By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
90. Old Man Joshua
Maybe you ran across Michael Mollo and Joel McDaniel's two-man acoustic folk duo in the early '90s at places like the Winged Heart Café in Fullerton. If you were lucky, you heard some of the most literate, densely heady songs ever written (and we mean, like, ever, by anyone, anywhere), such as "The Perfect Art," "Resistance" and "Of Drugs and Men." If you were there the right night, you sensed that in Mollo's elliptical, Jim Morrison-esque disembodied poetics and mystical ponderings, there was a real human soul searching for something more genuine than concrete and cars. If you were fortunate, you really, really dug it; If you were blessed, you really, really got it.
91. The Great American Music Company
Bassist, composer and arranger Jack Prather's tribute band made jazz history come alive, whether he was touting obvious choices like Count Basie or less familiar giants like Coleman Hawkins. His tributes to the great American composers—George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael—gave us not only a feel for the subject's music but a sense of the man as well. Another of Prather's talents: assembling great bands, keeping great musicians like vocalist Stephanie Haynes, pianist Dick Shreve and drummer Paul Kreibich in front of audiences. And his connections in the music world led to the occasional inclusion of ringers, as when he included the Ellington cornetist Bill Berry in his tributes to the Duke.
92. Eddie & the Subtitles
OC punk was lonely at the beginning, but it would have been even lonelier without Eddie (and his legendary van!), the man so dedicated to advancing the cause in the cultural hinterlands that Angelenos started calling the world past the 605 the "Eddie Empire." The Subtitles dripped out the Skeletons in the Closet LP in 1981, but all you really need to hear is "American Society," a desperate, doped-up dirge-y drone that should have been the flip side to Flipper's pistol-in-mouth single "Ha Ha Ha." "Society" was famously covered by L7, but the downtempo 1980 original is a spooky sleeper classic, a too-little heard cry for help from the suburban heart of darkness. Eddie sounds like he's barely there by the time the band creeps into the chorus: "Don't wanna go to the movies . . . don't wanna listen to the . . . radio . . . don't wanna drown in American society . . ."
93. Ann DeJarnett & the Falcons
Singer/electric violinist DeJarnett got her start in the new waveish Mnemonic Devices before hitting her stride with her own Dr. Dream Records-era band. Quiet offstage, DeJarnett would become a veritable tornado onstage, screaming out her lyrics and sawing her violin in a whirlwind of motion. Like many a local band, she and the Falcons (featuring ace ex-Berlin guitar tone-sculptor Chris Ruiz-Velasco) only seemed to really find a sense of purpose in their music after they'd taken it on some grueling road trips, at which point they promptly broke up. Oh well.
94. Lunar Rover
Nearly unnoticed both in OC and out, Lunar Rover were a superfine band. Like guitarist Jon Melkerson's previous outfit, Eggplant, Rover's songs had a buoyancy that offset their sometimes downcast lyrics. They were also very much a guitar band, with Melkerson and fellow guitarist Dan Lawrence's twining strings displaying touches of Richard Thompson, Neil Young, Tom Verlaine and maybe even Quicksilver Messenger Service. Along with the bursts of virtuosity, they also used their instruments more like earthmoving equipment, sculpting vast landscapes of sound. They were able to work such panoramic magic even in dingy bars like Club Mesa. They made one spiffy album, Lunar Rover, in 1996, and their churning "Curry Favor" is one of the best OC rockers ever.
95. The Torquays
With a pedigree dating back to the dawn of instrumental surf rock in the early '60s, the Torquays sound like they come to the '00s straight out of a time machine. While most modern surf or surf-influenced bands (Los Straightjackets, Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet, etc.) debase their music with punk and a myriad of other contemporary influences, one listen to the Torquays will have you feeling like you could turn on the TV and find JFK pontificating on the evening news. Meanwhile, the group's sound and style may be true to the period, but that doesn't mean they're an oldies band: Torquays originals such as "Trilobite" and "Twitchin'" hold up with the best stuff you ever heard from veteran bands like the Surfaris and OC's other great surf band, the Chantays.
