I have a hard time with the idea of a supergroup, when a bunch of folks known best for being in other bands get together and make a new band. In many ways, it’s just another band isn’t it, albeit one made up of guys you heard of elsewhere, with the ability of attracting a diversified fan base composed of fans of all of the bands that are on its collective resume.
That’s not to say that I haven’t thrown that term around, it’s one of those words that must be handled carefully, lest it lose its weight after being applied every time a few old friends get together on their holidays to record a few songs. That being said, Dead Men Walking is a band as qualified as any to peg itself with that denomination. With a lineup consisting of Mike Peters of The Alarm (vocals), Captain Sensible of The Damned (bass) and Slim Jim Phantom of The Stray Cats (drums) along with Chris Cheney from The Living End (guitar), they’re a band that spans influences, sounds and eras, embracing the realms of punk and rockabilly for a cohesive sound intent on delivering an energetic album in the form of Easy Piracy, which may just be your new favourite cruising record for this summer.
While the record flirts a bit with the musical pedigree of all its members, it most heavily leans toward rockabilly, and even on the tracks that stray from that sound, the twang is pervasive and powerful. It opens with the rolling swagger of “Rock and Rolls Kills”, a pure rockabilly anthem that lauds the way that “rock and roll kills with three chords and the truth”, and includes the tongue-in-cheek greeting, “Hello Cleveland, kill or be killed.” With its torching country-fried flair and punk attitude, it truly cements the influences of all the members. Other standout tracks include the Sensible nod of “Damned Damned Damned”, which is perhaps the purest punk track on the record, and “Song For Eddie”, a tribute to Eddie Cochran, one of my favorite rockabilly musicians and an underrated influence on punk rock, is one that most exemplifies the elements of the record’s pure rockabilly vibe as well as the way that it segues into its rock side.
The title track is straight up bubble gum rock, a pirate-themed rock track where the band band declares its willingness to “walk the plank for rock and roll,” while “The Devil’s Music” is a driving rock track that can’t bury its psychobilly twang, “Crossroads” is a pure blues-abilly tribute to the landscape that legendarily lead to the extraordinary talent of blues great Robert Johnson, and “Forgotten Saints” is another track created for cruising deep dark back roads, perhaps on the way to those aforementioned crossroads.
And still the sound manages to stray a bit. “Whatever Turns You On (Will Turn You On)” is loaded with power pop, “Out On The Edge” is a track that flirts with a Velvet Underground-inspired sound, “When The Boats Came In” hits me with this combo of Testify-era Damned merged with Murder By Death, a sort of dark americana that retains the influences of the band members, and “What If” has a powerful sound that is most definitely a Mike Peters influence.
The record wraps with the surprisingly soft “Love of My Life.” A song that jarringly breaks away from the overall vibe of the record in a pretty disconcerting way. It’s a rough close to a record that had been so solid and pointed up until that point.In some ways, it’s funny to hear Captain Sensible rolling with the rockabilly riffs of Easy Piracy, which makes me think of the track “The Captain” on the Supersuckers cow punk record Must’ve Been High, where Eddie Spaghetti relates a disastrous attempt to record with Sensible that, according to his lyrics ended with “He said, “Country sucks” and he shoved on out the door”. But the Captain has either come to terms with those feelings or just feels that the twang of rockabilly is far enough removed from country to be acceptable.
As Peters told us during a recent conversation, the group came about as a result of the friendships that the individual members had built on the road touring and opening for each other. “I first met Slim Jim Phantom in 1980 when the beginnings of the Alarm started,” he recalled. “We supported the Stray Cats on the Runaway Boys tour in 1980, and we struck up a friendship that’s lasted all the way through, and whenever possible, we’ve jumped up and played with each other. The Alarm toured with Captain Sensible and the Damned a few years ago, and that’s when the Captain got roped in. Once Captain joined in with myself and Slim Jim, it just felt like it was something more than just a band to play each other’s music. We all connected in a way that we felt like we wanted to make some of our own music.”
Describing the band as “a real motley crew of musicians,” Peters says that the group eased into things “rather than speeding towards the end result,” and worked together on material off and on for several years. But they didn’t really get serious about completing an album until Cheney joined the lineup last year. “That really provided the real impetus to make the record something real and something that we could play out and we could tour,” he says. “He was like the missing link in making it a complete group.”
Peter says making a record “was the sum of the chemistry that we have as individuals. … There’s elements of the Stray Cats, the Damned, the Alarm, the Living End. There’s elements of our histories of growing up through the earliest forms of rock ‘n’ roll, through rockabilly from the Stray Cats and Slim Jim Phantom, punk from Captain Sensible and the Damned and then the Alarm and the alternative rock of the ‘80s comes into it. Then more modern rock, epitomized by the Living End, and the continuation of a line that you can draw right from Jerry Lee Lewis through Johnny Rotten right to this date. I think that the Dead Men Walking is kind of almost one of the last rock ‘n’ roll bands standing in the world that actually understands what rock ‘n’ roll is and where it’s come from.”
“Rock and Roll Kills” provides a fitting first impression of the band, according to Peters, who says that “it’s got a bit of everything. All four of us sing on the record and on that particular song. We all chipped in with the lyrics, and there’s a bit of fun to it. It’s the one song that we felt really empowered to play when we played last summer with the shows on the West Coast of America. We started off with “Rock and Roll Kills” and it just smashed the place down straight away.”
Peters thinks the song is just as good as some of the past classics by the band’s members, like the Stray Cats’ “Rock This Town,” the Alarm’s “Sixty Eight Guns” and the Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat.” “It’s got some of the Ramones in it, it’s got some Elvis [Presley] in it, it’s got some Sex Pistols in it, it’s got a little Green Day in it, it’s got some of the [Rolling] Stones in it,” he says “It’s got everything to do with rock ‘n’ roll, absolutely written right through it from the start to the finish and it’s dead easy to play. Comparing Dead Men Walking to other supergroups like Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Traveling Wilburys, Peters says “it’s the sound of our generation, and we’ve all lived the life for long enough and now we want to celebrate it together and bring the best of what we’ve learned under one roof.”
The band will be hitting the road for an initial run of tour dates in early May, and for fans who haven’t had an opportunity to check out the group yet, Peters says that they can expect the familiar hits from the members’ collective past glories in addition to songs from the debut album. “When we play these shows, it’s not just all new material — we play the big songs that we’re all known for,” he promises. “It’s a bit like a jukebox there. It’s like we’re this walking compilation, and the audience doesn’t know what’s going to happen from one song to the next. But it’s always exciting, and it’s ultimately what music was all about. It’s why we all got into it, because we felt moved by it and I think we can create some damage with Dead Men Walking.”
Captain Sensible said the following to describe the band and their possible sartorial future: “I know pirates are kinda trendy and all that but when you listen to the album it sounds pretty much as you’d expect if a bunch of swashbuckling chancers got together and formed a garage band. Keeping the record sessions as free of modern processors, maximisers and correction software as possible gave the music a glorious natural feel. As for the handclaps, who’s not partial to a bit of glam rock? We’ll have see about the eye shadow and stack heels though. But never say never…”