End of the Road

A 2 Live Crew show was the last place Windigo front man Matt Strangeways expected to spend his Valentine's Day. On a day that's supposed to be filled with hearts and flowers, Strangeways' mood couldn't have been blacker.

It wasn't a girl that Strangeways was pining over, but rather the demise of his band, one of Phoenix's premier hard-rock/metal outfits for the better part of seven years.

Strangeways had sensed the end was approaching last fall when the group parted ways with original guitarist Jason Wilhite. Undaunted, the singer decided to pause from the grind of writing and performing and went back to his native New York for a three-month sabbatical. Strangeways says he had every intention of returning to the Valley after the holidays, hiring a new guitarist and restarting the band.

Though he was able to hire former Sunburst Lovezap member Dave Buckley to fill the vacated guitar slot, resuming Windigo turned out to be an ill-fated hope. A combination of unspecified personal reasons, a sour experience with the band's record label and what Strangeways calls "guys deciding they don't want to do this forever" resulted in a decision by the rest of the group -- bassist Dave Curwin and drummer Junior Newlin -- to close the curtain on the band's run.

For Strangeways, the decision was understandably difficult. "It's been like years and years of blood, sweat and tears going into building the name and the band," he says, a trace of disappointment still hanging in his voice. "So it wasn't easy to part with. My heart was really in it."

It was in that somewhat depressed frame of mind that Strangeways called up longtime friend and fellow Valley musician Mitch Steele, front man for rock band Jesus Chrysler Supercar, and former Windigo publicist Sean Donovan with an invite to 2 Live Crew's Valentine's Day show at the Cajun House.

Ironically, Steele was mired in much the same state as Strangeways, having pulled the plug on his own long-running outfit several weeks earlier. The parallels were not lost on either men. Windigo and Jesus Chrysler formed at the same time, both watched their career paths chart a similarly upward course, only to run afoul when faced with the unending vagaries of the music biz.

If a concert featuring the notoriously raunchy rappers and their X-rated stage show seemed like an unlikely place to commiserate, they turned out to be wrong. The trio eventually ended up backstage, palling around with band members and "the internationally renowned Me So Horny dancers." Fraternizing with the Crew turned out to be just the tonic that the two disheartened front men needed.

"It was just so surreal to be sitting in between Chinaman and the Me So Horny dancers," says Strangeways. "That became the joke of the evening between Mitch and I. I kept telling him that if all else failed, we could go on the road with 2 Live Crew."

Speaking about Jesus Chrysler's split, Steele stressed that the breakup wasn't the result of any animosity, but rather "having plenty of opportunities and running into too many stumbling blocks." Though he maintains that Jesus Chrysler is ostensibly finished, he did note that the band is still shopping some of the demos it recorded for Columbia and Island to its industry contacts. But "my feeling is we're pretty much done."

"I loved the band and the music, but it was a question of beating a dead horse," says Steele. He says that Jesus Chrysler still has a small stockpile of material, tracks that were originally intended to be a companion to the band's 1999 Land Speed EP.

Despite his frustration with the career prospects in the music industry, Steele isn't planning to retire just yet. He's already performed a pair of shows, fronting a new band tentatively dubbed Chet. The combo is composed of members of defunct Tempe psycho-rockers Beats the Hell Out of Me and Phunk Junkee Jim Woodling on bass. Steele says the group has already demoed some material and will begin an active performing schedule in the coming months.

Similarly, Windigo's split has "opened a whole bunch of new opportunities" for Strangeways, one of which is a new band with guitarist Buckley. Though no other personnel have been secured, Strangeways says he has half a dozen songs ready and is eager to get things going with a new project.

"I'm not very patient when it comes to things like that. When I have something in my head, I don't want to sit around."

Austin Calling: We're less than three weeks away from the annual orgy of music, commerce and media that is the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference. The year's festival runs from March 14 through 19.

It seems that things are getting back to normal with the SXSW agenda. This following last year's seminar, which came after the massive Seagram's-PolyGram merger and had an air of a job scramble for the thousands of music-biz types affected by the industry-wide cuts. While business seemed to be the topic on everyone's minds in '99, the overriding theme for 2000 is a back-to-art ethic (or as much as that's possible with so many record-company folks milling about).

