MR. MANITOBA’S on stage career started with one of the oddest beginnings in rock ‘n’ roll history.
The band was forming and Handsome Dick was the best friend of the band, but not singing or playing an instrument left him out of the fun! The boys had to have a job for their best friend, so they made him a roadie. A job he was ill-suited for. MANITOBA was a drunk roadie, lost equipment, pulled an awning halfway out of the side of a building, etc. While driving his 12′ box truck, the top of the truck caught the awning and yanked it out of its concrete. The owner asked me if I did it. “No” I said… “Well I SAW you do it” … “Well then, I did it!”. But MANITOBA, unbeknownst to the world at this point in time, did something very well…he was magic with a microphone in his hand.
The first proof of his microphone prowess took place at a place called Popeye’s Spinach Factory in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, 1975.
Chris Stein from Blondie was there, Eric Emerson of the Magic Tramps, part of Andy Warhol’s crew was there, and my friend David Peel who recently passed away told me he was there too.
As the years go by, it seems like more and more people were there. It was one of those legendary shows. The whole point of the story is the lead singer who wrote the songs didn’t have a whole hell of a lot of stage personality or charisma, so the minute they handed MANITOBA, the drunk roadie the microphone, he dove into “Wild Thing” by The Troggs, written by Chip Taylor, Jon Voight’s brother, (what a talented family, huh?) The place went crazy!
In the ensuing few months, the same trip kept repeating itself… the songwriter got up and sang songs to mild, respectable applause, while MANITOBA got up and sang and people went crazy. What followed was two songs, three songs, and then the obvious. If we wanted to take these good songs and get them across to the people with true rock ‘n’ roll excitement, Handsome Dick Manitoba had to become the lead singer. I don’t think the songwriter was jumping for joy with this decision.
The DICTATORS first major label album came out. It was called “The DICTATORS Go Girl Crazy” on Epic Records in 1975, a whole year before The Ramones first album came out!
Handsome Dick sang a few songs as lead singer and he was on a few songs as background singer. He was known as “The Secret Weapon”, a slogan borrowed from our love of Pro Wrestling. It was when the bad guy, or “heel” in Wrestling parlance would hide a weapon in his boots or trunks, hurt the good guy, “baby face, or face” and put it back into hiding.
1977 hit and The DICTATORS released their second major label album, this one on the Asylum label, “Manifest Destiny”. While it had a few good songs, the album really failed on many levels. I think the driving force of it’s failure was our disappointment of how badly Girl Crazy tanked.
Manifest Destiny was supposed to take us into arenas. It’s not something we were cut out for. We tried to become something we were not, an arena rock act. When the Ramones got booed off the stage opening up for Black Sabbath, they decided to get in the van and be The Ramones. We should have decided to say “let’s get in the van and be the DICTATORS!”
That’s not the way our organization worked. That coupled with the fact that an album we thought was the coolest album in the world made by the coolest guys in the world, “Go Girl Crazy”, wound up being an abject failure economically, and was put down by a large section of the press.
It did wind up having much more life LONG AFTER its original release.
As they say with certain movies, the album “had legs”…(hey, just like my songwriting confidence!)
Decades later, the album has become a classic punk record to the point where 20-year-olds and 30 year olds tell me their father turned me out onto this album and they fucking love it. “It turned me onto punk, and the album means so much to me”.
What can I tell you folks…. how many artists in history have done things that were not appreciated when they were alive, then they died and later became appreciated? …it’s good to be alive!
We did an about-turn and got closer to our punk roots on our third and final major label release also on Asylum records, this one called “Bloodbrothers”, the name inspired by the great novelist Richard Price from his first novel of the same. He was also from our neighborhood in the Bronx. Bronx people are proud of these things!
As far as songwriting, playing, and pure sonic coolness, I feel Bloodbrothers was the best of our three albums. Gee, I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that I sang more on it than any record we did?
Our 1990 speed metal-ish, Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom (almost the DICTATORS) LP, “AND YOU?” was a fun exciting album that guess what?… bombed!
We closed out our major recording career with the release of 2001’s “D.F.F.D” DICTATORS FOREVER, FOREVER DICTATORS. (That didn’t last long!!!)
Recently Columbia?, I think, put out some LAME compilation without me knowing about it, or being told, or having an opinion. IT SUCKED. The control freak, I’m sure, loved it.
This brings to an end, our studio recording career. We did have well received small label records: “Fuck ‘Em If They Can’t Take A Joke”, and other bootlegs.