THE WHISKEY GLASS
babe let the devil in You're lookin' real good, but maybe too thin."
-"Billy Two Rivers"
"The thing to remember about the Dogs," a mutual acquaintance had warned me prior to meeting them, "is that they simply don't. . .give. . .a. . .Fuck:'
When I pressed him for details, he stumbled to put it into words. "Those f?!kers just don't care. Good gig, bad gig, it just doesn't seem to register. Tyla, the singer is the weirdest. You have to catch him in the right mood to, uh, appreciate him. They're all so drunk all the time, maybe that's got something to do with it: '
"I fell in love when I fell down the stairs, into the arms of a girl that really cared/She picked me up, gave me some wine She said,' 'Let's go out and have a real good time.' " -"Heartbreak Wine"
Right now the Dogs D'Amour are the toast of the London club scene. After six years of playing toilets, suddenly they've become something of an overnight sensation here in the Old Country.
An enticing combination of slinky, bite-yer ass guitars and Alice Through the Whiskey Glass lead vocals-shackled to a reputation for badness that would shame the devil himself-is what's turned the Dogs D'Amour into the latest name to drop at the bar of The Marquee or the backstage beer counter at the Hammersmith Odeon. .
That, and the release of no less than three albums here in the U.K. in the last year alone. The first, Unauthorized Bootleg, released on the independent China Records label (distributed by PolyGram in America) in July '88, was a nifty enough debut-a little short on original ideas maybe, but loaded with spiteful intent. It was only a hint, though, of what was to follow.
"I can see it in your cat green eyes/Your magic necklace 'round your throat of lies You're a desperado in disguise."
In the Dynamite Jet Saloon, the second Dogs D'Amour album, released just three months later, was an altogether different story. This sucker had teeth, claws and wild red eyes. Ten trax, all of 'em full of dirt and disgrace and shaking to a death-rattle beat.
The third Dogs D'Amour album, A Graveyard of Empty Bottles, a limited edition ten inch, eight-track, acoustic-based mini-album recorded over ten long nights in a small London studio the week before Christmas, has just been released here in the U.K. It is something else again. "It's all acoustic-based, but there's drums and electric guitars on top of it. I ain't gone all kinda Dylan," Tyla informs me with a smirk. "...we ended up with 13 songs recorded. We chose eight, and we've kept the rest for future B-sides and stuff. I don't know. . .you got to hear it for yourself. I can't really explain. But there is electric guitar."
"He gave Jesus tattoos, and took the devil's soul He got the angels drunk, and gave them a gutter for a home."
-"Bullet Proof Poet" (for Charles Bukowski)
He's from Wolverhampton originally, which is in the Midlands of England, a part of the world well known for its dry, laconic sense of humor. He'd had the idea of putting a band together since quitting school at 16, but it wasn't until he made the move down to the fright lights of London in the early '80s that he started to get it together
"It was '82, '83, and everybody was into the Birthday Party and the Cramps, while all I was into was the Stones. Very untrendy at the time;' he says matter-of-factly. "Then Hanoi Rocks came over to London and played for the first time, and they were the first new band I'd liked in ages. I was in the Marquee one night, and I got to talking to their guitarist, Andy McCoy-he was probably poncing cigarettes off me; he always does-and he said, 'Are you in a band?' And I said, `No.' And he said, 'You should be. You look great:
"And I thought, All right."
`As I stumble to my feet, stagger to the door As I crawl towards the girl, fall back on the floorl I'm the last bandit left A-LIVE"
Tyla's voice is all shot to hell. Half the time he ,doesn't even sound as though he's trying, crooning like a sheep-killing dog while the band piles on the riffs and shuffles the deck for him. It sez on the sleeve: "The Dogs are. . . Bam: drums, bones, thunder, blood, 100 percent skin destruction. Jo Dog: razorblade guitars, ultrasonic blues devil licks. Steve James: hellfire bass, heaven's harp, sacrificed sax, acoustic ray-gun wounds. TYLA: bourbon-wrecked throat, six-string cigarette-burnt Gretsch and tattooed heart that has withstood the test." I couldn't have put it better myself.
We were talking in the dressing room backstage at the Dominion Theatre in London, the evening of the band's second and last performance there, opening the show for Hunter-Ronson earlier this year.
Meeting the lead Dog for the first time is an experience, all right. His appearance is even more disheveled in person than the band's publicity photos suggest. Slumped in a chair with a bottle of white wine cradled in his lap, TYLA chain-smokes and looks bored, at a loss, his big, badly made up panda eyes blinking slowly as he mumbles.
With under 20 minutes to go before TYLA leads the Dogs out onstage at the Dominion, the dressing room is getting crowded, and I offer to postpone the rest of the interview until after the show.
"But we're not on for another 20 minutes;' says TYLA. "Stay and have a drink:'
"But don't you have things you want to do before you go onstage?" I ask.
"Like what? Psyche ourselves up or something, you mean?" he says with faint disdain. "Naw. . .we don't do that:'
"But maybe you wanna change your clothes or mess with your hair or something before you go on," I persist.
"What for?" he asks, not a trace of irony in his eyes. "Stay and have a drink. . . .You can turn that on," pointing at my tape recorder, "as well, if you like. Keep talking, I'm not bothered."
And so I do.
