by former JOE PERRY PROJECT SINGER Cowboy Mach Bell
Joe Perry fans will have to bear with me. This tale has nothing to do with Joe at all, but fans of hard core rock may find it interesting. The Dead Boys were a no holds barred revved up gang of misfits that hit the scene hard back in 1976. My band Thundertrain was on the ascent in Boston that year. With a couple of singles getting steady airplay, some Marshall stacks and an amazing following of nubile babes, we were headlining clubs all over the northeast. One night we rolled into the Rat in Kenmore Square for the first show of a 4-night engagement. Jim Harold, the owner, told me in his office that the opening band had just driven 700 miles from Cleveland and were down in the dressing room. The Dead Boys. Neither of us had ever heard of them. Not expecting much, I went down into the basement club and was confronted with an amazing sight. Sprawled out on the stage, over tables and on the floor was the hungriest, skinniest, sickliest looking band Id ever seen. Dressed in their shiny pants, pointy boots, scarves and mascara they were even cooler looking than my own band. They were eager to meet me. Cheetah Chrome- the lead guitarist introduced himself. He was very familiar with "Hot For Teacher!" -Thundertrains latest record. He asked me if they play through our gear. They had driven to Boston in a small car, bringing only their instruments. No roadies. In fact they didnt even have a bass player. Since they seemed pretty nice, we said sure. Drummer Johnny Blitz sat down at Bobbys drums and exploded into action. He looked like a punk, but he had a lot of muscle and was a virtual one- man- band. Guitarist Jimmy Zero was mild mannered and resembled actor Christopher Walken. Gaunt and very cool. Turned out he shared my love of monster movies. Jimmy told me he corresponded with Forrest Ackerman, editor of "Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine". Zero had an amazing collection of monster stuff, including an actual Dracula ring from the Lugosi estate. Rounding out the crew was frontman Stiv Bators. I found him sitting in the corner of the dimly lit dressing room. Looking intelligent in his reading glasses. He was quietly going over band expenses in a little book. He introduced himself, as "Steve" The name change hadnt happened yet. It was apparent that he, like myself, was also deeply committed to the pursuit of a "Stones" lifestyle. They had recently changed their band name (from "Frankenstein") and still wore their hair long like all bands did. They were on a quick visit thru NYC and Boston to test the local waters. When Bators hit the stage and the boys launched into the sound check I was taken aback. The mild mannered bookworm and his nice guitarists became the most viscous and jarring thing Id ever seen on a stage. To be continued...
DEAD BOYS PART 2 - That first Thundertrain / Dead Boys one-niter at the Rat was a trip. Back in 76 the drinking age was only 18. The club was packed with minors. Just about anybody could get in. Jim used to pay off the cops. Stiv and his band perfectly complimented Thundertrains musical philosophy. Lots of power and swagger. Sharp clothing, but not too much. A lot of sweat and craziness. We both had great drummers and at that time the Rat had a great dance floor that we kept filled with frantic little girls. Tough guys stood back at the bar chanting and egging us on. We both had garage rock in our blood. The Dead Boys performed The Syndicate of Sounds "Little Girl" we played The Standells "Dirty Water". We both drew heavily from glam bands like the New York Dolls,Alice Cooper, the Spiders from Mars and the" Exile"-era Stones. While Thundertrains Steven Silva played lead in the Johnny Winter, Jimmy Page style- Cheetah Chrome was a Johnny Thunders, and MC5 style player. The Dead Boys had great material."Sonic Reducer", " I Want You To Know What Love Is" and "Dead Boy" were straight out of the Dolls mold. After the performance Stiv and I made a pact to somehow do it again soon. In early 1977 I got a call from Stiv in New York. The Dead Boys had settled in the Bowery. They were getting a following. Maybe even a record deal. Bators made me an offer. If I could set up a Thundertrain/Dead Boys weekend in Boston, he would put together a Dead Boys/ Thundertrain bill in New York. My parents had just bought a place up in Maine and their house out in Holliston, 20 miles out of Boston, was often empty. I had an idea. I told Stiv that his band could sneak into my parents house for a couple nights and I would set up a gig with Jim at the Rat. We were really anxious to see our old pals the Dead Boys again- but we were in for a shock . To be continued .
