One guess: The Dead Boys were the American Sex Pistols. And very few people knew about it.
The Dead Boys came from New York via Cleveland; the Sex Pistols were from London. Both groups lifted dirt around the same time, roughly 1976-1978, spat and smoked spectacularly, and collapsed. Both played fierce and antagonistic punk rock – caustic, confrontational and far from politically correct – and their first albums, “Young, Loud and Snotty” by the Dead Boys and “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols”, are peaks of the genre.
The Sex Pistols, everyone knows that. The Dead Boys, not so much. But 40 years after releasing their debut album, the Dead Boys have risen from the dead, in a way, to make a claim, coming to Somerville club ONCE on Monday, September 18th. The current group includes two of the founders, songwriter-guitarist Cheetah Chrome and drummer Johnny Blitz, both 62 years old. Original singer-songwriter Stiv Bators died in 1990, hit by a taxi in Paris.
“We played a lot better than the Sex Pistols. We had better songs.”
Chrome, on his cell phone leaving New Orleans for another gig, entertained the Pistols comparison for a moment, but shrugged.
“I don’t think we were anything from America, really,” Chrome says. “If you’re looking for an angle on a story, well, this is it. But to me, we weren’t the Sex Pistols at all. We played a lot better than the Sex Pistols. We had better songs. I don’t think we were anything from America “- and this is where he offers an accurate comparison -” except that we got a little screwed up in the music business. I don’t think anyone handled us well or anyone understood us at all. “
And the Pistols / Dead Boys pairing (if you choose to accept it) diverges here: in their prime, the Dead Boys were virtually unknown in America. In the UK, the Pistols were splashed all over the tabloids and went to No.1.
The Dead Boys were one of a number of groups created by the CBGB – as were the more popular Sire Records label comrades, Ramones and Talking Heads – but remain a footnote for the most part, a group that burned in such a way. shiny and noxious, then faded.
Here’s where the Dead Boys started for me. It was the first punk rock band I ever saw. In November 1976, I moved from Maine to Boston – I was in college there – and tried to go to concerts. It turns out that the Dead Boys, who had yet to record their first album, were at the Rat one night and that’s where I ended up with about 50 other people. It was my chance. Punk was starting to gain strength.
I’d heard of shows like this – Iggy and the Stooges were infamous to them – but at 20 I had never seen anything like it. Bators were all over the stage, giggling and sneering. He cut his naked torso with a broken beer bottle, put his head in Blitz’s bass drum, pretended to hang himself with the mic cord – all while the band put on that nasty punk rock, catchy and furious, songs like “Sonic Reducer” “Down in Flames” and “All this and more”. The songs – angry, raw, and strangely uplifting – were new to me and immediately sucked me in.
“In a way, it was a lonely existence. We had a hard time because of it. People thought you were weird everywhere you went.”
“People weren’t used to this sort of thing,” Chrome says now, thinking back to that time. “In a way, it was a lonely existence. We struggled a bit because of that. People thought you were weird everywhere you went. We kind of took it with us.
Chrome says they never talked about what the Iggy Pop-inspired Stiv was going to do or his game plan for the show of the night. “Some nights he lost it,” Chrome said, with a slight laugh. “He did things that didn’t work out very well, and he was like, ‘Well, I’ll never do that again!’ As if he was pulling my guitar string and the amp was accompanying him all over the stage. Sometimes he would crawl through the drums and put them out of our way so that we couldn’t play and we had to stop and fix them. We would all be on our feet for five minutes.
Following their killer album, “Young, Loud and Snotty”, was the not-so-good 1978 record “We Have Come for Your Children”. Then, as their own song said, they “went up in flames”.
This is a situation where Chrome puts the blame squarely on Sire Records boss Seymour Stein. “He decided to go our separate ways and he did,” Chrome explains. “I have spoken about this matter to death and I have spoken about it in my book. I don’t feel so good today and want to feel better, not worse.
The players went their separate ways. Bators, in particular, formed the psychedelic rock band Lords of the New Church. Chrome collapsed, became addicted to drugs and alcohol, and spent a few years in Boston on the streets.
It was then. Chrome, who now makes his home in Nashville, is a father, has been sober for decades, and published a memoir in 2014 titled “Cheetah Chrome: A Dead Boy’s Tale: From the Front Lines of Punk Rock.” He also runs a small record company, Plowboy, and recorded steamy songs on his only studio album, a 2013 release titled “Solo”.
As “Young, Loud and Snotty’s” 40th anniversary approached, Chrome and Blitz re-recorded the album, but did not return to find the surviving alumni. Guitarist-songwriter Jimmy Zero, known as Chrome, lives in Cleveland and plays music, but has “health issues.” New York-based bassist Jeff Magnum “just isn’t the right guy for this bunch of people,” Chrome says. (Magnum expressed disappointment and anger on his Facebook page for not being invited on board, especially after the 2005 CBGB meeting he was a part of. He did not respond to a message sent asking for comment.)
The three new players are vocalist Jake Hout, who was part of a Dead Boy tribute band called the Undead Boys, guitarist Jason Kottwitz and bassist Ricky Rat, the latter two having performed with the band Chrome Rocket from the Tombs. .
The idea for a new Dead Boys was born, Chrome says, earlier this year when he and Blitz were playing concerts in Japan. “We were talking and Jason, who’s been my guitarist for about four years, started talking about ‘Young, Loud and Snotty’ because it was the 40th birthday,” says Chrome. “Ricky Rat, we’ve known that for ages. We ended up having Jake, who was in California, and he fitted in perfectly: “Oh my god, this guy looks like Stiv, but he’s very different from Stiv and he has his own show on stage!” We thought, “Why don’t we call him the f —— Dead Boys?” I own the name and none of the other guys were interested in getting involved in this stuff except getting checks.
They have just started a comprehensive club tour of the United States which runs through mid-November. They impressed them at South by Southwest this year with the raving Paste magazine: “The band played the entire LP with sweat and fire, erasing the past four decades in the process.”
Is there a big dark cloud of punk rock nostalgia hanging over the Dead Boys? Even if it does, Chrome says the music feels as fresh and lively to him today as it did in 1977.
“Totally just as intense,” says Chrome. “And we’re playing a lot more kids now. For a while we played with gray hair. There is some gray hair, but not as much as you might think. In fact, they tend to stay away because there is now a mosh pit.
The extreme of the Dead Boys’ music depends on the context. Some rappers, death metal bands, and hardcore punks have entered dark and violent lyrical territory that goes far beyond what the Dead Boys did 40 years ago. Still, there were songs about rough sex on the floor, about the gratification of punk rock groupies – or, alternatively, about not being able to have sex because you’re too high on drugs – hitting a random old man. on the street or maybe an ex-girlfriend, and one about infamous New York killer David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, with Bators singing from the killer’s point of view: “I’m a son of Sam / J have the breath of death in my hand. “
“I’m surprised we got away with part,” Chrome admits, “but we were just funny. I mean, we never wanted to see anyone get beaten up or hurt or anything like that. “Unless they pissed us off. It all had a sense of humor. I think we could have been a little more political; we don’t have much in there. We didn’t need to.” ‘be so sophomoric, I guess.
So what about legitimacy? Will the Dead Boys of 2017 be able to reclaim the throne of the Dead Boys, several generations later?
“Go see us,” Chrome said, posing the challenge.
For him, “it’s like the good old days. It’s incredible. But I would like to be much younger because I would appreciate it more. Now by the time I play the set I’m good to go [to bed] and watch TV.