From Mohawks To Mullets
In June 1999 as I began my first week at New Times, my predecessor as music editor brought a large box into my office. "What's this?" I asked.
"Pictures of what?"
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Milwaukee Brewers
TicketsFri., Jun. 9, 6:40pm
All You Can Eat Value Pack - Mercury v Sparks
TicketsSat., Jun. 10, 7:00pm
Phoenix Mercury vs. Los Angeles Sparks
TicketsSat., Jun. 10, 7:00pm
Phoenix Rising Football Club vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2
TicketsSat., Jun. 10, 7:30pm
"Local music pictures. It's an archive of our old stuff."
Nearly 25 years' worth.
Though already buried in an avalanche of papers, packages and new responsibilities, I was intrigued by what lay inside. As someone who had long been fascinated and amazed at the rich and diverse history of Vallaey music -- from Lee Hazelwood to Alice Cooper, Marty Robbins to the Meat Puppets -- I knew there was potential for something amazing among the sheaves of frayed Kodak paper.
What I found were hundreds of breathtaking black-and-white images. Unpublished pictures of local bands that had graduated to legend, and others that were vague memories. There were shots of wild scenes in long-forgotten clubs and bars. But most telling were the portraits -- dozens of them -- of faces that seemed to chart their own peculiar history of local music. Many of them looked familiar, though with fewer wrinkles, more hair and often clad in embarrassing clothes.
This week, with most of the attention turned to the annual New Times Music Showcase -- a celebration of all that's new and exciting in the current Valley scene -- and with New Times celebrating its 30th anniversary, we thought it a fitting time to share some of those images with readers.
All of the material in this gallery comes from our archive. (Sadly, photos from this publication's first six or seven years were not included in the box I inherited.) The bulk of the photos were taken by New Times staff and freelancers, and this photo essay is as much a celebration of their artistry as of the musicians they captured.
We should note that although several pictures have appeared in our pages before, we decided to rerun those that retain their historical value -- like one of Gin Blossoms taken on a Tempe rooftop, a shot that accompanied a 1987 story announcing the group's first gig. We also felt obliged to include images that were simply too rich to ignore, thus the photo capturing Judas Priest front man Rob Halford cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, the man once vilified as a Satanist whose music drove fans to suicide makes a cranberry sauce to die for.
We've also included mini-essays on significant artists, individuals and movements. We offer all this with a caveat: this piece is not designed to be an encyclopedic representation of Phoenix music. It could hardly be without including the contributions of those whose labors predated New Times' archive. Thus we begin our trip at the beginning of our archive, in the '70s at the dawn of the local punk movement. We move throughout the '80s -- going from metal to jangle pop; the twin bedrocks of blues and jazz -- and into the DJ/dance explosion of the '90s, ending with a look at the artists who hold promise for the next quarter-century. -- Bob Mehr
Punk Is Coming
That whole early Phoenix punk period was great as long as it lasted. It wasn't just the bands -- it was the clubs and people, too. All of it was so amazing and weird. I remember some really crazy times -- nights that were like scenes out of Fellini films.
-- Brian Brannon, singer, JFA
For all their infamous notoriety and lasting impact, Valley punks were never quite at the forefront of the movement. As early as 1975, for instance, New Yorkers can remember signs tacked up on street corners that carried the cryptic message "Punk Is Coming." By the next year, the NYC punk scene was in full flower. Across the Atlantic, the Brits, too, were busy ushering in a style that would leave a musical, social and political upheaval in its wake. In contrast, Phoenix in the mid- to late '70s was still in the stranglehold of bands that offered a peaceful, easy imitation of SoCal soft rock.
But in 1978, a band called the Consumers emerged, ready to pogo the local music scene into the throes of a new era.
By the time the punk-rock revolution had found a desert spring, the music quickly began to become filtered through the overheated minds of its eager practitioners. Groups like the Nervous, the Junior Chemists, the Feederz, and Killer Pussy (which featured singer Lucy LaMode's infamous "Teenage Enema Nurses in Bondage") shtick offered up a uniquely Arizonan take on the anarchic sounds coming from New York and the U.K.
If the early Phoenix punk bands had anything in common, it was a taste for the theatrical, and frequently, the obscene. Killer Pussy, for example, was known to treat audiences to such homespun entertainment as tying a man in drag to a wheelchair and beating him with a whip.
But the most flamboyant punk had to be Feederz vocalist Frank Discussion, whose act included appearing onstage in a see-through shower curtain. Discussion, however, was most notorious for onstage rat abuse -- including smashing some of the little creatures to death with a hammer -- acts that would make him animal-rights activists' Public Enemy No. 1 today.
