The First Time Is the Best Time

To continue with the 40th anniversary celebration of ‘Bloodbrothers,’ here’s a piece we ran a while back about my first time seeing the Dictators, which was 40 years ago today.

My First Time With the Dictators

(And They Were Not Gentle With Me)

Here’s HDM on 10/20/78, again sporting his Mr. Potato-Head shirt. Let’s hope it hit the laundry pile between 9/19 and 10/20.

September 19, 1978. A summer of scouring the Phoenix concert listings finally yielded the Holy Grail: The almighty Dictators were going to be making their debut at the Paradise on Sept. 19. Darest I go? I had chickened out earlier in the year, when the band made its Boston debut with a couple of stealth gigs at the Rat, but those were on Mondays and Tuesdays, which were no-gos for a working slob such as myself. No excuses this time — it was a Friday, and I was THERE!!

The Paradise at the time was still brand-spanking new, and had the cachet of being Boston’s premier new music venue. What a bummer to get inside, and find out that A. Dancing was not only discouraged but could get you tossed, and 2. The tables and chairs were actually nailed to the floor, so if you didn’t get a chair facing the stage, then you were in for an evening of neck-strain. It didn’t matter to me. These were the Dictators. I would have endured standing on my head if that’s what it took to see them.

After an OK opening set by Thundertrain, who were one part Dolls mixed with two parts Aerosmith, the boys hit the boards to thunderous applause and ripped into “What It Is.” My immediate thoughts were “THAT’S Manitoba?!? He’s so skinny and short!” and “How come Scott is louder than Ross?”

HDM wasted no time before he was dissing Boston fans and sports teams, proclaiming NYC’s superiority to Bostin in every category. Thank God the gig wasn’t two weeks later, after the Bucky Bleepin’ Dent debacle at Fenway, or else we would have never heard the end of it.

Manitoba also displayed excellent sartorial taste, as he sported a homemade T-shirt with a caricature of his head atop Mr. Potato-Head’s body. That was a shirt that they really should have marketed. Another missed opportunity.

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40 Years of ‘Bloodbrothers’!

Bloodbrothers ad

September 2018 is a monthlong celebration of the 40th anniversary of the ‘Bloodbrothers’ tour. After the huge misstep that was ‘Manifest Destiny,’ aka ‘The Dictators Get Housebroken,’ ‘Bloodbrothers’ was seen as a fresh and enthusiastic, stripped-down display of both the band and their sound. It took three tries, but it finally looked like it was best foot forward with this chance at grabbing the brass ring.

There was a five-week delay between the album’s release on June 25 and the beginning of the tour on August 2, presumably to allow for reviews to roll in to build the press kit. While it’s now common opinion that BB was the best album of the original three, it really wasn’t received all that well at the time. Reviews, while generally positive, weren’t glowing. There were disses about “one-dimensional sound” and “still not musical enough” and a whole lot of faint praise: “at least it’s better than MD.”

It was an ominous sign that Asylum’s enthusiasm in the band seemed to drop off between MD and BB. The promo ads for BB were few and far between, and the label didn’t even bother to prepare a “push” 45, where MD got three. A promo edit of “I Stand Tall” was prepared, but was never pressed, and I never once heard it on the radio. The album cut got a smidgeon of airplay, as did “Baby, Let’s Twist.”

Behind the Aragon in Chicago

It seems inconceivable that “Stay with Me,” the most enduring track of the album, and indeed one of the highest profile songs the band ever had, was almost completely ignored at the time of the LP’s release.

With hindsight being 20/20, it seems a shame that the album was recorded so quickly in April that there wasn’t time to include “New York, New York,” which was already in the live set by early June. Imagine how much stronger the album would have been with NYNY replacing one of the weaker tracks from Side 2. You pick which one.

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Our Tribute to Stu Boy: Part IV

Stu (in sunglasses), from Punk Magazine’s “Mutant Monster Beach Party”

In light of the recent passing of original Dictators drummer Stu Boy King, we at the DFFD Blog are proud to share with you the only interview he ever granted, to our own Sal Cincotta, published by rock magazine Ugly Things in November 2015. Our deepest thanks to Ugly Things for allowing us to republish that article here, supplemented with some new nuggets Sal dug up from the original notes for the interview. (For you collectors out there, this story originally ran in Ugly Things #40, which is still available here.) Catch up with Part I, Part II and Part III. Read on for the fourth and final part.

