Dead Boys

TrackAlbum / Single
Sonic ReducerYoung, Loud And Snotty
All This And MoreYoung, Loud And Snotty
Ain't Nothin' To DoYoung, Loud And Snotty
Hey Little GirlYoung, Loud And Snotty
I Need LunchYoung, Loud And Snotty
Down In FlamesYoung, Loud And Snotty
(I Don't Wanna Be No) Catholic BoyWe Have Come For Your Children
Calling On YouWe Have Come For Your Children
Ain't It FunWe Have Come For Your Children
All The Way DownScream Records 88561-8165

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Dead Boys photo 2

Dead Boys (l to r): Jimmy Zero (guitar), Johnny Blitz (drums), Stiv Bators (vocals), Cheetah Chrome (guitar), Jeff Magnum (bass)

 

Contributor: Calvin Rydbom

One of the best descriptions I’ve heard of the Dead Boys was “Sneering Cleveland punk brutes who lit up stages with near violent intensity”. They were certainly among the first, and maybe the first, group in the US to take punk to the level of violence, anger and nihilism that was part of the genre’s best moments. As such they had a lot of influence in what came after them, as compared to what a group that recorded only two studio and one live album should have.

The members performed together in different bands before the eventual classic lineup. Initially, some of the members were in Rocket From The Tombs who themselves took a few years to shake out. Starting in Cleveland, Ohio, the lineup which is the most known during their initial 1974-1975 years included Cheetah Chrome and Johnny Blitz. Two of its other members, David Thomas and Peter Laughner, went on to form Pere Ubu with the band’s sound man Tim Wright.

Stiv Bators appeared on stage with Rocket From The Tombs during their last live show in that early incarnation before forming the band Frankenstein with Chrome and Blitz, and if some reports are true, Jimmy Zero and Jeff Magnum. And of course it’s those five who eventually became the Dead Boys.

That a couple members started in RFTT is important as they brought along some of that band’s songs to the Dead Boys, and in fact named themselves from the RFTT song Down In Flames. Although in some cases they changed those songs up a bit before they appeared on Dead Boys’ albums.

Joey Ramone of the Ramones encouraged them to move to New York and seek an audience that would be more accepting of what they were trying to do, which arguably was to be the first hard core punk band in the United States. The band took up residence at CBGB and began to develop quite a following in the emerging punk rock scene, but not in the mainstream community. You almost get the sense they didn’t really want to be mainstream though, as their live shows at CBGB were profane and confrontational in a way that simply didn’t resonate with crowds at that point in the US. The punk scene simply hadn’t developed as it had in the UK. Bators was known to go as far as to cut himself with his mic stand on stage; it seems people weren’t ready for their band to be bleeding on stage, or on them, quite yet. Even in New York.

Three albums followed; the second was produced by Felix Pappalardi who battled continuously with the band as they felt he didn’t understand their sound and what they were trying to accomplish. They attempted to bring in James Williamson of the Stooges to save the album but the idea fell through. Sire Records was also actively trying to get them to change their look, sound and attitude so they would be more appealing to the masses. So they were probably right in feeling Pappalardi wasn’t producing the album the band wanted.

The third event that caused the band to split was the injuries sustained by Blitz in a Manhattan fight which resulted in seventeen stab wounds to the chest in 1978. The band did get together for a fund raiser for Blitz with John Belushi replacing him on drums for the evening, but that was basically it for the band. They did another live show to fulfill their deal with Sire, recording Night Of The Living Dead Boys. Bators purposefully sang off the mic though to make the recordings essentially unusable because of the band’s anger with Sire. A little later he overdubbed his vocals so another label could release the album.

They had a short-lived reunion during the late 1980s which resulted in a difficult to find live album in 1988 and two singles in 1987 and 1988. Bators unfortunately died in 1990 after being struck by a taxi in France and since then there have been a few one night reunions, always tied to a benefit or an important event in the band’s life.