Personalities and performers like these needed somewhere to offer their wares, and mainstream clubs would have little to do with such behavior. Shows at rented halls, with their rowdy, private-party atmosphere, were more often the venues of choice for bands and audiences alike. Notable among these gigs was the Lucy LaMode-hosted Trout-a-Rama at Sunnyslope's Firefighters Hall, a psycho-bash that featured four punk bands and a fish raffle. In the next couple of years, nearly every available hall in town was rented out for shows, including the Jaycees, the Plumbers Union, the VFW, and the Knights of Pythias.
Gradually, clubs began to warm to this strange new breed and a number of friendly venues opened, albeit intermittently, over the next few years. Clubs like the Salty Dog, the Solid Gold and the Star System played welcome host to roving bands of sun-stroked punk loonies. Myriad stories abound about the inspired craziness that went on both on and offstage during those chaotic years. But if there were two places that truly symbolized the wild and woolly attitude of early Phoenix punk, they were Madison Square Gardens and the infamous Hate House. A charming dive located on Van Buren, Mad Gardens, as it was affectionately known, was a hybrid wrestling club/concert venue that offered a unique mix of music and mayhem. And some of the best and most notorious moments in local music history unfolded inside its chain-link-fence-enclosed ring.
Whatever Mad Gardens lacked in terms of hedonism and debauchery, the Hate House more than made up for. The brain child of local artist Rick Bertoni, the sprawling, ramshackle house located at the edge of the Coronado district was the perfect setting for Bertoni's dream commune and ground zero for a slew of punk progenies, including everyone from schlock horror mavens Mighty Sphincter to the Deez.
For its denizens, the Hate House was an unlikely Shangri-La complete with living quarters, rehearsal space, dance hall, and a small cellar/nightclub dubbed the Detox Lounge, an intimate show room where, if the spirit moved them, patrons could chase cocktails with spoonfuls of prescription cough syrup.
A self-avowed "relentless punk artist" and "proprietor of Phoenix's exclusive New Wave boarding dump," Bertoni relished the roles to the hilt, proving to be as much of a character as any of his patrons.
The crowds that turned up at these places reflected the diversity of the bands. Gigs attracted skateboarders, beatniks, militant punks and even plain old students, creating a grab-bag quality to the early scene -- one in which you could see bands as different as the Meat Puppets, Killer Pussy, and JFA all on the same bill. Unfortunately, this unusual (for punk rock, anyway) sense of harmony didn't last. After a while, the hard-core skinhead faction began to dominate the shows, and the performance-art aspect that had helped define the early scene became obsolete. In '81 the Hate House closed quarters (Bertoni died of a heroin overdose a decade later). By the mid-'80s, most among the first wave of groups had broken up or simply disappeared. With the closure of Mad Gardens in '84 and the changing of the musical guard, the curtain was brought down on Phoenix's golden era of punk rock. -- BM
Though not as outlandish as their contemporaries, one of the best remembered outfits to emerge during this period was the controversially monikered Jodie Foster's Army. Formed in 1981, JFA -- singer Brian Brannon, guitarist Don Redondo, bassist Mike Cornelius and drummer Mike "Bam-Bam" Sversvold -- made a lasting mark as one of the few bands from the era to achieve something more than local acclaim. The group Rolling Stone once deemed "the premier skate rock band of all time" merged the fast, aggressive Southern California sound with its own unique desert perspective, going on to record a string of successful albums for local promoter Tony Victor's Placebo Records. Enduringly popular (a line of JFA skateboards still fetches collectors' prices), these days JFA soldiers on from a SoCal home base. The group's new lineup -- which includes original members Brannon and Redondo (Sversvold continues to play in Phoenix with trash rockers the Vox Poppers) -- released Return to the Valley of the Yakes last year, a kind of homecoming record and conceptual follow-up to its 1983 debut Valley of the Yakes. -- BM
Midnight Cowboys From Impanema
Neither female nor residents of the north west Phoenix retirement community from which they derived their name, the Sun City Girls -- bassist/vocalist Alan Bishop, guitarist Rick Bishop and drummer Charles Gocher -- - were typical exponents for the kind of skewed sensibility that served as the hallmark of many first-wave Phoenix post-punks. As bizarre as they were entertaining, the Sun City Girls bridged avant-garde jazz, cow punk, noise experimentalism and sampling, proving themselves a forerunner to groups like the Butthole Surfers.
