Ross the Boss, real name Ross Friedman, is an American guitarist, producer, and songwriter, best known as a founding member of the seminal punk band the Dictators and the heavy metal band Manowar. With Manowar, Ross recorded six classic metal albums between 1980 and 1988. Ross has also played as a guest guitarist on several albums, and he’s been a member of bands such as Shakin’ Street, The Brain Surgeons, and Death Dealer, with whom Ross still continues to play and make records. Currently, Ross actively plays with his Ross the Boss band, which recently turned fifteen, and the new incarnation of the Dictators, who are working on a new studio album. Chaoszine met a good-humoured Ross last July at the Time to Rock -festival in Sweden, where the man played a thunderous set of Manowar classics with Ross the Ross band. Read and learn what Ross is doing nowadays and what he thinks of the possibility of playing one more time with his former Manowar bandmates.
Ross, first of all, it’s great to meet you again. I think that the last time we met was in 2014 in Helsinki.
Ross The Boss: Nice to meet you, too. It’s great to be here.
Ross the Boss band just released a Best Of album called “Legacy Of Blood, Fire & Steel.” Tell me something about that one.
Ross The Boss: That’s correct. AFM put out the best of my four records. They let me choose the songs, and it was very cool of them. I mean, it’s a great package. It’s great, red vinyl. And it’s sold out, I think. They sold them all out. I think they printed 1,000, and they sold it all. So all right, I’m really happy with it. I mean, of the song choices, for sure.
Isn’t it kind of amazing that Ross the Band has been around fifteen years already?
Ross The Boss: Oh yeah, 15 years. But 15 years is nothing. I mean, I’m thinking I’ve been in the music business since 1974 when the Dictators got signed, and we put our first record out in ’75. And the Dictators are now back. You know, we have two new members, and we have two record labels. We have two labels. And we’re working on a new record for the fall. And I mean, it’s been amazing. So everything kind of repeats itself in rock and roll, especially with me. You know, so I’m really happy about the whole situation. With my band here and then the Dictators, two different genres of music seem to be blending very well together, you know.
Your current tour is called “The Kings of Metal Anniversary Tour.” And, as the name says, you are now celebrating the album, which came out 35 years ago.
Ross The Boss: Yeah.
What kind of memories do you have from writing and recording “Kings of Metal” back in 1988?
Ross The Boss: Well, it was the second digital record we recorded after “Fighting The World.” And, because “Fighting The World” was the first digital record ever put out, I believe, for a metal band. For, you know, “Kings of Metal” was, um, you could tell the upgrade between sound between “Fighting The World” and “Kings of Metal.” I mean, there’s a really giant leap in technology from that era to that era. And, so, that record was not only a great record, but it was my last record in Manowar. And I have a lot of intense feelings about it because the band really messed itself up big time by not having me, the creator of the band, the co-creator, and the creator of all the songs, not in the band for the band’s biggest record. You know, to me, it’s the worst mistake in rock and roll besides Mick Taylor leaving the Rolling Stones. I think Ross the Boss out of Manowar was one of the biggest crimes in the music business. And they’re paying the price. No matter what they do, they’re paying the price.
It’s a fact that “Kings of Metal” is Manowar’s most successful album commercially to date. But how important a record it is for you?
Ross The Boss: I have to be honest with you. Looking back at it, I think the most important record was “Battle Hymns” because it was the beginning. It was the start. It was the start of a movement. It was the start of power metal. It was a start for the band. It kind of, like, laid the foundation for all the other Manowar records to come, my other five that would come after that. So I think that in looking back at it, I think, you know, then of course people go, “Whoa, ‘Kings of Metal.'”, “Oh, ‘Hail to England.'” And you know, people, I hear it every day. Because those– my first six records, those records are so beloved in heavy metal and so held up on, on, on an awesome level, you know, that it’s, you know.
What would be the order if you had to rank all Manowar albums you recorded with the band from the best to worst?
Ross The Boss: How would I rank them now? I would rank “Battle Hymns” one. I would rank “Hail to England” two. Then I would rank “Into Glory Ride.” Then, for four, I would rank “Sign of the Hammer.” No, “Sign of the Hammer” has to come later. I would rank “Fighting The World.” And then “Sign of the Hammer.” And then, I’m missing one more, right? I said, “Fighting The World.” And then “Kings of Metal.” I mean, “Kings of Metal” can’t be last, but to me, it is. I know that I wrote “Kings of Metal,” and I wrote “Hail and Kill.” And I think that there’s a lot on those records that I didn’t like, you know? Like, “Grandfather, tell us a story. Oh, okay. Hey, we’re the metal–” Who were those people? “Hey, we’re the Metal Kings.” Oh, no, no, no, no! You know, and the bass solos and a lot of the stuff. But when you look through it, when you look through those records and take them– take it song by song, those six records will never be topped. Can never be topped. I don’t care what band you got. I mean, I think it’s up there with Black Sabbath. It’s up there with Priest, Iron Maiden. I think the first six Manowar records are iconic. I really do. And it has never been topped.
