Photo by John Bomber
The Dickies began in Los Angeles in 1977. Unlike much of the music being labeled “punk” in the day, their use of humor, catchy melodies and harmonies set them apart from any other band in the genre at that time. In addition to their unique original recordings, the band was known for their fast-paced punk covers of classic songs ranging from Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, The Moody Blues Knights in White Satin to their cover of the television theme song from the Banana Splits , Banana Splits (Tra La La Song), which became a top 10 single in the U.K. They were also the first California punk band to sign with a major label.
Influenced by classic punk from bands like The Ramones, they became quite popular on the East Coast.This made them much more nationally recognized than a lot of the other punk bands from California. The first time I saw the band was at Stamford CT’s Anthrax Club, when I was only 13 or 14 years old.
Drug problems and tragedies slowed the band down considerably for many years, but original members Stan Lee (guitar) and singer Leonard Graves Phillips have managed to stick together for close to 40 years.
While the band has not released any new material in since 2001, they continue to release live material and play together pretty regularly.
I was able to see the band at Cafe Nine in New Haven, CT recently and was lucky enough to be able to sit down with current band members, Stan Lee, Adam Gomez and Eddie Tatar. I found them thoughtful, engaging and outspoken. And after the interview I was treated to one hell of a show.
J. I saw you for the first time at a little punk club in Stamford, CT
Stan Lee: Yeah, the Anthrax club. Down in that tiny basement. The guys name was Shaun.
J. You are right, Shaun Sheridan, I believe he’s here tonight.
Stan: The thing I remember about that place was that he didn’t sell tickets, he just walked around collecting five bucks from everyone, It was really cool. There was a trust there. A sense of community.He was a nice guy. He really was. He and his brother.
J. You and Leonard have been together since 1977. Almost 40 years. What keeps you guys going? Is there a secret behind it?
Stan: It’s hate
J. Oh a love/hate kind of thing?
Stan: No, it’s all hate…. You can have it. I’ll give it to you freely to use.This band is run on hate.
J. I’ve been playing you guys for my 19-year-old son, and he’s a big fan of the Stuart song. How do you guys come up with these things?”
Stan: Well, that one was Leonard. I stay away from the penis references. The whole thing has bothered me about the band…. And you know, Dickies were like those cut-off turtlenecks, undershirts. It wasn’t a name I’d have picked, that’s for sure
J. Who came up with it?
Stan :The drummer said the name, and it just stuck. But at the time we expected the band to last 6 months like that dickie fashion fad did, you know.
J. I saw John Doe at Rough Trade in Brooklyn in the Spring and he referenced a little rivalry between the New York and L.A. punk scenes. Did you ever feel that way? A rivalry between any of the scenes?
Stan: I felt there were no rivalries. He’s in X, maybe he thinks he thinks it through too much. We just played. If the Misfits needed somebody to play, we played. We did that with The Damned, lots of bands. I never felt any kind of rivalries.We all got along.We all still do. We’ve toured with The Damned recently.
J: Who were some of your biggest influences?
Stan: The Ramones, Motown, The Supremes
J: The Ramones incorporated a lot of humor into their music. To me, they were one of the only other bands that really used so much campiness in their songs.. Were they an influence?
Stan: Oh yeah. Me and Joey were friends. We were friends with those guys. We toured with them a lot. Hung out with them.But they’re one of my favorite bands. They always will be.
J: You guys have done covers of so many songs. How did that begin? What made you start?
Stan: I just thought a lot of them could have been done better
J: So this was your idea, to start doing these covers?
Stan: I guess so, and also, we didn’t have to write the tunes, so it was easy. It was like, what are the chords to that, and then it was done! Chuck Wagon, can you figure this out with me? And we’d sort of have them figured out in no time. With our own twist on it.
J: Speaking of Chuck, how did you make it through that? Was there a time when you thought of breaking up after his death?