The band relocated to the less arid clime of the Pacific Northwest some years back but continues to offer up their wild improvisations, found-sound pieces, comedy routines, psychedelic pranks and elaborate put-ons -- off-kilter tendencies that have always rendered them gifted performance artists. The group's near-20-year run has also resulted in a staggering discography. Ranging from live albums, soundtracks, solo projects and collaborations (like 1990's set with guitarist Eugene Chadbourne, Country Music in the World of Islam) to 1997's multidisc retrospective, Box of Chameleons, the Girls remain desert eccentrics of the first water. -- BM
Children We Never Really Knew
It seems almost disingenuous to stake a claim to the Meat Puppets. It's not a question of geography. The band's music -- an ambling mix of rock, folk, country, psychedelia and punk -- was clearly a concoction that could only have been brewed in a scorching mind-altering clime like ours. It's just that the group was never embraced locally the way it was elsewhere. The Puppets' affiliation with the Southern California-based SST label actually led many to believe that the group members were native Golden Staters.
Though it called SST home, truthfully, the group -- brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood, and friend Derrick Bostrom -- never really fit in anywhere. Even among its SoCal peers (Black Flag, Minutemen), the group was regarded as too freeform, too esoteric, their hair too long, to ever really be considered "punk."
The Puppets were never that fond of the narrow conventions of the era's dogmatic hard-core movement, and the sense of alienation only fueled their creativity. Landmark efforts like Meat Puppets II and Up on the Sun fused highly surreal lyricism (clearly enhanced by the copious amounts of hallucinogens the band was consuming at the time) with country dirges featuring twangy guitar hooks and the subtle, melodic interplay of the rhythm section.
The Puppets, unlike many of their brethren, continued, refining their sound throughout the '80s, losing their rougher edges and emerging intact on the other side of the decade.
The great tragedy for most of the bands from the American indie revolution of the '80s is that they were gone just as the results of their decadelong struggle were about to take a foothold in the charts and the culture with the breakthrough of Nirvana's 1991 album Nevermind. The Puppets were one of the few exceptions, as they were recognized for their efforts by Kurt Cobain when he asked the group to open a series of shows on Nirvana's In Utero tour and brought them onstage for a taping of MTV Unplugged, where he performed three songs from the Meat Puppets' sophomore classic. Following these high-profile appearances and Cobain's suicide, the group released its 10th album, Too High to Die. Spawning a hit single, a gold record and a large-scale tour, Too High brought the band the kind of commercial triumph that had once seemed unthinkable.
Unfortunately, the band's success produced an unintended side effect, turning Cris Kirkwood into a casualty of rock 'n' roll excess. His addiction to heroin effectively ended the band's run after the release of 1995's No Joke.
The ensuing years brought tragedy -- the death of Cris Kirkwood's wife and best friend, his own worsening condition. Sadly, the group's musical legacy began to diminish in the public consciousness as the Puppets became more synonymous with junk and death than for the towering achievement of their previous work.
More recently, the Puppets have enjoyed something of a rebirth. Curt Kirkwood has relocated to Austin, Texas, where he launched a second version of the Meat Puppets (sans his brother and drummer Derrick Bostrom). The "new" Meat Puppets will release their first full-length album (a seven-song EP was distributed free on the band's Web site last year) on an as-yet-undetermined imprint of Universal Music.
Meanwhile, Bostrom still lives in Phoenix and just last year supervised an exhaustive (bonus tracks, archival CD-ROM footage, previously unheard live album) rerelease of the band's entire SST catalogue on Rykodisc. -- BM
Rock 'n' Roll World
I remember when I first joined the band, someone said, "That's Robin. He's in a local group called the Gin Blossoms -- they're almost as good as the Jetzons." Man, I remember hearing that and, at the time, just to be considered in the same breath as those guys was better than selling a million records. That's how important they were.
-- Robin Wilson, singer, Gin Blossoms
In the mind's eye, they are inextricably linked. Bruce Connole, literate and lithe, a wasted poet whose talent was eclipsed only by a penchant for self-destruction. Then there was his foil, the diminutive Damon Doiron, who served as both collaborator and conscience. The two began their unlikely partnership backing another troubled talent, Mike Corte, as part of Valley New Wave avatars Billy Clone and the Same. When Corte died of a heroin-related overdose in 1980, Connole and Doiron recruited keyboardist Brad Buxer and drummer Steve Golladay and mutated into the Jetzons. During a rocky, on-again, off-again eight-year run, they would go on to become one of the most popular and significant groups in local music history. Whether drawing 700 people on a Sunday night at the Devil House or playing Merlin's -- four sets a night, four nights a week for months on end -- people intuitively gravitated to the band's music, a danceable mélange of sprite New Wave and rock. Their influence as the first true local "stars" cannot be understated; they almost single-handedly launched what was then a nonexistent Tempe music "scene" and went on to inspire countless scores of aspiring rock 'n' rollers. Though they were never able to parlay their local celebrity into national prominence, the group had its chances for success. But the lure of industry centers like Los Angeles (where the group relocated in 1982) held as much danger as promise for the band's leader. Little, save for some enduring feelings of regret over wasted chances, resulted from their forays into the big city.
