Thursday, June 14, 2007

Punk Guitar Heroes - The Dead Boys Cheetah Chrome & Jimmy Zero

Cheetah & Jimmy Zero
photo from Cheetah Chrome's website - thanks to the unknown photographer

Cheetah Chrome and Jimmy Zero of the Dead Boys are probably my favorite two guitar players in the punk rock pantheon... yeah - they are. Cheetah and Jimmy were the Yin and Yang of the Dead Boys... one brutal and hardcore, the other a touch jangly, a touch pop. They both have a distinctive Ohio punk rock pedigree.

stiv starwood 1 small gray
Dead Boys first Los Angeles show at the Starwood. You can sort of see Cheetah behind Stiv

Zero-Guitar
Jimmy Zero was the last original Dead Boy playing with Stiv at this Whisky a Go Go gig in 1979

Cheetah Chrome was a member of Rocket From the Tombs with the future Johnny Blitz, future Pere Ubu frontman, David Thomas, and the late Peter Laughner, who if you don't know, you should look him up - he has a brief but deep history as an important musician, writer and fan... a Lester Bangs kind of character who died rather young (aged only 24) from years of hard living. Laughner could be considered the godfather of Cleveland punk rock, and Cheetah, by association is one of the godfathers of punk rock right along with him. Laugher died in 1977, before he could see his friends reach the pinnacle of punk rock success - playing at CBGB's, being managed by CB's owner, Hilly Kristal and having a record deal on the mighty Sire Records label, touring the world and getting all the girls.

Before they were the Dead Boys, these guys were Frankenstein. Frankenstein was born after a skinny dude called Stiv Bators came up onstage during a Rocket From the Tombs show and sang with them. Conveniently for Cheetah and Blitz, who were too rock n roll for the arty aspects of Rocket From the Tombs, they formed Frankenstein with Stiv, Jimmy Zero and Jeff Magnum. They wound up in NYC and with a little help with introductions around town from Joey Ramone, the rest is history.

Rogan & Cheetah

From me, you'll only see pictures of Cheetah Chrome up close from the present day. Back in the punk rock days, Dead Boys shows were way too crazy with Cheetah in the band... I spent an aggregate of maybe three minutes in front of the stage taking pictures during the Cheetah Chrome days. Those were true, wild and chaotic punk rock days.

I remember attending the premier of John Waters' movie Polyster with Stiv and Cheetah at a funky Times Square movie theatre. It was 1981, the Dead Boys had already split up. Stiv had a decent-sized role in this movie, as Bo Bo Belsinger. True to form for Cheetah back in those wild days, every time Stiv would be on the screen, Cheetah would throw something at his 20 foot high image. If it weren't for the fact it was a midnight John Waters premier in Times Square, I'm sure we would have been shown the door immediately.

anna-cheetah-rogan72
Cheetah still rocks hard, but lives a regular life with a lovely family. Note the future rock star - he looks just like dad! Mrs. Chrome is Anna... the youngster is Rogan.

These days, Rocket From the Tombs tours occasionally with Cheetah, David Thomas, and Television's Richard Lloyd. Cheetah also tours as a solo artist and his blistering rock n roll only gets harder and hotter.

me and cheetah
Me and Cheetah at a Nashville barbeque, 2006

zero starwood small gray

Jimmy Zero returned to Cleveland after the Dead Boys break up and laid low, lived a fairly regular life...except, well, he's JIMMY ZERO. Gifted with the craft of pop - as a songwriter, a singer, player and producer, Jimmy mentored many up and coming Cleveland bands while building a watershed of material. He had a band called Lesbianmaker which released a record on Wayne Kramer's Muscletone Records and the band played around Cleveland.

Recently, there have been Dead Boys reunion gigs for special reasons, from celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Stiv's solo album, Disconnected (and to pay tribute to the wonderful Ma and Pa Bator) and the CBGB Benefit concerts. Jimmy also contributed to the Greg Shaw tribute record with the members of the band who recorded Disconnected. A witty raconteur if he needs to be, I think Jimmy might just be penning his memoirs. I've lived some of the tales with him, and I've heard about the times I missed...when this book is published, you need to run and get it!

June 14 and Disconnected reminds me to wish a very Happy Birthday to Frank Secich, life long friend of Stiv and the boys. His current project is the Deadbeat Poets. It is brilliant music made by the finest players and songwriters from the Northeastern Ohio environs! Listen to it on their myspace page.

frank headphones

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