Hearts and Banjos

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

When bluegrass combo Busted Heart takes the stage for the first time, the numbers will be staggering: Nine decades of musical experience, dozens of storied bands, tons of tattoos and more old junkie stories than you can shake a needle at.

Fronting the new group is local legend, ex-hellraiser and current Revenants leader Bruce Connole. This is Connole's second such endeavor; many will recall that the singer spent much of '99 and 2000 gigging with now-defunct high lonesome combo the Pearl Chuckers.

Every Sunday, starting next week, Connole will lead Busted Heart through an all-night set at Long Wong's on Mill Avenue. In a curious twist, the group pairs Connole with an unlikely co-conspirator, Glass Heroes/Beat Angels guitarist Keith Jackson.

Jackson -- himself a rough-and-tumble character who normally plays power punk through a wall of Marshall stacks -- has a bit of bluegrass in his blood. His uncle, Billy Powell, performed with Flatt & Scruggs throughout the 1960s, even turning up on the duo's famed Beverly Hillbillies appearances.

"It's weird," says Jackson. "I grew up around this stuff. Actually, the first instrument I learned was the banjo."

In Busted Heart, Jackson will be providing guitar and vocal backup to Connole, who'll be playing banjo and singing. Rounding out the five-piece lineup are Revenants rhythm aces Paul Schneider and Jason Graham, handling bass and drum chores, respectively, while Amos Cox, a vet of the lamented Pearl Chuckers, will handle mandolin duties.

While the group's sets will be heavy on standards, the band has worked up a clutch of originals as well. "Mostly they're really mopey ballads, or waltzes is more accurate," says Connole. "We're doing a tune by Keith which is a gospel-sounding deal. So, yeah, it's kind of a mix of things. I don't want to try and play too much Revenants material. I want to keep 'em separate. I don't want it to just be 'Even Hookers Say Goodbye' with banjo."

While the Pearl Chuckers were conceived as a side project, Connole is looking a bit more seriously at this new band as possibly a permanent outlet for his music. "Honestly, this is all I want to do with the rest of my life. Maybe it's 'cause I'm an old man and but I'd be more than content to just do this. Granted, you're not gonna get laid playing this shit," jokes Connole. "I mean, a banjo to a stripper is like a crucifix to a vampire."

On a more serious note, Connole has been busy balancing his full-time job as a computer consultant with the completion of the long-awaited and long-delayed follow-up to the Revenants' 1998 dark twang classic Artists & Whores.

"I've got seven songs done, and I just stopped," says Connole, who's been recording at his home studio. "Part of it's because I want to see where [Busted Heart] goes."

The group plans to make a trip out to Los Angeles in the fall for a pair of Hollywood performances, after getting a couple months' worth of weekly tune-ups in town.

"I'd just as soon do this forever," reiterates Connole. "This music is so deep and rich you could devote your life to it. It's not transitory; it doesn't change every year. For me, the stuff that always prevails is the stuff that was great in 1940 and it's still great now."

Busted Heart performs every Sunday at Long Wong's in Tempe, starting August 12. Showtime is 9 p.m.Good Vibration: Like most people, Bash & Pop often stands in front of a mirror peering into his own reflection, wondering, "Am I as talented as Marky Mark -- am I?"

Well, this week is your chance to prove it as VH1 (along with Hard Rock Cafe, Warner Bros. Pictures, Bel Air Entertainment and others) proudly presents a talent contest in conjunction with the release of the new film Rock Star.

The flick stars Mark Wahlberg (née Marky Mark) and Mrs. Brad Pitt (née Jennifer Aniston) and, as the promo poster so aptly describes, it's the tale "of a wanna be who got to be." Actually, the movie is loosely based on the fairy-tale story of Tim "Ripper" Owens -- who went from singing in an Akron, Ohio, Judas Priest cover band, to fronting the real group after singer Rob Halford's departure in 1992.

Brilliant concept, right? But wait, there's more.

The centerpiece of the film is a song called "Livin' the Life" -- an (unintentionally) hilarious Bad Company-meets-Grand Funk-meets-the Doobie Brothers-meets-anthem of rock 'n' roll liberation.

Here are but a few choice lyrical morsels from the tune: "Got a ticket for a ride/Never stop until I'm satisfied/It's a party on the sun/Feel the heat comin' from my gun."

If you're an aspiring artist eager to have the world feel the heat from your gun, then perhaps you'll have the balls to try to tackle the tune and win yourself a record deal.

First you have to go online to Vh1.com (more info here) and download the song and memorize the lyrics (if you can manage to keep a straight face, that is). Then videotape your (solo) performance of the song and send the tape to: "Rock Star" c/o Solomon Friedman Advertising, P.O. Box 15672 Phoenix, AZ 85060-5672.

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.

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 Vexwas 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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