The Naked Drummer
By Michael Aubrecht
Back in college a friend handed me a video tape and dared me to watch it. Labeled on the side was the title “HATED: The GG Allin Story.” It was directed by an-up-and-coming filmmaker named Todd Phillips. (You may recall Todd’s more comedic work, The Hangover I, II and III.) Of course curiosity got the best of me and I immediately rushed home to watch it. What followed was some of the most disturbing yet invigorating sound and imagery that I had ever seen. From beat one, in scene one, the audience was confronted with a barrage of images including violence, nudity and other things that are too graphic to appear here. (You can look it up on YouTube if you dare.)
One thing that struck me was the documentary’s soundtrack. The music was harsh but it was good. Being a musician I scrolled through the film stopping on each scene that depicted the band. This allowed me to push past the distracting shock value and focus on the musicians. What I saw beyond the controversy was a trio of talented players who got lost amidst their singer’s excessive anti-social behavior. They called themselves The Murder Junkies and they were for real.
Later I got hold of the “Brutality and Bloodshed for All” album. This allowed me to examine GG and his band without the distraction of the film’s visuals. Once again, I discovered some great music that was a mix of hardcore and punk. Unfortunately the arena in which The Murder Junkies performed often overshadowed their songwriting skills. Self-proclaimed “Outlaw Scumfucs” GG’s brother Merle (bass) and Dino Sex (drums), formed a solid rhythm section that was able to hold the line no matter what chaos was blowing up around them. Up until then I had never seen a backing band so focused. They had to be focused to survive.
By 1993, GG Allin had succumbed to his addictions. Ten years later an event was held to acknowledge the tenth anniversary of his death. After receiving so many compliments on their performance GG’s band decided to carry on. The one constant through all of the tragedy was the integrity of The Murder Junkies. Although they had gone through some personnel changes over the years, Merle and Dino remained the constant.
Recording a huge catalog of music, some of GG’s songs broke through the underground and reached the alternative scene. Fan favorites like “Bite It You Scum” and “Die When You Die” have been covered by a variety of artists to include Beck and Faith No More.
Today’s Murder Junkies may be a lot tamer on stage but they are killing it in the studio. Songs like “Once a Whore, Always a Whore” echo from the glory days when the band was ducking flying bottles and bodily fluids. The Murder Junkie’s mission remains the same. They still tour. This year they crossed the country in a van. The band recalls their past by playing GG’s standards for their longtime fans while recording new material for the next generation.
Being a drummer I am fascinated with the playing and persona of Donald (‘Dino Sex’) Sachs. Amidst all of the angst of punk rock no one seems more easy-going than The Murder Junkie’s naked drummer. Show after show I see a drummer abuse his drums. Interview after interview I see a guy that is sincere and genuine. The ultimate contradiction. As I was scrolling through my list of drummers to interview this year Dino Sex was the next obvious choice. No other drummer on my list is as unique as The Naked Drummer. Dino was nice enough to talk to us about his unique style and drumming.
MA: Let’s start from the beginning. Tell us how you started playing the drums?
DS: I started very young. I mean very young. When I was a kid, probably six years old, I heard the Flintstone’s theme song. There was a cardboard drum set up in the attic that belonged to my uncle Mike. I learned that song and jammed to it all the time. That was when I started having a real interest in playing the drums.
MA: Did you take drum lessons or were you self-taught?
DS: I took lessons for a number of years. I told them in third grade that I was interested in playing an instrument. They told me to play the drums because it was the hardest. That’s when I started taking drum lessons.
MA: Can you tell us about your first drum set?
DS: It was a Slingerland. My dad bought it for me when I was thirteen. It was a five piece: bass, snare, two tom toms mounted on the bass drum, and a floor tom.
MA: What kind of cymbals did you have?
DS: All Zildjians. I had three: a set of hi-hats, and two cymbals, a crash and a ride. I think the whole kit cost about $300.
MA: Did you play in any bands when you were in high school?
DS: Yes. When I was a junior and a senior in high school I played in a band. Angelo and Dennis were my band mates. Angelo played guitar and sang. He taught Dennis all of the bass lines. I played drums and sometimes I did vocals. I sang “All Right Now” by Free and a couple Hendrix songs.
MA: So you guys were a classic rock band.
DS: It wasn’t classic rock back then. We played a lot of Grand Funk Railroad. They were very popular at the time so we did around ten of their songs.
MA: Did you guys play out or do any shows?
DS: Yes. I think our first show was for Hazelton High. It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about that. It was a dance and I think it was at the YMCA. Angelo went to that school and got us the gig. We were the best band around by far.
MA: So you had been playing for years by then. At what point did you want to become a musician?
DS: When I was nine years old. I made up my mind, even back then. I talked to my dad and my mom. I told them that I would never stop playing the drums once I started lessons. I’m still playing today.
