While they never earned more than a tiny cult following outside their home state of California, the Hollywood Stars became heroes to glam and power pop fans with their tight, hooky, guitar-driven music, which emerged at a time when prog rock and singer/songwriters were dominating the rock scene.
The sole album they released during their heyday, 1977's Hollywood Stars, was an overcooked disappointment with too much polish and not enough punch. But a pair of post-breakup collections of unreleased material, Shine Like a Radio: The Lost 1974 Album and Sound City, captured the band's sound with fewer frills and revealed them to be a tough but tuneful rock band with a confident guitar attack, strong melodic hooks, and expert harmonies that didn't blunt their swagger. Their style and approach wouldn't have been out of place in the West Coast new wave pop boom that swept the city just two years after their album came and went.
The Hollywood Stars sprung from a brainstorm by noted producer, songwriter, and idea man Kim Fowley, who decided in 1973 that rock & roll was ready for a new band that combined the energy and excitement of mid-'60s pop and rock with the crunchy guitars and attitude of hard rock; Fowley described his concept as a West Coast version of the New York Dolls, and he set out to find musicians who would fit the bill. Fowley's first recruit was drummer Terry Rae, who'd been in the Palace Guard with Emitt Rhodes, drummed with Jamme (a psychedelic pop band whose sole album was produced by John Phillips), and was in the process of recording with the Flamin' Groovies when he got the call from Fowley. Setting out to find musicians who looked and sounded right for the gig, Fowley and Rae filled out the lineup with lead singer Scott Phares, lead guitarist Ruben DeFuentes, guitarist and vocalist Mark Anthony, and bassist Kevin Barnhill, and the new band started a busy rehearsal schedule, with Fowley and Mars Bonfire contributing songs along with the members of the group.
Soon the band was regularly headlining Los Angeles' leading rock clubs, including The Troubadour and The Whisky A Go Go, and they scored a deal with Columbia Records. Before the band's debut album was released, however, the label discovered someone had charged studio time to the band's account without authorization, and the confusion led to the Hollywood Stars being dropped. The original line-up splintered, but a second edition of the group soon came together, with Anthony on lead vocals, DeFuentes on guitar, and Rae on drums, alongside new members Steve DeLacy (guitar), Michael Rummans (bass), and Bobby Drier (percussion). This new edition was able to pick up where the previous line-up left off, and they signed with Arista. However, by the time the Stars' album finally emerged in 1977, punk and new wave were on the rise in L.A., and the over-production of the album robbed the band of any hip cachet. The Hollywood Stars toured in support of the album opening for the Kinks, but between disappointing sales, poor promotion, and conflicting egos within the group, the Stars were on their last legs by the time they arrived home, and by the end of 1977, they broke up. In 1978, DeFuentes put together a third version of the Hollywood Stars with Rummans, Drier, singer Al Austin, and guitarist Bryce Mobray, but the more hard rock-oriented line-up attracted little interest and soon dissolved.
Over the years, the Hollywood Stars developed a cult following, especially among power pop fans intrigued by the press coverage the original band had received, and when blogger and superfan Robin Wills discovered that Rae had a reel-to-reel copy of a rough mix of the unreleased album for Columbia, he arranged for it to be remastered and released. The album appeared under the title Shine Like a Radio: The Great Lost 1974 Album in 2013. Four years later, Blank Records released the band's version of "King of the Nighttime World" -- which became a huge hit for Kiss in 1976 -- as a limited-edition 7" that included two previously unreleased songs ("Too Hot to Handle" and "Habits") from 1975. "Too Hot to Handle" and "Habits" would later appear on 2019's Sound City, another collection of material from the vaults released by Burger Records, which also included leaner, live-in-the-studio versions of five songs that were reworked for the 1977 Arista album. Following the revival of interest in the band, a new edition of the Hollywood Stars began playing occasional shows, featuring Scott Phares, DeFuentes, and Rae from the initial lineup of the group, Michael Rummans from their second incarnation, and new guitarist Chezz Monroe. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi