Burt Susanka's special songwriting hat has its drawbacks.  Photo courtsey of Cornerstone Recording Society
Burt Susanka's special songwriting hat has its drawbacks. Photo courtsey of Cornerstone Recording Society

Aural Reports

Between the long-running Ziggens and the new Bert Susanka Band, Bert Susanka is a walking, singing piece of Orange County music history.

For those unfamiliar, what's the Ziggens' story?

We've been around for probably 18, 19 years. We started in Huntington Beach as a three-piece, and then added Dickie, and the four of us have been together for 14 or 15 years. So it's pretty much been a steady thing with the four of us—Jon, Dickie, Brad and me for a long time.

Is there a secret to staying together so long?

We like one another. I probably played with different guys for several years. It wasn't so much that I was looking for the world's greatest musicians. I just wanted to find some guys that I could trust—honest guys, great, lovable guys. We don't tour as much as we used to. It's a different dynamic now. When we are together, it's like we've missed one another because we've been apart for a while. Dickie likes to call them our fishing trips.

The Ziggens always seemed to have been a fun band or lighter type of band.

It's just the way I write. Since I'm the songwriter for the band, I just kind of started writing and figured out what it is I do, and that's the way the songs came out. I didn't really try to steer it in any direction. I just let them come out as they do, and the band has always been really gracious. I didn't try to fight it.

Your live show seems to emphasize that lighter side.

The live show has actually gotten zanier as the years go on. I don't know what it is. We don't play as much as we used to, so when we get together, we are just kids running to the next ride at Disneyland. We can't wait to get up and play. It's weird. Ever since we've started playing less and there's more space between shows, people have been coming up and saying, "I think these shows are the best shows you guys have ever done." I guess there's some sort of an energy there that we missed as much as our small cult following missed it.

What's the story behind the Bert Susanka Band? Why start another group?

Like I mentioned, we don't play as much. As a matter of fact, our drummer, Brad, now lives in Wisconsin. He married Linda, the former owner of the Doll Hut. They decided it would be fun to go live in Wisconsin. Given that and the fact that Jon, our bass player, is road manager and sound guy for a boy band . . . on Disney, he's out on the road a huge amount of time, so that really frees us up. Our drummer flies in a couple of times a year for these Ziggens shows, either out of town or local. This gave me a chance to make a record, and Cornerstone—the gentlemen over at our label—were kind enough to give me the thumbs-up, and they let me pick a close friend of mine to produce it [Onward Christian Slater, out July 24]. His name is Rob Perez. It turns out we were just going to make a solo record, and he was going to produce it, but he ended up playing on it with me. He's probably the best musician I know. Then we brought in a couple of drummers, and a couple of guys played bass. We looked at each other and said, "Let's make this into a band." It's a little different than a Ziggens record, but it still has a lot of the same elements.

Lasting so long in Orange County, you've seen scenes come and go, as well as plenty of venues.

Usually when one place closes, another one will open up. We've actually been pretty fortunate with the Doll Hut being around for as long as it has been. We were fortunate enough to do Bogart's for a long ride before it closed. The Blue Café . . . There are certain venues we've been able to enjoy for many years. When one place closes, it seems like another situation opens itself to us. The Gypsy Lounge in South County has been really cool to us. DiPiazza's in Long Beach has been a mainstay to us—we always play there. There's always something to do, and if not, then get in and make a record.

Is that part of why you've managed to last as a band?

Yeah, that and just try to be kind to one another.



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