Gregg Turner and Gary Sperrazza – “All Hail the Dictators” (1977)

July 24, 2010 at 12:12 am (Music, Reviews & Articles)

A November 1977 Bomp! article about the proto-punk band The Dictators…

“Like most rock writers I’m a frustrated rock star. The appeal of groupies, booze, money, and a color TV is too much to withstand. But alas, I soon realized I was never going to realize that goal, so I settled for rock “critic,” it ain’t half that. I get laid every once in awhile by a fan, I weasled free tickets for a Doobie Bros. concert, and I got stone cold drunk at the Slade press conference yesterday. So even though I may never be a rock & roll star I swear I’ll do my darnest to become the first superstar rock critic…” — Adny Shernoff, RPM, Oct. ’72

“Oh wow, man, Like I got stoned and then split to see Star Wars. Waited in line for two hours before the flick started. But it was worth it, I mean, I was still sorta high and all those special effects, and it was such a boring afternoon, anyway….” The mindless epitaph to a bland generation of nurds, when they could be having fun!! Kicking out the jams instead of wallowing in the ozone. Lifestyles patterned after ZZ Top, Frampers and Joni Mitchell have had it!!! This is why the Dictators are more than just a dazzling display of rock’n’roll fireworks. They’re the hippie backlash and pro-life campaign that silently crept outta some Bronx back alley late one night to rescue stray wolfpacks of mellow gurls lost to the cosmic camps of “higher spiritual plane” conciousness and 2 AM incense. Dictators….deprogrammers of the first order!

The ‘Tators were formed during the seminal years of the NY rock scene. With origins in the fanzine world with his Teenage Wasteland Gazette, spokesman Adny Shernoff was one of the first writer-aspiring-to-rockstar types. He recruited rhythm guitarist Scott ‘Top Ten’ Kemper and megaguitarist Ross ‘The Boss’ Friedman and drummer Stu(pid)boy. The band then linked up with Blue Oyster Cult’s management/producers Sandy ‘Memphis Son Of Sam’ Pearlman and Murray Krugman to record the first Dictators album, Go Girl Crazy for Epic. Combining keen, insightfull and funny lyrics to rock’n’roll had been done before, but the messages never stamped home the way the Dictators odes did because the Tators delivered the kind of rock’n’roll madness unseen since the like of the MC 5 and the Stooges while still being lyrically detached. Yet, it all came together in a classic mix unmatched since, despite hordes of new bands looking to Fred Smith or James Williamson for inspiration.

Show us a rock’n’roll fan who doesn’t like Go Girl Crazy and we’ll show you someone who only pretends to listen to records. As with all bands ahead of their time, there were few who could see beyond the barrage of guitar — albeit excellently done — nor really lived the life celebrated in their lyrics to understand all the Dictators had to say was ‘have fun’ and believe us, that was a profound revelation in the Stone Age of the early 70’s. So it was back to the NY clubs for the ‘Tators and not only good band, but a real good idea lost steam and momentum.

Flipping thru the pages of The Village Voice last year, vague rumblings of a revamped Dictators began to appear. By this time Epic had dropped them proving once again that Columbia and associates are always ready to take a chance, but you better make good or else…! The Dictators had by this time drafted their roadie and symbol in flesh Richie Blum, Handsome Dick Manitoba, to the ranks of lead vocalist/primal spokesman. Secret weapon H.D. Manitoba is to the Dictators what the Greek symbol for chaos is to the Cult. There’s been quite a few stars in our time, but this guy Manitoba has ’em all licked. The developed tones of refined abdominal muscle and bulging proportions of the same close to the neck, thigh and upper shoulder regions are what Manitoba craftily utilizes to facillitate the legendary ‘male-siren’ effect proven for purposes of female flypaper.

During the revamping, drummer Stuboy exited and Shernoff started shrinking his bass activities in favor of the keyboards. Too bad: though he’s not technically a great bass player his flair for imaginative bass lines is infinitley more attractive then the current alternative. So the spots for bassist and drummer passed to Mark ‘the animal’ Glickman and Richard Teeter. The Animal, not content with twanging out notes in any conventional sense, pounds out a bombardment of thud perpetrated by an iron-clad fist and scowling demeanor. Drummer Teeter, the so-called straightman, supplies overly contagious vocals and a manic tempo that counterbalances the delicate but heavyweight framework supplied by an enthusiastic Top Ten rhythm guitarist — Scott Kemper, as he is currently known.

So with mainstays Shernoff, Ross the Boss, Top Ten, Handsome Dick Manitoba and newcomers The Animal and Teeter, it’s as if Shernoff, unstoppable in his desires, went into a huddle with the band and told them no insensitive record company was gonna stop them! What do we want, boys, anyone of them may have asked, ‘to sit around and be last year’s thing? ‘no way! Let’s get our butts into rehearsal for 15 hours a day, get these new songs finished and get out and be Dictators!!!, not some whimpering band on its last legs.

And they did. The lineup made its first appearance in May of 1976 and when they weren’t getting total raves in the aforementioned Voice, the Dictators were doing the midwest circuit with Kiss, Uriah Heep and ZZ Top, developing a sound you just can’t argue with!

