CAMMIES: Week three
Rock/Pop, Hip-hop and World/Celtic/Reggae nominees
It can be argued that the term rock ’n’ roll doesn’t mean much these days, but dammit if those words don’t still capture the imagination (at least this writer’s)—reckless music made by reckless degenerates performed in unsavory clubs and spotlighted arenas.
The mystique of the rock star has surely died with the coming of the Internet, where everyone knows what you’re doing every second of the day (you mean Sebastian Bach is flossing his teeth via Twitter? I preferred it when I imagined him guzzling bottles of Jack and doing blow off a hooker’s chest, but I digress).
Interestingly, several of this year’s Rock/Pop nominees hark back to the days when rock ’n’ roll was just learning to crawl. The Shankers have been taking blues and country and twisting them up into loose, weird little knots for years. Not to mention the trio’s founders, Kerra and Johnny Shanker, are the poster children for tried-and-true, always-genuine, rock ’n’ roll in Chico.
The Yule Logs have also taken us back to a time when the sun was a little sunnier and the Cold War was at its coldest. Like Santa Claus, the self-proclaimed “hardest-working band in snow business” comes around only once a year bringing those sweet harmonies and bubblegum hooks—a delicious blend of naughty and nice, and for one month, arguably the hottest band in the land.
The Farfisa clatter and tambourine acrobatics of Candy Apple recall the sinewy garage proto-punk of The Seeds and Question Mark & the Mysterians. Essentially, a night with Candy Apple is like listening to the Nuggets comp from beginning to end … only sweatier and louder and better.
In the live setting The Amblers are tops—fun, high-energy, timeless—all made possible by the fact that these chaps are pals first, band members second. It adds an easy-going humility to the quartet’s songs, a sunny amalgam of Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds and British Invasion 45s. Put simply: The Amblers can make the world’s problems go away.
Mute Witness’s nod to rock ’n’ roll’s days of yore is subtle. The band sneaks doo-wop harmonies into anthemic and melodic songs that would feel right at home in arenas as they would small Chico clubs. With four-part harmonies that are as sleek and sexy as the layered guitars, Mute Witness sounds like nothing else in town.
Chris Keene knows his way around a hook or two. The singer-songwriter and former Number One Gun guitarist has built himself a beautiful pop factory in Surrogate. The band has already caught the attention of NPR on the strength of two finely crafted, self-produced LPs, and it appears the sky’s the limit for this four-piece. Surrogate plays out only occasionally—you’d do right by catching them live.
In a town where traditional hip-hop has felt unwelcome at times, new artists on the Chico scene are proving that a blend of influences is what’s needed to break through the barriers to mainstream acceptance.
The most well-schooled CAMMIES nominee is Dr. Becky Sagers, Ph.D., the notorious act that’s been performing its raspy flows in Chico since the mid-’90s. The trio of MC Shecky (Aye Jay Morano), MC Heatha (Jeremiah Wade) and DJ Goodburger (Matt Loomis) already managed to take home a CAMMIE for Best Hip-hop act in 2007 and has received nominations all five years. And, last year, Goodburger took home the Critics’ Choice Award for best DJ/Turntablist. The group is inspired by “cornerstone foundational rappers,” MC Shecky said, such as Tim Dog, Biz Markie and Willie D. “Plus, nothing has inspired us since 1995, so the lyrics clearly reflect that,” joked the veteran Morano.
One Up, The Acoustic DJ and his band conquer every genre of music with One Up’s combination of beat-boxing and vocals with acoustic guitar, plus the addition of his band’s bass, drums and turntables. The band surprises listeners with its acoustic music—melodic guitar riffs that have a beachy feel—mixed in with One Up’s smooth, quick flows, plus electric guitar, haunting electronic beats, special effects and the occasional female voice.
The band’s objective to break out of any one genre was achieved, One Up said, when the group was originally nominated in the CAMMIES folk category before being switched to hip-hop. “You will find we are quite indefinable … too bad there’s no reward for that, huh?” chaffed the good-humored One Up.
But fans who favor a more clear-cut, classic hip-hop sound will find it—mixed together with deep, solid, groovy beats—in The Resonators, who are still on the scene. With the collaboration of Himp C’s rapping and occasional trumpet, Shaul Chrysler’s guitar riffs and drum beats and Hap Hathaway’s role as MC and DJ, the act has a reggae-like, occasionally funky sound of its own. “Make no mistake though, Resonator music is real hip-hop, plain and simple,” Himp C said on behalf of the band.
