Tag Archives: The Dictators

The Rock And Roll 500

The windowless white van rumbled eastward on Route 90, soon to take a dogleg right and hook up with its brother highway, The Mass Pike. A six-hour trek that normally would clog at one end or another, but on the two interior days of a four-day holiday, traffic was pretty much non-existent. Most people were already where they wanted to be. I was just going back and forth, as usual.

When I was her age, I moved a few times, and always with the help of friends. Someone always had a truck. Everyone would focus on the beer and pizza at the end of the run, and were it not for my abnormal amount of vinyl albums, we could probably have been in and done in a couple of hours. But I forgot what it’s like to live in a major city where public transportation is the norm, where not only do you not have a car, but no one you know does, either. And besides, isn’t this what Dads do?

The rental van was reasonably priced but came with its limitations. No power locks, so each of the five doors had to be constantly checked. No power windows, either – do they really still make hand cranks? And much to my horror, just a radio. No CD player, not even a cassette, and certainly no input for a digital device to be plugged in. Nope, the front end of the trip would be a hollow metal can bouncing down the road (what, you expected soundproofing?) and me alone with my thoughts, unless I could find something decent on the radio. I had given up trying to do that years ago.

But it’s Memorial Day Weekend, so rock stations across the country are broadcasting their own version of the Rock And Roll 500, a countdown of the five hundred greatest rock songs ever made. And although I constantly have to hit the scanner, as signals fade and ebb between markets or on each side of a mountain pass, sooner or later it’s there. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, Cream, U2, Bruce Springsteen, The Cars, The Who, The Police, The Ramones…song after song that I know like the back of my hand, whether I like them or not. It’s a bit 60s and 70s heavy, but rightfully so, because that’s when the apex took place.

I remember selling my Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin albums in a used record store, not so much because I needed the money but because radio had played “Free Bird” and “Stairway To Heaven” so often that I couldn’t bear to hear either band again. This egregious life choice was eventually recanted, of course, even though those two particular songs have long worn out their welcome. But the punk ethic of the time was to burn the past, and somehow I got caught up in the moment. I mean, really – I have never disliked the first four Led Zeppelin albums, they are incredible…but there they went across the counter.

It was a mistake I would not repeat; the day my senses came back to me and I repurchased them was also the day I realized that there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. I like what I like, period. I don’t owe you an apology for that just because you disagree.

I thought of that a lot during the six-hour drive as I beat rhythms on the dashboard and heard my voice echo through the empty metal canister (reverb!), singing along as a large part of my childhood was played out for me one track at  a time. I remembered the boxes of 45s that I meticulously catalogued, the first albums I listened to over headphones, juggling prog and pop and glam and blues in college. Even the glee with which Roger and I would pore through the new punk singles arriving at Record Theatre – usually one scooped up by him and one by me, leaving none to be placed in the racks for sale. There was always an insatiable taste for great songs, and there was always the bedrock of what had come before.

I thought of the music I wasn’t hearing on the trip; were there really no J. Geils Band songs, even on the Boston station? And Tom Petty, who quietly went from ignored to elder statesman just by never stopping – would I hear “American Girl“? I already knew that The Dictators, Billy Bremner, Dwight Twilley, John Hiatt, and other lifelong favorites would probably not be heard from, but how was I not hearing a Kinks song?

Heading westward was a different story; the stations seemed less numerous and the song selections started to get downright odd. Even Eli turned to me at one point with her face scrunched up as a Candlebox song came in at number 168. I was incredulous. “The entire Kinks catalogue is better than that song“, I told her, and as “Everything Little Thing She Does is Magic” followed at #167 I imagined Sting sighing, relieved that when the great books were tabulated, someone gave the nod to his fine effort to move ahead – just ahead – of the mighty Candlebox.

Eli and I talked about many things on the way back, and the conversation turned to Lady Gaga. I don’t really care for him/her in the same way that I was never a Madonna fan – I’m much more centered on the music than the spectacle. Eli grew up listening to her own music but also getting the aural second-hand smoke of mine. My rule was and is that the driver picks the music, not the passengers. “I don’t think it’s great music per se“, she said, “but when I feel like dancing in a club it’s really fun and gets everyone going. It’s great for what it is, and I like it for that.” No guilt, just pleasure. A chip off the old block.

