April 8, 2017 – Keni Richards was born in 1956 in Des Moines, Iowa but spent his high school years Village Park California. As a youth he learned to play the piano and picked up the drums.
Keni Richards on how it all started:
I was working with A&M for a band called The TUBES at the time and had played with Steve Plunkett (Autograph singer) in a band around 1980 called John Doe. We had not been a part of that whole Gazarris, Whisky club thing going on with all the metal bands. We did however, have a gig working on a demo at Record Plant with Andy Johns (Led Zeppelin) and we were really invested in that. I had gotten an invitation from my good friend then and jogging buddy David Lee Roth to go out on the road with him in 1984…..to just go out and party basically and I explained to him that I couldn’t and I had this gig doing a demo and that was it. The next day I go down to The Troubadour club with Dave and he goes hey I got a surprise for you, Edward’s on the phone for you. So I get on the phone with Eddie Van Halen and he’s like “Hey, we need a T-shirt band” and of course I’m like “Well, what’s a T-shirt band” and Eddie Van Halen’s like “It’s a band that goes out on the road with us and people boo you cuz they don’t like you and they go buy one of our t-shirts” (laughs).
So I said to myself and David “Well, that’s an interesting concept”. So we go out and get a Winnebago and take them up on their offer to open the 1984 tour. Funny thing happens, five months later we’re signing a multi-million dollar record deal with RCA after we play the gig at Madison Square Garden. The CEO who signed us was Jose Menendez who was the head of RCA Records, later killed by his sons, Lyle and Eric….the Menendez brothers.
Rather than a one man Steve Plunkett show, Autograph began in late 1983 as a complete 5 piece band, Songwriter and guitarist Steve Plunkett, who had recently left the band Silver Condor. Plunkett then began playing and recording his own material with a group of his musician friends, most of whom had previously played with him in other bands.
On lead guitar was Steve Lynch, who had played with Plunkett in the band Looker.
Bassist Randy Rand knew Plunkett from their days together in Wolfgang, a prominent club band in Pasadena, California that has been described as a local legend, and of which Kevin Dubrow (lead singer of Quiet Riot) once said, “They smoked us all… they got a better response than us and Van Halen”.
Keyboardist Steven Isham, who had earlier played with mutual acquaintance Holly Penfield, was brought in to give the fledgling band a more modern sound. Drummer Keni Richards, an old bandmate with Plunkett from John Doe rounded out the band’s lineup.
But if not for Keni Richards’ friendship with Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth, Autograph would probably never have taken off the way they did in the mid 1980s. He was instrumental in leading to Autograph’s big break the following year.
Quickly, this group of musicians began playing and recording together, taking the form of an actual band. Agin contrary to history Plunkett did not chose the name “Autograph” for the band; it was a process of elimination and all band members agreed on the name that stuck.
They recorded their first rough demos in late 1983, but played them only for a few close friends. One of these friends was Andy Johns, a famous record producer who Steve Plunkett had met while helping singer Joe Cerisano produce Silver Condor’s second album Trouble At Home. Johns invited the band to re-record and upgrade those demos at the world-famous Record Plant Studios for free under his guidance.
History reports that Keni Richards then played the demo for Roth, who subsequently invited the band to open for Van Halen on their 1984 tour. This is apparently just another bullshit story that is so often produced in rock and roll. Here is Keni Richards with his take on things:
That never happened. We were DOING a demo but it wasn’t finished and David hadn’t heard it. Eddie just told us he “needed a t-shirt band” and we went out. There was no record label, no management, nothing…..boom, I go from being friends with Dave and doing my nameless recording gig to opening the BIGGEST tour in the world (laughs). That’s the truth and any other version is bullshit, there was no other member of Autograph that was tight with Dave and running with Dave, bicycling to clubs with hoods on so he wouldn’t be recognized when we went places, spending quiet time talking with Dave about life. For what it’s worth it was me and it wasn’t because I handed the demo to Dave, that was just the fly by the seat of the pants way Van Halen operated. It was crazy and amazing. You know what else Dave did? The night we got signed at Madison Square Garden he climbed up on the balance and had his roadie cover him so nobody could see him and said into my ear “Mission Accomplished” while we were playing, meaning he helped us get a record deal. That’s how it went down and it WAS true and noone else in the band can take credit for getting that deal other than the fact that they were GREAT musicians and played great songs. Randy (Rand, bassist) knows that’s what happened and Steve Lynch (guitarist) does too and we were NOT Steve Plunkett’s “SIDE” men…..we were a BAND!
