SCOTT KEMPNER,
1954-2023

Scott Kempner, a co-founder of punk-rock progenitors The Dictators and the guiding force of roots rockers The Del-Lords, died Wednesday (11/29) at a nursing home in Connecticut of complications related to early onset dementia. He was 69.

A native of the Bronx, Kempner joined forces with Andy Shernoff and Ross Friedman, forming The Dictators in 1972 and, after bringing in Dick Manitoba, eventually signed with Epic. Their 1975 debut, The Dictators Go Girl Crazy, pre-dated releases by the bands that were part of the CBGB scene, among them Blondie, The Ramones and Talking Heads. Like those early downtown bands, though, they exemplified street toughness and a sarcastic attitude as they expanded the scope of subjects for songs to include wrestling, White Castle hamburgers and a love of television.

Epic dropped The Dictators after one album and they briefly broke up. They then signed with Asylum, which released their next two albums, in 1977 and '78.

Kempner founded The Del-Lords in 1982, writing all of their songs. He and his bandmates Eric Ambel, Manny Caiati and Frank Funaro took turns as lead vocalist, much like the bands that influenced him: The Beach Boys, The Who and The Kinks.

Their first two albums, Frontier Days and Johnny Comes Marching Home, and their live shows earned rave reviews from Time, USA Today and other publications as the quartet was heralded as a gritty, back-to-basics rock 'n' roll band with songs peppered with stories of overlooked and forgotten people. “In the best rock-and-roll tradition, The Del-Lords' music transforms frustration into exuberance,” the New York Times wrote in 1986.

They released five studio albums, the last being a reunion set, Elvis Club, in 2013.

Kempner, an avid record collector who worked at Amoeba Music in Hollywood during his days in Los Angeles, also collaborated with Dion and released three solo albums. Kempner was again part of The Dictators beginning in 2019 but left in 2021 after he was diagnosed with dementia.

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