Monday, 8 October 2018

Ghost Of An American Airman: Four Go On Tour In A Winnebago

Ghost of an American Airman — promo photo
Originally published in American Music Press (1992)

By Devorah Ostrov

At the end of our conversation, Dodge McKay (on the phone from somewhere in Canada, because annoyingly we couldn't chat while he was in SF) tells me this is the best interview he's ever done. Well, thanks very much! Was it my witty repartee and intriguing insights? No.

"You didn't ask where we got the [group's] name," laughs the lead singer/guitarist for Ghosts of an American Airman.

Dammit, I knew I'd forgotten something! But I can tell you that the band formed in 1985, hails from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and is currently touring America and environs in support of its Hollywood Records debut, Life Under Giants.

Also, this is not the band's first US tour. The foursome (which includes guitarist Ben Trowell, bassist Alan Galbraith, and drummer Matt Matthews) initially came over in October 1988 on a self-financed adventure to promote a single ("I Hear Voices") and LP (Someday) released on their own Plain Paper Records. "It was really no frills," recalls Dodge. "There were like eight of us travelling in a car from Chicago to New York!"

Life Under Giants (Hollywood Records, 1992)
But this time around, somewhat flush with nearly-major-label backing, the guys are living the high life and driving cross-country in a Winnebago. "We've actually seen loads of America," offers Dodge. "Probably more than most Americans. I think we've travelled something like 30,000 miles since we've been here."

That's a lot of mileage for something that gets maybe five miles to the gallon! So, what sights have they seen?

"I got to go to the town in Massachusetts where Jack Kerouac was born," says Dodge excitedly, "and because I've read so many of his books I knew the street names and stuff. I was like, WOW! And it's very touristy, but we saw Niagara Falls. We've been on a bit of Route 66 — that was a big thing for our guitarist.

Have they been to Graceland?

"Oh, yeah! Once again, our guitarist... It was a big thing for him. I did buy an Elvis/Graceland pen."

How about Dollywood?

"No... I've heard about it, but we didn't go."

Touring America in a Winnebago
Photo used courtesy of Ben Trowell
According to Dodge, the band is still awed by the sheer size of America: "The weirdest thing for us is the country is so big! At the start of the tour we drove from LA to Phoenix to do a radio interview. On the map it just looked like this little, insignificant line that we'd drawn. About thirty miles outside of Phoenix we said, 'If we did this in Ireland, we'd have fallen into the sea by now!'"

But mostly the band members are just enjoying themselves over here. "We're just getting a buzz off of meeting people," says Dodge. "Because it's on sort of a grass-roots level, after the gig people realize that we're living in the Winnebago. They knock on the door and we'll have them in for a beer, or something, and just talk. People have offered us meals. Some people have said, 'You can come back to our house and have a shower.'"

Dodge acknowledges that there is in fact a shower compartment in the Winnebago but points out: "That's where the bass drums lives!"

Visiting Graceland
Photo used courtesy of Ben Trowell
Like Dodge, the group's music is upbeat and sincere, with nary a trace of religious and/or political ranting. Which, given their close proximity to "The Troubles," is a little surprizing.

"There are some songs on the album about living in Northern Ireland," he notes, "but it's from a different angle. We didn't wanna preach to anybody, whereas 'Sunday  Bloody Sunday' [by U2, who aren't from Northern Ireland] is shoving it down your throat. I don't think it's really like that back home, anyway. I mean, there is trouble, but there's trouble in Los Angeles."

Referring to the recent LA riots, Dodge adds: "We never had anything like that — all the fires and stuff! It's never been that bad."

Just the occasional bomb exploding?

"I'm not saying nothing bad happens," he states, "but the thing is, people are trying to live there and work and provide for their families."

Ghost of an American Airman
Hollywood Records promo photo
Dodge explains that the emotional track "When the Whistle Blows" from the new LP addresses this sensitive topic: "My grandfather and my father both worked in the shipyard in Belfast, a big industry that is falling away now. My dad, just after Christmas, got made redundant and it's like, what happens then? People back home are actually more concerned with those things rather than if you're Protestant or Catholic."

The band members all grew up in the same Belfast neighborhood, and attended the same school as children. Not yet a teenager when the UK punk scene took off, Dodge admits he was "afraid of it," and instead preferred the hard rock sounds of Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin.

However, he also loved the passionate rock 'n' roll poetry of Patti Smith and Tom Verlaine —  and remains an unabashed fan. When I teasingly asked if Patti Smith caught his group's recent CBGB gig, he exclaimed: "No! I think I would have died!"

Pre-production for the band's next album should begin this fall, and Dodge hopes they'll return to the Bay Area to record, as they were only in San Francisco for a total of five hours during the tour.

"When we came in over the Bay Bridge it looked amazing," says Dodge. The Beat Generation enthusiast trails off dreamily. "North Beach... Columbus Avenue... The only consolation is that we're coming back!"

Monday, 1 October 2018

The Dictators: Tracing The Group's History With Handsome Dick, Top Ten & Ross The Boss

The Dictators — circa Bloodbrothers
Photo: Lynn Goldsmith
Originally published in American Music Press (September 1993)

By Devorah Ostrov

Handsome Dick Manitoba doesn't think the Dictators have received the respect the band deserves.

"Every time they mention the graduation class of '76 I always see the Ramones, Talking Heads, Television, Blondie, Dead Boys..." Manitoba reels off the band names in the trademark BOOM that makes whatever he says sound like a WWF challenge. "You never see the Dictators mentioned. Like the Dead Boys were the great punk band, or something. I feel we were just as influential as them. They didn't sell any records; we didn't sell any records."

Of course, a second later and Manitoba's not sure he likes the Dictators being referred to as a punk rock band. "We were a band that rehearsed and practiced and did things in a legitimate way," he contends. "We were called 'punk' but I dunno... We were just at that place at that time. And we were snotty, know-it-all guys from the Bronx. So, I guess in a sense we were real punks!"

* * *

Top Ten & Handsome Dick Manitoba
on the cover of New York News magazine
September 19, 1976
Named Richard Blum by his parents, the Dictators lead singer was born on January 29, 1954 in Manhattan's Jewish Memorial Hospital and raised in the Bronx.

"It was a nice place to grow up," he recalls of his old neighborhood. "I played ball, ate dinner with the family, and did my homework — like everyone else in America."

Manitoba and future Dictators guitarist Scott "Top Ten" Kempner met when they were 10 years old, and quickly became best friends. "We walked to Hebrew school together and talked about Marvel comics," says Manitoba.

And it was the (aptly nicknamed) Top Ten who first became immersed in the exciting world of rock 'n' roll. "Scott became an absolute maniac for the Who," reflects Manitoba. "He saw Pete Townsend, and he went out and got a guitar and learned how to play it by himself. He had his walls papered with every band... and basically, by hanging out with him I learned about the bands."

In 1971, bassist Andy (aka Adny) Shernoff was attending SUNY New Paltz in upstate New York, where he put together his first rock band (Grand Funk Salinsky), published a mimeographed fanzine (Teenage Wasteland Gazette), and occasionally contributed to CREEM magazine.

The Ramones, the Dictators, Widowmaker
and the Nuns at SF's Winterland  
July 30, 1977.
A mutual friend introduced Manitoba to Shernoff. "The guy said, 'This is my friend, rock 'n' roll Andy," he remembers.

Meanwhile, budding guitar hero Ross "The Boss" Friedman (aka FUNichello) decided not to attend Lehman College. Instead, he hooked up with a hippie outfit called Total Crudd and relocated to New Paltz. According to an article in issue #11 of Punk magazine (which charted the Dictator's early career on an almost daily basis), Friedman's aim was to "hang out upstate, drink beer, get laid and play guitar."