The band rose to prominence opening for Van Halen, ultimately playing 48 shows, an act of distinction for an unsigned band. Due to their rising popularity, Autograph soon signed a contract with RCA Records following a performance at Madison Square Garden in New York City in late 1984.
The band’s debut album, Sign In Please, was completed and released in October of that year, but did not make an appearance on any record charts until January 1985. The album contains the band’s only major hit and now signature song, “Turn Up the Radio.” The song itself was one of the last ones recorded for the album, and the band members were initially very lukewarm toward it. However, the tune would become a top-30 hit, pushing album sales past the gold album mark (500,000 copies sold). The song was featured in an episode of “Miami Vice” (entitled “Little Prince”) and was also leased out to numerous other films, even further elevating the song’s popularity. Lynch’s guitar work in “Turn Up The Radio”, featuring a distinctive two-handed, fretboard-tapping technique, won him the “Guitar Solo of the Year” award from Guitar Player magazine in 1985.
“Send Her to Me” was released as a follow-up single, though its success paled in comparison to the massive first hit. Other songs from the Sign in Please album, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend Isn’t Me” and “Deep End,” along with “Take No Prisoners,” which would soon appear on the band’s follow-up album, were featured in the 1985 film Secret Admirer, starring C. Thomas Howell, Kelly Preston, Corey Haim, Lori Loughlin and Casey Siemaszko.
The band also recorded a song titled “You Can’t Hide From the Beast Inside” for the film Fright Night.
A second album, That’s the Stuff, was quickly recorded and released in the fall of 1985, and the group went on tour in support of several other bands, including Mötley Crüe and Heart. Although record sales were disappointing in comparison to their first album, it still achieved near gold status. Supported by the single, “Blondes in Black Cars” and the title track, a minor-hit, it eventually peaked at No. 92 on the Billboard album charts. The band then recorded a song titled “Winning Is Everything” for the film Youngblood.
Autograph recorded a third album which took longer to record than the other two combined. Loud and Clear was released in the spring of 1987. The title song featured a music video with Ozzy Osbourne and Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe as extras. The band also made three appearances on “Headbangers Ball” in support of the album. In October, the band made a cameo in the film Like Father, Like Son, starring Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron. The first song featured was “Dance all Night,” which played briefly, and then they performed the song “She Never Looked That Good for Me” for the film, appearing in a brief cameo as themselves. Despite all three of these songs being released as singles, the album was not a big success, mostly due to lackluster support from the label, which was undergoing a major reconstruction.
The band left RCA Records in early 1988. Isham left the band to pursue other options but was not replaced, as the band felt they no longer needed keyboards and wanted to take a newer and heavier direction. The remaining members began recording a new album in 1988 which they hoped to release sometime the following year, but those plans never occurred due to lack of any type of label support.
Richards also left the band around this time. However, in early 1989 the band toured with new drummer Eddie Cross and continued to sporadically record. The band would eventually be offered a new deal with Epic in 1989, which they declined.
In their short time they created three albums of music, toured with several famous bands, including Mötley Crüe, Heart, Aerosmith, Ronnie James Dio, Van Halen, Bryan Adams, and Whitesnake, but in the end could not sustain their own career.
Disappointed, the remaining members disbanded in December 1989 after only some six years together.
After the demise of Dirty White Boy Keni Richards took a break from the music scene and underwent major corrective surgery for a chronic back problem. Later he returned to music but more in small, non-committal type projects and a bit of session work as well. As the years progressed he became more involved in painting a canvas and as one might surmise his paintings have been described as rhythmic and soul-stirring.
From an Interview:
Tell us how you made the transition from drumming to painting?
It’s a long story, not all good or “nice” story….It goes back to about 1994, I had been OUT of Autograph and in a band called Dirty White Boy with Earl Slick (David Bowie guitarist). I had neck surgery and the pain medications I had been taking were opiates which eventually led me to the wonderful world of heroin. I went on a really nasty heroin run that was leading me right to my bottom. I had pawned all my gold records, everything, and was homeless. An organization called M.A.P. Found me in 1997 and took me to a hospital where I was treated by my addictions doctor, Dr. Drew Pinsky. I was eighteen days into coming off heroin when I happened upon the little art room and they had some brown paper and some ketchup bottles of paint and I ended up messing around with chopsticks and finger painting and did this thing. I didn’t know anything about painting and didn’t consider it to be anything at all. The next day, Dr. Drew said “Who did this?” and I said me and that just started me down this path.
