“Wait until I’m dead, then you’ll see what all the fuss was about”
First of all, as a man who has made his journalistic bones with overheated hyperbole, you must know that there is simply no way for me to oversell London leatherboys Dogs D’amour. Every grandiose description I could offer still wouldn’t be as good as the real thing, every true confession about where I was when I first heard Dynamite Jet Saloon and the dark and wondrous places that album has taken me over the decades would still cast a pale glow on just how truly remarkable, how life-changing and ground-breaking and straight-up fucking magnificent this band was.
Dogs’ fearless leader Tyla J. “Tim Taylor” Pallas is no slave to nostalgia and would likely argue the point, but the objective truth is that in their late 80s prime, the Dogs D’Amour were peerless. There was no one better. They were the goddamn swaggering, stumbling, hobo kings of rock’n’roll’s back alley. They could out-drink, out-fight, out-fuck and out-rock any outfit you can think of, and their second album, In the Dynamite Jet Saloon, is one of the greatest rock’n’roll records ever made. Ever. Simply speaking, they were the coolest band that ever was.
Dogs started out as Bordello Boys back in the early 80s. By the time they had settled into their proper name, they had briefly flirted with an American frontman, Ned Christie, who co-wrote some classic Dog jams and even recorded a 7” and some widely bootlegged demos with the band. The less said about this incarnation of the band the better, however – they essentially sounded like a yelpy NWOBHM band before Tyla’s broken-glass rasp became their calling card. Future Jacobite Dave Kusworth and former Quireboy Paul Hornby were both in the band by 1984, when they played around the UK with junk-rock legend Johnny Thunders. By ‘87, the ‘classic’ line-up – Tyla, drummer Bam, guitarist Jo Dog and bass player Steve James – was in place. They signed to China records and in 1988 released Dynamite Jet Saloon on an unsuspecting world.
Granted, it didn’t set the charts on fire although three singles did make it to the UK top 100. But no matter. Here was the heir apparent to the long-gone and much-lamented Hanoi Rocks, a band of authentically and elegantly wasted rock’n’roll dandies dressed in the finest thrift-store gypsy glam rags playing music straight out of some dirty, dusty drug-rock fantasy from 1974, they were bottle-eyed children of Cocksucker Blues, tough and skinny wastrels weaned on the Faces, the Stones, the Dolls, Hanoi, heartbreak, booze and chemicals, cigarettes and regret, poetry and doomed romance and faded glory.
Unlike their chest-thumping brethren, they had no interest in the casual sexism and misogyny that riddled flash metal. Instead, they wrote about life, and liquor, and love – the real stuff, the kind that tears a good man asunder, and the graveyard of empty bottles it often leaves in it’s wake. They were the real deal, in a decade when real was lost and presumed dead forever.
It’s all there, preserved perfectly in songs like How Come It Never Rains, Billy Two Rivers, Gonna Get It Right, and Last Bandit, the distillation of everything good and noble and true about rock’n’roll in the thirty years it had existed. And not only was the music great, but so were the lyrics. Finally 80s glam had an honest-to-christ poet to contend with. Lines like “I fell in love when I fell down the stairs” and “God created woman, but the devil invented the blues” were funny and touching and tragic all at once. Again, there’s no way to oversell this thing. It’s just fucking perfect.
Of course it couldn’t last or even be repeated. Dogs made a splash in the UK in ‘88 and toured with Mother Love Bone in the US. They went back to the studio and recorded an acoustic EP a year later, which confused and confounded their record label, but righted the ship with the back-to-basics Straight??!! album in 1990. But the fact was, all their songs about debauchery were true. The band was running largely on dangerous chemicals, and without the kind of budget their 1970’s heroes operated on. Nobody was gonna pay to give Tyla a clean blood transfusion or to send the band to a swanky Hollywood rehab. The wheels were destined to fall off. And so they did.
It’s not like Tyla wasn’t already known to slice himself up on stage here and there, it was one of his standard liquor tricks, really, but this one was different. Zonked on heroin and already bleeding internally from girl problems and management mucking, the dude just took it too far one night on stage at Florentine Gardens in Los Angeles, jabbing the knife so deeply into his side that the ribs showed. He collapsed and gushed crimson all over the stage. Bam trashed the drumset and it was goodnight, LA. Eventually Tyla made it to the hospital where they bandaged him up and sent him on his way, but for everybody – band, crowd, America - it was just a bridge too far. Sure, the Dogs never really broke up, and the “classic” line-up reconvened here and there, but it was never the same. The momentum was lost. If they were gonna be the Rolling Stones for long-haired punks, that dream bled out on stage with their bedraggled frontman in 1991.
That’s not the end of the story. The Dogs, in one form or the other, are still together. Some great music was made since then. Tyla got sober, wrote a lot of poetry, healed a lot of deep wounds, even the gusher in his side. But it was the end of that particular hazy daydream, the one where proper rock’n”roll never crashed and burned in the early 90s and Tyla went on to become one of the biggest and most well-loved frontmen in the world. They sorta blew that one. But the hard evidence remains. In the Dynamite Jet Saloon remains one of the all-time greatest rock albums. You can’t take that away from ‘em. Or me.
Next week: So nice they named ‘em twice