The ultimate card table where the chips of time are played against the odds of life. Keith Roth played guitar to his success.

Posted: February 22, 2024
The opportunities to work and converse with his musical idols could have easily bolstered Roth’s ego. Instead, he maintained his humility by keeping his ears and mind open to the tribal knowledge offered from each experience.

Photo credit: Alan Hess

As cliched as it sounds, the old adage is true; it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll. Beyond the romanticized glamour of Behind The Music’s yesteryear, it can be a grueling endeavor that sucks you dry. The ultimate card table where the chips of time are played against the odds of life. Sometimes, if he the hand is played right, the wildest dreams can come true.

New York native Keith Roth defied those odds and continues to do so. The guitarist and vocalist has not only sustained over 25 years in the music business but also, as a radio broadcaster. To the public, he’s most recognizable as a Sirius XM DJ for Ozzy’s Boneyard and Hair Nation. Regionally, he’s also hosted the “Electric Ballroom” radio show on New Jersey’s 95.9 The Rat since 1998. In his transmitted tenure, Roth has conducted interviews with Rock’s biggest icons such as John Paul Jones, Brian May, Alice Cooper, Joey Ramone, Joe Strummer, Black Sabbath with Dio and many others.

Off the air, Roth has made his name working with legendary artists like David Johansen, Cherie Currie, and most recently, becoming a full time member of The Dictators. The legendary New York rockers have almost finished a new album, their latest in over twenty years. Teasing the upcoming release, a new single, “My Imaginary Friend” drops on March 15th via Valley Entertainment.

Originally formed in 1973, their “proto-punk” sound, and signature brand of humor, was considered highly influential to the burgeoning punk scene of New York City. Without their 1975 debut, The Dictators Go Girl Crazy or their subsequent albums like 1978’s Bloodbrothers, the sound of punk would likely be radically different.

“The first record I bought, with my own money, was a Dictators record.” Roth recalled. “My band Frankenstein [3000] opened up for them for years. So when the opportunity came to join the band, it was cool.”

Through the decades, the Dictators have withstood various breakups and lineup changes. After the Covid lockdowns in 2020, founding members guitarist Ross “The Boss” Friedman and bassist/vocalist Andy Shernoff, sans vocalist “Handsome” Dick Manitoba, and decided to reform the group. Recruiting drummer Albert Bouchard (formerly of Blue Oyster Cult), they released the aptly titled single, “Let’s Get The Band Back Together.” Due to complications arising from early on set dementia, original guitarist Scott Kempner had to step down in 2021 and sadly, passed away in 2023.

Filling the shoes of Manitoba and Kempner was no easy task but Roth amicably rose to the challenge. “Andy [Shernoff] already had a couple songs written, which I thought were classic sounding Dictators songs like ‘Let’s Get The Band Back Together’. Slowly but surely, we were spending more time together and then, we did a Canadian tour and some dates with The Damned.”

When the Dictators were offered a tour of Spain in late 2023, things began to solidify. “Even though we’ve known each other and played around, that’s when we became a band” Roth said. With youthful rebellion still burning inside of them, the new lineup was baptized by fire. “When we started playing the new songs, people were really reacting to them”

Satisfying the die-hard fans and gaining fresh fresh faces on tour, Roth began to add his flavor to the writing process. “Andy was giving us tunes, I had given him a song and we worked on it together. Albert [Bouchard] started bringing in songs and then, the floodgates opened. Everyone was participating and that’s when things started moving on the record.”

Accomplished engineer Ed Stasium (Talking Heads, Motorhead, Living Colour) remains at the sonic helm of the new album. “My Imaginary Friend” blasts out of the speakers with the frenetic energy of 1977 while staying true to the present moment. Lyrically, the song tells an imaginary tale about a rebellious, guitar playing woman who carries a dream like quality about her. “The old school fans will love what’s on the record but it is a new band” Roth explained. “It’s an homage to the old Dictators but it’s also a new direction.”

The songwriting also took Roth’s guitar playing into new territory. “Working with Ross [The Boss] really made me step up. I started practicing again and learning chords I never even wanted or bothered to learn. After the last 3 or 4 years, I’ve really taken guitar playing seriously. I’m still developing my craft but he’s inspired me to really take guitar playing seriously.”

The opportunities to work and converse with his musical idols could have easily bolstered Roth’s ego. Instead, he maintained his humility by keeping his ears and mind open to the tribal knowledge offered from each experience. “I’ve learned something from every one of them. Either they were cautionary tales; just being honest. Somebody you’ve been around, maybe looked up to, and just realize they’re an absolute disaster. Or you meet people who really have their shit together. You learn from how they conduct themselves or how they do business.”

David Johansen, formerly of the New York Dolls, proved himself to be an exemplary musical hero for Roth. “Meg Griffin, from Sirius XM, thought it would be a great idea to produce his radio show, Mansion Of Fun. I think the main reason is because we keep the same hours. Meg was producing his show and would have me step in as a personality. She was there in the morning and I would come in at midnight to meet with David. She put us together and it’s been an almost 25 year relationship.”

The pair were in simpatico not only on the air but also, on the stage. Roth became the bandleader of the David Johansen Group; a partnership that fostered many live shows, recording songs together, and a close friendship.

“He’s such a professional and probably, the smartest person I’ve ever met in my life. It’s almost like he’s bored being here on Earth. It’s not that he has any kind of ego, he has zero. He has more in common with a regular guy on the streets than a ‘rock’ guy. One time he was late for a gig we were doing because he spent an hour and half with a cab driver, who talked about how his son was going down a bad path. David said, ‘I’m sorry, I was with this cab driver and I was really into his story and gave him some help’ He’s really a great example.”

That example has allowed the spirit of rebellious teenager buying punk albums at Alexander’s Department Store in the Bronx to remain alive and well.

“People who have the biggest ego, and I’m not putting anyone down, are really the most insecure” Roth said. “You gotta enjoy what you do and have fun with it. We’re all completely created equal. There’s nobody better than anybody else. I’ve never understood ego. My dad used say, ‘When you find a gig you love, you’ll never work again’ That’s the truest thing.

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