Lou Reed is a creep:
with two Dictators
WORDS: Ken Shimamoto
PICTURES: Jon Seamans via Karen Winter
a saga, the Dictators'. When they first hit, way back in '75, with an album
called "Go Girl Crazy!," a lotta people thought they were a joke...possibly
because, uh, mainstream rock at the time was seriously infected with the Sin
of Seriousness..."Art" with a capital F. But in the wake of the five
wiseguys from the Bronx came the four bruddahs from Forest Hills, Queens, and
a lot of other Noo Yawk Rock Action beloved to patrons of this Bar. A quarter
of a century later, the Dictators are still pounding the boards, amazing and
astonishing folks everywhere who still dig this kind of noise (uh, that'd be
US). They've got a live show that just won't quit, a long-anticipated album
in the can, and a master plan to take the fight to fans all across Clubland.
You have been warned!
I caught up with Dictators founder/bass player/songwriter/mastermind Andy Shernoff before the Dics' show at Club Clearview in Dallas, May 18, 2001 (see my review elsewhere on the Bar and an earlier one by The Barman here), the day before what would have been Joey Ramone's 50th birthday. We were joined midway by Dictators' guitar god Ross the Boss (NOT from Westchester)...
K: You kinda got into rock'n'roll through the back
door, doing the writing thing with Teenage Wasteland Gazette. What made you
wanna do that?
A: Why'd I wanna be a writer? I wanted free records, and I knew if I wrote, I'd get free records. That's the absolute truth. Also I had some quirky opinions I thought merited publication. I certainly wasn't thinking in any MAINSTREAM way. This is like '73, '72, it was a different musical environment; there was no Ramones, there was no Sex Pistols, there was no Nirvana, and no MTV.
K: There was no rock'n'roll! All there was was wrestling! I stopped going to shows and started going to Monday nights at Madison Square Garden!
A: Music was getting a little grandiose, a little virtuosic...drum solos, long guitar solos, it wasn't simple, fun, what it started out to be. I just thought there was a lot of crap going on, and so I would write basically making fun of all these grandiose bands like Yes and Emerson Lake & Palmer, Styx and all this...all the popular bands from Europe.
K: All the bands that made me hate rock'n'roll.
K: Why'd you change the spelling of your name?
A: To get attention.
K: Cool. So when you're not doing the Dictators, you're a wine consultant?
A: Sure. Right.
K: How'd you fall into that?
A: I spent a lot of time working in Europe...traveling, touring, producing records, and every time you sat down at the table to eat, there was a bottle of wine. All of a sudden I reached an epiphany about how the local food and local wine tasted together. That sparked my interest in it, then I started reading a little bit about it, started drinking more wine, took some courses, got involved in the business...it's really a hobby gone haywire. And a passion...I really, really enjoy it. Actually, in many ways I relate it to being a musician, because when you're a musician, you're training your hands to move in a certain way, and when you're studying wine, you're training your palette and your tongue to pick up certain things.
K: In what capacity do you function as a sommelier...do you do stuff for restaurants?
A: I do some restaurants and bars, I work in a big retail shop part-time in New York City. And that's it. It's a fun thing.
K: Richard Meltzer said you guys were THE New York band between the Dolls and the Ramones.
A: Yeah. There was this glitter rock thing going in New York, but we didn't look good in those glitter clothes! Maybe if we'd looked good, we woulda done it, but the high heels, the satin stuff...just didn't work on us. So we started wearing onstage what we wore offstage, which was jeans, T-shirts, and leather jackets. Eventually the Ramones started dressing that way. Chronologically, we put our record ["Go Girl Crazy!"] out in '75, and I think Patti Smith put out a record a little bit after ours, or around the same time, and the Ramones record came out a year later. When we started, CBGBs was a bar for Bowery bums it didn't exist as a venue. There was no place to play!
K: You guys really started at the Coventry, didn't you?
A: The Coventry was one of the glitter-rock places in New York, and if you were doing original music, that was the ONLY place to play. If you were a cover band, you could play anywhere; that's what people wanted to see. People didn't want to see bands playing original music, today it's a whole different story. Right now, in almost any town, if you're in a cover band, you kind of looked down upon. Who takes the Van Halen tribute band seriously? They're a kind of a joke, people might go see them for a laugh, but you're not treated seriously as musicians.
K: It's not like being in a band, it's more like entertainment.
A: Of course, now one of the problems is EVERYBODY's in a band!
A: Who's NOT in a band? What's the name of YOUR band?
K: Uh, Texas Toast.
A: There you go.
K: Point taken. You guys just did a video for Joey Ramone's birthday show.
A: Yeah. We had these shows booked before Joey passed, so we didn't really feel right about canceling the shows, and so we did a little video which will be shown at the birthday tribute May 19.
K: Talk a bit about Joey.
