By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
104. George Fryer
If you say George Fryer likes to play creepy Dana Point dive bars, either with his combo or his band Peace Corp., he will correct you—you're leaving out the creepy dive bars in the entirety of OC and Long Beach! If you compare Fryer's sweet and elegant retro-pop to happy Mormon missionaries, Gidget at a clambake, The Brady Bunch Movie and the best of the Monkees (it's a compliment, people!), he will not correct you, at least not to your face. He's 40, but looks 16 (except, you know, kinda balding); he's got a hot wife; and he briefly toured with Sugar Ray on keys. It did not end well, as he wrote a tell-all tour-tale for this very paper. What I'm saying is, he's a fun guy to hang around with. But those sunshiny pop songs, making us remember our shimmering and elusive youth, make George Fryer's Decaf one of the greatest OC albums of all time. The one after that, not so much.
105. Primitive Painters
Garden Grove's Primitive Painters were another one-album wonder, but at least 1992's Dirtclods proved to be an OC alt-rock classic: it still stands up more than a decade later. With atmospheric soundscapes that referenced the Smiths, October-period U2 and Simple Minds, it was filled with vulnerable vocals and stream-of-consciousness lyrics about youthful alienation and independence. We remember our first Painters gig at Cal State Fullerton vividly: Jim Ustick engaged in chiming guitar sounds, while riveting front man Dennis Crupi mumbled incoherent phrases between verses, did a spastic dance and shouted into a megaphone. Their high drama was quite unique at the time, and they amassed a sizeable college following. We recall readily making long treks to catch them at such dearly-departed clubs as Bogart's (a virtual Painters home-away-from-home), Scalzo's, Electric Circus and elsewhere. Fortunately, the Painters have re-formed and are working on new material.
106. Snake Snake
After three-quarters of a century of plodding I-IV-V chord changes, should blues music have even been allowed into this millennium? The short-lived Snake Snake might have made it fly. Comprising the late Lester Butler (the Red Devils, 13, et. al.), guitarist Kid Ramos, drummer Stephen Hodges and bassist Willie J. Campbell (all at one time in the James Harman Band), the group often didn't even bother with the IV or V chords, instead just grinding on the 1 with a salacious verve. (The band name was from a Les Blank Lightnin' Hopkins documentary, where a neighbor pesters Lightnin' about what kind of snake he's talking about, until Hopkins definitively declares, "It was a snake snake!") The stellar instrumentalists created a thick swampy sound. Butler's talents as a singer and harpist paled beside the likes of a Harman, but he did that manic-intensity bit real good up until April of 1998, when he evidently decided that dying of a heroin overdose was the way to go.
107. Will Brady
Brady, who bears a terrifying physical resemblance to Randy Newman, is a super-talented interpretive guitarist and songwriter, as well as a swell guy who cooks up one helluva pot of chili for visiting writers. Based in Laguna Beach, Brady first came to prominence in the early '70s with the progressive folk-rock band Honk, and has performed hither and yon with several other, less-notable groups, but it's been his series of self-released solo records of more recent vintage that have really marked him as a master of the six-string. Whether performing jazz-infused pop, sensitive new acoustic guitar work-outs, or providing sympathetic backing for beat poet Bob Hare, Brady's touch is always eminently, sometimes even dazzlingly musical—an overlooked local treasure of the highest order.
108. The Red Devils
Before the Red Devils transmogrified into the Lester Butler-led Hollywood blues darlings everyone knew and loved, they were a rockabilly and country-rock outfit that a coterie of OC roots-rockers knew and loved. Brothers Dave Lee Bartel and Jonny Ray Bartel were ensconced on guitar and bass, with Scottie Campbell (later the founding drummer for the Paladins) on skins, while the band was fronted by the remarkable Emmy Lee, who looked like an underfed Ava Gardner in cowboy boots. They rocked, they rolled, they made a lot of people happy, but now this incarnation of the band seems almost forgotten.
109. Black Creep
Their name alone scared white folks away from shows, but Black Creep (whose members were mostly white) eventually proved tenacious enough to draw a dedicated following in OC during the early '90s. Lead singer Brock Diamond was an unlikely front man—he had a mean drug habit and no place to live (then again, maybe he was an apropos front man). But he sang soulful melodies—especially "Welcome Man"—and bassist Rob Rodgers and guitarist Scott Obey combined hard-driving rhythms with ear-piercing riffs. Their big moment came during the summer of 1992 when they played an opening spot for Green Apple Quick Step and Stone Temple Pilots at a post-Lollapalooza bash at the Newport Roadhouse (before it was the Tiki Bar, now Rain). Fellow rockers Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder paid no attention—they were busy playing pool—while Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love stumbled through a drunken brawl at the bar. Nonetheless, the band went on to play a stream of almost-sold-out gigs. Black Creep even managed to record a few demos before traipsing through a series of testosterone-fueled singers, eventually breaking up for good.