The 129 Greatest OC Bands Ever!: 1 - 50
Written By: Gustavo Arellano, Andrew Asch, Joel Beers, Claudia Figueroa, Rich Kane, Bill Kohlhaase, George A. Paul, John Roos, Alison M. Rosen, Rebecca Schoenkopf, Buddy Seigal, Jason Thornberry, Jim Washburn and Chris Ziegler.
Why spend our time ranking the 129 greatest Orange County bands and solo acts of all time? Because it was easier than ranking the worst. Because 128 left us wanting more and 130 seemed self-indulgent. Because mega-lists of this sort are hot, baby, and everyone loves lists. Because we wanted to show that OC music history runs a lot deeper than most people think. Because we want lost of pissy letters from people complaining about who we left out. Because we wanted to see how many times we could use words like "angst," "shimmering" and "broken up" in a single issue. And if you have a problem about why your favorite band didn't make the cut, trust us: they would've been No. 130, but we had to chop this beast someplace…
1. The Adolescents
The "blue" album was the only record the Adolescents really needed to make. Though worthy songs would follow, this 1981 LP ricocheted from great to classic ("Amoeba," "Wrecking Crew" and their signature song "Kids of the Black Hole," not to mention "LA Girl," "Creatures" and "No Way"—punk-dive jukebox mainstays all) and established a blueprint for OC (and beyond!) punk that still hasn't smudged. Singer Tony Cadena might have been trying to sound like Darby Crash, but you can't even count the kids since who've tried to sound like Tony Cadena. Like X before them up in Hollywood, the Adolescents had absorbed their time and place, refining their own suburban experience to an irreducible minimum: if not the definitive OC band, they're still everything gone wrong about growing up in the 714 (of course, they might lose points for actually being admitted to Disneyland, unlike every other punk band in the county and the Teen Idles). Their recent reunion shows found them polished, mature, and as tight as they were when still in high school in Fullerton. Back then, the kids in bassist Steve Soto's first-period class thought he was lying about playing shows with Black Flag and partying with she-males at Geza X's house—but it was all true.
2. Chris Gaffney & the Cold Hard Facts
Critics often cite Gaffney and his band as the best thing in OC, but they still have no record label. It's been a decade since they were last in the studio, they don't tour, and their only gig is their current Sunday evening slot at the Blue Café in Long Beach. But just when you expect they're heaving their last collective breath, they'll turn around and floor you in a set bursting with passion, slashing musical interplay, Gaffney's life-besotted vocals and all the other grand stuff that doesn't translate to paper. They're like a boxer with heart, like Injun Joe with a Bowie knife, like a fridge stocked with beer and venison, like a gored rodeo clown on ecstasy. Gaffney's skewed songs of love and loss are as good as country gets, while the band's smoldering take on "Ring of Fire" makes the Social Distortion version sound like a society tea. This is the band by which all others must be judged and found wanting.
3 Social Distortion
Courtesy of Social Distortion
3. Social Distortion
If Orange County music had an iconic, tattooed, greased-up figurehead, it could only be Social Distortion's Mike Ness. From the first wave of OC punk bands, Social D were initially one of the more ambitious ones, recording several sides of what would become self-defining classics: "The Creeps (I Just Wanna Give You)," "Moral Threat," "1945," "Playpen," and the song (and album) that would've become archetypes no matter what county they were made in, "Mommy's Little Monster." But when punk got supplanted by bland "new wave" in the early '80s (and when evil authority figures kept getting the few punk clubs shut down), Social D disappeared, and Ness tumbled into a black pit of smack addiction. After several stupor-steeped years, he pulled a Phoenix and cleaned up, re-formed his band (with his best Troy High School buddy, the late Dennis Danell), got signed to mega-label Epic, cut a whole slew of new classics ("Story of My Life," "Ball and Chain," "Bad Luck," "I Was Wrong"), and pretty much hasn't let up since. We don't even think the Offspring could sell out as many House of Blues shows as Social D do every year, a testament to not only survival but fan loyalty if we've ever seen one.
4. The DTs
Woe to the bands who tried to follow the duo of Travis Harrelson and Don Wilson on county stages. Here the bands had lugged in their mighty amps and attitudes, only to be shut down by two elderly fellas with ukuleles. Wilson (who died from cancer in 1997) had a sweet voice that sounded all that much sweeter when singing lines like "Old rockin' chair's got me, cane by my side/Hand me that gin, son, 'fore I tan your hide." Harrelson, meanwhile, is practically the Django Reinhardt of the ukulele, tearing up the tiny fretboard in ways that have since landed him on stages with the world's reigning uke masters Herb Ota and Lyle Ritz. Travis and Don didn't care where they played—hospitals, Costa Mesa punk clubs, on buses—they just loved doing it. Even when Don was dying, the two would play for the other patients. That's what it's all about, tortured young shoegazer.
By the time you read this, Smile will have been officially broken up for a couple weeks, but we'll still be angry at them for being a bunch of selfish twats who decided whatever they had to do was more important than keeping together one of OC's most consistently awesome rock groups. Assholes. Fronted by Michael Rosas, Smile's sound and look changed quite a bit over the years. They formed in the early '90s as a blistering, ballsy grunge trio featuring bassist Aaron Sonnenberg and drummer Scott Reeder. The more recent, jangly, Beatles-influenced incarnation of the band featured Bob Thompson on bass, Matt Fletcher on keys and his brother James on drums. Brilliant, beautiful, complex, poignant and honest. And now, very missed. Fucking fucktards.
6. The Crowd
It took 20 years for someone to hear the Crowd on the radio, says drummer Dennis Walsh—and then it turned out that it was actually the Offspring. Story of their life: if Posh Boy's Beach Blvd. comp had come out in 1999 instead of 1979, the Crowd would have been the Offspring, with whipcrack pop-punk songs like "Modern Machine" (still catchier than anything the kids loitering around the Block listen to) and "Right Time." Too bad that the only credit they get for basically blueprinting California pop-punk is from us, the 'zine Razorcake and the counter guys at record stores. Still, there's a happy (but not flashy) ending: the Crowd's sound lives on in bands like the Offspring and Green Day, but the Crowd themselves live on, too, slogging toward their silver anniversary on the small-club circuit just for the fun of it. Never mind that they've got more kids than chords between them these days; as one of their favorites sayings runs, "Nice guys finish last—but it's a marathon, not a sprint!"
7 Phil Shane
7. Phil Shane
He has never held another job. Neither waiter nor dogwalker. From a tender age, Phil Shane has made his living playing in the band. At 13, he played where Jerry Lee Lewis played (the Chicsa Lodge just outside Tupelo, Mississippi); the money from his gigs helped his mom out after his dad lost their house in a game of dominoes. For 30 years, he has sweated out pure Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley and "God Bless the USA" in the trenches of OC bars and lounges, for the bluehairs at Harpoon Henry's and the seedier bluehairs at the Fling in Tustin. And now he's gone Vegas, baby. It's his lifelong dream made crushed velvet and flesh, and it's all thanks to the Tropicana and his spitfire wife, the love of his life, Michlene.
8 The Middle Class
8. The Middle Class
They're best known for kicking off West Coast hardcore in 1978 with the still-bracing "Out Of Vogue" single, but Fullerton's Middle Class have yet to get the slash marks in the history books they deserve. Out of step when Minor Threat were just idle teens—and with a 15-year-old drummer hopped up on Dr. Pepper, too!—the Middle Class were blazing past contemporaries like the Weirdos, the Bags and even the Germs (with whom they shared the 1979 Tooth And Nail compilation; a great LP if you can get it), with Gatling-gun tempos and prototypically sociopolitical lyrics. And when hardcore finally caught up with them (and related demo-level-only band Der Stab—find that tape, sucker!), the Middle Class rose to another level entirely, transplanting the urban gloom of British bands like Joy Division and Gang of Four to OC as part of an even more historically neglected suburban post-punk scene. Guitarist Mike Atta used to sell semi-discography CDs out of his vintage store Out Of Vogue in Fullerton; over 20 years later, they're still as DIY as the first time around.
Joyride were one of those hot-shit OC bands that came up just before the dawn of the Offspring/No Doubt era, a band people liked to point to as yet another example of the county's rock & roll richness that always seemed to go ignored by major labels. As we all know, the majors finally moved in on OC, but Joyride somehow escaped their attention. Still, they managed to put out two great albums on Dr. Dream, both loaded with slamming speed-pop and ferocious monster riffs, sprinkled with melodies that recalled peak Replacements. They broke up in 1996, drummer Sandy Hansen and lead guitarist Mike McKnight both yearning for a stable family life, while guitarist Steve Soto (who first suckled the teat of semi-fame in the Adolescents) and bassist Greg Antista forged ahead with other projects—Soto with 22 Jacks, Antista with the almost-as-bitchen-as-Joyride Foxy.
You talk with Sideswipe's Michelle Mangione and Sally Landers, and they seem as screwed up as anybody else. How is it that they're able to transform their everyday woes into such wise and exquisite music? The two and their band sound like some starlit cross between the Indigo Girls and the Who, with a goodsome dollop of the Beatles. They are that good.
11. Big Drill Car
Big Drill Car may have lacked the introspective wisdom of an R.E.M., but for a college-rock act, they rivaled Nirvana for sheer punk energy. Founded in 1987 by Frank Daly and Mark Arnold, the quartet played Nirvana-esque power-pop with plenty of catchy hooks and funky rhythms, yet never strayed from their modest garage band roots. Daly's self-penned tunes like "No Need," "About Us" and "Reform Before" illustrated the band's aural evolution from garage to grunge, although it wasn't above Big Drill Car to play jokey cover versions of their favorite Billy Joel, Devo and Cheap Trick songs. In 1991, the band recorded their sixth album, Toured, live at New York's CBGB's for a paltry $200. Following a three-year hiatus during which the band went through several line-up changes, they signed a contract with Headhunter/Cargo Records and released the shoulda-been-classic No Worse for the Wear, a riff-heavy, punchy-rhythm album that appealed to all the rock revivalists who had become as sick of grunge as Big Drill Car had by that point.
12 Fu Manchu
12. Fu Manchu
It's easy to dismiss Fu Manchu as San Clemente's answer to That '70s Show, since the music they make is a sound seemingly designed to fire up a zillion bongs. Brand them "stoner rock" if you must, but they're really just a great, honest, blue-collar metal band—graduates of the Sabbath school of eardrum bleeding, with songs about pool skating, surfing, El Caminos, Mongoose BMX bikes, the beach, driving around, Dogtown, UFOs and vans (both the Chevy and slip-on shoe variety). Our fave burned-in Fu memory? A record store set in Austin, Texas—when they blasted out "Hell on Wheels," the tympanic crunch was so ungodly brutal that it loosened years-old dust clumps in the store's ceiling fans. Another 15 minutes, and the windows would've gone, too. When a band has the raw aural power to perform free janitorial services, how can you not be impressed?
13. Vinnie James
Sucks that he's all but forgotten now, but Huntington Beach's Vinnie James made one amazing album for RCA Records in 1991, All American Boy, a positively Springsteenian work that reached for Big Themes. Take the lead track, "Freedom Cried," a head-bobbin' tune about the U.S. sociopolitical system waking up to its mistakes of the past: "I remember the red man, he was proud and free/Down through the years, he's been a really good friend to me/I let him sell me almost everything he had/Then I just took the rest when times got really bad." Other songs touched on race, homelessness and war, all put to a crunching rock & roll soundtrack with celeb session folks like Kenny Aronoff, Al Kooper and Waddy Wachtel. But RCA, as major labels do, dropped the ball, and All American Boy depressingly went nowhere. Last we heard, James (who first made a dent in the OC scene as a member of Rumbletown) had weirdly changed his name to Masada, and then disappeared. We just hope to god he's not living under a bridge someplace.
Instagon isn't a band—it's a rite of passage, a force of nature, even an audio demon, says founder Lob (as a chaos magician in good standing, you'd doubt him at your peril), and since its conception in 1993, Instagon has ground through literally hundreds of members in even more live improv performances, hacking out a sound that really is almost sentient. Lob and his bass may be at the center of the Instagon monster, but the music can come from anywhere—it's been a neo-primitive tribal jam, Miles Davis drafted into Flipper, Black Sabbath jamming with Sun Ra—and anyone, coalescing anew at each gig out of whatever musicians (a vibrator counts as a musical instrument, right?) Lob summons up, including members of Sublime, the Adolescents and OC Weekly. They're one of Orange County's cultural institutions: if you haven't been in Instagon, you simply haven't been.
Let's be clear: when we say "TSOL," we mean the fabled Jack Grisham-fronted version, the band that composed punk classics like "Abolish Government," "Superficial Love," and everyone's favorite ode to necrophilia, "Code Blue." We mean the TSOL. that were by far the most popular OC punk band when OC punk first broke—at their peak, the band was selling out the Hollywood Palladium. Let's be even more clear: we do not mean the vomitous, late-'80s, Joe Wood-fronted hairspray metal bastardization of TSOL. (the thought still makes us shudder). But it's a very good thing that Grisham, one of the funniest, most outrageous personalities the OC scene has ever produced—g'wan, ask him about the time he carved FUCK CUSTOMERS into his arm while working at the hardware store—re-formed the punkier rendition of the band a few years ago. Otherwise, history might've remembered it quite differently.
16. Junior Watson
Just to make this simple: Junior Watson is the world's greatest living blues guitarist, and he's better than most of the dead ones, too. Most other players treat the blues either as a hallowed ritual to be recited at rote or as a Kleenex for their over-amped 19,000-note ego-wanks. Watson just makes it his own. He has an encyclopedic grasp of blues styles, but he burns the book nightly, instead playing a borderless brand of blues defined only by his ebullient personality and boundless musical invention. He's been splendid for decades, with the Mighty Flyers, Canned Heat, Kim Wilson, Charlie Musselwhite, and on his own, but he's never been as good as he is right now.
17. The Cadillac Tramps
Of all the pre-Offspring-era OC bands that should've made it huge, the Cadillac Tramps for a time looked to be the one. They had a big following (evidenced by the neat fact that they had to be billed under a fake name once when they played Linda's Doll Hut) and music that threw together Social D-influenced punk energy with impressive pop, blues, rockabilly and soul instincts. At their 1993-94 peak, they were opening Canadian shows for Pearl Jam and playing South By Southwest, seemingly on their way to becoming mega. And then they broke up, partially because their several Dr. Dream albums never sold the numbers they deserved to have, partially because of internal drug problems. During their absence, a lot of really lame Tramps clone bands sprouted up in the county, a testament to their influence. But when they reunited in 1999 (they still play sporadic shows), all those lesser bands mysteriously vanished, obviously fearing how ridiculous they'd look next to the true originals.
18. Art Davis
With his Coltrane connections (he recorded several times with the legend and was a confidant), a discography that touches many of the jazz world's most important names—Art Blakey, Max Roach, Lena Horne, Freddie Hubbard, Quincy Jones and Dizzy Gillespie—and crossover gigs with NBC, Westinghouse and CBS studio orchestras, Davis is a certified legend. He embraces all kinds of music and his infrequent concerts find him ranging over the predictable "Art's Boogie" to 'Trane-influenced meditations and avant-garde excursions that travel far outside. His annual scholarship events have included everyone from Horace Silver to Steve Allen. You sense history when he plays.
19 Big Sandy
19. Big Sandy
Big Sandy is that rarest of retro guys—a dyed-in the-wool rockabilly/western swing performer with vast reserves of talent, soul and intellect. As a vocalist, Sandy boasts perfect pitch—a sweet melisma to make Freddy Fender green with envy—and versatility unheard of in the genre; if anything, El Gordo is at the top of his game when making one of his too-infrequent forays into classic R&B. His best songs are reflective and even poetic (witness the lovely "Night Tide")—no lunkheaded odes to switchblades, leather jackets or hair grease to be found in his catalog. The best news is that Big Sandy and his band, the Fly-Rite Boys, keep getting better as they get grayer, transcending generic clichés and blasting out swingin' sounds to make the dead hop from their graves and hit the dance floor, all without sacrificing taste at the altar of the demands of an often galoot-heavy scene.
20. Room To Roam
Led by the brothers Gallagher, Pat and Paul, and backed up by Joel McDaniel and bassist Bryan Blume, Room to Roam were fiery, versatile and powerful (Paul even peed on some guy from Holland once). Pat Gallagher was way inspired by Paul Westerberg and Ray Davies, while Paul was more of a Hendrix and punk guy and McDaniel drummed like Keith Moon on crystal meth. The result was a very heavy but eminently listenable sound that covered the gamut from brooding metallic psychedelia ("Steel Woman" is one of the scariest fucking songs ever) to "Fall Again," one of the best pop songs most of us have never heard. Room to Roam could make you groove in unison with the latest in-touch cosmic mind one moment and then have you seriously contemplating homicide the next. If you can get your hands on a copy of the band's album Oblivious, hang on to it. Better yet, play it over and over.
21. Karl Denson
Denson, who's since relocated to San Diego, was the long-time sax player with sultry OC soul band Derek & the Diamonds, and spent many a week gigging at now-defunct Santa Ana jazz club Randall's before he got international recognition touring with Lenny Kravitz, co-fronting the Greyboy Allstars and then breaking out on his own with Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, which is one hell of an outfit. As a jam band, they've become beloved by the Grateful Dead crowd (this summer, Denson's touring all over the place with the Allman Brothers), but they groove much deeper and blacker—more Spearhead than Deadhead. Meanwhile, the torrential sheets of notes Denson wrenches from his horn are sufficient to thrill any hard bopper.