After the eventual demise of the Jetzons, Connole (along with Doiron and drummer Alan Wiley) formed the popular Strand. Connole would later go on to front a pair of other successful, if short-lived, combos before disappearing into the abyss of full-time drug addiction. When he emerged again in the mid-'90s, it was sober, and with a surprising new twist. Gone were the musical pretensions and rock 'n' roll sensibilities; in its place a dark, raw country muse. Forming the Suicide Kings (who later changed their name to the Revenants) with guitarist Richard Taylor, Connole finally found his true voice as neo-traditional twanger, part Nick Cave, part Johnny Cash. Doiron, the consummate sideman who spent his life playing counterpoint to a succession of gifted yet difficult artists (Corte, Connole and Doug Hopkins -- whom Doiron sang for in 1985's Algebra Ranch), continues to play music, most recently with an unassuming pop combo called the Jennys. The Jetzons did re-form, briefly, on New Year's Eve 1991 for a one-off reunion gig. But as if a perfect metaphor for its career, a mile-wide power outage forced the group to cancel the show, leaving a packed house to wonder what might have been. -- BM
Mr. Record Man
I think he kind of rooted for the underdog.
-- Kimber Lanning, owner, Stinkweeds
Unless you count his stint in The Flying Moose Dicks From Outer Space, a Tempe garage band that never played a gig, Brad Singer didn't have much impact as a musician. But Singer, founder of the Zia Record Exchange chain, parlayed his love for rock 'n' roll -- and his hard-core work ethic -- into an Arizona music empire. Singer was not only the Valley's greatest music impresario, he was also its most devoted champion.
Unlike so many people who make their living from music, Singer was a genuine fan. For more than two decades, he was a constant presence at local clubs, a homer so committed to the scene that he hated to see even bands that he disliked get criticized in print.
Over the years, he not only got the music of bands like the Revenants, Beat Angels, Refreshments and Piersons on CD through his Epiphany label, but he quietly put money into the hands of countless down-on-their-luck local musicians. Though he was an unabashed product of '60s rock, his influence can be felt on the current generation of indie punks who populate Stinkweeds, a record-store chain opened by one of his old Zia employees, Kimber Lanning.
When Singer died of a mysterious viral infection in 1998 at the age of 45, he left a gaping hole that has yet to be filled. The Who's Who of Phoenix rock that filled Sinai Mortuary for his memorial service offered a reminder that Singer was the enduring point of intersection for the local music scene. -- Gilbert Garcia
Hard to say what makes blues and jazz fly or fail in different parts of the country. Naturally, the blues will always be hot stuff in the South by nature of having been born there; and, hell, if a Civil War battle was fought at Picacho Peak, then maybe it's not so odd that the blues have made a strong and permanent stand in Arizona. If the music has flourished, it's been due to the efforts of a spirited and passionate group of performers, promoters and preservationists.
From local icons like Hans Olson, Big Pete Pearson, Chuck Hall and Chico Chisim to club owners like Bob Corritore to the members of the Arizona Blues Society, the Valley has no shortage of willing and dedicated torchbearers for the genre.
Jazz in Arizona -- well, that's something else. Historically, Southwestern jazz has long meant only the players and big bands of Oklahoma and Texas.
Still, the Valley has produced its fair share of worthy exponents, many of them top-notch ASU music grads. Others include longtime Valley cats like drummer Dennis Cook, crooner Dennis Rowland, the blues-jazz talents of singing siblings Margo and Francine Reed or transplants like organist Joey DeFrancesco -- himself jazz royalty having played sideman to both John McLaughlin and Miles Davis. -- BM
Someone once said that golf killed more rock stars than heroin. But truth be told, no golfer was ever as killer as Alice Cooper.
At his best, the Cortez High alumnus was the "It" rock star; a slenderly built, homoerotic pout-face weaned on TV and drunk on youth, vitality and beer. He wielded a gritty finesse and wit that deftly bottlenecked pop culture, suburban myth, drive-in horror and straight-up Yankee raunch.
Alice Cooper was a mockup of the patronizing rock 'n' roll star. He was, in effect, a man for the people -- but with a killer set of hips and a rag-doll frame. He was a precursor for many of the biggest delusions in the history of rock 'n' roll, too. Bands shifted millions nicking the Coop's depictions of decadence but missed the facetiousness and irony that made it work.