The sun had long set and we still had a couple of hours to go when “Going To Califormia” came on the radio, and I let it wash over me. I wasn’t going anywhere but home, but I must have channeled a dozen road trip memories in my mind. Had Eli turned to her left she would wonder why I had a shit-eating grin on my face after the long day, but someday she’ll do that herself. If there’s a better song to hear when you’re in a pensive mood on a long car trip, I can’t think of one right now.

And to think I once sold that album for a dollar. What fools these mortals be.

Led Zeppelin: “Going To California

4 Comments

Filed under Editorials, Music

Under The Radar: The Brandos

They weren’t under the radar in the 1980s…

But like many great bands, The Brandos are now and have been for some time. I can’t explain why so much quality music can’t grab the attention of large segments of the American public, but my suggestion would be that not getting airplay might have something to do with it. Sure, “Gettysburg” was an FM radio staple for a bit and even made some waves on eMpTV, but that was a quarter-century ago.

Video: “Gettysburg

Like other ex-pats, they realized that Europe could appreciate a great band, so rather than chase major labels like Columbia Records or Warner Brothers, these bands signed with Blue Rose and SPV and Line. Only fans would realize that they were still recording, touring, creating…others would figure them as one-hit wonders and close the books. Of course, that was before everyone had the technology to not only search them out, but to download and order music from halfway across the globe.

Video: “The Keeper” (unplugged)

Of course, I do have a disease. I’ve been scouting music since I was old enough to walk into a department store record department and flip through the singles and read any magazine I could get my hands on. Can’t tell you how many catalogues I set away for , nor how many checks I mailed to odd remote addresses. But today it’s as simple as bouncing an artist’s name off Google, MySpace and You Tube…but you have to make the effort to look for great music, it won’t be handed to you. Those who don’t miss out on bands like The Diamond Dogs and The Refreshments and the great Herman Brood.

And yes, they miss out on The Brandos.

On first listen I immediately loved singer David Kincaid’s slightly sandpapered vocals; they had the comfort and familiarity one would expect from hours of listening exposure. And when I finally heard The Brandos cover “Lodi” I realized why – there’s a lot of John Fogerty DNA in there. Like Fogerty, Kincaid sings with unbridled passion.

Video: “Walk On The Water

In 1994, Kincaid and longtime partner-in-crime Ernie Mendillo were on the road with two other New York legends, Scott Kempner and Frank Funaro, names any Dictators or Del Lords fans should know. Recording two shows in Amsterdam and Utrecht, the appropriately named In Exile Live was released. A brilliant cross-sampling of their recorded career, it featured rousing rock anthems, Irish folk tunes and a couple of pitch-perfect primal rock covers of The Sonics’ classics “Strychnine” and “Psycho” (a tip of the cap to Kincaid’s roots in the Seattle club scene).

Video: “Strychnine

I’ve been blasting this CD over the last couple of days and heartily recommend that anyone who hasn’t heard it drop what they’re doing and resolve this gap in their collection. If you’ve never heard The Brandos, you will be treated to one of the great unsung American bands. And if they did indeed drop under the radar for you after “Gettysburg“, well…you have a lot of catching up to do, most of it glorious. Excellent musicianship consistently goes hand in hand with premium songwriting.

Lots of MP3 samples at Haunted Field Music

Buy some Brandos albums on Amazon

The Brandos on MySpace

2 Comments

Filed under Editorials, Music, Reviews

New Album! Michael Monroe

Holy Crap! This puppy smokes.

If you like glam rock, you already know that singer Michael Monroe has A-list credentials. And when it comes to powering such a band, it doesn’t get much better than a band featuring Sami Yaffa on bass and both Ginger and Steve Conte on guitar. And while even I had to look up a guy called Karl Rockfist – because that’s just too great a last name for a drummer – I soon realized it was actually Karl Rosqvist, skin pounder for The Chelsea Smiles.

So if you think you’d like a band that combines Hanoi Rocks, The Dictators, The Wildhearts, The New York Dolls and The Sex Pistols, this one’s for you. and while the first album, the Jack Douglas produced Sensory Overdrive, isn’t out yet…Another Night In The Sun (Live In Helsinki) is. A combination of old favorites and covers, it kicks ass from the first note and proves that the band is as tight as it is talented. That might mean no Wildhearts or Dolls shows for a while, but I think we’ll survive.

