October 12, 2003
JUSTICE FOR ALL
L.A.'s blazing Streetwalkin' Cheetahs caught the ear of the I-94 Bar in more ways than one a few years ago. Correspondent Ken Shimamoto saw a jaw-dropping show at the SXSW musical extravaganza in Austin, Texas, not long after the Barman chanced upon a copy of their quirky but undeniably rockin' debut album, "Overdrive". Both were impressed, to say the least. So too was Brother Wayne Kramer who, for a time, took them under his wing and used them as his backing band. Not for nothing did he declare them the spiritual descendents of the MC5. An EP of early cuts and a live album were also in the oeuvre by then.
Two more albums
and a few years down the track and the Cheetahs are in hiatus, with two members
geographically distanced from Los Angeles. That isn't stopping the release this
month of a new album, "Gainesville", as well as a reissued and expanded
"Overdrive" (titled "Maximum Overdrive") hitting the shelves.
There's even an album of outtakes in the pipeline too. With a future live regrouping
of the band likely in 2004, head Cheetah Frank Meyer is hardly cooling his heels.
He's launched a new band, Sweet Justice, whose debut single and album are coming
out on American Ruse and Real O Mind respectively. The noted writer (and Stooges
historian - check the liner notes of some of the recent Iguana Chronicles discs
on Bomp for reference) isn't laying down his keyboard, either. There's the definitive
inside story of the Ramones coming to a bookstore near you, co-authored with
the band's road manager Monte Melnick, plus s attack of ongoing magazine and
film projects to keep him busy.
With so much on the boil, we decided it was high time we caught up with Frank Meyer in the not unfamiliar, albeit virtual, setting of a bar. THE BARMAN fired the questions.
Q Welcome to the Bar, Frank. Been meaning to catch up for a while. You unleashed your new band, Sweet Justice, in November 2002. What’s it all about musically and who’s in it?
Sweet Justice features myself on guitars and vocals, Bruce Duff on bass and vocals and Chris Markwood on drums. Chris played in the Bellrays and Bruce has played with everyone from the ADZ to Jeff Dahl to 45 Grave to Simon Stokes. Basically it's a blues bent, classic rock band with a punk twist. I guess we sound kinda like Band of Gypsies or the early Jeff Beck Group with a Thunders vibe. The band was kind of founded on our mutual love for Frank Zappa and we wanted it to have a Reuben and the Jets/Joe's Garage kinda vibe, but as we played more gigs it naturally got less eclectic and more hard rockin'.
Q I know you did a show in Vegas recently that was well received. How much playing out have you guys done so far?
We have mainly played around LA with local bands like the Lazy Cowgirls and the Bellrays or opening up for bigger acts like Zeke. But we've done some short tours. We did one with the Blare Bitch Project where we went to Aaron and Nevada. The Vegas gig was especially fun because Art Jackson from the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs was there to see us and it was a kick to have him in the audience for once instead on stage to my right. But basically we have just been playing locally until we get our record out. We start recording our debut CD for Real O Mind Records this weekend. Once that's out we're likely to start playing out of L.A. more. We just feel need to put some music out before we go jumping in a van.
Q Sweet Justice’s first release will be a split single on the new American Ruse label with Powertrane featuring Scott Morgan. How did that come about and what’s the deal with the forthcoming album?
Scott and I have known each other for about six years. He was an early supporter of the Cheetahs and sat in on some early gigs around '96, '97. This guy Bryan Jones was a big Cheetahs fan and big Scott Morgan fan and approached us about doing the debut single for his new label. We both said okay and contributed a song off our upcoming albums. Scott is a great singer, songwriter and guitarist with an amazing history, so it's an honour.
The Sweet Justice song is called "Outta Sight" and has kind of a Motown vibe. A different mix of it will be on our debut CD, which will likely be released next Spring. We have seven songs done and this weekend we record the basic tracks for eight more. Bruce and I are producing it. We have a production team called Messiaz and have been producing a lot of people lately. We've even been producing hip hop on the side. Go figure.
Cutting a swathe with Sweet Justice.
Q Bruce Duff is a member of Sweet Justice (and he’d be a name familiar to Jeff Dahl fans in Australia because he played on “Scratch Up Some Action”, which was released here.) What’s the status of his more recent band ADZ? I was rapt in their album on Steel Cage.
I believe the ADZ are on hiatus right now because Tony reformed the Adolescents. I guess it's sort of silly to have the ADZ, the spin-off band from the Adolescents, when the original Adolescents are back in full force, right? But I think the ADZ will play again. The ADZ are not dead.
Q Frank, you’re very much a fan of Real Rock Action as well as a purveyor of it. How do you reconcile the two? Do you ever get a bit star-struck, sharing a stage or a good time with some of the legends you like?