Stu Boy King: Although my time as a Dictator ended at the George Washington Bridge terminal, I did work with members of the band on a couple other occasions. I had a friend named Rod Scoler. He was another brainiac who wrote off-the-wall songs. He put together some material, and we went to audition as potential openers for a Pink Floyd tour. The band included Andy and Scott, even though it hadn’t been that long since I’d been fired. Andy and Scott eventually begged off, saying, “We can’t do it, we still have a contract,” even though the Dictators were frozen at the time. A couple years later, in the summer of 1980, I was in the orchestra for Andy’s Off-Broadway play ‘Waiting for the Dough,’ which was produced by my old HS pal Bob Kaplan.

What did you do musically after you left the Dictators?
Very shortly after the Dictators dumped me, I joined another band called Uncle Son. Uncle Son got some notoriety and played a lot through our involvement with WBAI. Hilly Krystal loved us, and we must have played CBGBs twenty times in two years. We had a radio show called The Bob Alexander Good City Underground Rock Show, where we had a variety of interviews and bands playing, including the Dictators and the Ramones. Billy Jean King, Vitas Gerulaitis, Peter Criss, all used to come to Uncle Son gigs. Ross, and Tish and Snooky [Bellomo; sisters, backing singers for early Blondie, proprietors of the punk rock boutique Manic Panic, and members of the Sic F*cks] came to all our parties out on Long Island. We had a record deal with Ultrasound Studios worth $10,000 to do a single, but that’s just another deal that fell through. I spent two years in Uncle Son with little to show for it. We got tons of airplay, and snuck songs onto several comps, but never released anything of our own.

I also played with Tommy Frenzy, who was in the Tuff Darts, in a band called King Casual. We had a record deal set up with Laurie Burton, who wrote “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” for the Young Rascals, but Tommy f*cked it up by asking for too much money. She loved the King Casual band.

Another band I loved playing with, but who had no ambition, was a terrific band called Bittersweet. I loved them, but they were content to just be a local act. I did fill-in work, both studio and live, with Just Water and The Mumps. I did studio sessions with Tommy Mandrel from Ian Hunter’s band. I did a lot of drum tracks for Niles Rodgers for him to use as drop-ins. I played (uncredited) on David U. Hall’s Walter Midi Group CD. I even did three performances as a member of the Westchester Symphony Orchestra.

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Our Tribute to Stu Boy: Part III

The Dictators

The original lineup of the Dictators (Stu Boy King is far right)

In light of the recent passing of original Dictators drummer Stu Boy King, we at the DFFD Blog are proud to share with you the only interview he ever granted, to our own Sal Cincotta, published by rock magazine Ugly Things in November 2015. Our deepest thanks to Ugly Things for allowing us to republish that article here, supplemented with some new nuggets Sal dug up from the original notes for the interview. (For you collectors out there, this story originally ran in Ugly Things #40, which is still available here.) Here are Part I and Part II. The interview continues below with Part III. (The fourth and final part is coming soon.)

Let’s talk about Nazareth. You drove out to Winnipeg to open a tour and were sent home after one show. So what was their problem?
We drove 19 hours to open for them. Hudson-Ford were the middle act. I remember that it was a beautiful venue to play in. We did our sound check, and the acoustics in the place were perfect for the Dics. All the vibrato and feedback made us sound great, we couldn’t go wrong. Nazareth’s LP with “Love Hurts” had just come out, and this was their shot at the big time. They didn’t want anything to interfere with their moment in the sun. We were loud and amped up, and sounding really good. In sound check we were jamming to “Diamond Dogs,” me and Ross, and blowing it up. Nazareth saw this, and wanted no part of us trying to steal their thunder. They came in with a tight and precise package, and here come these young, fired up hooligans stirring the pot. We scared them, and got sent home after one gig!

Was the album cover the only concept you considered, or was there anything else that didn’t make the cut?
The original concept for the LP’s cover was to have a Frankie and Annette Beach Blanket Bingo type scene, and superimpose the four members of the band into the picture. This idea faded as Murray and Sandy realized they’d have to pay for copyright clearance, and also as the Handsome Dick Manitoba wrestling character evolved. HDM’s wrestling outfit wasn’t completed until after we got back from Winnipeg. We were all huge fans of old school wrestling.

