Tuesday, September 26, 2017

LIVE REVIEW - Lita Ford: Tupelo Music Hall, 9/15/17

Photo by Gene Kirkland

If you want to gauge the power of a true rocker, catch them on a less-than-perfect night.

By the time Lita Ford hit the stage with her solo band at the Tupelo Music Hall in Derry, NH on September 15, she had spent hours dealing with the kinds of headaches that only touring musicians fully understand. After seeing her classic white double-neck guitar getting roughhoused by airport staff as she stood and watched powerlessly from a terminal window, Ford was informed upon landing at her destination that her prized instrument had somehow been misplaced by Delta Air Lines and wouldn’t arrive until after that evening’s performance. To elevate her stress level even more, she caught a frog in her throat that would later agitate her vocals throughout the evening.

At 59, Ford has built a life out of being tough. As part of The Runaways in the 70s, she battled and overcame everything from sexism to the industry’s doubts over her playing abilities to establish a career that continues to thrive after nearly 45 years. Does anyone honestly think that a shaky voice and bad experiences with airports were going to stop her? Undeterred by the things that would unhinge less experienced road travelers, Ford went out in front of the crowd with backup guitars (including her black Hamer from the Runaways days), plenty of vodka for her pipes and the determination to thoroughly kick her bad fortune in the ass.

Armed with a set list that included everything from Runaways classics “Cherry Bomb” and “Black Leather” to a cover of Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back” and a slew of solo scorchers (highlighted by the fierce “Can’t Catch Me” and “Playing With Fire”), Ford didn’t let up for an instant. Never one to shy away from saying exactly what’s on her mind (as my interview with her last year clearly demonstrated), Ford’s between-song banter was often as entertaining as her music. She regaled the audience with tales of the day’s events – and even threw in a delightful, family-hour story of when her young son presented her with a penis ring he found and asked her to marry him. (Best part of the night: “Am I supposed to swear in here?” she asked her fans after already delivering an avalanche of f-bombs. When the crowd responded in the affirmative, our mistress of ceremonies exclaimed, “That’s fucking awesome!”)

New Hampshire-based musician/producer Gary Hoey (who worked with Ford on her 2012 album, Living Like A Runaway) joined the band onstage for several numbers. His presence was perhaps most felt on an extraordinary version of 1988’s “Back To The Cave,” which saw Ford and Co. gradually build the song from a subdued vibe to an explosive string attack bolstered by fellow guitarist Patrick Kennison and bassist Marty O’Brien.

Kennison, whose musical escapades include a stint with early-2000s should-have-beens The Union Underground, was the night’s secret weapon, flawlessly alternating between blazing on his six-string and delivering powerful vocal support – including his bulletproof rendition of Ozzy’s parts from Ford’s 1989 single, “Close My Eyes Forever.” Full marks also go to veteran drummer Bobby Rock (Vinnie Vincent Invasion/Nelson/Nitro), whose weightlifter build and percussive finesse kept the freight train charging ahead. 

By rising above the calamities that plagued her day and unleashing one of the best live performances this writer has seen in quite some time, Lita Ford illustrated something that many of us already know: Great music can get a person through anything.  

As she told the crowd towards the end of the night, “It's been a shitty day; you guys brightened it up.”

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

Saturday, September 16, 2017

(Another) Night of the Living DEAD BOYS

“It’s been a little on the reckless side; the crowd’s been pretty crazy. My favorite guitar got broken, but other than that, it’s been good!”

The above words were delivered to me with a chuckle by Cheetah Chrome, a guy who’s still on the road touring when most people his age hit the sheets by 9pm. Easily one of the most resilient and inspiring characters in Rock ‘n’ Roll (and one of my absolute favorite people to interview), Chrome has been creating amazing music with his six-string since the mid ’70s – first with Cleveland’s legendary Rocket From The Tombs (featuring future Pere Ubu members David Thomas and Peter Laughner), then with original CBGB-era Punk kings The Dead Boys (as well as their short-lived original Cleveland incarnation, Frankenstein). Currently living in Austin, Chrome is spending 2017 celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Dead Boy’s classic ’77 debut, Young, Loud And Snotty, by putting together a new version of the band (including original drummer Johnny Blitz), re-recording the album and putting out a new version called Still Snotty: Young, Loud And Snotty At 40 (released last week on Plowboy Records). Chrome and his comrades are also currently on a US tour that will run through mid-November.

The new album and tour mark the first time Chrome and Blitz (who also drummed for Rocket From The Tombs) have played together since a 2005/2006 Dead Boys reunion alongside fellow classic-era members Jimmy Zero (guitar) and Jeff Magnum (bass), which saw Chrome handling the vocal spot left by the 1990 death of Stiv Bators.

“Me and Johnny have been playing together since we were 15. We learned how to play together, and it’s really fun being back with him.”

