Walking 'Hallowed Ground' with Death Dealer's Ross The Boss

Founding member of The Dictators, Manowar talks career, new album
By Peter Lindblad
Death Dealer is coming out with its
sophomore LP Hallowed Ground. 

Death Dealer's time is coming. Ross The Boss, aka Ross Friedman, knows it in his bones.

Maybe it'll be their cataclysmic firestorm of a sophomore effort, Hallowed Ground, that kicks open the door for these ferociously rugged, melodic heavy-metal mercenaries, thrown together by fate to wage war against musical charlatans that dishonor everything metal stands for.

It's happened before for the guitarist, a founding member of the testosterone-fueled, epic metal heroes Manowar, as well as The Dictators, whose 1975 debut album The Dictators Go Girl Crazy was recently deemed by Uncut magazine as the "Greatest American Punk LP" of all-time.

"I have a feeling I right now like I had in 1981, like before (Manowar's first LP) Battle Hymns came out," said Ross The Boss. "I mean, I have that kind of a feeling. People don’t know what’s about to hit. And I have that feeling, and I hope it does. It took Manowar a while before everyone realized how original it was, and I have that same feeling. I’m confident about Death Dealer. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be in it. I’m not into a slog. That’s not what I want to do. I’m into doing positive, good work."

Appetites whetted for Hallowed Ground by the powerhouse debut album Warmaster, as well as the fiery video for the song "Break The Silence," seen below, Death Dealer – featuring fellow guitarist Stu Marshall, vocalist Sean Peck, bassist Mike Davis and drummer Mike Bolgnese – has designs on world domination, even if such grandiose dreams seem far-fetched in this day and age. With a force of nature like Ross The Boss in the fold, however, anything seems possible.

Soon, Death Dealer will make landfall after being a part of Motorhead's Motorboat Cruise, which also included Anthrax, Exodus, Suicidal Tendencies, Hatebreed, Slayer and Corrosion of Conformity. Then comes the business of reaching mass audiences with extensive touring.

Made up of veterans from metal acts like Lizzy Borden, Rob Halford and Cage, not to mention Ross The Boss's impressive credentials, Death Dealer is ready for the next level, as Hallowed Ground blends aggressive speed metal, ambitious orchestrations and pulse-pounding bombast in an explosive package. Ross The Boss talks about Death Dealer and the highlights of his career in this interview:

What do you have going on now that the album is done?
RTB: The album’s done. It’s coming out Oct. 2 on SMG, Sweden Music Group. Our video dropped last week. We have 12,000 hits on it, and we’ll just roll along.

How happy are you with the recording?
RTB: Absolutely thrilled with it. Once we finished the first record, after Warmaster, our first record three years ago, we started … well actually before, it was like two and a half years ago. Once we finished with that, we started writing immediately for the second record. So we’ve been living with these songs for quite a bit. I mean, we did the Metal All-Stars arena tour. We opened for that, which I was a part of. I was an All-Star. And so I was opening for myself. The band really became a true band, played in front of 80,000 people, so we worked on these songs and we’re so very happy with it. I mean, our songwriting really matured, I think. It’s the natural evolution of things, and here we are waiting to release the second record. 

Maybe you already answered this, but in what ways does Hallowed Ground build off what you did with Warmaster?
RTB: Well, as I said, it’s just the natural evolution of music. It’s deeper, it’s … well, you know, everybody says it’s better, but I think this actually is better. Not to belittle a really good debut, but the songwriting has more rounded approach. You obviously haven’t heard it?

No, I have. I love it. I really like the production of it. I think the production … man, it hits you.
RTB: It does hit you. It’s loud. It’s clean. I’ve actually had someone say that it’s too loud.

RTB: Yeah, I go, “What?” I mean, you live long enough you’re going to hear everything in this world. I don’t know. It’s too loud for a heavy metal fan. I mean, people pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get it like that. I don’t know. I’m braying with smoke coming out of my ears, I don’t know (laughs).