Stan: No, you, know when someone kills himself, its their thing. I don’t know what to say. I’m of course, not for it, but the guy had his real problems. I didn’t know him that well, I really didn’t. Leonard would be able to speak to that better than me. But, no, we never thought of stopping because of it.
J: Did you ever come close to breaking up?
Stan: Drugs kept us down for a while. But we stuck it out. We’re still here.
J: How old were you when you decided to become a musician?
Stan. 18. I was about 20 when the band started. I first tried to learn at 15, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t squeeze the chords together, so I just gave up. When I was 18, I had a friend with a lot of time on his hands and he sat with me, had a lot of patience, and showed me some great stuff. That’s the only reason it ever happened.
J. My own son started to play at about 13 and never stopped, because he quickly discovered it was a way to get the girls to follow him around. Did any of you do it for that reason?
Adam: I started way too young, I was 9. I think it was just watching the super cool metal videos. Megadeth and Suicidal Tendencies were my biggest influences. I was just really drawn to it.
Eddie: I started to play at about 10, my father was a musician we played the old standards. I started playing the music like my father did. Traditional stuff. It was in the family.
J: Who were your influences?
Stan: He better say the Dickies!
Eddie: I did love The Dickies. I have very different influences, I took the old standards, and you know, you can sort of add harmonies to those kinds of songs, change them up and make them your own. It was all so grand to me at the time., this whole new frontier. So my influences were very different.
J: Stan, I know you’re a dog lover. Do you miss them when you’re out on the road? How long are you on tour now?
Stan: Only 8 days. When we go to Europe. We go for like 3 weeks and these guys are always on me. “We only start making money after a few weeks, we don’t want to go home!” But I miss my dogs!
J: Are you able to check in on them?
Stan: Yep.I face time them, pictures get sent. Well the problem is, my dog watcher. He came in and took Mimsy away. She now backs up and is all suspicious of me when she sees me.He stole her away! I think I may need to kick him out! She hurts my feelings. I have feelings. She even sleeps with him now! What the hell?
J: So what do you think of this crazy political climate we are in right now?
Stan: It’s fucking crazy! It’s like reality TV. I’d rather not even think of the possibility of a Trump Presidency. Jesus Christ.
Eddie: Stan thinks I’m a Trump guy. I don’t get into politics. I don’t vote. The government can kiss my ass. I don’t get involved at all. I think it’s all biased and influenced by the media and driven by one thing, the almighty dollar. Therefore, some people can criticize me, but its my choice to do it. Stan thinks that I want Trump to win, but I don’t care. I don’t get involved in things unless they involve me. That’s the way I look at it.
J. How about you, Adam?
Adam: Either way we are in a pretty bad place.
J. What’s the future of the band?
Stan: I don’t know, we’ve been threatening to make a last album….
J: Do you have anything recorded?
Stan: Yes, but since the record companies have all blown up, it’s changed. All the kids are doing the self producing their own stuff now. It’s all crazy. The internet has changed everything. Taken a lot of the greatness out.
J. Are all of your albums available on vinyl?
Stan: Some. The first two , we can’t get our hands on because the bass player is causing some bullshit. We could re-record but I’m against that. It would never come out the same. Stukas is coming out again next year.
J. Do you have a Favorite Dickies album?
Stan: Dawn of the Dickies. It’s colorful and it lights up the room. They aren’t all like that. But that one is. I really think it’s good. Definitely my favorite album that we did.
J: Do you guys have anything else you’d like to say?
Eddie: I’ve been in the Dickies for 6 years, and its been an honor and being a member of this fine institution and to be with such pillars in the punk community and to play with such living legends as Stan Lee and Leonard Phillips. And every day I’m grateful and that is a fact.
Stan:He means it too, But maybe he’s trying to get a longer tour in Europe!
The Dickies are a timeless band that will never stop being loud, fun and incredible to see live. After almost 4o years, that’s one hell of an accomplishment.