If Brian Grillo had opted to concentrate on a career in dancing, he might've spent the summer wearing a double-barreled torpedo bra as one of Madonna's boy toys. According to the Lock Up singer, the breathless blonde so liked his boogie ability that she asked him to gyrate on one of her tours a few years back. She had seen a tape of Grillo's moves while he was choreographing a video for Luther Vandross and had an assistant call him up. But unlike Sean Penn and Warren Beatty, Grillo had the guts to turn down a fling with the queen of controversy.
"It just wasn't what I wanted to do," reflects Grillo in a recent phone interview from Richmond, Virginia. "I wanted to rock hard and do my own thing. I didn't want to dance around for Madonna, probably in a little leopard-skin G-string or something."
Grillo is even more relieved he isn't out on Madonna's current Dick Tracy tour, in which dudes wear lingerie. "I would've looked like a fuckin' idiot," he splutters.
The Madonna snub turned out to be, more or less, the right decision. Grillo may not be entertaining stadiums full of tabloid-rock fans, but he has gone on to front an L.A. funk-rock band that recently released its Geffen Records debut album, Something Bitchin' This Way Comes.
The LP is at a C-plus level of guitar-glutted groove-iness--good enough to open for the Chili Peppers, Mary's Danish, and Fishbone, or headline a bill with Royal Crescent Mob. But while the funk on the album may not be awe-inspiring, Grillo's treacherous drive to the top is at least mildly impressive.
Kicked out of his parents' house at sixteen, Grillo eventually found himself living in a Hermosa Beach, California, church with members of early punk superstars Black Flag. Gluing together influences from his early childhood (a steady diet of Soul Train) and premature adulthood (the raging SoCal punk scene), the singer moved to Hollywood and invented a postmodern vaudeville routine called the Grillo Follies.
Later, Grillo found work in New York as a burlesque dancer in Times Square and then hooked up with Brian Brain, ex-Public Image Ltd. drummer Brian Atkins' band. But this early brush with greatness ended after an anarchistic tour in 1985. "It was kind of like a nightmare," Grillo remembers, "like the van breaking down, people just going nuts and running down streets on acid, screaming at the top of their lungs. I wanted to fly home."
Not long after, Grillo returned to L.A. and started taking care of business. The singer began jamming with bassist Chris Beebe and about two and a half years ago finished off the Lock Up line-up with guitarist Tom Morello and drummer Vince Ostertag.
Geffen signed the band after it developed a local buzz in L.A. The label went to work polishing the Bitchin' sound with booth bigwigs who'd worked for the Replacements, Faith No More, Guns n' Roses, and Metallica.
Grillo promotes the results as darn near revolutionary. "It was the kind of record I wanted to do, and no one else has done it," he brags. "Like, Pink Floyd was too comatose, and Led Zeppelin wasn't funky enough. No one else ever quite hit it on the head the way we wanted to."
Alternative-funk consumers jonesing for something danceable to kill time until the next Chili Peppers album might want to think--and think twice--about buying Bitchin'. Lock Up can whip up a respectably funky groove every once in a while. Likewise, Grillo occasionally pens offbeat lyrics, like "When I cook, I cook for one," from the lonely-boy-blues song "Everywhere I Go It Looks Like Rain." But the singer also lapses into cliches like "For every rose, one hundred thorns," and the band proves you can produce a sound worthy of metallic hormone overdose without tons of hair spray. "Punch Drunk," for instance, is brooding funk sucked through a Sunset Strip filter. Still, for all the peppery riffs guitarist Morello spits out, he enjoys wanking it up a little too much.
Grillo allows that there are times--such as when Lock Up performs with heavy-metal bands--when he has to remind crowds they're there to see a funk band. But these educational sessions also give the singer a chance to reveal his renaissance-rock capabilities in hopes of filling the dance floor.
"My role is to get other people to have fun and say things to them that might perhaps open their eyes and make them think, while throbbing, grooving music is going on, which gets them to move their butts," Grillo says. "On a couple of tour dates, people didn't really know how to respond. It was hard to get them up and get them moving. Sometimes I have to be a ringmaster at a circus. Sometimes I have to be a dance instructor. It's different all the time."
Lock Up will perform at Chuy's on Saturday, June 16. Show time is 6 p.m.
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"I didn't want to dance around for Madonna, probably in a little leopard-skin G-string or something."
"My role is to say things to people that might make them think, while throbbing music is going on, which gets them to move their butts."
CURRY UP... v6-13-90