Currently, Chrome and Blitz are touring the 40th Anniversary of Young, Loud And Snotty and re-recorded the initial album along with three new musicians. While it wasn’t the Dead Boys I did see them on the current show, and it was a damn good show. As I’ve seen Chrome a few times I expected no less, but I don’t really see a point to the re-recording. Especially as they also released a remastered version of the album in the late 90s as Younger, Louder And Snottier. They also released another version of their second album We Have Come For Your Children from the pre-mix tapes as 3rd Generation Nation, which probably had more to do with finally putting out the albums they wanted than anything else.

Released in late 1977, Young, Loud And Snotty included a number of songs that had been part of the RFTT catalog. Most though where credited to the song writing partnership that developed between Chrome and Bators, although Zero was also credited on four songs.

The first cut from the album is Sonic Reducer which was originally a RFTT song written by Chrome and Thomas. Bators redid some of the lyrics and this version is often credited to Bators, Chrome, Thomas, Magnum, Zero and Blitz. It is an out and out punk standard, if such a thing exists. It’s been covered by Guns N’ Roses, Pearl Jam, Overkill, Die Toten Hosen and others. The Beastie Boys even sampled it at one point. The band clearly started with their best foot forward; as they say “I’m a Sonic Reducer/Aint No Loser.” All the band’s songwriters leaned toward repetitive lyrics carried across for ferocious music and an equally ferocious delivery.

Somewhat shocking in 1977, the song All This And More probably was jarring to a few parents with its opening “Can I describe what it’s like/to have sex with the lights on?” Funny thing is the opening is almost poppy. Rugged maybe, with a touch of aggression. But that beat they open the song with simply doesn’t let you know what is coming lyrically. It’s all kind of fun and the only song credited to just Blitz on the album.

Ain’t Nothin’ To Do is a Bators and Chrome song with a blistering guitar solo in the middle, which isn’t a punk thing usually. But it’s a song that makes as much sense as it did forty years ago; what’s on TV sucks and I got nothing to do.

The 1966 hit Hey Little Girl by the California garage band Syndicate of Sound is an out and out argument ended for those who refuse to see that punk really is a natural progression to the garage band sound. The Dead Boys cover the song so effortlessly. It’s so very good.

I Need Lunch is another great tune, but one that makes it abundantly clear as to why the Dead Boys just never broke through. It’s a song that would now be shouted down as being utterly misogynistic, but 1977 at CBGB was a different world. Their initial album just moves along with loud and aggressive tunes. There really isn’t a moment where they slow down. It’s also a rare tune written by Bators and Zero without assistance from the rest of the band.

Down In Flames is another song that originated with Rocket From the Tombs and carried through to the Dead Boys. “Dead eyes feeding your dead, dead brain/Dead boy, dead boy, always end the same.” It’s a feel good song obviously.

The entire first album was aggression funneled through music on a level that must have felt like a never before felt assault on the senses in 1977. It was way too much for most people and their label really wanted them to tone it down. Which in some ways is ironic as the album was clearly toned down from their stage shows. But unfortunately that feeling adversely effected their second album.

Not that 1978’s We Have Come For Your Children wasn’t a great album, it just wasn’t their first.

The first twenty or so seconds of (I Don’t Wanna Be No) Catholic Boy are just wonderful. The band build speed and aggression as they wait for Bators to enter with his vocals. Some great soloing in the song as well. Bators’ very simple lyrics, which seemingly are the title and “I Just want to have fun”, are just that. Fun. Dee Dee and Joey Ramone handle some background vocals on the track.

I clearly remember the first time I heard Calling On You; the first twenty seconds start out so slow that I remember thinking, “Did they throw in a ballad”? They didn’t. The song erupts, albeit not to the usual level the Dead Boys worked at. In a way I wonder whether this movement into songs that may have actually made an appearance on the Top 40 charts, could be the reason the band was so dissatisfied with this album and what Sire Records was trying to turn them into. Because while I like the song, it’s somehow not quite a Dead Boys song to me.

