Gone in a Puff of Smoke

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Every cause has its sacrificial lambs. Feuerherd expects the laws regarding nonsmoker rights in bars to change here eventually. "Whether it happens next year, in five years, 10 years or 20 years, someone will litigate here and someone will win and the dominoes will start falling."

Trippy's self-destructive path may have weakened his immune system and made him susceptible to disease, certainly. I mean, we know that millions of people are exposed to secondhand smoke and aren't stricken with cancer.

David Trippy arrived in the Valley from Buffalo in the early 1980s. He met singer/songwriter Paul Halperin through a classified ad looking for musicians. The duo picked up Texas bluesman Chuck Hall and his rhythm section, and formed Texas Red and the Heartbreakers. By 1984, the band was the shit, playing its Texas and Chicago-style blues full-time, packing places like Tony's New Yorker in Tempe. They toured with Robert Cray, among others.

"Dave and I were really close," says Halperin from his home in Minneapolis. "We were roommates when we were on the road with the band. We were the ones who stayed out the latest, always looking for the party. We had a lot of fun. You could say we were partners in crime."

A few years later, Hall split the Heartbreakers to front his own band. Trippy and Halperin pressed on for another year using different players before calling it quits. In early 1987, Halperin sobered up, giving up the booze and drugs for good.

"The band wasn't what it was with Chuck gone, and I was gonna make a lifestyle change," continues Halperin. "So that was the end of it." He pauses, then adds, "I really feel terrible for David. I feel really, really sad."

The demise of Texas Red gave rise to the Hoodoo Kings, a turbulent jump-blues outfit that many compared to the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Trippy took over as lead vocalist. The band played anywhere and everywhere and soon amassed a large and loyal following.

"We did all our rehearsing at the Sun Club when Hans Olson opened it up," says Thomas. "This was before the Gin Blossoms came and kicked everybody's asses. Our first paycheck was a dollar apiece. Over the years, there have been a few incarnations in this band, but David's been the only one that stuck with this band.

Being a Trippy bandmate was not always rays of sunshine and flowers. "He got us fired from a lot of gigs, too," continues Thomas, explaining just how far the Trippy antics would go. "We'd get angry and say, 'Let's fire Dave.' But if you fire Dave, you don't have the Hoodoo Kings anymore . . . . He had this greasy kind of persona that people dug. He had a good sense of humor and stage rap. He would just do crazy stuff. He would be fucked up and dance on tables or let people come up onstage. Dave was an unpredictable guy; you never knew what he was gonna pull."

The Hoodoo Kings hit their zenith with a self-released CD in 1995 titled One Foot in the Groove.

Three years later, Trippy's cancer began to reveal itself. A hard, knoblike lump formed on his neck. Having no health insurance made the idea of a doctor visit almost incomprehensible. So Trippy chose to ignore the growth. At one point it became so large that his breathing became impaired.

"That thing on his neck was getting bigger," explains Thomas. "We were playing at the Yucca Tap and at a place called Antlers. I would say to him, 'What is that thing on your neck?' and he'd go, 'I dunno; it doesn't hurt, though.' It kept getting bigger. I'd tell him to go have the thing looked at, you know, it could be a tumor or something. One day I asked him if I could touch it and it was hard as a rock."

When he finally made it to the doctor, his days were numbered. The lump was diagnosed as a tumor and removed. He was back onstage soon after, and drinking. Soon something was discovered in his lungs.

"He got it checked out when it was way too late," says Rhythm Room honcho Bob Corritore. "He may have had a fighting chance, but he just let it go. It is so sad. At a point when he was in the recuperation stage he had the ability to maybe fight this, but he was really doing some championship drinking."

"What we all in this scene have in common is living life on the edge," says friend Mike Leach, who swore off the bottle four years ago. "Dave stayed at the party just an hour too long. It's sad. I think in Dave's case he was killing pain. He had a lot of pain. In his eyes, his life was a mistake. And this is a guy who made so many people happy as an entertainer."

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Brian Smith
Contact: Brian Smith