Joe Valiente, 27, professional rapper, takes a long hit from a short joint and peels back a window curtain in the rear lounge of his luxury tour bus. Ten feet away, on a grimy sidewalk in downtown El Paso, a line forms along the brick edifice of Club 101.
Valiente exhales a plume of pot smoke through the window, watches to make sure it drifts over the growing crowd and drops the curtain back into place. Then he snatches a remote control, and punches up the volume on a Rick James album for the benefit of those now whiffing his secondhand smoke.
"Ambiance," Valiente explains, eyes red, grin wide.
The lead rapper for the Phunk Junkeez passes the spliff to bandmate DJ Roach Clip, grabs a beer from a cooler built into a couch, and packs the bowl of a resin-speckled, acrylic bong with two pinches from a pile of pot on the table before him.
It's St. Patrick's Day night, and the Phunk Junkeez are about to go onstage for the first time in four months. "Hey," Valiente says, "whaddaya call a Mexican quarterback?"
Roach Clip shakes his head and contemplates the lounge's two-title video library--Best of Barney and Phone Sex Girls, Vol. II.
"Yeah, maybe I shouldn't go with that joke tonight," Valiente says. "Last two times we played here, motherfuckers didn't seem to find it amusing."
This evening, Valiente, a brash, scrawny white boy, is sporting a slick, red soccer shirt by Adidas, baggy shorts and a Kangol cap. Whenever he bobs his head, bugs out his eyes and cackles at his own jokes, which is often, he looks like the Don Knotts of hip-hop.
Know this of Valiente, though: Homeboy can rock a house like an earthquake. In the parlance of his genre, Soulman onstage is off the Richter, a break-dancing, drop-splitting, amp-scaling, crowd-diving marvel, capable of consistently delivering the kind of performance people talk about years after the fact, if only for its supernova energy burn.
It's what he loves, and the only thing he really knows how to do.
"I was going through some old papers the other day, and I found my expulsion from high school," Valiente says. "It was dated November 1986--halfway through my sophomore year. I was already going to L.A. a lot then, laying down rhythms in a studio, and I was absent 13 days straight, so they showed me the door. But when I saw that piece of paper, I tripped out, because I always had it in my head that I went to high school for three years, when, in reality, I didn't even make it to Christmas of 10th grade.
"I've got no GED, no nothing, except this band. This is all I got. This is all I do. This is all I am, and lately, that's scary.
"But I'll tell you what. I can rock that motherfuckin' mike better than ever, because I've got all my usual skills, plus this new feeling like my whole life is riding on that 45 minutes up there."
Valiente (a.k.a. "Soulman") barks a laugh. "Hoo, boy--that's some motivatin' shit there, know what I'm saying?"
Outside, the line to get into Club 101 snakes 150 yards down the street, around a corner and out of sight. Earlier, in a band betting pool, Valiente guessed 175 people would come to the show. The band's road manager comes on the bus and announces 500 are through the door. "Well, gaw-awd-damn!" Valiente exclaims. He sounds relieved. "I guess El Paso's still a Phunk Junkeez town."
Indeed. It's been three years since the band played this kicked dog of a city, yet before the Junkeez even take the stage, cries and chants of "We want Soulman!" and "Phunk Junkeez! Phunk Junkeez!" sporadically overpower the club chatter amidst Club 101's all-ages, capacity crowd.
Longtime antiheroes in the Valley music scene, the Phunk Junkeez--Soulman, Roach Clip, Jeff O'Rourke (guitar), "Jumbo" Jim Woodling (bass) and Disco Danny Dynomite (drums)--have reached a crux point in their career. A venomous split with founding member Kirk "K-Tel Disco" Reznik is safely 18 months behind them, and key forces in the music industry have aligned to back the Junkeez for their last, best shot to lock all three wheels on cherry.
For seven years, the Junkeez have perfected their in-your-face, ahead-of-its-time montage of hard rock, funk and rap music. The results are apparent when the band goes on--make that off--at Club 101. O'Rourke, Woodling and Disco Danny lock into a serrated groove, and Roach Clip scratches the hell out of a record like a hip-hop DJ in a battle for his life as Valiente pimp-rolls onto the stage, triggering the first stanza of lyrics to his band's signature opening song, "B-Boy Hard," like bursts from a Mac-10.
It's the mother Phunking Junkeez/Takin' you for a test drive/Don't try to front/This posse's gonna kick it live/With a style/That's so versatile . . . A five-man hit squad/That will exterminate/This is for real/We never perpetrate.
