Peter Frampton, Cincinnati’s resident Classic Rock star, better watch his step this Sunday — Cheetah Chrome is coming to town.
Chrome, the explosively thrashing guitarist/songwriter with the key American Punk band the Dead Boys, will be at the Comet in Northside at 3:30 p.m. on that day as part of the unusual, trend-setting Cleveland Confidential Authors Tour. All three of the authors who will be reading from/signing their books at the free event — Chrome, Mike Hudson and Bob Pfeifer — have their roots in Cleveland Punk bands.
The short-lived Dead Boys, who came together in Cleveland but made their mark in New York at CBGB’s (whose owner, Hilly Kristal, was their manager), were an American Sex Pistols, with quite a bit of Iggy Pop tossed in. Lead singer Stiv Bators (now deceased) had the dead-eyed stare of Johnny Rotten; Chrome looked ready to fight anyone, anytime — like Sid Vicious.
Chrome’s book, A Dead Boy’s Tale: From the Front Lines of Punk Rock, is a memoir whose account of the hardcore sex, drugs and Rock & Roll of the Punk era might make Keith Richards blush. There are also some not-so-high-times; Chrome had to fight through addiction and poverty to revive his career (and life) in the 1990s.
One choice book anecdote involves a run-in between Frampton and Chrome. At the time, Frampton was riding high with the kind of carefully produced, glossy Rock-radio-friendly product (“I’m In You”) that the punks found calculated and soulless. And they weren’t shy about letting people know about what they hated — Punk music, as well as the bands’ grooming habits, cried rebellion.
So one day, when the Dead Boys arrived at New York City’s Electric Lady studios to record their first album, 1977’s Young, Loud and Snotty on major label Sire Records, they definitely looked the part.
They were mad about their van having been towed, they wore leather and had short, sharp, shocked hair. Chrome wore his customary dog collar. And as they carried their equipment in, they spotted Frampton.
According to Chrome, Frampton stared at him … and stared and stared.
“I had to walk past him to get to the stairs, so as I did I looked him straight in the eye and gave him a nice ‘Grrrrrrr…’ and sneered,” Chrome writes. “The next thing I knew he turned and ran up the stairs so fast, I was almost unsure he’d been there in the first place. I was so proud. I mean, Peter Frampton, one of the biggest Rock stars in the world had just hauled ass like a little girl because I growled at him!”
Told during a phone interview that Frampton now lives here, Chrome — who is 56, still musically active and has lived in Nashville since 1996 — laughs heartily.
“Maybe I can chase him up the steps again,” he says. “It was really funny, when I moved to Nashville he lived here, and within a year he had moved again. I’m sure I had nothing to do with it, but that still was funny.”
The book tour also features Hudson, who was in the band Pagans and has gone on to journalism, has written his own account of the Rock life, Diary of a Punk, as well as a book of short fiction, Jetsam; and Bob Pfeifer, founding member of Human Switchboard and Tabby Chinos, whose University of Strangers is a novel based on the Amanda Knox murder case.
The idea for the tour comes from the independent Smog Veil Records, Chrome’s current label — he’s in a band called the Batusis with Syl Sylvain of the New York Dolls — and recalls the days when readings by Beat-era authors had the appeal of concerts.
Chrome’s book contains its share of shrewd insights into the music business. He thinks Punk was the start of the mainstream record industry’s downfall and loss of credibility with its audience. The major labels that were quick to sign Punk bands as the next big thing were also quick to drop the ones, like the Dead Boys, that didn’t immediately sell. They treated them like the next fad. But fans treated Punk like a political movement, supporting and sustaining the bands — even founding independent labels to record them.
“The (major) labels didn’t care about the art; they just wanted to sell stuff,” Chrome says during the interview. “So basically they’ve ended up with nothing to sell. They created a legitimate independent market that competed with them, because the independent labels believed in the art of it and didn’t give up because a record didn’t sell in its first six months. They put bands on tour and slogged away at it, and eventually it worked.”
And it’s still working, as those Punk musicians become authors.
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