"Ross was one of those 'gun slinger' guitar players from the neighborhood," says Manitoba. He was one of the guys with a rep."

Total Crudd lived and rehearsed at the Out Of It House — so named because everyone there was so stoned and drunk all the time they really were "out of it." Punk described a typical night at the house: "They'd throw wild parties for 200 people and more, handing out baggies at the door to those people they knew would throw up. The parties ended at about 5:00 A.M. Most people would pass out on the floor. At 6:00 A.M. Ross would wake up everyone playing along to MC5 records at full blast."

Shernoff, Kempner and Manitoba all hung out there.

Advert for the Dictators' debut LP
Towards the end of '72 Shernoff stopped editing Teenage Wasteland Gazette and handed the 'zine over to cub reporter Manitoba. The final issue, which would have featured a Nick Toshes-designed cover, still sits unfinished in a drawer. "It's about 60 or 70% done," says Manitoba.

By '73, Shernoff had convinced Friedman to leave Total Crudd to form a band with him and Kempner, and the first of a couple of drummers before their pal Stu Boy King joined. The Dictators was just one of several possible names for the new band. Other options included Fireman's Friend and Tommy the Truck. Or they could have called themselves Beat the Meatles.

During this initial stage Shernoff was the group's undisputed leader: he wrote the songs, played bass and sang lead.

Manitoba wasn't even part of the initial lineup. He'd dropped out of City College ("I took a lot of English courses, mythology, stuff like that") and was working as a mailman. On weekends he would cook and roadie for his friends. Sometimes they'd let him sing "Wild Thing."

"I'd be like, 'Wild thing! Get on up and get my ham and eggs!'" He laughs at the memory.

All that changed when Shernoff invited the roadie onstage at a Brooklyn bar called Popeye's Spinach Factory. Punk magazine provided this account: "He slammed into 'Wild Thing,' giving one of the great live performances of that song in this century … Something happened. All the bums in the bar — proud to see a fellow derelict make it big — went NUTS. They liked this degenerate so much they started climbing the bar stools, throwing bottles, and screaming for more, more, more! They danced and ranted and raved..."

The Dictators circa Manifest Destiny
with bassist Mark "the Animal" Mendoza
Photo: Jonathan Postal
And Handsome Dick Manitoba was launched on the world. The stage name came about through the band's love of flashy wrestlers. "The Valiant Brothers were around," explains Manitoba. "There was Handsome Jimmy and Luscious Johnny. I was like, 'Handsome Richard? Nah, I gotta shorten it. Handsome Dick!'" The Canadian province that became his surname was Shernoff's idea, but its inspiration is a mystery. "I dunno..." offers Manitoba. "Maybe he was looking at a globe."

But it took a little more nudging before Manitoba became the group's acknowledged frontman. It actually took a good deal of nudging...

Handsome Dick Manitoba & the American
 flag share the cover of Punk magazine #11 
Oct/Nov 1977
A couple of months after the Popeye's gig, 600 people came to see the Dictators play a party in the Bronx. Billed as a "special surprise guest," Manitoba came on dressed in somebody's father's bathrobe. He did his usual "Wild Thing" and played Sonny to Shernoff's Cher for a rousing version of "I Got You Babe."

As it happened, Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman — the team who managed and produced Blue Oyster Cult — were in the audience that night (probably brought there by rock writer Richard Meltzer who was a friend/hero/mentor of Shernoff's).

Punk magazine maintained that Pearlman and Krugman were "stupefied" by Manitoba and wanted to sign the band with him as an official member.

"None of the Dictators understood why," noted Punk. "Richard could not sing. Sandy and Murray thought that the guy was funny. They thought it would be a good joke to get this group signed to a record contract. They threatened to take a bigger percentage of the royalties if Manitoba didn't join. Richard was welcomed with open arms."

Once Pearlman and Krugman were involved, the band was swiftly signed to Epic Records, and the summer of '74 was spent recording their debut LP.

The Dictators circa Go Girl Crazy with 
drummer Stu Boy King.
While waiting for the album to be released, the group regulary played at the Coventry in Queens. Following one such show, a May 1974 review in the Village Voice showed uncanny foresight when it termed the Dictators "the first true punk-rockers of the '70s." 

And once in a while they supported Blue Oyster Cult and Nazareth at larger venues — although the latter told them to leave after one gig in Winnipeg, and mention has been made of a BOC show where Manitoba "got the crowd so crazy they started throwing their chairs at him."

Even early on, it seemed the Dictators weren't going to easily fit into the arena rock mold their managers envisioned for them. But at the time, there were few alternatives.

In March 1975, somewhat behind schedule, Epic issued The Dictators Go Girl Crazy. While the cover featured Manitoba in all his wannabe-wrestler glory, there was still an obvious internal struggle going on for the microphone: Shernoff sang lead on most songs, while Manitoba "guested" on a few. The back-cover credits didn't even include Manitoba as a band member; he's listed as a "Secret Weapon" well below the producers (Krugman and Pearlman) and just above guest keyboardist Alan Glover.

The Dictators - punk rock trading card
"Andy resisted it," says Manitoba of his impending takeover. "I didn't really get going until he realized that the band was boring without me as the lead singer."

The Dictators Go Girl Crazy contained track after track of Shernoff-penned, humor-packed celebrations of teen America ("The Next Big Thing," "(I Live For) Cars and Girls," "Teengenerate") as well as perfectly chosen covers ("California Sun" and "I Got You Babe"), and the group's quintessential statement piece, "Master Race Rock":

"We're the members of the master race
Got no style and we got no grace
Sleep all night, sleep all day
Nothin' good on TV anyway..."

CREEM's review excitedly called every track "an uncouth dream." And Trouser Press said it was "a wickedly funny, brilliantly played and hopelessly naïve masterpiece of self-indulgent smartass rock 'n' roll." Even Robert Christgau (who gave the album a "B") grudgingly allowed: "If you love the Dolls you'll like the Dictators. Maybe."

It's estimated that about 5,000 people rushed out and bought a copy of the LP, and Epic dropped the Dictators. But not before they opened for Rush at the Electric Ballroom in Atlanta, Georgia. Manitoba chuckles as he recalls their reception: "Imagine a 210-pound guy wearing a wrestling outfit, screaming and yelling and throwing french fries at the audience. They were agog, aghast!"

The Dictators Go Girl Crazy — inside sleeve
Unsurprisingly, the Dictators were removed from the bill after two nights of a four-night stint.

The final show with Rush was also Stu Boy King's last with the band. It seems King was driving the van back home that night but was told his services were no longer required at the George Washington Bridge.

"He was so obnoxious for so long," fumes Manitoba. "He was such a fuck up, and he was so mean to us. We gave him so many chances... We finally dumped him at the bus terminal at the bridge."

With no drummer and unable to promote the album, the Dictators effectively broke-up. According to Punk magazine, following the group's demise: "Scott and Ross formed a band with Helen Wheels, Andy went back to writing, and Richard lived with him mom, dad and little sister in Co-Op City."

In an interview with Ira Robbins for Trouser Press, Kempner stated: "That period … was one in which everyone in the band attained the lowest point in their personal lives. Guys in the band were fighting; Andy was out of the group; Handsome Dick and I were handing out leaflets on the street in Brooklyn so that no one would recognize us."

The Dictators headline the Roundhouse
with support from 999 and the Stukas
November 18, 1977
By early '76 the Dictators were rehearsing again but without Shernoff. While he continued to write their songs, he didn't want to rejoin the band. Supposedly, he wrote "Steppin' Out" to explain his absence.

"That would've been great if he did that," muses Manitoba, who has always maintained a part brotherly/part adversarial relationship with Shernoff. But he draws a complete blank on the episode. Although he's been clean and sober for over a decade, Manitoba admits to being very messed up during most of this period.

