What was supposed to have been a quiet public rehearsal for a few friends has turned into a full-blown concert event, with seemingly half of the Valley's hot rod and pompadour set bearing witness to the first performance of twang merchants Flathead in close to a year.
Up above, on the Cannery's balcony stage, guitarist Greg Swanholm holds a familiar position, hunkered over an upside down Telecaster; behind him float the high harmonies and fills of drummer Vince Ramirez. But to their left, riding the rhythm of an upright four-string, is a new face, Shannon Marino.
Marino, who splits time between wife Heather Rae Johnson's outfit, the Moonshine Boys, and Tucson rockabilly wild man Al Foul's backing combo, the Shakes, is the third bassist in Flathead's history, following on the heels of founding member Ruth Wilson and her replacement, Kevin Daly. Daly ended his nearly three-year run with the group last June, ostensibly to concentrate on his other projects, the Trophy Husbands and Grave Danger.
Flathead's Cannery Row set this past weekend was designed to serve as a warm-up for its official re-debut, a Friday, February 9, slot opening for Nashville retro-country act BR5-49. The band will also perform on Saturday, February 10, as part of the Blue Ox's "Hot Rod Rumble," an all-day event featuring music from the Planet Rockers, Rockin' Ryan, the Tombstoners and others, as well as a hot rod contest and burlesque show.
Meanwhile, just as Flathead is set to reemerge, another of the Valley's roots music linchpins, the aforementioned Grave Danger, has all but officially called it quits.
Rumors about the group's pending demise had surfaced earlier in the year, only to be quieted by an especially exuberant set at last month's Scotti-Stock benefit.
However, Grave Danger front man Daly confirmed this week that the chances are bleak at best that the band will continue as a working unit.
"I think the band is dead," says Daly of the trio, which included former Flathead mate Ramirez and bassist Rich Merriman. "It's pretty much over at this point, I think."
Some say Ramirez's reported decision to leave the band to focus on other pursuits is one possible factor in the split. Others point to Daly's schedule -- already hectic with the growing success and touring of the Trophy Husbands -- as the main factor in the decision.
While it's not entirely out of the question that the band may play together at some point in the future -- the local music scene has shown us that even the most acrimonious splits have a propensity for yielding reunions -- Daly adds that his next order of business is to begin work on a solo CD for local imprint Rustic Records.
For his part, Danger bassist Merriman says he's "kind of entered retirement" for the time being. "I feel glad to be taking a break," he adds. "I haven't in six years. I'm going to finish writing a bunch of songs that are half done, but I don't know if I'm going to be doing anything with them or not."
Regardless of what the future may hold, for those (Bash & Pop among them) who witnessed Grave Danger's brief but memorable rise -- broken bottles, blood, and head shaving included -- the band will be sorely missed.
The Beach Is Back: A late addition to Friday's BR5-49 bill is singer/songwriter Jim Beach. Beach, a local vet (late of the Hucklebones and Dialectrics), left the Valley last year for San Antonio. Prior to his exit, Beach completed a new record (the still-unreleased Dragonfly) with a backing troupe known as the Salt River Project. Consisting of gospel pianist Matt Mahr, jazzman Will Lovell on bass, and drummer/band leader Jamal Ruhe, the Salt River Project offered Beach's rich narratives a sympathetic and intuitive accompaniment, something that was on full display during a handful of remarkable performances this past summer.
Now, the group is congregating -- with Beach flying in from Texas for the show -- to play a final gig before the impending departure of Ruhe (who also produced and mixed Dragonfly). Ruhe is leaving for New York City in mid-March and will be playing a round of farewell shows with his various outfits. This includes a February 10 slot with Yearofthemule at Tempe's Lucky Dragon, a solo acoustic gig with Clyde's Robin Vining and former Red Shifter/Pine Wyatt singer John Hoffman opening on February 12 at Long Wong's, and a March 2 Nita's Hideaway appearance with Sleepwalker. The Sleepwalker show boasts a headlining spot from the re-formed (and renamed) Seven Storey, featuring Seven Storey Mountain leader Lance Lammers.