These go to 11: the 2002 SAMMIES winners
READERS’ CHOICE AWARDS
Another year, another award. Once again, the hardest-working band in Sacramento not named the Beer Dawgs is picking up another SAMMIE, again for outstanding blues act. For the past six years, the Hucklebucks have been wowing local crowds with jump blues, swing and boogie in clubs around town and elsewhere. Vocalist Doug James also blows a mean sax and blues harp; guitarist Robert Sidwell works the spaces behind him, and they’re nicely backed by bassist Joshua Minucci and drummer Joey Vee. You can check out their CD Everybody’s in the Mood, but any band that plays over 200 gigs a year is best appreciated live. Bonus Fun Fact: The Hucklebucks have played the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, but have yet to jam with Buddy Ebsen.
Consider this: Many purists insist that George Jones defines country music, while suburb ’n’ western enthusiasts prefer the dulcet tones of Garth Brooks and Faith Hill. However, the biggest-selling “country” album last year was the Appalachian-tinged soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and there are some who insist that rootsy rock bands such as Wilco are also country. Where does that leave Forever Goldrush, an Amador County transplant with strong roots right here in Sacramento? With another SAMMIE, again for best country band. For those of us at the heart of California’s Central Valley, Forever Goldrush’s take on “country” suits us just fine. Bonus Fun Fact: Visit the Capitol Garage early enough in the day, and you’ll likely be served a meal by the owner of this band’s distinctive voice, Damon Wyckoff.
Not every band can write its own material, and not every music fan wants to go see a band that only performs songs its members have written. Many excellent musicians prefer to play in cover bands—the money is good, the work is steady, and if you’re good you can be the life of the party every night. On any given night, Mercy Me! is a veritable jukebox that pumps out a mix of Motown, soul, R&B and funk favorites to a crowd of sweaty dancers—some of which voted this band the first “outstanding cover/bar act” SAMMIE this year. Bonus Fun Fact: When Mercy Me! is playing Harlow’s, that probably means that there won’t be any Cheeseballs around.
When Woody Guthrie used to paint “this machine kills fascists” on his mahogany Martin acoustic guitars back in the day, it probably never occurred to him that, years later, Anton Barbeau, an esoterically inclined pop singer from Sacramento, California, who gets royalty checks from places as far afield as Finland and Bosnia, would find himself pigeonholed with such legends of the genre as Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. But such is the blurring of the lines that separate acoustically rendered Hitchcockean psychedelia from the soundtrack to shindigs and hootenannys. Bonus Fun Fact: Anton’s former girlfriend lived directly above Cake singer John McCrea, who would needle Anton by playing ’70s disco records for hours on end.
The instrumental meanderings of the Mind Club emit an all-purpose ambient suavity—suitable for lounging in a smoky jazz club while nodding your head ever so slightly to the beat; sipping a chilled martini at a cocktail party or seducing that secret agent/supermodel you just caught trying to steal the secret plans in your briefcase. The group’s debut release spygroovin’ (which, according to guitarist Gregor Williams, is “what happens when James Bond shakes—not stirs—his ass”) is soon to be followed by a second CD, Sick Sweet Stupid— Live at the Torch Club. Be the first to ride the new groove at the CD Release Party on April 20 at, of course, the Torch Club. Bonus Fun Fact: Wiliams wrote the new TV/radio theme music for the Kings! (Listen when they cut for commercials.)
LUXT has done it again. Sacramento’s own cyber voodoo rock band has captured yet another SAMMIE for Outstanding Metal Band, proving that they are the Sacramento hardcore sound of the new millennium. (LUXT: bringing home the SAMMIES since 2000.) The band has recently signed with Knight Records in Encino and recorded a 4-song EP for distribution in Europe this summer. Anna Christine and the boys are sure to give the Odin-worshipping übermetalists of Europe some serious competition. Bonus Fun Fact: The word LUXT has no meaning. Some band members were playing with graphics in Photoshop and put an “x” in lust. Everyone agreed it looked cool and the rest is bumper sticker history.
What started as a “what if” prank in the record division office at Tower’s main office in West Sacramento has developed into one of the better—and certainly one of the more fun—exponents of the pure pop experience in town. Lynn Mayugba fronts the group, Gerri Ranta and Cory Tozer play guitars, Gitti Lindner plays bass and Wendy Powell plays drums. Their most recent CD, Take Off, was produced by Skid Jones of Magnolia Thunderfinger fame, and anyone who can go toe-to-toe with Jones in the studio deserves mega props. The Skirts, repeat winners of a SAMMIE for pop act, will enter the studio in April to record an album for summer release. Bonus Fun Fact: The original name of this band, according to one source, was Betty Crocker and the Ready to Spreads.