22. Dick Dale
As he will be the first to tell you—using the third person, even—Dick Dale is a phenomenon. The style of surf guitar he created in the early '60s (or, as he tells it, mid-'50s) wasn't just a different way of playing notes, but a sound he wrested from the briny deep. Dick doesn't play notes so much as he does sensations, replicating the power and adrenaline of shooting the curl and that other surferly stuff. He was great in the '60s, and in the '80s, he recovered from a long bout of lounge-itus to again reclaim his barnacle-encrusted crown as King of the Surf Guitar. One standout performance was at a 1991 concert tribute to Leo Fender. The late guitar maker had provided the tools that facilitated Dale's then-new sounds in the '60s, and Dale did him proud, using his Fender Strat, his reverb unit and his blond Showman amp to conjure up dive-bombing pterodactyls of sound.
23. The Stitches
If the Stitches could keep it together, they'd be famous—but if the Stitches could keep it together, they wouldn't be the Stitches. They're an anarchic black hole (Now on drummer number five! Or was that six?) of pitch-perfect Sex Pistols punk, around which an entire solar system of worshipful South County rip-off acts orbits, but it's taken them 10 years to spit out a full-length while rat-like pretenders scurry between their legs to marginal fame and fortune. Just like a wise Frenchman once slurred, however, "Thees iz ze real sheet." The only thing more impressive than their rap sheet and their record collections (singer Mike Lohrman runs Laguna's Underdog Records shop) are singles like "Cars Of Today" and "Automatic," loopy, desperate, Buzzcocks-By-The-Beach sing-alongs that seem too natural to actually be consciously written: you get the feeling that the Stitches stagger into practice and songs just spontaneously break out—kinda like one of those weird morning-after rashes. And yeah, they're unpredictable live, swerving from too-drunk-to-fuck to holy-god-fuck! But like bassist Pete "Action Man" Archer says about his horse races, half the thrill is not knowing how a night's going to turn out.
Tub was our favoritest band ever there for a spell, a bunch of guys who cranked out wickedly catchy guitar riffs so sated with hit potential that we couldn't imagine how their songs never made it to the radio. Find a copy of their EP, White Over Purple, and you'll hear astoundingly obvious shoulda-been-smashes like "When I"m Down"; so-sugary-it'll-rot-your-eardrums power-pop like "Don't Touch There"; a groovy electro-orgy called "Red Room—Red Room"; and the glorious "Coffee & Pills," which you could call their artsiest piece, with its spoken bits lifted from the old '40s flick Rebecca and its oh-so-rock-&-roll tag line "Up and down/Throwin' shit around." They made an excellent full-length, too—Coffee Tea Soda Pop Pee, for an L.A. indie imprint—not as gritty as the EP, but still better than almost everything else we were hearing locally back in '98. Great bands 'round here rarely last, of course, and sadly, neither did Tub.
25. Jann Browne
"The only difference between me and the people at the Swallow's Inn," says Jann Browne, "is that they dance and I sing. We all have to get up and go to work the next day." That quote aptly sums up the unpretentious character of the Laguna Hills singer/songwriter of some of the damn finest country/roots/rock on the planet. The former member of Asleep at the Wheel followed Count Me In—arguably the best release of 1995—with an extended period of personal turmoil and artistic silence. Yet a reinvigorated Browne resurfaced in 2001 with the independently released Missed Me By a Mile, a semi-autobiographical work brimming with both heartache and hope. Her tobacco-stained voice and writing partner Matt Barnes' searing guitar lines highlight this stellar collection whose raw emotional core digs straight into our gut. She's OC's Queen of Country; raise a glass to her.
26. Derek & The Diamonds
Al Green's a great entertainer, but sometimes an inconsistent and lackluster one. A way of assuring a screaming performance—it was discovered one night at the Coach House—was to put Derek & the Diamonds on in front of him. The veteran OC soul band burned so hot that Green had to pull out all the stops in his show to keep up. Singer Derek Bordeaux, guitarist/singer brother Byron and vocalist cousin Vinson Quarles grew up in the only black families then in Garden Grove, and were subjected to so many taunts and fights because of it that they stayed indoors after school playing music. When they took it public, they smoldered, tearing the covers off cover songs, transforming them into spiraling, sweat-raining epics of emotion. The Diamonds have splintered into splendid fragments, but the Derek Bordeaux Band is still pouring a funky vigor into the local nightclub scene.
