And other tales from the camp of the Cleveland punk greats, recounted by a rock scribe who was on the ground when they hit the scene in ’77
Back in September 1977, I got punked by a punk. And one of the punks in the group got punked by his own bandmate. Here’s how it went down.
I was going to college in Orono, Maine, but visiting Boston frequently. Central Maine was relatively barren when it came to cool new music, especially the stuff played in clubs and even more especially this cool new music being called punk rock. I was writing a weekly rock column for the Bangor Daily News and my antennae was always up, as both fan and critic. I’d been pogoing in my dorm room to Ramones and Leave Home for a while now.
I knew the dingy basement Rat club in Kenmore Square was becoming the nexus for this kind of thing and took a flyer on an unknown band from Cleveland called Dead Boys. I paid a scant entry fee and joined maybe half a house.
I’m not sure what we expected, but what we got was the most vicious, nasty rock ‘n’ roll racket I’d ever heard live. I loved it. Caustic songs that snarled, but were catchy as hell: “All This and More,” “Caught with the Meat in Your Mouth,” “Sonic Reducer,” “Ain’t Nothin’ to Do.” This was a band relentlessly celebrating debauchery and mayhem. Or in the case of that latter song, bitching about boredom and ennui. They struck me as an American Sex Pistols.
They sported dog collars and safety pins. Their T-shirts were ripped. The front-man-singer was all low-slung jeans, lean and shirtless like a younger Iggy Pop, who enjoyed sticking his head inside the drummer’s kick drum, cutting his chest with glass, looping the mic cord around his neck as if to hang himself and striking many a fuck you/fuck me pose. It was antagonistic and confrontational – but welcoming, too, the message being: “If you feel like we do, join our club.”
I didn’t know any of the songs by name of course – their Sire debut LP Young Loud and Snotty wouldn’t come until the next month – and I didn’t even know their names. I just recall that for under an hour I’d seen something galvanizing, something raw and rabid. (I had some anger/depression issues, too; my dad had died unexpectedly, heart attack at 62, just months earlier.)
VIDEO: Dead Boys – All This And More
They were an intimidating band on stage, but, really, pussy cats, off-stage – a dynamic I later saw numerous times. I angled backstage into the cramped and crappy dressing room, introduced myself, said I was writing a column for the Bangor Daily News – not that they would have known what that was, but they seemed chuffed a writer was taking the time write about them. They explained they’d moved from Cleveland to New York City (to where the action was). We probably talked for 20 minutes, me scribbling away in my notebook.
I realized I didn’t have their names so I asked one of them – nope, I can’t remember which – and that Dead Boy found a cocktail napkin and in perfect black box letters wrote: STIV BATORS JIMMY ZERO JOHNNY BLITZ JEFF MAGNUM CHEETAH PUKE.
Stiv (born Steve) sang; Blitz drummed, Magnum played bass and the guitarists were Jimmy and Cheetah. I did note that “Puke” was a pretty punk-rock surname to adopt.
Anyway, I wrote the story, a rave. And I wrote about Cheetah Puke. When their debut album came out, I noticed his name had been changed to “Chrome.” Ok, fair enough I thought – bit of a tone-down from Puke but it’s his nom-de-punque, so whatever he wants. (He was born Eugene Richard O’Connor.)
I moved to Boston in the fall of 1978 and was writing for both Sweet Potato (a great New England regional music mag) and the Boston Globe, first as a freelancer and then ten years later as a staffer. The Dead Boys were gone after album No. 2, We Have Come for Your Children, and band members went their separate ways. Stiv had the best-known career, fronting the psychedelic new wavers, Lords of the New Church.
Over the years, though, in writing about them various mentions of previous encounters came up and I occasionally dropped the name I first heard for Cheetah about his original punk name of Puke. In May of 2001, I wrote a critic’s tip, teasing a show he had coming up.
VIDEO: Dead Boys – Sonic Reducer – Live 1977 CBGB
Cheetah saw it and wrote the Boston Globe, the letter published in the Sunday Arts “Letters to the Editor” section.
He wrote: “I would like to thank the Globe for the nice mention last Saturday promoting my May 12 show but I would like to publicly state but to my knowledge I have never been known as ‘Cheetah Puke.’ While it is sort of catchy, I think I’ll stick with Chrome.”
When I saw Cheetah next, I most assuredly told him his name was once Puke – the writing-on-the-napkin story. He more assuredly told me he never went by that name.
So, we’ve joked about it and about the only answer we can come up with was what I wrote at the top: We wuz both punked by a punk. My guess, trying to put myself back in that space, was that it was Johnny Blitz that did the writing, but it’s only a guess. It’s also funny, a long-running inside-gag that is now a bit more public.
And Cheetah, aside from running Plowboy Records in Nashville, is still touring with a young (loud and snotty) version of Dead Boys, still playing that first album. I saw them do this at a club outside Boston and no, it didn’t feel like the Rat in ’77, but it felt damn good those songs to hear all over again.
Oh, and if you want to go back to my early Sex Pistols-Dead Boys correlative, Cheetah disagrees. “I don’t think we were America’s anything, really,” he told me in 2017. “If you’re looking for an angle on a story, well, that’s one, but in my eye, we weren’t the Sex Pistols at all. We played a lot better than the Sex Pistols. We had better songs. I don’t think we were America’s anything except” – and here’s where he does posit an accurate comparison – “we got kind of screwed in the music business. I don’t think anybody handled us well at all or that anybody understood us at all.”
And the Pistols/Dead Boys twining (if you choose to accept it) diverges big-time here: In their heyday, the Dead Boys were virtually unknown in America. In the UK, the Pistols were splashed all over the tabloids and went to No. 1.
VIDEO: Dead Boys – Ain’t nothing to do – live