Long Journey Home

A trio of Valley vets goes for aride down that lonesome highway

As a 20-year veteran of the local music scene, Bruce Connole's life and career have taken so many twists and turns that they're almost impossible to keep track of. Connole's reputation is such that his movements generate interest from even casual music observers. Recently he's enjoyed a career rebirth of sorts fronting the neo-traditional country outfit the Revenants. It's really no surprise that Connole's latest project, the Pearl Chuckers, takes him further along the traditional path, this time playing banjo and fronting a bluegrass band.

"I started really getting very much into bluegrass, and I just wanted to work more and play more nights," says Connole. "You can't do that with a group that's mostly an original band that has got X amount of people in your fan base, which is a laughable term when you're talking about the Revenants."

Self-effacement aside, the Pearl Chuckers are a genuine labor of love for Connole, who is a relatively recent convert to bluegrass. "Until a couple years ago, as far as I knew, it was The Beverly Hillbillies, and that fucking band on Andy Griffith," says Connole with a laugh.

It was late Zia Records founder Brad Singer who opened Connole's ears to the possibilities the music had to offer. "He made me a tape, and it had two old Stanley Brothers songs on it," recalls Connole. "One of them was "The Drunkard's Lament,' which was darker and more haunting than Bauhaus, or any of the stuff I used to listen to and really enjoy.

"It was also authentic, which made it even more scary. It's like, "This is real. This is about real fucked-up people.' These aren't some kids that are mad at their parents and trying to scare them. Since then I've been hooked."

Listening and exploring the music even further, Connole found his writing becoming heavily influenced by the Appalachian and Anglo-Celtic traditions found in bluegrass. Having composed more than a dozen songs that seemed to lend themselves easily to the style, he began developing plans to showcase the material in a side project. Connole had the songs and a rough set list, including some covers, ready for close to a year. But it was the involvement of former Flathead bassist Ruth Wilson that finally convinced him to move ahead.

Wilson has split the last few years between the Valley and Los Angeles, where she frequently performed as a solo artist. She returned to Phoenix last year, where she began work on a seven-song demo, under the name Blue Ruin, with guitarist Mario Moreno and Flathead drummer Vince Ramierez. Her involvement with Connole began when the two discussed the possibility of her joining the proposed bluegrass ensemble at a fiddle festival in Payson last year.

"To be honest with you, I'm a bad chauvinist," says Connole with a sheepish grin. "I always have been. And I was thinking, "I don't know about a girl,' and so on. She was asking me about it, and one day she showed up at the house to rehearse. And it sounded great. Most of all, she was willing to work as long as I wanted, whether it was four, five or six hours."

Wilson's dedication cemented Connole's decision to finally go ahead with the long-rumored project. Adding his Revenants bandmate Richard Taylor on acoustic guitar, the Pearl Chuckers were born.

The group's original catalogue includes an impressive array of songs, like "The Shape I'm In" and "Lila's Lament," that infuse bluegrass's "high, lonesome" sound with Connole's unique brand of dark wit. ""Lila's Lament' used to be called "Hooker's Lament,' but I figured, "You know, I gotta ease up on the hooker thing,'" says Connole laughing.

While the group has no immediate plans to make its material available, a recording of "Lila's Lament" can be downloaded at the Revenants' official Web site (www.therevenants.com).

At this point, Connole says the group is more concerned with improving its cohesiveness as a unit than any potential commercial considerations. "Bluegrass is almost like reggae music. There's nothing to fall back on and nothing to hide behind. You either play really tight and really smooth or it just sounds like crap. So we're just drilling the rhythm right now."

The band eventually plans on incorporating some of Wilson's originals into the mix, in addition to the handful of covers she already performs.

For Connole, the music offers a profound sense of purity that seems forgotten in modern music. "You get a feeling with this stuff that the guys that wrote these songs weren't thinking, "Hey, we're going to be on MTV and get laid,'" says Connole. "It's something they did purely for fun and enjoyment. Whatever it is that makes human beings make music, it seems to be more pure in bluegrass than I hear in other places."

The Pearl Chuckers are scheduled to perform every Sunday in August at the Green Room in Tempe.

Ricky, Don't Lose Our Number: The transformation of once-great music mag Rolling Stone into a glossier version of Tiger Beat was completed with an August 5 issue that featured a garish cover shot of a linen-clad Ricky Martin floating in a pool, surrounded by half a dozen naked women with the blurb "Ricky Gets Deep." Newsstand versions of the magazine loudly proclaimed its offer of a "FREE RICKY POSTER INSIDE." Not to be outdone by competing publications like 16, the poster is a two-sided affair, the first reproducing the cover shot (in which Martin looks suspiciously uninterested in the bevy of naked beauties floating around him) as well as a second portrait of a bubbly, rain-drenched Martin, clad in silver lamé cargo pants and straddling a motorcycle (needless to say, it doesn't appear that Martin will be joining his local chapter of the Hells Angels anytime soon).

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