February 19, 2018 | by James Greene, Jr.
What can you say about The Dogs? They never made it to Fitchburg.
This Normandy-bred group were high profile in their native country during the rise of punk rock and new wave, releasing a slew of charismatic garage-soaked LPs before François Mitterrand’s second term. The Dogs didn’t visit the United States, however, until the Fall of 2002, embarking on a tour that would crawl mostly through New England (including stops in tertiary markets like Fitchburg, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine). The group were supporting Rick Blaze and The Ballbusters, which would be worth a chuckle if tragedy hadn’t struck at the first gig on October 9th. Suffering from lung cancer complicated by pneumonia, Dogs singer and guitarist Dominique Laboubée only got through one song in Worcester before leaving the stage for the nearest hospital. Laboubée died in there, age 45, closing the book on this legendary French act.
Thirty years prior, Dominique Laboubée was just another restless teenager in the capital city of Rouen with a voracious appetite for rock ‘n’ roll. French rock magazines such as Best and Rock & Folk turned him on to American troublemakers like the MC5, the Stooges, and Alice Cooper. “It was 1971 and I was 14,” he remarked to blogger Samuel Jaros shortly before his passing. “The best reviews and articles were written by Yves Adrien in Rock & Folk; he was using the word ‘punk’ every two or three lines in ’71 [and] ’72!”
“[Original Dogs bassist Francois Camuzeaux] made me listen to [The Velvet Underground] as soon as we met in 1971… believe me, it was very unusual, in 1971, in Saint Vlery en Caux to find a 14-year-old bass player who was a real Velvet Underground fan!”
British pub rock would have just as large an effect on the nascent Dogs; when Dr. Feelgood and Eddie & The Hotrods played their first concerts in France in the mid-’70s, Laboubée was there, bowled over. “Dr. Feelgood was the best on stage, really wild, really impressive… it was one more good reason to play rock ‘n’ roll.”
Laboubée and his band mates were fans of the Ramones, the Clash, and the Buzzcocks when those groups bubbled up circa 1977, but they didn’t let these anointed first wave punks influence their sound too much. The debut Dogs single from that year, “Charlie Was a Good Boy,” retains the beerhall charm of the pub rockers; 1978’s Go Where You Want to Go EP swerves more into power pop. The Dogs’ first full-length arrived a year later and though it’s called Different the LP’s jangle is in line with previous releases. There’s further irony to Different — Laboubée later surmised that the 1960s style band photo gracing the cover hurt sales with younger fans.
The Dogs’ sophomore platter, 1980’s Walking Shadows, adopts harsher tones. Guitars growl and drums grunt through moody jaunts like “Secret Life,” “Disfigured,” and “Underworld”; it’s (Billy Idol’s) Generation X on downers. Walking Shadows firmly stapled The Dogs to the punk descriptor, for better or worse. So devotees were surprised when the group stretched back to mellower, more polished tones for 1982’s Too Much Class for the Neighbourhood. This was the first Dogs LP for Epic Records, recorded in London with producer Tony Platt (known for his work with Iron Maiden and Trust). Too Much Class feels like a rejection of punk in title and composition and that’s fine; though blasé, it’s still a fun party. Their opening cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Twistin’ with Linda” (changed to “Shakin’ with Linda”) is underwhelming, however.
1983’s Legendary Lovers offers more pep and vigor; helmed by The Who and Motörhead engineer Vic Maile, this record sort of ends the classic era of the Dogs. They’d release two more LPs for Epic (1985’s obviously-live-in-the-studio Shout! and 1986’s More More More) before turning into one of those label-hopping bands that sporadically released new material over the following decades. At the time of Lauboubée’s passing, The Dogs were technically still promoting 2001’s double live album Short, Fast and Tight.
“He has embodied a certain [aesthetic],” French journalist Yves Bigot wrote of Lauboubée on October 14, 2002, “while knowing the foolish endemic destiny of French rock…” More recently, Causeur writer Raymond Debord opined that “elegance will finally be the touch of The Dogs. Elegance of melodies, elegance of postures, and elegance of clothes that knew how to be referenced while avoiding obvious 1960s clichés.”
One of Rouen’s cozy cobblestone streets is now named for Dominique Lauboubée, complete with a small mural of the gaunt, bowl-cutted French icon. The Dogs may have never made it to Fitchburg, but they didn’t need to.