Part I text by Todd Abramson; Part II text by Barry Geiger; with new intro by Robert Barry Francos
Live images by RBF; album covers from the Internet
Article © 1977; interview © 1980; RBF intro © 2010, all by FFanzeen
[Handsome Dick Manitoba, Ross the Boss Funicello]Here is a two-for-one deal. FFanzeen published two pieces on the Dictators, the first in issue #3 in 1977 by Todd Abramson (who went on to publish his own fanzine, Young Fast and Scientific, and now co-owns the legendary Hoboken showcase Maxwell’s. The second is an interview at the Bottom Line by Barry Geiger, from issue #6 in 1980.
I was introduced to the Dictators by Bernie Kugel, first in vinyl, and then in person, when we saw them play at CBGB’s in 1975 (before Handsome Dick Manitoba was officially the lead singer). Over the years, I saw them a number of times, and they never, ever failed me, including the Bottom Line show where I almost killed Handsome Dick (see my previous blog from January 12, 2009). When a younger friend came over to my place duing the early ‘80s, I played him the first Dictators release, Go Girl Crazy, to which he was not impressed. I told him to give it time, and put it to a cassette. Before long, he was a huge fan, and bought all their albums (and quite generously bought me their last one). Indeed, I believe in their fan club slogan, DFFD (Dictators Forever Forever Dictators). – RBF, 2010
Part I: Dictators Can Sing!!
By Todd Abramson; FFanzeen #3, 1977
So I got a frantic call from a Dictators maniac (like myself) saying they were gonna be playing at CBGB’s unannounced the following Saturday. Wow! Of course, I’m gonna go. So, in the middle of the week, I make a phone call to one of the ‘Tators themselves and he says sure, come on down, we’ll be playing at one, now leave me alone. I’m watching the Ali fight (or words to that effect). Great!
Naturally, I assumed he meant one in the morning. However, I called Miriam Linna (aforementioned Dictators fanatic) who told me Manitoba told her it’s gonna be one in the afternoon. Fantastic! A matinee performance of my fave band.
So I’m in N.Y. by noon. After listening to a few records, our motley crew heads down to CBGB’s. Hmmm, that’s strange – nobody else here? So we were laughed at and told it was at night. Well, it’s better than nothing at all.
So, eventually night comes along (as I knew it would) and it finds us listening to WCBS-FM’s usually great Saturday Night Sock Hop. Great it was that night. I’ll never forget the way they played “Surf City” and “C’mon Everybody” back-to-back. Or, “I’m so Young,” by the Students, a Billy Miller request.
Pretty soon it gets to 11 o’clock or so, and excitement is building among our gathering. So what else to do but start blasting and dancing to my all-time favorite LP, the Dictators Go Girl Crazy. Stupendous! Uh, weekend.
And the time comes and our procession heads down to the hole in the wall known as CBGB’s. Some of us paid, some didn’t (I did. Ouch!).
The Senders soon go on and play an interesting set of R’n’B-influenced rock. The highlight was a fab version of “I’m a Hog For You,” a Leiber-Stoller classic. They also did a fine version of Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights Big City” and a non-descript (I don’t know what it really means but it looks good, eh?) “Yakety Yak.”
Dictators are spotted, with shorter hair, Hawaiian shirts, finger fungus, and other such things. Talking w/ Adny Shernoff earlier he told me they were gonna do “Slow Death,” so I was excited as hell. Plus Mark “The Animal” Mendoza was no longer a member of the band, so Adny would be playing bass again.
Here they come… walking to the stage… get the funniest looks from, oh enuff of that. Handsome Dick dedicated the show to “his champion” Muhammad Ali. Back to Africa! Anyway, the Dictators start playing a new song destined to be on their third long-playing opus, Bloodbrothers.
Well, from the third song on, that night the Dictators were the best band I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Unbelievable! I had just seen them a month or so before at CBGB’s Theatre. To be fair, everything about the place and what happened with the groups before the ‘Tators were on was dreadful, but while the ‘Tators were definitely good, they just didn’t move me. Which was a shame. They even did stuff like “Cars and Girls,” but the magic wasn’t there.
But this night was something different entirely. It was more than magic, I can’t even explain it. Adny had told me that these were the “best, loudest, fastest, teenagiest” songs he’d ever written and yes, the new LP would be even better than the first LP. But that was just too far out, I mean, I thought how could ANYTHING be better than the first LP (that made a man outta me, by the way)? But it’s fucking true! Just check out some of these new songs. One’s called “Let’s Twist,” which you can tell how great it is by the title, but it’s even greater than that! Another song, “Minnesota Strip,” is even greater!!!
And yes, they did do “Slow Death.” And if the Flamin’ Groovies could do it better, then everybody else might as well stop making music. I mean I don’t think any band could ever be better than the ‘Tators that night. They did “Search and Destroy” great, but I sorta wish they’d drop it. I mean, let’s face it, it’s a great song and nobody’s gonna top the original.
So it was a night I’ll never forget. The ‘Tators themselves couldn’t believe it. The Handsome One said he was tired after the second song. No, not ‘cause he’s a wimp (how dare anyone even think that) but ‘cause all the songs were so fucking fast. Not mindless fast like the Ramones (who I really like but are no Dictators) or someone, but teenage, cars, girls, surfin’ beer, high school, McDonald’s Cheeseburgers fast. Go Manitoba, Go! ‘Cause that night and hopefully forever onward, the Dictators were the masters of the teenage race and everything it stood for.
[Scott Kempner, HD Manitoba, Ross the Boss]Part II: The Last Big Thing: The Very Last Dictators Interview
By Barry Geiger; FFanzeen #6, 1980
It seemed as though the rock press had decided to ignore the Dictator’s break-up as much as possible. Sure, all the magazines had managed to squeeze in a paragraph or so, reporting on the split, but nobody had given the Dictators the proper requiem they so greatly deserved. They were not just another rock’n’roll band – they were the ultimate rock’n’roll band.
Their 1975 album, The Dictators Go Girl Crazy, was classic rock’n’roll. It’s follow-up, 1977’s Manifest Destiny, though more sedated that Go Girl Crazy, was nevertheless a fine effort. 1978’s Bloodbrothers could have been the ‘Tators breakthrough album had Elektra/Asylum given it the proper promotion. Unfortunately, the record company lost interest and the Dictators soon found themselves without a label.
The Dictators were really frustrated. Lead songwriter, bassist and sometimes keyboard player Adny Shernoff decided that the wanted to sing his own songs, so Handsome Dick Manitoba was asked to leave. Just prior to their release from Asylum, drummer Richie Teeter left the band; he was quickly replace by Mel Anderson, formerly of Long Island’s Twister Sister (in which ex-Dictator bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza is now a member). Lead guitarist Ross “The Boss” Funicello later quit to join Shakin’ Street, a heavy-metal band. And what then of rhythm guitarist Scott “Top Ten” Kempner?
The ‘Tators played one of their last shows on October 20, 1978, at New York City’s Bottom Line, where this interview took place. All five ‘Tators were present at one time or another, as were Adny’s parents. For what it’s worth, here it is – unbeknownst at the time – the last Dictators interview:
FFanzeen: How did it feel playing the Bottom Line tonight?
Scott “Top Ten” Kempner: No so great. I’d rather play CBGB’s. No, it was alright. It was fun; it was good.
FF: Mel, how does it feel to be a Dictator?
Mel Anderson: Terrific.
Scott: Ha! You sure you don’t want to think about that for a while?
Mel: I’ve given it some thought – and I don’t have anywhere else to go, so…
FF: Why’d you leave Asylum?
Scott: They were basically not doing anything for the band. They stopped working on the Dictators about a month after Manifest Destiny came out; it was a big charade after that. I guess if the record had more play on the radio, they would have gotten something started without too much work. It was a situation where nobody in the company, outside of the publicity department, understood the band or knew anything about breaking in an act that wasn’t like Linda Ronstadt or the Eagles or Queen – something you’ve heard a million times before. They thought they couldn’t do anything with us and so we didn’t want to have anything to do with them.
FF: How did you feel about the way Bloodbrothers came out?
Scott: It was pretty much the other extreme – from overproduced to underproduced – neither of them necessarily in a bad sense, but there was an elaborate production on Manifest Destiny, and Bloodbrothers was intentionally done “live in the studio.” It sounds like a well-done demo. We just set up and played.
FF: Do you consider Manifest Destiny a sell-out after Go Girl Crazy?