Death Dealer - Hallowed Ground 2015
Was it an easier process this time around, or were there difficulties you encountered?
RTB: No, actually no. The songwriting … Death Dealer is a song-rich environment. I mean, when you have actually three guys that can really write songs, and then Mike and Steve, they’re going to start, I mean we’re dealing from strength here. These ideas … we have stuff for the third one already. It just never stops, the process of songwriting for us. It’s an amazing thing because if I send a riff to Stu, and he’s in Sydney, Australia … if I send a riff to him, I don’t even have to play it. I show it to him … "Play it like this, right?" And he does like eight bars, 16 bars, and then, all of a sudden, he writes a part to it, another part. So then we have that part. He does the demo, and we can have a demo that sounds like that album, Hallowed Ground. We have that, he masters it, and he has the whole thing. So, we’re already hearing it like people are hearing our music on our CDs, so that really rushes up the creative process. And then Sean gets it in a nanosecond and he’s on it. And everybody stores their stuff. Everybody passes everything along, and I think it’s an even better process of writing songs than if you’re in the same room.

I was going to ask you about that. You obviously like doing it this way, but because everybody talks about the immediacy of recording live in the studio, and how that sounds, do you get that still with this method?
RTB:  Well, we would love to be together all the time as a band practicing. Would we love to say, “Let’s go practice and knock shit out?” Of course we want that. Everybody wants that, but in today’s world, today’s day and age, I mean not many guys live in the same spot, except The Dictators, who are all from the same city. So bands that live apart, it’s the only way to go. It’s the only way to do it. And we’ve mastered that. We have it down to a science where everyone … and Stu’s in Australia, so his time zone is ... forget it. So we manage to do Skype with the whole band, so everybody’s on the same plane with the songs, everybody’s contributing. Mike and Steve contributed greatly to the arrangements and all the stuff that has to go down to it. There’s no “I” in Death Dealer, so … I mean, the proof’s in the pudding.

One of the best songs on the record is “Break the Silence,” and you did a cool video for it. Talk about the making of video and the recording of that track …
RTB: We were in Europe last month on our tour. We had festival shows, promotional stuff. So we drove up to northern Sweden to our director’s house, Owe Lingvall. And he had everything set up. It was unbelievable. We got there and it was like, flame towers, flame throwers, drones … he had drones ready to go. I mean, this was … those giant lighting things, I mean it was quite a nice production to this video. And flame everywhere like you wouldn’t believe. He’s one of the finest directors in the business. I mean, the result is obvious. I think the video is just incendiary (laughs).

It matches the song.
RTB: Uh huh. No, really. I mean, we’re really happy with the final product. He puts his name on something and it’s really great. SMG loves it, everybody loves it. So far, the 12,000 hits we got love it. We want to make that 12,000 into 120,000. That’s the goal of the band. When we’re at 120,000, this band is going to be all over the world, and I truly believe that is going to happen.

What guitar parts are you most proud of on the record? I really like the guitar work on “Total Devastation” – great power, speed and a variety of leads.
RTB: Well, I mean, all of it is really interesting from Stu and I. Everything … I think it’s very interesting what we do. Also, our acoustic pieces are incredible. This thing on “Gunslinger,” his acoustic work on “Gunslinger” and my “Llega El Diablo,” before “The Way of the Gun,” I’m most proud of that. I just think that it just builds, it’s got that Spanish, Tex-Mex whole thing. “The Way of the Gun” solo I think is pretty much classic Ross. I’m just proud of the whole thing. The way Stu and I differentiate, the way our styles differentiate but complement each other, the fact that there’s no race there. Our mantra is, “Whatever is best for the song.” All that matters to us is the song. And if I have to play the solo, I do. If Stu has to play it … like “Way of the Gun,” I played it. If one of the songs, he has to do it – he’s got a couple he does them all himself – that’s it. If there are no solos, like in “Séance,” then there are no solos. We don’t care. It’s like you see these bands with multiple guitar players, it’s like a competition. And there’s no competition here, because I have no competition. It’s just, you know, I don’t … I mean, I can’t play like anyone else, but everyone else can’t play like me, you know what I’m saying? So, we’re delighted with it.  
Death Dealer consists of guitarists
Ross The Boss and Stu Marshall,
bassist Mike Davis, singer Sean Peck and
drummer Steve Bolgnese
You’re quoted in the press materials as saying, “ … this is what metal should sound like.” Between Death Dealer and Manowar, you’ve been responsible for shaping and influencing heavy metal. What’s different about the metal you’ve made with Manowar and Death Dealer, as opposed to the metal of today’s artists? What are they missing?
RTB: Well, I think that the accent on songwriting, the accent on divergent, diverse songwriting. I mean, you could listen to our stuff and we’re really not repeating ourselves. Some bands have like their songs, their main song, that’s 1A. And then they start going to 1B, 1C, 1D … it’s like the same song. They’re repeating themselves through the whole CD and the ideas get very tired. I mean, I’ve heard some really good records, but I don’t think a band can sustain a record like we have on 13 tracks here.