96. Jeffries Fan Club
Of the third-wave ska bands honking up the stages of OC, six-piece ska-pop band Jeffries Fan Club had one of the tightest horn sections around, owing to the fact that, clearly, they were high school band nerds. All horn players in ska bands were supposed to be band nerds—honing their chops while their cooler classmates were out getting laid—but you'd be surprised how many punk musicians just slapped on some dork glasses and then blew atonal ill winds from their instruments. Not JFC. We can all but guarantee they weren't getting laid. Their arrangements were too tight, too smooth, too tasteful. Even the bass sounded pro. Their music can still be heard on random Disney channel movies, but the band broke up in 2001 when lead singer Mike Dziurgot ironically couldn't reconcile the (kinda not very) crazy ska lifestyle with his religious beliefs.
97. Tex Twil
Besides Elvis, nobody could shake a leg or do a karate chop on stage like Barry Diamond, the zealous front man of Newport Beach's Tex Twil. Their music was a blend of soul, samba and surf—which the band coined StoneGas, a play on words purloined from Soul Train host Don Cornelius. In live shows, Diamond took the lead on sax while guitarist L-Bob provided Ry Cooder-like guitar licks, creating a copasetic Brazilian vibe. Tex Twil broke up shortly after embarking on a European tour. Diamond started another project, a '60s country/folk-inspired Mersey-beat band, the Rotten Peaches. Afterward, he joined the Redd Foxx BBQ with members of OO Soul before dropping out of sight. Or has he? Also like Elvis, Diamond's groupies swear they've sighted him in some of the most bizarre places, like Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles in Long Beach. Barry lives!
98. Resist and Exist
During Gulf War I, Resist and Exist was a valiantly alternative voice in OC music, a passionate peace-punk band that—though they had a Fullerton P.O. Box—looked and sounded like they should have been putting out EPs for Crass Records circa 1979. The demo tapes had songs like "Wheat Not Meat" and "Anti War"; their live shows teamed a young Squelch (back when he was known simply as "Chris") with longtime activist J. Lee and enough political banners to stitch together a hot air balloon. They broke up in April 1992, and Lee (after coordinating several Koo's solidarity fests) eventually reformed the band in LA, where they're a favorite both of anarcho-punk kids and local Black Panthers to this day.
99. The Pressure
Pressure vocalist/guitarist Ronnie Washburn and bassist Dana James went on to form a band called Your Enemies Friends, which is short for their grammatically incorrect mantra "Your enemies friends are your enemies too." Just goes to show you the degree of paranoia that colored the ever-distrustful musicians' outlook. It made for some delightfully wiry, jittery, angry, no-wave punk, though, when they, along with drummer Jason Thornberry, originally teamed up to form the Pressure. The threesome were the toast of the county for a short while there. Intrigue fueled part of the mystique: one-time married couple Ronnie and Dana had been lying about their status long before the White Stripes ever thought to do so. Tragedy—when Thornberry was beaten into a coma (he's fine now)—effectively ended the group's too-brief run.
100. Rascalin & the Roots Rockers
Call him Rascalin, call him Carlos the African/Asian/Latino Guy From Panama Who Now Lives in San Clemente or just call him Jesus Rasta (his preferred sobriquet); we call him the brain trust and frontman of the best gawt-durned rolling reggae pleasure unit in OC, even if he's religiously conflicted. Another conflict: Rascalin can't decide whether he'd rather be Bob Marley or Jimi Hendrix, so he brings the sensibility of both to the table, singing with a hauntingly beautiful, Marley-esque timbre and shredding the holy crapola out of a guitar like no reggae guy you've ever heard in your life. Add some lovely I-Three-esque female harmony vocals and a large, steady-grooving band to the mix, and you will find that your pie in the sky awaits right here on earth, just like Jimmy Cliff always promised.
