The Dogs D'Amour - Biography
By Charles Reece
The early 1980s gave way to a resurgence in glam rock on both sides of the Atlantic. Where the Hollywood variety tended to focus on power chords and strippers – having a palate limited to The Sweet’s bubblegum – its cousin in the United Kingdom was darker, more technically proficient and literary, ensuring cult status at best. Leading the pack was the Dogs d’Amour. They had the requisite big hair, but rather than stopping at their most obvious precursors, The Faces and The Rolling Stones, they dug deeper, reaching back to American roots music that had shaped the British Invasion.
Sharing the blues and country’s self-deprecating celebration of the have-nots, the Dogs glamorized the loser. Taking the image of Keith Richards as an ethos, guitarist and songwriter Tyla (born Timothy John Taylor in Portsmouth, UK. formed Birmingham-based The Bordello Boys in 1982 with guitarist Nick Halls, bassist Karl Watson and drummer Bam Bam Ross. No one was too keen on the name, so it was changed with the arrival of American born singer-guitarist Ned Christie (né Robert Stoddard, taking his pseudonym from the anglicized name of a 19th century Cherokee outlaw-hero). The members preferred simply “Dogs,” but as it was already taken by another band, Christie suggested the dandyish sounding “d’Amour” suffix, presciently capturing what would be a guiding lyrical theme: the earnest sad sack making a mess of life and love. The five-piece relocated to London, playing its first show on April 12, 1983. The Dogs quickly established itself in the local scene with a series of small club dates and as the opening act for then rising neo-glam stars The Lords of the New Church. Based on its demos, the group was signed to Finnish label Kumibeat Records. If Finland could have success with Hanoi Rocks’ mixture of Johnny Thunders and gypsy fashion, why not five Stones enthusiasts dressed up as pirates?
Tyla’s perpetual difficulty with keeping a consistent line-up began early on. Halls was canned following The Lords’ tour, and then Christie decided to leave before the band went to Finland to record. He was a songwriter himself, who co-wrote many of the earliest Dogs’ songs with Tyla, but the two did not get along. Additionally, Christie was the leader of his own band, On The Wire, which was scheduled to record at the same time as the Dogs. As the drummer for Christie’s band, too, Bam chose to follow him a few months later. They were replaced by guitarist Dave Kusworth and drummer Paul Hornby for the recording of The State We’re In (1984). It had an extremely limited release with almost no promotion, since Kumibeat went belly up shortly thereafter. (The album wound up being the label’s sole release.) The production is muddy even by the standards of small independent labels, and Tyla particularly detested the dated keyboards the producer insisted on adding (they would be removed for the 2003 CD re-issue). As can be heard on the single, the band was mining a similar gruff pop punk terrain to that of fellow inebriates, The Replacements – i.e., not quite the bluesy swagger of what was to come.
After returning to London, the Dogs continued playing small shows, the biggest of which were opening for Johnny Thunders (who was currently supporting his Que Sera, Sera album). Bam came back as a roadie for a brief period, until he was finally hired on to replace the departing Hornby. He was reluctant at first, since he did not care for Kusworth (claiming that the guitarist was the type of lush who would constantly steal one’s drink). Lucky for Bam, Kusworth decided to team up with Nikki Sudden as The Jacobites. Kusworth’s replacement was Jo “Dog” Almeida, a guitarist more interested in old blues and country music than their rock progeny. His slide playing would define the classic Dogs’ sound almost as much as Tyla’s songwriting. With a series of bassists, Tyla, Bam and Jo-Dog toiled in clubs across Europe for the next year or so until they signed with the Japanese label Watanabe Records.
They laid down the tracks for their second album from late 1985 to the spring of 1986. In order to achieve a bigger drum sound, Bam’s parts were recorded in a church, while a studio was used for the other instruments. Moonlighting from The Lords, Dave Tregunna played bass on about half of the songs, with new member Steven James on the other half. Unfortunately, the A&R representative who signed them to Watanabe left and the company president died resulting in the Dogs having a completed album with no one willing to release it. The album finally surfaced on China Records in 1988 as (Un)authorized Bootleg Album due to the band cajoling the company into putting it out as part of their new contract. It features two re-recorded songs from the first record (“Heroine” and “How Do You Fall In Love?”) to much better effect, as well as various others that the band had enjoyed playing live during its time in limbo. Most representative of the band’s direction is the last song, “Swingin’ the Bottle,” along with its preamble, “Dynamite Jet Saloon” – rooted in the acoustic guitar, with a bit of Jo-Dog’s slide to create a cinematic Western feel and a touch of lachrymose sax. Due to its being dumped on the market only a few months before the third long-player, it functioned more as a curio (initially limited to a pressing of 2,000 copies) than an album in its own right.