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the selection of festival keynote speaker Steve Earle. A country maverick and industry pain in the ass par excellence, Earle will no doubt be dishing out more than a few sturdy bits of advice to the assembled masses. Earle recently folded his onetime Warner Bros.-financed E-Squared label (home to alt and insurgent country acts Bap Kennedy and Marah) into Artemis Records, the indie company headed by fired Mercury Records chief Danny Goldberg.

As for the local angle on the proceedings, there should be no shortage of desert-related news. Unfortunately, of the 50-plus band submissions from the metro Phoenix area, the selection czars tabbed a total of only six local acts, including the Phunk Junkeez, Dead Hot Workshop, Pollen, DJ ZTrip, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers and the Van Buren Wheels. Considering the volume of worthy apps, and a majority of those being new groups, it's disappointing to see the SXSW judges stick with so many staid choices. That's not to say Bash & Pop isn't pleased with most of the selections, especially considering that we had a hand in one or two. But with the exception of the Van Buren Wheels, the remaining Phoenix representatives have all been to the conference at least once before, if not on multiple occasions, in one form or another.

The rest of the state (read that: Tucson) is represented by neo-swingers Crawdaddy-O, indie folkies Ambor Bellum Duo, and the predictable picks of the Giant Sand/Calexico contingent.

All of the bands seem to be on solid ground leading up to the festival. Pollen and the Peacemakers will be fitting in their spots between national tour dates, while Dead Hot Workshop has resumed a regular performance schedule as a tune-up for its high-profile Saturday-night SXSW set.

Despite some ominous rumblings that the Van Buren Wheels, a '60s-style Vox-organ-grinding R&B outfit, were on the verge of breaking up, guitarist Steve Shelton assures us that the band will be intact and in Texas where it will share a Buffalo Club bill with L.A. punks the Chickenhawks and former Urge Overkill singer Nash Kato.

Shelton says the band turmoil -- rumored to be the result of chemical addiction problems -- has subsided and the group has secured the services of former Revenant Richard Taylor -- no stranger to his own battles with substance abuse -- to fill the spot vacated by organist Jamie Lamb.

In any event, New Times will be sending a contingent of writers to cover the proceedings and, of course, to weasel as many free drinks as possible. Look for a complete run-down on all the Lone Star madness in the weeks following.

Tracks of My Tears: Had I known the embarrassing sob story I penned about Pollen's new album Chip ("Heartbreak Kids," January 27) would have elicited an unending stream of, "Dude, are you all right?" sentiments and sympathetic, lingering hugs from strange women, I would have purged my soul long ago.

I have no intention of using the music section as a personal pity/dating service, and I've finally recovered enough from the intense emotional trauma of the Chip experience to report that the group will officially mark the release of its new disc with a performance this Saturday, February 26, at the Green Room in Tempe.

To put one Pollen-related personnel rumor to bed, the group does have a new bassist, sort of.

Word from the band is that longtime rhythm ace Chris Serafini will be absent from the group's upcoming national tour, and will be replaced by Sean Felcyn of L.A. alt-punks Co-Ed. Serafini will continue to work as a studio member of the band and will play all of the group's local dates, including the CD release and in-store at Virgin Records, set for this Saturday at noon. The reason for Serafini's change in status is not -- as some have suggested -- because of his membership in Ghetto Cowgirl, but rather a work-related commitment.

As a side note, Scott Hessel, longtime local drummer (Jennys, Pastry Heroes, Stumbles), who joined Tempe alt-rock trio Gloritone last year, is leaving the band. Gossip centers on a lack of chemistry between Hessel -- who replaced original kit sitter Dan Lancelot last spring -- guitarist Tim Anthonise and bassist Nic Scropos. Officially, both sides are saying the parting was mutual. No word yet on when the band will name a replacement.

Aces High: If you've heard the name Johnny Ace lately, it's due, no doubt, to the band's pedigree. Featuring former members of Dead City Love, Sonic Thrills, and Rattlebox, the group has quickly established a solid local reputation opening shows for bands ranging from local punks the Glass Heroes to Chicago popsters the Teenage Frames.

Johnny Ace will be making a handful of high-profile appearances in the upcoming weeks -- including a March 3 headlining spot at the Green Room with Fabulous Disaster and Tucson's Funky Bones, and a March 16 spot at Hollywood Alley in Mesa -- before heading into Jeff Dahl's Cave Creek studio to lay down tracks for their as-yet-untitled debut. -- Bob Mehr

Contact Bob Mehr at his online address: bob.mehr@newtimes.com

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