Sunday, November 12, 2023

Still the Dictator: A Chat with Handsome Dick Manitoba

How do you spot the real goddamn thing in Rock ‘N’ Roll?

That’s easy: Go to a venue in Nowheresville, USA. If there’s a guy old enough to collect Social Security peeling the paint off the walls with his incredible band in front of about 30 people without the slightest inkling of a fuck to give besides delivering the hardest music possible, you’ve fucking found it—and I sure as shit did last weekend when Handsome Dick Manitoba and his backing band slayed The Stone Church in the decidedly unRock ‘N’ Roll town of Newmarket, New Hampshire.


Formerly the frontman for the legendary Dictators and its late-‘80s Hard Rock offshoot, Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom, Handsome Dick recently completed a run of shows in New England with his incendiary band—guitarists Alex Kane (Life, Sex & Death/Enuff Z’Nuff/Little Caesar) and Craig Behrhorst (Ruffians/Two-Bit Thief), bassist Michael Butler (Exodus/Jetboy/American Heartbreak), and drummer Scotty Slam (The Stoning/Circus of Power). The set, which included a ton of classic Dictators tracks (“The Next Big Thing,” “Two Tub Man,” and “The Minnesota Strip,” among others) alongside a handful of perfect covers (The Stooges’ “Search And Destroy,” MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams,” and a jaw-dropping rendition of The Flamin’ Groovies’ “Slow Death”), proved that Mr. Manitoba—49 years after the release of The Dictators’ Go Girl Crazy!—ain’t ready to tap out just yet.  


Chatting with me after his gig, Handsome Dick was quick to praise his current bandmates.


“They all move amazing, give you physical energy, and sing. It makes my job easier and more fun. It’s just nice to be treated with love, respect, dignity, and appreciation for what I do—not for what I don’t do.”


It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the above statement is a thinly veiled reference to Dick’s former band. Naturally, The Dictators’ saga is a long and rocky road—and not all the surviving members who appeared on the band’s three classic ‘70s albums get along swimmingly these days. Anyone interested in the soap opera can read what guitarist Ross the Boss and bassist Andy Shernoff had to say in previous features on this website. To his credit, Handsome Dick is setting his sights on the here and now.


“What happened with those guys and what they did to me has turned into a bad thing. Sometimes, if you have patience and look around the corner and your spirit is correct, it can turn into something good.”


“Something good” includes an upcoming single that will be released under the Handsome Dick Manitoba moniker.


“I’m trying to push that brand—I have to get that brand stronger … When [Ross and I] went out as ‘Dictators NYC,’ we made a lot of money—more money, more people, more everything than The Dictators ever did. When we went out as ‘Manitoba NYC,’ we didn’t. [The brand] means a lot.”


Of course, the Dictators fan in me still had to toss in a band-related question. I hit up Handsome Dick for his response to Shernoff’s comment to me that 1977’s Manifest Destiny was “the wrong record at the right time” due to its slick sound at the time of the great Punk explosion. The floodgate opened from there.


“I don’t think it was ‘the wrong record at the right time’ – it was a bad record with some good songs on it … Almost everything on that album was way over-produced, way too bombastic. There was way too much beautiful singing. Then we did [1978’s] Bloodbrothers, [which] was the best of three records because I sang every song on it. I don’t have to be a great singer … I can sell a song. The first album [Go Girl Crazy!] was one of the worst albums ever made. Well, the reason why it wasn’t totally one of the worst albums ever made was because the subject matter, the craziness of it, the uniqueness of it, the first time of it at a time when it didn’t fit at all was brilliant. But I can’t listen to the music, the sounds, and the performances. [That album] is great and terrible. The second album had some real good songs on it—who cares? The third one, everyone says that’s the best record and the best songs.”


With the present always more important than the past, Handsome Dick Manitoba is still out there giving people the real thing—and those of us who are still listening and watching are better for it.  


“I love entertaining people, I love traveling, I love the camaraderie of being with the guys, and I love being on the road. It’s what I’ve done most of my life … That’s what I do.”

Handsome Dick Manitoba