DEAD BOYS Part 3 - Thundertrain had been doing shows with Suicide, Mink deVille- and just about any underground band that visited Boston. When the Dead Boys arrived at the Rat for soundcheck we couldnt believe it. We didnt recognize them. They had chopped off their long hair. Gone were the shiny glam pants and scarves. In their place were ripped T-shirts, dog collars and safety pins. In the space of a few months they had totally altered their appearance. They had added a bass player, Jeff Magnum, who, like the others was actually a sweet guy. But they were New Yorkers now, direct and hard. The crowd at the first show didnt know what to make of this scruffy shorthaired rock band. They sure sounded great though. They ripped through new originals like "Caught with the Meat in her Mouth ". Later, back at my parents house, where we had invited about a dozen girls and the bar staff from the Rat, Stiv pulled me aside. Up in my old bedroom Bators unwrapped some singles from England he had managed to obtain. Most of them were on the Stiff Records label. One single had a funny looking guy on the sleeve. Elvis Costello? I said laughing this has got to be a joke. Stiv assured me that it was for real. "Hes good," Stiv told me. Next he pulled out something called "Anarchy in the U.K." by the Sex Pistols. I was dumb- founded. "It was just released in December and this is what our band is gonna do." whispered Stiv. He showed me some photos of the Pistols, and I could see where the Dead Boys had got the idea for their weird new look . How were we to know that by the end of that summer the"punk-rock" craze the Pistols, "Elvis" and the Dead Boys would all make headlines. To be continued .
DEAD BOYS Part 4 - A few months later Hilly Kristal, manger of CBGBs called us. The Dead Boys were taking New York by storm. Kristal had taken over their management and secured them a record deal. Kristal told me that Stiv wanted Thundertrain to come out and do a weekend with the Dead Boys. Stiv even offered to put us all up at their apartment, so Thundertrain loaded up the truck and headed to NYC. We were hoping to relive the excitement of our last get together in Boston. Both bands had taken over my parents house out in Holliston for a party that only paused when we had to drive into Kenmore Square for our nightly Rat shows. Jim Harold s bouncers loaded up our car with cases of brew every night to replenish my moms refrigerator back home. Back in sleepy Holliston, word had gotten out that not only was Mach and his band back in town, but hed brought home a crazy New York punk band as well. Teenyboppers were lining up at the door to join the action. On Sunday afternoon the cops finally showed up to break up the party and collect the girls, but it was a great weekend while it lasted. Arriving in New York at the Dead Boys apartment it was obvious why they had enjoyed my parents suburban home so much. This was a dingy walk-up in the Bowery. We entered in through the kitchen, the tub was right in the middle of the room. No curtain or anything. Blitz was sitting in the bath bleaching his buzz-cut. Roaches scurried around and the place stunk. Stiv Bators got off the phone and greeted us. "Hey guys, welcome to New York! That was John Belushi on the phone; he showed up at
CBs last night and played drums with us for 2 songs! Hes coming tonight, were gonna have some fun!" I was impressed, but the truth was Thundertrain hadnt had a Saturday night off in 3 years, and since nobody had VCRs back then Id never actually seen John Belushi. "Animal House" wasnt to be released for another year at that point. The apartment was full of Dead Boys news clippings from American and British music magazines. Their debut album "Young, Loud and Snotty " was about to be released on Sire. People were in and out and their phone was constantly ringing they d come a long way incredibly fast- But then I noticed some scars on Stivs chest and arms and I felt a strange foreboding fear . To be continued
Part 5 - Thundertrain had been hitting NYC pretty regularly for the past couple
years. Maxs Kansas City, Gildersleeves, and CBGBs. But this engagement
with the Dead Boys was a whole new experience. It really was their moment. That
weekend in early 1977. They were the buzz. Tonights gig was the absolute
talk of the town. It was nearly midnight. From our dressing room, waiting to
go on, I could see Seymour Stein and Bob Feiden (the heads of Sire and Arista
Records) chatting it up. Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin and Lorraine Newman were
at another ringside table. Scenester Danny Fields, writers from the Times and
theVoice, members of the Ramones, Television, Blondie you name it, they
were crowding in. Thundertrain hit the stage like a banshee, but I had to wonder,
while I did my thing in the spotlight, what this uptown crowd was thinking.