When I was watching your show tonight and heard the excellent setlist, I thought that this tour was kind of the tour you never did with Manowar when “Kings of Metal” came out back in the day. Do you agree with that?
Ross The Boss: Yeah, it’s true. I would– you know, I could only imagine what that tour would’ve been like if I was there. And, you know, I’m not the biggest fan of playing Manowar songs. I’ve got to be honest with you. I’d rather be playing my songs. I’m actually kind of bored playing Manowar songs, but people like it, you know? And there are more people that know their songs. And it’s a hard thing that I’m in right now—the rock in a hard place. We have four records, and people have bought my records, but people also have bought Manowar records. I mean, for since 1988, ’82 to ’88. So, I mean, no matter what I do, someone’s not going to like it, and a lot will, you know, no matter what you do. Someone’s always going to like it, or someone’s going to fucking hate it. So I don’t give a fuck, so, you know.
Basically, you can’t win in this game?
Ross The Boss: No, I can’t. But I do win because I play my guitar. As long as I can play my guitar and go out and play and make some money and do a good job. I’m happy with it. I’m more than happy with the band that I have now. The people I’m working with. It’s a pleasure to play with them every night. And they strive to get better, and they’re really classy guys. Like, like Dirk Schlächter there! ”Laughs”
Dirk Schlächter has a long history of playing with Gamma Ray in the past. How he ended up joining the Ross the Boss band?
Ross The Boss: From Germany! ”Laughs) And he’s a great guy. I mean, he’s been absolutely sensational. I don’t know what to say. I couldn’t do it without him. I mean, because he’s such a great musician he truly is. And he’s just great to be with. Dirk has been, been, absolutely a fantastic addition to the band. And he’s a super professional, super talented, super nice guy. Really, the band is great, and I’m, I’m glad to have them. I really am. I’m spoiled. And I really am lucky to have such a great band.
Tonight’s show was the last published date on this “The Kings of Metal Anniversary Tour.” What kind of touring plans do you have from now on?
Ross The Boss: I’ve got some stuff coming up. Well, the Dictators will go to Spain at the end of September for ten shows, starting on the 25th. And then we’re talking about all sorts of– I don’t know, my manager keeps yapping my– you know? ”Laughs.” He’s got all this stuff, but in January, I’m going to go to Australia, Japan, and Korea with Ross the Boss band. I’ve never been to Japan. Well, that’s one place I haven’t been to. And I definitely haven’t been to Korea.
Let’s next jump into your other current band, the Dictators. You mentioned earlier that a lot is going on with the band at the moment.
Ross The Boss: We just signed new deals, and we have a new lineup. We have Andy Shernoff on bass, me on guitar, and Albert Bouchard on drums, who’s the original drummer of Blue Öyster Cult. And we have Keith Roth from Sirius Radio from Frankenstein 3000. He’s an amazing singer and an amazing guy on stage. So we have the four of us, the new Dictators. And then we signed a deal for the physical products of our old records and old albums, our back catalogue with Decca. And then we signed for the rights for Spotify, for all the other stuff with Valley Entertainment.
You have a really long history with the Dictators. The band was originally formed in 1973, meaning that the Dictators will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. After all these years and lineup changes, do you feel that the band still has that original spirit left?
Ross The Boss: Yeah, I think we’re still the same. I think even though we’re older, of course, we’re still the same assholes we always have been. Yeah. I think so. Manitoba’s not there anymore, but Keith has that same acerbic, you know, he’s from Bronx, from where I’m from. And that Bronx attitude is… That’s right. We’re still assholes. You know?
The Dictators’ original rhythm guitarist, Scott “Top Ten” Kempner, left the band in 2020 for health reasons. What happened to him then?
Ross The Boss: Scott is not in the band because Scott is ill with dementia. Don’t even ask more about it.
Over five decades, quite a large number of musicians have played in The Dictators.
Ross The Boss: Right.
How much are you still in touch with the former band members?
Ross The Boss: I’m still in touch with Mark Mendoza. He’s a great, great guy. Uh, great guy. He’s such a sweet guy. And, me and him, we struck up a really good friendship again. And, of course, Ritchie Teeter is, is passed. Stu Boy King is passed. So I’m friends with everybody.
