By Dave Pehlilng
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Following in the footsteps of Detroit’s punk progenitors the MC5 and the Stooges, veteran LA-based band the Dogs have helped keep alive a sound that remains a cornerstone of modern rock music for much of the past 50 years. Founded in 1968 by Lansing, Michigan teenagers Loren Molinare (guitar), Mary Kay (bass) and Ron Wood (drums), the Dogs became mainstays on the fruitful Michigan rock scene, sharing stages with their heroes the MC5, the Amboy Dukes and later their guitarist Ted Nugent after he went solo.
The trio would relocate to Detroit proper in 1973, but a year later decided to pursue their rock and roll dreams in New York City, where the band became a vital part of another growing community of bands exploring the music that would evolve into punk rock. Playing with a fledgling Kiss and pioneering bands like the Dictators, Television and the Stillettos (the group that would eventually become Blondie) at such legendary venues as the Coventry, Max’s Kansas City and CBGBs.
The Dogs would relocate again in 1976 to Los Angeles, making further progress in the music industry with the release of their first single “John Rock and Roll Sinclair” before landing a management deal that led to the band’s first attempt at recording an album, the live taping of a performance at San Franciso’s epicenter for punk, the Mabuhay Gardens, in 1977. While the planned full album would never materialize after they split from their managers, the group would self-release their Slash Your Face EP, unleashing one of the most ferocious blasts of early punk rock from the era with the title track.
The band made an abortive move to London that didn’t pan out, despite a successful tour of the U.K. They returned to the States in 1980 before eventually going on hiatus in 1981. The band relaunched with a new drummer (current member Tony Matteucci) in 1983, but would take a more extended break when Molinare joined hard-rock band Little Caesar in 1989. By the turn of the millennium, the legend of the Dogs had only grown with the inclusion of “Slash Your Face” on the punk-rock rarities compilation Killed By Death and original copies of their EP exchanging hands for top dollar among collectors.
The interest prodded the trio to reunite in 2000. The Dogs have been active ever since, releasing compilations of early material as well as a pair of new albums and a number of singles. The threesomes continue to bash out their singular style of raw Detroit rock and roll for audiences around the world. Despite still being based in Los Angeles, a full decade has passed since the last time the Dogs headlined a concert in San Francisco when they played the now sadly defunct Hemlock Tavern in 2009. CBS SF recently spoke with guitarist Molinare about the band’s history and more recent activity ahead of a performance at the Knockout in San Francisco’s Mission District on Friday, March 29. They will be joined Bay Area notables Very Paranoia (featuring members of ), the Next and Warp.
CBS SF: I saw the Dogs at the Bottom of the Hill in the early 2000s. I’m not sure exactly what the year was. I figured it was after when you connected with Dionysus Records, because I think I picked up the album collecting your early material at the show…
Loren Molinare: So we started working with Lee [Joeseph] at Dionysus in 2000, so I think that was 2001 when we were up there.
CBS SF: I was going to ask some questions from a somewhat different perspective. My wife is from East Lansing, so I’ve visited there a number of times. Her dad was an art professor at Michigan State and her family knew Bob Baldori and the Woolies. When she was really little, she told me she thought the Woolies were the Beatles. It wasn’t until she was older that she figured out that they were a band, but not the Beatles…
Loren Molinare: Wow! It’s such a small world! That’s amazing that your wife is from Lansing. But I can see why a kid back when the Woolies were happening might think that. The first point I was aware of the Woolies was when they did that cover of “Who Do You Love” that was so amazing. And I know they ended up being Chuck Berry’s band when he would play around the Midwest.
CBS SF: It’s pretty apparent the influence that the MC5 and the Stooges had on your sound, but I was wondering what influence other garage bands in Lansing like the Woolies might have had?
Loren Molinare: Dick Wagner, who later ended up playing with Alice Cooper and Lou Reed, his band the Frost that came up with the whole Detroit and Ann Arbor scene. He was a really big influence on me as a guitarist. And his writing. which was very Beatles-esque with his harmonies. Even though you would never know that was an influence from the way I sing. Stylistically, guitar-wise he was very influential. Brownsville Station from Detroit was another big influence.
And obviously before that, the Yardbirds, the Kinks, the Stones and the Beatles. Hendrix. The Who. Especially the Who. Not local bands, but those are the bands that got me turned on to rock and roll. And I think Mary Kay, the bass player in the Dogs, she was really influenced by the Motown scene. And James Jamerson, the great bass player who did all those great recordings, he was a huge influence on her.
CBS SF: Were you playing covers when you started the Dogs, or did you get into writing your own material early on?
Loren Molinare: I never had the knack for learning cover songs, so I was forced to start writing at an early age. But when we did do covers, we would do songs by Little Richard, maybe Ten Years After, the Kinks, the Who, stuff like that. Stuff that wasn’t that complex. We always aspired to be like the great bands that were coming out of Detroit. At that point, being in a Top 40 bar band was not a cool thing. We didn’t see that in the cards for us. So we were forced to go the original song route. At least I was.
