“We broke a lot of rules and never looked back”: In which ye olde editor pays tribute to the legendary pre-Americana icons, and along the way makes a pilgrimage to Arizona.
BY FRED MILLS
Ed. note: For this installment of my ongoing “College Rock Chronicles” series (previously excavated: archival interviews with Big Star, Dumptruck and The Gun Club), I’ve dipped back to one of my favorite groups, a band that helped make the ‘80s just a little bit brighter for me and, no doubt, scores more fans of the U.S. guitar band scene. Some called it the Paisley Underground; others, the New Sincerity. Either way, though, as peers of such classic ensembles as the Dream Syndicate, Long Ryders, Salvation Army/Three O’Clock, True West, Zeitgeist/Reivers, etc., Green On Red was also wholly unique, channeling pre-Americana sounds with gusto.
My article here is essentially a composite of several pieces, including a 1986 interview with GoR frontman Dan Stuart (the story for zine The Bob was titled, inscrutably, “It’s A Long, Long Road From Mel’s Diner,” and no, I do not remember why), liner notes I did for a couple of GoR archival titles that were released in 2003, and a live review of the group’s 2005 reunion concert in their hometown of Tucson—I flew out to the Old Pueblo for the event, being the (yikes!) superfan that I am. Seek out any and all Green On Red records—1985’s Gas, Food, Lodging remains a stone classic of the Amerindie underground—and maybe even scoop up a copy of Stuart’s new memoir chronicling his misadventures with the band, The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings. – FM
Rock ‘n’ roll mythology being the seductive proposition that it is, I’d love to report that my initial encounter with Green On Red took place at some legendary or otherwise colorful setting – a New Orleans cemetery, perhaps, or even the “crossroads” of Robert Johnson lore. Hell, a notorious NYC or L.A. venue would’ve been fine too.
Not, sad to say, the case. The first time I saw Green On Red was at a rundown Charlotte, NC, punk dive called The Milestone Club, a joint whose owner was so cheap he charged bands for the beer they drank and who, in lieu of springing for a real heating system, would sometimes tear off planks from the walls as fuel for the club’s lone wood stove. Indeed, it was on a particularly frigid November night in 1983 that Green On Red – singer/guitarist Danny Stuart, organist Chris Cacavas, bassist Jack Waterson and drummer Alex MacNicol – arrived to perform a solid, if rushed, 40-minute headlining set largely culled from the then-current Gravity Talks album. Afterwards the quartet quickly donned coats and mittens and huddle around the heater, graciously accepting kudos from the handful of fans who’d turned out (including yours truly, on the prowl for autographed record sleeves) while no doubt asking themselves, “This is why we left the Los Angeles sunshine?!?”
But a bond was somehow forged. Not long after I would interview Stuart for American rock zine The Bob, and over the years I continued to follow the group’s progress, from shining star to crashing comet. Upon moving to Tucson, Arizona, in ’92, who should I run into one night at a local Mexican restaurant, but Stuart himself, dining with his wife and some friends. After reestablishing our friendship, we would get together sometimes, usually at a local record shop to talk music, and he’d fill me in on what he’d been up to following the heroin-addled demise of the band and a subsequent return home from Europe for a much-needed drying-out period in his hometown.
