Local Wire

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.

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Bob Mehr
Contact: Bob Mehr