Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cheetah Chrome from the Front Lines of Punk Rock & Show # 322

The Dead Boys evolved from the band Rocket From The Tombs, originating in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1977, they exploded onto the New York CBGB’s scene utilizing their now Punk classic “Sonic Reducer” and amazing live shows, eventually going on to become of the most influential Punk acts to come out of the US. The band released two albums Young, Loud, and Snotty in 1977 and We Have Come For Your Children in 1979 before splitting up. Now guitarist Cheetah Chrome has written his own autobiography entitled Cheetah Chrome: A Dead Boy’s Tale From The Front Lines of Punk Rock.

Before reading Cheetah Chrome: A Dead Boy’s Tale From The Front Lines of Punk Rock, I have to admit that I had not known much about Cheetah or The Dead Boys in general other than they were involved in the New York CBGB’s Punk scene of the late 70s. Upon opening the book, you are presented with a forward introduction from none other than Legs McNeil - co-founder and writer for Punk Magazine, and author of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored History of Punk. The book is separated into three main parts. Part one deals heavily with Cheetah Chrome’s upbringing in Cleveland, Ohio. This part of the book captures the excitement of growing up and discovering music from witnessing The Beatles in concert, to acquiring his first guitar, first hearing music by The Velvet Underground and The Stooges, and the honing of his guitar skills. As the book progresses you are taken into Cheetah forming bands and playing around town to meeting Stiv Bators (future Dead Boys vocalist) and his beginning with drug and alcohol addictions.

Part two deals with the transition from Rocket From The Tombs to The Dead Boys, to post-Dead Boys. In this section there we learn of the CBGB’s scene and get a good feel for how it worked and how it was to live in that time of music. We also experience what is a common theme throughout this book, the pranks that the band plays on each other. There are moments from simply driving through big puddles of water to splash unsuspecting pedestrians, to having food fights, hotel room destruction, and a variety of on and off-stage antics. The pranks along with a number of other events in the book add amusing detail to the stories that are found on each page and in each chapter. The third part of the book deals with the later part of Cheetahs life, post-Dead Boys and his battles with addiction. We experience his meeting Slash and Duff of Guns N” Roses to learn that they would be covering “Ain’t It Fun” for their 1993 release The Spaghetti Incident? , and the reformation of Rocket From The Tombs, who would release an album in 2002 titled Rocket Redux.

Throughout the book events and stories are interwoven for an effect that can be best described as a time capsule. Reading this book, you at times feel that you are right there in that moment experiencing the events as they unfold. There are times of excess and times of extreme excess throughout the book that build as it progresses, but it is tied in with the passion and desire that Cheetah Chrome has for music. The book is completely honest. Nothing is held back and Cheetah is not afraid to express his thoughts on any matters that occur, making the book a great read. The encounters throughout the book with people such as Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Devo, The Ramones, and many other notable Punk acts and music artists from the time add further interest to this fascinating Dead Boys tale.

The following is an excerpt from Cheetah Chrome: A Dead Boy's Tale from the Front Lines of Punk Rock. It can be purchased through

In spring of 1976 there was a festival at Max’s Kansas City in New York. Stiv went up for it, and while there he stayed with some people he had met through Miriam Linna named Lux Interior and Poison Ivy. I didn’t know these people at all, but Stiv thought they were pretty cool and stayed in touch with them when he got back. He also saw Joey Ramone and Johnny Thunders on this trip, and went to CBGB to check it out.

I got a call from him the day he was coming home asking if my girlfriend and I could pick him up at the airport. We could, so we headed out to Hopkins and, since we were early, to the bar nearest Stiv’s arrival gate. When I walked in, the first person I saw was Jimmy Zero.

“How ya doing, man? What are you doing here?” I asked.

“Stiv called me and asked me to pick him up.” he answered.

Just then Johnny Blitz and Slim came strolling in. We looked at them, they looked at us, we all looked at each other and started laughing. We sat down, ordered some beers, and began catching up. Everybody was there except Jeff. When they announced the arrival of Stiv’s flight, we all agreed that we didn’t have to go to the gate; he’d know where to find us. Sure enough, a short time later he came in, smiling that familiar smartass smile. He ordered a beer, sat down, and explained why he had called us all together.

There were other people like us, he explained. People who dressed like us, liked the same bands we liked, and wanted to do their own songs. They just didn’t live in Cleveland, they lived in New York. And they weren’t going to come to Cleveland to find us, we were going to have to go to New York to find them. He had spoken to Hilly Kristal, the owner of CBGB, who told Stiv who to talk to about auditioning. Stiv had also spoken to someone at Max’s Kansas City, but that person hadn’t been quite as encouraging.

“We need to get back together. We need to go play in New York,” he told me. It made sense, but it made me nervous. I hadn’t been out of Ohio in a long time for anything, let alone a gig.

We agreed to give it a try, and I told them I would begin looking for a loft, since I had references. Stiv said we didn’t have time for that; we should rent Raven Slaughter’s space until we found one. Raven had a great place and also had amps we could use if needed, although I did love my Sound City.

Stiv had spoken to Jeff, but he didn’t want to do it. So we needed a bass player. We also needed songs, and seriously, now. I was damned if I was gonna play “Deuce” in front of an NYC crowd. We also needed a name . . . and I needed a guitar, as all I had was an Epiphone twelve string. Shit, this was going to be a pain in the ass.