Stuart wound up staying in Tucson, also spending a good chunk of his time in Mexico, and aside from a mid ‘90s solo album, Can Of Worms, plus a collaboration with Tucson guitarist Al Perry, he pretty much decided to lay low, musically speaking. Stuart was eager, however, to press me into service to draft liner notes for a pair of GoR projects, an odds ‘n’ sods collection of rarities entitled What Were We Thinking and a reissue of Gas Food Lodging, both released in 2003. Conversations commenced with the surviving members, and a narrative history began to unfold…
“I thought that we would play together like the Dead – at the height of it I thought we’d play together forever.” —Jack Waterson
“I believe bands have a certain amount of life. But I’m grateful to those guys. They got in the van. They suspended whatever was going on in their lives for abut five years. They didn’t get much out of it.” —Dan Stuart
“Still, they were, for sure, some of the best musical years of my life. It was a pretty amazing slice of musical history to be part of.” —Chris Cacavas
Green On Red began life as The Serfers in 1979, inauspiciously enough, in Tucson, Arizona, when Danny Stuart (guitar, vocals), Van Christian (drums) and Jack Waterson (bass) hooked up at a party. Organist Sean Nagore also signed on, only to be replaced after a few gigs by Chris Cacavas, a veteran of a popular punk combo called The Pedestrians. As Cacavas describes the Serfers, “…primitive, punkish, but not merely three-chord rock. What I did was bring a melodic sense; Dan would go for a wall of noise on his guitar; and Jack came up with really creative basslines. I guess we were making quirky music, sort of ‘art-punk,’ perhaps?”
Tucson’s punk scene was just slipping into high gear at the time, at venues like Pearl’s Hurricane and Tumbleweed’s, featuring the likes of our heroes, the Pills, Suspect, Useless Pieces of Shit and Giant Sandworms. “During the day it would have bikers and Vietnam Vets on disability,” explains Stuart, of the latter club, continuing “then the punks would come in at night and one of us would have to draw straws to see who would go around to the regulars and get them to pay the cover. Some of ‘em really got it: ‘Oh, this is just like the Seeds!’ And others were more, ‘You know what a punk is? A punk is someone in prison who gets buttfucked!”
“I remember one night this other bar up the street was closing, all those people in the middle of the street, and suddenly there was this huge brawl like something out of Quadrophenia: rockers versus punks!”
The summer of ’80 found the Serfers headlining packed shows as well as opening for Black Flag, Human Hands, Fear, the Subhumans, D.O.A. and X. Locals Gene Armstrong and Jennifer Murphy, at the time young smitten scenesters who would go on to become popular music critics in Tucson, frame the Serfers thusly: “The last couple of songs [of a gig] they all changed instruments, someone started blowing on a clarinet, and there was just this great cacophony,” recalls Armstrong, with Murphy adding, “It was punk, thrashing about onstage a lot of energy and really raw — but edgier and darker than any other Tucson band. They weren’t just imitating the Sex Pistols or the Ramones.”
After exhausting the possibilities in their hometown the Serfers relocated to Los Angeles and rechristened themselves Green On Red, after a Serfers tune of the same name that originally appeared on a 1980 Tucson radio station’s compilation of locals, KWFM On The Air. (The name change was prompted by a booking agent secretary’s suggestion to Stuart that the recent southern California influx of violence-tilting hardcore-inclined surf-punks rendered a name like “Serfers” a bit poorly timed for the Arizona ex-pats.) “We moved into this sleazy, flea-and-drug-ridden hotel called the Villa Elaine,” says Cacavas. “One room, a bathroom, a kitchen, and out-of-work musicians. There were times we were so broke we’d go out and steal hamburger and beans!”
Scrambling for gigs amongst the litter of the L.A. postpunk scene, the quartet (now with MacNicol, cribbed from Lydia Lunch’s band, on drums; Van Christian would go on front Tucson desert rockers Naked Prey) — didn’t find fame and fortune, but it did find a supportive peer group with such outfits as the Rain Parade, Bangles, and Dream Syndicate. And an old friend from Tucson, Rich Hopkins (later of Sidewinders and Sand Rubies fame), stepped up to loan Green On Red $1200 to cover studio time to record a red vinyl, limited-to-500-copies, 12” EP titled 2 Bibles.
Recalls Cacavas, “I remember when we first got it. We were sitting on the front porch and putting the records into the sleeves, just sort of glowing in the freshness of this vinyl. I thought it was pretty cool — ‘We exist, finally!’ — even though in retrospect it’s [laughs] a pretty quirky little record.”
Meanwhile, it was through a connection in the aforementioned Dream Syndicate that Green On Red’s professional career, in 1982, moved forward a notch.
