Mick Burgess and The Dictators NYC

Last year they played their first European shows in 37 years and New York Punk legends, The Dictators loved it so much they are back again for more. Mick Burgess chatted to Handsome Dick Manitoba and Ross The Boss on the eve of the tour.

Last summer you were in the UK for your first shows here in 37 years. How did it feel to be back?

Last summer we played the most shows over the fewest number of days that we’ve ever done. Those European shows and especially the UK dates, I can honestly tell you, I’ve never had a better time in my life. I have a wonderful life; a wonderful home with a wonderful wife, son and cat. I love being at home with them so the actual anxiety of separation is difficult so the weeks leading up to the tour I drove them crazy but once I was gone and back with the boys on tour I was focussed on the shows. Those shows were great and went so well that even before the tour was over our manager already had a load of offers for a tour this year, which we are now well into. I miss home and my family, I miss New York when I’m on tour but when I’m at home I miss being on the road. You know what I call that? I call that a good life.

Why has it taken so long for you to come back?

We were waiting for one man. That man was acting like a leader and we allowed him to act like a leader. People would come into my bar, which I’ve owned for 15 years called Manitoba’s in New York City and they’d ask from all over the world when we were going to tour overseas. I’d go to Andy Shernoff, the songwriter and ask when we were going to do it and he always had a reason not to do it. I thought I’d put nearly 40 years of my life into this band and everyone wants us to do it. So we just said we are doing it, see you Andy and that’s it. We did it and we are glad we did because now we are back again.

What are you lining up for this tour?

Well it’s the 40th anniversary of Go Girl Crazy so we might do something to mark that and do it in chronological order in the middle of the set with the rest of the show full of all the best Dictators songs that everybody loves from our other records.

You are now going out under the name Dictators NYC. Even though you have two original members and JP Patterson has been with you since the early 1990’s. Was that decision taken out of respect for the original line up or was someone waving some court papers at you?

That’s done out of total respect to the original line up. There’s one guy who doesn’t want to do it; there’s one guy, Scott, who’d love to do it but can’t as he’s busy with The Del Lords. We’re doing this out of respect to the original band even though JP, our drummer, has been in the band five times longer than any of our other drummers. You know in Spinal Tap where all the drummers implode, well JP refuses to implode which is why he’s still with us. We have Ross The Boss, the original guitarist and me the frontman. Scott has given us his blessing so here we are.

Your current line-up includes Daniel Rey on guitar. He also was Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom with you for a while. When did you first cross paths?

I’ve known Daniel for years. He was in a band with Phil Caivano from Monster Magnet called Shrapnel years ago when they were kids. Phil still carries around a ticket for a show he went to with AC/DC and The Dictators at The Palladium. We were big pals with AC/DC, they liked us a lot which I’m very proud of.

He has quite some pedigree producing The Ramones, D-Generation and Raging Slab amongst others. What do you feel that Daniel bring to the band?

The pedigree that impresses me the most with Daniel is The Ramones and Ronnie Spector……and me!! He brings so much to The Dictators and has great musical knowledge and is an incredible musician and a great guy.

You also have Dean Rispler on bass. How did he end up in The Dictators?

Dean has worked with Daniel for many, many years and they’re good friends. Daniel recommended Dean to us and he’s a great bass player. If you have a tight rhythm section, a great drummer and guitar team and if I can say it, a charismatic frontman, then you have the makings of a great Rock ‘n’ Roll band and I think that’s where I think we are.

You seem to have this strong rapport with your fans and spend a lot of time after shows chatting with them. Is it important to you to keep that contact with your fans?

A band like KISS is very successful and they set themselves up as comic book superhero characters. They’re bigger than life but there’s a barrier, we are the Rock stars, you are the fans so there’s a separation. I am a blue collar Rock star. I’m the luckiest man in the world. I get paid money to travel around and play Rock ‘n’ Roll being adored. That doesn’t make me better or bigger than anyone, it makes me luckier. I like to lower the barrier and go with the people and party.

You have quite a legacy as a band and are often viewed as the link between The Stooges and MC5 to the UK Punk bands the Sex Pistols and The Damned. How do you view your legacy in music?

That’s a hard question to answer because it’s a very self-conscious question. We’re just a bunch of guys who love The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and The Beach Boys. We love Surf music and we love Metal and the British Invasion. We love Rock ‘n’ Roll history. We thought the coolest thing in the world was to be in a Rock ‘n’ Roll band. You wind up doing what you want to do and it’s up to other people to decide. We’re just a Rock ‘n’ Roll band, one with a strong Punk vein. We were a fibrous part of CBGB’s from the beginning to the end. I wouldn’t say we were the quintessential Punk band by far but we had our own way and I think we connected with people and we still do even after all these years have passed. I just like to think that people see us as a great, honest Rock ‘n’ Roll band.

