Carlos Cavazo was at the epicenter of the ’80s metal scene. He undertook the daunting task of replacing Randy Rhoads in Quiet Riot, when Rhoads left to join Ozzy Osbourne. Cavazo proceeded to lead that band, alongside stentorian singer Kevin DuBrow, to the heights of popularity, with hits like “Bang Your Head (Metal Health),” “The Wild and the Young” and the Slade covers, “Cum on Feel the Noize” and “Mama Weer All Crazee Now.” In 2008, he joined another legendary metal outfit, Ratt. The band released their first Cavazo/DeMartini-fueled album, Infestation, in April and have hit the road with a massive tour to support it. We caught up with Carlos on a rare day off in rain-drenched Cleveland.
It was a pretty surprising development, at least from the outside, when you joined Ratt a couple of years ago. How did it all come about?
Actually, Warren DeMartini ran into Vinnie Appice at a club in Hollywood — and Warren had known that I’d been playing with Vinnie off and on in different projects — and he asked what I had been up to. He got my number from Vinnie, and he called me. He had my number for about a year before he called me; I guess the timing just wasn’t right yet. He called me up one day, out of the blue, and I had missed his call and then I got the message, “Can you give me a call if you have a chance?” And I’m thinking either there’s a big party in town or they are looking for a guitar player and it ended up being the latter. I went down, and I knew they were working with a couple of people, as well, and I went in there and they liked what I did and it worked out.
My assumption, when I first heard the story, was that Warren must have left the band, because I assumed that, if you were going to Ratt, it was to be the lead guy. So, what are the roles in this band in terms of lead playing?
Oh, I play 50 percent of it, at least. Live, it’s more Warren, because a lot of the older songs he did the solos on. So he does those because it’s his sound. But on the new record, it’s pretty much a 50-50 split.
Is that an adjustment for them? I mean, Warren was always more the lead player in the band. Did he have to adjust?
He encourages me to play more. He wants me to play more.
How much of an adjustment was it for you to be in a two-guitar band?
Ah, you know, I’ll tell you, I’ve played with other guitar players in the past, in different projects, and it really wasn’t that much of an adjustment. Actually, a bigger adjustment was my sound. I’ve been using more of a modern set-up with digital processing kind of sound and these guys just hook into a couple of pedals (and then straight) into an amp. So I adapted to that, which I’ve done before. I prefer that myself. It’s more of a natural sound. And as far as our playing, mine and Warren’s styles are very similar in many ways and we were influenced by some of the same guitar players; so, it just kind of fell into place and it felt natural.
Who are some of those guitar players you two have in common?
Oh, Michael Schenker, Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore. Alvin Lee. God, there’s many that we like. And then, we like people like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, you know, guitar players like those guys. Those guys are amazing. We’re influenced by wide a variety of people. We also listen to classical guitar players. I like the Gipsy Kings. Me and Warren are both into classical and flamenco stuff.
I saw an interview where you guys were talking about that. I thought you were kidding with each other, but—
Oh, no. I’ve been playing flamenco all my life and classical guitar. I love it. I would consider a career doing that one day.
Well, do you actually have plans for that? To make a record?
Actually, I’ve done many, many recordings over at Warren’s house. He wants to produce an album of me doing that. We kid around about doing that one day. You know, the rock and roll keeps you so busy, so I keep doing this. And I make really good money in it, so to all of a sudden pursue a classical career might be tough when I haven’t been doing it most of my life, you know?
Playing on stage together every night or sitting in the studio and hunkering down for, like, a year and a half together — what do you guys learn from playing with each other? Are you still learning about the guitar?
Oh, yeah. I learn things from everybody I play with. Just from the way they approach their instrument to the way they conduct themselves on the road, there’s so many things to learn from people. There really is. I learn things every day, I feel, from everybody.
Tell me about the recording of Infestation, what went into it. Were you immediately a full-fledged member of the band and participating equally? How did that work?
Yeah, everybody brought in a few songs each, like three of four songs, and we picked the best songs to make a great album. Actually, when we recorded the record, we did it in Virginia at the producer’s studio. He had a vacation home made into a studio on the beach. And we’re talking in the middle of nowhere. And that’s the first time we had all done any kind of recording outside of our hometown. The first record we did it like that. And it was kind of interesting because we were able to kind of get away from all the pressures of everyday life, hanging around the house, and we were able to concentrate solely on the recordings and the writing of the record. So I think it was a plus for us to do it that way.