“We had played a gig with them at the Cathay DeGrande,” says Stuart.” Steve [Wynn] had seen us and he showed up at one of these barbeques we used to have. I played him a tape we’d recorded for less than $200 at this rehearsal space we used that had an 8-track upstairs, and he said, ‘I got a label, let me put it out!’ So that whole tape became the Down There record.”
Wynn’s Down There label had been established in order to release his group’s material; already a fan of Green On Red, he now offered his services to the band. (Stuart, “We all owe a lot to Steve. He did a great job with his label; then he helped us out in the studio later doing some songs; and then he helped us get our first real deal, too.”) Green On Red came out in ’82 and, as both a solid musical effort and a crucial sonic snapshot of an important alumnus of L.A.’s then-burgeoning neopsychedelic/garage scene (later dubbed by critics “the Paisley Underground”), it holds up to scrutiny to this day, its seven songs running an impressive stylistic gamut. There’s the subtly gothic fuzz of “Death And Angels” (its twin Stuart-Cacavas vocal line reveals how musically democratic the band was early on, before Stuart fully assumed the songwriting and singing reins — not to mention Cacavas’ organ serving as the lead instrument); the eerie, noirish surf-rock of “Black Night” (the song, with its insistent Ventures bassline and swipes of tremolo guitar, would remain a favored staple of the group’s concert repertoire for some time to come); the jangly garage pop of “Aspirin” (listen for one of Stuart’s rare — but in its brevity, highly effective — guitar solos); even the paranoidal psychedelia of “Apartment 6” (like “Black Night,” one of the band’s most popular live tunes; interestingly, on the original edition, the song never ends, the closing organ/guitar feedback instead trailing out to a vinyl lock-groove). If the band sounds a bit rushed at times, chalk that up to its punk roots, for the chemistry between players is readily apparent.
Now at the time, Green On Red entertained few career aspirations that extended much past the Hollywood city limits. But also around this time hip L.A. indie Slash Records entered the picture, signing the Dream Syndicate and releasing the seminal Days Of Wine And Roses LP on its Ruby subsidiary. When the Syndicate subsequently moved to A&M Records, Wynn, who in late ’82 had produced a new three-song demo for Green On Red slated for a Radio Tokyo compilation, suggested his friends to Slash. The label was duly impressed; in July of ’83, Stuart, Cacavas, Waterson and MacNicol went into the studio with Slash house producer Chris D (of Flesheaters fame) to record their first “proper” record. (MacNicol notes that at one point Miles Copeland, hungry for fresh “New Wave” bands for his then-happening IRS label, almost signed Green On Red “except we dressed like a bunch of slobs — if we could just dress like the Three O’Clock. Danny just told him to fuck off!”)
Nowadays Stuart reckons that the album sounds somewhat amateurish, but upon its release in the fall of ’83 Gravity Talks, sporting a cleaner sound than the Down There record and elaborating handsomely upon its predecessor’s musical themes, caught the ear of the American indie rock intelligentsia. A rambunctious cross-country tour was mounted in support of the record, earning critical kudos for Green On Red and consolidating its fan base — a grassroots movement that quickly spread overseas.
Recalls Cacavas of the group’s initial touring venture, “It was as big a deal as a coffee and donuts tour can be! Just the fact that people wanted to hear us outside of L.A…. For me, it was the first time seeing the States, and we did seem to be on the road constantly after that. Getting to Europe the first time was very cool. It had seemed impossible at the time – ‘These people got the wrong band!’ To this day, I think European audiences are the most respectful, even at a cult level. They’re good to you, and they appreciate good music.”
The next stage in Green On Red’s development arrived in the form of San Francisco gunslinger Chuck Prophet. The four members were already contemplating the addition of a guitarist in order to free Stuart, a self-professed fretboard hack but charismatic onstage and inordinately blessed with gab skills, to concentrate on frontman duties. The Rain Parade’s Matt Piucci had sat in for a few gigs (and even appeared on a subsequent bootleg album, Eight Miles High). But Prophet, aka “Billy The Kid,” would ultimately prove the right fit.
