Danger Zone

Trio of Valley vets proves to be the Wild Bunch of local music

For his part, Daly notes that the band's onstage enthusiasm was always there, but the inertia for more recent shows has been coming from its ever rowdy and growing audience -- an eclectic cross-current of local-music diehards, rock culturists and regular folks looking for an excuse to act wild.

"We've always been a little crazy. The very first gig we were kicking the monitor back and forth," he says with a laugh. "It used to be that we fucked shit up, but now it's more like the crowd fucks shit up."

Asked for his opinion on the often combustible dynamic of the group's audience, Merriman pipes up: "What the fuck do I know? I black out at half the shows!"

Satan rules. Here's proof: Grave Danger, from left, Rich Merriman, Kevin Daly and Vince Ramirez.
H.D. Duke
Satan rules. Here's proof: Grave Danger, from left, Rich Merriman, Kevin Daly and Vince Ramirez.

Turning serious, he adds, "The one thing I like about our audience -- and this comes from my background in security, probably -- is that everybody's having fun. For all the ruckus, there hasn't been a single fight at one of our shows. And that's important, for people to have fun."

Whatever chaos erupts around the band, you're sure to find Daly somewhere in the middle of it. A 20-plus-year veteran of the local scene and numerous outfits -- including the Hoods, Grant and the Geezers, and Hellfire -- the silver-coifed front man seems to have finally found the right personal and creative combination with Merriman and Ramirez.

"These guys have played everything and can play anything," effuses Daly. Grave Danger's rhythm players share a remarkably similar pedigree, as both came up dedicated students of rock, metal, country and even ethnic music; Ramirez played in a series of Mexican punk bands in Kansas, while Merriman did time with Valley Irish combo the Keltic Cowboys.

"That's the thing about playing with Vince and Rich. Where these guys are coming from, they know what to do with the songs. They go for the throat," says Daly. "And with my songs, this kind of music, that's the only way to do it."

The bulk of the group's early material was the product of a number of Daly side projects (Apocalypso, Poontwang) as well as Trophy Husbands, the roadhouse/honky-tonk collective Daly also co-fronts with Nitpicker Dave Insley, and which released its debut Dark and Bloody Ground last month. More recently, Daly has penned a batch of new material specifically tailored to the well-defined Grave Danger aesthetic.

The group's forthcoming disc -- produced by Daly and Jeff Farias and released as part of a joint venture between Truxton and Rustic Records -- is a fairly accurate, if somewhat subdued, representation of the group's manic live sets.

The album filters a mix of rapier-sharp instrumentals (including a cover of the Ventures' "Running Strong") with original vocal pieces like the vaguely necrophilic "Mad": "When I hold you in my arms, you never speak, baby/That's because you been dead for a week, baby!/You drove me mad, mad, mad . . . /And I'm sad, I had to kill you baby!"

One cut that isn't on the album, but stands as the group's signature song, is "Piss on Your Grave." A plodding, menacing number delivered with the wild-eyed camp sincerity of the Cramps or Screamin' Jay Hawkins, it's become the quintessential Grave Danger booze 'n' blood anthem: "I dug a great big hole outside/About an hour before you died/Well, I been drinkin' all day/So I can piss on your grave."

While much of the imagery found in the songs is cartoonish -- especially the band's tongue-in-cheek allegiance to Satan -- there is a strong undercurrent of cleverness in the writing. A deeper inspection shows how much of the material is buoyed by Daly's own mordant wit and peculiar worldview. Ultimately, the record, like the band, is juvenile, outlandish, reactionary and coarse -- all the things good rock 'n' roll should be.

Further defining its identity will be the next Grave Danger long-player, for which some five songs have already been recorded. Among the cuts set to be included will be live staples like "Tiki Torture," "Here Kitty" and "I Got Your Number."

Another factor in the group's surging popularity has been its ability to transcend genre tags. Whether it's the farfisa rave-up of "Shut Down," the jump 'n' jive of "Gone" or the noir psychosis of "Vampire Black," the group's sound resists simple categorization.

While the music is chiefly a surf-rawk hybrid, the clever writerly touches and story songs have secured the loyalty of the country and rockabilly crowds, while the band's imagery has earned it a rabid punk following, even winning honors as Best Punk Band from the Tribune's Get Out.

The group's midterm plans are to pool the resources of various supporters -- Insley, Ramsey, etc. -- and begin touring regionally while distributing the disc nationally. In November, Grave Danger will embark on a West Coast jaunt, part of a revolving package with the Trophy Husbands.

More pressing are the dual CD release parties, the first of which will take place in Phoenix at the Emerald Lounge. The second will happen closer to the band's East Valley home base at Long Wong's on Mill.

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