Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Old Cowhand - The District

From the District Weekly - (4/29/09)

By the end of the 1950s, tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins had recorded enough quality wax to fill a jukebox. Rollins released nearly one record per month in 1957 for a handful of different record companies, and on March 7 of that year, Rollins, passing through Los Angeles on tour, recorded the first of two releases for Contemporary Records, Way out West. The rhythm section—bassist Ray Brown, in the midst of his lengthy stint with Oscar Peterson, and drummer Shelly Manne, who appears to have spent more time in the Contemporary studio than the mixing console—was absent of any chordal support (e.g., piano, guitar, electric clavinet, twelve-button accordion). Instead, Rollins’ unorthodox instrumentation had become a regular setting for his boisterous tenor, giving him far more soloing flexibility but also more melodic responsibility. His two supporters lay back, allowing Rollins to strut over the minimal accompaniment, his seesawing lines leading every turnabout phrase to a frustratingly clever conclusion.

The trio began recording, depending on whom is talking, somewhere between 2 and 5 a.m. in the Contemporary studios—a converted office space just off Melrose Avenue. By sunrise, the band had recorded six solid tracks, half of which kept up the cowboy theme: “I’m an Old Cowhand,” “Wagon Wheels” and an original, “Way out West.” The production, laid out by the innovative ears of Roy DuNann, is spaciously vivid with saxophone pads clopping behind every note and an unintended panning effect occurring every time Rollins turned to conduct the band. On the cover, Rollins stands skeptically in cowboy regalia, holster and all, giving William Claxton’s camera an arched glare among the Joshua trees. When it was released, people couldn’t tell if the cover was joke or jive.

With Way out West, Rollins had secured his jazz legacy by the age of 26. And over the last 52 years he’s nearly perfected it, never laying back on his status as one of the greatest living jazz legends, continuing a relentless tradition of tenor madness. Catch the old cowhand while he still has the generosity and sunglasses to hit the stage.


The Old Cowhand @ the District

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Catch Him While You Can - The District

From the District Weekly (4/22/2009)

every community that draws water and electricity in this smoggy sprawl, there are musicians documenting what goes on outside their windows for anyone who will listen. From patchouli-tinged minstrels to landlocked emcees, the voices that resonate beyond their street corners are forever indebted to these surroundings.

Emcee Bambu’s story is of the Filipino-American experience in the oft-romanticized Los Angeles era of pagers and Raiders, where storefronts and futures were just as likely to go up in a blaze. His gangbanging childhood bred an unapologetic streak of confidence and hard knocks that make wrestling with the music industry pale in comparison. After being jailed for armed robbery as a kid, he joined the Marines at the recommendation of a judge. Since this turning point, Bambu has been on a track to improve the world around him. “Change happens from the bottom where the problems are,” he says, calling from New York following a speaking engagement at NYU. “Not the top down.”

Bambu’s newest release, . . . A Peaceful Riot . . . , is a 10-track extension of his philosophy straight off the heels of his recent full-length, Exact Change. Fatgums’ bright production shines with dramatic stutters, both melodic and rhythmic, popping with pristine crispness between a pair of cans. The big-beat stack of Stax cushions Bambu’s calculated rhymes, lighting up both minds and dance floors, with one skeptical eye on those in charge and the other on himself.

The EP is being released exclusively by Beatrock—the safe-house/art gallery within sneezing distance of Long Beach City College. Aside from a busload of DJs and emcees, including DJ Tanner, Otayo Dubb and the CounterParts Crew, the upcoming EP release show also promises what any good party should have: charred, marinated meats. “If you’ve never had Park’s Finest (Johneric Concordia) BBQ, then you don’t know barbecue,” he tells me with a passion usually reserved for the stage. “It would be a foolish thing for you to miss that barbecue.”

Fatgums and Bambu have been working together for a little more than a year. The resulting collision has included not only Bambu’s last full-length album but the recent soundtrack/mixtape, A Song for Ourselves. Earlier this year, filmmaker Tad Nakamura released a documentary about troubadour Chris Iijima, a leading voice in the Asian-American Movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s. “Tad had been in touch with my DJ. It wasn’t even a question. ‘I need you to get in the studio and do this.’ ” So, Bambu got to work with DJ Phatrick resulting in a 19-track mixtape that features Bambu on nearly half of it. “A lot of socially conscious emcees have clever sound bites and catchy rhetoric, but Bambu has a deep knowledge of historic and current social struggles to back it all up,” says mixtape contributor Senz of Depth. “It takes some courage to talk trash to another rapper, but to critique the most powerful nation and military on earth—in such a smart, lucid, unapologetic way—takes courage on a whole other level.”