Handsome Dick Manitoba wrestling

How long a gap was there between the album sessions and the actual release?
The LP was recorded in August and September of 1974, came out in March of 1975, and we became eligible to go out on the road. The week the album came out, we went down to Alex Cooley’s Electric Ballroom in Atlanta to open for Rush. The band got mad at me there over a couple of incidences. Someone in the band wanted me to get together with one of the groupies, and pushed one of the girls towards me. I was embarrassed–she couldn’t have been more than 13 or 14, and she’s pulling inappropriately on my pants. I had more decency than that. This was the deep South, I was expecting the farmer dad to come along with the shotgun! It was humiliating.

They also got mad at me because I got friendly with Neal Peart from Rush. Rush were really something new to my ears. They caught us all by surprise. They were quite organized, with complex chords and arrangements, and complexities between the bass and the drums. Neal Peart (drums) could play his ass off. During one show I challenged him. I showed off a little too much, and they didn’t like it. I didn’t care–he was not going to play better than me. Ross was also challenged by Alex. Both of us were guilty of showing off. Peart shook his fists at me in a friendly way, but the Dics were doing that to me as well in a not friendly way, because I took showing off to a whole other level, and stepped all over everyone’s parts. Patrons at the show were walking around yelling, “You’re just as good as Peart!” and that busted people’s chops.

We were booked for two sets a night for four nights, but they booted us early. I think we played five or six shows total. We were told that we weren’t acting professionally and that they wouldn’t continue with us as openers. Some of it could be my fault, some could be Ross, or it could have been lack of experience. It could have been smart-ass nonsense from a meeting with the press. It could be that we were just 21-year-old knuckleheads!

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Our Tribute to Stu Boy: Part II

In light of the recent passing of original Dictators drummer Stu Boy King, we at the DFFD Blog are proud to share with you the only interview he ever granted, to our own Sal Cincotta, published by rock magazine Ugly Things in November 2015. Our deepest thanks to Ugly Things for allowing us to republish that article here, supplemented with some new nuggets Sal dug up from the original notes for the interview. (For you collectors out there, this story originally ran in Ugly Things #40, which is still available here.) Part I can be found here. Read below for Part II. (And coming soon: parts III and IV!)

Stu at the first Dictators NY show, at the Capitol Theater, on 2/2/74.

Stu Boy King: Then the Dictators came calling again for a drummer. They were in the city now. I was told, “You need to go and audition.” Before the blueprints of the music were completely done, Murray [Krugman] and Sandy [Pearlman] had heard Andy’s songs and thought highly enough of them that they were going to get the band a record deal. I had an “in” by having been involved in the clique, but Murray and Sandy wanted to make sure everyone got a fair shake, and I had to audition like everyone else.

What was the audition like?
So this is how it went. The songs were completely original, and there was no singing at that time to audition to. I was trying to play to the sound of Ross’s hard chords, but the song structure wasn’t complete–there was no verse into chorus into a hook. I only had Ross to follow. I wasn’t getting it too well, because it wasn’t there to get!

You just beat me to this question. When you guys started woodshedding, were the songs finished products, and how much did Murray and Sandy have to do to insert Tab A into Slot B? It sounds like them and you guys had to do a lot of that.
Well, there were songs, but I finished the audition and wouldn’t remember which songs I auditioned on. Ross was playing at mega-volume, ear blasts to fill the void for Andy and Scott. At that time, if you were talking about weightlifters, Ross was an Olympic next to somebody who was just starting to go to the gym. The other guys couldn’t pick up five pounds at that point. So we had Ross steaming up the sound, but the songs couldn’t be structured for a drummer to follow the bass line. Andy’s bass was single notes here and there; he wasn’t yet able to play a run of 8ths or 16ths at that point. It was a little difficult to try to get the rhythm thing going, and you could only hold the line. You couldn’t do fills, because you didn’t know when you’re going to fill them! I remember that the audition was certainly different, because of the original songs, and with Ross playing power chords.

Before the audition, Ross said to me, “Stu, I’m going to come to your house and you and I are going to go through the songs.” We went through them bit by bit by bit, song by song. We went over “Two Tub Man” and “Backseat Boogie” and a couple of songs that weren’t originals. Ross and I formed a complete musical package. Whatever Andy and Scott played at the final audition didn’t matter–I was tight musically with Ross. When I had the actual audition, there wasn’t even a second thought about my being in the band. They didn’t want to deal with outsiders.