How about Mr. Manitoba?
Ross The Boss: He’s out of the band. What can we do?
You’ve done a lot of records and projects with him outside of the Dictators as well.
Ross The Boss: I did plenty of records with him, so. He’s got his own thing together. So we’ll see what happens, but I wish him nothing but the best.
The Dictators have just released their new single ‘Crazy Horses’. I listened to it before I came here, and I have to say that despite all the band’s lineup changes, the song still sounds like Dictators.
Ross The Boss: Of course, it does. ”Crazy Horses” is a great tune. Do you know who really– you know who really originally did that song?
No. You tell me?
Ross The Boss: Osmond Brothers. This is their biggest thing, and we like the song. I mean, I love that song. I always thought someone should do that. Some other guys have done that song. I always thought that we could do that song really great. And we did. We killed it. I mean, I think it’s brilliant.
You also posted a video for that song, which was fun to watch because it has been filmed in a carousel. Where was that place?
Ross The Boss: In the video, we’re on a carousel in Brooklyn. We were spinning around. It’s a great video, and it was a lot of fun to make. And it’s a great song. The next video will come out before we go to Spain. Valley Entertainment is handling all that.
You mentioned earlier that the Dictators are also planning to make a full record at some point.
Ross The Boss: Oh yeah, we are making a full record. We have six songs ready, and just last week, we recorded five basic tracks at Albert’s house. And we have one song we could record live, ”What Goes On” by the Velvet Underground. We really do a great job on that. And, um, so we’re going to do that.
The Dictators are known as one of the pioneers of U.S. punk rock in the 70’s. The band has often been called one of the most universal proto punk bands of all time. Do you agree with that?
Ross The Boss: I absolutely do agree with it. I mean, it’s like, uh, I would say that besides, we’re being one year ahead of the Ramones, you know, who we grew to be amazing friends because we’re from the Bronx, and they’re from Queens growing up. And our first record came out one year ahead of the first Ramones record. So, I think that in the end, we all became really, really great friends. And you know, a great story that when CBGB’s closed, the last day, the last weekend, the Friday, Saturday, Sunday, it was the Dictators for Friday and Saturday. Patti Smith played Sunday, but she’s not, not even close to punk rock. But we played on Friday and Saturday. And the last– the very last song that we played on that stage was ”Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones. And we had Tommy Ramone, who was alive then. He came up and sang it with us. And sadly, after that, he passed away. So all the Ramones are finished– are all dead.
What was the punk scene like in the U.S., especially in the New York area, in the ’70s?
Ross The Boss: It was insane. It was amazing. Every night was great. We had great Gilda Sleeves. We had CBGBs. We had the Cat Club. We had all these special clubs that were operating full-time. And every night, there was something happening. Every fucking single night. And then when Joey was still alive, Joey would have– that’s Joey Ramone, folks. Joey would have something planned every single night. He was like our social director. And, uh, so there was always something happening with Joey Ramone, and I miss him.
Can you pick some highlights from that era, things you’ll always remember?
Ross The Boss: From the punk era?
Ross The Boss: The highlights– there are so many. I mean, we played CBGBs 38 times. I played CBGBs 38 times. I would say that the show in the Winterland with the Dictators, Ramones, and the Nuns. That was a great show. That was a great event. That was a fucking great show. And then, when we went to England, and Sid Vicious was in our lobby waiting for us, he was, like, begging, and he’s like– he’s all fucked up. And Sid Vicious, you know, we– I took care of Sid Vicious for, like, a week on the Stranglers tour. And, you know, there was a lot of crazy shit going on. We played the Roundhouse seven times in a row with the Stranglers. We beat them– we beat the Rolling Stones and the Who‘s record. Yeah, the Stranglers and the Dictators, we beat their record. We beat their record at sold-out shows at the Roundhouse. And those are all milestones, you know? And we were hanging out backstage, right? And then we hear somebody outside. It was Billy Idol and Mick Jones of the Clash wanting to get in. So we threw down shit so they can get in for free. And then Mick Jones asked me about Sandy Perlman as a producer, and I said he was great. And next thing you know, he’s producing the next Clash record. You know, give him enough rope.
Americans had an intense punk scene already in the mid-70s. A bit later, punk became a very popular trend in Europe, especially in England. From there came such bands like the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Vibrators and Sham 69. How much did the American punk bands have in competition with their European colleagues then?
Ross The Boss: No. Not, not what you, there was not a lot of competition at all. Not really. Not what you would think. We were kind of very supportive of each other.