As far as the future goes, Bambu has an ambitious game plan focusing squarely on raising his child in a better world than the one that raised him. By the time election fever sweeps the nation again, Bambu expects to be out of the rap scene. “I just don’t know if I have it in me with the family. I just want to challenge folks to look for new talent. I just want to step away,” he says. Like Iijima, who went on to become a teacher and a lawyer following his strummed outrage, Bambu wants to change the world on a local scale by opening up a community space, after-school programs and even teaching some martial arts. Bambu’s effortless flow will be missed when it is gone. So, catch it while there is still time, and grab some barbecue before you leave.


Catch Him While You Can - The District

Swingtown - The District

From the District Weekly - (4/22/2009)

Southern California has an abundance of great jazz education programs—no surprise, given there are an overwhelming number of skilled music educators out there roaming the freeways looking for financial stability and a decent health plan. And along with the more headline-grabbing programs at UCLA and USC, Cal State Long Beach has been slowly building its reputation as a premier institution of the swinging arts.

Since the 1970s, the jazz department has enhanced the talents of mighty lions like John Pattituci, Mark Turner and Wayne Bergeron. In March 2008, the department was renamed in honor of local real estate baron Bob Cole. Cole, a longtime music fan with a reputation for striking an occasional piano for family and friends, left a sizable contribution to the school after his passing five years ago. In the last year, as malleable minds have attempted to broaden their marketability, or at least postpone reality, the school saw its largest number of applicants looking to toil in the shadow of the corrugated blue pyramid.

Earlier this month, the program’s Concert Jazz Orchestra and vocal ensemble headed up to Steinbeck’s beloved peninsula to take part in the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Next Generation competition. The MJF, America’s longest-running jazz festival, started as a West Coast answer to George Wein’s socialite-fueled Newport Jazz Festival. In the last 52 years, the MJF has become a first-rate educational advocate providing instruments, scholarships and attitude to countless young musicians in need. For the second time in three years, the orchestra took first place in the College Big Band division, earning them the opportunity to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival this September.

For the final concert of the season, the orchestra has planned a set of tunes by the likes of Thelonious Monk, Bob Mintzer and the head of the jazz program, Jeff Jarvis. With Cal State Long Beach housing the No. 1 jazz radio station in the country and a rising star in the educational field, it would seem their profile could not get any bigger. Now we just need a few venues for them to play in.


Swingtown - The District

Night Shift - The District

From the District Weekly - (4/8/2009)

It will become a lot harder to find a serious jazz room in Southern California when the Jazz Bakery closes at the end of May. The Chimay and gruyére crowd may have driven out one of the purest jazz venues in the state, but down south there is a room that, every now and then, hosts great music without fretting over drink minimums or obliviously chatty crowds.

Alva’s Showroom has been booking an intriguing collection of jazzbos since 2005. During the day, Alva’s provides an open space and ballet barres for the more flexible members of the community on a quaint commercial strip in western San Pedro. But every Saturday night, it is divided and transformed into a 60-seat jazz club complete with a mammoth Steinway and state-of-the-art sound system for the not necessarily physically flexible but certainly mentally so. (Witness the impressive time-lapse video on the venue’s Web site transitioning from twinkled toes to tickled ivories.)

This week, the showroom will feature keyboard-tamer Mitch Forman—a man who has found himself sharing stages with the undisputed saxophone legend Wayne Shorter and impossible dance band the Mahavishnu Orchestra. His sound can veer dramatically from synth-drenched sandal-jazz to hunch-shouldered impressionism, but based on the listed sidemen (Darek Oles, bass; Peter Erskine, drums), the calendar implies Forman will go the acoustic route using two of the most sought after rhythm men in town. Forman’s subdued early ’90s tribute to Bill Evans, Now and Then, secured his place as a master beyond the electro-gimmickry of his young-blood years. His quick attack flutters a thousand well-crafted ideas with his fingers splayed across the keyboard like a rake. In the span of a phone call, he can render an audience winded, leaving them to catch up on their own time with the lines he has dispensed.

