While I didn’t know it at the time, between 1984 and 1990 The Del-Lords were issuing albums that gained some attention in New York roots rock circles and on the East Coast club circuit. I was only aware of Scott “Top Ten” Kempner as he had been a member of the proto-punk Dictators as I had a promo copy of their 1975 The Dictators Go Girl Crazy! If memory serves, their first song proclaimed “I’m the next big thing!” I thought that was an indication of the band’s humor. Of course, a “big thing” they weren’t, although Dictators alumni went to Twisted Sister and The Fleshtones. Likewise, after singer/guitarist and songwriter Kempner spread his wings and departed The Dictators, he hooked up with singer/guitarist Eric Ambel (a founding member of Joan Jett’s Blackhearts), drummer Frank Funaro, and bassist Manny Caiati to become The Del-Lords.
Then and now, I never heard a note of what they produced back then. This year, a genial publicist sent me a copy of Elvis Club, The Del-Lords first album in over 20 years. Now joined by new bassist Michael DuClos, the word is the album sounds very much like their ’80s output. I can’t attest to that, so I can say I popped in the disc with no preconceived notions as to what I’d hear. In short order, I began thinking perhaps rock and roll really will never die.
In some ways, Elvis Club is a Scott Kempner show. He wrote eight of the songs and contributed to two others. One of these, “Every Day,” was penned with the legendary Dion. Kempner provided lead vocals for most of the 12 tracks while Ambel sang lead on three numbers, “Me and the Lord Blues,” “Flying,” and Neil Young’s “Southern Pacific.” In the case of the latter, you’ll not only hear a spot-on impersonation of Mr. Young, but a serious workout for drummer Funaro. Ambel also produced the disc in his home studio and played all the leads.
Right from the get-go, songs like “When the Drugs Kick In” and “Chicks, Man!” signal Kempner still has a musical sense of humor. Right off the bat, it’s also clear this is one tight outfit. From time to time, you might think The Eagles—when they weren’t taking it easy—or The Heartbreakers. I suspect many will think Commander Cody’s “Hot Rod Lincoln” when they hear the fast-paced “Chicks, Man!” Equally rockabilly is the tongue-in-cheek “Damaged.” Since we’re damaged, The Del-Lords sing, let’s fall in love.
Not everything is straight-ahead fun. While they never exactly get poignant, The Del-Lords verge on the reflective side with songs like “Make a Mistake,” “Silverlake,” and “Me & the Lord Blues.” The devil may tell us there’s no such thing as true love, but the “devil is a liar.”
True, not every track is a gem. But in the main, there are enough rockin’ good times here to pump up any party and be an ideal soundtrack for any road trip. I’ve used this line before, but it’s appropriate here—if this collection doesn’t put you in a good mood, you probably don’t deserve one. The reborn Del-Lords, like The Dictators, aren’t likely to be the next big thing. Nonetheless, new fans and old will be craving more of a very good thing indeed.