Looking out at all the well known faces I suddenly felt like a longhaired hick
from the sticks. In New York there was no dance floor. People just stood and
gaped. Or, worse, they ignored you. One guy at a ringside table was reading
a newspaper all through our set. Finally Steven Silva, our guitar player, cannonballed
off the stage, still playing his Les Paul, and landed in the startled guys
lap. The crowd seemed to enjoy that and we left to a decent ovation. How were
the Dead Boys going to top our show? I found out soon enough. Stiv Bators sauntered
out to thunderous applause, as well as some jeers, and launched into a full
frontal attack. The Dead Boys definitely looked and sounded like Americas
answer to the Sex Pistols. Torn clothing, zippers and short spiky hair. Then
things got weird. Some guys gave Stiv the finger. Stiv flipped off the whole
audience and started spitting on people. The crowd started gobbing back up at
the stage. Someone threw a bottle. It smashed on the stage. Bators dove into
the broken glass, a la Iggy, cutting himself pretty badly. As Stiv started bleeding
the band jerked into the next song. I looked around,
fearful that everything was going terribly wrong. The faces of the crowd confused me. They didnt seem concerned at all. They were digging it. Stiv continued spitting on people and himself. I watched him pick up a shard of glass; he dragged it along his arm cutting himself again. This was for real and the crowd loved it . To be continued..
DEAD BOYS Part 6 - Thundertrain and the Dead Boys remained close. They toured America supporting their first album. We continued to go to New York, opening for them and they came back to Boston to open our shows. Fundamentally we had really parted ways though. We were both loud and outrageous - but Thundertrain was a mainstream rock act with an eye towards the arenas. The Dead Boys were a truly dangerous underground punk rock band. The underground club scene in the cities changed too. The Rat added more tables, enlarged the stage and lost its dance floor. Soon the drinking age would be raised as well. More and more bands seemed less concerned with showiness and got darker. Stivs violent antics had brought him fame and a really tough crowd. I was a little freaked out by it all. During our set the little girls would still push to the front, trying to dance to the beat in whatever space they could find. During the Dead Boys set, most of the girls would retreat as a crazed looking bunch of guys would push to the front, spitting and hurling insults up at Stiv. Now it was late summer 1977. We were back at the Rat with the Dead Boys opening. Thundertrain was riding high. Our first album had been picked up by Jem distribution and was selling briskly. We had even been mentioned in Time magazine. Punk rock was a household word now and the Dead Boys were at the head of the pack. Everybody in town was psyched for the show. That Friday night performance couldnt have been better and both bands were razor sharp. The Rat had never been so packed. Suddenly, it all fell apart . To be continued
DEAD BOYS Part 7 - The first night of that late summer Boston two-niter had been a great success, except for one thing. Back at my (away again) parents house in the suburbs, where the Dead Boys were once again staying, Stiv Bators and I left the party and went upstairs. Thundertrain guitarist Gene Provost, our de facto business manager joined us; he had the nights door money. Our pay. It was a big wad of ones. We counted it out. Five hundred bucks. Split between the two bands. "I dont understand it," said Stiv-looking calm and studious in his reading glasses. "Every time we play the Rat its packed. The place must hold 200 or more. They were charging 4 bucks at the door. There should be a lot more money here." Bators comments unlocked the floodgates. For all the work we d done, records we sold, fans we drew, the truth was, we were all broke. Just to eat, put gas in the truck and keep the gear patched up took all the cash that was coming in. There are no weekly paychecks in rock and roll. The money that comes into the ticket booth or the record store passes through many sticky hands before the band sees it- If theres anything left to see . Stiv and I stayed up all night. We were pissed, frustrated and hungry. We plotted revenge. The next nights show at the Rat was the hot ticket in town. All the record and radio people, the press everybody was going to be there. At 7 oclock, just hours before showtime I called Jim Harold at the Rat and told him neither band would perform unless our demands were met To be continued
