Sage adds that his relatively high profile in Portland also made for an uneasy view of the city's music boom going bust. He says it wasn't a pretty sight.
"A lot of attitudes started changing," Sage says of the mid-Eighties period. "The music scene wasn't constructive anymore. Everyone started hating everyone else for being successful. My friends were all giving up, their creative energy was dying. The whole thing was regressing and getting negative."
Sage remembers one particular holiday season that iced the atmosphere. "I was on this street and I looked around and realized that there were more people out selling heroin than Christmas shopping."
By 1987, Sage had had enough. He wanted to move but he didn't know where. A few years earlier he'd spent some time in the Mojave Desert, where he wrote the material for his first solo album, Straight Ahead. Sage now found himself thinking about the Southwest again. But he wanted his new start to be in a new place--a place he'd never been before. He tried Albuquerque first, but something didn't click, and a few months later he was back on the road heading west for his first look at Phoenix.
"The Wipers were scheduled to play Phoenix a few times," Sage says. "But whenever we'd get close to town we'd hear that the club we were supposed to play was either shut down or out of business."
Following his epiphany at the Broadway exit, Sage took an apartment in Tempe and started writing songs. He then put his background in electrical engineering to work and recorded the new material right there in his apartment on his own custom-designed studio equipment. "I put together a special system with pre-amps that let me record exactly what I wanted directly to tape without making any noise," he says, a touch of satisfaction creeping into his voice.
The result of this neighbor-friendly one-man band was released earlier this year as Sacrifice (For Love), Sage's second solo album for Restless. It's a curiously clean-sounding disc, considering the distorted aggression of the Wipers' catalogue. The new songs are gently slashed with clear-cutting guitars and at times Sage's hollowed vocals sound like a more macho Marshall Crenshaw singing old Dream Syndicate songs. It's a different sound for Sage, but that's the kind of comment the former Wiper likes to hear.
"I remember back during the Wipers' second album there were all these bands out doing nothing but two-minute songs. And so I went ahead and wrote one that was ten minutes long. I didn't do it to be snide--I just didn't want to follow along with the others. Because then everyone's on the same road and you're all going nowhere."
Sage says he can see the signs of a nowhere mentality here in his adopted hometown. He says local bands are more interested in getting signed than concentrating on their music. Sage also faults the local media for not showing enough interest in the homegrown underground. He says bands need attention and inspiration to keep going.
But in the next breath Sage wonders if there really is any underground activity in Phoenix.
"Musically, it seems pretty bleak," he says. "But no place is perfect. Portland was considered a hick town when I first started making records there. Seattle, too. Now everyone thinks they've got to move to Seattle to get noticed. They don't realize that there's 10,000 bands up there right now and only a few places to play.
"If Tempe were to get the right clubs at the right time, it could be another Seattle someday. It's growing and there's a lot of boredom building up. Something good will eventually happen."
And Sage says he plans on sticking around to see it. The original Wipers drummer, Steve Plouf, now lives in Tempe, and Plouf, along with local bassist Todd Phelps, gives the new Greg Sage Band a secure lineup and a solid home base. Sage is even thinking about playing around town more often.
"I like it here," he says, surveying what passes for a street scene on Mill Avenue. "It's very close-minded in some ways but then it's open-minded in others, and what it lacks in culture it makes up for in other things. There's a real strength and power here that I felt when I was first driving through. And it's kept me here."
Greg Sage Band will perform at the Sun Club on Friday, December 6. Showtime is 9 p.m.
You've got to find a guy like Greg Sage. He's not going to come looking for you.