The Dictators and Manowar guitarist was primed to hit the road with his namesake band prior to the Coronavirus pandemic. Read how he’s been keeping himself busy.

There is no denying Ross “The Boss” Friedman’s status as a rock and roll legend. As a member of The Dictators, he was a part of the original punk movement that also included The Ramones, Talking Heads, the New York Dolls, and Blondie. As a member of Manowar, he pioneered the power metal genre which flourishes to this day. A criminally underrated guitar hero, he continues to inspire and influence legions of would-be six-string gun slingers. With the exception of his induction into the Hall of Heavy Metal History—as its international ambassador—he has never been recognized for his achievements or received the accolades he deserves. It’s not as if he is complaining. For nearly 50 years, Ross The Boss has just enjoyed the ability to perform around the world in front of crowds numbering in the dozens to masses numbering in the hundreds of thousands. A musician’s musician, he has always enjoyed the chance to play with other musicians, whether it’s touring and recording with Shakin’ Street, Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom and, most recently, Death Dealer or just jamming with members of Twisted Sister. An opportunity to play with fellow guitar hero KK Downing at last year’s British Bloodstock Open Air Festival was so successful, it prompted the former Judas Priest member to not only emerge from retirement but form a new band. So, this period of self-quarantining and social distancing has be particularly tough for Ross The Boss.

And then there is his band’s latest, Born of Fire (AFM Recordings). Released to international acclaim on March 6th, the album was going to be supported by a long, triumphant world tour. Then the pandemic struck, causing the entire world to go into isolation. No gatherings. No travel. No tours. All the momentum behind the Ross The Boss band and their great new album simply vanished. Yes, fans continue to embrace it and enjoy it, but it is not being supported.

Despite these unprecedented times, the perpetually positive Friedman remains hopeful about the future. He recently took time out from practicing his craft and writing new music for both the Ross The Boss band and The Dictators to talk about his past, present, and very bright future.

How are you dealing with this quarantine? As passionate as you are about music and playing with other musicians, you must be frustrated.

It’s challenging. Whether you agree with it or not, it is something you must adhere to. No one wants to be infected by this insidious virus. We all have to do our share and wait for it to pass.

You’re also a victim of bad timing, releasing a great album, Born of Fire, the week before all hell broke loose.

None of us ever thought we would be in this situation. We would have been touring Europe right now. Things were going great for us, but things were going great for [a number of artists when the pandemic struck]. People are still listening to our record and watching our videos. It’s still doing well. When the time is right, we just have to click the “on” switch.

I suppose this situation is slightly easier for someone like you, who has such an impressive resume. It must be particularly tough for musicians struggling to break through.

It sucks everywhere. Fortunately, our fans are waiting. People are reading reviews. They can listen to records. That is not going anywhere. Ironically, people have more time to listen to new music.

I hope that once the pandemic is over, the entire world rebounds.

Some things will be different. Some businesses will not reopen. But a usual result of crises and wars: advancements in medicine. On the plus side of this [global] tragedy—this insanity—medical innovations. And touring will eventually come back, but I think the large gatherings for shows will take the longest to happen again.

What are you doing while you’re sequestered at home?

I’m writing and I am practicing things I haven’t practiced in some time. I am working on some techniques I haven’t used in some time, including finger picking. I am also tending to my batting cage business [in Queens, New York], taking care of all the things I was once too busy to handle.

It’s the 45th anniversary of The Dictators’ debut, Go Girl Crazy! which was one punk’s first records.

When we recorded the record in ’74, it was our first record and we were naive. We were [the sum of] our influences and we thought everyone was going to go bananas when they heard our songs. We thought we were going to be the next big thing. When the record came out, however, people thought, ‘Who the fuck is this band?’ Some people got what we were doing, and a lot of people didn’t. Rock and roll, wrestling, girls, cars, surfing, and beer: it was American junk culture. As the years went by, however, people started to love the record. When it first came out, [famed music critic] Robert Christgau panned the record. It broke our hearts. He destroyed us. Years later, he recanted his original review and posted a positive one. The band has now endeared itself to generations of punk and metal fans. A couple of years ago, Britain’s Uncut magazine declared Go Girl Crazy! the greatest American punk record! Ever! Before The Ramones, Patti Smith Group, Talking Heads! Before everyone! If you live long enough, things happen. I started crying when [Dictators guitarist] Scott [Kempner] sent the article to me. People finally realized what we were doing.