Bruce Springsteen was a fan of The Dictators and legend has it that he does the count in to “Faster Louder”. Is that true or just an urban myth?

That’s no urban myth. We were in a place called the Record Plant in New York and Bruce was down the hall in another studio. We were a bunch of guys from The Bronx and they were a bunch of guys from New Jersey and we just hit it off. Bruce was great, Clarence was great. They were all great, we were friends with all of them. When Bruce was a huge star, he did three shows at the Madison Square Garden, then he did three nights at The Palladium, which is a 3000 seater but is no longer there. One night I was in the audience and when it came to the encore he came out in a Dictators shirt and said this one is for HD and the boys and he did Born to Run for us. Later when we were in the studio he invited us over to listen to some new songs he was doing and they were great. He never let anyone in the studio when he was working, not even the record label executives but he invited us in. So in return we asked him to record with us so he did the count in for Faster Louder. I stayed in touch over the years and I’d invite Little Steven to some of my parties and he asked me to be one of the DJ’s on his radio station. So I get paid to talk Rock ‘n’ Roll on the radio several nights a week. I get to do different things that I love to do and get paid and that’s all down to the friendship we had with Bruce and his band all those years ago.

Go Girl Crazy was recently voted at number 1 of the Top 50 American Punk albums in Uncut magazine. Did you realise at the time you were making that album that you were creating something so different for the times?

We had zero idea. When we made that album we were just a bunch of teenagers. We thought we were the coolest guys in the world. We thought everything we did was cool and then we put it out and it was an abject failure. No one got it, no one liked it except for a few people. What can I tell you? I now get men coming into my bar with their 20 year old kids saying that they turned their kids onto this record then their kid goes “This record is amazing”. History is littered with artists who died before their brilliance was discovered. I’m not saying we are brilliant, but we are appreciated and we lived long enough for something to be appreciated when it was a failure at first. It’s a miracle. The Velvet Underground didn’t sell and The Ramones didn’t sell and look at how they are appreciated now all these years later. They are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a million people started bands because of them.

As with many of the musical pioneers such as Velvet Underground and The Ramones, album sales weren’t as high as the recognition you receive now. Do you feel a bit cheated that some of the inferior bands that followed you sold more records?

I don’t partake in that. That’s all rubbish. I’m going to quote myself here. “You deserve what you deserve and you get what you get” You know what, maybe we deserved being a lot bigger and a lot richer but we got what we got. But at 60, travelling to Europe and getting money to pay my bills and people love my band. I don’t care what I didn’t get. I focus on what I got and what I got is GREAT !!

Your second album Manifest Destiny was more commercial than Go Girl Crazy. Did your record label at the time pressure you into trying to go for radio play and hit singles?

It was a combination of things. We were depressed that the rest of the world didn’t think we were as cool as we thought we were. We then tried to be arena Rock and fell flat on our face then we came to London in ’77 and saw the amazing Punk Rock transformation that took the American Punk a step further so we went back to our roots on our third album. I actually still like our second album, Science Gone Too Far is a kicking song and Young Fast Scientific too. Sure there’s some corny stuff on there but there’s a lot of good stuff too. Some of it sounds like a reach to American radio as Boston were big at that time but Andy’s lyrics were so atypical and my persona was so atypical that it was a hard sell to middle America so we went right back to our roots after that.

Why did you get Mark Mendoza in to play bass on that especially as Andy was still in the band?

We wanted to have a good bass player..Ha Ha!! Mark was a phenomenal bass player and we wanted to bolster up the sound of the band. We were thrown out on the road with Blue Oyster Cult, KISS, Rush, Foreigner and ZZ Top, Billy and Dusty were real gentlemen and loved our music, but that’s not what we were about. Our management wanted to throw us out there and see if we could stick. We worked much better at a smaller level but in the end we came back to our roots and Andy came back on bass and we did Blood Brothers which was pretty much all done live in the studio. We made a statement with that and it’s so heartening to hear people say all these years later how much they love it. I think Blood Brothers stands up against anything that any of the British bands played.

Talking of Mark Mendoza back in the early ’80’s Twisted Sister and Manowar were involved in slanging matches in the press and I think at one point Dee Snider challenged you for a fight. What was that all about or was it something the press made up to create a story from nothing?