27. The Busstop Hurricanes
Sure, the whole band is frolicsome and tasty, but there's none so tart and tasty as Twisty Lemons, the guitar goddess with the perfect hair and the icy demeanor who reduces happily married men to gibbering morons. Catch a show for yourself. While singer Mick grinds on a table, Twisty's liable to climb up on a bar—her face as bored as Billy Zoom's—and shred like she's Ruyter Suys, but with a marvelous ennui. All, of course, while lying on her back. And while all their music's outrageously fast and fun, ask for "Burn," the cowboy serenade on the pawnshop guitar. It's a preposterously beautiful love ballad with a Spanish gypsy beat, dark and smoky and horrendously perfect. Ask now.
28. Jackson Browne
The prototypical sensitive '70s singer-songwriter spent his teenage years attending Sunny Hills High in Fullerton, where his father taught. Browne also grew up to be the prototypical celebrity political activist, getting arrested while demonstrating against nuclear power plants, penning tunes decrying the Reagan administration's disastrous Central American policies, and putting on so many benefit concerts for progressive causes that it's a wonder how the guy with the omnipresent bowl cut has made any money. He got his musical start right here, playing open-mike hoot nights at assorted OC coffeehouses during the '60s. The genesis of Browne's political upbringing, though, was at Sunny Hills; whenever his uptight teachers went off about the longhairs protesting the Vietnam War (one of whom claimed that free speech activist Mario Savio was clearly insane just because, well, he looked insane), Browne would demand that the teach explain himself. Last time we were at the campus, we noticed a series of plaques paying tribute to famous Sunny Hills alums; Browne, needless to say, isn't represented there.
Sonichrome put out a brilliant pop-rock album on Capitol Records in 1998 called Breathe the Daylight, which tragically—and typically—went nowhere (pick it up for cheap at a good used CD shop). And we really do mean brilliant—every song, even the ballads and the distortion orgy that closes it, was a stunning, ridiculously catchy, hook-rich piece of work, and if we were ever to compile a list of Greatest Major-Label Albums by OC Bands, Breathe the Daylight would absolutely be in our Top 5. The thing so sticks to us that we can't help hearing Sonichrome svengali Chris Karn's voice loudly wailing "Steeeeeeep on outside, and breeeeeeeathe the daylight" every morning when we go out to fetch the mail—are we sick, or what? Karn, who also played guitar in oft-praised Standing Hawthorn before forming Sonichrome, is still active—these days fronting the band Deccatree—and can be found playing regular gigs in clubs like the Gypsy Lounge.
30. Tim Buckley
Buckley may be OC's greatest musical enigma—"Like a star that shines fiercely in the night sky, but in space was extinguished eons ago," Britain's MOJO magazine once said of him. Signed to Elektra Records in 1966—straight out of Anaheim's Loara High School—Buckley worked the same local coffeehouse/club circuit his fellow OC folk-leaning contemporaries Jackson Browne and Steve Noonan did (one L.A. mag even dubbed them, somewhat mockingly, "The Orange County Three"), in rooms like the Golden Bear and the Paradox. Other quick bites from a Zelig-like life (for more, hunt up the two books that have been penned about him): Buckley's voice was a gorgeously angelic tenor. He sang nakedly personal songs about relationships and feelings and war. He dabbled in jazz, psychedelia and funk—in his later years, sometimes in the same song. He never had a "hit" record, but his 1970 album Starsailor is a much-lauded classic. He once bought a house in Laguna Beach and painted it black just to annoy his frou-frou neighbors. He appeared in an unreleased movie with OJ Simpson. Chrissie Hynde interviewed him for an article in NME in 1974. He called guest host Alan King "a piece of cardboard" on the Tonight Show when King made fun of his unruly hair. He was Jeff Buckley's father. And he died way too young, in 1975, after mistakenly snorting a line of heroin. We wish he were still around to better explain himself than we can.
31. Kerry Getz
A sophisticated storyteller, a feeling-filled singer and an underrated guitarist, Kerry Getz is a local, unheralded treasure. Because she has a way of inhabiting a song, of wringing out every nuanced texture and emotion, the Newport Beach resident makes her pain our pain—and there's a lot to go around. Self-doubt, jealousy and obsession make more than cameo appearances in her troubled, darkly-tinged folk/pop/rock musings. Yes, the charming Getz—a veteran of the OC coffeehouse circuit—garnered rave reviews for 1997's breakthrough Apollo and last year's melancholy Little Victory. It's onstage, though, where the Corona del Mar High alum really draws us in, with her confident, affable stage presence. Of course, the Weekly's John Roos knew all this way back in the fall of 1990. That's when he interviewed Kerry at her parents' antique-laced home on Balboa Island for a story in the Orange Coast Daily Pilot. The headline read: "Songstress Kerry Getz Deserves a Wider Audience." And that still rings true.
