UPDATE: Dead Boys have cancelled as of Monday afternoon. The local support bands - Golden Pelicans, Vicious Dreams, Tommy Frenzy's Hard Drive - will still play and the show is free and tentatively on.
The year 1977 was epochal for rock & roll. Rules were trashed and rewritten in real time by bands like the Heartbreakers, the Clash, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. But let's shift the focus from New York and London to the nowheresville that was Cleveland, where another group of miscreants were crafting their own brand of audio outrage.
Like Pere Ubu, the Dead Boys sprang from the ashes of Midwest freak collective Rocket From the Tombs, taking several members and instant anthem "Sonic Reducer" with them. The quintet of Stiv Bators, Cheetah Chrome, Johnny Blitz, Jimmy Zero and Jeff Magnum may have been geographically isolated, but they quickly crafted an antisocial sound that was an uncanny parallel to what was happening in the "big city."
Soon enough, though, at the urging of Joey Ramone, the Dead Boys decamped to NYC in 1976 and made a splash with vile antics and incendiary performances. Everything about the Dead Boys' 1977 debut album, Young, Loud and Snotty – from the title to the cover photo to, of course, the sound – perfectly summed up the band and what they were about. It was an instant classic.
Even in the NYC punk scene, however, the band were unpredictable, druggy, volatile outliers, combustible and not built to last. Even a major label deal with Sire couldn't save the band, and it was all over by 1979.
Forty years later, guitarist Cheetah Chrome recalls unhappily that the recordings which became their infamous debut were intended to be merely demos: "We were really pissed when we found out it wasn't going to be re-recorded. They had promised us. Nobody was really 100 percent happy with it."
He continues, "We were rushed. We had to do the whole thing in like three days. We did these marathon recording sessions. ... It was the first time we worked with a producer – first time I knew what one did, actually. But we were very lucky; Genya [Ravan] was a good producer. She was very patient with us. She had the chemistry with us to get us to do what we didn't want to. Like turn down."
To mark the 40th anniversary of the album in a way only survivors can, Chrome and drummer Johnny Blitz (with new guitarist Jason Kottwitz, bassist Ricky Rat and vocalist Jake Hout) took the opportunity to revisit the songs as if the label's initial promise for more recording time had been fulfilled. Still Snotty: Young Loud and Snotty at 40 – a reimagining of that volcanic album – is set to be released Sept. 8 on Plowboy Records.
Plowboy is the creation of Chrome and Shannon Pollard, grandson of Nashville recording star Eddy Arnold, started in 2012. It is in part a vehicle to further the legacy of long-gone legends, but also to provide something new to the Nashville scene, releasing everyone from Bobby Bare to BR549's Chuck Mead. Chrome recalls, "Basically, me and him built the thing from the ground up. I got the distribution deal, publicists, pressing plants, the whole nine yards."
Prior to starting Plowboy, Chrome had performed a surprise run of shows with a re-formed Rocket From the Tombs. He joked about the new reality of Rocket From the Tombs circa the 21st century: "Going out with a bunch of grumpy old men for five and 10 days and coming home."
Chrome has spent the last few years focusing on running the label, and it aligns nicely with his personal life. He explains, "I was leaving [for tour in 2006] and getting all these frantic calls from home. It was hard on the family as much as it was on me: They needed me there. I ended up working with Plowboy Records like two years after that. That kind of gave my son a couple more years with me. I stuck around home more and didn't really play that much."
The sonic reducers are hitting the road for a full North American tour in a way they never could in their youth, with a new album and photo-book in tow. Much like the mob, once a Dead Boy, always a Dead Boy.