The Dictators

By Kris Needs

GROSS. Loud. Fun. Funny. Fast. Flash. All words which can be applied to the Dictators, the New York City bad boys who toured here last month, including a stint with the Stranglers.

The Dictators don't take themselves too seriously, and basically that's what I like about 'em.

I was really pleased in early '75 to lay my hands on an album called "The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!" The sleeve blared bad taste and Yankee grossness. So did a lot of the record in between a bunch of pounding teen anthems, a ponderously unbelievable version of "I Got You Babe" and a song called "California Sun," which may ring a bell (it was on the second Ramones album, dumbo!)

The songs were odes to booze, girls, noisy fun and sex. They were played raw and fast, and the album was indeed (wait for it) ahead of its time. In the high energy vinyl-starved days of early '75 it was a treat. A real teenage rock'n'roll album. And it died (predictably). Adny Shernoff, Dictators' founder, songwriter and keyboardist, elaborates: "When that record came out there was no new wave movement to hang it on. The record company (Epic) didn't know what to do with it. We had the punk image even before it was accepted. We managed to get out of it and the record became a collector's item.

"The album was about the lives we were living at the time. We had a farm house upstate from New York a bit, in the middle of nowhere. We'd just play all day and I'd be writing songs. They were fun times. We'd go out every night and get drunk and stoned. We were crazy teenagers. We sang what we lived."

The sleeve of the album is a perfect match for the music within. It depicts a bush-haired Locker Room muscleman, jacket emblazoned with the legend "Handsome Dick Manitoba," gross and grinning.

Whereas Shernoff is the musical backbone of the Dictators, Manitoba is the leering face.

On the town in London he held court in the bar of the Marquee, pouring Scotch into his ever-open trap like there was no tomorrow (there probably wasn't!), bellowing "I wanna get drunk! How can I get drunk? I must get drunk!!" His aim was achieved speedily and once accomplished he strutted around boasting about his big muscles and causing as much noise as possible. You always know when Handsome Dick's around, he makes sure of that.

How did the Dictators manage to capture him? Andy: "It was our second ever gig. I said to Richard (HDM)--he was our roadie, not a very competent roadie!-- C'mon, all our friends are here for the show. Get up on stage and sing 'Wild Thing.' He got up and sang 'Wild Thing' and everyone went crazy!

"We always thought he could personify the songs. He lived some of that life, 'specially on the first album. He's a showman. He likes to be in the centre of attention and I think he's great. He's got a lot of potential. He's still developing as a singer. He never sang before the band except in the shower."

Oh, one thing I wanted to ask about was the inclusion of "California Sun" on "GGC." Not being up on early American Rock History I'd embarassed myself by asking the Ramones why they did a Dictators song onstage during their first visit in July '76. They soon told me it was a Rivieras number!

Adny: "We formed the band and we just knew 'California Sun' was one of the songs we intended to do from the start. I don't understand why they did it because Joey Ramone used to always come and see us play when we fist got together and he was wearing glitter clothes ... you couldn't miss him!"

Adny Shernoff was originally a rock writer (with rock'n'roll star fantasies, natch). He wrote for Crawdaddy, the US respected rock mag, and also the Teenage Wasteland Gazette. He started forming a band in '73, went through various names (including the Fabulous Moolah) and eventually ended up with a group called the Dictators, who consisted of: Adny (then bass, lead vocals); Ross "The Boss" Funicello (lead guitar, vocals); Top Ten ("Pacemaker guitar") Stu Boy King (drums). I've already told you about Richard Manitoba's entry.

BOC's producer/manager came to see the Dics one night with writer Richard Meltzer ("they loved us"). Pearlman persuaded 'em to stick with the name Dictators. Pearlman and Cult partner Murray Krugman produced the first album ... and the second one, recorded two years later, come to that. The latter prompted comparisons with the Cult to which Adny replies: "We have the same line-up, same manager, a flashy guitarist, but the music is two different worlds."

So what happened to the Dictators in those two silent years between "Go Girl Crazy" and the latest "Manifest Destiny." Adny? "To be succinct, I would say the record came out, we kicked out the drummer, there was a loss of direction. There was no new wave movement at the time. We were not accepted then, except by some critics in America We were sort of disheartened. There was infighting, differences of opinion.

"There was no official 'Dictators Break Up.' We just weren't playing. I didn't wake up every day and think I was in the Dictators, because we weren't doing anything.

"It was a bad time for us. The album hadn't hit. We didn't have a band, didn't have a drummer, had no money. We had to get out and get a job to live. It was tough."

Epic didn't know how to handle the band, who were more or less out on their own.

The Dictators and Epic said bye-byes.

About a year after doldrum-time the group reactivated, once again with Adny Shernoff providing initial momentum.

"It all fell together. We got Mark ("The Animal") Mendoza and Richard Teeter on drums. They gave the band new musical impetus, and we've been working ever since."

"Manifest Destiney" showed a marked change from its predecessor. The Dictators Go Dead Serious? Less raw, lyrics centering more on the decline of Western Civilisation than birds 'n' booze--but presnted in typical Dictators' gross-out fashion. A few love songs. American past-time anthems still here--"Sleepin' With The TV On." On others they do sound a shade BOC--like "Science Gone Too Far." It's that dense-but-clean Pearlman/Kruger production, innit.

The Dictators seem to have taken over from BOC in the rampant Raw Power of the Auto-destructive Future stakes going on the latter's weedy new offering.

Adny: "I think "Manifest Destiny" was a little too serious. I'm gonna try and retrogress lyrically for the next one, but I like it. I like the fact we did an album like that but the next record is gonna be a little simpler--simpler lyrics, no messages, MORE FUN. I think that would be a better direction. There were too many sad songs on the second one, but that's probably because of the times we were going through. The album's a document of the band. Anyway I don't wanna write a teen anthem all the time!"

So the next one will be more of a laugh?

"Yeah, well humour's a big part of our lives. We spend maybe sixty percent of the time laughing. Just walking around making fun of everybody. Making idiots of ourselves, you know, having a good time."

Yeah I know. Too few people seem to be following that example at the moment.