CAMMIES: World, Funk, Metal

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This is no doubt the most diverse CAMMIES category, both in essence and in the bands that encompass it. What these groups do have in common is they bring musical styles from around the world to the town of Chico. And who couldn#&8217;t use a little more culture in their lives?

World music is essentially considered anything that isn’t Western popular music. Although, as with every style of music (Indie?! Alternative?! Rock?!), the label has become a vague shadow of its former self—an umbrella term for anyone who brings music from other cultures to their own pop stylings.

A recent NPR headline read: “From Vampire Weekend, World Music with a Bite.” And former Talking Heads head-honcho David Byrne, who founded world music label Luaka Bop, denounced the term in a New York Times editorial titled “I Hate World Music.”

Labels aside, we can all appreciate that performers right here in Chico are tapping into musical styles far removed from comfort-food pop. Los Papi Chulos for instance. The group formed more than a decade ago, taking its style from Latin- and Cuban-influenced salsa music known as timba. Los Papi Chulos features up to a dozen players at a time, including multiple percussionists, vocalists and horn players.

“While other bands tend to be scaled down for convenience, simplicity or basic economical reasons, our approach was to be much more of a Latin orchestra,” explains bandleader and trumpeter Jeff Daub.

In Chico, Celtic music isn’t just relegated to that one day when everyone claims to be Irish in order to justify slurping down green beer at 7 in the morn. Pullins Cyclery’s Steve O’Bryan often hosts Celtic performances at his home. And every Friday afternoon, three-time CAMMIE winners The Pub Scouts fill the floor at Duffy’s with an arsenal of fiddles, flutes, mandolins and percussion led by accordion player Michael “it’s-in-my-genes” Cannon.

Rock ’n’ roller Mark McKinnon formed his Celtic ensemble Ha’penny Bridge in 2006 after a trip to Ireland. McKinnon has steadily grown the group (and first-time CAMMIE nominee) into an eight-piece, which just released an album of all originals called The Awakening. According to McKinnon, the record had even some Irish musicians convinced: “They were very surprised to find that a Yank from California had composed them.”

Rounding out our little geographical adventure are the number bands, Boss 501 and Watson 349—ska meets reggae meets rock, or in the case of the latter, metal. Watson 349 guitarist Sean McFadden comes from a reggae/ska background. Drummer Chris Hanson, metal and hardcore. Hanson has affectionately dubbed their music “double-kick reggae.” You see? If you don’t like being labeled, you simply create your own.


There#&8217;s just something about eight, nine, maybe a dozen members ripping it up onstage, each adding individual color to that massive musical picture. (Early-#&8217;70s funk was where it was at!)

Extended improvisation was only one aspect of funk. When you think of true jam bands, the Grateful Dead and Phish immediately come to mind. It’s not for everyone. In fact, some groups (see Dave Matthews) have even tried to shake any affiliation with the term “jam” because of its association with colorful seas of acid-munching followers doing the white-man’s overbite while hanging on every … single … groovy … little … note.

Still, others embrace it, as well they should. Picture this: The year is 1972. Members of Chico’s Supernova (some of whom went on to form Chico legend and 2009 Funk/Jam nominee Spark ’n’ Cinder) are playing a house party on Lassen Avenue. It’s 10 a.m. By the time things finally wrap up, it’s midnight.

“We had two drummers that would play together and also switch off when either of the two needed a break,” explains Spark ’n’ Cinder’s Jerry Morano. “Guitar players would drift in and out throughout the day. [There were] three bass players, assorted percussionists, bell players, Mr. Tambourine Man, our in-house sword swallower and other assorted freaks.”

The term “jam” just got a whole lot cooler … and that was probably the PG version.

A jam band is a vague description of a group of musicians who are well-versed in a number of styles: country, funk, folk, rock, psychedelic, Afro-beat.

Of course, Chico’s lineage of jam-inspired music runs deep. Several of this year’s nominees have been part of shaping it. The members of Electric Circus, for instance, were the torch-bearers throughout the ’90s and into the new millennium before calling it quits in 2004. The band is back at it—getting dance floors moving again while receiving its first CAMMIE nomination.

At this moment, Swamp Zen is no doubt engaged in a tasty 10-plus-minute version of “Love Recipe.” The band formed in 2007 made up of players from notable Chico party bands, including Snake Holmes and Doug Stein from Brut Max and Puddle Junction.

While some argue that tremendous musical ability isn’t a necessity (“So long as the player plays to the song tastefully,” says Mike Waltz of Electric Circus), Dave Elke and Jeff Pershing include the one-two punch of being both tasteful and musical.

The Dave Elke Trio is one of several projects that showcase the talents of its namesake guitarist. He’s played with everybody, and myriad musical styles. Jazz? Yep. Funk? Rock? No problem.

Pershing fronts his group, three-time CAMMIE nominee The Jeff Pershing Band. The soft-spoken guitarist’s voice comes out loud and clear through his instrument.

Pershing’s take? “Soloists need to make the audience say ‘that was amazing.’ ”

Hard Rock/ Metal

Is metal a young man#&8217;s game? Hell no. As with punk rock, its disciples are granted eternal youth. Metal is the (not-so) secret club you join as a pissed-at-the-world kid and never really leave … even if you want to. The tattoos usually will make sure of that.

“I think there’s metal for all ages,” says guitarist Zeke Rogers. His band The Makai earned its fourth CAMMIE nomination this year. “There are some pretty old-timey dudes who are still rocking it, like Iron Maiden. Those guys shred for being hella old.”

Heavy metal itself is getting “hella old” as it closes in on its fourth decade. It arguably all began on Friday, Feb. 13, 1970—the day four weirdos from Britain who called themselves Black Sabbath released their self-titled debut. Flower Power was doomed.

Bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Venom, Metallica and Slayer have directed the genre over the decades. And they’re still playing, while paving the way for the Mayhems and Mastodons of the world.

Chico has its own long history of metal—namely with the band Fallon, which formed more than two decades ago and has played some 350 gigs. Fallon bassist Frankie Bedene—better known as Frankie “Swa”—hasn’t stopped. He also fronts 2009 CAMMIE nominee (and 2008 winner) Blood of Cain. The band bridges the heavy metal generation gap both stylistically (old-school death metal meets heavy sludge) and with the ages of its members, which range from 20 to Swa’s “33 in MySpace years.”

Many of this year’s metal nominees have been going at it for some time. In 1996 Esoteric formed to do one thing: “Light up a spliff and burn down the system!” And the five-piece does so by rolling a big fatty filled with metal aggression and reggae good vibes they call “Ganja-core.” For 13 years!

Time flies, because The Makai could now be considered … veterans?! For the past five years metal precision has met punk rock attitude as this motley crew has obliterated the States, slaughtered Europe and released a full-length for Chicago’s Seventh Rule Recordings. A new disc is slated for late 2009.

Like Blood of Cain, Armed For Apocalypse brings longtime players in guitarist Cayle Hunter (Oddman, Will Haven) and drummer Nick Harris (Red With Envy) together with a new generation of shredders in guitarist Kirk Williams (Red Giant) and bassist Cor Vaspra (former Blood of Cain). It’s pure sludge, with a rhythm section that could lay waste to a small city. A new album should be out sometime this year.

The “kids” in Lysistrata might be the youngest of this year’s nominees, but they play their instruments like old-timers. Lysistrata shows are reckless affairs that combine the energy of ’80s hardcore with the virtuosity of the best metal shredders of the past two decades. Probably more Black Flag than Black Sabbath, and that in no way is a bad thing.