Advert for Manifest Destiny
"I guess that's when we got Mark..." he speculates.

If there was an interesting backstory to his arrival, it's been forgotten. But at some point, bassist Mark "the Animal" Mendoza (aka Mark Glickman) from West Hempstead, New York, started showing up at Dictators' rehearsals. One report described him as a "hulking six-footer with his hair frizzed out nearly the width of his well-muscled shoulder blades..." The writer affectionately added: "Mendoza appears to be of unearthly, or subearthly origin."

"To this day, Mark has a heart of gold," asserts Manitoba. "He's a maniac tough guy, but if you're his friend he's the best friend to have. He's got your back covered, and he's there for you."

With Mendoza installed on bass, Shernoff was finally persuaded/coerced by the management team to become the band's keyboardist. Meanwhile, auditions for a new drummer yielded Ritchie Teeter. Legend has it he was turned down the first time around, but Manitoba doesn't recall the audition process. I tell him what I've read in Punk: "[Teeter] went back a second time because no one had ever had the nerve to do that to him before. When they heard him sing 'I Can't Explain' they realized they had a great drummer and the only guy in the group who could sing."

"Oh, that's great!" Manitoba enthuses. "I don't remember that."

Advert for CBGB's 2nd Ave. Theatre 
Grand Opening Week featuring the
Dictators & the Dead Boys. 
Just when things were starting to look up, the Navy yard loft the group rehearsed in collapsed, destroying their equipment. The story goes that Manitoba, depressed over the band's troubles, stumbled into CBGB's and got rip-roaring drunk.

Under the inspired headline "Wayne County and Handsome Dick Manitoba: War of the Gargantuas," CREEM's Susan Whitall reported what happened next: "One early spring evening at CBGB's Wayne County was wrapping up his parody of Patti Smith when a disturbance erupted. All the participants will agree upon is that Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators was at one time or another on the stage, that he said 'things' to Wayne, that some mention of 'spit' was made, and that Wayne nailed him with a microphone stand."

When the dust cleared Manitoba had a broken collarbone, Wayne County was detained in the Tombs, and the Dictators were basically blacklisted in New York. "It was a stupid, drunken night," admits Manitoba, "and when it was over people hated us. They branded me as a fag-basher, which is bullshit!"

However, the heaps of publicity that followed "The Wayne County Incident" (as it came to be known) unexpectedly made the Dictators something of a hot property. Elektra/Asylum Records became the Dictators new label and in 1977, they released Manifest Destiny. Six months in the making, it included some moments of absolute Shernoff genius. However, it was an uneven album which presented the band in a somewhat more mature light with mainstream inclinations.

"Heartache" b/w "Search and Destroy" 
Spanish issue single (Asylum Records 1977)
Robert Christgau observed: "... their galumphing beat, their ripped-off hooks, and their burlesqued melodrama are funnier than ever, and I admit that after dozens of playings I like this almost as much as I did their first. But I liked their first instantly, which is the way dumb jokes should work..."

But some band members weren't nearly that enthusiastic about it. "I hated that record," Manitoba nearly shouts. And he confirms that the more serious approach of Manifest Destiny was a knee-jerk reaction to Go Girl Crazy's lack of success.

"We were bummed out because we'd made a record that we thought was the coolest record ever, and no one jumped on it," he says. "We were so weird of a thing that people didn't get it, but we should have just kept being that and lived or died with it. Instead, we decided we were gonna be big stars. It was like, 'We've got Sandy and Murray and we're gonna open up for Blue Oyster Cult and Kiss and Bob Seger — so we have to be ARENA ROCK!'"

In his Trouser Press feature, Ira Robbins described Manifest Destiny as "less tongue-in-cheek, nearly adult." And he echoed Manitoba's feelings when he wrote: "For the Dictators, the way to avoid the frustrating failure of their debut was to follow bands like Kiss into the arena — playing simplified heavy metal for teenagers that found nothing at all funny about songs like 'Teengenerate.' They hoped to produce a technically perfect, guitar virtuoso album of songs that could be played to twenty thousand Deep Purple fanatics."

Flyer for the Dictators & the Nuns 
at the Mabuhay Gardens
In the article Shernoff states: "I think we were selling out … There was no real personality behind the second album." While Kempner says: "We didn't know there was an alternative to going out and doing the Kiss circuit."

"I remember when we were making Manifest Destiny, we had no idea what to look like anymore or what to sound like," Manitoba tells me. "It's not like we invented songs that we never would have done, but we just stopped being as goofy. We tried to write songs that would sound good on the radio with lush vocal harmonies that we couldn't duplicate live."

In May and June, the Dictators opened a dozen mostly Midwest arena gigs for Uriah Heep (the perhaps more appropriate Starz, Styx, Foreigner and Blue Oyster Cult alternated as second billed), and on July 30 they played Winterland with the Ramones, Ariel Bender's Widowmaker and local SF punk heroes the Nuns. However, as Robins pointed out in Trouser Press: "Despite the conscious effort to reach a mass audience, the album failed commercially."

A tour of England later that year, where they supported the Stranglers and headlined gigs with 999, reinvigorated the band, and they took a tougher stance with 1978's Bloodbrothers.

Recorded in studio A at the Record Plant (Bruce Springsteen was next door in Studio B, completing Darkness on the Edge of Town), the group's third and final album took its title from a gritty coming-of-age novel by Richard Price (who also authored The Wanderers and Clockers). The LP also found the group streamlined back down to a five-piece with Mendoza exiting to join Twisted Sister and Shernoff returning to bass; and for the first time Manitoba ably handled all the vocals by himself.

The Dictators — Asylum Records publicity photo
"Bloodbrothers is the album Dictators' fans have been waiting for," raved Paul Goldberg in Bomp! magazine, and he wasn't wrong. Without a doubt it was the band's crowning achievement.

First and foremost were eight magnificent new tunes, including Shernoff's tribute to Richard Meltzer with "Borneo Jimmy," the heart-wrenching "Stay With Me," and the super fun "Baby Let's Twist." There was the patriotic anthem "I Stand Tall," with its litany of "lots of pizza, ice cold cokes, Johnny Carson telling jokes, and lots and lots of American good good girls..." (Shernoff told Trouser Press being away on the UK tour "made me proud to be an American.") There was also a devastating cover of the Flamin' Groovies' "Slow Death" (chosen over the Beach Boys' "Dance Dance Dance" at the last minute), and even an uncredited superstar seal of approval from Springsteen who joined in on "Faster & Louder."

Thin Lizzy headline the Music Hall in Omaha, 
Nebraska, with support from AC/DC and 
the Dictators — September 24, 1978
The album had so much going for it, that for one giddy moment everything seemed possible: A bunch of nice Jewish boys from the Bronx could be — had to be — ROCK STARS! It was almost unbelievable when Bloodbrothers flopped.

At the end of an almost two-month long US tour (which sometimes had them opening for Thin Lizzy or sharing a mismatched bill with Canadian prog-rockers Max Webster), Asylum dropped the Dictators.

But by that point it wouldn't have mattered if the masses had suddenly discovered them because in the end, the band shattered apart from the inside.

"Y'know, sometimes you're watching a boxing match and the guy gets knocked out, but it doesn't seem like that hard of a punch. It's because he's taken a lot of punches, and then he just kind of collapses." It's somehow fitting that Manitoba invokes the image of a punch-drunk boxer to describe the Dictators break-up.

"We had three albums out on two major labels," he continues. "We lost both of our deals, a bunch of different people coming and going... I think our spirit and drive was so diluted from taking all the knocks." There's a long pause before he adds: "I was into a lot of drugs and alcohol, and that wasn't helping things. I didn't give a fuck. I just wanted to get high. They came to my house one day and said, 'We're gonna break-up the band.'"

