Autograph was an American heavy metal band from Pasadena, California. They released several albums throughout the 1980s and are perhaps best-remembered today for their mid-1980s hit, "Turn Up the Radio."
Autograph began in late 1983 originally as a solo project for singer, songwriter & 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, and which has been described as a local legend, 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 Steve Isham, who had also 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 makeup. Richards' friendship with Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth 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. Plunkett chose the name "Autograph" for the band, having been inspired by hearing Def Leppard's similarly titled song, "Photograph," on the radio. 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. Keni Richards then played the demo for Roth, who subsequently invited the band to open for Van Halen on their 1984 tour. 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.
Sign In Please and "Turn Up the Radio"
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 album later went platinum. 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.
That's The Stuff
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.
Loud and Clear
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.
Leaving RCA, The Breakup, and Their Lasting Presence On Television
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 late 1988 the band once again toured briefly with new drummer Eddie Cross and continued to sporadically record. The band would eventually be offered a new deal with Epic in 1989, but negotiations fell through at the last minute.
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.
Though the group had disbanded, a few of their music videos (most commonly "Turn Up the Radio") continued to be played on music video channels and programs such as MTV's Headbangers Ball for several years after their initial debut. As that genre of music was still widely popular, every now and then a video from the first two albums would appear on TV, while videos from the their more modern "Loud and Clear" album appeared frequently between 1988 and 1990. However, with the sudden explosion of grunge music, their sound and look went out of style almost overnight, and the older videos in the pop metal/hard rock genre were neglected altogether in favor of the newer genre, which itself was replaced in popularity only a few years later by gangsta rap, hip-hop and R&B music. Thanks to the recent advent of channels such as VH1 Classic, several classic Autograph music videos can once again be seen today.
- As to the individual members
Steve Plunkett - When the original group disbanded in 1989, Plunkett became a staff writer and producer for All Nations Music, where he had over 170 of his songs released, including over 40 in movies like Rock Star, "Brave New Girl" (Britney Spears penned movie for ABC Family) and Gods and Monsters. Many artists have recorded his songs including Vixen, The Go-Go's, and Marc Anthony and Edgar Winter. He has also produced artists such as Cyndi Lauper, Loretta Lynn, Graham Nash and En Vogue. He wrote and performed the theme song for the WB television series 7th Heaven, as well as several other theme songs for shows such as Summerland, Kojak, and Queen of Swords which featured "Behind the Mask" performed by Jose Feliciano. Steve has had his original songs in hundreds of TV shows like "Beverly Hills 90210", Melrose Place", "Sex and the City" and "The Simpsons."
He recorded a solo album titled My Attitude shortly after the breakup that was released in 1991. The album contained power ballads and also featured the band's hit song "Turn Up The Radio"
In 1997, he released an album of previously unreleased Autograph material - mostly the music recorded for the aborted 1989 fourth album - from 1988 to 1989 titled Missing Pieces. Also included on the album was the original demo version of "Turn Up the Radio," recorded in 1984 prior to their debut album, featuring a slightly different chorus. This album was well received by both older and newer fans. Plunkett would resurrect the name with a new lineup and slightly modified name - "Autograph v2.02" - in 2002, and the group released a new album titled Buzz the following spring. The new band, however, stopped touring and stopped playing in 2005. Plunkett continues to work on music based projects in Los Angeles and with his own publishing company Plunksongs (www.Plunksongs.com).
Steve Lynch - The original lead guitarist has been a guitar teacher for several years, schooling students in his virtuosic signature 8-finger "hammer-on" guitar technique. He has also published several books on his guitar styles as well as an instructional video that has been a top seller worldwide. He has conducted 325 'guitar clinics' in 18 countries. He eventually formed another band named Network 23 and the album by the same name was released in 2004, has been re-mastered, and is now available online at several sites, including cdbaby.com and through his personal website stevelynch.info. He currently owns a music school in the Seattle area and has just completed a new teaching website called lynchlicks.com that went online in 2009. Steve's website claimed he was working on a new solo album that would have been released in 2007 but has not surfaced yet. It was to be an almost instrumental album of rock music.
Randy Rand - The former bassist began a career in leather-making, establishing an international importing/exporting shop that sells his own hand-crafted leather products, and even working with Harley Davidson for a time. According to Autograph's now-defunct "Turn Up the Web!" website, he has a daughter named Sterling Knight who has become a relatively well-known model in Italy.
Keni Richards - The drummer went on to work with the band Dirty White Boy, but later left the music business due to a chronic back problem he has had for several years. Despite this, he has continued his passion for music and art, publicly saying he has no regrets. He also does songwriting even after the band broke up and continues this up to this day.
Steve Isham - The keyboardist joined up with Gary Moon, who later replaced Jack Blades in the band Night Ranger to form The Pack, and he later went on to tour as the drummer for Vince Neil's solo act. Remaining active in the music business throughout the ensuing years, Isham passed away on December 9, 2008 at the age of 56 after battling liver cancer.
""Eddie Cross"" - The drummer on the 1989 tour and the new tracks on the Missing Pieces CD played briefly with several L.A. bands, including Bad Boys [with former members of Quiet Riot], Vigilante Man [with Guns 'n' Roses co-writer West Arkeen] and Gilby Clarke [who later joined Guns 'n' Roses]. In 1991, Eddie went to law school in Orange County, California and now practices construction and business law in Palm Desert, California.
Tributes and later accolades
- "Turn Up the Radio" appeared in the 2002 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (additionally with "All I'm Gonna Take" in the 2006 prequel Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories), playing on the video game's rock station V-Rock, and was also used in the 2010 video game Alpha Protocol as incidental music during a boss fight against an 1980s-obsessed Russian mafioso.
- In 2009 VH1 included "Turn Up the Radio" on its list of "The 100 Greatest Rock Songs".
- On VH-1's "100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs," the public voted "Turn Up The Radio" number 93 on the list.
- Steve Plunkett - vocals, guitar, keyboards (1983-1989)
- Steve Lynch - guitar (1983-1989)
- Randy Rand - bass (1983-1989)
- Steven Isham - keyboards (1983-1989)
- Keni Richards - drums (1983-1988)
- Eddie Cross - drums (1988–1989)
- T. J. Helmerich - guitar (2002-2003)
- Lance Morrison - bass (2002-2003)
- Matt Laug - drums (2002-2003)
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