Underground hip-hop fans are also likely to dig TyBox (Tyson Harris), who received his second nomination this year for the diverse, multifaceted beats and fast-paced flows he’s been performing in Chico (mostly at MC battles) for nearly five years.
Perhaps the most talked-about nominee this year is new act Eye-Que & Live Assist, an alternative hip-hop/funk/experimental project that boldly defines its music as “what people have been waiting to hear,” said lyricist and rapper Eye-Que (Quentin Fields). Que is backed by Dr. Yes of the locally famous Dr. Yes & the Soulgazers on keyboards, DJ Replay on drums, Jeff Spanier on guitar and Tyler Hughes (also of Luke Byron and the Delivery Boys) on bass. But what distinguishes the act is its booming four-man horn section, featuring Chris Russel and Steven Martinez on trumpet, Kevin Emmons on the sax and Alden Denny on the trombone. Que also makes sure to mention honorary members, vocalist Dash (formerly of P.AND.A) and DJ Maticulit. “We all bring different musical backgrounds and that’s what adds the unique flavor to our band,” Que said.
In sports, the best teams usually wind up in the playoffs year after year. In CN&R CAMMIES categories, including the one we tag as World/Celtic/Reggae, the same is often true. In fact, your 2010 nominees are identical to the 2009 incarnation:
The Pub Scouts are one of the top heritage acts on the Chico music scene. Now in their 20th year, and led by patriarch Michael Cannon, the ensemble has a jig and a reel for any occasion. Using a grand mix of fiddles, pipes, flutes and more, the Pub Scouts’ playbook of traditional, danceable Irish music is deep and wide. And Cannon said even now, “the music is continually evolving in a positive direction … in music there is always room to improve your instrument.” The Pub Scouts, who often perform with the Oliver Academy of Irish Dance as well as at monthly Chico Grange contra dances, are most grateful for their almost-1,000-gig Friday residency at Duffy’s Tavern. “It’s hard to separate the Pub Scouts and Duffy’s Tavern because we literally grew up together,” Cannon said.
Ha’Penny Bridge—a four-year-old outfit that includes the Pub Scouts’ Cannon, Jewel Cardinet, Vita Segalla and, sometimes, Chico legend Jimmy Fay on drums—also plays traditional music of Western Europe, but in the Celtic vein. Led by songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Mark McKinnon, the band also features the sweetly harmonious Molly McNally—“the best singing partner I’ve ever had,” McKinnon said—who recently moved to Sacramento but remains active with the band, which has also begun to employ the vocal services of Gina Henson Tropea. The band also features Tom Haber on bass and Dharma LaRocca on congas. McKinnon said he’s written nine of 10 songs planned for a follow-up to the band’s debut CD, The Awakening.
Oozing sweet, sophisticated salsa, Latin jazz, and Afro-Cuban stylings, Los Papi Chulos achieves a rich, highly developed sound that Chico-area music fans should be proud to call their own. Born in 1997 from a concept brought forth by Chico State music professor Warren Pinkney, the nine-to-11-piece band features local musical stalwarts Jeff Daub, Rocky Winslow, Greg D’Augelli and Juan Aguilar on horns; Shigemi Minetaka on piano; Jonathan Stoyanoff on bass; a bevy of percussionists; and Devon Dorrenzo, the band’s “rising star” according to Daub, on vocals. “The Latin music we play is in the spirit of the Fania Allstars, Eddie Palmieri, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, and many others,” said Daub.
Boss 501, an eight-member ska, rocksteady and reggae band that combines the horn-driven danceability of The Specials with a reverence to Desmond Dekker, kicks out some serious horn-driven fanfare. The band, which opened for Eek-A-Mouse last week at Chico State, is set to release a CD called In the Groove in the fall, according to keyboardist Chris “Esco” Zinna. It promises mostly originals, as well as “some really cool covers by the Heptones, the Wailers, the Skatalites and more,” Zinna said. “We love to throw in a few covers so we can educate the crowd on where reggae music came from.”
Watson 349, a four-year-old Chico nightclub staple, is also no slouch in this widely defined category. Led by Chris Hanson, Nate Ledgerwood and Rick Carriere, and named after the imprint stamped on generic Vicodin, the band supplements its reggae essence with hard-rocking jamband-ish elements to create a unique, high-energy fusion.
Watson 349, which in March had the opportunity to play Z-Rock the Mountain near Truckee, is working on recording a new full-length album that should include new covers and new originals, drummer Hanson said, adding, “Live music is alive and well in Chico!”