I'm always a little star struck around my heroes, but once you hit the stage it's about the work, the show and the music, so you don't think about that sort of stuff. But there's been moments when I've been signing into the same mic with Cherie Currie, trading licks with Wayne Kramer, singing harmonies with Sylvain Sylvain when the hair stands up on the back of my neck and I go, "I can't believe I'm doing this."
Frank on stage with ex-NY Doll Sylvain Sylvain.
It's funny, living in Hollywood, there are celebrities everywhere....but who cares, right? Like, who cares if some model or cheesy actor is standing next to you at a bar. But, for me, to talk to someone like Ron Asheton or Cheetahs Chrome is, like, talking to the Pope. THEY are celebrities to me. They are royalty to me.
So, yeah, I get a little nervous sometimes. But I always try to act like it's just an everyday thang. Ain't no big deal. But inside I'm like, "WOW! This is so cool." We're just geeks at heart.
Q So how’s the L.A. music scene generally these days? I was there a year ago and you still seemed to have an excess of nu-metal in the clubs.
The L.A. scene is a little weak lately... but that will change. Right now there's no real scene happening. A lot of the cool clubs like Al's Bar and Bar Deluxe have closed and a lot of the best bands broke up or are on permanent hiatus like us and B Movie Rats. The ones that are still around seem to be kinda doing the same thing they were five years ago. But we're just in a lull. Something new, or something old that feels new, will come along soon and things will get exciting again.
Q Anyone on the scene that particularly impresses you and that we should take note of?
Right now the only local band I really go out of my way to see is the Hangmen. They have amazing songs, put on a great show, and are very no-bullshit. I really like Throwrag too. They just grew into a monster. I saw them years ago and thought they were okay, but I've watched them over the years and once they started touring they became a different beast all together. Now they are just incredible. The Superbees are also always great too.
I love the Forty Fives out of Atlanta. They are probably my favourite current band in the U.S.
Ensuring it's a rocking Christmas with Lisa from the BellRays.
Q You’ve been pretty closely involved with the BellRays over the years. What’s their current status with a new record and are you going to work with them again?
I think they have a new album in the can but I have no idea who's putting it out. They got a new drummer about eight months ago and have been touring ever since so I haven't really spoke to them much. But they seem to be doing very well an they are huge in Europe, so I assume everything is going well with them.
Tony Fate played bass in the Cheetahs for awhile. He plays some bass and guitar on Gainesville, our new album, and wrote some songs off "Overdrive" and "Waiting For the Death of My Generation". He was always like the Fifth Cheetah.
Q Speaking of the L.A. Scene generally, what writing or radio projects do you have on the boil? Are you still doing POPsmear?
I write for a bunch
of different magazines and Websites, including KNAC.com, AVN Magazine,
Launch.com, Bizarre magazine, FHM magazine, LA Weekly,
New Times and several others. I used to be an editor at POPsmear magazine,
which was a notorious rock 'n' porn pop culture magazine that folded back in
2000. It is still online and you can find
my stuff there.
I have also written, directed and starred in a bunch of short films, some of which can be found at www.scottchernoff.com and have written several scripts. One movie I co-wrote is called Fat Cats and is in production in New York as an indie. Another one is being shopped right now. Mainly, though, I have been writing my debut book, "On the Road with the Ramones".
Q We'll get to that in a moment. I'm glad to hear the Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs haven’t been consigned to the grave but having Eric Hermann living in the UK and Art Jackson domiciled in Las Vegas must make rehearsals hell! What’s the story with future projects, and in particular promotion of the new album “Gainesville”?
The Cheetahs are on touring hiatus right now, but we do have a new studio album out September 23rd and several reissues and rarities collections on the way too. Basically, after eight years of touring for little to no money we just decided we couldn't do it anymore. It was just too much hard work and time into something that wasn't paying back. We still wanted to make music together, we just didn't want to have to get in the van for three months to promote it. So we put the band on ice for a while.
before we did that we recorded a 16-song album called "Gainesville"
to tide people over. Our 10-year anniversary is coming up so I think it's likely
we'll do more shows sometime in the future. I think we've kind of headed for
the Dictators thing of just making record when we wanna and playing when we
wanna but not feeling like we have to get out there and compete and promote
like a new, hungry band all the time. The Cheetahs were well respected but we
never had any hits or help so it was a struggle all the way.
Q So how does “Gainesville” vary from previous Cheetah releases?
"Gainesville" is very different than our other albums in every way. The band was breaking up and had just gone through two years of hell. We switched bass players, we split with our manager, we had troubles with our label, and we were touring ourselves to death. But we kept going, we kept touring.
One of our band members had a complete mental breakdown on the road and we had to to institutionalise him and cancel a tour three-quarters of the way through. This all went down in Gainesville, Florida. The was the beginning of the end of the band. We replaced him and soldiered on, touring Europe and the US on some of our biggest tours ever, with the likes of Nashville Pussy, Reverend Horton Heat and the Supersuckers.
