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Ace Venture

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They don't hate Jeff Dahl, though. Drummer Andy Madison is wearing a Jeff Dahl tee shirt. Bassist Brian Stylz and guitarist Joey and singer/guitarist Fido all agree on that one.

"We love Dahl," Fido says. "We can't believe he just hangs out in Cave Creek."

Fido fronted the forgotten Dead City Love until 1998. When that band evaporated, he moved to L.A. for a year, then returned to Phoenix "jaded and bitter."

"I gave up music altogether," Fido says. "Joey talked me out of it."

Johnny Ace's current plans include a debut release by September. Then, of course, the tour and rock 'n' roll stardom.

As the beer flows, conversation slowly morphs into a mass of competing voices. There's yak about Mafia families in Tucson; getting kicked out of schools and spelling bees, out of apartments and families. One band member got punched by a stripper who had a Superman tattoo. Another was bailed from jail hours before a gig.

"My lawyer told me I'm not supposed to talk about it," shouts Stylz over a throbbing Crüe number. Gang tats fade into Stylz's biceps. He claims these are tats from his days growing up on the south side of Chicago. Stylz sports bristly, youngish Billy Idol hair.

"I was in jail and I got out four hours before the show. It was a very good show. I was in for shit I did when I was younger."

"I pretty much manage the band," remembers the thick-set Madison, "so I had to get him out. He calls me up at fuckin' like two o'clock in the fucking morning and he was like, 'Fuckin' dude, I'm in jail. You gotta get some bail money to get me out.' I'm like, 'Brian, don't fuck with me right now, it's too early in the morning.' So I get to the Madison jail and the guy goes, 'The process might take four or five hours.' I'm like, 'Dude, he's gotta be out by 7:30. We got this big show tonight, we're gonna get signed tonight' -- just lyin' my ass off. I finally got him out around six in the afternoon and we had a show around 11. When he got out he was tellin' me that he didn't know how much more his butt could've taken."

That barstool resentment thickens. Due in part, perhaps, to the fact that two of the group's members have been tossed from other local bands. Sonic Thrills gave drummer Madison the boot early this year. Last year, Crashbar (now called Sugar High) tossed Joey from its ranks. And you know what happens when you mix bitterness with booze. You get drunk and furious. There are entire clusters of sour grapes.

"They're (Sugar High) are a bunch of fucking pricks and they fired me for no good reason," Joey declares with a faint laugh. "But really, I still love those guys."

Joey's tall, skinny, and his teeth are like a neglected graveyard. His hair is bleached blond. He's good-looking in a frayed sort of way, and he plays guitar like punk heroes of yore. Endorsement deals with Seymour Duncan pick-ups and Groove Tubes help keep his costs low in a world where guitar costs are anything but low.

Joey describes a certain Tempe chick band as sounding somewhere between "a dentist's drill and two cats fucking." The other members raise their beers in a toast.

"We're having a hard time booking with bands," adds Madison. "I don't know if they are afraid of us when we play live or what."

Stylz adds, "There's this competition, man, and it's kinda fucked up. We are there trying to fuckin' do our shit. We all want a record deal, we all want to be big. There are some bands that won't play with us because we'll flat out upstage them. I keep telling these guys, but they think I'm full of shit, but I used to be a black man in a past life."

It's three in the morning, and Haugen and I are the only ones left. The others got drunk and went home; jobs as window washers and couriers await them in the morning. We are in the west-side home of a tart I'll call "Betty," one of the strippers from Bailey's. Betty is a lovely blonde. She's sitting on a mattress in the middle of her living room floor, telling me her story.

A guy with a crew cut is passed out on the couch. Another dude with a crew cut comes in and out of the room. He'll stare at the TV for a moment, then leave. Another guy paces around the house, shouting into a portable phone. He's tweaked out of his young mind on meth. When he sits, his knees bounce up and down at a rate of 10 times a second. After 20 minutes of standing, sitting, slamming doors and rattling chairs, I wonder who he could be talking to, if anybody could possibly be on the other end of the line.

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Brian Smith
Contact: Brian Smith