Everyone who has seen the ‘Tators in the past year has been buzzing about how exciting, tight, out and out rock’n’roll crazy they’ve been lately. Many feel the Dictators are the best rock’n’roll band they’ve ever seen and it’s all coming from people who were caught totaly offguard as regards the new lineup and show.

The thought-to-be-sleepy Northern California Bay Area community of rock ‘n’ roll fandom gathered en mass to the late-March and early-April Dictators shows at North Beach’s incredible Mabuhay Gardens. The debut solicited frenetic craziness from a standing room capacity saturation of 400+ Mabuhay maniacs and leather clad gila monsters. Renditions of volume-ated anthems the likes of “Next Big Thing”, “Weekend”, “Master Race Rock” and the new “Steppin’ Out”, matched hypo-visual theatrics with a thunderous audio assault.

Rhythm guitar wizard Top Ten’s semi circular windmills counterbalance the ferocious barrage of lightning lead patterns (fast and fluid) from The Boss. The Animal stands a grimacing image of macho, six feet in excess, holds a chord with his left paw and pounds distended blasts of bottom line with a clenched right fist! Keyboardist Shernoff and drummer Teeter interchange vocal leads and harmonies with precision and grace, although both project personalities entirely distinguishable and opaque.

Slower ballads such as “Sleeping With the TV On” and “Hey Boys” are treated with forcefull and dynamic arrangements similar to the Ooo’s “Kid’s Are Alright” or “A Legal Matter”, rather than the schmaltzy puss of a Boston or Queen. Virtually none of the songs recall derivative elements, yet the predominate no-fooling-around musical attitude recalls the professionalism of a Blue Oyster Cult, Aerosmith or Rolling Stones.

Enter the salivating stegosaurus of Handsome Dick. Shifting weight from left to right, stomping cyborg heartpunches of Blassie-esque magnitude, Two Tub Man Richard Manitoba belts out the Shernoff lyrics with criminal intent: “I can go anywhere, people look and people stare. They all know that I’m the one, not to let your son become!”

Dictator lead axe Ross The Boss is unbelievable!!! Crazy circular gyration and intensive hyper-activity of related motion, amidst flawless and versatile solos of excessive volume support Ross’ claim of America’s numero uno posistion of guitar prowess. He knows he’s the best, but like The Ancient One in Dr. Strange Comics, he’s self-secure and not pushy, unlike many foot-soldiers in the guitar army.

The real hard core of the situation focuses in on keyboardist, singer-songwriter Adny Shernoff. All charges of intellectualism and provocative wit are aimed at Adny, but he’ll shrug and disavow any knowledge of gameplan or motive. Why he, or any other first-string rocker for that matter, insists on denying their smarts eludes us: since when is it cool to be stupid? Shernoff was smart enough to keep the Dictators going and label shopping landed them a contract with Asylum. After months of remixing, bickering and just generally waiting for the right time, Manifest Destiny, the second Dictators album is here.

The album is a powerhouse, the kind of album that would raise everyone’s regard for punk rock if the band would actually declare, “Yeah, we’re punk rock and we’re damned good, too!!” But the Movement without Members takes a back seat to the ‘Tators aspirations. Though Manifest Destiny represents a compromise on the part of the band, it seems the band has not compromised enough. Because they are Dictators, they are incapable of it (thank God) and attempts towards softening their material fell flat for the most part. Too bad…they need and deserve a hit album but the songs with the most radio-potential (initially) all have a clumsier arrangement than a single could overlook. It won’t be long before fans see this as the ‘Tators Agents of Fortune. It’s what you gotta do if you play ball with the big boys though and despite this, the album still delivers Dictators rather than umpires.

When the band drags on “disease”, dulls on “Hey Boys” and bores on their version of Iggy’s “Search and Destroy” (why bother?), they come back triple strength on “Exposed”, “Heartache” and “Sleeping With the TV On”. They’re relentlessly astounding on “Steppin’ Out”, “Science Gone Too Far” and “Young, Fast and Scientific”. The guitar parts are impeccably arranged and if Ross the Boss’ solo on “Young, Fast and Scientific” doesn’t go down in the Annals of Rock ‘n’ Roll as one of the most spectacular guitar solos ever put on record, you people still aren’t listening!!!

Sure, there’ve been problems and flaws, but the Dictators are by a long shot able to overcome problems and soar the the highest spiritual plane that is so high we can’t explain. Don’t care who you bring on — all the Jim Morrisons, Lou Reeds, Keefs Richards and Moons, Haystack Calhouns, Llio D’Apollos or Eric Blooms, none of them are gonna approach the authenticity and sheer metallic brilliance that the Dictators effortlessly exude in two bars of “Master Race Rock”. They’e NO MATCH y’hear? NO CONTEST AT ALL!! And until something/anything worthy of competition surfaces, it’s the Dictators.

Nothing comes close. You’ll see.

Gregg Turner and Gary Sperrazza


1 Comment

  1. alphastare said,

    FYI Gary Apollo just passed away this week.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: