Come Learn About Phoenix Punk Legends Sun City Girls at Club Placebo's Hootenanny | Phoenix New Times

Come Learn About Phoenix Punk Legends Sun City Girls at Club Placebo's Hootenanny

It's a rare opportunity to see a show by one of Phoenix's most influential bands.
Sun City Girls were one of a kind.
Sun City Girls were one of a kind. YouTube screenshot

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When people talk about the early '80s punk bands in Phoenix — and beyond — it’d be shocking if the Sun City Girls weren’t mentioned. Along with groups like JFA and Mighty Sphincter, they helped create and shape the scene.

The eclectic and experimental act formed in 1979 but really started getting recognition and gaining lifelong devotees after connecting with Placebo Records, which was founded by Tony “Tony Victor” Beram in 1981.

So it'll be a night of entertainment and education on Saturday, March 12, when downtown spot Club Placebo opens its doors for a what they're calling a "hootenanny."

The event is called Exploring the History of the Sun City Girls Through the Oral Tradition, and it's a rare opportunity to see the band’s founding members — brothers Alan and Richard Bishop — perform some tunes and participate in a live panel discussion. (Charles Goucher, the act’s drummer since 1981, died in 2007.)

Their sound was heady, unique, and diverse — a magical concoction of styles from rock to surf to jazz layered with various sounds, styles, and esoteric subject matter.

Lay back, put on headphones, get transported — that was the kind of punk rock Sun City Girls served up. Standing the test of time and kicking it hard in the face, the records still have the same power to meld the mind.

Alan Bishop, who is as musically prolific as ever, recalls getting involved with Placebo Records. “I met Tony (Beram) at an open mic. His brother was signed up to play — that was the first time we met. He said he was interested in having us play at his venue Madison Square Gardens and then one thing led to another. A serendipitous open mic night at Tony’s Pizza in Tempe.”

Beram remembers that night. “Alan was hosting the open mic. I heard about the band from a Zia Records employee and was looking for bands to play Mad Gardens — as the place was affectionately called. I was really impressed with the short set they played, and Alan was a very charismatic host. Ricky [Bishop] had some real skills on guitar. And Charlie Goucher was playing that night with Poet’s Corner, who I also hired for a future gig. Little did I know that he would later replace that night’s Sun City Girls drummer that made the band the force of nature that they became. They recorded for Placebo Records from 1982 to 88.”

Sun City Girls have often been cited as musical inspiration for bands that came after. We asked Bishop how meaningful that is to him.

“Well,” he tells New Times, “I’m gonna quote Paul Cantrell from our first Phoenix New Times interview in ’83 or ’84. He had a quote that made my mom laugh — it was her favorite part of the interview. He said that ‘Sun City Girls find meaning perhaps where there is none.’ And that was the quote. In the end, I thought that was pretty profound. Maybe we found some meaning where there really wasn’t any — we dug it up somewhere. It’s like archaeology or something, finding meaning where there is none.”

Michael Pistrui, who currently fronts Fat Gray Cat, is one of the many local scene veterans who found inspiration from the band. In his case, it led to collaboration. “I started to see the Sun City Girls before I could drive. By the time I was 21, I was in a band, and we were playing shows together. Now, we record music together, which is an honor for me. They’re musical heroes to me.”

For Beram, he hopes that “Club Placebo can be a vehicle to document the recollections and stories of the people that participated in making the Phoenix music scene from 1980 to 1990 so special.” He plans to collect interviews and conversations with people from that era and organize the “massive” archives for preservation and presentation.

Bishop solidifies the value of these efforts. “I like what Tony is doing,” he says. “Phoenix had a very unique music scene. It was very eclectic, and in a town that is more off the radar than places like NYC or L.A., it’s sort of mandatory to try and keep it alive. It’s nice to have respect given to the Phoenix music legacy.”

Club Placebo Hootenanny. With The Brothers Unconnected, Uncle Jim, and Sir Richard Bishop.  7 p.m. Saturday, March 12. Club Placebo, 119 West McDowell Road. No cover — $20 suggested donation. 
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