MA: What drummers influenced you?
DS: Too many to count. Obviously all of my drum teachers. There was a polka drummer named Al [M.]. I also studied with a guy named Joe Cusaers. I studied with him at the age of 25 until I was 55. He was a jazz drummer. He owned a shop and made jazz drums too. In all that time I spent with him I only took about three years off. He had an instructional album that was the fastest f’ing drumming I’ve ever heard.
MA: So you have studied drumming for most of your life.
DS: Yes I have. It’s my world.
MA: How did you hook up with GG Allin to form The Murder Junkies?
DS: It’s hard to explain. I was in a record store called Venus Records and I saw some of GG’s albums. I think he only had a few out at that time. I asked the guy at the store if he knew anything about this guy. He said that was GG Allin. I wondered if he would ever need a drummer. He always played with different people. I looked at the back of the album where his information was and I was immediately interested in him. I wanted to go on the road at the time. I was playing with Accidental Tribe. We hired Chicken John because he had a van. On the way home one night I asked Chicken if he had heard of GG. I wanted to get word to him that I wanted to audition. He did. Merle lived in New York at the time. I’m not sure where GG lived at the time. Maybe Chicago. He was in and out of prison. The three of us auditioned. There was one or two other drummers that were shitty so I got the gig.
MA: Is that when you guys officially formed The Murder Junkies?
DS: Yes. All four of us, GG, Chicken, Merle and me became The Murder Junkies. I think that was around 1990.
MA: Backing GG Allin on stage was a challenge. How did you guys stay focused with all of that chaos going on around you?
DS: That was the formula. We knew our set inside out. We practiced and practiced it. GG would sing a few songs and then he would go out into the pit. Except when GG went out there he was the pit. We knew our songs so well that we could play them without any vocals. When GG would stop singing we would keep playing. When we played out we never knew what would happen.
MA: You guys always sounded really good with him no matter what he did.
DS: GG was a gentleman off stage and a monster on it.
MA: When you play you have near perfect tempo. How did you develop that skill?
DS: I always used a metronome. I played with one for years and years. I looked up to a lot of drummers with perfect tempo. Buddy Rich had perfect tempo. So did Louis Bellson, John Bonham, Mitch Mitchell and Don Brewer. I listened to so much music. Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk, Emerson Lake and Palmer and Hendrix. All of these drummers had great time.
MA: You have a very interesting way of playing fills. You play them on the cymbals instead of the toms. How did you come up with that unique approach?
DS: From jazz. I always try to advance my instrument. Instead of starting a fill on the snare, I start by rolling on the hi-hat, then roll down each tom or each cymbal. I try to stay original.
MA: People never give GG’s recordings the respect they deserve. Your drumming always sounds so tight, especially on “Brutality and Bloodshed for All.” How did you capture such a great drum sound in the studio?
DS: We recorded at Don Fury’s studio. That was thirty or so years ago so I’m not sure if he is still around. His studio was in the East Side right by CBGBs. I used Don’s studio drums. I remember they had a great feel to them. I played my best. He made them sound great.
MA: Do you remember what brand of drums they were?
DS: Maybe Ludwigs or Yamahas. They mic’d them really good. I had a single set of Slingerlands and a double set of Ludwigs but we used theirs. That Ludwig set was huge. It had two bass drums, four tom toms, one floor tom and a snare.
MA: What kind of snare?
DS: Joe Cusaers built my snares. I have a set from Joe and it really sounds good. They sound big. Like Mitch Mitchell or John Bonham. Really loud.
MA: The speed of your drumming on that record really stands out. It sounds exhausting. Right from the first song “Higher Power” you’re flying. How do you play so fast?
DS: I’ve always been able to do that. Punk rock is fast music. I always try to play my loudest and fastest. That album has a lot of groove on it too. Not just fast songs.
MA: With your study background it sounds like you were trying to bring jazz into the punk rock scene.
DS: No. When I play punk rock I’m playing fast rock and roll. I do a jazz drum solo.
MA: That was something I want to ask you. Do you plan your drum solos in advance or is it improvisation?
DS: I plan them ahead. I have a set beginning but it can go improvisational depending on how I feel that night. I would play it for you if we were together on stage or in the studio.
MA: There are a couple videos on YouTube of your solos and they are very unique. I like how you start out with a three stroke roll and then play criss-cross between the snare and floor tom.
DS: Yes? I don’t use the Internet. I’m a rock drummer who does a jazz solo.
MA: You always seem to be using different drum sets. Are those all rentals or do you ever use your own drums?
DS: We borrow or rent drum sets on the road. It’s one less thing we have to travel with. We’re in a van. There’s no room leftover for drums.
MA: Do you use your own drums in the studio?