Thirty rows deep in front of the stage, the children of El Paso rap along with Soulman. A mosh pit explodes in their midst. The lone bouncer behind the stage barricade signals frantically for back-up as an onslaught of crowd-surfers comes over the wall.
"See, El Paso is a Wal-Mart town," Valiente says, signing autographs after the show. "And in Wal-Mart towns, we rock. The Southeast, the Southwest, we rule all that shit. We do okay in big cities, too, but we're real popular with the trailer-park and tract-home folk."
Valiente himself is a product of urban sprawl. He grew up in Penland Park, a massive trailer court in Anchorage, Alaska. "I was always hyperactive," he says. "Until I was about 10, I'd get so excited playing with my friends I'd pee my pants." Valiente's family moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, when he was in sixth grade.
"It was a tough, trippy place, coming from Alaska," he says. "We lived in a poor neighborhood in a mostly black part of town. The whites who were there, they were like hard-core Southern white, chewin' tobacco and drivin' Chevy Novas and shit, so I hung out with all the brothers, listened to them rap, and learned to break-dance."
Valiente moved to west Phoenix in 1983, when he was 13. His first concert was the Gap Band and Doug E. Fresh at the Celebrity Theatre. He started writing raps, and taught himself to scratch records on a toy Strawberry Shortcake 45 player he got off his little sister. "It was pink, so I spray-painted it and shit, and used that until I mowed enough lawns to get some real turntables."
The subtext being: Scottsdale brats may find a new pair of Technics 1200s under the tree on Christmas morning, but Valiente worked for his gear, developed some skills, and began to spin records at house parties and club spots, Valleywide, while he was still a teenager, using the handle DJ Soulman.
One night in '85, Valiente was in Moon Valley Park, and came across this kid Kirk Reznik, five years his senior, rapping to a boom box in the bed of his 4x4. Valiente joined in, the two bonded, and started showing up here and there--mostly car shows and house parties--calling themselves White Boy Rap, then Bum Rap.
Valiente and Reznik ("K-Tel Disco") rapped to prerecorded tapes until DJ Roach Clip--a stoic, Buddha-looking dude with a flattop and a billy goat beard--introduced himself to Valiente one night after a Bum Rap show, and, five minutes into the conversation, the two realized they'd grown up in the same Alaskan trailer court.
"Yeah, I lived in Penland Park, too," says Roach Clip. "I remembered the same wooden cache at the entrance, but what sealed it was we both knew this little black girl we played with who only had half a foot."
Bum Rap became the Phunk Junkeez after Valiente and Reznik convinced three-fourths of local funk/punk band Freak Squad to ditch their singer after a show at the Sub-Cultural Arts Center in downtown Phoenix.
"I used to date this alcoholic chick, who knew this other alcoholic chick who," Valiente says, was dating Freak Squad's lead singer. "The guy worked for a sound company, and offered us free gear for a night if we let Freak Squad open. We said sure, then stole his band."
From there, it was on.
The Phunk Junkeez circumvented the Valley club scene and became a local sensation via a series of illegal warehouse parties in 1991 organized by Tyree Michael Carter, a young hustler who later went legit and formed the Valley's premier hip-hop promotions company, TMC Presents.
"We knew there was no way run-of-the-Mill Avenue would have us, so we didn't even try that shit," Valiente says. "The way it worked was this: Ty would scope out a warehouse and buy a bunch of kegs, and we'd promote the party together using fliers and word-of-mouth. Then, basically, the night of the event he'd break into the warehouse. We'd run everything on generators, get in there, throw down our set, and hopefully get offstage before the cops showed up.
"We'd go to Kinko's beforehand and print up some fake lease the security guys at the door could use to stall the cops long enough for Ty to get away with the money. They'd usually grab us and be like, 'Who hired you?,' and we'd say, 'Oh, some longhaired dude with gold teeth. If you catch him, tell him we need our money,' then we'd go meet Ty at Burger King to get our cut."
Carter says he threw five Phunk Junkeez warehouse parties during an eight-month period. The cover charge was always five bucks, he says. Attendance ranged between 800 to 1,200 per party.
As a result, the name Phunk Junkeez quickly became associated in several thousand young Valley minds with cheap beer, raucous music, anarchy and other illicit thrills. Predictably, the warehouse concerts got rowdier, and rowdier, until one night, before a party outside a warehouse at Ninth Avenue and Jackson, Carter told the Junkeez to curtail the crowd diving, and put four security guards onstage to enforce his dictate.
