Green Buds

The three men of Fred Green on funk, friendship and the real story behind "Utah Marshal"

Breakfast, Fred Green style: "Take a whole bag--stem, buds, seeds, everything--and cook it with a block of butter until it all burns down. Then you put the butter in the freezer and later, when you spread the butter on a piece of toast, you don't waste any of the goods."

Bass player Ben Gilley is sharing his recipe on a sweltering September afternoon inside a neighborhood pub in Old Town Tempe. The other two members of the aggressive, psychedelic funk trio Fred Green have been daydreaming, but at the mention of pot toast, singer/drummer Chris Peeler dutifully tunes back in to the conversation. With his platinum, spiked hair and goatee, he looks like a bleached-blond devil.

"It's medicinal," Peeler says, picking up where Gilley trailed off. "And it's just our favorite thing. We usually smoke and write. As a matter of fact, we just wrote a song yesterday and played it last night at the Sail Inn."

"What's it called?"
"'Dope.'"
For a band whose name is a euphemism for marijuana, it's not surprising that most of the songs on Fred Green's recent self-released debut, Dilly Wagon, are about getting stoned. "Smokin' Function" is a bass-heavy funk tune about pot-induced hallucinations, for example, and the jazz-flavored "Fred" explores the many advantages of daily weed consumption. "Pot is a creative influence," says Gilley, a towering musician with wild, dark locks. "It puts you at the center of your creativity."

But not just any shrub will do. "The 'kind' bud, stuff from Oregon or Washington, is very good," Gilley explains. "You don't want to be writing music on 'schwag.' It's like smoking alfalfa or hay."

Of course, all pot is equal in the eyes of the law, as Fred Green discovered the hard way in February. The band--which also includes guitarist Todd Minnix--shared a bill with the Los Angeles outfit the Infidels at the Brian Head ski resort in Utah. "Someone had given us two small joints after the show. So we were all sitting around [in the Infidels' room] smoking and stuff, when someone knocked on the door and said, 'Hey, man, open up--it's us!' So we were like, 'Cool.' We open the door and it's a Utah marshal. They'd heard us singing about dope and we got popped."

We now quote from a police report written by Marshal Carpenter of the Brian Head Police Department:

"On 2/4/96 at 01.30 hours, hotel security officers were on routine business checks. Security officers noticed the odor of marijuana coming from one of the rooms. Upon knocking on the door, I was greeted by [a band member], who had the distinct odor of marijuana coming from his person as well as the room in which he occupied. I then asked to enter the room due to the fact that there was the fresh odor of marijuana smoke present.

"Reporting officer then obtained 21U2 marijuana cigarettes, which were placed into evidence. One of the marijuana cigarettes had been freshly burned."

Gilley, Minnix and Peeler were charged with possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor in Utah. They eventually pleaded guilty, and each paid a $370 fine. Gilley says that not long after the bust, the three of them gobbled some magic mushrooms and penned "Utah Marshal," a tribute that appears on the new album.

Listening to Dilly Wagon, it's hard to imagine Fred Green staying bummed about anything--even a thorny brush with the law--for long. The disc, which has sold more than 1,000 copies in the Valley, is a euphoric blend of Primus and Alice in Chains stylings, framed in fluid, funky beats--what the band calls "stinkasmokafunkagrooverama."

"Our stuff is never heavy or negative," says Gilley, a graduate of Plaidstone, a heavy funk troupe that split for Oregon when Gilley quit. "That's part of our small, tiny success. We've got a superpositive vibe."

The band formed last spring when Gilley, who was on the outs with Plaidstone, visited the Tempe club Boston's to check out an acoustic jam session. "I'm sitting at the bar and I see these two guys get up onstage and play a Stevie Ray Vaughan cover, and they're just tearing it up, with harmonies, tambourine, the whole bit," he recalls. Gilley gave the pair his number, and three days later the three were in a friend's home studio writing songs.

Peeler and Minnix had recently relocated from Pennsylvania, where they covered rock tunes in a band called Wisstle Bisket as Peeler earned a degree in percussion and voice from Wilkes College. Gilley, a self-taught musician from rural Oregon, says meeting Minnix and Peeler was like coming together with his "musical soul mates."

These days, Gilley, Minnix and Peeler are bonded by a common tribal tattoo, a management deal that keeps them in gigs and out of day jobs, and a shared willingness to play more often than most people change their underwear. "Most bands are afraid to play too much," says Minnix, a single shock of black hair cascading from his otherwise bald head. "We'll play anytime, anywhere."

Fred Green has performed throughout much of the West Coast and often plays in Seattle with local funk favorites Silly Rabbit. The band recently returned from its "Spred the Fred Tour '96," which took it through 26 cities for 33 shows in just six weeks.

"It's really cool on the road 'cause you have total freedom," says Gilley (well, except for the freedom to hotbox a hotel room without stuffing a towel in the door crack). "In some states like Montana or Idaho that you'd think would be really boring, we've met great people who set us up at their houses and buy us beer."

Minnix: "Fortunately, Chris doesn't like to drink, so we don't ever lose, like, the beat."

"Who drives the van?"
Gilley: "Whoever's sober."

It's two weeks after the September interview, and Fred Green is headlining a show at Rafters, playing a song called "The Kind." The first track on Dilly Wagon, "Kind" is delightfully schizophrenic, whiplashing back and forth between a deep, mellow groove and blazing bass breaks. Gilley flutters his fingers over his fretboard overhand-style, nailing each note in the rapid-fire bursts. The crowd is right with them--swaying for the grooves, jumping up and down during the fireworks.

The devotion of Fred Green fans is unparalleled among the followings of other Valley bands. They rarely miss a show, and customarily supply the band with gifts, whether it's a hug, says Gilley, or a "to-go bag."

An after-party at Gilley's Tempe pad following the Rafters show finds Urian--Fred Green Superfan--draped across a couch in the living room. Scores of blissed-out Fred Heads float past with bejeweled body parts and intricate skin art. "Tom the Dancing Bug invades your body and keeps out the chocolate bunnies from hell," Urian tells a reporter by way of introduction. His pupils look like hockey pucks.

A current of bodies moves toward Gilley's bedroom, and Urian flows with it. Inside, a solitary green bulb keeps the newcomers from tripping over the bodies on the floor, where white kittens prance from lap to lap. "General contractors will pay you to dress like ancient Egyptians and ride on Eurasian buffalo," murmurs Urian. "They'll drag their tail in your soup and lay their penis in your sandwich."

It could be time for Urian to disqualify himself from the bongathon.
Outside on the front lawn, dozens of young Fred Green fans hold intense conversations. Gilley stands among them, answering questions.

"Hey, Ben, who the hell is Fred, anyway?"
Without hesitating, Gilley spirals off an answer. "Fred could be a bud, a planet, a person's mind, or even a person, that you take into your soul." He pauses. "It's like a drug. There are so many ways to cook it."

Fred Green is scheduled to perform on Saturday, October 12, at Boston's in Tempe; on Friday, October 18, at Gibson's in Tempe, with Silly Rabbit; and on Saturday, October 26, at Club Rio in Tempe. Call for showtimes.

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