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Suggestions for new names rolled in. "Cicadas" was seriously considered. "Chestnut Men" was rejected on grounds that it would have required skinny ties and matching suits. Hopkins' brother-in-law left a message on the answering machine suggesting "Sacred Fears."
In the end, they became Sand Rubies.
When the band members officially buried the old name in October, something inside them died, too. "Sidewinders was the band," Slutes says. "Sand Rubies has been associated with a lot of very negative stuff. When I feel good about the band, I still call ourselves the Sidewinders. Sand Rubies has been hell."
Hopkins explains, "It was a security thing--it was our name, for Chrissake. We sold 100,000 records under that name. We're getting over it slowly."
The Sand Rubies' new record label, Atlas, won't bill the band as "Formerly the Sidewinders."
Hopkins: "They want to work us like we're a brand-new band. In some respects, we really are."
@body:For the first time in two years, the Sand Rubies--n‚e the Sidewinders--are rehearsing every night, preparing for a tour to back their long-awaited new album, which is to be released on February 28.
Back Alley Studios in downtown Tucson is a beautiful, underground complex, hidden beneath a building that once served as the original home of Tucson's influential community FM radio station, KXCI. The band is plugged into the studio's small but powerful PA system. Everyone wears earplugs. Guitar cases are strewn about the sides of the stage.
"You'd rather watch a fucking basketball game than do this?" Hopkins half-yells.
Slutes, a diehard University of Arizona fan, is dying to watch the studio's television set, on which the UofA Wildcats are tangling with Arizona State University.
"C'mon, Dave, we've got to get down and get this," Hopkins nags.
Slutes shrugs deferentially, repeating, "Okay, okay," as he aimlessly strums his guitar.
Although none of the other three band members has been with the band longer than three months, they look bored as the bickering heats up. This is de rigueur, part of the everyday ego tug that makes Hopkins and Slutes such a potent songwriting and performing team. The Sidewinders and Sand Rubies were always duo projects--The Rich and Dave Show." In a creative sense, the symbiosis has served them well. But practically, it has also been an impediment, fostering exclusivity, engendering jealousies and driving wedges where bridges should be built.
Hopkins resides at the vortex of the band's storm. The guitarist has a well-earned reputation for volatility and arrogance. But his tenacity has made him a guitar player, independent-label owner and songwriter. Save for a stint in the Peace Corps in the early Eighties, Hopkins, 34, has never done anything but play and produce music. He bankrolled the first EP by what was then Tucson's best-known alternative band, Green on Red. Today, he's the sole owner of San Jacinto Records, an independent label that has released albums by Devils Wielding Scimitars, River Roses, Gin Blossoms and Black Sun Ensemble. Hopkins also recently became a father. In December he and his wife, Lu, had a daughter, Bailey.
With his tousled blond hair, David Slutes, 29, is single, the band's female bait. He is a Tucson native, son of a prominent lawyer. Like most junior-high hellions of his generation, the then-dark-haired Slutes first made music on the air guitar. By the time he was 16, he was sneaking into a bar called Tumbleweeds to see local punk bands like the Serfers and the Pills. Slutes attended a Catholic high school and, for fun, he fronted a garage band called Billy Bowel and the Movements. He spent time studying history at the University of San Diego, Pasadena College and the University of Arizona before finally dropping out to pursue music full-time. He's a Civil War buff.
"Dave and I definitely have a love-hate relationship. People tend to play up the hate part, but that's only half the story," Hopkins says. "There are a lot of times when I've had to ask myself, 'How much longer can I work with this guy?' But we're married to each other in a weird kind of way."
Slutes says, "In the past year, you knew things were going wrong with the band when Rich and I stopped arguing. I mean, when we were nearly arrested for fighting, rolling around the parking lot of a 7-Eleven in Tempe, times were good."
Personnel has been a problem. Last spring both bassist Mark Perrodin and drummer Bruce Halper quit. Although both gave personal reasons, both also say they had grown weary of "The Rich and Dave Show."
Perrodin joined the band in 1987 after disbanding his own group, Skull Taco. He left mostly because he was going broke waiting for that band's new record to come out. In addition, he was never allowed to record his songs on a Sidewinders-Sand Rubies recording. When advances for songwriting came in, Hopkins and Slutes split them.
"It had been four and a half years, and I hadn't been able to get the band to do one of my songs yet. It was time to move on," says Perrodin, who watched the Hopkins-Slutes collaboration the longest.