Dead Boys

Driving north into downtown Cleveland you’ll notice to the east a number of large factories, some belching fire from the furnace smokestacks.  To the west is the city’s gritty shipping transportation hub known as The Flats.  Both of these places represent the birthplace of The Dead Boys.......

Drawing by Jack Snyder

There is a bit of myth, legend, rumor, truth, and falsehood regarding the start of the band.  After all these years, it really is impossible to figure out the true story, everyone involved I’m sure has a different telling of events and some of those involved are no longer walking this earth.  But, this much is certain: in 1974, the core lineup of Rocket From The Tombs, which was always in flux, came to be David Thomas, Cheetah Chrome, Craig Bell, Peter Laughner, and Johhny Madansky.  At some point, after recording some demos, playing a few gigs, and achieving some radio airplay, the band split into 2 camps: Pere Ubu and the pre-Dead Boys band, Frankenstein.  They also split up the songs, some of which are a canon of American independent underground music.

Cheetah, Johnny, and a crazed 99 pound singer named Stiv Bators formed the nucleus of the initial lineup of Frankenstein.  The original band name was soon dropped and with the addition of Jimmy Zero and Jeff Magnum (along with the rechristened Johnny Blitz), the Dead Boys were born.

While that may sound a bit convoluted and I’m sure that the facts as described above are subject to interpretation, there is no doubt about this: The Dead Boys were the wildest, craziest, raunchiest, and incendiary of all the first generation punk rock bands emerging in the United States.  Gigs in the Cleveland and Akron area were truly events: playing The Crypt, an Akron bar co-opted by members of The Rubber City Rebels, the gig ended as if it were a pro wrestling match as a scuffle between Cheetah and Mark Mothersbaugh erupted.

Sometime in early summer, 1976, the band decided to relocate to New York City, and I don’t suspect that the band members thought they were too big for Cleveland’s britches.  Apparently, Joey Ramone convinced them to do so and as with all rock and rollers looking for an elusive recording contract, heading east or west is almost always the only choice.  The Dead Boys went east to find their fortunes, Pere Ubu went farther east enjoying their successes mostly in Europe, The Rubber City Rebels and Devo went west to see what Los Angeles could offer.  That’s just the way it was done in the 1970s.

And, success they did find. The band became one of the de facto house bands at CBGBs, sharing bills with all the big American punk rock names of the day.  A sort of Cleveland night CBGBs gig with Devo ended in another scuffle between the bands, as to be expected.  The Dead Boys soon caught the eye of a growing label, Sire Records and proceeded to put the craziness to tape.


Managing two studio records for Sire, both are must haves in any record collection showcasing the era.  The first record, Young Loud and Snotty, is allegedly demos recorded in anticipation of a deal.  Nevertheless, the record screams with punk rock anthems, some of which the band grabbed as part of the initial Rocket From The Tombs split.  Of those, Sonic Reducer is the most well known and represents the best punk rock anthem ever produced by a band from Cleveland.

Hoping for larger fame, the label had the band take on a more glam appearance for the second record, hired a top producer who never produced a punk rock record before or since, and shipped the band to Miami to record.  Some consider the effort to be inferior, I don’t.  The record itself is full of high speed screamers, especially 3rd Generation Nation, Catholic Boy, Calling On You, and one last song from the Rocket From The tombs cache: Ain’t It Fun.

Things burned out quickly after the release of the second record.  That’s how lots of bands end up: money, drugs, everyday stress and pressures: these things add up to create a demise that befalls nearly every great band.  One of the band’s final gigs was a benefit for Johnny Blitz, held at CBGBs of course.  Johnny had been stabbed in a street fight and needed money to recover, the ranks of the band filled out by a few members of the New York Dolls and none other than John Belushi.

But, otherwise, that was it, an incredibly bright but short lived flame.  The members went their separate ways, playing music and seeking the greater fame they certainly deserved.  Stiv found it with Lords of the New Church and made his way into a film or two, most notably a John Waters flick, Polyester.  His life was sadly cut short after being injured while crossing the street in Paris.  Cheetah played in numerous lineups, later reforming Rocket From The Tombs to great attention and then later reforming The Dead Boys with Johnny Blitz.

“Alright you animals in this rock and roll zoo…Sire Recording artists from Cleveland Ohio, the incredible and phenomenal, Dead Boys!”

Frank Mauceri