Cuacha Doin'

With the rerelease of their 1988 debut, the Sand Rubies finally seem ready to start making music again

If he was looking for a sign, Hopkins found it during one of his visits home to Tucson, where by the late '70s a full-fledged musical revolution was taking place -- one that would irrevocably change the history of Arizona rock 'n' roll. In 1979, punk came to the Old Pueblo in the form of a bar, Pearl's Hurricane, and a band, the Pedestrians.

The Peds were a raw collection of fledgling talents, led by future notables Chris Cacavas, Jon Venet, Billy Sedylmayr and Hopkins' childhood friend Dave Seger. Although the band only lasted a year, the group single-handedly altered the city's musical landscape and ultimately yielded the founders of some of its most well-known outfits -- Giant Sand, Green on Red and Naked Prey.

Hopkins' San Jacinto Records recently released an extraordinary archival album, a live recording of the Pedestrians' July 1979 debut at Pearl's. Culled from a lo-fi cassette, the disc features a mix of covers (ranging from the Ramones, Talking Heads and Elvis Costello) to a clutch of evocative originals.

Still together after all these years: The Sand Rubies, David Slutes (left) and Rich Hopkins.
Kristin Giordano
Still together after all these years: The Sand Rubies, David Slutes (left) and Rich Hopkins.
The Cuacha-era version of the Sidewinders, onstage at Club Congress during Christmas '87.
The Cuacha-era version of the Sidewinders, onstage at Club Congress during Christmas '87.


Scheduled to perform on Friday, May 18, with Tom Gillam at Long Wong's in Tempe. The band will also perform on Saturday, May 19, at the Sail Inn in Tempe, with Mojo Farmers. Showtime for both is 9 p.m.

Watching this group of local kids kick-start a mini-revolt with nothing but three chords and a bit of attitude would have a dramatic effect on Hopkins. "Seeing the [Pedestrians], I knew that rock 'n' roll was what I was going to do," he says.

Again, that dream would have to wait as Hopkins decided to sign up with the Peace Corps, spending the next two and a half years in Paraguay. Just before leaving -- and in what would be one of his first forays into the business end of music -- Hopkins gave his friend Chris Cacavas $1,200 (part of an inheritance his grandmother had left him) to finance the first demo by the Serfers, who would later morph into Green on Red; GOR would be signed by Slash Records some 18 months later.

When Hopkins returned from his South American sojourn in 1983, he settled back in Tucson and enrolled in the graduate agronomy program at UofA, in an effort to please his ever-demanding father. It was during this period that he met and eventually married Andrea Curtis. Curtis was, as Hopkins puts it, "a crazy musician type," who played drums for local oddball rockers the Phantom Limbs. In late '84 Curtis drifted out of the Limbs and into a new group that was searching for a rhythm guitarist.

"One day she said, 'Why don't you come down and play with us?'" recalls Hopkins. "She knew I played guitar a little, but it was a personal thing, just kind of around the house. So I borrowed Dave Seger's Stratocaster and his amp and went down. And after the first day I knew I was the leader of the band."

The headstrong Hopkins took control of the group, then dubbed the 700 Club. While that band would never play publicly, its lineup continued to revolve until Hopkins and Curtis were the only ones remaining.

Undeterred, Hopkins quickly found a few new members, including singer (and subsequently successful graphic artist) Roger Alan. In the spring of '85, Hopkins booked the band -- now dubbed the Sidewinders -- its first gig at Jack's bar opening for Naked Prey. The group had also begun recording.

In April they found themselves working with a local acquaintance -- an amateur engineer and fresh-faced former Catholic schoolboy with a four-track studio. Hopkins and company went in and laid down the music to the band's first composition, with Alan set to deliver his part the following week. But with the recording and gig rapidly approaching, Alan suddenly got cold feet and bailed on the band at the last minute, leaving them in the lurch for both the show and the session.

Frustrated, Hopkins was pondering his options when he decided to pay a visit to the studio of his engineer friend.

"I went over there and he was being kind of sheepish, but he pulled out this tape and said, 'Here, listen to what I did.' So I put it on and it was our song -- but he'd written new lyrics to it and sung on the track himself."

Although he was clearly taken with the cheekiness of the act itself, Hopkins was even more enamored of the completed track, a love-gone-bad anthem called "I Shoulda Told You," featuring the frenzied, frenetic growls of this enterprising singer.

"When I heard that little demo, man, it just seemed right. And that," intones Hopkins dramatically, "was the first song Dave Slutes and I ever wrote together."

David Slutes is onstage and he's bleeding -- just one of the perils of shaving in between sets.

It's May 4, and Tucson's venerable Club Congress is teeming with bodies. A festive air permeates the proceedings, as 700 or so revelers are in the midst of a pre-Cinco de Mayo celebration with the Zsa Zsas.

Formed in the early '90s, the Slutes-led Zsa Zsas have become a holiday tradition in town. Ostensibly a cover band (or, as Slutes prefers to call them, "the anti-cover band"), the Zsa Zsas are also a Tucson supergroup of sorts, featuring members of the River Roses, Creosote, Topless Opry and other local notables.

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