"Once the show got pumping, though, Kirk and Joey kicked the guards in the back and knocked them offstage into the crowd," says Carter. "Then bodies started flying like usual." One teenage girl near the front took a boot to the head that split her scalp. After the show, the Junkeez brawled with Carter's security guards.
"That night," Valiente says, "Ty never showed up at Burger King."
The warehouse era was over, but the Junkeez had achieved critical mass. The band's debut, self-titled album--released by the Atlanta indie label Ichiban--sold 25,000 copies. Adidas bought the rights to one track off the album, a brag-rap anthem titled "I Am a Junkee," for a commercial aired during World Cup soccer broadcasts.
"Junkee" is driven by a looped sample of the singsong guitar riff from Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop," for which the Junkeez paid the tidy sum of absolutely nothing. In fact, Phunk Junkeez is peppered with stolen samples from Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Who, Public Enemy, and Tom Jones, among other major artists.
"Back in the day, we used to run renegade Phunk Junkeez wars, and just straight jack shit," Valiente says. "We sold that shit to Adidas with the Zeppelin sample, and no one ever bothered to check if it was legal. I got a fresh '64 Dart outta that song. I was like, 'Damn, Jimmy Page bought me a car.'"
That same cockiness--some might say recklessness--extended to the band's attitude on live performances, including, most notably, the time the Junkeez shared a bill with L.A. one-hit wonders dada at Mesa Amphitheatre.
It was late 1992. Dada was all over FM radio with its wispy, flavor-of-the-month single "Dizz Knee Land" ("I just robbed a convenience store/I'm going to Dizz Knee Land"). The Phunk Junkeez were rough-edged local heroes with a regional buzz growing louder by the day.
"We didn't see a lot of crossover between our crowds," says Valiente. "Then we showed up to sound-check and found out the Phunk Junkeez were playing before dada in our hometown. We argued with the promoter, but he wouldn't make the switch, so we were like, 'All right, then.'"
What ensued, though never reported, was epic. Instead of just warming up the crowd, the Junkeez dropped napalm, and it was clear from the mass of kids going off in front of the stage that most of the 4,000-strong crowd was there to see the Junkeez, not dada.
And so, when their allotted time of 45 minutes was up, the Phunk Junkeez simply refused to leave the stage.
"Does anyone here want us to stop playing so they can hear dada?" Valiente asked, his voice oozing disdain.
"Noooooo!" the crowd roared.
"Well, all right, then," Valiente said, shrugging, as if the matter was settled. Dada could just go home.
Then, evidently deciding he was on a roll, Valiente started dissing anyone he could think of who needed it. He told the Gin Blossoms to fuck off. He told the Mormon church to fuck off. He told Mill Avenue club owners to fuck off. He told New Times to fuck off. Then, just for good measure, he told dada to fuck off. The Junkeez roared into "Radio Sucks," and Valiente ripped down a KEDJ banner hanging onstage and trampled it while he rapped.
The concert's promoter shut down the venue's sound system, but the Junkeez kept playing, using only their stage amps. Valiente and Reznik led the crowd in a chant of "Dada sucks! Dada sucks!" Finally, security guards forced the band off the stage. During the set change, easily two thirds of the crowd exited the amphitheater before dada played a note.
"You have to understand, back then, we thought we had to fight for respect," Valiente says. "We opened for Ammonia in Atlanta and Kirk asked the crowd, 'What do you use to clean up the stage when the Junkeez are done playing?'
In the summer of 1995, after a 30-month stretch of van tours, songwriting and sold-out, live-wire local shows, the Phunk Junkeez jumped ship from Ichiban to Trauma Records, an L.A.-based major label newly flush with cash from the multiplatinum sales of its flagship band, Bush.
The Junkeez already had a second album in the can, recorded on Ichiban's dime. Trauma bought out the contract, covered the $10,000 studio tab, released the album, and sent the band on a 14-month road trip. The sales reports on Injected the band received on the road started out grim, and didn't get much better.
"Getting signed to a major label was the easy part," Valiente says. "The real trick is keeping it together enough to make another record when your first major release fails to put you on the map.
"See, you've got pressure from the record company, pressure you put on yourself to stay true, and the pressure of bill collectors ringing your phone every day, because you don't have a job, because you're out on the road all the time.
