Ross “the Boss” Friedman’s muscular riffs and sturdy solos have powered not one but two seminal New York bands he helped found: 1970s proto-punk/garage-rock kings The Dictators, followed by a decade later by influential power metal band Manowar.
Despite his muscular approach to guitar, however, Friedman first got the six-string itch while looking at an endearing pack of wacky TV mop tops.
“Oh, I loved the Monkees,” says Friedman. “As a kid, it was really exciting to see her on TV. They had great songs. I could really understand Last train to Clarksville. What a solo! Of course I didn’t know there were studio musicians on those first records and it didn’t matter. The game was incredible.”
The Monkees were Friedman’s gateway drug to rock ‘n’ roll of the era. “The Beach Boys, The Who, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and of course I loved The Beatles and The Stones,” he says. “It was really an exciting time. And most of the time every band had a really incredible guitarist.”
He soon gave up his piano and violin lessons and took up the guitar. “I was a young Jewish kid with glasses and short hair. I had to change my image, so I became a rocker.”
He also began listening to heavy metal’s pioneering bands, listing Iron Butterfly, Steppenwolf and Black Sabbath as significant influences. “All of these hard rock groups talked to me,” says Friedman. “When I met [bassist] Andy Shenoff, we discovered we were into the same things, so we decided to make The Dictators just about our love together.”
With the Dictators, Friedman experienced the New York punk explosion of the early 1970s at first hand. He recalls sharing bills with the Ramones at CBGB’s: “We both played a lot there – we were probably a year ahead of them. The Ramones were like our brothers. We were from the Bronx, they were from Queens. We were very different bands, but we both had the pride and attitude.”
On the whole, however, he gives much of the punk movement low marks. “There was no emphasis on musicality,” he says. “It was like, ‘Hey, I can play sloppy and it doesn’t matter.’ I was the opposite of that. I practiced while everyone else was celebrating.”
What was your first good guitar?
“A white 1963 SG Custom. I remember my dad saying, ‘I won’t buy it for you. If you want this guitar, you have to earn it. You need to get a bank loan.” He got me a bank loan and believe it or not, I paid it back. I still have that guitar and I still use it. It has never left my possession.”
In an interview you did a few years ago you said that you never use effects pedals and plug them directly into an amp because, in your words, “that’s how a real man plays”. Still agree?
“[Laughs] That was probably said when I was at Manowar. You see, at Manowar we had this thing about manhood and being tall, having hundreds of stacks and all that. My approach to playing guitar has always been about plugging right in.
“The only effect I might have thought of was a wah pedal, but I didn’t use one. I was very influenced by going to the Fillmore and seeing BB King and Chuck Berry and Albert and Freddie King. They just went on stage, hooked up an amp and played.”
You use a guitar tuner though, right?
Wouldn’t a real man just use his ears to tune?
“If you still have ears, yes! [Laughs]”
I read another interview where you seem to acknowledge people who play octaves in solos. do you stand by it
“Oh yeah, but I have to elaborate on that because a lot of people think I claimed to have invented it. I started playing octaves because I was influenced by Wes Montgomery. He played octaves and I loved listening to him. So I adopted it and used it in my solos.
“On that first Dictators record Go crazy girls! , I did that often. But it was a thing that was long before me. Back then, probably in the 1920s and 30s, people did. But I think I’ve made it to my style of music. I made it popular. I kept seeing people doing that — grunge guys in the ’90s.”
You left Manowar after nine years. How good were things in this band before they went bad?
“Very good. We got a really good record deal and were able to buy a lot of equipment. We had an excellent experience recording our first record at Criteria Studios in Miami. Everyone in New York froze our asses off and we were in one Swimming pool creating something battle anthems. Of course, like most bands, we had our ups and downs.
“Record companies kept dropping us and we got signed again. We kept forging. We signed with Atlantic and we had huge success. fight against the world  and Kings of Metal  were gold in Europe. Not to say we didn’t want platinum in America – of course we did. Eventually it all went away, but things went really well for a while.”
Manowar has definitely taken a look at it. Did you want some kind of Viking?
“Well, we wanted to be a little bit different than groups like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Saxon. They wore denim and leather, which I think is a beautiful look, but we needed to be different. We thought, ‘What’s crazier and wilder than leather? animal skins!’ Think about it.
“In the beginning we had really good outfits, but over time we didn’t have the money to stick with it. We left EMI, so our outfits started to get kind of cheesy. There are pictures of me out there that are so embarrassing. Hey, at least I kept my pants on.”
“[Laughs] Yes, exactly? A few years ago my son showed me this picture of Manowar; it was from this record We are not angelsand Joey and [singer] Eric [Adams] are in bikinis, all oiled up. I’m to their right, but I’ve got my pants on, thank god. My son looked at the picture and said, ‘Dad, this is so disturbing.’”
You’ve performed with singer “Handsome Dick” Manitoba in The Dictators and the band Manitoba, but he’s not in the new Dictators line-up.
“No, we had a conflict with Manitoba, and then I said to Andy, ‘Why don’t we just get the band back together?’ what we did But what happened was our other guitarist, Scott Kempner, aka Top Ten, was diagnosed with dementia. We were just horrified, but we had to go on because Scott wanted it that way.
“So we got Keith Roth as our second guitarist and he’s a great singer. Then we have Albert Bouchard, the original drummer for Blue Öyster Cult, and we just love it. We’re in the process of negotiating a record deal and we’ve released a couple of songs. The response was great. We look forward to gigs.”
You still play mostly SGs and SG style guitars, right?
“I definitely do. I play SGs and similar models. I don’t use my old ’74 Custom; It’s a great guitar, but it’s so heavy. That’s one of the reasons I started making an ESP EC- 1000 to use a Les Paul style guitar It’s really light and sounds great I also have a custom guitar from this guy in Romania Cristian Grosus The company is called Grosmann Guitars This thing is like an SG on steroids .It’s an amazing guitar.”
Apart from the Dictators you will be going on a solo tour soon.
“I think so. Things are still changing a lot because of Covid. We had an English festival, Great Yarmouth, which has just been postponed to next year. And there have been others that have been postponed. But we hope to be involved as soon as possible to be able to start playing.”
You play some Manowar songs in your solo show but you don’t do anything by the Dictators. Why is that?
“No dictator stuff, that’s true. These two styles don’t clash on the same stage. It will be the classic Manowar stuff and my stuff. People want to hear these songs from me. If I don’t play songs from battle anthems  and my tunes, people get excited. They want to hear it and they have the right to hear it. They come to the show and pay goddamn good money, so that’s the deal. I’m a people pleaser.”