32. The OC Supertones
Divine intervention. What else could explain the broadening appeal of the OC Supertones, one of the very few Christian rock acts to reach beyond the limiting confines of religious dogma. Sure, the band that formed in Mission Viejo in 1995 has led prayers from onstage and openly shares their religious convictions; but at the same time, the quintet has created a complex, evolving body of work that balances the joys andfrustrations of being a Christian. Epitomizing this spiritual depth is "Sure Shot," a revealing number that struggles hard to reconcile heavenly and carnal desires. Musically, the band—led by charismatic frontman Matt Morginsky—recently expanded from peppy ska to more hard-hitting, guitar-centered rap, rock, reggae, punk and ska. Trust us, Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith this ain't. Rejoice, brothers and sisters!
When we heard earlier this year that Barrelhouse was no more, we were dismayed. Honestly saddened. The Huntington Beach quintet was truly one of the few—perhaps only—original soul music acts working the County. Led by deep-voiced, broad-shouldered, sideburn-sporting Harlis Sweetwater, the group played honest-to-goodness, sweaty, soul music, the Stax/Memphis music of Aretha, Otis, and Wicked Wilson. (Sweetwater recently formed a new hard rock/hip-hop band called Thrill Deluxe.) Well, at least Barrelhouse have left behind a trio of groove-and-horn-heavy party albums: 1994's Soul Pimps and Blues Pushers; 1996's Peach; and 1999's 13 Sonic Splendors. One song, though, is truly unforgettable: Not for the squeamish is "Albert's Shovel," a spooky, unsentimental tale of an unrepentant murderer on the loose. Shit, that one still gives us the creeps. RIP, Barrelhouse—you will be mourned.
34 Eddie Cochran
Photo by Teneya Hills
34. Eddie Cochran
Cochran has been a resident of Orange County for 43 years now, but he's never actually lived here. See, his dwelling for the past four decades has been an unassuming burial plot at Forest Lawn Cypress, Cochran's final resting place after an auto accident during a 1960 tour of England. His family, however, continues to reside in the county, for decades living in a Buena Park home that Cochran purchased based on the success of his signature hit, "Summertime Blues." Though the song is under three minutes and dates back to 1957, "Summertime Blues" still remains one of rockdom's greatest tracks, its rockabilly strut and Cochran's sotto voice a better commentary on youth angst—romantic, political, economic—than almost anything since. If Eddie were still around, think of all the Hootenannys he could've played by now!
35. Agent Orange
One of the most popular bands to emerge during the late '70s/early '80s first wave of OC punk, Agent Orange—formed by a cranky, pissed-off 14-year-old named Mike Palm—sounded distinctly Orange County, as opposed to the mostly slash-and-burn approach perpetrated by their peers Social Distortion and the Adolescents. That's because they injected Dick Dale-inspired surf-guitar breaks and more overt melody lines amidst all the usual thrashiness. In 1981, they released the Living In Darkness album, which included "Bloodstains"—not just a classic OC punk tune, but a classic tune period. The band's largest following, though, came via an army of skateboarders. They were one of the first bands to tap into the then-still-kinda-underground subculture, putting their music on the soundtracks of various skate videos. After all this time, Palm still hasn't gotten a real job, and still tours as Agent Orange with a revolving lineup of players.
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.
43. Something Corporate
Few latter-day rock piano players embody the raucous spirit of a young Jerry Lee Lewis like Something Corporate's Andrew McMahon. During shows, the dude stomps on the keys and gives the piano a good beating. On last year's Warped Tour, this five-year-old Dana Point band had the balls to lug the behemoth instrument around to every stop. These guys were the first unsigned OC band to sell out the Anaheim House of Blues. Last year's major label debut Leaving Through the Window bowed at No. 1 on Billboard's Heatseekers chart (MTV and KROQ airplay ensued), and the fun-yet-sophisticated alt-pop disc—highlighted by the edgy "Punk Rock Princess" and sarcastic "If You C Jordan"—delves into teen angst issues with panache.
44. Karen Gallinger
A class act who learned from all the vocalists she denies sounding like—Sarah, Dinah, Etta—and then developed her own, identifiable voice. Naturally emotive, Gallinger gathers you in to her head as well as her soul, crooning, coaxing or out-and-out complaining when the blues get the better of her. Not afraid to scat, her voice takes on instrument-like qualities when she improvises over a band. And her Bill Evans tribute album, assembled with help from the pianist-composer's widow, stands as a landmark. They love her in Germany. We love her here.
