Considering the breadth of his exploits with White Lion, if Vito Bratta never commits another note to tape, his legacy shall remain firmly cemented within the annals of glam rock history.
Given that he’s been inactive for over 30 years, you might think we know all there is to learn about his guitar career. But that’s not the case.
Bratta’s adventures with the six-string extend a fair bit further than White Lion. Specifically, Bratta had something of a soiree with Ozzy Osbourne’s camp before White Lion’s success.
“I don’t want to make it that big of a deal,” Bratta sheepishly admits. “But around the time Brad Gillis was in Ozzy’s band, they were coming to New York to play some shows. And before I was in White Lion, I was in a cover band that did around one hour of Sabbath stuff. We never did the Randy Rhoads stuff, just Sabbath.”
He continues, “Somebody sent a cassette of me doing the Sabbath stuff to Ozzy’s people. 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.'”
To this point, Bratta was a relatively unknown, albeit highly talented, guitarist in his very early twenties. At that point, he had not ventured much outside the cozy confines of New York City. So, it’s no surprise that the chance to play with Ozzy was exciting to the young virtuoso.
“When they asked me to play, my first instinct was, ‘I can’t, I have a gig tonight,'” Bratta laughs. “But then I thought, ‘Wait… what are you worrying about playing in a cover band for? Here’s your chance to play with Ozzy.’ So, I told her, ‘Sure, I can come down. What songs do you want me to play?'”
At this point, Bratta reiterates that he “only played Sabbath songs” – nothing from Osbourne’s solo catalog.
“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, 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.”
Not surprisingly, the voice on the other end of the line was surprised by Bratta’s response, “I think she said, ‘Really? Don’t you know any of it? What are we even talking about here?’ She started to get mad at me and seemed confused. So, I just said, ‘Look, I’m in a Sabbath cover band. We do an hour of Sabbath.'”
What first appeared as an opportunity of a lifetime was now slipping through Bratta’s fingers. But Bratta, ever the feisty New York native, didn’t back down in the face of adversity.
“By this point, her voice was getting higher and higher,” Bratta says. “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, ‘Okay, maybe you’re right, it’s not a good idea.’ And she hangs up, and I bang the phone down.”
Sighing as he thinks back, “God almighty,” he says. “I remember being frustrated, you know? I felt like, ‘Fuck… this was the shot.’ But what killed me was the next album was Speak of the Devil, which was all Sabbath stuff. And then they were playing that on tour – that’s probably why they wanted me. 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.”
And that brush with Ozzy wasn’t the only star-crossed moment Bratta experienced before finding success.
“I’ve had a few instances that I look back on and make me wonder,” Bratta recalls. “Ozzy was tough because I felt like that was my shot – they actually called me and wanted me to audition. And I had the upper hand… I think I woulda got it because I had the chops, the dark hair, and the sound they were looking for.”
Unfurling his next revelation, Bratta continues, “But that wasn’t the only opportunity I had – I have to tell you about the Kiss thing that happened after Ace Frehley left the band.”
Of course, we know that after Frehley exited Kiss’s orbit, Richie Sambora, Doug Aldrich and Michael Kelly Smith were considered for the role before the band settled on Vinnie Vincent. But, Bratta, with his irrepressible attitude and fiery licks, was considered, too.
“My cover band had two guitar players,” Bratta recalls. “There was another guy named Ace and me. He had the Ace Frehley hair and did the whole pentatonic thing. He was nothing like me [laughs]. But he did go out to California to audition when Ace [Frehley] left Kiss. And they must have liked him because when he came back to New York, Paul [Stanley] and Gene [Simmons] showed up at the clubs we were playing to see him live.”
Laughing, Bratta recalls how he not-so-subtly inserted himself into Kiss’s post-Spaceman conversation.
“I guess they liked the other guy,” he shrugs. “They came out to see him, right? So, I knew they were there, and I just did my thing, which included walking out and doing a half-an-hour guitar solo right in front of their faces.”
Not surprisingly, Stanley and Simmons were impressed – even though Bratta was an entirely different animal than Frehley. Moreover, Vinnie Vincent had not yet polarized the duo regarding all things shred. That is to say, their minds were perhaps a bit blown.
“Long story short, I stole the show,” Bratta laughs. “I get off stage, and Paul and Gene want to talk to me. They think I’d be ‘perfect for Kiss,’ probably because I was doing all this modern stuff they’d been missing. I was doing the tapping, and all that, which they liked. So, they said, ‘Hey, we like you. We think you’d be perfect for Kiss. Would you consider playing a Les Paul?'”
For as much as Bratta surely wanted to ‘make it,’ one thing he wasn’t willing to do was compromise his vision or his aesthetic. And so, without giving more than a moment’s thought, Bratta quickly responded in a way that only he could.
“When they asked me about playing a Les Paul, I immediately knew I wasn’t into it,” Bratta says. “I 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.”
As was the case with Ozzy, White Lion went on tour with Kiss later in the ’80s. But if there was any tension, Bratta, who had already reached the top of the mountain with White Lion, didn’t care.
“Years later, we went on tour with Kiss,” Bratta snickers. “And this time, I knew that Gene remembered the whole thing. 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.’
“We were like, ‘Ted Nugent. Really?’ 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. I always suspected Gene had something to do with it because he could do that, and I think he would do that.”