Like The New York Dolls, The Dictators were punk forerunners. Mixing dumb metal riffs with junk culture lyrics, their influence would soon be heard in the songs of The Ramones, Dead Kennedys and Black Flag.
Rock writer Andy Shernoff gave up a promising career doing reviews for Creem and other magazines and chose writing and playing rock music as his life’s work.
Along with ‘Top Ten’ Kempner and Ross The Boss on guitars, Andy put together The Dictators, who set about gaining a devoted following, partly through their offbeat sense of humour.
Years before The Sex Pistols were even heard of, Dick Manitoba (an ex-roadie and The Dictators’ “secret weapon”) was singing about gorging food, drinking beer, going with girls, and watching B-movies.
Their debut album The Dictators Go Girl Crazy! (1975) was one of the first punk records long before that term was coined. Master Race Rock opened with the declaration that “Hippies are squares with long hair and they don’t wear no underwear” and ended with a chant of “Let’s go!” repeated 13 times.
Not long after Go Girl Crazy! was released, Epic ditched them. Bad management, badly planned tours, and inter-band bickering had not helped.
The album did not attract mass interest until 1977, by which time bands like The Ramones had minted their own brand of high-energy cartoon punk and The Dictators were sadly relegated to the sidelines.
The second album, Manifest Destiny (1977), was an attempt to be more mainstream and follow bands like KISS into the arenas, playing simplified heavy metal for teenagers.
Despite the conscious effort to reach a mass audience, the album failed commercially. It did, however, serve one invaluable function – it got The Dictators to tour England, an experience that changed the band forever.
The band embraced New Wave and returned to the States with new-found enthusiasm, free of the mainstream arena consciousness that had mired them.
Heading into the studio, they recorded Bloodbrothers (1978) in a matter or days and made their play for New Wave stardom.
The album’s Baby, Let’s Twist was a minor hit on a number of east coast radio stations, but the lack of mainstream success caused the band to split the following year.
The members of the band began reuniting occasionally and in 1981, released the cassette-only Fuck ‘Em If They Can’t Take a Joke.
Drummer Richie Teeter died on 10 April 2012, aged 61, due to complications from oesophagal cancer. Original drummer Stuart ‘Stu Boy’ King died from pancreatic cancer on 1 May 2018.
Scott ‘Top Ten’ Kempner retired from the music scene in 2021 after being diagnosed with dementia. He passed away on 29 November 2023, aged 69.
Handsome Dick Manitoba (Richard Blum)
Bass, guitar, keyboards, vocals
Scott ‘Top Ten’ Kempner
Ross ‘The Boss’ Friedman
Lead guitar, vocals
Stuart ‘Stu Boy’ King