By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
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By Roger Calamaio
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By Brian Palmer
Some play for the sake of art, others to become famous, while many play just to pay the rent. Increasingly, groups that perform for the simple joy of making music are in the minority. The harsh reality of daily life as a working musician in Phoenix doesn't usually offer the luxury of such a choice. While the members of Tempe roots-rock outfit Los Guys are no different in that respect, they are trying to bring back, or at least capture, the feeling that made them pursue their muse in the first place.
Originally formed in 1994, the group is fronted by Pistoleros guitarist Mark Zubia and features a talented cast of local stalwarts. The band initially came about when Zubia, bassist Paul "P.C." Cardone and drummer Mike Kellems of Satellite were spending a leisurely Sunday drinking together when they were unexpectedly called upon to perform.
"We were at Long Wong's drinking--day-drunk--when the band that was supposed to open for Satellite canceled," recalls Zubia. "Mike, P.C. and I had jammed together on a couple of songs before. They knew some of the Live Nudes stuff [Zubia's pre-Pistoleros project] and some of the originals as well as a bunch of fuck-off covers so we said, 'Let's just do it.'"
Adding Zubia's former Live Nudes bandmate Greg Simmons on guitar (and later Pistoleros drummer Gary Smith), the group began making its Sunday outing a regular happening. The band--then still nameless--played the slot for close to two years before Zubia left to record the Pistoleros' major-label debut for Hollywood Records. A year of inactivity followed before the group, then occasionally billed as Zubia Cousins, started back up in late '97.
"We didn't practice. Obviously we don't practice," says Zubia with a laugh. "We practice onstage, but after all this time playing together, we have more than two hours' worth of material," says Zubia. The looseness is a large part of their appeal. Whether the group is vamping on blues covers, playing originals or digging out some rarely heard local chestnuts, Los Guys are never anything less than entertaining, and, for all its ramshackle nature, the band's onstage enthusiasm can be infectious.
"We're all friends, so it's an opportunity for all of us to get together, have some drinks and just play," says Cardone.
But beyond the boozy fun lies an accomplished sense of musicianship. Clearly the most dynamic element of the group is the guitar playing of Simmons. Simmons (a former member of the Slims and founder of the Regulars) is currently in the process of putting together a new group and has just completed work mixing several songs for a possible solo album.
With Simmons' band situation in a state of flux, Los Guys has given him a stage to showcase his genuinely dazzling fretwork. "He's a magical man, one of those guys who was born to play that damn guitar," says Cardone. "In the early days, when he was in Live Nudes, he was painfully shy. Now he's really come out of his shell, so to speak," says Cardone.
For Zubia (currently in preproduction on a new Pistoleros record), the group offers him the opportunity to dust off some long-forgotten songs from the local music catalogue. "We do some Live Nudes songs. We play some things that my brother (Pistoleros front man Lawrence Zubia) wrote years ago that no band ever did, like 'She's Gone.' And we also do things like 'Spark'--a song that [former Gin Blossoms guitarist] Jesse Valenzuela and [former Feedbags front man] Jim Swafford wrote."
In addition to the rarely heard local numbers, the group indulges on a choice selection of country and blues tinged covers ranging from "Slippin' and Slidin'" and "Faded Love" to "Dead Flowers." "I started in that more bluesy vein as far as what I gravitated towards and what I learned. 'Cause I was a Rolling Stones guy as opposed to a Beatles guy. In a way this is where we all came from--I guess where all musicians come from, really."
For Cardone the group represents an opportunity to make music outside the confines of a "serious" band. "It's never been fully functional or fully dysfunctional either. We've found that we keep it fun by not making it a business and totally serious," says Cardone. "We're serious about playing, but it's just so much easier than the normal band thing. We're just friends that love to play together so there's no drama."
Some of the drama that Cardone refers to recently hit the normally stable Satellite, as rampant breakup rumors surfaced after the group had what Cardone characterizes as a "really big fight." Instead of calling it quits, the band (which already had planned to take a break during August) decided to take the rest of the summer off and let things cool down. Cardone says they plan on getting together at some point in late August, and he's optimistic about the prospects of the group resuming after the "trial separation."
In the meantime, Los Guys continues to perform regularly with a Sunday night slot at Long Wong's, and a Wednesday night residency at the Yucca Tap Room. "We just want to keep on playing gigs that don't interfere with our main projects," says Zubia. "But I don't see us going out to showcase in L.A. anytime soon."