Dictator Andy Shernoff Hits The Right Notes
Andy Shernoff is one of the unheralded heroes of rock-and-roll.
Shernoff founded the proto-punk, garage rock band The Dictators in 1973 and has gone on to work as a songwriter, musician and producer with a variety of artists — including The Fleshtones, The Ramones, The Figgs, D Generation, The Smithereens, Guided By Voices and many others.
Shernoff's latest project is a "musical memoir" called When Giants Walked The Earth, a 90-minute performance where he tells stories from his past and plays acoustic versions of his songs. He made a stop at Toronto's Mitzi's Sister on Thursday night to play for an appreciative audience of about 65 people.
"Some people believe in God, but I believed in rock-and-roll," said Shernoff off the top, before recounting his high-school days with other up-and-coming rockers in Queens, New York City in the late '60s.
The first song Shernoff performed was the first he ever wrote about his hometown, "New York, New York," for his first band, The Dictators. Other names considered but dropped before deciding on that moniker included Vomit On A Nun and Cancer Of The Penis.
The Dictators were taken under the wing of eccentric rock writer Richard Meltzer (who Shernoff said used to pick up dead animals off the street, embed them in Jell-O and keep them in the fridge) and Blue Oyster Cult songwriter, producer and manager Sandy Pearlman and, just six months after forming, were signed to Epic Records. The group's first show was opening for Iggy And The Stooges shortly after the release of its Raw Power album, which initially was a commercial flop before gaining fans over the years.
The Dictators' 1975 Go Girl Crazy! debut album featured "Master Race Rock," the second song Shernoff performed during the night. That album also includes a cover of The Rivieras' 1964 hit, "California Sun," which Fox Sports will be using to promote its televised coverage of this year's Major League Baseball all-star game in Anaheim, Calif.
Shernoff's third song was the title track he wrote for David Method Roter's 1997 album, "Find Something Beautiful," which opens with the line "Your face is pockmarked and you're as dumb as wood."
Go Girl Crazy! sold poorly and the band was dropped by Epic, but was soon picked up by Elektra/Asylum Records for its second album, 1977's Manifest Destiny. Shernoff played a song from the record and talked about touring England in support of it by opening for The Stranglers. He met Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious during this period, and said he was the biggest jerk he'd ever met.
Shernoff performed "Baby, Let's Twist" from 1978's Bloodbrothers, and the song had former U.I.C. and The Chickens members Fred and Dave Robinson singing along to the chorus. Perhaps we're now one step closer to a reunion by one of those groups, but that's probably just wishful thinking.
Manitoba's Wild Kingdom spun off of The Dictators and released a 1990 album through MCA titled And You? that featured the song "Haircut And Attitude," which is what Shernoff described as the key ingredients for a lot of successful bands from his least favourite musical decade: the '80s. He played that number and followed it with "You're Never Gonna See Me Cry," a song he co-wrote for former Shangri-Las singer Mary Weiss' 2007 comeback album, Dangerous Game.
Teenage Head guitarist Gord Lewis picked up an acoustic guitar and joined Shernoff on stage for Bloodbrothers' "Stay With Me" and the set's remaining three songs.
This took us to The Ramones portion of the evening. Shernoff described Dee Dee Ramone as an "idiot savant" and a "paranoid schizophrenic who slept with every man and woman he could." He alluded to a tryst between the late bassist and members of The Bay City Rollers and recounted Dee Dee urinating in Johnny Thunders' guitar case in Stiv Bators' room. He performed a song the two wrote together called "Chinese Bitch" from Ramone's 1994 solo album, I Hate Freaks Like You.
Shernoff was very close to Joey Ramone, and talked about the singer's obsessive compulsive disorder, collaborating on his posthumously released Don't Worry About Me solo album and being in the hospital room when the lanky vocalist passed away on April 15, 2001 after a seven-year battle with lymphoma. Shernoff sang "Stop Thinking About It," which he co-wrote for the record.
The Dictators released their D.F.F.D. comeback album in 2001, and Shernoff offered its lead track, "Who Will Save Rock And Roll?," to what he thought would conclude his "first international folk singing show." But the audience demanded one more song and Shernoff obliged with Bloodbrothers' "I Stand Tall."
My description can't do justice to how entertaining and interesting Shernoff's show was. He's done about a dozen of them and will do more through July. Anyone interested in New York's '70s punk rock scene should definitely try and see the show, which only cost seven bucks last night.
I appropriately bookended Shernoff's performance with before and after appearances at the opening night of You're Pretty Face Is Going To Hell, a photo exhibition of black-and-white shots taken by Vince Carlucci between 1975 and 1978. The Cardboard Brains co-founder and current Station Twang member captured intimate looks at performances by Iggy Pop (with David Bowie on keyboards), Blondie, Frank Zappa, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, The Ramones, John Cale, The Viletones, Teenage Head, The Diodes and The Ugly.
Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell can be viewed at OZ Studios at 134 Ossington Ave. until June 24. While you're there, be sure to stop next door at Reposado for the finest tequila in the city or an excellent pint of Duggan's Brewery's #9 IPA.