The Dictators in London, 1977
Photo: Bob Gruen
Shernoff went into production; Teeter briefly joined Mendoza in Twisted Sister; other bands were formed — Manowar, the Del-Lords, and eventually Manitoba's Wild Kingdom. And sometimes the Dictators still pack 'em in for reunion shows, like the one at the Stone in San Francisco a couple of years ago.

In 1981 ROIR issued a cassette-only live recording of a Dictators reunion called Fuck 'Em if They Can't Take a Joke. Richard Meltzer fittingly supplied the tape's liner notes and summed up the band's career better than anyone when he wrote:

"Rock & roll made a man out of no one (least of all the Tators) — the whole adventure didn't exactly backfire, it's just that being so obnoxious made it hard for 'em to, y'know, earn a living, particularly in a biz placing increasing emphasis on sophisticated adult entertainment. Step by step they became career-oriented semi-grownups, surrendering more than a tad of post-teen kick-out-the-etc. in process. They switched from wrestling to Don Kirchner, and finally the news. Meanwhile a career on the burgeoning punk bandwagon had passed them by, the whole metal bizness struck a new generation of kids as so much mainstream hokum, and even their haircuts weren't quite right anymore. They fought amongst themselves (as post-teens often do) and finally … it was over."

* * *

Poster for the Dictators reunion 
at Bottom of the Hill in SF
(Artwork: Alan Forbes)
On May 15, 1999, the Dictators played at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco and I was able to do a couple of quick interviews with Top Ten and Ross the Boss. These interviews were never published.

Top Ten (Scott Kempner)

I understand you and Richard have known each other since you were kids.
Top Ten: Yep. Since we were 10 years old. We met at Hebrew school. We got into an argument over comic book superheroes. We were both into Marvel comics, that's how it began — who was cooler than who? I think I was into Thor at the time. And he liked the Human Torch, which was a good choice. Y'know, you could go with Stingray... I could kind of understand that. I was looking at it more from a superhero point of view and he was more: "Hey, this guy has a really cool car!"

Were you into rock 'n' roll at that point?
Top Ten: I was totally into it! That's all I've ever been into! Rock 'n' roll, baseball... Rock 'n' roll has always been the thing. I'm one of those people who saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and it changed absolutely everything. For me, it's like that was the day I was born. I can play it in my head; that moment in my life is so vivid.

What was it that caught your attention? Was it the music? The girls screaming?
Top Ten: In the beginning it was hard to pick out what it was. But as time has gone on, it was really the music. To me, any day that I can get up and play music is a great day!

Top Ten at the Stone — 1991
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
How long was it before you started playing guitar?
Top Ten: A long time. It took me a long time to piece stuff together. I really didn't start playing until I was sixteen or seventeen, right before we started the band.

Did you go to New Paltz?
Top Ten: I didn't go to New Paltz; I was a year behind Andy. I met Andy... I think it was his first year at college and I was still in high school. And I met Ross around the same time. A friend introduced me to Andy and Ross. And then I started going up to visit all my friends who were all going to New Paltz.

Did you ever see Total Crudd?
Top Ten: I saw Total Crudd a bunch of times! They were like the neighborhood freak band.


Who gave you the nickname Top Ten?
Top Ten: Actually, that was a friend of ours. He was sort of the "nickname guy" — you need a nickname! He said, "Hank Aaron." I went, "No." He said, "Top Ten." I went, "Alright."

As well as the Beatles, I've also heard that you're a big fan of the Who.
Top Ten: Yeah! The Who were the band that made me realize I actually wanted to play music myself. That was when I got a guitar.

Scott Kempner (on the right) with the Del-Lords.
(photographer unknown)
Did Pete Townshend's style of playing attract you?
Top Ten: Everything about that band lifted me out of my life and into my real, true calling. The first time I saw them, I think they were like the eighth act on an eight-act bill. And then I got to see them do a full show about a year later when I was 14. Everything about that band... I can't think of anything that I didn't... I mean, obviously the guitar was the thing I was into, so I focused somewhat on Pete Townshend. But every single thing about that band... I guess I was a fanatic. I couldn't get enough of them. I couldn't get enough rock 'n' roll in general. Every time I got my hands on a dollar, I bought something — a magazine, a single... whatever.

Are you self-taught?
Top Ten: Yeah, I'm totally self-taught. I picked up what I could, where I could, and with whoever I could — but it was like doing a gigantic jigsaw puzzle. Y'know, you've got a little piece here and a little piece there... I made progress, but I still couldn't see the picture. It was like doing a puzzle without the picture on the cover of the box. So, it was a little bit here and a little bit there.

2010 reissue of Tenement Angels
 Scott Kempner's debut solo album
What was the first song you played all the way through?
Top Ten: "Manic Depression" [from the Jimi Hendrix album Are You Experienced] and "Gloria." But a friend of mine who was already a great guitar player showed me "Manic Depression." I had no idea what I was doing, I just knew where the notes were. The same thing with "Gloria." I pieced it all together. I had no formal training. You think you don't need it for rock 'n' roll, but it's actually a good thing. Knowledge is actually... you don't have to use every bit of it, but it's good to know it. It would've given me that picture. It took me years and years...

Were you intimidated by Ross?
Top Ten: I wasn't so much intimidated as like, "Well, I'm not playing any solos in this band." I mean, he was the only one who could really play in the beginning anyway. I was an aspiring lead guitar player, singer/songwriter the whole time. But during the life of the band... Y'know, with the Dictators I'm Top Ten. That's what I do. After that... Since 1982, I've been basically making a living off my own songs.

Your solo work seems to veer more towards the style of Springsteen rather than punk or heavy rock...
Top Ten: Yeah, I'm definitely more of a singer/songwriter — American rock 'n' roll. I'm not a heavy rock fanatic. I like loud, but I'm not a heavy metal fan. I like Springsteen and Woody Guthrie...

Top Ten at the Stone — 1991
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Dylan...
Top Ten: Yeah, those people were very important to me. I was also a Beach Boys freak. All of them helped me piece together who I was. Springsteen is my favorite artist in the world. He's an incredible musician, and I think he's painted himself in a very admirable way. He's shown people that there's another map you can follow that doesn't end in premature death, and it doesn't end in drugs, or a lot of people that you stepped on.

Richard told me he felt the Dictators never got the respect they deserved. Do you agree?
Top Ten: Absolutely. What Andy wrote about on the first record... All that stuff about our lifestyle — White Castle hamburgers, wrestling, cars and girls — overshadowed the music to the point where the music was almost... I don't think people realize how good we are. I mean, we're actually really good, y'know! But the sense of humor overshadowed the band. I hate it when people say that it's a comedy act, because the music is there. Without the music, it would be a comedy act.

It also seemed like the band wasn't sure about what direction to go in. Each album seemed like a reaction to the previous one. 
Top Ten: We were children! We were 19/20 years old. And I think everyone's taste... or everyone's idea about what the band should be doing got tried. I didn't feel as close to the way the first album was received as the rest of the band. I'm not really sure; we never really talk about this.

The Dictators
Epic Records promo photo
It's one of my all-time favorite albums, but you didn't like Go Girl Crazy?
Top Ten: I love what it's about; I love that it's affected people; I love the songs. But the execution of it renders it absolutely unlistenable to me. I put it on, and I hear every mistake.

But compared to what was out there at the time... 
Top Ten: Oh, I know. That's why we started the band. It was a reaction... As much as it was something that we wanted to do, it was caused a lot by what was happening at the time, and we railed against that in a big way. But y'know, it was about the music for me. We had no intention when we made that first record of existing in some little margin of the whole big picture. We thought we were a great American rock 'n' roll band.