That was all about the Dictators, and the next topic on my list is the Death Dealer. I actually interviewed you and the entire band in Helsinki. in 2014 when Death Dealer was on tour with the Metal Allstars. Do you still remember that interview?
Ross The Boss: Honestly, I remember that we were having a lot of fun on that tour, but I don’t remember it very well. So I’m, I’m really sorry. You have to understand something. When you get to be my age, you– I mean, I don’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning, you know? They just say, “Old man, you just go up on stage, and you do what you do. And you’re still doing it pretty well.” So, you know. I think I’m playing pretty good, right? That’ll never fail me. My eyes, my ears, on the other hand, no.
I remember that at the time, Death Dealer had just released its debut album, ”War Master.” Since then, the band has released two studio albums, a live album, a best-of album, etc. Death Dealer has been quite a productive band, but how is the band doing now?
Ross The Boss: We have two more albums in the can. We did it during the scamdemic, during the fakedemic. We did it during the, uh, bullshit scamdemic. We have two more in the can completely done. Isn’t that something?
So, who’s going to release the albums this time?
Ross The Boss: I don’t know, my manager is looking for someone. We’ll find somebody. We’ll find somebody to release it.
I found out that Mike Davis is no longer in the band.
Ross The Boss: No, Mike Davis is not in the band anymore. We had Mike LePond playing bass on the albums, amazing bass. We used to be playing together with Ross the Boss band. And Mike is unbelievable. I mean, all the musicians involved are incredible.
In 2019, the Ross the Boss band performed at the Bloodstock Open Air festival together with former Judas Priest guitarist K.K.Downing. It was his first live performance on stage after 2014, when he left the Priest, right?
Ross The Boss: It was me. Yes, it was me that brought K.K. back to the music industry. That’s correct.
How that thing came about?
Ross The Boss: Well, I mean, it’s on film. I mean, you know, I said, you know, my friend Steve goes, “You’re playing in Bloodstock.” I go, “Yeah, right, I am.” He goes, “Would you– I, I know K.K.” I go, “Cool, yeah.” Why don’t you tell him to come down for a beer or something? To come down to hang out. What the fuck is he doing? I don’t know. I don’t know. Just ask him to come on down, you know? Ask him. He goes, next thing I know, he said yes. “Oh, he said yes? Oh, nice. Okay. Uh, ask him if he’d like to– kind of like, uh, ask him if he’d kind of like to jam or jam with the band.” He goes, all right, I’ll ask him. One day later, “Ross, he said yes.” He said yes, huh? Okay. All right. K.K. said yes. He said yes. Whoo. Okay. Nice. So then it got to the point of, all right, so we’ll come. I’ll fly into England a day sooner and do a day of practice at the Steel Mill. And that’s what we did. We came in a day earlier, and we had a whole day of rehearsals with four Judas Priest songs. And it was– you know, I always thought that if I could put some positive energy into the air, put some positive energy into the world with that whole situation with Judas Priest and K.K., maybe, maybe he could– maybe they’ll take him back. Maybe we would help him, but there’s too much hate. There’s too much bullshit going on with the man and his girlfriend. I said, listen, I don’t want to know anything. I go, I have my own problems with that prick in Manowar, with that greedy prick in Manowar. I have no problem. I understand how these things go when it comes to money and greed and bullshit. Believe me, I know what goes on. So I’m going through it myself with those idiots.
So, all I wanted to do was make sure that there were good vibes. Positive vibes back into the world. And that’s what I did. K.K. goes out and, you know, for his first record, he had a problem with the management, which really, I couldn’t believe, but now it’s second. And now, the craziest thing is that my drummer, Sean Elg, my real drummer is in KK’s Priest, is not allowed to play with us today because of their management fucking– I said, “You know what? I’m going to get you back.” And I had to go out and get a new drummer and have another come here and have a day of rehearsal out of my pocket. I had a practice with Marco, and he’s amazing. That kid is 27. And they were– they forbid Sean to play with us. I told Sean, ”All right. I know you’re nervous. I know. We’ve been doing this for seven years. I know– I know that. Okay. Sean, no problem.” But they owe me, now they owe me. Now K.K. owes me now. He owed me to begin with for starting his career, but now he owes me big time. And I’m gonna collect. ”Laughs”
Ross the Boss, live at Time To Rock -festival, Sweden, 2023
When you were still a member of Manowar, did the band ever play any shows with Judas Priest?
Ross The Boss: Not that I remember, bro.
So, that Bloodstock thing was the first time you met K.K. in person?
