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Brian Jay gave up playing in bands around Orange County for 15 years, but found he couldn't stay away.
So you don't have a drummer?
Right. Originally we got a guitar player and a bass player. We were still looking for a drummer and the three of us were practicing without drums. Then we tried a couple drummers, and we actually played live with a drummer one time. Afterward I looked at the other two guys and said, "We just sound better without a drummer." So from that point on we did it without drums. The songs I've written have all worked well without drums. I listen to a lot of the early rockabilly. In the early Johnny Cash, Johnny Burnette and even the early Elvis stuff there's no drums. We just thought, "Well, sounds good. Let's just go with it." I tend to write more honky-tonk, sort of country rockabilly. Once we decided no drums, it started leaning less towards the faster, hopped-up rockabilly and more towards the hillbilly style.
You've played in bands around Orange County for quite a while.
In the '80s I was in a four-piece rockabilly band, the Flattops. We were a Gene Vincent type of rockabilly band. Through the '80s I was in some punk bands. Then I did a rock/reggae/ska project in the late '80s called the Squids. We released a record and got some radio play. We spent a lot of time and money with this promo campaign, "The Squids are coming." We got to be a local pop culture phenomenon. I had people send me pictures from Alaska, Hawaii of these stickers we made—"The Squids are coming"—that people would stick anywhere. My brother's first wife went to high school in La Cañada, and she had a picture in her yearbook of one of our stickers on their lockers. But nobody knew what it was. Unfortunately we weren't smart enough to do anything beyond that. No one knew where to get our record and we didn't have any financial backing and we'd spent all our money on stickers. I took about 15 years off playing music. That band fizzled and I got married and had kids. Just a couple years ago I decided I missed it and started looking for guys to play with. But I've always loved the early '50s music.
Is Orange County receptive to hillbilly music?
Yeah. I think you've always been able to find people who like rockabilly and that type of music. It's changed throughout the years. When I was in high school in the '80s, rockabilly really hit with the Stray Cats. The longer it went on, the more people got into the real traditional early '50s stuff. The '80s rockabilly kind of fell off, but there's always been an underground rockabilly scene. I don't think a lot of people even realized it. It's not a huge music scene, but there's definitely a core.
How about the nonmusical aspects of that scene?
That's a great part of it—guys who build hot rods and like to go to car shows to show off their cars, they love rockabilly music. That '50s-style music fits in with the old cars, and that's a really cool part of the scene. We have a few songs that are about hot rods or cars.
Do you enjoy the "dressing the part" aspect?
Yeah. Our look has sort of evolved into a more hillbilly look. We wear cowboy hats, western shirts and boots. There are different aspects in rockabilly—the super-traditional '50s guys. Then there are the guys with cuffed jeans and bowling shirts, the hot rod guys. And then there are the guys with the more Texan look with cowboy hats. It all kind of fits together. We're kind of a weird blend. We wear our cuffed jeans with boots. All the people I know that are in the rockabilly scene dress that way most of the time anyway. It's just kind of part of your life.
BRIAN JAY AND THE BARN BURNERS PLAY WITH THE SUGAR DADDYS AT THE TIKI ROOM, 301 W. SECOND ST., POMONA, (909) 629-5164. SAT., OCT. 7. CALL FOR TIME AND COVER; ALSO AT TACO BEACH, 211 PINE AVE., LONG BEACH, (562) 983-1337. FRI., OCT. 27. CALL FOR TIME AND COVER. VISIT WWW.MYSPACE.COM/BRIANJAYANDTHEBARNBURNERS FOR MORE INFORMATION.