When Stiv Bators died, America lost one of it’s punk pioneers, and the world was deprived of one of the finest purveyors of punk rock ever. When Guns n Roses released ‘Ain’t It Fun’ from their ‘The Spaghetti Incident’ album of a couple of years ago, a friend enthusiastically tried to convince me that with this awesome tune, Guns n Roses were back in form. I had to politely remind him that this song was a cover of a Dead Boys number, and a rather lame version at that. I’d rather have Stiv sing it thankyou very much. While Pearl Jam now play ‘Sonic Reducer’ in their set, I wonder just how many kids realise that this is in fact another Dead Boys tune. I wonder what Stiv would make of all the fuss over Pearl Jam, looking down from rock n roll heaven. Stiv was born on 22 October 1949 in Cleveland, Ohio. An only child born to a mother of Pennsylvanian / Dutch heritage, whilst his father descended from Czechoslovakian gypsies (Stiv in Czech means Steven). In his late teens Stiv managed to avoid the draft (possessing the physique of a malnourished imp), and went on to form a local band Mother Goose, an Alice Cooper influenced combo with Stiv going by the stage name of ‘Steve Machine’. Stiv spent a brief period of time fronting another Cleveland outfit, Rocket From The Tombs around early 1975, and it was from this band that a lot of the Dead Boys material such as ‘Ain’t It fun’ and ‘Sonic Reducer’ were penned.
The Rockets eventually splintered into two camps, Pere Ubu, and Frankenstein. By now, Stiv was already armed with his own particular brand of night creature vocabulary, and formed Frankenstein who appropriately played their first gig on Halloween 1975. Frankenstein proved quite popular during their brief time in Cleveland, playing covers of Kiss, Alice Cooper, Mott The Hoople and a smattering of songs plucked from the corpse of Rocket From The Tombs. However they found their prospects becoming extremely limited in Cleveland, playing covers to an audience unaware of the demise of glitter rock. When Bators attended a Ramones gig in Youngstown, Ohio he convinced the Ramones to secure them a gig at CBGB’s, and thus it was that as the newly formed ‘Dead Boys’ they made their debut at CBGB’s on 25 July 1976. They abandoned their flirtation with the glitter / Brit rock aspects of Frankenstein, and essentially became a hard rock version of Rocket From The Tombs. They still included some raucous covers, including Iggy’s ‘Search and Destroy’.
When the Dead Boys first appeared on the scene they came across as looking very right wing, wearing Nazi uniforms and the like, yet it seemed they lacked a certain pop sensibility. What they did have going for them though, was an energetic Iggy-like vocalist, and what they lacked in original inspired music was compensated for by Bators’ outrageous stage antics. The Dead Boys were a pornographic knock out, impeccable purveyors of dirty punk, and as a Dead Boy it would be easy to stereotype Stiv as a malevolent wrecker, rather than the off beat, amiable character he was. By mid ’78 the Dead Boys had parted company, leaving us with two classic punk albums, ‘Young, Loud and Snotty’ and ‘We Have Come For Your Children’. From one of the occasional reunions spawned ‘The Night Of The Living Dead Boys’ album, which was recorded live at CBGB’s in March 1979. Stiv soon ended up in L.A where he secured a solo deal with BOMP!, and also did some gigs with an Ohio band called the Rubber City Rebels, alongside Dead Boys guitarist Cheetah Chrome. He split his time divided between The Stiv Bators Band, who released the ‘Disconnected’ album in 1980, and his other project, The Wanderers (who featured ex members of Sham 69). The Wanderers debuted at the London Lyceum in March ’81, released one album ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ and a couple of singles, and true to their name split not long after. Bators had first met Brian James of The Damned in 1977, when they had shared the same bill as the Dead boys at CBGB’s. Even back then they had vague plans for a future collaboration, and in the spring of ’81 as the New Church Boys they debuted at the Marquee in London. After a name change to the Lords Of The New Church, they proved themselves a real bad pack. the Lords were a perfect rock n roll vehicle for Stiv, who up front was a skinny witch in Halloween attire, possessing an off the wall range in vocal skills – from serial killer psychosis to deviant lover.
However after numerous contractual disputes and ensuing lawsuits, coupled with a divorce and a nasty fall from a stage in Spain which resulted in spinal fractures, Stiv decided to take leave for the moment and returned to Paris where he favoured a more domestic lifestyle. Yet thoughts of a rock n roll retirement did not sit comfortably with the nomad of punk, and after a yet another Dead Boys reunion at The Opera On The Green in London’s Shepherds Bush, Stiv soon had another project underway called ‘Something Else’. By April 1990, assembled alongside Stiv in a Paris studio were Dee Dee Ramone and guesting on guitar, Johnny Thunders. However even before the first chord was struck, Dee Dee Ramone had apparently flipped out in Stiv’s apartment and flew back to New York. Six killer tracks were laid down and Stiv enthused about taking the demos to America, with a view to setting up a more permanent band. one gig was already pencilled in for The Whiskey in L.A on July 4, 1990. Tragically, Stiv was never to realise any of these events. In early June he was hit by a car and died the following day. He now rests in a Paris cemetery.
Stiv Bators was an uncompromising soul who laid his hands on rock n roll and raised it to his own specifications. He leaves behind a dark wonderland of slutty panache and casually divine compositions. Even before his death Stiv had attained a certain cult status, but the art of true cult is rarely lucrative, and like Mozart before him, Stiv went to a paupers grave.
Note: Article originally appeared in Vicious Kitten Fanzine – 1995