“I was in a band that got thrown on the bill with these ‘Paisley dudes,’” recalls Prophet, of his initial encounter with the band. “My first impression was they looked like guys who should be operating the rides at a carnival. They played and it blew my mind! It was chaotic as hell, but really entertaining and musical, and the songs were there.”
Prophet became a regular face at their S.F. gigs and, upon moving to L.A. in ’84, landed a spot on Waterson’s couch. Soon enough, he landed the band’s lead axe spot, too, additionally demonstrating a natural flair for songwriting and arranging and bringing a measure of musical discipline to a band in the process of shedding its punk skin. (Prophet: “There didn’t seem to be a lot of communication going on, musically or otherwise, at least not to the naked eye. I remember the first time we got together to play, and Dan presented ‘Hair of The Dog.’ We just fell in and it came right to life, but when we were done I said I thought it seemed to run out of steam after awhile and asked if they had a bridge for it. Everyone just looked at their shoes…”)
Prophet and Stuart in particular forged a friendship that would eventually evolve into a Mick-and-Keith songwriting alliance. And Prophet’s presence in the lineup definitely helped elevate the playing, a point that Cacavas suggests is key. “I was skeptical only inasmuch as I was being territorial,” says Cacavas. “Like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna have to give up some ground here.’ But as we became not four but five musicians interacting, where everyone had to make room, I began to like it. By not playing constantly, I was able to listen more closely. [Chuck] certainly brought up the level of musicianship and made us all play better.” Stuart agrees, saying that the addition of Prophet strengthened him as a songwriter as well: “The way I wrote, it used to be one good line followed by a bunch of throwaways, but when I started working with Chuck that wasn’t allowed anymore. When he came aboard we suddenly had an arranger, too. And as a writer, I had to learn how to balance things — if there was going to be a lead guitar break, there had to be a keyboard break, and so on. I started hearing arrangements.”
It was a five-man Green On Red that went into a Hollywood studio in December of ’84, with producer Paul B. Cutler (later of the Dream Syndicate) to make their followup to Gravity Talks—and what would turn into their all-time classic release. Two months earlier the band members had returned from a brief European tour with a wealth of new material they’d worked up while on the road, and they were eager to record while still firing on all cylinders. Having negotiated a release from Slash in order to go with the larger, better-organized and -funded Enigma Records, no one was more eager than Stuart. The sessions with Cutler went by in a whirlwind, says Stuart, “because we basically cut it live, real fast, very easy. We just had to get it down, and get it down then –because if we didn’t we somehow knew it wouldn’t turn out as good as it ultimately did.”
Right from the outset, on Gas Food Lodging opening cut “That’s What Dreams,” the band establishes an indelible signature: an echoey guitar twang is answered by a churning, Garth Hudson-like organ figure, then an assured, unhurried rhythm section tug follows as Stuart casts his lyrical net widely for losers, dreamers, heroes, villains — as pure a slice of musical and thematic Americana as one could ask for.
From there the album rises and falls with a cinematic sense of time and place — the harmonica-fueled country-rock of “Black River,” the woozily anthemic “Fading Away,” the mordant, minor-chord desperation of “16 Ways,” the churning and epic-in-feel “Sea Of Cortez” — to ultimately arrive at closing number “We Shall Overcome,” the familiar folk-protest ode whose gospel-choir vocal harmonies and melodic lilt suggests an uplifting answer to the disturbing questions posed nine songs earlier in “Dreams.”
