"I'm not really that sick," says Bruce Connole, coughing as he shuffles through his east-side apartment. While the singer was forced to cancel a recent gig with his bluegrass side project, the Pearl Chuckers, because of a cold, the spring sniffles have been the last thing on the mind of the local-music icon. Foremost among Connole's concerns has been the regeneration of his primary creative outlet of the past five years, neo-traditional country twangers the Revenants. The group has been on an indefinite hiatus since last year but is about to redebut this week with a revamped roster and a cache of new songs.
As for the lineup changes, there's been a complicated litany of departures and hirings since the beginning of the year. First, as we reported in January, guitarist/vocalist Richard Taylor, a member of the Revenants and Pearl Chuckers, left both groups. His spot in the Chuckers was immediately filled by picker Amos Cox. Cox was also set to take over guitar duties in the electric-based Revs, during what was originally to have been a mid-February resumption of the band's activities. Unfortunately, that plan had to be scrapped, as the ever cantankerous Connole also decided to part ways with trapsman Bobby Dommings and was unable to find a replacement in time for the earmarked date. As it stands now, Taylor, Connole's longtime foil, is back in the Revenants fold, while Cox will continue as the Chuckers guitarist. The drumming situation has also been resolved with the arrival of Joe Jacques, a former veteran of Valley rockers Caterwaul. Jacques has also been manning the brushes during the Pearl Chuckers' regular Tuesday night sets at Tempe's Long Wong's and their occasional appearances at Scottsdale's Jamaican Blue. Throughout all this, bassist Paul Schneider has remained the one consistent member of both combos, though he too is a replacement for Chuckers original rhythm slapper Ruth Wilson, who helped launch the bluegrass venture with Connole last July.
While he has remained semi-active with his bluegrass diversion, Connole's time has recently been occupied with a new venture -- a career as a computer programmer. Though he only became a PC user a few years ago, Connole is apparently something of a natural techie. He began by creating the Revenants Web site (www.therevenants.com) before moving on to the world of home-computer recording as a means to demo new material. As unlikely as it sounds, the onetime junkie rocker is now a dedicated net-head. He's also a professional working for Silicon Valley-based sonicbox.com, a company that's developed a proprietary tuning technology that will allow listeners to access a wide range of high-quality Internet audio. Connole says the technology he's currently working on will eventually be mobile ready, offering motorists a choice of 800 Internet radio stations while driving. "Hopefully, that will signal the end of commercial radio," says Connole, beaming at the very prospect.
The luxury of a steady income is also allowing Connole to dictate his schedule with the Revenants, which, he says, will be playing only a couple gigs a month. "This company I'm working for is giving me a lot of money, so I don't need to go around kissing college students' asses," notes Connole sarcastically. "At this point I'm just going to play when I feel like playing."
With all the instability on the personnel front, it's been difficult for Connole to concentrate on the main task at hand, recording a follow-up to the group's stellar 1998 disc Artists & Whores. While the band is still hoping to record with noted local producer Clarke Rigsby, Connole says blocking off time to complete the project has proved such a challenge that he's actually contemplating taking a different route with the disc.
"I might just make the motherfucker here," he says, sitting in the midst of a living room cramped with musical and electronic gear. "It's unbelievable what you can do on a computer nowadays -- they're so fast and have amazing processing power. And the cool thing about working for [sonicbox.com] is they pay me all this money and I immediately go to Fry's [electronics store] and spend it all on recording gear and then I send them an invoice and they send me the money back! It's great."
While it would seem hard to believe on the surface, Connole's claims of making a professional quality recording in his living room are true. A seven-song disc of material recorded in his home is a remarkably solid-sounding affair from a technical point of view. And while the bulk of the instrumentation was recorded live, he has had to compromise on the backbeat, using electronic loops instead of a live drummer.
"I don't want things to sound electronic; I would prefer to have a real drummer come in, but then you have to worry about miking stuff. But the guitars and everything else is just one line, one mike right here," says Connole, pointing to his desktop computer setup. "It's cool because the whole bit about recording on the computer has really got me to thinking about mixing and mastering and compression, all that stuff that I never paid any attention to. It's almost like having a whole other instrument to consider."
Creatively, Connole's new batch of material is as impressive as ever. Notable is the influence of his recent bluegrass detour, as the high lonesome themes and banjo of "Lila's Lament," "If You Can't Drown a Heartache" and "The Shape I'm In" indicate.
Regardless of what emerges from the Revenants' latest reformation or Connole's continuing efforts, it's clear that the singer hasn't lost any of his infamous edge.
"It's really terrific. I play music now because I want to, not because I have to. So it's like, 'If people like it, fine. If they don't, sorry. Maybe you'll figure it out when I'm dead.' It's not that I'm so amazing, but it's just frustrating sometimes. I mean, I know the shit is good."