CBS SF: I’ve learned a little bit about the history of Lansing as far as the places bands would play from talking to people I’ve met. Besides playing high schools like any band would during that part of the ’60s, where did the Dogs play while you were still based there?
Loren Molinare: You know, we played all over the place. We would do a lot of college gigs; kegger parties and frat parties. It was not uncommon — when I was still in high school — to be taking off on a Friday to play Central Michigan University or Western Michigan University. We would do YMCA dances and maybe some small festivals that we could get booked on in the mid-Michigan area.
And there was a great kind of alternative school in Lansing called the Goodman School. It was on the north side of Lansing and was run by these alternative, cool hippy types. And they had a huge auditorium that they would end up doing their fundraiser concerts there. We did quite a few of those shows, drawing like 800 to 1,000 kids. That was pretty wild. When we couldn’t get a place to play, we’d set up in people’s front yards sometimes. One time it didn’t work out and we got taken to jail for disturbing the peace. But we tried to play wherever we were asked to.
CBS SF: So it sounds like you started writing songs fairly early from when the band formed in 1968, but it would take a while before the Dogs put out their first songs on that live EP you recorded at the Mab in San Francisco in 1977 or ’78. “Slash Your Face” is — I think — one of the top ten greatest punk rock songs. It has one of the greatest opening riffs ever before sliding into the main part of the tune. When did that get written in terms of the band’s history?
Loren Molinare: Actually, before the “Slash Your Face” EP that came out in late ’78, when we moved to LA in ’75, we ended up getting a manager and we put a single out with “John Rock and Roll Sinclair” as the A-side of it on the Dynamic Recording label. There was like maybe 100 of those pressed with “Younger Point of View” [on the B-side]. That was our first release and that came out in 1976.
Then we ended up getting another manager a few years later, Lou Bramey. He was from San Francisco and managed Yesterday and Today — Y & T — and I believe he worked with Journey. He had the brilliant idea to record us live with the Record Plant mobile truck at the Fab Mab. And that was in January of 1978. So we got booked for two night. It was pretty unconventional for a punk band to have the Record Plant mobile truck that would ordinarily be recording the Rolling Stones or whoever recording the Dogs.
So that was when “Slash Your Face” was recorded and a whole album’s worth of stuff was recorded and later released. But that was Lou’s idea; that was what our hopefully major-label release was going to be. Another unconventional thought. But we ended up parting ways with Lou. Jimmy Robinson, who had produced that live session for the Dogs and all our demos around that time — dearly departed; he passed away a few months ago. He had produced Detective on Swan Song and had worked with Eddie Kramer, so he was quite an established guy.
Anyway, Jimmy helped us get our masters mixed down for that and we ended up putting out “Slash Your Face” on our own label before we moved to England in late ’78, And that Dionysus Record you mentioned getting at the Bottom of the Hill, that came out in 2000 used a lot of the other tracks from the live at the Mabuhay recording. It was funny, “Sleaze City” was the first song in the set. There was this guy who worked their at the Fab Mab named Rabbit that gave that great intro, “Live at the Fab Mab, from Detroit City, the Dogs!” And we blasted into it. But it’s funny how “Slash Your Face” has stood the test of time.
CBS SF: So how long before you recorded it had you written the song? Was that something that had been part of the Dogs repertoire for a number of years already?
Loren Molinare: I’d say mid-1977, I wrote that and “Fed Up” and we put those together. It was right when punk was starting to hit with the Sex Pistols coming out and in LA you had the Masque, which was maybe the equivalent of the Fab Mab in Hollywood.
CBS SF: I had a friend who showed me a copy of the flyer of the show that was recorded and it showed that Y&T actually played it with you. It seems kind of an unusual pairing, but I guess you had the same manager and, since it was well before their later more hair metal era, you were two bands playing hard rock, just different styles of hard rock…
Loren Molinare: Yeah, I think so. We definitely played there with them one time. We also played with them at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco and a lot of shows in the LA area too. I think bands like UFO were a big influence on them. It was definitely more slanted that way. But that’s the thing with the Dogs and us growing up in Detroit with all those bands before it was even punk rock. Punk was just a term they came up with for Detroit rock because the Stooges and MC5 influenced the New York Dolls and later the Pistols and the Damned.
But we would play with Ted Nugent and Brownsville Station in Detroit. When we moved to LA, we would play with Van Halen and AC/DC. So the Dogs, because of that upbringing of Detroit rock, we could play with the Ramones or AC/DC or Van Halen or Chuck Berry. We could transcend different musical styles and types of bands. To us, it was just rock and roll. So when punk hit in the mid-1970s, there was some angst there. We always felt like underdogs in society and the music industry, so when punk came up, it just made sense. It was rebel rock and we’d always felt like that. Call it punk, call it whatever you want. We just play. But we loved it.
CBS SF: It’s interesting that you came up in one epicenter for rock in Detroit, but you later spent time in others between living in New York City and Los Angeles. And I didn’t even know you’d spent time in London in the late ’70s too. How long were you there after you put out the EP? Did you just tour in England or did you try to relocate there?
