).
Mike Ratti ran into Walter Becker of Steely Dan on a few occasions throughout his career. First, when he and Donald Fagin needed some drum tracks for a demo they were recording at Advantage Sound Studios in Manhattan (no longer there) which they wanted to shop around in L.A. Ratti laid down his tracks and was invited to join, but he declined. They answered simple questions like, “How’s it going guys?” with philosophical responses like, “Define how?” So, the vibes were a bit off for Ratti. This project later evolved into Steely Dan.

Of course, Mike didn’t know at the time they were going to become Steely Dan, but he waxed philosophical about it. Even if he did head out to L.A., he would have been back in New York in short order, noting Becker’s and Fagin’s ability to burn through band members.

“They used every musician and the best drummers basically out there at the time in the world and they didn't last one or three songs.”

Ratti would encounter Becker one more time.

“Now fast-forward . . . years later, and I'm rehearsing at — and I'm going to say It would have to have been either [with] Hot Hero or 212 [circa mid-late 1979] . . .  it was at S.I.R. [Studio Instrument Rentals] on 54th Street . . . it was a rainy night in Manhattan and I’m ringing the buzzer, and I see this light in the doorway right next to where I'm standing, and it's pitch black and the light from somebody taking the drag of a cigarette and I see this face and I back up and go, ‘Walter?’ It was Walter Becker [of Steely Dan], and he says, ‘Yeah?’ Now, at the time . . . and everyone knows this, he was in very bad shape with the substance abuse.”

“And he was soaking wet, hair matted down, smoking a cigarette . . . I mean, just like in some black and white Alfred Hitchcock movie . . . and I said, “It's me, Mike, Mike Ratti.” 

“He says, ‘I know. It's been only one lifetime.’”

“I went back the way I was supposed to and said, ‘Take it easy,’ and that was it.”

Becker later emerged from this dark period and went on to sobriety and a long life, passing away in 2017, but as the AC/DC song goes, “It’s a Long Way to the Top If You Want to Rock and Roll.”

And some ways are longer than others.

A more recent picture of Mike Ratti . . . still playing hard!
(photo courtesy Mike Ratti)
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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Hot Hero Sandwich — On the Flip Side with Guitarist Richie Annunizato

by G. Jack Urso 

Richie Annunziato in concert, circa 1980 (photo credit R. Annunziato).

I fumbled around quickly looking for a pen and paper. Richie Annunziato, one of the guitarists for the Hot Hero Band, just called me. I wasn’t new to this. I interviewed actors and musicians and politicians during my radio days, but as it was with other Hot Hero alums like Sherry Coben and Patrick McMahon, Robert Brissette, Mike Ratti, and now Richie Annunziato, I am suddenly reduced from being a 58-year-old man to the 15-year-old kid I was when I first saw the show.

I was in a slight panic, asking him to repeat something he just said so I could get it down right.

Sensing my anxiety, Rich offered, “Hey man, you should record this,” in a calming voice.

I chuckled. Not just because I had the equipment and did not even think of turning it on, but also at the idea of someone who taught me lessons 43 years ago was still doing so today.
Caricature of Annunziato by Hot Hero Sandwich writer Sherry Coben that hung on the halls backstage at Studio 8H along with those of other band members in the Summer of 1979.
Richie Annunziato stands out in the Hot Hero Band with his lighter hair compared to his Raven-maned band brothers. In addition to crunching out sweet lead work on the guitar with Mark Cunningham, Richie made his mark with fans on the double-arm ax and lead vocals on “Promises.”  

The Hot Hero Band is a Classic Rock quad squad: Two guitarists, bass, and drums. It’s the same set-up like many rock bands, but this time the kids were not only the audience, but also the muse. The band sang on topics that reflected the episodes’ themes. We didn’t have to figure out what the lyrics to a Beatles song meant, what the Who’s Quadophenia was about, or if Jethro Tull was a band or a man. This was not a Disney approach to rock. The band wasn’t condescending to us kids by playing generic rock with generic lyrics. They came to rock!

Despite no recordings of the band or the show before the Internet came along, and then only a few precious clips (more has been posted since the creation of the Hot Hero Sandwich Central YouTube channel), we kids are still fans four decades later. That’s a pretty good legacy for any band, and even more so for one without any label releases.

What’s in a Name?

Hot Hero fans know that Annunziato is also known professionally as Rich Steele (go to RichSteele.com for music downloads and more!). The switch came after his Hot Hero days on the advice of a friend who suggested a shorter name might lead to more music publishing opportunities. Rich’s sister noted that since he played with steel strings, “Rich Steele” might be a little easier to remember and apparently it was since business picked up after that. Much of his professional work since has been under than name.

