Interview: Cheetah Chrome talks Dead Boys' 40th anniversary
Plowboy Records

Cheetah Chrome has resurrected The Dead Boys...just in time to book a few bashes in honor of the iconic punk group’s 40th anniversary.

It’s a bona fide “Sonic Reducer” redux.

Formed in Cleveland’s cold winter in the mid-1970s, The Dead Boys—who ultimately relocated to New York—made waves in a burgeoning punk / hardcore movement scene whose members (Blondie, Ramones, etc.) would give arena rock, disco and adult contemporary music a run for its money. 

“Sonic Reducer” is now a classic, along with “All This and More,” “What Love Is,” and “Ain’t It Fun,” which was given a Guns N' Roses makeover in 1993.

Fronted by feisty Youngstown, Ohio native Steve “Stiv” Bators, the Dead Boys turned heads at Max’s Kansas City and CBGBs, where employee Genya Ravan befriended the five-piece and offered to produce their 1977 Sire debut Young, Loud & Snotty. The Dead Boys followed up a year later with the Felix Pappalardi (Mountain, Cream)-engineered We Have Come for Your Childrenbut by that time, drinking, drugs and debauchery were already dismantling the band dynamic.

Cheetah (born Eugene O’Connor) overcame his addiction and filled the guitar slot in The Casualties and The Stilettos. He also regrouped with Dave Thomas (Pere Ubu) in his pre-Dead Boys outfit Rocket From the Tombs and collaborated with Sylvain Sylvain (New York Dolls) in The Batusis. 

The 2010 autobiography A Dead Boy’s Tale: From the Front Lines of Punk Rock revisits Chrome’s personal and professional struggles in the ‘90s and ‘00s. In the 2012 film "CBGB," he was portrayed by Rubert Grint of "Harry Potter" movie fame.

Now Chrome is reconnecting with the past and bracing for a possible Dead Boys future: The guitarist reached out to original DB drummer Johnny Blitz Chrome to redo that first Dead Boys album on the occasion of its ruby jubilee. Still Young, Loud and Snotty at 40 is available now on CD and in digital formats.

Chrome and Blitz are taking the show on the road this September with a few new Dead Boys: Vocalist Jake Hout was recruited from a DB tribute band, bassist Ricky Rat is a legend in his native Detroit, and guitarist Jason “Ginchy” Kottwitz hails from the Texan hardcore group The Bulemics.

We rang Cheetah last week to talk about the new disc, the upcoming tour and 40 years of being a Dead Boy.

AXS: How did the Young, Loud & Snotty remake came about?

Cheetah Chrome: We started off with me and Ginchy; he’s been in my solo band for about four years. We decided we were going to start doing Young, Loud & Snotty—the whole set—to celebrate the anniversary. I’d been catching up with Johnny Blitz, just talking. I asked if he’d want to go on the road with us. So we did a couple nights in Japan that went over really well. We decided to keep it going with him and the band. And we were aware of this other band called The Undead Boys from Oakland, California. They were this tribute band that dressed up like zombies! We checked ‘em out on YouTube and they were really great! And it turns out Ginchy knew them. So we did a show at The Whiskey a Go-Go and San Francisco shows and asked their singer and bass player to join us. And they totally blew away all our expectations. Jake is a really good singer when it comes to channeling Stiv, plus he’s an excellent performer in his own right. People were coming up to me after the Whiskey show saying, “That guy, you gotta keep him!” Even friends of Stiv were saying it. I figured, well if they were saying it, maybe I should give it some thought. So we decided to tour like that, and he got with me and Ginchy and Johnny. And the other bass player, Mike, he would’ve done this tour, but his wife was pregnant and he didn’t want to spend the first six months of his kids’ life on the road! So he had to vie out. So we got Ricky Rat in to replace him. He’s an old friend of mine. We’ve known each other since the ‘90s.

AXS: Did you have any flashbacks while recording? Any memories, good or bad, of the first time around?

CC: Yeah, especially when Jake was doing vocals. He really added stuff. Stiv doubled his vocals. He’d do a live-sounding vocal, and then he’d track a cleaner vocal behind it. Jake did the same thing, and it sounded downright spooky! It sounded great coming through the monitors, and it was like déjà vu for me, in a good way. We were happy that happened, because it was almost like Stiv was there giving his blessing.

AXS: Was there some sense of relief in being able to revisit the music as an older, wiser performer?

CC: Well, we took more time organizing. The first time the Dead Boys toured, we were partying with the Hell’s Angels and all that. There was a lot more chaos. So we liked doing it this time. We still have it, and Blitz and I still click when we play. Also, that first album was supposed to be a demo; it wasn’t supposed to be released like it was. That’s part of the reason we did this. We wanted to do something special for the anniversary, maybe do the album so people had a souvenir to take home from the shows. We decided to give it a go—to record and see what we sounded like—so that’s what we did.

AXS: What made The Dead Boys leave Cleveland for New York in the first place?

CC: Cleveland always had this attitude about bands where it’s like, “Oh, they can’t be any good because they’re from here! They live just right down the street from me!” So we’d always been regarded like that, and we thought we weren’t going to get anywhere there. We analyzed what happened with Rocket, and figured things might be different if maybe we just got out of town and went up to New York. So we decided to just load up the van and go. We’d been hearing how great it was from Peter [Laughner, guitarist from RFFT, Per Ubu], who’d made trips up and back. Joey Ramone helped us get a gig at CBGBs, and we never looked back from there!

AXS: Your autobiography was great. There’s a lot of Dead Boys history spelled out in the pages. You eventually moved from New York to Nashville?

CC: I should update the book. Since the book came out I’ve gotten divorced, and I’m living in Austin, Texas now. I’m on hiatus from the label now. Day-to-day I don’t have anything to do with running it, but at the time I was an A&R guy. And I was one of the founders. So I’m still there in spirit, one of the figureheads, so to speak.

AXS: Will you guys be playing any songs from the second Dead Boys record?

CC: We’ll mix ‘em up. We’ll do Young, Loud & Snotty front-to-back, then some stuff later. There’s some stuff from the other record. And maybe a few covers and stuff from my other records, too. We might get around to doing a new record, a proper record with this lineup, but right now we’re focusing on the anniversary.

AXS: In retrospect, would you have approached the making of that second album differently, too?

CC: Yeah! Maybe recorded with a different sound, or not recorded it at all! I wasn’t happy with it at all. The band sounded so great live, but then they stuck us with a guy in Miami who didn’t understand us. Felix was a great guy and we got along fine, but in the studio he was trying to rearrange songs and stuff. We would’ve been open to his ideas if they’d been good ideas, but they weren’t good ideas. Like, the dog barking on “Son of Sam.” That was him.

AXS: Being a young guy from the Midwest, was Miami a huge cultural shock? Lots of warm weather and partying 24/7?

CC: It was my first time there. Back then it was all Marshall Tucker and Lynyrd Skynyrd! We didn’t fit in! We had the Bee Gees in one studio, Firefall in another studio. It was the big studio back then. The best part for me was hanging out with The Bee Gees a lot. They were really good guys—and it turns out they hated doing disco as much as we hated hearing ‘em do it!

More info on The Dead Boys tour here and here.