There’s a real rawness and power, not to mention great hooks, to songs on Hallowed Ground like “K.I.L.L.,” “The Anthem” and “Break The Silence,” and a galvanizing energy and spirit to “I Am The Revolution.” And then there’s the speed of “Plan of Attack.” There’s a lot of variety to Hallowed Ground, but to me it’s the aggression and energy that really stand out. How would you characterize the album?
RTB: Oh, there’s absolutely an incredible energy level to Hallowed Ground. People compliment us a lot on our live show saying, “That’s the highest energy band I’ve ever seen.” And then people are mentioning how high energy it was. The band is high energy, right from the get-go. We are a high-energy machine. It’s incendiary. That’s what it is. We are that. You can’t deny it.

How did you guys get together?
RTB:  Well, about three and a half years ago, I get a message on Facebook from Sean Peck, who I knew. I wasn’t very familiar with Cage, because I don’t listen to a lot of other bands. I never did. So I get this call from him and he goes, “Ross, I really admire you and what you’ve done, and blah, blah, blah, and I’m putting this thing together with this guy Stu Marshall, who’s this really great guitar player, and we’re interested in having you play on a couple of songs." And you know, we took it as far as that. “Okay, all right. Send me some songs then.” Okay, and then the next day, I get a message from Stu. And it was like, “Oh hi, mate. Battle Hymn is my favorite. It really changed my life,” and all that. And he goes, “You can’t believe how influential all that stuff was,” and I go, “Okay. Great.” And he said, “I’m working with Sean and I think we either want you or K.K. Downing (laughs).” And I said, “What? Huh?” He said, “You or K.K. Downing.” And I said, “Okay, all right. I’m very interested.” So later, after about an hour, I get some tracks, unfinished tracks, and I go, “This is incredible. This is really incredible.” It took me a day, and I said, “I’m in. I’m in with this. Whatever you guys do, I’m in.” And so Sean gets back on the thing and says, “Well, we have the name of the band set, and we have a bass player, we have a drummer, blah, blah, blah …” Sean is just so flipped on this, and I go, “Wow!” And then we started working on the songs. It was great, and the rest is history.” And in three years, we’ve taken the band from idea to completing Warmaster to opening for the Metal All-Stars on the arena tour, to doing all the other stuff, getting a label, putting it all together – SMG is putting it out Oct. 2 – to doing three tours to doing the video. In three and a half years, this is what we’ve done. We self-financed the first record, but not this one, so I think … it’s good, it’s good.

I know it’s a whole new world out there, but have you found that you’ve been able to build an audience the same way you used to or are you having to go to different avenues?
RTB: Well, it’s not as easy as it once was. I mean, bands … if they want be on a big tour they have to buy on, which SMG is going to do for us. In one way, you’ve got the Internet helping, which spreads the word faster, but you really need to get out there and win over heads and turn heads, which we’re going to do. We’re doing the Motorhead boat tour Sept. 28, which has a thousand people on it. We’re excited to do that. The whole plan is just being laid out, but it’s a different world we live in.

Have you done a boat tour before?
RTB: Uh, no.

What are you most looking forward to with it?
RTB: I am looking forward to it. Hanging with Lemmy. Hanging out with my friends in Anthrax. It’s going to be great. It’s got to be great. It’s a load of fun.

Yeah, because you worked on Anthrax’s demo, producing it.
RTB: Yeah, I got them their first kind of deal and all those Marshall cabinets, and really helped out.

