by Brian Smith
A few rock 'n' roll bands, often born of misunderstood loner kids who loved music everyone else hated, were simply destined to be anachronisms.
They'd have to walk a mile through shit and spit to get any respect.
New York's Dictators were kinda like that, having braved the laughs, before the Ramones and Richard Hell hit, with '75's great Go Girl Crazy. But the 'Tators at least —well, years later — got some respect and may have received a paycheck or two.
The Imperial Dogs were kinda like that too, but minus the record deal and a paycheck. But they did slash a path three years before the L.A. punk scene — which included the overrated Germs, X and the not so overrated Weirdos — stepped out from beneath a Hollywood porno theatre.
Too young and late to be Stooges contemporaries, too soon to be the Great White Hope of West Coast punk rock, the Imperial Dogs were at least captured on tape one time. This was the second show after their debut performance got them banned for life from the Sunset Strip rock club Gazzarri's, where the Doors had made waves less than a decade before.
Sordid in appearance and hued in white-trash glam, the band's mostly monochromatic punk-rock-with-melody is as skull-ringing as it is apt for smutty shout-outs such as "Amphetamine Superman" and "Just Kids." It's played with a poise that well defined the band's take on what's sacred and profane — in other words, the Imperial Dogs, as this raw DVD shows us, were a killer and insulting rock 'n' roll band, one deserving of wider attention.
Frontman Don Waller's a lithe lizard of a glam-punk kid who could sing and taunt, and he shoots left and right, up and down, faintly resembling both Iggy and Rob Tyner. (Waller later turned down the lead singer post in Ron Asheton and Dennis Thompson's post Stooges/MC5 band, New Order, a spot that went to future Rockets frontman Dave Gilbert. He'd go on to become a respected rock critic and historian, with a strong Detroit music pedigree; his work has appeared in these pages over the years; see the Raw Power review in this section.)
The Dogs' shirtless and chiseled guitarist, Paul Therrio, junk-riffed as well as anyone ever could, and bassist Tim Hilger's pitched and rhythmic thuds somehow matched his doggy bondage-meets-Ron Asheton aesthetic. Drummer Bill Willett's there and solid.
Shot in a brightly lit and cavernous room inside California State College's student union, this mono, black-and-white DVD is as stripped-down (and as unlikely) as it gets.
The Imperial Dogs, desperate to glut themselves on the abundance of rock 'n' roll elation and peculiarity — when it could still scare people — are likely to stay an undiscovered wonder. Too bad.
But Iggy caught one of their performances at Rodney's English Disco. And, of course, Kim Fowley loved the quartet. He even got Blue Öyster Cult to record a completely revamped version of the Dogs' song, "This Ain't the Summer of Love" (included here), which opened that band's biggest-selling album, Agents of Fortune. This is a gnarly snapshot of the missing link between the late '60s L.A. rock explosion and Hollywood's '77 punk rock. Worth every damn penny.
The Imperial Dogs DVD is available for purchase at theimperialdogs.com.
Brian Smith is the features editor of Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.