A: Joey was one of my best friends. He was also a musical collaborator; we wrote songs together for The Ramones, and I was working with him on his solo record. I was also the bass player for his solo projects. Over the past ten years, we played a whole bunch of shows and parties that he threw in New York.
The guy changed music, he changed people's attitudes about music. He was a misfit who became a rock star and a hero. One interesting thing...the day his obituary appeared in the New York Times, there was an article about torn jeans as a fashion statement. A big article! And I thought that was kinda ironic...it was more than just music that he changed. He touched a lot of people's lives, a lot of people out there...he touched more lives than the Dictators.
The Ramones were all meat and no fat. We were trying to do the same thing but they just did it with a lot more efficiency and focus. When that record ["Ramones"] came out in England, the whole English music scene changed...it was the big bang of English punk rock, like the day the Universe was formed...anyway, everybody in England knew that was the future of music; it took longer for Americans to understand.
Great guy, big heart, generous guy. Of course it's a little sad that he worked all his life, finally made some money and never really got a chance to enjoy it. But he made a solo record that's gonna be coming out in the next year, and it's a little melancholy, because a lot of the songs are about his illness and fighting his illness. He didn't want people to know he was sick. His friends knew, but he didn't want to publicize it. I don't think he wanted people to know how he was suffering.
K: Who else is gonna be on the record?
A: I play bass, Daniel Rey plays guitar. The drummers are Frank Funaro, who used to play with the Dictators, and Marky Ramone...most of the drum tracks are Marc Bell.
K: From Dust!
A: From Dust, and the Voidoids. That's the band. ...I call the sound "Ramones plus." The rhythm's are a little more complex and there are a few more guitar solos...Ramones fans will feel comfortable listening to it.
K: Daniel Rey has sure come a long was since Shrapnel.
A: Sure has.
K: Big producer, did Gluecifer's record. I gotta tell ya, I saw you guys open for Jeff Beck at the Palace Theater in Albany back in '76...
A: Oh, yeah. I remember...they HATED us at that one! We did a lot of shows where they hated us! We once opened for Billy Preston, believe it or not. Unbelievable.
K: That must have been weird.
A: We didn't even have a record out. I mean, this is like the third show we ever did, these 19-year-old kids who'd never been onstage before, playing in front of a Billy Preston audience back when he was having hit singles. We had a lot of shows where people hated us.
K: When I got the "I Am Right" single, I coulda swore I saw you guys do that back in '76.
A: No, no. [Handsome Dick] used to have a JACKET that said "I Am Right" on it, THAT's what you remember. The song I wrote only about four years ago.
K: Let's talk a bit about that time. "Manifest Destiny" was kind of a strange record, mixing high-energy stuff with ballads. They used to play "Stepping Out" on WLIR on Long Island!
A: The reaction to our first record, as much as certain people loved it...it had ZERO acceptance in the music business, and we wanted to be accepted. We were young, and we got persuaded into making a record that they could play on the commercial radio...and I wasn't against that, because I LOVE pop stuff. I love songs that jump out of the radio. So we made a record that wasn't really representative of the band. People liked it for the songs. We don't really perform that many songs from it at the moment because they don't translate into live excitement.
K: Was [manager] Sandy Pearlman trying to put pressure on you to follow Blue Oyster Cult into the sheds?
A: He wasn't twisting our arm. He was our manager, we were young kids, we didn't know any better. We didn't have any firm direction. We didn't have the confidence in ourselves at the time. We were just learning our instruments, learning how to play. So when your manager says, "Hey, do this," you say, "Sure, give it a shot."
K: You guys got the rights to "Bloodbrothers" and re-released it a coupla years ago. Are there any plans to do that with "Manifest Destiny" (and, more importantly, with "Go Girl Crazy!")?
A: "Girl Crazy" IS out. It's been re-released in the Sony/Legacy series. It's also been released on vinyl by Norton Records; they got the rights to it. And we plan on putting out "Manifest Destiny" after the new record which should be out in the fall.
K: Have you finally nailed down the track listing for that?
A: It's on the website: "Avenue A," "Who Will Save Rock and Roll?," "Pussy and Money," "I Am Right," "Jim Gordon Blues," "Moronic Inferno," "Channel Surfing," "What's Up With That?," "In the Presence of a New God," "The Savage Beat," "Burn, Baby Burn!," and "It's Alright!"
K: What are you gonna call the album?
A: We're thinking about calling it "New York, New York." The album's about living in New York City and the cover sort of represents that...y'know, love us or hate us, that is what we're about. If you like New York, you'll like us, if you hate New York, you'll hate us. I don't think there's a lot of "middle ground" about us...people either say, "This band kick's ass, they're funny, they're hilarious, they rock," or they dismiss us. We're like Howard Stern...you love Howard Stern or you hate Howard Stern. You never hear people say "Hmmm, I don't really have an opinion about Howard." I want people to be opinionated and emotional about us; passion is good.
