Every Wednesday is Heritage Hump Day! That's because every Wednesday from now to the end of the year or before someone really big stops us, Heritage Hump Records (a temporary subsidiary of Onus Records) and New Times will be bringing you a limited edition collector's item of a much beloved Phoenix band that walked the scorched earth of Arizona before the year 2000 A.D. We will honor that band with a commemorative digital single that you, the digital public, will have only seven days to download to your computers and smart phones before this single gets marked up to an exorbitant price as determined by the mp3 collector community. When that happens, a new Heritage Hump subject will be chosen and the free-for-a-limited-time-only cycle begins anew.
Chris Peeler and Todd Minnix have been in Fred Green since the mid-’90s, but unlike our mockup sleeve for this week's Heritage Hump digital single, they've only ever appeared on their record covers in cartoon form. But they've had enough adventures to satisfy a cartoon heart as outlined in my April 2007 New Times story "Green Way":
After touring incessantly from 1996 to 2001, local trio Fred Green had an enviable fan base and horror stories from the road to prove it. Tons of 'em. The time their roadies unwittingly trashed Bruce Willis' guesthouse. The time vocalist/guitarist Todd Minnix got hopelessly lost after a gig until drummer Chris Peeler fetched him, one block from the hotel, heading in the wrong direction. The time roadie Dug tried to pet a bison and almost got the van crushed. The time a one-legged man in Butte, Montana, told them, "You are the reason for all the righteousness in the world." As you can guess, that particular night turned out to be one of those "character-building" gigs that either pull bands together or send them screaming to accounting school.
"We played to six people," Peeler says. "Two of 'em, a punk rock chick with pink hair and her boyfriend, were there on purpose to see us. The other four were regulars and they hated us. Hated us all night."
"That's when I knew we made it," Minnix says with a grin. "Getting shit from a peg-legged guy in Butte, kicking me in the shin."
Only Fred Green's own open-ended story has lacked a wow finish.
Not having released an official album since a self-titled set in 1999, the band seems to have faltered on its mission to "spread the Fred." The departure of original bassist Ben Gilley slowed the momentum while Minnix and Peeler bided their time finding his replacement. Instead, they threw their energies in late 2001 into a local supergroup called GOZ, featuring members of Zig Zag Black and Oil. When GOZ and its heavier fare didn't connect with the industry support its participants had hoped, Fred Green reconvened with GOZ bassist Sam Lersch in the fold.
Lersch provided the necessary family vibe that Fred Green maintains with its fans because he was a fan. ("He first saw us play when he was, what, 9?" quips Minnix.) Last month, the long hiatus was officially over when Fred Green put out its fourth and most seriously realized album to date, Still Burnin'. They celebrated with back-to-back-to-back CD-release parties at Chasers and Hollywood Alley. Every night that weekend, the band was joined onstage by drummer Tim Alexander (Primus, Fata Morgana) who reprised his guest spots on the album ("Habit" and "Overload"), freeing Peeler to stand at the front of the stage and sing sans sticks.
Essentially a four-piece live band with the addition of Jason Prichard (drummer and vocalist for Daughters of Fission) providing the missing third harmonies and percussion from the records to the live mix, the band is now able to replicate its studio sheen. After the band's Saturday-night set, one onlooker who obviously knew the band's history said, "The Fred Green who made Dillywagon [its first album, released in 1995] sounded like a bunch of guys who wanted to have fun and smoke some weed. This Fred Green sounds like they want to make it."
"This is the first time we have an album that all of us are happy with every moment of," Minnix says, "as opposed to feeling, 'I wish we'd done this.' And it's the first album we recorded completely sober."
"Uh, actually, I was pretty wasted during most of the recording sessions," Peeler adds sheepishly.
"Me too," seconds Lersch.
"Really?" Minnix says, sounding genuinely surprised. And impressed. "Okay, it's the first album I've done completely sober."
This week's song captures the "Primus meets the Beatles" shorthand description that was bandied about a lot upon its release on the radio-friendly, semi-sober Still Burnin' CD.
Reminiscing about this track today, Minnix says, "The time signature is rather odd but works with the tune. When it hits the 4/4 chorus, it all comes together. Also, the lyric of brand new shoe is very silly and made us laugh pretty hard, still does. Has anyone ever bought just one shoe that is brand new?"
Maybe the peg-legged guy in Butte?
"We had made some arrangement changes suggested by our management team a few months prior to recording the song," he continues. "Prior to this recording, we had done all arrangement, production, etc. ourselves. It was nice to feel good about a change from someone else. This tune was one that we were all very excited to record. It had been in the works for years."
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While the push behind that fourth album might not have lifted Fred Green to the next level, the band is still together and still tight buds, weed reference ever-so deliberate.
"We've stayed together this long because we all get along with no drama. Although we would've liked to tour the world and made our livings exclusively from Fred Green, we all enjoy our families and each other. We still love writing together and are very excited about the newest tunes now in the writing/arranging process."
Fred Green play an afternoon set at 3 p.m. on Sunday, August 23, at The Rogue Bar in Scottsdale to celebrate National Topless Day.