When we first got together, I was excited about the band. We were friends, there was good chemistry, and we had good positive energy as people together. This is very important for a successful act. No matter who you are, if you have no chemistry as friends and partners, then you have nothing. We’d hang out, play basketball, have a drink–we’d built up a bond together in the beginning. We were friends before we were Dictators.

At practices, there was no weighing out over who could play or who couldn’t. We would just play. No one was sitting there analyzing who could play better than who. Obviously I would lean on Ross and he would lean on me. It might have been a subconscious thing, since we were the anchor. Here’s the music–me and Ross were playing it–you guys learn it. It wasn’t something we thought about, it was just the way it was.

How did Handsome Dick enter the picture?
Richie [“Handsome Dick” Manitoba] wasn’t part of the band. He was part of the social club. That’s the amazing part of the Handsome Dick legacy. There was no intention that he’d be part of the band. When the album was being conceived, he wasn’t really singing any of the songs at that point. We were working as a four-piece band.

I give him this much–he has perseverance. I give him and Ross credit for keeping the band alive for so long. Somehow, this person who was my drum roadie, and a very funny, boisterous guy, was appointed to be our front man. We would use him at 3:00am when we were playing clubs and the audience was out of it. We conjured up a way to incite people to pay attention, and put him on the stage to sing “Wild Thing.” He’d roar the song, and everyone would jump out of their seats! It was a great idea.

HDM sings ‘Wild Thing’ for the first time.

So you got Manitoba on stage, and at the time he was basically a novelty act.
He was a novelty, the Secret Weapon, and it would have worked fine if the band would have grown. I wouldn’t have made him the lead singer! I would have wanted a singer with a little more chops, and less of the in-joke of having him on stage with no stage experience whatsoever. He couldn’t even walk across a stage back then. But this is what Murray and Sandy did. They decided, after seeing Richie’s act, that he would be great for the band, and that it would move us forward. We were told, point blank, “Richie’s your singer.” The other four of us were shocked. I said to myself, “Nothing doing.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Andy was just as surprised, but held his tongue.

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Our Tribute to Stu Boy: Part I

In light of the recent passing of original Dictators drummer Stu Boy King, we at the DFFD Blog are proud to share with you the only interview he ever granted, to our own Sal Cincotta, published by rock magazine Ugly Things in November 2015. Our deepest thanks to Ugly Things for allowing us to republish that article here, supplemented with some new nuggets Sal dug up from the original notes for the interview. Part I is below for your reading enjoyment. Be on the lookout for additional parts soon. (For you collectors out there, this story originally ran in Ugly Things #40, which is still available here.)

The critics adored it. The public ignored it. But in the 40 years since it first appeared in 1975, ‘The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!’ has gathered a pedestal spot as one of the purest fun albums of all time. Drummer Stu Boy King provided the beat for that punk rock masterpiece, departed from the band in the same week as the LP’s release, and hasn’t been heard from since.

With a deluxe double LP/CD reissue looming on the horizon, Stu talks for the first time ever about the band’s earliest days, their collective immaturity and inexperience, and the accidental role Neal Peart played in the band’s being dumped by Epic.

Stu, let’s go to the very beginning–what is your date of birth?
I was born on April 19, 1954. My father called me Little Hitler, long before I was even a punk rocker, because Hitler’s birthday was April 20! I didn’t catch on until a little later. I share the birthday with Andy [Shernoff], although he’s a couple years older than me. I grew up in Rockland County, New York, which was considered the sticks at that time. I was sort of a country guy.

How did you get started in music?
I started taking music lessons at six years old. The accordion was a popular instrument back in the ’60s, and my mom threw it, and lessons, at me. I hated schlepping the damn thing; it was bigger than I was! That ended quickly, followed by the violin, and maybe it was my immaturity talking, but back then, the violin was for sissies. I started on the drums at nine, and I took to them like a fish to water. With the drums, my mother got it right. I quickly became fairly competent. She bought my kit piece by piece. I had to earn a snare drum, then I had to earn cymbals, and by the time I was in sixth grade I had a little band, called the Imperial Five. We were an integrated band, which in 1965 or ’66 wasn’t commonplace. We started doing shows at school. We were doing “Psychotic Reaction,” and some R&B, “Soul Man,” a lot of Motown. The guitar player and bass players were pretty versatile.

