Blast From The Past: The Del Lords

Real American Rock'n'Roll

Real American Rock'n'Roll

Twenty-five years ago, a working man’s band swam upstream against the tide of electronica, arena rock and Euro-noodling to smack America upside its head and start the rock’n’roll bandwagon rolling again. Scott Kempner (“Top Ten” from The Dictators), Eric Ambel (fresh from Joan Jett and The Blackhearts), bassist Manny Calati and drummer Frank Funaro were NYC guys who thought the segregation of music into genres was absurd. They knew that rock’n’roll came from country, blues and gospel, and so too would their sound.

Call it roots rock, cowpunk, or Americana if you want to, but The Del Lords wrote heartfelt songs about the struggles and joy of life and played them with passion and fire. The first track from this debut album is the brilliant “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live”, and if you need to define the band by a single moment, that’s as good a definition as any.

When Frontier Days announced their presence, radio didn’t get it. But those of us who were yearning for honest rock’n’roll were thrilled to climb on board for the ride, a journey that would last through five albums and a lifetime of memories. Lou Whitney‘s bright production showed off the stellar guitar work of Kempner and Ambel, and while the four vocalists didn’t quite live up to Kempner’s goal of an “East Coast Beach Boys” (and didn’t The Four Seasons already own that title?), the vocals were solid and the album filled with melodic, hooky pop songs filtered through their barroom rock sound.

While millions of teenagers were pumping their fists to Bon Jovi’s “Living On A Prayer” in arenas around the world, The Del Lords were singing about the real adult world with “Livin’ On Love” and “Double Life”. Anyone struggling to get through life, their job, or even their day could appreciate “Get Tough” and “Pledge of Love”; even the comic “I Play The Drums” deals with channeling frustration through music rather than pounding someone in the face. But don’t be fooled by that levity – these guys were as urban, gritty and streetwise in their way as The Clash were in theirs…not to mention Springsteen, Dylan, Presley and other American icons.

Kempner went on to release two excellent solo records and joins The Dictators when they get together; Ambel moved on to become an in-demand producer while continuing to make great music in bands like The Yayhoos; Funaro now plays drums for Cracker. But there’s a new buzz a quarter century later, from rumors of a reunion to the reissue of their catalogue (with bonus tracks). There are many bands whose output can be safely contained in a single greatest hits album, some even with filler. The Del Lords are not . Enjoy one of the finest American bands the way they were meant to be heard – in their entirety – and I highly recommend that you start at the beginning with Frontier Days.

The man who inspired their name.

Del Lords info at AllMusic

The Del Lords on Wikipedia

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8 Comments

Filed under Features and Interviews, Music, Reviews

8 responses to “Blast From The Past: The Del Lords

  1. I loved this band so much in the late 80s. Bought the reissues recently and fell back in love all over again.

  2. drbristol

    Bands like The Del Lords, Guadalcanal Diary, The Beat Farmers and The Long Ryders helped me survive a lonnnng perid of bad radio. I still an amazed that the majority of people have never heard of any of them.

    Kempner is a first rate rhythm guitarist, too (an underrated skill) and his interplay with Ambel was always a treat.

  3. alex

    Great piece about one of my fave bands . You mention Scott’s solo records. But Eric Ambel’s 3 solo records also need to be mentioned, great stuff.
    I heard about a tour in Spain…next year? let’s hope they come to Holland too.

  4. drbristol

    You’re right – as I re-read this I did shortsight him by comparison, but I was just trying to jot a quick “and they all did more things” close for the essay.

    I own all three and know I reviewed Knucklehead when it came out. I’ve ambled (ouch) into the Lakeside Lounge on a few trips to Manhattan but have never been lucky enough to catch him jamming. (Probably hard at work in the studio, making magic.)

    Thanks for the note – I’m going to slap one in the player right now!

  5. keith

    Great news about the D Lords getting back. But why Spain? Hoping for some UK gigs or a SXSW outing (Been going over for 10 yrs from UK.) One time stopped off at NYC on way back to UK and luckily the Roscoe Trio were playing a short set at Lakeside Lounge. Eric gave me a an unreleased copy of Knucklehead , The ‘Scoe had just rocked SXSW with The Yahoos too, a true gent. Proud to call him my friend.

  6. drbristol

    Spain, like Japan, has a pretty appreciative audience for American rock and pop music. Sadly we don’t seem to match it these days.

    Let’s hope that some live recordings surface, perhaps even a reunion DVD, and that sparks both their interest (and ours) into a well-publicized and well attended tour. They deserve the applause.

  7. RDT

    Been a DL fan since I saw Roscoe jam with the Morells in Milwaukee at Summerfest back in ’82 I think (yikes!) when I yelled “great set” he came over and introduced himself as a member of the Del-Lords and told me to keep an eye out for Frontier Days, which had yet to be released. Man, did that record knock my socks off. Caught them at the Cubby Bear in Chicago right after that and then the Park West after Johnny Comes Marching Home came out. I’ve really missed these guys. SO glad they’re reforming and I hope they get out on the road in the USA. Hear hear to a live reunion CD/DVD combo.

    Life is good.

  8. Michael

    God..Don’t forget Mason Ruffner

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