“Me and the guys in the band decided to record a live album – something for the fans to have while they’re waiting for our actual studio album due to be release in the early part of (2011)…”

Video: “Nothin’s Alright”

 

We're coming to your town, we're gonna party it down

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Music, Reviews

T.G.I.F. – Ten 2010 Bridesmaids

Putting together a “best of” list is hard for me, because there’s so much out there to enjoy every year and many albums appeal to me in different ways. Lists are subjective, of course (despite what Rolling Stone may insist) and try as I might I can’t put six pounds of stuff into a five pound bag. So while I consider the Top Ten an honor, the near misses – Bridesmaids, as I’ve been calling them – are no slouches either.

To beat the tired drum again, anyone who is claiming that there is no great music being made simply isn’t trying hard enough to find it. I’m out there beating the bushes constantly and I can’t keep up with it; certainly even a cursory attempt to widen one’s horizons would be richly rewarded (there’s a bunch of links at right for starters). And as always I welcome the emails from readers that start “have you heard…” as they often open new doors for me as well.

So this week, in no particular order, let me present Ten 2010 Bridesmaids – albums that didn’t make the Top Ten but weren’t far off. When I post the full “best of” lists in January these will certainly be there, so give a listen and be rewarded! (Amazon links included – many on sale right now!)

And on this TGIF Friday I’m especially thankful.

01) Peter Wolf – Midnight Souveniers…Like fine wine, Wolf just gets better and better with age. A far cry from his kinetic J. Geils frontman image, Pete has quietly entered the small plateau of artists perpetuating organic, honest music for the ages. A musical archivist flexing his talents.

02) Smash Palace – 7…If the cover art’s nod to Revolver doesn’t tip you off, let me. Smash Palace is in the upper tier of powerpop bands with traces of Cheap Trick, The Beatles, Tom Petty and Badfinger in its mix but a fresh and original sound. Solid songwriting, incredible vocals, songs that are pure ear candy. Radio’s loss; your gain.

03) Paul Thorn – Pimps and Preachers…”If I could be a tear/rolling down your cheek/and died on your lips/my life would be complete”. Holy shit. I’m new to Thorn’s world, but this is a gritty brew of John Hiatt, Warren Zevon, Bob Seger and Alejandro Escovedo. I am on board now.

04) The Master Plan – Maximum Respect…You were so sure that you didn’t get a record from The Del Lords, The Fleshtones or The Dictators in 2010. Well, you were wrong! The collaborative side project is back for a second album and as you might expect, it kicks ass! If “BBQ” doesn’t get you hopping, you are a zombie.

05) Teenage Fanclub – Shadows…Back after a five-year break and sounding like it was a day. Fannies know what to expect, for the uninitiated, think a sophisticated pop blend of XTC, Big Star and some classic California sunny pop (Beach Boys, CSN). A little subdued for some, I prefer to call it atmospheric.

06) New Pornographers – Together…The phrase “greater than the sum of its parts” sets the bar very high when talking about this collaborative unit, but damned if I don’t find every one of their albums irresistible. Any band that can make whistling as cool as a snapping snare drum is okay by me.

07) Graham Parker – Imaginary Television…Another guy who just defies the calendar and continues to pump out great songs; he’s a better singer, songwriter and guitar player now than in his popular prime. Also be sure to pick up his live set with The Figgs.

08) Deadstring Brothers – Sao Paulo…Imagine the Gram Parsons / Keith Richards sessions in the Stones’ golden era were invaded by Ronnie Wood from The Faces. Wine flowed. Tape rolled. Absolute gospel – rock – country blues bliss.

09) The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever…Just missed…I thought the personnel change would impair their urgency and their passion but they are as good as ever. The first five songs are absolutely perfect and the album would be worth it if it ended there.

10) Nick Curran – Reform School Girl…I wasn’t a follower of Curran but damned if he isn’t channeling Little Richard, Phil Spector, Fats Domino, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and The Sonics on this album. This is a party whittled down and stuffed in a jewel case; besides – how can you not buy an album with a title like this one?

Leave a comment

Filed under Editorials, Features and Interviews, Music, Reviews

Blast From The Past: Iggy Tribute

And I do mean blast – play this one loud!

Happened to pull this album off the shelves the other day, and sure enough, way back in 1998 I scribbled some words about it for TransAction Magazine. Funny how things change; although I liked their cut here I swatted Nada Surf with a backhanded compliment. Over the next decade they blossomed into a great band whose albums made my year-end lists more than once.

