Walkin' the Walk
Lots of bands tout the virtues of the MC5 and the Stooges these days, but few are as dedicated to these Detroit-reared punk godfathers as Los Angeles's Streetwalkin' Cheetahs. For proof, one need only cue up Live on KXLU, the group's triumphant new offering on XXX Records. In addition to a heap of fiery Cheetah originals, the twelve-track platter boasts versions of the MC5's "Looking at You" and the Stooges' "Fun House," as well as the combo's own personal shout-out to Motown proper, titled, fittingly enough, "Motor City Rock n Roll." What's more, KXLU features a bonus disc produced by brother Wayne Kramer, the former MC5 guitarist and White Panther poster boy (see "The Revolution Lives," June 13, 1996). Clearly, the Cheetahs--whose moniker was lifted from Iggy Pop's "Search and Destroy"--know what they like.
"We definitely wear our influences on our sleeves," acknowledges guitarist/vocalist Frank Meyer, who joins bassist Dino Everett, guitarist Art Jackson and drummer Mike Sessa in the outfit. "But it's that high energy that came out of Detroit in the late Sixties that really sets us all on fire. I mean, we love all sorts of stuff. Dino loves the L.A. punk thing, and I get into classic rock and the Stones and Van Halen and all that--but man, that Motor City rock and roll is what made us become a band and try to put on the shows we do."
And what spectacular shows they are. Indeed, anyone who's ever seen the act live will tell you that the Cheetahs can work a crowd as well as, if not better than, their legendary counterparts. Pouncing on spectators, swinging from the rafters and beating their guitars bloody, these restless fellows sweep through clubs like a tornado, keeping the needle in the red until the show's noise-happy conclusion, which more often than not finds members of the audience plucking away at the band's instruments while the musicians order drinks at the bar. Even on slow nights, Everett insists the four-piece is ready for nothing short of a small-scale riot. "We play the same show for two people or 2,200 people," he declares. "Because when we get on stage, we're just up there entertaining ourselves. We're always trying to one-up the next guy. So by the end of the night, it usually turns into this big train wreck."
"Some of our best shows have been in front of, like, ten people," Meyer adds. "We still just put on a full-on arena show like we're playing Long Beach Arena in '78 or something. And if we're playing in front of a thousand people, we do the same thing."
Lest it be forgotten, the Cheetahs also throw some exemplary tunes into the mix. No-nonsense guitar jabs like "None of Your Business," "Disease" and "Freak Out Man" combine with slightly tamer power-pop numbers such as "Durango" and "Shawna" to produce a stripped-down universal shimmy that touches on all of rock's best qualities without kowtowing to any of them--and if it sounds familiar, who cares? "We know that we aren't setting the world on fire with something new and original," Everett says. "We're just making rock and roll, for Christ's sake."
When Meyer and Everett first pulled the band together in 1995, the last thing on their minds was starting a musical rebellion. Rather, they just wanted to suck down brewskis and play cover tunes by the New York Dolls, Fear, the Germs, Hanoi Rocks, Suzi Quatro and other faves. Such material served as an antidote to what was then a monumentally stagnant Los Angeles music scene. "There was absolutely nothing going on around here in '95," Everett points out. "L.A. was is in this sort of time warp then, where you would go to a club and you'd see these punk bands that you could swear packed it in way back in the Eighties."
"There was also this artsy-fartsy Silver Lake scene with all these shoe-gazing, sort of Oasis bands," Meyer interjects. "You could find some good up-and-coming bands on the Strip at the time, but they weren't the ones getting the attention--they were all underground. Overall, it just seemed like people were screaming for a real fucking rock-and-roll show."
With an eye toward providing just that, the Cheetahs started gigging around town, gradually incorporating their own compositions into the set. By their tenth outing, a major portion of the band's repertoire consisted of newly penned tunes, with only a chestnut or two thrown in for good measure. Nevertheless, the performers hung on to their referential handle, despite its somewhat nostalgic tone. "It just seemed to fit when we started," Everett says. "Because we were a cover band. But as long as we were in it for the long haul, we decided to go with it."
"We were still doing the whole Detroit/New York/chainsaw-guitar thing anyway," Meyer notes. "I mean, that's what we grew up with, and years later, that's what we ended up coming back to as musicians. So it just seemed like an appropriate name. And we really didn't care what anybody thought, anyway. If they thought we were a Stooges-type band, we didn't really give a fuck. I mean, at the time, we thought, 'Hey, so what? We are kind of a Stooges-type band.'"
The aforementioned Kramer didn't seem to mind such comparisons. After hearing the four's demo tapes, he agreed to join them in the studio for the recording of their first EP, Heart Full of Napalm, on Los Angeles's Alive Records, as well as their followup, 1997's Overdrive. The Cheetahs' relationship with the rock icon has since flourished: Kramer has contributed guitar parts to various discs, produced numerous recordings and taken the group on the road with him as both his opening act and back-up band. So solid has this bond grown that Everett feels comfortable fessing up about the method they used to hook up with Kramer in the first place. "We kind of stalked him," he says. "It was right around the time he was making The Hard Stuff for Epitaph--his re-emergence period, I guess--and he had just moved to L.A. So we basically plotted everything out, thinking, 'Okay, I think he's in between records right now, and we're going into the studio. I wonder if we could get him?' We called Epitaph and left this message." The bassist feigns his best snooty, English-guy accent: "'Please call regarding session work.' And he actually fucking called us back! We couldn't believe it. I still have the message."
The Cheetahs have since collaborated on similar projects with Cherrie Currie of the Runaways ("We basically stalked her, too," Meyer admits) and Deniz Tek of Radio Birdman. And if all goes according to plan, the band also hopes to unite with David Lee Roth in the near future. "He's a totally nice guy," Meyer says, "but he travels a lot. We've talked to him about doing a single together, where maybe we could back him up on a song or something. But at this point, I don't know if it will actually happen. Who knows--maybe if we say it in enough interviews..."
Meyer and company aren't just sitting around waiting for Roth to call; as much as they relish their brushes with idols, they are also eager to keep their sound in the here-and-now. They're currently working on projects with Electric Frankenstein and Norway's Gluecifer and are putting the finishing touches on tracks that will appear on a rash of tribute albums spotlighting Cheap Trick, the Flaming Groovies and Mstley CrYe. As Meyer puts it, "We want to have plenty of our stuff out there circulating around. I don't want people to think we're some oldies band. We want to be able to go on the Warped tour or Ozzfest and bring what we do to the table. We like to pay homage to the people we admire, but we're a young, rockin' band."
Everett seems quite content with the band's accomplishments thus far. "For a band that just started out as an excuse to drink some beer, it's really working out the way it's supposed to. You play music, and it's supposed to be fun. And so far, everything this band has done has been a fucking blast. If we're not playing and having a good time, we're in the studio recording something with one of our heroes or they're joining us on stage.
"I mean, for a lot of people, the names 'the Stooges' and 'the MC5' don't mean shit," he goes on. "They aren't as recognized as someone like the Stones or the Beatles or whoever. But I think that's mainly because a lot of kids don't know they are out there. I think if they heard one of their records, they would totally dig it. People are missing out. That's all I've got to say."
The Streetwalkin' Cheetahs, with the GEDS. 9 p.m. Saturday, June 5, 15th Street Tavern, 623 15th Street, $7, 303-572-0822.
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