Local Wire

Paul "PC" Cardone on Being a "One-Man Social Network" for the Local Music Scene

When the Tempe History Museum unveils its long-awaited exhibition delving into the city's storied live music past later this year, don't be surprised if there's little to no mention of Paul "PC" Cardone amongst the many displays doting on the Gin Blossoms, The Refreshments, or other local jangle-pop icons.

By all rights there should be, however, considering that the bassist and badass rock 'n' roll oracle has quietly served as an influential staple and unsung hero of Tempe music for more than 30 years.

A scene veteran scene since the days when his Duran Duran-like New Wave project Shadow Talk haunted such bygone landmarks as the Sun Club and Long Wong's in the mid-1980s (before anyone had even heard of the Blossoms), Cardone cheerfully toiled as a go-to sideman and utility player for many Tempe legends over the decades.

After moving to the Valley from Colorado in 1984 and wading into the local scene, Cardone started becoming an ever-present figure at shows, whether its was playing or just hanging out. He sat in, recorded and jammed along with the likes of The Chimeras and Dead Hot Workshop, and even filled in with the band during Roger Clyne's wedding back in the day when the original bassist was passed out.

Cardone, who's been known by many as "The Mayor of Tempe," has also be associated, both officially and unofficially with a slew of other local bands in the ensuing, including such acts as B. Strange, Undertow, Satellite, Los Guys, and Gentlemen Afterdark (which just happened to be the first Valley band he ever saw live after arriving in Phoenix). And in just the last decade, you could've seen him gigging with his own bands as well, including blues/funk project the Chocolate Fountain Experience or PC and the Badass Motherfuckers.

Suffice it to say, Cardone has worn many hats over the years in addition to his signature black fedora. One of the most important role that he's performed over the years, however, has been serving as a mentor of sorts for younger musicians.

The ever-affable bassist has become a godfather, guru, and one-man social network for burgeoning local acts and modern-day favorites like Dry River Yacht Club, Banana Gun, and Japhy's Descent, offering advice, arranging gigs, lending gear or even money, collaborating on songs, sharing stages, or just buying a round or two. And since 2010, Cardone has regularly featured local bands at the annual Apache Lake Music Festival, which Cardone co-promotes with Last Exit Live's Brannon Kleinlein.

According to drummer Henri Bernard, who performs with Cardone in Dry River, the bassist has had a big impact on Tempe's music landscape.

"In my time in the city, he started coming to DRYC shows and stated helping us with connections around the way. He was always willing to extend his reach for people," Bernard says. "He always has touring bands at his house, always has local band members over for hangouts. He is definitely someone who connects dots in Tempe music scene."

Many of the same musicians, past and present, that Cardone has interacted and performed with are scheduled to participate in a three-night feting of Cardone over Labor Day weekend in honor of his 50th birthday. Dubbed the "PCHC" (as in "Paul Cardone Half-Century"), the first two nights at Last Exit Live and Crescent Ballroom will feature DRYC, Japhy's, Banana Gun, and other Tempe bands. Meanwhile, the third evening at the Crescent includes such icons as Dead Hot, The Sand Rubies, Gentleman After Dark, and a collaboration between Cardone and seminal Valley rocker (and former Jetsonz guitarist) Bruce Connole.

In honor of the occasion, Up On the Sun spoke with Cardone recently about some of his many experiences and interactions with local musicians over the past three decades and why he's lent a helping hand whenever and however he could.

When did you first get involved with the Tempe scene?

That probably would've been in '86 with Shadow Talk and we were playing in the dorm rec room at Cholla Hall, the old apartments at ASU. It was fun. In those days I was just with Shadow Talk because I was still young enough and you played in one band and you didn't cheat on your wife. [Laughs] That was the way it was.

So with the five or so year tenure in Shadow Talk, we were playing out with like Strange Love and Dead Hot and Live Nudes and stuff. And we started all playing together at shows, like at Wong's when [Ron Goldstein] the original owner was still around. So then we were playing gigs together and then started jamming out at people's houses, learning stuff from each other, palling around, stealing shit from each other...kinda.

