Gritty, dangerous and filthy, New York City in the 1970s was no place for the meek. Bored of its hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, the Dead Boys, though — being the self-described “gutter rats” they were — weren’t at all scared of the nightmarish urban decay eating away at the Big Apple. They found it … charming.
A punk-rock splinter cell that broke off from Cleveland’s early-’70s cult heroes Rocket From The Tombs, the Dead Boys — consisting of Cheetah Chrome (aka Gene O’Connor), Johnny Blitz (John Madansky), lead singer Stiv Bators (aka Steve Bator), guitarist Jimmy Zero (aka William Wilden) and bassist Jeff Magnum (aka Jeff Halmagy) — were originally called Frankenstein.
A three-chord ball of punk fury that failed to impress the locals, the group languished; meanwhile, from a distance, they could only watch as a thriving New York City’s underground punk scene burned hot. The turning point came when they met Joey Ramone on a Ramones’ tour stop in Cleveland. He kicked down doors for them in New York City, helping them land a gig at CBGBs. The legendary club’s owner Hilly Kristal would become their manager.
There was no turning back. Changing the band name to the Dead Boys, they hit New York City like an atom bomb. Churning out tough, intense punk anthems like the classic “Sonic Reducer,” the Dead Boys opened eyes with Bators’ riotous onstage antics and their explosive sound.
Their scum-encrusted, Stooges-influenced 1977 debut, Young Loud & Snotty, produced by Genya Ravan, was a heat-seeking missile that’s still considered one of punk’s finest moments. Then, it all fell apart. Here, Chrome talks about the rise and fall of the Dead Boys.
Goldmine: It’s been 22 years since [a] reunion show [featured in the recent MVD Video DVD release “Dead Boys — Night of the Living Dead Boys: Halloween Night 1986”]. What memories does that bring up?
Cheetah Chrome: Just kind of brings back that period, which was a lot of chaos. Being onstage for those shows was very distracting. There were so many stage divers and all that. I pretty much just had to keep my head down and run, you know?
GM: Was that typical of a Dead Boys show or was it more chaotic than usual?
CC: Well, you know, in the early days, we always had big roadies. We made sure of that. And, like when we did the reunions, that was probably one of the earlier reunions, so that was the first time we had realized it had escalated. You know, we had not been playing together, so you know, Stiv was more used to it than we were. He was doing the Lords [Of The New Church] at that point, that explains the outfit [a shiny leather jumpsuit and a Luftwaffe hat], ’cause that’s something that the rest of us didn’t really endorse that outfit ( laughs).
GM: That was kind of a shocking outfit.
CC: Yeah, we were all pretty much free agents at that point, so we couldn’t really tell each other what to do. You know, if we were still a band, he probably would have been voted down on that one. He could have kept the hat. That was about it.
GM: There was always a lot of audience partication with you guys, wasn’t there?
CC: Yeah, but we never had the slam-dancers and stage-divers before that period. You know, with the punks, it was dodging spit and dodging bottles. They didn’t really want to get up there and be part of the show. That came along with the hardcore thing. So, when we came back, all of a sudden we’ve got these just dumb-asses wanting to come up and wanting to run past and jump off, you know? The one experience we had had with that in the past, the guy had run