Scott Kempner Speaks
How are you doing? What’s new in the life of Scott Kempner?
Well hey hey hey, I'm outasite as usual.
What's new is a new solo record that will be out in January called SAVING
GRACE. It's on a label outta NYC called 2:59 (as in two minutes fifty-nine
seconds). And, in a wild spin of the wheel of fate, I am the subject of a
documentary that began shooting about a week or so ago. '08 should be a
fun year. The record, I am very excited about and the documentary still
feels very surreal to me.
For all the people who don’t know you, how would you introduce yourself?
I play rock'n'roll. I was born in the Bronx
and grew up on the 60's. I left home just before my 19th birthday to start
a band with Andy Shernoff and Ross the Boss. We became the Dictators.
Manitoba joined about a year and a half later. I played rhythm guitar. We
made our first record in 1974 and 33 years later we're still together,
albeit in a loosed, less everyday kind of way. in 1982 I started the
Del-Lords with Eric Ambel, Manny Caiati and Frank Funaro. We played what
they now call Americana but they weren't calling it that then, just like
they weren't using the word Punk when the Dictators made their first
record. I was the songwriter, sang most of the tunes and Eric and i played
guitar. we made four albums between 1984 1989. I've made one solo album,
produced a few, play with the great Dion DiMucci, and there ya pretty much
How did the original line-up of The Dictators come together?
Mutual friends introduced kindred spirits is
how I would describe it. And a little bit of the hand of fate. We found
each other and held on for dear life
What do you remember from recording “The Dictators Go Girl Crazy”?
I remember Ross nailing the solo in THE NEXT
BIG THING when Andy Warhol was in the studio. I remember thinking this
record would surely change the world. I remember a secret tape recorder
running whenever Manitoba was doing vocals. Somewhere there's 24 hours of
stuff similar to the in-between song stuff that's on the album. In fact,
that's where it all came from.
How do you feel about the impact you guys had on the punk scene?
I'm a bit fuzzy on that. I mean, I know we
were an acknowledged influence on the Ramones. in fact, I remember Joey
before he was a Ramone, when he was a drummer in a glam band. But outside
of them it seems that most of the bands we had an impact on were a
generation or two later, and by then I had fallen almost completely out of
touch with the punk scene. It had pretty much withered and died and by the
time it came back I was into a whole new bag, and was very busy doing it.
So, it wasn't until Little Steven had that Underground garage Festival in
04 that I became aware of the impact we had on all these super cool little
rock'n'roll bands. I'm not sure if very many of them could be classified
as punk though. But I can say it made incredibly proud, and more than a
little grateful that we had managed to pass something on.
Do you feel you get the respect you deserve today?
There are certainly those who do respect and
acknowledge us, our great fans mostly, but for the most part I absolutely
do not feel we get the respect we deserve
What do you think about punk scene today? Is punk dead?
As a musical style and attitude it's alive.
It is part of the great continuum of rock'n'roll and its Holy Spirit but,
as a cultural force, well, here in the USA it never was one anyway. It was
a musical movement first and foremost. I do think the whole faster than a
speeding bullet downstroke eighth note thing that the Ramones defined and
perfected, has been done and overdone to death, and feels at this point,
to me, as boring, sexless, and purely imitative. Not to mention pointless.
so, is it alive? If you call that a life than it's alive.
Where is the humour in punk rock today?
Humour is a tough trick to pull off. It
killed us. As much as it was essential to who we were, very few of our
recorded attempts at it were very successful. In person it's another story
but on record it has to be like Tenacious D, Jack Black's thing which
thinks of itself as comedy-rock when really it's neither. So, I dunno, I
guess the Beastie Boys are funny but you asked about punk and neither of
these acts are punk so, I'm not sure if it's there. I don't hear it, I
(To quote a song by The Dictators) Who will save rock n roll?
Great bands still play rock'n'roll but in
order to save it, to restore its prominence, you need a totally
galvanizing figure like Cobain, or like so many of the giants of the 50's
and 60's. And then, you gotta hope that person plays rock'n'toll to begin
with. I have made peace with the notion that it is probably never coming
back, at least to where it once was. On the other hand, as far as the
music is concerned, and good righteous people to play it, then Danny and
the Juniors and Neil Young were right and Rock'n'Roll can never die,
What made you decide to leave the band back in the seventies?
I didn't. We broke up as far as being a day
to day, daily concern.
What was different when you guys hit the studio again after more than
twenty years to record D.F.F.D?
