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Scott Kempner, guitarist and punk rock pioneer, dies at 69

Scott Kempner, a guitarist and songwriter and a co-founder of the Dictators, one of the first punk rock bands, died Wednesday. He was 69.

His death, at a nursing home in Connecticut, was confirmed by Rich Nesin, who managed his solo career. Mr. Kempner died from complications related to early onset dementia, Nesin said.

Born and raised in the Bronx, Mr. Kempner started his music career not long after he had graduated from the Bronx High School of Science. He was born Feb. 6, 1954, to Manny and Lynn Kempner.

In 1972, while visiting a friend who was in college in New Paltz, New York, Mr. Kempner started playing music with Andy Shernoff and Ross Friedman, who was known as the Boss, and together they created the Dictators.

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That was when he earned the nickname, Top Ten. The band’s first album, “The Dictators Go Girl Crazy,” was released in 1975, a year before the Ramones made their debut. The All Music Guide called the band “one of the finest and most influential proto-punk bands to walk the earth" but said that on its debut album, the group’s satire and “ahead-of-their-time enthusiasm for wrestling, White Castle hamburgers, and television confused more kids than it converted.”

The band was dropped by its label, Epic, after its first album. It recorded two more albums, on the Elektra label, that failed to find a big audience, and the band split up, though the members occasionally reunited over the ensuing years.

After the breakup, Mr. Kempner founded the roots rock band the Del Lords and took the lead as chief singer and songwriter.

“In the Dictators, he was a team player, the heart of the band,” Eric Ambel, a member of the Del Lords, said of his former bandmate.

Frank Funaro, the drummer for the Del Lords, said Mr. Kempner had been someone he looked up to.

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“Scott Kempner was like the older brother that I never had,” Funaro said in an interview. “The older, cool brother, that turns you on to an encyclopedia worth of rock ’n’ roll, country music, soul music.”

The Del Lords released seven albums, including “Elvis Club” in 2013, which featured doo-wop star Dion DiMucci on one track. Mr. Kempner also played and toured as a side man in several bands, including Little Kings, with DiMucci, and the Paradise Brothers.

Starting in 1992, Mr. Kempner also released three solo albums: “Tenement Angels,” “Saving Grace” and “Live on Blueberry Hill.”

The Dictators re-formed in 2019 with Mr. Kempner on board, until he was diagnosed with dementia and had to leave the band in 2021.

Mr. Kempner leaves his wife, Sharon Ludtke, and by his sister, Robin Kempner, and her wife, Mary Noa-Kempner.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.