August 25, 2017 Interview – Cheetah Chrome of Dead Boys
Spawned in the 1970s, Punk was the unwanted stepchild of Rock-n-Roll, but damn did it leave its mark. Loud, rowdy, and anti-establishment, the music became a cultural movement still felt decades later. Spreading like a fever across the world, one of the most infamous out of the first wave of early Punk bands was the Dead Boys. Pioneers and highly influential, the Dead Boys bled the Punk Rock lifestyle with pride. Unfortunately, the wild party came to an unexpected halt toward the end of the ’70s, but the legacy of Dead Boys still lives on. Reuniting on several occasions since their initial formation, Dead Boys are back for more in 2017 with a re-recorded edition of their 1977 debut album, Young Loud and Snotty, as well as a list of tour dates lined up. Anxious to fire up the amps, we recently caught up with founding Guitarist Cheetah Chrome to talk the crazy past of Dead Boys, the decision to reform, the roots of Punk Rock, plus much more.
CrypticRock.com – Dead Boys came together four decades ago and, rightfully so, are considered pioneers of Punk Rock. Looking back all these years later, how would you describe the wild journey of the band?
Cheetah Chrome – Frustrating (laughs). Crazy. You know, it was just unexpected most of the time. There’s no way you can plan for any of this shit, you know? It’s like a thing that won’t go away, a thing that won’t die.
CrypticRock.com – That is how it is. Unexpected things happen, especially in music.
Cheetah Chrome – Yeah, I’m not complaining. I’m enjoying doing it again here!
CrypticRock.com – The band’s initial run ended following We Have Come for Your Children in 1978. In fact reuniting almost a decade later, what inspired that initial reunion of the band?
Cheetah Chrome – Well, we never really wanted to break up to begin with. It was kind of forced upon us by legal circumstances, Sire Records and things like that. It wasn’t really our idea. Sire Records basically decided they weren’t going to support us anymore. Seymour Stein said, “I put money on Punk Rock and I was wrong.” We can all see how wrong he was (laughs). Punk Rock’s still around many years later, and where is Seymour these days?
CrypticRock.com – It is strange how things work. Beyond Dead Boys, you went on to other bands including your intricate role as part of Rocket from the Tombs. Do you feel that diversity helped you grow as a musician?
Cheetah Chrome – Oh yeah. I’ve always enjoyed collaborating with other people. My solo career’s been one of the most non-prolific solo careers ever (laughs). I managed to do one live album and one record out of it. I lose interest constantly. I like playing the shows, but to actually sit down and do a record and focus on me that much…is not me. But working with other people, I’ve been lucky enough to work with Jeff Dahl, the Stilettos… just a whole bunch of different people. The list goes on and on. Playing acoustic guitar on a Ramone’s song for christsakes! To me, that’s way more interesting that anything I would happen to do sitting around doing demos in my basement for years.
CrypticRock.com – You want to get yourself out there and do different things. If you do the same thing over and over it gets boring.
Cheetah Chrome – Yea, I’ve always considered myself to be more of a guitar player than a frontman. The only reason I got up front is because I couldn’t find a singer that I liked. I just figured if you want something done right, do it yourself. It’s a lot easier than having to put up with somebody else’s ego and stuff like that. So I figured if I was going to have to work with a weirdo, it might as well be me (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Exactly. That is a good way to go about it, if you want it done right, you do it yourself. Dead Boys are current celebrating the 40th anniversary of your debut album with a re-recorded edition of the album and touring. What led to the decision to re-record 1977’s Young Loud and Snotty?
Cheetah Chrome – You know, the story in the end is that Young Loud and Snotty was basically a demo. We were always told that was not coming out and we were going to have the opportunity to go back into the studio and re-record it. On the 40th anniversary, there were other plans for an anniversary release that got put to the side. Originally it started off as a Cheetah Chrome project, I was touring and I was going to be doing the whole album in my set. Then I was talking with Johnny Blitz and he said, “I’ll take that out and play some.” So I said, “Okay, let’s get Blitz on board.” The next thing you know, it just kind of grew legs from there.