"Under all that pressure, we started to crack."
The inside cover art Rudy "Dogmatic" McCoy drew for Injected--cartoon caricatures of the six Phunk Junkeez in a circle, with their fists all upside one another's heads--proved sadly precognitive.
"We were constantly fighting about stupid shit," says Valiente. "It got to be such a pain in the ass, to where we'd have a bad show, and instead of coming back on the bus and all of us going, 'Let's get it together for tomorrow night,' it'd be six guys sitting around going, 'Fuck you, dude, you suck. No, you suck. No, you suck.'"
The evil vibe was temporarily exorcised when the Phunk Junkeez played a radio festival on a rainy day in Somerset, Wisconsin.
"There were 30,000 kids there, and probably 20,000 of them were throwing mud at the bands," Valiente says. "The promoters were throwing a freak, dude. They kept coming on the mike going, 'Don't throw mud. If y'all don't stop, the bands aren't going to perform.'
"KMFDM refused to get onstage, because they didn't want to get mud on their equipment, but I was in the mood for a mud fight, so I told all my roadies to go and collect big buckets of mud and line them up on the drum riser, and I told Kirk, 'If anybody hits me with mud, it's on.'
"So we start playing, and sure enough, I've been up there about 10 seconds when--Puh!--I get nailed, right in the eye. Well, I went off. I grabbed buckets and rained mud down on those kids like the wrath of God. I was just like whuh, whuh, whuh [Valiente makes wild, sidearm throwing gestures].
"Then I climbed up on the speakers and I was mooning the whole crowd, and I got hit right in the ass with mud, dude, and we made the 5 o'clock news. That shit went down at 2 in the afternoon, and it was on TV at 5."
For the most part, though, it was a hellish tour. Asked to explain the problem, Valiente's candid. "I hate to say it, and not to point the finger at him because we all took part, but the majority of our problems at that point were due to Kirk. He was working against the collective."
The problem was Kirk Reznik's crusade to divert the Junkeez toward a new musical direction--strictly hard-core; aggressive pop/punk, and nothing but.
"Kirk's line was, 'Fuck rap music, I hate rap music, I don't ever want to play it again,' quote, unquote," says Valiente. "He kept saying, 'We're not punk rock enough. We're not large. We need to be large. We need to make music, man.' And it was like, okay, then, brother, show us the light."
The band wrote 20 new songs on the road, recorded them during short breaks in Phoenix, and sent them to Trauma for approval. Eighteen were rejected.
"We were willing to follow Kirk down this new path for a while, but when it came time to put it down on a track, he wasn't coming with what we needed. It just wasn't there, man."
Woodling says the band's confidence in Reznik was eroded. "The record label wasn't having it, and we just lost faith in Kirk's new direction. He still had faith, but ours was gone. We wanted to keep being the Phunk Junkeez, which is a little bit of rap, a little bit of punk, a little bit of soul, a little bit of funk, a little bit of everything."
Valiente again: "We all of us got to the point where we were like, 'Kirk, this isn't working. We need to just do what we do, which is write songs about smoking weed and having a good time and let's rock the mike. It's not Elton John, man. It's not that much of a science. We can't sing.'"
Reznik did not respond to interview requests for this article. However, in September 1996, he told New Times, "I wanted to go more hard-core, and they wanted to funk it up more. It seemed like Joe and them wanted to mellow in their old age and get more radio-friendly. I thought it was cheesy, and I said so. Repeatedly."
Tension ran high inside the emotional pressure cooker of a tour bus, and two camps evolved: Reznik, and everyone else.
"Several times, we sat down, and all of us would say, 'Kirk, we understand that you're not happy. But let's just get through this, and get home, where we'll have some time off, and we'll figure things out then. But for now, we've got to get through this tour,'" Valiente says. "And he'd go, 'Okay, okay,' then, next thing you'd know, he'd blow up again, and swing on somebody, and throw shit around the bus."
The band limped back to Phoenix in the summer of 1996, barely intact. Trauma was clamoring for new album material, and the Junkeez didn't have any. In August, Valiente threw a stress-relief party for the band and friends at the Icehouse, during which Reznik "went off on the whole band, and our girlfriends, in front of everyone. He just completely made an ass of himself, except this time, it was not on the bus, it was in public, in Phoenix, where we live."
Endgame. The next day, five of the six Junkeez held a meeting without Reznik and, with little ceremony, voted him out of the band he started with Valiente, way back when.