45. Give Until Gone
Before spewing bile in Bullet Train to Vegas, enigmatic guitar player Dan Sena fronted Give Until Gone, a four-piece whose heartbreaking songs still bring us to our knees and take our breath away, leaving us crippled and winded. Sena's the grandson of famed Portuguese poet Jorge de Sena, which may or may not account for his natural lyricism. Innocent, vulnerable, haunting and eloquent, Give Until Gone crafted emo you didn't feel like a schmuck listening to. Do you know how rare that is? Hey, Crapboard Confessional, we're looking at you! Check out "Settled for the Art Official" to hear what angst and melody really sound like.
46. The Fire Ants
An evocative poet and ass-kicking performer, Skie Bender is OC's own Patti Smith, a woman who spews soul-wrenching lines about disquiet, dissonance and disaster. With her band, the Fire Ants, Bender has a more than capable musical outlet for her art—guitarist Kevin Jacobs riffs with enough power to seemingly halve torsos; drummer Kelly Busby treats your eardrums like he was tenderizing meat. But the centerpiece of any Fire Ants show is always Bender, writhing on the floor, screeching into a megaphone, wailing about transvestites, spreading her insecurities and paranoias. During any given Fire Ants gig, Bender's transformations are jaw-dropping; a song that might start off calmly and innocently enough might end up with Bender spinning her head completely around and throwing up blood. Well, not quite, but you swear it could happen. And they're still the greatest band Fountain Valley ever produced.
47. The Women
Early-'90s Costa Mesa foursome the Women were most well-known for a little ditty about masturbation called "Laura (My Hand)," wherein singer Nate Shaw apologizes to the fabled Laura's mom for not being able to take her daughter out on a date. "Just let me be, try and understand," he croons, as John Klein, James Fletcher and Brian Claremont harmonize in the background, "I'm in love with my hand." You could think of them as proto-gross-out punk, but that was never really their bag. The brilliance of the Women was their ear for melody and their penchant for angry sad sack love songs. The group even tackled the solipsistic nature of love in "Misery of Your Company" ("When I was touching you I was touching myself/When I was kissing you I was kissing myself"). Like too many promising Costa Mesa bands, the Women's short career was riddled with substance abuse problems. The group reformed for a short while in 1999. Shaw occasionally performs as the Pharmacist's Son.
48. Lee Rocker
Now that Li'l Lee of Laguna has painted his masterpiece with the recently released Bulletproof, it's time we start giving the man some belated propers. The Stray Cats (his former band, natch) may have worn goofy mascara and camped it up on the wrong side of good taste, but they were no joke—and Rocker is as serious as a heart attack in a sauna. In fact, Bulletproof surely rates among the Top 10 modern rockabilly albums, with its stunning energy, attitude and musicianship. Rocker is one mean mutha on the upright bass—a fact which is often overlooked due to his dazzling showmanship—and he can write a rockabilly tune so imbued with melody and pop sensibility without losing any essential cracker grit that it surely must make his old pal Carl Perkins smile somewhere up on a star overlooking Memphis.
49. Film Star
Psychedelics and piano lessons mixed to form Film Star, a dreamy, spacey, synth-laden rock group led by roguish keyboard player Geoff Harrington and guitar player Piers Brown. While most of Orange County in the mid-'90s headed in the direction of stripped-down punk grit, Film Star went the other way, filling their cinematic songs with lush atmospherics and trippy layered effects. The musicians all went on to play in other bands, Harrington most recently with Lomax Monk and Gentlemen of Leisure. Brown, meanwhile, fronts the Blue Whales. Fairly ahead of their time for their willingness to sound retro, their best output, the Tranquil Eyes album, still holds up as a gem of complex, studio-crafted OC drug rock.
50. Jose Feliciano
Best known for being blind—okay, and also for his seething acoustic remake of "Light My Fire." Born in Puerto Rico, grew up in New York, but inexplicably relocated to Newport Beach in 1968 before he recorded "Light my Fire" and stayed in OC until the 1990s, a period that represents Feliciano at his artistic apex. Though "Light My Fire" is memorable, and his 1973 standard "Feliz Navidad" hopelessly cheery, Feliciano's greatest musical moment remains his blazing Latin-percussioned rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" before Game 5 of the 1968 Detroit Tigers-St. Louis Cardinals World Series. It enraged a war-weary nation, upset that Feliciano dared desecrate the national anthem, and Dixie Chick-like boycott cries swarmed radio airwaves. But the world had already listened: a year later, Jimi Hendrix went loco in Woodstock with his version, and Francis Scott Key's song has never been complacent since.
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