The Dead Boys Have Come Again for America’s Children in 2017
In this case, the metaphor is not forced and it works: Cheetah Chrome is back from the dead. The legendary guitarist and co-founder of punk pioneers the Dead Boys, is in the middle of a tour of America to mark the 40th anniversary of the band’s seminal debut album Young, Loud & Snotty. He may no longer be, at age 62, young and snotty but he’s loud and clear of mind, even though he admits “my back is killing me!”
We caught up with him in between the New York show, a powerful gig at a packed Bowery Electric, and the show in Boston (actually Somerville’s Once Ballroom). This leg of the tour ends in Nashville on Sept. 25, but they’re going back out to conquer the West (Minneapolis, Toronto, Portland, etc.) starting in October.
Cheetah is joined by the equally determined original Dead Boy, Johnny Blitz on drums, pounding the skins with renewed ferocity and life force after having moved back to Cleveland from Canada, where he’d been living for years. They’re both glad that they can not only enjoy the experience of playing the old songs but “We can remember it now, too,” Cheetah says with a laugh.
Rounding out the new version of the band are Jason Kottwitz on guitar, Ricky Rat on bass and Jake Hout, recruited from the Undead Boys, a Dead Boys tribute band, as the frontman and vocalist. Reports from the road have been nothing but positive.
“The tour is going amazing. Last night was the first time I played in New York with the new lineup,” said Cheetah. “I saw a few familiar faces, including Legs [McNeil], but I didn’t have time to study the crowd. I was stuck on stage!”
Cheetah wants to make it clear that this is not a vanity novelty trip. These “new” Dead Boys are a tight, hardworking rock band.
“It is just fun, bringing in new kids to the shows and to the band,” said Cheetah, who now lives in the Nashville area. “I plan on moving forward with this lineup, even recording some new material. It’s not the same band, of course, but I am happy to say it is going better than I ever thought it would.”
He gets a kick out of playing some of the classic Dead Boys’ songs, like “Sonic Reducer,” “All This and More” and “Caught With the Meat in Your Mouth.” He is particularly smitten with resurrecting the lesser-known “Detention Home.”
“It’s never been properly recorded in the studio, but it was on our live album,” he says.
One part of the holy trinity of Young, Loud & Snotty that he is proud of is the loud. Their Spinal Tap-like level of volume was one of the defining elements of the Dead Boys back in the day. If you didn’t leave CBGBs with your ears ringing, then you obviously did not see the Dead Boys. Happily, though, the years of playing at such volumes hasn’t done the same damage to Cheetah’s ears as it did to Pete Townshend’s.
“The loudness hasn’t changed,” he said. “That trouble for Townshend all started on the Smothers Brothers Show, when Keith Moon set off the explosions.”
“Plus, Townshend was always standing right in the path of the amps,” he continued. “Even with my Marshall stacks, I find a sweet spot on stage and stay there. I’ve never used earplugs and never will. That would defeat the whole reason for the music.”
Simultaneous with the tour, Chrome and Co. have re-recorded the entire Young, Loud & Snotty album and released it as Still Snotty: Young, Loud & Snotty at 40! (Plowboy Records). To further mark the occasion, a book of photographs by Dave Treat has also been published, Dead Boys 1977: The Lost Photographs of Dave Treat, edited and designed by Ron Kretsch (Dangerous Minds). Treat was a friend of the band back in their New York City heyday as well as their de facto publicist. His photographs vividly bring back those young and not so innocent days at CBGB’s and in the streets and back alleys of New York City.