That’s all fine and good, but a Dead Boys reconfiguration in 2017 is clearly missing one hell of an important ingredient. How in the world could anyone replace Stiv Bators? It’s been nearly 30 years since the guy passed away; who would have the balls to take over that role? Ladies and gentlemen, Chrome and Blitz have found their fucking man.

Enter Jake Hout, singer for “zombie” Dead Boys tribute act The UNDead Boys and the closest approximation of Stiv Bators you’ll ever get from anyone who’s actually breathing.

“Jake just fucking walked in and took over,” Chrome says. “He’s the first person I’ve ever trusted to fill Stiv’s shoes.”

Detroit scene legend Ricky Rat, who previously shared the stage with Chrome when he was playing with Texas Terri, is on bass. Jason “Ginchy” Kottwitz, a long-serving member of Chrome’s solo band, rounds out today’s Dead Boys on second guitar.

“To me, it’s amazing how the dynamic’s pretty much the same [as with the original band]. These guys are nuts, too! It’s really cool; I’m really enjoying it because it feels like a band.”

While this new lineup is an undisputed powerhouse, there are two other original Dead Boys still walking the Earth who are not involved in the present band’s activities. Addressing the elephant in the room, Chrome blames health issues for Zero’s absence – and points to personal conflicts as the reason for Magnum staying home.

“Jeff’s just not the right guy for this band. In order to save a lot of time and trouble, I had to make that call. I don’t think he was into the original band that much. He missed a lot of gigs. He let us down several times, and he bitches incredibly. Do I need to keep going, or can I stop?” (laughs)

By re-recording Young, Loud and Snotty, Chrome and Blitz can finally address an issue that has bothered them both for decades. As brilliant as that album was and still is, Chrome insists that it was only meant to be a demo. Once Sire Records released the album without the band’s official go-ahead, they were stuck with it – until now. Chrome is happy to finally get the guitar sound he intended to have on the record all along, while he says Blitz was pleased to be able to spruce up some odds and ends behind the kit.

“It was really fun going in with this band and doing it. We were hot from the road; we were in Nashville for a couple of days and just did it.”

Naturally, the fact that Chrome and Blitz are this willing to redo moments from their past raises an important question: Will their second album, 1978’s Felix Pappalardi-produced We Have Come For Your Children, receive the same treatment?

 “I sure fucking hope so!” the guitarist replies. “If ever a record needed to be fucking redone, it’s that one. It sucked.”

In addition to reimagining past recordings, Chrome has set his sights on re-releasing the original Dead Boys studio albums as box sets, although he’s quick to add that Warner Brothers (Sire’s parent company) has been “slow as fucking snails” in coughing up the original masters to make this plan a reality.  

The new record and tour also serve to rectify another dilemma in The Dead Boys’ history: Cash. Like many musicians from the original Punk era, Chrome knows all too well that legendary status doesn’t always equal financial rewards.

“My publishing deal sucks; I’ve been trying to get out of it for 20 years. I receive some [money] when like Guns N’ Roses or somebody does [our music], but our fucking sales are nothing.”

Also worth checking out is Dead Boys 1977, an incredible new hardcover book by photographer Dave Treat that chronicles the band’s earliest days in Cleveland.

“Dave Treat was a good friend; he was right there at the very beginning with us, and he got some amazing photographs. One of them was the prototype for the cover [of Young, Loud And Snotty], but [Sire Records head] Seymour [Stein], in all is wisdom, said we needed a professional photographer to do it. It turned out all right, but Dave’s shot was better. I’m happy [the book] is out; it catches everybody in good moments. It really shows us back when we were a team and a real band.”

Looking ahead, Chrome intends to record new Dead Boys material and add to his band’s legacy.

“I see this whole thing going forward. The anniversary is the anniversary, but we still want to make some new music, too.”

He also intends to release a follow-up to his 2014 solo EP (called – what else? – Solo) in the not-too-distant future.

“I actually have some stuff in the can that’s on hold because I’m in the unfortunate position of competing with myself, which is kind of stupid to do. But there’s definitely some new Cheetah Chrome stuff coming, too.”

And that ain’t all, folks. During our chat, Chrome revealed that he has been in contact with the inimitable David Thomas about working together again.

“Me and David are in touch about doing something –  just a me-and-him project – at some point before we die. I want to do something a little crazier than [Rocket From The Tombs].”

Thanks to Still Snotty: Young, Loud And Snotty At 40, The Dead Boys are finally able to bring their iconic music back to life and show the rest of us how the real deal is done. Since he’s had this opportunity to bring his previous work into a present context, what does Chrome see as the magic formula that has allowed The Dead Boys’ music to survive and remain so powerful even after 40 years?