And the sing-alongs were aplenty: underrated fist-foisting album-cuts like "Be My Lover," "You Drive Me Nervous" and "Department of Youth" dovetailed nicely with teen screams of "18," "School's Out " and "Teenage Lament."
So, by replacing drinking buddies with golf buddies, the Coop has cleverly sidestepped the grave -- the one thing he romanticized more than anything, including Budweiser. The cliché says that only death can elevate one to true "legend" status. So that guy you see with the flaccid slouch, pitch-black hair and black leather jacket lurking at local ball games and sports bars may not be a legend now, but he will be someday. You'll see. -- Brian Smith
Bad, Crazy Sun
Desert rock? What the fuck does the desert sound like anyway?
If Valley residents harbor some feelings of resentment toward our Tucson neighbors, it's more a natural geographical rivalry than one borne of any real animosity. For it wasn't that long ago that a group of visiting Old Pueblo bands helped fashion Phoenix's signature "desert rock" sound -- loud, wailing and tuneful guitars burnished with folk strums and countryish twang, and maybe a hint of a striking serpent's menacing rattle, too.
First to slither into the glare of the bad, crazy sun were the Giant Sandworms, who lasted long enough to issue a pair of now-rare vinyl artifacts and to bequeath a handful of personalities whose artistic endeavors would permanently score the Old Pueblo's musical landscape. Chief among them, of course, was Howe Gelb. Following the departure of Sandworms guitarist Rainer Ptcek (who'd go on to have a low-key but internationally acclaimed solo career up until his death from cancer in 1997), Gelb shortened the group name and extended his musical vision, leading Giant Sand through some 15 albums (24, counting side projects and anthologies) and at least as many stylistic detours including, just to name a few: garage-punk, country-folk, abstract rock and freeform psych, even forays into traditional pop tunesmithery and R&B. From 1985's debut Valley of Rain (primo titular desert imagery there) to the just-released Chore of Enchantment, Giant Sand has consistently delivered the goods.
Interestingly, Giant Sand's ventures into the Valley were infrequent. Another group of Gelb associates, however, did make numerous treks back and forth along I-10. Naked Prey, formed in '83 by Van Christian (a veteran of one of the numerous early Giant Sand rosters) and David Seger (who, along with current Phoenix singer-songwriter Billy Sedlmayer, had rounded out the Giant Sandworms roster), quickly established itself as Tucson's preeminent outlaw indie rockers. Its dark, rumbling brand of blues-tinged, edgy cowpunk was firmly established on a national level in 1986 when Under the Blue Marlin was released. Back home, too, including Phoenix, where the band regularly gigged at Impulse and the Purple Turtle, even recording its '88 album Kill the Messenger at Chaton Studio in Paradise Valley. The group finally split in '95 after issuing its And Then I Shot Everybody CD for Brad Singer's Epiphany label, but it left behind a handful of great records and memories.
Undoubtedly the one Tucson combo to generate the largest share of fond memories among Phoenix clubgoers was the Sidewinders. Sporting the can't-miss combined songwriting talents of guitarist Rich Hopkins and vocalist Dave Slutes, the group's Cuacha! debut appeared in '88 and immediately drew the attention of critics nationwide. Two albums for Mammoth/RCA and one for Atlas/PolyGram followed, plus a number of well-received national tours both as headliners and opening for established acts such as Soul Asylum and Tragically Hip. But the group never lost sight of its roots, whether kicking up dust onstage at Tucson's Club Congress or storming on a regular basis venerable Valley venues such as Long Wong's and Chuy's.
The singular 'winders sound of epic, windswept ballads and stormily anthemic rockers plugged perfectly into the Neil Young/Tom Petty tradition while forging a memorable identity for its creators. Old-school classic rockers could dig the band, and it almost goes without saying that the little girls understood, too, judging by the number of comely lasses who were regular front-of-crowd fixtures at the band's concerts. By '93 the group had dissolved in the aftermath of a legally forced name change (to the Sand Rubies) and assorted professional and personal conflicts; a subsequent two-year reunion yielded a clutch of fine recordings while mending fences among the members. All are still active in Tucson today, Hopkins' current outfit, the Luminarios, in particular beginning to make a national and international name for itself. -- Fred Mills
His ability to emotionally destroy or elate you was unbelievably keen. He could take a string of words and just make you feel it. It's the same thing that he applied to his guitar playing. It wasn't about virtuosity, but when he played -- man, it hit you like a freight train. It was just so, so . . . so fucking cool. The world is just not as cool without him around.