As a fellow Italian whose first name is “Giocchino,” and who goes by “Jack” instead, I fully sympathize.

Rich’s journey before and after Hot Hero Sandwich is one long rock and roll road — writing, producing, playing, recording, gigging — if a rolling stone gathers no moss, then Richie Annunizato is definitely a rock and roll rolling stone.

The Road to Hot Hero

Annunizato cut his teeth playing dances and in clubs in a trio of bands around the New York City area with some classic 70s band names like Odyssey, Slaughterhouse, and Lance Romance.
Photo credit, Rich Annunziato.
In the early 1970s, Annunizato played with Odyssey, a three-piece band consisting of guitar, bass, and drums, a power trio format.

“We loved Mountain, so all we played was Mountain songs . . . all night long.” Rich said with a chuckle, thinking of his later association with Mountain’s Felix Pappalardi, who produced the Hot Hero Band.
Photo credit, Rich Annunziato.
A little after Odyssey, came Slaughterhouse. “A little bigger band, we had keyboards, we had two guitars . . . bass, drums, two singers . . . you know, The Band kind.”

By the mid-70s, Rich was playing with Lance Romance. The alliteratively evocative name was inspired by a friend out in California who had a glam band called “Lance Romance and the Pirates, or something like that,” Rich noted. “Back in New York I was working with a band . . . and we were doing Yes and Spooky Tooth . . .  and we needed a name to go along with it and I said “How about Lance Romance?” So that’s were that comes from.”
Photo credit, Rich Annunziato.
Rich explained that each of the band members adopted a pseudonym for performance. Rich was Lance Romance and the others were Dance Romance, Prance Romance, and No Chance Romance — a very 70s hook for a band. As an aside, I noted how in Albany, NY, where I live, there was band in the early 80s, Blotto, who did something similar with their name for the band members: Sarge Blotto, Lee Harvey Blotto, Broadway Blotto, etc. They are most known for the video to their single, “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard,” being played on MTV’s first day.

There was no way anyone would know this — a local one-hit wonder band from Albany, NY, of all places — I was embarrassed I even mentioned it, but Rich started to laugh. I was confused.

“I know Blotto! We were on the Uncle Floyd Show with them when we were 212!” [Uncle Floyd is a popular NYC-area radio and TV personality who has hosted some of the music industry’s biggest acts since the 1970s].  Rich noted that they discussed Hot Hero Sandwich on the show as well.

I was a little mind-blown Rich would even know this. It’s the kind of knowledge that only comes from years of being in the scene.

This type of gigging and moving from band to band is fairly typical of young musicians looking to make their mark — and it’s a pretty brutal way to try and make a living. The only ones who survive have to be able to burn through their riffs like a Classical musician and have the same dedication and passion.

And when four of them get together, something special happens.

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Hot Hero Band Origins

Ae13U: Did you know Mark Cunningham before Hot Hero Sandwich?

Richie Annunizato: We weren’t in bands together, but I knew Mark. We didn’t play together, but I would go see his band, he would come see my band, and we’d sit in . . . and we were both living in Rockland at the time. We just knew each other . . . we kind of had the same influences, Humble Pie, Savoy Brown. We didn’t play together, but we were jamming together at the time.

Ae13U: How did you get involved with the show?

Richie Annunizato: That’s all Mark. Mark knew the producers. He had done a film [Sooner or Later, produced by Bruce and Carol Hart] with Rex Smith and he was in the band with Rex . . . and I think Rob [Robert Brissette] and Mike [Mike Ratti] were too.

[Editor’s Note: Barbara Feldon, who did the bumper voiceovers for Hot Hero Sandwich, also appears in Sooner or Later. Rex Smith would appear in episode 10 of Hot Hero Sandwich.]

And so Mark calls me up one day and says. “Rich, I want to audition for this kids’ show . . . in New York. Do you want to come down and do it?”

Alright, you know, I ask who's doing it? And he mentioned Mike and Rob, who I didn’t know.

So, we didn’t rehearse! [Anninziato continued with a laugh] “We go down to S.I.R. [Studio Instrument Rentals] and there’s every band within fifty miles!

Ae13U: Really?

Richie Annunizato: Oh yeah, ‘Network . . . looking for a rock band,’ that’s what the ad said.

Ae13U: I didn’t hear this story before.

Richie Annunizato: Bruce and Carol Hart, who are the producers, they know Rob and Mikey, they don't know me, but they like the way the band looks, number one . . . before we played a note! They wanted a little “Poppy” [as in Pop music]. There were bands from all over the place . . . and we got it!

Ae13U: I can't imagine the rush it must have been to beat out all those bands for a network show.