Surprisingly little has changed within the
inner dynamics of the band. Shit, we've been friends for over three
decades, me and Manitoba over four. What was ever gonna change did so long
Any plans to play again soon?
Not at the moment.
What were your ideas forming The Del-Lords?
The Del-Lords was a truer reflection of who I
was left to be myself. I was who I was in the Dictators but it was also
who I needed to be in that band. We had a fantastic guitar player, a
brilliant and unique songwriter, and a super charismatic powerful lead
singer. The Del-Lords was me attempting to step into all those roles. I
had this burning thing inside me, a desire and a need to write songs that
could move and inspire people like the ones that moved and inspired me. I
also am madly and insanely in love with the guitar so, I wanted to be the
lead guitar guy, too. and, I wanted to get up there out front with my
songs and find out what I got , what I could do, how far I could take it,
and hopefully do it for the rest of my life.
How did you get the people together?
Manny I met when he was playing with my dear
departed friend Helen Wheels, Eric heard from someone who had auditioned
that I was looking for a guitarist, and Frank was told of the band by this
character we knew who we used to buy joints from.
It is certainly something far from what you did with The Dictators. You
were also very successful with The Del-Lords and helped influence many
bands. Do you remember what you felt back then about being in a position
where you started writing songs with The Del-Lords and singing them
The Del-Lords was and remains a dream come
true. we had one foot in the roots and one foot in the present, and always
looking to the future. it was wonderful and magical and we were pretty
fuckin' good, as well. We all believed that this was the band the world
needed, that this is where the true Rock'n'Roll Spirit was in those
dreadful early 80's, all that MTV crap, there was just nothing real going
on. then, there were the Blasters, Los Lobos, Jason and the Scorchers,
Treat Her Right, and we were kinda all lumped together to some extent.
and, I loved all those bands. The Del-Lords will always remain a peak
experience of my life.
As a musician you have played different styles of music in your various
What do you like to listen to on a Saturday night?
Over the years, great Saturday night
standby's which are pretty much the same as pre-gig would be Chuck Berry,
The Who Live at Leeds, Springsteen, Dylan '66, Robert Johnson, NRBQ, the
1st Nuggets, all things that are physical, emotional and spiritual. Gotta
get the whole thing workin'.
What do you like to listen to on a Sunday morning?
I like good hangover Country, Buddy Holly,
The Byrds, old Country Blues, Beatles always, Velvet Underground, old deep
Gospel. or it could be AC/DC's Highway To Hell. Sometimes you just don't
What is the latest record you bought?
I bought and love the new Black Rebel
Motorcycle Club record, Baby 81, the new Nick Lowe, great, the Springsteen
Live in Dublin which is awesome and religious, the third and final in a
series of compilations of songs my heroes, Leiber and Stoller were
involved in. They were geniuses. I bought the Sly and the Family Stone
re-masters, which ya gotta gotta gotta have, or at least Stand! oh, and
the new one by the great Porter Wagoner, "Wagonmaster". Man, Porter's 80
fuckin' years old, he's gotta new record out which is great, he's opening
for the White Stripes in Madison Square Garden, I mean, you want a role
model, kids, well here ya go, 80 years old, survived a stroke or two,
singin' for the folks, and just till following his heart's dream like a
hungry jungle cat. Yeah, man, I wanna be like that. just like that!
What are your thoughts about the mp3 revolution and file-sharing?
Mp3's sound like shit, and for that they
should be banished to Hell. my sympathies to a generation that will be
further mediocritized by these heinous little items. people should demand
more out of life, and be willing to throw down, get out there and make it
happen. on the one hand a pity, on the other you get what you deserve
sometimes. about file-sharing i just lump it in with sampling, free
downloading and other such, and that is if you want my work, pay me. if I
want your work i will pay you. simple and fair. if you take my work
without paying me, then chances are you're stealing it. I'm not worried
about some kid buying it and making a copy for a friend, there's degrees
here; if that same fan essentially distributes a hundred or more or
whatever, that's a business. cut me in, or else.
Do you have any other particular interests besides music?
like any good Bronx boy, the New York Yankees
are one of the most important and overwhelming concerns in my world. right
up there with life and death. i bleed pinstripes. other than that, i'm a
news junkie. the stakes are just too high not to be these days. i'm
exceptionally interested in my girlfriend. i should mention that.
