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Dogs' Life

It's always the ones who fail in their chosen field of expertise that are the most fascinating. Always. Poverty-wrecked pulp novelist David Goodis counting nickels for booze and sewing couturier labels into cheap suits at the peak of his form is far more interesting than Elmore Leornard's latest million-dollar purchase. Hearing Billy Idol's cliché landmine tales involving Asian whores and Peruvian coke in penthouse-suite debauchery is a snooze fest next to Slaughter and the Dogs' Mick Rossi's yarn of a teen punk's fleeting promise; of worshipping Mick Ronson and riffing "Panic in Detroit" in downtrodden Manchester, England, to headlining 2,500 seaters, touring Europe and having Mick Ronson actually guest on your record, and then seeing it all disappear all in a span of less than two years.

The UK class of '76 was fortunate to have grown up with art-school damaged trailblazers like Marc Bolan, Mott the Hoople and Roxy Music on radio and on TV. It was a time when a word off the street could draw a kid into a club and onto a stage to make a sound that the world at large would soon know everything about. A sound that for a moment offered a promise based on the ephemeral idea that a subculture of teen rage could be directed at those in power, could offer a way out.

Talk about the potential for wreckage.

Slaughter and the Dogs, led by the writing team of original singer Wayne Barrett and guitarist Rossi are, for better or for worse, back after more than 20 years with a surprisingly good power-pop driven new record (Beware of . . .) on TKO and a so-far successful world tour that has so far taken them to Germany and Japan.

With its name nicked from Bowie's Diamond Dogs and Mick Ronson's Slaughter on 10th Avenue, a quartet of teens led by Barrett and Rossi, plus bassist Howard "Zip" Bates, and drummer Brian (Mad Muffett) Grantham, came together in the grisly Wythenshawe area in south Manchester to play rickity-rackity versions of glam-rock staples. "It was we either form the group," Rossi remembers, "or it was go to jail. Those were pretty much the options in 1975. Many of our friends from the time are dead or in jail."

Existing in a universe parallel to, yet independent of the sounds boiling under London and New York, Rossi insists that Slaughter and the Dogs never contrived to be punk rock. Slaughter's debut seven-inch ("Cranked Up Really High"), one of the punk era's first, was a fun-dumb clatter of teenaged glit-punk that revealed a bashy passion, one too easily dismissed at the time by those who missed the band's (perhaps unintentional) irony. They were teenagers making a punk racket, sure, but they mixed a sense of style that suggested bratty, pint-swilling kid brothers of the Bay City Rollers -- scarves and low-slung guitars -- more than the leather-and-dog-collar readymade manifesto that quickly took over London.

Slaughter and the Dogs were rip-it-up punk rhetoric, and Barrett's pitched growl certainly wasn't the most pleasing at times, but the band was never taken as seriously as punk contemporaries like the Buzzcocks or the Damned.

Lester Bangs damned the Dogs with backhanded praise, based on their early singles in 1977: "Better Slaughter and the Dogs at what price wretchedness than one more newly mouthed simper wimper from Linda Ronstadt."

The band had an innocent rock 'n' roll arrogance, a peculiar mix of lower working-class machismo and glammy sexual ambiguity, that rubbed many the wrong way.

"They were a bit more football-terrace," says Buzzcocks front man Pete Shelley in John Savage's dense tome on UK punk, England's Dreaming. Buzzcocks opened the Slaughter and the Dogs/Sex Pistols show at Manchester's Free Trade Hall in the summer of 1976. "It was arrogant, so we kept our distance. I'm quoted as saying they weren't really punk. They were into Mick Ronson and Diamond Dogs."

"We were young and arrogant then, sure," says Rossi, on the phone from the place he shares with his wife in West Hollywood. There's nary a trace of that pub-spongy bitterness and patented Limey cynicism that other punks from the day often wield during interviews. The man even apologizes for chewing nuts during the conversation. "I suppose there was a rivalry between us and the Buzzcocks. But there was never a calculated effort to be part of a punk-rock thing with this fake attitude. It just happened for us. But there was a calculated effort for us to try to get down to London and get seen by record companies."

Punk's eagerness to quickly discount its rock 'n' roll ascendants was shortsighted and baffling, and Rossi agrees. The Dogs openly embraced their glam heroes, which, in the summer of hate, was a downright no-no. The band's low-budget Alice Cooper-esque theatrics included tossing talcum powder about on stage ("Couldn't afford a fog machine," Barrett chortled at the time) and occasionally using a pig head for shock value.

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Brian Smith
Contact: Brian Smith