Needless to say, you dabbled around with a lot different bands.

Oh, yeah. During that time when we all became friends, I sat in with Blossoms, I sat in Gentlemen [Afterdark], I sat in with Chimeras when Scotty [Andrews] couldn't do something, with Dead Hot when Brian [Griffith] was unfindable sometimes. It was all here and there, maybe for a couple of songs or a couple of shows. I was the bass player for Roger [Clyne's] wedding out at Doc's Ranch when the bass player fell asleep. And I sat in with those guys at show's a bunch of times too.

How did you get the nickname of "The Mayor of Tempe"?

I got it in the late '80s at Wong's. When it was Wong's and Balboa Cafe and Chuy's and all that shit. I was palling around with the people that owned Chuy's. And they were big local music-heads. So my nickname started out as the "Mayor of Mill Avenue." It was funny, if you wanted to get a gig in those days, it was hard to go to a club and get a gig if you were a band that didn't know anybody. But if you knew somebody in one of the bands, you could warm 'em up and we'd just tell the club, "We have our own support."

So people would come to me and say, "Yeah, I'm this kid and I've got this band, you know," and depending on how their veneer was and what kind of person they were and after checking out their shit a little bit, I'd throw 'em a bone. But, a bunch of years later when Mill took a shit, I just said, "Hey man, call me the 'Mayor of Tempe. I don't want to be the 'Mayor of Mill Avenue' anymore." [Laughs]

Courtesy of Rob Birmingham
Paul Cardone
What are some of your memories of Tempe's heyday of the late '80s/early '90s?

Why have you only played bass?

It's the only thing I'm really good at musically. And I have played some guitar -- I mean, I fronted a band for a little while to give it a whack, do some hard rock shit, play some guitar, but I was always like, I always got guys that were better than me, that's why I never tried to play the guitar. But I wrote and played guitar for Meredith Moore on her first record, a solo session and that was a fluke, I just happened to be there and Meredith and I were rocking it and just put it on the record.

What's your feelings about the ups and downs of the Tempe music scene over the past 30 years or so?

You know what? I think its been pretty fricken amazing. I still think it's strong, you know, and nowadays I wouldn't even just put it down to Tempe. The center of Phoenix is now where a lot of the more eclectic kids are playing and Tempe's lost a lot of venues, but a lot of us still live here, because we kind of like living in Tempe than in Phoenix...I don't need to live in some little barrio guest house to feel downtown. I think it's awesome. I get a lot respect from some kids I don't even know because of my "reputation" precedes me or whatever, but I've always tried to be really chill about that. I don't run around with "Mayor of Tempe" on my fucking shirt or whatever.

But if people ask and I know a guy at so-and-so club and they want to get in, I'll see what I can do. If I can make a spot for you at Jeromeatherapy or Apache Lake for these up-and-coming bands, I will. Actually, that's how I met Garnet from Dry River. She was with her first band and they were playing Yucca and they didn't have a bass player. So I just jumped onstage and plugged in, I'd never even met the fucking guys before and just started playing. They were like, "Cool, man! Could you be in our band?" Yeah, I'm like 20 years older than you and I already have a couple of other bands going, but you didn't have a bass player tonight, so I just figured I'd help you out, you know. [Laughs]

So all of the bands that are participating in the "PCHC" are ones that you've been involved with or have influenced?

Or vice-versa, have influenced me. The Monday night is definitely bands who have influenced me or wanted me to keep playing. I was in Gentlemen Afterdark for awhile and we were in L.A. for a brief moment. And like I said, the Bruce Cannole's and Dead Hot Workshop, one of my favorite bands on the planet. I've seen them a thousand times, I've been on the road with them 10 times, just either helping out or palling around. Been on the road with Blossoms a bunch of times. Rolled with The Refreshments and The Peacemakers a bunch of times. I would get invited on the fucking bus. It was like, "Really?" "Yeah man, you're fucking fun. You'll help." Okay, cool. [Laughs]

The P.C. Half Century parties take place on Saturday, August 30, at Last Exit Live; and on Sunday, August 31, and Monday, September 1, at Crescent Ballroom

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.