Godsmack Frontman Puts A Singer Into Ex-Bandmate's Dropbox

Lee Richards gets back on track with help from Sully Erna.

If Godsmack's original guitarist, Lee Richards, hadn't quit the band before it became a radio staple, he might never have had a second chance for success.

Godsmack frontman Sully Erna, bassist Robbie Merrill and Richards started the group in late 1995, but Richards got some unexpected news in early 1997 that prevented him from continuing with the band.

"I got woken up at 8 a.m., the morning after a show with Godsmack," he said. "It was my ex-girlfriend telling me that I had a 6-year-old son who I had never met before."

After confirming the woman's story with a blood test, Richards quit the band and invited her and his son to live with him in Massachusetts. But while he abandoned his Godsmack family for his biological family, he never lost touch with Erna and Merrill. Even when he heard songs on the radio that he had co-written with Erna, he tried to maintain a positive attitude — most of the time.

"I opened a stone-masonry company, so I would be building stone walls in the summertime and I'd hear 'Keep Away' on the radio," he recalled. "I gotta admit, there were a few times when I wanted to dance on the end of a rope. But I always knew that if I stayed true to myself and kept writing and found the right vocalist, the sky would be the limit."

The singer Richards was looking for came three years ago in the form of John Kosco, a full-throated crooner who got his big break at a Godsmack show in New York. Kosco and his friend had gotten hold of meet-and-greet passes, so they wandered backstage.

"Sully was hanging around, and I thought, 'I'm gonna start talking to him about anything besides music,' " Kosco said. "So, we started talking about bikes, then my buddy handed Sully a demo, and Sully said, 'What, are you in a band?' And I was like, 'Yeah,' and he said, 'Why didn't you frickin' tell me?' "

Erna listened to the demo, loved Kosco's voice and a week later called the singer to tell him that his old bandmate, Richards, was looking for a singer. At the time, Richards had put together a group called Powderburned and arranged a meeting with executives at Universal Records, who — in a move similar to a scene in the Oliver Stone film "The Doors" — told him they loved his music, but that the rest of the band was holding him back. They promised him a development deal if he'd fire his bandmates and hire new guys. Richards took their advice.

He listened to Kosco's demo at Erna's house, then called the singer to arrange a meeting. The two agreed to try playing together with some other musicians Kosco had recruited, and after 15 minutes of jamming Richards was sold. A mere 18 months later, Dropbox had 40 songs written and a record deal with Erna's new imprint, Realign Records.

Heavily influenced by '60s and '70s rock bands — particularly Led Zeppelin, Mountain and Cream — Dropbox play stomping, no-frills rock and roll. But because Kosco's powerful voice echoes like that of Audioslave's Chris Cornell, and the band's choruses are filled with minor-key vocal harmonies reminiscent of Alice in Chains, Dropbox have frequently been labeled neo-grunge.

"Honestly, that doesn't bother me," Richards said. "Most of those bands were great. They were all inspired by the music they loved, like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. And that's where we're coming from too."

Before Dropbox were even out of the box, they were getting strong praise from Erna, who plugged them in interviews and invited Richards and Kosco to Hawaii to help write and record the track "Touché" on the Godsmack acoustic EP The Other Side (see "Godsmack Travel To The Other Side For New EP").

"That was a huge career boost for us and it gave us instant credibility with a lot of their fans," Richards said. "John and I had written most of [the song] already, and when we were in the studio, we started doodling around with it. Sully immediately got excited about it and jumped behind the drums and then finished up the arrangements. That song is gonna be the next single from The Other Side, and it actually gave John and I our first gold record."

"Wishbone," the first single from Dropbox's self-titled debut album, seems to be leading the pair toward a second gold record. The track is heating up at rock radio and has been included in the new Atari "Transformers" video game. The band wrote the song during pre-production for the album, and its creation was simple and spontaneous. "John was sitting on a couch messing around with a guitar, and he started playing that main riff, and as soon as I heard it I almost tackled him," Richards said. "I grabbed another guitar and we just went for it. I finished the rest of the music and John started working on the vocals. We wrote the whole thing in about 20 minutes."

The lyrics of "Wishbone" are imagistic and poetic — "Smoke rings above the flames/ Bittersweet aftermath" — but the song's subject is down-to-earth. "It's about ... the importance of not being selfish in bed," Kosco said.