Scott: It was a definite reaction to failing. Go Girl Crazy was like the product of years and years of ambition and ideas and something we all wanted to do. At the time, we thought we were making the greatest, newest, the most different rock’n’roll album – the rock’n’roll album every kid wanted; they didn’t.
FF: How has Bloodbrothers been doing, sales-wise, compared to the other two albums?
Scott: Better. Better, but not great. It doesn’t’ get much airplay. Now that the record company isn’t interested, I’m sure it’ll get even less.
FF: Why did Richie Teeter leave the band?
Scott: He broke his legs and we had to shoot him [laughs].
FF: No, seriously.
Adny Shernoff: He didn’t want to be in the group, so we said, “Get out of here.”
Scott: He no longer wanted to do it. He had too many commitments. He had two commitments and he was too involved in the other commitment. The two worlds couldn’t meet … He made a choice between the two and that was it. [Rumor has it that the other “commitment” was his wife who told him he had to choose between traveling with the band or staying with her – Ed.]
FF: How many drummers did you audition before you found Mel?
Scott: I saw Mel play in his old band, Twisted Sister. He used to wear this big rainbow-colored afro wig and he used to twirl his sticks and all these cool things. Fred Heller, Mott the Hoople’s manager after Ian Hunter quit, wanted the band Mott to do “Sleeping With the TV On” [From the album Manifest Destiny], so me and Adny, and this other guy from Queens and Mel made this demo in a friend’s basement. Mel called Adny while Teeter was telling us he was leaving and asked if we knew any bands who needed a drummer and we said, “It just so happens we do.”
FF: Dick, I think you mentioned in Trouser Press that the title Bloodbrothers came from the Richard Price novel.
Handsome Dick Manitoba (HD): Indirectly, juxtapositioning, yes.
FF: Have you seen the movie yet?
HD: No, I haven’t.
Scott: I did... I didn’t like it as much as the book.
[Adny Shernoff] FF: Adny…
HD: Adny, here comes the hard question.
FF: How do your parents feel about the Dictators?
Adny: Ask ‘em.
FF: Mr. and Mrs. Shernoff?
Adny: [Imitating his father] “Well, at first we really didn’t think he was gonna do it, but now we have a lot more confidence. We’re glad he stuck to it” [laughs].
Mr. Shernoff: I’m glad he’s putting words in my mouth.
Mrs. Shernoff: He’s making me eat my words.
HD: Why? He’s still poor!
FF: Did any of the Dictators ever graduate from college?
HD: I did…not.
Scott: Mel, did you? No? No graduates here.
FF: Dick, who’s your favorite pro wrestler?
HD: Jimmy Valiant, Freddie Blassie, the Sheik, Killer Kowalski…
Scott: The Valiant Brothers together. They’re a team
[Exit Adny’s parents]
FF: Scott, I liked your Springsteen review in New Wave Rock [magazine].
Scott: Thanks. I feel like a 14-year-old kid when I listen to Bruce. Clarence is coming tomorrow night. [Clarence Clemons jammed wit the band on “What It Is” the next night. Tish and Snooky Bellomo of Manic Panic Clothing Store – ex-Sic F*cks/Pinups – sang back-up on the same song both nights – BG]
FF: What other bands on the scene right now do you like?
Scott: The Ramones. I love the Ramones – my favorite group. The Dead Boys, The Cramps…
FF: What unsigned bands?
Scott: The Cramps, Shrapnel, The Dictators..
Mel: There’s a good band called Moonbeam. I think they are really good.
FF: What kind of music do you like?
Mel: Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Tony Williams, Jimi Hendrix, Mott the Hoople, Bev Beven, and Electric Light Orchestra, the Move … I like everything. I like Frank Sinatra… the Wailers.
It was around this time when Handsome Dick left the dressing room to go to CBGB’s (the Police were playing). Adny was outside talking to his parents. Ross was with his girlfriend somewhere., I found myself in the dressing room with Scott and Mel, so we called it quits.
1980 Note by RBF: Good News: The Dictators have, since this article was written, gotten back together after a two-year break. The “Last Big Thing” is now Next in Line again. FFanzeen wishes to personally welcome back these top contenders to the ring, just when they were needed. Move over, here comes some gen-u-ine rock’n’roll!
[Master Race Rock, from their first album, Go Girl Crazy]