“It was crazy hanging out with him. It seemed that women and trouble followed him wherever he went.” - Jack Starr on Rhett Forrester
I remember people used to refer to Rhett Forrester as the “One-lunged rocker”, but I can’t find any evidence that he only had one lung. Maybe that was an apocryphal story, one of the many tall-tales surrounding the former Riot singer, but honestly, the dude was so tough he could’ve still hit those high notes with no lungs at all. Eighties metal was littered with gonzo frontmen, from sex-changers (King Kobra) to psychopathic killers (NME), but few lived the rock n’ roll lifestyle with as much grit and grace as Forrester, and with the possible exception of the Four Horsemen’s Frank Starr (also RIP), I don’t know if anybody was as battle-hardened and street-ready as this motherfucker. Rhett Forrester would eat Glenn Danzig for breakfast and use his bones for toothpicks.
The son of a ballroom dance instructor (preacher would’ve been better, but whatever), the Georgia-born and hell-bound singer bounced around the southern states in a band called Hitman before scoring the lead spot in NY hard rockers Riot when their original singer, Guy Speranza, found Jesus and split in 1982. Forrester, a big fan of Elvis’s gospel years, had a little Jesus in him as well, but not enough to stop all his drinking and whoring. Riot recorded the seminal Restless Breed and the less-seminal but still solid Born in America records with Forrester. Unfortunately the band was already on the wane at that point. Riot’s long and winding history is so full of blunders and bad moves that it’s hard to pinpoint a pivotal moment when everything went wrong. It’s more of a forty-year downward spiral, really, and Forrester just got caught in the undertow. The band effectively ended in ’84 with a litany of explanations/excuses ranging from managerial woes to Forrester’s “erratic” road behavior, i.e. the man knew how to have a good goddamn time. So that was that.
A couple months later, Virgin Steele guitarist Jack Starr either left or got tossed out of his own band. I mean, who knows? Nobody got out of the 80s unscathed, man. Starr decided to release a solo album, as you do, and was looking around for a singer. Riot was dead, Rhett was suddenly available. Starr played a new jam called Concrete Warrior to him over the phone. Essentially a Street Fighting Man redux, Forrester found the song spectacularly autobiographical. Naturally, he was in. And so, in 1984, we get Out of the Darkness, by Jack Starr (featuring Rhett Forrester). Forrester bashed most of the songs out in one take, often with a bottle of Jack Daniels in his hand. Starr was a little freaked out by the booze and the endless ebb and flow of nubile women circling around his singer, but what the hell, he got the job done. That album’s a bit of a wreck, but it got them to Europe, where the whole thing went to hell. They were slated to play a festival in France, but it was promoted as a Virgin Steele gig, and it wasn’t. Seems pretty minor now, but apparently it was a big enough deal to break up the band at the time. Forrester stayed in France, called up Aldo Nova’s guitarist, and recorded his first solo record, Gone With the Wind. You know, because he’s Rhett Forrester. Like Rhett Butler. It’s funny. Later on it would seem kinda prophetic, but everything does in hindsight.
Gone With the Wind is a lot more exciting in theory than in practice. I mean, here we have an authentic rock n’ roll wildman unleashed from the bonds of a guitar-boss for the first time. Literally anything could happen. This might be a fucking jazz record for all we know. Except it isn’t. The sobering truth is that it’s pretty average, even as solo third-tier metal singer vanity projects go. It’s low-balling 80’s flash metal with a hunt of southern-snarl. Most of the songs – Movin’ In For the Kill, Assume the Position, Cranky Boy, Boys Wanna Fight – are chest-thumping testosterone garglers. The aptly titled Voyage To Nowhere is a mid-tempo prog-slog, and the proceedings end with a seriously woozy cover of the Stones’ Live With Me. I wanna love it, but I don’t love it. Nobody does, really. The title track’s pretty cool, at least. It sounds like a tank driving through your living room.
The following year, Forrester took part in the Thrasher project, an-all star metal gang-bang featuring members of The Rods, TKO, Exciter, Talas, Anthrax, Black Lace, and Blue Cheer, where he was billed as “The Country Gentleman”. That, I do love. The results can be found on the Super Session ’85 album. That was really Forrester’s last high-profile gig. He did another so-so solo record in 1988 and spent the next few years recording demos with various bands, trying to get back into the groove. In January 1994, some fucker tried to carjack Forrester on the street in Atlanta. Rhett decided to go down fighting and was shot to death. He was 37.
Forrester never made a truly great album – he was probably too busy punching dudes and bedding starlets to really hunker down on one project and hammer it into shape – but you can cherry-pick the best of his solo stuff, plus half a dozen Riot tracks, Concrete Warrior from the Jack Starr record and the Thrasher sessions and bang out one seriously heavy greatest hits package. But really, the dude was never about hits anyway, he was about sweat, leather, and adrenaline. He was a road warrior and a street fighter and they just don’t make ‘em like him anymore. And that’s a shame, because rock n’ roll needs more Rhett Forresters. Nobody in fucking Coldplay is gonna wreck their motorcycle on the way to a gig, make the goddamn show on time, and then top the night off with a bar fight. Rhett pulled that kinda shit off on a nightly basis. For decades. RIP, brother. You were the real deal.
Next: Shotgun Messiah go half-cocked (but, surprisingly, don’t blow it)