"It's like an exclusive boys' club," he says. "I think they could work with other people, but at this point, they're kind of trapped in a web of their own making. This has clicked, and they're going to ride it until it dies."
Halper echoes those views, but his biggest problem was a case of tinnitus. After several attempts to overcome it with bed rest and quiet, the pervasive ringing in his ears continued. "But the ears were just the last straw," he says. "During the making of the record, it stopped being fun anymore. The word is 'negativity.' I'm really proud of the record and I have good friends in the group, but let's say that I prefer to play in a band that has positive energy."

Halper has been playing (at lower volume) with another Tucson band, Chris Burroughs' Misfit Toys.

Since Halper and Perrodin departed, the Sand Rubies have been on a personnel merry-go-round. For a time, the rhythm section from another storied Tucson band, Giant Sand, joined up. Although those two players were part of one of the band's strongest lineups ever, bassist Scott Garber and drummer Tom Larkins ultimately decided they didn't want to tour as permanent members.

Bassist Nick Augustine joined last November. A talented veteran of Tucson's eminent blues-rock trio Rainer and Das Combo, Augustine is in it for the money.

Replacing Halper has been a struggle. Gil Rodriguez, a jazz drummer, quit after he and Hopkins clashed. The current drummer is Dan Lynch, who played with Tucson pop-rock singer Bobby Taylor. His future beyond the upcoming tour is anybody's guess.

The most surprising addition to the band is second guitarist Dave Seger. Along with Van Christian, Seger co-founded the seminal alternative band Naked Prey. That group's mid-Eighties albums on the Frontier label were a big influence on Hopkins. Seger was brought in to give the Sand Rubies a bigger sound on the upcoming tour. Both he and Augustine will sing back-up.

Hopkins is comfortable with Seger, because they grew up together in Tucson. Seger taught Hopkins to play guitar. Because of their history together, both say there will be no "guitar ego" problems.

"Naked Prey was one of those bands where there are two songwriters and the band can't support both," Seger says. "I got disgusted with going over to Europe and drinking and playing. This is a new opportunity for me. Any other band, I wouldn't have done it."
The addition of Seger completes a circle that began to form on April 13, 1985--two days before Slutes' 22nd birthday. That night the Sidewinders played their first gig--opening for Seger's band, Naked Prey.

Covers of songs by Chris Spedding, Jefferson Airplane and the Blues Magoos composed the Sidewinders' repertoire. It wasn't long, though, before an original song, "I Should've Told You" (which became "I'll Go Home" on their first record), appeared in the set.

Until 1989, one of the most notable things about the band was that the drummers were women. Andrea Curtis, Hopkins' first wife, was also the band's first drummer. Though that marriage broke up in 1986, she stayed with the band for three years.

"I hate to say it," Hopkins says, "but the band was always bigger than the marriage." @rule:

@body:The Sidewinders' first record, ­Cuacha!, was released in 1988. ­Cuacha! (Latino slang for "shit") was the first album released on Hopkins' San Jacinto label. Although it was raw and the arrangements needed work, ­Cuacha! was better than most first records. The 1,000 LPs and 1,000 cassettes the band made up sold quickly. Today, some of these are advertised in the music collectors' tabloid Goldmine for as much as $30.

­Cuacha! also inaugurated the band's trip down the legal-managerial highway to hell.

Tucson-music wanna-be Bob Lambert convinced the band that he'd get them a record deal in exchange for its publishing rights. He fulfilled his end of the bargain by placing ­Cuacha! with a small label in England, Demon Records. When the band later signed a real record deal with Mammoth/RCA, a lawsuit erupted and was not settled until 1990. The band's publishing rights now reside with Ensign Records.

In March 1988, a month after ­Cuacha! came out, the band played a showcase at Austin, Texas' annual South by Southwest music festival. Jay Faires saw that set and quickly signed the band to his fledgling label, Mammoth Records. Within a month, Faires had a deal with RCA, and the band's first Mammoth/RCA album, Witchdoctor, was released in April 1989.

Witchdoctor is a classic example of why this band has always been a tick smarter than its competition.

Recorded in Tucson at the Sound Factory and at Westwood Studios and mixed in Los Angeles, Witchdoctor was completed (cover art included) for $3,000, a paltry sum considering that RCA released it without changing a thing. In contrast, RCA spent $60,000 on the video for the first single, "Witchdoctor." The key to making a major-label-ready album that cheaply is that both Hopkins and Slutes enjoy tinkering in the studio. Over the years, it's made their records better and saved them money in studio bills. Witchdoctor brought the band its first real success. The driving title cut, the rock ballad "Bad, Crazy Sun" and an unlikely electric cover of Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man" all began receiving airplay. Some markets, including Boston, became pockets of support. New drummer Diane Padilla added fresh energy. A glowing review made the cover of the College Music Journal (CMJ), and during the tour that followed, critics dripped hyberbole.

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