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 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.
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.
So how was Andy as a front man? This was only six or seven gigs in before they made this call.
Andy had some good moves, and had potential. But his lack of experience on the bass got in the way. Playing and singing simultaneously was a coordination that wasn’t yet mastered. Playing, singing, and writing the songs were a lot of responsibility. His voice worked on the tracks, especially compared to Handsome Dick Manitoba, because he wrote the songs in a style in which he could sing them. A little more practice and work at it, and Andy would have been fine. I think there was a hesitation there about his playing and singing. He just didn’t grow up playing an instrument. But as far as originality and creativity went, those elements were always there for Andy. I always thought his songs were so original and so much fun. Give Murray and Sandy credit for recognizing his songwriting ability.
Andy is fine on the album.
I have a lot of admiration for Andy. When we were just hanging out–never knowing he wrote for Teenage Wasteland Gazette [Shernoff’s fanzine] or was a bass player and songwriter–he was a nice guy. And he’s smart! He had so much creativity from living the life of a frustrated teenager doing stupid things, which he built into his songs.
Anyway, we went to Murray and Sandy’s office at CBS. I was the most outspoken one of the bunch, and I said, on behalf of the band, that we were not happy having Richie [Manitoba] signing the contract as a fifth member. I’d spent my whole life playing drums, to get to a record deal one day. Here’s a fellow, who has ZERO entertainment background, ZERO practice at anything–he’s a funny guy and he’s a part of our gang, but why is he signing as a fifth member? He comes out onstage, does his shtick, and that’s it. Why was he signing the contract with the rest of us? The reply was, “Because we want him to.” That was their explanation, and we didn’t know enough to push back. Remember, artists are not business people. I said, “Why not pay him to come out, but not sign the contract. Have him be the secret weapon! We were the Dictators, the four of us. He couldn’t sing, he wasn’t a real front man–he came out for shock value, threw his French fries, but that’s about it. They said to us, “If you don’t let him sign, then we’re going to take your share of his percentage.”
So that was it–either take him, or lose money.
That was the attitude. We had no idea how much actual money his percentage was in dollars and cents. None of us were savvy in finance.
I’d imagine this was the first musical contract for any of you guys, right?
It was our first as a band, yes. I did play on that session in England. It’s not the same as getting a CBS contract, which no one believed we were getting. There were talented bands out there who certainly had a few notches on us. What we had was Andy’s originality, which had not been displayed on a record before. He was crossing lines with the language he used about beating up the kids from Spain and wiping your ass. To release a record with that kind of talk was a big deal in those days.
Where did you guys woodshed the songs?
We would practice the material at S.I.R. studios on 52nd Street in Manhattan two or three times a week, and work on chops and arrangements. We had a hard time finding consistency in our playing. One practice would be great, the next not so much. The difference between professionals and amateurs is consistency, and we didn’t have it yet.
The originality was being built. I didn’t even realize at the time just how original this band was going to be. You had ELP and Yes, bands with polished musicians, and then here comes this band, some of us could play and some of us can’t, and the lyrics are off the wall, groundbreaking when you consider what was going on at the time. There was nothing like it.
The only group that came close in, let’s call it topicality, were the Beastie Boys! They mined the same vein, and wouldn’t have been able to do so without the Dictators.
They came along a little later. When I first heard “Fight for Your Right,” I thought it sounded like a Dictators song! It was maybe a little simpler, but right to the point. There wasn’t a big leap from the Dictators to them.
Did you interact much with Blue Oyster Cult?
Since Murray and Sandy and were also managing BOC, we used to rehearse with them at the Fillmore East and at the Capitol Theater. Sometimes for variety, the drummers would switch it up. I’d play behind Buck [Dharma], and Albert [Bouchard] would play with the Dics. It was great experience. Playing with Buck Dharma is a special treat. He and Ross are both monsters, with different types of roots and styles. Ross is a roaring beast of a player, Buck is a master of pinpoint accuracy, straining and bending notes until the end of time.
Alan Lanier of BOC played keys on two songs on the album. Were his parts something Murray and Sandy came up with, or was he part of the plan for those tunes all along?
He came in at some point and added those keyboards, but I don’t recall any of the Dictators being there at the time he recorded.
Who did the nuts and bolts arranging for the LP? Was it you guys or Murray and Sandy?
We did 95 percent of the arrangements for the songs ourselves. Andy would bring in a basic line of lyrics, and we wrote our parts out. Murray and Sandy didn’t participate much in the arrangements. They would show up at rehearsals or at a gig here and there, and we’d meet once in a while at the CBS building. No, they waited until we got in the studio, and that’s when they wanting to flip and flop little things around. Ross had to change breaks around once they threw their two cents in. I thought there should have been more input from the experts.
A lot of the musical foundation came from Ross making the guitar lines. Ross was already making an outline of the songs with Andy. There was a collaboration there that Ross never got credit for. Andy couldn’t really play the bass, how could he write the guitar parts? That’s not possible.
I wrote my drum parts out. Some of the drum parts changed the arrangement of the song. On “Back to Africa,” no one told me to put tempo blocks in that. In “I Got You Babe,” I did a tympani roll in there. The cowbell in “Next Big Thing” was also my idea. If you listen to the beat on “California Sun,” I would have a hard time duplicating that now. I don’t think there’s anyone out there who could duplicate it. I was playing ripple beats with my hands on the toms. It’s nothing like the original, and the Ramones’ drummer couldn’t touch it. It took me a long time to develop.
I thought you were playing a double bass!
It’s all toms. I jacked the beat up to a complete other level.
In the ‘Girl Crazy’ sessions, I played my heart out on “Backseat Boogie.” There was a drum roll at the beginning that’s like a locomotive going off the tracks, but we kept having trouble with one of the guitars going out of tune. We did take after take, but just couldn’t get it right. My hands were torn to pieces at that point. It’s a damn shame we couldn’t get it down, because it was a super song.
It felt to me like we were in the studio forever. I was young and impatient. Four months would seem like two years to me at that point. We wanted to be on tour; we didn’t want to be bottled up in the practice studio so much, but maybe there were issues I wasn’t seeing. Maybe we weren’t playing our instruments at a professional speed at that point. Maybe we weren’t ready. Maybe businesswise, Murray and Sandy were busy with BOC and Pavlov’s Dog and John McLaughlin and Johnny Winter. They had their hands in a lot of different things. I was being tormented by family and friends about “Why aren’t you touring more?” No one realized that there were weaknesses within the band.
Murray and Sandy would pump us up and tell us we were the best in the world, and being 20-year olds, we bought it! But when we got on stage to open for polished bands like the James Gang, you would realize how good you were, and how good you weren’t. An even bigger wakeup was opening for Billy Preston’s band. “Will It Go Round in Circles” was #1, and Billy’s band was so big and technically tight that they blew everyone off the stage. Talk about a mismatch.
It seemed that Murray and Sandy were shelving the Dictators at one point, so I convinced Andy to take a meeting with [Steve] Leber and [David] Krebs [Leber-Krebs Management], who said they had heard good things about the band. We were told that if things worked out, they could put us on a tour opening for Aerosmith and Ted Nugent. They came to one of our gigs at the Coventry, and something went wrong–an amp blew or something like that. That was the end of Leber and Krebs.
I was friends with Aerosmith’s Joey Kramer, from our families having known each other. His parents were unhappy about him being in a band, not going to college, fooling around with girls, he’s not going to make it. Our parents would complain to each other that their two sons were bums!
Part III to come!