Cheetah Chrome Looks Back at the Dead Boys’ Classic Debut Album: Exclusive Interview
In 1977, a ragged bunch of hooligans from Cleveland called the Dead Boys uprooted themselves and moved to New York City. This was partly at the suggestion of the Ramones, who had shared the stage with the Dead Boys in Ohio and suggested they might be more at home in the scene that was happening in Manhattan.
The Dead Boys quickly became fixtures at CBGB. Their notorious, confrontational but always entertaining performances are the stuff of legend. Lead singer Stiv Bators may have been cut from the same cloth as Iggy Pop and Jim Morrison, but he added his own sharp sense of humor and made his presence truly his own. The rest of the band, drummer Johnny Blitz, bassist Jeff Magnum and guitarists Cheetah Chrome and Jimmy Zero had a sonic attack that was, in many ways, unrivaled in the CBGB scene. They were all good musicians, and far more traditional than many would-be “punk” groups, but it was their attitude and execution that sealed the deal.
The band made two albums for Sire Records and then split up. Cheetah stayed in New York and tried to make something happen, while Stiv and Zero recruited a few faces to form a new Dead Boys before heading out to Los Angeles to record a killer album of power pop-styled songs for Bomp Records. Eventually Stiv landed in England, formed the Wanderers and then Lords of the New Church. The original Dead Boys reunited for an EP and tour in 1987 and would occasionally cross paths until Stiv’s untimely death from a car accident in 1990. Since then the Dead Boys have been pretty silent, although they reunited in 2005 for shows in Cleveland and New York.
It came as a surprise, then, that in 2017, founding members Cheetah Chrome and Johnny Blitz decided to commemorate the 40th anniversary of their classic debut album, Young, Loud and Snotty, with a handful of shows where, joined by other musicians, they performed the album in its entirety. With the reaction to these shows so great, the guys headed into the studio to re-record the album, the result of which is Still Snotty: Young, Loud and Snotty at 40, due out in September on Plowboy Records. They are now heading out on a tour to celebrate the 40-year milestone of that first, and still crucial, album. We chatted with Cheetah about what led up to this and where it leads from here.
I know you had been doing live shows where you played the entire first album but I didn’t know you actually went in the studio and re-recorded the whole thing.
Yeah, well I had been doing these Cheetah Chrome shows, and doing the album with my band. Then I called up and got Blitz involved. He was into it. Jimmy can’t tour and we don’t really get along with Magnum so we thought, let’s put something new together.
Where did you find the other players?
I’d played with Jason Kottwitz. He’s a great guitarist, really makes it sound powerful. There was this band from the West Coast called the Undead Boys. They would do this whole thing where they dressed like the undead, zombies, and play all Dead Boys songs. It just seemed a natural fit. We told them, bring your attitude to it and let’s do it. It’s been great. Singer Jake Hout is a natural. Plus it gives me a break from singing. Unfortunately their bassist couldn’t do the tour as he is expecting his first kid, so I thought who can we get, and Ricky Rat came to mind. He’s a great player from Detroit.
Was there ever any discussion with Sire about a deluxe reissue of the original LP?
We don’t have anything to do with Sire. They sold the tapes to Warner Brothers a long time ago. There is a label in Europe who wants to do a deluxe package with both albums in it, but that got put on hold for the time being. I can’t say too much about it, but it will happen. I am glad to be done with Sire. I never liked them anyway and if they had put something like that out, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to promote it. Rhino just put out some green vinyl version of the first album, just a cash-in. The last money they’ll make off us.
And it was probably mastered from a digital source, not a true master tape thing.
Yeah, they don’t care. I once got some Dead Boys master reels from someone who found them next to a garbage bin at Warner Brothers. They really cared about us! This other thing is going to be cool. I’m really wanting to remix the second album (We’ve Come for Your Children). I was never happy with the way it sounded.
It seems like it’s the forgotten album. Everybody references the debut but forgets about the follow-up, which in many ways was as good as Young, Loud and Snotty.
There are great songs on the second album, but the sound of it. I just never liked it, so I am looking forward to seeing what we can do with it.
How did the idea to re-record Young, Loud and Snotty come about?
Well we wanted to commemorate the 40th anniversary in some way, and since the other thing wasn’t going to happen, we thought, let’s go in and record the album as a new recording. Maybe we can bring something new and fresh to it. I love playing the old songs, though sometimes I think “Oh, not again,” once we get on stage and start the songs, it’s exciting every time. Plus, we feed off the audience, most of whom never saw the Dead Boys in any form.
