Under His Spell Again

A Buck Owens tribute turns into a celebration of the local music scene

"That was fucking insane."

When all was said and done at last Wednesday's Buck Owens birthday salute, that succinct verdict from Flathead bassist Kevin Daly was probably the assessment that best captured the tenor of the evening. Standing in a corner and looking resplendent in a Nudie-style suit and silver sparkle Western tie, Daly could do little more than shake his head at the events that had transpired earlier. Even longtime local veterans like Daly hadn't seen the kind of outpouring of support and excitement that the Owens tribute generated.

Amid the glare of lights from a TV news crew, a capacity crowd gathered inside Tempe's Balboa Cafe for a two-and-a-half-hour show that turned out to be as much a celebration of local music as a salute to Owens.

The Revenants' Bruce Connole (left) and Flathead's Greg Swanholm jam as Buck looks on.
Paolo Vescia
The Revenants' Bruce Connole (left) and Flathead's Greg Swanholm jam as Buck looks on.
Artist of the decade: Alejandro Escovedo.
Artist of the decade: Alejandro Escovedo.

Peacemakers front man Roger Clyne proved himself a capable country singer with spirited run-throughs of "Tiger by the Tail" and "Streets of Bakersfield." A Grievous Angels reunion was thwarted by the absence of singer Russ Sepulveda, who missed Dan Henzerling's tasteful work on "Think of Me" and "Waitin' in Your Welfare Line." And Flathead's Greg Swanholm was solid throughout what he described as the "shuffle portion" of the show.

The performance of the core band -- featuring guitarists Swanholm, Steve Larson and Jim Beach, bassists Daly and organizer Danny White, and drummers Jesse Navarro and Vince Ramirez -- was inspiring throughout. But the real highlight came, as expected, with the dueling steel guitars of John Rickard and Jon Rauhouse. Rickard (a transplanted Pennsylvanian who performs with west Phoenix country act Haywire) wowed even the music-savvy members of the crowd with the Dobro sounds he wrung from his specially wired setup. The interplay between the two men of steel was worth the price of admission alone.

The most harried moment was the sight of Revenants front man Bruce Connole racing directly from the entrance to the stage to take his place leading a rendition of Owens' signature instrumental "Buckaroo." Connole's mini-set, which included his evocative take on "Close Up the Honky Tonks," was the most memorable chunk of music in a night full of them.

The show ended with the surprise appearance of BR5-49's Chuck Mead and "Smilin'" Jay McDowell. The Nashville retro twangers were in town opening for Brian Setzer, who played to a packed house earlier in the evening at the Celebrity Theatre. Mead and McDowell capped the festivities with a raucous reading of "Playboy" (from Owens' 1964 album I Don't Care) and the Dave Dudley gear-jamming standard "Six Days on the Road."

By the time the festivities were over, you could feel a genuine spirit of community and comradeship -- something that's been missing in the local music scene since the label suits started showing up on Mill Avenue nearly a decade ago. The event proved to be enough of a success that another tribute has been slated for September 14. The forthcoming show will be a dual salute to two of country music's most talented and self-destructive figures -- George Jones and Hank Williams. Many of the same participants are expected to be involved.

What's Up, Drummer? Haggis drummer Scott McDonald is officially leaving the group. Reportedly off to pursue "personal interests," McDonald's last show will take place this weekend at Boston's in Tempe, where the pop-rock quartet is scheduled to perform with Big Shot Allstar.

Longtime band friend and fill-in drummer Jack Obregon (a former member of Sledville and Brick Chair) will officially take his seat behind the kit with a September 4 show at Mustang Sally's, which will be a power-pop double bill also featuring Sugar-High.

The announcement comes just days after the group opened the Gas Giants CD-release party at Alice Cooper'stown with a spirited set that ended with an onstage free-for-all cover of Cheap Trick's "Surrender."

The band has apparently resolved the drumming situation just in time, as it is only weeks away from the release of its second CD, Piper Down. Although there are a couple of possible indie deals in the works, the band members say they plan to go ahead and release the disc themselves and "see what unfolds."

Wherefore Art Thou, Windigo? Local metal monsters Windigo are going on a two-month hiatus. Group front man Matt Strangeways says he's leaving the Valley for several weeks to visit family members in New York. It's the first extended break for the group, which formed more than five years ago. One of the leading lights in the contemporary Valley metal scene, Windigo has earned back-to-back New Times music awards in the Hard Rock/Metal category. Strangeways says he plans to use the time off to "work on some new songs and generally take a deep breath." He adds that the group plans on resuming its live performances sometime in November. Windigo will make one more local appearance before the break; the group is scheduled to perform an all-ages show at the Bash on Ash Friday, August 20, along with BLESSEDBETHYNAME.

Hot Freaks: Secret Fox, the Valley's (and the nation's, for that matter) only Guided by Voices cover band, will be making a rare appearance at Boston's this Sunday, August 22, opening for Death Takes a Holiday. The one and only GBV released its Ric Ocasek-produced TVT debut Do the Collapse to somewhat mixed reviews earlier this month (check out the September 2 edition of New Times for an interview and feature on the group).

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