(PLOWBOY RECORDS EP; 2013) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULT
Cheetah Chrome has weathered the storm of the punk movement and forged his own (quite vocal and opinionated) path, emerging as a sort of “elder statesman” (he’s still only 59) of American rock and roll. As a member of Rocket From the Tombs, Chrome laid the groundwork for Cleveland’s punk scene; when that band split into two separate groups (Peter Laughner and David Thomas formed Pere Ubu; Chrome and Johnny Blitz joined up with Stiv Bator and became the Dead Boys), he gained near-legendary status, thanks to the Dead Boys live shows. Not too bad for a guitar player whose total recorded output upon the 1979 demise of the Boys was a pair of albums for Sire Records (including the seminal debut, YOUNG, LOUD AND SNOTTY, produced by Genya Ravan).Over the years, Cheetah has led or played in various bands (he appeared on Ronnie Spector’s debut solo album, SIREN, in 1980), played with reformed versions of both Rocket From the Tombs and, until the 1990 death of Bator, the Dead Boys; he has also formed a band – called the Batusis (after the dance from the BATMAN television series) – with former New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain. The band has, variously, included the rhythm section from Joan Jett’s band, the Blackearts, Chuck Garric (Alice Cooper’s bass player for the past several years) and Lez Warner, who has kept time for the Cult in the past. More recently, the guitarist has headed up the A&R department at Plowboy Records. That’s where we pick up this story; Plowboy has released a seven-song EP of material culled from a 1996 recording session (produced by Ravan) and two 2010 sessions, one solo and one with the Batusis.
The instrumental “Sharky” kinda reminds me of Blondie’s “(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence Dear.” The drums (provided by producer Ken Coomer) are out front and Chrome adds a very nice guitar figure and standard-issue New Wave organ. That combination can only lead me to say, “I like it! I really, really like it!” The Batusis’ “East Side Story” is a great, punky type of country song, with Chrome’s vocals falling somewhere between Lou Reed and John Mellencamp. The rhythm section of Sean Koos and Lez Warner are tight; Koos adds piano. Sylvain’s acoustic rhythm guitar and just a touch of twang in the leads and solos give the tune a solid Americana flavor. “Rollin’ Voodoo” features a nasty Koos bass groove, some funky Warner drumming (augmented by African drums from Warner and Coomer) and some savory riffs, delivered in stinging fashion by Cheetah and Sylvain. The tune has a ZZ Top kind of processed vocal thing happening and the whole cut has that Texas blues feel.
The Genya Ravan-produced “Stare Into the Night” has a chugging rhythm and a punkish, Joe Strummer-like vocal rasp. The song is a definite nod to Stiv Bator and the Dead Boys, with the rhythm section of Greg Walker (bass), Johnny Albamont (drums) and Jimmy V (rhythm guitar) more than ably acquitting themsleves on this and the next two tracks. “No Credit” is another great cowpunk number, with the sort of politically-charged protest lyrics that drove the majority of those great ’70s punk bands. The final track from the aborted 1996 sessions, “Nuthin’,” displays an atmospheric guitar coda and snotty countryish vocals over brilliantly understated drums and nice backing vocals. The song is a solid rocker from first to last, although it seems to just run out of juice and ends rather abruptly. A Rank and File/Alejandro Escovedo slow groove dominates “Love Song To Death,” a return to the Batusis material. Chrome delivers the lyrics in kind of a sing-song spoken word way. The guitar work shines throughout, highlighted by the rather jangly lead and the well-phrased solo, both by Sylvain Sylvain. SOLO is a magnificently varied record but, it is not without its problems. Well, one problem really… it’s just too darn short! I sincerely hope that Chrome’s office job at Plowboy doesn’t keep him from recording a full-length – preferably with the Batusis – sometime soon.