On Gas Food Lodging, producer Cutler achieved a sonic spaciousness as broad as the travelogue implied in the album’s title. Too, the band was nearing its performing peak, the Waterson-MacNicol rhythm section a perfectly-tuned V8 throb, Cacavas’ keyboards tonal and colorizing nuances expertly rendered, Prophet’s cosmic cowboy guitar licks in the foreground yet never overriding the other elements, and Stuart finally shedding his lapsed punk sneer and replacing it with an unforced, wide-plains drawl. As a lyricist, too, Stuart had come into his own: gone are what he calls the “throwaway lines” of his early efforts as he sketches out situational slices-of-life, sometimes placing himself at the center of action (check the boozing and hangover in “Hair of the Dog”), others creating vivid character-personas (such as the Bundy-like serial killer in “The Drifter”). As much of GFL was written during the group’s extended touring forays of ’84, it’s first and foremost a road album, and an archetypal one at that. But more importantly, the record is representative of what hundreds of other American guitar bands were doing or dreaming of doing in the mid ’80s. By any stretch, a classic album — and a lasting document.
(Worth noting: Rounding out the 2003 Restless/Ryko reissue, in addition to the Down There and Gas Food Lodging records, are two tracks that never before appeared on CD. “16 Ways II,” originally included on an ’85 label compilation called The Enigma Variations, is a faster, punkier version from its counterpart on G,F,L. And the song “Gas Food Lodging,” a chugging slab of on-the-road garage rock (which, curiously, didn’t make it onto its longplaying namesake), initially turned up on a semi-legitimate Dutch 45 in ’85, before eventually surfacing in America as the A-side of a limited-edition ten-inch platter that Enigma saw fit to release in ’86.)
In March of 1985 Green On Red hit Europe with the vengeance of true barnstormers. When the L.A. band clambered onto stages with nothing to hide behind but faded jeans, flannel shirts and a we’re-gonna-show-you attitude, audiences initially may have been skeptical. Two hours later, however, everyone in the club — crowd and employees alike — would be stamping their feet and hollering for more. The tour was intended to capitalize on the European jaunt of the previous fall, as there was a growing fan base whose word-of-mouth loyalty was not to be underestimated. Too, as both the Down There and the Slash LPs had seen overseas release, even the influential British weeklies were joining the media chorus already instigated by Bucketful Of Brains and assorted German and Italian fanzines in heralding Green On Red the spearheads of no-bullshit rock ‘n’ roll, American style.
Indeed, the group’s marathon sets encompassed all that was great about American music — from band originals like the boozy, punk-fueled garage number “Hair Of The Dog,” the Velvets-inspired neopsychedelic droner “Sea of Cortez” and the lush, countryish folkrocker “That’s What Dreams,” to choice covers of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and Creedence Clearwater. That spring the quintet slayed crowd after crowed with their white-hot twang ‘n’ roar, serving as the United States’ preeminent ambassadors of guitar-based roots-rock long before anyone had coined the term “insurgent country; the following year they’d be invited to perform at Farm Aid. Even the bootleggers, notoriously resistant to young artists in favor of the usual Dylan-Stones-Beatles-Springsteen fare, paid the ultimate tribute to Green On Red: underground label F.F.O. issued a handsome, full-color sleeved LP entitled You can run… but you can’t hide documenting the group’s March 28 appearance in Rome.
In May, just a couple of weeks after the band returned to the States, Gas Food Lodging was released (via Enigma, and on green vinyl, in the U.S.; Zippo, U.K.; New Rose, France), quickly becoming a staple of American college radio and even cracking the British Indie Top 20. The combined clout of touring prowess and critical acclaim drew the attention of Polygram, which would sign Green On Red to a worldwide deal and fly the group to London that summer to record the No Free Lunch mini-album. Extensive gigging would be the game plan from then on — a fall tour throughout the U.S., a winter trip to the U.K. and Europe — and prior to that the band would also weather one casualty in the way of the departure of drummer MacNicol (to be replaced by veteran L.A. drummer Keith Mitchell). Stuart reckons MacNicol had simply had enough of the insanity, saying, “The No Free Lunch album was when things were getting, ‘Oh, Chuck and Dan are pushing too hard.’ Alex bailed, and God bless him, we must have been driving him crazy!”