K: It's great to see you playing in Texas. I don't think the Dictators have ever played down here, have you?
A: Yeah. We played 10 years ago, when we toured with the Lunachicks. We played Dallas, Austin...and twenty years ago, we played Austin, we played San Marcos, I don't remember whether we played Dallas. We try and make it down here once every decade.
K: Probably half a dozen people I know, whose opinions I respect, have seen your shows in the last two years, and they all say you're the best thing on the boards right now.
A: That's very flattering, and I'd like to think they're right. We try to put on a killer show! We're also the sole survivors...there's nobody left alive from our generation doing what we're doing. We're originals, and anybody else who's gonna be doing it is sort of imitating what we started 25 years ago...but form your own opinion.
K: It seems you guys have been really influential in places like Scandinavia and Australia where real rock'n'roll is appreciated more than it is here in the States.
A: Spain too.
K: Speaking of Spain, you've toured there a lot. Is it because of the wine?
A: We tour there 'cause there's a demand and they ask us to come back. It's amazing, we've been there about six times in the last six years. We keep coming back without a record and the audience keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
K: Spain seems like a pretty happening place for rock'n'roll right now.
A: Yeah. I love Spain. It's just a passionate country. Great food, great wine, beautiful women, and a lot of passion for life and rock'n'roll.
K: Speaking of some of the Scandinavian bands, how'd you feel about Turbonegro stealing the riff from "The Next Big Thing" and using it in "Get It On?"
A: I was flattered. What can I say if somebody rips me off? I know they're not making a million dollars on it. I'm flattered they thought it was a good idea. Actually I thought that was a pretty good record. They broke up, I was sorry to hear about that.
K: Time honored tradition in rock'n'roll!
A: What's that..."amateurs steal, professionals borrow."
K: Or the Nomads doing "16 Forever."
A: Yeah, yeah!
K: I guess Handsome Dick is going over to Sweden next month?
A: Handsome Dick and Ross are gonna go over there to do some festival with the Nomads. Just do a few songs.
K: Dumbass question time: What's a "Two Tub Man?"
A: I can't tell ya. If I did, I'd have to kill ya, and I don't wanna do that..
K: Do you still think Lou Reed is a creep?
A: Well, I'm a fan of Lou Reed's. I guess he IS a creep, yeah.
K: Do you remember when Johnny Kannis and Chris Masuak from the Hitmen met you in the studio during the Manitoba's Wild Kingdom days?
A: Absolutely. They're great guys.
K: Did Masuak really do a lead part on "The Party Starts Now?"
A: Yeah, he came in, he did something, it was a good lead, but then Ross came in and really fit the song a little better. But Chris is a great guy and a great guitar player.
K: I guess the Hitmen wound up doing that song live, and Masuak still does it with his new band the Dogs of the Apocalypse.
A: Yeah, somebody sent me a live thing of theirs. It wasn't a real release, just somebody recorded it and burned the CD for me, and I remember they did some of our songs.
K: At one point, Manitoba's Wild Kingdom was supposed to tour Australia with the Hitmen. Whatever happened to that?
A: It didn't work out, money-wise. It's very expensive to fly down there.
K: 1200 bucks from D/FW.
A: Yeah, somehow it didn't happen. The music business is full of people trying to get things to happen that don't happen. So we didn't get to go to Australia. You don't want to fly that far and have things fall apart on you.
K: The Dictators have been happening for 25 years now...Manitoba's Wild Kingdom was pretty much the same band, without Scott [Kempner].
A: Sure. A little bit more of a heavy metal direction. The Dictators incorporates that, but not 100 percent.
K: I was listening to that "...And You?" record this morning; it's pretty hot.
A: I like that record. I really dig it. It's fun, it's very high energy.
K: I think Spin wrote that it was "the album the Ramones wish they'd made."
A: That's cool.
K: You guys have other things going on outside the band? Scott was telling me before about a solo record he's got coming out.
A: I have another band called the Master Plan with Keith Streng from the Fleshtones. We're recording, finishing up recording now. I do production work. I'm going to do a record with the old singer from the Angry Samoans, Greg Turner, next month.
K: What are some of the other bands and records you've produced?
A: I'll have to look on the website; so many bands. I've done a lot of work in Europe. I did a record for U2's label, Mother Records. I worked with the Toilet Boys in New York on Roadrunner. I've worked with D-Generation in New York, The Barracudas in London. I worked with Guided By Voices, did some recording with them, I don't even remember. I don't even think about it anymore.. In the past two or three years, I haven't been doing that much. I've been concentrating on the band itself and songwriting. Look on the website, there should be a discography.
K: Whatever happened to your old drummer Ritchie Teeter?
