Sunday afternoon and the smell of pomade is heavy in the room. Such an air is to be expected when there are 40 or so rockabilly types packing a sweltering Cannery Row, whooping, hollering and generally acting about as rowdy as the bug-eyed XFL fans mugging on the TV screens above the bar.
What was supposed to have been a quiet public rehearsal for a few friends has turned into a full-blown concert event, with seemingly half of the Valley's hot rod and pompadour set bearing witness to the first performance of twang merchants Flathead in close to a year.
Up above, on the Cannery's balcony stage, guitarist Greg Swanholm holds a familiar position, hunkered over an upside down Telecaster; behind him float the high harmonies and fills of drummer Vince Ramirez. But to their left, riding the rhythm of an upright four-string, is a new face, Shannon Marino.
Marino, who splits time between wife Heather Rae Johnson's outfit, the Moonshine Boys, and Tucson rockabilly wild man Al Foul's backing combo, the Shakes, is the third bassist in Flathead's history, following on the heels of founding member Ruth Wilson and her replacement, Kevin Daly. Daly ended his nearly three-year run with the group last June, ostensibly to concentrate on his other projects, the Trophy Husbands and Grave Danger.
Flathead's Cannery Row set this past weekend was designed to serve as a warm-up for its official re-debut, a Friday, February 9, slot opening for Nashville retro-country act BR5-49. The band will also perform on Saturday, February 10, as part of the Blue Ox's "Hot Rod Rumble," an all-day event featuring music from the Planet Rockers, Rockin' Ryan, the Tombstoners and others, as well as a hot rod contest and burlesque show.
Meanwhile, just as Flathead is set to reemerge, another of the Valley's roots music linchpins, the aforementioned Grave Danger, has all but officially called it quits.
Rumors about the group's pending demise had surfaced earlier in the year, only to be quieted by an especially exuberant set at last month's Scotti-Stock benefit.
However, Grave Danger front man Daly confirmed this week that the chances are bleak at best that the band will continue as a working unit.
"I think the band is dead," says Daly of the trio, which included former Flathead mate Ramirez and bassist Rich Merriman. "It's pretty much over at this point, I think."
Some say Ramirez's reported decision to leave the band to focus on other pursuits is one possible factor in the split. Others point to Daly's schedule -- already hectic with the growing success and touring of the Trophy Husbands -- as the main factor in the decision.
While it's not entirely out of the question that the band may play together at some point in the future -- the local music scene has shown us that even the most acrimonious splits have a propensity for yielding reunions -- Daly adds that his next order of business is to begin work on a solo CD for local imprint Rustic Records.
For his part, Danger bassist Merriman says he's "kind of entered retirement" for the time being. "I feel glad to be taking a break," he adds. "I haven't in six years. I'm going to finish writing a bunch of songs that are half done, but I don't know if I'm going to be doing anything with them or not."
Regardless of what the future may hold, for those (Bash & Pop among them) who witnessed Grave Danger's brief but memorable rise -- broken bottles, blood, and head shaving included -- the band will be sorely missed.
The Beach Is Back: A late addition to Friday's BR5-49 bill is singer/songwriter Jim Beach. Beach, a local vet (late of the Hucklebones and Dialectrics), left the Valley last year for San Antonio. Prior to his exit, Beach completed a new record (the still-unreleased Dragonfly) with a backing troupe known as the Salt River Project. Consisting of gospel pianist Matt Mahr, jazzman Will Lovell on bass, and drummer/band leader Jamal Ruhe, the Salt River Project offered Beach's rich narratives a sympathetic and intuitive accompaniment, something that was on full display during a handful of remarkable performances this past summer.
Now, the group is congregating -- with Beach flying in from Texas for the show -- to play a final gig before the impending departure of Ruhe (who also produced and mixed Dragonfly). Ruhe is leaving for New York City in mid-March and will be playing a round of farewell shows with his various outfits. This includes a February 10 slot with Yearofthemule at Tempe's Lucky Dragon, a solo acoustic gig with Clyde's Robin Vining and former Red Shifter/Pine Wyatt singer John Hoffman opening on February 12 at Long Wong's, and a March 2 Nita's Hideaway appearance with Sleepwalker. The Sleepwalker show boasts a headlining spot from the re-formed (and renamed) Seven Storey, featuring Seven Storey Mountain leader Lance Lammers.
Also at Nita's this weekend is a Modified-goes-east scenario, as the club will be hosting the elite of Valley indie rock in a special indoor/outdoor show.
Former Chula front woman Yolando Bejarano's new outfit The Slow Down headlines the indoor stage, which will also witness sets from . . . And Guppies Eat Their Young, A Starlit Pond and an opening appearance from west-side country-pop combo Juarez.
Slated to appear on Nita's patio stage are Early Outward, Uber Alice, Bullyrag, and Death of Marat. The all-ages event is Saturday, February 10. Show begins at 8 p.m., cover is $7.
