Diehards are a marvelous breed, following a singular vision long after its original benefits-trendiness, reflected glory, creative satisfaction-have expired. Sticking to ancient values makes such intransigents living relics of a bygone age, and the best of the ilk take that responsibility seriously. A decade after releasing an inept debut single on Washington DC’s Doodley Squat label, Hawaiian-born singer/guitarist Jeff Dahl, a devoted, skilled and clearheaded adherent of old-school StoogeDolls spunk — by then a Los Angeles-based veteran of several local bands, including Vox Pop (with Paul B. Cutler), the Angry Samoans, the Mentors (briefly) and his own Powertrip (pioneering speedmetal) — made his first solo album, Vomit Wet Kiss. Fronting an adjustable lineup that, on some tracks, includes ex-Dead Boy guitarist Cheetah Chrome, Dahl revisits the Stooges in competent but undistinguished loud rock with metal/punk fringes. (Just skip the clenched-teeth version of “Paint It, Black” and the acoustic “Lustful Glances.”)
Leading a quartet of Amy Wichmann (guitar), Bruce Duff (bass) and Del Hopkins (drums) — with assists from Cheetah and ex-Adolescent Rikk Agnew (whose 1990 album is entitled Emotional Vomit — does the same stomach problem afflict both fellas?) — Dahl returned with the better-produced, excellently played Scratch Up Some Action. This Raw Power-styled roar of razor- edge rock makes rocket fuel out of obvious covers (“White Light/White Heat,” “1970,” “Two-Headed Dog”) but runs into trouble with some of Dahl’s originals. (The reissue appends a live fan-club EP, Pussyfart K.O.)
Dahl parades his Iggy aspirations on I Kill Me (which was actually recorded before, and contains some of the same tracks as, Vomit Wet Kiss), most obviously in a spot-on cover of “Search and Destroy” but also on “Goin’ Underground” (a song he co-wrote with Chrome). Otherwise the potent but uneven album focuses on self- preservation, with songs like “This Stuff Is Killin’ Me,” “Haven’t Had a Drink in a Long Time” and “The Boy Who Self-destroyed” (with most of the Angry Samoans guesting).
Made in Los Angeles following a move to Arizona, Ultra Under energetically maintains Dahl’s spirited formula with suitably rocked covers (the Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb”), topicals (“Mick & Keith Killed Brian,” “Elks Lodge Riot”) and other credible originals (“Chemical Eyeballs,” “God Don’t Care,” “Junkies Deserve to Die”). The inclusion of an unabashed piano ballad (“Just Amazin'”) shows Dahl is neither afraid to be seen as a softie nor hamstrung by convention. The studio cast includes drummer Dave Nazworthy (of Chemical People) and guitarist Paul Cutler (45 Grave/Dream Syndicate). As low-rent and past- tense as Dahl’s records are, they’re generally dignified, spry and nearly as entertaining as the era they uphold.
He cut Wicked with a lot of the same people and no hint of change in approach from Ultra Under — and it’s just as good. Amid such generic originals as “Lisa’s World,” “Real High School Romance” and “Radio Babylon,” Dahl shifts his choice of covers a little by doing “The Moon Upstairs” from Mott the Hoople’s 1972 Brain Capers. Piano continues to be a useful element: John Manikoff’s addition to the full-power “Just Like They Should” does the deed here.
Dahl then did the unpunkable and released a limited- edition six-song solo acoustic EP, Have Faith, caveating the punk emptors with a cover banner warning of the ampless contents. (As an indication of how unprecedented the idea is, Dahl has to include a liner note thanking Dave Naz for the loan of an acoustic guitar.) Unlikely to be mistaken for a folkie, Dahl is a skilled enough singer and guitarist that the gamble works — and doesn’t even sound like a tribute to Johnny Thunders. The more ambitious (bass and drums, guitar overdubs) Moonchild repeats the offer with five acoustic demos previewing songs on Leather Frankenstein and five otherwise unissued tunes. If Have Faith is charmingly casual, this is downright sloppy: the instrumental tracks are rarely in synch with each other. Best moment: Dahl, alone in the studio, exclaiming “Come on!” at the start of “Only Lovers Left Alive.”
With Ratboy (of LA’s Motorcycle Boy, later to form Pillbox in NYC and play with Marky Ramone, among others), longtime bassist John Duffy and Nazworthy on drums, Dahl made the adequate but edgeless Wasted Remains of a Disturbing Childhood (requisite borrowing: “1969,” from The Stooges). A Dollsy album with good derivative tunes (“She’s So Cool,” “Hey Cinderella,” “Positive”), it could have used a producer to move Dahl off the stylistic dime. Other than the hot dueling solos of “A Dash of Prayer,” Dahl’s blue plate special is getting mighty cold…
Two years after the 1990 death of Dead Boys singer Stiv Bator(s), Dahl read an article in which Oregon punks Poison Idea echoed his reverent sentiments toward the singer and lit upon the idea of joining forces to record a tribute. The resulting mini-album contains their fine collaboration on Lords of the New Church’s “Open Your Eyes” and a less effective try at the Dead Boys’ “Flame Thrower Love,” as well as three numbers from each half of the project. Dahl doles out a Ramones cover, the Lords’ “Method to My Madness” and his own “Falling Apart,” while Poison Idea musters typical original charmers like “Desecration” and “Crippled Angel.” Intentions are fine all around, but a single would have sufficed.
The cover bills Jeff Dahl and the Spiders From Uranus, but Leather Frankenstein begins Dahl’s era of solitary recording. Guitarist Zepp Oberpichler (?) and pianist/violinist Robert Brock contribute to half the tracks, otherwise, it’s all Dahl — including the songwriting credits (a technical distinction, of course, although “Only Lovers Left Alive” and “I Think I Lost My Mind” are handsome, punk-free ballads). Except for the fried guitar tone, the experiment in self-reliance is successful, but the patient is still ready for a rest.
A cover of “Gimme Danger” (does he get a washing machine when he completes the eight-song Raw Power cycle?) isn’t the only overly familiar attribute of Bliss. Dahl’s not exactly a font of novel ideas, and his endless variations on the same themes — especially as he’s become a studio hermit (pianist Brock is the only outsider here) — make his soundalike albums less interchangeable than indistinguishable. If he’s gonna keep writing the same tunes over and over, at least he should try varying the timbre or style of his guitar or voice. On French Cough Syrup, the electronic drums sound especially crappy, and that’s not helpful. The self-aware autobiography of “Circa ’70” kicks two lines in a promising power pop vein, but quickly reverts to form. Some things never change.
Bassist Duff, another longtime LA scene vet and rock critic, and guitarist Ray Violet led the Jesters of Destiny, unseriously metalesque cultural scavengers who, on Fun at the Funeral (a title which pretty well conveys the band’s innocuous attitude), cleverly crib song plots from exploitation movies (“God Told Me To”) and other horror stories (“Incubus”), with enough wit to quote “Eleanor Rigby” while they’re at it.
In a Nostalgic Mood is a pointless all-covers EP: humorless hard-rock renditions of classics by Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater, Black Sabbath and others.