Local Wire

Hit & Miscellany

Though we usually eschew the quick-hit news and notes format, we felt this would be a good opportunity to clean off the ol' desk. With millennium chaos, mass hysteria and falling bullets rapidly approaching, it's important that you keep abreast of local music happenings.

Thrill-a-Minute: There's a slew of news emerging from the Sonic Thrills camp. Jim Monarch and Michael "Johnny" Walker's trash rock outfit has undergone a wholesale lineup change after losing its rhythm section. Original bassist Mickey Ferrell parted ways with the group to go on the road with the Gas Giants, while drummer Andy Madison left the band to form a new combo, Johnny Ace. But the Thrills have missed nary a beat, adding former Brakemen drummer David Kains and veteran bassist Chris Waldron into the mix. The new lineup is sounding even better than before, as evidenced by a pair of incendiary gigs last month at Tempe's Cannery Row.

The band also ventured into the studios recently to cut a track for the third volume of Flipside magazine's R.A.F.R. (that's Rock and Fuckin' Roll, kids) compilation. The song, "21st Century," and the disc will be available early next year. Also making an appearance on R.A.F.R. Vol. 3 will be local punk trio the Peeps. The three-chord wonders are contributing their own track, "He's So Fine" (an original, not the Chiffons' 1963 girl-group classic), to the Flipside collection. Another Sonic Thrills note: The mastering is almost complete on the group's Beautiful Noise EP, which will come out as a seven-inch vinyl release in early 2000.

Propellerheads: A package that recently made its way into our hands was Twin Engine Telegram, the debut CD from Propeller 12. Born from the ashes of the Lemmings, the group's membership has at various times included Pete Forbes, Tony Robinson and "Power Pop" Pat McWilliams. Songwriter and group leader James Miles is the only remaining member and has decided to continue the group as a recording-only project. Although this collection of four-track recordings isn't quite as esoteric as the artwork and press release would lead you to believe, it is a hearty slice of pop fare that mines a variety of styles from late-period British Invasion rock to postalternative crunch. Lyrically, Miles continues to explore a wide range of off-kilter subject matter including "stalkers, vampires, constellations, space ships and space ingénues." The album is available from Cryptic Records (P.O. Box 2763, Tempe, AZ 85285).

Runaway Bride: Last Wednesday's debut of the Carrie Johnson Band turned out to be the most pleasant local music surprise in quite some time. Johnson is a vet of folk-rock quartet 22 Brides, who released a trio of critically lauded albums in the mid- and late '90s on the Zero Hour label. The group, featuring Johnson's sister Libby, drummer Ned Stroh and guitarist John Skehen, eventually ground to a halt last year. Since then, Johnson has been a frequent acoustic performer about town and also set to work writing and rehearsing songs for the new project.

Her backing combo -- bassist Paul Cardone, guitarist Chris Whitehouse and drummer Mike Kellums -- is made up entirely of members of defunct local pop practitioners Satellite. While some have joked that the group should call itself "Tellite" (Satellite, minus the S and the A -- as in lead singer Stephen Ashbrook), the music clearly bears Johnson's stamp.

Her diminutive figure belies a massive croon that stands out on well-crafted efforts like "Numb" and the Kink-esque "Happy." Johnson's supporting cast was in equally fine form, playing a tasteful background to a strong batch of new material that rocked considerably harder than anything in the 22 Brides catalogue. The Carrie Johnson Band will be playing a series of regular dates through the remainder of the month and into the new year.

Ashbrook (of the blond coif and blue-tinted specs) is about to launch a new project of his own, scintillatingly titled Ashbrook. In what is sure to confuse even the most ardent local music fans, the band features Jennys' leader Stephen Easterling on bass and fellow Jenny and Red Light Districter Freddy Gildersleeve on guitar. The two also perform as a new country duo under the Brooks & Dunnish moniker Gildersleeve & Easterling. Ubiquitous ivory tickler Tim Rovnak -- whose previous work with Satellite, roots rockers Los Guys, cowboy popsters the Peacemakers and countless others has made him a fixture on stages all over town -- is also on board. Manning the drums will be Michael Bannister, a Los Angeles native who's relocated to Arizona. Bannister has logged time behind the kit for a variety of big-name (at least as far as we're concerned) acts including the Plimsouls, Peter Case and others. The group will be playing a smattering of local dates before heading out to the L.A. showcase circuit in the new year.

Jersey Bound: After opening a trio of West Coast dates for Agnostic Front, local power punks the Mob 40s have formed a mutual admiration society with the New York-based hard-core legends. In fact, they hit it off so well that AF front man Roger Miret has agreed to produce the band's next album. In February the group will head to New Jersey to work on a follow-up to 1998's Three Chords and the Truth with Miret at Big Blue Meenie Studios. Miret will also reportedly help the band find a label outlet for the album, which will likely see a summer release.

Up and Coming: Just as the holiday season gets into fever pitch, there are a handful of eclectic musical happenings on tap. On Thursday, December 16, downtown's Modified hosts a night of girl power, punk power and girl punk power as Mad At 'Em, Uber Alice, and Go Bye Go perform on a triple bill.

The following evening, Modified will stage an all-acoustic benefit (for itself) featuring Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World, Half Visconte's Scott Tennent, and Chris Corak of Reuben's Accomplice. Proceeds from the event will go to help defray the nonalcohol venue's operating costs. Fanta isn't free, after all.

It's the end of the world and he knows it! Our own irreverent scribe Vic Masters, a.k.a. Serene Dominic, is hosting his annual holiday show on Friday, December 17, at Billy Gordon's in Tempe. Vic will be performing a revamped version of his Armageddon/Y2K show to wring the Yuletide season.

He promises that those who attend "will delight in hearing jingle bells and chimes of doom all clanging at the same time." The show will also feature performances from two of the hottest local up-and-comers, Sugar High and Big Blue Couch. AT&Love rounds out the bill.

On Monday, December 20, eclectic pop duo Les Payne Product will make its final appearance of the year (decade, century, etc.) at the Emerald Lounge. The show will also be the band's last local performance before going on a European tour that runs through mid-February.

Blues Gourmand: Arizona blues legend Big Pete Pearson has returned to the Valley after a period of "retirement" in Maine. Since October, Pearson, and his band the Blues Sevilles, has made the rounds at old haunts like Char's Has the Blues, the Rhythm Room and New York West. But while Pearson's been playing the role of bluesman for most of his life, this Saturday will see him enter a new line of work -- restaurateur -- with the launch of Big Pete's Cool Café.

The eatery promises to offer the best in homemade barbecue and desserts, including Big Pete's world-famous peach cobbler. Big Pete's Cool Café is located at 8040 East McDowell in Scottsdale. The grand opening is set for Saturday, December 18, at 3 p.m. Big Pete and his band will perform as part of the festivities.

Contact Bob Mehr at his online address: [email protected]

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Bob Mehr
Contact: Bob Mehr