By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
All six of the ridiculously talented musicians who comprise this groovy band have strong OC connections, with all but one born, raised or educated here. They've also played hundreds of gigs across the county, leaving in their wake a trail of hot, sweaty, fiercely loyal fans who have to attach new asses to their bodies after every gig. (Uhh, because they've been danced off—get it?) Unless you're dead, a dick, or bitter because no one likes your music as much, it's hard not to get swept up in the progressive, jazzy, psychedelic, whirling sonic mélange of this band. But beneath the hot beats and the falling-off-the-edge-of-the-world horns, there are genuine messages of L-O-V-E and being cool to your brother in their songs. It's feel-good music that also happens to be very good. And you can hear for yourself: their newest CD is set to hit the streets at the end of June.
37. El Grupo Sexo
Ha-ha bands usually suck, probably because they go for the yucks only because they're too scared or talentless to put any real emotion into their music. That wasn't El Grupo Sexo, who in the '80s viciously satirized OC life, but also offered something better in their rampaging funk/metal/free-jazz music. Their standout show may have been at Safari Sam's, opening for England's pretentious, besotted critical darlings the Jesus and Mary Chain. Bob Hilburn was there to drizzle praise upon the Limey annoyances, but first they had to endure Sexo lambasting them mercilessly, while the band's horn-powered funk roiled like a portable riot. The whole scene was too good to last: Sam's was shut by the cops; Sexo dissolved in a fractious mess; and OC became a much less fun and free place to be.
38. The Todd Oliver Quartet
Just by listening to them, you wouldn't ever guess that these guys are white folks. But the Todd Oliver Quartet's balls-out blend of rhythmic motion and harmonic ideas is a testament to the power of hard bop. Their rendition of the '30s tune "Bye, Bye, Black Bird" is as clear-focused as it is exhilarating. Oliver's been playing guitar since he was a kid, and was brought up listening to straight-ahead jazz masters like Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk, which explains why he likes to blast his music at such an uncivil, turn-it-down-or-I'll-call-the-cops volume. The foursome have been playing steady shows at the Costa Mesa branch of Memphis on Thursday nights for several years now, and their gigs have been luring musicians from as far as LA who are eager to sit in with them.
A chick band without the sex-kittenish posing or equally phony forced machismo of so many female ensembles, Relish was just a good rock band, period. Michele Walker, gifted with one of the strongest voices of any singer in OC, versatile guitarist Laurita Guaico, drummer Lynnae Hitchcock and bassists Gina Karaba and Sarah Walbrink produced dynamic, hard-to-pigeonhole songs that somehow fit in everything from bowling alleys to the Warped Tour. Biggest hit that never was: Guiaco's "Born Again." The realities of working toward some sort of stable economic future while toiling in one of the toughest fucking businesses imaginable eventually derailed the group, but not before hundreds of gigs, one pretty kick-ass album and a dead deer.
40. Kid Ramos
For all the great work Ramos—proud owner of Anaheim's scariest biceps and pompadour—turned in with the James Harman Band and the Fabulous Thunderbirds in years past, da Keed's best efforts have been laid down on his solo albums. A sly, versatile and tasteful blues guitarist, Ramos can play lowdown Chicago wails with the best of 'em (witness his most recent album, Greasy Kid Stuff), but he's most in his element when helming a large ensemble and whipping out the tuffest, slickest jump blues heard since the days when Big Jay McNeely was walking the bar. Ramos' music drips with Dixie Peach pomade, fried chicken oil, dandelion wine and mega-doses of testosterone—entities which would seem out-of-place in the largely gated environs of OC—but which come as naturally to Ramos as traffic snarls on the Crush.
41. Fletcher Harrington
Orange County needs Fletcher Harrington. In a land where there's no wide open spaces—and no escaping all the freakin' strip malls—this rootsy, enigmatic singer/songwriter brings a bit of the Old West back to life in his vivid tales of drunken gunslingers, dancehall whores and ornery cowpokes. Whether working solo or under the moniker of Cowboy Buddha, the Tustin resident skillfully mines the Wilco-meets-the Flying Burrito Brothers territory of timelessly rich Americana/alt-country music with a cinematic, keen imagination. Just the song titles alone—"Oklahoma Shotgun Bath," "Eyes on Fire," "As If You Had a Choice"—are enough to pique our curiosity. For an introduction to his catalog of tender love songs and robust anthems, pick up a copy of Eyes on Fire & Knuckles Sore or gallop over to one of his coffeehouse/Borders gigs.
42. Trip the Spring
This Fullerton band lasted nearly 10 years and went through more changes than a Motel 6 (they had as many bass players as Spinal Tap had drummers), but they always remained one of the county's best excuses to get ripped to. In their earlier days, augmented by bassist Andy Hong and flautist Lianna Dutton, the band was progressively Celtic. They shifted styles and modes with artsy lead singer Kevin Dutton and guitarist John Krause leading the music into a more folksy, guitar-based direction. They called it quits right after their finest recording, Leatherfoot, which includes one of the best pop songs ever crafted by an independent OC band: Krause's "Good Californian." Krause, drummer Dave Dutton and bassist Steve Parks went on to form Barnacle, a pretty fine ensemble in its own right.