So you want to be a Rock 'n' Roll Star

Robin Wilson thought the Gas Giants would be a great new beginning. He had no idea what he was getting into.

It was at Tower that Wilson met Dan Henzerling, a fellow clerk and musician.

One day, remembers Wilson, "he was walking down one of the aisles in the store and I was walking the other way and we both had on identical white blazers -- the kind Don Johnson used to wear in Miami Vice -- and Dan and I stopped and stared at each other for about three seconds, and then just started laughing. From that point on, we were friends."

The two quickly realized that they shared much more than just a taste for pastels and sockless loafers. They also shared a deep desire to make rock 'n' roll a part of their lives. Henzerling was already a competent drummer, just learning to play guitar. They spent hours after work exploring their mutual interest. "Dan and I used to take our guitars to the park and we'd bring a 12-pack of beer and sit there all night long singing Beatles songs."

Wilson on the Gin Blossoms: "There was a weight on all of us."
Cyndi Bertagni
Wilson on the Gin Blossoms: "There was a weight on all of us."
The Gin Blossoms during their 1996 appearance on Saturday Night Live. Rhodes (third from left) with Wilson (center) and host Phil Hartman.
The Gin Blossoms during their 1996 appearance on Saturday Night Live. Rhodes (third from left) with Wilson (center) and host Phil Hartman.

They would also work on Wilson's original material, most of which was inevitably sweet-sounding love songs or doe-eyed pop. "I was much more prolific then. I didn't realize how bad each song was, so I just kept writing," recalls Wilson with a laugh.

Although Wilson had been writing and playing for several years, his musical experience was pretty much limited to his all-night beer and busking sessions with Henzerling, or the occasional open-mike night.

It was at Tower that Wilson also met Brian Scott, another clerk who would become a close friend. Like Wilson and Henzerling, Scott, a bassist, had his own musical aspirations. It wasn't long before the three of them began discussing the possibility of forming a band -- a band, it turns out, that would be another decade in the making.

By 1986, Phoenix's music scene was going through a dramatic upheaval. The once-burgeoning punk scene of the late '70s and early '80s had all but disappeared, along with hospitable venues like Madison Square Gardens. The local roots movement was alive and well, thanks to psychobilly acts like Hellfire and the Varmits who had managed to carve out their own quiet corner. But even the most popular local rock band, the Meat Puppets, was appreciated much more outside of its Phoenix home base than in it.

Blues and country music still dominated, even in Tempe, where it seemed logic -- and a massive population of students -- would dictate that a rock 'n' roll culture emerge. It would still be a few years before the right combination of bands and clubs would make that possible and make Mill Avenue a hub for live rock 'n' roll.

In the meantime, Wilson's fire for performing was being stoked by the success of some of his former high school peers. One of the most influential Tempe groups was the Psalms, an outfit formed by guitarist Doug Hopkins and a trio of other McClintock alums including Bill Leen. The Psalms single "A Story I Was Told" (b/w "Christmas Island"), and its full-length release No Great Cathedral proved to Wilson that his dream of making records was not out of reach.

But by 1987, Wilson hadn't been able to get his musical career started. The group that he, Henzerling and Scott had been discussing seemed little more than a pipe dream. In the spring, Henzerling left Tempe for the East Coast where he had a job waiting for him at a Tower store in Boston. Wilson joined Scott at Zia Record Exchange.

Wilson had become increasingly disillusioned with the prospect of ever starting a band. Frustrated with what seemed to be the unbearably difficult process of becoming like the rock heroes of his youth, Wilson decided to give up any attempt at playing music. One night, he announced the decision to his roommates, among them Dave Swafford (who would later go on to play bass with Tempe's Feedbags and achieve success with Seattle power-poppers the Best Kissers in the World).

"I said, 'I'm giving up. I'm not even going to try and be in a band. I'm just going to go to college. I really love science and what I'm learning about, and I'm going to forget about music. To heck with it. I'm not even going to bother.'"

Then, Swafford made a comment that Wilson says stopped him from abandoning music forever. "He said, 'So, you're going to be one of those college guys who's got a guitar in his bedroom who's never been in a band.' And I remember how I just shrank when he said that. I was humiliated. I'm like, 'Well, I'll show him.' And that's when the Gin Blossoms came along."

If you didn't know Dan Henzerling was a musician, you might mistake him for a slightly bohemian college professor or a coffee-house misanthrope. An immediately affable character, Henzerling's friendly face is hidden behind wire-rimmed glasses and a goatee. His shoulder-length coif is peppered with wisps of gray.

An accomplished and versatile musician, Henzerling has spent the past six years playing guitar with the Grievous Angels, a local twang outfit that's achieved a modicum of success on the alternative country circuit. In his heart, though, Henzerling is a rocker. Weaned on the pop and rock of the '70s and '80s, he has waited a lifetime for a chance at rock 'n' roll glory.

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