Thugs Life

Those who can

So did Dustan wind up playing? "Oh, I played!" he says. Spite is as good a musical motive as any. I think Christine McVie said that.

Dustan once more enacted universal revenge on music teachers in high school, when he switched instruments. "Me and my friends would always be smoking pot and breaking strings on purpose."

"See?" Dale says with a laugh. "You probably drove that teacher crazy. After you graduated, he probably said, 'Maybe I should teach kids in the fourth grade and tell them they can't play!'"

When Fox and Dale teamed up during grunge's infancy, clarinet and mandolin were hardly the stuff of rock bands. Factor in Fox's kewpie-doll voice, which sometimes takes liberties with pitch for comic effect, and the only place where they could play their sardonic songs was the dreaded open mic night.

"I used to have to get up early in the morning 'cause I was a land surveyor at the time," Dale says. "The two or three places we'd go, we'd try to get high on the sign-up list, but eventually, we'd get bumped further and further down. And at some point during the night, the MC would say, 'We're going to let so-and-so go up now 'cause they've got to get up at eight in the morning. And I'm fuming because I have to get up at three in the morning."

"When Rose Rain Alchemy first began gigging," Fox says, "we would book a show, and it'd be us and three heavy metal bands, and the audience would be pissed. Once, we played in between a radio-friendly modern country band and a Journey cover band. Then we played a gig with Andrew Lockwood [now of Dolphins Kill for Love and then the host of a monthly songwriter showcase]. Through him, we met Fatigo and through them, we met The Shizz."

Although the name sounds like some space-age mystic, The Shizz is an informal conglomeration of bands joined through a Web site (www.theshizz.org), a compilation CD, and a few scattered gigs. "The joint idea was to have a central community with less bands competing with shows at the same time. But everybody actually just books shows when they get them," Fox says.

Given the group's diverse lineup, it's a rarity to find a Thugs show where every Thugs member is in attendance. At a recent gig at Carly's, everyone but Jeff Dobberpuhl (the accordionist and keyboard player) was on deck. The following gig, trombomist Phillip Juarez (who plays with a swing band) was missing, "If Phil or Jeff can't make it, no big deal," Fox says. "You kind of want them to be there all the time, because you miss that one element. But we can adjust the set accordingly."

It's a good time to be thuggin', though. "Right now, we are at an all-time high point and I don't think that we, as a whole band, have even scratched the surface of what we might be able to do," says Dustan, whose side project, Psycho Square Dance, has been further sidelined because of WCT's stepped-up activities.

Fox agrees. "Lately, when people come up to us after shows, it's usually, 'You guys are great. How come I've never heard of you?'"

It's not for lack of trying. These guys even did the Channel 3 morning show, Good Morning Arizona.

"It was fun doing that, watching the stage managers running around and everything," Fox says with a smile. "The anchorwoman was looking for something to latch onto, so she asked Dale to tell the viewers about the history of the mandolin. Like, how are you going to answer something like that in 30 seconds?"

Once more, without missing a beat, Dale begins, "Well, it's from the family of the lute, and they originally made it to resemble the violin . . ."
Sat., April 3, 2010

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