Richie is also a businessman and entrepreneur. He is the founder and owner of Onori International. His company recently entered into a partnership with US Music Corp. (maker of several iconic brands, including Washburn Guitars and Marshall Amplifiers) to release the new Cowless brand of guitar straps and gig bags.
After the jam-packed NAMM Show in Anaheim, California, Chuck Marshall of National Rock Review caught up with Richie Onori over the phone.
Richie, its great to talk with you. Funny thing is that I actually own a one of your guitar straps!
â€œI love ya! Which one do you have?â€
I have the 3 inch black leather, no padding. A very nice leather strap that feels good and looks nice too. The big news coming out of NAMM seems to be your partnership with US Music. How did that come about?
â€œAfter 10 years of developing my company, we were going direct to the stores. It was getting difficult to deal with given our product line is wide. So I asked someone in my company to start contacting distributors.
Iâ€™d never gone with distributors before. Mostly you have to give up a lot of percentage points once a distributor gets involved and it can get pretty disbursed. I’d pretty much stuck to my guns and went direct.
But, I’d gotten to the point where I thought we should start looking for a strategic partner. I went to quite a variety of distributors.
We approached Barry Ryan at US Music Corp. about 6 or 7 months ago. What happened is that someone that had been working for me, called Barry at US Music looking for a job. Barry didnâ€™t have a job for him, but asked â€œWhatâ€™s going on with that Onori company?â€ One thing led to the next and I flew out there on January 2nd and I did a full presentation in Chicago. I showed them my new product, which is pretty amazing. Iâ€™m not sure if they mentioned, Iâ€™ve got a new product, which looks like leather and feels like leatherâ€
Is that the new Cowless line?
â€œExactly! So I made the presentation. It went back and forth; we had NAMM approaching quickly and the deal went down. I’m thrilledâ€
That is great. That was literally days before NAMM.
â€œYeah. Everyone got really excited about the product line. Gil Soucy (US Music â€“ Director of Marketing) just couldn’t believe the whole â€œCowlessâ€ thing. So they (US Music) did a whole due diligence review very quickly to make sure it would be ready to preview at NAMM. Itâ€™s really the first accessory line that they’ve done, so it really was a perfect fit.â€
So tell me a bit more about this new Cowless line?
â€œMercedes is using this a lot. Technology has changed so much in the last two years that you can really get a product that looks like leather and feels like leather. I got the samples in and when I realized how great it was, I had to come up with the right name.â€
I love the brand and the logo is cool too!
(laughs) â€œThank you. You gotta do something tongue in cheek, so that people get it. Now, anyone can source this stuff out. I think weâ€™ve got some proprietary product here. Itâ€™s all about branding and what popped into my mind was â€œCowlessâ€. To my surprise, the name had never been used.â€
That is surprising. The logo is great and would be nice on shirts too!
â€œYeah, that is what everyone is telling me! This is only the beginning. We have Cowless.com now; guitar straps and gig bags. But you can imagine anything made with leather and with that logo.â€
Are the Cowless products available now?
â€œI showed at NAMM to rave success. The reason I got into this is that I wasn’t making a lot of margins on the leather anymore. Leathers have gone up. You look at these other strap companies including mine, the cost keeps going up and unfortunately musicians canâ€™t afford it. Not to mention that there are so many vegans, and so many people that donâ€™t want to hurt animals as well. So the combination of musicians that canâ€™t afford a $50 or $60 dollar strap along with animal aware folks led to this line.
We showed at NAMM and its been phenomenal. People flipped on it. It was a great NAMM show.â€
Great! Were there any other highlights for you at NAMM?
â€œWell, I have the Albion product.â€
Yes, how was that being received?
â€œIts good. We have amazing amps. All designed by Steve Grindrod who was the designer for Marshall for all amps after 1973. So Albion is his baby, and they are amazing. You get Marshall and Vox sounds; the whole ball of wax. The new Gulfstream are phenomenal (note: hand-wired 15 and 30 watt heads) with a lot of pro players using them now.â€
Any other highlights from NAMM?
â€œWeâ€™ll, I had three concerts in the middle of the whole show. I did three shows with Uli Jon Roth. Did Thursday night at the Whiskey. Kirk Hammett came to the show and came back stage. He is a huge Uli Roth fan.
I had sixteen songs to learn in the middle of NAMM. The drummer for the Scorpions couldn’t do it at the last minute, so I got the call.
So that first night we played at that Whiskey thing. Then the second night, we played at Maloneâ€™s when Vinnie Appice and the Dio guys opened the show. Vinnie Paul from Pantera was there, so it was an interesting crowd. Then the third night, we played a show in San Diego. That was great too. Iâ€™m a little burned out to say the least.â€
Sounds like a great way to spend NAMM!
â€œI was going to bed at 3:30 and getting up at 7:30, all while launching the US Music Corp thing. It was a stretch, but I’m glad I did everything.â€
Since you have so many different things going on with your company and playing music, what facet are you most passionate about?
Itâ€™s hard to differentiate everything. All of the dots connect. Bottom line, without business in todayâ€™s recording and music industry, itâ€™s nice to have the funding and power to do what you want to do.
I look at it as targets. I did â€œIn The Name of Freedomâ€. Iâ€™m very passionate about whatâ€™s going on in the world and I like to make my statement with that. That is something I will continue to do in the future.
I love the band Sweet that I play in. We are getting ready to do a bunch of dates coming up.â€
Where are you planning on touring? US, Europe?
â€œWe mainly do US and Canada. Last year, we did some big festivals with Slash.
I love Sweet music, I love Heaven and Earth, because its really hard rock music. I like playing with Uli, because that is heavy. I like my bluesy oriented stuff. You know, I love playing music. I like it all. Iâ€™m passionate about life. If anything I’d say, my â€œIn The Name of Freedomâ€ is something that is closest to my heart.â€
What was the first tune you tried to learn?
â€œI tried to learn â€œWipe-Outâ€â€
Yeah, that has some great drums
â€œI actually started out as dancer. My mom was a well-known dancer and she got me into dance and tap. Next thing you know I’m beating on cans. Then they got me my drum set when I was 11 and I was off and running. I became addicted to drums.â€
What kind of drums are you playing, Tama, Ludwig?
â€œIâ€™ve been with DW. Iâ€™ve endorsed them for 20 years now. I just got a new cherry wood kit that is amazing.â€
I thought I read that you also have your own studio?
â€œYeah, my two records were cut here as well as Heaven and Earth. We’ve also recently cut some stuff with Sweet.â€
Do you record analog or digital?
â€œWe use both. Its something called CLASP. Basically it syncs up with a tape machine; Itâ€™s best of both worlds. It transfers the analog tape into Pro Tools. You get the editing capability of Pro Tools with analog sound.â€
I’m curious what your first concert was?
â€œLetâ€™s see, I was pretty young at the time. I went to a concert and it was called Newport 69, in 1969. I saw Jimi Hendrix, Spirit, The Rascals, Joe Cocker, and Jethro Tull. It was a three-day event. It was about 2 blocks from where I lived in the San Fernando Valley. Hendrix flipped me the peace sign, so Hendrix anointed me.â€
Back to your music, what inspires you when you write music?
â€œWhatâ€™s going on around me at the time. I express myself through whatâ€™s happening. If Iâ€™m going through some troubled times, I’ll incorporate that into my songs. Itâ€™s a good way to kinda get it off your chest. But really I find that a lot of the songs I write are about the things I believe in. You know back in the 60â€™s, a lot of people were making political statements or commentary on social change. I just have this thing about speaking my mind through the music, thatâ€™s why I’ve called it Richie Onoriâ€™s Blues Messenger.â€
What was the inspiration for â€œBuffalo Nationâ€?
(laughs) â€œThatâ€™s good man! You are right on it. If you look at the White Buffalo prophecy, it talks about the white buffalo woman returning to heal the nation. Its about healing all the wrongs that have been done.â€
Do you have some Native American heritage?
â€œNo, but is more of a spiritual thing for me. I feel connected to that way of thinking. I really relate spiritually to the way the Indians treated their environment, their respect for the land, their respect for each other. Even though I’m Italian, I have a major connection with the Indian way.â€
Richie, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me. I really appreciate it.
â€œThanks so much man, its been a pleasure.â€