What did you think of the band back then?
RTB: I thought they were great. I mean, I liked their ideas. I thought their energy was … I could definitely relate to that. I liked their songs, and Neil Turbin and Danny Lilker, the other guitar player. It was cool.

Did you believe that The Dictators Go Girl Crazy, which turns 40 this year, had a lot of commercial potential at the time?
RTB: Coming out?

RTB: Go Girl Crazy? Yes, I did. You bet. I thought songs like “Weekend” and “Cars and Girls” definitely could make it on the radio, but the radio was so screwed up with Boston and Foreigner and all this other stuff that was coming out then that … I mean, I thought good American records, good American rock ‘n’ roll would always win out, but CBS couldn’t figure it out at the time, you know. There were no visionaries there. It was just, it’s got to come out and sell … typical story, but strange, though. How many records from back then are still being hailed as great records? Not many. The Dictators Go Girl Crazy has just got legs. It’s got a life of itself. It’s got a super cult following, and people have responded. And finally, people are saying this is the No. 1 greatest American punk rock record of all-time.

That’s amazing, considering all the great punk records that came out. You guys really were influential.
RTB: Yes. I mean, I would say that, as in Manowar, all the original fans became musicians that had bands and made records, especially with The Dictators. So many people around the world that got into Go Girl Crazy when it came out were all musicians, like Radio Birdman, The Ramones, and all these bands from all over the world. Yeah, so the band was really influential.   

Going back to the origins of The Dictators, what brought the band together and what were early rehearsals like?
RTB: Oh, well, we created the band up at state college in SUNY New Paltz. After high school, we were all pretty much not going to college (laughs) … going to college, but not going to college at the same time, like “Animal House.” That was exactly what it was, and New Paltz was like the No. 2 party school in the country. It was insane, and it was that kind of environment, and I was in a band called Total Crud in New Paltz. It wasn’t that good, but it was wild. And Andy Shernoff was there and going to New Paltz, and he goes, “Listen, do you want to form a band? Do you want to form a band?” And I go, “Yes.” Yeah, and I said, “Yeah.” And he was a rock ‘n’ roll journalist, writing rock reviews. And he had his own fanzine, Teenage Wasteland Gazette. (Laughs) And he said, “Let’s start a band.” So Andy and I started The Dictators, and we got Scott (Kempner) and we found a drummer up there and kind of was messing through it – couldn’t play worth shit, except me, actually. But he had a bunch of songs, and we kind of got the band together. Manitoba wasn’t the lead singer yet. He was our breakfast chef (laughs). So Richard Meltzer was Andy’s friend, a rock writer, and Meltzer’s buddy, Sandy Pearlman, was managing the Blue Oyster Cult. And he got Sandy to come up and see the band. And Sandy fell in love with us and that was it. We went down to New York. We recorded a demo and we were signed to CBS.    

What was it like working with Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman.
RTB: Well, very interesting guys, I can tell you that. They have very different production values than what I was using. I don’t know. They had some very strange things that they did in the studio, but it seemed to work out. Sandy just had his way of doing things. I mean, I worked with Sandy on a lot of records, including Shakin’ Street. Listen, when you’re working with a producer like that – and he did The Clash – when you’re working with a producer like that, it’s what he wants. He was good with us in that if I suggested something to him, he was definitely into it, but he definitely had his own vision (laughs).

Did that clash with what you wanted?
RTB: Sometimes, sometimes … yes – especially working with Mark Mendoza. Oh my God. Oh my God. Like when we heard Manifest Destiny in San Francisco, we wanted to kill him. The whole group said, “We hate this. Go fuck yourself, and we hate you.” You know what that did? Nothing (laughs).

What is your favorite Dictators record?
RTB: Mine is Blood Brothers – just because the band was more musically together, and we had a real drummer. I can imagine if we had Richard Teeter for the first record, I think the band would have been superstars. Seriously, but that’s the way it is. We were who we were. It is what is. And it hasn’t died. It lives bigger and better.

What was the New York City music scene of the early 70s like? Describe some of the places you played back then.
RTB: What was the early scene like?