Green On Red’s star was clearly rising, though. Plans were laid for what was to be the make-or-break album, The Killer Inside Me, this time hiring a name producer, Memphis maverick Jim Dickinson. (Prior to the album sessions a set of demos were cut with Gas Food Lodging producer Paul B. Cutler; they would eventually surface on the 2003 CD What Were We Thinking? released by Normal in Europe and Shock in Australia.) The group entered Ardent Studios in Memphis (some of the sessions were also held in L.A. at El Dorado Studios) to record with Dickinson, the sessions now remembered by Prophet as being a mixture of chaos and grueling work.
“We had all this manic energy but we just couldn’t seem to articulate it,” he admits. “Dickinson just set the mikes up around us and let us at it. In retrospect, I now see he wasn’t interested in meddling around for mild short-term results. He was looking to capture more than that – something bigger. We thought we were so untamed and offensive and brave. But in the end, he taught us that we had to be willing to offend ourselves.
“I guess we had to face our own limitations. It was a struggle, and in a way that’s when it stopped being as much ‘fun’ and somehow started to get ‘real.’ The sessions just seemed to go on and on, and what eventually wound up on the record was some of that raw madness and, underneath the abrasive surface, more than a few fairly lackluster performances. Up until that point, we thought we could fly under the radar… It is a tough record in a lot of ways.”
Cacavas is a bit more forgiving, explaining that he’s still fond of the album because it was “different sounding and I was glad we weren’t making the same record again.” Stuart, though, feels that a lot of money was spent “on a bad record. It does have this kind of manic-depressive energy, but nothing’s in time. It’s that old Duke Ellington thing: if it don’t swing, it don’t mean a thing.”
Prescient words? The subsequent tour to promote Killer would be the last one for this lineup of Green On Red.
Waterson: “It was the biggest and the worst. It was the best treatment we had and the most money, and certainly the highest profile, but the soul was gone, man, and I was just doing a job.”
Cacavas: “Dan and Chuck had definitely formed an alliance, and I felt more on the sidelines. Still, it was meant to be a big deal, and I was having a blast. But you could see that Dan wasn’t enjoying himself.”
Stuart: “I was living through a walking blackout existence. I think I went through a nervous breakdown.”
After the tour’s conclusion, the exhausted members scattered. Stuart himself disappeared, and when he resurfaced and it came time for him to reconvene the band for another album, only Prophet was invited along. The resulting Here Come the Snakes, recorded again with Dickinson plus assorted Memphis side musicians and released in ’89, was almost billed as a Stuart solo album, with Prophet on hand, but the record label insisted on calling it a Green On Red album despite the fact that in only featured one original member of the group.
“The truth is, nobody called those three guys [Waterson, Cacavas and Mitchell] to tell them what we were doing,” says Stuart, a distinctive rueful tone in his voice. “Those guys deserved more than a phonecall, and they never got even that. I had tremendous guilt and shame, for years. I still do. But that band had done all it could. We went for our big ‘masterpiece’ on Killer and failed miserably.” Following Snakes Stuart and Prophet would relocate overseas, recording several more albums under the GoR banner (This Time Around, Scapegoats, Too Much Fun), each with diminishing returns, before finally pulling the plug for good in ’92 in a haze of disenchantment and drug addiction.
For their part, Cacavas and Waterson took things particularly hard when they heard from third parties that Stuart and Prophet were recording as Green On Red, each weathering his own period of shock and anger. Over the years, though, they’ve reconciled with the past—as you’ll read in a moment, enough so to sign on for a 2005 reunion concert—and have gone on record as saying they’re immensely proud of what the band was able to accomplish together.
“I’m amazed we did what we did,” says Waterson. “What we had to work with, where we started from. It just shows that the nerve to do something is enough to compel it to happen. It was a great band.”
“A lot of love and respect — but we just drove each other nuts, and the hardest part was losing Danny’s friendship for all that time,” reflects Cacavas, quickly adding, “but still, we had a lot of fun. We easily rode the crest of the mid ‘80s wave.