101. Miracle Chosuke
Miracle Chosuke sounded like nobody else in OC, and maybe that's why everybody missed them before they broke up last year. But their second home-recorded demo was so stubbornly unique that big-deal indie Dim Mak Records just up and re-released it as a full-length anyway—labels never do that!—and The 7/8 Wonders Of The World sounds just as good now as it did then, a spastic, compulsive pop hijacking of prog-rock technique (someone—perhaps someone in need of medication—once called them a Rush cover band), Contortions-style no-wave jitters and impenetrable Devo-y weirdnesss, all spun together at a frantic 78 RPM. You could actually feel the DT spiders skittering up and down your arms when they played, which they didn't do often enough; even for talent-hostile OC, Chosuke flared out fast. But they're back together, albeit briefly, to give the Dim Mak album some push. Can we call it a . . . miracle?
102. The Moseleys
From "The Witch" covers to a sexy little song called "Jack the Ripper," the Moseleys just keep giving, to fans so rabid they claim the Moseleys have actually cured their colds. But Moseleys, heal thyselves! Without that "Rock & Roll Itch," Bunny, Rex and Grady (and sometimes Harvey and Palmsley) might not need so much ointment. The former emery-board-factory workers from Bakersfield, who've got an unpleasant entendre for every occasion (you should hear the entendres about buffing), will beat you down with the power of their unholy (if curative) sound. And the Moseleys love cocaine. "We imagine it's beautiful!" says Grady, the smart one. "We would like to do lines off chicks' asses!" says Bunny, the sweet one. Rex, the cute one, says nothing, and the girls all swoon. Pass the ointment, please.
103. Eric Marienthal
Yeah, we know the saxophonist did some sell-out albums for the GRP jazz label, and Chick Corea exploited Marienthal's high-octane sound for his most shameless appeals. But OC jazzbos have seen him leading his own gigs at a number of area clubs, exploring bop, Miles and other stalwarts from the jazz canon in a way that ignites them anew. Marienthal's alto bridges jazz history, matching Charlie Parker-inspired licks with a thoroughly modern sensibility that attracts both mainstream and contemporary jazz-heads. His every solo is a potboiler.
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.
From the cool, all-too-rational mind of Q (a.k.a. Timothy Wiles), the producer behind überzone, came "The Freaks" the first bona fide DJ culture dance hit crafted in OC. It dropped in 1997 with a one-two punch of breakbeat rhythms and machine-age melodies that made it sound like the second coming of Afrika Bambaataa—the first big splash in Q's technophile career of summoning dance music from a collection of cold contraptions. Q developed a reputation for being the county's know-it-all about studio gear while spinning (and occasionally releasing) vinyl during the '80s and '90s. That made him the patron saint of local DJs, an advisor extraordinaire for many befuddled electronic dudes dying to craft that perfect beat. His rep is still good, two years after Astralwerks released his first full-length album, Faith In the Future.
111. Freddie Brooks
Harp maestro Brooks would place higher on this list were it not for the fact that he wasted too much time in supporting lesser musicians (most infamously, useless fecal dumpling Jim "My Dead Brother Was Famous" Belushi) and only emitted a single album. What an album it was, though: 1999's One Little Word, among the finest, most unique West Coast blues releases of the decade, with Brooks' soaring harp work, bemused vocal style, hot-swinging band (featuring former Rank & File guitarist Jeff Ross) and a buttload of leering, lecherous original tunes that took the effort leagues beyond the often rigid structures and humorless dogma of the blues genre. Sadly, Brooks has since retired from music. Freddie, we hardly knew ye!
