Wearing a white vintage MTV T-shirt, Ratt guitarist Jordan Ziff shrugs and says it’s no surprise the hair metal band is back on the charts.
Fueled by Ratt’s appearance in a Geico commercial, the move is frustrating because the clip was set up to support the band’s massive summer tour with Cinderella’s Tom Keifer, Skid Row and Slaughter.
“It would have helped the tour for sure,” says Ziff, who attended Horizon High School. “I mean, the tour is going to be fine. I’m not worried about the tour. People are totally going to go and they’re stoked to see us. The commercial has created awareness of the band again and it’s become a household name again. It’s all good.”
Ziff, 28, is well known around Valley music circles. He’s the longtime guitarist for MetalHead, a cover band that plays, well, metal. He joined Ratt two years ago on the recommendation of a mutual friend.
He started playing guitar at age 7—when he heard “Smooth” by Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana for the first time.
“I wanted to play guitar even before I was 7 but my parents didn’t really take me seriously,” Ziff says.
“The catalyst was that song ‘Smooth,’ by Santana. I thought that was the coolest guitar sound I ever heard. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is amazing. I need to get a guitar.’”
Ziff’s parents rented a “terrible guitar” and he played for six hours a day before he took his first lesson.
“I didn’t even know what I was doing,” he says. “I was just making noise on it. My parents loved it. They have a fireplace and I would just stand up there and pretend I was playing a concert.
As a student at Horizon High School, he and his brother performed in Age of Evil. When Ziff was 15, they recorded their first album and toured Europe after they were featured in a German music magazine.
“We were invited to play a festival called Bang Your Head Festival in Stuttgart, Germany,” he says. “The night before the festival, they had a warmup show at a club.
“So they invited us to play that show, and we did, and they loved us so much they invited us to play the main stage at 10 in the morning the next day.”
The reception was so overwhelming that organizers asked Age of Evil to return the following year.
“That’s how I got my start in music,” Ziff says. “I was a total degenerate. When I was that age in Europe, I could drink at bars.”
Ziff says Age of Evil went through a musical metamorphosis.
“We were little kids growing up together,” he says. “I’ve known all of them since I was 3 or 4. We were all brothers. There was a point where the Backstreet Boys were the biggest deal. I mean, we liked Backstreet Boys, so we wanted to be a boy band.
“Then we wanted to be a punk band because Blink-182 was huge then. Eventually, we wanted to be a thrash metal band and that morphed into a rock band.”
Ziff performed in Age of Evil until he was 19. After that, he moved on to Waxy Sugar, a band that was “inspired by the sounds of British pop royalty.”
“It was the Beatles meets Queen,” Ziff says. “We went from thrash metal to that genre. We were always all connected in the same way.”
Ziff joined Ratt in 2018, replacing Warren DeMartini. Performing with the band is fun because he can share his personality while respecting the music that was written before his tenure.
“I love playing those songs,” says Ziff with a smile. “When I was in high school, I listened to that stuff. It’s interesting to be able to come into a band that had a guitar player I really respect and be in his position to do his stuff.”
“I will never play songs 100% note for note. It’s just not what I do. Even if I’m playing a cover song, I want to somehow make it y own song. That’s what I do. If I was playing in a band where it was unacceptable for me to be myself, I wouldn’t want to be a part of it.”
Ziff also performs with well-known guitarist Marty Friedman.
“Marty was one of my favorite guitar players all throughout high school,” Ziff says. “It’s fun to play in a band with one of my favorite guitar players ever, and then play in a band where I get to be in the position of one of my favorite guitar players ever. It’s like the best of everything.”
For Friedman, the feeling is mutual.
“Jordan is as great a guy as he is to work with,” says Friedman, who lives in Japan. “We are family, as the saying goes. His guitar playing is spectacular, fearless and full of energy with interesting musical twists and turns. He is going to be a lifer in music and do many big things. And he is funny as hell.”
Inspired by Randy Rhoads and John Sykes, Ziff spent the quarantine learning production and writing a solo record that he’s planning to release this year. It will be followed by solo gigs and short tours.
A bit of an introvert, Ziff says he uses the guitar to speak for him.
“I like to use the guitar as my voice,” Ziff says. “I’m a good backup singer, but I’m not a great lead singer. Guitar happens to be the thing that I’m best at.
“I use it as my voice, I suppose. It just feels good to do it.”
Ratt—which also includes singer Stephen Pearcy, bassist Juan Croucier and drummer Pete Holmes—is considering performing as soon as late August, but the shows will be spot dates, as opposed to a full tour.
“Hopefully, we can wrangle 30 dates for the year,” he says. “But who knows.
“It’s a weird situation for promoters. Whatever we end up doing is cool with me. We’ll have a chance to write music together.”
Ziff has been recognized from the Geico commercial, during which a couple talk about a “rat” problem in their new home. The camera then pans to the basement where Ratt is performing “Round and Round.”
“I have absolutely no idea how they recognize me,” Ziff says with a laugh. “I wouldn’t remember a TV commercial.”
Photo by Joe Schaeffer