Posted September 27, 2002
Cheetah Chrome: Don't Call Him Gene
By JESSIE FISK CRAVENS
He is, quite frankly, one of the great punk guitarists. In the minds of some (this writer included), he can be counted among rock'n'roll's fiercest talents. He's Cheetah Chrome, the man with the orange Dead Boys dome, and just recently he granted the Bar the immense pleasure of his company. So sit back, grab yourself a Guiness, and read on as he answers a barrage of nagging questions...
Q. What are you listening to these days?
Lemme see.....here's what's been on deck this week...
1) Clawhammer - Pablum
2) Tomahawk - Tomahawk (band featuring Mike Patton and Duane Denison)
3) Ian Hunter - Rant
4) Sensational Alex Harvey Band - everything (I have a BIG collection of their stuff, including some great bootlegs)
5) Cockney Rebel - Psychomodo
6) MC5 - the Big Bang
7) Ozzy Osbourne - Ozmosis
8) Pere Ubu - St. Arkansas
9) False Alarm - unreleased CD on which I did lead guitar on 5 songs
10) Bob Dylan - Love and Theft
Q. What do you think of the new Pere Ubu LP?
I like it quite a bit, it's real garage-y, almost reminds me of Tom Waits in parts. I'm looking forward to seeing them do the stuff live. It seems a little more accessible than some of their stuff I've heard. It's a good one to play late at night with the phones.
Q. Have you heard any of David Thomas' new solo work? If so, what do you think?
No, I haven't heard any of it. Do you mean the two Pale Boys things? He tells me some of it involves opera (?). I know I'm gonna hear two days of it when we do the RFTT reunion in February, so I'll have to let ya know then!
Q. Same as above, only this time Wayne Kramer.
I have heard some of his stuff, "Citizen Wayne" I thought was quite good. The live one is just OK.I play the "Mad for the Racket" Cd sometimes, but I don't really consider that to be Wayne solo. The "Dodge Main" thing is pretty cool, too.
Q. What do you think of the Rocket from The Tombs compilation?
I think it's great, I am really proud to have been in the band, and to have it finally released 25 odd years later means a lot. I think the packaging SmogVeil did looks amazing, it jumps right in yer face the minute you see it, and Jon did the liner notes just right. The best part of the whole thing is that David, Craig and I are back in touch now. I hadn't really lost touch with Craig, he was even at the Lili's show when we did the live CD ("Alive in Detroit"), and he and his wife just spent 4th of July weekend with us.
I hadn't seen David since probably 1982, then I played Cleveland last November and he happened to be in town, so he got up and did "30 seconds" and "Final Solution" with us. It was great to see him after all that time. I'm playing the opening gig of the Ubu tour here in town next Tuesday, two Rockets on the same bill! And I'll be going to Cleveland next month for our first rehearsal in 25 years, and that should be the social event of the season! Too bad Peter will miss it....
Q. What's your opinion of the current teeny-bopper punk craze?
If you mean Blink182 and all that crap, some of the music is alright, but they have to be the wimpiest singers I've ever heard, and judging by the lyrics, pussy whipped on top of it. I wasn't aware that that shit qualified as a craze....
Q. Conversely, what do you think of "return to rock" groups like the White Stripes, the Strokes and the Hives?
The Strokes just suck, period, end of story. I wish my rich daddy would have bought me a record contract! They are the musical equivalent of George W. Bush.
The White Stripes I'm still undecided, I had heard them once on the radio, but the only time I ever listen to the radio is when I'm driving, I don't have MTV, and I haven't heard it since. I did buy one of their CD's (the one that looks like a peppermint candy),and it sounds like a rehearsal tape, just the two of them bashing away like Pebbles and Bam Bam! I'd have to hear the whole band to give a fair opinion, but I don't think they suck.
As for the Hives, I've only heard one song, and saw the video for it on MTV over the weekend (I was on vacation in FLA), but they win the crown hands down. They seem like a real rock n roll band.
Q. The late '70s was an era of pseudonyms, and Cheetah Chrome was by far one of the most memorable. How'd you come up with it?
Jeez, haven't I answered this one already?!!!! Cheetah was a nickname I had in high school (I ran track for one semester),and I liked it, so I figured I'd use it for a stage name.
Bators didn't think I should have just one name, he thought I HAD to have a last name, "Cheetah" wasn't enough. So he came up with Chrome. At the time I was all against it, because the Runaways had a bass player named Kari Krome, and I sure as shit didn't want to be ripping off names from the Runaways! There was also some obscure thing having to do with numerology that to this day I haven't figured out, but that was Stiv!
So here I am with two names, rippin' off the Runaways!
Q. Being quite the guitar god yourself, who would you say is your favorite six-string hero?
It's real hard to narrow it down to just one, so many people influenced me. I would have to make it a tie between Zal Cleminson and Peter Laughner. It would be a lot easier to give ya a Top Ten list.
Q. Please do!
Leaving Peter and Zal out since I already named them,in no particular order....