Ain’t It Fun is a little different for the band as well, in the sense the lyrics use a lot more words. In large part, I’m guessing, as the song was co-written by Chrome and Peter Laughner. Still an iconic figure in Northeast Ohio, Laughner was a member of Rocket From The Tombs with Zero and Chrome, He also was an early member of Pere Ubu and wrote for Creem magazine before he died, aged 24, in 1977. Richie Unterberger called him the single biggest catalyst in the birth of the area’s alternative scene. But his early death removed what could have been an amazing career. I’d like to ask Chrome why they recorded this song, which is so unlike most Dead Boys songs. Was it as a tribute to the recently passed former band mate? Who knows, but it shows a direction and another side to the band.

Dead Boys recorded the live album Night Of The Living Dead Boys in March of 1979 at CBGB to fulfill their three album deal with Sire Records. And, as I mentioned, Bators sabotaged the recording with his vocals because of the band’s displeasure with the label. And while he later overdubbed the vocals, neither of the versions of the album’s release is really that strong. It does, however, include one song not on the first two albums, Detention Home by Bators and Chrome.

All The Way Down is my favorite track they released during the late 1980s reunion. They were essentially the same band from their earlier tracks. Loud, fast and angry. Just how I like my punk.

The classic Dead Boys never really appeared on record I think. Their 1970s shows were perhaps just too much to get on an album. Probably why the band has remastered their two albums a few times, and not to get a cleaner more pristine sound.

Bators, as I said, died in 1990. Chrome played in another band or two in NYC before returning to Cleveland and reforming RFTT with original members, Thomas, Craig Bell, and Television guitarist Richard Lloyd. Magnum doesn’t seem to be that involved in the music business these days but Zero was still registering credits up to a few years ago.

About five years ago, Chrome stepped away from RFTT – although he steps back in now and again – to take a Creative Director position with Plowboy Records and to write his autobiography.

Just this year (as mentioned earlier), Cheetah Chrome and Johnny Blitz, along with three news guys, took to the road for a few weeks for a 40th anniversary tour of Young, Loud and Snotty and re-recorded the album with the new band. And of course I went. I was really glad they didn’t bill themselves as the Dead Boys, and equally glad they give the audience a big fuck off when they called for an encore. It was the punk thing to do.

 

Stiv Bators (1949–1990)

 

Dead Boys facebook

Dead Boys at Discogs

Cheetah Chrome (Wikipedia)

Johnny Blitz (Wikipedia)

The home of Pere Ubu and Rocket From The Tombs

More on Rocket From The Tombs

Dead Boys 2017 album: Still Snotty: Young, Loud & Snotty At 40

Dead Boys – Live at CBGB’s 1977 full gig

Dead Boys biography (iTunes)

“Scene” interviews Cheetah Chrome (2010)

The Lords Of The New Church website

Peter Laughner (1952–1977)

Plowboy Records website

This is Calvin’s 36th Toppermost. His fifth book, “The Akron Sound”, will be released by The History Press this fall. In it Calvin will be telling the story of the “Akron Sound” a short-lived period in the 70s and early 1980s when Akron, Ohio was arguably one of the more important regions in the Midwest of the United States in the Punk Rock/New Wave scene. Devo, Chrissie Hynde and the Waitresses, as well as lesser known acts such as the Rubber City Rebels, Tin Huey, Unit 5, Hammer Damage, the Numbers Band and the Bizarros who found themselves on the cusp of stardom, dominated Akron’s music scene. Calvin is also the Archivist and Contributing Author for the Akron Sound Museum, which celebrates the history of Akron Music from the early 1960s to the present.

TopperPost #662

1 Comment

  1. Andrew Shields
    Oct 7, 2017

    Discovered The Dead Boys the wrong way around, as it were, through recently buying and greatly enjoying some of Stiv’s far more poppy solo work. Then got hold of ‘Young, Loud and Snotty’ which, unlike many punk records, has withstood the test of time so well. Thanks for this fine piece which fills in the rest of the story…

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