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Maybe it was some need to exorcise the past that sent Roger Clyne and P.H. Naffah hiking through the desert this summer.
Clyne, the singer and primary songwriter of The Refreshments, and Naffah, the band's drummer, had just decided to pull the plug on the group that had brought them more success than they had ever imagined. In the wake of this upheaval, for reasons even they probably couldn't explain, these two old friends headed out from Clyne's grandmother's ranch in Santa Cruz County on what was supposed to be a 40-day odyssey from one watering hole to the next.
Their enthusiasm--and their feet--gave out after 17 days, but not before they stumbled across a luminous omen. When they arrived in Benson, they sauntered into the first bar they could find and were thrilled with what they discovered. Clyne says, "It had the greatest jukebox I'd ever seen." The juke was loaded with all the essentials--Hank Sr., Willie, Waylon, Merle, Steve Earle--and some surprisingly arcane fare, like one of Clyne's current faves, the rootsy Nashville band The V-Roys.
For Clyne, who had already begun the daunting task of writing new material without having The Refreshments there to play it, it all made sense. His twangy new songs seemed to reflect his longtime love for storytelling cowboy ballads and vintage honky-tonk, and he couldn't help but feel that this jukebox was there for a reason: to assure him that his musical weather vane was on the money.
All in all, Clyne had a busy summer. He got married, he closed the chapter on one of the biggest bands to ever come out of Arizona, and he went on the brutal desert hike. But, for longtime fans of his good naturedly smart-ass muse, the most important development is that he began to refocus on writing and performing in a post-Refreshments world. At first, his shows took the shape of low-key, acoustic happy hours at Long Wong's and Four Peaks. Then Naffah started joining in, soon followed by other friends like guitarist Scotty Johnson of the Gin Blossoms and Low/Watts and guitarist/vocalist James Swafford.
So now Clyne is ready to present his new band, The Peacemakers, to the Valley. There's only one problem: He's not quite sure who's in it. Naffah's definitely a member ("He's always got my back," Clyne says), but the rest of the band is a free-floating cast that will vary from gig to gig. It's kind of a conceptual band, almost like the Plastic Ono Band or the Golden Palominos, in that the sensibility is wide enough to accommodate the various playing styles of different sidemen.
The most frequent accomplices will probably be Johnson and Low/Watts bassist Darryl Icard. Both of them are all over an eight-song demo of Clyne's new material recorded in Naffah's tiny Tempe home studio (dubbed the Submarine, it does convey a bit of that dark, deep-sea claustrophobia). Although the Low/Watts currently are not playing gigs, and leader Jesse Valenzuela has little interest in ever touring with the band, they remain an ongoing recording project. As a result, Clyne knows that Johnson and Icard won't always be available for him, and he's comfortable with the idea of having different Peacemakers come into the picture. But he admits that the uncertainty creates the occasional tense moment.
"It can be a little nerve-racking, 'cause it's hard to make a long-term plan when you don't know who's gonna be your players," he says. "But it's just sort of a risk you take when you borrow players. P.H. and I are still a little bit shy about putting permanent members in after the way the last band dissolved."
That last band, The Refreshments, dissolved shortly after a Cinco de Mayo gig in which Clyne broke his ribs falling off a monitor on the penultimate song. At the time, the band planned to take a sabbatical and sort out its problems, which included bassist Buddy Edwards' dwindling enthusiasm for the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, and guitarist Brian Blush's problems with chemical addiction. Clyne remains loyal to The Refreshments' legacy, and is reluctant to criticize Blush. He merely says of the band's difficulties, "We tried to solve them, but it just didn't come together."
After Edwards decided to quit in June, Clyne and Naffah made the tough decision to fire Blush. They could have pulled a Chrissie Hynde and kept The Refreshments moniker with a different lineup, but Clyne felt uneasy about it.
"A lot of people said that I should keep the name because it has momentum, and a good reputation, in certain circles," he says. "But it was really a unique thing to be playing with Brian, Buddy, and P.H. and me. I was fortunate to have those other three guys helping me out with the songs. Even though I'll continue playing the songs, they won't be the same. So I figured I would just honor what we had and what we did by putting it to bed."
Clyne's new songs are a bit twangier, but they're likely to please his old fans. The country ballad "My Heart Is a U.F.O." is as catchy and clever as anything in his catalog, and "City Girls" has a relaxed groove well suited to Johnson's understated fills. So as the band embarks on a spate of activity (with a midnight Sunday, October 18, in-studio guest spot on Leah Miller's KZON show, and gigs on Friday, October 23, at Gibson's and Wednesday, October 28, at the Rockin' Horse), the only question is who's actually going to turn up onstage.