Why Vito Bratta Lost Ozzy Gig and Told Kiss to F— Themselves
Before he soared to multiplatinum success in White Lion, guitarist Vito Bratta had opportunities to play with Kiss and Ozzy Osbourne — though both slipped through his fingers after varying degrees of deliberation.
The six-string virtuoso entered the Prince of Darkness' orbit when Osbourne was touring with interim guitarist Brad Gillis (of Night Ranger) and Bratta was gigging in a pre-White Lion cover band, whose repertoire included an hour of Black Sabbath material.
"Somebody sent a cassette of me doing the Sabbath stuff to Ozzy's people," Bratta told Guitar World. "And then – if I remember right, it was probably Sharon Osbourne, but I can't be 100% sure – called me saying, 'Hey, we like your tape, and we want you to come down to the Ritz to play.'"
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There was just one problem: Bratta knew material only from Osbourne's former band. "So, she tells me, 'Do you know anything from Ozzy's two solo albums?' I told her, 'No, I don't know anything. I loved Randy [Rhoads], but my cover band only played Sabbath stuff.' The truth was that I did love Randy's stuff, but I didn't have time to sit at home and learn it. I never got around to it."
Bratta recalled Sharon's voice "getting higher and higher" as he explained himself. "So, I just said, 'Look, I don't know Ozzy's first two albums. Maybe this isn't a good idea … .' And then I told her, 'You want me to come down there soon, but I'm telling you, I don't know the stuff yet. How long do you think it's gonna take me to learn the first two albums?' And she said, 'How long do you need?' I told her, 'Give me a week, and I'll be ready to come.' And then she says, 'OK, maybe you're right, it's not a good idea.' And she hangs up, and I bang the phone down."
To add insult to injury, Osbourne's next release was the Gillis-assisted double live album Speak of the Devil, which comprised all Black Sabbath songs. "And then they were playing that on tour – that's probably why they wanted me," Bratta said. "But I didn't know that. The funniest thing about it was that only a few years later, there I was, standing next to Sharon backstage while White Lion was on tour with Ozzy. We never spoke about it, but I think she knew."
Why Vito Bratta Turned Down Kiss
Bratta got closer to filling the shoes of another hotshot guitarist: Ace Frehley, who had recently left Kiss. The face-painted rockers initially took an interest in the other guitarist in Bratta's cover band, who was named Ace and resembled Frehley in sound and appearance. But when Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley went to catch a gig in New York, Bratta stole the show with "a half-an-hour guitar solo right in front of their faces."
Suitably impressed, Stanley and Simmons told Bratta he would be "perfect for Kiss" and asked if he would consider playing a Les Paul. Bratta said he "just couldn't picture it, you know? But I was maybe willing to go along with it because I had started with a Les Paul. And then, after asking me my name, they said, 'Your name is too ethnic. Would you ever consider changing it?' And I just said, 'Would you ever consider fucking yourself?' I was not going to change my name. I mean, seriously, 'Gene Simmons' isn't ethnic. Come on."
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Once again, Bratta crossed paths with Kiss when White Lion opened for them several years later. "And this time, I knew that Gene remembered the whole thing," he said. "I know that because while on tour with Kiss, we rolled in to play the Meadowlands, a hometown show. And when we got there, we were told, 'You guys have the night off; we're getting Ted Nugent to open.'"
It was a strange choice, considering Nugent hadn't had a hit in years. "This wasn't 1978; it was the heart of the MTV era, and this wasn't a 'Wango Tango' crowd, so it made no sense," Bratta said. "I always suspected Gene had something to do with it because he could do that, and I think he would do that."
What Happened to Vito Bratta and White Lion?
White Lion hit the big time with their 1987 sophomore album Pride, which earned a double-platinum certification and spawned the Top 10 singles "Wait" and "When the Children Cry." Its successor, 1989's Big Game, also went gold, but their fortunes plummeted with 1991's Mane Attraction. The band broke up the following year, and Bratta injured his wrist in 1997, making it difficult for him to play guitar and causing him to stay largely out of the public eye.
When asked if he would consider a White Lion reunion, Bratta previously told Guitar World, "I couldn't ever, ever say no to that, because it hurts not doing it. But a lot of things would have to change around here for me to be able to walk out of the house." Looking back at his career, he said, "I'm just happy that I left it all out on the field. Sometimes I really feel like I exceeded my ability."