DS: We usually tell them what we want. I always play a five piece no matter how many drums are available. I use a bass, snare, two tom toms mounted on the bass drum, and a floor tom.
MA: On average how many cymbals do you use in the studio?
DS: Same as live. Usually two or three. I use a set of hi-hats, and two cymbals, a crash and a ride or just one that I use for both. For some of our gigs people have these gigantic drum sets but I like things simple.
MA: What is the biggest difference playing with GG Allin and The Murder Junkies and today’s version?
DS: There will never be another GG Allin. Nobody is going to do what he did. Nobody. Our singer now, PP Duvay, is very-very good. He doesn’t go out into the pit. He stays on stage and sings his ass off. GG was all out. He scared the audience. I’m not putting PP down. He is a very good singer and perfect for this band.
MA: Did any of GG’s antics ever bother you or did you just go with it?
DS: I was scared shitless a bunch of times. It’s hard to explain. When GG threw shit on people I got scared because I thought they would attack us on stage. Nobody ever did.
MA: Do you remember any particular shows that stand out in your mind?
DS: We played at a club where the Alamo is. I think yes, in San Antonio, Texas. I remember one show. We were playing our set and GG went into the pit and then brought the audience up on stage. Everyone ganged up on him and GG was at the bottom of the pile. I thought to myself “If you kill him, I’m gonna get pissed off.” They read my mind because they all scattered. That was the most dangerous show that I can recall. I remember I told GG that if anyone ever hurt him I would get pissed off.
MA: What Murder Junkies song best represents you and your playing?
DS: [no hesitation] Legalize Murder. My lick is at the end of that song. I’m proud of a lot of songs but that one is my favorite. I sound the best on that one.
MA: Of course we have to touch on the nudity. How did you become the Naked Drummer?
DS: If girls are going to strip then I’m going to strip too. I only strip where it is allowed. I’m showing people what girls have to endure.
MA: So you’re actually making a statement.
DS: Yes. I guess you could say that.
MA: Is it difficult to play drums like that?
DS: No it’s easier. I haven’t played with a shirt on in 30 years. It’s been so long I don’t even know if I could play with a shirt on.
MA: What do you prefer, playing live on stage or recording in a studio?
DS: It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other. I think we have a great live show so I lean towards playing live. I’ve also enjoyed making music in the studio. I like to think that I’m really good at both.
MA: You and Merle have been the constant through the years of The Murder Junkies. You both have held it together.
DS: There is an interesting story about that. In 1999 we played at CBs and retired. Merle came up with this idea to play in 2003 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of GG’s death. We played up near the cemetery and people told us that we sounded really good and we should keep playing. Merle agreed and we are still here. I’m glad we came back to do what we do.
MA: You guys go on tour. Tell my about your last tour, the “Welcome Back MotherF’ers Tour.”
DS: I had to stop playing naked about halfway through the tour because the cops were hassling us. They thought our singer was some kind of kidnapper. Of course we didn’t do anything like that. The Connecticut police pulled us over. They told us that there was a suspicious guy and a girl driving a red van. We were driving a light blue van. Finally they let us go but we had to cancel two of our shows. In the meantime everyone was freaked out so they told me to keep my clothes on. We didn’t want to chance pissing off the police.
MA: Merle lives on the West Coast. You live on the East Coast. Do you guys get a lot of opportunities to play together?
DS: When we tour we practice at least two or three days to work out our set. We know our songs so well that’s all we need.
MA: How many songs do you typically have in your set?
DS: It starts out at about seventeen songs but we take it down to fourteen when we finally start playing. I think we should do more songs but Merle thinks we should do less [laughs].
MA: That tour looked brutal. You guys were traveling all over the country playing dates day after day.
DS: We party. I’m not talking about too much drinking or drugs. We just enjoy ourselves. You have to. Obviously we’re not flying around like rock stars. We are not like Taylor Swift, who I love. I love Taylor Swift. We play. We eat. We drive. We drive mostly at night when there is no traffic. Sometimes we have to drive during the day and that is hard. When we are on tour we rarely take days off.
MA: Are there any specific places that you like playing at?
DS: [no hesitation] LA. I like California. But I’m a big fan of the New York Yankees so I love living in New York. I also like the Mets. My brother is a Dodgers fan.
MA: Wow! I’m a Yankees fan too.
DS: Once I saw Reggie Jackson hit three home runs back-to-back-to-back I was a Yankees fan. I watch lots of Yankees games on TV when I’m not working. I love baseball too.
MA: You’ve had an incredibly interesting career playing with GG Allin and now. You’ve seen more than most drummers have. Where do you see yourself in the future?
DS: It’s been a long time. I’ve been lucky to play with The Murder Junkies. I’ll keep playing with them and keep our music alive.