On the other side of the globe is Ross The Boss, holding his guitar and talking about the legendary Dictators who are back with a new lineup, his old buddy Albert Bouchard from Blue Oyster Cult, The Ramones, Death Dealer, his solo band Ross The Boss… of course, we didn’t forget to mention Manowar where Ross remembers how Dio helped to form the band. Is there a chance to play with them again? What’s their best album? What was the biggest mistake in his career? Read the interview below and watch the video. Interview: Yiannis Dolas
Rockpages.gr: How did you decide to reunite The Dictators?
Ross The Boss: Actually, we never broke up. We had The Dictators NYC for seven years with Daniel Rey and Manitoba, we had a good run out of that, two European tours… that being aside that wasn’t really with Andy. Andy is the song writer of the Dictators and Albert and I will be writing songs.
I had some business with Scott and Andy and I just said “why don’t we play? Just get together, write some songs and put it out”. ‘Cause the brand name of The Dictators is big. People dig the Dictators. I am always the Boy Scout in the room, always ready to play. And Andy goes “the only way we’re gonna do it is with the original band”, and I go “OK, that’s the original band”. We had a fully on with Manitoba and I said “who are we gonna use for drumming?” and Andy suggested Albert (Bouchard) and I said yes in two seconds. I’ve been working with Albert a lot and he is a genius, I consider him unbelievably great. So, we have myself, Scott Kempner “Top Ten”, Andy Shernoff and then Albert Bouchard and then… you know what happened with Scott yeah? (Ed, the band made an announcement about Scott on April 6th: The Dictators are sad to announce that our brother Scott Kempner will be leaving the band due to health reasons. Scott has been diagnosed with early stage dementia) So, that takes Scott out of the formula… so, it’s the three of us and we are also producing. So, we’ve got three really strong forces in music, Albert, myself and Andy… so, we are just going to get another guitar player for the tour. But, as far as song writing and recording goes… it’s a piece of cake. We’d do this in our sleep. We have a great chemistry the three of us and things go swimmingly well and people are responding to the music so well. The fun is back, the attitude is back, so we are very happy.
Rockpages.gr: Do you have any idea who is going to replace Scott on stage?
Ross The Boss: Yeah! I can’t say that! He’s somebody with punk rock credibility, he’s someone that people know. He is not a gigantic name, but he’s been a dear friends to the band forever… we’ll let everybody know soon… we have to practice!
Rockpages.gr: So, what else have you been doing during lockdown?
Ross The Boss: So far there are three Death Dealer records, the third one came out November 18th, “Conquered Lands”. We recorded album 4 and 5. We recorded two more records and we’ve just recorded an EP. I am working on a song or two with Marc Lopes, because AFM doesn’t want to release a new album so soon. Because we’ve put out “Born Of Fire” (with Ross The Boss) March 6th 2020. Just when the shit storm hit. So, I had a whole big tour with Burning Witches and a whole lotta shit, touring Europe etc and nothing happened. Everything got canceled.
That was a great record and I am not not touring for that record. We’re gonna tour and release a new song.
Rockpages.gr: You and Albert Bouchard go back a long way since the ‘70s I suppose. Can you share some memories from those days, when you were in The Dictators and he was a member of Blue Oyster Cult? You had the same manager…
Ross The Boss: It was always that I would be at CBS studios and I am such a fan boy of Buck Dharma, he is one of my heroes. The first time I listened to him was the first record in 1972 and I immediately went “Oh, my God!” So, we were at the studio with the Dictators working on “The Dictators Go Girl Crazy” and Albert would sneak in looking on us and I would ask him: “why don’t you play drums for us?” I wish! If he would have played drums on “Go Girl Crazy” it would have been a super hit record. I am convinced of it… I mean Stu Boy (King) was OK, but if Albert would have been on “Go Girl Crazy”, we would have been big… superstars!
In my mind it was always “I’ve got to play with that guy” and Albert goes “come to my house, I’ve got this cassette thing” – he was living in the Village- “that you can record on”. That was like 1975 or something… it was so primitive. So I played “Sinful Love” and he’s got it, Helen Wheels sings also…
So, ever since that he’d go “my two favourite guitar players are Buck Dharma and Ross The Boss”. So, we had this love going back and of course we did all these shows with them, like it’s got to be 100 shows with BOC, Iggy Pop, Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, KISS, Uriah Heep… and all the others bands we were playing with. So, I know Albert for such a long time and then we did the Brain Surgeons and I think we did a great great record – and I’ve got plans for that!
Rockpages.gr: You were also involved in Albert’s “Re-Imaginos”, how was that?
Ross The Boss: Yeah, it’s always interesting Albert’s take on “Imaginos” and I was like “why didn’t I play on this to begin with?” – I don’t know. Maybe I was on tour or something. We did “Bombers Over Germany”, which is “ME262”, a little different version and I did another one, I don’t know the other one that I did, was it “Dominance & Submission”?