By the time we started even thinking about making another album, Art and I, who wrote most of the songs, had decided to chronicle our adventures in the songs. We decided the next album would be called "Gainesville", after the city that all that shit went down, and that all the songs would tell the story of our impending break-up. Blood, alcohol, lies, drugs, insanity, violence, psyche wards, abuse, it's all there.
We originally wrote
a 24-song, three act opus, but eventually scaled it down to 16 songs. We recorded
it after we returned from a long European tour last summer and then everyone
went their separate ways. It took me a year but I finally worked out a deal
with our old label, Triple X, to release it and now it's out soon.
Of course, as per our way of doing everything, backwards, we are releasing our strongest album to date and there's no band to tour or support it. Hopefully the music will speak for itself.
Q I heard you were going to do the serie z festival in Spain.
No we did not.
They asked us after we had gone on hiatus and while we all liked the idea, we
had just went our separate ways. At one point it was looking good but we decided
it was just going to cost us too much out of pocket to make it happen and couldn't
afford it. They asked us to play next year and we likely will have to pass on
that too. However, if the offer is still open we will eventually do it I'm sure.
I'd like to go in 2005, when it's our 10-year anniversary. That would be cool.
Q And you have
a Cheetahs re-issue coming up, “Maximum Overdrive”. Is it a re-mix job? Tell
us about it - I believe it has some bonus cuts.
"Maximum Overdrive" is a re-release of "Overdrive" with new liner notes and artwork and eight bonus tracks. The singles we did with Cherie Currie and Deniz Tek will be on there, released on CD for the first time, plus the B-sides and three unreleased outtakes.
It's a terrific package and a great glimpse of what we like at that time. Plus, we have a two CD called "All the Demos (And More) and All The Covers (And More)" coming out next year too that collect tons of unreleased demos and cover tunes by everyone from Hanoi Rocks to Chuck Berry to Bob Seger System, and that features many special guests. Plus there a Finnish single out soon too with some unreleased cuts.
Q How did the hook up with Deniz come about? And Cherie Currie?
Our original bassist Dino Everett and I met Cherie at one of her local gigs. We just went up and said hi and asked for autographs. As she was signing we told her we had just started a band and covered "Cherry Bomb" and asked if she'd ever considering singing it with us. She said, "Sure" and showed up at our gig that same week and sat in with us! We couldn't believe it!
We became really good friends after that and still are to this day. I asked her once why she was so nice to us and why she and came and sat in with us. For all she knew we could have been horrible. She said she just got a good feeling about us.
Deniz we met through Patrick Boisell at Alive/Total Energy. We were discovered by Greg Shaw from Bomp!, who turned us onto his partner Patrick, who signed us to our first deal. Patrick heard the Radio Birdman connection in our music and thought Deniz would like us. Next time he came to town Patrick hooked us up in the studio and we met and played together and did that single. It was a thrill to say the least.
Q A subject close to your heart is, of course, the Stooges. What did you think of the Coachella show? I understand you got to go to rehearsals!
I thought they were phenomenal. They blew me away. I have tons of cool pictures as I got a photo pass and was in the very front.
The day before Sweet Justice had practice and we showed up to this studio in Hollywood. By a complete stoke of luck the Stooges were rehearsing there too and we got to hang around and listen to them. Bruce and I had both met Iggy and Ron before so we had an excuse to sit around and chat with them. At one point it was just them and us sitting outside in the patio smoking cigarettes and shooting the shit. We were trying to act like it wasn't a big deal but we were FREAKING OUT. We were like, "Oh yeah, we're hanging out with the Stooges, we do this shit everyday." Yeah Right!
Q You’ve been involved with Bomp in their series of archival Stooges. Was the “Wild Love” thing the absolute bottom of that particular barrel (as it sounded) or is there something else worth putting out?
There is a lot more stuff that is still unreleased through most of it is not great quality-wise. There's no more soundboard or four-track tapes out there though, if that's what ya mean. I think there may be some more rehearsal tapes but it's just more false starts of so-so takes of the same tunes gain, "Head On," "Raw Power," etc. I have everything Greg Shaw and Asheton have and there is still definitely more that could be released. But I just don't know how many people out there really wanna hear yet another crappy sounding Stooges bootleg of the same "Raw Power" set.
I dunno. It's really up to Greg, Iggy and Ron. I only write the liners if they ask me. I'll do it again for sure!
Q What’s your favourite Stooges period and why?
I love 'em all but Funhouse is still my favourite. I wish there were bootlegs of them from that era. They were just so mighty at that time, especially with Steven McKay on sax. I'm really glad Steve is playing with the Stooges again now. The Cheetahs jammed with him in San Francisco once on "Funhouse" and he was blazing.