We did some gigs in California and met up with Jake, the new singer. He worked out perfectly. He was the first guy in 40 years that I met that I actually felt comfortable with on stage. He is not trying to be Stiv (Bators), he has his own thing to him, but he can sound like Stiv. It worked. The energy’s just there. The dynamic is there. Then, when we got Ricky Rat on bass, we kind of completed everything. It didn’t seem like there was any reason not to go ahead and forward. Then we kind of got to thinking, well, “What would it sound like if we had gone back in the studio and had done something different?” The guitar sounds would all be different, we just thought we could see what happens there. It’s not necessarily anything that we think is better than the original or trying to touch the original. It’s just something different.
CrypticRock.com – That is understandable. That in mind, what was it like to revisit these songs so many years later?
Cheetah Chrome – It was kind of strange. We’ve been doing them live, but to actually get in the studio and do them, you start paying attention more to the parts. The main thing is how well they stood up. They really were a strong bunch of songs. The band was a really good playing band. The Dead Boys weren’t the Sex Pistols, that’s for sure, we could definitely play. We got in there and played and it was really similar to doing it the first time, except we had a lot more control.
First off, we hadn’t all been in a studio since then. That was the first time we’d ever been in a studio was those three days we recorded the record. I’d been in one other studio in my life and that was just to have a look at the place. I never played a note in a studio before Young Loud and Snotty…I had no experience. To go back in and have a much better grasp of what it takes to make a record and how to make it sound like you want it to sound, that was nice. I got to use amplifiers that were more of my choice than I used on Young Loud and Snotty.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like a fun experience. The anniversary lineup includes yourself and Johnny Blitz, Ricky Rat, Jason Kottwitz on guitar, and Jake Hout on vocals. How excited are you for this tour and what can fans expect?
Cheetah Chrome – So far it’s been really exciting shows. The band has really become quite a unit. Ginchy (Jason Kottwitz) has been with me for like four years in my solo band, so him and I have quite the guitar bond going. Getting Johnny back in the fold really changed the whole thing around. In the Dead Boys, Johnny and I were pretty much the rhythm section. We started off without a bass player. Ricky Rat on bass just fits right in. He just brings something new to the game. Jeff (Halmagy) was in and out of that band like five times… he’d quit, come back, quit, come back. The whole first six months we were together in New York, we used John DeSalvo of the Tuff Darts. The bass player doesn’t really matter at that point. Jeff was more on the second album than on the first.
The singer, Jake Hout, he’s from Oakland, California and he’s been with a couple different bands out there that have done really well. His whole thing is he has a very good memory. He does one of the best Stiv impressions I’ve ever seen in my life, and he’s just got his own stage presence that’s nothing like Stiv’s. If you see the pictures or you see the video he might look like he’s doing a Stiv, but he’s not. When you actually see the show, he’s totally got his own thing going on. It works because it’s nice to have somebody else out there as a frontman for me after all these years. I’ve been kind of glued to that mic stand and I’m not playing guitar and singing at the same time, it doesn’t really lead to a great show. So having someone else out there jumping on tables, flirting with the girls, it’s good.
CrypticRock.com – It will be exciting to see when you come to New York. Speaking of which, you were in the NYC Punk movement at its peak. As someone who was living the scene at the time, what was it like back then?
Cheetah Chrome – It was just amazing. It was like a two year party. Everybody in the world was playing CBGB’s and Max’s, so there was always somebody to see all the time. There were at least four nights a week you were down at one of the clubs seeing a band from England or wherever. There was a sense of unity back then. It was the early ’70s. It was like the ’60s died and went right into Punk Rock.
At the time, it didn’t seem like the movement was as big as it was, but when you look at what came out of it later on, my god there were a lot of bands, and they were all good. Very few of them actually really suck. All the talent you were surrounded by constantly was amazing. In hindsight, it’s even more amazing. At the time, you just felt really lucky to be there. It was just fun! Looking back on it, it’s just like goddamn that was a magical period!