In the past few months, Alva’s has hosted a boatload of solid performers: the Littleton Brothers, Elliott Caine, Azar Lawrence. San Pedro, for all its cultural claims to fame, has never been much of a jazz town, but, with a little luck and maybe a few more dedicated nights, Alva’s could change all that.


Alva's Showroom - The District

Brave the Storm - The District

From the District Weekly (4/01/2009)

It’s hard to sell instrumental music to anyone these days. It’s a fact of life that most people enjoy hearing the human voice—if not their own, then at least someone pretty. Not since Santo & Johnny has the genre had any chance at major radio play, and despite the fact that Seattle’s Kinski have been slowly adding a layer of vocal icing to their last couple recordings, the cake remains the same.

Instrumental noise enthusiasts Kinski have strangled guitars in the upper-left hand corner of America since the late 1990s—a simpler time when plaid still went with everything and the Supersonics were a force to be reckoned with (RIP, Squatch). Under the leadership of Chris Martin (no, not that one), the rain-soaked foursome (two guitars, bass and drums) toured the world with like-minded sound merchants Hovercraft and Acid Mothers Temple, with whom they released a split album several years back. For the last 10 years the band has refined its strength, condensing the bone-liquefying attack of a thousand guitars into a couple of Marshall stacks.

Kinski’s third and most recent full length, Sub-Pop’s Down Below It’s Chaos, is a heavy assault rife with punishing drums and guitar riffs that revolve and resolve like a planetary orbit. Their sound veers seamlessly from Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth to the Jurassic-techno of the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” But the rumors of their newest album indicate radio-friendly running times and vocals on every track. It’s unclear what to expect on this current go round but it will inevitably inspire a floor-staring sway from those healthy enough to remain upright in the face of Kinski’s feedback hurricane.

The Prospector will be the southern most point of their current tour and likely the smallest stage/low-ceilinged corner to support their instruments. The sheer mass of Kinski’s sound could quite possibly cook all the steaks in the kitchen. Consider yourself warned.

Brave the Storm - The District

Persistence & Resistance - The District

From the District Weekly - (3/18/2009)

On inauguration day, as millions watched America’s official homecoming king and queen take to the dance floor for the Neighborhood Ball, a question occurred before numerous television sets: Why is Beyonce singing Etta James’ song? Surely if Aretha can slap on a bow and sing “My Country Tis of Thee,” then Etta James could sing “At Last” for the first couple. Instead, the Obamas got a movie tie-in featuring Hova’s wife in all her youthful glory. And probably the most important person wondering why Etta James was not on stage was Etta James. “I tell you that woman he had singing for him, singing my song,” she told a Seattle audience in late January, “she’s going to get her ass whipped.”

Jamesetta Hawkins was born in 1938 to 14-year-old Dorothy Hawkins. Her father, as she theorized in her brutally candid autobiography Rage to Survive, was master of the felt and cue, Minnesota Fats. Jamesetta was thrust into the world with an uncanny pair of pipes and the world stacked against her: By the age of 10 she had become a singing prodigy in her church before being whisked up to San Francisco for a life of petty crime that would dog her well into the Reagan administration.

Jamesetta became “Etta James” at the hands of musical potentate Johnny Otis. She penned her first hit, with Otis’ help, in 1955. “Roll With Me, Henry,” a ribald answer record to Hank Ballard’s “Work With Me, Annie,” spent a month on the charts. From the very beginning, James’ speaker-rattling shout was full of venom and vigor.

In 1961, James sang the song that would accompany countless tuxedoed slow dances. “At Last” was recorded under the direction of Leonard Chess for Argo Records, a subsidiary of blues powerhouse Chess Records. It was one of a dozen standards that were to form James’ first full length album of the same name. In just under three minutes, with a metronomic piano plinking amongst swooning strings, James poured out a swell of contentment. Her weariness, all fluttering eyelashes and clenched fists, was a far cry from the street-hustling fireball that would go on to dominate her recording career.