Ross The Boss: Uh, yeah. I mean, I just wanted things to work out. You know, I just wanted some positive energy. Imagine if I was the guy that brought K.K. back to the band. Whoo. But they hate him. There’s just some bad fucking blood there, bro.
I think you and K.K. are basically in the same kind of situation. You know, you’re both founding members of your former bands, but for one reason or another, neither of you play in those bands anymore. Do you agree with that?
Ross The Boss: It’s true. We have a lot in common. Yeah, we do. It is what it is. But I was glad to bring K.K. out. I felt great that day. I really– it was a magical day at Bloodstock. It was a magical day to have him come out, and I had my SG, I had that SG, like the Glenn Tipton SG. I had the SG, just like Glenn would have it. No whammy bar, no bullshit. No. You can’t have two whammy bars in the band. Like K.K. is doing, which is bad, I have to say it. But you can’t– I had my SG. I played the part. I mean, I let K.K. do his thing, you know? So he’s– I know, you know. Because I don’t fear any musician in the world ever. I don’t fear anyone. Anyone playing dead, alive, in the grave, coming up, back around. Ross the Boss doesn’t fear you. So, I’m perfectly at peace with myself.
Ross the Boss band w/K.K. Downing in Bloodstock -festival 2019
Last year, Manowar announced that the band’s then-guitarist, E.V Martel, would no longer continue in the band and that they were looking for a new guitarist. Would you have considered it if they had asked you to rejoin the band?
Ross The Boss: Well, there would have had to be some serious business negotiation because I have a– I mean, there would have to be some serious stuff to be agreed on. I have no problem with the band. I have no problem with the boys. I have no problem with Eric Adams or whoever’s playing drums at the time, but I do have problems with one man. I have problems with him. He impacted my family. He impacted my life. And for that, things have to be, you know, changed. ‘Cause you fuck with my family, and there’s a big problem. There’s a big fucking problem. And, in my old neighbourhood, we solved it by death, by fighting to the death. I’m just saying, that’s, that’s things happened in the Bronx, okay, growing up. If there was a blood feud, you– we solved that. We all turned our backs and let them fight. Whatever happened happened. But sometimes you can only do that when you’re fighting like that. But you affect my family? Okay. You take food out of my family’s mouths? Okay. All right, see what you’re going to get. And it’s still the same. I mean, but think– I mean, we’re grown up and old to the point we’re old guys to the point now, but you know what? I don’t forget.
I don’t forget. But listen, whatever happened, I would love to play with Manowar again. One big, great Manowar tour would be unbelievable. How many tickets do you think could be sold? I mean– Many fucking tickets. I mean, many, bigger than Metallica and, you know, who I don’t understand. I mean, I love those guys, but I still don’t understand what they got. But I mean, if I could, one, one great Manowar tour with me, but, you know?
Why don’t you just pick up the phone and tell Joey DiMaio you would like to make one last tour with them?
Ross The Boss: Joey? Not a chance. He’s going to have to call me. Only one man– only one man sets the pace in that band. Only one man calls the shots. Joey has to call me. If he really wants me to do it, well, then we’ll talk about it. There’s gotta a lot– there’s gotta be a lot of, uh, negotiations and a lot of money. And he’s going to have to– you know, and he doesn’t want to deal with me because he knows I’m right. He knows I’m the best guitar player of all time. And he knows that what he’s done has been subpar. Right. Manowar has just been subpar. It has been subpar. And they’re trying to tell you it’s been great, but it’s not great. It’s not as great. If it’s not as great as my era, then it’s not as great. See?
Our time seems to be up now, but let’s go briefly back to the subject that started this interview. You already talked about your plans with the Dictators, but do you also have plans to make more Ross the Boss albums in the future?
Ross The Boss: Well, I don’t know. To be honest with you, I don’t know about a new Ross the Boss record right away. Because, first of all, I’m going to be 70 years old in January, and I don’t have the energy. My friend Dean always goes, “Ross, how can you have that? I mean, Ross, you, you, you do—.” I work every day at my batting age, and I’m busy every day. I don’t take vacations. I don’t take a day off. I work every single day of my life. We have one song in the can. I do have a great song in the can. But do I have the energy to put ten songs in the can, ten new songs right now, for me to wake up and start working on ten new metal songs? I just– to do a record, you know? And we told AFM, and they were very, very disappointed. But they’ll get over it. But you never know. I don’t know. All I know is that I wake up every day, do my best, and listen to BB King and Muddy Waters. Freddie King, Memphis Slim, and Mahalia Jackson. That’s my music.
That was a great way to close this interview. Thanks, Ross, and you soon again!
Ross the Boss: Thank you.
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