In 1976 young art school student Dave Treat was living in an apartment in the Lakewood area of Cleveland. He became friends with neighbour Stiv Bators who soon introduced him to his band mates Cheetah Chrome, Jimmy Zero and Johnny Blitz. The band, the Dead Boy, were to become one of punks most nihilistic and furious bands. The apartment became a notorious party house and Treat soon found himself taking photos of his new friends.
Originally known as Frankenstein, The Dead Boys formed after the breakup of legendary Cleveland proto-punks Rocket From The Tombs. In July 1976 they relocated to New York City where they were active until 1979 and in a short period of time became known for their explosive show led by vocalist Bators and guitarist Cheetah Chrome.
Some of Treat's photographs from the time, just before their move to New York, appear in Dead Boys 1977: The Lost Photographs of Dave Treat, a book that chronicles the group's early days.It also contains an intimate portrait session with Bators and a section of never-before-seen photos of the Dead Boys opening for New York band the Dictators.
Ahead of the book's launch we sent Treat some questions to find out more about the shoots and the band.
Noisey: What was your initial impressions of Stiv? Did he seem very 'punk' back then?
Dave Treat: I don't remember exactly the first time I met him, but I will never forget him. There were two Stivs. One was soft spoken and very intelligent. He did say he always wanted to be famous. The other Stiv is the one you saw on stage. Punk rock fit him like a glove. He lived for the crowd reactions and to see how far he could push them. He was definitely one of the most interesting persons I've met. He embraced punk and took it to a new level.
Cheetah Chrome moons the camera in one of Cleveland's many empty buildings in 1977. L-R Stiv Bators, Cheeth Chrome, Jimmy Zero, Johnny Blitz. Photo credit: Dave Treat.
Were the band known as Dead Boys when you took the photos? I thought they took that name after moving to NYC.
They were already called the Dead Boys at the time I shot the downtown Cleveland alley shot between two buildings. That was the promo shot they put in Rock Scene magazine in May 1977. It was after this session that they moved.
Cleveland, which serves as a backdrop to many of the photos, was a city in decline. You've describe it as "looking like a neutron bomb went off" But it had a working class tenacity and grit.
Cleveland was definitely in decline. Downtown was a ghost town as people were moving to the suburbs and we were losing blue collar jobs in steel and the auto industries. We were referred to nationally as the Mistake on the Lake and the Cuyahoga River was so polluted it caught fire. In 1978 the city went into default. We shot one photo in the middle of the main street, downtown on a Saturday afternoon and one car came down the street.
How do you feel about your alley shot being recreated for the album cover of Young Loud And Snotty?
It would have been great to shoot the second time, but Seymour Stein made the call to use Glenn Brown. Cheetah told me they wanted me to shoot it, but they were told no. They actually sent Glenn Brown to Cleveland and went back to the same location to shoot the album cover. At least now I've received the credit for the concept and shooting the original photo. No hard feelings here.
Were the band as cheeky and bratty as they seemed in the photos?
They had to look the part. We agreed the photo had to portray the attitude of the music. They carried the image in public all the time. They were at the beginning of developing the persona. The real bad ass was Johnny.
Were you involved much in the Cleveland scene back then? Did you see Rocket From the Tombs?
Yes I did see Rocket from the Tombs. Most of the clubs played Top 40 cover bands but there were a few that played original music and those were the clubs I went to.
Why'd they leave Cleveland?
They got signed by Hilly at CBGB's. Joey Ramone also encouraged the move. I remember when Stiv told me Joey had gotten them an audition at CBGB's. They had to leave. The environment for punk rock music and getting signed was not in Cleveland. New York was the place for them.
Stiv Bators with friend and neighbour Barb. Photo credit: Dave Treat.
What do you think now when you look back at the photos?
Surreal. I took the photos of Stiv in 1976 for a portfolio, and in 1977, the band's promo photo as a favor. Stiv told me on a Friday we needed them by Tuesday at 12:00. Then two-and-a- half years ago I found the negatives when I was cleaning out some boxes. They almost got pitched. Seeing them printed and framed, putting the books together and having them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library, doing a show in LA at Lethal Amounts gallery, and after the gallery opening Cheetah playing to a sold out crowd next door, all absolutely surreal! Who would have thought that 40 years ago helping some friends would have lead to all of this.
'Dead Boys 1977: The Lost Photographs of Dave Treat' will be available September 29.