As much as the song may belong to James now, it was written 20 years before she put it on tape. Penned by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for the musical Orchestra Wives, “At Last” was originally performed by Glenn Miller, where it hit the Billboard Top 20. Fifteen years later, Nat King Cole put his velvety fingerprint on the song. But it was James’ version that transcended the hit lists to become an enduring theme of romance that has become a staple to film music supervisors—an immediate signifier on par with “Stand By Me” or “Unchained Melody”.

So whose song is it? James has been singing “At Last” for nearly 50 years. Aside from Beyonce, Celine Dion, Norah Jones and Cyndi Lauper have tackled the song, and they all clearly aimed for the version by the notorious Miss Peaches. Hardly any have used Nat Cole’s example and fewer still Glenn Miller’s wah-wah rendition. Tavis Smiley, in conversation with James several years back, told her, “There are very few people who can take a song that’s already there and put their stamp on it in such a way that it becomes your song.” A little persistence and resistance has made it uniquely hers.

While James’ onstage rants have kept her in the news, her voice has kept her on the stage. She was recently awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and is a member of both the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “I’ve learned to live with my rage,” she says. “In some ways, it’s my rage that keeps me going. Without it, I would have been whipped long ago. With it, I got a lot more songs to sing.” Including the one that has paid her bills all these years.


Persistence and Resistance - The District

Lend Me Your Ears - The District

From the District Weekly - (3/11/2009)

Public radio DJs are a lot like hip, deadbeat siblings. They keep odd hours, always ask for money and have great record collections. Helen Borgers, KJAZZ’s current weekday DJ and resident cheerleader, has been heard on the far end of the Long Beach dial for nearly 30 years. But unlike so many pleading DJs, Borgers’ passion can charm the bills out of wallets without demeaning herself or her listeners. Through hard work and impeccable taste, she has become the undisputed queen of jazz radio.

Borgers grew up in Kansas City, Mo., where jazz forged a stable home along the wide latitude containing crucial jazz territories New Orleans and Chicago. But like all good American girls, she fell first for the Beatles before being swayed by her brother Ken’s wax. “The stuff that hooked me—Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines. I grew up listening to that music through the walls of my brother’s room,” she explains on a break from the station’s most recent pledge drive. “John Coltrane. Gerald Wilson. Sonny Rollins. But after I discovered Louis, I never looked back. That stuff, as soon as I put it on, gets me just as much as it did then.”

In the late 1970s, Borgers headed west to pursue a theater degree at Cal State Long Beach and eventually found herself working for her brother in the music library under its former call letters KLON. “When I joined the station, you could only hear it across the street. Now our power is greater, and we have a much broader range. It’s a whole new audience.”

In a time when radio stations, both corporate and public, are dropping like flies—and while those remaining strive for faceless Top 40 drivel—it is hard to believe KJAZZ exists. During her rise from the library to the daytime microphone, KJAZZ has grown not only into one of the country’s top jazz radio stations, but one of the top public radio stations worldwide, with a weekly listenership hovering around half a million people.

As if hustling for public radio was not enough, Borgers became the artistic director of the Long Beach Shakespeare Co. a dozen years ago. “My brother told me it was the one thing that made less money than jazz,” she says with a chuckle. But it is clear that Borgers is driven by her passions rather than her bank account. “It’s a joy come true. Those two things have been the guiding light of my life. I’ve been a Shakespeare fan since the age of 7; to be able to work in both fields is wonderful.”

For the company’s upcoming fundraiser, Borgers has combined her passions into one stellar night. To celebrate Caesar’s least favorite holiday, she has enlisted trumpeter Jack Sheldon and the Al Williams Jazz Society to brighten the air with their hard-swinging sound. “My all-time hero,” she says of Sheldon. “The first time I saw him was at Dante’s. When I came in, he was in the middle of doing the ‘To Be or Not To Be’ speech from Hamlet. I sent him a note and he came over to the table. We’ve been friends ever since.”

In between sets the event also promises to provide what Borgers does best: spin records. “We’ll be hearing everything back from the early days like Sidney Bechet, Louis and Buddy Rich. I’ll take it through the swing era to early bebop,” she explains.

Through her innate enthusiasm and selfless dedication, Borgers has found a niche that makes her and her listeners endlessly happy. Even in these trying economic times, Borgers’ daily campaigning has brought in the bucks and allowed KJAZZ to swing another day. Hopefully the same will be said for her upcoming event. Any organization would be thrilled to have her in their corner, and in Long Beach she’s got two.