-- Brian Blush, guitarist, Refreshments
Kris Kristofferson wasn't writing about Doug Hopkins when he penned the lines "he's a prophet and a pusher, partly truth and partly fiction, he's a walking contradiction." Though he pushed little in his 33 years (save for a collection of songs he offered his publisher shortly before his death), Hopkins embodied the paradoxes of Kristofferson's protagonist.
He was at turns an unyielding cynic with little faith in the human condition, yet his songs are imbued with idyllic sense of romanticism; a literate and charming companion who could be equally crude and unfeeling; a volatile personality capable of immense rage and hatred but generous and loyal to a fault; a performer who craved rock-star adulation but sabotaged his own success. But mostly he was the type of man who could revel in the debauchery of Up and Down With the Rolling Stones, yet quote Rimbaud in his songs.
Like everything having to do with his life -- his talent, his addictions -- Hopkins' contradictions were always extreme. Yet it helps explain how someone who began his career penning crude, often profane punk anthems ended it by writing lush and stirring pop songs.
For those coming of age in the late '80s and early '90s, Doug Hopkins was local music -- a one-man Zeitgeist with a Les Paul around his neck. Taking the mantle of Jetzons leader Bruce Connole -- one of the few people he always regarded with reverence -- Hopkins became Phoenix music's El Jeffe, launching the most commercially successful group ever to emerge from the city.
The influence of his distinctive guitar style -- from the ringing, chimey chords of R.E.M. and its antecedents in the Byrds and Lovin' Spoonful to his signature octave playing, lifted from local contemporary Robin Johnson -- is still identifiable in countless Valley bands.
If his music was a bright, poppy mix, his lyrics were anything but. Equally adept at writing sad confessionals or angry rockers about alcohol, lost love and the struggles of adolescence, Hopkins mined a lovable-loser ethos similarly echoed in the work of fellow rock 'n' roll miscreant Paul Westerberg.
Wherever he found inspiration and foundation for his work, Hopkins quickly took it and made it his own.
Starting with his first band in 1980, the Moral Majority, Hopkins followed throughout the first half of the '80s with a string of popular, if never perfectly conceived, combos. It wasn't until 1987 that he finally stumbled upon the right mix of chemistry and songcraft with the Gin Blossoms. Success found the group quickly, first with local popularity (which coincided with the rise of Tempe's Mill Avenue as a rock 'n' roll stronghold), then with a major-label record deal.
The story took an ugly turn in 1992, when it began to seem inevitable to Hopkins that he would one day grace arena stages and land on the cover of music magazines. Whether it was fear or disdain, the prospect of such a fate was something Hopkins eschewed. His erratic alcohol-fueled behavior forced the band's hand after a disastrous recording session in Memphis. Pressured by the record company to resolve an untenable situation, the Blossoms did the unthinkable -- fired Hopkins from his own band just before the release of the group's full-length debut, New Miserable Experience.
On the strength of a pair of Hopkins-penned singles, the album went on to become an unlikely hit, selling in the millions and garnering Top 40 airplay. The success of the band galled Hopkins, as did the members' treatment of him. Motivated by a desire for revenge, Hopkins started another group, the Chimeras, determined to eclipse his former band. Playing to packed rooms throughout much of '92 and '93, success seemed within Hopkins' grasp once again. Fatefully, the inner turmoil that had precipitated his exit from the Blossoms resurfaced, bringing his involvement with the Chimeras to an abrupt and premature end. The last months of his life passed quietly, as friends and family tried in vain to quell his increasing feelings of self-loathing and despondency. In early December 1993, Hopkins silenced them by taking his own life.
Hopkins' memory lingers, in part, because there seems to be no satisfying explanation for the way his life ended. The obvious answers about depression or alcoholism, or even feelings of betrayal, clearly miss the mark. Ultimately, he was burdened with a mysterious and perpetual longing that no amount of success, money or adulation could ever satisfy.
The cult that's risen since Hopkins' death is impressive and perhaps a touch sad. International Web pages are dedicated to him and close to a dozen songs have been written in tribute -- some by those who knew and worked with him, and some by others to whom he was only a song on the radio.
With so much in the way of idolatry it's easy to lose sight of Hopkins' real meaning as a human being and as an artist. He was, some would argue, just a guy who wrote pop songs. But Hopkins' music, like the most vital forms of popular entertainment, was arbiter of something else, of something greater. And his was a personality and a presence big enough to match such lofty sights. No doubt he will forever occupy a psychic space in a community that mourns his loss every day. -- BM
Rise of Decline
"You know that old expression about 'the only band that matters?' Well, around here, it's them."