During the finale of the 2001 SAMMIES, while the Knockoffs were running around onstage tripping each other and shouting out Seven Seconds lyrics, Kevin Seconds made an impassioned plea to the audience to bestow next year’s SAMMIE to the group he calls “the hardest working punk band in Sacramento.” Whether due to Seconds’ persuasive speaking skills or the sight of Danny onstage in his underwear, the fans have finally given the Knockoffs the popular credit they deserve by naming them the Outstanding Punk Band of 2002. A fitting tribute to the boys who can turn the phrase “Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma’am” into both a rockin’ tune and a plausible come on. Bonus Fun Fact: Some Knockoffs have doppelgängers in the professional wrestling industry.
And their mama must be so proud that they’ve won the 2002 SAMMIE for Outstanding R&B/Funk Band! Mama’s Pride, made up of siblings Vincent, Edward, Tiffany and Kimberly, is Sacramento’s answer to the Partridge Family. (If the Partridge Family was a compulsively danceable funk band, that is.) The band is fronted by identical twins Kimberly and Tiffany who trade lead vocals and instruments just for fun. Though relatively new to the Sacramento scene, the band is already packing crowds into local clubs as well as playing the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Bonus Fun Fact: The band once broke room capacity at Club Busby’s in the Hyatt Regency at a show played especially for Dennis Rodman.
Brotha Lynch Hung
South Sacramento native Kevin Mann assumed the nom de rap Brotha Lynch Hung (so named for his ability to execute his rap competitors. Not literally. We think.) and went on to become the king of “horror core rap.” Though he has numerous guest appearances and production credits on others’ rap albums and recorded songs with Ice T and Snoop Dogg, a dispute over creative control with Black Market Records has resulted in a lack of recent solo material. Not to worry, however. Fans can expect a new solo album out this year. Bonus Fun Rumor: During Brotha Lynch Hung’s 1996 appearance on Leeza, an audience-member said BLH lyrics inspired him to commit murder.
If there is a signature sound here in Sacramento, it probably rocks pretty hard and comes from the same balls-out aesthetic that gave us such luminaries as Deftones. Tenfold, a quartet of mostly 20-something guys (drummer Will Brunk is 30, but guitarist Pag, bassist Eddie Meehan and singer Justin Butler are still young enough to trust) is one of the latest big noisemakers to emerge from the River City. The band’s most recent disc—Ad Astra, released by the hard-working local label 720 Records—is the kind of calling card that usually leads to bigger and better things in a hurry. Factor in the kind of “no sleep till Hammersmith” work ethic that marks the true road-warrior band, and you’re looking at a real comer. Bonus Fun Fact: Tenfold cut its latest sides in a Midtown studio that has hosted such bluntly spoken artists as Master P and Snoop Dogg.
When Gerald Pease moved to Sacramento from the Contra Costa County’s Ygnacio Valley, he had an epiphany: Post-grunge acts were a dime a dozen, but there weren’t a lot of bands that were attempting the kind of eclectic fusion of musical styles that another local band, Cake, was finding so much success with. So Pease recruited a group of high-school-age musicians to flesh out his vision, and —voilà!—¡Búcho! was born. Joined by the rhythm section of Josh Lippi and Derek Taylor and a trumpet section featuring Leon Moore and Anthony Coleman, Pease commenced jumpstarting the young crowds at such venues as the Capitol Garage with a fluid blend of world-beat rhythms, Latin horn lines and plain old pop songs. Bonus Fun Fact: ¡Búcho!’s Gerald Pease once played in a much more conventional rock band called Gravel.
CRITICS’ CHOICE AWARDS
Jason Mahon, 7th Standard
His band, 7th Standard, has been in a hibernation of sorts, but seems to be ramping up its activity; it scheduled four gigs for this month, one of which is this Saturday at the Boardwalk. Jason Mahon’s voice has the kind of grainy strength we’ve come to know well from listening to modern-rock radio; it’s a vehicle that’s well suited to his band’s pensive, thoughtful, guitar driven anthems. He’s the kind of frontman we may very well see go national in a big way in the not-too-distant future.
Jeannette Faith, Park Avenue Music
Cooler than cucumber, and at least as cool as Astrud Gilberto on a hazy day, Jeannette Faith has the kind of voice you always remember—sometimes languid, sometimes crystalline, often beautiful. The songs she sings as part of the duo Park Avenue Music seem to spring from the same aural analog to David Lynch’s moebius-strip films that gave us Cocteau Twins and Portishead. But Faith brings something else to the mix—an icy surface that conceals a surprisingly warm interior.
Steve Amaral, Red Star Memorial
All those technical considerations—sustain you can hear, amps that go to “11,” hors d’oeuvres that won’t fold properly. The contemporary guitarist must master a surprising number of variables on a daily basis, especially those known to play in different bands, or hold down different roles. Steve Amaral has done both—he’s defined the hard metallic sheen of Popgun, then had the aplomb to shift to the rootsier neo-Buddy Hollyisms of Red Star Memorial; he’s played lead and rhythm guitar. And that, he’s done well enough to earn our recognition.
