Imperial Dogs

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The Summer of Love

That Never Was

The Imperial

Dogs bite

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Once upon a time, or circa early ’70s to be somewhat precise, there was a band called the Imperial Dogs. They were a bunch of South Bay (Redondo Beach, etc.) fellas, a pack of long-tressed, rockily dressed rock-loving rockhounds/party boys and pot-smoking wildmen and, actually, totally ace musicians in a balls-out, true-rock, rock-rock-rockin’ way…

And this is their story, or a rough impression of it:

At the time here in Southern California, about 1974, say, there wasn’t a whole lot of context for people to be bands or be in bands; not a lot of places to play –– a few but not many, and the ones that did exist had some pretty restrictive rules and hep-requirements, like you had to be signed to a major label or you had to be a mostly stupid cover band playing all the stupid big hits of the day. Now, L.A. at that time had already come to be thought of as the “center of the music industry,” and it was, in a way, seeing how the best recording studios and producers were working here, all your heaviest session honchos, most of the major labels, of course, and etc. You don’t need to be told again that hoary old story about how the “music industry” has been a defining presence here in Los Angeles but that there was simply no place for the actual bands and musicians here; you just couldn’t get the time of day unless you had already made it elsewhere and were a proven, you know, chart-toppin’ phenom and big, big money-makin’ machine.

But just so you know, there were bands here that wanted to rock not like Steely Dan (and yes, I do like Steely Dan, but), rather preferring the messier likes of Mott the Hoople or the Stooges or the MC5 or what have you, and that’s where our Imperial Dogs enter the picture. The Dogs were fronted by Don Waller, who you all know or don’t from his more high-profile presence lo these past several decades as a music journalist and author of the definitive The Motown Story (Scribner's, 1985).

Waller and I had this discussion recently about what the point might be in doing something on the I. Dogs story at this time and place, generally coming to agree that, mainly, the way rock history has been written has been all sort of wrong, having neglected such major chunks of important info that the accepted chronology and patterns of influence, etc. we normally accept as gospel, well, we accept as gospel because the whole story got all skewed, having been handed down to us from faraway! arrogant! places.

As Mr. Waller himself puts it, “L.A. gets short shrift in the history books. But we were doing things here in the face of the cocaine cowboy record industry, and it was like, ‘Oh, that didn’t happen, everyone was just imitating New York or London.’ It really irritates me.”

Hey, me too. But let’s cut to the chase: Waller has recently issued forth a DVD of one of the Imperial Dogs’ few live performances, which occurred at Cal State Long Beach on October 30, 1974. It is a supremely rocking and wickedly funny document that encapsulates the above-mentioned very special and very weird period in rock history. And the story is that a Dogs friend, CSULB student Linda Pascale, had booked this show at the school's student union building, and the Dogs set about publicizing it any which way they could, like in the student newspaper, and they had put about 2000 flyers out at every high school, record store and music store everywhere in the South Bay from Manhattan Beach to Long Beach. So a lot of curious bystanders showed up to see the big rock hullabaloo; it wasn’t a packed house or anything, but a pretty good-sized crowd, few of whom had any idea of what to make of the Dogs’ explosive rock mess and sort of scary low-camp theatrical shenanigans. It didn’t look or sound like Supertramp.

This Sin't the Summer of Love

As captured on the DVD, the band’s performance –– which was so, so tight, in fact –– comes on like a murky mess of sound and imagery that somehow only heightens the effect of the onslaught. The acoustics in there must’ve been pretty weird.

“Yeah,” says Waller, “behind the camera is an entire wall of plate glass windows, and so the sound just bounces off that stuff. And I really gotta hand it to the engineers that made the camera, because the sound on the video comes from the mike on the camera. It’s a mono sound; that’s a half-inch tape, before Betamax and everything. When we took the stage, there’s no sound board or anything; we brought our own PA in, and a buddy of ours, one of our roadies, sat out in the middle of the room before anybody went in, and we balanced the sound that way. And we’re playing as loud as possible –– you can tell by the feedback that happens between songs, once we start playing we overwhelm that, but we had that feedback the whole time because of the sheer volume we’re playing at.”

It’s the sort of slack-jawed non-reaction of the stunned audience that’s part of the fun in watching this thing.

“It was like playing to an art opening,” says Waller. “There were about 250 people there, and when we got there we were disappointed that the crowd was so small, ‘cause the room was bigger than that. Jesus Christ. We realized that 90 percent of those people, we didn’t know who they were. We come out there looking like we do and sounding like we do, and they just stand there.”

The crowd’s totally cowed inertia is kinda what provokes the further insanity that ensues when the Dogs really start to bust loose.

“When Paul breaks a string at the end of ‘Waiting for the Man,’ I had to kill some time, 'cause we didn’t have extra guitars and stuff like that, I mean, come on. So in the ‘This Ain’t the Summer of Love’ intro, it developed into this kind of audience-baiting thing. The crowd was just kinda stunned. When I jumped into the audience swinging the chain –– we’re not a good-tyme band, we’re not playing about ‘showing the love,’ know what I mean. The song was about sadomasochism, quite frankly, and you’ve gotta have the masochism with the sadism –– and that really upset a lot of people.”

Thus Waller had stashed a fistful of blood capsules and when the time was right, like during an instrumental break, he chewed ’em up and spit ’em out like he was simulating a puking O.D. Unfortunately, you don’t get that in the DVD, 'cause the camera’s eye was trained elsewhere right at that moment…

Then they did this stunt where they harassed this sorry sumbitz in a wheelchair, for god’s sake.