Have you discovered any new emerging bands lately?
most of the new stuff i hear is the stuff i
hear on Little Steven's Underground Garage radio show, or on Manitoba's
show on Steven's Sirius Satellite Radio Network.he's played a bunch of
things lately that i really dig on an LA label called Teenacide Records,
run by a super fan and great guy, Jim Freek. there's Peachfuzz, Boink!,
Sisely and the Safety Pin-ups. i think i have that right. i like the Len
Price 3, very early Who-ish. there's the Ditty Bops who are on Joan Jett's
label. Neko Case is not new to too many people anymore, but she's still
under the radar, and she's completely amazing.
Tell me about your proudest moment as a musician?
There's been several but I guess my favorite
moment took place at a charity dinner sponsored by Dave Marsh and his wife
Barbara Carr. Dave is a writer, used to edit Creem magazine, has written
several books, including two bios on Bruce Springsteen. Barbara co-manages
Bruce with Jon Landau. Barbara had lost a daughter, who was a friend of my
then wife, several years earlier to a particularly brutal form of cancer.
the dinner was to raise money for a fund set up in their daughter's name.
They do it every year and every year Bruce shows up, mostly to help Dave
and Barbara sell these $1,000 a plate dinners. Every year it's a sell out,
partly due to the presence of Springsteen. Well, my wife and I were guests
of Barbara and Dave. and we're just hanging out by the bar. We know no
one, and no one knows us. We're gettin' bored and antsy when suddenly I
hear an old familiar gruff chuckle of a voice calling my name from across
this big room. well, it's Bruce and he's with Patti, and he's waving and
calling me, and waving, and people are following him like a snowball
gathering snow speeding downhill. and, he's comin' straight at me waving
and calling me. Then, he grabs me, starts hugging me, and causing quite a
scene. There's all these people milling around wondering who the hell is
this guy that is so interesting to Bruce Springsteen. Meanwhile, Bruce is
going on and on and on about how great the Del-Lords compilation is ( i
had given him a copy a few months before at one of his shows in Jersey). i
mean on and on; how he can't believe i wrote all those songs, me, little
Top 10, great great great, fantastic fantastic fantastic, on and on and
on. it actually got embarrassing. in a good way, of course. it was like
the movie of your life that you get to write, direct and star in.
everything is perfect. all that's missing is your ex-girlfriends,
ex-schoolteachers, old bosses, your parents. it was amazing. my wife and i
were pinching each other in mutual disbelief. he talked about several of
the songs. it was just so overwhelming because i have such respect and
admiration for him and his art, and he has been a gigantic inspiration to
me. just a huge moment of validation, and belonging to the club, and
something i'll be able to talk about for the rest of my life.
Wlhat are you up to today music wise?
Basically like i said, new record, putting
the finishing touches on that. the documentary. getting ready to get back
out and start playing.
What people are you working with?
I'm working with a great drummer, cool record
label head, and great guy named Ric Menck, a local guitarist named Erik
Meade, and then i'm bot sure
When did first pick up the guitar?
I was about 15
Do you play any other instruments?
What equipment are you using?
still playing a Strat. i'm using a Dr. Z
38-watt handmade beauty of an amp. a fantastic piece of gear. learned
about them through Eric Ambel.
Who are your influences as a guitarist?
Hmmmm. Keith Richards, Chuck Berry, Pete
Townshend, Jeff Beck, Roger McGuinn, Steve Cropper, Richard Thompson,
Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Dick Dale, James Burton, George Harrison,
And as a songwriter?
Bob Dylan, Lennon & McCartney, Jagger/Richards,
Chuck Berry, Brian Wilson,, Springsteen, Leiber & Stoller, Ellie Greenwich
& Jeff Barry, Richard Thompson, Ray Davies, Pete Townshend, Carole King,
Steve Cropper, Lou Reed, Johnny Cash, Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman, Hank
Williams, Tom Waits
How did you get the nick name “Top Ten”?
it's a better name than the story that goes
If you could put together the band of your dreams with any musician, dead
or living, what would that band look like?
drums: Ringo or Al Jackson Jr. or Hal Blaine
bass: Paul McCartney or James Jamerson or Duck Dunn
piano: Terry Adams or Jerry Lee Lewis or Nicky Hopkins
backgound vocals: the Beach Boys or the Beatles or the Four Tops
Anything else you would like to say to the readers of Punkglobe Magazine?
Remember, as far as Rock'n'Roll goes, you get
back what you put in. believe in yourselves and your dreams and your
friends and if you can combine all of those things, then, brothers and
sisters, you got it all. believe me, i know
Thanks for your time Scott! Best of luck with everything!
Jones Vigilantes, Punkglobe Magazine