Though many of the songs on the band's lone Dr. Dream album, 1990's Sad Astrology, are throw-away novelty pop (think uninspired Swamp Zombies), everything guitarist Jon Melkerson contributed was golden. "Grandma's Whistling," "Loose Ends," and his cover of Tom Verlaine's "Breaking in My Heart," are frustratingly good. Frustrating because, of all the musicians who toiled for so many forgettable bands that hovered about the county in the late '80s and early '90s, Melkerson deserved—and, let's hope, deserves—to be heard. He displayed a distinctive voice both in his songwriting and fluid guitar playing. He resurfaced in the mid-'90s with Eli Riddle and Lunar Rover, but we haven't heard much from him since. Time to file a missing guitarist's report?
113. Tony Guerrero
Guerrero, though long associated with Orange County's active jazz-fusion crowd, is a hard act to pin down. Sure, he plays jazz with strong beats, but he's also been known to work with folk and country singers. The trumpeter always pleases with his Satchmo sound, his funk, his devotional and holiday programs, and his ability to spin tales of romance or grungy backbeat with equal aplomb. Even heathens can't help loving his sinful fluegelhorn.
114. Standard Fruit
Standard Fruit's claim to fame was singer/songwriter/guitarist Andrew Lowery, who also had a burgeoning acting career (his credits include School Ties, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, My Boyfriend's Back and A Different World). Far less embarrassing than Keanu Reeves' Dogstar atrocity, this Placentia band excelled at crafting offbeat jangle-pop songs about romantic misfits, unrequited love and actress obsessions, all tied up whimsically on its lone self-titled 1995 album. Live, lead singer Denys Gawronski had a crazed stage presence and made goofy expressions, while Lowery possessed a wise-ass demeanor not unlike that of his OC Weekly-employed brother Steve. A typical set would include: a quirky, German cabaret-styled number complete with accordion; a romantic clarinet-accented song; and then something about . . . consorting with sheep! Too bad the Fruit never ripened any further.
115 Vitamin L
If ska is Anna Nicole Smith, then third-wave ska was her cousin Shelley—a little cruder, trashier, dumber, and with worse teeth. Vitamin L were all this and more. Bizarre, demented, atonal, spazzy and downright frightening at times, Vitamin L weren't afraid to get naked onstage or dress up like cheese or pelt their audiences with Mexican foodstuffs. Fronted by a pierced pervert with a nasal voice and featuring a trombone player who managed for the first time in the history of brass instruments to appear menacing while playing a trombone, Vitamin L owed more to punk, porn and cinema than to any of their more upbeat forebears.
The hardcore lifers in Farside were playing emo back in the early '90s before anyone was calling it emo, or actually, they were playing it right around the time people started asking "Emo? What the hell does that mean?" and then other people would respond with, "You know, just like . . . emo." Widely used and ill-defined that word is, but before the term morphed into a catchall for anything with angst, the term referred to hardcore with melodies, which is what Farside—who came from a scene that included fellow Revelation Records bands like Inside Out and Sensefield, played. Great, churning, edgy, sludgy, blistering rock, with lyrics about the gravity of life and everything in it. Onetime member Zack de la Rocha later took this philosophy to the masses in Rage Against the Machine.
117. The We Five
Sixties folk-rock quintet whose airy "You Were on My Mind" is an annoying KRTH-FM 101.1 staple. Not annoying, however, is the vaulting voice of Santa Ana native Beverly Bivens, whose breezy laments soar over the Byrds-ish 12-string guitar chiming throughout the tune. The Mamas and Papas would go on to usurp the group's vaguely hippie-ish style, condemning the We Five to one-hit hell.
118. No Doubt
The pre-1995 version, natch. Back then, No Doubt rode a wave of popularity that was unsurpassed on the OC music scene, ska or otherwise. Ask anyone who witnessed those manic, sweaty shows at Fender's Ballroom or Goodies or Spanky's (when they actually had a horn section! When Gwen had naturally brown hair!), so fraught with jubilant, giddy kids and happily bouncing bodies that it was as if their flesh had become rubberized. Distant memories now, all of it—but it sure was fun while it lasted, huh? Oh, that current rendering you hear on the radio and see on TV? Some nice, catchy pop songs and likable dance fodder that the neighbor's little daughter seems to like, but shit, who are they? They don't even live here anymore.