1) Keith Richards
2) Jimi Hendrix
3) Jimmy Page
4) Ron Asheton
5) James Williamson
6) Glen Buxton
7) Alvin Lee
8) Wayne Kramer
9) "Sonic" Smith
10) Allen Collin
Q. I've heard tell Alice Cooper was a big influence on you. What other glam groups did you get a kick out of?
Alice Cooper was a real big influence on me ,when I was in high school I played in a cover band that did nothing but AC songs! Glen Buxton would be on that Top Ten list near the top!
I also listened to Slade, Cockney Rebel, Roxy Music, Sweet, The Arrows, Bowie, KISS, and the Dolls of course. There was also a band from Youngstown, Ohio, called Left End that were great.
Q. What is Cheetah Chrome doing for fun these days?
Cheetah Chrome has a blast these days! I just bought a house here in Nashville a couple months back, and I put a little 16 track studio in the basement. I spend hours down there on weekends working on new stuff. I rehearse with the band every week, go out for a couple pints after, maybe see a band. I go in my backyard, sit by the creek, have a Guinness, maybe a smoke. I read books, surf the net a little, work on the website (which I'm doing myself) and hang out with my wife and five cats!
Exciting,eh? Sorry to disappoint everyone, but I gave up all the self destructive stuff quite awhile back.
Q. Does your wife call you Cheetah, or Gene?
Anna calls me Cheetah. She actually will correct old friends if they call me Gene. The guys in Rockets are the only people that have ever gotten away with it that I know of, why I don't know. Maybe cuz Dave is so big? Dunno.
I think she wanted them to call me Cheetah at our wedding! I never used to
let ANYBODY call me Gene, for like, years, but I've mellowed out on that. Plus
I just sic Anna on 'em!
Q. Who, in all of hokey old time and space, would you most like to jam with?
Stiv Bators of course!
Q. How did you get involved with Ronnie Spector's "Siren" album?
Genya was producing Ronnie for her label, Polish, which I was working with at the time. When she was starting to do "Siren" she asked me to come in and do some leads. It was great working with Ronnie, she was pretty fun and to hear that voice in the room with ya, whew! Plus the Stones were recording upstairs at Electric Lady, and when we weren't working, Billy Rath, Ronnie and me would go up and hang with them. And I got paid! Ain't R&R grand?
Q. In past interviews, you've criticized rock journalists for shooting their mouths off when they couldn't do likewise or better. What do you think of the few rock critics that crossed over (John Mendelsohn, Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, Nick Kent, etc.)?
Ahhh, a subject very dear to my heart! I have always felt that a good part of the rock critics both here and overseas have a very condescending and pompous attitude toward the artists that they review. To me, sitting around listening to records and trying to make yourself sound cooler than you are in print while slamming some poor band that actually has their ass in the grass doing something creative is a pitiful career. Most of them seem to be fueled by jealousy and bitterness, and most of the time if you meet them in person this turns out to be true. Just very mean spirited, not constructive or objective at all.
People like Lenny, Patti, and the others you mentioned are an exception to the rule, as they know of which they speak. If Lenny told me my record was shit I would at least respect, if not agree with, his opinion. I think Nick Kent is a good example of the jealousy angle, though, I seem to remember him tearing most bands a new asshole in print while trying to look like Keith Richards and learn to play guitar, all the while shamelessly kissing Steve Jones' ass.
I'm actually thinking of having a page on my website where I can review the various styles, grammar, spelling, originality, etc. of some of the judgmental asshole wannnabes that pass themselves off as objective critics.
Q. In Cleveland you were part of two groups in a vibrant and ultimately very important underground scene. What did/do you think of the other bands that played in an around Cleveland at that time? (Mirrors, Electric Eels, Tin Huey, Devo, etc.)
To tell you the truth, the only bands that stood out for me were Mirrors and
the Eels. I don't know if I ever even saw Tin Huey. Devo I hated when I first
saw them, trying to play "Mongoloid" on a Farfisa organ and hopping around in
their underwear! Then the first album came out, and I have to say that Eno did
wonders for them (decent gear for starters) and I could finally appreciate what
they were doing. They did have a lot of fans early on that saw it before I did,
so I'm obviously not the best judge...good thing I wasn't a critic, eh?
And I don't know about a "vibrant" scene, it was flat out morose out the time, with an "underground" gig maybe every three months, always poorly attended.
Q. What are you reading these days?
Here's the past few: "Hard Core Logo" - Michael Turner; "Slow Motion Riot" - Peter Blauner; "The Music of the Spheres" - Elizabeth Redfern; "The Agenda" - Bob Woodward; "The Final Days" - Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein; "Punk - The Definitive Record of a Revolution" - Stephen Colegrave
Q. What do you think of a movie like Summer of Sam's portrayal of the NYC punk scene? Accurate? Comical?
I thought that movie was great! It captured the vibe of the time perfectly. There were a lot of kids from the boroughs that went through the exact same things that Ritchie did, I know cuz I talked to them all the time! A lot of punk guys I know actually used to do that male go-go dancer bit, getting money for their dope, rehearsals, whatever.
