R.I.P. RITCHIE TEETER
This morning, April 10th, 2012, Ritchie Teeter passed away from complications stemming from his battle with esophageal cancer. The news came down hard and unforgiving. Ritchie was our drummer from 1975 – 1978. Four years of tour, record, tour, record, etc. These were the peak years of the original band’s existence. Although Rich’s tenure as a Dictator officially came to an end in 1978, he had come back to do a bunch of “reunion” shows in the 80’s, and it was again a joy to share a stage with him, and relive his own unmistakable approach to the Big Beat. After that, though, we all seemed to lose touch with Rich, although I would occasionally run into him, the last time being at a Del-Lords show in the late 80’s. Then, it was no contact until about eight months ago, when I learned of his illness, and I knew enough was enough, and the long estrangement needed to end. I wrote him a letter at the last email address I had for him, and that began a series of great correspondence, rekindled friendship, and a final acknowledgment of the eternal bond we created by our extraordinary shared experiences. I only wish I had reached out earlier. Now this.
This is a dark and terrible day, the first such hit the Dictators family has taken. Forty years after the creation of our little band the first casualty is recorded. And dear God, it hurts. The cold glass of mortality thrown our way is a stark reminder of the inevitability of our fate and time here on God’s Golf Ball. What follows are some immediate memories and feelings about our fallen brother. Make no mistake, The Dictators are like the Mob, once you’re in, you’re in. Forever. DFFD.
My earliest memory of Ritchie Teeter was finding out that I had not remembered meeting him the first time we met. I found this out from Ritchie Teeter himself. Ritchie had (apparently) auditioned for the band and had been turned down. I did not remember this. Of course, we auditioned dozens and dozens of drummers at this time, and, truth be told, we were fixated on one Robbie Biegel, drummer from Hackamore Brick, a big Dictators favorite, particularly of mine and Adny’s. (Hackamore Brick were an Adny discovery, as far as we were concerned.) Anyway, Robbie Biegel was fantastic, looked cool, and we needed big heaping helpings of both.
Robbie came down and played, he was great, he said, “Thanx but no thanx”. So, at some point after the Biegel disaster, I am introduced to one Rich Teeter. I like him right away, and I remember talking about The Who & The Velvets with him. He sits down behind the kit, proceeds to totally tear it up, and we are all like, “Let’s grab this guy quick”. I don’t remember if this was before or after we found out he could also sing like an angel. We ask, Rich accepts, and then he tells us that he had auditioned for us before and had been turned down. We didn’t remember it, but we took his word, as well as being a bit embarrassed. As it happens, it had been the very first time Ritchie Teeter had ever been turned down at an audition, of any kind whatsoever. He was not about to let that ignominy stand. He returned, and walked away with the gig. This is how we met Ritchie Teeter.
Although, we were pleasantly oblivious to it at the time, The Dictators presented a rather formidable united front of sorts, and just radiated long-term familiarity with each other. Like a brotherhood. I guess it’s easy to figure out. Richard and I had already been friends for twelve years at this point. Ross, Adny and I formed the band together, and did a highly compressed version of getting to know each other, all in a matter of months. The three of us were completely isolated, having ended up in the New York mountain town of Kerhonkson spending pretty much every waking hour together, practicing, eating, starving, freezing, hitch hiking to get, uh steal, food for about six months, but mostly practicing. And Richard, who was working for the Post Office at that time, was coming up on weekends, with food, and the ability to work magic with it. Yes, we were all a very tight-knit bunch. This is what Ritchie Teeter walked into.
After a slew of drummers (Rich was the fifth), we were finally set up to conquer the uh, world. The ensuing years were great times. We were all in our twenties. Rain was not yet poison, sex was not yet death. While we cared not at all for the whims of the former, we certainly dug the latter. Yes, good times. Just a bunch of nice 20-somethings, traveling around, playing Rock’n’Roll, and having girls throwing themselves at you in every single town. One word: FUN! Did I mention we were in our twenties?
Also, during these years, we were doing and seeing things we had never done or seen before. State after state, stage after stage, mile after mile. On top of that, there was a constant soundtrack playing in the van. All of us liked the same stuff. Ross was more Metal maybe, but he loved The Beatles, The Beach Boys, et al, he just leaned towards The Sabs, man. Andy and I were a bit more eclectic and real superfans. We were serious about it, we listened hard, we read the Rock Writers of the time (CRAWDADDY!, CREEM Magazine: Meltzer, Lester, Nick Tosches, Dave Marsh, Lenny Kaye, Greil Marcus, and other super greats, many of whom we knew), and really dug the trash/garage culture of AI International movies, B&W late night TV, Wrestling (obviously), general obnoxiousness as an art form, etc. Ritchie was into all of the above, could converse on these subjects. His taste that did run outside ours were bands like Van Der Graff Generator, Genesis, and other Progressive British stuff that was virtually incomprehensible to me. I really liked Rich. I loved his taste. It seemed so un-self-consciously uncool, as to make us seem too self-consciously cool. Looking back, The Who were the common denominator between us. But, we were all actually very sincere and passionate about all our personal faves. Rich had many.