"At that meeting, the whole dynamic of the band changed," Valiente says. "We decided to split everything five ways, from tee-shirt sales to loading equipment to writing songs. Up to that point, it was the Joe and Kirk show."
Reznik said the band's manager called him with the news of his ousting. "Joe and them wouldn't even set up a meeting so we could talk. They just backdoored me the whole way. It was me and Joe from the beginning. We brought the band in later, and for Joe to do that to me is just fucked-up."
Reznik is currently at work on his solo project, Bite.
Right after he gave Reznik the boot, Valiente flew to L.A. to salvage his band's record deal. His first stop was the house of producer Lee Popa (Ministry, Tool, Living Colour), who was slotted to produce the band's next album. Popa said he was still down, so Valiente raced to the Trauma offices on Wilshire Boulevard, where he sat before the label's president, Paul Palmer. "It was like the Godfather and shit."
Soulman says the dialogue went like this:
"Okay, Joe, let's talk about this Kirk thing."
"Bottom line, Mr. Palmer, the rest of the guys in the band can't work with him, and neither can I. We're not gluin' like we used to. It's not Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley anymore."
"Well, what do you propose we do? We haven't been happy with what you've shown us lately, and now this."
"All we ask is you give the five of us enough time to create something to put in your hands, so you can see if you want this new package."
"Well, Joe, just so you know, I'd say you've got about a 2 percent chance of pulling this off."
Valiente left the meeting, contacted the band's booking agency, and told it to schedule a national tour, starting in five weeks.
"Then I called Trauma back, and said, 'By the way, we need 10 grand to go on the road.'" It took some more fast-talking, but Valiente got the funds.
The first Junkeez show sans Reznik was a USC rush-week party. Valiente and Roach Clip split Reznik's rhymes between them, and the show went well, though drunk frat boys aren't exactly rigid critics.
The Edge Fest two weeks later was more of a trial by fire. Compton Terrace, September 28. Nine thousand kids on the grass, with the Phunk Junkeez second from the top on a main-stage lineup choked with all-stars. The Junkeez gave a command performance. Valiente was in perfect form, the band was tight, and Roach Clip nailed his lines.
"We felt good again," O'Rourke says. "Back in the groove."
The Junkeez hit the road a week later. Popa, the producer, built a mobile, fully equipped, 16-track studio inside the bus, and went along on tour. The band's muse was kind, and within a week, the Junkeez sent Trauma two new, killer tracks--"Million Rappers" and "Once Again."
"We hit 'em with some shit," Valiente says, "and they were like, 'Oh, really, that's what you've got. All right, then.'"
The Junkeez tracked 23 more songs in three months. Palmer--a hands-on owner who personally mixes down every album his label puts out--picked his favorite 10, plus "Rappers" and "Once Again" for the band's third album, Fear of a Wack Planet, scheduled for release in early June.
The band recorded the album last February at the Arnold Muhren studios, located in a Dutch village about 20 minutes from Amsterdam.
"We stayed with this Dutch family who used hash oil like butter in their cooking," Valiente says. "It was stylin'. We'd be like, 'May I have a space cake before I retire to the studio?'"
Obviously, the Junkeez were back in Trauma's good graces. Beyond flying the band to Amsterdam, the label threw down $20,000 in licensing fees for the album's samples.
"They made us sign release forms and do it all legal-like, 'cause they know we're dogs when it comes to sampling," Valiente says.
Not surprisingly, Valiente says it's also far and away the band's best. "Injected was a major-label release recorded on an indie-label budget. This time, we're coming correct."
Palmer's label has an impressive track record of breaking bands in the '90s, most notably Bush and No Doubt. Fear of a Wack Planet will be Trauma's first release since the company severed its partnership with Interscope Records to go solo. It will also be the most expensive recording Trauma's ever issued, and, hungry for it to hit, the label is getting behind the album in a big way, with a platoon of full-time publicists, a fat video budget and a print-advertising blitz planned for this summer.
Of course, such a heavy investment comes hand-in-hand with heavy expectations for return. If they aren't met, the Phunk Junkeez are through. It's that simple.
"We have to put something on the wall this year," Valiente says. "Gold or platinum, I don't give a fuck. Bronze, silver, aluminum foil, chrome. I just want something from the record company that says, 'Hey, Joe, we like ya, and you're doing all right.' Because if we don't sell a couple hundred thousand records, they're gonna drop us like a pair of dirty underwear.