“Eric was a narcissist and egomaniac,” says Waller, “and he couldn’t allow anyone to have the spotlight without him getting into the act. We came up to play Rodney’s the first time –– Iggy was there –– and we’d liberated this wheelchair in the name of the people somehow. This freaked people out. This crazy shit. It was real! People couldn’t believe it was happening.”

The Dogs were tapping something special, obviously. They were into doing things their own way, because they couldn’t see the point of doing anything else, I guess.

“We had seen Iggy with the Stooges several times, a big influence,” says Waller. “And BOC too, who we’d seen at Hollywood Palladium and down at Long Beach Arena; if you listen to `Intensity 21.5’ on the DVD, that’s a very BOC-inspired song, with all those weird breaks and stuff: It goes back to four bars of this, four bars of that, four bars of something else –– speed metal bands do that. Or say 'Contradictions,’ which is a kind of Stonesy thing with this one-chord break. The MC5, which we’d never seen 'cause they never came out here, were very into that kind of stuff. But we liked the glam stuff too. We did that as one big continuum, after the '50s and the blues.

“We did a lot of black R&B kind of British blues kind of stuff, the Stones and the Faces and Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green, that kind of stuff, and the Move. We were trying to do the music we liked and somewhat we’re good at. We got tired of being one of these ‘Stones clones’-labeled bands, and said we’re gonna get rid of all that material and we’re gonna go to different kinda chords and stuff.”

Okay, meanwhile back at CSULB, the Dogs reeled out one raucous rock-monster tune after mostly self-penned tune with titles like “Amphetamine Superman,” “Midnite Dog,” “Loud, Hard & Fast” and Waller’s semi-infamous “This Ain’t the Summer of Love” (later borrowed and remodeled by BOC for a semi-big chart-topping smasheroo).

The CSULB “gig” was a rare event, because like I’ve already harped on, in those days there just weren’t many places for a radically rocking band like the Imperial Dogs to completely indulge in their liberated and smart and dangerous artistic thing.

“It was completely dead. You had Gazzarri’s –– we played there because some promoter got ahold of us and says if you guys play this thing for free, maybe I’ll hire you for this big party. We said, right, we don’t care, we just want a place to play. So the first gig we did was at Gazzarri’s, and we split the crowd in half: the people who were our friends on the left side and the rest who were just normally there, I don’t know why –– and they hated us.”

The Dogs ended up getting kicked out of Gazzarri’s because Waller did a slide down the mike stand and ripped his jeans out at the crotch, and he wasn’t wearing underwear.

“And so my dick’s hanging out, and we don’t leave the stage, just keep soldiering on. And Bill Gazzarri’s sister was running the show that night, and she just started screaming ‘Who are these animals? We’ve never had such animals at Gazzarri’s!’”

So Waller gets backstage and says, “Somebody get me a pair of underwear,” and about three or four girls –– maybe five, says Waller –– start peeling off panties and dangling ’em in front of Don.

“Which was the only time I’ve ever felt like a rock star in my life,” says Waller.

Well, so he selected a nice pair of pink ones, put ’em on, and returned to the stage, still with this big rip in his jeans crotch, so the hot pink knickers are a-pokin’ out the front. And Helen says, ‘You’re outta here for life, never come back!”

But in Hollywood, it was very hard to get gigs. The Whisky was running theatrical productions at the time; the infamous Starwood you couldn’t play without a record deal, same with the Roxy and the Troubadour. Down South Bay way there was the Bearded Clam in Manhattan Beach, the Fleetwood in Redondo Beach; there was a place called the Marina Palace out in Costa Mesa or roundabout there, two Quonset huts put together, with a revolving stage, and three nightly cover bands.

“Most of the time you would play hall parties, like Ukrainian Hall or something, or a wedding. You’d play for almost nothing.”

Yet, faced with all the hostility, or, frankly, apathy from the band’s audiences, the Dogs just got harder and more aggressive, and musically more complex, even. Deeply enmeshed and spilling sloppily over the sides, by the way, was a very R&B kind of biz derived from James Brown and the boys having seen the Who smashing their instruments and looking so antisocial.

“It’s this kind of ‘get up and put a lot of sweat into the show,’ and it’s physical,” says Waller. “We’re gonna go out there and drop hammer and be very physical and aggressive. And showy –– we’re not gonna wear clothes that look like people in the audience, that kind of thing. There’s some heavy metal in there, some straight rock –– I wouldn’t call it punk rock because to me punk rock has a different terminology; we thought it was punk rock like the Standells or the stuff on Nuggets; the Ramones’ 1-2-3-4 approach defined ‘punk rock,’ and that hadn’t come into the landscape at that point.”

I’d like to mention here that the Dogs’ 20-year-old drummer Bill, originally from Toronto, went on to sing and play with the Zippers. You’ll notice on the DVD how this guy plays like a very athletic octupus, like a combo Keith Moon and Mitch Mitchell. I’m just saying the dude is a spectacular drummer, and it’s worth the price of admission just to watch this guy Bill whack the tubs.

The Dogs were a real band, among many other things, just real hard-hitting hard-chargers who honed their “chops” by rehearsing anywhere and any time they could scrounge, three-four nights a week, 90 minutes. If only they had had someplace to prove it all night.

Well, for one night they did, which this DVD proves beyond a shadow of a doubt: It really was possible to rock the hell out in a different way, a threatening way, a funny and gnarly and streetwise and non-bland way, and this definitely did indeed truly happen in 1974, way before the big punk rock “thing” exploded in ’77 and ’78. Thus one must simply concede that the Imperial Dogs were way, way ahead of their time. Fact!

The Imperial Dogs: Live! In Long Beach (October 30, 1974) is available from theimperialdogs.com