Q What did you think of that recent Joe Ambrose Iggy Pop bio?
It was good, though I still think Per Aniline's "Wild One" is the best Iggy book. I wish there was an updated version. I think he may be working on one. I recently traded Stooges bootlegs with him so he's definitely working on something.
Joe Ambrose had this tone to his, like he had some contempt for him. There were little digs about him being a jerk and sexist and stuff that I felt were unnecessary. But overall it was a good read.
Q It's not exactly
on our Top Ten, actually...
Nothing beats Matey Crue's "The Dirt" as far as recent rock books though. It's the heavy metal Please Kill Me. I highly recommend it.
Q This brings us to the Ramones book you’ve been writing. What’s the approach with this one and how long has it been in the making?
I was approached by the great Lonn Friend, formerly of Rip magazine and Hustler, to co-author a Ramones book with their tour manager Monte Melnick. Lonn and I had worked together at KNAC.com, where we worked with legendary producer Bob Ezrin by the way, and he had become a sort of mentor figure in my life, writing-wise.
He really liked my work and encouraged me and we would trade books and comedy albums and turn each other onto cool shit. I feel proud that I turned him onto Bill Hicks and Rainer Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet".
Anyways, he was working at Sanctuary Music's new West Coast Publishing division and his first project was to kick-start this Ramones book. Monte had spent 22 years as the Ramones tour manager and grew up with them and wanted to tell his story of life on the road with them but needed a writer to tell it to and to put it into words. Lonn knew I was a huge fan, a solid, reliable writer, and a touring punk rock musician, which he thought would appeal to Monte.
Monte and I spoke and hit it off and we started. I went to New York and interviewed all the Ramones and their families and friends and members of Blondie, Talking Heads, Dead Boys, New York Dolls, Dictators, Tuff Darts and many more. We got John Holmstrom of Punk magazine, who also did the "Road To Ruin" cover, to do our cover, which looks like a Ramones comic book. Monte let me go through his personal collection and we assembled the artwork from snapshots, posters, passes, stage plots, and so on. It's mind-blowing.
The book is out in November and will blow you away. It's THE Ramones book.
Have you seen the Bill Wyman Stones book, not Stone Alone, but the "Rolling with the Stones"?
Q Sure have.
It's kinda like that.
Q It has to be hard to come up with a different approach to a book about a band so well known but it sounds like you've nailed it by working with Monte and telling the inside story. What style have you taken?
a an oral history with a narrative. A lot of the principal people involved were
very wary of being misquoted and felt the other books had gotten a lot wrong,
so Monte and I decided to make it an oral history so people's words would stay
true. But we also didn't want it to read like "Please Kill Me" so
I added a narrative to every chapter at the beginning that gets you up to speed
with what the band was doing and the context of the music scene and so on. So,
to me, it's the best of both worlds.
Plus every page is filled with pictures so the whole thing reads more like a scrapbook or diary than a long, boring rock book.
Q What did you think of the Everett True book on the band?
It came out right before I got started on mine so I didn't read it all the way through. I didn't want it to sway how I did mine. After mine was in the can but before I handed it in, I finally read it. It's good. But ours is for the true Ramones fan who wants it straight from the horse's mouth. Monte saw every gig they ever did and we have incredible pictures. There will be no comparison between ours and any other Ramones book.
Q Did you have much involvement with Dee Dee while he was living in L.A.? How about Johnny? I hear he’s a property developer now and shops on Rodeo Drive.
I saw Dee Dee around and some of my friend played in his various local bands, but we weren't friends.
I met Johnny through doing the book and he was very nice. I was intimidated because, well, shit, he's Johnny Ramones! He is the Don of guitar slingers. But he was really cool, very forthcoming, and very candid. He opened up for us and talked about stuff he never talks about. Joey, Linda, the whole KKK card thing.
I think he comes off great in the book. He is a true badass.
Q So what's
the plan from here for Sweet Justice and what's the next project for you?
My wife and I are having a baby in three weeks, so that's my next project. By then I'll have the Sweet Justice album recorded and out in 2004, "Gainesville" will be out in September, "Maximum Overdrive" in October, a Sweet Justice single out soon, a Cheetahs single in Finland by the end of the year, two more Cheetahs albums of rarities out next year.
I figure all that buys me some time to be rock n' roll dad for a a while until Sweet Justice hits the road and/or the Cheetahs regroup for live shows to kick-off our 10-year anniversary. Go to www.thestreetwalkincheetahs.com to see what's we're up to and when stuff is coming out. Or maybe I'll just write more books and try to get more movies made. I dunno. Whatever.
I just like working and being creative. That's my real passion.
Q Seeing we're in a Bar, what are you drinking?
Jack and Coke, baby! And if they don't have that, then a cold beer will do just fine....
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