Loren Molinare: That’s a great question. It was a total Spinal Tap thing that happened. We had new English management. At that point in LA, we weren’t really going anywhere, though we had done real well there. But the English management –one of the two guys who we met in LA — convinced us to move to London. He had financial backing, so we just Jimi Hendrix’d; we sold everything in LA and moved to London.
We had a tour booked, but here’s where Spinal Tap comes in. Two or three weeks after we get there, the money guy pulls out. The tour was great. I don’t know why he pulled out, but we ultimately ended up in the middle of January squatting in North London. It was freezing. We were there maybe three and a half months and barely limped back to Detroit. It was a real education going there. Just like living in New York when we play with Television, the Dictators and Kiss right at the beginning of the scene at CBGB’s and the Coventry in Long Island City. We played with Television at Max’s Kansas City and all that great stuff.
So when we were in England, it was sort of the crossover point of punk to the British metal scene that was emerging with Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. You had young metal heads wearing denim jackets head banging right next to punk kids who were pogoing. It was a fascinating time to see that. Moving around like we did, we ended up in all kinds of different scenes. It was really cool to see that over the last four or five decades and to still be here to talk about it [laughs].
CBS SF: You are one of the last of that old Detroit guard. You know, I went to see Wayne Kramer when he did the MC50 anniversary tour. He may be the last original member of the 5 still standing, but he was dancing around like a man half his age. And Iggy has somehow still managed to survive. But I’m glad you’re still around. We need people and bands like you.
Loren Molinare: Wayne and Dennis, the drummer, are the only two left from the MC5 and only Iggy from the original Stooges along with James Williamson from Iggy and the Stooges are left. The Dogs were a bit younger than them, but we’re the last ones that are still together that found that authentic Detroit sound. And we’re a real true underground band that never really had a major record deal. We’re lucky.
Wayne doing the MC50 thing was amazing. It’s incredible that he still rocks out and is that passionate about rock and roll on many levels. And that 50 years have gone by since the recording of Kick Out the Jams. That just blows my mind. That time went by so fast. The album corrupted me — in a good way — along with thousands of other people over the years. For me, it was Wayne Kramer and Fred Smith and the MC5 and what they stood for that changed my life.
You talk about your wife coming from Lansing, the Rainbow People Party and the White Panther Party connection that the MC5 had, it was an intense time around Michigan to grow up and totally influenced us. We felt that rock and roll could change and save the world and bring people together, you know? And we still believe that and write songs about that.
CBS SF: To talk about more recent activity from the band, you put out Hypersensitive in 2012. That was on your own label Detroit Records?
Loren Molinare: Yeah, that’s the label we started to put out the Slash Your Face EP. And a couple years ago we put out a four-song EP on Smelvis Records, which is Elvis Cortez’s label. He’s in the Transplants with Tim Armstrong. So that’s the latest thing. And then we’ve had reissues out on Last Laugh Records in Brooklyn, who put out a new version of the Slash Your Face EP. They’re bringing us out to New York May 2nd to play Williamsburg and we’re going to play on a historic underground radio station WFMU. We’re going to go live there and play Union Pool and do a gig in Philly. It’s amazing they’re bringing us there. I think they feel like what you said, we’re some of the last ones out there. We kind of understand what John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters felt like when they were in their mid-60s or 70s and playing with the Stones. We’re kind of at that stage, but playing white trash rock and roll.
CBS SF: Another band that came up in Detroit and is connected to the proto-punk sound but was fairly unknown until their album was released ten years ago is Death. I was curious if you ever crossed paths with them?
Loren Molinare: No, but I vaguely had heard about them. They had recorded at this studio in Detroit called United Sound. We went down there in 1971. We got brought down because we were doing a free concert in East Lansing and an A&R guy who worked with Dunhill Records that Three Dog Night was on, he saw us and dug us. So he sent us down there to record demos for ABC/Dunhill, but we were so ill prepared for that experience we kind of blew that. But that was a few years before I had heard of them. By that time we were in LA. But I think it’s fascinating that the documentary came out after all these years and then all of a sudden they were everywhere. It’s a fascinating story.
CBS SF: At some point somebody should make a documentary about you guys. Has anyone approached you to do that? You seem like prime candidates…
Loren Molinare: Yeah we’ve been approached by these two brother in LA, the Speed brothers. We’ve had a few meetings with them and stuff. I think they want to do it, but it’s a question of the availability of their time and resources. We’d be honored if something came out after all these years. We’ve also been approached about a repackaging of a lot of songs with maybe a couple of new tracks. It’s this Detroit label that’s put out Grande Volume I and Grande Volume II and they’re talking to us about the third LP of the Grande trilogy being a Dogs release. It’s a couple of women who own this label. They’re from Detroit originally, but they live out on the West Coast and are going to come and talk to us at the gig in San Francisco.
The Dogs play at the Knockout in San Francisco’s Mission District on Friday, March 29, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12