119. Greg Topper
You know that Creedence song "Lodi," about how debilitating it is to play for drunks night after night? Greg Topper has played for more drunks than a piper at a Scottish cemetery. We're talking thousandsof nights of playing for drunks during Topper's long residencies at the Airporter Inn and other county lounges, and he was probably pretty lit himself half the time. Yet through it all, Topper never lost his passion for rocking. Like the touring legend Sleepy LaBeef, Topper seems to know every oldie ever written, and he puts his own tobacco-tinged soul into each song. Gone are the days when he torched pianos or sang into microphones stuffed down women's pants, but he still sings and pumps his piano like it's all that matters.
In the early '70s, Honk were everywhere, playing concerts on junior college football fields, headlining at the Golden Bear (or opening there for somebody else) and playing your high school prom. They were pretty much the official Orange County band, and we could have done far worse. As their playing on the Five Summer Stories soundtrack attests, they had a crisp musical style that sounded sort of like what the stretch of PCH between Newport and Laguna looked like. The band also boasted some killer players. After the band broke up in 1975 (they do the occasional reunion show), guitarist Richard Stekol went on to the Funky Kings, guitarist Will Brady released several winning solo albums, and drummer Tris Imboden recorded or toured with Brian Wilson, Crosby, Stills & Nash and a host of others.
Maybe that creepy black school bus they drove revealed a little too much, but almost everything about Alex Xenophon and Stuart Breidenstein, the duo behind Bassland, was different. Make that wonderfully different. First, these guys took the peace-love-unity-respect rave ideal seriously. They put on events at Crystal Cove Beach and the Santora Arts Building, among other places, just to create a semblance of a rave community. Second, they were among the few DJ culture bands who could actually put on a show. Xenophon's hilarious lectures on electronic music and his incessant clowning around (one time he shaved his head during a gig) pumped crowds up for fevered all-night dance-a-thons. As for their tunes, always on the improvisational tip, they could be either brilliant (as with "Ankh") or strangely dull (as with much of their recorded work). Another OC electronic music pioneer, Timothy Wiles (a.k.a. überzone), once said Bassland were one of the most soulful DJ culture outfits in Southern California. He was right.
Don't remember much about this band except they played Big John's pool hall in Fullerton regularly, and did a cover of Bob Dylan's "Dark Eyes" (from the pitifully underappreciated Empire Burlesquealbum) that was riveting and brought tears to our eyes on one memorable occasion after we bought mushrooms and ate them and got funny.
123. Punk As a Doornail
Keith Irish (also of rockabilly band the Irish Brothers) doesn't think Punk As a Doornail is weird. The homemade instruments? The Pythagorean intonation? The infamous skatar (skateboard plus guitar—get it?)? All standard operating procedure, as far as he's concerned. And we don't argue with a band that sounds like Harry Partch (thanks due to Keith for turning us on to that one) conducting Flipper—fuck, for that matter, like Nikola Tesla conducting Flipper—or a man that can bug his eyes out as far as Keith. So let's make it official here: Punk As a Doornail, so normal it's scary.
La Habra's Zebrahead have a rapper and a singer, but they don't play the kind of funky-punky nu-metal stuff that makes us want to jam tampons in our ears. They could have, mind you, but they didn't, so they should get extra points for restraint. Instead, their musical stew is heavy on the pop. Everyone expected them to get bigger than they have—they went from selling out local clubs like Fullerton's Club 369 to being signed to a major label and filming videos at the Playboy Mansion. Alas, they've never caught on—yet—which is strange, because "Playmate of the Year" was just as catchy and hummable as anything the Offspring or Lit ever came up with.