CrypticRock.com – It certainly was a magical period. You mentioned how Punk Rock is still alive. If you look at the roots of Punk Rock, it comes from being rebellious and adversity. That said, in 2017, do you feel that Punk Rock is still alive and do the new bands who claim to be Punk Rock live up to the sincerity that the original bands such as Dead Boys had?
Cheetah Chrome – You know, it’s hard for me to say because I don’t get to see that many young bands now or hear them because the music business got so screwed up. The air play just isn’t there like it used to be. You have to go out there and look for it now. If you’re a kid, you’ve got the energy and the time to do that. I don’t, I’m busy doing a lot of stuff. I just don’t get out and look for new bands like I should. I see a lot of cool bands that warm up for us on the road, and people turn me on to good bands all the time. I know they’re out there, but I’m just not as aware of them as I should be probably. At the same time, it’s like I would just get in the way. It’s their world now, not mine.
CrypticRock.com – It is so hard to keep up in today’s day and age where you have so many bands because of the internet.
Cheetah Chrome – Yeah! Back in the ’70s you had progressive radio. They were always playing new records by new bands…you don’t have that now. The bands are doing everything themselves. I was running Plowboy Records, doing A&R, I couldn’t keep up with the bands that were being sent to us. There’s just so many, and they were all good. You sit there and go, “I’ll listen to 10 CDs today,” and I couldn’t figure out which one I’d want to listen to again, because there are just so many different things there. Punk has taken a lot of forms since then. Guys like Shooter Jennings have Punk songs. Anybody can do something like that, that’s got a Punk influence, these days.
CrypticRock.com – It is interesting to see where Punk has gone through the years.
Cheetah Chrome – It’s really gotten into the mainstream. It’s part of the zeitgeist now and it’s there. It’s part of the fabric of America. It’s not the rebellion thing it was back then. The influence has gone so deep into our culture that it’s influenced bands you would never think it had.
CrypticRock.com – It is very true, it certainly has penetrated into Pop culture. You mentioned A&R. There really is no A&R anymore. If an artist does not sell immediately, they are dropped from a label. There really is no artist development.
Cheetah Chrome – That is one of the things I was happy about when I was with Plowboy Records, we were one of the cool labels. My boss was Shannon Pollard, he was Eddy Arnold’s grandson, but he was also a huge music fan. He was like, “We don’t want to be a Country label, we don’t want to be a mainstream label, we want to do anything we fucking want to do. We’re not going to get pigeonholed. You can’t get weird enough to suit me.” He was absolutely right! It was very freeing for me to be able to find bands.
Another thing that was really cool about Punk, that I think has gotten kind of secondary to the music, is the artwork. The album covers and the fliers and all that stuff. That’s a whole other section of the influence that’s still around today. It wasn’t just music, it was art in general.
CrypticRock.com – Yes! It has stood the test of time which is nice to see.
Cheetah Chrome – It is. The fashion, as well. Though the fashion doesn’t stand up as well. (laughs)
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) For some people it still does, but perhaps not others. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Cheetah Chrome – Let me see. I’ve always liked Horror movies. More when I was a kid. I was into all the original Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, and all the Famous Monsters. After the Slasher films came out, I kind of got bored because they were all pretty much the same. Escape from New York (1981) is still one of my favorites, I really love it. All John Carpenter’s stuff I love. I have been trying to get into the new Twin Peaks. Slasher films, I just kind of became bored with. I have been watching more television series lately though. I watch all of OZ, Sons of Anarchy, and all of that. I will watch 7 seasons in 3 weeks (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it appears the best quality now a days is in television.
Cheetah Chrome – Oh yea, I also hear Stranger Things is supposed to be good. I want to see The Dark Tower. I am a big fan of Stephen King’s books. Stephen King is always a hard translation to the screen. I used to watch a lot of Horror movies with Johnny Ramone when I lived in New York. Our girlfriends were friends so we would go over his girlfriend’s house and watch Horror movies. He had quite the collection back then. He was really big into The Hills Have Eyes (1977), I Spit On Your Grave (1978), and all that good stuff. We had our little movie cult over there for a while, but after that, I didn’t watch movies for a while.