“We were fucking good; we could play! We cared; we gave a shit. We took what we did [and] put it on vinyl, and it shows. The cream rises to the top. I think we were the fucking redheaded stepsons of Rock ‘n’ Roll, but we’re still here.”


9/17 – New York, NY – Bowery Electric
9/18 – Somerville, MA – Once Ballroom
9/19 – Philadelphia, PA – Kung Fu Necktie
9/20 – Harrisburg, PA – Mid Town Arts Center
9/21 – Cleveland, OH – Now That’s Class
9/22 – Toledo, OH – Frankies Inner City
9/23 – Nashville, TN – Little Harpeth Brewery

10/21 – Omaha, NE – Lookout Lounge
10/22 – Minneapolis, MN – Triple Rock Social Club
10/23 – Milwaukee, WI – Shank Hall
10/24 – Lombard, IL – Brauer House
10/25 – Madison, WI – The Frequency
10/26 – Detroit, MI – Small’s Bar
10/27 – Toronto, ONT – Velvet Underground
10/28 – Montreal, QUE – Fairmont
10/29 – Ottawa, ONT – Brass Monkey
10/30 – Rochester, NY – Photo City Improv
10/31 – Brooklyn, NY – Lucky 13 Saloon

11/1 – Long Branch, NJ – Brighton Bar
11/2 - New Hope, PA – John & Peters
11/4 – Cleveland, OH – Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
11/7 – Phoenix, AZ – Club Red
11/8 – Flagstaff, AZ – Green Room
11/9 – Las Vegas, NY – Beauty Bar
11/10 – Los Angeles, CA – Viper Room
11/12 – San Francisco, CA – DNA Lounge

11/13 - Sacramento, CA - Harlows

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

Friday, September 15, 2017

Words for Basil Gogos

Hey, Joel. Take this; you don’t want to go in empty-handed.”

Those were Jerry Only’s words as he handed me a copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland #63. It was the spring of 1995, and I had taken off from school to spend the day in NYC with The Misfits at Jerry’s invitation. The agenda that day (among other things) was to go to the city and visit the great Basil Gogos, who had recently completed what would soon become known as “Santa Gogos,” the first new piece of official Misfits art in more than a decade.

When Jerry, Doyle, their brother Kenny (a.k.a. Rocky) and I walked into Basil’s office, the excitement was palpable. There stood Basil – a friendly, warm and likable guy whose nature could instantly remind anyone of their favorite cool uncle. You should have seen it when Basil unveiled that painting: Jerry jumped up and down and clapped his hands like a little kid at Christmas, while the rest of us stood in awe of Basil’s unparalleled mastery. (“I think this is the best thing Basil’s ever done!” exclaimed Jerry on the ride home.)

Moments later, Basil and I started chatting. After autographing my magazine, he asked, “So, are you a collector?”

I am NOW!” I replied.

Here, you might like this,” he said as he walked over to the original Boris Karloff Frankenstein painting on the wall, took it down and handed it to me.

Was I nervous? Hell yes, and so were the Misfits guys! It felt like holding a newborn baby and being petrified of letting go.

I missed a day of high school, but I got to hold the original painting of one of the most iconic images in horror history – handed to me by the man who created it.

Afterwards, Basil took us all out to lunch, and we enjoyed his fantastic company. It was amazing to spend an unforgettable afternoon with such a kind and extraordinary person.

Twelve years later, I was at Chiller Theatre selling copies of my first short-run “mini-book,” Tales of Horror: The History of The Misfits & The Undead. I heard that Basil was in the other room, so I went over to see him as soon as I could. He remembered me from that day in the city, and I very happily presented him with a copy of my book – telling him that I mentioned our first encounter in its introduction. Then, he said something I’ll never forget.

Before you give me this, would you please sign it for me?”

Do I even have to explain how I felt at that moment?

We chatted for a few more minutes, and every second with the man was well spent. I’m grateful to have had those experiences with him.

Through his work, Basil opened our deepest imaginations and turned the stuff of nightmares into pure magic. There is no other artist alive or dead who has ever come close to successfully emulating his use of colors and lighting. This wasn’t computer-generated animation; this was pure art by a true old-school artist who inspired young kids like Jerry, Doyle and Rocky to grow up and create their own vision of the macabre. He also inspired guys like my brothers in Electric Frankenstein, whose album Burn Bright, Burn Fast features his incomparable cover art. I’m quite sure Rob Zombie (someone else who’s utilized Basil’s artistic talents) would readily credit a good chunk of his aesthetics to what Basil was putting on canvases way back in the day. And if you’ve ever been to my home, you know about the signed Gogos prints on the walls of “The Red Room.”

Basil’s death hurts, but his life’s work will fuel dark thoughts and bright dreams for generations to come.

Goodbye and thank you, Basil. It was an honor knowing you.

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com