By middle school, I was in a band called the Ravens. We were all white, mostly Irish kids, wore red sparkle vests, white shirts, black pants. We had a light show. Our guitar player’s parents had booked the band to play nice people’s back yards and parties, so we were already doing that at 13. I went through the whole school system of being in the orchestra, the marching band, the dance band, all-state competition, all-district–I did all of that stuff. I was very much a trained musician. I could play jazz, R&B, symphony orchestra stuff. If it was written, I could play it.

13-year-old Stu, on drums, at his middle school band recital

Music was my LIFE. Drumsticks were in my hands 24/7. Lunchtimes, when the other kids were going outside to play ball, I started giving that up–even though I played on the soccer team for a while–to go into the auditorium at school and just practice. It was my built-in mechanism, to escape my parents’ divorce. Being a child of divorce made you a cast-out kid in those days. It was very traumatic, and when my parents would be fighting, music would come into my head and drown them out. To this day, when I’m in an argument certain tunes come into my head, whether it be “Smile a Little Smile” or a Beach Boys song. It’s a coping mechanism.

After growing up listening to ’50s and early ’60s stuff, and playing that type of music, around 1967 I started listening to harder rock. I loved Blue Cheer, Cream, Procol Harum and Hendrix, and started listening to early Ted Nugent, the Moody Blues, CCR.

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R.I.P. Stu Boy King (1954-2018)

It is with heavy hearts that we report that Stu Boy King passed away on May 1 after a brief and brave battle with pancreatic cancer.

Stu was the original drummer for the Dictators and played with the band for their first 18 months of existence. He will forever be remembered as their drummer on the classic “Dictators Go Girl Crazy!” LP.

Stu was an intensely private guy. To paraphrase his own words, once he put down the sticks (and left the music business), he put them down for good. His post-music career as a security director and private investigator became his new focus, and he rarely spoke of his days with the Dictators. We were privileged to have conducted the only interview he ever granted, which ran both here and in Ugly Things magazine.

Stu may have been reluctant to start talking, but once he got going, holy cow–it was an avalanche of memories. He couldn’t get the words out fast enough, and his thoughts were pretty much equally split between his stories from back in the day and his pride in his family. He wore his passion for both on his sleeve. I know he was pleased with the validation and recognition he received from the music world once the interview ran in November 2015, which was timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary reissue of the LP. More than anything, he was moved by how proud his family was of him over his story finally being properly told.

Our condolences go out to his wife, Deirdre, his five daughters and his grandson. If you are so inclined to contribute, there’s a GoFundMe account in his name to help defray his final expenses. Here’s the link:

Here’s the link to Ugly Things back issues. The Stu Boy interview appeared in issue #40.

Farewell, Stu. We hardly knew ye.

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Wild Kingdom’s Baby Steps: The Chris Bell Interview

The birth of a band is often a murky affair. Basic differences over direction or status often end with original members quickly becoming ex-members (e.g., Best, Pete, or King, Stu-Boy). Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom was no exception. There were two-plus years spent honing their sound as plain old “Wild Kingdom,” and three different players pre-dated Ross the Boss as the guitar slinger.

Here’s our recent e-mail discussion with Chris Bell, who was the Day One guitarist for Wild Kingdom. Along with Andy Shernoff and Johnny Thunders, Chris is another proud product of Jackson Heights in Queens, NY, and was kind enough to share his memories of the band’s earliest days.

How did Andy and Manitoba know you? Had you been in other NYC bands?

I completely owe my introduction to the Dictators to an old friend named Marc Seligman. In the early ’80s he played with New York new wave band called the Cyclones, who released a single produced by Andy Shernoff. When he casually said, “It was produced by Andy Shernoff from the Dictators,” he was surprised I had never heard of them! Anyway, long story short, he lent me “Bloodbrothers,” and the Dictators became my absolute favorite band for those next five or so years.

Fast-forward to 1986-ish: I was in a band with Marc called Inner Rage, and we were interested in putting out a single as well. We bandied producer names about, and I immediately cast my vote for Andy, because I thought it would be awesome to work with my hero.

Andy came down and hung around a few practices, and gave me some fantastic advice about how to play certain parts. He truly was a musician’s musician. Sad to say, the production gig fell through, and we ended up recording the single with no notable producer. My hopes were dashed, but I was happy to get to know Andy as a fellow musician as opposed to just a fan.

Tell us about how Andy offered you the job.

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