Music News


Mario Moreno of Forbidden Pigs remembers one "discussion" he had with his wife about settling down and getting a real job. It sticks in his mind because it was the last time he saw his bajo sexto, his Mexican bass guitar, in one piece. Arriving home late and a little drunk, Mario got into a fight with his wife Evangeline about his music. Mario's traveling with the band made their lives too unsettled, she argued. And it sure didn't pay enough.

Mario shot back that music was what he loved, what he was good at. The verbal tide washed back and forth until, at a crucial moment, Evangeline snapped. Mario describes her as the levelheaded member of the family, but this evening, she snatched his bajo, which was leaning against the wall, whipped it up and--with a roundhouse, Willie Mays cut--smashed it against a nearby standup piano.

"Man, bajos are big, like a cello," Mario says with a grin. "That thing just exploded. Yeah, that was the last time I ever played a bajo."

Somehow, though, Mario and Evangeline have made it work. "We've been around and around about my playing, my wife and I. She wants me to stay home, but she's also the one who told me to go for it. With any other woman, I'd probably be dead already."

A graduate of Carl Hayden High School, the 37-year-old Valley native is the singer-guitarist for the roots-rock trio Forbidden Pigs. Before joining the Pigs, Mario was a well-known member of two other local bands, a blues act called the Hoo-Doo Kings and a rockabilly trio called the Varmits.

The life of a club band like Forbidden Pigs is a doctoral dissertation in abnormal psychology. Being in a band that's always on the road and has no desire to play monster arenas takes a special mentality. You sleep during the day, eat when you can and work late for very little money. Along the way, there are slimy club owners, bedbugs and the occasional but irresistible nubile fan.

The worst part is trying to maintain your family relationships. Mates tend to get bent because they're home working and taking care of business while you're somewhere in Iowa strung out on the blacktop.

With the Pigs it's even more complicated. Instead of playing a mass-market music like hard rock, something that could lead them to fame and fortune, the Pigs tread a more esoteric musical back road known as roots rock. Dressed in vintage suits, starched shirts and wing-tip shoes, they play three-chord, 2/4-beat rock 'n' roll the way rock's Fifties creators like Chuck Berry meant it to be played. Due to their own hard work and a friendship with wild man Mojo Nixon, the Pigs' debut record Una Mas Cerveza has just been released. It's on the Triple Nixon label, a joint project of Mojo Nixon and California-based Triple X Records. To get the word out, the band will play a series of record-release parties and then embark on an extensive tour that will take it all the way to Boston and back. The Pigs will kick off the tour with this week's appearance at Chuy's.

Onstage, the Pigs are a gas to watch. Bassist Billy Bacon, the band's founder and gringo loco, is known for getting his ya-yas out by spinning, throwing and climbing all over his standup bass.

This party band's sense of humor also comes out in the songwriting. The record's title tune is a Billy Bacon original that spins a Corona-fueled tale based on the three words that a gringo says when cornered in a cantina by a pack of murderous banditos.

The band's original music is another area in which the Pigs' talents shine bright. On Una Mas Cerveza, Billy and Mario split the songwriting duties. Both contribute winners, like the hooky, Spanish-language rumba "Morenita Mia" by Mario and the band's unofficial theme song, Billy's rootsy "Jump for Jive." The two trade off on lead vocals and Mario even plays a little accordion.

Between the music and the stage show, the Pigs find it easy to believe in what they do. The problem is that the audience for roots rock will always be small. Fans of alternative or other kinds of "new" music inevitably view bands like Forbidden Pigs as traditionalists, or "oldies" acts.

The exception is when roots rock goes through one of its periodic fad phases. In the early Eighties, for example, the success of the Stray Cats made roots rock cool, even marketable, for a short time. The Pigs further complicate an already difficult audience equation by having wide-ranging tastes. Along with roots rock, they also write and perform jump blues, western swing, country honk and even a little Tex-Mex. This kind of variety satisfies the band members and makes the group something special to fans. But such variety also makes it tough for record labels and radio stations to fit the Pigs into the neat holes that musical success demands these days.

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Robert Baird