The Revenants are scheduled to perform on Friday, April 21, at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe, with Chicken. Showtime is 9 p.m.
Beckology: Nita's Hideaway will be hosting an eclectic bill this Saturday featuring a headlining set from DJ Swamp. Swamp will be pulling double duty that evening as he will also be manning the turntables for rock's most revered "Loser," Beck. Though no one has confirmed it (or even hinted at it officially, for that matter), rumors have been swirling that Mr. Hansen may make an appearance at the club after his Mesa Amphitheatre concert.
DJ Swamp is scheduled to perform on Saturday, April 22, at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe, with Oto, Coppe, Z-Trip, and Morse Code. Showtime is 9 p.m.
By George: Sitting in his dowtown George & Dragon pub, Dave Wimberley is playing the role of ebullient Englishman full tilt as he discusses the bar's annual St. George's Day Festival. Though he's sipping on a Mountain Dew instead of draining a pint, Wimberley punctuates his conversation with obligatory "cheers" and "right, mate" euphemisms as he recounts the colorful history of the festival's honoree -- the patron saint of England.
The legends and myths surrounding Saint George are varied, as his lore is part of several different religions and cultures. The most famous bit, however, concerns his famed defeat of a dragon. The story, set in about A.D. 200, involves a pagan town in Libya being terrorized by a giant reptilian monster -- apparently a creature that, while common during those times, had not yet been, shall we say, domesticated. To placate its ravenous appetite, the townsfolk kept throwing sheep into its lair. When it remained unsatisfied, they started sacrificing some of the citizenry. Finally, the local princess was to be thrown to the beast, but just in the nick of time, Georgie came along, slaughtered the dragon and rescued the fair maiden. As one might expect, the act was impressive enough that the city's residents quickly converted to Christianity, and thus the legend of Saint George was born.
While his own life story isn't as heavy on dragons and damsels, Wimberley is quite a character himself. A native of Ramsgate, a city in the southernmost section of the U.K. ("If I were from any farther south I'd be French"), Wimberley spent his youth roaming the streets as a high-fashion glam rocker à la Velvet Goldmine. "The heels I wore were so big that I had to walk sideways to keep from falling over," laughs Wimberley, recalling his Ziggy period.
Immigrating to America and settling in Houston ("That's where I get my Southern drawl," he notes in an accent that's about as Texan as Rex Harrison's). Wimberley spent most of his adult life in the publishing business. A change of setting and careers signaled his move to Phoenix, where he opened George & Dragon in February 1995. Modeled after the pubs of his homeland, Wimberley has succeeded in creating one of the more successful and distinctive watering holes in the Central City area.
Capitalizing on the Anglophila of desert dwellers, Wimberley decided to launch a festival celebrating the English martyr with a portion of the benefits earmarked for charity (this year's cause is the Phoenix Crisis Nursery). The festival, a daylong outdoor affair held in the lot adjacent to the bar, has become an annual rite of passage marking the end of spring and the coming of the Arizona summer with an orgy of live music, food and, of course, lots and lots of pints.
The event has also been a showcase for some of the biggest names in Phoenix music. And while this year's event lacks a true headliner, the bash will, as usual, offer a healthy cross section of local acts. This year's bill features 11 Valley combos including punk-trashers the Sonic Thrills, blue-eyed R&B shouters the Van Buren Wheels, the singer-songwriter stylings of the Carrie Johnson Band, and Tempe quartet Ghetto Cowgirl. Those who attend can also expect appearances from pop faves Haggis, Phoenix alt-rock outfit ZPB and a closing set from the Beat Angels.
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The Sixth Annual St. George's Day Festival is scheduled for Saturday, April 22, from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. It will feature performances by the Pennydrops, Eating Divas, Della Street, Van Buren Wheels, Sonic Thrills, Frank Lloyd Vinyl, Carrie Johnson Band, Ghetto Cowgirl, ZPB, Haggis and the Beat Angels.
Radio, Radio: A few weeks back we posed a question as to what kind of true Americans we would be if we didn't engage in a bit of rampant self-promotion from time to time. The reason on that occasion was to trumpet New Times' extraordinary Internet radio program Scene, Heard. We won't rehash the details except to say that the show (which "airs" on Thursdays at 2 p.m. at www.dallasobserver.com) features the best in new and unreleased music as well as the unbridled sexual tension between co-hosts/music critics Robert Wilonsky and Zac Crain.
Proudly, we have a local radio note of our own. New Times' crack team of publicists have confirmed that yours truly will be a guest on Larry Mac's weekly radio program on 98 KUPD. Bash & Pop's appearance on Mac's Local 98 show airs this Sunday at 9 p.m. Fret not, though, dear readers, this is merely a one-time appearance to promote our April 30 music showcase and not the beginning of a career as a zany Zoo Crew personality.
Contact Bob Mehr at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org