Rock and Roll Heaven

Metal Health

My friend Kevin DuBrow, lead singer of Quiet Riot, never grew up

Clownish and geeky to the end.

Kevin DuBrow, lead singer of the heavy metal band Quiet Riot, is dead. It was a cocaine overdose on November 19, 2007 in Las Vegas, and no one found him for six days.

A few months earlier, in August of 2007, I was looking through the music listings in my local paper and saw that Quiet Riot was headlining a Heavy Metal Festival in a club I never heard of two towns away. On a lark I called Kevin’s management and left my former name, the one Kevin knew, and my number.

Kevin called the next day. He was at a sound check and there was a lot of background noise. I held my free hand to my ear and stepped out on the porch. I still couldn’t make out what he was saying. He was yelling wildly about what was going on around him while interrupting himself to talk to other people. Then he calmed down a moment, said it was good to hear from me, and once again launched into a rapid-fire description, this time of his house in Las Vegas and his beautiful girlfriends.

“Kevin … Kevin …” I interrupted. “I can’t believe your career. It’s amazing!”

Kevin agreed. Screaming, “It’s FUCKING AMAZING!” into the phone.

I said, “I remember when you went to see that psychic and she told you you’d be a famous rock singer and you sold the drum set and took voice lessons.”

He laughed loud and raucously.

“Hey Frankie Banali just walked by. Remember him?” he yelled, then greeted Frankie loudly and was back on the phone. There was a pause in which I heard him breathing.

“Are you coming to my show?” he asked quietly in a tone that was almost like a child.

I paused. Uneasy. “Um, I’m not sure I can, Kevin. I’m supposed to go out of town. I’ll try to change my plans. I’ll call you back.” I lied.

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We hung up. My first thought was that he never grew up; my second thought, which I dismissed, was drugs. Kevin was the only one among us who never took drugs, never drank.

I stood on the porch for a long time, brows furrowed, biting my cuticles, pacing, not sure if I could handle seeing him.

Kevin and I met in 1972 when I was 15 and he was 17. We went to different high schools but we were both part of the same Mini Cooper-stealing gang (this was before the current Mini Cooper, when the car was a rarity and a favorite of British rock stars in the U.S.).

I hung around with these guys because I was drawn to their toughness, their juvenile delinquent status, their knowledge of everything British, and their willingness to “dine and dash,” while letting the girls go out to the van first. Kevin hung around with them, not to steal cars, but because he was consumed by British rock and these guys went to concerts, knew the bands, read the liner notes.

Kevin and I became fast friends. I liked his clownish personality; his upbeat energy – always ready for an adventure; he was funny, hyper, curious, and at heart, a kind and thoughtful person. He was nerdy though he’d never admit to that – his room and car were always clean and pants ironed; he didn’t like drugs or alcohol because he wanted to be alert, not out of it; and he was awkwardly tall, pale, and skinny.

My hobbies and interests were considered boyish although I was a feminine girl. I was athletic, bossy, and foul-mouthed. I’d make bets with guys over push-ups, and when I stood up and said, “Let’s get the fuck out of here,” other people stood up too. I was into foreign cars and British rock bands – and studied catalogues of the former and liner notes of the latter. I went to car shows at big arenas and the Whiskey A Go-Go to see bands, and started hanging out with them at the Hyatt House (aka the “Riot House”) on Sunset Boulevard.

Kevin and I had a friendship, sometimes a rivalry, over where band members got their start, who was the better musician, which line-up was the best, how a group’s sound differed from album to album, and any minutia we could find.

For a couple years we were inseparable. We’d talk on the phone for hours, make an emergency break-through if the others line was busy, drive around in Kevin’s car arguing, looking for places to hang out, going to concerts, hotel room parties, and eating late at night at Denny’s in Hollywood. And I loved that Kevin treated me like a guy friend, not a cute girl. (I remember once he told me about a girl he met who said she put lotion all over her body everyday after the shower. I said I did that too. He stared at me like he just realized I was female and didn’t say anything.)

We spent hours in record stores, both of us expert thieves at stealing records and expensive British import magazines like Melody Maker and New Music Express. He loved Steve Marriott of Humble Pie, and hung on every detail of his life and music. When he belted out Humble Pie refrains over and over, I punched him in the arm and told him to shut up because he was driving me crazy and didn’t know how to sing.

After Kevin went to the psychic who told him he would be a singer, and sold his drums to take voice lessons, he started doing gigs. I drove with him from the Valley all the way out to a hall in Orange County where his band was one in a lineup of many. The hall was packed.

Kevin walked out on stage in his short, tight striped shirt, skinny pasty stomach exposed; a billowing scarf around his neck; high-waisted pant; mullet-like hair; and Capezio dance shoes – his uniform at the time. He grabbed the mic stand and sang "30 Days in the Hole" by Humble Pie.

He did a damn good version of Steve Marriott. But more than anything he was confident like I’d never seen before. He smiled at the audience, held out his hand to girls in front, made funny quips between songs, threw back his head and stamped his foot. I’d never seen Kevin so relaxed, so right where he belonged. The audience loved him. I stood in the back, arms crossed, grinning.

Soon after that concert, our friendship slowed down. We moved on from British rock. He got into heavy metal; I got into punk. He went on to form Quiet Riot. In 1983, his album "Metal Health" was the first time a U.S. debut heavy metal album went #1 on the Billboard charts. I lived in London for a year and got into the music business when I returned. I always hated heavy metal and he had no interest in punk or New Wave. The next time we spoke was 2007.

After his death I looked at concert footage of him online. He never changed. He smiled through a whole show, he was clownish, geeky to the end, and he clearly loved what he was doing. We used to say we’d “live fast and die young.” Even though Kevin died at 52, he never grew up.

Tags: music