I still love tribute albums when they’re made from the heart; bands and project coordinator fully on track with the artist being feted. Even a small label trying to promote their artists can sometimes expose a great unknown band. It’s the major label projects that often leave me cold. (Jennifer Lopez fans aren’t going to want to hear her sing Bruce Springsteen, and I’m pretty sure fans of The Boss don’t want to have to scrape their ears clean with a fork, either.)

But enough about that – heeeeere’s Iggy!

Royalty Records has assembled a twenty-track, seventy-three minute tour through Iggy Pop’s career, the third such collection I’ve seen but easily the most high-profile. Reading the artists and track listing on the back cover would be enough inspiration for even a fringe fan to grab the disc, but the contents may surprise you. While some big names turn in respectable takes, a couple of the brightest moments come from the most unlikely artists.

Nada Surf always struck me as a one-hit MTV band, but their great version of “Sick Of You” is reminiscent of Love It To Death era Alice Cooper! Sugar Ray, another band-of-the-moment, torches “Cold Metal” so thoroughly that not even the insipid turntable scratching during the solo can take it down. Pansy Division shows that they have balls after all with a great rip on “Loose”.

The Lunachicks make “Passenger” an aural treat all over again, and Extra Fancy’s shuffle version of “Sell Your Love” is one of the two or three best cuts on the record. The Red Hot Chili Peppers do a credible version of “Search And Destroy”, but it’s licensed from seven years ago, not newly recorded. If they were going to rob the vaults, I would have much preferred the Dictators’ classic flame-thrower interpretation.

Not everyone shines, however. An almost-unrecognizable Superdrag drones their way through “1970” and Blondie (here reformed as a four piece under the pseudonym Adolph’s Dog) schmooze their way through “Ordinary Bummer” (what a waste of a Clem Burke sighting!). With tribute projects you take your chances, and the couple of clinkers aside the percentages are very good on this one.

Listen to clips from this album.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Reviews

Under The Radar: Pop Mafia

Another blast from the trolling tangents of The MP3 Files for Cosmik Debris. Wish I could tell you that these guys are alive and well and making records, but I haven’t found anything since 2003. And yes, I’ve tried Pop Mafia and Popmafia.

The review in Billboard was pretty effervescent: “Remember when rock music was no-frills fun? Somewhere between the new-wave era and the hair-metal movement, rock was simple, unabashedly pop, but aggressive enough to keep punkers happy. Maybe we’re just showing our age, but they sure don’t make music like that anymore.”

I was on board as well. Any time a press release lays down the gauntlet by promising ” the influence of early Elvis Costello and the Replacements” my ears perk up, and so does the high bar. Down at the Astoria is certainly not a stone cold classic like This Years Model or Pleased To Meet Me, but a good fun band and a record well worth your listening time.

Here is my review from 2001…

Let me get this straight…three of the five guys are named O’Donnell, O’Brien and O’Connor, and the band is called Popmafia?

Ahh, never mind, doesn’t matter, because their CD Down At The Astoria flat out kicks ass. They’ve got a skintight hard rock sound down pat, and the production sends it out crisp, clear and loud. Steve O’Donnell’s vocals are strong throughout, ballsy without lapsing into screaming, and bassist Paul Conway and drummer Steve Selezniov are locked into a groove that won’t quit. If Blink 182 covered “She Comes” or “Just Go Away,” we’d all be dancing to the killer hooks. Good songs about sex, love and rock and roll; from the temperate “Believe In Me” to the fiery “Automatic” and the clever “Taintshaker.”

Too many wannabe bands try to combine modern rock with a surf-punk edge and fall flat on their faces; Popmafia never forgets that melody and good musicianship doesn’t mean overkill. Guitarists Matt O’Brien and Steve O’Connor leave no doubt that they’re monsters, but they do it by driving the rhythm and then diving in for clean crisp solos. “Prizefighter” is a good example; as the band slides into double-time, O’Connor rips notes like a boxer nailing his opponent with a flurry of jabs. Hell, make that uppercuts, it’s too good for jabs. I’d love to see these guys open for The Dictators because an audience like that would get it in spades.

Listen to clips and grab a copy via CD Baby.

A later EP Delusions of Grand Avenue also available there.

3 Comments

Filed under Music, Reviews

Blast From The Past: The Dictators

Milder title, but the music is still molten lava

An old, live Dictators album? On a Sunday? 