Is that why you signed with Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman? Did you hope they could do for the Dictators what they did for Blue Oyster Cult?
Top Ten: They came along before there was... anything. They were professional managers; they had a band on a major label; they said they could get us a deal. Blah, blah, blah. Sandy was connected to Richard Meltzer who was like our spiritual godfather. And we didn't know anybody else who could tell us what was a good idea and what wasn't. Anybody that would help us pay our rent and enable us to be in a rock 'n' roll band was OK by us. At that time, it was Sandy and Murray. In hindsight, if they had just managed us and not produced the records, it probably would've been better because they were not competent producers. And then perhaps Girl Crazy would have satisfied both you and me.

D.F.F.D. (Dictators Forever, Forever Dictators)
released in 2001
Was the direction the band took with Manifest Destiny a reaction to the commercial failure of the first album?
Top Ten: It wasn't only about running scared from commercial failure... We deserved better. Andy's a better writer than that; we're a better band than that. So we got Ritchie Teeter; he could play in time. And Mark the Animal, for all his heavy metal tendencies, was a fabulous musician. And all of a sudden, we had guys who were as good as Ross. Manifest Destiny had a lot to do with that, with the band living up to what it should be. And we tried to make a record that could compete with any of the nitwits that were out there. And there were nitwits aplenty — Styx and REO and whatever.

What were your thoughts going into Bloodbrothers?
Top Ten: Y'know, Bloodbrothers was the best we could do. It was stripped down... That was at least who we were. We decided we were gonna go back to clubs. If there were two people... If they were there to see us, we played to two people. And it was a very successful philosophy, but for a label like Elektra it was too little too late. And that was that.

Advert for Bloodbrothers
You can find lots of info about the Dictators and
fabulous ephemera like this at: https://dffdblog.com/
There have been several reunions over the years and I know you guys are working on a new album. Did the band ever really break-up?
Top Ten: Yeah, we broke-up. But we broke-up in a way that was like, "Okay, there's no more band. Alright, I'll see ya tomorrow."

And the next day you were rehearsing again...
Top Ten: We were at least together all the time. Eventually, in the '80s everybody went their separate ways professionally. But we were best friends, so whenever we were all around it was like, "Hey, you wanna do a show?" And finally, it was like, "Maybe we could make the record that we always wanted to make, and we can sort of rescue the legacy." I think the new record will do that.

How far along are you with recording the new album?
Top Ten: We're about halfway through recording it. And that brings us here. We're here to let people know we're alive and there's a record coming.

Is the Dictators an everyday concern for you again?
Top Ten: It is. We've all got lives, but this is an everyday concern. We all have a lot of love and respect for what we've done together. Y'know, we've done this for a quarter of a century together. That's a hell of a thing!

Ross The Boss

Manowar — featuring Ross the Boss
Tell me about Total Crudd.
Ross: My very first band! I was a teenager.

Did you do covers or original songs?
Ross: We did a lot of covers: Flamin' Groovies, Randy Newman, MC5... We were doing all sorts of weird stuff. It was an eclectic mix of musicians. It was pretty good; we had our moments... That's where I met Andy.

I heard about the house you guys all lived in.
Ross: We had the Out Of It House. It was like the original hippie house. We had parties and people were coming around all the time... Everyone in the place was a drug dealer — except me. There was so much pot and stuff going around; I was just partying all the time! New Paltz was just a total party town.

Is it true that you used to annoy people by playing MC5 records at the crack of dawn?
Ross: Yeah! I was into that high-energy stuff. I was listening to the Stooges and the MC5 and picking up all this new stuff. And everyone else was listening to New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Grateful Dead. I didn't really fit into that crowd, y'know.

Ross the Boss at Bottom of the Hill - 1999
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Did Total Crudd ever record anything?
Ross: There's some tapes, and someone said they could blackmail me with them.

Who were your guitar heroes?
Ross: When I first started playing, it was Eric Clapton and Cream. That was it. Leslie West and Mountain, those guys can really play. And Jimi Hendrix, of course. But when Clapton left Cream, I was devastated. When he stopped playing through Marshalls, to me it was just... That's music; anything less than that is just unacceptable. Of course, there's other people that play very good stuff, but that's why I idolized him — wailing, loud, beautiful solos.

So, you met Andy at the Out Of It House...
Ross: Yeah. Andy said, "This stuff is lame, Ross. We gotta do something." So, we started jamming together.

Did he already have the Dictators in mind?
Ross: We didn't have the Dictators in mind. He was a writer; he was doing fanzine writing. And he knew all these people, like Richard Meltzer. And Richard Meltzer knew Sandy Pearlman. So, we got this house up in Kerhonkson... The boonies, man! We were living upstate and practicing and practicing...

Was Richard just hanging around?
Ross: He was our friend, our roadie; he cooked breakfast for us. We didn't have any idea what his talent was! Haha! He came onstage one night at Popeyes... I remember Chris Stein was in the audience. So, Richard came up and sang "Wild Thing." And the place went insane! The place went crazy! We said, "We think we found somebody."

Ross the Boss at the Bottom of the Hill — 1999
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Were you already playing some of the songs from the first album at that point?
Ross: We had a few songs... "Two Tub Man" was the first Dictators' song that we ever wrote, and every night we still play that song. But it's been really amazing, the whole evolution of the band. And we're still here. It's amazing!

The Dictators were around before clubs like CBGBs started featuring punk rock bands...
Ross: Yeah, yeah...

Did you mostly play at the Coventry?
Ross: That was the only real place we could play. Kiss was playing there at the time. They'd already started; they pre-dated us by a little bit. At one point there were three bands that had record contracts in the City: the Dolls, the Dictators and Kiss.

How did you get your first recording contract with Epic?
Ross: It was through Sandy Pearlman. He was Blue Oyster Cult's manager, and we were able to parlay that. He was pumping money into us!

The Dictators headline the Palladium with
the Michael Stanley Band and (introducing) AC/DC.
August 24, 1977
Did you open a lot of shows for BOC?
Ross: Yeah, it was easy to play with them. Of course, we didn't fit at all!

What were the audiences like at the arena shows you were doing?
Ross: Audiences were... Some nights it was amazing. I remember one night we opened for ZZ Top in Binghamton, New York, and they loved us! I mean, we got encores! And Alice Cooper, we'd get encores! But other nights the audiences were like, "What is this?" Back then people said to us, "What the fuck are you guys doing? I mean, really what the fuck are you doing? This is the worst pile of shit that we've ever heard." Back then, there was Uriah Heep and all these lame beer guzzling... I fucking hated it!

Shakin' Street  (CBS 1980)
It seemed like the band got worried and switched direction when the first album didn't sell well...
Ross: We got worried because we didn't sell a fucking lick, and no one understood us. We just had to do something a little different. I don't know why...

What was the relationship like between Richard and Andy back then? Was there a lot of friction between them?
Ross: That relationship... I mean, it's a very strange relationship still to this day. Andy and Richard... It's a double-headed monster.

What happened after Bloodbrothers?
Ross: After Bloodbrothers, we sort of went on hiatus. I took a gig with this band Shakin' Street from France. We played a lot in the Bay Area; we actually recorded the album at the Automat. That was in 1980.

And then you formed Manowar?
Ross: Shakin' Street was on tour supporting Black Sabbath in England, and Ronnie James Dio introduced me to Joey [DeMaio, bassist], who turned out to be my future partner in Manowar. We decided to form a band... We didn't even have to play a show. We met this guy from EMI who signed me right off — he liked my idea, my concept — and Battle Hymns came out in 1982. I recorded six records with them, and in 1988 I left the band.

Iconic photo by David Godlis, 1976
Why did you leave Manowar? 
Ross: I didn't like the direction the band was going in. Y'know, the usual things. But they're still going. They're huge in Europe and South America, and I still get my checks. They've put out two live albums with my songs on them, which I'm very happy about.