"It all rides on this record. This is our shot. If it don't pop on this record, it ain't ever gonna pop, because, realistically, it's all come together in our favor. We're in the right place at the right time with the right name and the right label behind us.
"We all realize this is it. If we don't make shit happen, then we're gonna have to live ordinary fucking lives. We'd all like to finally show our parents what the hell we've been doing the last 10 years, but there's no guarantee. It's either gonna be like, 'Wow, cool,' or, 'Well, sorry, boys. Have a good life.'"
For now, at least, the Junkeez are still riding high. And in style--specifically, a 40-foot, jet-black and polished-chrome tour bus, boasting all the extras.
The Junkeez are visibly impressed as they board their new home away from home for the first time on the eve of departure for a six-day warm-up run through Texas and New Mexico.
"Damn," Valiente says, checking out the mirrored ceiling and ice-blue running lights. "It's all Miami Vice in here."
The band's road manager procured an ounce of marijuana for the trip, and the Junkeez quickly set about denting their stash. Piloted by Bubba, a grizzled rock 'n' roll driver from Georgia, the bus isn't five miles out of Phoenix before the entire tube of its interior is fogged with yesca smoke.
Aside from a tiny bathroom and kitchenette, the bus has three defined areas: the main lounge, located directly behind the front seats; the sleeping quarters--a hallway lined with 12 bunks, stacked in four sets of three, Das Boot torpedo-crew style--and the rear lounge.
Both lounges, and each bunk, have a video monitor. "I'm getting too old not to have a TV in my bunk," Valiente says. The VCR and satellite-TV controller are in the front room, however, and the evening's visual entertainment is a subject of heated debate as O'Rourke scrolls through a channel guide on-screen.
Mueller spots an attractive option. "Bikini Traffic School!" he calls from the rear. "Bikini Traffic School!"
"Do we have squeal like a piggy?" Valiente asks. No one answers.
"I said, do we have squeal like a piggy!?"
"Nah," O'Rourke calls back. "Burt's leg is already broken. We missed the piggy scene."
"All right, fuck it," Valiente says, defeated. "Bikini Traffic School."
The Junkeez's last tour bus, Valiente says, "was like a new-age country-music bus or some shit. It had these murals on the sides with eagles and shit, which we thought was kinda cool at first, but then we started playing radio festivals, and the other bands were like, 'Ah-ha! Mural bus! Mural bus!'"
The mural bus was also driver-owned, which Valiente warns can be a serious buzz kill. "Our driver kept getting all pissed off because we'd turn the air conditioning way down. One night he put all this duct tape over the A/C controls, and Kirk snuck out of his bunk, peeled back the tape, and turned it down to 62 degrees.
"Well, the guy got up in the morning and freaked. He kicked this little cabinet door right off the hinges, and Kirk was like, 'That's it. You're fired,' and the dude was like, 'You can't fire me, it's my bus,' and he storms off, and we're all yelling at Kirk like, 'Dude, what the fuck, now he's just going to leave us out here,' and Kirk was all cool, like, 'Relax. He'll be back in five minutes.' And sure enough, the guy came back like five minutes later, all huffy, and just got in the driver's chair without a word."
Valiente takes a moment to savor the memory. "That was one thing about ol' Kirk, man. He could piss a motherfucker off and still get you to work for him, day in, day out."
So does Soulman ever miss K-Tel Disco?
"You know, I won't say there's not nights that don't go by where I sit onstage thinking, 'Wow. He's not here with me.' I don't miss what we became, but I miss my friend up there, rocking the mike, doing the things we used to do."
At least one Junkeez fan misses him, too.
In El Paso, just as the band started to relax after the triumphant Club 101 show, a Chicano kid hopped up on the side of the bus and pressed his face into the lounge's window screen.
"Hey," he hollered, "where's K-Tel?"
"He's on permanent vacation," Mueller answered. Roach Clip yanked the curtains shut.
The Junkeez partied for another hour, then peeled off to crash, one by one. Valiente stayed up alone, roasting bowls and staring out the window until the early morning as Bubba made the haul from El Paso to Austin. The Junkeez are scheduled to headline a Trauma Records showcase at South by Southwest, the music industry's annual schmooze-a-rama in the Texas capital.
Trauma sees the conference as a chance to spread its feathers, buy a lot of drinks, press flesh, and promote the hell out of its upcoming releases. The Phunk Junkeez see it as an obligation.
