Some bands have an image they cultivate, maybe sometimes they try too hard, and some bands just have innate personality, they don’t have to try at all. The Dictators had a healthy mix of both. The Dictators formed in NYC in 1973 as a four-piece band: Andy “Adny” Shernoff on bass and vocals, Ross “The Boss” Friedman on lead guitar, Scott “Top Ten” Kempner on rhythm guitar, and Stu “Boy” King on drums. There was a quasi fifth member as well, “Handsome Dick” Manitoba. The Dictators’ first album, The Dictators Go Girl Crazy (that’s Handsome Dick on the cover), was produced (as were all three ‘Tators albums) by the Blue Oyster Cult production team of Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman and came out on Epic in 1975. It is a work of true genius.
Believe it or not, the Dictators were a precursor to both punk and metal. Their songs were often smart, often funny, and always good, like “The Next Big Thing” (that’s Handsome Dick you hear on the intro) and “Two Tub Man” (Handsome Dick lead vocal). Go Girl Crazy did little business and the band called it a day but soon regrouped with a new rhythm section which included future Twisted Sister bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza. Shernoff, the creative force, eventually rejoined, this time on keyboards and vocals (once again shared with Handsome Dick) and the band released a second album, Manifest Destiny, in 1977. Shernoff’s songwriting skills really shine on this fine example of just how good rock and roll could be in the seventies. The songs are somehow simultaneously heartfelt and tongue-in-cheek. The album starts off with a true gem, “Exposed,” and keeps the listener (me) smiling with songs like “Heartache” and “Hey Boys.” The Dictators were making smartly crafted, creative hard rock, but very few people were listening.
By 1978, with Mark “The Animal” out and Shernoff back on bass, Handsome Dick took over all lead vocal duties and the band recorded its third album, Bloodbrothers, which is an amazing amalgam of punk, hard rock, and metal. Bloodbrothers is heavier and more in your face than the previous records. I suspect it’s difficult for most Dictators fans to choose a favorite of the three albums, my vote goes to Manifest Destiny, but Bloodbrothers is an absolute classic and contains my favorite Dictators song, “Stay With Me.” The Dictators broke up not long after Bloodbrothers tanked and guitarist Ross the Boss joined the excellent Shakin’ Street before of course forming death to false metalers MANOWAR in 1982. Rhythm guitarist Scott “Top Ten” Kempner (love that nickname) formed his own roots rock group The Del Lords and released several quality albums.
Shernoff and Handsome Dick eventually formed a new band in 1986 called Wild Kingdom with Daniel Rey (who had played with future Monster Magnet mogul Dave Wyndorf in Shrapnel and produced three Ramones albums) on guitar. Ross the Boss, who left Manowar in 1989, replaced Rey just in time for the band’s 1990 album Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom…And You? If you were as avid a viewer of Headbanger’s Ball as I was in the late eighties you might remember the video for “The Party Starts Now.” Considering the band’s members and the fact that Shernoff did most of the songwriting this was basically a fourth Dictators album, as evidenced by the track “New York, New York.”
All went quiet on the Dictators front until the late nineties when they regrouped, put out a couple of singles, and in 2001 released an awesome new album called DFFD (which stands for Dictators Forever Forever Dictators). If you don’t believe me when I say it is awesome then give “Who Will Save Rock and Roll” a listen, or the subtly titled “Pussy and Money.” The Dictators and Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom have continued to play gigs here and there but it seems doubtful we will see another album from either band. They were great, though, wouldn’t you agree?