Gabby Gaborno Keeps the Motor Running

It's weird to hear the front man of one of the rowdiest, roughest bands in OC history trip out about a couple of cuss words. On the phone with his 4-year-old son sitting next to him, Mike “Gabby” Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps is waxing nostalgic about his band's heyday in the early '80s. Though he has been hanging on to his music career long enough to see the music landscape change around him, other things about OC are still frustratingly familiar.

“In some ways, the [punk] scene has changed because it's grown, and now punk has turned into a household name,” Gaborno says. “As far as political things go, it's the same fucking bullshit.” He catches himself and quickly apologizes and says he's self-conscious about swearing in front of his kid.

Perhaps becoming a parent and an elder statesman of the local music scene has softened him a bit—proof that even the guy we referred to in a 2013 cover story (“¡Pinche Punks!” by Gustavo Arellano) as “the curandero, the witch man” isn't impervious to the spell that comes over any normal, doting father.

“Don't get me wrong: I love punk rock, my bands and stuff,” Gaborno says. “But when it comes to my kid, it's like a love I never knew existed.”

For the past 25 years, Gaborno has battled some personal ups and downs, including drug addiction, violence and jail time. Among his tricks for survival has been singing for the Tramps—as well as his revered punk cover-band crew Manic Hispanic. Despite numerous lineup changes, band breakups and reunion shows, he has become a beloved local legend (or, as we like to say, one of OC's Finest Mexicans). And Gaborno has learned to appreciate what he's got while he's got it, he says: his son and his music career. “Everyone's gotta hang on to that as best you can,” he says. “If you keep one foot in tomorrow and one foot in yesterday, you're pissing on today, and for me, that doesn't work.”

The Cadillac Tramps started in the mid-'80s with Brian Coakley (guitar/vocals), Johnny Wickersham (guitar/vocals), Warren Renfrow (bass) and Chris Lagerborg** (drums). From the get-go, their nitty-gritty psychobilly sound had many critics writing them off as “drunk brawl room music.” But to Gaborno, it was always about the rock & roll and having a good time, not the reckless, drunken violence they encountered during their days playing venues such as the Cuckoo's Nest.

Considered one of the contributors to the early punk-rock scene, the Westminster native still counts his equally crazy contemporaries among his favorite bands to listen to. “To this day, I love all kinds of rock music. But, some of my favorite bands are from the OC: Adolescents, Social Distortion and TSOL,” Gaborno says, rattling off the names of the usual suspects of the OC punk canon. “These are bands who were pioneers not only for Orange County, but on a national scale.” The Crowd, perhaps a lesser-known band from this category of acts, will be sharing the stage with the Cadillac Tramps at a special $5 show on Friday at the Observatory in Santa Ana.

“The Crowd have been around the longest,” Gaborno says. “They have that Beach Boulevard sound that never changed, but it's great music.”

If there is one thing that has helped the Cadillac Tramps keep kicking, it's breaking away from domestic life every so often to go out on tour. “It's our brotherhood within the bands that we've [played and toured with],” Gaborno says. Through it all, there is an unspoken bond they share. “We've been through a lot and seen a lot of places together. But then, there were three times when we wanted to kill one another,” Gaborno recalls with a laugh. “Those guys are like family to me.”

That family also includes the fans. At this point, the Tramps are one of the few bands that can easily draw multiple generations of punks to come out to shows. And watching their OG supporters push up to the front of the stage always gives them a much-needed jump in their collective, fire-breathing, punk-rock engine. “I especially love seeing the older cats get in the pit with the younger ones,” Gaborno says. “Sometimes, fans will come up, and it will be a mom, dad and kid, and the parents will say they met at our shows in the past. To me, it really is amazing to know we've survived that long.”


** The name of the original drummer was corrected on March 7, 2014. The Weekly regrets the error.

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