A: He works in New York. He runs Sam Ash drum department. He's a big wig at the big music store. But he doesn't wear a wig.
K: What about Top Ten's other band the Spinatras?
A: That's Ross' band. They broke up. They released a record on...what was the Spinatras? CMC.
K: Here's Ross the Boss, so I can ask you...talk about Manowar. You guys had a bunch of records and you were pretty popular, I guess.
R: Manowar, yes. I did six records with them. I started the band.
K: What about the Spinatras?
R: We did one record for CMC, and CMC was sold to some English metal label, and that was that.
K: Do you have any other outside projects going?
R: Not at the moment.
A: What about your kid?
R: My son, yeah. My son's baseball career.
K: How old is he?
K: Doing the whole Little League thing?
R: Yeah, Little League and other leagues.
K: What positions does he play?
R: Outfield, infield, and pitch.
K Wow, an all-rounder.
R: Yeah, he is.
A: He's a great player.
R: Really good.
K: It's like New York, baseball, rock'n'roll, Johnny Thunders, it all kinda fits together. What about J.P. Patterson's acting career?
A: He was on "The Sopranos," he was on "Third Watch" last week. He's been getting a lot of parts, getting some cool stuff going on.
K: Manitoba's has been open what, two and a half years now?
R: About that, yeah.
K: Do a lot of bands come in there?
A: Yeah, he's got bands every night. Local bands. People come by and jam once in awhile. It's a hangout.
R: It's a great spot to gather.
A: And drink brews.
R: Manitoba's is like a bar dedicated to US.
A: It's the Dictators' clubhouse.
K: Every gang needs a clubhouse. Didn't Richard Lloyd do a bunch of shows there?
A: Richard did a residency there, twice. I think he did one month, and then he took some time off and did another month there.
K: Has he got a record out now?
A: He's got a record that came out earlier this year, yeah.
K: And what about Television...I keep reading rumours about them getting back together.
R: They GOT back together.
A: They played some shows in Europe, and I heard they're doing some shows in America. Not a lot.
K: Probably won't come to Texas, though.
A: You never know. Didn't think WE were coming back, and here we are.
K: We heard that Handsome Dick and Jayne County have patched things up, they did a duet on "I Got You Babe"...
A: Yeah, look on the website we got photos of them tongue kissing and making out and everything!
R: The whole thing is settled. The whole incident is done.
A: Time wounds all heels.
K: Another dumbass question: Should rock'n'roll be saved?
A: Well...my opinion is that rock'n'roll has seen its heyday. Kids today need their own kind of music. Rock'n'roll is the music their parents grew up with. What self-respecting kid listens to the same music as his parents? I think rock'n'roll will always be around, but it can never be cutting edge like it was in the sixties and the seventies. It's impossible.
K: Kind of a down thought. So why do you guys keep doing it?
A: Why not?
R: The way I look at it, and this is Ross talking, is that if it's good, there's a market for it. It's not going to be the vernacular that everyone's speaking, because there's hip-hop and Limp Bizkit...
A: Computers, Internet hybrids...
R: But when I was a kid, rock'n'roll WAS the most exciting thing around. I feel that if, as a musician, you have a good product, if you can deliver something that's really good, then that's enough to make it work. Aerosmith's going out and doing rather well.
K: As long as Steven Tyler's daughter keeps getting him songs in all these movies. And the Super Bowl.
A: People come see us play, we like playing, why not do it? What's better than getting up every morning and making music? I can't think of a better way to spend my day.
R: If we can't do it playing 100% onstage, we won't do it.
A: Also, what's your quote about us...
K: "The best thing on the boards right now."
A: So, that's enough for me to keep doing it.
R: And it's going to continue to be that way. We will not EVER diminish from that standing!
K: People who've seen your recent shows tell me there are some tunes you've broken out that are even newer than the ones on the new album, and THEY kick ass, too.
A: We'll be doing that tonight.
R: We actually have the 12 songs for the record, too.
K: So the album's ready to go?
A: No, no, we haven't mixed it.
R: We've got five songs to mix, then go in and master.
A: Gotta finish up the cover. Lot of work to do on everything.
K: After the album comes out, what are your plans?
A: We're going to Europe again in the fall. Haven't been to California in awhile. Back to Scandinavia, stuff like that.
R: We're looking to step things up with the visibility of the record. Have some bigger press, just keep going. The live show speaks for itself, just keep doing what we're doing.
A: We'll get a publicist. We get publicity without having a publicist, so a publicist will get us up a notch and we'll see what happens.
K: Since we're in a Bar, what do you like to drink?
A: Red wine.
K: What about Handsome Dick?
A: Shirley Temples.
R: Club soda and Diet Coke. He likes to have a nice cup of Half and Half onstage. Gets the spit going.
A: Gets the saliva flowing.
K: It's important to have that.
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