Back in the day I’d go on stage and jam with them wherever they were playing as they were playing clubs constantly around New York at that time. I was great friends with those guys and remember telling Dee Snider when Manowar got their recording contract with EMI. All of a sudden Joey DeMaio did an interview with Sounds newspaper and was challenging Twisted Sister to a fight. I was like, what happened, what did you say? These are my friends. Dee was going crazy and blowing up like a madman. This was like High School again. What did happen though is that it blew both bands up in the British press and we got a lot of coverage from it. We sorted it out with each other after that. It was just one of things that gets blown up in the press but it ended up being pretty good for both bands in the end.

On your third album Blood Brothers there a great cover, “Slow Death” by The Flaming Groovies and is an example of how to take someone else’s song and make it your own. What was it about that song that made you want to “Dictatorfy” it?

It’s funny that you use that expression as I use phrases like that on my radio show. If I play Joan Jett I’ll end up saying that she “Jett-ises” it or the way The Clash, “Clashised” I Fought The Law. They made it their own. We were big friends with the Flaming Groovies. I had a big drug problem at one time and I beat it. I felt a real kinship with the lyrics in that song and we love the song but that one hit a nerve with me.

After Blood Brothers was released in 1978 it would be 12 years until you recorded together again. Why did you release And You as Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom and not as The Dictators?

I think that if you think of The Dictators as Superman then Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom was Clark Kent. Andy called me up one day and said he was in the mood to make a real Hard Rock record and it captured a subgenre of Heavy Metal that was popular at that time called Speed Metal, well half a side of the album was like that. It was a little different to The Dictators so we called it something different. They were great two minute songs but it was a one off.

It was another 11 years for D.F.F.D in 2001. Why revert to The Dictators name?

We wanted to get back to what The Dictators was all about. Great kick ass Rock ‘n’ Roll with a strong Punk element with some Pop and Surf music thrown in for good measure.

Can we expect a new album any time soon?

I hate to sound hazy or vague but we are working on stuff, we’re excited about it. When the song is right and ready and we think “Hey, this sounds good”, that’s when the song will come out. As Orson Welles once said “We’ll have no wine, before its time”. That is the way we look at it but we are hoping to have a 2 song vinyl single to sell as a minimum very soon. I want that to happen really bad but if 8 more songs come along, we’ll release something bigger.

Ross, talking of Orson Welles, how did you get him to appear on your first album with Manowar, Battle Hymns?

We were signed to EMI and we needed a voice to go with our song Dark Avenger and we were with our rep in New York Bob Currie and were throwing names around like James Earl Jones, Sir Christopher Lee and then I mentioned Orson Welles and we all thought, that’s the guy. Bob found the name of his manager and it was fortunate that he was due in town for The Night of 1000 Stars musical. We contacted the manager and sent him the lyrics and he wanted to do it. We were floored. We couldn’t believe that he wanted to do it and that’s how it happened. He recorded the voice for Defender too that came out on our Fighting The World album later on.

On 26th May you play in Newcastle up in the North of England. Newcastle has a pretty special meaning to you Ross as this is where the idea for Manowar first came about. How did that happen?

The story goes like this. After the Dictators went on hiatus for a while in 79 I hooked up with this band from Paris called Shakin Street who was discovered by Sandy Pearlman who just happened to be my manager as well as Blue Oyster Cult and amazingly Black Sabbath at the time. Shakin Street found itself opening for Black Sabbath on their first UK tour with their new lead singer Ronnie James Dio. On the 2nd date of that tour we were playing at Newcastle City Hall. Ronnie, bless his heart, comes up to me and introduces himself and says “Hey Ross I know who you are. I love the NY Rock scene, CBGBs, Max’s Kansas City. You should meet one of the guys on our crew. His name is Joey and he plays bass. Maybe you guys can get something going” Well needless to say I sought Joey out and we struck up a friendship. Then after a few jam sessions in Black Sabbath’s dressing room while they were playing Joey and I started a musical partnership that became Manowar. The song Manowar starts “We met on English ground in a backstage room we heard the sound and we all knew what we had to do”. That’s all about how the band started off after that meeting in Newcastle so I’m very pleased to be back in the city where that all started.

After the tour in the UK is over, what have you got planned next?

We head back over to Europe for the second leg of our European dates and play shows in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy. We’ll then head home and spend some time with our families and will hopefully be writing and recording songs for a new record.

The Dictators UK tour starts on 26th May in Newcastle and ends on May 30th in London.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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