Richard Manitoba is no longer a member of the band. Who will sing when The Dictators perform again?

[Bassist] Andy [Shernoff], and if [drummer] Albert Bouchard, who recently joined the band, decides to tour, he can sing as well.

And The Dictators are recording new music?

We’re working on three songs. We keep passing the music between us and the songs keep getting better. We are going to put them up on Spotify, one at a time, and see what the reaction is. We’re going to do one cover and two Andy-penned songs, and we will take it from there. I am excited to be working with Andy and Scott again.

Born of Fire sounds unlike the previous Ross The Boss records.

It was not intentional. It is just a result of the songs I chose to do, the production, and the fact that the current lineup of the band has been together for over two years and playing at a high level. I don’t see it as a tremendous departure.

It is a complete band effort.

It is, right down to the songwriting. When our label, AFM, said, ‘If you want to tour [in 2020], you need to release a new album,’ I responded, ‘Nah! A new record?!’ I reached into my bag of riffs and I had material for four or five songs, but not enough to make a record. It had been two years [since we released By Blood Sworn (AFM, 2018)], but songs don’t just fall out of the sky for me. I said, ‘Guys, I’m going to need your help.’ I said, “Mike [LePond, bassist], what do you have? “Marc [Lopes, singer], what do you have?”

“Made in The Shadows” is a progressive song that has an Iron Maiden influence.

It is also [the subject of our] first music video [for the album].

How much original Ross The Boss material will be incorporated into your live sets as opposed to performing Manowar classics?

I think we’re going to play at least five songs from the new record. We also have the last album and then the Manowar songs that the fans want to hear, so we certainly are not lacking for material to play.

During recent tours, you’ve performed songs from Manowar’s Hail to England [Magic Circle Music, 1984] and Sign of the Hammer [EMI, 1985]. Many artists take months, if not years, to record records. Manowar recorded both albums in one night!

In one session. We didn’t have the budget to record for weeks at a time, so we took advantage of having producer Jack Richardson with us for the night and we worked our butts off. We were professionals and we had the will to do it.

What have you been doing as The Ambassador for the Hall of Heavy Metal History?

I would call myself “The Goodwill Ambassador.” When the KK {Downing] thing happened, it created positive vibes for the hall; it was good publicity for them.

How did the 2019 Bloodstock Festival performance with KK Downing come about?

We have a mutual friend. So, I said, ‘I’d love to see him. Why don’t you invite him down [to the festival] to have a beer with us?’ He liked that idea. I asked him if he wanted to jam on a few songs and he agreed. So, I came out a few days earlier to practice at his Steel Mill and we did it.

Was it the first time you had jammed with him?

Yeah. And it was great. [The band] knew all of the songs. We were as tight as a drum. He played great. He was well rehearsed. He just picked up right where he left off. He showed no signs of rust.

Do you realize what you did? After that performance, he put a band together called KK’s Priest and they’re working on their debut album?

We he came off the stage he said, ‘It went by so quick. I want to play some more. I want to play some more.’ Then I heard he gigged with {Former Judas Priest singer, Tim] “Ripper” [Owens] at his steel mill, the perfect place for such a such a show. And now they’ve formed a band.

Each year, you perform at a number of European festivals. What is the appeal?

Everyone is so there at those festivals. And you know there are a large percentage of that crowd that wants to see you. When you hit the stage there is excitement and we’re a band that capitalizes on that. We’ve become known as “Festival Killers” for our [consistent,] pulverizing performances. Sadly, it’s not happening this summer.

Hopefully, Ross The Boss the band will soon be back on the road performing; picking right up where it left off before the world came to a screeching halt.

We are a tremendous live group. If we had to go out there tonight, we could do it. We believe in Born of Fire.

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