By: Garrett Giusto 4/12/2016
Lead vocalist of the late 1970’s band “The Dictators” Richard Manitoba was a new type of rock star. A Punk-Rocker.
Between being a radio personality and making new music, he also owns a bar in one of the world’s busiest cities.
Richard “Handsome Dick” Manitoba has no typical day. He simply just does “what he wants.” He said, “I can’t stand doing one thing all the time, so what I’ve done is create a life for myself which is true to myself and also my wants and needs.”
Way before Manitoba was the life of the party, he was just like every other child that was growing up in the Bronx in 1964. He was living carefree, and enjoying the simple things in life that made him happy.
That’s when he started his collection of records with the ‘British Invasion’ at age 10. These were rock groups from the United Kingdom such as The Beatles, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones and other popular bands that came out of the 1960’s. Along with music, Manitoba also had a burning passion for sports that he shared with his friends.
“We would toss a football around in the streets behind a large building with friends,” Manitoba said.
He remembers playing with his friends in the middle of the street, while navigating cars that passed by.
“Knowing Richard today and since we were kids, it’s crazy to say but he still has the same amount of energy he did as a teenager,” said longtime friend Ruth Gold, who also grew up with Manitoba in the Bronx.
“In spite of it’s often preconceived notion that I feel is often maligned, I had a great childhood growing up there,” Manitoba said. “Around 16-years old, the Bronx just didn’t do it for me anymore. Culturally it wasn’t stimulating enough.”
Shortly after high school Manitoba found a new place to call home and fell in love with the East Village, in Manhattan. Not long after the move from the Bronx, Manitoba’s best friends started a band and he joined as their “roadie”. Being a roadie meant he was in charge of making sure everything ran as smoothly as it could before, during and after the show.
“I had a few too many drinks to be a successful roadie for ‘The Dictators’ and I didn’t really like the job,” He said.
The band performed in a punk rock style that had never been seen or heard before. Most say “The Dictators” were ahead of their time, with some music critics crediting the band with helping revolutionize punk rock. Punk rock is a fast-paced, loud and aggressive form that stems from rock music.
The rise of punk rock started in the late 1970’s, coinciding with that era’s youth rebellion. The rebellion against government, education, superiors, the war and even in music all coincided to help others discover punk-rock and create what it has become today. At the time everyone was looking to do something that would create tension and break social norms.
At the time most listeners who enjoyed the sound of punk-rock were listening to the popular bands like “The Who”, “Blondie”, “The Sex Pistols” and “The Ramones”. These bands dominated in the late 70’s and early 80’s with songs like “I Wanna be Sedated” and “Blitzkrieg Bop” by The Ramones and “Anarchy in the U.K.” by The Sex Pistols.
The late 1970’s is remembered as the disco enthused era when people were paying attention to artists like The Bee Gees who were producing hits such as, “Stayin’ Alive” “How Deep is Your Love” and “Night Fever”.
One night in 1975 in Brooklyn the band was playing a gig at Popeye’s Spinach Factory in Sheepshead Bay. That’s when his friends finished up their set and handed Manitoba the microphone. The roadie sang his heart out.
“I did ‘Wild Thing’ by the Troggs and the place went crazy,” he said. “The lead singer, people would clap politely but he didn’t have enough charisma. The second they handed me that microphone it was my job and to this day the sound of my voice, it still rings true and that’s my job.”
That was the day that “The Dictators” had found their new lead singer and soon to-be star. The band mates labeled him as their “secret weapon” since he was considered the band’s mascot by fans, even when he was just singing in the background on some songs.
After playing in the band for a solid five years, Manitoba and the crew broke up for some time. Each did their own thing for a while and now former members have come together to recreate the band “The Dictators: NYC”.
Manitoba credits some of his greatest moments in music while playing with the “The Dictators”. “Having our memorabilia in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland or playing with AC/DC and also playing with Alice Cooper,” He said.
Today, Manitoba is a radio personality on Sirius XM satellite radio and is host of “The Handsome Dick Manitoba Program” five days a week for a station called Little Steven’s Underground Garage.
“You know, that’s Little Steven Van Zandt, from the Bruce Springsteen Band and from the Sopranos TV show,” Manitoba said.
He also is part owner of a rock ‘n’ roll bar for the last 15 years called “MANITOBA’s” on Avenue B in Manhattan. The walls are covered with hundreds of rock photos from his life. The bar is a place that musicians frequent along with other stars such as Jimmy Fallon.
“Jimmy had been in the bar before and we became pals, he invited me on the show. I was a bit nervous as I usually am before I go on stage, but once I hit that stage you are all mine,” Manitoba said.
When asked about the best advice he has ever received from anyone in the industry he said, “No one ever told me anything, I figured this out on my own. Keep your eyes open, keep your ears open. It’s there. What you need is there.”
He continued, “Do it with all your artistry and put your stamp on it because you have one fingerprint that nobody else has. When you put your stamp on it that’s what makes it count”
Manitoba still lives in the East Village today with his wife and son where his roots truly lie, even after all these years.