We Like Ike: A veritable galaxy of Phoenix's biggest jazz stars is set to gather together this Sunday, February 11, at the Scottsdale Conference Resort for a special tribute show dedicated to longtime Valley vocalist/pianist Ike Cole.
Cole -- brother of Nat -- has been undergoing treatment for lung cancer; the concert is being staged by friends and colleagues to help defray his medical costs. The six-hour tribute event (which begins at 4 p.m.) will happen on two stages and feature performances from several members of the Cole clan, including younger brother and Grammy-nominated singer Freddy, vocalist O.C. Smith, the Dave Cook Trio, Margo Reed, Dennis Rowland, the C.C. Jones Combo, and dozens of others.
On sale at the event will be a tape featuring an interview conducted with Cole last November on Steve Shipp's One on One radio show. The cassette of the KMYL-AM broadcast also includes 18 songs culled from Cole's out-of-print albums. For more information about the concert, call 480-391-2091.
Sweet Soul Music: A lot of bands might object to being called "classic rock." Inspiring visions of Bad Company and Grand Funk Railroad, the tag has come to take on a somewhat negative connotation, especially in describing a group that's about to release only its second CD. But the members of Tucson's Greyhound Soul have learned to accept the label as a compliment.
Classic rock, after all, is nothing if not timeless. And the songs on the band's newly released sophomore effort, Alma de Galgo (following its 1996 debut, Freaks), sound as if they just as easily could have been released in 1971 as 2001, without at all seeming dated.
"The songs are really simple, really basic, and I think that's what we have in common with bands that have come to be known as 'classic rock,'" explains singer/songwriter/guitarist Joe Peña, the only constant, save bassist Duane Hollis, in the band's ever-shifting lineup.
You can never be quite sure who else will be filling out the roster at any given time, but the band's current members include a host of Old Pueblo talents, among them drummers Winston Watson and Tommy Larkins, guitarist Jason DeCorse and keyboardist Glen Corey.
"It doesn't really matter what configuration we're playing with. I mean, obviously, the more of us, the better, because it's just a bigger sound," says Hollis. "But Joey's songs are sort of like Neil Young's -- they sound good with just an acoustic guitar, and they sound good with Crazy Horse backing him up."
The comparison is apt. For one thing, the live version of Greyhound Soul is a different beast from that found on either of the band's discs. While the recordings feature concisely written songs, onstage the band stretches them out and improvises around them.
"Sometimes when we're jamming, you just get so lost in the sounds that are happening around you that you just don't want to stop," notes Peña. "And then suddenly it hits you that someone out there is probably getting sick of it, so you have to." Corey adds, "But no matter how long a song goes on, there's always someone out there still spinning to it."
The appeal of Greyhound Soul, a constant on the Tucson scene since the mid-'90s, is not hard to pinpoint. First, there's Peña and his songs, which borrow heavily from the traditional white-boy blues-rock canon, probably most notably the Rolling Stones during their Mick Taylor heyday. Then there's Peña's voice -- all nicotine-stained, desert-scorched sensuality -- alternately flashing the gravelly growl of Tom Waits and the dexterity of Gregg Allman. He's the kind of guy who can stretch a one-syllable word into seven, and somehow manage to get away with it. As a front man, the charismatic Peña offers up a hirsute charm, the kind of raw rock machismo that your girlfriend probably likes way too much for your taste.
And then there's the fact that he chooses to surround himself with players who not only have serious chops, but the passion to go along with it. Trapsman Watson -- a former member of Phoenix's Gentlemen Afterdark and a Bob Dylan sideman -- has proved to be an especially crucial spark during the band's live shows.
Greyhound Soul recently arranged an overseas distribution deal for both discs with a German label, which will fund an upcoming monthlong tour of Europe in April and May. It'll be their first time together overseas, the prospect of which has the band obviously excited. "It'll be great to do it with friends, people that I'm actually excited to be traveling with," says Peña.
For a band that's been around since 1994, there's clearly a sense of rebirth with the release of the new album, which has been three years in the making.
"It's really amazing that we're still around, that we didn't give up at some point," says Peña. "The first album just seemed like we were putting out a record. It was all paid for, and it just sort of happened. There were just too many people involved in it," he says, referring to contracts the band had signed with Redbeard label honcho Dan Kennedy and manager Mike Lembo, which held up the process, in addition to the usual financial woes and a botched previous attempt at recording the disc.
"This one took so long, it was just us doing it because we really wanted to do it, not because anyone was pushing us to do it. I'm trying really hard to suppress it, but I really am proud of this record. Not just for me, but for all of us, because we actually did it and I think it's a really good record."
Hollis is quick to add that it wouldn't have happened without a little help from their friends. "We have some of the most amazing fans in the world. I can't even call them fans anymore; they've become friends. But they helped us pay for this record, they maintain our Web site (www.greyhoundsoul.com), they just do so much for us."
"Yeah," quips Peña. "God willing, we'll be able to pay them back." -- Stephen Siegel
Greyhound Soul is scheduled to perform a CD release party on Saturday, February 10, at Long Wong's in Tempe, with the Muddy Violets. Showtime is 9 p.m.
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