The band sounds enthused, not just rehashing the songs.
Oh yeah, for sure. We were all very into making the album.
How have the live shows been going over?
It’s been great. The funny thing is, the crowds are probably 75 percent young kids. I mean the older fans are still there, but it’s mostly a young audience, which is really a cool thing.
It must make it seem like the songs will live on past your time with younger audiences picking up on them.
Oh, absolutely. I can’t believe I’m this age and still playing these songs, but when I get out there in front of these audiences, I close my eyes and it’s almost like I’m back in time 40 years. We do the whole album in its entirety, as well as other stuff.
Are you just touring the U.S. right now?
We are going across the States, and then we will go to Europe next year. We were trying to get that going this year, but we wanted to wait until the album was out.
I think people get the idea that this is not the “new Dead Boys” but rather a celebratory kind of thing for the 40th anniversary.
That’s it exactly. There is no thought that we have replaced Stiv, Jimmy and Jeff. This is a new band shining a light on the old band and the old songs.
It would be interesting to see what you guys come up with if you keep rolling and record and album of new material.
I want to do that. Jason and I have been writing songs.
When you guys first moved from Cleveland to New York back in the mid-’70s, the musical climate was pretty stale in general. To my ears, it kind of seems that way today as well. Forty years on, do you think you fit in any differently now?
Nah. We still don’t fit in anywhere. I’m glad we have our fans, and an appreciation for what we did all those years ago, but the Dead Boys are still outsiders.
When you look back at Rocket From the Tombs and Dead Boys, are you surprised at the respect and notoriety it has received over all the years? Could you ever have imagined anyone would care 40 plus years on?
Well for me, Rockets was always unfinished business. The Dead Boys ended as it should have, and seemed right. Rockets was our band we were kind of ashamed of. Not musically, but we were a flop. Our unsuccessful band, so it was cool when people started taking an interest later on. I’m proud of all that stuff.
Hard to believe it’s been 27 years since Stiv died. Can you imagine him still performing if he were still with us?
Oh for sure. i don’t know what he’d be doing, but he’d be up to something. I still miss him. All of us, we’re almost like old bluesmen at this point. We’re still out there doing our thing.
Not sitting on stools!
Dead Boys 2017 Tour Dates
9/7 – Dallas, Texas – Curtain Club
9/8 – Houston, Texas – White Oak Music Hall
9/9 – Austin, Texas – Hotel Vegas
9/10 – New Orleans, La. – Santos Bar
9/11 – Pensacola, Fla. – Vinyl Music Hall
9/12 – Orlando, Fla. – Will’s Pub
9/13 – Atlanta, Ga. – The Earl
9/14 – Charleston, S.C. – The Royal American
9/15 – Richmond, Va. – Strange Matter
9/16 – Baltimore, Md. – Metro Gallery
9/17 – New York, N.Y. – Bowery Electric
9/18 – Somerville, Mass. – Once Ballroom
9/19 – Philadelphia, Pa. – Kung Fu Necktie
9/20 – Harrisburg, Pa. – Mid Town Arts Center
9/21 – Cleveland, Ohio – Now That’s Class
9/22 – Toledo, Ohio – Frankies Inner City
9/23 – Nashville, Tenn. – Little Harpeth Brewery
10/21 – Omaha, Neb. – Lookout Lounge
10/22 – Minneapolis, Minn. – Triple Rock Social Club
10/23 – Milwaukee, Wisc. – Shank Hall
10/24 – Lombard, Ill. – Brauer House
10/25 – Madison, Wisc. – The Frequency
10/26 – Detroit, Mich. – Small’s Bar
10/27 – Toronto, ONT – Velvet Underground
10/28 – Montreal, QUE – Fairmont
10/29 – Ottawa, ONT – Brass Monkey
10/30 – Rochester, N.Y. – Photo City Improv
10/31 – Brooklyn, N.Y. – Lucky 13 Saloon
11/1 – Long Branch, N.J. – Brighton Bar
11/4 – Cleveland, Ohio – Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
11/7 – Phoenix, Ariz. – Club Red
11/8 – Flagstaff, Ariz. – Green Room
11/9 – Las Vegas, N.Y. – Beauty Bar
11/10 – Los Angeles, Cailf. – Viper Room
11/12 – San Francisco, Calif. – DNA Lounge
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