Quiet Riot’s Frankie Banali Opens Up About His Cancer Diagnosis
Drummer Frankie Banali returned to the stage with Quiet Riot on Saturday, Oct. 26 for the first time since revealing that he had been diagnosed in April with stage four pancreatic cancer.
Banali took a moment to address the situation from the Whisky a Go Go stage, telling the fans in attendance at the sold-out show, “Before I was diagnosed, I was strong as a bull. Now I’m as strong as two fucking bulls. I plan to entertain you with my live drumming for some time to come, alright?”
He expanded on that pledge during a conversation with UCR to talk about his current situation. "I have everything to win and everything to lose in this situation. I intend to treat it the way I treat everything, which is to put everything into it and fight it all of the way to the end," he says. "Hopefully, I’ll be around long enough to continue providing new Quiet Riot music and Quiet Riot live on the road."
Quickly, he put the focus back on the Quiet Riot fanbase, telling us, "I’m eternally grateful to all of the fans. Because if it wasn’t the fan support that we’ve had now for over three and a half decades, it would not be possible for Quiet Riot to continue. A band does not continue this long without support from the fans and that’s very meaningful to me and it’s something that I will never ever take for granted and will always be grateful for."
2019 has been an eventful year for you, Frankie. Since you shared the news of your current situation last week, one of the things you’ve spoken about is going to the PanCan website as a helpful resource of what to look for. For you, how did you first realize that something was going on?
Actually, I didn’t. How the whole thing came about is I was supposed to go and play a couple of songs with Alex’s [Quiet Riot guitarist Alex Grossi] side project with Dizzy [Reed] from Guns N' Roses, Hookers & Blow. I was supposed to play two songs with them at a show out here in L.A. That morning, I went to my storage unit to pick up some sticks and a couple of things. All of the sudden, I got a really terrible pain in my right calf. I could barely drive home, it was that severe. I got home and this was a Saturday and the earliest appointment I could get was for a Monday.
The following morning, when I got up, i was barely able to walk 10 steps and I was out of breath and my wife convinced me that late afternoon to not wait until my appointment and go to the emergency room. They did an ultrasound of my right leg and my left and then they did a scan of my upper section and they found out that I had a blood clot in my right leg, one in my left lung, one in my right lung and one in the saddle in between the two lungs. The danger there was that if any of those dislodged, they’d take two routes, either straight to the brain, aneurysm, end of story, or to the heart, heart attack, end of story.
Fortunately, or however you want to state it, when they did that scan, they caught part of my liver and they saw that there was a problem. They brought me back in at 3:30 in the morning to do another scan and that’s when they discovered that I had stage four pancreatic cancer and that it had also spread to the liver.
That's really heavy news to take in, obviously.
Well, you know, it was an interesting thing to take, because what happened is that now it’s 5:30 in the morning and I’m still laying there in emergency waiting for a room to get checked into the hospital. The floor doctor for the emergency room comes in and unceremoniously says, “You have terminal stage four pancreatic cancer that has spread to the liver and by the way, I really like your music.” He signed off on the sheet and walked out.
Yeah, bedside manners are extra in Los Angeles sometimes.
You’ve played so many shows over the years. As a touring musician, you power past obstacles that might keep somebody else from showing up for work. On the road and with show commitments, that’s often just not an option. So I know it must have been difficult for you to realize that you just had to step back.
It was very difficult for me to come to the realization that the doctors were not going to let me fly for two reasons. Because of the blood clots dislodging and also because I needed to be around competent medical centers if something went sideways. It was a bitter pill to swallow, because it was the first time I had to not make myself available for shows in 38 years. You know, I’d never missed a show in my entire career, so that was a difficult thing to accept. But accept it, I had to.
How did you connect with Johnny Kelly, who ended up doing fill-in work for you on the Quiet Riot shows?
Alex was already working with Johnny. He was one of the drummers that works with Hookers & Blow. The first show that I missed happened to be in the Dallas area, which is where Johnny lives. So I got in touch with him and made sure that he had the setlist and the proper links and everything that he needed and he stepped up to do quite a few of the dates. When he became unavailable because of his own commitments, I got in touch with Mike Dupke, who I’ve known for a long time. He had worked both with W.A.S.P. and Dee Snider and he stepped in to do the back portion of the dates with the exception of two L.A. area dates in August, which I played because I didn’t have to fly.
I was recently green-lighted by my oncologist to go ahead and do the L.A. Whisky show, which we just played this past Saturday. And I’ve got approval to go ahead and do the last two remaining shows of the year, one in November in the St. Louis area and another one in northern Michigan on the 30th of December. I plan to go back out on the road for 2020 and [will] put a plan together with my medical team where I can go ahead and continue doing my chemotherapy and the subsequent side effect period and do it where it’s not going to interfere with my flying schedule.
With what you’ve had going on this year, was there a period where you had to work to get back to where you needed to be to play a show?
No, I always tell people that if my team in Quiet Riot does not know the songs by now, they shouldn’t be in the band and we shouldn’t getting paid to do it. We actually didn’t do any rehearsals, whatsoever. We went in and for me personally, it was as if I’d never stopped playing. It was a very natural process.
So you weren't affected from a stamina standpoint?
No, it was a very easy process and the show that we just played at the Whisky was absolutely phenomenal. It was sold out and the audience response, both to the band and for me personally, was fantastic.
We hear the stories of a lot of musicians that don’t have proper health care and a situation like this puts them in a real bind. For you, beyond just fighting this, I wonder if there are additional struggles and concerns that you’re dealing with.
At this point, no. I go in with my regular oncologist for the chemotherapy treatments and then I also do some treatments on the side at private clinics. You have to understand that I didn’t go public for six months, but that six months made it possible for me to look at the situation, what was possible and what was not possible and how to schedule it. In an odd sort of way, I had the luxury to be able to give all of this careful consideration and also weigh how my progress was doing.
From what you’ve said, it seems like you’re in the best place you could possibly hope to be at this point.
Yeah, you know, I went through seven rounds of chemotherapy and for each round, the cancer cell numbers were reduced by about 50 percent. I started out at about 6,800 cell count and got it down to 313 with the chemotherapy.
It’s good that you’ve come out to talk about this, because I know this will inspire others who are facing similar things.
The reality of pancreatic cancer is that about 57,000 people a year are diagnosed with it. It is by far the most difficult cancer to treat. It’s got a nine percent, five-year survival rate. And you know, many don’t make it that far. But my entire life has been a fight for everything. Nothing was ever given to me. I had to fight for everything. So I’m used to fighting and I’m treating this the same way I treat anything else. I intend to fight it all of the way to the end.
You're about to release a new Quiet Riot album, Hollywood Cowboys. At the time of your diagnosis, was that already done?
I was actually scheduled to leave the same week that I was diagnosed, to start mixing the record in Las Vegas. Of course, that became an impossibility, so I moved the mixing to Los Angeles. But it didn’t stop that process at all. You know, myself, with the engineer, Neil Citron, we were able to mix the record, even while I was going through therapy. We got it mixed and all of the artwork done and everything delivered right on time to the label. So from that aspect, it didn’t interfere.
All of the material had already been recorded. Because traditionally, I start writing songs right after the previous album is released. I started working on new material right after Road Rage was released two years ago and as a matter of fact, I’ve already started writing for the next record and have gone in and cut two drum tracks for a future Quiet Riot record and our new one, Hollywood Cowboys, won’t even come out until Nov. 8.