Like the best bands, they were truly an unlikely combination. The existential poet, the pop-star egotist, the rock 'n' roll cowboy, the wizened sage -- under different circumstances it would seem a hopeless clash of personalities, but in the fertile Tempe music scene of the late '80s, such peculiar human alchemy could produce dazzling results.
Despite their ragged appearance and proto-slacker reputation, Dead Hot Workshop deserves to be remembered as more than just Gin Blossoms cronies or a passing reference in a Refreshments song. Of all the groups to emerge from the era, it was the only one to draw acclaim from all quarters. From indie-rock elitists to the most vocal critics of jangle pop, everyone paid their respects to a band, which despite its superficial stylistic allegiances, clearly operated on a different plain than its contemporaries.
Looking back on the bulk of the music from that period, it's hard not to be struck by how quaint it seems in comparison to Dead Hot's dynamic panorama of emotions and imagery -- work that exists someplace between back-porch melancholy and widescreen majesty.
Most of that enduring legacy can be credited to front man Brent Babb, whose songs reconfigure the narrative vitriol of Dylan and the dissident linguistic themes of Chomsky with a mass of obscure personal and pop-culture references. Singing these existential tales, his voice seems capable of capturing almost impossible depths of sadness and desperation. His talent has long prompted fellow musicians -- notoriously stingy in their praise of the competition -- to use the term "genius" without hesitation.
But this was not a one-man show. The nimble melodicism of bassist G. Brian Scott, the determined backbeat of Curtis Grippe and the sinewy crunch of Steve Larson's Gibson guitar created a wall of sound every bit the equal of Babb's evocative wordplay.
Perhaps greater than their creativity was their principle. By refusing to play sordid industry games and forbidding their songs to be used as mainstream commercial fodder, they made a conscious choice to relegate themselves to the ranks of the revered but unknown. In this cynical and materialistic age, such wanton displays of artistic integrity may seem foolish, even perverse, but their actions, like their music, were always born of more profound origins.
The sad reality is that some of the greatest art and artists go unheralded in their lifetimes. Dead Hot Workshop continues to perform (minus original members Scott and Larson), so perhaps it's too soon to offer that up as their eulogy.
But even if they should forever be relegated to the slums of happy hours and sports bars instead of arenas and stadiums, they will remain in the eyes of their dedicated acolytes gutter aristocracy -- too proud not to care, too stubborn to change.
Return of the DJ
The Bombshelter DJs have a way of making club ventures sound like military operations. The trio, which long ago dubbed itself the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called its weekly 1998 stint at Anderson's Fifth Estate in Scottsdale "Pentagon Night." Its earlier residency at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe was known as "Mission Control."
The war-room lingo is no accident.
For, in a very real way, the Bombshelter crew -- Z-Trip, Radar and Emile -- has seen its mission as something akin to an all-out strategic offensive on the senses, an attack executed with turntables, mixers and 12-inch records. This mission is rooted in the strange disconnect that's existed between Bombshelter's national reputation and its local drawing power.
Both Rolling Stone and URB have cited Z-Trip for his production wizardry, and last year Spin ranked the Bombshelter DJs ninth in a list of the top 13 turntablists in the world. At the same time, this DJ collective has struggled to get 200 people to see them at Valley clubs. But if the gap between local and national recognition has frustrated them at times -- and it frustrated Emile enough to send him packing to San Francisco last year, although he still does the occasional show with Z-Trip and Radar -- they've found compensation in the fact that local DJs of all musical tastes congregate at Bombshelter shows, mesmerized by the trio's acrobatic control of six turntables, and their fearless mix of hip-hop, vintage funk and trippier techno fare. A Bombshelter show is an aural sanctuary where Naked Eyes and Yes can co-exist with Brand Nubian. -- GG
I had a Daliesque moment in the Mexico City airport last Christmas Day. It came minutes after I cleared customs and bellied up to a bar blaring bootlegged techno from a boom box below the bottles of tequila. I was midway through my second shot when I registered the voice of a homeless man in Los Angeles, sampled more than a year ago, intoning the mantra: "Not everyone understands house music. It's a spiritual thing. A body thing. A soul thing."
The track was originally produced by Phoenix DJ and underground dance-scene pioneer Eddie Amador shortly after he moved to Los Angeles and became a nationally renowned guru of garage house. Eddie's big-time now, but I remember one early morning in 1996, descending a perilous mountain road on the way home from a full-moon party in the Superstition Mountains as the first hues of dawn caressed the darkness.
