Jeanne RiceI don't know about you, but when I hear George Fryer's bubble-gum notes skipping along like happy Mormon missionaries on his solo album Decaf, I think "Costa Mesa."
Doo doo doo doo doo! Doo doo doo doo!
Decaf is a gentle time warp—and it's the best album of the year, trading in your typical tattooed-and-wife-beatered Costa Mesa knuckleheads (oi!) for a simpler albeit completely fake time, one drenched with lemonade and sunny days. It's the Monkees at their very best. It's Gidget at a clambake. It's The Brady Bunch Movie. Hey, groovy chick! You are really happening in a far-out way!
The CD, with 12 fluffy tracks floating around like whipped cream in a Mexican coffee, was recorded in the studio he keeps at his Costa Mesa condo for $20—the price of two tapes. Fryer plays everything except harmonica and harmonizes with himself quite nicely.
Typical lyrics include, "I'm in love with the waitress/Since she sat us down to eat/The way she wore her plaid apron/ Made me squirm in my seat." See? Fizzy and good! Perky keys that could have come straight from "Pleasant Valley Sunday" or "Daydream Believer" or even "Last Train to Clarksville." How about, "Teenage girlfriend/With the braces on her smile/So self-conscious/But I loved her all the while"?
Isn't that just the dreamiest? Eeeeee!
On Amazon.com a few weeks ago, the album was No. 227,000. Then it was No. 38,000. "Somebody bought one," Fryer says happily. Now it's plummeted to No. 211,000, but don't tell him.
Fryer, 37, grew up in Corona del Mar and was almost in a band with Lars Ulrich in high school. "Corona del Mar sounds nouveau riche, but we bought our house for $36,000 in 1967," he says. Unfortunately, the family neglected to buy the land underneath it, opting instead for the cheap 99-year lease. Last time the house sold, it was for $800,000. Fryer's father, a computer-company-runnin' guy, was a frat brother to Donald "Tha Judge" Segretti and a host of CREEP mafia. Fryer's mother taught and sold real estate. Fryer was a spelling-bee champion. Fryer eats no vegetables.
Fryer was the force behind the much angrier and more political Peace Corp. until their bass player moved to Samoa and then Hawaii. He still plays with cover band Pace Car, delivering classics like Eric Clapton's "Cocaine" to rowdy drunks apparently bused in from Riverside to places like Coconuts in San Clemente.
"Sometimes, bars try to 1099 you!" he says, clearly outraged that artists might be turned into virtual employees of the places at which they play. "And they think they own you: 'Play this, play louder, play softer.'" But he has also begun playing the rich-person's party circuit in Newport. "It's great," he says. "They tip like you wouldn't believe, and they want us to play stuff they can sing to, so they come onstage—and it's less work for me!"
Fryer and his wife of five years, Barbara (who's not only pretty but also a mean Quarters player), met in a bar. "We were playing there. So she knew what she was getting herself into," he says, smirking. In addition to painting, Barbara works for a property-management company; Fryer temps at one.
He lays the blame for the shitty state of LA radio squarely at the feet of President Bill Clinton. "It was the FCC Reform Act of 1996," he explains, "that allowed these companies to consolidate." Now you know.
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Record labels? "Indentured servitude," he says.
But his biggest bitch is with rock-star antics. His controversial cover story for the Weekly ("Hey, Mom! I'm a Rock Star," July 23, 1999) detailed his role as an anonymous keyboardist for Sugar Ray, with whom he briefly toured. A very brief sample: "In the dressing room afterward, the singer is throwing a fit about people taking the band's beer, and he establishes a new band policy: drink our beer, get punched in the face."
The story ruined his longtime friendship with Rodney Sheppard, Sugar Ray's guitarist. But Fryer has the last word on his album, with "I Remember (When We Used to Be Friends)." The poppy ode harks back to a time when the two "would argue/But we'd always end up laughing/ But then some politics got in the way/ Now we both just stay away." It ends hopefully and as sweetly as the rest of his rainbow-coated album: "The good thing's gone for now/But who's to say it won't come back?"
GEORGE FRYER AT THE LONG BEACH TOWNE CENTER STARBUCKS, 7565 CARSON BLVD., LONG BEACH, (562) 429-1317. WED., 8 P.M. Free. All ages; ALSO AT THE FASHION ISLAND STARBUCKS, 401 NEWPORT CENTER DR., STE. 215, ATRIUM COURT, NEWPORT BEACH, (949) 718-9042. OCT. 20, 7 P.M. free. All ages.