Richie Annunizato: And these were major bands were playing all over New York. I knew a lot of them.
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According to Annunizato, the bands that didn’t get the gig were gracious and wished the guys luck, but as the show was short-lived, perhaps they felt a bit relieved when the series came to an early end after 11 episodes and were glad they and their reputations didn’t get tied down to a quickly-cancelled kids’ TV show — but 43 years later we’re still talking about the Hot Hero Band and not them.

And that’s the name of that tune.
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On the Band Stand

One observation in researching the show is the lack of merchandise. No albums, photo books, posters, etc. The short-lived nature of the show is not necessarily the reason. Hanna Barbara’s and Sid and Marty Krofft’s Saturday morning TV series are filled with one season wonders that had merchandising. Even the low-rated 13-episode Sealab 2020 (1972), got a board game, but with Hot Hero Sandwich — nothing.
In this previously unpublished photograph, the Hot Hero Band in rehearsal at RPM Studio
in Greenwich Village (left to right), Annunziato, Robert Brissette, and Mike Ratti
(photo credit, Rich Annunziato).
Ae13U: There was no music released, why was that?

Richie Annunizato: My issue with Hot Hero was you have this band on television every Saturday and they don't have a record. There’s no record there . . . and my friends are saying, “You don't have a record out and you're on TV?”

Ae13U: I always wondered about that. It seems like a lost opportunity.

Richie Annunizato: Because the TV people aren’t record people and they didn’t care about that. It boggles me because they showcased us. They brought every record label in – the guys who did KISS and bands like that – they brought us into S.I.R. [Studio Equipment Rentals] and put us up on a stage and we played Hot Hero songs — everybody passed. The thing was, they said, “They’ll sell singles, but they’re not going to sell albums.” That’s what the beef was. The kid’s market wasn’t there yet. It was the 70s . . . it came in the 80s.

Ae13U: Well, one thing about being ahead of the curve is that it doesn’t always help out in the short-term.

Richie Annunizato: I am so thankful for it. Mark and the guys, we became great friends . . . and Felix [Pappalardi] was dynamite.

Ae13U: Since you mentioned Felix, I have to ask, I understand he had some hearing problems. Was this an issue in his work with Hot Hero and you guys?

Richie Annunizato: It wasn't an issue because we weren't playing like . . . Mountain [Pappalardi’s band] was a loud band . . . and that was long before Hot Hero was around . . . but Felix, he was . . . so musical. Nothing got in his way.

Ae13U: It sounds like Felix knew exactly what he wanted and what the show needed musically.

Richie Annunizato: I mean, you know the story where they brought all the studio musicians in to do this and the underscoring because . . .  we couldn't read music and stuff . . . the guy who was producing it said, Get these kids out of here . . . blah, blah, blah, blah.” And so when Felix showed up, he says No, I want these guys to play — to give the show a sound, to give it its own sound.” Felix was behind all that. We didn’t read music, but Felix would get us to play what he wanted, that’s for sure.
Annunziato discussing an arrangement with Pappalardi in a Hot Hero recording session 
(photo credit, R. Annunziato).
Ae13U: I know you guys used instrument rentals on the show, but sometimes your own equipment. Can you tell us a little bit about the equipment you used?

Richie Annunizato: The guitars weren’t rentals. The amps were, all the amps and the drums . . . because they had this set that was neon and you can't have an amplifier on stage cause it'll hum . . . you can’t have that stuff going on video lines so they couldn’t have amps. All the bands, we either sang live . . . Eddie Money, Joe Jackson . . . he sang live, but they were still singing to the tracks because of that reason.

Left to Right: Robert Brissette, Richie Annunziato, and Mark Cunningham.

Ae13U: So, let’s talk guitars. What did you use?

Richie Annunizato: Well, a good thing about the show was we were getting endorsements from guitar makers like Ibanez, Kramer, Dean were sending me guitars to use on TV. I also used them for gigs, and I had a few guitars myself. The double-neck was a guitar that I purchased, a lot of Gibsons. I still have my Les Paul from when I was a kid. Over fifty years I’ve had the guitar — it’s my baby. So, Fenders, B.C. Rich, we got some endorsements from them as well. So, we had some perks there.

[Editor’s Note: Comments for Hot Hero Band videos on social video invariably always include some praise for the guitar brands by name – proof that product placement works, even four decades later.]
Hot Hero Band and 212 scrapbook clippings, courtesy Rich Annunziato.
Ae13U: Robert Brissette noted the recording studio where you laid down the tracks used 2-inch tape. Do you know how many tracks were used to record?

Richie Annunizato: It was a 16-track.

Ae13U: Where were you guys living during the time of the show?

Richie Annunizato: I was living in Rockland. We would rehearse at S.I.R., Mark was living in town, Mikey in Great Neck, and Rob was living in town too. They were all in New York, except for me.