Rockpages.gr: The Dictators first album pre-dated the Ramones, which is a usual cause of debate about who was the father of punk. But, were the Dictators really a punk rock band? You said that you were friends with the band, did they go influenced by you?
Ross The Boss: They were there. They knew of us. The fact that we did “California Sun” and all of the sudden they do “California Sun” on their record is pretty amazing. It’s no coincidence that this happened. They are from Queens, we are from the Bronx. The New York city spawned two home bands. Two real bands, I mean everyone else from the CBGB’s scene was transplanted from somewhere else. The Dead Boys they came from Cleveland, Ohio.
We were really good friends with the Ramones, we really loved them. I loved them and I miss them! I miss Joey Ramone, he was such a good friend to us and the whole rock scene in New York city. He was the party maker, the scene maker… everybody would respond to Joey. Anything that he wanted to do, we did it. He’s the guy who got me to join Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom. “You know, you know… oohhh” I was going to do it anyway! We all miss him! And I miss Dee Dee and Johnny and Tommy…
As a matter of fact, we closed CBGB’s, we played on the last weekend. We played Friday and Saturday. (On Sunday) played Patti, but you wouldn’t consider that punk rock. The Dictators did two big nights, Friday and Saturday and the last song Saturday night, the very last song, the very last rock song played on CBGB’s stage was “Blitzkrieg Bop” and we got Tommy to sing with us. Tommy came on and sung with us. That’s when I felt it. That’s when it hit me that this was the last time I was playing at CBGB’s. I played there 35 times over the years. 35 times! I played there more times with other bands. I was very very sad, like crying sad. This was it! We lost our home. It was a dump, but it was our dump. Whatever you say it was such a historical place. So, that would be the last time we’d be on stage and shortly ever after Tommy passed from cancer.
Rockpages.gr: You’ve also had Bruce Springsteen counting “1,2,3,4” on one of your albums, can you tell us a bit about that?
Ross The Boss: Oh yeah! We were at the Record Plant studios recording “Bloodbrothers”, our third album for Elektra and they were in Studio A, we were in Studio B, the E-Street band, recording “Darkness On The Edge Of Town”. Clarence (Clemmons) was next door and we would see Clarence and he was like “yo, can I come smoke some weed in your studio?” and I’d go “of course you can”. “But, don’t tell the Boss!”… “Ohhh, don’t worry Clarence, we won’t say a word!” “Tell Bruce to come over and sing a little thing on our record”. He used to love the Dictators and he came over and did it… it was like “wow!” For him to do it like that and sing “1..2..3..4” it was so cool. It was one of those great moments for us that we would never forget. Clarence Clemons is amazing too… God bless him, rest in peace…
Rockpages.gr: Which one would you say that it was your best record with the Dictators?
Ross The Boss: I don’t know, it’s hard to say. As flawed as “Go Girl Crazy” is… I mean, I listen to it now and I also listen to the new mixes by Andrew W.K. – he did a great a job. As far as technicality, I think that “D.F.F.D.” is an amazing record. People would say that “Manifest Destiny” was our experimental album, but I listen to it and of course Andy went wild on his pop side, but I listen to some stuff I did on it, like the solo on “Steppin’ Out” and I go “wow!” I am playing harmony… and I consider the solo one of the best I’ve ever played. But, as far as the best Dictators record? I don’t know! I couldn’t tell you! Maybe, the one with “Who Will Save Rock and Roll” on it is pretty good…
Rockpages.gr: A bit later you met with a guy in a Black Sabbath concert and you formed Manowar. Is this how the story goes, did it happen like that?
Ross The Boss: Yeah, exactly like that. I was in England playing for Shakin’ Street, a French band, because Sandy Pearlman managed Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult and Shakin’ Street at the time. So, he got us to open the “Heaven And Hell” tour with Ronnie Dio and I am “Oh, my God! I find myself in England opening up for Black Sabbath, my idols… Oh, My God!”. So, we’re playing sound check and Ronnie comes up to me and tells me “you know Ross, I know” – he was so cool, so nice, so sweet- “I really love the way you play guitar. I love the New York scene and I know all about the Dictators, the Ramones, Patti Smith. But, I’ve got a guy on my crew, his name is Joey and he plays bass and I think that you guys would hit it off. How did he know that?
So, I went to sort Joey out and he was on the crew. So, we became friends and started jamming in Black Sabbath’s dressing room! And a couple of days, couple of shows (later) we decided that… I think it’s time to do a new band. So, I named a replacement for Shakin’ Street, ‘cause I didn’t want to leave them in the lurch and we picked the time and my last show with Shakin’ Street was Vinnie Appice’s first show with Black Sabbath amazingly!