Lend Me Your Ears - The District

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Workingman's Claws - The District

From the District Weekly (2/25/2009)

The era of the juke joint could not be further from current times. These days, a restaurant can’t let peanut shells fall from the table without warning incoming customers of the hive-inducing poisons littering their floor. But long before the House of Blues exposed a few nails and opened a franchise in Disney World, juke joints were the place to catch the dirtiest gut-bucket blues while sipping from a bar where offerings only were as specific as “beer” or “whiskey.” One of the men who witnessed the heartfelt sounds of that long-lost era was singer/guitarist/raconteur Curtis Jack Griffin.

Born in 1930, 35 miles outside of Shreveport, La., Griffin grew up on a plantation picking cotton, corn and anything else sprouting up from the dirt. “I first heard the radio when I was about 7 years old,” he recalls beneath the bare bulb illuminating his modest kitchen. “I’d hear the Grand Ole Opry and stuff like that.” It was in those fields, amongst the warbling waves of Ernest Tubb and Bill Monroe, that Griffin got his first taste of performing. Under the open sky, he became a blues chameleon, capable of mimicking virtually every guitarist he ever heard. From the slow picking style of Lightnin’ Hopkins to the electric peril of T-Bone Walker, Griffin can still summon it all from his gnarled, workingman’s claws with the history of the South clearly echoed in his impassioned shout. “I used to sing all kinds of songs out in the fields. I can tell you about anything you want to know,” he says. “I was there. I can tell you how to make syrup, pick cotton.”

But for nearly 60 years, he has traded the farm for the sounds of car alarms and objecting howls of neighboring dogs in residential Compton, where he moved in 1950 following a brief stint in Texas. “I had a close friend here in California. He suggested I come out. So he sent me a ticket, and I came.” And aside from a tour of duty in Korea, Griffin has been here ever since.

Despite closing in on 80, Griffin is still an imposing presence, with his broad shoulders filling in the football jersey that hugs his body. “Music for me was always secondary. Meatpacking came first. My father was a meatpacker. My grandfather was a meatpacker. But I can still play,” he reassures, after a careful tour of his weathered limbs. Unlike many of those who shared the stage pickled and penniless, Griffin was able to raise a family and keep the electricity flowing. “I didn’t get into the booze or drugs,” he says, with a hint of regret—“but the women! I’ve got like 840 kids!”

Griffin’s Los Angeles tales recount a who’s who of blues. Whether it was backing a pre-Apollo James Brown in San Pedro for a little more than $10 a night or his days with Lowell Fulson struggling for radio play, all of America’s great blues men passed his way. “I’ve played with all the big people. Bobby Blue Bland! Big Joe Turner! Albert Collins! Percy Mayfield! I’m the last of the oldest,” he proclaims.

These days, Griffin spends most of his time with his children and grandchildren. Retired and content, he is occasionally visited by well-wishers from as far away as Japan looking to soak in the stories of a fading past. An early publicity photo hangs on his wall, hidden in shadow, reminding him of those guitar-slinging glories. His enthusiasm for the blues is endless, and he is happy to share it with anyone who will listen. But Griffin does not take to the stage too often. “I play when I want to,” he says. And that is fine with him. But maybe not for everybody else.


Workingman's Claws @ the District

Young Man Mose - LA Citybeat

From the LA Citybeat (2/18/2009)

Few jazz pianists of the last 60 years can distinguish themselves on as many fronts as Mose Allison. Nat “King” Cole had the hands and the voice. So did Shirley Horn. But no one could sling a barb like the man from Tippo.
Pianist/vocalist/songwriter Allison recorded his first slab of wax at the height of the Eisenhower administration, and for a little over half a century has been steadily enthralling a post-bop audience with cutting lyrical put-downs like, “If silence was golden, you couldn’t raise a dime/Because your mind is on vacation and your mouth is working overtime.” He’s traveled as far as any jazz musician can, having shared stages with Stan Getz and the Rolling Stones, as well as lending tunes to the likes of Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt and the Clash.