The scenes at CB's rang especially true....it wasn't always us or the Ramones that played, a lot of the time it was just some band you never heard of from Queens or Jersey, just like that band in the movie. Most nights it was very mundane. I think Spike Lee deserves a lot of credit for the way he portrayed it.
Q. Speaking of punk, do you think it serves better as music, or as a way of life? Is it important to keep the two separate?
I don't see how you COULD separate the two and still have punk. It'd be like having a guitar with no strings.
Q. Ever been impressed by any of the English punk bands?
Oh hell yes, I mean, who in the hell that loves R&R wouldn't be impressed by the fucking Sex Pistols? The Damned? X-Ray Spex? Although realistically there was a lot of shit, too! I was never all that hot on the Clash, I always wanted to play with them because I KNOW we would have sent their teabag asses crying back to their 4 star hotel! And the whole Nick Lowe thing I never saw the point in. But I think that there were quite a few impressive Brit punk bands!
Q. Of all your post-Dead Boys collaborations, which one would you most like to be remembered for?
I think the stuff I did with Jeff Dahl was some of the best stuff I've done. After that, the new CD I just finished with False Alarm. As far as solo stuff, I still love that Ghetto Dogs EP. That was a real fun band.
Q. What was it like working with Nico?
I really enjoyed it! She had her own complete thing going, just her singing and playing harmonium, and I just worked around that. We were both in fairly wretched shape at the time, so the money was always pretty well spent long before we got near the stage, and once or twice I'd go to get paid and find out that Nico had gotten all the cash advanced to her before the gig and that I wasn't going to get paid.....but I can't say that I hold it against her, that was just her nature.
Have you ever read the book "The End"? About her last tour? It's a very good portrait of Nico and the way she operated. I really have to say that looking back I really liked her, she never tried to bullshit me and I always considered her a friend. And the voice.....man, what a fuckin' voice.
Q. What makes a great rock and roll band?
Learning to play their goddam guitars for one thing! Not counting on yer clothes and looks to carry you is another. Too many bands seem to think that if they have the look and attitude, they can bullshit their way into the hearts of the gullible Amerikan public, whose taste for shit knows no boundaries. And they are right!
But to be a GREAT rock and roll band, you have to love yer instrument and the music you play on it, you have to live and breath it. If ya don't put in the hours, yeah, you might fool the folks for a bit, but you'll also probably be forgotten as soon as the next bunch of assholes comes along! (See Strokes, the)
Q. Given the power, what great, unknown band or performer would you force on the world?
Probably False Alarm. I know, I keep plugging them, but I really think they are a great band in the Social Distortion vein, with intelligent lyrics written by guys who have lived the hell they sing about. I was sent a demo by Aldo, the bassist, and as with most demo tapes I get I figured it would be good to have in case of an emergency yard sale. But, lo and behold, I stick the thing in and it's GREAT!! Unbelievable!! They have more heart and talent than anybody I've heard in a long, long, time.
Q. Where will the RFTT reunion take place, and who's playing drums and rhythm guitar?
It will take place at the Freud Playhouse(!)on the UCLA campus on February 23, 2003 with Ubu's drummer Steve Mehlman and a guitarist to be announced at a later date. We're still running names by each other. Peter left some big shoes to fill, and I feel that no one else wears his size, so it's a tough one, for sure.
Q. Would you say you're an Elvis man, or a Beatles man?
Both actually! I actually saw the Beatles live in '66 on their last tour, and seeing them on Ed Sullivan was what inspired me to pick up a guitar in the first place. I also heard a lot of Elvis while growing up, which at the time seemed pretty lame, but he has grown on me over the years, and I've always found him to be a fascinating character, especially the Vegas years.
I have a lot of Elvis music in my collection, and a lot of Elvis stuff around the house. Down here in Tennessee where I live, it's EP central, he actually stayed in this hotel about 1/4 mile from my house when he was making his last record, but of course he never made it to the studio, he just hung out in his room.
One of the first people I met here in Nashville was James Burton, he was doing a session with a friend of mine and I went down to the studio and got to meet him, jam a little. He had some great EP stories!
Q. What are your thoughts on the so-called "hardcore" scene that developed out of punk's first wave? (Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, Black Flag, et al.)
Black Flag and the Kennedys weren't so bad ,but a lot of the shit that came along was horrible, all the bands sounding the same and no one could really play except the drummers....weird. The whole hardcore scene left me cold, I've gone on at length in interviews about this before, you don't wanna hear it. I guess it goes back to what I said in question two ["Q. What makes a great rock and roll band?" - Ed.].
Q. Ok, say you hadn't decided to pick up the guitar. What might Gene O'Connor be doing if he hadn't found rock'n'roll?
Most likely I would have got my ass shot off in Viet Nam.
Cheetah Chrome's latest CD "Dead Boy Alive in Detroit" is available on DUI Records.
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