I went to my favorite pawn shop on West Twenty-fifth, where I had found my first guitars. First I asked the guy what he could give me on the Epiphone and then explained the situation to him. He took me over to the wall of guitars and pulled down a Les Paul copy with a natural wood finish.

“Try this out. It’s a lot better than it looks,” he said as he handed it to me. It played great, even though I could tell it needed some tightening up. There were a lot of good Les Paul copies out there, usually made by Japanese companies like Ibanez, Greco, and Tokai. The name was sanded off of the headstock on this one, but it was as close to a Paul as you could get without it actually being one.

I asked him how much it was, and he told me he could do an even trade. He even threw in the cheapest-looking brown alligator case that I’ve ever seen, bar none. I was thrilled—now we could get to work.

One thing most people don’t know about me is what a gearhead I am. I love guitars, amps, recording equipment, and all the accessories that come with them. I love working on guitars, and when amps were simple, like my Silvertone and Sound City, I even did some of my own repairs. I can stand around a music store for hours looking at crap, and I will pore over every Guitar Center catalog until my wife Anna makes me throw it out. About half of my bookmarked web pages are vintage gear sites.

So as soon as I got the new axe home, I went straight to work on it. Its main drawback was that the neck was not glued to the body, but bolted on, and I soon found that if it wasn’t just right it caused problems. So I got some wood and made shims to hold the neck even every time I needed to adjust it. I went over the bridge and pickups with steel wool, removing any little rust spots, and I took the pickups out and cleaned and adjusted them. The bridge was a bit iffy, but usable. By the time I got done I had an extremely serviceable guitar, if not one I could brag about.

I tried it out through the Sound City and it sounded great, even seemed to have that famous Gibson tone. I ended up using this guitar right up through our early CBGB shows, and I recorded Young Loud and Snotty with it. But I digress. . . .

We put an ad in The Plain Dealer for a bass player and hoped for the best.

We began rehearsals for real then, without one for now. For material, we still had the three originals from Frankenstein, and we began to finish up songs like “Ain’t Nothin’ to Do” and “Not Anymore,” but they would not be ready for the first show. No, we had the Rocket From The Tombs stuff we knew from Frankenstein, and we had covers. We dusted off “Death May Be Your Santa Claus,” “Don’t Mind Rockin’ Tonight,” and “Hey Little Girl,” and added Eddie Cochran’s “Nervous Breakdown,” along with “Yesterday’s Numbers” by the Flamin’ Groovies. While we weren’t thrilled by it, we did have a set.

Stiv got the go ahead to call Hilly and get a gig—but he had a better idea.
“Joey Ramone told me he can help us, talk to Hilly for us. I think we’ll get a better night that way,” he told me.

I thought it was a good idea, and he called Joey, who, good to his word, told Hilly we had played with the Ramones in Youngstown and that he should book us. Hilly told him to have us call him, which Stiv did, and Hilly said we could have a regular night and wouldn’t have to audition. He also asked for the name of the band and, when told there wasn’t one, gave us a week to come up with something to put in the ads. Stiv and Holly agreed on a date in late July, and that was it—we were going to New York. Now all we needed was a set of songs, a bass player, and a name!

A few days later I was at Stiv’s waiting to go to rehearsal. He was in the bathroom shaving, and I was in the living room smoking a joint and reading the Scene when suddenly he called me.

“What?” I answered. Sorry, it was the best I could come up with.

“Dead Boys,” he said cryptically.

My first reaction was to think, “What the hell is he talking about?” Then I thought, “That’s the first line from ‘Down in Flames,’” which then led to, “What in the hell does that have to do with anything?”

Then I got it: Dead Boys—for the name of the band.

Yes!” I shouted emphatically.

And that was it. We were now Dead Boys.

Dead Boys still needed a bass player, but after much discussion, it was decided we had to take a chance and do this first New York show without one. We’d worry about it when we got back.

This Week's Play List:

1. Teenage Head with Marky Ramone - Teenage Beer Drinkin' Party
2. Neon Hearts - Regulations
3. The Rivals - Skateboarding in the UK
4. Sandman Viper Command - Yo Bobcat
5. Magic Hall of Mirrors - Ghosts In My House
6. That Petrol Emotion - V2
7. 20th Century Zoo - You Don't Remember
8. Shondels - Don't Put Me Down
9. The Beatles - I'm Happy Just To Dance With You
10. The Kinks - She's My Girl (1965 Unreleased Dave Davies Solo Album)
11. Chuck Berry - You Can't Catch Me
12. Harlem - Friendly Ghost
13. Square Root of Margret - So Far gone
14. The Prehistoric Cave Strokers - Story of My Life 
15. The Love Me Nots - Alley
16. Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers - Let Go
17. Brian James - Why? Why? Why?
18. The Pagans - I Juvenile
19. Cheetah Chrome & The Ghetto Dogs - Here Comes Trouble
20. The Dead Boys - What Love Is 
21. The Dead Boys - Sonic Reducer
22. The Velvet Underground - Oh, Sweet Nuthin'

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for October 19th. Or subscribe to Revolution Rock as a Podcast.


Music for Songwriters said...

great stuff!...i love listening to this kind of music...keep it up!...

Nazz Nomad said...

just finished reading this book- a cautionary tale for sure- nice setlist!

Dave said...

I enjoyed the book too. It was a great read.