This week as we celebrate the 75th birthday of a legendary musician who was taken from us too soon, let's turn our gaze to a local world-class musician who was taken from us too soon and whose birthday also falls this week. Each October 8 I'm reminded of this by Facebook, which doesn't have a "Life Event" like dying of cancer in 2012. Me, I can never bring myself to unfriending the dead because they stop calling, so I continue inviting him to shows he might've liked. Looking at his timeline, I can see I'm hardly alone in wanting to keep his memory alive on social media.
Recently Steve Glickman, his former drummer in The Loud Americans, posted a music video of the song we're offering up as this week's Heritage Hump single, "Oatmeal Cream Pie."
I first met Marco Holt in the patio at Nita's Hideaway hanging out with a mutual friend when he casually mentioned he played in a band called The Loud Americans, a name that they had a hard time living down if you read my July 2001 story on the band, "Loud, White and Blue." The loud and white describe the band's sound, the blue is Marco's life experiences he wrestled with, learned from and put into songs.
"You wouldn't invite the Angry Samoans to dinner and expect them to be civil, so why do people demand fewer decibels from a band called the Loud Americans? There's gotta be dozens of local groups that could make mincemeat out of an eardrum faster than these boys can, but a series of mismatched gigs almost cemented the group's reputation as a band with an overly voluminous sound.
One of the band's earliest shows was at the Jamaican Blue Coffee House in Scottsdale, of all places. There, some java jockey actually had the effrontery to tell the members, in Romper Room fashion, "You guys have got to learn to play to your space." Then there was an ear-shattering show at the now-defunct Bojo's in Tempe where a combination of talent, timbre and tiles proved near fatal.
The pragmatic Glickman now handles the band's scheduling. Holt, a nice guy by nature, formerly booked many of their early "character building" shows, and his inability to say "no" also led Loud Americans to play a wedding (where the band went over surprisingly well) and a Horizon High School Valentine's Day dance.
"The kids who stayed inside during our set were mostly doing this," says Glickman, who demonstrates eardrum protection move number seven. "Most of them went outside. After we were done, some came up to the stage and said, 'I like your band a lot, but you guys have got to turn down.'" Glickman shakes his head. "We were even too loud for the kids. It was like playing for our parents."
"We're not very good playing to our space," adds guitarist Bannister, the Jamaican Blue review apparently still dogging them like a bad report card. Fortunately, there are a couple of rooms in town where the band does play to its space, and brilliantly, too. There's Nita's Hideaway, the Lucky Dragon and Modified, where the band played a blistering set the previous night.
The Loud Americans are a curious clash of three generations. Holt, a veteran of the Phoenix music scene, is in his early 40s, Jeff Gonzales is in his late teens, while the twentysomething Matt Bannister and Steve Glickman fall somewhere in between. As the eldest, Holt isn't averse to using his seniority status to win arguments with the others. According to Glickman, Holt is frequently fond of reminding the band, "I was fucking before you guys were on Earth."
The age gap means influences reach as far back as the Clash and Gang of Four and move on up through Fugazi and Superchunk, Blonde Redhead and Built to Spill. The Clash and Gang of Four's influence certainly carries over to the band's signature anthemic choruses. And in the din of its live performances, it's easy to mistake the Loud Americans as a combo with a decidedly political agenda. However, closer scrutiny of songs like "Wind the People" and "Communications Major" reveal lyrics of a more personal and troubled nature.
"I don't think there's any message. I just try to be as cryptic as possible," says Holt, grinning. "The majority of the older stuff is about things that I've gone through, but I don't want to be explicit or too definitive. It's emotional and has meaning to me, but the last thing I want to do is to define it to somebody else and insist it's supposed to mean the same thing to them. They haven't gone through what I've gone through."
Not especially eager to dredge up his own sordid past to sell records, Holt reluctantly admits, "I had an extensive drug problem, and a lot of the album has to do with that and the way I am today. I started putting this band together after getting my shit out of pawn and buying things after being strung out on heroin for 11 years."
While the album has its dense moments, it's when the band interlocks into a stripped-down groove that things really get exciting. Listen to "Oatmeal Cream Pie," where the dual guitars sound as if they're kicking off two different songs in the left and right channel until the rhythm section pulls both strands together.
Not surprisingly that was the song Glickman and Gonzales chose to represent the Loud American here.
From teen bassist to well-respected singer-songwriter in his own right, Gonzales looks back on this song as one of his favorites.
"It really showcased the strengths of our band, and it was fun to play live," he says. "That one actually got some college radio airplay."
"My time with Marco made me a better person," he continues. "He survived a lot in his life before I met him, and I was glad to have had my time with him. He was a sort of hub of healing. Marco will not be forgotten."
Adds Glickman, "Marco was a close friend, a mentor, a beacon of redemption. He helped countless people. He was the guy I called for perspective when mine all-too-often became blurred. We had similar struggles, and his recovery and accomplishments are an inspiration. He also believed in local music. He came early to shows we played, he stayed late, he believed in the power of community in the local arts and music scene, as illustrated by his involvement with Black Cactus.
"He had a giant heart, a dark sense of humor, impeccable taste in music, but a soft spot for Enya. I miss him quite a bit."