Richard Fortus Comes Home, Again
Richard Fortus’ rock and roll destiny was clear to him from an early age.
“My love for rock and roll happened pretty early on,” he says. “I remember being 5 years old sitting in Sunday school and the teacher asking what everyone wanted to be when they grew up, and I distinctly remember thinking ‘I want to be a musician, a rock musician.’”
The guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, perhaps best known as a member of Guns ’N Roses since 2002, grew up in Chesterfield and began his musical career playing violin and then drums. His father worked for St. Louis Music and provided Fortus with his initial exposure to the guitar.
“There were always guitars around our house, but I was always very intimidated by them because they had six strings and long necks and I had my hand full with four strings and a short neck [on the violin],” he says.
In junior high, Fortus played drums in a band with Mark Venezia, who would later go on to play in local favorite Suave Octopus. “He started showing me stuff on the guitar, and I just took off and got pretty good pretty quickly,” Fortus says. “It was pretty much off to the races then.”
Soon after, he inherited his aunt’s record collection, chock full of classic rock standbys like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Humble Pie, Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy, which sealed his rock and roll fate.
“I remember first hearing Thin Lizzy’s ‘Jailbreak’ album at a friend’s house and being totally mesmerized,” he says. Fortus would later serve a stint in Thin Lizzy and get to play many of those famous harmonized guitar licks with iconic Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham.
Fortus went on to form the Eyes (later renamed Pale Divine) and became a fixture on the St. Louis music scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s—the band’s shows at Kennedy’s on The Landing are still talked about by fans. Fortus left Pale Divine and moved to New York City to work with Psychedelic Furs frontman Richard Butler—he’d later join the Furs and tour with them—and consequently embarked on a career as an in-demand session player, appearing on records and tours for artist as varied as Rhiannon, Tommy Stinson, Ben Folds and Jesse Malin, along with playing on film scores, commercials and even video game tracks.
“There are probably a lot more out there that I didn’t get credit for than the ones I did,” Fortus laughs. Back in the day, it wasn’t unusual for him to hire a service to transport various guitar rigs to studios around town and set them up so he could play on multiple sessions a day.
Fortus’ career trajectory eventually landed him in L.A., but once he started a family, he began reflecting on his own St. Louis childhood. “I didn’t want my kids to grow up there,” he says of L.A. So Fortus bought his childhood home in Chesterfield as a kind of refuge from the hustle and bustle of the music business, and he and his daughters began coming back to town for regular visits.
“The kids loved it so much we moved back full time,” he says.
Fortus still spends a good amount of time on the road, but for his latest project he was able to work from home, so to speak. Last year he was asked by old friend Richard Butler to produce the first Psychedelic Furs record in almost 30 years, “Made of Rain.” Fortus, who got married in December 2017, had already spent a good portion of his early married life touring, so his wife, Stephanie, asked if it’d be possible for him to work on the record in St. Louis. Fortus hooked up with the crew at Sawhorse Studios in South City to make it happen, and St. Louis’ central location on the map made it easy for the Furs, who’re spread over the country, to meet up, Fortus says.
The project turned into something of a family affair—not only did Fortus reconnect with his former Furs bandmates, but his daughters provided background vocals on several tracks, including the first single, “Don’t Believe,” available now. (The full record drops May 1.)
By the time this story is published, Fortus will be ensconced in rehearsals in L.A. for the next leg of Guns N’ Roses’ ongoing “Not in This Lifetime” tour that’s headed to South and Central America this spring, then Europe and North America this summer—but St. Louis won’t be far from his thoughts.
“I really appreciate how easy everything is here,” he says of his hometown, especially after experiencing Los Angeles and New York and their notorious traffic. “It’s the perfect size city, and it’s a great place to raise kids.” And, at the end of the day, “It’s home.”
Images courtesy of Reed Radcliff.