In New York in the mid-‘80s, four veteran New York musicians united to form the Del-Lords: Scott Kempner from the Dictators, Eric Ambel from Joan Jett’s Blackhearts, future Cracker drummer Frank Funaro and thundering bassist Manny Caiati. Key songwriter Kempner said his vision “was to create a band that would feature four singers performing my songs — an East Coast Beach Boys if you will.” But rather than singing about girls and cars, the Del-Lords sang about things that mattered to them: the everyday grind of life and how it affected the band and those around them.
The Del-Lords recorded three albums that broke no sales records but helped start an American rock ’n’ roll rebirth — and helped sire the Americana movement as well. And now, after a long absence from the marketplace, the first three long-players — Frontier Days, Johnny Comes Marching Home and Based on a True Story — will be reissued on CD by American Beat Records through Collectors’ Choice Music, on May 26, 2009. Their last two albums, Lovers Who Wander and Howlin’ at the Halloween Moon, will come out later this year.
• Frontier Days: The band’s 1984 debut album showed the Del-Lords could rock as hard as the meanest punk bands of the day but also kept an ear toward the melody of the songs. Rolling Stone awarded the album four stars and Robert Christgau in the Village Voice graded it A–, his only complaint that production by Lou Whitney (Skeletons, Morells) wasn’t commercial enough to get radio airplay. And Trouser Press exclaimed, “The Del-Lords embrace rock’s basic components with such skill and verve that they outshine everyone else on the scene.” A promising start. Songs include “Burning in the Flame of Love,” ”Get Tough” and six others from the original LP, plus five never-before-heard bonus tracks and new liner notes from Kempner. First time on CD!
• Johnny Comes Marching Home: For their second album, the band switched to an unlikely producer with a proven track record for rock radio hits, Neil Geraldo (Pat Benatar’s guitarist/producer/husband.) The gamble paid off. Johnny retains the drive and grit of the first album yet the sound is brighter and more engaging. Also aiding the cause was two years of road miles under their belts when they went into the studio. The signature Link Wray echo and rockabilly swagger is still there, kicked into a new gear. Included are the songs “Heaven,” “Love Lies Dying,” “Saint Jake.” “No Waitress No More” and six others. In addition, five previously unreleased tracks are included. Another CD debut!
• Based on a True Story: This 1988 album marked the first time in the band’s career that they went into the studio with a full team in place, Geraldo returning to the producer’s chair, in a pedal-to-the-metal, show-me-what-you-got affair. This time the band had help from a few guest vocalists — Syd Straw, Mojo Nixon, Kim Shattuck (The Pandoras) and, yes, Pat Benatar. True to their guns, the band turned down a lucrative beer company sponsorship, preferring to remain a no-nonsense working man’s rock ’n’ roll band at its peak. This album was released on CD, but due to a label shakeup not many copies found their way into stores. The album contains their biggest hit, “Judas Kiss,” as well as “The Cool and the Crazy,” “Crawl in Bed,” “Cheyenne” and six others, plus, you guessed it, five previously unreleased bonus tracks. Kempner again wrote liner notes for the reissue.
Looking back a quarter of a century to the band formation, Kempner explains: “The Del-Lords were conceived as Holy Sacrament: two guitars, bass & drums, four lead singers, just the way we figured El Hombre Grande wanted it. F--- not with what is essentially perfect! However, the reverence ended there and we were more in tune with John Lennon's assessment: ‘the blues ain't a painting to look at and admire, it's a chair to sit in and use.’ They called it ‘roots-rock’ or ‘cowpunk,’ we called it rock 'n' roll. The good kind. It was firmly rooted in the great artists who came before but, we were burdened in soul and of mind with a very bad attitude. We stomped all over the blues, country, rock 'n' roll, of all kinds and twisted it into something uniquely of us. I mean, I'm a Jew from the South F---n' Bronx! Who am I kidding?
“Now, 25 years after the fact the landscape is grim once again,” he adds. “Just like 1984. Rock 'n' roll where art thou? It seems to me it's the same folks playin’ it now that was playin’ it then. Blessed are the faithful. These records we made back then sound awful good to me right now. A mighty noise. They sound necessary again. Rock'n'roll gives what it gets. Remember that! It's not a painting, it's a f---in' chair!”