ROCKER FROM THE TOMBS - AN INTERVIEW WITH CHEETAH CHROME
"I'm very proud to have been in both Rocket From the Tombs and the Dead Boys -- it's a tough call, which I'm prouder of. Rockets we never really saw through to the end, I felt. The Dead Boys, well, we maybe took it past where we should have."
Matthew Wascovich interviews Cheetah Chrome
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3AM: Tell us a bit about the upcoming Rocket From the Tombs gig.
CC: Well, there isn't a whole lot to tell really. Having the CD come out after all these years was quite a surprise, hearing from David and all. We probably hadn't spoken since 1982 or around then. Then we get the email, "You knew this was coming....", and we were off. Rehearsals have been promising, considering we're missing a critical piece of the machine without Peter. I have no idea what to expect from the Disastodrome thing, though I hear the burgers are good. . . It doesn't really seem like something I would attend if I wasn't booked, but I figure I'll keep an open mind and if I get bored, L.A. is a fairly big town and I know it pretty well.
3AM: What is the history of the band? Bell is a great bass player. What are the other band members up to?
CC: Well the history was pretty well covered in the liner notes of the CD, but for those who haven't seen it: The band started as David's concept in the early 70s, sort of a hobby/joke offshoot of his column he wrote for Scene Magazine in Cleveland, "Croc 'o Bush". It was a highly entertaining, gossipy/satiric weekly slice of Crocus' take on Cleveland life. The band originally had more in common with the Bonzo Dog Band than the Stooges, until Peter came along, after which things changed and it became more of an actual band. They had been around for a pretty good while before Blitz and I joined.
Craig joined around the same time I did, coming from the band Mirrors. I think he was only supposed to be on loan, and then got fired for consorting with the enemy (us). Their loss was very much our gain! After Rockets, he moved to New Haven, Connecticut, and formed the band Saucers, which released a few records in the late 70s-early 80s,and did pretty well for themselves. He and his wife Claudia have put together a very comprehensive CD of the band's material, called What We Did, on Grand Theft Audio. I just finally found Wayne Strick, he was very hard to find, too late for the reunion, but I guess he still plays around Cleveland. And Johnny Blitz lives in Canada, outside Toronto, has a band called, I believe, Ass Monkey, and had no interest in doing the reunion.
3AM: Richard Lloyd of Television is playing guitar with The Tombs. What is the connection?
CC: Beside the fact that RFTT played on the bill with Television in 1975, when we first met Richard, there's my friendship with him that goes back to that time. We got to know each other well in NYC; we were neighbors for quite a while. He's one of the best guitarists around, very intuitive, and he was a big influence on Peter towards the end. Peter was actually up for Richard's spot in Television when he died. I really enjoy playing with Richard, our styles contrast nicely and we have respect for each other, without all the egos and crap. He was the only logical choice in my mind.
3AM: What's the history of Disastodrome? Were you involved in the early events in Cleveland?
CC: Nah, the first I've heard of it was this gig, then I read up on the others. It sounds interesting. . . .
3AM: What did you enjoy about the Cleveland scene in the late 1970s?
CC: Well, shit, there wasn't much, was there? There were some great concerts...I did get to see the Sensational Alex Harvey Band more than if I had lived in NYC, also Cockney Rebel. The best thing about that time was that Rockets rehearsed 4-5 nights a week, that was our entertainment. If we weren't there, we were at the Viking Saloon. If there was a night we didn't rehearse, half the time I'd go down to the loft by myself and crank it up, work on things. I did love going to the Agora, which was a great club. I'd go for a while, get rowdy, get kicked out, do my penance, get back in etc. Those were my formative years!
3AM: In retrospect, which records or songs are you most proud of being part of?
CC: Well, I'm very proud to have been in both RFTT and the Dead Boys -- it's a tough call, which I'm prouder of. Rockets we never really saw through to the end, I felt. The DB's, well, we maybe took it past where we should have. I'm proud of all the songs from both bands, with the exception of "Big City" on the second Dead Boys album. That was a mistake, and I'm also proud to say that I didn't play a note on that one. I think I did put down a rhythm track on it, but they took it off. I refused to do a lead track. I did like the 1st solo thing I did, "Still wanna die", but I thought the production could have been better, which is why I redid it with the Ghetto Dogs. That was a band I loved playing with, they were great. The single with Mike Hudson turned out OK, but I don't remember recording it. I was seriously so out of it that I have no memory of the session at all. As for Jeff Dahl, the stuff with him is some of my best work; he's about the only singer that brings out what Stiv used to bring out in me. I hope to have him come record a song or two on the new CD, and I'd love to do a full out project with him in the future.
