Every Wednesday is Heritage Hump Day! That's because every Wednesday from now to the end of the year or before someone really big stops us, Heritage Hump Records (a temporary subsidiary of Onus Records) and New Times will be bringing you a limited edition collector's item of a much beloved Phoenix band that walked the scorched earth of Arizona before the year 2000 A.D. We will honor that band with a commemorative digital single that you, the digital public, will have only seven days to download to your computers and smart phones before this single gets marked up to an exorbitant price as determined by the mp3 collector community. When that happens, a new Heritage Hump subject will be chosen and the free-for-a-limited-time-only cycle begins anew.
How far back do New Times' archives on this series of tubes go anyway? Well, before my time here, because I found this June 27, 1990, item "Thinking Globally, Rocking Locally" written by John Blanco for a column I believe was titled "Cheap Shots." Blanco doesn't sound like much of a fan, questioning whether the band is really serious about its politics or it's just the beer talking. Wonder if this was before or after the band had a globe in its logo.
Let's go back to the time of writing, when Dead Hot Workshop was playing a Greenpeace festival and Brent Babb's always colorful stage patter was in full sway.
"I'd like a big toxic-waste incinerator constructed straight up Rose Mofford's ass," snorts DHW lead singer Brent Babb.
The crowd cheers, egging on Babb's tirade. "Fuck ENSCO!" shouts the vocalist, referring to the builder of the dump. "But it's not just ENSCO--it's our whole state government. They're all sleeping together."
Such displays of knee-jerk radicalism are routine for Phoenix's reigning politico-rockers. At a Dead Hot Workshop show, you're never quite sure if the band is voicing sincere concern or just hosting a boozy preachfest. Still, most locals do believe that the group's social conscience is at least as mighty as its garage-rock sound. The Workshop just may be establishing itself as the Valley's answer to U2.
"This is much more than a band," asserts bassist Brian Griffith. "This isn't about just going up on-stage and doing your thang and getting girls and drinking and stuff like that. This is our way of bringing important issues to the forefront. If it wasn't for the band, I would probably be going to school to get into politics and Brent would be speaking or being an activist of some sort."
"I mean, I'd like to make a point every time," explains Babb about his spiels, "but I can't always do that. And I'm not always necessarily funny. But I figure you've got to do something while you are tuning your guitar."
Twenty-five years on, I don't know that people would call Dead Hot Workshop a political band. Curtis Grippe, Dead Hot's longtime drummer and producer, engineer, owner at STEMRecording in Tempe wasn't even in the band at the time of this article but says, "As far as being a "political" band, that would have to be attributed to lyrics and between-song chatter which I had very little to do with. That is Brent's realm and I can't really speak for him other than to say that I think Brent had a lot of things to say about the condition of the world at the time and wasn't afraid to say what was on his mind.
"Much has changed over the time we have been together and we are very different people in a lot of ways," he adds. "I would describe us now as a veteran rock band with a solid history that still continues to write, record and play music and that still has something to say, maybe even more than we did before."
This week we have two Heritage Hump singles to offer on the free download station. The first one, from the 1001 album released in 1995, captures the band at its highest profile, when the band had a deal with an Atlantic Records subsidiary and Bill Graham Management behind it.
"'Slice of Life' is a song that I feel represents what we were like at that time," says Grippe. "It's frantic and almost punk. We were barely hanging on but we had energy, chemistry and a support system within our community that helped us thrive."
Swish pan to 2006, when Dead Hot recorded their Heavy Meadow album (yeah it took me a second to get it. too). The years may have somewhat decreased the amount of political ranting Babb will engage in song, but it still found them opening an album with a song called "Nixon Saves," and this second Heritage Hump sampler, "Pacifist Fight Song." Taken together, it demonstrates the breadth and scope with which Dead Hot Workshop's music has sonically traveled in 25 years.
"Brent and I have been together for over 25 years and 'Pacifist Fight Song' represents our survival to me. No more record labels, Grammy award winning producers or Hollywood studios. We recorded Heavy Meadow in my living room by ourselves."
"Slice of Life" features Brent Babb vocals and guitar, Steve Larson lead guitar, Brian Griffith on bass and Curtis Grippe on drums and background vocals.
"Pacifist Fight Song" is Brent, Brian and Curtis and Brent's brother Kylie Babb on lead guitar.
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