The Dictators Story

By John Holmstrom and Mark Rosenthal

1971--Andy Shernoff was going to school at the State University of New Paltz. New Paltz was and is a thriving hippie community in upstate New York, about two hours drive from the city (near Woodstock). Andy started his first band--Grand Funk Salinsky--with Robert Cirkell and Steve Schenck. The group was named after Marty Salinsky, Steve's roommate and the local verbal punching bag. Andy's favorite self-penned songs at that time were "Sit On My Face" and "Cocaine Cowboy." "Two Tub Man" was the first song he ever wrote.

About six months later Andy started Teenage Wasteland Gazette--a mimeographed fanzine that mostly made fun of the people he went to school with--and did rock writing for Creem and Oui. Two months after Andy (now Adny) started TWG he got famed rock writer Richard Meltzer to lecture at the school on rock'n'roll. Meltzer showed up, looked out into the audience, and excused himself. He threw up into the hallway and split with the lecture fee.

Ross Funicello went to Lehman College in the Bronx (the Dictators' fatherland) but dropped out to hand out upstate, drink beer, get laid, and play guitar.

Scott Kempner also went to Lehman College, where he hung out and jammed with Ace (KISS) Frehley. At this time he was very clean cut and hung out at the Magenta Street playground and lives at home with his mom, dad, and little sister.

1972--Ross is playing with his first band--Total Crudd--the local hippie band in Highland, N.Y. They live and rehearse in The Out of It House (so named 'cause everyone there was so stoned and drunk all the time they were really out of it). They'd throw wild parties for 200 people and more, handing out baggies at the door to those people they knew would throw up. The parties ended at about 5:00 A.M. Most people would pass out on the floor. At 6:00 A.M. Ross would wake up everyone playing along to MC5 records full blast. Andy, Ross, Scott and Richard all hung out at the parties.

In October 1972 Scott, Ross, Andy, and Banana (the Total Crudd drummer) jammed together at the the Bagel house party calling themselves The Fabulous Moolah. Andy talked Ross into quitting Total Crudd and starting a band with him. Andy quits Teenage Wasteland Gazette, handing the editorial chores over to cub reporter Richard "Chinacat" Blum. No more issues ever come out. There are still Total Crudd tapes in existence that show Ross's prowess. There's still one issue of Teenage Wasteland Gazette waiting to come out.

1973--In January the group moved into a house in Kehonksen, N.Y., where Karen from Poughkeepsie supported and fed them. Scott's room is full of Iggy Pop pictures, Andy's room was bare except for a typewriter. Billy Sheehan was the drummer.

Through Richard Meltzer (Borneo Jimmy) they meet Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman--managers of the Blue Oyster Cult and notorious in their own right. The Dictators recorded a demo for them over the summer. The drummer left so they put out ads and auditioned drummers and chose Louie Lyons. They rehearsed and worked and played around at parties and stuff. Louie Lyons quit after a few months. They put out ads and auditioned drummers and chose Stu Boy King, mostly because he had a nice set of drums and a rich millionaire detective father.

In November they played their first professional show opening for Iggy and the Stooges and Blue Oyster Cult at the Prince George Community College in Maryland. The Dictators are Adny, Scott, Ross and Stu Boy.

Their first professional show in New York was at the Portchester Theatre during a blizzard where 300 snowbound hard core rock'n'roll fans were treated to two sets by the acts. After Portchester, the 'tators started rehearsing a lot and played at the Coventry in Queens, where they'd often heckle and call out the other groups calling them fags, wimps and homos. Remember--this is 1973 when glitter is in. Dictators weren't.

"'Cause you know baby, I'm the Next Big Thing"*

1974--The famous Popeye's Incident--March 29th

Popeye's was a derelict bar in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. The clientele should have gone to Alcoholics Anonymous. The bar tried live rock'n'roll to boost business. The Dogs (who still play in Los Angeles), opened the night. The late great Eric Emerson fronted the Dogs. The Dictators played their usual set--Fireman's Friend, Master Race Rock, Backstreet Boogie, Back to Africa, Weekend. Adny asked Richard Blum, one of their roadies, to come up on stage. He slammed into "Wild Thing," giving one of the great live performances of that song in this century, despite the fact that he had never set foot on a stage before in his whole life except to fix the mikes or set up the drums wrong. Something happened. All the bums in the bar--proud to see a fellow derelict make it big--went NUTS. They liked this degenerate so much they started climbing the bar stools, throwing bottles, and screaming for more, more more$$ They danced and ranted and raved--not realizing that Handsome Dick Manitoba was born.

