When the Dead Boys left the sleepy Cleveland of ’76 and moved to New York City, they stormed headfirst into the downtown hurricane that came to be known as punk rock. All sneering, Juvie attitude and fistfight swagger, the Dead Boys played Stones to the Ramones’ Beatles, and quickly earned a reputation as the toughest band around. With a blistering guitar assault courtesy of Jimmy Zero and the great Cheetah Chrome, the band was fronted by the careening, pint-sized Stiv Bators—considered by none other than Iggy Pop to be one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll singers of all time. Stiv had Iggy’s act down—he’d crawl, fall, prowl the stage, slash himself. But where Iggy was always strangely rock royalty, Stiv was a hundred percent underdog. The Stooges were pure, drugged-up muscle and sleaze—Iggy once described their fans as “pre-Christian”—but the Dead Boys were Bowery bruisers, hanging on to rock ’n’ roll for dear life. Rage, fear, sex, death—it was all right there in the songs, captured forever on their perfect and perfectly titled debut album Young, Loud and Snotty. They had no angle, no gimmick. They were just a great band doing everything they could to blow the roof off any bar that booked them. The Dead Boys played CBGBs like every show was the end of the world—which, for them, it could have been.
“We were a little faster and worse than most,” Cheetah Chrome chuckles. He’s not talking about their music. The Dead Boys picked up where the Stooges left off in more ways than one.
“Discipline wasn’t exactly in our vocabulary,” Chrome continues, “but you had to be on your toes back then. There were all these great bands. You were definitely being watched. If you sucked, you heard about it. I loved it, though. Cleveland was so boring and then all of a sudden we were set loose in this great place.” He laughs. “I felt like a hippie. Like a hippie at a love-in.”
The Dead Boys performing “Sonic Reducer” at CBGB, 1978.