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In the 1990s, third-wave-ska bands such as No Doubt, Reel Big Fish and Save Ferris brought attention to OC’s music scene with an explosion of reggae, dub, hip-hop and punk punctuated by horns. Long Beach’s Sublime shot to stardom bounding from stoner mellow to overcaffeinated rambunctiousness. Now, the Huntington Beach-based Dirty Heads meld laid-back hip-hop with white-boy reggae in a familiar fashion, enjoying a link to the OC/LBC musical legacy.
When the newly named Sublime With Rome—featuring founding Sublime members Bud Gaugh (drums) and Eric Wilson (bass) alongside 21-year-old singer Rome Ramirez (guitars/vocals)—hit the road April 20 for a cross-country spring tour, Dirty Heads will open each of the highly anticipated shows. That same month, an expanded reissue of their 2008 full-length debut, Any Port In a Storm, comes out on Universal Music Group subsidiary Fontana, with the Ramirez-aided single “Lay Me Down.” So, yeah, the Dirty Heads have pretty close ties with one of the seminal SoCal bands of the past two decades.
Having grown up during the heyday of the third-wave-ska movement, the Dirty Heads sound like Sublime’s little brother, rapping over Jack Johnson-esque acoustic-guitar strumming and turning the reggae up with dubbed-out bass. “We’ve always had a pretty eclectic style, and we combine a lot of different styles in our music,” says guitarist/vocalist Dustin Bushnell. He and fellow vocalist/guitarist Jared Watson formed the band in 1996 while still in high school. After meeting at a party, the two began rapping together over acoustic guitars in Bushnell’s soundproof garage, leading to shows at coffee shops and bars. By the time Dirty Heads released Any Port in the Storm, the band had crafted a sound built on the work of usual suspects Bob Marley, the Beastie Boys, 311 and, yes, Sublime. Critics derided the lack of originality, but that hasn’t stopped fans from appreciating the Dirty Heads’ ability to create a warm dose of carefree fun.
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Others took notice. The band have appeared on Fuel TV, and their songs can be heard in the 2007 animated feature Surf’s Up and the James Woods TV drama Shark. And now, the Dirty Heads are contenders for the Best Hip-Hop and Best World categories at the OC Music Awards, at which they’ll perform. “We are stoked to be a part of this for sure,” Bushnell says. “A lot of people are out there looking for new music, so being a part of this awards show is great.”
Luke Allen, director of the OC Music Awards, took over in late 2008 when his predecessor, Martin Brown, moved to Spain. Allen’s company, Gemini Studios, previously sponsored the events. As a musician, Allen believed he could add something from that perspective. “I felt that there was an opportunity to enhance the awards that were currently there and make them more relevant and more effective at giving recognition to local artists and helping them gain recognition in and around Orange County.”
He sees the event, which this year featured nine free showcases at various local venues leading up to Saturday’s ceremony, as a way to unite a county with more than 30 incorporated cities. “We want the awards to propel and build momentum for the local music scene by connecting the dots,” Allen says. “We want to connect the different pockets of local music happenings of Costa Mesa, Santa Ana, Fullerton and San Clemente to build and maintain a more cohesive awareness of the greater Orange County music scene.”
The Dirty Heads definitely reflect the county’s coastal scene, with uncomplicated and catchy tunes best enjoyed while sipping on a Natural Ice in a brown paper bag on the beach. As further proof, Matthew McConaughey reportedly selected their song “Hip Hop Misfit” to be in his 2008 film Surfer Dude.
Despite these achievements, Bushnell stays grounded by never forgetting where he came from. “I’ve grown up in Huntington my whole life and started playing music for fun,” he says, “so it’s definitely exciting to see something that started out as friends recording on a four-track recorder in a garage grow into something like this.”
The Dirty Heads perform with Lit (acoustic), Melanoid, Soul Hustlers, Best Live Acoustic Winner Billy Kernkamp, the Steelwells, BLOK, and Best Live Band Winner Dusty Rhodes and the River Band at the OC Music Awards, the Grove of Anaheim, 2200 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 712-2750; www.grove-of-anheim.com. Sat., 8 p.m. $25. All ages.
This article appeared in print as "Dirty White Boys: Huntington Beach’s the Dirty Heads play OC Music Awards before Sublime With Rome tour."