3AM: What are you working on?
CC: Well, right now just remembering all the words to "Amphetamine"! Next month I go in the studio here in Nashville to start doing basic tracks for the new CD. I'll be producing, Mark Nevers (from Lambchop) will be engineering. The label is still up in the air at this point, though I'm pretty certain who I'll go with. I hope to get out and tour a little this summer too.
3AM: On deck this weekend?
CC: "What we did" by Saucers
"Pablum" by Clawhammer
The Mystery Addicts
Some unreleased Tyla stuff he sent me
"Big Bang" by MC5
"Blonde on Blonde" by Bob Dylan
"Birdland" by Birdland (obscure 80's band from Blighty)
"Beggar's Banquet", "the Satanic Sessions" by the Stones (the remastered CD, plus some boots with outtakes, alternative takes).
3AM: I enjoy the work of Dahl -- especially the Triple X Records stuff. How did you guys hook up? What records did you record?
CC: I first met Jeff on the Angry Samoans' first trip to NYC. My friend Richard Fantina was a writer for SoHo Weekly News, and he threw a party for them at his apartment. I went, and Jeff and me just really hit it off, we've been friends ever since. I think the first project I did with Jeff was with Powertrip, probably around 1984. I flew out to LA and did a couple of shows as guest guitarist, we threw in some Dead Boys stuff, had a blast! Then in 87 I went back out to LA to do the "I Kill Me" record, which is one of my favorite things I've ever done. The rockers we had down cold, and there were a few acoustic things ("So it goes", "Clouds Without Water", "Lustful Glances") that I thought came out great. "Pretty Thing" is another favorite, with that crazyass sax part! Jeff is very focused, so when I work with him things go smoothly... We did a couple of shows at the Palamino in N. Hollywood and the Music Machine in Santa Monica...if ya ever see the videos up on Ebay grab 'em, they're real good. In 1989 I went back out to do the "Never will Understand / Still Wanna Die" single and a couple more gigs, at Scream in Hollywood and the Music Machine again was out there with me that trip, and at the MM gig he and Sami Yaffa from Hanoi Rocks got up and did a few. It was the last time I played with Stiv. Great video of that one too.
3AM: Why the move to Nashville? Clearly, there is a great Country music scene there. How is the rock scene? When in Nashville, what should we check out?
CC: Believe it or not, I came down here to do demos with my old bass player and drummer, and I was supposed to be here for two weeks! I liked the place, decided to stay a couple of extra weeks just to hang out, and, as fate would have it, met my wife during those two weeks. I still have my return ticket!
As for the Rock and Roll scene, it's here, and it's not too small, but there really isn't much of an audience outside of the bands themselves. There are some very cool bands around, though, and some cool clubs. If ya ever pass through, check out the Slow Bar, the End, and Springwater as far as clubs go. There is a new place called the Church, which was an after-hours place for a long time, but I haven't played there yet so I can't really give it thumbs up or down. As for bands, you've gotta check out Dave Cloud's Gospel of Power and Turtleneck and the Sweats. And if you ever see Tommy Womack (ex Gov't Cheese) is playing, either in N'ville or anywhere else (he tours quite a bit), check him out.
3AM: I picked up Stiv Bators's L.A. L.A record the other day. He had such an ear for a great melody yet it wasn't lightweight, there's a gritty, almost dirtiness to it. What did you think of his solo and post-Dead Boys work?
CC: I hate to say it, but until he hooked up with the Lords I was never a big fan of Stiv's solo stuff... dunno why, it just never did anything for me. I loved the Wanderers, though, and I loved the Lords. I have a couple of later things he did in NYC with the Evil Boys that was pretty cool.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Matthew Wascovich edits the literary journal, Flat Bike & Banged Head, and is a co-editor at 3AM Magazine. Recent books include Application Counter and Milkly Lovely.