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Jeff Moehlis: The Dictators NYC to Invade Ventura for Mini-Fest at Billy O’s

Handsome Dick Manitoba is the singer for The Dictators, now known as The Dictators NYC, a seminal New York City proto-punk rock band whose huge influence was sadly never matched by huge record sales.

The band's first album, The Dictators Go Girl Crazy! released in 1975, is a brilliant mix of irreverent lyrics and youthful energy. Two more albums followed, 1977's Manifest Destiny and 1978's Bloodbrothers.

Their last studio album was 2001's D.F.F.D. ("Dictators Forever Forever Dictators"), which is arguably their strongest album after their debut.

The Dictators NYC are headlining the mini-fest of almost a dozen bands at Billy O's in Ventura on Sunday, Jan. 11; click here for the event page, which includes approximate set times, and tickets are available by clicking here.

Doors open at 1 p.m. The music starts at 2 p.m. and will last late into the evening. Punk rock fans won't want to miss this one, the last ever show put together by Mute On the Floor.

Handsome Dick Manitoba answered Noozhawk's questions by email; the full interview is available by clicking here.

                                                                        •        •

Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at the upcoming show?

Handsome Dick Manitoba: A buncha guys relaxed onstage. Having fun. We have fun, and it's our party so you are invited to join the fun. We B relaxed because we got nothing left to prove. Don't get me wrong, this isn't an "Eagles" relaxed. We will bleed for you.

JM: When The Dictators formed, what was the New York music scene like, and what were your goals?

Billy OS
Eleven bands are on the program for the mini-fest at Billy O's in Ventura on Sunday, with The Dictators NYC headlining.

HDM: It was THRILLING. We hung at this place on the Bowery called CBGB. When the Bowery was all drunko bars, Christian missions and  flop houses ... all of a sudden a scene was growing, and a light shined where there hadn't been a light before.

JM: The first Dictators album is now almost 40 years old. What are your reflections on that album?

HDM: I love the innocence and honesty and purity of the record. Always have. The history is AMAZING. We thought we were the coolest kids in town (we WERE!) ... Made the album the coolest kids wanted to make ... Nobody bought it ...  Abject economic failure. How many artists in history (I HATE to call myself an artist) created something, and never lived to see the fruits of their labor? ...  Well 40 years later, there are people coming in my bar, Manitoba's 99, Ave. B, NYC telling me how great that record is, and how it changed their lives ... Fathers who have turned their sons onto it ...  It's unreal.

JM: The cover songs "I Got You Babe" and "California Sun" on that album are great, both in choice and in execution. Why those songs?

HDM: Surf music was a genre we all loved. The beautiful melodies, the whole surf, girl, and sun imagery. I grew up in a Bronx housing project, so Brian Wilson's voice was pure beauty and fantasy to me. "I Got You Babe" was just funny ... two guys singing "I Got You Babe." With me doing the masculine part, of course!

JM: Like many people, I think that the first Dictators record is brilliant, but it never really took off and the band got dropped by Epic. What went wrong?

HDM: Really hard to KNOW why something didn't happen. Guess? We were too many things (musical genres), therefore marketing was tough ... Atypical lead singer? Atypical songs? Bad timing? Ahead of our time? Sucked?

JM: In the early days, did you dread sharing the bill with bands that had a different musical outlook from The Dictators, like Rush, Nazareth, Billy Preston, etc.?

HDM: DEEEE REDDDDDDD!!!! ... VOMITACIOUS! ... Preston was a very cool musician, the rest ... FEH!

JM: The Dictators toured England and Europe in 1977. What was that like, and how was it different from the New York scene?

HDM: Punk was EXPLODING in England... Opening for The Stranglers ... 23 years old, 1st time in Europe ...  The Marquee Club, Mandrax, as memorable a few weeks as I ever had.

JM: Looking back, how would you describe The Dictators' place in and legacy for the 1970s New York City punk rock scene?

HDM: We were right in the middle of it but because we were sooo UN-artsy fartsy, we were shunned by many ...  But f*** 'em, half those bands were are s*** and wouldn't know rock and roll if it bit 'em on the a** ... We hung with the cool bands, Dead Boys, Ramones, Debbie and Chris [Harry and Stein, from Blondie], Tina and Chris [Weymouth and Frantz, from The Talking Heads], although never their fearless leader.

There at the beginning, middle, end and STILL going ...  Stronger than ever. LAST MEN STANDING (Almost).

JM: In 2001, The Dictators released the brilliant comeback album D.F.F.D. Did you ever get an answer to the question asked in the first song, "Who Will Save Rock and Roll?"

HDM: It will be someone one day where you turn your head and go, "Holy s***!!!! Who is THAT?!?!" Someone young who has the magic. We are here to pass the message along. To take our history and present lives and hopefully be so friggin' great, people are inspired ...  But that's at our loftiest ... For the moment, let's just have some fun.

JM: What are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future?

HDM: PLAY/PLAY/PLAY ...  Record a batch of tunes, ASAP ... The first I've written.

JM: Where are you responding from?

HDM: My desk, 27" iMac, in my living room, in my skivvies.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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