“You know, things got ugly,” agrees. Stuart. “But I had a lot of fun too. I’d have to say we got away with murder. The music was almost secondary – it was a punk rock thing of not copping out: ‘Let’s stick together and be against the world. Then go get some beer!’”
“We broke a lot of rules and never looked back,” is Prophet’s succinct summarization. “It was a good run.”
The Reunion Concert
Rialto Theatre, Tucson, Ariz.
Sept. 4, 2005
As far as reunions go, it was ranked among the “least likely” – right up there with Husker Du’s acrimonious split. In that regard, when legendary proto-Americana combo Green On Red took to an Arizona stage over Labor Day weekend it was obvious that the musicians – singer/guitarist Dan Stuart, keyboardist Chris Cacavas, bassist Jack Waterson and guitarist Chuck Prophet, plus Austin drummer Darren Hess replacing the late Alex MacNicol – had something to prove professionally and personally. That the show was slated to be filmed for a live DVD (Valley Fever, Brink Films) only upped the ante.
Eighteen years since the Tucson group ground to a halt following the Killer tour the burning question was whether GOR would live up to the legend, or kill it. As Stuart and Prophet had continued without inviting any of the others back, one also had to wonder if hard feelings still lingered. Judgment call in a moment.
The concert was part of a larger three-day celebration of Tucson music. Yet you didn’t have to be a native Tucsonan to enjoy the Sidewinders blazing through their melodic desert rock, or a late night marathon featuring Giant Sand morphing into the Band Of Blacky Ranchette, or Joey Burns and John Convertino playing under their pre-Calexico moniker Spoke (Convertino and GOR’s Cacavas were the weekend’s MVPs, each guesting with innumerable acts), or a pair of surprise gigs by the reunited Doo Rag — although, technically speaking, you had to be female to take in one of those sets, as it was held in a women’s bathroom. With wildly divergent performances ranging from hard twang (Al Perry & the Cattle) to New York Dolls-styled glam (The Pills) to discordant art-punk (Mondo Guano, featuring Doo Rag’s Bob Log III) to manic funk (Pollo Elastico – “Rubber Chicken”) to hi-velocity garage (Knockout Pills), the First Rule Of The Old Pueblo became: There Is No Rule. Icing – BBQ sauce – on the cake was a Howe Gelb-hosted Sunday cookout wherein Giant Sand, Friends Of Dean Martinez, Pieta Brown, Chuck Prophet and others paid tribute to acclaimed Tucson guitarist Rainer Ptacek, who passed away in 1997.
The weekend’s de facto headliners, however, were unquestionably Green On Red, who’d rehearsed for two days and came out swinging. As Stuart drawled, snarled and barked his tales of dreamers, drunks, troubadours and serial killers, the band churned nonstop. Key tracks from 1985’s Gas Food Lodging formed the core of the 90-minute set, notably bilious alkie anthem “Hair Of The Dog,” psychedelic swamp choogler “Fading Away” and the furiously epic “Sea Of Cortez,” which found Prophet, Stuart and Waterson forming a Crazy Horse-like brotherhood of riffs at center stage while Cacavas’ keyboards oozed noirish atmosphere.
Other gems included the 4-part harmony-strewn “Cheap Wine,” from 1983’s Gravity Talks; a sticky, malevolent Stones-like reading of “Jimmy Boy” (No Free Lunch, ’85); and slow-burn raveup “Clarkesville,” standout track on 1987’s Jim Dickinson-produced The Killer Inside Me. With the audience howling for more (the final encore was, fittingly, GFL’s wistful “That’s What Dreams Were Made For”), GOR clearly proved its mettle. But did the band prove anything to itself?
Dan Stuart himself, speaking over breakfast the next morning, gets the last word: “You know, the band ended badly, and I never told those guys [Cacavas and Waterson] that I was sorry. So maybe this was one way to finally make it up to everyone.
“And I gotta tell you, all of us had a total blast last night.”