Yeah, was it pretty gritty? I imagine it was.
RTB: When we got down to New York in ’74, and there was really nowhere to play. There was a place here in Queens called The Coventry, where KISS was playing and the Dolls would play. No Max’s Kansas City yet. No CBGBs yet, but there were other bars to play at. There was Popeye’s in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. That’s where Manitoba sang for the first time – got up on stage and sang “Wild Thing.” It was like a dead Tuesday night, and the bums were there and we’re playing. Here’s an interesting story. We’re there, and we’re just playing along. Andy was the lead singer, and people are going, “Yeah, they’re nice. They’re good … The Dictators … yada, yada, yada.” You know, it’s like, Manitoba was our roadie, but he was a terrible roadie, because he was breaking signs and shit. In the clubs, he was back and just destroying shit. So they couldn’t keep up. That couldn’t keep up, because we couldn’t afford it, breaking awnings and stuff. So we go, “Richard, you want to sing a song with us?” Looking up, he’s drunk and shit. And I go, “Well, what song do you know?” And he goes, “Well, I know ’Wild Thing.’” Oh, okay. We know “Wild Thing.” So we proceeded to do “Wild Thing,” and he started singing, and every bum, every person in the club, their heads perked up. It was like, “What the fuck was that? Who was that? What the hell?” The reaction he got was shocking. It was shocking that he woke this whole club up like the place was on fire. And after that, I go, “You know what? I think we found our lead singer.” So that night, at Popeye’s in Sheep’s Head Bay, Handsome Dick Manitoba was born. And, you know, a guy from Blondie was there … the guitar player?

Oh, Chris Stein …
RTB: Yeah, Chris Stein. Yeah, he was there and Eric Emerson. But now, of course, everybody says they were there. You know, like Game 6 of the World Series with The Mets. Everybody was there, and everyone was at Woodstock, too, but it was an amazing night.  

Talk about meeting Joey DeMaio for the first time. How did the idea of forming Manowar come about?
RTB:  Okay. Shakin’ Street was supporting Black Sabbath on the first Ronnie James Dio tour, and their comeback was playing in Manchester … one of those cities. And Ronnie Dio comes up to me and goes, “Oh Ross, I love your guitar playing. I love the history of The Dictators and New York rock. I love it.” And I go, “Well, thank you.” And I’m like Ronnie Dio … love it! He goes, “Great fan of yours.” And I say, “Thanks. Thanks, Ronnie.” He goes, “Oh, by the way. You should check out this guy Joey on our crew. He plays bass. You should check him and check each other out.” And I go, “Okay.” So the next thing I know, Joey and I are like in Black Sabbath’s dressing room when they’re on making music and going through ideas and stuff like that. So, as the days went on, we decided that I was going to leave Shakin’ Street, issue my replacement and we were going to go off the road and form [Manowar]. And I already had a guy on EMI that really wanted to do a project very badly with me, Bob Curry, who was a friend, a personal friend, and a very great guy. So that was the stage for Manowar.    

The music of Manowar was pretty different than that of the Dictators. What excited you most about the potential of Manowar and what attracted you to play metal?
RTB: Well, it was different. Culturally, it came from a different place. It was Norse mythology, Wagnerian moments, street rock and roll, of course, and me, and it was different. I don’t think anyone else was doing stuff like that. We were ready from the beginning. We had the epic songs. “Dark Avenger” that I had written, and Joey had “Battle Hymn,” so it was different. No doubt about it. It was different. I mean, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden weren’t writing songs like that.  

What were the early days of Manowar like? What were the shows like? Were you received well from the start by audiences, or did it take time for them to get what you were doing?
RTB: Yeah, wherever we played we were … yeah, because no one else would play with us.

Why was that?
RTB: Because that’s just the way it was. Whitesnake said, “Well, you can come out with us, but you can’t wear your clothes. You have to be in jeans." And we said, “No way.” And it’s like, we kind of did it to ourselves: “We’re the best, we’re the loudest, we’re the fastest … we’re this, we’re that. ‘Death to false metal.’” We kind of made it like a members-only club. And as much as it helped the band, it hurt the band. We had big mouths. 