"Aren't you nervous right this minute, just before you go onstage?" I ask him.
"Not really." He shakes his head. "I feel normal when I walk on a stage. Which is more than can be said for the rest of the time: '
TYLA began playing guitar "from the first moment I posed in front of the mirror with a tennis racket in my hands:' The first official Dogs D'Amour lineup came together in 1983 when TYLA hooked up with Bam-"The only name for a drummer!"-and "some other guys that I later threw out. Then I got some other guys in, but I kicked them out too."
The arrival of guitarist Jo Dog in late '84, however helped to crystallize Tyla's ideas in his mind, and the addition of bassist Steve James came not long afterwards.
"Until Jo came along, I didn't really have a strong idea of exactly what shape I wanted the band to take. All I knew was I wanted to be Keith Richards. Then I met Bam, Jo came along, and suddenly we had a real band, something I could believe in. And after that I forgot about being Keith Richards. It was a full-time job just being myself:'
Originally, Tyla, who writes 90% of all the Dogs material, was content to confine himself to playing guitar and supplying backing vocals while the band's original vocalist, an American known simply as Ned. acted
out the frontman role. It was with this lineup that the name Dogs D'Amour first appeared on vinyl, with a track called "Teenager of the Week" on an obscure compilation album released in 1986 entitled Trash on Delivery
When Ned left unexpectedly, the band was two weeks away from a tour. With no time in which to find a suitable replacement for their errant frontman, Tyla stepped into the breach, "Not because I can sing-I can't, not in the traditional sense-but I was the only person that knew all the lyrics, so it was the only thing to do."
There was no looking back after that, though, as Tyla warmed to his new role stage-center. It was then the band really started to click, picking up a name for themselves as ones-to-watch on the claustrophobic London club circuit. It was true, Tyla didn't add up to much of a singer. But he carried a lot of presence onto the stage with him. He exuded cool, and his songs-gritty, low-life vignettes that spoke of love and the bottle and lots worse-started to catch on big, and soon the record companies were sniffing around. The band's deal with China was actually struck in 1988, with Tyla taking care of the final details personally. "I did it my way;' he warbles in a voice nothing like Big Frank's."
Why so many records released so quickly though? Three albums in less than a year? Most bands retire after three albums these days! (Or should.) You boys ever heard of that time-honored industry phrase flooding the market?
"F?!k that;' says Tyla, pursing his lips with disapproval. "I don't give a shit about `flooding the market.' Besides, the way I look at it, we've still only released one proper Dogs album, In the Dynamite Jet Saloon. The first record was no more than a glorified demo tape that we recorded when we first signed with China. It was ancient by the time it came out and was never really intended to be our first proper album. As for the acoustic set that's just about to come out, that's something else again. It's more of an interlude between albums. We just had these songs that we thought would be nice to put out as a limited-edition thing to whoever might be interested. I mean, why not?"
Indeed What about the Dogs image though? The unruly hair and the hippy headscarves, that whole satin-and-tat street chic vibe? Were these all contrived moves, or were they all simply born in a caravan, the bastard offspring of wild-eyed traveling folk?
"No;' Tyla smiles, baring his broken; nicotine-stained teeth. "I'm not exactly what you call fashion conscious. I just used to like the way Keith Richards looked in the '70s. I liked the gear I like scarves and tassels and shit like that:' How aware is Tyla, though, of the reaction he draws when he walks into a room full of people who know nothing about him except his name and his reputation?
"I don't know. It's weird. We used to walk down the street a couple of months ago, and we'd get all the usual looks and comments from people in the street. Particularly from builders. I know how a woman must feel now when she has to walk down the street past a bunch of guys working on some building site or whatever and attracts all the predictable comments.
"It's weird though," he shrugs. "Now we get some of those same people coming up to us in the street, because they've seen us on TV or whatever and they all want to be our friends. I don't know which is worse:'
What about this thing of you being a moody bastard, having to catch you at the right moment and all that?
"Everybody's like that sometimes;' he says, nonplussed. "It can be a pain in the arse having to live up to some sort of image. It's not something you do consciously. You can just see the expectation in people's eyes sometimes when they meet you. I just lose interest sometimes:'
What about the stories of excessive drinking and drugging that abound? Tyla eyes me steadily and swears the whole thing has been blown out of proportion.
"My drug days are over" he says. "I cleaned up back in '83. It got as bad as it can get for a time, but I saw what was happening and did something about it while I still could. As for the drinking;' he sighs balefully "I've cut down:'
"Oh yeah?" I laugh. "How much have you had to drink today then?"
"I've drunk a bottle of Jack, and I've drunk three bottles of wine so far But I don't get drunk. It's just like having a cup of tea to me. I had my first drink, which was a Jack and Coke, when I got up about 9:30 this morning;' he tells me, completely deadpan.
Even I, a man known to be partial to the occasional throat-gargle or three, had to admit I was shocked. "Don't you know you're not supposed to do that until you've sold a million records?" I say, only half-joking.
"Don't worry," he smiles. "I told you, I'm cutting down."
By the time you read this, the Dogs D'Amour should, with luck, be out on the road for their first tour of America. If they come within gobbin' distance of your hovel I suggest you do yourself a favor and make it down to the show. See how it's done doggy-style. It'll make you howl.