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Interview: Cheetah Chrome

Interview: Cheetah Chrome

With all the buzz about the film CBGB, our Elizabeth Haag decided to chat with MLMG’s Cheetah Chrome for a look back through the years since he played at the infamous venue with Stiv Bators and The Dead Boys. CBGB is in theatres now, and you can get Chrome’s newest album “Cheetah Chrome Punk Pioneer” here.

EH How are you doing?

CC Good, good. I’m sitting here looking at the Gulf of Mexico, enjoying my nice relaxing day for a switch.

EH A little different from downtown New York, right?

CC Yeah yeah, well this is my first vacation in probably 3 years so I’m trying to enjoy it. For some reason everybody’s decided it’s good to have me in a movie about them.

EH I guess you’re a hot topic right now with the movie coming out. I’m going to jump in if that’s ok with you... I listen to a lot of your music, obviously.  What were your earliest influences, artistically speaking?

CC Well, my earliest influences was all the British Invasion stuff. The Stones, the Beatles, Searchers, Kinks. All that stuff.I learned how to play the guitar, I just basically listen to the radio, and anything came on, I’d try to play it.

EH Did you take lessons, or are you self-taught?

CC I was self-taught. I tried taking lessons. I took maybe three lessons, it just wasn’t for me. They wanted me to play “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” and all that stuff, and I wanted to learn the Beatles. You know, it was all the old folks songs, like Peter Paul and Mary, and you know, it was not for me.

EH Obviously, you were already making music by the time punk got off the ground. So I’m curious, what was the precursor right before this. Whose shoulders were you guys standing on?

CC You know, punk came on in the mid 70s. In the early 70s, around the time that Alice Cooper got really, really big, there was a fan base that was listening to The Stooges, and the MC5. And Alice Cooper’s fans kind of picked up on that and from the other side of the pond, you had the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Cockney Rebel, T-Rex and all things like that. So you had a whole lot of, it wasn’t the main stream stuff. Actually it was pretty main stream. Alex Cooper was Number 1 and so was T-Rex but that was kind of what everyone was listening to - that I hung out with. You know there were the prog rock bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and another group was gravitating towards that. We liked a lot of stuff.

EH So when the Dead Boys were starting out, what were your goals? What did you guys see as the ultimate success?

CC Well, we wanted to be the Rolling Stones, obviously. At the time we had no idea how much work it took to be the Rolling Stones. How much work it took, and how little image had to do with it. You had to really just play all the time, you know. And we just didn’t have the fan base. In New York, we got thrown into the punk band wagon like really quickly which was fun, but we didn’t really… We got lumped in with that and we didn’t really want to be. Musically, we were better than most of the punk bands. So we got kind of disparaged, because the punk image was “oh, the bands can’t play.”

And everybody was kind of like “Oh, The Dead Boys are pretty good” but the news was a lot slower getting around back then. We didn’t have the internet. If you did an interview is was three months before it was actually printed.

So like a lot of times now if a band’s good it’s like “they say they can’t play but I just heard them and they can” and it will be all around by tomorrow.

EH So you guys weren’t really looking to be part of the punk scene then.

CC Well we were. We were in a band doing an MC5, Alice Cooper kind of thing, but you know, we were punk in a way like Aerosmith was punk.  You know what I mean? We were not singing about safe topics. We were not your mom’s Rock N’ Roll band. We were not safe at all. It was more our attitude than our music that was punk.

The United States just wanted to party back then because they had just gotten out of Vietnam. The punk thing in England was much different because it was really politically motivated. You had the economy, you had the Queen. You had much more of a protest there than it was here.

EH Do you miss those days?

CC Yeah, compared to the safe Disney times we live in now? I mean, everything’s cleaned up and nice but it’s actually much more dangerous in the world, but yeah there was a certain innocence. You didn’t have all the terror stuff and all the wars and the economy was better. Believe it or not the economy was better. It was still better than it is now.

EH Changing gears a little bit . Plowboy Records, I find it to be a really amazing project, musically. So my question is, back in your CBGB days, could you have imagined doing recordings of “Love Bug Itch”

CC Well, no, not at all. But, you know, music is music. You don’t necessarily have to like country music to produce it. That said, when you’ve got an artist like Pokey LaFarge who’s that good, it’s fun. It’s great to produce it. I mean, it’s just wonderful.

That’s the one thing about Nashville. It’s really opened my eyes. You know, the country music they play now, as Waylon Jennings says, it’s just bad Rock N Roll. And he’s absolutely right. I mean all the crap like Toby Keith and all the stuff that’s number 1 on the country charts sucks, it’s not even country music, it’s bad Rock N Roll. But we went for authenticity in the people we got on this. I guess we went for, I guess they call it, Americana but we wanted people that were real. Guys you could put in a room with a guitar in their hands and they were still gonna be able to entertain you and knock your socks off.

EH So how would you describe your own personal music style now? How have you changed since the days of “Caught With Meat In Your Mouth?”

CC Not that much, really. My palette’s gotten broader. I use more instruments. I use more guitar chords (laughs) but my attitude really hasn’t changed at all.

EH Dead or alive, is there any musician that you would absolutely love to work with?

Let me see, dead or alive… Stiv Bators

EH I got a little choked up just there... What’s the most important thing in life?

CC Family

EH Do you have any advice for young writers and artists who want a long career in music?

CC Yeah, practice and put in your hours. Read everything before you sign it.

EH Who is better looking, Cheetah Chrome circa 1978 or Rupert Grint as Cheetah Chrome circa 2013?

CC Oh, sorry, me no question. I mean you gotta go with yourself, right?

Not that Rupert’s not a good looking kid but I was the Maestro back then.

EH In your opinion, what’s the best work you’ve ever done?

CC I think “Young Loud and Snotty” is really good. I think the stuff I did with Jeff Dahl, “I Kill Me” that record was really good. And I really think the new one, the solo is really good.

EH It’s quite an endeavor that new one.

CC I put a lot of work into it.

EH If you could go back, is there anything you’d do differently?

CC Yeah, I’d probably party a lot less. I’d take it more seriously.

EH Well , thank you for spending this time with me.

CC My pleasure.

EH Can we hang out when I’m in Nashville?

CC Absolutely! Let me know when you’re coming down.