Ae13U: Robert Brissette noted that Felix did the “lion’s share” of the composing, and so I'm guessing that means songs like “Promises,” “Last Night,” and “Show Your Love.” Would that be correct?

Richie Annunizato: Yes and no. “Promises” is by Mark. Basically, the songs that were there had to have the theme of the song in them.
A bare-chested Robert Brissette and Richie Annunziato on stage in 212, circa early 1980s
(photo courtesy Rich Annunziato).
Ae13U: One thing I liked on “Promises” was when you traded some lead work with Mark Cunningham. That was some pretty hot stuff.

Richie Annunizato: Yeah, me and Mark used to do a lot of that when we played live [as 212]. We really liked that, and he has a double neck too, so we had some songs with the both of us on double-necks.

[That sound you may be hearing right now is the collective gnashing of teeth of Hot Hero Band fans frustrated at never having witnessed that epic moment.]


Ae13U: There was production going on both coasts, right?

Richie Annunizato: We were recording everything in New York, but the show was put together in L.A., so we didn’t really see the show until everyone else did, when the first show aired. All the music was done in New York, all the bands were done there, but the interviews with Tom [Cottle], that was all done in L.A.
Scholastic Magazine 1980 feature article on the show and the band.
Ae13U: Interesting that you never saw a complete show until it was broadcast. What was your reaction?

Richie Annunizato: I was knocked out by it . . . I was in awe. I couldn't believe it . . . I like the way it was done because we were there for all the music and doing all the bumpers and stuff like that. Most of the people don't know any of that stuff. That's the stuff we're most proud of because that was really the creativity that we really put out. That first show was seen by 28 million people — 28 million people that watched that show.

[Editor’s Note: There were 63.7 million children in 1980, according to the U.S. Census report for that year, which means 28 million viewers are approximately 43.9 percent of the total number of children in the United States living at the time of the first show in November 1979.]

Takin’ Care of Business
A selection of Annunziato’s albums (RichSteele.com).
After Hot Hero Sandwich, Annunizato remained in the music business — and largely on his own terms. He lived in Nyack and later had a recording studio, Peaceland, out in Pelham, NY. In the 1980s he did some work with friends in the early days of HBO where he was doing music for short films of about 27 minutes in length each, though it took some adjustment for the double-arm axe-master.

“It was the 80s, so they didn’t want guitars — they wanted synthesizers for some reason,” Rich noted with a slight sigh tinged with a still lingering sense of exasperation at that particular musical fad.

He had a good run on the college scene in the 1990s, where he enjoyed a strong presence on college campuses and college radio on the East Coast.

“I was big in college radio, and this was before Napster, and MP3s, and all that stuff. I was selling CDs out at colleges,” Rich noted, further explaining that he eventually was selling his CDs and was being played on college radio stations on campuses from Florida to New Hampshire.

“College radio was very good back then, until MP3s and all that came out,” Rich added with a chuckle and some resignation. Fads are inherent to Rock and Roll and if you want to survive in the business you have to know when to move with times and when to move on.

Annunziato bounced back and forth between Vegas and the East Coast a couple times before permanently settling there in 2000s with Sin City providing opportunities for gigging, producing, and recording. Along with several high school friends who also transplanted themselves to Vegas, Rich quickly found himself at home.

During this time, Rich produced music for The Food Network. An unusual experience, it allowed him to work at home and explore different styles. Unlike HBO, he wasn’t given standing orders on what type of instruments to use. Ironically, he had more freedom. Rather than composing for one show, he would produce pieces of various lengths in various styles which would then be made available in a sound library from which show producers could draw from.

“My stuff was a lot different than a lot of other people were doing [for the Food Network].,” Rich noted. “I was more of the home-grown kind of guy, so I had a whole clientele that like that style, so I was writing for that . . . I was doing country styles and sitars and a little rock stuff as well.”

Vegas proved to be a good move for Annunziato and inspired his creativity. Between 2002 and 2005 he released an astounding nine albums of material in styles ranging from Rock, Punk, Country and Western, and even Sitar-Rock fusion [Ravi Oli, Before Your Time (2003), this writer’s personal favorite]. More than just stretching his creativity, Rich really bites into the material and nails the styles down. Generous to his fans, he has made tracks from 11 of his albums available for download or streaming from his website RichSteele.com.

There is an authenticity to the music, not only in lyrics, but also in spirit. Rich isn’t just playing Rock, Punk, Country and Western, or the Sitar. He IS a Rocker, he IS a Punk, he IS a Cowboy, and he IS a blissed-out guru in a desert Shangri-la.

And frankly, we expected nothing less from a Hot Hero.
Annunziato in action as part of 212 (circa early 1980s) (photos courtesy Rich Annunziato).
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