In 2013 he was even involved in an Autograph revival effort, but was fired from it just a bit later. For anyone reading his Facebook entries during 2015, he was excited about his painting and loved his daughter and his animals, living out in the desert, even though there was melancholy about his divorce from the love of his life.
Sadly Keni Richards died on April 8, 2017, reportedly in a drug-related homicide. There has not been any updates in the investigation since.
Keni’s friend and initial suspect Matt Wilkinson stated: “My daughter, my friend, and I were helping Keni clean his yard for a few weeks before the murder happened. We started helping him out with food too, because we just genuinely loved the dude and would have helped him, anyway. Keni always told us that people were listening to him and what we were saying to him constantly. He also mentioned that “they” wanted his truck. Keni had been feeling down for a while and he immediately loved being around us because we loved being around him. He always mentioned that he felt irrelevant and that he didn’t have many fans anymore. We had decided to throw a surprise party for him on Saturday, April 8, 2017. The day of the party, my daughter, my friend, and I went over to his house and gave him and his dog, Beatrice, a couple of sandwiches we had bought them for breakfast. That was around 9:30 in the morning. We left them at his house and went back into town to take care of some other things such as my daughter needed to change clothes and we wanted to make sure we had everything ready for later that night.
At around 7:50 that night, my friend and I went to Keni‘s house to get him ready. When I went into his house, it was hard to see anything because he wasn’t a fan of direct lighting unless we was painting. I could see him laying on his bed but he wasn’t moving. Keni‘s dog Beatrice was laying next to his body. We tried to call her over, but she wouldn’t move. I went over to Keni‘s bed, shook his leg, and it was as cold as ice. I checked his pulse and he was dead. I went outside to tell my friend to call 911 even though I knew that he was dead already. I went back in and tried to give him CPR. I checked his pulse again and realized there was no helping him. I was upset and thought that he had overdosed, so I slapped his stomach. That’s when I realized there was blood all over his stomach, and enough of it to get all over my left hand. I went back outside. My friends were still in shock, so I grabbed the phone and called 911.
Dean, another one of Richards‘ close friends during the last few years of his life, stated as follows about Richards and the last few days prior to his death: “I had been friends with Keni Richards for few years. In the last year prior to Richards‘ death, we talked all the time. He was working on a book and painting. He was falling on hard times and needed some help. I was there for him. He left me some disturbing messages that people were watching him and I told him he needed to call the police but he would not do that. So he just lived on the edge but he was very worried because he said people were breaking into his home.
I was trying to get him to move out here in Louisiana were I live. I had a drum kit that I was going to give him and he was trying to get back into playing. After we talked, four days went by that I did not heard from him. I was worried so kept calling him — no answer. Later that night, I got a call saying that he was found shot in his home and had passed away. I could not believe it. When I found out about his death, I contacted his former band member Steve Lynch who has been a great friend to me and staying in touch. Steve [Lynch] and Simon Daniels have been great and I wish them all the best.
Keni was a great guy. He was dealing with depression. He was going to come out here and move, and you know, this happened and there are no answers. Keni wanted me to post something on Facebook and I never did. He wanted to know if the fans really cared about him and loved him. He said that he didn’t really think that he made a difference in people’s lives. He was struggling with that and wanted me to find out how many people really cared about him and what he meant to them. He shared with me some great stories about the Motley Crue tour and David Lee Roth, and you know, he had done a lot of things after Autograph.
I miss my friend all the time. I have so many messages [from him that] I still listen to today. I pray every day that they will find the people who did this. He was doing a painting for me before this happened. Miss you Keni! R.I.P. my friend. Much love to you and your family.”
There is a story on Huffington Post that grabbed me into trying to find out more. The writer is as sad and forlorn as I am with this tragic outcome of what was a human life. I never knew Keni Richards, not as a musician nor an artist. I only vaguely remebered a glam metal band called Autograph, that made it a couple of rungs up the ladder of stardom in the 1980s. I’m not even upbeat about their music. Nor can I relate to Keni Richards’ drug addictions. Yet I can relate to this story, written by a woman who knew him, who knew him beyond the surface of social profiling and is desperately frustrated about how this man has just vanished into the carelessness of the world we live in.