So, we left the tour and we proceeded to do demos, I did a demo with my friend Bob Curry, who wanted to do something with me, he was head of A&R in EMI Records in New York and he singed the band… and that band became Manowar.
Rockpages.gr: Typical question, you’ve answered it a lot of times, but I will ask you once again! Is there a chance to rejoin the band? If they ask you? If somebody leaves? What if they give you a phone call and they ask you to play with them for a tour, or a show, or whatever?
Ross The Boss: Hehehe (laughs)! Well, I say it to everybody that I consider it an honor to play with my friends. And I consider Manowar my friends. I don’t have a good relationship with Joey at the moment, but it’s not impossible. The only one who can do that it’s him, Joey. If he says “fuck all that, life is too short”… what happens if someone dies? Then it’s over. I never say never to anything. Because, as I told you I am a Boy Scout and I just want to play as much as I can play. Every second that I have one of these babies in my hand I am a happy guy! It’s either that or a baseball bat. As long as I have a guitar and I am playing I am happy. It doesn’t matter who I am playing for or with.
Rockpages.gr: Is it easier for you to tell me which Manowar album you’ve been on is the best one? So far…
Ross The Boss: Feew… I wake up every day and I have a different opinion on things. I always thought that “Battle Hymns” it’s the first record. It pretty much started it, it started power metal… I’d say “Battle Hymns”, but today I’d say “Hail To England”. It’s my favourite record at the moment, just because of “Each Dawn I Die” and “Bridge Of Death”. The tuning of my guitar… the way it is… those songs were so amazing so… that whole era, those six records. I don’t think they can be duplicated again by any band. By any metal band. Metal band? Forget it!
Rockpages.gr: You told me that you have already to Death Dealer albums ready. Listening to the last one, I found it heavier, faster and edgier than the previous ones. Was it a deliberate thing? How do the two new ones sound like?
Ross The Boss: I think that you’re gonna find that they are better. Those songs are tremendous. Stu (Marshall) and Shawn (Peck) have done some incredible song writing with my help every now and then. Lately, I haven’t been writing with them as much as possible, because I am trying to write with Ross The Boss. I think that “4” is unbelievable, it’s insane. The songs that I did for the EP are really good! Stu is on a magical roll writing riffs. I go “what is with you, man?” I’ve never seen an output like this man is doing. And Shawn, he manages to keep his lyrics fresh and topical. More power to it! If you got it then let’s record them, we are ready! Death Dealer is ready. And the fact that I have three fifths of Ross The Boss band in Death Dealer it’s a fun thing. There is always going to be Mike (LePond) and Steve (Bolognese) and me and Shawn, or Steve and Mark… so, when we are travelling we can have both bands. On a weekend you can have on band playing on a Saturday and the other Sunday.
Rockpages.gr: Any idea when this stuff is coming out? The EP and the albums?
Ross The Boss: The EP is coming out in the fall I think.
Rockpages.gr: Last question, what was your biggest mistake in your career?
Ross The Boss: The biggest mistake in my career… Hmmm… Well, I’ve made a couple let me tell you that! (thinking) When I produced Anthrax… I produced Anthrax and got them signed in Megaforce. And John Z just told me: “it was because of you that I signed Anthrax”. Of course, Metallica was in the picture and they were going to ask me to produce them too, and the fact is that something happened… I don’t know… I never wound up doing it. Looking back on it I should have pushed that… I should have been on Metallica like ants on honey! Bees on honey! That’s probably my biggest mistake. I mean… why I was not aware of that? The Metallica thing and walking away from Manowar. Well, because I was fired, but part of it was Joey and letting it go. I should have prosecuted more. But, that’s a private issue.
I’ve done other mistakes too… plenty! That gets to me. That drives me a little crazy, because I was right there to do it. And… it didn’t happen. But, it did for Anthrax!
Rockpages.gr: You’ve been in bands all your life playing guitar, so which one would you say that has the biggest ego in a band? The guitarist, or the singer?
Ross The Boss: In my case it’s the bass player! In both bands! Hahah! Serious? I would say that the lead singer has to have the ego. But, in my band you would think that I’d have the biggest ego when I don’t. I am probably the most humble person. All my friends are humble, because I don’t put up with that around me. I would have to say that historically it’s the bass player.
Rockpages.gr: Do you remember anything from playing in Greece? You’ve been here a couple of times…
Ross The Boss: Yes, I remember the always great, always fantastic people. Always with so much love and respect both ways. I remember the food! I remember everything. I remember how joyful and triumphant it was. When we go back to Greece it’s going to be unbelievable. I can’t wait! I have so many people to see there. Especially, those two years we are talking almost every day… “Hail to Greece! Hellas!” It’s really great, there is definitely a brotherhood with this people… we are coming!