From my perspective (yes, that of a twenty two year old, self-possessed R’n’R fanatic, and an enjoyer of the newly available sexual opportunities coming our way!), it all seemed fine. I thought Ritchie fit in great, and never really questioned it. It wasn’t until he was nearing the end of his tenure (the last show we played together in the 70’s was in Hammond, Indiana in 1978) that he spilled all these feelings about always feeling like the outsider, the red-headed stepchild, so to speak. I remember the sting of it. It was the last thing I, or any of us, had ever intended, or even aware of. It was a shock. I can still recall that sting. It was a grow-the-fuck-up moment, a look-hard-at-yourself moment. Maybe not as successful a wake-up call as it should have been, but it definitely made me more acutely aware of the effects my own behavior had on the world outside myself. We were all hurt by this revelation, and we felt awful that we had not been aware of it sooner. To this day I feel terrible that was a part of Ritchie’s experience in The Dictators.
I need to talk about the music. The first thing I think Ritchie gave us was a certain degree of musicianly class. Before him, it was the amazing Ross the Boss and his friends, including the wild man, wise guy with the giant afro, lead singer. With Rich, we all got better. He was a strong time keeper, and not afraid to play in the margins, almost a jazzy (Van Der Graff Generator??) vibe. Almost. I mean, we were what we were, but he was far from being only a straight rock drummer. It might have been a bit of a struggle to reconcile all the elements, but it gave the rhythm section, and in turn the whole band, a definable style. He could be orchestral, cerebral or dirty. And, the guy could sing. And accurately, too, no matter what! Never a bum note from Rich. In so many ways, he anchored us during our formative years. The Dictators, unlike almost every band ever to that point, did not play clubs for a few years, honed our chops, and THEN made a record. No, we skipped every step until, making a record. We were still very, uh, mmmmmm, let’s see, ok, we were still raw! With the addition of Ritchie Teeter, things started to take shape, we could stay within the lines when we wanted to. And suddenly, we could rock like King Hell!
Then there was the big trip to England and the continent. None of us had ever been overseas before and this was gonna be a blast. It was the absolute peak of the British Punk Rock scene, with the Pistols album being number one, The Stranglers, with whom we were touring having two albums in the top five, meeting The Clash, and Billy Idol & Tony James, and The Adverts, and The Slits, and everywhere you looked it was just rock rock rock and roll. A total takeover. Heaven on Earth. A re-imagining of the world in our own image.
It was on this trip that one of the most famous episodes in Dictators lore occurred. Traveling by land, in two vans and a truck for the gear, we were on our way from Amsterdam to Berlin, when, in the early morning rain we were awakened by the sounds and sights of German police, machine guns pointed at us, helicopters overhead, and a very angry gun toting policeman screaming at us to get up and get out of the van. It was about thirty degrees, the rain was pouring, it’s about 6:30AM, traffic is being held up for miles in both directions, and we are being made to stand in a muddy , rainy ditch while the cops went through the vehicles, and then loaded us by twos into police cars and taken to the police station. All this occurred on the Corridor, the one road in and out of East Germany, and from West Germany to Berlin. It was scary, Jack.
In my car with me were Rich and his wife Elise. While everyone was being taken inside we were in the back seat of the car, with a cop turned around facing us, the whole while a machine gun pointed at us from about a foot away. Scary scary scary. Finally. At one point, after about an hour, I was able to ask our captor what the fuck, Fritz? He was able to communicate we were being held on suspicion of terrorism. I actually felt a bit of relief, as I KNEW we were not guilty of that. If he had said we were being held for being a rock band I would have panicked.
Eventually, we were all searched, questioned, and held. Then the cops finally got a hold of the German promoter, who verified who we were. The cops, in one last ditch effort to save face, sent the dogs through everything looking for drugs. Luckily, we had already finished the pot we had brought over. The ordeal ended after about four hours, and off we went to Berlin. We were all relieved but traumatized. We also missed the show. It turned out we were suspected of being members of the Bader-Meinhoff gang, who at that time were responsible for plane hijacking, bank robbery, and more. Our long hair and black leather jackets fit their description. Plus, we had stopped for gas in Belgium, and the attendant there noticed we had tons of Dutch money, freaked out and dropped the dime. Just one of many amazing shared experiences that created the bond that is still unbroken.
I could go on and on about Ritchie. I could tell you more about what an incredibly sweet guy he was, his incredible love of an amazing array of music, but as I would have expected there is a large and growing number of friends, acquaintances, and fans that have been posting their memories, condolences and grief on Facebook, all of which speak to the same things I’ve been saying. I will let their testimonials stand as evidence of a life well lived, a man well loved, a friend, bandmate, and a legacy of decency, camaraderie, great music, and an unforgettable character. For me, he was all of these things. So, old pal, old chum, old friend, goodnight, sleep tight, rest easy, and for my part, I can promise you will never be forgotten. Dictators Forever Forever Dictators,