Taking its name from the aforementioned song, In The Dynamite Jet Saloon (1988 China) was the first official release from the Dogs’ classic line-up. It spawned three singles, all reaching the UK Top 100, with the most successful being “How Come It Never Rains?” (peaking at #44). After losing an argument with the label, the album is the only release from this period to not feature one of Tyla’s clear line, comic book-styled artwork. One of the better songs from the Bootleg Album, Tyla’s warning of his likely fortunes, "Wait Until I'm Dead," makes a reappearance. The predominantly acoustic “Billy Two Rivers” is the exemplary track here, demonstrating the Dogs’ uncanny ability to blend 1970s hard country with foot-stomping glam choruses. It is this approach that makes up the EP, A Graveyard of Empty Bottles (1989 China), the group’s highest charting release (#16 on the U.K. charts). Tyla’s tribute to his silver screen idols, “Errol Flynn,” became one of his most highly regarded songs and the title track on the next album.
Many a reference has been made to Charles Bukowski when discussing Tyla’s writing (the EP’s "Bullet Proof Poet" is an ode to his literary hero). There is certainly an influence in terms of economy and literalism, as well as an obsession with booze, women and a downtrodden lifestyle. However, there is a good deal of high melodrama and seemingly very little of the autobiographical in the songs, many of them being vignettes where he sings of characters in the third person. On the other hand, Tyla had been practicing the hard-living fantasy long enough to lend his stories plausibility (a quality almost non-existent in the Hollywood glam scene of the time). A diet of smoking and whiskey had expanded his vocal range from a rasp to a growl, providing a proper place for the songs to live.
In September of 1989, the band reached its creative peak with Errol Flynn (China; King of Thieves in the States for legal reasons), taking the blending of honky-tonks and British pub life as far as it could go. Tyla’s optimistic take on the benefits of love in the gutter, “Satellite Kid,” remains the Dogs’ most oft-remembered song and highest charting single (#16 on the UK charts). After a successful tour of Europe filling the opening slot for glam royalty Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson, the Dogs set its sight on the States. Continuing bad luck with record companies resulted in the band’s first tour there (with the short-lived Mother Love Bone as support) being its last. China only released and promoted the next album, Straight??!! (1990 China), back at home. Any danger being foretold in the single, “Victims Of Success,” turned out not to be a problem for the band as Tyla self-destructed on a Los Angeles stage in 1991. In a junk-fueled rage brought on by the lack of label support, impending divorce and practically non-existent crowds, he played surgeon on his chest with a broken beer bottle, ending the show with a trip to the hospital. Despite a couple more attempts, the Dogs never really recovered.
During the band’s hiatus, James formed The Last Bandits and Bam joined The Wildhearts back in the UK. Now living in Los Angeles, Tyla released a book of poetry and Jo Dog began playing with Guns N’ Roses guitarist, Gilby Clark. When the others decided to record another Dogs album, Jo Dog opted out, citing weariness with their label as his primary reason. His replacement was ex-Crybabys/UK Subs guitarist, Darrell Bath. More Uncharted Heights of Disgrace (1993 China) did well enough, receiving good reviews and charting at #30 in the UK, largely on the strength of its single, "All or Nothing" (#53), a cover of The Small Faces. Inertia seemed to be the group’s destiny, so Tyla decided to go solo in 1994 with The Life & Times of a Ballad Monger (Polydor). It was well received by the Dogs’ core audience – unsurprisingly, since it features the 1993 group.
With the exception of James (who had settled down with a home and a guitar shop), the classic line-up reunited for a European tour with Alice Cooper in 2000. Playing bass was Bam’s wife, Share Ross (ex-Vixen), whom he began dating in the early 1990s and now had a band with, the Long Beach-based Bubble, which continues to the present. With Jo Dog’s slide back, the four piece recorded the Japan-only Happy Ever After and a limited fan club release, Seconds, both of which are continuations of where Straight??!! left off. Since then, Bam and Share have returned to their own band, as well as a variety of business ventures, including a rock-oriented webcast and a raw foods store. Jo Dog has continued to pursue music – including a country rock band, Hawkeye – in addition to photography and creating sculptures with old guitars. Now living in Barcelona, Spain, Tyla typically tours in singer-songwriter mode with just an acoustic guitar, recording solo albums, and (much to the ire of long-time fans) occasionally releasing albums with his wife, Yella, under the Dogs’ name (e.g., 2004’s When Bastards Go To Hell on Rock Treasures), where he plays all the instruments. in 2012 the Dogs D'Amour have decided to reunite, much to the joy of their long term fan base.