125. The Noise
It wasn't the music that made the Noise—in fact, as far as we could tell, there wasn't ever any music. But Anaheim's the Noise—who picked the name for a reason—still got by with enough cheapo stickers to warrant felony vandalism charges in every city from San Pedro to San Clemente ("Why do I keep finding Noise stickers on my fucking silverware?" groused one victim) and enough oily teenage chutzpah to win the adoration and admiration of a very elite few. (Matty Luv from Hickey—one of the best punk bands of the '90s—talked about his session with the Noise for months; on the flipside, grumpy locals in Las Vegas threw bottles at them.) Contrary to popular belief, most punk bands who claim they can't play are just trying to cover for six weeks of band camp and a year's worth of guitar lessons courtesy of Mom. But the Noise? They really couldn't play. They were so not-playing that they transcended basic musical ineptitude toward such a supremely confident style of not-playing that it almost seemed like it was your fault that you didn't get it. It was like they didn't even need music to be a band: to write songs, book shows, do micro-tours, to put out a tape or two, even win over a few girls. By the time they were out of high school, they'd already negated rock & roll. So now what's left? We hope for solo projects.
If Brian Natonski, who operates under the Gearwhore sobriquet, scared people with his wild-man ways, he crawled back into their good graces by launching Fatal Data, the label which released much of Orange County techno's first vinyl. His motives weren't entirely altruistic, though: Fatal Data was a tool to get him noticed by major labels like Astralwerks, and they did, releasing a full-length, Drive, in 1998. David Bowie gave the album high marks in an online interview, and many of the songs, like the rousing optimism of "The Picture," were spectacular. Gearwhore veered off track, though. His fantastic jazz-funk shows—one at the Galaxy Concert Theater in 1999—were a hit with critics, but they left rave kids scratching their heads. Later that year, he moved to a seedy section of Hollywood, where he hosted madcap after-hours parties and composed video game soundtracks. Bring back the jazz-funk, Gearwhore!
Whether you love or hate Lit (OC Weekly Datalab Report findings just in . . . you hate 'em!), there's no denying that the Cadillac-driving, dice-rolling, stiff-drink-drinking, corporate-sponsor-money-accepting tattooed boys of Lit write catchy fucking pop songs. The bouncy, ubiquitous "My Own Worst Enemy," from their major-label debut A Place in the Sun, approached Avril status, searing itself into the collective memory of everyone who listened to the radio or watched MTV during the summer of 1999. Lit's 2001 follow-up, Atomic, was jam-packed with just as many commercial-sounding hits, though it didn't do nearly as well. Guitarist Jeremy Popoff once described Lit's songs as being about one of two things: "'Things are cool, but they might be fucked up tomorrow' or 'Things are fucked up, but they'll probably be cool tomorrow.'" A philosopher!
There have always been disaffected kids in OC. Before punk gave them a defined outlet for their anxieties, they had to find their own way. Consider Gumby, a band whose late-'70s performance at the Cuckoo's Nest was like a hiccup in time, a tear in the fabric of OC reality, open just enough to allow this band onstage, throwing sandwiches at the audience, pantomiming head injuries, with the singer groaning, "Mom, I hurt my head!" into his mike. There they were, for that brief time. It is told that on another occasion they demolished a Danelectro bass, thereby offending the sonic gods. Then they were gone. Whither now, Gumby? Where's that reunion show? Now that we really need you?
Santa Anan Bill Medley and Anaheimer Bobby Hatfield should thank Jim Crow every day for being the benefactors of the reverse affirmative action that governs American popular song. Sure, they sang beautifully overwrought saccharine symphonies like the Phil Spector-produced "You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling" and "Unchained Melody" (a song originally written for a weepy prison movie) that every lover should dedicate to their sweetheart if they want some action. But the only reason the duo ever achieved national exposure was that they were two white boys that made throaty Negro crooning palatable to Johnsonian America. A term even originated to describe them: "blue-eyed soul," making the Righteous Brothers the original wiggers.