Valiente spends most of the day before the showcase being herded by Trauma publicists from spot interview to label dinner to radio industry party, where he does the grip-and-grin with every program director in reach, all at a publicist's orchestration.
"I'm the band's designated schmoozer," Valiente says.
He manages to stay hella stoned the whole time--"survival tactic"--and occasionally, to relieve his boredom, busts out a set of fake teeth he carries like a good-luck charm. The novelty dentures are horrific, and convincing at a glance--rotten gums, jagged enamel pointin' every which way.
Valiente runs a few routines with the teeth. Sometimes he steps in front of some unsuspecting record-industry wage slave and drawls, "Hey, boy, you sure got a purty mouth." Others, he stands on a corner, head bobbing and feet shuffling, wanna-be-gangsta style, and yells across the street to no one in particular, "Whassup, foo'? You got a 20-dollar rock? I got five on that."
"Take the teeth out, Joe," the publicists keep telling him. "Please take the teeth out."
The day of the show in Austin, Valiente kicks it with the rest of the band, watching movies on the bus, parked in front of the Atomic Cafe, site of the Trauma party.
"Oh, shit," Mueller says at one point in the early afternoon, breaking the reverie of From Dusk 'Til Dawn.
The rest of the band scrambles for position at the one-way window. "Yep," says Roach Clip, pointing to a guy with two-tone, bleached-blond hair, wearing a black bowling shirt. "It's King."
King, it turns out, is a former Phunk Junkeez roadie of ill renown. One time, after a show in Winston-Salem, the band couldn't find King anywhere to help load out sound gear, until the bus driver told them King was in the back lounge, enjoying the oral favors of a clearly underage groupie. The band busted in on and began berating him for neglecting his duties.
"Hey," King protested, gesturing to the girl kneeling before him. "It's her birthday!"
King's in Austin with his band, Stupid Dummy Head, who, true to name, showed up for the conference last Thursday, a week early, then drove back to Phoenix and repeated the 15-hour drive.
Almost on cue, King opens the bus door and pokes his head through the portal.
"Is Danny in here?"
"Yeah, King, whaddaya want?"
"I need to borrow your flashlight so I can take a doogie."
Reluctantly, the Phunk Junkeez drummer turns over an illuminating device.
"See, that's classic King," says Big John, the Junkeez's longtime head of security [El Paso was his 107th show]. "He literally can't find his ass without a flashlight."
"Holy shit," Valiente exclaims. "There's Gary Busceli, that prick." Busceli is Bush's road manager. Valiente says he used to hassle the Phunk Junkeez for scarfing on Bush's deli trays.
"Look at that sport jacket and ponytail," Valiente scoffs. "What a wuss."
Strolling down the sidewalk, Busceli stops to check out the Junkeez's tour bus. "Ah, caught him looking," Valiente says, obviously delighted. "Oop, caught him lookin' again."
The fun continues during the Junkeez's sound check inside the Atomic Cafe, when Billy Duffy, ex-lead guitarist for the Cult, gets tired of waiting for the Junkeez and, without warning, goes ballistic on their sound man, calling him, among other things, "a bloody cunt."
An officious young man wearing the insignia of a South by Southwest venue director gives throat-slitting motions for the Junkeez to stop playing until the squabble is settled, but they ignore him, as Duffy, whose comeback project is scheduled to open for the Junkeez that night, is led away, wailing, "Do you know who I am? I was in the Cult! Show me some fucking respect!"
Back on the bus, the band members all laugh at him, except for Valiente. "I will not, repeat, will not go out like that," he says. "I'm embarrassed for that guy."
A publicist boards the bus and announces there's one more industry party to hit before the show. Valiente is somewhat less than enthusiastic. "Oh, man, all these people, they're just a bunch of car salesmen. I worked as a lot boy, man. I've heard every closing deal there is." He breaks into a smarmy sales pitch: "What do I need to do to put you in this band today?"
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The Phunk Junkeez front man slumps in his seat for a few seconds. He's a long way from Moon Valley Park. Suddenly, Valiente reanimates. He bounds to his feet, and pops in the fake teeth.
"Whassup, South by Southwest? I got 10 years in the business and counting! I don't have time for your shit! Haven't you heard? The Phunk Junkeez only got one year left to get busy. The word's on the street. But I tell you what, foo', I'm gonna be a Junkee 'til I die. You better recognize!"
Contact David Holthouse at his online address: email@example.com