DEAD BOYS Part 8 - We did the Saturday night show, but it would be our last gig with the Dead Boys. It would be the last time Thundertrain would play the Rat for well over a year. The Boston Phoenix covered the story. "Thundertrain Smells A Rat," said the bold headline. The Dead Boys and Thundertrain refused to go on stage until Jim Harold took his people off the door and allowed the bands to collect the cover charge themselves. The article went on to smear the club and Jim. The bands had finally gone on stage playing short but intense sets. We indeed did make a bit more than what we had seen the previous night, but it was a sad way to end the relationship with the club that had been our Boston headquarters and home. Jim Harold, who considered me a friend, was deeply hurt. Sometimes desperate people do desperate things. The Dead Boys would continue to tour the world. Thundertrain was on the road 5 nights a week, and locally we moved across the Charles river to The Club in Cambridge. Within months the much larger Paradise, Don Laws sparkly new concert club, would be Thundertrains Boston home . Times were changing. The suburban clubs still mostly hired safe cover bands. They hated my groups refusal to play covers or slow songs. Meanwhile the underground scene at the Rat and in New York viewed Thundertrains massive drumsets and stacks of amplifiers as a mainstream throwback. We were seen by some as an overblown relic from the glam rock days. To many, showmanship had become a dirty word. Audiences had changed too. As the dance floors disappeared, so did the little girls. In their place stood legions of sullen leather jacketed boys, staring. It took the rock club culture several years to figure out what to do once the dancing and the girls migrated from the scene. First pogoing and slamming, then stage diving and finally moshing and crowd surfing took up the slack. Meanwhile back in 1978, Thundertrain, now in our fourth year, were busy as ever. Suddenly we got a call from New York. Johnny Blitz, the great Dead Boy drummer had been jumped by a gang of hoods, stabbed multiple times and left bleeding in the street..To be continued.
DEAD BOYS Part 9 - He lived. I hadnt realized, back when I first met the Dead Boys in76, that Johnny Blitz a.k.a. Johnny Madansky and Cheetah Chrome a.k.a. Gene OConnor had been members of Clevelands well known " Rocket From the Tombs". Great name. After singer David Thomas left them in 1975 to form "Pere Ubu" -Stiv Bators joined forces with Blitz and Chrome. From there they had skyrocketed to international fame. Johnny Blitz and the rest of the Dead Boys had been a success despite (or maybe owing to) a well kept secret. Regardless of their arrogant pose and frightening stage show, they were an amazingly responsible and endearing bunch of gentleman. This is why I trusted my familys beloved home to them. They did their dishes, straightened out the bed covers and flushed the toilets. Along with being a terrifying punk band, they were also excellent house- guests. After a yearlong recuperation Johnny Blitz came back and the Dead Boys re-launched their attack on the world- for a while. They put out two more albums before calling it quits. Thundertrain threw in the towel as well. Disco and drum machines ruled the charts, synthesizers were replacing guitars on the airwaves. Joe Perry left Aerosmith. Id still see Stiv and his current- girlfriend Bebe Buell in the gossip pages- but we lost touch . A couple years later I was back on the road singing with the Joe Perry Project. One night the phone rang in my hotel room. It was Stiv Bators. He had a new band - The Lords of the New Church. It was so great to hear his voice. I finally saw Stiv again at the Channel in Boston. I went backstage to find him. It had been 5 years. We hugged; it was really nice to get together one more time. Bator( he had dropped the" s" from his last name) told me how he still often thought back to those old Dead Boy/Thundertrain days. Stiv loved those parties out in Holliston in my parents old house. On June 4, 1990 I heard that Stiv had died. He passed away in his sleep after being hit by a car in Paris.