Raised on the music that surrounded his Mississippi upbringing, he created a style of hipster blues uniquely his that struck a chord at the farm and in the city both: “When I put on Mose’s albums I was transported to the American South, although I had never been in America,” says British keyboardist Brian Auger, whose 1968 debut included a rendition of Allison’s “If You Live.” “Mose’s piano playing and lyrics took me to the American South in a way that I could smell and taste.”

After a stint in the army and the acquisition of a dual English/philosophy degree from Louisiana State University, Allison set off for New York with the promise of work from legendary saxophonist Al Cohn. From there, Allison went on to record his first few records with the legendary Prestige label. Several years and albums later, Allison became an Atlantic recording artist following a five minute meeting with impresario Nesuhi Ertegun.

“I figured that I would do it as long as I could. The first few years there was very little money, but after I came to New York things got better,” says Allison now, calling from the unusually cold confines of his Southern winter hideout.

When Allison joined Atlantic Records in 1962, Ray Charles was on his way out the door. Ten years later, after a prolific period of releases that included modern standards “Tell Me Something” and “I’m Not Talking,” Mose moved on while the J. Geils Band was busy earning gold records to hang in the hallway.

“They were always after me to do more commercial albums. So I didn’t do anything for awhile,” Allison says. “[Atlantic producer] Jerry Wexler was always trying to get me to go down South. I figured if I did something like that, and it was a hit, I would have to keep doing it. If it wasn’t, I’d probably lose my contract.”

There was something in that uncompromising message that resonated even stronger across the pond. Allison’s caustic wit – and refined sense of swing – introduced itself into many influential Britons’ record collections. Whether it was his suffer-no-fools attitude or his distinct singing drawl, even Allison is stumped by the British acclaim.

“A lot of people recorded my songs.” says Allison. “Georgie Fame was the first one. He did some of my material in the early ’60s. After that several of them did it.” From the Bluesbreakers’ mouth-harp assault on “Parchman Farm,” to the Who’s windmill through “Young Man Blues,” the list of renditions – also including the Yardbirds, Cactus, Blue Cheer and a whole tribute album by Van Morrison – is staggering. Says Allison: “I think people should do what they want, because I do the same thing with other people’s songs.”

Is there a wrong way to cover one of his tunes? “The only wrong way is to not get the mechanical licenses.”

For the last few years, Allison has been returning to the Jazz Bakery to soak in the sun and play a little piano in between.

“There are a lot of jazz musicians out there that don’t work much,” he laments. “There are not that many gigs left.”

Allison has always toured alone. Since the beginning of his career, much like Chuck Berry, he’s hired musicians to support him. In 1965 while sharing a bill, John Coltrane expressed envy at his efficient approach. Local four-stringer Tom Warrington has answered Allison’s phone call for the last 12 years.

“It’s always great to play with Mose. I really enjoy his tunes, the wit of his lyrics, his slant on life and current events,” he says. For his visits to Los Angeles Allison usually plays as a duo. But, says Allison, “That’s all the support I need, really.”

So, for another year, Allison returns with a dose of cantankerous irony for a crowd of like-minded cynics eager to hear the sage’s wisdom.

“There are a couple of people that want me to record. I don’t feel there is a need for another record,” he says. “But I may be wrong. I’m still playing 100 nights a year. So far, so good.”

Mose Allison, with bassist Tom Warrington, at the Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Los Angeles; Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. $15-$30. All ages. Visit Mose Allison at

Young Man Mose @ LA Citybeat

Professional Wildmen - The District

From the District Weekly (1/14/2009)

You may have seen fedora-topped frontman Daniel Holden before, risking life and larynx for a hot riff and a cold beer. No doubt he was flanked by stone-faced guitarist Jarrod Stiles and bassist Mike Peralta, propelling their brand of Lomita-approved, ‘70s-era rock into the 21st century. But recently, the business cards changed.

Until the middle of last year, Wet Cassette performed under the more cleverly inebriated moniker, Rolling Blackouts. Eschewing booze for sex in name only, Holden and company introduced a new drummer (Sean Johnson) and added a keyboardist (Jon Highlander), both hailing from another South Bay mainstay, the Voyeurs, formerly of E>K>U>K>. (To further complicate the musical map, original drummer and professional wildman Gabe Garnica has moved on to form Sonadora with ex-dios-er Qevin Morales.) Defining the difference between their past and present selves, Holden glibly states, “Wet Cassette sounds like your dreams coming true. Rolling Blackouts were less dreams coming true and more like keeping you up all hours of the night.” Plus, he adds, the band simply likes how it rolls off the tongue.