And you're recording a new Dictators' album.
Ross: Yes, the album's going to be done pretty soon. This is our last show and then we're going to finish the record. As a matter of fact, I have another project that I'm doing called the Spinatras. That album [@midnight.com] is coming out in August.

Finally, how did you get the nickname Ross the Boss?
Ross: It's from when I was a kid, playing baseball. My friends always said, "Ayyy, it's Ross the Boss." And I kept it because Ross Friedman is really not a rock 'n' roll name. And Funichello isn't even my name. To this day, I can't stand it!

* * *

* The album the Dictators were working on at the time of these interviews would be called D.F.F.D. It was released in 2001.

* Drummer Ritchie Teeter passed away on April 10, 2012 due to complications from esophageal cancer.

* Drummer Stu Boy King passed away on May 1, 2018 following a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Inspiral Carpets: Discussing Revenge of the Goldfish, Coronation Street & Cows With Clint Boon

Inspiral Carpets
Cover photo from the "Island Head" EP (Mute 1990)
Originally published in American Music Press (1992)

By Devorah Ostrov

At this point, several years on from the peak of the 1980s garage-rock revival, any American group still employing a Farfisa organ and wearing paisley shirts would be regulated to the dollar bin of any quality record store. But should the band be from England, especially Manchester (or "Madchester" as it's been affectionately nicknamed), they're hailed as "innovative" and top the alternative charts on both continents. And I say that in all fondness because I really like Inspiral Carpets.

To the band's credit, although Inspiral Carpets (they really deserve kudos for that excellent moniker which, like the Peanut Butter Conspiracy and Chocolate Watchband, sounds cool but means absolutely nothing) make a good job of capturing the essence of mid-sixties garage-punk in their sound, they've never been overly concerned with recreating the whole picture. Only keyboardist Clint Boon has the requisite psychedelic wardrobe and hairstyle.

Revenge of the Goldfish — Elektra/Mute (1992)
"That's definitely one of our strong points," agrees Boon on the phone from Los Angeles, where he's promoting the group's latest Elektra Records/Mute release, Revenge of the Goldfish. "Even though everybody knows that the '60s inspire our records, we could never be looked at as being a revivalist band; we've always looked like a '90s bunch of guys. Sure, I wear crazy shirts and have the bowl haircut, but Martyn (Walsh, bassist) is bald!"

Originally formed in Oldham, Greater Manchester, by guitarist Graham Lambert and vocalist Stephen Holt (who was replaced by Tom Hingley before the group signed to Mute and released its first album), the Inspiral's current lineup came together in 1986/87 with the addition of Boon, Walsh, and teenage drummer Craig Gill.

At the time, a psychedelia resurgence in the UK saw members of the Damned and ex-Sisters of Mercy drinking the night away to the sounds of the Seeds, ? and the Mysterians, and the Electric Prunes at a London club called Alice in Wonderland.

Boon hung out there too. "I was probably watching Doctor and the Medics!" he says. And, he notes: "When we started out we wanted to sound like the Seeds and ? and the Mysterians."

Inspiral Carpets in America
and on the cover of the NME.
Of course, Inspiral Carpets could never completely emulate their musical heroes. Mostly because they're just not insane enough. No one is these days.

Although we didn't discuss the band's drug use (or lack thereof), I'm pretty sure that for all its feedback frenzy, "Generations" — the lead track off Revenge of the Goldfish — wasn't written while the band tripped on acid.

And where the Seeds and ? and the Mysterians' lyrical output tended towards flower-power mysticism and teen angst, the Inspirals tackle more poignant issues of the human condition.

Take for example the melancholic "Two Worlds Collide" — one of the singles from the new album. "It could be placed anywhere," explains Boon, "every city has them. But it's about the vagrants we saw in Athens last year. It's about all the poor people starving to death in the city of the Acropolis and the statues of the gods." The opening verse goes:

"I steal to feed
I fight to breathe
To hunger not greed
I find these days,
It's the only way I can survive..."

Besides, Boon and his bandmates seem like really nice guys. At one point he tells me how the band's success has afforded he and his American-born wife a better lifestyle. "I've been able to help my parents out as well," he adds. "We bought two brand-new [semi-detached] houses and knocked the wall down between the two dining rooms so we can go through into each other's houses." (I have a feeling that Sky Saxon wouldn't tell his parents where his was living, let alone move in next door.)

Inspiral Carpets — publicity photo
By the time John Peel gave the Inspirals his stamp of approval with a Peel Sessions recording in 1989, the group had already issued "Plane Crash" (a five-song EP which included a cover of "96 Tears") on the Manchester indie Playtime Records, as well as a handful of three, four and five-song EPs on their own Cow label.

It's debatable whether the "Madchester" scene would've happened in such a big way had the legendary DJ not drawn attention to the bands emerging from the grey northern city, but Boon is certain that the Inspiral Carpets would have made it with or without "the scene."

NME special "Madchester" issue featuring
the Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays & 
Inspiral Carpets.
"The end result was we got success a little quicker than we would've done," he allows. "But we knew we were destined to be successful."

Boon's voice rises a touch to emphasize: "The scene was christened nine or ten months after John Peel came along and raved about how good we were, so we were already established."

Then he gets downright huffy: "And it became a bit frustrating really, because we were just seen as the third of what they called the 'triumvirate' of Manchester bands. It was always the Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays and the Inspirals — when we were the first ones doing psychedelic music and the dance/crossover kind of stuff."

In 1990 the Inspirals had a UK hit with the evocative "This is How it Feels" from their debut LP, Life. (There's also a rather jaunty cover version by Carter USM. When I mention that I heard the cover first, Boon quickly points out: "I wrote that! But I do think theirs is really good, and it's done with respect. Some people think it's a send-up, but it's not. We appreciate them doing it.") Since then, the band has consistently topped the charts in England.

"Traditionally, all of our songs have been No. 1 in the independent charts," states Boon. "Then you have the Top 40 — the BBC charts — where we're always at least in the Top 20."

Inspiral Carpets
Elektra Records publicity photo
Although they are getting a lot of airplay on alternative radio stations here in the Bay Area, Boon acknowledges that conquering America won't be so easily done.

"It's a lot harder over here because we're not as typical of the '90s as say a band like EMF. They're a very definitive '90s pop group. All the elements that are relevant to the '90s — dance music, attitude, gay culture — are embodied in EMF's image and sound. And that's exactly why they're big in America. To me, they're the Rolling Stones of the '90s. I really mean that. Whereas we're like the Kinks."

I venture that while the Stones may be more popular than the Kinks, the Kinks are actually more important musically.

"Yeah!" agrees Boon. "That's exactly what I think about us and EMF. EMF are friends of ours so I'm not knocking them, but what they're doing is a bit more inventive, very relevant to now. Whereas we write traditional songs. We like melodies and themes, and there's always going to be a demand for that. In five years' time EMF's songs may not be relevant, but I think the albums we're making will always be relevant."

* * *

An assortment of Inspiral Carpets' merchandise
Q: What's the deal with cows and all the stuff with "moo" on it?

Boon: I was raised in an area full of farms; I was as familiar with cows as I was with dogs and cats. That led to some embarrassingly over-publicized audience encounters. We decided to use some photos I'd taken of the cows as projections onstage, and that's where it all began. The audience started mooing at us like cows!

Q: Is your wife a big Inspiral Carpets fan?

Boon: She's into the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane's Addiction — those are her two favorite bands. She's not an Inspiral Carpets fan, which is quite amusing, although she likes some of the songs that I write. Being in a band, we obviously meet a lot of girls who like us because we're one of the Inspirals. So, it's great when you meet someone who likes you but hates that you're in the Inspirals. That's why I married her!