Talk about some of the Manowar albums, starting with Battle Hymns. What was recording that like, especially compared to your work with The Dictators?
RTB: Oh, well. We were still doing everything in the studio together. We were very, very well-rehearsed. And you know, Criteria Studios (Miami, Fla.), it was basically the same – get everything set up, mic everything up and go through takes. It was the same. It was the same up until Fighting The World.    

But you got Orson Welles on that record …
RTB: Yeah, Orson Welles did the first record, right. Our manager … well, Bob Coury from the label found his manager. He was living in Las Vegas, he was going to be in New York for a couple of days, and we sent him the lyrics, and he absolutely loved it. He agreed to do it, it was the coup of a lifetime, and amazing. It was an amazing thing that happened to me, and it was Orson Welles.

Was Into Glory Ride another step up from that record?
RTB: Well, listen. By the time of the Into Glory Ride period, we’d gotten dropped from EMI. They gave us a buyout, and from the money we got from the buyout – because EMI and Liberty Records, Kenny Rogers’ label, had absolutely no idea what we were doing; I mean, they couldn’t relate to us – so with the money we got from the buyout, we recorded Into Glory Ride, and it was the most hateful, angry we could come up with. And that was Into Glory Ride, and that’s what it is – another record that still stands the test of time.

And so does Kings of Metal. Did that really feel like the pinnacle for you guys?
RTB: Well, it was the pinnacle recording it. And then, of course, Joey thought it was a good decision to ask me to leave right before the release of Kings of Metal. So I put that in like the top two of the worst moments in rock ‘n’ roll: Mick Taylor quitting the Rolling Stones and Ross The Boss leaving Manowar before Kings of Metal. Like maybe after that tour? You know … it totally put that band into confusion.

Was there ever a reason given?
RTB: Yeah, we weren’t getting along … blah, blah, blah. But there was no reason for that, no reason for that. We could have worked out our problems, but a certain someone needed complete control – complete control of the money, complete control of everything – and he wanted to work with a band of puppets. I wasn’t about to be a in a band of puppets, so …

What seems to me to tie Death Dealer, Manowar, and The Dictators is a real sense of integrity and that really comes through. You’re really making music that’s true to that genre. Is that kind of the sense you get to?
RTB:  Well, that’s what we have to do. Only the true bands will go through. A band that’s full of shit will be outed easily. They will be outed. Like an all-star band, like a one-off tour … some of the songs, light songs. You know what I’m saying. Our music, all that stuff was from the heart back then, and to this day now. It’s just the way it is. We put a lot of effort and love and work into our music and it shows. It showed between ’82 and 1988 and it shows now, and it showed on my two solo records, too.

Outside of those main two bands, what are some of your other favorite projects?
RTB: The Ross The Boss band – New Metal Leader and Hailstorm I think are very, very fine records. We had a band called The Spinatras, and we did a record for CMC, which no one knows about because they just went to hell, the label just went to hell, but they gave us a whole bunch of money. The Spinatras were good, my work with the Brain Surgeons – Albert Bouchard from BOC … there’s a lot of them.

Any of those records you feel should have gotten more publicity than they did?
RTB: The Spinatras for sure. There was some real strong songs on that record.

With everything you’ve got going on, what are your hopes for The Dictators going forward and Death Dealer?
RTB: Well, The Dictators are getting bigger and bigger. Our tours are getting more well-attended. The single’s coming out. We’re going to have it for November. We have 12 shows in New York for November, ending in the Eindhoven Speed Fest [in The Netherlands]. And you know, as far as Death Dealer, we have the [Mothorhead] Motorboat cruise, and the day we get off the ship, our album is going to be released on the second of October, and we’ll take it from there. I mean, I’m sure it’ll start attracting a lot of heads. I think 2016 is going to be an incredible year. I mean, if it’s not, something’s really off on this planet, but I think we’re setting ourselves up – both bands – and I got the Titans of Metal in Israel on Dec. 17 with Sean Peck and the girl from Nightwish, and Uli Jon Roth and the two guitar players from Mercyful Fate, and all this. So we’re going to do that, Tel Aviv and Cyprus on the 17th and 18th of December. So I’m kind of busy, you know. Things are all really going to be good, but Death Dealer and The Dictators for 2016, put your money on it.

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