Hearts and Banjos

Valley rock 'n' roll vets Bruce Connole and Keith Jackson bond -- bluegrass style

Be sure to label the videotape with your name, complete address, area code/phone number and age. And here's the catch: You have but a week or so to do it, as entries must be received by August 10. Also, you must be 18 years or older to enter. However, if you are underage, you can apply with the permission of parent or guardian -- should they be so irresponsible as to encourage this kind of silly behavior.

Six Phoenix-area finalists will be notified by August 20 and those entrants must be able to appear and perform live at the Valley's Hard Rock Cafe on August 23. The Phoenix winner -- chosen by a select panel of experts, including yours truly -- will have the chance to win a trip to the world première of Rock Star in Los Angeles, a shopping spree from The Gap (always a enticing carrot to dangle), a diamond necklace and -- check this out -- a chance for a demo deal with Priority Records.

The Phoenix rep will go on to compete with 12 other national semi-finalists whose tapes will be judged by a committee in Burbank, California. Three of those tapes will then be picked for an online poll over Labor Day weekend at VH1.com. In addition, VH1 will air the tapes of the performances on the network that weekend. All 13 semifinalists will be flown to L.A. to attend the première with accommodations at the Hyatt on Sunset Strip. The grand-prize winner will be announced live at the première and will be expected to sing his/her rendition of the song at the afterparty. And, presumably, the prize package will include a chance to touch the exquisitely ripped abs of one Mr. Marky Mark.

Mark Wahlberg in Rock Star: Can you feel the 
heat comin' from his gun?
Mark Wahlberg in Rock Star: Can you feel the heat comin' from his gun?
Steel Pulse: One of Bob Marley's favorites.
Steel Pulse: One of Bob Marley's favorites.

Additional info on the contest can be found at www.phoenixnewtimes.com/rockstar.

Solid Steel: With few new acts on the reggae scene, fans have to rely on longtime faves, standbys such as Burning Spear, the Itals and Culture. Steel Pulse is also on that shortlist. After all, the group was often cited as one of Bob Marley's favorites. Ironically, though, Steel Pulse didn't hail from Marley's Kingston tenement yards. Instead, it emerged from the row houses and tower flats of Birmingham, which, after London, is England's largest and most diverse city.

At first shunned by conservative Afro-Caribbean club owners in England because of its Rastafarianism, the band enlisted in the Rock Against Racism campaign and played alongside punk acts like the Stranglers and XTC. Despite a shaky start, Steel Pulse eventually was accepted by punks and nonpunks alike, and it wasn't long before Island/Mango Records came knocking. The band's debut, Handsworth Revolution, mixed Rastafarian folklore with politically driven material ("Ku Klux Klan"). Follow-ups were more dance-friendly yet no less intense. Relying on sly harmonies and disciplined rhythms, tracks like 1979's "Tribute to the Martyrs" and "Sound System" blended messages of racial oppression with funky grooves.

Despite winning a Grammy in 1986 (for Babylon the Bandit), Steel Pulse entered a period of turmoil. Elektra, the band's label at the time, wanted these reggae warriors to be the next Eddie Grant, and indeed by the early '90s their edge had been dulled. However, 1994's Vex was hailed as a return to form by critics in England and the States.

These days the band's mainstays include principal songwriter David Hinds, keyboardist Selwyn "Bumbo" Brown and drummer Steve "Grizzly" Nisbett. More than likely with it's upcoming Valley show the trio will explore its early hits rather than its more recent material. If that's the case, expect a history lesson of sorts.

Steel Pulse is scheduled to perform on Sunday, August 5, at the Cajun House in Scottsdale. Showtime is 7:30 p.m.

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