Q: What do you think about the possibility of a Sex Pistols' reunion?

"Two Worlds Collide" 12-inch single
(Mute 1992)
Boon: I'm a bit saddened by it, but only because they're one of the bands who have always said they wouldn't do it. Actually, I was never a big fan of theirs. I was into Buzzcocks and the Fall — who I still believe won't reform. That would be a sad day for me because the Fall are one of my icons! But I believed in the Pistols; I believed in a lot of the values of that generation. I take it someone in the band is short of money, which is sad. So, I can't blame them. If fifteen years down the road me wife and me babies are a bit short of money and someone says, "You wanna reform the Inspirals?" I'll say, "Yep! Let me just get the Farfisa outta the attic and I'll be right with you." We've always been dead straight about things like that. I don't think we've contradicted ourselves — yet.

Q: I heard that you bumped into Iggy Pop. What was that like?

Boon: We met him in Toronto two years ago. We were doing the same TV show, and he was a really nice guy. But to meet Iggy Pop... It's not even like meeting God; it's like meeting IGGY POP!

Q: Do you vote for Conservative, Labour, or an independent party?

Inspiral Carpets — publicity photo
Boon: In England we've just got the Green Party, and that's the kind of political party I'd definitely vote for. But I honestly don't know what the solution is, and that's why I can't bring myself to vote for any particular party. What Bob Geldof did with Live Aid, that is an inspiration! And Sting, he's doing his bit. I think people like that are more capable of sorting out some of the planet's problems than Bush or Clinton.

Q: Why is Coronation Street such a big deal in England?

Boon: Coronation Street is the world's oldest soap opera. It's been going for thirty-something years. It's based in Manchester, in a very industrial, poor part of the city. There's one guy in the cast who was in the original show. In the original episodes he played a young boy, now he's approaching middle-age. It's something we've all grown up with. I'm thirty-three, so this program has always been a part of my life. It's not like an anchor point, but it gives you a sense of security to know it's there. It's a very important part of people's lives.

Q: Is it true that the Inspiral Carpets are going to be in an episode of Coronation Street?

Campaign to make the Inspiral Carpets' 1994 hit 
"Saturn Five" a Christmas No. 1 in memory of 
drummer Craig Gill who died in November 2016.
Boon: We've approached the script writers and said, "Could you write us a part?" You know, just a walk-on part, and they're working on it. We'll probably walk into the Rovers Return, drink some beer, and go back out. Our music's actually been played on Coronation Street. The McDonald children fancy the Inspirals!

Q: Have you noticed any big differences between Americans and Brits?

Boon: In England things don't change as fast as they do in America. One of the things I've noticed about America, and Americans in general — every so often they just pack up shop and move to a different part of the country; their families are all spread out. Whereas in England, people are born, and they live and die in the same town. I'm generalizing, but that's the way it works in England. I now live two miles away from the village where I was born. Whenever I drive through that village I see the same people that I went to school with. They'll die in that same town without ever seeing the world. They'll never travel around like we do. Even though I still live in the same place, I've managed to break away. I'm quite lucky in that respect.

Friday, 7 September 2018

When Aerosmith Reunited, Steven Tyler Couldn't Wait To Tell Two Ditzy Fanzine Writers The News!


Aerosmith at the time of this interview. 
Publicity photo by Ron Pownall
Originally published in Rave-Up  #9 (1985)

Interview by Devorah Ostrov & Michelle Castro

In early 1984 Aerosmith was washed-up, finished, kaput. Lead guitarist Joe Perry had left the group five years earlier, while rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford had quit in '81. They'd been replaced by session player Jimmy Crespo and complete unknown Rick Dufay, respectively, but the band's last album, Rock in a Hard Place, was two years old by that point and no one had paid much attention to it.

Last spring, I was in New York hanging out with my friend Michelle. Thumbing through someone's record collection, I mused: "Aerosmith... you don't hear much about them anymore."

Steven Tyler
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
On a whim, I placed a call to Lieber Krebs Management and asked if I could interview Steven Tyler while I was in town. A time was set for the following afternoon. Really! It was that easy! Because everyone thought Aerosmith was over.

But, the thing was... Aerosmith wasn't over. They were back (in the saddle, as one might say)! Just days before he literally bounded into the management office for this chat, Steven Tyler had reunited with Joe Perry and Brad Whitford — and the original Aerosmith had reformed!

And I should perhaps mention that this interview with Steven Tyler had more to do with lucky timing than with my being the editor of a photocopied fanzine with a circulation of perhaps 200. Steven was just excited to tell someone the news, and two ditzy fanzine writers just happened to be the first in line.

* * *

Rave-Up: When did you guys decide to get the original band back together?

Steven: About a week-and-a-half ago. We've already got 26 new songs!

"I'm Framed" - Steven autographed
 this copy of Circus magazine for me!
Rave-Up: What about Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay? Are they just suddenly out of the band?

Steven: Yeah... well, y'know... Everybody knew that the band would get back together some day. They just didn't know when. So, I called Jimmy up. I said, "Jimmy, y'know, I've got some bad news." And he took it pretty bad, y'know. Dufay on the other hand, is such a fucking madman... Whether he's good or not, he believes in himself so much that he'll probably wind up being the more successful of them. And that's really crazy because Jimmy Crespo is so fucking talented.

Rave-Up: Maybe they'll form a band together.

Steven: I don't know... I hope so. But I don't think so because they don't get along. See, there was no magic in the new Aerosmith at all. What you saw onstage... Whew! I don't know how we got away with it. I never felt the magic.

Rave-Up: Yeah, there was definitely a lot more magic in the old group!

Steven: Shit, y'know we were all in this room last Thursday — all of us. It was the first time we'd gotten together again, and everybody was going like this [he raises his hands above the table like a medium] "Whoooooo...." Looking around seeing fucking Joe Perry and Brad Whitford... It just felt so fucking good! I'm such a fucking fan! I still have an autograph from Joe Perry; I'm such a fan of his. It's true!

An early Aerosmith publicity photo.
Rave-Up: Were you and Joe still friends when he left? Did you keep in touch?

Steven: No. He had the most vicious tyrant cunt bitch for a wife [Elissa Perry]. She's changed since then. I mean, the only reason I say that is because every quality she has, I have. That's how I identify with her. Y'know, you can't bullshit a bullshitter. We did a gig in Cleveland [the Lakefront Stadium, July 28, 1979] and she was backstage... Y'know who she reminds me of? Y'know Erika on... uhmm...

Rave-Up: All My Children?

The World Series of Rock at Cleveland's Lakefront 
Stadium - the last time the original Aerosmith lineup 
would play together for five years.
Steven: All My Children! That's Elissa! So, anyway... She got into an argument with Tom Hamilton's wife and threw hot milk in her face. This was right before we were going onstage. You just don't do that! Tom was uptight, and the show sucked.
   And after the show I said, "Joe, I'm never fucking playing onstage with you again. Get the fuck out of here!" I was drunk; I was high. I didn't mean everything I said. But I did at the time. I really didn't wanna... I said, "Fuck you! I can do it without you." Y'know, all those big-headed things.
   And we were pretty successful after Joe left, but not anything near the old Aerosmith. In the old Aerosmith, I'd turn around to the audience, then I'd turn around and face Joey... I'd be smiling from ear-to-ear. The magic was there! Every once in a while, we got it with [the new] band, but it wasn't like it was. So, we're back together!

Rave-Up: Are Joe and Elissa still married?

Steven (laughing): No! That's why it's safe. I mean, it used to be I'd say, "Joe, we gotta rehearse now. I'll come over to your house." And she'd say, "No, you're not." And I'd say, "Okay, Joe. Why not?" Y'know, I'd have to talk to her. It was just fucking, totally ridiculous. Everybody in the band hated her.