Richard Blum--a madman in those days. He ate twenty eggs a day. Restaurants couldn't fill his orders for lunch 'cause he ordered so much. He wore a giant afro haircut and a bad skin problem. He caused a lot of the trouble that got them thrown out of the press parties they'd connive their way into 'cause [he'd] eat so many 'ludes. He cooked for the Dictators and worked as a roadie--smashing equipment, totalling the rented equipment trucks, losing amplifiers, and screwing up the sound.

The Next Big Thing--The Dictators continued to play the Coventry but Richard was not an official member of the band yet. A friend of the band set up a gig on their home turf--the Bronx. Six hundred people came to see them at a party on May 3rd, 1974. The Dictators played an amazing set and Handsome Dick Manitoba came on dressed in somebody's father's bathrobe as a special surprise guest.

Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman were in the audience and were stupified by Manitoba as he and the band did "Wild Thing" and the classic "I Got You Babe." The next week Sandy and Murray wanted to sign up the band--with Manitoba as an official member. None of the Dictators understood why. Richard could not sing. Sandy and Murray thought the guy was funny. They thought it would be a good joke to get this group signed to a record contract. They threatened to take a bigger percentage of royalties if Manitoba didn't join. Richard was welcomed with open arms.

They signed with Epic records. Pearlman and Krugman are signed on as their managers and producers for the next five albums.

In August and September the Dictators record their first album--The Dictators Go Girl Crazy--(NOT Go Girl Crazy as is commonly misinterpreted). During this summer they headline at the Coventry.

October 31st, 1974--Halloween--Dictators' concert at the Stardust Ballroom. Manitoba does his infamous White Castle french fries act, during which he ate hamburgers and threw bags of french fries at the audience, yelling "Rock'n'roll? BAH!! Who needs it?!"

The next day they left to go on tour with Nazareth. They left feeling very confident that they'd blow Nazareth off the stage. They were cocky, and sure that they made the Big Time.

When they got there nobody had heard of them--least of all the booking agent of the gig they were supposed to play that night. They came back to New York.

They toured with Blue Oyster Cult for a few concerts. At Bergen Community College Manitoba got the crowd so crazy they started throwing their chairs at him. Eric the roadie had to drag Dick off the stage.

1975--By March the record was seven months late for release. There was a lot of personal conflicts and infighting. Everything came to a head one night when Stu Boy was driving the group home after a gig. He drove about twenty hours and handed the wheel to someone else so he could get some shut eye. The Dictators were mad at him for various reasons. When he woke up, they were at the George Washington Bridge. He threatened to quit unless they gave him a ride all the way home. They took him to his word, leaving him with his suitcases. They wouldn't let him back in the band. They put out ads and auditioned drummers (about 100--twice as many as before).

The record came out.

"Special Thanks to Epic Records who obviously know a contender when they see one." (from The Dictators Go Girl Crazy)

Soon after the record came out, it was considered a flop along with the rest of the group and The Dictators were dropped from the label. Instant collector's item.

The Dictators went on. Out of the auditions, they chose Richard Teeter for a drummer. The first time he auditioned he was turned down. He went back a second time, because no one had ever had the nerve to do that to him before. When they heard him sing "I Can't Explain," they realized they had a great drummer and the only guy in the group who could sing. Dick Destiny was with the band for a short time, staying long enough to write a few lines on "Hey Boys" (on their second album). He left to pursue a solo career and is now signed to Columbia Records.

The Dictators called it quits on September 9th, 1975. They played their last gig ever at the Ms. All Bare America Pageant. They got booed off the stage. After this gig, Scott and Ross formed a band with Helen Wheels, Andy went back to writing, and Richard lived with his mom, dad, and little sister in Co-op City.

