New York punk rock has always been about playing bars on the Bowery where the beer and urinals have a lot in common. The Devil Dogs followed the hefty footprints of the Dictators and the Ramones through that battlefield, and-like those forefathers-looked to ’50s rock’n’roll to bring back the spark that once made it great.
The basic tracks for the first Devil Dogs album were produced by Billy Childish for release under the name Rat Bastards, but that band split up before the album’s completion, sending singer/guitarist Pete Ciccone off to form the Vacant Lot. Renamed the Devil Dogs, bassist/singer Steve Baise, guitarist/singer Andy Gortler and drummer Paul Corio finished up the sixteen songs with production help from Mike Mariconda of the Raunch Hands. Split evenly (if undiscernibly) between originals and covers, the album boasts songs by several generations of greats: DMZ, Dictators, Beach Boys, Ramones and Bob B. Soxx and the Bluejeans. Drawing from the Billy Childish songbook, the band announced its disinclination toward political correctness with “Pussywhipped,” “Hosebag” and “Suck the Dog.”
After the album’s release, Corio left to rejoin Ciccone in the Vacant Lot; he was replaced by Dave Ari (ex-Headless Horsemen). Although Big Beef Bonanza! runs only four songs a vinyl side, the group is still able to offend with complaints about Long Island women (“North Shore Bitch”) and odes to the joys of drink and drugs (“Stay Out All Night”). Like its predecessor, the record contains some pointed covers: the Shadows of Knight’s “I’m Gonna Make You Mine” and Freddy Cannon’s “Palisades Park.”
By 1990, the Devil Dogs had international stature in the punk underground and toured Europe. In Finland, eight tracks were culled from their first two albums to fill one side of Sink or Swim, the other half being given over to the Raunch Hands. That group’s Mariconda subsequently joined his pals for a Japanese tour, from which they brought home a 7-inch memento, The Devil Dogs Live in Tokyo.
The trio’s revolving drum stool took another turn with the arrival of Joe Vincent for the recording of We Three Kings, a raw, punchy album composed (with one exception) of hot-blooded garage-punk originals like “Strip Search,” “Rock City, U.S.A.” and “Whip It Out.” With only three songs AWOL, 30 Sizzling Slabs collates the first three albums.
Along with tighter songwriting, Saturday Night Fever is noteworthy as the Devil Dogs’ first studio work outside New York. The trio traveled to Seattle, where producer Kurt Bloch (of the Fastbacks) organized the sonic crunch previously missing. The band’s renewed energy throws each song into overdrive, with scorching guitar solos on “Back in the City” and a lost punk gem, “Dance With You Baby,” originally done by the Victims. Don’t miss the tasteful rendition of Gene Pitney’s “Backstage” or the near-perfect original “Sweet Like Wine.” (Crypt issued the album on vinyl and CD overseas; Sympathy’s domestic CD includes four bonus tracks retrieved from singles.)
Japan’s 1+2 Records added four tracks to the quartet of songs that appear on the Laid Back Motherfuckers EP for Stereodrive!, but the thrill was almost gone from the Devil Dogs, who broke up at the end of ’94. Baise, who had married a member of Norway’s Blind Bats, joined forces with members of three Scandinavian groups and recorded an album as the Vikings. The power-popping Go Berserk! puts the enthusiasm back in his singing and playing, replacing a Devil Dogs snarl with harmonies that would make the Who proud. As usual, the covers say it all: among the 20 selections are the Boys’ “First Time,” Bobby Fuller’s “Let Her Dance,” the Bay City Rollers’ “Let’s Go” and Cheap Trick’s “Surrender.”