(Steven takes a moment to glance at a TV in the room, which is tuned to MTV.)

Steven Tyler
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Rave-Up: Are you guys going to do a video for MTV?

Steven: Oh, yeah! As a matter of fact, we're going to the Berklee School of Music. Have you ever heard of it?

Rave-Up: Yeah, in Boston.

Steven: Well, Fenway Theater is right next door. That's where we first... We used to rehearse there when we were real poor. The place was so big we never imagined playing somewhere like that. And that's small now, compared to the Garden. But the Berklee School of Music bought the Fenway Theater. They use it 'cause they have a course in photography, which encompasses video. And they also have two 24-track in-house studios. Which means you can go in there and plug into the wall, and they can record you. So, we're going to go in there and do two or three quick versions of "Dream On," "Walk This Way," and something else.
     We'll probably get three days. But before that we'll take "Walk This Way," for instance, and to give you a rough idea... Maybe I'll put a moustache on with a cigar and [he assumes the classic Groucho Marx stance and sings] ... "Walk this way!" I'll have everybody in the place with cigars and those fake noses with moustaches. We'll take a minute of that and cut it into us playing live, y'know, a real simple video — almost like junk. Something with one camera, real easy, no problems. And we'll give it to MTV. We'll give 'em "Dream On," probably "Train Kept a Rollin'," and "Walk This Way."
     Even though you haven't heard of Aerosmith lately, fucking "Walk This Way" and "Sweet Emotion" are still getting played all the time. Last week's Billboard... let me see... Toys in the Attic and Rocks... Toys in the Attic went from #18 to #5!

Steven autographed this sticker for me!
Rave-Up: Wow! Those albums are still in the charts?

Steven: They're still in the charts! This isn't the major chart, it's called "mid-road picks." It's all the oldies albums. They still have a certain chart of their own because of their sales.

Rave-Up: I was reading this old Circus magazine that said you used to be in the Left Banke. I've never heard about that. Is it true?

Steven: No, I went into the studio with them way back when we were first managed by... somebody. They were managed by them too. So, I got to know all the guys and I went into the studio with them. I remember one night, I was hanging out at their apartment and one of them said, "Holy shit! We're recording tonight!" And to me, back then, just to be with those guys was incredible. To find out that they were recording and one of them forgot 'cause they were so drunk or stoned on pot... I just couldn't believe it. They didn't even have any songs written. So, I sat down with one of them and I helped him write a song, which was called "Dark is the Bark." But I was never in [the Left Banke].

(Steven starts leafing through the copy of Rave-Up #8 that we've handed him.)

Steven: I wish you'd send me this magazine. What's this? Count Five? No shit!

Rave-Up: I've also heard a rumor that you used to roadie for the Yardbirds.

Steven Tyler stars in this advert for the
"got milk?" campaign.
Steven: That's another thing... We had a real good manager when I was in a group called Chain Reaction, and we toured a lot. On the same tour circuit, we got to play with the Yardbirds, and they liked us so much that we went from the Anderson Theater up to Westchester, and we did Connecticut with them. This was way back when... let me see... Page was in the band; Keith Relf was in the band. Oh boy, that was great!
     So, we toured with them and, of course, when you bring your own gear in, you bring it all in in one fell swoop. We all helped. I could say that the Yardbirds were roadies for us. Somebody once asked me about it, and they turned it into that story. I told them the whole story, about how a couple of nights the Yardbirds got stuck and had to use our equipment. They turned it into how we were roadies for them.

Rave-Up: Is that where you picked up "Train Kept a Rollin'," or did you know that song before you met the Yardbirds?

Steven: No, we knew it before. That was done by... uhmm... Oh shit, who were the original people? See if you can look into that for me. [Tiny Bradshaw, 1951] The something Trio... [Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio, 1956]. The original version is so funky. You can hear where they [the Yardbirds] got it from. It's great! I think we're gonna do a cover song on this next album. We might do "Psychotic Reaction." Great fucking song! Tell the Count Five that I'm a big fan. That song... I used to dry my hair to that song. I did! I used to use a vacuum cleaner. I'd take the hose and turn it the other way, so it blew out. Then I'd take a brush and I'd blow my hair like this [Steven demonstrates the fine art of blow drying his hair with a vacuum cleaner hose]. I hated my hair! And I was always late for school. I'd take the vacuum cleaner, turn it around the other way, let it heat up first... You have no idea!

Steven Tyler in an advert for the Kia Stinger.
Rave-Up: Were you popular in high school?

Steven: I was always getting thrown out. [He mimics a woman's voice over an old PA system]. "Steven Tallarico to the office, please." And then all over the school you'd hear, "Hey [raspberry noises] ...!" So, I used to take my hair and I'd use... What the hell is it called? Butch Wax or Pomatex — real thick stuff. And then I'd pull it back, and I'd always wear turtlenecks. In fact, in the high school yearbook I got an award for wearing the ugliest turtlenecks. I always had to wear them because when I went to the principal's office, I'd get: "Turn around!" And my hair was all the way down my back. I'd tell the principal, "Man, I'm doing television shows..." And he'd go, "Yeah, sure. You're suspended." So, what else do you want to know?

Day on the Green #3 featuring Aerosmith, 
Foreigner, Pat Travers, Van Halen & AC/DC
 July 23, 1978.
Rave-Up: Why did you let Peter Frampton kill you in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band? You could have easily taken him!

Steven: I didn't! He didn't kill me! If you notice, at the end I fell. That's all. The real scene... I said, first of all to Peter, "There's no way in hell that you're gonna kill me." I said this to them all. I remember telling them... I even did the scene. We were up on a 35-foot stage, there were $100 bills with a picture of me in the middle... And I was like this [he starts building scaffolding out of things on the table], this and this... and up on top was the stage.
   I had to roll off that onto a big fucking airbag at the bottom. I did that about 20 times. It was great! So, I'm lying on the ground, chalk marked off like when someone's dead, y'know. So, I'm lying on the ground like this [he sprawls out on the floor and acts out the scene], all bent out of shape. And then someone came by to pick me up, and I took my clothes off and laid them back down. Then they poured this liquid nitrogen over the clothes and filmed it really quick, so it would show me laying there crumpled and then suddenly turn to smoke.
     So, I went back to the hotel that night and said, "What the fuck?! I'm dying on screen in front of all these kids." Frampton had just done his big album, but Aerosmith was definitely happening. And I said, "Nope, I'm not gonna do it. Either we're out or you take that scene out." So, they took the scene out.

Steven Tyler in another advert for
the "got milk?" campaign.
Rave-Up: Really, you should have just slaughtered them! I mean, Aerosmith vs. the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton? There's no contest!

Steven: Right? I know! We were the Future Villains, and just to get in a movie was fantastic. Yeah, that was fun. I'd love to do more movies.

Rave-Up: Do you want acting roles or just rock star-type roles?

Steven: I've been offered to do things for television... Wella hair commercials!

Rave-Up: Wow! That would be funny.

Steven: And [sings] "I love New York..." But I stay out of them because I think doing things like that is overexposure for a band. When mommies start liking you, then the kids don't. I just don't wanna... Besides, I just don't want to spread myself too thin. And any acting thing I get... I think I'm in the position where everybody will know who I am, but they haven't seen so much that... I don't think I'm typecast as "Steven Tyler." Although I might be wrong.

Rave-Up: You're typecast as "the bad boy of rock 'n' roll."

Steven: Yeah! So, I know my place too. I wouldn't be the "father of normality." Although I might get away with that if there was a little lechery in it! Who knows what'll come up? When I tell people that we're back together... Y'know, a lot of people thought we were dead!