In the back seat, Amador and Jas Tynan (then a budding rave promoter, now a driving creative force in the Valley club scene) alternated between freaking out over the perilous cliffs to either side and arguing over John Coltrane tracks.
So what could I do but laugh and laugh at finding myself in the Mexico City airport, downing tequila, listening to Eddie's breakthrough track on a mix tape titled Discotecas de la Yucatan, Boom, Boom, Boom!
Well, now that I'm name-checking, let's bring Pete "Supermix" Salaz into the story. Amador's longtime collaborator and close friend, Salaz stuck here when Amador migrated to L.A., and has almost single-handedly kept the Phoenix house-music scene thriving with his Red Monkey series of club nights. Back in the day, Salaz and Amador promoted Chupa!, the "Club which never sucked so good," every Saturday night. You could mark the true beginning of the Valley's underground dance/electronica scene there, or its true peak, because it's all open to argument.
Yet there are some names and parties that should never be forgotten, and forgive me if I forget one. The kick-starters, the true believers, the purists who introduced the Valley to after-hours culture and a new form of music: Tall Paul, Fuzzy Chris, Sloane Burwell, Chris Flores, R.C. Lair, Inertia (and his partner Sarah Gianetto), Markus Schulz, and Blaz (who used to hotwire the energy at break-in warehouse parties). And of course Scotty from Basshead and Russ from Swell, the dynamic duo who guided the Phoenix rave scene through the minefield from the deep underground to a tentative legitimacy in the eyes of authority, and often paid the price from their own pockets when a misstep was made and the police helicopters arrived with their snipers and bullhorns: "Turn off the music and go home."
Looking way back, to the early '90s, one sees the Phoenix scene beginning in established night clubs such as the Silver Dollar and the Kon Tiki Hotel on Van Buren, the quasi-legal Gallery X, and last and most of all the Works, all of which hosted glorious parties and lasted only a matter of weeks before they were being wrapped up in red tape and laid to rest in the unofficial history tomes of Valley-scene lore.
Now, nearly a decade later, it's come full circle.
There are still warehouse raves, of course, where the candy kids suck pacifiers and wave their glowsticks and go "ooh" and "aah" at the pretty pink tracers. And, hey, I was one of them once, as were so many of the movers and shakers clocking bank and, yes, still throwing grand parties, in a subculture that has become exponentially mainstreamed and more profitable.
The truth is, we can't go back to the underground, no matter how many of us would like to. And so we've gone legit, moving into the licensed, fire-code approved and otherwise officially sanctioned venues: Pompeii (soon to become Freedom), the Crowbar, World, and Insomnia, among others. The best DJs spin there, because they get paid enough to make a living and don't have to worry about a man with a badge turning off their power at three in the morning.
It's a club thing now.
We all got older and wiser, but at least we're still dancing. -- David Holthouse
We're certainly no Olympia or Berkeley, but the Valley has its own inspiring underground rock tradition dating at least as far back as the Meat Puppets' '80s heyday, when they were leading the brigade of SST bands infiltrating the headphones of punk-rock kids across America.
Five years ago, when the turn of the century was but a curious glimmer in the back of our minds, bands like Jimmy Eat World, Slugger, Reuben's Accomplice, Safehouse, Mad At 'Em, and Born to Ignorance were surveilling and marking a new path, a roadway subsequently paved by the individual successes of the aforementioned. Jimmy Eat World's major-label accomplishments -- the stellar Static Prevails and last year's shimmering Clarity LP -- proved to the world that our little desert held gems that are more easily accessible than the Lost Dutchman's legends would have you believe.
The tradition continues today. Though Jimmy Eat World has left the major-label pastures, the band continues to compose some of the best music ever to come out of our state; upstarts like the Half Visconte and Harcuvar have modified and evolved the form into exciting new structures of sound; the Daggers, the Peeps and Sonic Thrills have revived the city's garage-rock heritage; diverse acts from Trunk Federation to Pollen and the Phunk Junkeez have taken their own paths to success; individual efforts like Half Visconte front man Scott Tennent's solo performances and Jim Adkins' symphonic Go Big Casino project continue to expand the horizons of our "indie rock" scene.
This development of the underground was made possible by the toil and sweat of some very determined kids and equally persistent adults. Whether in the corner of a record store, in a bowling alley or at a glorified warehouse space, ingenuity and sheer will have guaranteed that the Valley's underground legions have a home in which to rock. Consequently, we're now blessed with Modified, Phoenix's premier joint to check out independent bands both local and otherwise.
As the years drag on, the future's course can best be predicted by examining the past. On that theory, the Valley's underground rockers will certainly be looking forward to bright days. -- Brendan Kelley
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