At the height of their Blackouts billing, the boys were best witnessed reverberating among exposed wires and cushionless sofas in parts of Los Angeles no positioning device could ever find. During one hectic late-night performance, a bottle of wine (red!) flew by like a shoe at a press conference; the ursine Peralta deftly dodged the chucked two-buck and resumed his supporting vocals without so much as a smile. Few people choose to earn a living this way—these guys seem never to have considered there were alternatives.

Appropriately, with its ample overhead clearance and weighty Pabsts, Alex’s Bar has hosted many great Blackout/Cassette shows, including a late-summer residency several years back with their geographical cousins, dios (malos). Holden has a special place in his heart for the local watering hole: “Alex’s Bar has been a great venue. The kids know where it is and actually wanna go there.” So now, having been told where and when, it’s just up to the kids to get a ride.


Professional Wildmen @ the District

Know Where You Came From - The District

From the District Weekly (4/18/2007)

You could still hear the police dog barking at Joel Morales from inside a nearby cruiser as the singer-guitarist of dios (malos) rolled in for breakfast at Chips Diner, the beloved Googie homage in Hawthorne. He wore a Tecate T-shirt and an implied Fu Manchu moustache—all but buried in a 5 o’clock shadow—and was obviously still woozy from the night before. Keyboardist Jimi Camaro, more subdued with a checkered shirt and gnarled walking stick, came in soon afterward, and alerted the dog only slightly less.

Unrelenting civic pride is one of dios (malos)’s most notable charms, which is why Morales and Camaro chose their hometown’s most-historic restaurant for a roundtable discussion about their nearly completed record—tentatively titled Life Between the Tides—and their upcoming show at Alex’s Bar . . . even if more enthusiasm was reserved for talking about Geoff Emmerick, the six algorithms for successful horse betting and which vitamin supplements go well with gin. Hawthorne, the town that birthed the Beach Boys and the reclusive Emmit Rhodes (Hi Emmit!), is a smoggy suburban sprawl—airport-close and freeway-accessible. But it’s their urban sprawl, and that’s what counts. The Hawthorne water tower, a giant teal Q-tip visible for miles, is pictured on the back of the first dios (malos) record; their first EP, which lists none of the band members, still managed to make room for the phrase “dedicated to hawthorne, ca.”

Considering such reverence for place, maybe it’s not surprising that Morales’ hard night before began when a complicated series of events put him in a classroom full of freshmen at Cal State Dominguez Hills, administering a geography test. He insisted he was up for the assignment, hoisting his beltless pants, throwing on a hat and catching the bus over to campus, maybe looking as though he had just washed ashore, but diligently watching the clock and banning all cellphone use while insisting on being addressed as “Dr. Morales.” “I know my stuff,” he said reassuringly. “Oh, I know my geography.”

Makes sense—the band has seen a lot of it, criss-crossing the country several times a year in a packed van. But of all the places their music has taken them, dios (malos) seem to be most creative and comfortable at home. It’s where they recorded their first album and early demos, in their practice space/studio/hostel, writing hazy pop songs shrouded in bird sounds, tape clicks, and indecipherable mumbling. When the band was shipped up to Seattle and given a deadline to churn out its second record with indie hit-maker Phil Ek, the result was noticeably more polished.

Now free of their record contract with Startime, dios (malos) have returned to recording at home and seem just a few flashbacks away from completing another album. The music that’s surfaced from these new sessions has indicated a return to the relaxed but murky soundscapes that always seemed to come so naturally but are now strengthened by increased confidence in their playing and ideas.

The addition of new drum-punisher Patrick Vasquez—their fifth—seems only to have helped. Occasionally smashing his cymbals with his fists, Vasquez’s unhinged style almost makes your knuckles bleed with sympathy and has garnered some YouTube adoration.

This Friday’s show is at Alex’s Bar, which is a familiar venue to Morales.

“I go to hear the DJs,” he says, “and I hold an unannounced drinking contest there every Saturday afternoon. I always win.”


Know Where You Came From @ the District