Hearts Full of Napalm

Three decades after the fact, L.A.'s Streetwalkin' Cheetahs make good on that old Detroit Rock City promise

Taking their nom de rock from the opening line of Iggy & the Stooges' punk classic, "Search and Destroy," the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs -- an L.A.-based quartet -- tried to change the world by sounding like a cross between the aforementioned musical metaphorical morons and their Detroit brothers-in-protopunk arms, the MC5; with 16 tons o' first-generation '70s punk bands (the Ramones, the Clash, the Buzzcocks, blah blah blah) tossed in over the top. . . . -- The Rolling Stone Official History of Rock 'n' Roll; 1951-2009

Trouble is, it's 1999, and as undeniably great as Detroit's 1969 Grande Ballroom scene actually was, it's sad to say that neither Iggy & the Stooges nor the MC5 has ever even been nominated for possible induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Of course, three out of the 10 main guys in those bands are dead, and -- with all due respect to the still-recording Iggy Pop and the MC5's "Brother" Wayne Kramer -- none of 'em ever made the record industry the kind of real money that, say, Rock Hall of Famer Billy Joel did.

The point being that while you'd think all this "Four (or Five) Great Musicians! Three Great Chords! And then put some precious bodily fluids on the walls, rama-lama-fa-fa-fa" would be as common as homemade sin in these premillennial daze -- seeing as how it's only the Pictionary definition of "rock 'n' roll" and all -- it just ain't. Over the last 30 years, this cool fool has heard at least 5,283 bands described as "sounding like the MC5"; L.A.'s Streetwalkin' Cheetahs are the first to make good on that promise.

Rock 'n' roll doctrine: "Most bands nowadays have roots that go back maybe five years. We're not geniuses. We're just creating something out of something that came before."
Rock 'n' roll doctrine: "Most bands nowadays have roots that go back maybe five years. We're not geniuses. We're just creating something out of something that came before."

For recorded evidence, listen no further than the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs' latest album, Live on KXLU (Triple X). Aside from the note-perfect, duel-guitar rave-up cover of the MC5's "Looking at You," this recorded straight-to-DAT document of a typical Cheetahs live show is so relentlessly high-energy that it's hard to believe you can actually buy it over the counter without a prescription. Throw in a pair of strong originals ("None of Your Business" and "Satisfy"), a 15-minute workout on the Stooges' "Funhouse" and three bonus (studio) tracks produced by one of the band's spiritual godfathers -- the aforementioned Mr. Wayne Kramer, hisbadself -- then throw something down your skinny neck, and call it Saturday night.

Typical show? Just ask anyone who caught the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs' still-smokin' performance at Emo's during Austin's South by Southwest convention last March. You could even ask Rolling Stone's David Fricke -- who walks around lookin' like the Fifth Ramone, so you know he ain't too shy to tell you what's really happening, Mr. Jones -- who gave the Cheetahs' flipped-disc a four-star rave in the mag after seeing these four cats take it to the Texas stage that fateful night.

Tonight, however, this feline foursome of guitarist/vocalist Frank Meyer, guitarist Art Jackson, bassist Dino Everett and drummer Mike Sessa find themselves firmly ensconced in an inexpensive rehearsal studio deep in the heart of Hollywood, polishing material for several of their upcoming projects.

"We've got 12 to 15 songs ready for our next album, which is going to be called Waitin' for the Death of My Generation," says Meyer. "It'll be comin' out on Triple X. Wayne Kramer's going to produce it, and we're going to start recording in November and December. Then we're gonna back up [former Runaways front woman] Cherie Currie for an album that she's cutting for Triple X. That'll be out next year, too." (The Cheetahs previously backed Currie on a 1997 remake of the Runaways' "Cherry Bomb," b/w the band's own anti-anthem, "Burn, Silver Lake, Burn.")

In the meantime, the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs and their local Motor City-minded counterparts, the equally brilliant BellRays, will each contribute four original songs, as well as respective covers of the Flamin' Groovies' "Slow Death" and Ray Charles' "I Don't Need No Doctor," to an album titled Funk, Rock & Soul that's set to be released on the Cold Front indie label this month. (The two bands split a Christmas single, with the Cheetahs throwing down on Fear's "Fuck Christmas," just last year.)

And then back to the future: The Cheetahs' "Small Town Killer" is scheduled to share space with tunes by kindred souls Electric Frankenstein, the Candy Snatchers, and the B-Movie Rats on a vinyl single for the Reptilian indie label later this year.

But first, the band is going to provide sonic support to veteran punk-metalurgist Jeff Dahl on a version of "Cafe Avenue" that's earmarked for a forthcoming Hanoi Rocks tribute LP. (Note: This is an autobiographical song, from Finland's version of the New York Dolls, about working as a rent boy/teenage prostitute.) Naturally, Wayne Kramer is going to produce that, too.

Kramer and Dahl are also slated to provide extra guitar firepower to the Cheetahs' rendition of Little Richard's seminal "Tutti Frutti," which they intend to record during the same session.

When the Cheetahs roar into a rehearsal version of the latter tune, Todd Westover of Toothpick Elbow, and Doorslammer fame bursts through the studio door and starts doing the Cretin Hop around the room. Derek Christensen of the B-Movie Rats drops by to lend a wry smile, too.

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