Meanwhile the record begins amassing rave reviews from all over. The only other bands from New York City to put out records were the New York Dolls and Kiss.

1976--January and February find the Dictators reassembled for different reasons. Andy continues to write songs but does not function as a member of the group. He writes "Steppin' Out" to explain his absence. Helen Wheels writes "The Kiss-Off" to Scott and Ross for leaving her band in the middle of rehearsals. The Dicks rehearse at a Brooklyn Navy Yard loft. One day Mark Mendoza hot-rodded in from Long Island to audition for the Dictators. This big hairy guy who looked like he got kicked out of the Hell's Angels for bad manners walked in, demanded a job in the group, and played tougher than he looked. He added a lot of needed energy into the Dictators. A few weeks later, the building they rehearsed in collapsed, destroying all their equipment.

"I don't want music, I want pain!"

March 1976--The Wayne County Incident

Richard, depressed over the group's troubles, was drunk on Johnny Walker Red (all he ever drinks) and heckled Wayne County, who was playing at C.B.G.B.'s. Dick was on his way to the men's room so he stepped over the stage. He called Wayne County a homo. Wayne called him a fat fuck and slugged him with a microphone stand. A brawl ensued. Andy and Stu Boy rushed Richard to the hospital. Sixteen stitches and a broken collarbone were the result. Sandy and Murray brought legal action against Wayne County and Wayne's manager Peter Crowley, who booked all the acts at Max's Kansas City. The case was eventually thrown out of court.

The Dictators were blacklisted by Crowley, who put pressure on other club owners not to book the Dictators. The New York scene pretty much despised the Dictators anyhow. Most people pronounced the Dictators obnoxious, loud, arrogant, ill-mannered, and dumb--all this despite the fact that very few people at this point had ever seen them.

The Punk staff managed to convince Maggie (of the famous Maggie's bar at Ninth Avenue and 30th Street) to book them into Zeppz, a new rock club that hoped to cash in on the new music. The Dictators triumphantly opened Zeppz, filling it past capacity . . . the gig was marred only by Kongress, who played for the first time. Kongress is so bad that the Dictators threaten to break their equipment if they dare to inflict their noise on the audience again. Otto Kongress put a curse on them.

The Dicks' lineup at this time is Ross, Scott, Mark, Richie and Richard. Steve Schenck is their road manager and fills in on keyboards. Slowly but surely, the word goes out that the Dictators are on the prowl. They play at the Club 82, which is forced to yield to popular pressure to book them and ignore Crowley's threats of blacklisting Max's groups from the 82. Finally, Hilly takes a chance and books the 'tators into C.B.G.B. on a Monday night. He also raises the door from $3 to $4 for the first time. The Dictators pack C.B.G.B. that night and still hold the record for Monday night admissions.

They negotiate a contract to put out another record. Oddly enough, the Wayne County incident has made them a hot property. Shortly before signing a contract, S&M, their managers, talk Andy into rejoining the group, threatening to bite into his publishing royalties if he doesn't. Andy starts playing with the Dictators again at the Club 82. Although he's not really into the heavy metal sound and wants to start a vocal group and be like the Hollies, he figures he should finish what he started and make the Dictators into one of the biggest acts to hit the rock'n'roll stage.

That is how the Dictators formed. Since then, they've toured with KISS, Uriah Heep, Starz, and other dinosaurs of rock and roll, played the Winterland in San Francisco with the Ramones, because the first N.Y. punk band to open the Palladium--NYC's premier professional concert hall--and show all the signs of proving, after all these years of trials and tribulations, that
"Rock'n'roll made a man out of me
Took a while for the whole world to see"

*All lyrics copyright Sure Enough Tunes, 1975, 1977.
*Written by Adny Shernoff.

"God bless the Dictators and everything they stand for."--Joey the Bartender
Joey is an ultra conservative Irish bartender at a bar in the Bronx where the Dictators hung out at. He hates the Dictators and everything they stand for and he'll say it and he means it. He carries a gun in his back pocket.

Article by John Holmstrom 1998, original article copyright John Holmstrom and Punk magazine 1977. Article reprinted with permission.