‘I would have played for free on a street corner in Paris if I had to,” barked a defiant Ross Friedman into the phone from his Queens home.
Better known by his stage name Ross the Boss, the 60-year-old founding member of seminal CBGBs-era punk band The Dictators had been scheduled to appear in Paris with the latter-day, reconstituted Dictators NYC, five days after the deadly ISIS attack on the Eagles of Death Metal show at the Bataclan theater. However, the French government had canceled all live performances in the aftermath of the massacre.
The Dictators NYC had been onstage in Spain when the jolting news of the Paris attacks reached them, recalled Friedman, “It was shocking, but not surprising. How could anyone possibly be surprised by it? They have declared war on us,” he said. “We decided that we were going to play in Paris anyway and we found a small venue.
For us to cancel would have signified their victory. And the Dictators have more of a motive, because we’re a Jewish band and we wanted everyone to know that we’ve had enough of this. We said, ‘we’re not canceling and we’re not going to stop playing.’” The result was wall-to-wall throwback to the punk clubs of their youth, with a sold-out crowd boldly rocking out in an ear-shattering answer to terrorism.
“It was amazing. There were 150 people there, which is all you could cram in, and they were hugging us and crying and we were hugging and crying back. It was the most important show I’ve ever played,” said Friedman, who will be making his first trip to Israel this week to perform in the Titans of Metal revue with a dozen other hard rock veterans in an array of lineups.
Emerging from the same musical petri dish that spawned a generation of Jewish New York punks – from Joey and Tommy Ramone to Blondie’s Chris Stein, the Patti Smith Band’s Lenny Kaye, as well as his own bandmates Andy Shernoff and Handsome Dick Manitoba (Richard Blum) – The Dictators proved to be the bridge between the grungy glam rock of the mid- 1970s New York Dolls and the witty punk of the Ramones.
“There were a lot of Jewish musicians and people involved with the CBGB scene,” said Friedman, referring to the famed Bowery club that gave many of the punk bands of the late 1970s their first break.
“I can’t put my finger on why we all gravitated toward that music, but we were all in the right place at the right time – we created a wave. It was an amazing confluence of talent.”
The Dictators’ 1975 debut album Go Girl Crazy is seen as a proto-punk blueprint and their subsequent albums skirted with, but just fell short of mainstream success, despite critical acclaim and some vocal supporters like Bruce Springsteen.
“Looking back, we were a little too metal for punk and a little too punk for metal,” said Friedman.
“They didn’t have a category for us and that held us back. And while the Ramones had an image that anyone could get behind, the Dictators really didn’t.”
Still, the Dictators played CBGBs more than any other act (34 times), and when the venue officially closed in 2006, the reformed band was on the stage with Patti Smith and members of Television and Red Hot Chili Peppers performing the final song – “Blitzkrieg Bop” – by the Ramones.
“It was a really chilling and sad experience for me. There was nothing left after that, there was no coming back,” he said.
But Dictators NYC, the band Friedman formed with the flamboyantly funny Manitoba a few years ago, has kept the spirit alive with their self-proclaimed “soaring guitars, bombastic drums, and anthemic vocals.”
Friedman divides his time between that project, his own hard rock band Death Dealer, and regular participation in metal all-star revues like Titans of Metal, which is being showcased on Thursday night at the Theater Club in Tel Aviv.
He likened the show – which features his Death Dealer bandmate Sean Peck, as well as Chuck Billy (Testament); Anette Olzon (ex-Nightwish); Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear, ex-Gamma Ray); Tim “Ripper” Owens (ex-Judas Priest, Iced Earth); Mats Levén (Candlemass, ex-Therion; Yngwie Malmsteen); Christopher Amott (Armageddon, ex-Arch Enemy); Hannes Grossmann (Alkaloid, ex-Obscura); Uli Jon Roth (ex-Scorpions); Hank Shermann (Mercyful Fate); Michael Denner (Mercyful Fate); Oliver Holzwarth (ex-Blind Guardian); Bob Katsionis (Firewind); Olaf Lenk (At Vance); George Kollias (Nile); Dean Rispler (The Dictators); Vinny Appice (Dio, Black Sabbath); Roland Grapow (Masterplan, ex-Helloween); Tony Macalpine; Graham Bonnet (ex-Rainbow) and Fabio Lione (Rhapsody of Fire, Angra) to the old soul and R&B revues of the early 1960s that traveled around with a musical director, and every act would come out for two or three songs.
“It’s really a great thing – a whole bunch of musicians all with a bunch of songs in different groupings,” said Friedman. “Not every fan knows about every artist, but we’re all from the same tribe, as we say. It’s heavy metal, so it really works for the fans.”
A fringe benefit of the show for Friedman is that it enables his first visit to Israel, a location that has long been on his wish list.
“My family wasn’t religious – I’m half Catholic on my mother’s side.
I went to Hebrew school and had a bar mitzva, but I never took religion seriously. Now that I’m older, I’m taking it much more seriously.
And I’m 100% supportive of Israel and 100% supportive of Bibi Netanyahu,” he said. “I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get to Israel, and I’m so thankful that it’s finally happening. And now that I’m coming, I’m full of emotion.”
As thankful Friedman is to be coming on his roots visit to his homeland, he’s also grateful that he’s been able to sustain a music career for over five decades.
“I realized a long time ago that I wasn’t going to become a multi-millionaire off this, but playing guitar was all I ever really wanted to do,” he said.
“As long as I can play and make records and get on stage and touch people, I’m not going to quit. And I’m thankful that it’s getting better all the time. My bands are doing great, and I get to do these Titans shows. I’m a happy guy.”