Do the Rutabaga Boogie

Long before Mouseketeer-pop mannequins dry-humped plastic-surgery-enhanced dance-music divas on Super Bowl Sunday halftime shows, there was this thing called live rock ’n’ roll. Just like today, people would blow off steam at bars, but oftentimes it would be to the tune of what was known as a “bar band,” rather than the pre-recorded soundtrack provided by a DJ booth or jukebox.

Cities around the country had their great bar bands, too—groups that would play live, mostly around town, for well more than half the nights on a calendar. These bands could master almost any cover tune and could play for hours on end.

Sacramento still has the Beer Dawgs, but the undisputed champs of the local bar scene, starting in the 1970s, were the Rutabaga Boogie Band. This writer can recall—albeit barely, through a brew-generated haze—more than a few evenings spent in local dives (Shire Road Pub, Slick Willie’s, the Oasis Ballroom, etc.) listening to these guys rock the house.

As Larry Gosch, one of Rutabaga’s guitarists, recalled, “Way back when, we used to play five and six nights a week, every week, 250 nights a year. Now,” he added, laughing, “we play twice. It’s very strange.”

Though Rutabaga is nowhere near as ubiquitous a presence as it once was, its members still get together occasionally to play. This Saturday, February 7, commencing at 9:30 p.m.—“after my bedtime,” Gosch quipped—the band will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a gig at the PowerHouse Pub, at 614 Sutter Street in Folsom.

Gosch described his band’s style as frat rock, or jock rock, and said its repertoire consisted mostly of covers—Little Feat, the Who, the Beatles, Mitch Ryder. “Pretty much salt-of-the-earth rock ’n’ roll. We couldn’t write a good song,” he confessed, “but we could play well, and we could write good arrangements.”

These days, Gosch—once a longtime fixture at Skip’s Music—owns Encore Music, an instrument retailer in Auburn. “One of the things that amazes some of the kids that come into my store now, they come in with Ramones T-shirts, and I go, ‘Ah. Hey, man: I played with them. Joey Ramone and I used the same kind of nose spray.’ That’s like my claim to fame: Joey Ramone and I used Afrin.”

Gosch still gets together with guitarist Bill Horton, keyboardist and guitarist David Phelps, bassist Craig Mozley, and drummers Bob Hudson and Russ Martinez to gig. “We don’t need to rehearse,” he said. “God, we’ve only played those songs a million times.”

Some of those shows can be lucrative, like the occasional corporate party. “You know all the drunk guys that used to stumble around Oasis Ballroom that were construction guys or carpenters?” Gosch asks. “Now, they own construction companies or huge companies, and they have us play for their Christmas parties because they’re so amazed that we’re not dead. ‘You guys are still alive!?’” he mock-shouted. “'That’s so cool!’”

Yes, it is.