Yeah, I was probably thinking about New York New York because I was writing about Scott Kempner yesterday. Not that I don’t pull this fireball of an album out with regularity, along with all my Dictators albums. But I mention this one again because it was first issued only on cassette with a much better title (Fuck ’em If They Can’t Take A Joke) before finally making it to CD. 

This April 1999 review (below) was one of the first things I wrote about The Dictators since I picked up the pen keyboard again in the mid-90s. Damned if I’m not still fighting the uphill battle eleven years later. Those who know, know, but there are still far too many non-converts. 

Well, fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke

Daddy...what's a cassette tape?

ROIR (Reachout International Records) was founded by former club owner and talent agent Neil Cooper in 1979 to provide a home for the bands that were dominating the New York scene at the time. His roster was incredible – Television, the New York Dolls, Bad Brains, Suicide and The Fleshtones among them. Amazingly, the label was cassette-only releases in an era still dominated by vinyl (the Sony Walkman had not yet debuted, but its arrival soon afterwards saved the label). Perhaps even more amazingly, this man with his finger on the pulse of the imminent musical explosion was 49 years old at the time. 

Now 68, Cooper and his label have been digitally transferring titles to CD for the past four years, and one of the newest re-releases might be the one that put ROIR on the map in the first place. Fuck Em If They Can’t Take A Joke was ROIR’s third release, a sonic atomic bomb from a five-headed street monster that was the perfect bridge between the urban glam of the New York Dolls and the punk edge of the Ramones. The Dictators kicked ass and took names, a dynamic blend of white heat and solid songwriting. 

They were loud and obnoxious, but if you looked closely you could see that tongue planted firmly in cheek. Not too closely, though…Former roadie turned lead vocalist “Handsome Dick” Manitoba prowled the stage like a rabid rhino, keeping time with Richie Teeter’s thunder drums. Ross “The Boss” Funicello played blistering lead guitar while Scott “Top Ten” Kempner held the fort on rhythm and Andy/Adny Shernoff handled bass. A Dictators show was a party and a war zone at the same time, and this night was no exception. 

The show was recorded live to two track in 1981 and contains many of the classic songs – “Two Tub Man”, “Next Big Thing”, “Loyola” and “Rock And Roll Made A Man Out Of Me” among them. The band smokes, but Funicello was especially hot – his solo on “Science Gone Too Far” is a classic that players seventeen years later have a hard time matching. Naturally, there’s a version of the set staple – Iggy‘s “Search And Destroy” (with a hilarious introduction by Manitoba) as well as covers of Mott and Lou Reed (“What Goes On”). Shernoff is a solid songwriter who leans toward the melodic, and “Weekend” is a great example of a pop song turned inside out. 

New York New York expands the original track list by adding three bonus cuts from a show at the Ritz. The soundboard recordings of “Master Race Rock”, “Baby Let’s Twist” and “Faster And Louder” catch the band on another solid night and were mastered by Shernoff last year for inclusion here. Ironically, as the recording date is listed as “the early 80’s”, these could have been from a show after the band’s official demise. 

The Dictators went their separate ways – Funicello to the heavy metal Man O War, Kempner to the late, great Del-Lords, Manitoba to his Wild Kingdom, but through it all they remained Dictators at heart. Always New York legends, recent years have seen them become gods in Spain (where even a tribute record was released) and add to their legend with new singles on Norton. In 1999, the band has finally acquired the rights to their final album Bloodbrothers and have released it on their own, later this year the classic Manifest Destiny may join it. But the best news of all is that there will be a new release in the coming months, so we can all ride their coattails as we face the New Millennium the way it should be – faster and louder. 

In the meantime, whether you have worn out your original ROIR cassette (as I did) or you never had the pleasure in the first place, you are in for a real treat with New York New York. For although Blondie and The Talking Heads made more money, and The Ramones had more imitators, and Television got more credit for being important, let’s set the record straight. Nobody, but nobody, embodied New York rock better than The Dictators

White Light, White Heat...White Castle

The Dictators have done more than release their back catalogue and occasionally regroup – in the last decade they have issued a brilliant new album (D.F.F.D.), a rarities/anthology disc (Every Day is Saturday) and a new blistering live album (Viva Dictators). They formed way back in 1973, but in 2010 The Dictators are still Faster And Louder. Get the albums, hunt down their shows, and when in New York City, visit Mecca.

Stay With Me live in Spain (where they are gods).

1 Comment

Filed under Features and Interviews, Music