The first single, “Best of Me,” totally sounds like Out of the Cellar-era Ratt. It sounds like your approach was to dial in to those things that made this band famous in the first place. Was that a conscious effort or was it just the nature of the song?
I don’t know. That’s a song I brought into the band, believe it or not.
Yeah. I brought the music in and Stephen [Pearcy] wrote the lyrics. And I don’t know how that happened. Just a riff I came up with, and I just got lucky. But, yeah, I guess it does sound like an old Ratt song.
It’s a great tune.
Oh, yeah. That was our intention. We wanted to write songs that sound like older Ratt style, but with new great songs. Our intention was to also write songs that would stand the test of time, so they will be playing them 20 years from now, like our older material. I’m hoping that’s the case.
Well, that’s always been the thing, I think, that set Ratt and Quiet Riot above a lot of the other bands of — not just that era — but lots of other bands. It’s that there’s a sense of melody, a sense of writing a hook. Even though it’s guitars and heavy drums and everything, they’re hook-laden songs. You remember them.
Are you mixing any Quiet Riot material in on the tour?
Oh, no. Not really.
Is that something you’re interested in?
I don’t know if I would really want to that. Not that I dislike Quiet Riot, but it’s a different time now. I don’t regret anything we did with Quiet Riot. I love that band. I was hoping one day we could be able to do something together again. Unfortunately, with the passing of Kevin, that would never obviously happen. But we jam on Quiet Riot some during sound checks and things like that. And one time, we did a performance. Me and Warren did a performance at the NAMM show and we played “Bang Your Head.” Robert Mason sang it and a different drummer was playing, too. But I don’t think Ratt would ever play a — I can’t ever see that happening. At least, not right now.
What was that scene like in the mid-’80s? Was there camaraderie among those bands? Was there a gunslinger mentality?
You know, everybody was friends. I think the press made it look like we hated each other. I mean, I’ve known these guys all of my life, since I was in my 20s. And oddly enough, I was friends with Robbin Crosby before I knew any of these guys. We used to hang out. He was the first guy in the band that I knew. Then I hung out with Stephen after that. I don’t think I ever met Warren until like the ’90s. I knew the guys in Mötley Crüe, Dokken… I hang out with all those guys. We were all friends. It’s just made to look a certain way in the press. You know, that battle against each other.
You’ve been playing Flying Vs a lot lately. How long have you been playing Gibsons?
The first time I got a Gibson was in, probably, the early ’70s, when I was about 15 or 16 years old. I bought it for $100. It was a double cutaway Les Paul Junior. A red one. And I loved that guitar. I bought it from a good friend of mine. We used to always trade and sell each other guitars back then. And that’s the first Gibson I had, and I’ve been sold ever since. And I started using Vs in Quiet Riot in the early ’80s. I acquired a V from some guy in Denver, Colorado, on the road. He sold it to me, that cream-colored one from the early ’80s. And I still have that V, actually. It almost became my trademark. Everybody liked me playing a V. Actually, one day, I came in with Ratt and I brought in a V and they all said, “Oh, I love you playing that guitar. Play that from now on.” So I’ve been using the Vs a lot with Ratt now.
They’re obviously visually striking. In terms of sound, though, what do the Flying Vs give you?
I like the sound of that guitar. It just gives you a solid rhythm foundation. I know Warren uses the bolt-on (neck) guitars and they sound great, too, but it’s a different kind of sound. And with the Gibson in there, it gives it that good solid foundation that kind of matches the bass tone. It’s thicker and just sits on the track good. Actually, I used my black Flying V for recording all the tracks on the record.
What are your hopes for this band? I mean, are you in Ratt for life or do you have other ambitions? Where would you like to be in, say, five years?
I would love to still be in Ratt and continuing to release records and touring the world. We love touring. We love being out here and making music and seeing the people come down and rockin’ out with us. That’s the biggest thrill in this business is to see the people loving what you do. That just makes you feel good. It’s almost better than money, believe it or not. But I still work with other people, as well, and I have other projects I do sometimes. I would still love to be working with Ratt without a doubt and doing other things as well, you know? Do as much as I can do.