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Scott Kempner, ‘The Dictators’ Guitarist and Songwriter, Dies at 69

Scott “Top Ten” Kempner (pictured at left), founding member of bands The Dictators and The Del Lords, guitarist and songwriter, died Wednesday of complications from early onset dementia. He was 69.

Kempner, who died at a nursing home in Connecticut, was born in the Bronx, N.Y. In college, he began playing music with Andy Shernoff and Ross “The Boss” Friedman, and they formed the rock band The Dictators in 1974. Their debut album, “The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!,” is now considered by many to be the precursor to the punk rock genre, with Kempner an early punk pioneer.

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The Dictators recorded three albums together before splitting up (aside from the occasional reunion). They officially re-formed in 2019 until Kempner’s dementia diagnosis.

After The Dictators’ first breakup, Kempner took his talents to form the band The Del-Lords with Manny Caiati and Eric Ambel. The Del-Lords was a rock and roll band that drew influence from British bands of the ‘60s — notably, The Beatles — in their grouping of several singers.

“The Del-Lords was a comfort zone,” Kempner told Variety in 2008. “It was a well-oiled machine.”

“But having four distinct personalities (as singers) was a hard thing to sell. I had faith in it – I saw it as essential,” Kempner continued, describing his thought-out vision for the band — and demonstrating the depth of care he brought to his art.

Kempner recorded seven albums with The Del-Lords before going on to perform with several other groups, including The Brandos, The Paradise Brothers and The Helen Wheels Band. He also took the time to develop his solo career, releasing the three albums “Tenement Angels,” “Saving Grace” and “Live From Blueberry Hill.”

“Scott Kempner was the quintessential rocker, a free abandoned guitar player, a superb arranger, A prolific songwriter, with the great sense of rhythm,” said Dion DiMucci, whom Kempner played with in the band Little Kings. “But most of all he is a dear friend and brother whom I love and will truly miss. Eternal rest my friend.”

“Scott used his Dictators experience as the heart of that band to inform the songwriting he did for the Del-Lords,” said Ambel. “His songs were’t solo songs adapted by the band to play, they were written specifically for the Del-Lords and informed by our lives together and that’s just a part of what made Scott and his songs so unique.”

Kempner is survived by his wife, Sharon Ludtke, sister Robin Kempner and her wife Mary-Noa Kempner.

(Pictured: Scott Kempner, Mark Mendoza and Ross Friedman of The Dictators)

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