Dan McNay, Slow Lorries
Talk about mudflaps, my girl’s got ’em. Yep, and when it comes to providing a solid low end—big bottoms, so to speak—to help shape a song, Dan McNay is a master. McNay, who’s marked time in such varied local combos as Wynch, Attica and the Porchupines (the latter two with Oleander’s Ric Ivanisevich), currently lays down the rumble for Slow Lorries, a foursome whose sophisticated songcraft requires the finesse of a McCartney. It’s a bottom that McNay has no problem filling.
Zach Hill, Hella
For a profession with a remarkable predilection for accidents—spontaneous combustion and the like—the lads who pound out the beat are a buoyant lot. Consider Mr. Hill, who’s currently driving the beat home with Hella, a duo recently signed to the 5RC offshoot of Olympia’s highly regarded Kill Rock Stars label. Hill, according to another local drummer, is Mr. Destructo—a stick-breaking, drumhead-warping, bass pedal-braking destroyer god of the trap set. And he can keep a mean beat, too.
Steve Gundhi is one of those musicians who may not talk much about his accomplishments, but he’s been there and done that. The saxophonist, whose favored sax is an alto, has a deep jazz background (as in Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane), but since he settled in Sacramento, he’s opted for more of a role as a utility player, cutting the occasional blues side with bands helmed by the likes of Glen Lane and Mick Martin. In fact, SAMMIES Hall of Famer Martin describes Gundhi as a remarkable technician who makes great choices.
Most people know Dave Brockman as the former drummer for Jackpot, but before that he played keyboards in a band called Ian Faith (please forgive yet another This Is Spinal Tap reference) with future Jackpot frontman Rusty Miller. Brockman has returned to the keyboard; recently he’s been backing local songwriter/studio whiz David Houston on a modified Hammond B-3 organ. Brockman also has been working on solo material, with one album of his songs finished and another on the way.
Last year’s SAMMIES winner for best vocalist has another ace up his sleeve: He’s developed into one of the finest songwriters in the area. Wyckoff’s band, Forever Goldrush, has been busy recording its third album, and from the new songs emanating from the studio, it’s pretty apparent that he’s onto something special. Wyckoff’s songs spring from the same roots that such older, classic rock-era acts as the Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival and others have explored.
The records he spins, at venues like Joe’s Style Shop, come from Jamaica, mostly: from ska, rock steady and reggae to later mutations like dancehall and dub. But that deep knowledge of how the pieces fit together and flow makes the crowds he draws respond so enthusiastically. Wokstar is a relative newcomer here; he lived in Hawaii previously, where he soaked up the reggae vibe there, along with that peculiar island hybrid known as “Jawaiian.” How he puts all those elements together, drawing from one of the better collections of island music in the area, is best described as alchemy.
New Local Act
At a recent show, opening for Deathray and Milwaukee at Old Ironsides, the band onstage launched into a string of airy, tuneful ditties that carried the massed crowd along on the kind of cloud-bumping ride heretofore only experienced by box kites. The band was the California Oranges, a Sacramento trio whose lightness of attack betrayed a surprising amout of pop-music smarts. Their homonymous debut on the now-local Darla Records label came out a little over a year ago. But it’s taken a while for the Oranges—a trio, since expanded to a quartet, formed around songwriters John Conley and Verna Brock, who also team up in Holiday Flyer—to raise their local profile.
Las Pesadillas, Dear Customer
Describing Las Pesadillas to someone who’s never heard them is like square dancing with your sister. You can dance around ’er all day, but you’re never going to hit on ’er. They’re like Primus, except when they sound like the Pixies, when they’re not reminiscent of the Charlie Daniels Band and outside of those Tom Waits moments, they mostly play like a fictional rag-tag carnival band from a century ago. The mood on Dear Customer, the band’s first full-length CD, varies wildly from moment to moment—dragging in depressed languor only to throw itself off a cliff and soar through the clouds before nestling down into a cozy two-step with a dangerously manipulative ex-girlfriend. And that’s just track one. Hold on to your hats, folks. When Las Pesadillas holds the reins, the ride is anything but smooth.
Festival of New American Music
Gene Savage, in 1978 a piano teacher at CSUS had a dream. Why not create a showcase for new music in the concert hall tradition, a festival where these new works could be premiered and exposed to audiences? And why not let people in for free, so they could experience the music without any intimidation factor? And why not stagger it out over a week, combining workshops, lectures and performances open to the public? Savage brought Kronos Quartet in to keynote his nascent festival. Subsequent years have seen such names as Steve Reich, John Adams, Denny Zeitlin and the Turtle Island String Quartet, among others, visit Sacramento to perform at FNAM.
Savage ran the festival for the first 15 years; then composer/percussionist Daniel Kennedy took over. This fall, the Festival will mark 25 years, giving music lovers and fans of the avant-garde in the Sacramento area a unique, world-class cultural experience.