The greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world--originally from New York
City--founded in 1973 by Andy (Adny) Shernoff (bass, vocals and keyboards),
Ross (The Boss) Funichello (lead guitar), and Scott (Top Ten) Kempner
(rhythm guitar), who had met in 1970 and stayed in touch while attending
college and living the lives of young rock acolytes--Ross and Scott
wood-shedding with their instruments, Adny writing songs and publishing the
fanzine Teenage Wasteland Gazette.
The Dictators tried many drummers, eventually settling on Stu-Boy King, but
it was not until the spring of 1974, when, as a joke, Adny prodded The Dics'
longtime friend and incompetent roadie, Richard (Handsome Dick Manitoba)
Blum into getting up on stage and singing "Wild Thing", that The Dictators
really jelled. The crowd loved Dick's disheveled appearance and insane,
drunken ranting--his appropriation of the "bad-guy wrestler"
methodology--and The Dics were soon signed to Epic Records. Manitoba split the lead vocals
with Shernoff and was billed as a "Secret Weapon".
The Dictators Go Girl Crazy, their first album, was released in March 1975.
By then, Stu-Boy had been kicked out for being a jerk, and the band
rehearsed many drummers before enlisting Richard Teeter on the basis of his
excellent vocal harmonies. There was very little touring in support of the
album, and the joke was over most listeners' heads anyway--from the serious
angle, they were pre-punk, and from the humorous angle, they were pre-Spinal Tap.
The album sold only a few thousand copies (I paid retail, y'hear?! Not a
promo, not a cut-out, not a plastic-sealed collectors' item--RETAIL!!) and
The 'Tators were dumped by Epic. The band entered a period of desultory
non-activity and separate involvement in other peoples' projects.
Early in 1976, with the advent of Punk music in general and The Ramones in
particular, the New York rock 'n' roll scene began to look like a more
supportive environment for a rude, non-slick band with a
sense of humor, and The Dictators drifted back together. Adny had been
distancing himself from on-stage activities (though still writing songs),
so Mark (The Animal) Mendoza was enlisted to take over the bass-playing.
They still had to suffer the loss of all their equipment when their
rehearsal space collapsed, and the disability of Manitoba when his clowning got out of hand
during a performance by Wayne County and the transsexual singer broke Manitoba's
collarbone with a microphone stand -- leading to The Dictators being
black-listed around much of NYC -- before they got their shit together enough
to start gigging regularly. Still, by the spring of 1977 The Dictators had
been signed to Asylum Records and recorded and released their second album,
Manifest Destiny--a faster and louder, yet more layered version of The
Dictators' sound. Shernoff had been convinced by management to rejoin the
band on keyboards and vocals; for this record, there was touring. The
burgeoning Punk network of cool places to play across the country made it
possible for The Dics to find small places to headline, coast-to-coast, in
addition to their usual sets opening for more popular bands. At Winterland,
in San Francisco, they played a dual-headliner show with The Ramones (who
actually ended the show) and made the 'more-authentic' Punk band seem,
well, more mechanical.
By late '78, the initial music-business interest in the Punk music boom was
fading; it was obvious that publicity and fan excitement didn't guarantee
large-scale record sales, and this was even more apparent in the case of The
Dictators, who were both Punk and Metal, yet only enough to alienate most of
the hard-core members of both fan-bases. Mark Mendoza left the band to join
Twisted Sister, and The 'Tators, with Adny back on bass, released
Bloodbrothers, which was billed as a return to roots. It was recorded with
very little overdubbing and wasn't as funny as the previous records, but the
songwriting showed an emerging strain of social realism, and it rocked very
hard. This album probably represents the sound of The Dictators as a mature
band, but it was the last official studio album for at least 22 years.
Asylum promoted Bloodbrothers very weakly, and when it failed to sell, the
band was off the label. Richard Teeter left, to be replaced by Twisted
Sister's Mel Anderson; the band tried to continue but, inevitably, another
period of drift set in, marked by deep commitments by all of the core band
members to other projects. Amazingly, The Dictators have never officially
Throughout the '80s and '90s, The Dics have come together from time to time
for live appearances, even recording, in 1981, a cassette-only release, Fuck
'Em If They Can't Take A Joke (re-released on CD in 2000 as The Dictators
Live). Their songs have been included in the movie soundtracks of
Boys Don't Cry, Mondo New York, and Final Rinse. In
addition, the 1990 album by Manitoba's Wild Kingdom, ...And You?,
is essentially a Dictators recording, featuring Manitoba, Shernoff,
Funichello, and their new permanent drummer, J.P. "Thunderbolt" Patterson,
and, at last, a studio recording of the Dictators' standard, "New York, New
York" (with politically correctified lyrics, though). Most of The Dictators
have produced recordings by other bands. Scott Kempner was most visible in
the '80s with The Del-Lords-- later, with Dion and various solo projects.
Ross the Boss records with The Spinatras and runs a business with his wife.
Andy (mostly Andy, now) Shernoff has a list of production credits longer
than this node and works as a sommelier, to boot. J.P. Patterson is an actor
who has appeared on The Sopranos and Almost Famous. And Handsome Dick
Manitoba--he cleaned up his hard-drinkin' ways and opened a bar on the Lower
East Side of New York, called (what else?) Manitoba's;
The Dictators play there occasionally. Their old albums still trickle out in
digitally-remastered editions--they still rehearse--they still play around the
still record, with a new album due out in September 2001.....and most
importantly, listen up, THE DICTATORS ARE RIGHT!!!
Later: Sure enough, D.F.F.D. (Dictators Forever, Forever
Dictators) rolled out in October '01, delayed a month by the events of September. The band's
hybrid pop/metal sound continues unabated on this one, with obvious tips-of-the-hat to Chuck
Berry and a bunch of '70s influences: The Cars, AC/DC, The Romantics, Eddie Money
(jeez, remember him?) and Ted Nugent -- most of whom I wouldn't listen to again if you paid
me -- yet, somehow, it all becomes transformed in the mix into something that's greater than
its ingredients, a steaming mulligan stew of true rock 'n' roll.
I've been a Dictators fan for over 27 years and can hardly believe that they are now
eligible for inclusion in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame...not that that will ever happen. I
realize that I haven't given you a detailed description of what is so wonderful about The
Dics; it seems impossible. You ought to hop like a bunny over to www.thedictators.com,
the band's official web site, and look for news about upcoming shows, archived history, lyrics
and occasional downloadable goodies for the fans. They are crazy fun.